Friday’s Feature: Characters To Make the Horror Real

This was not my intended post for this week however having started two shows that both seem intent on killing off their cast members in spectacularly gruesome and unrealistic fashions for the entertainment of the viewers this season the importance of the characters in making these sorts of stories anything more than visual spectacle has been thoroughly on my mind. This month my features are all focussing on horror and so far I have looked at visuals and the unnamed victims so if you missed either of those posts be sure to check them out.

Starting with a non-anime example I want to look at a movie from my teens, Scream. Scream is not complicated. It is self-aware of its derivative nature, to the point of having the characters openly list the rules and requirements of a horror film even as they themselves go through the motions of being in a horror film. There isn’t a single character in the film you can point to and claim they are unique or particularly interesting as it is an ensemble cast of horror tropes and they work beautifully together to craft a story that actually makes you want the designated heroine of the story to survive and leaves you feeling happy when the killer is ingloriously shot down before getting his final jump scare.

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This is where we as an audience need to understand that these trope like characters serve a valuable narrative purpose and their most important role is to get the audience to react to them. You are supposed to be suspicious of this one, disgusted by that one, roll your eyes at her, and feel sympathy even as you want that one to stand up for herself. It is manipulative viewing and evokes the same emotional response in more or less any other decent teen horror but it is a formula that works.

When you throw competent people into a horror/thriller kind of story the struggle becomes giving them an opponent they can’t easily defeat. This is seen quite clearly in Predator. Here we have tough, trained soldiers who don’t come off as inept as soon as things go awry. They are just severely outclassed by an alien. All except Arnold but I think most of us suspected that he could beat off an alien hunter even before watching this movie.

And that kind of brings us to King’s Game and Juni Taisen: Zodiac War. King’s Game lands squarely in the high school students being terrorised by unknown forces and freaking out whereas Juni Taisen has trained warriors who have walked into and signed up for a death match (for reasons still unknown). Both shows have their flaws and strengths but in terms of the characters drawing me into the story, King’s Game is kind of winning even if the story doesn’t seem as strong (okay, it is rubbish but no one ever claimed horror was a genre filled with examples of brilliant writing – there’s some and we do appreciate it when it exists, but basically we’ll take what we can get) and the presentation has been far rougher. So what is actually going on here?

For me the issue squarely comes down to how the characters are reacting to the horror of their situation.

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King’s Game may suffer from pacing issues, character over-reactions and general poor writing, but the kids are scared. Inexplicable multiple deaths in a single night have them gathering in a panicked mob willing to lurch toward any potential solution. They want to stop the horror and they want out of the situation. That makes the horror feel real to me as a member of the audience. What is happening is actually a threat and one that is causing these characters to freak out. It makes me wonder what I would be feeling in their shoes or wondering if their idiotic actions might be justified even as I roll my eyes at mob-mentality. So far very few of these characters are anything more than a name (when I remember it) and a type (if they’ve even had a line of dialogue) but as a class of teenagers they excel at grounding the horror into something that becomes relatable and therefore something I am more likely to invest in emotionally.

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Episode two was not good. There is no way around that as a reviewer. It was not a good episode by any measure. Yet, there was this one moment where a character is forced with a choice of not following the King’s Order and dying, or of texting ‘die’ to someone and have them die. She knows the game is real now. She knows it won’t just be a joke  to text someone that single word. The look on her face, even through questionable animation and visuals, is one that brings the horror of that choice straight to the audience. What would you do? Do you die or do you sentence a classmate to death? Does it make it okay if you choose someone that the others don’t like? This is the best part of these sorts of horror stories, these small moments that drive the emotions home. Admittedly, King’s Game is hiding these small moments under a pile of mud and other unpleasant oozing substances and there’s a reason quite a few people have dropped the show.

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Juni Taisen however hasn’t had one of these moments. In the first two episodes we’ve met characters who are arrogant, cool, confident or disinterested. They aren’t shocked or scared by their situation and they don’t feel like they are in over their head. In fact, a lot of them just seem bored by the situation, or gleefully and unpleasantly excited by the prospect of killing. Even Boar’s surprise death lacked impact other than a momentary shock because she didn’t see it coming, had no time to feel helpless or pathetic for failing. There was no moment for the audience to empathise with her plight and even though she was in over her head the audience never had a moment to feel that way.

The fact that the Zodiac Warriors aren’t helpless teenagers isn’t a deal breaker in terms of making that emotional connection. Even trained soldiers can feel helpless or cornered and it is brilliant when done well because you can’t criticise the character for being useless. You know they are strong but the enemy is stronger or has managed to get the upper hand. This actually works impressively well when done well, but so far Juni Taisen seems fairly determined not to really allow the audience that connection that would make these deaths anything more than spectacle.

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Moving to the second episode and we meet the Dog. He’s as arrogant and self-assured as the Boar, possibly more so, and once again he never once sees his death coming. It is over in an instant. If I was to map out my emotional responses during the second episode it would be mostly a flat line  as we go through rounds of exposition, introductions, waiting around, and then a quick blip when the inevitable death occurred before returning to base.

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So while I’ll admit fairly readily that  Juni Taisen is far superior to King’s Game in terms of its animation quality, so far from an emotional point of view and from just wanting the horror to actually connect, King’s Game has been winning out for me. I know others have a different opinion and that’s what makes discussing these shows so much fun. It has been great reading about how others have taken to these two shows (or not). Neither show is particularly great yet in terms of narrative as there’s still a lot of unknowns and a lot of potential for both to fall pretty flat. The thing is though, when you set up your story with the understanding that the characters exist mostly to die, if the audience doesn’t care about these characters that makes it pretty hard to care about anything else.

