Friday’s Feature: Avoiding the Paradoxes of Time Travel or Plunging Headlong Into Them with Sagrada Reset

This post was written after watching the first three episodes of Sagrada Reset and while it discusses those episodes everything in this feature will be pure speculation and opinion. Keep in mind this post is not trying to tell you that Sagrada is an amazing, must watch anime given there are a lot of issues so far with it as an anime. It is however, looking at the premise of the show and how it is dealing with, or not dealing with, time travel.

And then episode 4 came out and a lot of my speculation has already been tossed out the window. On to the next lot of theories then, still, this was where I was after episode 3.

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Previously I wrote a feature article focussing on the use of time travel in Orange and essentially the fact that no matter how I looked at it, even if the mechanism they used for time travel worked, it made no sense that the future versions of a person would actually take the actions they took. As a result of how time travel played out I essentially found the basic premise of the show flawed because the character in the future assumed that changing the past would create a parallel timeline where her past self could experience the different version of her life while future self continued to live her current existence. There was no evidence to give the character confidence this was how time travel would work other than one off hand spur of the moment discussion by a science teacher back when she was in high school For all she knew she was undoing her entire future life and the life of her child.

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Essentially, while I like science fiction, and quite enjoy stories that use time travel as a mechanism, I find these stories tend to by and large fall apart once you step back and actually question the internal logic of them. Even Terminator makes very little sense given the AI has figured out how to travel through time and sends only one machine with a specific target rather than sending an army to hit multiple targets simultaneously. Assuming there’s an energy consumption reason behind that decision, taking out Sarah Connor is still a really pointless move. Even assuming John Connor never exists it is highly unlikely that no human would stand up in his absence. John Connor became the leader of the resistance, but if he hadn’t been there, someone else would have become the leader and maybe they would be more effective. Let’s be honest, if no one had ever tried to kill Sarah and then John, his childhood (assuming he existed at all given his father is technically also from the future) would have been completely useless at preparing him for the end of the world. Surely the AI is smart enough to draw these conclusions and to realise that given the machines seem to be winning in the future anyway, messing with that timeline is unlikely to tip things in the machines favour.

But none of that has anything to do with Sagrada Reset.

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To start with, Sagrada Reset is not using time travel. Nobody moves through time, the world is reset to a particular point (literally to a save point predetermined by Haruki). In the first episode she tells us that it changes nothing and no one can be saved because even she does not remember the reset until she tries to reset again to the same point (because clearly the same events would occur uninterrupted leading to the trigger that makes her want to reset) and she realises she can’t because each save point can only be used once and she can’t set a new save point within 24 hours of the old.

This made me interested in how this show would deal with time because it seemed like a neat way to avoid the usual time travel paradox  discussion without creating parallel worlds because she was literally destroying everything that had come after the save point and starting over to admittedly let events repeat themselves unhindered. This was more or less confirmed in episode three when we got this line from Kei who is the only character we know of who can remember events that have happened during the days that were reset:

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It’s an ugly way to put it but if the reset works the way Haruki has described then it is rather accurate. Meaning you are giving up the three days that have existed, erasing them from everyone’s memory, and starting over.

But then we have Kei who does remember what has happened and who shares that knowledge with Haruki in order to change events (although far more cautiously after the events of episode 2). All of this leaves the story open to be a fairly basic protagonist goes back three days to solve the mystery of the week kind of story without any further issues of concerns about the mechanism that allows that story to operate. This, by itself, would still be a fairly watchable premise and could even be entertaining if done well (though not particularly original – hardly a sin in the entertainment industry these days).

What got this show stuck in my head were the other complications and mysteries that have crept into the story or been hinted at. We’re only three episodes in and yet there’s an almost endless stream of questions and possibilities.

Episode 2 saw Kei use a reset for an almost trivial reason. I guess from his emotionally stunted point of view it made sense to approach the situation that way but from anyone else’s point of view it was a lame reason to ask the girl you just kissed to reset the entire world. As interesting a discussion as that might make as to the true nature of Kei’s character, what makes this moment more than just a minor blip in the story is that after the reset one major thing has changed and that leads to a character’s death (at least she’s reported as dead – let’s be honest, this is clearly setting up a mystery and the girl died off screen so there is every chance for a return later in the series with a faked her own death story). Putting aside conspiracy, she’s not dead, for just a short moment, this made me draw the conclusion that someone other than Kei must remember the reset and have intervened to change events.

However, another blogger (Marthaurion from Marth’s Anime Blog) had this to say in his review of episode 2:

It seems like the reset changed the timeline, but it also seems like…it didn’t?

Which of course made me question the original conclusion I’d drawn and I realised that both options were possible and weren’t actually mutually exclusive which raised even more possibilities further down the track, and none of that addressed the potential of the character not even being dead.

So let’s go back to how the reset works, or at least how it is explained which could be highly suspect anyway given if it worked the way Haruki describes why on earth would she even know she had the power because technically any memory of it should be wiped from her own mind.

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Now this is where I wish my Japanese was better to know how accurate a translation those subs are but the implication here is that if things are being rearranged to a past state there’s no guarantee that some mistakes won’t creep in to the reconstructed version of the world. Particularly when literally everyone and everything is being rearranged. It would seem very unnatural for it to fall perfectly back the way it started.

If we then assume the robot or android analogy they made in episode 1 was meant to be something more than a throw away thought bubble then we could see Haruki and her power essentially like the save function in a computer game. Save before you face the boss and should the battle go south reload and try again. In some games the boss will always repeat the same attack patterns allowing you to learn how to overcome it. This would be the way she describes her power working. However, in other games, while the boss will still attack you the sequence of attacks may not be exactly the same each time and you may even have a random encounter before you get to the boss fight that didn’t show up in the previous iteration.

So I guess that leads me to wonder if this story is leading us down the path of discussion about whether events are preordained (in which case they would repeat identically without interference) or whether they are more random (in which case even if the reset was perfect anything after the reset could potentially change though most people would be inclined to repeat their actions simply because without any change in the stimulus provided there would be little reason for them to react differently).

Meanwhile, none of this gets us any closer to knowing if there is another person who remembers the loops and is interfering or whether the power itself is something else altogether.

Now let’s go full conspiracy theory on this show just for the fun of it.

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My current working theory is that after the Bureau was confronted by Kei and forced to give up on securing Mari because the mother stayed behind, they somehow realised that Haruki and Kei were messing with time but weren’t sure exactly how, or maybe the figured it out but wanted some more details. The next time Kei and Haruki reset, the Bureau used its influence to make one critical change and removed Soma from the picture (either by killing her, convincing her to leave town and then faking the news story as her memory would be gone anyway, or because she was already working for them in her capacity as class rep – which incidentally explains how the Bureau knew about the power in the first place given Soma was the one who put Kei and Haruki together – they simply asked her to disappear). Possibly this was a field test to determine whether or not Haruki really was unable to reset the same period of time.

We then get a two year time leap where it is strongly implied that Kei and Haruki have used the reset and developed a working relationship, though Kei apparently isn’t keen on using the reset easily anymore, and now the Bureau is directly monitoring them through the creation of a club at their highschool and the known Bureau representative being the club advisor.

