Surprisingly Scary Anime Moments

As the summer tries to cling to the air, and a dimming sun graces the horizon, I realize with glee that it is now October. The Pre-Halloween excitement has once again kicked in.

Halloweenie I am, this means I’m going to open up the scary anime and movies with full vigor. But, as I pored through the titles available to me, along with a few of my favorites, I found myself thinking fondly of those moments watching a non-horror anime that somehow managed to scare me shitless, or maybe something from a monster-fiction anime that was surprisingly horrifying, despite the show not dabbling in such things. It’s fun surprises like those that make anime exciting, especially around this time of year.

Today, we celebrate those times when our anime went the extra mile in scary. These are moments in some of my favorite anime where I was surprised to find myself shocked, afraid, or utterly disturbed.

Most of the Sailor Moon Manga

Fun fact: Sailor Moon in her original form is highly disturbing.

The show that led me all through my teenage years, and introduced me to the worldwide phenomenon that was anime, wasn’t exactly known for being frightening back in the day. The colors were always bright; there wasn’t much if any blood to speak of; and any and all deaths were usually off-screen, even undone within an episode or three. It has such a reputation for being a friendly, soft, series that people are usually shocked to even hear that death occasionally happened on it.

But, oh, the source material was nowhere near this campy and soft. Sure, it had all the magical girl elements and plenty of fun, girly, bits. It also routinely featured villains dying in gruesome fashions.

Byyyyyye Jedite!

From watching your beloved’s skin melt in a terrible dream to seeing a villain outright stab one of their companions, Sailor Moon in manga format has just as many gruesome moments as it does campy costumes and magical powers. Reading this manga is the moment you realize that Madoka Magica is more faithful to the magical girl genre than you thought, and that’s the scary part.

The King and Queen of England – Kuroshitsuji

This one almost didn’t make the list. Kuroshitsuji, or Black Butler, cements itself as a full-on black comedy, mixing several creepy moments with hilarious, over-the-top, slapstick. But the horror is usually there for some traditional gallows humor and only skitters into actual horror for a few precise moments. And, when that horror does decide to try and sink in, you get some genuinely disturbing sights. Because, if Black Butler is known for anything, it’s for going full-throttle on the nasty.

Also, from this point on, Spoiler Alert.

The main villain of the first season, an angel who can swap genders on a whim, has a habit of sewing dead bodies together. He decided to lend this ‘talent’ to Queen Victoria herself, sewing her head and other bits onto the body of her deceased husband, King Charles. If that wasn’t creepy enough, we later catch her in bed with Charles while his body is decaying, and she can’t bear to have Angel-Person separate them. She sings a happy little song while she cuddles the broken pieces of her dear, beloved, Charles…

Not the exact scene, but close enough

Something about this moment frightened me far more than the other creepy/disturbing scenes the anime had. This was one of the few scenes that had a tragic tinge to it, instead of comedy, and really sunk in just how depraved and sad both parties in this scenario were. It’s frightening and disturbing in the most gruesome of fashions, and one of many reasons I love this anime’s first season.

Legato Bluesummers and the Whole Damn Bar

One of my favorite anime, Trigun, is one of the most comical pieces of fiction you will find. Vash’s “cowardice” is a source of great comedic gold as he bungles about the dusty planet, but there was always this tragic edge just waiting in the wings of the show. The astute viewer will pick up this sad look in Vash’s eyes and this sense of foreboding hanging over the show tells us that something bad is waiting. That bad comes in the form of one man, coming ahead of several bad men: Legato Bluesummers.

This man marked a turning point in the entire series. This is the point where the comedy stops cold and what was one a jovial series becomes a scary, emotional, rollercoaster. A member of the Gung-Ho Guns and aid to the actual big-bad of the series, Legato’s introduction comes in a rather frightening moment inside a bar, where he demonstrates just how little he cares for humanity and how easy it is for him to kill them.

I love this scene for a variety of reasons – the biggest being how easily it goes from zero to sixty in terms of tension, and just how cold Legato is shown to be in this adaptation. He’s supposed to be more sympathetic in the manga, but I find this variant to be more frightening while making far more sense in his overall cause.

Tohru, Meet Gender-Bent Akito

The last one that springs to mind also comes from a place that started out as a laugh-out-loud comedy, springing on us a moment that kills the belly-laughs dead. However, while this one wasn’t as well paced as the previous entry, it comes a lot less out of the blue.

The thing is, Fruits Basket makes no secret that something very bad is hanging over the Sohma family. It’s a drama romantic comedy after all, so there are heartstring-tugging moments aplenty. But it all comes to a screaming head after the big reveal about Kyo, the family’s resident outcast. Granted, Tohru solves Kyo’s issue the same she does all the other Sohmas – with a well-intentioned dose of Pollyanna Therapy – but her antics have finally gotten on the last nerves of the family’s head, Akito. Tohru had met Akito prior at her school and during the Kyo affair – where fans learned that the anime turned Akito into a man instead of a woman – but this appeared to be the final straw, and Tohru was forced to “face” Akito head on, once and for all.

This scene is very visceral to me, even if it is missing quite a few key elements from the source material. You see, we watch Tohru try her usual approach to helping the Sohmas and watch as it forces an already irate Akito to go ballistic. The stories prior to that build up the power and influence this character has. Their ability to break anyone in the family makes this whole scene feel tense and shows us just how strong of a person Tohru is, despite her somewhat spacey tendencies. It’s still missing several important points from the manga, most of it being Akito’s own mental issues and insecurities, but works well as a payoff for tons of episode buildup.

 

What moment from an anime was surprisingly scary to you? Feel free to share in the comments below! And don’t forget to like and follow for more content just like this.

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Netflix’s “Bleach” 2018 (Review)

I would never call myself a fan of Bleach, a shounen anime from the early 2000s period. In fact, I’m pretty sure that, in another post, I accused it of stagnating with too many characters and subplots. But I do recall enjoying what little of it I had seen when I was much younger and thus found myself intrigued when I stumbled upon its live-action adaptation on Netflix. I later found out that many consider it to be a success in terms of adaptation. This makes my negative impressions of the film all the more worrisome.

