Friday’s Feature -Poor Pacing

Poor pacing isn’t a new problem by any means; ask anyone who has watched Dragon Ball Z or Bleach about battles that just don’t ever seem to end. However, both the Spring and Summer seasons in 2016 have given us new examples of shows that manage to kill interest with pacing issues so I thought I’d touch on it briefly this week.

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That said, pacing is as subjective as every other element in entertainment. Slow can be really good when done well and fast paced doesn’t always equal exciting. So what am I defining as poor pacing? Essentially anytime you are watching the clock instead of the episode and wondering when it’s all going to wrap up or when you feel like you just got whip lash from trying to follow all the plot changes that just got thrown at you.

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Let’s start with Flying Witch. This is supposed to a slow, slice of life. It’s character driven rather than plot driven (which is probably a good thing given in the episodes I watched other than a witch moves in with relatives who aren’t witches I didn’t really pick up much of a plot). So, slow paced is fine, right? And for some people, Flying Witch was a relaxing and enjoyable watch. For me it was fingers tapping, pausing to go get something to eat or drink, clicking over to other websites, and generally getting frustrated because none of the characters ever seemed to do anything. I get that pacing is subjective but Flying Witch was like trying to admire the formation of mountains in real time (okay, probably not the best analogy ever but I really didn’t want to go with paint drying because underneath the slowness of it there was something actually quite wonderful in Flying Witch).

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Secondly, The Asterisk War and Food Wars. Let’s take them both simultaneously because they both did more or less the same thing and both of them nearly threw me from their audience in the process. They set up a school situation with our protagonist being the underdog/fish-out-of-water and yet super strong at their respective trade. We spend most of season one in minor challenges, making friends and meeting potential rivals and it’s all kind of enjoyable fun. Then a tournament is announced and our protagonist will just happen to end up in it. Season 1 ends with the tournament just getting underway. Annoying, but sure.

Season 2 picks up with the tournament in full swing and then continues to make us watch match after match with very little diversion in between. Gone are the cute encounters between characters, a sense of a world outside of the arena, a sense of time period. Episode after episode of repetitive battles. Then the tournament ends, before the end of season 2. And instead of offering any kind of resolution to season 2, both felt the need to introduce a new challenge and then stop (although Food Wars kind of gave the second challenge an ending). It’s aggravating to the audience and you constantly wonder why you are still bothering to watch. Sure there are great characters in both and both protagonists have an ultimate goal and perhaps what they are doing will help them get there, but in the meantime we’re all just watching them go through the motions. Have we never heard of a montage to compress a period of time? Sure, the animators get to show off some impressive battle effects (either with weapons or food depending on the show) but the plot and characters stall. For most of an entire season.

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Last ones I want to touch on (but not the last to have pacing issues) are Big Order and Taboo Tattoo. These don’t know what they are doing in terms of pace. They rush over essential plot points (the few plot point there are) and then dwell on totally unnecessary things (fan service, sadistic characterisation, moping). It’s frankly a mess and neither the plot nor the characters come out of it unscathed. The sad thing is that both shows could have been reasonable even without major plot or character changes just by pacing them appropriately (they still wouldn’t have been good but they could have been far more watchable than they were).

Other shows in Spring and Summer that made me wonder about their pacing include Days, Orange, Bungou Stray Dogs, Kiznaiver and Super Lovers.

So far we’ve only seen the first half of most of the Autumn shows but I dropped Occult;Nine in episode 1 because of the pacing (and just being unable to care about where any of the introduced characters were going) and I’ve found Izetta increasingly frustrating in the way it is rushing forward over what feels like should be far more important plot points.

So now over to you. Which shows do you think suffer from pacing issues?

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Friday’s Feature -Actually, I don’t Mind…

When it comes to stories, I like a lot of different types. I definitely have a preference in novels and TV for fantasy and science-fiction, although paranormal romances are certainly starting to fill my shelves in recent years. Whether that is because they are any good or because of the sheer volume of books that fall into that category being published is another story. When it comes to anime, I’ll give almost anything a shot.