This time they seem to be testing the three days and the save points by setting up the ridiculous scenario with the run-over/kidnapped cat. Evidence for this includes the advisor knowing when the save points are and Kei reporting the use of a reset to him, the timeline for the cat getting killed and the request that Kei and Haruki help, the suspicious actions of the girl who requested help in the first time line where she’s following their investigation and then in the second where she’s clearly waiting for them to show up (thus confirming they travelled through time and thought something would happen at the bakery), and the advisor’s strange request that Kei not reset time until three days had passed even though they had a new save point.

And that’s a lovely theory that essentially the Bureau are orchestrating the whole thing in order to find a practical way they can utilise this combination ability of Kei and Haruki. The only issue is the hole in the wall thing that showed up in episode 3 at the moment won’t slot into that theory at all.

Basically, more information is needed. To be honest, I’m kind of going to have to finish this show at this point, no matter how bland the characters may be at times or how dialogue heavy the episodes may get while pacing continues to be hit and miss. I may end up really hating this story by the end, but right now I just need to know. Time travel without time travel. What kind of narrative paradox can you create?

If you’ve been watching Sagrada Reset, what do you think?


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Friday’s Feature: Discussing Sequels, Prequels and Spin-Offs

When it came to movies, I was always wary of sequels growing up. It was more or less universally accepted that the sequel would be weaker than the original with a few exceptions (which of course proved the rule). I was less aware of prequels until the Star Wars franchise essentially hacked the heart out of their own series by delivering 3 very underwhelming movies that pretty much told us nothing that we hadn’t already figured out from watching the original series. Since then we’ve had plenty of other examples in movies of prequels and sequels just not quite hitting the mark.

So how does this translate to the anime watching experience?

Well it doesn’t really because anime sometimes wraps up the story in one season, but often it doesn’t. What we usually call a sequel in anime is regularly just an ongoing continuation of a story that wasn’t finished. Which means that sometimes that second part is awesome (or third, or fourth, or whatever in the case of very long running series). However, sometimes even if the story isn’t finished it feels like the characters have said everything they needed to and we’re just getting put through the motions of yet more fights and battles for the sake of it.

That said, some sequels are amazing. Higurashi’s second season is fantastic, and totally necessary if you ever want to know why everyone keeps dying in that story. Meanwhile, Black Butler 2 I probably could have done without (and Darker Than Black 2 and quite a few others). What it comes down to is while I will watch a sequel to a series I enjoyed, I always watch with the assumption that there’s a good chance it will go downhill fast, that way if they manage to pull off something decent I’m always pleasantly surprised. And I know some people are screaming Endless Eight right now which is probably another reason to be wary of some sequels.

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The occasional prequel that shows up (such as Handa-kun) doesn’t really register given how infrequent they are. Generally, any backstory that is needed is told through flashbacks and prequels just aren’t needed. That hasn’t stopped various ‘young’ insert character name stories cropping up but they aren’t exactly flooding the market (and please don’t).

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Then, we’ve also got spin-off series which are extremely hit and miss. Some manage to surpass the original where others just end up looking like a watered down imitation. A Certain Scientific Railgun is an excellent example of a spin-off that kind of left the original material in the dust. While I like A Certain Magical Index, the need to explain magic, esper abilities, and Touma’s weird ability which falls into neither category, meant the whole thing was very crowded. Also, Touma regularly faced magical villains which meant despite the show being set in a city of espers, esper abilities sat more as a background setting than a focus. Railgun deals pretty much exclusively with the espers and esper issues and as a direct result the world building is significantly stronger and the conflicts are far easier to convey and explain.

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This season we’ve got Sword Oratoria giving us a different view of the world from DanMachi (Is It Wrong to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon?). Where Sword Oratoria concerned me even from its announcement was in the focus character. See, Railgun took the most interesting character out of Index and gave her a chance to shine. Sword Oratoria takes the least interesting character out of DanMachi and so far hasn’t done much with her. That isn’t to say it can’t pick up, but you have to wonder why we didn’t just get a continuation of DanMachi given Bell’s story wasn’t yet done.

What it means is, there’s no hard and fast rule in anime (or in movies really) as to whether a sequel, prequel, or spin-off will work or not which leaves a lot of fans wading through poor follow up seasons in the hope of stumbling across a good one.

Winter 2017 gave us a number of sequels to consider and to be honest I found them all lacking. Tales of Zestiria the X had been reasonable in season 1, but season 2 lost all focus and forward momentum before rushing to a conclusion that made very little sense to those who hadn’t played the game because so many things happened just because. It was kind of a let down even for those of us with minimal expectations of it. Iron Blooded Orphans similarly kind of faded during its second season. While it maintained a reasonable storyline, it just lacked the punch of the original. Meanwhile, Super Lovers 2 just left me wondering if the characters actually had made any headway at all and Blue  Exorcist just felt like they thought they could just throw any random villain at the characters because the audience would be happy with whatever.

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Then we got to Spring 2017 and while I’m watching the spin-off Sword Oratoria, in terms of sequels the load is heavy. My Hero Academia, Attack on Titan, The Eccentric Family and Natsume Yuujinchou are all trying to draw me back into their worlds. Natsume has the advantage in that it’s up to season 6 (and I’ll come back to Natsume in a little bit). The Eccentric Family made a strong start. Both My Hero Academia and Attack on Titan have done a reasonable job (and I’ll admit My Hero Academia seems to be getting stronger by the episode), but at this point neither has really convinced me they can surpass the first season (I’d love to be proven wrong and for both to end well).

For me, the main issue always seems to be that unlike a new series, a sequel is stuck with all the expectations of the audience and preconceived notions. We’ve watched part 1, we know these characters and this setting. It limits where the story can go but it can still be very good if there is character development to be found or more story to be told.

There are three series that I want to discuss in regards to sequels.

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Starting with Full Metal Panic, this series had a season 1 and then we got Second Raid. There’s also a filler comedy season which should be regarded in its own way (its hilarious) but I’m not discussing that here. Arguably, you can stop watching at the end of season 1. You can. Chidori realises she’s got all this stuff in her head and she uses it to save the submarine. Sousuke beats the guy he’s been wanting to beat. They celebrate and then they go back to school. Yeah, Chidori is still going to be targeted and Sousuke still knows nothing about living in the real world, but essentially, it’s a good stopping point.

So why Second Raid?

Because what does Chidori want to do now that she knows she has this knowledge in her head? Is Sousuke actually just going to play the good soldier forever? And what is their relationship? There were plenty of character points still open that had more than enough points of interest to explore and certainly more than enough villains in the world to get the plot moving again. The reason Second Raid works though is Chidori and Sousuke both get pushed to their limit. Chidori is forced to fight for her own life because Sousuke doesn’t instantly save her. He’s too busy going through his own little mental break down which is spectacular to see given everything he’s been through. And while he recovers just a little too fast, it is a mecha series and mental health was never supposed to be the main focus (it isn’t Evangelion).

However, then there’s the announcement about yet another season and the only question I had was why? While season 1 set the scene and the plot really well while introducing us to the characters and season 2 showed us the true effect of everything they’d been through on the characters, what will season 3 offer us other than either more of the same or just another random villain? As much as I love this story and these characters, I’m not convinced yet that another season is needed. Though, there also haven’t been any details about season 3 released (other than a delay) so maybe they have come up with something worth saying.

