Blogging X-Men: The Animated Series

X-Men: The Animated Series is not anime, and even the most vocal proponents of widening the definition of the term would not label it as such. It’s an American cartoon, and arguably doesn’t belong on a blog called Otakusphere, which is mostly about anime most of the time. However, X-Men:TAS was kind of like my gateway drug to everything otaku: discovering the X-Men cartoon led to a passion for American comics, which led to a passion for anime and manga, which led to me becoming…well, me. If I hadn’t become a huge X-Men fan at the age of 11, chances are I would be a vastly different person today.

Maybe I would be a better person. I mean, maybe if I hadn’t wasted so much time with cartoons, comics and anime, I could have become a doctor, found a cure for cancer, and already gone down in history as one of the most important people to have ever lived. Maybe I should be pissed as hell at the X-Men for keeping me from sundry achievements in medicine, astronomy, or theoretical physics. Instead, I became the kind of person who writes thousands of words about cartoons on the internet, and I think I should probably just go with that at this point.

I tried to have my cake and eat it too by blogging the 2011 X-Men anime; it was anime and X-Men at the same time, score! Unfortunately, it was a pretty terrible show. Still, I was probably harder on it than I should have been because I was mad at it for the unforgivable crime of not being the X-Men show I really wanted to write about. So I apologize, X-Men anime; you were kind of bad, but I could have been nicer to you.

Now I want to cut the nonsense and go through my childhood obsession show episode by episode, which I think I’ve really wanted to do for a long time without consciously thinking about it. This will probably be like my Tomb Raider project, something I dip into from time to time when I’m taking a break from anime.

Let’s start by going down the cast list before diving into the show proper, so I don’t drag the individual episode posts off-topic by waxing poetic about certain characters. It’s funny that I think of this roster as being the “classic” X-Men line-up, when it’s really not at all; in fact, to comic fans at the time, this team probably seemed like a slap in the face. Where were X-Men stalwarts like Colossus, Nightcrawler, and Kitty Pryde? Why was Gambit included, when he was only created about ten minutes before the show aired? Even so, for better or for worse, I’ll always think of this team as my X-Men.

Cyclops

Character created: 1963

Power(s): Constant beam of concussive energy issuing from his eyes.

Voice Actor: Norm Spencer

At the time, I didn’t care much for Cyclops; he was just a boring authority figure. Over time, I’ve come to appreciate him. He’s usually a competent leader, but suffers from the deep-seated fear that if he ever screws up, Professor X might just drop him back in the orphanage where he found him.  He loves the professor as a father figure, but on another level he resents the hell out of him; on the show, he never seems to realize this. In the comics, he absolutely did.

The comics-version of Cyclops is one of the few characters who went through genuine character development, without said development being constantly compromised by resetting him back to the status quo. Cyclops, towards the end of his life, had changed dramatically from the person he was introduced as. Unfortunately, he’d changed into a person I didn’t like at all, but that doesn’t take away from the achievement that he was a Marvel Comics character who actually (and believably) changed as a person due to his experiences. He’s dead now in the comics, but his entire character arc represents a singular achievement; until they inevitably revive him and screw it all up again, that is.

It’s nostalgic to see this innocent version of Cyclops, basically a big Boy Scout troop leader who’s trying so hard to please his adoptive father and his girlfriend that he can’t see that he’s grinding himself down in the process. In the world of the animated series, Cyclops seems to agree with the Professor’s principles, whereas in the comics (I almost said “real life”), he finds that he doesn’t. In a way that makes Cyclops problem more subtle on the show than it was on the page; the problem isn’t the ideas he’s being forced to represent, its the fact that he never was given a choice in the first place.

Wolverine

Character Created: 1975

Power(s): Enhanced agility and senses, super-accelerated healing, claws protruding from hands; skeleton bonded with super-strong metal, which is not a natural power but the result of tampering by Those Evil Government Types.

Voice Actor: Cal Dodd

Another character who’s grown on me tremendously over the years. At the time, it bugged me that Wolverine was so obviously the star and we were all supposed to like him; it annoyed me how much screentime he got, and I wished everyone else would get equal time in the sun. I didn’t really care for his gruff attitude, and I thought that having knives come out the back of your hands was a boring superpower; to be fair, it still is.

Once you crack the Wolverine code, and realize that Logan is the most sensitive of all the X-Men– even moreso than teenaged Jubilee– then he suddenly becomes much more interesting. He’s been deeply scarred by losing practically everyone he’s ever cared about, but his memory has been so tampered with over time that he’s not even sure who those people were. He’s always mourning someone, but he doesn’t always know who it is. Both in the comics and on the show, Wolverine’s stories have tackled surprisingly complex themes about identity; if you as a person are the sum of all your previous actions, how can you even know who you are if memory is fallible?

I think the X-Men movies to date missed a lot of opportunities to take advantage of the strengths of the comics, but one area where they absolutely succeeded was with Wolverine: casting, attitude, etc. And Logan is one of the best superhero films ever made, to the point of not feeling like a superhero film at all. Wolverine’s cinema presence is having an odd effect on me though; I never found cartoon Wolverine attractive in the slightest, but now that I associate him with Hugh Jackman, I’m finding early ’90s Wolverine to be oddly sexy, and it’s weird. I really need this to stop, because everyone and their Mom knows that Gambit is supposed to be the sexy one.

Rogue

Character Created: 1981

Power(s): “Life-sucking” touch that sucks out other people’s strength, memory, and superpowers, either temporarily or permanently; flight, super-strength and near-invincibility have been permanently stolen from Carol Danvers, AKA Ms. Marvel.

Voice Actor: Lenore Zann

Everyone loves Rogue. You can tell even the animators loved Rogue, because whenever she’s onscreen, the art quality seems to go up by about 30 percent. Everything about the show will look dull and kind of muddy, then Rogue flies into the room, all crisp linework, and suddenly, it almost looks like an anime.