Before finishing, I just want to touch on the other ‘horror’ I started this season: Evil or Live. I use quotations for a reason on that horror because other than the fact that it is listed as such, I so far haven’t seen any evidence of it being a horror (unless you count the writing as being horrific and maybe that does scare you). While the characters are horrible and in a horrendous situation, the show is far more teen drama than horror. A very dark teen drama where rape is a possibility and vomiting in someone’s mouth is potentially supposed to be a comedic moment (possibly?). Maybe it will later shift things up a gear but all things considered, I somehow doubt it is going to hit the mark if you look at it being a horror.

Okay, handing over to you and your thoughts on characters in horror and whether they can make or break your enjoyment of a horror story.


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Tuesday’s Top 5: Character Poses

Pretty much every anime fan will admit that at some stage they definitely struck the pose of their favourite character (usually a fighter) in real life. There’s something very cool about character poses on screen and something utterly ridiculous about using them in real life and yet some cosplayers really pull it off. Today my top 5 includes 5 character poses I love seeing and am really glad that they are either parodied regularly in other anime or that cosplayers enjoy them too because it means endless streams of images to admire.

Please Note: There may be some spoilers below.

Honourable mention this week goes to Rika from Chuunibyou.

Number 5: Steins;Gate

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This one is fantastic but mostly because you can actually pull it off in real life without looking too ridiculous, which makes it a fairly safe pick for most people who while they would like more anime in their everyday life don’t want to have people start avoiding eye-contact with them. There are some more dramatic poses from Steins;Gate but the back to back in the lab coats is pretty classic.

Number 4: Soul Eater

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I’ll admit, Death the Kid with Patty and Liz is also pretty iconic but there is something insanely fun about taking on one of Maka’s stances and if you happen to have your scythe handy (or a broom stick or anything else really) you can really prepare to fight. Of course, the key to Maka’s look is not actually how she stands given other than the crouch it isn’t exactly the same each time, the key is in that piercing gaze. Nail that and it won’t matter how ridiculous you look.

Number 3: Evangelion

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The Gendo Pose. Probably doesn’t need much explanation and while it isn’t really a cosplayer favourite, it is an overly referenced and parodied look in anime. Plus, it is all kinds of fun to strike it in meetings when no one knows what you are doing. Even more fun if one person knows what you are doing and the rest are oblivious.

Number 2: Full Metal Alchemist

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I dare you to tell me you watched either version of Full Metal Alchemist and didn’t at one point in the month after the viewing clap your hands together when something broke or didn’t work. It may not be the coolest pose but once again it is all about the attitude while doing it. This isn’t a clap your hands if you believe in fairies moment.

Number 1: Sailor Moon

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I should probably attribute this one to the fact that I was significantly younger when I watched Sailor Moon but I most definitely spent more time than I will ever admit practicing and perfecting each of the Sailor Scout’s poses. And their attacks. And pretty much anything else to do with the show. Favourites were of course Jupiter and Mars for attacks. But very little beats Sailor Moon’s transformation stance and then her little monologue ending with “In the name of the Moon, I’ll punish you”.

Okay, time to spill. What is your favourite anime pose or which one will you admit to practicing in front of your TV?


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Friday’s Feature: Do You Like To Look In The Mirror?

When reading reviews a comment that is regularly mentioned is how relatable a certain character or situation is and why that makes something more or less interesting. I find this an intriguing comment mostly because the bulk of my viewing growing up was strictly fantasy and science fiction and while you can relate well to the human elements of those shows and some of the characters, the fun of those genres is that they can take you outside of what you know and make you see things in new ways. However, as I got older and really started looking at what made stories work, I realised that even within fantasy and science fiction, the stories I was drawn to were the ones where the struggles the characters went through felt real. And what made those conflicts and problems real was that I could usually see a parallel to something in my own life or the real world. It was kind of at that point where I started expanding outward from fantasy and sci-fi, as well as copious amounts of horror, and started finding other stories to lose myself in though I never lost my love for fantasy.

Anyway, the reason I’m thinking about this at the moment is I recently tried to review the first season of Kuroko’s Basketball and what I realised was I didn’t actually like the show. I watched the entire series (25 episodes) in less than a week while working 55+ hours and doing episodic views and reviews of currently airing anime, and I came to the conclusion I didn’t particularly like the show, though I didn’t dislike it either to be honest. So why couldn’t I stop watching it?

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Kuroko.

He is an incredibly boring character when you just kind of describe him. He barely talks, he has no presence for either the other characters or even the audience (even when he is seemingly supposed to be the centre of attention) and his overall character journey isn’t that interesting in this first season. He didn’t like the way the other members of his middle school team played basketball so now he’d like to beat them. Well, that’s profound. So again, why couldn’t I stop watching?

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Because of the relatability. I really related with Kuroko right from episode 1, and not because of basketball because I really did not care about that part of the story. Without the gross exaggeration, Kuroko is someone who is easily overlooked. The guy in the room that even when people know he should be there, they just forget about him. It isn’t that he lacks talent, or that he is getting picked on, or anything like that, he’s just an existence like air. And that is something I could relate to.

At school I was the person who the teacher would ask someone else in the room if they knew where I was, when I was sitting in the classroom. I’m the person who can stand at a service counter forever and will have to wait while everyone around me gets served, sometimes even people standing behind me, and then the service person will start cleaning up behind the counter because they genuinely don’t see me standing there (something which my real life friends find hilarious for some reason).

