The Promise of Later

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There’s a definite trend for anime that start slowly or have a lull in the mid-section to be defended by staunch lovers of the source material using the phrase ‘it gets better’. Usually with a ‘trust me’ thrown in there as well. And often times that is actually quite correct in that the story does find its feet and pick itself up. However, does that actually make the story any better in the first place if the only way to defend it in the early days is to argue that something better is coming?

I guess we could point out that viewers these days are fairly impatient beings and with so many anime available to them each season it is easy enough to simply not want to play a waiting game. Why wait for one title to ‘get better’ when another title simply is ‘better’?

Endro Episode 8

Now, I know I am an impatient person. Given I’ve suggested things like skipping the first 100 pages when To Kill a Mockingbird as you won’t appreciably miss any of the plot by doing so, though you will lose a lot of character and world building. I guess it depends why you are reading the story in the first place and whether you really get immersed in all that set up or just keep turning pages to see when the ‘plot’ might appear. But yes, that book tried my patience to no end and even though the trial and the message in the second half of the book are actually pretty solid, I really felt like I wanted the time spent reading the opening act back.

However, I’m perfectly happy to wait a reasonable length into a series with an interesting premise for it to find its feet even if the opening act isn’t exactly blowing me away. Of course, that results in me watching quite a number of anime that just never find their feet and end as boringly as they started, or worse, they go in weird directions and just kind of implode. Caligula would probably fit into this category. I didn’t drop it even though there were plenty of poor episodes early on and plenty of warning that it was going to be a mess. However, I wanted to give it time to find its way and finish its set up. Too bad it never got any better.

Caligula Episode 11

Yet there comes a time during a season where you have to wonder if the time being sunk into watching is actually going to be worth a later payoff. In the case of Sakurada Reset, it turns out it really was. Now, I still don’t fully recommend Sakurada Reset to any but the most avid anime fan given there’s a lot of set-up time and I very nearly walked away from the anime mid-season. But…

See, there’s that ‘but’.

It gets better.

The ending of Sakurada Reset was one of the most satisfying narrative conclusions I’ve seen in anime and while it isn’t the best, by any means, I felt that all of the set up time, the weird stilted dialogue, the seemingly disjointed stories, and the general frustration felt while watching individual episodes of the story, were worth it for that ending. Everything came together in a way that so few shows manage and it just felt like reaching the summit of a mountain and getting the most gorgeous view imaginable.

Still, if someone else were to watch the first few episodes and tell me they dropped it, I would fully understand. I would try to argue that they should be more patient and give it more time because it is quite the slog to get through and I remember how tiresome some of those mid-season episodes were.

Run With The Wind Episode 4

There’s also Run With The Wind, that has built up to a second half that is truly unmissable. Yet would I blame anyone from walking away in the first half? When I hated one character entirely for a large chunk of the first cour, didn’t really connect with a lot of the others, and found the training sequences less than compelling and it was really only direction, visuals and sound design that really kept me hooked (and Prince as he has some of the coolest lines imaginable). I really can’t say that everyone is going to think that the ending is worth it (particularly as we aren’t yet at the end). What I will say is I am super glad I kept watching because wow that has been one of the best emotional payoffs in a long time from anime.

Run With The Wind Episode 7 Prince

But I’ll turn my attention to Sword Art Online Alicization. I was really looking forward to more SAO, and not a spin-off without Kirito, but genuine SAO. Alicization as an arc has been talked up by those who have read the source so much so even though I tried to go in with reasonable expectations, there was this sense that what was coming should be amazing.

First few episodes had their moments. They got me into the story and established characters. There were sufficient cool and nostalgic moments sprinkled in. Yep, this was SAO and I like SAO and Kirito was back doing his thing. It wasn’t like Aincrad which hooked me from episode one and dragged me into a story that I ended up loving, but it was certainly a promising beginning.

Sword Art Online Alicization - Episode 2 - Kirito

Then we just kind of meandered along. Stuff has happened to be sure but if the recap episode after episode 18 was anything to go by, not enough to justify 18 episodes worth of viewing. And as more and more chinks in the poorly paced and exposition heavy narrative become completely impossible to ignore, the defence that is being mounted is ‘it gets better’.