Rogue was my favorite character for a long time, even though as a kid, I really didn’t understand the nature of her problem. I remember thinking it was weird that she complains that her power doesn’t allow her to touch anyone, whereas she touches people all the time; that’s what her gloves are for! It wasn’t until I was older that I realized that Rogue’s real problem was that she couldn’t have intimacy. I guess this is what happens when you discover X-Men before you discover sex.

The animated series version of Rogue has a bit of a problem though, because she’s much, much more open to using her life-sucking power than she is in the comics. This changes the nature of the character a bit, because it’s hard to believe that she deeply hates her superpower when she uses it all the time. The problem is, if she didn’t use it, then the audience wouldn’t really know who Rogue is supposed to be. I think Rogue’s issues, and her moral issues with stealing other people’s powers and memories, were on the cusp of being too dark for a kids show to deal with. They tried admirably though, as the Ms. Marvel flashback episode demonstrates.

One thing that used to really bug me as a kid was that Rogue would always get thrown around, run over by trucks, etc., just because she was the only one who could survive that kind of punishment. I hated seeing my favorite girl get pummeled just to show off how strong the enemy was. It still kind of bugs me, but now I understand that one of the reason that happens is that Rogue intentionally takes hits for the rest of the team; at the time, it seemed like all the villains were just being really mean to her. Stop throwing Rogue into things, meanies! What has she ever done to you? Besides possibly stolen your memories and powers, that is?

Storm

Character Created: 1975

Power(s): Ability to manipulate the weather, which manifests as wind-riding (flight), throwing lightning, making snow, and doing basically whatever the writer can think of that is even vaguely weather-related.

Voice Actors: Iona Morris, later Alison Sealy-Smith

There are almost as many versions of Storm as there are comic books published. You have original, Earth-Mother Storm, Saavy Thief Storm, Megalomaniac Storm, Competent Leader Storm, Vicious Brawler Storm, etc. She’s a character who’s gone through a lot of changes over her publishing history, but with much less consistency than Cyclops. When Chris Claremont was writing her back in the ’80s, she had a definitive personality; ever since then, every writer has put their own spin on her. You never really know what you’re going to get with Storm these days.

Almost by necessity, the cartoon goes with the most boring version of Storm; naive, Earth-Mother Storm. This is because if she was shown as being as smart and competent a field leader as she often is in the comics, then she’d be taking over Cyclops’ role. Plus, her backstory– the stuff that makes up the core of Storm’s personality– actually was too dark for the cartoon to deal with. We’ll get to this in more detail in episode 4, but basically, we got a severely watered-down version of Storm on this show because the real one just wouldn’t have worked on a program rated Y-7.

Even Storm’s skin color is toned down; on the show, she could pass for a white woman who just got back from Hawaii and has a great tan. It was a little bit of a shock when I read the comics and realized that Storm was actually black. From our modern perspective, it’s  appalling that they changed Storm’s character design to make her more appealing to white people, but I think it’s better to shrug this off as a bad decision and let it go; it was 25 years ago. We have enough to worry about with racial representation in today’s programming.

Even with all these limitations, the TV character still has some charm. I love when she gets snarky, because it’s such a contrast to her typically grandiose way of speaking. But it wasn’t until I read the comics that I realized why Storm was actually an interesting character, as opposed to a boring character with interesting powers.

Beast

Character Created: 1963

Power(s): Enhanced agility, with enlarged hands and feet. Technically his blue fur and ape-like appearance isn’t a mutation, but let’s not get into that. Also genius-level intellect, although it’s never been clear if that should really count as a mutation.

Voice Actor: George Buza

One part mad scientist, one part Frankenstein’s monster, one part loopy English professor who really wants you to do well on the exam; I love this version of Beast, full-stop. He’s like a blast of pure joy whenever he’s on screen. In the comics they tried to give him this existential angst, and it was usually more annoying than interesting. Even on the show, he still had a dark, brooding side, but they didn’t overplay it the way they did in the comics.

What’s really fun about going back to this show as an adult is getting all the literary references centered around Beast that went completely over my head as a kid. One thing that sticks out in my mind is when Rogue and Gambit go to visit him in prison during Season One, they bring him a copy of You Can’t Go Home Again, to which Beast responds “Thomas Wolfe; an old friend.” Any old friend of Thomas Wolfe’s is a friend of mine!

As much as I like the character, I find I have very little to say about him in this incarnation; he’s just wonderful. Wonderful things are self-evidently wonderful, you don’t really have to explain it.

Gambit

Character Created: 1990

Power(s): Ability to kinetically charge objects so they’ll explode, enhanced agility, some kind of hypnotic tomfoolery that the show wisely ignored completely.

Voice Actors: Chris Potter, later Tony Daniels

I’m going to break with protocol and give away a closely-guarded secret here. If you know any female, any woman at all, who was on the cusp of puberty in 1992, she was in love with Gambit. Like, if you gave her a form and asked her to fill in her sexuality, if she’s being honest she would ignore the boxes for “straight” and “gay” and add a box called “Gambit,” then check that box three times.

I didn’t have relationships until relatively late in life, and up to this point, I have allowed people to believe it was because my standards were very high; in reality, the reason why I didn’t date for so many years was because I never ran into anyone who looked sufficiently like Gambit to make it worth the bother.

Why was I so into Gambit? Why were so many of the girls I knew into Gambit? I think it’s because he’s kind of like the archetype of the mysterious, handsome guy who knows a lot of stuff you don’t know. Adults often find his character grating for just that reason, but when you’re 11, you’ve never seen that kind of character before, it’s still exciting to you.

Gambit was another character where the show wasn’t able to explore his darker aspects, but unlike Storm, I think this actually worked in his favor, making the cartoon version the superior incarnation of the character. The trick with Gambit is he’s supposed to have some really dark stuff in his past, and oh, if only the X-Men knew what it was, they’d be forced to kick him out in disgust. But the moment you reveal that stuff, if it really is dark and sinister, he stops being viable as a hero; if it’s not dark enough, then the audience feels lied to. The comics successfully threaded this needle until about 1995, then after that most of what they did with Gambit was just embarrassing. Even now, most writers have no clue what to do with him.