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However, what made Kuroko easy to relate to wasn’t just that he was invisible. It was that he wasn’t bitter about that aspect of his life, he wasn’t hiding because he was being bullied, he wasn’t on some quest to be noticed or not to be noticed… it was just part of who he was. There are so few characters like that and it was such a novel experience seeing a character that just owned that attribute. That isn’t to say he doesn’t make his presence felt when needed, but again, that makes him relatable. While I might have a presence like air by default, you can’t get through life like that. You have to make people see you sometimes.

So one character, with one relatable trait, was enough to draw me into a show that I don’t actually dislike but it isn’t exactly blowing me away and it made me realise just how powerful this idea is. People are drawn to characters they relate to. They don’t need to be exact mirror images, but when they have that one trait or one thing that the viewer connects with on a personal level, they grab the interest of that viewer in a way that all the brilliant plots in the world probably wouldn’t.

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Which made me wonder about the number one show on my current viewing list, My Hero Academia. What is the draw for that show? Its fun, high energy, great fight sequences, but ultimately it is the characters that I’ve fallen in love with. And when you look at each of the characters what you realise is that they all have some trait or characteristic that you can relate to. Even if it isn’t a trait you have, it is one you recognise in someone near you. Those characters are incredibly interesting but more than that, you can relate to the struggles they are individually going through even as they are on this fantastical journey to become a superhero.

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Earlier in the year one of my favourite shows was March Comes in Like a Lion. I connected very strongly with Rei as he progressed through the story. As a character I wanted to see him succeed but I could understand him when he failed and when he felt he needed to give up. I cheered when he pushed forward, even if it was only a small step, and I cried for him when things got hard. There were so many moments in my own life where I felt Rei’s struggles related and so many people I know who have gone through depression or similar situations that I could relate Rei’s story too. It felt real and I loved every moment of Rei during its run and I’m really looking forward to its return.

What are your thoughts? Do you prefer characters you can relate to?


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Friday’s Feature: What Went Wrong with Katsugeki Touken Ranbu?

When you have a show based on a game that you’ve never played you already know that there are going to be some parts of the show that you are just never going to get. They’ll be references or nods to the game and the fans and that is fine. You also don’t expect a plot that makes a flawless transition from game, where there is some level of interaction with a player, to anime, where the viewer is far more passive in their engagement with the story. That said, Katsugeki Touken Ranbu was a show that was being talked up prior to the summer season beginning. It was always going to be be compared to Hanamaru, the earlier adaptation that took a different direction and I dropped one episode in, but it was still seen by a lot of people in the community as the adaptation that would be superior.

We’re now a fair way in and to be honest this show has become a chore to watch. The good looking characters with cardboard personalities are all pretty forgettable save that they have different weapons and fighting styles and the audience still has been given zero reason to invest in any of the events occurring in the story. While there might be a bit more of a draw for people who have played the games as some of the missing pieces might be there, that doesn’t make this any better as an anime. So while I’m wondering whether I will watch the next episode or not I thought I’d consider everything that is actually stopping me from enjoying watching this show.

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01. They are protecting history so the future doesn’t get changed. That seems like a fantastic motive really. Save the future. Only, other than the citadel where the swords all hang out with their master in between missions (or where they sit around and either heal or brood between missions) the audience has no clue what this future they are saving looks like or even if it is worth saving. For all we know the master is actually part of a totalitarian regime that is using personified swords to ensure the freedom fighters can’t undo their rigid control over the society. I don’t actually think that is likely, but the show has given me nothing to actually convince me I should be invested in saving this ‘future’. I don’t even know what it looks like.

More importantly, the swords themselves come from Japan’s past. They have no invested reason in saving a future they aren’t actually a part of other than their master told them to. What good does it do a sword for a future to change or not change? While yes it might be tragic even for a personified sword to see an innocent person cut down in front of them, how is that any more tragic than cutting their way through the enemy? Yet they seem to have no problem with that.

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02. Who is the enemy? Yep, I know this should be obvious. They are fighting the Time Retrograde Army. They tell us this a lot. That’s great. Who are they? What is their motive? Other than changing history, what are they actually trying to accomplish? Where or when do they even come from? None of this has been addressed. Not through the main characters, not through narration, and certainly not through characterisation of the villains because they literally have none.

Instead we get shadowy monsters/warrior that appear, cause havoc, and then our good looking swords get to work slicing and dicing in some very cool action sequences but none of this involves actually making us care about either the protagonists or the villains in this story. Even the one villain that was apparently someone one of the sword guys knew and seemed to be creating members of the Time Retrograde Army didn’t get any kind of an explanation

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03. So outside of not buying the protagonists’ motivation (because it hasn’t been fully explained nor have the consequences of failing), and not really buying the enemy as all that much of a problem (again, because no one has managed to really explain why it is a problem), we come to the characters themselves. We started with the second unit and met each of the characters. They even did a nice little round the circle introduction for us. Other than their name, their weapon, and perhaps one defining personality trait, the audience still has no clue about these characters. They are an outline or a shell of a cast but there is an incredible absence of actually rich characterisation. If the plot were compelling enough you could overlook this but we’ve already established that their overall mission may as well be ‘save the cheerleader’ for all the difference it would make to the audience at this point.

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04. Then we have pacing issues. The early episodes in this series essentially went through a pattern of something ominous early in the episode, lots of sitting around and talking, followed by sudden spurt of action. Which means that for the majority of the episode, if you aren’t into the characters, nothing is happening. What is worse is that their conversations are very repetitive. Are we really preserving history? Seriously, how many characters are going to ask that or something similar and how many times will someone reply that they just need to complete their mission or that they are succeeding because their master said so?