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Not the first time I’ve disagreed with the masses, likely not the last. I’m open to discussions in the comments.

For all the praise that Bleach has been getting from both fans and critics, I find myself unable to invest in it. As much as I enjoyed all the flashy action scenes and great acting, I couldn’t help but feel like the film was forced to hold back, hurting itself all the more.

And now, Spoilers Ahead.

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Our story opens with a scene that will make most fans of the original blanch: Young Ichigo Kurosaki is out for a walk with his mom, Masaki (Masami Nagasawa), in the rain. After a cute scene that establishes Ichigo’s protective instincts (thud, plot-point landing) he sees a little girl with no umbrella and rushes to lend her his since this was when he was still nice. Cue the creepy music and camera angles, and we cut to Ichigo’s mother on top of him, with both looking very beat up. As she dies, I and many fans of the series are likely wondering why they picked this middle-season scene to start this shebang.

One weird credit sequence later (in the shape of a sword, nice touch), we learn that mysterious sinkholes have been popping up and causing some trouble. Then, we’re dropped in Karakura Town, where we are shown and told about teenage Ichigo (Sôta Fukushi) and his special ability to see ghosts. After beating up a gang of thugs who’ve knocked over a memorial, Ichigo scurries home to the rest of his family: his father, Isshin (Yôsuke Eguchi), and sisters Karin and Yuzu. We some familiar home dynamics from the anime/manga, mainly Isshin beating up his son for being late to dinner and the sisters’ deadpan disrespect at his lack of parental prowess.

Eventually, Ichigo decides to skip dinner and head to his bedroom. Here, a woman in black and white robes… appears, out of thin air, and shuffles past him to remark that a “Fishbone” is on its way. The woman, Rukia Kuchiki (Hana Sugisaki), shows surprise that Ichigo can see her and clarifies that she’s no ghost, but a “Soul Reaper.” They’re basically protectors of innocent spirits and hunters of evil monsters, called Hollows, and one just so happens to be on its way. And, sure enough, the monster crashes into Ichigo’s house and kidnaps Yuzu. Big Brother Ichigo and Rukia try their best to fight the beast – in a surprisingly well-done action scene no less – but it’s clear that neither of them can take him. Rukia has one option: transfer her power to Ichigo and turn him into a Soul Reaper.

bleach-sequel

They win the fight, but Rukia can’t get her powers back through some rather stupid reasons. The only option, according to her, is to train Ichigo to fight more Hollows so that he can have the energy to transfer back the powers and not die. Ichigo naturally refuses, because he’s an angry teenager, but their time is quickly running out. Fellow Soul Reapers Renji Abarai (Taichi Saotome) and Captain Byakuya Kuchiki (Miyavi), are on the way to kill Ichigo and possibly Rukia. Because it’s apparently illegal for a Reaper to give their powers to a human, which I’m sure was explained in the anime but not here.

I got pretty much what I expected from watching this movie: a rushed exposition of characters, nit-picky story changes, and a big desire to hit plot points. But the characters themselves did display some familiar traits from the show, so it certainly had more insight into the story than the last two attempts at adaptation did. But I was really surprised to find that the action in the story was well choreographed, and the passable CGI gave us some great designs for the Hollows. In fact, barring some weird transitional choices between scenes, the movie passes as a generic action film, right down to a training montage at the end.

But Bleach was never a generic action series and that is where the movie has a big problem. When compared to its original source material, I find the film to be far too calm and reserved. The humor is there, but barely slapstick; the characters have hints of their source material, but can’t quite go beyond that; the plot points resemble the important moments of the show, but don’t really hit home. Bleach’s over-the-top vibe is woefully restrained by the natural limitations of a live-action film and I feel it made the story limp by comparison.

In the end, I believe Netflix’s Bleach can only hope to be divisive. Viewers looking for a mindless action film may take to it, and people who don’t mind the changes could very easily get swept up into the flow of the cool fights, the good acting, and decent pacing. But I just couldn’t push past the half-energy feel of the film, and I imagine others won’t either.

Your thoughts on the movie? Feel free to share below, discussion is encouraged. And don’t forget to like and follow for more content.

My Pet Peeves in Dubbed Anime

don’t imagine most of my viewers are new to the anime community but, if you are, welcome to our crazy menagerie of nerdy awesome. And allow me to introduce you to one of the biggest divides that may or may not deserve to actually exist: dub vs. sub.

When certain anime become popular enough overseas, it’s only a matter of time before dubbing companies pick it up and do their best to localize it to English audiences or other countries. Most of the time, the dub is received relatively well by those who may not wish to read subtitles while watching TV. And, while many “Hardcore Otaku” view the experience as inauthentic, I personally don’t see anything wrong with spreading anime all the farther with language changes.

Profit and product for everyone! WEEEE!

But I’m far from an apologist when it comes to dubs and the same goes for the average anime viewer. As this article from Fandom shows, regarding the worst anime English dubs, your audience can and will call you out when you mess up their favorite show with a very botched attempt at localizing it. I am especially picky about the dub being as smooth as possible if I watch it, and there are certain mistakes that have a risk of chasing me completely away.

These mistakes are my pet peeves in dubbed anime. It may be nitpicking, but these nits won’t stop picking at me if left untreated.

Using English Pronunciation of Japanese Names/Changing The Names to English

I don’t know enough about the anime community to know if this bothers anyone else and I acknowledge it to be quite nit-picky of me. But, if I just can’t help feeling immensely agitated when the dubbers take it upon themselves to “englishfy” someone’s name. Because our poor American Ears just can’t handle Japanese syllables, right?

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LET ME AT ‘EM!

Be it because of bad voice actors, or maybe the directors who don’t know better, nothing gets under my grill worse than a dub that can’t be bothered to pronounce the character names correctly. It can be anything from a name that sounds downright wrong (I.IE, Kei Nagai’s dub name in Ajin) or something very minute, where the emphasis is just on the wrong part (Light’s last name in Death Note), but I guarantee it will make me bristle.

