Friday’s Feature: You Have No Power Over Me – Man vs Self

This is my last feature for March and my last feature for now on conflict so I’m ending the month with Man vs Self. If you’ve missed any of the previous posts on Man vs Man, Man vs Nature, Man vs Technology or Man vs Society be sure to check out the posts.

I’m not going to lie, this is my favourite type of conflict. It seldom gets to take centre stage as normally this is a conflict that runs as a B Plot to the main action, but every now and then you get a story that puts a character’s inner conflict front and centre and does it in a relatable and entertaining way. Then there’s Tokyo Ghoul which has a perfect set up for a nice inner conflict and after a few freak outs early on just kind of dismisses any further inner conflict in favour of all the action focussed conflicts they can throw at you.

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Anyway, Man vs Self is pretty much what it says. The character is their own worst enemy. The only thing standing in their way is themselves and their doubts, their fears, their confusion, their inability to take action. These stories are great because with the exception of the superbly over-confident, almost everyone can relate. Even if we’ve never gone through exactly what the character is going through we can feel their uncertainty and hesitation and inner conflict and we know how incredibly debilitating those feelings can be.

Why does this type of conflict work?

01. It pairs well with other conflicts. As I said earlier, there are only a few stories where man vs self is the only focus of the story. Mostly it sits as a character drama or side story as we wait for the character to overcome this personal block before they can take on other conflicts in the story. Its effective and doesn’t feel like padding because it is relatable. That said, when done poorly, it mostly just feels like a character flinging emotions around and dragging the pace of the story. A real understanding of nuanced expression is kind of needed to pull this one off and do it well.

02. Relatability. This is human drama at its most basic. Even if you don’t interact with others or have conflicts within your family or with the society you live in, even if you face no natural disasters or murderous robots, you do have to face yourself every single day. And very few people love who they are every single day. More importantly, we doubt ourselves, we second-guess are choices, we hesitate at crucial times, and we regularly create drama where none exists. This is real life and seeing it play out in stories where the hero doesn’t just grab his sword and run into the fray but actually looks at the situation and feels his own vulnerability have a great deal of appeal. Of course it kind of takes some of the wish fulfilment out of the story.

03. The emotional affect can be enormous. From watching March Comes in Like a Lion I know that each week I’m a little shell-shocked at the end of the episode. It isn’t that anything big has happened as in most episodes very little actually happens. But because of the relatability of Rei as a character (or at least his struggle to keep moving forward in the case of his own depression and doubts) and watching this journey unfold, I find myself remembering a lot of the moments where getting out of bed for another day just seemed too hard or I’ve wanted to escape from a situation regardless of the consequences. The story hits hard and admittedly this impact will be different depending on how well you’ve related to the character and the set-up and your own experiences, but when you find the story that you connect with, this type of conflict is the one that is going to get under your skin and become truly unforgettable.

How does this work in anime?

Case 1: Yuri On Ice

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One of the really interesting points of Yuri On Ice as a story was the lack of antagonist. Even the other skaters weren’t really antagonistic. There was some rivalry but this was not something Yuri was trying to overcome. He was trying to overcome his own fear and lack of self-worth. He was never bad at skating (he made it to the grand prix the year before even if he came last – which still made him sixth in the world). He was never weak. He just couldn’t deal with the pressure and expectations of such a big competition and his perceived failure shattered what little confidence he had.

While Victor becoming Yuri’s coach certainly acted as a catalyst to Yuri turning things around, it can be clearly seen that Victor did not know Yuri well enough, or understand Yuri’s mental state well enough, to actually help him overcome it. Yuri had to find that himself. Admittedly, it was Victor’s arrival and attempts to coach that spurred Yuri into action.

However, because the conflict of the story was Man vs Self rather than Man vs Man, Yuri not winning the gold is still a perfectly fine ending. The point of the story wasn’t to crush the opponents. The point was to see Yuri finally skate the way he knew he could in a competition (and you have to admit taking out a world record is a pretty good consolation prize). Yuri has conquered his inner self and his final performance of Yuri On Ice shows that to the world.