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But all of this contrasts with my view of SAO in terms of sequels. Sword Art Online was fantastic when it came out. The entire first arc, playing Sword Art Online, was good (I know some people have issues with it but it works). I loved it. Then Kirito beats the game and they all wake up. That’s great. We’re trapped in a game that can kill us and someone finally let us out. Whoo-hoo.

So why isn’t that the end of season 1?

Because some people didn’t wake up. Okay. Fine. Why not?

Technically, this could have worked as a continuation. It could have. But most people will agree that Fairy Dance is the weakest of the SAO stories. While it does tie up a loose end or 2 from SAO, it isn’t necessary. The story could have ended with them waking up and being reunited. They added an additional complication for no reason other then to force a continuation that wasn’t needed, turned a reasonably capable female character into a damsel in distress, and introduced a villain who was so immature and cartoonish in his villainy you couldn’t have taken him seriously if you tried.

Then we have GGO and the Mother Rosario arcs, both of which I kind of regard more as Spin-offs given how little in common they have with the original story at this point. More importantly, Kirito pretty much stops developing as a character (and I know some people will argue he didn’t develop in the original, but we’ll save that argument for later). Essentially, he freezes at the end of Fairy Dance. There’s nothing more to say about him. He does stuff, but he no longer changes as a result of his actions or decisions.

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The last series I want to touch on is Natsume Yuujinchou which is already 5 seasons, with season 6 getting underway. Natsume in terms of story has never really felt like it is driving toward anything. The conflict has always been Natsume dealing with how to live. That isn’t something that can be ‘solved’ or ‘overcome’ and it isn’t something that ends. And it is a conflict that continually sees the main character reflect and grow (admittedly in very slow and small steps). What that ultimately means is that despite the number of sequels, this story still doesn’t feel finished and this character is still evolving. Spending more time with him on his journey is always fun.

Basically, anime sequels (or prequels or spin-offs) all need to be considered in the light of the series they are attached to. For me if they actually are needed or are adding something of value to the character or the story then I will usually find them highly enjoyable. But if I’m just expected to swallow lack luster story telling because someone slapped a name on it I recognise, I’m going to move on.

How do you feel about sequels and prequels in anime?


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Friday’s Feature: Betraying My Own Expectations as a Viewer

Admittedly, this is not so much a feature as a ramble.

If you were to ask me directly what kind of anime I liked and didn’t like most of my regular readers already know that I would put comedy, slice of life, and cute girls doing anything pretty much on the side of generally not liked and horror and darker anime on the side of anime I quite enjoy. Shounen titles and drama tend to fall somewhere in the middle depending on their focus.

So imagine my surprise as I began the process of finalising my picks for reviewing this Spring and realised quite an odd trend. With the exception of Attack on Titan and My Hero Academia (both of which are only medium priority because while I’ll enjoy them well enough neither one had a first season that I would add to my list of favourite anime ever – with these I watch, I enjoy, I move on) the majority of the titles I’ve picked are pretty low key and there’s a lot of cute going on. Though I will admit I’m not even going to try to classify Kado at this point because I have no idea what that is going to become.

Starting with the sequels: I’ve got Natsume Yuujinchou which can only be described as a slice of life with a supernatural paint job just to give me enough justification to say that I’m watching a fantasy rather than a slice of life (it’s a slice of life, I’ve more or less accepted that) and then The Eccentric Family which is much the same. Slice of life with a supernatural paint job. Just for an added weirdness, The Eccentric Family relies heavily on comedy and for some reason I still didn’t run for the hills but actually loved the first season.

The other two titles I’ve pretty much decided on are both fantasy. I’ll insist that forever but both of them also feature healthy doses of cute girls and other suspiciously cute characters and objects. Granblue Fantasy and WorldEnd have both given me enough reason to smile while watching that I’m going to continue. I don’t know if I’ll end up regretting those choices but for now it seems like a reasonable call.

Admittedly, I still have a whole bunch of other titles to decide on before I have a final list, but there’s an interesting number of comedy, slice of life and cute coming through this season. Meanwhile, some of the more action focussed shows have been pretty bland (through to awful) in their first episodes and in terms of horror there’s pretty much nothing going on (The World Yamizukan did not appeal).

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Of course, this is why I don’t make a watch list before the season starts. Just because something ticks a genre box doesn’t mean I’m going to like it and if I didn’t at least try some of these other shows I really would miss out on things that I end up loving.

I watched the first episode of Natsume after seeing a random screen cap of one of the yokai in the show. I remember the feeling of being disappointed as the soft music played and the pastel colours filled the screen. Then I remember getting to the end of the first episode and immediately skipping to episode 2. And then binge watching the whole first season in a single afternoon.

Add to this the fact that I kind of enjoyed the first episode of Eromanga Sensei and either my taste has completely warped recently or some of these first episodes managed to execute ideas I would normally find repellent in an interesting manner (of course that doesn’t bode well for me finishing the season).

Spring 2017 is going to be a weird season for me in terms of reviewing and I’m still not sure what my final list looks like but hopefully it will be fun discussing all of the shows with everyone.


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Friday’s Feature: Critiquing Is Not Synonymous With Hating

Today I want to take a quick look at the difference between critiquing and hating, because for some people the line between these two gets incredibly blurred. Though what I find more disturbing is how quickly someone who is critiquing something can be accused of hating.

This creates a clear problem for having a meaningful discussion (or any kind of critical thought) when anything perceived as a negative impression of something someone else values is hating it. Sometimes it doesn’t even need to be a negative view but merely not an overly positive one and the ‘H’ word will get thrown into the ring. And that effectively ends the dialogue. You can’t reasonably discuss something once one side of the table assumes you are attacking them and that you are doing it because of an inbuilt hate.

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To start off I’m just going to give you the dictionary definition of the terms and then look at what that means in practice.

To critique is to review critically or to evaluate. To clarify, critical might mean inclined to find fault with but it also means involving skilful judgement as to truth, merit etc: for example a critical analysis. So in this instance a critique is to review something in a way as to make a skilful judgement as to something’s merit. It does not mean to criticise it (although if the truth that your analysis leads you to is that there is little merit it may seem as though there is criticism) nor does it have anything to do with an emotional investment such as liking or hating (admittedly, most people fall out of critiquing when writing reviews because they do fall back on a position of personal opinion).

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Hating on the other hand is to regard something with a strong or passionate dislike. It is an entirely emotional state of being and does not rely on any kind of analysis or thought or evidence but is merely a position someone holds (though they may have come to that position after critiquing). Actually, I like the 6th definition given in my dictionary: devoted to expressing resentment or dislike: a hate session. That seems more like an appropriate definition for someone who is a hater of a series or is hating on a series rather than critiquing.

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See, the critiquer is willing to engage in a discussion and hear other view points. They are willing to accept that their opinion was formed by x, y, z and if yours was formed by n, m, o instead then you will have a different view point. They might also think you are crazy for considering n, m, o important but they will see where your view point came from.

A hater on the other hand is devoted to the negative. They are utterly and completely unwilling to consider for even a moment that something might have merit or even just suck less than their view of it. They don’t want a reasoned discussion, they don’t want your opinion, they don’t want to even hear that another opinion might exist. They just want to repeatedly tear down any and everything to do with the object of their loathing. Which I guess could be an interesting hobby but I doubt you could ever add it to your resume.