Overall, there’s just no compelling reason to keep watching this show. Even if they do try  to give someone some actual motivation and even if there is some big fight between the swords and the army, what reason has the show given the audience to care at this point? Great music, cool visuals and fight sequences just aren’t enough in the absence of a compelling story or characters.

What are your thoughts on this anime?


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Friday’s Feature: Not a Character, an Idea

This post discusses My Hero Academia up to episode 31 focussing only on events in the anime. There are some minor spoilers if you have not watched that far.

Since the beginning of season 1, My Hero Academia has been obsessed with the idea of symbols. All Might is a symbol of justice. He is what other heroes aspire to be and villains fear him. Who All Might actually is has ceased to be important as it is the persona All Might carries when he is All Might that matters to the world he lives in.

Midoriya confronts the separation between the idea of who All Might is and the reality head on when he encounters his childhood hero in the real world. However, with Midoriya being Midoriya, he doesn’t become disillusioned but rather manages to reconcile his preconceived view of the hero with his new understanding of the man.

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But the world they live in (and the real world) does not work that way. Outside of a few of the teachers at UA, most people do not know about All Might’s current condition. He works hard to keep it a secret as he knows that if the symbol of justice ceases to be a shining and perfect symbol of justice, then the world and its balance will be irrevocably changed as villains will no longer have a reason to fear (despite all the other heroes who might do them in), and the younger generation of heroes won’t have that symbol to aspire to.

In a way, All Might’s current condition is actually more damaging than if he had died in the line of duty. If he had died in the line of duty than there could be an outpouring of grief for a hero who had done so much but he would have retained that perfect image he’d constructed until the end. Instead, if his condition as it stands becomes public knowledge, it is likely to tarnish the ideal he’s worked so hard to create (even though his current condition doesn’t change anything about what he had previously done).

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It is amazing in a way that the idea might be bullet proof and All Might’s death wouldn’t change it, but his living on and not representing the ideal people associate with him could deal significant damage. In a way, V from V for Vendetta got it right in that the only way to ensure his ideas carried forward without getting cluttered was to remove the man from the equation. With nothing ever known about the true identity of the terrorist V (at least not by the general public) he transcended the man he was and became a symbol of freedom and a voice for the people. What makes his death even more powerful was that Evey then pointed out that everyone in the crowd could project their own view upon V. He could be their brother who died, their father, their friend, coworker, lover, anyone. He could represent everything they wanted him to represent and he could never do anything to undermine their belief that how they saw him was what they intended.Which is scary because the idea is bullet proof and it is taking on a life of its own and the intended message may get overwritten and eroded in time or misappropriated for a cause it was never intended for and there is nothing anyone can do about that once the idea is out there.

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Which of course brings me to Hero Killer Stain. He has a clear ideal of what a hero should be and he was punishing those who failed to meet his expectations. We already knew that but then episode 31 gave us a bit more insight into how he became disillusioned when he dropped out of hero school and then tried to use words to convince the public that the way they saw heroes was problematic and ensured a system full of contradictions. ‘Hero’ had become a job. Having heroic qualities and a heroic mindset was not as important as results and showmanship. As the Hero Killer his acts caught the attention of many and his arrest got even more eyes locked onto him and his ‘ideas’.

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What becomes worrisome about this, or awesome depending on how the plot is handled, is that in the eyes of the public there is a link between the Hero Killer and the League of Villains. For the audience, we know that Stain outright refused to join the League of Villains as they did not live up to his standards of what a true villain should be any more than the heroes he had killed lived up to the standard of true hero. But the public do not know that. They only know that there is a connection. More importantly, how Stain was making his judgement of which heroes were true heroes and which were fake was through a deeply personal set of criteria. Any attempt to mimic of copy his ideology would result in a character coming to a very different set of judgements.

But Hero Killer Stain has been arrested. He has become the symbol of a movement and has lit a fire motivating people to action and then he has been removed from the scene. He is unable to correct perceptions (even if he was so inclined) and more importantly, unlike All Might, he’s already fallen so he can’t mar his own reputation that has taken on a life separate from himself. Admittedly, he could escape and get out and change the legend unfolding around him, but that would almost be counter productive to the movement left in his wake.

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For the League of Villains, if they are in any way able to understand how the world works, they won’t ever point out they were at odds with the Hero Killer. They’ll allow his symbol and image to draw people to them and then they will twist that message to their own ends.

However, what I find particularly interesting about this is that All Might was a constructed brand. He went out of his way to become the symbol of an idea. Whereas, Hero Killer Stain simply lived true to his own ideals. He didn’t make speeches or pompous appearances (he’d already given up on using words to change people’s minds). He acted and his actions spoke for him, though whether the true message came across is anyone’s guess and it will be interesting to see how the next generation of villains take his message and use it. But that’s why Hero Killer’s mark is going to be harder to erase than All Might’s would. Hero Killer was appealing to base impulses that people had hidden away and were just waiting for an excuse to let out and his message spread organically without anyone in particular constructing the narrative behind it and yet its momentum was undeniable.

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Of course, there’s a lot of real world parallels about how messages and branding as well as people standing in for ideals that we could get into but I’m certain that most of us have already thought about just how this works in reality and some recent examples. Even if the show doesn’t go any further into this issue, it has been an intriguing build up (please don’t spoil in the comments if you have read the manga).


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Friday’s Feature: Characters Seeking Who They Are

While I have said that I’m not loving the Summer 2017 line up all that much, I’ve been surprised by a number of shows that at first seemed like they wouldn’t really appeal but have then managed to bring me around. One of the common features of these shows is their focus on the theme of identity and characters who seem to either be in search of who they are supposed to be or trying to reconnect with something. On its own, characters doing some soul searching won’t sell a show, but when done in a way that resonates with its audience or in a way that feels real, can make even a reasonably average story suddenly come to life.

