The Best Way To Beat A Dungeon

Sword Art Online Alicization Episode 14 Eugeo strikes

We’ve seen the set up a million times (usually in fantasy). The protagonist has fought their way to the bad guy’s lair only to find an elaborate dungeon, maze, puzzle, or tower between them and the bad guy (who is conveniently just sitting in one spot waiting for the hero to arrive). However, it turns out even writers can get sick of this set-up and so then go about finding ways to break their own device by giving the team a bypass or a way to simply not play the established game. The question is, does this actually make for an enjoyable story to watch?

I first really encountered this set-up from a children’s story I read with my mother when I was really young (no idea when I heard it the first time because it was one of those kids books with a cassette that you could read along to). Anyway, the story was based around the myth of the Minotaur in a Labyrinth in Crete where Theseus had to kill it but then he wouldn’t be able to get out of the maze (clearly he’d never learned just to keep left). Anyway, some girl fell in love with him for reasons that weren’t ever made clear and she gave him some string (what an incredibly innovative idea) and so he left a path to follow to escape.

Bell fights the Minotaur.
Okay, this one is Bell fighting a Minotaur in DanMachi, but still, cool.

Even as a kid I kind of wondered why there was a maze, who stuck the Minotaur in it and why didn’t it just sit at the doorway and eat everyone who entered, and why they didn’t just collapse the roof on its head to defeat it. Okay, even as a kid I was really cynical and liked things to make sense and there was just too much about the story that didn’t. Admittedly, I never questioned whether or not a Minotaur could exist as that was just part and parcel of a story having fantastic creatures in it. I still haven’t given up on my dream of owning a miniature dragon so if you ever come across one, let me know.

A little bit after this I came into contact with the movie Labyrinth and there’s a particular scene with Sarah that drove me absolutely crazy even as a child. She’s frustrated because she can’t find any corners or openings in the labyrinth, has a bit of a hissy fit and slides down a wall, where a worm talks to her and points out there’s an opening just across from her. At first she denies this then she attempts to walk through it. The worm directs her not to go the direction she is going and she just says ‘okay’ and walks the other way. Now, immediately after that the worm points out if she’d kept going the way she had been she’d have gone straight to the castle, which is where she wanted to go. Why she didn’t ask why she shouldn’t go that direction is a question that will never be answered.

Sarah talks with the Worm

Except, maybe it was.

Early last year I watched the anime Death March to the Parallel World Rhapsody and the main character finds himself facing a tower with dangers all the way as he goes to rescue a kidnapped companion. After a limited amount of time dealing with the levels he finds a passageway that leads to a dryad who, in exchange for a kiss, more or less jumps him half-way up the tower.

Death March To The Parallel World Rhapsody Episode 8 Dryad

Which is more or less what would have happened with Sarah if she’d just gone the first path.

However, then what is left to do?

Satou in Death March to the Parallel World Rhapsody more or less just walks through the tower with little challenge, has a few fights at the top and saves the day. And that is kind of exemplary of every quest Satou ends up on. He’s either too over powered for there to be a challenge, or he goes around the challenge in the first place. While it might seem like a clever idea what it made for was a fairly boring viewing experience.

Almost like replaying a game where you can use your character after they’ve already beaten the game. They are now so over powered early levels seem ridiculously easy and without challenge. Worse when you use a glitch in the game. Baldur’s Gate 2 had one particularly glitch you could take real advantage of. If you saved your character at the end with all their cool equipment and levels and spells, and then started a new game with that character, but paused the game before the first screen came up, went into your inventory, you could drop all your existing equipment, and start the game. Once the intro sequence was over you could just pick it all up and play on. Trust me when I point out it was pretty boring and about the only thing it was good for was a speed run because why would you bother opening a single box or crate in the first level?

And I’m pretty sure that glitch doesn’t work on the Steam version and I know my old CD versions of the game are no longer compatible with my system so I guess that one is done.