Or let’s take it a step farther; I hate it when they throw those names out the window and give them English names – what I like to call the “fuck it and burn it” approach Dubbers will – especially for kid’s shows – swap the names out for easier to pronounce English names. I understand the intent behind it, but to assume that kids can’t pronounce anything Japanese, especially names that will be repeated over and over again, is really rather insulting.

SPEEDY TALK! Or “Pacing, What’s That?”

Y’all remember Speed Racer? Y’all remember how the show was just as fast with the dialogue as it was with the racing?

Perhaps a terrible example, as even the Japanese variant of the show speaks at warp-speed. But the point still stands that the pacing in both makes it difficult to take in the show as anything but a novelty. Because anyone can tell you that all languages have a natural pace and timing to them, and messing it up will slip you directly into the Uncanny Valley.

ringing it back, perhaps unfairly, to Speed Racer highlights just how quickly this one will kill the immersion. The show was a well-earned breakthrough for its time but still hasn’t aged well with it’s poorly animated expressions, bad sound effects, and the oh so famous Speed-Talk. When none of your characters sound like they take a single breath in-between their sentences, you know you have a problem. It’s so famously bad that there have been multiple parodies of it in other shows.

This one’s my favorite. Hell yeah, Dexter’s lab.

Lollipops, Jelly-Donuts, and Other Bad Localizations

And our last one is the big one, where most anime fans are still very salty: Bad. Kids. Dubbing.

There was an unfortunate period in time when American television was too scared to show anime meant for the older demographics, mainly anime for teenagers. And there was also a time when the shows Japan did aim at children had some content that wasn’t “acceptable” by American’s standards of children’s television. Mainly, characters had things like guns and cigarettes, or characters with openly same-sex relationships. Now, while the former was only used in material aimed at teenagers, the latter still made networks nervous. So, they gave birth to what is my least favorite dubbing pet peeve: changing the scenery or the story with something utterly stupid.

Whether it’s Pokemon changing onigiri into stupid looking sub-sandwiches or Sailor Moon trying to hide a lesbian couple as “cousins,” localized dubs and “corrected” dubs are some of the most irritating, condescending things an anime fan can run across. There’s no sense in dumbing down anime that wasn’t meant for kids in the first place and no reason to outright change the anime’s characters when they don’t do anything particularly vulgar or unacceptable on screen. It’s insulting to the original, to the fans of the show, and to the new audiences who may or may not feel like they’re being handled with kids gloves.

 

What are your dubbing pet peeves? Feel free to comment down below and share, and don’t forget to like and follow for more content just like this.

 

What I Look For In A Manga Adaptation

As I was making my anime journey as a wee munchkin, it didn’t take long for me to discover what is most often the second love of any anime fan: manga. As many studios like to take popular manga and make it a bright, shiny, action-packed anime, it only makes sense that anime fans will seek out the manga these stories came from, if they haven’t already read said source material. And, as such, many new fans will quickly find that even anime cannot escape the horrors of adaptation fail, and so much horror and angry shouting will ensue.

Needless to say, anime isn’t safe from the stereotype of the rabid, angry, fanboy/fangirl who just can’t stand that the adaptation went in a different direction or told a story different from the source material. And, while I obviously cannot speak for the grand majority of manga fans, I can say that I personally am not the Adaptation Police who expects the exact same story just in animated format (though I wouldn’t say “no” to it). When I like a manga inside and out, I naturally look for a fair representation of the story I love so much, or at least changes made in the same spirit of the story. What I don’t wanna see are last-minute changes to cover a lack of material or changes that go completely against the source material’s intentions.

You see, your average fan of any given manga (or even a light novel) understands that changes are gonna happen. No two writers are gonna think alike and, even if it’s the same writer, there will have to be changes to accommodate the change from paper medium to an animated medium. As such, I wager many feel the same way I do; changes are acceptable provided they make sense. It’s only when changes that are counterintuitive to the story, the characters, or the whole piece as a whole pop up, that most of us – myself included – will start to get real pissy.

Prime case in point: my favorite dead-horse that I continue to punch, Fullmetal Alchemist. (At least I’m self-aware.) And those of you who haven’t seen or read either the manga or its adaptations, turn back now.

Fullmetal Alchemist in its 2003 format will still get plenty of defense because, for a chunk of people, this was their first and only introduction to the story at all. But your average fan who started with the manga may very well take offense to Kimblee being portrayed as a mindless rough-and-tumble serial killer, or to Scar being robbed of his big character moment by having someone else kill the Rockbells, or even with the fact that series’s biggest motivator, Mustang, actually considered suicide after the Ishval conflict and had to be persuaded not to blow his brains out and instead fight for change, a la dethroning Bradley.

This image hurts me in more ways than I can verbalize.

Now, FMA has the excuse at least that it ran out of source material to work with (I.E the Mangaka wasn’t writing fast enough for television) and that the author, Arakawa, told the anime to just do its own thing. Now, though I respect her wishes to want to finish her story at her pace, it also highlights another issue I have with bad adaptations, and an issue I believe exists in adaptations as a whole: they don’t wait for the original story to even finish. It’s kinda hard to stick to the author’s original vision when you don’t know what that vision is.

But let’s say, for some reason, you can’t stick to the original story and have to go in a slightly different direction from the story. There have been cases where the manga is a tad intense for the target audience. It’s why Sailor Moon cut a lot of the gratuitous death scenes from the anime, for example. However, if this should come to pass, I think I speak for all fans of that manga when I say this: at least finish the damn story, and don’t cut the good parts, for God’s sake.

Don’t make me do it, PLEASE!

The worst thing you can do to the source material is turn it into a hollow, soulless shell with a story dangling out over the edge of a cliff. It makes the story look underthought and generic, or makes this big epic tale of good and evil look like the author just gave up. Or maybe you pull the Berserk route and give up just as shit has hit the fan in the worst way.