I do state a preference for darker anime, action or mystery or drama. Maybe fantasy or science fiction if done well. But I watch romances, comedies, the very occasional sport, slice of life, and more or less anything else. The genre itself doesn’t put me off because I watch anime for the same reason I read books and watch movies. I want a good story or some great characters. If I can get both simultaneously then I’ve hit the jackpot. And failing a good story or great characters, I want something that doesn’t bore me (though that is an entirely subjective judgement on my part).

But when you tell people you’ll try almost anything (even if not for long) they then start asking the obvious question. What about…?

Recently I had a conversation with someone after I mentioned in passing that I’d watched Super Lovers during the Spring season. After the interesting discussion that followed that (regarding BL in general) we began discussing other anime genres that sometimes get dismissed out of hand without really looking at the individual releases. That landed us squarely in harem territory.

If you were to ask me if I like harem anime my answer would probably be, not really. They are predictable and generally the protagonists are dull and surrounded by girls that are either cookie-cutter stereotypes, overly sexualized, or just plain stupid. But that isn’t every single anime that falls into the harem category – and even if it is, that doesn’t mean some of them aren’t genuinely entertaining.

So what are some harem anime that I’ve enjoyed?

  • Boku wa Tomodachi no Sukunai: It’s hilarious. Kodaka has more personality than most protagonists in this genre (though is still passive and clueless) and the girls still fit particular types (and treat each other horribly) but I laughed so hard while watching this and by the end of the second season I really wanted Kodaka to end up with someone.

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  • The Familiar of Zero: So the girls here are pretty much as standard as they come, as is our mostly personality-less protagonist. Why I like this one is because of the fantasy elements and the plot outside of the harem. I really like the story of Louise and her familiar and their trials even if the harem aspects of this show drive me a little crazy.

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  • Chaos;Head: Alright, like is probably not the right word for this one. I enjoyed it and was bemused by it. Frustrated because the storyline didn’t really find itself. Honestly, until someone else pointed out that this had a harem in it I hadn’t even noticed because I was too busy trying to figure out the plot. It’s dark and interesting and the protagonist is actively pathetic at times rather than just the generic every man. I don’t know if that is much of an improvement, but at least it made him stand out.

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  • The Asterisk War: Yeah, our overly nice protagonist is overpowered and apparently irresistible, but I enjoy this anime. I do want them to finally let the two main characters get together and I know they probably won’t because that would ruin the whole harem setting, but I enjoy their relationship and want to see it develop.

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  • Lord Marksman and Vanadis: I did a review of this recently and quite enjoyed this anime. The harem aspects are unnecessary and occasionally distracting, but the storyline is really interesting.

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Okay, I could probably list more harem anime that I disliked, but the point it, I can hardly claim to dislike the whole genre when there are so many that I have enjoyed. I also quite enjoy reverse harem anime but I’m leaving that conversation for another day.

What about you? Is there a genre you avoid like the plague? Do you have a favourite harem anime?

The Asterisk War Season 2 Series Review

Overview:

Some disaster struck and from this humans were able to develop powers of sorts and as you do in these fantasy stories you build schools to train teenagers to be homicidal nut-jobs that think only of ways to use their powers to beat other teens into submission all in the name of achieving some greater purpose or dream. Okay, that was a little bit sarcastic but it is essentially The Asterisk War boiled down to its most basic parts.

If you want to check out my week to week thoughts, click here.

Review:

I’d like to clarify that as sarcastic as I was in my overview there, I actually have really enjoyed watching The Asterisk War (both season 1 and 2 minus the very first episode of season 1). As long as you don’t want to probe to deeply you have a nice cast of characters with distinct hair colours which makes it easy to differentiate the haremettes, some fairly cool fight sequences, weapons and powers, and a plot that nicely distinguishes that everyone who is not helping our protagonists are clearly evil and will eventually be destroyed. All well and good and thoroughly enjoyable.