With so many anime featuring young and adolescent characters, it is not really all that surprising that many characters are seeking out who they are or who are trying to be something they aren’t. It’s a fairly standard theme of adolescent literature. However, regardless of the age of the characters, or the age of the audience, this idea of figuring out who and what you are is something that people connect with because everyone has at some point wondered if they are who they are actually supposed to be or even if there is someone that they should be.

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Knight’s & Magic takes a very wish fulfillment view of this topic and it isn’t one that is particularly new or surprising. Take an otaku (who actually was doing okay in his normal life) and drop him into a fantasy world where his fascination with robots and skills as a programmer are pretty much allowing him to rise quickly to a position of renown. The key to this kind of story working is that many people have gone through this experience of feeling like they were born in the wrong time or place, that if given a different setting their skills would be valued so much more and they would be appreciated better. It might seem self-indulgent but Knight’s & Magic does have a few things going for it that sets it a little apart from other similar titles.

Firstly, Ernesti’s skills are limited to programming and while he can apply that to the system of magic in the world (making him pretty powerful), he isn’t a super genius at everything and he is highly reliant on the skills of the team of mechanics and the like he is working with to get his ideas of the ground. Regardless of his genius, without these guys, none of Ernesti’s visions would ever have seen the light of day.

Secondly, it isn’t entirely clear whether Ernesti has full memories of his former life or not. Certainly he’s carried quite a bit of knowledge over and some terminology, but otherwise he seems very much a young boy in the fantasy world rather than the adult he was in the real world (which almost makes you wonder why bother saying he was reincarnated in the first place when he could just be a plucky genius). Of course, there’s always room for the story to go back and address this point later so maybe there’s more to this reincarnation thing than initially meets the eye.

Thirdly, while Ernesti is fascinated with creating a robot, his vision doesn’t really extend beyond that. He doesn’t actually seem to have any ambition or drive or understanding or care for the politics and the like of the world he is in. Normally in this kind of story there would already be some great injustice that the plucky hero would be able to judge evil and start raising forces against, but in this story it really just seems like Ernesti is happily oblivious to anything outside of his immediate goals. Maybe this will change as he is forced into increasingly complex situations and Ernesti will be forced to deal with the fall out of his choices, but for the early part of this series it seems Ernesti has zero interest in politics, rules, norms, or anything else that does not lead to him building a giant robot he can pilot.

Still, the entire thing begs the question of what would happen if you were really transported to a fantasy world and would your skills actually amount to anything of value.

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Outside of the fantasy realm, we actually have a darker story set in an alternate history with Princess Principal. Given the duplicitous nature of all of the characters, they are spies afterall, it is no wonder that the theme of identity comes up time and time again. However, it is Ange’s character that has particularly caught my attention, and clearly I’m not alone on that one.

The very first episode “Wired Liar” makes it clear that Ange is not the kind of person that can be trusted. She appears extremely stoic on the outside, hardened as a spy and the life she’s lived, but we later learn of her deep friendship for the Princess. Outside of this, she keeps others at arm’s length by giving them ridiculous answers to simple questions or avoiding their questions altogether. And then in episode 4, as the group struggled with the question of what to name themselves, Ange outright told the Princess she hated who she used to be. So what does that mean for her friendship with the Princess that is rooted very firmly in that past that Ange apparently hates?

Unlike Knight’s & Magic, this isn’t a story about wish fulfillment. It so far has been a story very much walking inside the grey zones we all see where we can’t really define right or wrong. The characters are also grey. Not in the way the Princess is described as grey because her loyalty can’t be trusted, but grey because the true history of all of these characters is obscured. I don’t think Ange’s motive of saving the Princess is a lie (although that would be quite the twist), but nor do I believe that Ange truly believes she can save the Princess. There’s something very sad about Ange and how she has so far been portrayed and I find it fascinating and desperately want to know more about her, but much like her comrades she keeps the audience at arm’s length.

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The last anime I want to look at from the Summer 2017 line up is Gamers. This show has been surprisingly entertaining, and surprisingly good. For a silly comedy that is rapidly becoming a high school rom-com there’s still enough going on in the story that I can’t help but enjoy it. Mostly this is because all of the five main characters who feature in the opening have so far been struggling with finding who they are (and searching for that answer in relation to why they game).

Admittedly, the girls’ stories and actions have all been so far driven by their relationship (or desired relationship) with the males of the story and it would be nice to see them have motivation beyond romantic, yet the stories have been pretty interesting. Aguri and Uehara’s story is particularly interesting. Uehara having transformed himself from perceived geek in middle school to someone who would be socially accepted, even picking up Aguri as a girlfriend even if he wasn’t that in to her. Aguri had also undergone a transformation as she wanted to be someone Uehara liked. However, she knew him back before his own transformation and liked him regardless. All of that might seem pretty shallow until the characters themselves are forced to face the consequences of creating and living a lie or trying to creat an ‘ideal’ high school life.

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But it was episode four with Tendou, the catalyst for the whole story, narrating her daily life that really tipped this one. Tendou’s narration paints a vivid picture but what the audience is seeing is a girl who is obsessed with creating a particular image of who she thinks she is. Then we see her life and her narration after she’s been turned down by the protagonist (not for dating, just for joining the game club) and we realise that Tendou is really unaware that she has created an artificial view of herself. Tendou’s world begins to crumble as she can’t make sense of Amano’s views within the confines of her artificial reality. Whether she comes out the other side of this a better person, or at least a more real person, is another story and one that we don’t yet have an answer to, but the fact that this show is willing to ask the hard questions about who these characters actually are and why they became that way is kind of refreshing.