A part of me will always love Gambit the way he appears here, An 11-Year-Old Girl’s Introduction to Sex. I have changed over time, and am no longer strictly Gambit-sexual (I also found a place in my heart for Squall Leonhart from Final Fantasy VIII), but this cartoon character with an odd obsession with playing cards and the color pink will always be my first love…I mean, my first cartoon crush. Same thing?

Jubilee

Character Created: 1989

Power(s): Ability to discharge brightly-colored energy from her hands that functions similarly to Cyclops’ eye lasers. Ability to make ’90s slang sound even more cringeworthy and painful than it actually was at the time. Ability to be a brat.

Voice Actor: Alyson Court

If Wolverine was the obvious star, Jubilee was the obvious Point-of-View character for the young audience, and I resented her for it. It was so obvious that I was supposed to relate to Jubilee, when I vastly preferred Rogue, Gambit, or Beast. I think her dialogue, peppered liberally with early-90’s slang, sounded incredibly dated even at the time, but that could just be my memory playing tricks on me.

That said, Jubilee has a lot going for her as a character. She took over the role that Kitty Pryde had in the ’80s as the X-Men’s resident teen sidekick, but while Kitty had to be annoyingly perfect at just about everything (at least to me), Jubilee is refreshingly average. She’s not supposed to be gorgeous, or brilliant, or particularly powerful as a mutant, but she knows what she wants and goes after it with considerable aplomb. She also has about zero tolerance for bullshit, something not true of the more romantic Kitty; as an orphan on the streets, she had it rough way before she found out she was a mutant.

Like Storm, Jubilee was basically turned white for the cartoon; you would never know that she was supposed to be Chinese. However, unlike Storm, this was true of Jubilee in the comics until pretty recently, so at least it was consistent.

Right now I kind of feel bad for Jubilee, because she’s been a horrendously abused character. First she was kicked off the X-Men on to a satellite team where she didn’t really belong, then she did nothing for about a decade, then she lost her powers, then she got turned into a vampire (seriously, a vampire), and God knows what else. I think they restored Jubilee to normal recently (meaning, she no longer drinks blood and is back to shooting fireworks out of her hands), but to say she’s been through the ringer would be an understatement.

Even though I wasn’t fond of her initially, it’s nice to see Jubes here as she was meant to be: energetic, bratty, and really excited about being part of a superhero team. To me, the most interesting thing about Jubilee is the fact that Wolverine was (and is) a much better father to her than he ever was to any of his actual children, but this show takes place before Wolverine’s kids were invented, so we’ll have to put that aside for now.

Jean Grey

Character Created: 1963

Powers: Telekinesis and Telepathy. Ability to become a giant, invincible firebird flying in space, but that may be from an alien possessing her, or maybe it was really her all along? It’s complicated.

Voice Actor: Catherine Disher

It has recently come to my attention that I have no clue who Jean Grey is.

On this show, she’s very feminine and altruistic; definitely the Mom of the team. However, for most of her character’s history, she wasn’t like this in the comics. When Stan and Jack invented her in the ’60s, she was Stan Lee’s typical “pretty girl” character; practically indistinguishable from Sue Storm or any of Lee’s other female creations. When Claremont reinvented her in the ’70s, it was as a fiery redhead, with special emphasis on the “fiery” part. The character died in 1980, then after she was revived years later, writers tried to write her kind of like Claremont had written her, only a little less fiery. (At least, that’s what I think; to be completely honest, I haven’t read the early issues of X-Factor yet.)

In the early 2000’s, written by Grant Morrison, she was a brainy, aggressive genius, who was very interesting but seemed to come out of nowhere. Then she died again, and they’ve since brought her back, as recently as a few months ago. I have no idea what her personality is like now, because I’m not buying X-Men Red: it’s not happening, Marvel.

I’m kind of fond of the motherly, calm version of Jean we get on the show, even if she’s not really consistent with her comic counterpart, because at least I know who she’s supposed to be. Towards the end of the show they tried to play up the “fiery redhead” angle a little more, and it mostly just felt forced. TAS Jean is like your Mom, or rather like a mom on a 1950’s sitcom, and trying to give her an edge just doesn’t work.

One thing to note about Jean is that her Jim Lee-designed costume made the worst transition from page to screen. Her ’90s outfit was just some strange aerobics-type getup, but when Jim Lee was drawing the X-Men, everyone looked so damned gorgeous it didn’t even matter what they were wearing. On the show it just looked dumb, even when it was on-model, which wasn’t often.

Professor X

Character Created: 1963

Power(s): Extremely powerful telepathy. Technically has the ability to use mind control, although he never does it because if he did, the X-Men would have no enemies and it would be a very boring series.

Voice Actor: Cedric Smith

Just like TAS Gambit and Beast are my preferred versions of those characters, the cartoon Professor Xavier will always be the real professor to me. As much as I enjoyed Patrick Stewart’s portrayal of the character (especially in Logan), I felt like his Xavier never quite escaped the shadow of Captain Picard. When I think “Professor X,” I hear Cedric Smith’s voice.

A lot of the character’s appeal can be pinned on Smith’s performance, which was serious and intense without quite crossing the line to sounding pompous; well, okay, sometimes he sounded pompous, but I’m pretty sure it was intentional. But I think the cartoon distilled what was good about Xavier without getting caught up in his domineering, paternalistic baggage. He was commanding, and a father figure, but generally always seemed like a nicer person to me than his comic counterpart.

What was really striking to me (though I only realized this recently), is how much of his dialogue on the show takes the form of questions. Xavier is supposed to be very intelligent, but sometimes his arrogance undermines this; on the show, he had the humility to always know how much he didn’t know. I wish his comic version was as perceptive.