So, does that mean the best way to beat a dungeon is to actually beat the dungeon?

Sword Art Online - Aincrad

Yes and no. It really depends on the variety of things for the characters to face in the dungeon and whether they grow or learn from the experience. Will crossing through the dungeon cost them anything or will anyone get hurt? Will relationships be tested? Will equipment be lost or found? There’s a lot of good narrative reasons to make your characters fight their way through the dungeon.

And if you aren’t going to use any of them, then the question would be, why bother writing a dungeon, maze or tower into your story in the first place? Just have your villain meet the hero and call it a day.

Sword Art Online Alicization Episode 13

But the reason this came up at this point in time is because of Sword Art Online Alicization. Now we know they like their towers in SAO. The Aincrad Arc is essentially a tower climb that gets interrupted early because the villain is exposed before they reach the top. However, episode 13 sets up a story where Kirito and Eugeo are going to have to get to the Administrator’s room and wouldn’t you know it, it’s at the top of the tower which is probably 100 floors up. I’m hoping they either bypass the levels or they find something worth fighting on their way up otherwise this is an incredibly pointless plot conceit. And why couldn’t the tower be fifty levels instead of 100?

Anyway, I’ll turn this over to you. What anime or story do you think used a dungeon-tower-maze the best? Who had the best way getting through a dungeon?

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Karandi James
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Friday’s Feature: The Power of Clichés, Archetypes, and Being Predictable

How Not To Summon a Demon Lord - Episode 1 - Diablo

We all know about anime clichés, archetypes and tropes and we’ve all kind of come to accept that there are certain characters and events that we’re going to run into again and again. However, for some people, the existence of clichés and archetype characters who don’t break the mould are enough for them to scorn a show and turn away from it. They label it unoriginal or boring and might claim it offers nothing. And yet there are a lot of good reasons for stories not to go off script or venture into new waters.

That isn’t to say that it wouldn’t be nice occasionally for things to be changed up a bit or presented in a new way, nor is it excusing the lazy use of clichés for laughs in exchange for actually writing a story or considering the purpose of the characters but it does mean that just because something is entirely cliché does not mean it is bad just because it is. I think we need to consider the context and the execution (as well as which cliché it is because there are some clichés that individuals will accept more readily than others) before making up our minds.

It is kind of timely to visit this topic with so many new shows starting for the season. It is inevitable that first episodes will be riddled with clichés. And for those who consider that a death sentence on a story that is something you will have to accept.

Why?

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First episodes need to get their point across, set up what their tone is going to be, introduce characters and give the audience some impression of who they are, as well as do some basic world-building. And they need to grab the audience’s attention so there are going to be some bells and whistles thrown in. All of this in some twenty minutes. It is a lot to ask and while some shows put off some of these attributes for later episodes and choose to either focus on world building, tone, or characters rather than all of them in one episode, with the short attention span of viewers these days that’s a pretty risky move. That’s where clichés and archetypes come in.

Archetypes are recognisable and memorable. They also cut through a lot of explanations because people already know what is on offer. In a first episode a female character might come across as the ‘manic pixie girl’ and a male character might be ‘generic self-insert isekai protagonist’ but it instantly establishes where this character is starting and the tone the audience can expect. Depending on which character archetypes we have on display the audience can begin making predictions about the kind of narrative path we’re about to walk and what is on offer. They may have seen it before, but they haven’t seen this version, so as long as the quality of how things are being executed is there, or there is some reason to believe that things are going to get shaken up in future episodes, there’s no reason to dismiss something just because it seems like it might be similar to about a thousand other stories.

Cliche events and actions such as first meetings, finding a secret power, some sort of misunderstanding, and so on serve much the same purpose in these first episodes. They may not be terribly original but as long as they are presented with integrity, that isn’t a huge problem. The issue isn’t from the archetypes and clichés themselves, the issue comes from the lazy way these are sometimes rolled out.