Case 2: Soul Eater

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For a show full of external conflicts, Soul Eater continually returns to the characters themselves and overcoming their own inner weaknesses. Maka demonstrates this type of conflict numerous times throughout the series.

Unlike Yuri, Maka comes off as confident. She studies hard, has a clear dream, and is determined to succeed. Yet, despite her hard work, Maka and Soul hit a real snag early on causing them to lose the souls they had so far collected and sending them back to step one. This gives Maka’s confidence a real hit early on in the series and the few times she is reminded of this failure we see her try to resolve herself but we also see her obvious frustration. Soon after her confidence takes another hit when Professor Stein easily takes down both her and Soul. She is forced to face her own weakness and again this causes frustration.

However it is Soul’s injury that he sustains while protecting her, after she’s engaged in a fight that she could have avoided and if she’d been a bit quicker thinking things through could have escaped, that really hits Maka’s mental state hard. For a long time after this, Maka is withdrawn and struggles to work with Soul or even look at him. It strains their relationship and their partnership as weapon and meister. Because mental stability is needed to bring out their full power, to resonate, and to fight, this inner conflict faced by Maka continues to dominate a lot of screen time as they face progressively harder villains in the story.

In honesty, it is this part of Soul Eater that I love. The fights are cool, the villains zany, the pace works well enough, but it is all pretty typical action anime. It is the character focus, and particularly Maka, that really drew me into this world. Without this inner conflict getting played out across the series, I doubt the show would have left much of a lasting impression on me.

Conclusion

Man vs Self can be highly satisfying to watch as a form of conflict. It doesn’t have to be all doom and gloom. As many characters have proven it can be highly entertaining when you are at war with your inner voices. However, this type of conflict does allow that exploration into some of those denser topics such as depression and anxiety and it is great to see some of these ideas get a little bit of screen time as it gives people a little insight or gets people talking about the ideas.

That is the end of this series of posts on conflict. I’ve certainly barely scraped the surface of any of these ideas so I guess I’ll revisit them at some point but for now I’m going to move on to other ideas for awhile.

What is your favourite man vs self anime or character suffering from inner conflict?


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Future Diary Series Review

Overview:

Amano is your completely typical loner who struggles with social interactions so spends most of his time writing a diary on his phone where he documents things that happen around him (not things he does because he does very little). He has two imaginary friends that he talks to when he’s alone at home and everything is kind of fine until one of his imaginary friends gives him phone the ability to see the future and it turns out he isn’t the only one with this ability and his imaginary friend isn’t so imaginary.

Review:

Future Diary is one of those stories that goes for an absolutely cool premise. Phones that tell the future, a death match to see who can become a god, crazy pink haired chick who has a major obsession with the main protagonist, etc, etc. The set up is just screaming that this show is edgy and cool. And in honesty, if you just watch the first two episodes it kind of pulls off the kind of tone it needs to sell this. Unfortunately, while the series has some truly spectacular moments, what it doesn’t have is cohesion and good pacing and the characters, while they fit into their assigned roles well enough, don’t really do enough to carry the downtime in this plot. So what we are left with are sensationalist moments that stick in your memory and a plot that ends up being wafer thin at best.

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That isn’t to say Future Diary isn’t a fun ride. If you just want to buckle in and watch the diary users hunt each other down and then pick each other off in increasingly violent ways than you will have a lot of fun with this story even if the ending does leave you wondering a bit (though I’ll talk more about the ending later). Each diary user has enough individualism both in their personality and in the way their diary operates to bring something fresh to the table and other than Yuno and Amano, none of them stick around long enough to become boring despite a lack of depth to their personalities. Although, the fact that they are all just a little bit broken and crazy certainly raises some questions.

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At the heart of this story is Deus Ex Machina (yes, that is the name of the character). He’s one of Amano’s imaginary friends but it turns out he’s actually a god and he has set this game in motion in order to find a successor.  Which of course raised a number of questions:

01. Why can’t the god just choose a successor? Why does he need some elaborate game to determine who it should be?

02. Would you really want the lone survivor from a brutal death match actually being given that kind of power because even if they weren’t messed up to start with, surely you suspect they are going to be by the end?