In the name of “progress,” the comics have ditched Xavier and his dream of human-mutant peace; I think that was a terrible mistake. I have no interest in a group of paramilitary fighters with superpowers who grumble about how “naive” Xavier was with his dream of coexistence; I get enough ideological terrorists in the real world, thanks.

Where the X-Men are concerned, my happy place will always be a relatively small team, holed up in a nice mansion in Westchester County, with Professor Xavier at the helm. If I think the X-Men were more likable and interesting in this incarnation than they are currently, it’s undoubtedly part nostalgia, but it’s not only that. To me, for all it’s flaws– often hokey dialogue, limited animation and all– this show really captured what the X-Men are supposed to be about. I wish they were still like this, but if I can’t have that, at least I’ll always have this show.

Next time I feel like writing a silly amount of words about the X-Men, we’ll tackle the pilot episode of the series, and how you know a kids cartoon means business when they kill off a character in Episode 1.

Theme Song Artists for A Certain Magical Index III Revealed

Now that Anime Expo is officially done, we can get back to business as usual around these parts. Let’s start with some hot Index III news.

We’ve already gotten our first look at the series thanks to the Warner Bros panel at AX, but now we also know who will be performing the theme songs for the highly-anticipated series.

The opening theme song (which doesn’t have an announced title yet) will be performed by Maon Kurosaki (who you might remember sang the two ending themes for the last TV season, back in 2010). Meanwhile, the ending theme song will be performed by Index’s voice actress, Yuka Iguchi.

The series is set to premiere in October 2018. Because it was just so damn nifty, let’s take a look at the trailer one more time…

Via Mantan Web

DARLING in the FRANXX, Episode 24

A few missteps aside, I feel like this stayed exactly the show I thought it was all along: all about the beauty of life, specifically the continuation of life through sex, conception and childbirth, with a thin veneer of shiny mecha antics. I know a lot of viewers wanted something else from it, and I can respect that; but for me, this was in my wheelhouse from moment one.

Hiro and Zero Two go on their “honeymoon,” traveling through deep space toward the VIRM homeworld. This is not as unusual a honeymoon as you might think; my honeymoon was spent exploring different aquariums. Space has a lot in common with the bottom of the ocean floor.

They don’t have very much to say to one another, which I have mixed feelings about. On one hand, since they’ve merged (their metaphorical marriage), they’re supposed to be communicating on a deeper level than speech. If neither Hiro or Zero Two says much of interest in this episode, beyond “I love you,” it’s because the real communication going on is supposed to be stuff they couldn’t put into words anyway. I get that, but I think this could have been communicated to the audience better. If this show had been 26 episodes instead of 24, we could have spent a whole episode exploring what it’s like to be inside their heads, but as it stands, we just have to assume the two of them have a rich inner life that we’re not seeing.

Meanwhile, back on Earth, we see the lead-up to Kokoro having her baby, in which Useless Nana manages to actually be helpful for once. See, the future is so bright that even the crappy Nana is being nice! Then the baby’s born and I kind of lose it for a moment.

Of course, thanks to anime genetics, the baby looks exactly like Kokoro, even fresh out of the womb. I wonder what’s that like; when my girl was born, she didn’t look anything like me, and still doesn’t; she takes after my husband, full stop. Sometimes I think that the main reason I want to have another baby someday is because I might have one that looks like me. Selfish? Yes, but everything about having kids is this weird mix of extreme selfishness and selflessness.

I’m trying to imagine what it must be like to see a baby for the first time, as Mitsuru does, when you’ve never seen pictures of babies, or even knew about the concept of a baby until recently. Then again, even in real life, I think parents don’t really understand what a baby truly is until it’s born. It’s one thing to have an idea of this cute little thing, but when you first see it, those impossibly tiny hands and fingers, you realize that you never had a clue what you were in for. So I guess Mitsuru’s experience is pretty universal, really.

Hiro and Zero Two are all set two destroy the VIRM home planet, but VIRM has a trick; using Hiro’s humanity (since he’s still at least partially human), they manage to lull him into unconsciousness and screw up the bond between him and Zero Two. The solution to this problem comes very close to being a Care Bears Solution: everyone links hands and thinks about how much they love Hiro and Zero Two, aided by the statue of Zero Two’s body that now serves as a conduit between worlds. What stops it from being a Care Bears Solution, to me anyway, is that it’s Ai, Kokoro and Mitsuru’s daughter, that jars Hiro back to reality. Ai, and the entire process that transpired to create her, is basically the antithesis to VIRM’s entire program; it makes sense to me that she– perhaps the very idea of her– would be the trigger that would kick VIRM out of Hiro’s head.

So Hiro and Zero Two transform one last time, their final offspring, and destroy the VIRM home planet. Of course VIRM isn’t destroyed forever, because bad ideas can’t be destroyed forever, but they’re set back for long enough that our crew on Earth has time to get a foothold, which is all we need.

Back on Earth, everyone’s going crazy having babies, and I think it’s important to stop and look at this for a moment. It would be really easy to misinterpret the message of this show as “have lots of babies, that fixes everything!” but that’s clearly not exactly what’s going on. It’s critically important that Ikuno plays a crucial role in helping humanity get back on it’s feet. She doesn’t have a child, probably couldn’t if she wanted to at this point, and it doesn’t matter; there would be no future without her. Similarly, Zorome and Miku haven’t had kids a decade after the main conflict ends, and for all we know, they never will; it doesn’t matter one way or the other, because they’re contributing to the future too, teaching the children.

I can understand, given all the positive imagery of children and babies in this episode, how it might seem like a kind of pro-childbirth propaganda (especially in light of Japan’s declining birthrate.) But I really don’t think the point is that everyone should have children; not everyone in Squad 13 does. What everyone does do, is pitches in to help make the world a better place for their friends. Kokoro does it through motherhood, Ikuno does it through science, Miku does it through teaching, and Futoshi does it through cooking. Goro does it through exploring, letting the human thirst for knowledge overpower his fear.