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We all hate things (that’s part of being human), but does that mean we are naturally predisposed to hating?

Not a chance. Firstly it takes a lot of energy to be an active hater. Secondly, I firmly believe that my own views are not absolute and this is an opinion shared by the many people out there engaging in conversations. That is part of the reason I started the In Case You Missed It posts on Monday. Because that way I can share other anibloggers views on the shows I’m watching, views on shows I haven’t watched or dropped, and just ideas about anime that might be different to my own.

Those following my blog probably know already how I feel about Black Butler 2. That doesn’t stop me from respecting the views of others on the sequel and including those posts that share a more positive side of the show. I think this is important because as an anime viewer I want to read as many view points as I can about something to consider it differently, to see things I may have overlooked, and to just enjoy discussing how a single anime can affect so many people in so many different ways.

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Then again, do I think I am a critiquer?

Probably not. While I do provide some analysis mostly what I write are my impressions and reactions to shows with my thoughts on why I had these. I’ll save the really critical analysis to those a little more qualified than myself.

However, I think it is important that when we read the views of others we remember that someone disliking or being critical of something we liked isn’t a personal attack or a direct challenge. There’s no reason to feel annoyed over their opinion as their are as many opinions as their are people. And if they are hating on something you love and refusing to listen to any other view point, you are probably better off ending the conversation on your end and finding one of the many other amazing anime fans online to have a chat to.


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Friday’s Feature: I Am Not a Slave – Man Vs Society

My focus for March on conflict in stories continues as we look at Man vs Society. So far I’ve had a brief look at Man vs Man, Man vs Nature and Man vs Technology so if you missed any of those be sure to check out the posts.

Man vs Society just lends itself to dystopian futures, though obviously this isn’t the only way this type of conflict plays out. Essentially this occurs when a character, or group of characters, feel trapped or oppressed by the society they live in. Whether this is because of overt government or military control or whether it is simply because of societal norms not matching their personal views, the character feels obliged to rebel or escape from this oppression. It’s definitely a theme most viewers can relate to.

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This type of conflict works well on both small and large scales. Whether the conflict is within a family and the child wanting to be free of their parents’ expectations, set in a school with students feeling oppressed by the rules of the environment, workplace, or even the entire country, most members of the audience can understand how a character might feel in the situation, even if they don’t directly relate to the type of control being exerted. However, as I said before, this type of conflict also works excellently in science fiction and forms the basis of a large number of dystopian texts. Fear of control and fear of losing freedom linked to events and trends that we already see around us is a great way to build relatable conflict into a story.

It’s pretty easy to understand why Man vs Society works as a type of conflict but let’s look at the main reason why it is effective.

01. People are constantly attempting to balance selfish desires with the basic instinct of connecting with other people. It is a conflict we face everyday as to whether we act fully as ourselves or act in a way in which others find acceptable. For some this is a major conflict because who they are is so vastly outside of the expected norms whereas for others it is a fairly minor conflict in most situations, but it is an internal conflict that everyone faces every single day. Seeing a character make choices to defy those norms and to act on their own desire (whether it is a good desire or not) has a real appeal to audiences. They see these characters as brave or as true individuals and whether their actions have merit or not they are associate with desirable character traits. The fact that a lot of these characters succeed at causing change in the society they are acting in (whether that be the smaller or larger scale) really plays into the wish fulfillment that people have for making a difference as an individual. In very rare cases we see these characters faced with failure but then they are still seen as noble for having made the attempt.

02. When played on the larger scale, this can lead to some very cool stories. Bring on the Hollywood movie where the single character rallies the downtrodden and brings down the government. It’s sensationalistic but it is so fun to watch play out even as you wonder what would happen on the day after when they now have to face the reality of a transitional government system? But that is not the point of the story. The point is the uprising and the success.

03. A lot of the time these stories challenge viewers to question what they accept as the norm. They make audiences think and reflect about the expectations we have of others. While they may probably won’t change too many people’s behaviour they at least start the conversation about why certain things are the way they are. It lends itself to being the starting point of a dialogue that might be badly needed.

How does this work in anime?

This is one type of conflict we come up against time and again in anime and it isn’t surprising. Japan is an incredibly ordered society (not overtly oppressive but there is a lot of social pressure to conform to expected behaviours).What is interesting is how characters in anime respond to the pressures they face as, unlike so many Hollywood movies, their first impulse isn’t usually to bring things crashing down but rather to work with people to bring about change. That isn’t to say there aren’t some characters reaching for the explosives.

Case 1: Psycho Pass (not yet reviewed)

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This was probably an obvious choice for Man vs Society but what I find interesting about it is how many characters are trying to work within or outside of the social norms surrounding them. The three main examples are below but pretty much every character has some sort of conflict with the society in this anime.

Kogame is an obvious discussion point. Originally an inspector, after the death of a colleague he became obsessed with revenge and he became flagged as a latent criminal. Even after this he continues to pursue revenge for his friend regardless of whether that puts him in direct conflict with the Sybil System or his current colleagues. He literally throws away everything for the sake of bringing down his target. What makes this interesting is that it is hard to decide whether Kogame is actually wrong for this approach.

Makishima is similarly working outside of the Sybil System though in his case it is because the system does not actually recognise him in the first place. His crime coefficient can’t be measured and so the system cannot judge him leaving him feeling alienated from everything. I’m still not sure that is sufficient justification for intentionally helping other people beat the system to commit horrendous crimes,  but it does highlight the dissatisfaction felt by those who feel ignored by society.

Though if both Korame and Makishima are finding ways around or defying the system, Akane is the character that honestly understands that the system is needed, even if it isn’t perfect. That doesn’t mean she accepts everything at face value and isn’t going to work to change things, but it does mean that she accepts her limitations at the time. While the end of season 1 may have seemed unsatisfying to some people, I preferred this ending to the usual blowing it up and thinking everything would be better approach. Akane understands that her society is not in a position where it can function if Sybil stopped immediately even as she has learned that the Sybil System isn’t the ideal solution that people have been told.

Case 2: The Devil is Part Timer

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This is an interesting anime in terms of how it sets up the conflict. Originally Maou is the person in power apparently oppressing humans and generally doing all the things you would expect from a demon in control of a country. However, he is overthrown and forced to flee. He ends up in Japan with limited use of his magic and no authority. However, instead of surrendering to despair, Maou sets about conquering the new world through working his way up in a chain food store?

While this concept is played for laughs there’s quite a few moments when you are forced to consider what is really going on with this story. Could Maou actually succeed at rising to a position of power from part time worker? That’s basically the question they want us to consider. Because as kids we’re told hard work will help us move up and rise to the top. We are told this over and over. Yet the reality is most people won’t. Maou, a demon lord, succeeding at rising as fast as he does to shift manager raises some real questions about what it actually takes to get ahead (admittedly the anime isn’t really interested in dealing with the topic seriously).