One of many tragedies of this came from Hellsing, whose quality will vary depending on who you talk to. I personally see it as another example of sexy violence and vampirism, mostly because I read the manga, which had its sights set squarely on the crazy-awesome. But you’d never know that if you saw the anime adaptation and not the OVA, because the first take on the story tries to take itself way too damn seriously, cuts most of the crazy gore from the plot, ends it long, long before the manga actually finishes,  and decided that an overgrown mutant made a better villain than a fat, jolly Nazi general with the creepiest  smile.

Sure, Incognito was creepier looking, but he had the personality of bland bread.

When pulled all together, what I want of an anime adaptation of my favorite manga seems like common sense: if you can’t stick to the story, stick to what I liked, and don’t try to tell your own story. This isn’t the place for you to flex your fanfiction-muscles or try to “fix” whatever bugged you about the story. Do what you have to do to make the medium translation as smooth as you can, but try to remember what it was that people loved about this story. And, above all else, finish it.

 

 

Is Anime Still a Niche?

Late posts are the bane of my existence. But there’s little I can do when the first cold of the season decides to waltz on up and slap me real hard in the sinuses. Let’s just say that writing doesn’t come to mind when you can’t breathe properly.

That’s been me for the past few days. Dammit.

While I’ve been living off cold medicines and soups, my brain has done the thing it’s best at: wander off in strange directions with no rhyme or reason. One such direction had me wondering if anime really was still a niche market. The knee-jerk reaction is likely just to say “yes, of course,” since anime is still considered a nerdy habit for nerdy people who don’t bathe and live in the basement. But, if you press hard enough with your average normie, you’ll find out that they’ve either grown up on Toonami cartoons (mostly anime) or maybe checked out Fullmetal Alchemist or Attack On Titan (both anime).

The people who claim to “hate anime” but love one of these shows just baffle me.

So, has anime actually crossed the niche boundary to become a more majority-approved hobby? No, but I do believe there have been some very significant changes that have made it less rare.

For starters, there’s no way that anime and anime fans today face the same struggles and isolation anime fans back in seventies and eighties had to put up with. If you go into the wayback machine, you discover that anime began as a series of bootlegged dvds in some otaku’s basement, or maybe some specially translated copies ordered from Japan and translated rather… precariously.  But, as I mentioned in a post prior, things changed when mainstream media decided to introduce a larger, younger audience to the wonders of anime; we called it Toonami.

The revolution will be televised.

While there were other contributing factors to anime becoming a more “known” hobby, little in the 90’s had the same widespread effect that Cartoon Network’s Toonami had. The now-famous block of programming aimed to bring in more action-oriented shows to slightly older audiences – teens and young adults mostly – and picked some, also now famous, pieces from the shounen/giant robot bin. You’d watch Pokemon, Transformers and even Gundam Wing every day at seven pm but, as soon as it was over you’d go to bed without remotely entertaining the idea of making the necessary bootlegging trips to look at more.

And lo, all that changed thanks to the beautiful and nasty creation that was The World Wide Web and the later creation that was the streaming service. The information age brought with it all the answers you could ever want about what anime is, isn’t, possibly could be, and so much more. You now have more open access than ever to anime shows – legally and otherwise – creating a fandom that is massive in scale and diverse as hell. It’s so prominent now that mainstream streaming sites like Netflix are even producing their own anime and live action anime movies (which are terrible, as is traditional). Western animators are even borrowing the animation style to do their own work, such as with the Castlevania anime.

So, if all of this is true, can we really call anime a niche at this point? In my own opinion, I believe the answer is a bit more complicated. No, anime itself isn’t really an obscure niche anymore. But anime-fans, however, are still very niche. It’s just easier now, more than ever, for us to make contact.

Time to make some friends!

The supply of anime is now overflowing and somewhat integrated into the mainstream world. But if you poke a random someone who shows a slight love of one anime or another, you’ll find that they don’t really care to pursue it much further. They prefer to keep it simple and dabble, despite the wide array at their fingertips. However, it’s also super easy to find someone who loves the medium just as much as you, or to find friends at a local convention for anime. So, while the general public is more aware of anime, and maybe a little more accepting than they used to be, the fandom of anime is still a niche hobby.

And, quite frankly, that’s not such a bad thing.

 

 

Why I Won’t Watch Sword Art Online

It’s been a while since I dipped into the controversy. I doubt this will ruffle as many feathers, but it should be fun.

I was never the one who wanted to be contrary in the anime community. I don’t like to be that person who refuses to watch something just because it’s popular, or because everyone talks about it constantly. But I am someone with will avoid a show if my gut tells me it wouldn’t be something I’d like, or if there were unfortunate rumors floating around about it. Lo and behold, I met something that combined both of those in one overpowering splash. Gentle readers, meet the now infamous Sword Art Online and the memes that have ever followed.

2chgt9

Yeah, needless to say, this bright, shiny star in the animesphere fell from grace. The show started out with a plot that caught a few eyes, that of a virtual video game that trapped people in its graphical clutches. The show got a lot of attention, from my memory of it, but something in my gut told me I wouldn’t like it. And, after diving into my information wells on the show, it turns out I made a good call. This show didn’t sound like something that would appeal to me and recent tidings make it clear it never will.

 

Never Was a Fan of the Trapped In Video Games Genre Anyway

 

First and foremost, the biggest red flag for me is that the show doesn’t even belong to a setting I’ve ever really liked.

The average reader of this page will know that I consider myself a gamer. So, it would be easy to assume that I’d be attracted to anime that feature video games heavily or have a story that centers around them. And, in fact, I’m a huge fan of the games in the .hack universe that takes place in an MMORPG called “The World.” However, while The World is a crucible where your inner demons will come to eat you alive, most other games treat the game as a set-piece. My only reaction to such decisions is pure, weapons-grade “meh.”

Oh no, don’t remove the helmet, nuuuuu! Or do. I really don’t care.

At its very core, the idea of being stuck in a video game is oddly wish-fulfillment. Sure, your consciousness is trapped inside a virtual world while your real body dries up and starves to death, but most who dig this kind of stuff tends to look at the fact that they now have superpowers, strength, and speed that doesn’t depend on their physical prowess. And, while I can see the appeal of it, it was never a fantasy I strived for.