Now I’m going to ruin it and actually think about it. unfortunately, The Asterisk War doesn’t hold up under any kind of scrutiny.

Let’s start with Ayato. Ayato is one of those overly nice protagonists I talked about in a feature not so long ago. His only true and distinct personality trait is that he is nice. He isn’t overly clever (except when the plot asks him to strategize), he isn’t particularly good at anything (other than fighting), and yet everybody loves him and thinks he is amazing. What I find particularly distressing in this case was that Ayato did have one defining trait; his power was limited to five minutes by a seal set by his missing sister. This gave him something more than just being nice. A little bit of a tragic backstory (though Asterisk seems determined not to play this for tragedy) and a clear hurdle to overcome when facing strong opponents. And then he just undid the seal (or part of it). Now he can use his power for an hour or so. No cost for doing this or particular effort involved. More importantly, since then, he hasn’t even seemed to need to unseal his power at all, he just uses it. So that one thing that distinguished Ayato and made him a little interesting just disappeared midway through season 2. That is kind of depressing when you think about it for too long.

Then we have Julis. I’ve already had a bit of a rant about Julis previously but let’s re-establish. She’s a Princess of a small country and of course wants to save orphans. She’s tough and doesn’t let people get close but Mr Nice Protagonist manages to win her over and the two team up. While Julis gets to look pretty awesome in the lesser fights as soon as we come up against a boss it is all down to Ayato. Julis consistently get’s sidelined and overlooked. This is problematic because Ayato’s vague and often forgotten goal of finding his sister is nowhere near as interesting as Julis’ clear desire to save her country (though exactly what from was not established until fairly close to the end of the second season and even then it is still a fairly generic threat). This story would be better served by actually allowing Julis to take the lead with the occasional support from Ayato and yet Ayato continues to flail his sword around and that’s so much better somehow.

The other characters (mostly female) sometimes get good moments and great lines but then get shunted to the background. They are presented as having goals and reasons for fighting, but mostly hang around to get patted on the head. That doesn’t bother me all that much as I kind of understand that the story needs to focus on its main characters, the problem becomes that the main characters aren’t doing anything worth watching a lot of the time because Ayato’s goals are nebulous and Julis is waiting for Ayato to help her achieve her goals. Even when she says that she has to do something alone, one sentence from Ayato and she agrees to let him help.

Forgetting the characters for the moment, and forgetting them is pretty easy to do, the plot is as generic as it comes. Ayato goes to school, gets in a fight with Julis, they partner up and prepare for the Festa, we then fight duels in the Festa for forever (though they clearly tell us that was only 2 weeks) and now we are dealing with preparations for the next big round of fighting. There’s a lot of stuff going on in the background with power deals and organisations, but Julis and Ayato are only vaguely aware of these things so they revealed through shadowy conversations and voice only phone calls which means none of it is developed. This leaves the setting and plot as pretty basic with only moments of intrigue that are quickly swept under the rug and forgotten until a character says ‘do you remember’. And half the time I don’t remember because it was something mentioned once about six or seven episodes ago.

As to the action itself, I quite enjoyed it but realise that visually it isn’t any better than other standard fantasy fighting anime and the tactics (if they can be called such) used in the fights are pretty generic. There are a couple of moments that make you pay attention, but otherwise the fights are all pretty standard and the most interesting ones don’t include our protagonists so they get finished pretty quickly.

Let me restate, I like this anime. I’ve watched two seasons of it and should we get a third I’ll continue to watch. But this is not a great anime or going on my list of anime that I’ll rewatch over and over. This is popcorn fare at best and while it is inoffensive amusement it doesn’t offer anything deeper or more involved. Which is a shame because there are certainly hints that there could be something more to this anime but at the moment the series has not delivered. If you haven’t watched The Asterisk War, I would recommend giving it a go, but just know you aren’t going to find anything you haven’t seen before.