Even then, the challenges Maou faces are regularly not from his home world. He faces challenges of rival shops, needing identification, paying rent, and even his housemate getting scammed online. All of these things highlight the way people get cornered and trapped everyday by the mundane functions within our society and given they at times stump a hero and a demon from a world of magic is both hilarious and incredibly telling of how complex life really is in the modern age. My number 3 reason why these sorts of stories work was because they challenge us to think about what we accept as the norm and The Devil is a Part Timer beautifully highlights some of the things that are considered everyday and yet create challenges and complications for people just trying to live. It doesn’t tell us to eliminate these things, merely asks us to look at them from a different point of view.

Case 3: Terror In Resonance

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It would be impossible for me to visit the idea of Man vs Society without looking at this anime. This story tackles acts of terror head-on from the viewpoint of two would be terrorists. That said, it isn’t willing to really take on the role of terrorists, choosing instead to make the main characters opposed to actually killing anyone even as the commit various crimes and destroy massive amounts of property with explosions.

What is interesting is that the main character ultimately only want their story to be heard and believed but they know early on that even if they simply told their story and released it online it would be buried, covered up and denied. They had to make enough of a scene that it could not be covered up any more. Their actions and logic might be faulty but the actual criticism that stories that need to be told aren’t getting the attention they need, and that truth has become incredibly irrelevant to global discussions, is well made and quite timely.

This anime makes it clear that it isn’t about what is right or wrong. It isn’t even about what you can prove. It is all about how people perceive things that matters. Nine and Twelve take advantage of this and allow people to perceive them as terrorists because it suits their interests. The story isn’t perfect but it definitely has a lot to say and the journey is quite an interesting one.

Conclusion

There are so many other anime I could have gone into for this topic. Jormungand, Bleach, Sunday Without God, No. 6, and so on. Even My Love Story has the basic notion of defying expectations when Yamato is forced to defend her choice in Takeo to her friends. Basically Man vs Society is an inevitable conflict as we try to balance individual ideas and goals with overall benefit for the masses so these sorts of stories aren’t going anywhere and that’s probably a good thing.

What is your favourite Man vs Society focussed anime or what is your favourite dystopian movie?


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Friday’s Feature: It’s Out of Control – Man vs Technology

This is my third post for March on conflict in stories and as the title says I’m looking a Man vs Technology. If you missed my previous two features check out Man vs Man and Man vs Nature.

Man vs Technology is pretty easy to define. Something has been built (either by man or by some sort of advanced species, or by some ancient civilisation) and for whatever reason it is wreaking havoc. Usually in the form of mass destruction of humans. As a general rule these are cautionary tales and haven’t really changed much from their use in Greek mythology. Prometheus stealing fire from the gods and giving it to man and being punished for it. Flash forward to Frankenstein (also subtitled ‘The Modern Prometheus’), or look at the Alien movie franchise with its installment ‘Prometheus’.

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There is one area of ambiguity in this type of conflict in that some of the technology we’re talking about has will. Think about the terminator and self-aware machines consciously deciding to wage war on humans. But other technology in question just loses control or has unintended side-effects (terrible movie but The Core is a great example of stuffing something up with technology and then needing technology to fix it – albeit totally implausible science being applied).

As indicated by the longevity of this type of story and the fact that the basic narrative model is pretty much unchanged, this type of conflict works really well. Why?

01. People fear what they don’t know. As evidenced by our long history of persecuting people for saying things that go against the accepted norm of the time period. We’ve just moved on a bit from arguing about whether the earth is flat or not (or at least most people have) to arguing about whether gene splicing will actually lead to mutant super-powers.

02. A lot of these stories are built on actual technology or ideas in the current society so allow people to connect current trends with the problems in the story. While time travelling robots seeking a single woman to kill might be far fetched, the idea of computers ‘thinking’ is not. And what if they did decide the world would be better if they were in control?

03. Mostly these stories are pretty straight forward. We’re either dropped into the problem straight up or we see the development of the technology that will inevitably go out of control or cause some problem. And we almost always end with some moralising by the characters about how we should respect and be cautious around technology or new ideas.

How does this work in anime?

This is an interesting point because while anime is full of giant robots and the like, almost all of these stories are focussed on the human conflicts being played out behind these. Very few actually directly look at the Man vs Technology aspect. It’s more Man vs Man reinforced by improbable tech. So with that in mind I’m going to look at three anime that each have aspects of a Man vs Technology conflict but none of them are really true examples of this story as they also draw heavily on other types of conflict.

Case 1: Heavy Object

There’s a lot of Man vs Man in this story with different nations pitted against each other but if we look at Qwenthur, the engineering exchange student, the conflicts he faces are almost all (with one or two exceptions) to do with how to stop the seemingly unstoppable objects.

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There’s a wide range of objects as each core group seem to have at least one, and they fight on a variety of terrain. Seeing Qwenthur running around on the ground trying to avoid being squished, or clinging hopelessly to the outside of one of these massive structures is fairly engaging. What works well with each of these are the weaknesses Qwenthur exploits. They are the human errors in design or use. There’s a clear message where the military groups have all but put absolute faith in their objects and yet these objects are human designed and flawed because of that. It’s in that respect that this part of the story squarely falls into the Man vs Technology category. It both applauds the achievements of man’s ingenuity and use of technology and cautions us about becoming too complacent because of it.

Case 2: GATE

This is kind of the opposite of a Man vs Technology story, though I guess if you were on the side of the fantasy empire it’s very much a case of completely unstoppable technology in the hands of your enemy. If you haven’t seen GATE, essentially a gate opens up in Japan and from it streams an army of armour clad soldiers and beasts from a different world. They are quickly subdued (though not without fair numbers of civilian casualties because even low technology is effective against families shopping) and Japan organises to send their military through the gate to secure the other side and then… Not sure if they are conquering, friend making, or hunting resources for expansion or some combination of all three really.

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Why include this on the list? Because of the gate itself. What is it? Where did it come from? Why did it open? They’ve established a base on the other side but what if it closes? While these questions aren’t addressed in the two seasons of this show, the story and essential conflict between worlds only exists and only continues because of the gate itself. Destroying the gate, assuming anyone could figure out how, would essentially shut down the war. Amazingly, very little attention is given in the story to the nature of the gate and that feels like a lost opportunity.

Case 3: Katanagatari (Not yet reviewed)

This story revolves around Shichika and Togame trying to track down 12 Deviant Blades. There’s a whole bunch of political mumbo-jumbo as to why they should do this but the deviant blades themselves are representative of man over-reaching. Essentially a swordsmith created 1000 swords in practice for the 12 deviant blades. Those who wield the 12 blades are severely effected by their poison. However, as this swordsmith could see into the future, the design of many of the swords surpasses anything that should be possible in the current time and most people wouldn’t have a chance against a deviant sword wielder.

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Enter Shichika, the seventh head of the school Kyotoru style of sword fighting (that conveniently doesn’t use a sword). The origin of this style is closely tied to the creation of the deviant blades but I won’t go into details as it is better to find them out as you watch.

What works with this story is that the technology is fantastical for the time period being represented. While some of the swords look like swords, most defy the logic of the time. But rather than reject what they can do, they are still called swords and simply labelled deviant. The collection of these blades dominates the majority of the story and there are some interesting discussions around the nature of the blades and their creation as the story progresses, as well as whether they should be allowed to exist or not.

Conclusion:

Yeah, I know, I didn’t include any giant robot stories here. As I said at the start, the issue with most of these is they step squarely into a Man vs Man style of conflict with the technology not being a point for discussion or moralising (mostly). Possibly Code Geass and the F.L.E.I.J.A comes close to where even the characters in that story look at the destruction and cringe.