I just don’t think the creators are saying “Hey, all you people out there who aren’t making babies? You should get on that! Babies rock!” What they are doing (and here I go putting words in other peoples mouths), at least from my vantage point, is asking a question: what are you doing to touch the future? Are you contributing to making a better world for everyone, like the Squad 13 kids are? Or are you just kind of doing whatever makes you happy at the moment? Are you like one of the “Adults” from episode 10, plugged into the pleasure machine, happy to stay there until the battery runs out?

And that again is an oversimplification, because it’s not everyone’s responsibility to save the world. For some people, just taking care of themselves, getting through the day in one piece, is enough of a challenge, and that should be respected. But if we want the world to get better, at least some people have to be committed to making the world a better place; it’s not going to happen on it’s own.

I think you could also interpret this show as being a counterpoint to the kind of transhumanism depicted in cyberpunk works like Ghost in the Shell; illustrating that it’s our primal biological functions, like eating and making babies, that define us as human. But that’s not quite right either; at the end, Zero Two and Hiro have both gone through tremendous physical changes (and ZT was never really human in the first place), but Ichigo believes that they were “more human than anybody else.” In Darling in the Franxx, the definition of human doesn’t revolve around whether or not you can reproduce, or if you have pale skin instead of red or blue.

As an aside, I said last time that maybe Ikuno would hook up with Naomi, and that does seem to be what happens. There’s no evidence that they’re lovers, but they’re clearly close. Ikuno gets perhaps the saddest ending of all the kids, but at least she’s not alone.

It’s also worth noting that the kids (well, they’re not kids anymore, but whatever) give up using Magma energy, and seem to commit to renewable energy. I think that’s a pretty transparent message about how humanity should abandon fossil fuels and find other ways of generating power. A lot of the stuff in this episode isn’t exactly the way it appears, but hey, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. Sometimes showing fictional characters giving up on using the remains of dinosaurs to light their houses is a way of saying “You know, you should really considering giving up using the remains of dinosaurs as a way to light your house.”

Anyway, I don’t know if I’m ever going to have another baby. It cost us 6K to have the first one, and that’s with insurance: I think, for some reason, one night in the newborn ICU wasn’t covered, so we were stuck paying that off for a while. It’s become prohibitively expensive to have children, and from what I understand, it’s worse in Japan than it is here in the U.S. (though that isn’t the only reason for the declining birthrate). So even if the creators of Darling really do want everybody to go out and have a bunch of babies, it’s not going to work unless they start writing some checks. (Maybe that’s what the new Trigger Patreon is for?)

Whether or not I have another child is dependent on a lot of factors, only some of which are financial, and I guess that’s not really the point. What’s important is, am I living a life worthy of Zero Two– or, more importantly, of Ikuno? That’s what this show is leaving me with, and for that, I’m thankful. It was hardly a perfect show, and it would have likely benefited greatly from having a few more episodes to play around with. But I think it’s heart was in the right place; maybe a tiny fetal heartbeat, not quite strong yet, but clearly there.

Anime Expo News Wrap-Up: Day 3

We’re almost done! Today is the last day of Anime Expo but before we get to that, we need to recap the news from Day 3 of the convention. Strap in boys and girls, because we have a lot to cover!

Right Stuf/Nozomi Entertainment

– Right Stuf will release Gundam Seed on Blu-ray with BOTH English dubs

– Nozomi will be releasing Gravitation, Please Teacher, and Please Twins on Blu-ray.

New Licenses: Galaxy Angel A, Galaxy Angel AA, and Galaxy Angel S

Sekai Project

New Licenses: NEKOPARA Extra ~The Kittens’ First Promise, 9 – nine -, Last Stanza, Re;Lord 2 ~ The witch of Cologne and black cat ~, Idol Connect, – AsteriskLive -, Harumade Kururu, Witch’s Love Diary

Kodansha USA

New Licenses: The Seven Deadly Sins: Seven Days, Love in Focus, Witch Hat Atelier

Viz Media

– Dub cast revealed for Sailor Moon S Movie

Manga Gamer

New Licenses: Particle’s Lilycle Rainbow Stage!!!, Tennenouji’s LuckyDog1, and Alicesoft’s Rance IX and Rance X games

Sword Art Online Alternative, Episode 12

In the final episode, we learn that LLENN is an evil genius who’s just been hiding it well this whole time. The fact that she knew that mocking Sword Art Online was perhaps the one way to really push Pito’s buttons and get her to lose her cool shows just how good she is at manipulating people when she wants to. We can only hope that she continues to use her powers for good instead of evil, and the devastating loss of the second P-chan doesn’t drive her to a life of crime.

Just like the Elder Wand will not kill it’s owner, P-Chan II will self-destruct before shooting LLENN. Oh God, I just made a Harry Potter reference, please let this be a one-time thing.

I like the fact that the final battle was relatively short, giving the story lots of time to wrap up outside the game. There was one thing I didn’t understand: why did M bother to take Fuka hostage instead of killing her? I know he wanted Pito to lose, so he could have kept Fuka alive to support LLENN (which is ultimately what happened, of course), but that gives away the game to Pito. Yet when Pito shoots him as a traitor, she does so for other reasons, not because he left one of their enemies alive for no apparent reason. It’s just a little off.

Pito thought she had prepared well, but LLENN knew her one weakness; she had no defense against vampire munchkins.

I’m just going to choose to think that M’s reasoning was “Fuka is too awesome to kill,” in which case I must wholeheartedly agree with him. In this episode, we get to see more of Miyu, the player behind Fuka, and naturally, she’s great in meatspace as well. I know M has this all-consuming, twisted love for Pito, and nothing can change that, but there’s a sick little part of me that wanted him to drop Pito like a hot potato once Miyu started hitting on him.

Goushi: “Thank you for your sexual interest in me, but I only like crazy bitches.”