Now, bring it back around to SAO. The kicker here is that, by my own witness and my sources, I don’t see SAO doing anything very interesting with the trope. Sure enough, Kirito is now super powerful and gaining momentum each time, but the actual video game bits are more like set-dressing. It’s a means to an end, an end that brings me gracefully to point two.

 

Never Was a Fan Of Harems or Overpowered Protagonists With Harems

 

Strike two for SAO was its somewhat secret (but not really) hidden genre, with the almighty Kirito and the many women who have a thing for him.

I’ve made it no secret: I don’t most harem anime. My beef may stem from my not being the target audience but it also rests on the droopy, wimpy shoulders of most harem protagonists. They tend to be dense as hell and spineless, and I can’t fathom what so many women will see in someone so milquetoast. It’s boring for me, especially when the said protagonist is boring as sin and I can’t place what it is about him that everyone is falling in love with.

Case in point, freaking Kirito. Kirito, from what I’ve told, isn’t the dense and bland variety, just the blank-slate type. He also only has eyes for one girl in the whole story who also only has eyes for him. But that doesn’t stop several women from developing crushes on him or at least wanting to hang around him as much as possible. It’s weird, given that Kirito has as much personality as a wet paper bag. He’s a pair of pants for viewers to slide into and enjoy the attention, a fantasy that will not appeal too much to the straight-female audience like yours truly. I understand the appeal of being admired by every opposite-sex person in the room, but this whole show is a power-fantasy made with someone else in mind.

 

The Story Is Dying

 

I wanna take you to something I read, something that convinced me once and for all that I would never be able to watch this show. It’s a moment I’m sure many of the fans know and will elicit some pretty split reactions. Back in episode 24, evil Hate Sink Oberon has Asuna chained at the wrists, hanging so she’s up on her toes, and Boring Invincible Hero Kirito is pinned down.  Oberon forcibly removes Asuna’s top, proceeds to taunt Kirito, and licks her face, just in case you weren’t sure he was a 2D douchebag. He might have done worse after lifting up her skirt, had Kirito not gone berserk and broken free.

I’ll spare you the creepier images from that scene and stick with this one, which is still uncomfortable as hell. Stare it down and understand why I’m unhappy.

I’ll save you my massive rant about how much I detest using rape and sexual assault as a means to provide shock value in a story, or just further cement how “evil, mwahaha” someone is (short version: I find it disrespectful and it means your plot has no meat on its bones) but I will tell you that moments like this are a huge red flag for lazy writing. This scene is textbook attention grab: Evil Villain does something unspeakable to Damsel In Distress so the hero can go bonkers and beat his face in. But, when you add in how little character Kirito has, and how I’m told that said evil villain here is even less interesting, then you got yourself a recipe for a story that’s on its last, stumbling legs.

SAO is dying, dear reader, of a fate worse than real death: plot death.

“Tell the fans… we tried….”

SAO is dying, dear reader, of a fate worse than real death: plot death. The fans are distancing themselves from the characters more each episode; their rage at plot points, both the one above and several more, is building; and it’s going to eventually reach a point where even they won’t be able to care and will abandon the show altogether. And I don’t make a habit of taking a ride on sinking ships.

How Anime Handles Monsters

I know September isn’t here, and yet something spooky doth draw near. The shelves at market are covered in chills, which give folks like me such wonderful thrills.

It’s that time again….

In a non-rhyming language, Halloween’s prep season has already begun before setemper hits the calendar. Stores are already stocked up on candy and novelty Halloween stuffs, and I’m absolutely giddy. It may be hypocritical of me to be this thrilled when the sight of early Christmas decorations fills me with dread, but I’m content to stew in my witchy delight and enjoy the spooks and kooks that will be rolling out real soon.

This early start to the scary part of the year left me with horror on the brain, specifically monster horror. I’ve been fascinated with the human love of monsters and creatures, as B-movies are some of my favorite things to watch around this time of year. But, naturally, I couldn’t help but wonder how anime handled its audience’s craving for monsters and madness.

And, as always, the answer varies.

 

  • Sometimes You Wanna Beat’em

 

First and foremost, anime for children handles monsters the same way most cartoons do: kick’em to the curb and rub’em out. Shows like Sailor Moon, Tokyo Mew Mew, and others stray away from the horror and adrenaline approach and just create an ugly “monster of the day” for the heroes to vanquish. The mood is less about fear and more about action and excitement, a simple but winning formula that both kids and retro nerds like myself can get behind. The only real pitfall is when the monsters stop being scary or cool and just become stupid.

Beware the computer screen!

But ah, monster anime for the kiddies isn’t all power-rangers and sparkles. Shows aimed at an older audience take it a step farther by turning the monsters into a natural hazard of the environment, keeping that “conquering hero” feel without being too silly. Nothing slakes the thirst for adventure anime like watching a shounen protagonist encounter some massive, heaving, beast that’s known to roam these waters or these trees. sea-kings-one-piece

Luffy, we’re gonna need a bigger boat… lots of bigger boats.

 

  • Sometimes you Wanna Be WITH Them

 

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And, while the simple approach of “catch/kill monster” works for some, others may hold some less violent ideas. Some have a more… romantic approach.

It’s long established that Paranormal Romance holds a special place in the heart of both adult and young adult literature, but I like to think anime covers more grounds than they do. Because, while most literature is stuck in the prospect of dating demons and the blood-sucking undead, anime also speculates what it’d be like to date all kinds of other creatures: dragon-creatures, half-demons, mutants, you name it.

But I don’t suggest breaking out the social pitchforks, because it isn’t all big breasts and fantasy harems. There are shows that take more subtle, darker looks at this subject matter; they may even dabble in tragedy and horror while at it. Take for example the very dark Elfen Lied, an anime whose main character is as cute as she is frightening and sad. Her race, The Diclonii, have very ill intentions for humanity, and yet the story spends painstaking attention on her love for one specific human boy and the troubles she’s suffered along the way. The rest of the series is painted by unabashed gore and horror, but the monster within is still treated with beauty and grace.

 

  • … Even Though They Seriously Wanna Kill Ya.