Still, there are always small cases of Man vs Technology interwoven into larger stories and with the world the way it is, this type of conflict isn’t going anywhere.

Over to you: What are your favourite examples of Man vs Technology conflicts?


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Friday’s Feature: Crying Won’t Help – Man vs Nature

Continuing my focus for March on conflict in stories, today I want to look at Man vs Nature. If you missed last week I had a quick look at Man vs Man conflict so please be sure to check out the post.

Right from the start I know I’m probably going to get some corrections to this post because when I talk about Man vs Nature conflicts I include all natural disasters, monstrous creatures and unstoppable supernatural forces. I don’t however include supernatural creatures that have high levels of human characteristics such as vampires. While some of the vampires from the past may have met my idea of ‘nature’ most modern vampire stories just have slightly strong and occasionally sparkly protagonists and really they interact with the plot in the same way a man vs man conflict should. I also know that some people classify man vs supernatural as its own category of conflict but again, due to the way it works in stories, I kind of lump them both together.

With that said, let’s jump into Man vs Nature.

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I think the main element of this story is that the source of the conflict is an unavoidable and unreasonable force. The characters can’t negotiate with hurricanes or asteroids or giant man-eating lizards or whatever other natural phenomenon is coming their way. That doesn’t mean that the characters don’t make the situation worse or don’t stir up trouble (you know by destroying the habitat of that sleeping horde of whatever and setting them loose). However, Man vs Nature is distinctly different from Man vs Man because there is no will or motive on the opposing forces side. It just is. Deal with it.

But this conflict works so incredibly well (particularly in major Hollywood movies that have increasingly used them in a flimsy attempt to portray the togetherness of the human race). Why does it work?

01. Most people understand the fear, anxiety, concern of natural disasters even if they’ve never directly been in one. Whether it is flood, fire, storm, earthquake, volcano, natural disasters are pretty much a fact of life and as kids we learn disaster drills and lessons about prepping for storm season. We watch the news and see the tragedy and the helplessness. And even if it isn’t a large scale thing, we all know that sometimes animals act unpredictably. Sometimes stuff just happens and we have to deal with. This type of conflict strikes a real chord with pretty much everyone.

02. This type of conflict can easily be scaled up or down. It can be a wolf terrorising a single farmer or it can be a world ending sun explosion. The basic story remains identical as does the effectiveness of the conflict allowing a diverse range of scenarios. Of course, that leaves this open to some incredibly poor writing when the characters, which are the only part of the story that can really allow the audience to connect, are not well crafted. In that farmer and wolf story, that farmer better be one compelling individual or your audience will check out quick no matter how many chickens the wolf slaughters.

03. Awesome visuals. Whether it is a monster, animal, or natural disaster, you can do some very cool things visually with this type of conflict. It lends itself to spectacle and when done well can certainly deliver.

How does this work in anime?

Interestingly enough, while there are some anime that have natural disasters in them, they aren’t as prolific as you think. Kaze no Stigma has a short arc focussed on an eruption because the family that were supposed to perform the ritual to prevent it were unable to. And of course there’s Tokyo Magnitude 8.0. However, despite the lack of world ending storms in anime, there are some excellent monster and other unstoppable forces of nature stories to choose from.

Case 1: Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash

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Grimgar is an odd anime when you think about the conflict of the story (mostly because for large parts of the story the characters are simply dealing with survival). While there are moments where we see Man vs Self issues arise, the real killer in Grimgar is the world these characters have found themselves in. They don’t know how they got there and they don’t start out with the skills they need to survive but they need to learn them fast.

What makes Grimgar particularly effective is that almost all the conflicts take place in the woods, in ruined cities or in a network of underground tunnels. The civilised locations, the town where they have their ‘home’, is relatively safe and other than the occasional inner-party squabble they don’t really face any danger there. Grimgar plays on fear of the unknown. Of venturing further out of your comfort zone and confronting enemies that you may or may not be ready to take on. It’s the excitement of exploration mixed with the fear of death lurking around every turn. In short, it plays with this core conflict and really uses it to keep the audience on edge whenever the characters aren’t in the town. It makes you aware of all the dangers you would face if taken out of the comfort of the modern world.

Case 2: Another (not yet reviewed)

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In terms of supernatural forces that are untouchable and certainly unreasonable, the curse from Another is probably the clearest cut force of nature that can be found. Like a storm it has a mappable path and you can see the trail of destruction it has left, but you can’t do much about it other than take shelter and hope you are one of the lucky ones once it has passed.

It works well because even before the audience is let in on the particulars of the curse, there is a tangible weight on all of the members of the class. You can see that something is effecting them but you don’t know what or why. Even once our main character learns more about the curse, there’s still nothing he can do about it as his classmates and the occasional family member die one after another, month after month.

Unlike Grimgar, Another has a clear end point, at least for the characters we are following. In Grimgar we never know when, if ever, the characters will escape the world or whether they are just stuck there for life. In Another they just have to survive the year. Just one year. And then it turns out there is another way to stop the curse as well which is ultimately the path taken (admittedly the price was pretty high by the time everything was done).

Conclusion

I’m going to be honest, I love disaster movies. Yeah, they are formulaic and mostly filled with one-dimensional characters and trite writing, but occasionally you’ll get one where the cast really just manages to have some real chemistry and they sell the situation they are in. Besides, regardless of bad acting and dialogue, most bad disaster movies are still entertaining as you play count the cliché or laugh at poor special effects. In anime, I find that this type of conflict tends to be treated a bit more seriously. Less flippant one liners and throwing beer bottles at storm clouds and more introspection about what it means to be a human and alive.

Your turn: I’d love to hear what your favourite Man vs Nature conflict in an anime is and why.


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Friday’s Feature: We’ve Got a Problem Here – Man vs Man

For the month of March I’ve decided I’m going to focus on the negative. Quite literally. I’m going to focus my features this month on exploring types of conflict in stories using examples from anime. To start off with I decided to go with the most straight forward: Man vs Man.

Or Human vs Human.

Or Alien Robot Thing vs Interstellar Goop.

Whatever works for you. What’s improtant about this type of conflict is that there are at least two sides each represented by a character or group of characters. Pretty much every Gundam series ever nails this type of conflict by setting up different factions with conflicting agendas and then the story sits back and waits for the inevitible chaos.

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This type of conflict works for a few simple reasons.

01. Generally the goals fo the opposing forces are known and clear. This guy wants to save the girl that the other guy kidnapped. That army wants to overrun that land and the army over there wants to stop them. This girl is going to hunt down the guy who killed her father and return the favour, meanwhile the guy doesn’t want to die. Whether the audience sees all perspectives or not is irrelevant. We pretty much know who is who and what they want.

02. Because the characters have opposing goals, they are moving toward each other and the story pushes them into conflict adding excitement and tension to the story. Basically, because they all want things, they are actively seeking them out and this gives plenty of opportunities for interactions, skirmishes, surprise ambushes, negotiations, or any of dozens of other things that could make the story interesting.