How much better and will it be worth the time commitment? Well only time and personal judgement will answer that.

Will I drop Sword Art Online Alicization? Probably not. I like Sword Art Online and much like Cardcaptor Sakura Clear Card, nostalgia will get this show a lot of life-lines and keep me watching and hoping.

But if I was asked whether or not someone should start Alicization, would I actually recommend it?

Right now the answer is absolutely not, unless you happen to be a huge fan of SAO and just want more. There are significantly better written and better executed shows airing right now and while Sword Art Online Alicization remains a watchable experience there is very little I could point to that would be something I could recommend to anyone who isn’t a Kirito fan already.

The argument ‘it gets better’ just seems a little hollow here.

Ultimately, each viewer is going to make their own decision about how much time they are willing to give something. Whether they will stick with something for the long haul or whether they will cut their losses early. Each viewer will decide whether the promise of something better later is worth what they are watching right now. But I am interested to know from my readers how you feel about the ‘it gets better’ defence and whether you feel it has merit as a means of recommending someone continues to watch something or whether you are someone who drops things fast when they don’t deliver.

Leave us a comment below and lets get the conversation started.

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MY HERO ACADEMIA PLUSH: JIRO
MY HERO ACADEMIA PLUSH: JIRO

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Caligula Series Review: Virtual Reality is Cool – Do You Really Need Plot?

Caligula Episode 5

Caligula Series Review

Caligula has the distinct honour (dishonour) or being the anime I watched this year that I just cannot find any merit in having sat through it. That isn’t to say that there aren’t a few good moments scattered throughout the 12 episodes, but I will admit that I was definitely breathing a sigh of relief as that final episode ended because it meant it was all over.

Caligula Episode 5

I think what frustrated me with this show was that I very much went into it wanting to like it. Virtual world with people trapped inside is a formula that’s been done more or less to death at this point but I’m a fan of a lot of these types of stories so that wasn’t a problem. There were cool character designs, some interesting music, and the basic idea of an AI wanting to make people happy and failing at it miserably all could have been interesting.

Caligula Episode 11

Even if the plot had just kind of dribbled along as it did, if the characters had been compelling or if they’d actually gotten into any of the ideas of whether living in the virtual world was real or not, or looked at the Musicians (the villains) and their motives with any kind of depth or desire to really explore the human condition, I still might have  really enjoyed this. Unfortunately, each episode I walked away and just kind of felt the entire thing was a little bit (okay a lot) juvenile.

Caligula Episode 9

Massacres and emotional releases/revelations are littered throughout the episodes of this series but none of them are ever given any weight. It is more that the writers seemed to get bored with all the talk and endless snack eating and so suddenly dropped one of these scenes in. The powers the kids unlock within themselves look cool but are poorly explained and ultimately serve little purpose. And given we’re almost at the end of the series before the characters decide to reintroduce themselves to one another (I guess they realised no one in the audience had a clue who these characters were or why we should care about them) it becomes really apparent that the characterisation and writing in this anime just aren’t up to scratch.

Caligula Episode 10

Now, I know some viewers had fun watching this. And I guess if you just want to go along for the ride there are some flashy fights, the music is pretty great (the one thing I won’t criticise), and it does in fact resolve at the end even if that resolution makes no sense. But for me, this is the anime I wish I had walked away from this year. It just didn’t do anything for me in the end except make me think about how much better it might have been.

I’m not going to drag this out anymore. I just didn’t like this anime. I never connected with a single character, the plot at first kind of meandered giving us glimpses at some possibly half-decent discussion about psychology and the like and then it derailed itself and just kind of blew stuff up for awhile before it got to some kind of ending, and so many of the ideas it presented just never went anywhere. Part of me really wishes that maybe this will get another anime one day just to tell the story with less clutter. In the meantime, I’m clearly not recommending this one. There are plenty of better anime out there.

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CALIGULA: OVERDOSE [LIMITED EDITION] (CHINESE & ENGLISH)
CALIGULA: OVERDOSE [LIMITED EDITION] (CHINESE & ENGLISH)

And Now… The Results of the Worst of Spring Reader’s Poll Are Here!