03. Was the selection of all of these highly flawed individuals actually deliberate as a message that everyone is actually crazy and they just need a catalyst to send them over the edge or is that just wishful thinking that maybe there was more thought put into the cast than just what would be interesting on screen for the episode before the inevitable death sequence?

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None of these questions get reasonable answers though there is some attempt to justify the game as a means of selection. However, considering Deus is at the centre of everything that happens, he’s an almost non-character. Even when Amano first introduces us to his imaginary friends it is Mur Mur who gets your attention as Deus is a decidedly passive character.

Which doesn’t stop him from painting a target on Amano’s back before the first episode is over. Deus declares, in front of all the other diary users, that Amano is his favourite to win the game. Um, did you want him dead? Or being a god did you already foresee how the game would play out regardless? Or am I once again just trying to find logic in something that is inherently just a cheap excuse to send all of the other members Amano’s way which certainly speeds up what could otherwise be a very slow story if we actually had to wait for Amano to figure anything out.

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Speaking of Amano, as the main character he is rubbish. I like the idea of socially awkward loner being forced into this life or death situation but he is far too pathetic and his co-dependence on Yuno is problematic from the start (even before we knew just how crazy she was). More importantly, Amano fails time and again to grow as a character. Characters being pathetic early on is fine and understandable, but not learning and repeating similar mistakes over and over just becomes tedious.

Yuno on the other hand has become a running joke. She’s just so incredibly over the top. While she certainly has good reason to be deeply scarred, as a character she’s more of a caricature and it becomes very difficult to take her seriously as either a love interest or a threat (though clearly for the story to work we need to see her as both). By the way, if you have an issue with her tying Amano to a chair to protect him and then attempting to kill off the friends he has somehow come across throughout this story then you should probably pass on this story.

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Moving on from the characters, the story itself is pretty standard for most of the run time. Introduce diary user, see their particular trick or trait, run around for a bit, confrontation, brutal death scene. There’s variations and at times the story introduces more than one diary user or builds in temporary alliances to shake things up, but ultimately the object of this story is just to knock down the players. The occasional interference from Deus or Mur Mur also breaks things up, and front and centre we have the tragic story of Yuno and Amano playing out. All of this works well enough, even if it isn’t amazing in terms of narrative.

Spoilers ahead.

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Where the story goes off the rails is right at the end where we find out this is not the first time this death match has played out. The previous winner wasn’t happy with the way things ended and after acquiring the power of god created another reality, replaced themselves, and decided to given themselves a do-over. It certainly explains a few things and actions taken by the character and it is a nice idea for a twist but when we see how this match ends and what the winner does it all just seems like this story is trying too hard to justify itself rather than embracing that it is really just a popcorn worthy show.

End spoilers.

If you haven’t already seen Future Diary and you enjoy a story with a bit of violence, action, and a mild-psychological thriller element, then you will probably get quite a kick out of watching this series. However, if you aren’t a fan of that style there isn’t much else here to look at, unless you really want to know why Yuno is the craziest character ever.

I’d love to know what you thought of Future Diary.


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ACCA Episode 12

Review:

While I suspect not all will be thrilled with the way this resolved, for me it was the perfect way to end this story. At all times, things have been pretty laid back and resolved without much in the way of violence, and for the coup to end the way it did works perfectly in terms of being true to the feel of the story and characters. It probably would have been unnatural for this to end any other way.

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There’s something immensely satisfying in seeing where the characters end up after the ceremony and while this journey was meandering at times, it doesn’t feel like any of it has been wasted. I fully enjoyed every moment of this story. I’ll do a full review of the series soon and I’m definitely going to rewatch this series later in the year just to see if it can stand up to a second watch (I’m still concerned that half the fun of this show will vanish when you know where it is going).

ACCA is available on Crunchyroll.


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elDLIVE Episode 12

Review:

Amazingly enough we didn’t get any kind of twist. The spy was Vega. We do get an angsty reason why and in the end we save him but seriously for a season finale having the recently introduced character turn out to be a traitor and call that a wrap on the season is just kind of lazy.