03. People get it. They face conflict with other people every single day so when they see a character getting blocked from achieving their goal they can relate. They also get really happy when the ‘bad’ guy gets taken down because it gives them some vicarious satisfaction that somehow their obstacles will eventually get mowed down.

How does this work in anime?

Like most medium for story telling anime has done pretty much everything imaginable with this particular theme however where we see it most obviously is in action anime.

Case 1: Bleach (Not yet reviewed)

While there are other types of conflict driving the events of Bleach from time to time (with over 300 episodes you would hope it was more complex than he stole my chewing gum), the story continues to come back to the idea of man vs man.

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In the early seasons, Ichigo literally works his way up through increasingly stronger opponents to reach his goal of saving Rukia. It’s why the first seasons of Bleach are incredibly satisfying. After a season of learning how to kind of be a shinigami, Ichigo has a simple goal placed in front of him. Save Rukia from execution in Soul Society. The audience gets this, they respect that goal, and most of the viewers want to see Ichigo succeed.

However, the various shinigami of Soul Society don’t want Ichigo to succeed (and yes we do cross a little into Man vs Society but for the most part Ichigo isn’t focussed on bringing the society down, just the next opponent standing in front of him). The shinigami he faces have a variety of motivations, which ultimately keep the story interesting, but their goal is simple. Stop the intruder. Once again, the audience gets this goal. Ichigo has barged into a world he doesn’t belong in and is disrupting things. It makes sense that those who live there are choosing to defend it.

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Ichigo vs Ikkaku is a great example of this. While Ikkaku isn’t exactly the hard working drone of society, he does love a good fight and Ichigo more or less falls into his lap (which results in the lucky dance, and please let us never remember that). I like this battle for a few reasons. Ichigo isn’t yet ridiculously overpowered and it really is just grit and determination that keep him from being seriously killed (that and Ikkaku isn’t really being too serious which costs him). I also like Ichigo’s logic as to why he chooses to fight rather than run, as a certain other character did. His decision to stand and fight wasn’t totally pig-headed for once but rather a simple understanding that if Ikkaku was stronger than him, running was not going to help. Ichigo essentially has to cut Ikkaku down in order to continue his quest to save Rukia because Ikkaku is not going to back away from this fight.

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However, it is Ichigo vs Byakuya that most clearly expresses this idea of opposing goals. Byakuya is 100% convinced that he must follow the law and so has personally made it his absolute duty to ensure Rukia’s execution is carried out in accordance to the law, even though she’s his adopted sister. This fight is one of the best in Bleach and comes as Ichigo’s power is really coming into its own. What really works about this conflict is that we’ve seen these two characters coming toward each other for quite some time and we knew by this time that neither character could or would back down. While the outcome is kind of obvious, it is definitely a fight worth watching, although you are advised to watch out for cheesy shonen dialogue being shouted mid-battle.

Case 2: Death Note (Not yet reviewed)

Alright, let’s take the swords, bows, and other pointy weapons away and look at this type of conflict in a more modern setting. Modern but with a note book that can kill you. Arguably, Light and L absolutely define the man vs man conflict. From the contrasting blue and red colours they are painted in during the opening to their declaration that they both represent justice (and cannot both be right) everything about Death Note pits these two against each other. There are other characters hunting Kira down but we all know that this story revolves around these two characters and the mind games they play with one another.

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What works particularly well about this story is that both characters have strengths and weaknesses. L has the power of the police and large information networks for much of the story meanwhile he is missing the crucial bit of information he needs. That is, he doesn’t know about the existence of the Death Note and even once that is revealed he is given false information as to how it works which throws him off. Light on the other hand has access to police information, knowledge of the notebook and death gods, but has a massive ego and tends to act rashly when provoked.

Watching these two maneuvre around each other and manipulate situations to try to get more information is truly fantastic and one of the best man vs man conflicts I’ve watched. What is really fascinating is that you honestly don’t know which side you want to see win. Yes, Kira is a mass-murderer and Light progressively becomes more unhinged as the story goes on (or was always unhinged and finally revealed it). But, he is taking out criminals and the world is changing. More importantly, we spend time with Light early on and he’s a charming character. While you probably wouldn’t want to meet him in real life, as a character you are sympathetic to his cause and as he is arguable the protagonist of the duo he is kind of the one you are positioned to stand behind. L on the otherhand is introduced later and it takes a fair while before he becomes anything more than an intriguing idea in the story. By the time you warm up to him, it is hard to really want his victory even though technically you know Light should be stopped.

I won’t spoil how this ends for those who haven’t seen it but it is definitely a story to check out.

Conclusion

While man vs man might seem like an overused plot line, when used well it can be highly effective and entertaining. That doesn’t stop lazy writing from causing some big problems. Like what happens when there is no opposition worth noting or the opposition exists but you don’t really know why they care about stopping the protagonist. We see this a lot in romantic storylines where a girl will declare herself a rival but other than being painful they serve no point in the story and mostly we all just wish they would go away so we could focus on the actual relationship and its genuine drama rather than plot contrived ones (not looking at Orange).

So let’s open this up. I’d love to hear what your favourite man vs man conflict in an anime is and why.


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Friday’s Feature: The Strange Case of Madoka Magica

There’s been a lot written and said about Madoka Magica (or Puella Magi Madoka Magica) since it came out in 2011. For the most part people have viewed this series as a critique of magical girl series in general or at the very least a subversive entry in the genre of magical girls and certainly the show can be viewed in this manner.

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Since it came out there have been countless other ‘dark’ magical girl stories and almost universally people have either compared them unfavourably to Madoka Magica or just not felt the same kind of emotional punch that Madoka delivered. While it isn’t really fair to dislike a series like Magical Girl Raising Project because it isn’t Madoka, the comparison from the start was pretty much set in stone and unfortunately the opening episodes of that series didn’t have anywhere near the visual or emotional impact needed to sway an already fairly jaded audience. From reading the reviews, those who stuck with it mostly felt it was a rewarding watch, but many, including myself, abandoned ship early on.

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What I find interesting about Madoka, more so than any comparison we might make to shows that have come out after it, is that it is consistently called a magical girl show. What actually sets Madoka Magica apart from every other magical girl show that I’ve watched and every satire of the genre, is that Madoka isn’t a magical girl. This is an origin story for a legend that will be told by magical girls in the world that is created in the final episode of Madoka, but it isn’t a story about a magical girl.

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If we make the obvious comparison to Sailor Moon we can immediately see the difference. Episode 1 of both shows starts with a flashback or dream sequence to some major conflict and then our protagonist wakes up in the very mundane and ordinary world and goes about their morning business. These openings are almost perfectly synchronised really and these two aren’t the only ones. Card Captors has pretty much the same opening sequence as do dozens of other shows in this genre. Okay, so I’ve just proved Madoka is following along in the path of a standard magical girl show. Where does it change?

By the end of episode 1, Serena has met Luna, been given her brooch, transformed into Sailor Moon and defeated the first villain (with some help and support from Tuxedo Mask). Sakura has released the Clow cards and partnered up with Kuro to hunt them down in Card Captors. If we look at Shugo Chara, Amu has hatched her first egg and had her first character change. In all of these shows, by the end of episode 1 we know our protagonist is special and can use special powers.

So episode 1 of Madoka?