If you missed it, the best of the Spring 2018 season reader poll results can be found here.

For those who are new to my end of season awards, I’ll just remind you that worst of the season is a slightly misleading term given I ask people to vote for a show they didn’t drop but was the worst thing they actually watched. That means there are plenty of anime out there that never get voted for that are significantly worse because people have simply dropped them without completing them.

First up, my choices for worst of the season.

Worst Story – Tokyo Ghoul: Re

Tokyo2b

It seemed mean to give it to Record of Grancrest War considering it already won this ‘honour’ at the end of the Winter season, and Tokyo Ghoul Re has it coming. No explanations, no attempt to link the previous anime season to this, and just abandoning the anime fans to muddle their way through was a really poor move. Worse, even when you look up all the things you need to look up, we essentially spend 12 episodes gaining very little ground and it is hard to see much point to most of this. There’s the ongoing issue of Haise finding his memories but that’s about three episodes worth of content stretched out and then there’s a bunch of stuff with side characters I was never made to care about. Basically, this one was a bit of a mess but if you just want some ghoul fight sequences, it might deliver that for you.

Worst Visuals – Devils’ Line

Devil6c

There was never any question on this category. Devils’ Line is ugly to watch whether it is the weird filter they put over scenes, the terrible effect used to make the vampires seem faster or whatever, or just the drab looking everything, it is hideous. While I appreciate not every vampire needs to be an Adonis existing only to draw the female eye, this show is just bad to look at.

Worst Opening – My Hero Academia Season 3

Hero47c

Yes, I hear your complaints and yet I’m standing by this choice. After some truly thrilling OP’s, My Hero Academia has delivered one that neither gets me fired up, nor visually interests me, outside of the final image of Midoriya standing with All Might. Basically I’ve taken to skipping the OP and am hoping for a mid-season change.

Worst Character – The Cast of Caligula

Caligula10b

This was probably a cheap call, and yet I knew my least favourite characters existed in this series and yet when looking at each one I can barely remember their names let alone distinguish one from the other in terms of which was a more poorly introduced, fleshed out or developed character. This cast is way oversized and not one of the characters pictured above does a single thing of consequence in the entire series (watch it, remove each of these characters, note how that makes no difference to the plot at all). So yeah, it is an entire cast but this is my choice for worst character this season (they even beat some of the choices I had from Grancrest).

And now…

Worst Anime of the Spring 2018 Season – Doreiku The Animation

Doreiku8e

I was really torn on this one. Caligula was a great contender for worst of the season as was Devils’ Line. But ultimately both of those had some redeeming qualities hiding deeply beneath layers of poor choices whereas Doreiku is just a concept thrown out there and then used by someone who doesn’t have a clue what to do with it. The first episode presents what could be a rich world of exploration about human desire and morality and ultimately the story barely manages to remain coherent and certainly doesn’t explore anything. It routinely shows us that the characters are horrible but that isn’t really exploration so much as just piling more mud onto what is already a mess. So despite having what arguably could have been one of the more interesting concepts this season, Doreiku has managed to be the anime I really wish I hadn’t stuck with.

Finally, Reader’s Choice

There was some tight competition for worst anime of the season that people actually watched and we ended up with a tie for third place. See the results for yourself.

Worst of Spring 2018.JPG

And so, with 9 votes, Darling in the Franxx won worst anime that people actually watched this season. I think the show’s popularity worked against it here because as bad as some of the other shows were, more people were watching Franxx. Still, you have to admit it became quite a mess as the series progressed.

Franxx20d

Devils’ Line therefore took a comfortable second place as worst anime closely followed by SAOA: GGO and Doreiku the animation in third place.

It seems like it has been a long season but now we are about to move into the Summer Anime season and begin it all again. Let’s cross our fingers and hope for some amazing stories, and for those anime that disappoint us, there’s always the chance to vote for it in the worst of Summer poll.


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Caligula Episode 12: We’re Done!

Turns out not a single character or their story is significant in any way other than ‘Ritsu’ so all of those backstories and things we’ve sat through, just purge them from your mind and watch the world fall apart.