The Asterisk War Episode 24

Review:

They continue to spend these last episodes setting up a conflict that we’ll now either have to wait to see or may never see if there isn’t another series. That annoys me a little bit given they could have ended the series with the end of the Festa and this all could have happened in the next series. However, Ayato fights a Hydra and while there is no sense that he might actually lose or be injured (despite having just woken up from three days unconscious), he fights a hydra. Sorry, I have a serious thing for dragons and this one was pretty amazing even if it did only serve as a momentary diversion in the episode.

I’ll do a whole series review soonish.

The Asterisk War is available on Crunchyroll.

The Asterisk War Episode 23

Review:

This episode has finally really nailed what I hate about Julis’ character and her relationship with Ayato.

When older brother suggests marriage between Ayato and Julis:

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This is Julis’ very sensible reaction:

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Because of course suggesting someone who clearly cares about you might want to marry you must be a sick joke. While there have been moments in this show that I have very thoroughly enjoyed (hence why I’m still watching at the end of season 2), Julis and her character are not one of the things I enjoy and this episode is all about Julis (despite the fact that once again she gets taken out of combat so that Ayato can do his thing).

So, no I did not like this episode but it does seem to be advancing the plot nicely from last episode, if by advancing the plot we mean setting up a completely new conflict without resolving any of the previous ones and ensuring there is no chance of actual resolution at the end of the season.

The Asterisk War is available on Crunchyroll and AnimeLab.

 

The Asterisk War Episode 22

Review:

So we’re not going to deal with the sister, Flora’s kidnapping, or anything pertaining to the entire last two seasons. Instead we’re going to take a roadtrip (flight) to Julis’ brother’s castle and go to a party.

In Ayato’s words, “How’d we end up like this?”

Which just illustrates how incredibly dense he is. Ayato, you just won some amazing Festa with the Princess of a country as your partner. Of course you are going to have to go there and have a parade and a party and a vague threat of an interrogation by the brother that doesn’t come to fruition.

Also, be invited to join a team for a new Festa (even as we don’t resolve any issues from the previous one) and then get attacked because a rumour of you joining the team has spread before you’ve even agreed.

Wow, this show is making no effort to provide any resolution and I just don’t know that I can keep going with it if it is going to run forever. Ayato and Julis are just not that interesting.

Once again, blown my 100 words so moving on to Saya – I love her ‘burst’ and ‘kaboom’ comments when firing her weapons. So cute.

The Asterisk War is available on Crunchyroll and AnimeLab. AnimeLab is a little behind.

Spring Overview Week 9

Week 9 has come and gone and I am definitely starting to feel a growing sense of impatience for next season. There are just too many shows this Spring that could disappear and I probably wouldn’t even notice. Those into slice of life, there are actually quite a few sweet titles out at the moment, but unfortunately it isn’t one of my favourite genres and none of the ones out managed to entice me to sticking them out.

As always, I would love to hear your thoughts on the season below.

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I Must Keep Watching

The titles haven’t changed but the order has. For the first time this season Sailor Moon Crystal is not occupying my top spot of things I have to watch.

  1. My Hero Academia
  2. Assassination Classroom
  3. Sailor Moon Crystal

The bottom line is, while Sailor Moon is in no danger of being dropped, this week’s episode when judged on its own merits wasn’t as good and Assassination Classroom or My Hero Academia (my reviews on My Hero Academia should catch up with the show shortly).

These are the three shows I must keep watching but that in itself is telling. One’s a remake, the other is a season 2 of an ongoing show.

The only show I’ve actually picked up this season and fallen in love with is My Hero Academia and even then, unless the ending really nails it, there is definite danger that it could slip into the “That was cute” category of things I enjoyed at the time but don’t think about after. I’m hoping that’s not the case given how clever some of the developments have been but there’s no real guarantee that this is going to end well, or even end at all.

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Still On My Radar

I definitely liked Shonen Maid more this week and Asterisk has finally slipped into Not Dropped but Close territory as it butchered the grand finale in terms of any kind of partnership between Ayato and Julis.