Yes, there are magical girls and Kyuubey has appeared in all his evil cuteness. Madoka has not become a magical girl. Neither has Saya at that point. Madoka remains an observer of the magic in the world.

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And this remains true for Madoka until the very end of the series. The story explores the agony of whether or not to take that final step from the ‘safe’ and normal world into the world of magical girls where you can have a wish granted but the cost it comes with is enormous (and mostly not spelled out in the contract).

To go back to Sailor Moon, this would be like having the story told from the perspective of Molly. She watched her friends transform, doesn’t know the whole story but knows something is going on, wants to help but ends up fretting and hoping from the sidelines. That’s Madoka’s role through the vast majority of the story. The only difference between Madoka and Molly is that Madoka has the chance to change her circumstances whereas Molly is just destined to be a side character.

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This is where Madoka actually does become a critique of the magical girl genre. In most of these stories we are seeing it from the insiders point of view. And more importantly, the initial transformation from ordinary to magical is over in an instant. One episode and done. While the character might later have doubts or second guess themselves, they are already transformed and have power so to not use it would be a tragedy. Their path is set and more or less locked in stone and any protests they may verbally make or threats to quit are more or less futile and the audience knows that.

A truly subversive magical girl series might have a member of the team actually quit for real and not have some epiphany and come back. That would actually really mess with the audience expectations to have them genuinely sit on the sidelines and let the tragedy unfold when they have the power to stop it and they choose not to act.

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Madoka shows us the story almost entirely from the outsiders point of view. Madoka is the outsider and while initially Saya is also an outsider, Saya jumps in to the world of magical girls and becomes yet another case study for Madoka in the tragedy that is unfolding (and one day I will focus on Saya as the definition of a tragic character but that isn’t the point of this post). This extended belaboring of the ‘choice’ magical girls face finally makes audiences face all those characters saving the world at the risk of life and limb and makes the audience really understand what is sitting beneath all the pretty costumes and love hearts. Madoka isn’t about tearing down the magical girl genre, it is about rethinking the reality faced by the characters and putting a new voice into the forefront of people’s minds.

That Madoka will eventually also choose to step into the world of the magical girls, knowing exactly what her decision will lead to and finding a way to still use that in her favour is a remarkable way to end the show because it combines her transformation, final battle, and transition into legend all into one sequence. Madoka doesn’t become a magical girl and then fight to save the day. She becomes a magical girl and uses that to save those she has come to treasure, creating an entirely new reality where she exists only as a dream or memory in the lives of those she touched. We never get to see Madoka in her own reality as a magical girl because she never exists as one in the time sequence we follow. We only see her as a magical girl in flashbacks to other realities and in dreams.

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For me, Madoka Magica will always be kind of special. There’s certainly issues with the narrative in places and some of the characters aren’t as well developed as you would like, but it has done its job at reframing what magical girls are and it has done it in a way that doesn’t take away from the tiara wearing girls before it.

Ultimately this is why the so called imitators that have come after have fallen short. And I know some of them aren’t actually trying to imitate Madoka, but they feel like the writer just grabbed the idea of dark magical girl story because Madoka did well without understanding that it wasn’t the shock deaths and darkness that held the story up. What holds Madoka up is an understanding of what had been missing from all those other magical girl stories and Madoka neatly filled in that gap. This is the origin of a magical girl. This is the agony they face as they leave behind what they know and go to face a monstrous danger. It is also the end of a magical girl as she gives her life and entire being to save the world (with no do-over or last minute reprieve or rebirth). That is why simply calling it a critique or a subversive magical girl story does not begin to do it justice.

What are your thoughts on Madoka?

 

Friday’s Feature: On Romance in Anime

As we get ready for Valentine’s Day (or get ready to be totally indifferent to anything that might resemble a public declaration of affection) I thought it was a good time to focus on romance and how it is portrayed in anime. This week I’m looking at the warm and fluffy side of romance. Next week, I’m going to look at some of the less pleasant portrayals of romance.

One of my first top 5 lists was a list of my favourite romantic anime. I’m going to draw on a lot of examples from these anime in my discussion this week. So what are the common features of these sweet and romantic anime?

01. For the most part they are focussed on the female in the relationship. While some shows (particularly a few in recent years) have portrayed romance from a male’s point of view (or at least a male character’s point of view) to majority of romance focussed anime follow the girl. This isn’t really surprising given the target audience for most romance anime are girls and as a general rule the romantic genre appeals more to a female audience. And while there are a lot of self-insert girls out there with limited personality besides a love of cooking and cleaning, because romance is such a prolific genre what we find are an array of female leads. From the super shy and fairly stereotypical right through to the oblivious and aggressive.

But that’s what makes romance so great is that if one doesn’t work for you there are plenty of other characters and romances to follow.

02. This one isn’t in every anime but it is a common feature. The love interest starts out being kind of a jerk and the girl doesn’t like him very much. Then something happens and suddenly she sees him in a new light. This is actually pretty standard in all romances really (and a staple of romantic comedies) and it probably exists because otherwise you have to introduce external tension and conflict early on before the characters have really been established. By creating tension between the two you can focus more or less entirely on the characters without boring the audience to death with their adoring stares.

I’m not the biggest fan of this particular cliché because I’ve never understood why the girl continues to interact with someone who is that much of a jerk, but I do understand from a narrative point of view why it works. Besides, Tomoe may have been nasty to Nanami but he still ends up being one of my favourite male leads in a romance.

03. The epiphany moment. Despite being in a romance, the characters tend to be unusually dense about their emotions and the state of their relationship. Either one or both of the characters needs to realise they are actually in love or that the other one actually likes them or something. Usually this is accompanied by sparkles, tears, or sometimes a punch because why not. However it is the reveal moment for the character that the audience have been waiting for forever because the character is usually the last to realise it. But hey, at least most of us don’t believe we have arrhythmia because our heart starts beating fast at the sight of the guy.

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04. There’s almost always a rival. Again, this is one of those necessary staples in order to inject some sort of tension or conflict into a story that is basically two people staring into each other’s eyes ad nauseum and rivals can add quite a bit of personality to the story. Probably my favourite rival ever is Kurumi from Kimi ni Todoke. That’s mostly because she pretty much demonstrates every charactersitic a rival might have rather than just being one type. It’s kind of interesting to watch her character transition.

While I don’t like her manipulative efforts early on (and we aren’t supposed to) you have to admit, Kurumi is a hard worker and ultimately she wasn’t really a nasty person so much as someone who was very driven by her goals. What makes her truly exceptional is that when she finally does confess and get turned down, she accepts this with reasonable grace and uses it as a chance to grow a bit as a person. A little bit. She still stirs the pot occasionally but mostly she moves on.

05. In anime romance tends to only get to the confession and dating stage, again there are exceptions. The vast majority finish the final episode on the confession, the first date, or a kiss and that is as much as we are getting of that story. Then again, given how red most of the characters get just trying to say the name of the person they are in love with I guess we can’t expect much more from them and it really isn’t needed given its the emotion of the relationship that has been conveyed.

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There’s probably a cultural reason for this trend and it isn’t as if the romance is any worse for the lack of physical displays of affection, however it is interesting watching teenage characters get flustered over eye contact or brushing their finger tips.

Well, that does it from me today. What are your favourite parts of romantic anime or what is your favourite romantic anime?


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Karandi James.

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