And while a single character, or even a pair of characters, may get this treatment, to see the entire cast thrust under the microscope as they start out as archetypes, are then fleshed out archetypes, and then have their own perception of who they are challenged, is an interesting and so far entertaining experience. The narrative itself isn’t amazing, but there’s certainly enough in the characterisation to make it interesting.

As none of these shows are finished, it is impossible to know where these characters will end up. That said, there are a lot of interesting characters with interesting possibilities facing them this season. While the shows so far have been a bit hit and miss for me, I know that I’ll remember many of these characters well after this season ends regardless of how their character arcs end.


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Friday’s Feature: From Horror Creature to Character – The Question of Zombies

There will be some spoilers for School-Live and Shaun of the Dead in this post.

While my initial thoughts on this post were sparked by watching School-Live, I will admit, the question of zombies has been one that has been rattling around my brain for awhile. Not that that’s surprising given the prolific nature of zombie movies, TV shows, video games, and books and my love of terrible horror (and the occasional good horror story).

So what is the question?

What makes something a zombie or a zombie horror?

That seems like a really silly question given, as I already mentioned, the vast number of stories that feature zombies. In the last ten years you’ve barely been able to blink without a new zombie story being thrown in front of your face.

While some people will argue that this is an over-saturation of the market and that zombies are now pretty boring (and they aren’t entirely wrong), what they miss is that a zombie is not always a zombie and with a vastly over saturated market writers are becoming more and more innovative in how they present their version of a zombie filled future. Of course, this phenomenon isn’t entirely limited to zombies. We’ve seen the same thing occur in super hero movies. So many super heroes and the movies are all the same? Time for a gritty reimagination. Then again, zombie movies were always pretty gritty and depressing so I guess we’re doing the opposite in that some of these shows and movies are having a bit more fun with their zombies.

I do find it interesting that both werewolves and vampires had their make-overs done nearly two decades before zombies though I’ve noticed some modern vampire shows are starting to dump the romance angle and are heading back into actual horrific territory. It would be interesting to see the lore come full circle and more of the ravenous beasts and less of the cool beauty for awhile.

However, let’s focus on zombies. Specifically zombies in anime.

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If you want classic zombie silliness with some fan-service and not a lot of plot (unless bouncing breasts count as plot) you can’t go past High School of the Dead. It will give you exactly what you expect as the teenagers go from frightened students to armed and dangerous literally hacking their way through anything without a pulse that moves. The zombies in this story are as stock standard as they come. They shuffle and walk in mobs with limited to no intelligence demonstrated and are only to be feared because of sheer numbers and the fact that normal injuries don’t dissuade them. Go for the kill shot or run.

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There is nothing noteworthy about the portrayal of zombies here except that it seems decidedly old-school considering the zombie movies of the time were adding in zombies that could sprint, jump, and generally seemed to work together in a terrifying manner. Seriously, zombies that can move quick are unfair and 28 Days Later or 28 Weeks Later (not to be mistaken with 28 Days that deals with drug addicts and not zombies – though you’d be forgiven for that mix-up) took the fast violent zombie angle to new levels of terror. It was probably the first time I genuinely jumped watching a zombie movie.

Of course, the standard commentary that both High School of the Dead and 28 Days Later incorporated was the question of ‘who is the real monster?’ Both show that the human survivors are frequently more terrifying than any virus running rampant. I will note here that zombie stories have kind of moved beyond using zombie culture as a metaphor for consumption and consumerism which is kind of nice even if that particular metaphor is still pretty apt at times. Instead questions of identity and what makes a person a human float to the surface but never for too long because there are zombies to kill.

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Then we have the story that decided to play zombies for laughs: Is This A Zombie? And the question had to be asked and I had to rewrite my title for this post because originally that was my question about zombies in general but given it is also the title of one of the examples I was discussing that just seemed confusing. Despite the comedic nature of the show, you are left wondering what actually does it mean to be a zombie in this story?

Ayumu is definitely dead. He died and was brought to life. He is pretty indestructible (a fact which is played for laughs many, many times) though is weak to sunlight.  Otherwise though, he has his memories, his personality, everything about him is pretty much unchanged. There’s no shuffling mindlessness and apparently no concern about him infecting others (mostly because he didn’t become a zombie via a virus or contamination but rather due to a necromancers magic).

What this does is makes us re-evaluate the term zombie. Because prior to the movies, older zombie lore was more about a zombie being made. The idea of rapidly spreading infection and bio-hazards is a far more recent entry into the genre even though it is now the standard.

Still, a comedy play on a zombie doesn’t really allow for much discussion of the genre because any idiosyncrasy can be laughed off as part of the humour of the story so we’ll move on to School-Live which is mostly what brought me to this topic.

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School-Live has your slow moving and shuffling zombies that seem to swarm at times and infect others through a bite. The spread of the virus seems pretty rapid considering how slow the zombies seem to move but I guess once they had numbers on their side there was little normal civilians could do if they got themselves surrounded. What School-Live does that is different from High School of the Dead, other than far less fan-service (though they didn’t remove that aspect entirely) is that the survivors don’t become fearless zombie killers and the zombies themselves seem to retain some memory of their former life.

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I was kind of reminded of the joke in Shaun of the Dead when the son is trying to convince his mother to abandon the step-father because nothing of the man he was remained and then the step-father in question leaned forward in the car and switched off the annoying music. It was played as a joke but it raised a significant question about the moral implications of bashing the brains in of a zombie if it still had a personality and an ability to think. And Shaun of the Dead took this further where at the end of the movie we see the two main characters (one human and one zombie) playing video games together in the shed. It really makes you wonder about all those zombies that were ruthlessly mowed down and how many of them could have learned or been saved and whether or not living chained in a shed is actually considered to be living.