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If we take a look at the current anime season on offer we might look at something like How Not To Summon a Demon Lord and begin with the take down criticism of it being horrendously unoriginal, derivative, and the same as about a million other stories. And certainly it isn’t exactly ground breaking as we’ve seen a player trapped in his in game character that is some sort of demon in Overlord, we’ve seen transported to another world about a million times, and a world based on a game fairly recently in Death March to a Parallel World Rhapsody. We’ve certainly seen ordinary socially awkward guy instantly surrounded by bunch of girls of various types who for whatever reason all end up in love with him (more times than I can count).

The set up is incredibly generic, and then the events in the first episode are incredibly cliche. We have more fan-service moments then I’d care to recount right at the moment, an obnoxious jerk who wants to teach the protagonist a lesson and consequently gets beaten down, and the cute girl who eats a lot. Then the main character who is so incredibly recognisable as a gamer with no social skills or ability to talk to other people without assuming some sort of in game role (No Game No Life and about a million others).

All of this might be enough reason for some anime viewers to pass on this show entirely and I’ve certainly seen a fair number of reviewers who have thrown all isekai offerings this season into a basket and if that basket had been more than just metaphorical they’d have set it on fire (much the same to how I feel about idol anime really). However, not all isekai anime are created equal and while episode 1 of How Not To Summon A Demon Lord certainly didn’t blow my socks off, it did a decent job of setting up a potential story of interest with characters that have most definitely started out as cookie cutter archetypes that we’ve seen before but they all have growth potential.

This is where it gets tricky. The anime now has a short window of time to convert viewers like me from ‘maybe’ into definitely following the show. While generic cliches and archetypes work well enough in first episodes to establish ideas, if the show doesn’t demonstrate a willingness to do anything more than walk the well tread path of other stories, or worse, it has established the characters and then it leaves them exactly where they are, then the show becomes utterly deserving of the criticism of being unoriginal, derivative and not worth the time. But a first episode isn’t enough to make that judgement.

Though episode 2’s opening act with Diablo waking up with his hands on the boobs of both of his female companions probably indicates where this show sees character development.

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While comparing first episodes I’m really looking at How Not To Summon a Demon Lord or The Master of Ragnarok and Blesser of Einherjar to add to this season’s watch list (but not both because even I draw the line on isekai at some point). At the moment How Not To Summon a Demon Lord is slightly edging out The Master of Ragnarok for the simple reason that I had more fun with the first episode and the potential story set up looks like it will have a better pay off. Also, cool explosion (sorry, deep down I’m six years old and I know it) and the reference was cool even though I never watched the anime being referenced (memes do wonders for filling in context sometimes). The Master of Ragnarok didn’t get an immediate skip though because despite the overly harem qualities, the overt sex jokes, and every other poor generic idea this genre likes to throw at us, it does have the slight intrigue of not being another world but potential the past earth and the protagonist isn’t just arriving, he’s already there and established. It gives it just enough points of interest to earn a second episode consideration despite all the flaws with the first episode.

Regardless of which isekai I end up watching, the point that clichés and archetypes aren’t all bad can be made pretty clearly through an anime that also aired recently, Cells at Work. Outside of the concept that the characters are all anthropomorphic cells doing jobs within the body, there’s really nothing particularly original about the first episode. While AE3803 might be a truly adorable red blood cell, she’s your stereotypical naive and shy girl on her first day at work. She’s confused, she gets lost, after a chance encounter with a guy who saves her she literally clings on to him as he shows her around before he saves her again. If we took out the fact that they are blood cells, it is pretty much the script of any romantic comedy anywhere or even an action flick (actually, take out first day on the job and we’ve more or less got Temple of Doom working here).