Miyu: “Have you SEEN me play GGO?”

Goushi: “Holy FUCK you’re right, you are everything I’ve ever dreamed of, you barely-restrained psychopath.”

In any case, I love how brutal the final battle is; it needed to be, or else Pito wouldn’t have believed that she had met her match in LLENN. As I predicted last time (not like it was hard to see), the other team comes in from offscreen and grabs the win at the last second, but do you really think they enjoyed it? You just know that no one discussing the second Squad Jam is going to talk about the winners at all; they’ll be talking about Pito, LLENN, Fuka, and those intense Amazon women.


“We won, but…it feels so hollow…*sniffles*”

I’ll admit, they had me for a fraction of a second; when they introduced the club owner as “Pito,” I actually thought, very briefly, that she really was Pito and all of the hints that Pito was really Elsa Kanzaki were false leads. Of course, the Karen on the show is smarter than this Karen sitting right here, and knew immediately who the real Pito was. I’m telling you: evil genius. Do we know what field Karen is studying in college? If it’s political science, the world is doomed to fall under the thumb of her adorable hegemony.

Hello, cute little girl. I bet Elsa’s rage comes from the fact that she’s saddled with an acoustic guitar; if she was allowed to shred with an electric guitar in a proper band, getting all that aggression out, this whole nasty business could have been avoided. Death Metal saves lives.

At first I thought it was a little convenient that Elsa’s obsession with death was “cured” by one battle with LLENN, but I think I get it now; the fact that there’s a player out there who can match her, and there may be others that she’s not even aware of yet, keeps life interesting enough that killing herself has lost its appeal. I think Elsa is just naturally talented at most things she tries, and she was getting really bored of a life with no challenge. The fact that LLENN can kick her ass was a revelation to her. I fear for what would happen if Elsa met Kirito; she’d probably become crazy-obsessed with him, and then everyone would bitch that the show was all about Kirito again.

Despite her evil genius, LLENN lacks the self-awareness to realize that she’s as feared in-game now as Pito is, and that’s comforting; we should all fear the day when LLENN becomes truly aware of what she is and what she can do. For now, she’s satisfied to run around shooting people with a deranged pop singer in the virtual world of GGO, and that’s a good time for everyone.

Onward, to another gratuitously violent adventure!

This show surpassed my expectations by just being really solid and fun all the way through. There was some food for thought, which I wrote about earlier in the season, but overall, this was a good rippin’ yarn with characters you liked rooting for and action that kept you on your toes. When mainline Sword Art Online returns this fall, it’s going to have some mighty big shoes to fill; well, technically, tiny little pink munchkin-shoes, but you get the idea.

Anime Expo News Wrap-Up: Day 2

Day 2 of Anime Expo didn’t have nearly as much news as days 0 and 1 but we still got plenty of good stuff, including our first look at the highly anticipated third TV season of Sword Art Online. Want to know more? Keep reading!

Sunrise

– Remember that live action Gundam movie I mentioned yesterday? Here is the announcement video.

Kadokawa

– Fantasy light novel Kumo desu ga, Nani ka? (So I’m a Spider, So What?) will receive a TV anime adaptation.

Funimation

– New Licenses: SSSS.Gridman (coming fall 2018), 1987 anime Zillion (subtitle only, coming October 2018)

Free! movies will be released in a special box set this October.

Viz Media

New Licenses: Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure: Diamond is Unbreakable manga and live action movie, Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure: Golden Wind anime

Aniplex

– Finally, we get to the entry that I’m most excited about… here is an English subtitled trailer for Sword Art Online Season 3!

Tomb Raider II, Level 3: Bartoli’s Hideout

A Note on Format

Oh TR fans, you have no idea what I’ve been through to bring you this post. What follows is a sordid tale of technical woe; if you don’t care about that and just want to read about the level (which is understandable), please skip to the next section.

As much as I appreciate being allowed to use Katie’s excellent screen shots, I decided it was time to buckle down and take my own. Sadly, the Playstation Vita doesn’t allow you to take screenshots of non-Vita games (why?), so I had to change systems. I bought Tomb Raider II for the PC, thinking this would make life easier; oh, how wrong I was.

First, I needed to set up a controller. I’ve never been a PC gamer, and the chances of my actually completing TRII with keyboard controls were about nil. Fortunately, we already had a Steam controller, except I couldn’t get the buttons to map right. If you’re using the Steam Overlay (which gives you access to general Steam features no matter what game you’re playing, and is on by default), the action button is reserved for Steam functions, so I couldn’t use it to have Lara grab and fire her weapons. Obviously, I was not going to fight about 20 years worth of muscle memory with a different button configuration, so I had to turn off Steam Overlay, then I was able to map the buttons to the classic Playstation configuration. Except, without the Steam Overlay, I lost the ability to take screenshots within Steam; more on this later.

I was doing okay with the Steam controller, until the lack of a dpad became a problem. Lara just kept getting stuck in corners, and the analog stick liked making her turn in circles instead of setting up for a running jump. So I had to get a separate USB controller, with a dpad…which would have been great, except the game didn’t know that the dpad was there. Eventually my husband resorted to what I can only assume was evil sorcery to get the game to realize that the dpad exists in this reality, and play resumed as normal. Except pressing “s” to take a screenshot, a feature of TRII, wasn’t working for some reason (no idea why), so I had to resume my general method of taking screenshots on this machine.

This wouldn’t be a big deal, except I happen to be running Windows via Bootcamp on a Macbook, so my screenshot command is the somewhat arduous shift+alt+F11. Three buttons, which makes it impossible to take a screenshot with one hand on the controller. This means that when I want to take a screenshot while holding the look button (or any other button), I have to keep one hand on the controller, one hand pushing shift+alt, and use my big toe to push F11. Most of the screenshots in this post were taken in this manner.