Of course that’s a criticism I could extend across a lot of this. The suddenly being able to recruit aliens all around the world to take out DeMille’s ships is just a cheap throw away plot device because otherwise the heroes can’t get out of the fix they are in. But there’s no speech or negotiation scene. It’s just, hey, here’s an idea, and it’s all done. If it was that easy, why were the ships even a threat?

Additionally, the final fight between the space police and DeMille Junior is just so easy and over and done with too quickly. Playing the theme song and hitting us hard with guitar riffs doesn’t make it any more exciting. The only fight that had any punch to it was between Vega and Chuta and the outcome of that was so incredibly clear that it just didn’t feel worth it.

So I’ll write my full review of this show and sadly put it among the titles of shows that maybe could have been so much better than they ever were.

elDLIVE is available on Crunchyroll.


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Tales of Zestiria the X Season 2 Episode 12

Review:

You know that feeling you get when you think something is a final and then it isn’t? I kind of got that this week. There just doesn’t seem any reason to stretch this another episode but stretch it we will.

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But hey, we finally got back story on Michael, the former shepherd, and how the Lord of Calamity became what he is. Seriously, what was Michael thinking? As a former Shepherd he had to know that cursing someone was a stupid idea.

And at this point any care I had about this world is gone. Apparently you can destroy the world just by shouting a few words while burning inside a building. I get its supposed to be dramatic and about how we all have darkness inside of us and maybe we’re even supposed to feel bad for Michael, but honestly, this was such a stupid thing to do. And that this one tiny little thing manages to turn the entire world on its head is literally the hardest thing to swallow. Do his words just carry more weight because he was a former shepherd? Lots of people die pointless deaths and shout curses, most of them don’t nearly destroy the world.

Anyway, let’s all combine our powers because Sorey’s been thinking about it for awhile but at no point has this possibility actually been foreshadowed, and somehow this will all work out. Go team.

Tales of Zestiria the X is available on AnimeLab.


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Haikyuu Episodes 24 + 25

Review Episode 24:

I guess episode 24 answers the question of how long can you stretch a game.

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There were some very nice and dramatic slow motion scenes of players returning the ball but not a lot else happens this episode other than the final ball dropping and then seeing how these players deal with loss. It is the realistic outcome and it doesn’t feel cheap. It really feels like they learned a lot from the game and while they are quite broken immediately after it really looks like they’ll bounce back, particularly as there is another full season and then a shorter third season. Anyway, my only question left of this season is what happens in the final episode?

Review Episode 25:

I’m going to say that was a fairly unsatisfying episode and if I’d watched this when it originally aired I’d be annoyed. We see characters mope, pick themselves up, set a new target. Only it was the last episode of a season so if the second season didn’t already exist it would just be a hanging ending.

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I’ve said it before, but Haikyuu is actually weaker when they aren’t playing volleyball. The characters are all interesting enough, it isn’t as though it is boring watching them, but without the intensity of the game it is just kind of so-so. Good enough and you have enough emotional attachment to see the episode through. But if they did a string of these episodes, you would start wondering whether this show really could hold its own without the competitive atmosphere in the games. Then again, it is a sports anime so it’s probably good the show is more interesting when they are playing sport.

I’ll be reviewing season 1 of this soon and I’ll also be continuing on to the second season.

Haikyuu is available on AnimeLab.


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The Worst Show of Winter 2017

If you didn’t see my poll for best show of Winter, I’ve added that poll at the bottom of this post as well. However, this post is primarily for voting for the worst show of Winter 2017. My criteria for worst show is pretty much bad story, bad characters, and/or boring (or you know, you just don’t like it).

As with the previous poll if you could spread the word I’d really appreciate it.

Thanks for your vote. I’ll release results soon, probably next week.

For those who missed it, here’s where you can vote for what you thought the best show was.


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Iron Blooded Orphans Episode 48

Review:

Please note: Major episode spoilers below – no attempt to conceal details.

Orphans48

There was a lot of Orga focus in this episode, for good reason. What I particularly liked is that Orga’s screen time didn’t suddenly advance, and other than one flashback (which we’ve seen before from a different perspective) we didn’t dwell on the past. Instead, we looked at how the other characters were viewing Orga and their relationship with him after everything Tekkadan has been through.