Cells1b

Yet most viewers would agree that Cells at Work presents itself in such a way that it feels original, fresh and entertaining. The change in setting and the clever way that is integrated into plot and character development allows them to execute a fairly ordinary and familiar story in a way that people appreciated and enjoyed. Something isekai stories might start doing if every ‘other world’ wasn’t generic fantasy land type B (why are no other worlds ever technologically advanced or just completely different from anything we’re familiar with – pseudo-medieval settings have been done to death, move on).

As a reviewer, I’m not above calling something cliche or generic, but at the same time, that isn’t reason enough for me to condemn a story and stop watching. As a fantasy/horror/action/sci-fi fan (in movies) I am well used to seeing very familiar characters and plots time and time again. What I want isn’t something that reinvents the wheel or revolutionises story telling; what I want is a quality story with a purpose and passion behind it that lends integrity to the work. Though that also might be asking too much sometimes and maybe I should just stick to wanting to be entertained for twenty minutes because that is something I’m more likely to achieve.

Alright, over to the readers. What do you think about the use of generic plots, tropes, cliches and archetypes and what do you think about the start of the Summer anime season? Be sure to leave me a comment letting me know.


Thanks for reading.

Karandi James

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Death March to the Parallel World Rhapsody Series Review: The Experiment Has Ended

I’d never read the source material before watching an anime before so Death March to the Parallel World Rhapsody was something of an experiment to see if knowing what was going to happen would change my enjoyment of it. I can’t say that it did but that’s more because this anime probably would have bored me to tears either way. What did you think of it?

Review:

There’s very little for me to really say about this anime, which is kind of odd given I watched it through to the end and it wasn’t as though it was toxically terrible. That’s actually probably the worst thing about this show. It isn’t good or bad. It just kind of is. It is your typical game developer/designer/whatever wakes up inside game world kind of story and then just to make sure we aren’t worried about his safety he is transformed into a teenage version of himself with super stats. Of course he gains a harem of girls but being a gentlemen won’t do a thing with any of them, but he will slip off to a tavern if he gets the chance, and will definitely comment on the breast size of older women.

Deathmarch7b

However, that was the same as the source material and why it wasn’t great, it was enjoyable enough to read with some interesting descriptions of places and people. The anime on the other hand doesn’t get the benefit of the interesting descriptions and really just kind of drags the viewer along after Satou as he explores the new world. He also seems to gain levels and skills super fast, which again was the experience in the book but it didn’t feel as much like he was cheating his way through a story in the book for some reason even though the progress was much the same.

Deathmarch8c

The visuals aren’t great and a lot of the images end up being from Satou’s point of view with game menus dominating a large part of the screen and a weird filter over some shots. However, even when that isn’t the case, nothing is overly distinct visually. The town, the food, the scenery are all just kind of pseudo-medieval and while that was the case in the book, when you could imagine it yourself it looked a lot more interesting than this.

Deathmarch6c

The girls Satou rescues and befriends over the course of the series all have their good points and moments. The issue of course is the sheer number of them and they end up with overlapping personalities and roles within the group meaning they all become relatively inconsequential and interchangeable. You’d be forgiven for not being able to name any of them outside of Tama, Pochi and Arisa given the rest keep getting sidelined.

DeathMarch9b

As I said, not much to say about this. It wasn’t terrible. But it was probably the least interesting thing I watched this season. I really wanted more from it, but when you decide to follow events in a story as they are written rather than thinking about how to make them interesting to view on screen, this is more or less what you are going to end up with.

Episode Reviews:


Thanks for reading.

Karandi James

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If you enjoyed this post and would like to see Patreon2more great content on this blog, consider becoming a patron for as little as $1 a month.

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Another way you can support the content here is by buying a copy of ‘Thoughts on Anime 2017‘ as an ebook. It contains a selection of reviews, features and top 5 lists from 2017 and while the content is available free on the site, this is a great way to give a one off show of support for the blog. It is available for $3.99.

Finally, you can use the affiliate link to shop at Play-Asia.com ifPlay-Asia.com - Play-Asia.com: Online Shopping for Digital Codes, Video Games, Toys, Music, Electronics & more you are interested in anime, soundtracks, figures or games. Should you use the link and make a purchase, I will receive a small percentage of the purchase price.