If you put aside the fact that I still need to do a gymnastics move worthy of Lara herself to take a screenshot, I have a workable system now, but uh…is it just me, or was this all a helluva lot harder than it should have been? It feels like I’ve taken all the frustration and tedium inherent in the early games of this series and tripled it, all in a uniquely personal way. For a moment during this whole process, I believe I began to hate Steam, Tomb Raider, and even Lara herself, but that’s all passed now. I think. Probably. Mostly I just hate the Steam controller. But hey, I can take screenshots now, as long as I don’t pull a muscle in my thigh!

Thank you to those of you who have joined me for this sad tale of trying to play old video games in 2018; we now return to your regularly scheduled level write-up.

Raiding the Clubhouse

Ironically, considering everything I went through to take screenshots, there wasn’t much in this level that I wanted to take a picture of. Venice is a much prettier level, and a more iconic one t’boot, but I find this one more fun to play. We’re inside Marco Bartoli’s personal stronghold, so the “where are all the civilians?” concern no longer applies; besides, we see more than enough muscular henchman for the area to feel populated. The only really strong, memorable idea in the level is the chandelier-hopping sequence, but somehow, even when you’re solving typical, bread-and-butter Tomb Raider puzzles, there’s something appealing about this level to me.

Despite my enjoyment of this level, I think this might here might be the dumbest looking trap in all of  the Tomb Raider games. These sword-swinging robots just look totally out of place in Bartoli’s mansion. Makes me feel extra-stupid when I time it wrong and get Lara cut in half by one of them.

Maybe it’s because the difficulty balance finally feels right– we may still be fighting a ton of gun-toting baddies, but it’s a lot easier to take them on in this terrain than in the watery canals of Venice. I think TRII starts out a bit too hard, and this level is where the difficulty eases up a bit and allows you to get your bearings. The level also strikes a good balance of giving you decent-sized areas to explore at your own pace, while still having linear parts to move things along briskly.

When I first played this game as a teen I didn’t realize that you could totally bypass these blade traps by jumping into the water; now it seems very obvious. I hate this burner trap though, it’s like a redux of the Palace Midas burner trap only with no grandeur.

There’s also something kind of fun about knowing that you’re in Bartoli’s house, jumping on his furniture and taking his stuff. It’s like the guy posted a “No girls Allowed in Treehouse!” sign on his front door, and Lara just ripped it off and went through without a care in the world.

Library Raider

This game has a pretty sparse script, so we don’t get to learn a whole lot about Bartoli; we probably learn more about him from exploring his home in this one level than anywhere else in the game. I know he’s a crazy, power-hungry cultist dude who just wants to become a dragon, but I’m beginning to think the guy might have hidden depths; no one who has such an awesome library can possibly be all bad.

The whole sequence of climbing up library shelves, shooting out windows, frolicking in the garden and canal outside, then going back into the library to solve more puzzles is an example of the kind of thing that this game does really well; putting several different types of surroundings adjacent to each other, and letting you jump around between them before any of them have a chance to wear out their welcome. All of the TR games do that to an extent, but when TRII is firing on all cylinders, it’s really good at making you leave and reenter the same space about 40 times without even minding that you’re doing it.

At one point I screwed up the resolution and went to widescreen, making Lara look like she just gained 50 pounds. Lara dear, I know those Italian pastries are delicious, but please put down the cannoli! We have work to do.

There’s one thing I want to call attention to here, something that I’ve never understood: the uzis hidden in a pool of water towards the end of the level. Why is this not a secret? Like, you should pick up a dragon, hear a little “ding!” sound and then get the uzis, but no, they’re just there, lying on the ground, as if this is a totally normal pickup. Then when you get the actual Jade Dragon, all you get is shotgun shells or whatever. It’s like the uzis are openly mocking the entire concept of secrets, and I’m not sure how to feel about this. Respect the sanctity of the secret, developers.

One more thing: you know that last enemy, the guy who shoots you from the balcony right after you blow up part of Bartoli’s house? I think he owes us a pickup, at least some automatic pistol ammo or something, and it’s morally wrong that he doesn’t give you anything. Seriously, I shimmied all the way over to that dumb balcony for nothing? Lame.

I feel bad that I wasted a small medi-pack, but there are just too many of those gun-toting guys in the library and I haven’t memorized all the secret ways you can ambush them without taking damage yet. Hopefully I can get through Opera House without using every single medipack I have.

Best: The entire ballroom area, jumping from chandeliers and all. Obviously I’m keen on the library too, but the library is infested with an annoying amount of enemies; the ballroom has just enough opposition to keep you on your toes, but you can primarily focus on solving the puzzle. See, if they made the game nowadays they would probably make the chandeliers swing and stuff in accordance with the laws of physics, but I actually like it better this way.

Worst: That stupid burner trap. I know it’s actually quite easy if you know how you’re supposed to do it, but it plays on the seasoned TR-player’s desire to turn everything into a running jump, and that’s just not cool. Plus it’s just kind of plopped randomly in the middle of the level and doesn’t have a good reason for being there, as opposed to the similar fire trap in Palace Midas.

This is why no one comes to nice parties at your house, Marco. Because you have a fire hazard right in front of your ballroom.

Rating: Three Uzi Clips out of Five

A fun level to play, but it lacks the big ideas and beautiful views of the best Tomb Raider levels, landing it somewhere in the middle.

Up Next: Opera House

So named because completing this level always takes me longer than an entire opera, complete with Valkyries.

Anime Expo News Wrap-Up: Day 1

Hope everyone is staying cool this weekend!

Speaking of cool, Anime Expo is happening as I type this and there is a TON of news for us to recap. Please keep in mind that due to the sheer volume of news that has been announced over the last day, I’ll only be publishing bullet points. For more info, please visit the appropriate links to get all the juicy details that you’re craving.

Now, on with the news!

Dark Horse

– We start by revealing that Dark Horse Comics has licensed the classic manga, Elfen Lied.