School-Live raises this question early on when the zombies are noted to follow the pattern of their previous daily routine. They rock up to school during the day and seem to ‘go home’ at night. Sometimes the boy zombies seem to be ‘playing’ soccer. Basically the zombies seem attracted to places and things of significance during their life.

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However, it is with Megu-nee (the teacher) where this question really becomes important. We have the obvious encounter between one of the students and the zombified teacher where the teacher does end up biting and infecting the student. So we know that the zombification does in fact over-ride some of the basic instincts of the human they were. And we have the student unable to defend herself because she likes that teacher and can’t bring herself to kill her (kill her again?). That’s pretty standard. However, the presence of the teacher in the sub-basement, the note book that was clearly written in after the teacher had ‘died’, all of this hints at a life after death that is more than just being a mindless monster.

The dog also demonstrates this point where even after becoming a zombie (and zombie dog is really cute even though he is terrifying) he ends up protecting one of the girls from a zombie attack.

If further evidence of this theme of zombies that think needed to be given in the show, they then get the zombie students back out of the school by telling them that school is now closed and it is time to go home. Seriously. They make this announcement over the school speakers and the zombies all just kind of leave and go home.

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In a genre full of spectacular and bloody murder, such a clean solution to a zombie crisis seems crazy and yet it kind of changes how you look at every other show about zombies and what is driving the zombies. In many films and shows it is clear you couldn’t interact with a zombie in this way. You would be dead. They don’t respond at all. But others? Even Resident Evil attempted to domesticate the zombies throughout the films despite miserable failure at doing so.

So my next questions are for you:

What are your favourite zombie shows/movies/books?

And which classic monster needs to have the next make-over? (My vote is for mummies.)


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Karandi James.

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The Worst of Spring 2017

Yesterday I posted the results of The Best of Spring 2017 poll, so if you missed the post be sure to check it out and let me know what your favourite show was. Here though, we celebrate those lesser titles that just didn’t quite hit the mark.

My Least Favourite Show

Chosen only from shows that I watched from beginning to end during the Spring 2017 season, this show gets the title of worst (even though there were worse shows, I just didn’t finish watching them). I’m giving it to Akashic Records of a Bastard Magical Instructor.

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I might point out that there were actually some good moments and ideas in this show, however it was more I tolerated watching the rest to get to those points rather than actually enjoying watching the show. I’d love to give the title to something like Sword Oratoria, but I dropped it.

My Least Favourite Character

It has to be Glenn Radar. I genuinely hated him from start to finish in his series and any time it looked like maybe they might help him turn around and become somewhat decent, he would do something so scummy that it would make me despise him yet again.

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Glenn actively makes you hate him in the first episode. He does after all have to live up to the title of Bastard Magical Instructor, the issue is that after they’ve established that he then see-saws from caring mentor to scummy drop kick in the space o two lines of dialogue for the rest of the series and you just cannot take him seriously as an instructor.

My Least Favourite Story

This one goes to The Silver Guardian. There were a few moments where it looked like this show would get itself together but it really was just a mess of ideas that never really seemed to progress sensibly.

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By the end of this season we still don’t know the villain’s motive for kidnapping Riku Rei or why she’s suddenly donning a Princess Leia rip-off costume and seemingly joining them. Nor do we have any idea how Suigin is going to become that amazing fighter we saw in episode one given he still hasn’t actually done anything in the game of note. Basically, things happen and we keep moving forward but the reason for anything is unclear so you really don’t have any reason to care.

My Least Favourite Opening Theme

Early in the season I’d have given this to Attack on Titan but that theme actually grew on me by the end of the series so now I’m kind of stumped as to what my least favourite opening theme was. I’m going to give it to Sagrada Reset because I basically end up skipping it most weeks because I’m just not interested in it.

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Though, I think if this was finished the whole show might have gotten nominated for my least favourite of the season.

My Least Favourite Visuals

Another tough one and I’m going to have to give it to Granblue Fantasy. I know lots of people really liked how this looked but I found it really unappealing to look at and I really didn’t like how the characters moved a lot of the time. Admittedly, The Silver Guardian is probably uglier to look at and I know The Laughing Salesman is, but with both of those I kind of felt the visuals added something to the overall feel of the show, whereas Granblue was just kind of there.

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Again, there were some good moments in the series but overall I think it was the show that appealed least visually to me.

Reader’s Choice – Worst Anime of Spring 2017

Here it is:

This one was never close. Clockwork Planet was leading from beginning to end and to be honest, given I dropped it during the first episode, I was not in any way surprised by this result (other than apparently 13 people who voted actually watched it through to the end).

Okay, your turn to tell us what you thought the worst of the season was and why.


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Friday’s Feature: So You Want To Save the World?

There is a staple in stories, whatever there form, where a protagonist is called to save the world. They might be a trained soldier, some randomly strong hero, a random nobody chosen by destiny, or just someone who happened to be in the right/wrong place at the right/wrong time, but they are called and one way or another they answer. The different types of protagonists would each need their own post to deal with and eventually I might get around to that, but my focus today is more on the notion of saving the world itself and how this operates in stories.

While it might be argued that high stakes make for a more intense and dramatic story, you have to wonder about all the times our little blue-green planet manages to become imperilled for the sake of kicking a narrative into gear (admittedly, a lot of the stories I’ll refer to aren’t actually set on earth but whatever the planet you have to wonder how they manage to find so many world ending catastrophes to face off against). Put into context, even though individuals, cities, and countries face devastation fairly regularly, our world tends to keep on spinning and the majority of people go about their lives relatively unhindered. Whether this can continue (and scientists will tell us that is a resounding no), it has continued for a fairly long time yet we write stories full of disasters that end life as we know it.