Death March to the Parallel World Rhapsody Episode 12: Friendship Trumps All

This one has finally drawn to a close and I’m not in the least sorry to see it end. While it isn’t unwatchable by any means, given I clearly watched it and it isn’t a disaster of a narrative, it really does just kind of meander its way through the events in the novels. Interestingly, the final episode probably has the biggest deviation from the events in the book and really that was probably just so they could wrap up this arc without needing another episode.

DeathMarch12c

Still, the anime has never once broken free of its generic trappings or of being a less impressive version of a story type we’ve seen before (but better) with characters we’ve met before (but more interesting versions). Being generic isn’t exactly a crime, and some generic anime manage to be quite entertaining, but this one felt like it was just passing time and the final episode does nothing to change that impression.

Deathmarch12a

I’ll write a full review soon but essentially this is Satou travelling about doing what he feels he would like to do and gathering a collection of girls into his travelling party who each increasingly serve less purpose as they start overlapping in their characteristics.

Previous Reviews:


Thanks for reading.

Karandi James

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If you enjoyed this post and would like to see Patreon2more great content on this blog, consider becoming a patron for as little as $1 a month.

Thoughts on Anime.jpg

Another way you can support the content here is by buying a copy of ‘Thoughts on Anime 2017‘ as an ebook. It contains a selection of reviews, features and top 5 lists from 2017 and while the content is available free on the site, this is a great way to give a one off show of support for the blog. It is available for $3.99.

Finally, you can use the affiliate link to shop at Play-Asia.com ifPlay-Asia.com - Play-Asia.com: Online Shopping for Digital Codes, Video Games, Toys, Music, Electronics & more you are interested in anime, soundtracks, figures or games. Should you use the link and make a purchase, I will receive a small percentage of the purchase price.

Death March to the Parallel World Rhapsody Episode 11: The Great Potion Bottle Conspiracy

The biggest problem with this anime is it lacks any sense of urgency. Ever. This episode begins with Satou taking a leisurely meal, drink, and whatever else is on offer at a pub before he continues travelling along and playing around with skills and practising different magic effects. While this ultimately leads him to the witch’s forest and triggers the next ‘event’ where he has to help the apprentice get enough of the potion gathered and delivered, there’s really no sense that there is any real threat here that the audience should take seriously.

Deathmarch11c

It was after this arc in the books where I paused in reading this series because I was having much the same problem reading about this dilemma. The main character has no personal stake in it. We only just met the witch and her apprentice so we have no attachment to them, and Satou does not need to get involved. He mostly just decides he wants to because… Okay, I don’t know that we know enough about him as a character to know what his motive is other than ‘nice MC archetype’.

Deathmarch11a

Though, so this doesn’t seem too negative (though how you could be too negative about something this dull I do have to wonder), I will point out the positive which is the very pretty magic display we get mid-episode.

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Onto the final episode then and to be honest I’m going to be pretty happy to say goodbye to this show from my watch list.

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Thanks for reading.

Karandi James

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If you enjoyed this post and would like to see Patreon2more great content on this blog, consider becoming a patron for as little as $1 a month.

Thoughts on Anime.jpg

Another way you can support the content here is by buying a copy of ‘Thoughts on Anime 2017‘ as an ebook. It contains a selection of reviews, features and top 5 lists from 2017 and while the content is available free on the site, this is a great way to give a one off show of support for the blog. It is available for $3.99.

Finally, you can use the affiliate link to shop at Play-Asia.com ifPlay-Asia.com - Play-Asia.com: Online Shopping for Digital Codes, Video Games, Toys, Music, Electronics & more you are interested in anime, soundtracks, figures or games. Should you use the link and make a purchase, I will receive a small percentage of the purchase price.