Caligula12b

For all that this show did a last ditch attempt to help the audience identify with any of its cast by expositioning us to death with backstory, it ultimately turns out not one of these support characters has any purpose other than to show us that everyone looks for happiness in their own way. Realistically, they are interchangeable and pointless to the overall narrative. And what is that narrative? Not much. Creator made or met AI (that part is unclear), didn’t answer her when she asked him about happiness, and then after being trapped in the AI’s world shot her in the head because somehow that ended the situation. Okay a bit more happened than that, but really that is what it boils down to.

Caligula12e

Caligula episode 12, is just unsatisfying. There’s no buy in with the cast so their fate doesn’t matter and ultimately isn’t important, even though we do get a nice montage of them all picking themselves up in the real world and facing their demons. The villains are ultimately pointless and their actions amount to as little as the main cast. And Ritsu essentially deus ex machina’s the situation out of existence just because he’s decided its time to do so.

I’ll get to a series review soon, but what did you think of Caligula?

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Caligula Episode 11: I Did It

Great, we finally figured it all out. Only thing is, there’s nothing really to figure out. Any mumbo jumbo along the way existed only to make pretty basic story seem more than it was.

Caligula11b

Crazy girl from last week continues to crazy while other characters continue to lack consequence, but we’re getting a big fight sequence and something weird is happening in Mobius. None of this matters at all though, because it is inside a computer program, as we knew, and now we know that Ritsu kind of did it in the first place and he’s now outside the program trying to fix it. Though I’m not sure if his definition of fixing things is the same as everyone else’s given he doesn’t seem to want to shut the program down and free everyone so much as make the program actually work to make people happy.

Caligula11c

That said, this continues to be a pretty flat viewing experience with zero stakes and no real need to care about any of the random developments. And while I get everything does not need to be high stakes, I kind of need to care about something and here neither the characters nor plot have done enough to make me think they are worth worrying about.

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Caligula Episode 10: That Grenade Should Have Been Dropped About Ten Minutes Earlier

This story continues to think its kind of cool when mostly it is just boring us to death with poorly realised characters who engage in overly edgy dialogue that amounts to nothing.

Caligula10b

What to do when your cast is boring and your characters are going nowhere? Trap them in a room and have them discuss why they are there and why they want to escape. Because nothing screams excitement like a talk-fest giving thinly realised motives to characters we don’t care about. And when you end that with a girl opening the door and dropping a grenade, you just leave your audience wondering why she didn’t show up sooner. That and why a grenade in a closed classroom didn’t just end the matter. How useless are these grenades?

Caligula10c

Honestly, I don’t even care anymore why they are there or what they want. I genuinely just want them to escape back to reality and then the show to end. Or not. Let’s just shut Mobius down with them all still in it and call it a day.

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Caligula Episode 9: Mystery Door, Locked Door

Suspicious memory retrieval from Aria leads the go Home club to look for a door that might lead home. Typically, it doesn’t go well.

Caligula9a

Here’s how not to write an episode. Start with a scene we have no context for based on where we left the characters. Throw in a line or two of exposition that says a character somehow managed to recall memories of a way out and the other characters all just accept they can now leave. Then have one of the characters run off to investigate some screams on the 18th floor. The rest of the characters ride an elevator but two of them jump out at floor forty something because of more screams. Suddenly, a few punches, jumps and broken floors later, everyone is somehow on the roof which blows up. The door is found, but as was established earlier through exposition only it won’t open without a character who hasn’t been seen all episode and despite knowing that right back when they started, the characters all seem disappointed. Oh, and then trap all but one in a room for a totally unrelated reason. Meanwhile, hint that the character acting suspicious all episode opened the door and left them all behind.

Caligula9b

There are very few words to describe how mind-numblingly tedious this all is when the show seems to insist on acting like it wants to be taken seriously and yet it offers nothing of substance. If March Comes in Like a Lion showed us how to create a good arc around bullying, this episode of Caligula shows us how to never, ever tackle the subject. This wasn’t entertainment, it wasn’t exploring a theme, it wasn’t even decent characterisation. It was just kind of smashed together explanation to rationalise insane behaviour. This series is definitely vying for a position in my worst of the year list of anime I’ve actually watched.

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Karandi James

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