JAST USA

New Licenses: togainu no chi, DRAMAtical Murder, Lamento -Beyond the Void– Boys-Love Games

NIS America

– NISA will be releasing SNK 40th Anniversary Collection Switch Game in November.

– Also announced were plans to release The Princess Guide, Caligula: Overdose in 2019

Sentai Filmworks

Will be dubbing Tada Never Falls in Love, Real Girl, UQ Holder

– Dub casts revealed for Made in Abyss and Scum’s Wish

– New license: Mr. Tonegawa which will come complete with a dub on HIDIVE

Crunchyroll

New licenses: ReRideD, Double Decker, That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime, Radiant, all of which will premiere in the Fall

– Crunchyroll Expo will premiere The Rising of the Shield Hero

– New manga licenses: Planet With, Holmes of Kyoto, Crossing Time

J-Novel Club

– Will begin print publishing with In Another World With My Smartphone novels

New licenses: Amagi Brilliant Park, Kokoro Connect, Sorcerous Stabber Orphen Novels

Sunrise

Live action Gundam movie announced

Maiden Japan

New licenses: Maria Watches Over Us, Hataraki Man, Basquash!, Yumeiro Pâtissière, Votoms, Ideon, Xabungle, Human Crossing Anime

Viz Media

New licenses: Smashed: Junji Ito Story Collection Manga, Megalobox Anime

– Will reprint Banana Fish manga

Warner Bros.

– New trailer for A Certain Magical Index III

Netflix

Aggretsuko gets second season

– Premiere dates revealed for 2nd Godzilla Anime Film, Dragon Pilot, Kengan Ashura

Eleven Arts

– Theatrical screening announced for Liz and the Blue Bird, Laughing Under the Clouds Gaiden in U.S. Theaters

Aniplex USA

– Theatrical screenings announced for I Want to Eat Your Pancreas and 2nd Fate/stay night Heaven’s Feel Film in U.S. Theaters

Whew! That’s it for Day 1 of Anime Expo but check back tomorrow as I’ll be highlighting all the hot tidbits of news that are revealed on Day 2.

DARLING in the FRANXX, Episode 23

This is the first time I’m sitting down to write about this show without feeling good about it. I didn’t hate this episode, but it didn’t quite come together for me, and that leaves me with a weird feeling, because this show has been pretty thoroughly in my wheelhouse so far.

I agree with where the show is going on general terms: Zero Two and Hiro heading into another dimension to put the hurt on VIRM where they live, Kokoro and Mitsuru coming together over the upcoming birth of their child, Nana and Hatchi developing stronger parental feelings toward their charges, etc. But everything in this episode just seemed a little bit too quick, neat and convenient for me. It seemed like getting into space was entirely too easy, the fight against VIRM was too easy, and everything happened just a bit too fast to resonate. I don’t want any of the Squad 13 kids to die, but it seemed convenient that one of the Nines was the only one to die in that conflict.

NOOOOO, DON’T DIE!!!!…Oh wait, it was the blond kid? That’s cool, no one liked him.

Some people have been complaining about the pacing of this show for a while now, but I haven’t been one of them. I liked the deliberate slow pacing of the slice-of-life pacing portion of the show (episodes 16-18), and how that contrasted with all hell breaking loose in episode 20. A ton of things happened at a breakneck pace in 20 and 21, but I still felt it worked somehow. This episode was the first time I felt like stuff was happening so fast that nothing had time to properly land.

I also really disliked Nana and Hachi being in space with Squad 13, as much as I like them as characters otherwise. They really should have stayed on Earth, supervising the other parasites, rather than going off planet on a dangerous mission that could have easily gotten them both killed. Werner Franxx said that Nana and Hachi had to be the “new adults,” and considering what a warped view of adulthood those two have seen, I guess I can’t blame them for not really knowing what that means. Still, it seemed like the only reason Nana and Hachi were there was to deliver exposition, and the transparency of that took me out of the story.

I’m not sure how to feel about Zero Two and Hiro reuniting once again. I understand why Zero Two pulled away from him after merging with Strelizia, because she realized that he wouldn’t have anything resembling a human life if he stayed with her. And showing that selfishness is important; the fact that Zero Two is putting what she wants for Hiro ahead of Hiro’s own wishes mirrors Hiro’s selfishness in putting his reunion with Zero Two ahead of everything else in the previous episodes. This show is doing a good job of showing that love isn’t all sunshine and roses. But the reunion happens so quickly after the parting, from the viewer’s perspective that it deprives their reunion of the gravity it really should have.

This episode is markedly better if you turn off the sound and play Billy Idol’s White Wedding for the last few minutes. Go on, try it.

I do like Giant Zero Two Strelizia and her wedding-dress mech, with her bridal bouquet of explosives. That’s the sort of thing that this show does well, taking really broad metaphors and creating powerful imagery with them. But everything around it undermines the power of that moment.

That said, I’m still looking forward to the final episode; I think there’s a possibility episode 24 could redeem everything I didn’t like about this one. I also wonder if these problems could have been easily solved if the show was slated for 26 episodes instead of 24; maybe just one or two more episodes of build up could have made a huge difference to the pacing. Still, we’re here now, and I’m curious what Hiro and Zero Two are going to discover Beyond the Infinite, or wherever they’re headed.

 

Official Anisong Streaming Service, ANiUTa, to Launch in US This August

ANiUTa Logo

Anisong fans, warm up your vocal chords!

Early this morning, it was revealed via press release that the world’s first anisong streaming service will be headed to the United States starting in August.

ANiUTa first launched in Japan in March 2017 with plans to expand overseas by the end of that year. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen, but finally, the company is ready to bring the jams to American audiences.

In Japan, the service runs 600 yen a month and runs on both Android and iOS devices. Users will be able to stream songs from a number of different companies and record labels, with text lyrics when available.

The service claims that fans will be able to look up both “the newest anisongs to the ones of long ago,” which means that those of us who love to listen to theme songs will have a new favorite app by the end of the summer.

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