Death March to the Parallel World Rhapsody Episode 10: We’ll Eat, And Play, And Muse, and Eat Some More

Princess saved and the camper-van is on the road as the girls frolic in gentle rolling fields only occasionally stopping to ruthlessly cut down the perfectly innocent deer that might otherwise have live long and fruitful lives. Why did they keep this in when they adapted this to an anime?

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While I’m positive that Satou’s title of doll-maker or puppeteer or whatever it was, will somehow be crucially important to the plot at some point (eye roll), the simple fact of the matter is that nothing that happened this episode needed to be shown at all. Even the ratmen giving Satou the bell could have happened in a different place.

Deathmarch10d

And while yes we did get Satou’s playing around with storage, magic, and trips into what might either be his past, a past life, or some game delusion that he had after far too much Red Bull and an all night session with his computer, none of it really seems worth sitting through all those stills of smiling girls eating happily on picnic blankets.

Possibly there’s an audience out there thinking this is exactly what they’ve always wanted to watch, but somehow I kind of thought when they adapted this subject matter they’d make some hard cuts.

 

Previous Reviews:


Thanks for reading.

Karandi James

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If you enjoyed this post and would like to see Patreon2more great content on this blog, consider becoming a patron for as little as $1 a month.

Thoughts on Anime.jpg

Another way you can support the content here is by buying a copy of ‘Thoughts on Anime 2017‘ as an ebook. It contains a selection of reviews, features and top 5 lists from 2017 and while the content is available free on the site, this is a great way to give a one off show of support for the blog. It is available for $3.99.

Finally, you can use the affiliate link to shop at Play-Asia.com ifPlay-Asia.com - Play-Asia.com: Online Shopping for Digital Codes, Video Games, Toys, Music, Electronics & more you are interested in anime, soundtracks, figures or games. Should you use the link and make a purchase, I will receive a small percentage of the purchase price.

Death March to the Parallel World Rhapsody Episode 9: Destroy The Minions, Kill the Bad Guy, Rescue The Princess – Check

Review:

Death March to the Parallel World Rhapsody as an anime just hasn’t managed to really do much other than walk us through a check list of events that each could be interesting given sufficient time and attention and yet neither seems to be something this show wishes to give anything other than Satou’s reaction to food. This episode basically walks us through a by-the-numbers hero’s path as he cuts his way through the minions (not killing them of course) before a one-on-one confrontation that ends with him rescuing the Princess before engaging in a daring escape. And yet, none of it is interesting.

DeathMarch9b

You might argue that maybe I’m just hard to please but really is it too much to ask for some sense of danger or risk to the protagonist or even a villain that isn’t really just a talking skull that other than abducting the elf-girl does absolutely nothing villainous. And while we’re on it, why did he kidnap the elf-girl? His motivation here seems pretty weak to say the least.

DeathMarch9c

Not to worry though, because everything will be just fine and Satou will reunite with his growing gang of groupies and they’ll embark on a road trip. I kind of thought this arc would be the end of the season but we’ve still got three episodes to go so now I’m kind of wondering where this show intends to leave us at the end of the season. Probably in the middle of nowhere.

DeathMarch9f

Previous Reviews:


Thanks for reading.

Karandi James

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If you enjoyed this post and would like to see Patreon2more great content on this blog, consider becoming a patron for as little as $1 a month.

Thoughts on Anime.jpg

Another way you can support the content here is by buying a copy of ‘Thoughts on Anime 2017‘ as an ebook. It contains a selection of reviews, features and top 5 lists from 2017 and while the content is available free on the site, this is a great way to give a one off show of support for the blog. It is available for $3.99.

Finally, you can use the affiliate link to shop at Play-Asia.com ifPlay-Asia.com - Play-Asia.com: Online Shopping for Digital Codes, Video Games, Toys, Music, Electronics & more you are interested in anime, soundtracks, figures or games. Should you use the link and make a purchase, I will receive a small percentage of the purchase price.