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  2. Bungo Stray Dogs
  3. Kiznaiver

I speculated last week that Kiznaiver might move up to the I Must Keep Watching zone but now I take that back. It isn’t terrible but the few moments of brilliance it has are surrounded by a lot of muck and to be honest it just isn’t finding a stable narrative in amongst the gimmicks. Bungo Stray Dogs however delivered a reasonably impressive episode (captivating enough that I kept persisting in watching it even as I had to continually pause, wait, play with the occasional page reload in order to finish the episode).

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Not Dropped But Close

  1. The Asterisk War
  2.  Twin Star Exorcists
  3. Super Lovers
  4. Joker Game
  5. The Lost Village

The Asterisk War has fallen here and that is not a good sign for its future given how little I liked the start of season one. While for awhile I was moderately enjoying the show, now I’m just feeling a little tired of the ‘we love Ayato’ party that just keeps going on to the detriment of Julis’ character.

Twin Star Exorcists continues to be watchable but I’m not sure I’m staying long term. Super Lovers and Joker Game are both watchable and engaging in small doses but if someone asked me for an anime to watch I wouldn’t recommend either one. The Lost Village is just here because it’s a mystery and unfortunately I can’t turn to the last page because it isn’t a book. I guess I’ll just have to watch and see. Maybe I’ll be pleasantly surprised.

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Dropped

  1. Rinne
  2. Tanaka-Kun is Always Listless
  3. Big Order
  4. Flying Witch
  5. Hundred
  6. Cerberus
  7. Re:Zero
  8. Endride

Last week I hoped that would be the end of dropping but I have finally let Rinne go. That doesn’t mean I won’t watch anymore but I won’t be reviewing with any kind of regularity. To be honest, Big Order should move back up to the previous category because I’ve still watched it every week even after ‘dropping it’ and I’ve continued to review. Morbid curiosity maybe, or maybe it is a better show than I’ve given it credit for.

Where are you up to this season and what are you anticipating?

The Asterisk War Episode 21

Review:

How do you make a grand-final match kind of dull? Just deliver more of exactly the same. A sword transformation aside this last fight was pretty ordinary and ‘injuring’ Julis so she couldn’t take part in the final exchange was just kind of lame. Not to mention, police investigation or not, in a team sport why would they award just one part of the team the trophy without their partner? During the whole award ceremony I just kept thinking why is no one concerned that Julis isn’t there or even mentioning her? It’s like Ayato won the whole thing on his own, which if you look back is probably a little truer than it should be.

So with that wrapped up, things are fine now, right? Except for all the behind the scenes dealings and betrayals that never get explained and keep getting put on the back burner. Maybe something will finally come of these now.

This episode is watchable and you finally get some resolution to this competition but that’s all its going to give you.

The Asterisk War is available on Crunchyroll.

The Asterisk War Episode 20

Review:

Continuing from last week, Saya and Kirin execute their rescue of Flora, meanwhile Ayato and Julis push their opponents into a merge but then get seriously stumped by overwhelming power. It all seems like it is over, except their our main characters and they haven’t managed to lose yet, and then the student council president announces that Flora is safe. That’s a game changer and they are ready to charge, but the episode is over.

For all that looking back it seems like nothing other than yet another duel occurred, I was so caught up this week I didn’t even realise we were that close to the end of the episode until it came. There’s nothing here for anyone new to the series, in fact most of it will be incomprehensible if you haven’t been following along, but for those who have stuck it out, this episode sits nicely.

The Asterisk War is available on Crunchyroll.

The Asterisk War Episode 19

Review:

So Flora is still kidnapped but Ayato gets help from random encounter of convenience girl (introduced at the end of last episode) and they now know where she is. Kirin and Saya move to begin the rescue while Ayato and Julis prepare for the finals (because that is so much more important than rescuing a kidnap victim) and Julis gives a pompous speech about how she can trust her friends. This episode was pretty flat but has hopefully set up some interesting action sequences as we begin the final battle and attempt to rescue Flora. It does not look like any of our questions will be answered anytime soon.

The Asterisk War is available on Crunchyroll. And it’s about a week behind on AnimeLab.