 

With all this talk of monster-mashing and romance, you’d think anime would forget for a moment that these are still creatures predisposed to harm humanity and all it stands for. Fret not, gentle readers; anime do not forget. They simply try to push through.

Let it never be said that anime doesn’t understand horror in it’s monster reincarnations. Shows with these monster romance partners make swift work to remind readers that these non-human creatures will not hesitate to kill you should you be near them, or that you at least run the risk of it while trying to associate with them. Even if the monsters somehow have a connection that makes them less hostile, there will always be the threat of being eaten or ripped apart hanging over your head.

“I heard you like spiders….”

So, why does anime dabble in danger when it comes to men and women inevitably doing the monster mash? From what I gather – as an admitted fan of the Vampire Romance trope – is the fantastical danger of it translates the same way scary stuff in horror movies do. There’s adrenaline behind that rush of fear and paranoia, with the added bonus of not actually being in any danger. You get all the excitement of being in a dangerous romance without risking your valuable “bits,” so to speak. It might not be your kink, but it seems to demonstrably work.

 

  • Either Way, Pretty Damn Scary

 

Lastly, and my personal favorite, anime handles monsters in the traditional sense: shit-your-pants scary, and completely inhumane.

Attack On Titan, Blood +, and Berserk take great pains to make their resident creatures frightening. They hurt anyone that they find, without remorse, and in ways so ghastly that you’d have to look away if live-action had the technology. But they stray away from the childish “we gotta beat’em!” trope specifically because they do not go down easily… and not without taking several people with them.

Or an entire village, as the Castlevania anime demonstrated.

I believe this last trope has more universality than all the others, because there’s something inherently terrifying about multi-limbed, misshapen, sharp-toothed creatures that dethrone humanity from the top of the food chain. They can be pretty; they can be silly looking; they may even be trying to befriend you, but you just can’t shake that fear that one little slip will lead to all your limbs on the floor and anime won’t let you forget it.

 

How do you think anime handles monsters? Feel free to leave a comment below, and don’t forget to like and follow for more posts just like this one.

Otome Review: Lost In Secular Love

Otome crosses into strange places. When you deal with an audience that has seen everything and anything, you have to work overtime to come up with something new and curious to draw in the readers. And, when you do have to cross that threshold of odd, a little self-awareness goes a very long way for your audience. And I was counting on that self-awareness when I stumbled upon Lost in Secular Love, an Otome title about marrying a Monk in a fantasy religion… that looks awful close to Buddhism. Easy to talk about, right?

giphy

Putting that awkwardness aside, Lost in Secular Love is a surprising story in a pretty box. What could have been a goofy parody handles itself with great care and that was all I could ask for.

 

  • Plot

 

The main character Qiye Cui (or any name the player picks) comes from a fallen noble family in the Wu Zhou Providence, what I assume is fantasy China. Due to follies by her father and uncle, her family were stripped of their power and now live in a dilapidated house, a fate made all the worse after her father passed away. Her sister made the smart move and married a government official, but the rest of the family now suffers in crushing poverty. Qiye does her best to take care of the family now, often pretending to be a male waiter at the local restaurant to earn coin, but her ill mother worries that such trials have doomed Qiye to become an old maid. But all that may change when her mother, a parishioner at the Qing Lian Temple, drops a bomb of massive scale.

Marry a Monk

In the fictional religion of Moyu, Monks are now allowed to marry as a means of passing on temple ownership. And while doing so isn’t considered a huge social step for women, it certainly works out better than their current state. Knowing that she’d be securing her family for life, Qiye sets off to meet her possible fiancee, the lead Monk of the temple. But this marriage is shot if she can’t learn the Moyu philosophy in a very short time, or if her heart just can’t take the strain of an arranged marriage.

 

  • Gameplay

 

Fair warning, Otome Lovers; this one dips into R-Rated romance, real fast.

The game plays in the standard visual novel style: you’ll be asked to make a choice, every so often, that will change the outcome of the plot. You’ll be deciding which parts of the temple to visit and how to react to various situations, and each choice will endear you to one of the three available candidates. The monk that likes you the most will be the route you follow in Chapter 4 and each has a different take on the same story.

Now, I like to choose wisely in these games, but this game is one of the hardest to “read” I’ve ever seen. I don’t mean the physical act of reading it – in fact, the English translation is next to perfect – but to get a “read” of which choices you should pick. When presented with a decision in the game, it is very difficult to tell if it’ll help your cause or not, as it doesn’t immediately show you if you’ve been successful or not. It’s a challenge, which I know some of you will adore. But the rest should strongly consider getting a walkthrough.

Status LISL

Speaking of, I’ve never been more surprised than I was upon discovering how well-written this Otome was. As one commenter on Steam put it, dating a holy man was not on my list of “hot-guy fantasies.” But the writer did an amazing job of addressing those concerns with self-awareness and humor, and you no longer feel awful when things get hot and heavy. The staff here did very well and deserve all the credit they can get.

Staff

As such, here’s my crediting attempt; if there’s a better way, PLEASE let me know, ‘cause these guys deserve all the credit they can get.

 

  • Art

 

Hot damn, these are some pretty monks.

But, beyond the bishounen holy men wandering around here, the art in this game is awesome. Each screen displays bright colors and great details, down to minor backgrounds, and each character has a very distinct look about them. There’s even a mode of gameplay where you can have the official monks be bald and I could still tell each one apart just by their faces, which is huge as far as character design.

Rain LISL

But wait, there’s plenty more. We have slightly animated CG’s, cute black and white transition screens, and these adorable chibi characters that occasionally pop up. This thing puts the Visual in Visual Novel quite well, well worth the money spent on it.

 

  • Romance Options

 

Zhi Kong

Zhi

As the oldest and most learned of the Monks, Master Zhi Kong will be the one inheriting the temple. Protagonist likes to compare him to a statue: graceful, calm, with the gentlest voice I’ve ever heard in my life. He prides himself on his detachment from the worries of the physical world, at least when he isn’t playing with animal toys or chasing down the temple cat to dote on it. Soft-spot for fuzzy animals aside, the master seems like the most distant choice of the group. But, as the story dives deeper into the belly of the beast, you start to see that a man can hide many things behind a smile; after all, the monks did say that Zhi Kong will dote on things he likes by refusing to let them go. So, what happens when he decides to spoil you?