And of course, from fairly early on it is inevitable where all this is leading. I did like the set up though for the final blow and I love that Orga went out protecting his family (and thank-you writer who decided not to kill Ride because I was really tense as I expected collateral damage on this one).

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So yes, Orga has been killed and now I just have to wonder, what will Mikazuki do?

Iron Blooded Orphans is available on AnimeLab.


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Killing Stalking Chapter 10

Before I get into reviewing this I want to make it clear that none of the content being reviewed in this post is suitable for children and even for adults is probably going to be confronting. Anyone who has been following the copious posts about Killing Stalking on Twitter probably already know that, but just giving everyone else fair warning.

Review:

How is it? Your first killing.

I’m going to stop being surprised by how twisted Sangwoo is eventually.

There isn’t much too this chapter so this is going to be pretty short. Essentially, having lost the card game, Yoon Bum is now terrified of being killed but Sangwoo isn’t done playing just yet. He decides to have the other guy be the one to kill Yoon Bum.

Only, as much as the other guy wants out of there, homicide is apparently a step too far. So, Sangwoo, being the sweet guy he is helps him out. By blindfolding him and then taping the knife to his hands. Let me just assure you this doesn’t end well and leave the rest of the scenario for you to find out when you read it.

Taken by itself, this chapter really is nothing. As a follow up to the previous events, it is as horrifically perfect as can be expected. Although, given Sangwoo seems very seasoned at this sort of thing I have to wonder where he’s been hiding all the bodies.


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Tuesday’s Top 5: Male Characters With Gorgeous Long Hair

While I try not to write too many posts about the physical characteristics of characters, this was a list I’ve wanted to write for awhile. Long hair on guys is just kind of amazing (or at least I think so). And when it billows in the wind and invites you to run your fingers through it, there’s just something really magical about that. Here are my top 5 characters with gorgeous long hair who I would absolutely love to spend some time with. Yes, this list is entirely my own personal preference and uses no criteria worth mentioning.

And then for patrons, be sure to check out my lesser top 5 list. This week focussing on male characters who have long hair but still don’t really impress and I’d rather not get too near.

Please Note – There will be spoilers below (particularly number 4).

Honourable mentions this week go to: Edward Elric (Full Metal Alchemist) and Malachite (Sailor Moon).

Number 5: Kanda (D Gray Man)

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I’ll admit there is very little chance of Kanda actually letting me touch his hair even if he wasn’t an anime character and if I happened to meet him, but that doesn’t stop me very much wanting too. That glossy shine, the way it moves when he fights, his hair is amazing and completely sold this character even early on in D Gray Man when he was a bit of a jerk (okay, he’s regularly a jerk but he kind of grows on you).

Number 4: Weismann (K Project)

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This one is an odd choice I’ll admit given we barely get to meet this character in his actual body (which would be the long haired version). A few flashbacks are really all we get and the next time we meet this character with memories he’s in Yashiro’s undeniably short haired (not too short) body. Still, you have to admit his hair is just kind of inviting you to touch it.

Number 3: Tomoe (Kamisama Kiss)

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Another character who doesn’t usually have long hair but the few times he does, it is unbelievably gorgeous. It almost makes you wish for more flashback episodes just so you could see more of Tomoe with this hair. Plus the ears kind of work. Then again, he was pretty violent then so maybe we should just stick to present day Tomoe.

Number 2: Shichika Yasuri (Katanagatari)

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He may not be the sharpest tool in the shed but Shichika is honest, earnest, and deadly. Combine that with some odd but strangely compelling fashion sense and a great hairstyle (albeit one that cannot really exist outside of an anime) and you have a character that is going to fascinate from minute one.

Number 1: Zangetsu (Bleach)

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I know, so many characters in Bleach with long hair, and so many anime characters, so why choose Zangetsu? Because his hair matches the torn and scrappy edges of his outfit, because its almost always windy when we see him, because of all the characters on the list his would be the closest to a hairstyle you might be able to encounter in the real world… Mostly just because I really love his hair.

Okay, and a total cheat bonus addition to the list. Victor from Yuri On Ice (from when his hair was actually long).

So that is my list this week. Which anime male with long hair would you have had on your list? Or female if you prefer.


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