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Some of these are cautionary tales. When overpopulation was the scary flavour of the month we had stories that looked at how we would deal with this in the future. Logan’s Run and Soylent Green both have some fairly interesting things to say about population control even if the message has largely been ignored. More recently we have had a round of environmental awareness stories with The Day After Tomorrow and its ilk attempting to scare some common sense into us by showing us just how bad things might get without action.

While these stories are awesome in their scope when showing us the problem, what they all do, and need to do, is focus on a protagonist. There may be other groups and characters addressed, but they narrow the focus to a single protagonist for the majority of the run time. Why? Because the audience needs that someone to relate to. The idea of saving the world is legitimately too big for most people so while having such a grandiose problem in the story might add to the drama, it actually makes it fairly hard to relate to. What we usually end up with is a protagonist trying to save an individual or group and as a by-product of saving them they might save the world. Even Armageddon understood this where ultimately Bruce Willis gave his life to ensure his character’s daughter would have a future. The fact that this also saved the world was almost inconsequential by that point in the story.

But let’s move away from movies in Hollywood and look at anime.

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Spring 2017 brought us WorldEnd, or the anime that asks us in its title ‘What do you do at the end of the world? Are you busy? Will you save us?’

There’s no obvious direction for these questions so as an audience you have to wonder if the show is asking you to consider your own actions if the world were coming to an end. Even more peculiarly, the story itself takes place nearly 500 years after the world essentially ended. The fact that there are ‘people’ still clinging to life on floating islands that are apparently not going to last much longer is more of a happy accident than good design and the peril is still very real. So if you were Willem, protagonist of the story, would you lend a hand or would you accept the inevitable ending that has been coming for a very long time?

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Despite having watched the show through, I still don’t really get Willem’s motivation. Early in the story he really is just drifting. He tried to save the world (or those near to him) and he failed. After waking up in the new world he realises he is completely alone because of his failure. The world he knew is already gone. Despite that, he inevitably gets drawn into the new world through Chtholly and ultimately decides to help keep her alive even though once again he’s clearly fighting a losing battle. So what should he have done?

And actually, this is where anime hits such a major snag. I’ll admit to finding a lot of anime endings unsatisfying, but that’s probably because of how conflict is set up in so many stories. How exactly do we expect the protagonist to get out of that situation or save the world? The problem facing them is massive and usually unsolvable so the narrative is faced with only a handful of options. Either the protagonist loses and is swallowed by whatever world ending force they’ve been pitted against, or against all odds they win. The first option leaves the audience a little bitter about having been made to care about a character who didn’t succeed (though I must admit I don’t mind the occasional tragic end), while the latter leaves us rolling our eyes as they pull out a magic power up, combination attack, or just break the established rules of the story in order to succeed.

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So do we just expect too much from the conflict in the first place? Does the world really need to be endangered before we understand the stakes are high?

I don’t think so. If we look at something like Food Wars, as much as I found the second season a little bit wanting, the first season was pretty engaging and the worst thing faced by any of the characters was expulsion (admittedly, most of the characters seemed to think that was a fate worse than death). This didn’t stop the audience from getting drawn in, from wanting to get behind the characters, and wanting to see them succeed. They were cooking. All that was on the line was a place at the school when there are other cooking schools and for the most part they could probably have found a job with their skills regardless. Yet because the characters believed in the conflict and the consequences, the audience were able to believe it mattered. This was high stakes viewing even though the reality is that the story didn’t endanger the world. No one needed the perfect cake to stop some alien race blowing up Tokyo to get the story going.

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However, that isn’t actually me saying that I don’t want stories where the world is in peril. I think mostly what I want are stories that think about the appropriate level of danger and the appropriate way to build drama without just trying to one up the dangers other stories have introduced. More importantly, think about how they intend to solve those issues before they throw them in front of an audience. If the Spring 2017 anime season has taught viewers anything it really should have reinforced that shows live and die by how they resolve and while a deus ex machina ending is better than no resolution, it is right up there with the ‘it was only a dream’ ending. Audiences today expect more and probably deserve more.

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So you want to save the world? You think that would be nice and dramatic? Great. Now get to work figuring out the details of what exactly is the peril being faced and how it can be overcome and lay your ground work fairly precisely. It isn’t enough to throw flashing lights at the audience and tell them it is scary.

What do you think? Is the world coming to an end an overused problem? Are you tired of seeing characters pull off an impossible save just because plot demands it? Or do you love these kinds of stories and get a real thrill out of watching characters beat impossible odds? I’d love to know so leave a comment below.


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30 Day Anime Challenge: Day 23

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Day 23 and introducing my most hated anime character.

This was actually kind of difficult due to the fact that generally when I actually dislike a character, particularly a main character, I usually end up not finishing a show. Which means while I remember hating a character I remember very little else about them after the fact.

So choosing a character from an anime I actually really liked, I’d have to say Eiji Nizuma from Bakuman.

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This character serves an incredibly important role in both the plot and the development of other characters and yet every time he was on the screen I either wanted to slap him, roll my eyes, or just close my eyes and beg him to go away again. He’s like the hyperactive toddler who has just discovered how to wave and he drove me totally crazy. It doesn’t help that he actually is a hard working genius. I appreciate that he does work at his craft and that he’s good at it, but please don’t make me watch him or listen to him. Probably the best thing about him is that he isn’t on screen all that much.

So tell me, which anime character do you hate?


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