I picked the oldest brother first because I assumed he’d be the most boring; I was very wrong. Sure, he’s every bit as gentle, wise and graceful as he appears, but his second layer is both shocking and downright steamy. I dare not spoil what I discovered from this path and I can only encourage players to chase it with reckless abandon.

Hui Hai

Hui

Meanwhile, if you can fan yourself from that encounter, you’ll move onto the younger brother and Temple Manager, Master Hui Hai. This beautiful, uber-thrifty megane is known for attracting many of the female parishioners, but his kind and loving soul makes him utterly oblivious to their true intentions. But the one thing he’s far from oblivious toward is body language and he reads the protagonist like she’s an open book. The two start forming a strong, very sweet, bond that puts the whole future of the temple in jeopardy. If you’re looking for a taste of forbidden romance, ladies, look for it right here.

This was another one I wasn’t sure I’d like and it certainly wasn’t my overall favorite. But I found myself pulled into the drama of this one pretty easily and the expressions that cross this man’s face are absolutely hilarious. It’s a story I enjoyed for its ups and downs, and it’s worth a look.

 

Zi Qing

Zi

Last, but definitely not least, is the resident stoic/sharp-tongued Monk-In-Training, Senior Zi Qing. He’s an old friend from Qiye’s past, but she remembers a boy who was sharp-tongued and gentle. Instead, she sees a much wiser man who’s just as caustic in word but far more harsh and critical than she remembers. And, from then on, it quickly becomes an impressive recreation of Pride and Prejudice. Misjudgments and first impressions become a source of anger and consternation that only letting go of pride will heal.

Compared to the other two, Zi Qing’s tale seems very fast-paced and straightforward. It’s a lot of fighting – which was not the greatest for me – but the points where the angry words stop are simple and to the point. And one can appreciate a man who knows what he wants and goes right after it. Zi Qing’s path is a very entertaining romp, comparing memory to reality, and I think it makes a fitting ending.

 

 

  • Final Thoughts

 

Lost In Secular Love is aware of its oddball status and embraces it in the best way possible. While the writing occasionally drifts into the melodramatic, it’s just so charming, funny and engaging that it gets my seal of approval. With likable characters and a changing narrative, the game is well worth a look for those looking for a hidden gem.

 

What NOT to Watch To Introduce Someone to Anime

Your average anime fan doesn’t stick out as much as people think. It’s a medium that’s so vast and inclusive that a whole spectrum of people can enjoy it. But there is, usually, a few things that tie us all together in the best ways possible, including this: that we love the medium very dearly, and feel sad when we have friends that don’t.

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“Why you no like?!”

It’s a sad, but true, fact: anime doesn’t have the best reputation. So, sometimes we have friends that just accept it as our “weird little hobby.” But I’m of the opinion that there’s no harm in trying to share that hobby by offering the non-fan a chance to see something you think they’d like, as a means to bond. The problem is picking out which show to watch together; that, my friends, is where the minefield is.

My best advice? Avoid these three types.

 

  • Anything from Their/Your Childhood

 

I know what you’re thinking. Maybe you wanna sit down and relive the glory days of Pokemon, Dragon Ball Z, or even Transformers. And, hey, maybe that non-fan will connect the dots that they’ve always liked anime, providing a gateway. I may have even said something to this effect in an earlier post.

But I’ve thought harder about this and changed my mind. The problem, I’ve come to realize, is that the person in question is not going to associate those warm childhood memories with anime, despite what we’d like. All you’re doing is giving them a free nostalgia trip.

I mean, how many anime fans associate shows like Transformers and speed racer with anime, let alone non-fans?

This show is already ingrained in the minds of said watcher as a fun memory from their childhood, a part of their culture while growing up. The idea I had was to use that as a bridge to anime being a positive thing, but the truth is that the non-fan is probably not even gonna recognize this show as a part of the anime family. Said shows are already firmly entrenched as part of “90s cartoons” or “2000s cartoons” and won’t be moving just because you ask them to.

And heaven help us if the show doesn’t hold up several years later. As a proud retro-nerd, I have revisited several of my favorite shows from back in the day; some still hold and some don’t. And, if you happen upon one that was uber-childish and not too entertaining now, you are not helping your case

 

  • Uber-Long Shows: One Piece, Bleach, Inuyasha, etc…

 

The second thing to avoid is what I like to call “a project.” Because the very last thing a non-fan of anime wants is a homework assignment.

Certain anime have stretched on and on, into oblivion. And, while some of them have lasted this long because they still have quality content to give (One Piece) some of them stretch so long because they started with a good idea and then stagnated into zombie status (Bleach). It’s a sad sight to sit through and it baffles me why anyone would attempt to pull someone into anime by watching it go from okay to horrible.

“Let’s watch, weeeee!”

Beyond that, why make their very first taste something that’s so massive? Imagine that someone wants to introduce you to a new flavor of ice cream that they love, and so they drop three different gallons of it in front of you, expressing their hope that you go through all of them to make up your mind. You’d think they were out of their minds, rightly so, and it’s the same thing with these uber-long, mainstream anime shows. Sure, they’re super popular and tend to attract non-fans on their own but, if they’re your primary weapon for winning someone over to anime, you’ll only get disappointment. All that non-fans are gonna see are the absurd number of episodes in the series and they likely won’t even bother.

 

  • Ecchi and Harem*

 

 This one gets an asterisk because it’s a “usually” situation. It requires that you know this person would like something like this, no doubt. Because, if they don’t , you just painted their entire view of anime as fanservice-y.

Anime has an unfortunate reputation for being Nothing But Naughty Tentacles or other XXX features, which is, of course, far from true. But anime is little more than a medium for art so there will be art that’s risque or straight-out softcore porn. Such things do have a rightful audience – and, if your buddy likes that sort of thing, maybe this could work – but terrible things will happen if you are not absolutely sure that they would like any medium that features heavy T&A.

Long story short, it’s not a wise idea to try and win your buddy over to anime through the compelling power of the bosom. The low-hanging fruit is best appreciated by those who consume it in other places as well, as then it helps tie everything together. If they aren’t the type to seek out this kind of thing or fantasize about being chased by multiple partners at once, then your best option is to start with something else.

 

  • In Closing, Just Go With What They Like

 

I have no desire to end on a negative note, so let’s close with some do’s, not don’ts.

Introducing a non-fan to anime is actually really quite simple. Begin with a series that’s entrenched in something they like. Do they like fantasy? Start with fantasy anime. Do they like horror? Pick the horror type they like and sit’em down. Make sure the anime is normal-length, not crazy long, and not loaded down with too many cliches. Above all, make sure they’re actually enjoying themselves while watching it. And, if it just isn’t their thing, as much as that sucks, don’t push it.

How Anime Continues To Break The Animation Age Ghetto

I think all anime fans, or animation fans in general, have heard these misconceptions at some point in their life: cartoons are for kids, or that any animation aimed at adults just has to be vulgar, or porn.

This is what TV Tropes and other sources refer to as the “Animation Age Ghetto,” this mindset that cartoons are primarily for a specific age group and everything against it ends up falling to the wayside. There’s lots of theories for how this rose up, and one of the big ones from the TV tropes page itself cities that, around the 50’s and 60’s, the quality of the animation was so poor that only kids found any enjoyment in them. This, combined with increasing FCC restrictions dictated by parental groups, led to the belief that cartoons marketed to children held the most profit, especially when combined with toy contracts, and led to a uniform thought process that cartoons automatically belonged to the youth.

And what’s worse is that this associate brings to mind that because these shows are for kids, they automatically suck. I’d like to think western cartoons have more than proven that wrong.

Now, this is just the one theory found, but there’s also several others that could be cited: one could blame Disney, for example, or Cartoon Network focussing on shows that were walking toy commercials and primarily aimed at young children.  I’m open to sources that tell the rest of the story as well, so feel free to share.

And here, gentle readers is where most anime fans get real proud. With segments like Adult Swim and Toonami, there came a rush of anime for a wider range of audiences. It provided more aggressive shows for teenagers and non-vulgar, action-oriented shows for adults. It was a nice reminder that the medium was not just for kids, even when more adult shows got dubbed and dumbed down for kid audiences.

We dare not speak “its” name, only admire its stupidity.

But, alas, I fear we are not out of woods just yet. I never wanted to be that grumpy person who talks about how “my cartoons” are better, but it’s hard for this professional aunt not to get grouchy when her niece’s favorite shows continuously feature low quality, simplistic animation, non-existent writing, and toilet jokes. What’s worse, while cheap flash animation and said toilet jokes are on the rise, you run into several of them with a mindset that what they’re doing is rescuing the cartoon scene. They think all this “edginess” is either stupid or taking the shows away from the kiddies, and they wanna “directly target” the youngins.

Poking fun at this particular gem here. Let it be said, the producers for this show are dicks.

But be not in a panic. Because I believe that my favorite medium is continuing the proud tradition of forcing people to keep an open mind and it didn’t even have to go in Naughty Tentacle directions this time.

For the starters, the aforementioned segment Toonami has long since picked the baton back up. After a very long time away in the mid-2000s, Toonami returned in the 2013/2014 time frame. And, while it’s no stranger to shows like South Park gracing its lineup,  you see it continue to push anime that challenges the previously mentioned misconceptions, with shows like Space Dandy, Samurai Champloo, Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure, Tokyo Ghoul and plenty more. Toonami rose back up from a watery grave to usher in what I think is a bit of a second-calling of aspiring Otakus, and I’m thrilled.

A sample of their lineup from 2016

Even beyond that, your average kid now has more than enough proof that animation isn’t just for kids thanks to a simple google search. Whether you’re going into legal territory with Crunchyroll and Netflix or less proper means (arrrgh, matey) everyone now has a plethora of ways to access the content that used to be only available through imported videotapes. The proof that AAG is absolute bullshit is all there, black and white (er, multicolor) clear as crystal. With the age of information comes what I like to call the “Age of Anime Enlightenment.” Most people understand now that anime isn’t something inherently childish and even non-anime fans have at least one show they say is “different, so it’s okay.”

This show tends to be the popular pick for that. Alas, it’s usually the 2003 variant.

But, if it’s a great time to be alive as an anime fan, why are there still so many people who think anime is childish, or the stuff of crazy Weeaboos with no social skills? To be perfectly honest, I think it’s because of anime’s inherent inclusivity. And, if that word inspires any knee-jerk reactions, let me explain. Because, as is usual for every entertainment medium, with a wide range of styles comes a wide range of people. Your average anime fan is probably the college student in the computer lab watching Tokyo Ghoul while working on his chemistry paper. Your less than average anime fan lives in a sea of used soda cans down in his basement and hasn’t seen the sun in ages. He just stands out more to others because he’s the more noticeable between the two.

There’s always that one guy, that guy…

Yes, there are groups of anime fans with the manners of cheese and the social skills of a spoon. But the same can be said of movies, western cartoons, books, and anything else escapist in nature. And it is this noisy minority, unfortunately, that causes a lot of people to assume that anime is the hobby of basement dwellers. Is that fair? Probably not, but I’ve always said the noisy minority gets the attention first. It’s anime’s biggest curse, but it’s also its greatest blessing; there’s something for everybody.

At the end of the day, I believe progress has still been made. We’ve come to a point where anime has a legitimate place in modern media, for both adult and children’s programming. And, while anime’s curse/blessing is still in full swing, I believe we’re doing better than ever. With Netflix pumping out original anime, and cartoon programming latching onto mainstream titles, I am very optimistic that the AAG will be a distant memory.

 

Thoughts on the idea that cartoons are for kids? Maybe you know something about the AAG I don’t? Feel free to share comments and corrections below. And don’t forget to like and follow for more content like this.