Otakusphere (not) Weekly Episode 30: Join the Club Already

This week, LB, Lifesong and I discuss business dealings between Crunchyroll and Funimation, as well as a whole bunch of currently airing anime. Shows covered include, but are not limited to:

Tsurune

SAO Alicization

Uzamaid!

Rascal Does Not Dream of Bunny Girl Sempai

Run With The Wind

Ms. Vampire Who Lives in My Neighborhood

Conception (dropped LIKE A TON OF BRICKS.)

So, how are you guys liking these more casual-format podcasts? I liked doing the edited shows, but as time went on, they became increasingly impractical, as our long hiatus in 2017 shows. I like having the opportunity to chat about new, currently airing stuff without having to wait for episodes to go through the editing process, plus all the other complications that went along with that. Still, I’m open to suggestions– unless your suggestion is “Karen, I want you to spend five hours editing each episode of the podcast,” because that’s just silly.

That Time I Got Reincarnated As a Slime, Episodes 3 & 4

Episode 3

Last time, I said that Rimiru could just take on all the Direwolves himself while the goblins just hang out, and that’s…basically what happens. Except instead of defeating all of the wolves, Rimuru kills (and then eats, of course) their leader, and the rest of the wolves pledge allegiance to him. You’d think King Direwolf’s son would feel some anger towards Rimiru for killing his father, but there’s no indication of that. I’m guessing Daddy Direwolf must have been an abusive parent and general-purpose asshole that no one liked.

The fate of all who go up against Rimiru, the Slime God. Daddy Direwolf really should have picked a more reasonable opponent, like a Leviathan or the Antichrist or something.

The “battle,” for what it’s worth, does give us a chance to see some more of the skills Rimiru’s picked up, but I’m concerned about something: that Water Blade skill is lethal. It seems like as long as Rimiru has Water Blade, all of his other skills are kind of unnecessary. I mean, Rimiru is supposed to be overpowered, that’s kind of the point, but it’s not as much fun if he can just behead any opposition with the same attack whenever he feels like it, you know? Unless you really like seeing monsters beheaded, then I guess it’s pretty fun?

I wonder if this little girl is thinking “Great, I get to have boobs now!”

With peace established, Rimiru combines the Direwolves and the Goblins into one tribe, which seems like a risky plan– I’d still be kind of worried about the Direwolves eating the goblins, personally– but because Rimiru is literally worshipped as a God at this point, he makes it work. Then he names them all, and the way this show handles names is interesting to me. There’s the videogame-aspect, which is that a named monster in a JRPG will almost always be more powerful than a generic one, and the show pays homage to that. But there’s also the whole Old Testament angle, with names (and language in general) being imbued with the power to create the world. Since Rimiru’s effectively a God now, he doesn’t just name the Goblins, he creates new creatures by virtue of naming them.

It’s a little hard to explain. It’s not that this story is making any kind of deep point about religion or anything like that, but I like the fact that it runs on a few levels at the same time.

Just when we were beginning to think Rimiru’s crazy God Magic was limitless, he runs out of magicules and needs to take a breather for a few days. While he’s unconscious, all the cute kid goblins level up (thanks to the naming) to become incredibly ripped and/or curvy adult goblins. I’m kind of torn about this; I mean, I know the internet is happy that we’ve got smokin’ hot goblin babes for waifu purposes now, but I liked the little kid goblins! I wanted to cuddle them and tell them bedtime stories. They grow up so fast….

Give Peace a chance, especially if your ancestral enemies are actually dogs that wag their tails when they’re happy.

One of my favorite bits is when Rigur, the chiefs son, asks Rimiru why he has commanded the Goblins not to attack humans, and Rimiru responds “Because I like humans.” I wish he’d just left it at that, but being a reasonable sort, Rimiru goes on to give an actual explanation. It just seemed like a really good place to go with “Because I said so.”

Episode 4

I’m going to go through this one kind of fast, because I wasn’t that keen on this episode.

Since goblins are terrible at carpentry and tailoring, for some reason, Rimiru needs to head off to the Dwarf city to find some craftsman to improve conditions at Goblin village. I think I would have liked it better if goblins could do these things before, but after they transformed, they no longer have the dexterity to do detail work with their giant sausage-fingers; oh well.

This party of adventurers proves a challenge for our hero, hah hah no they don’t they’re useless cannon fodder. The imagery is cute though.

No matter how ridiculously OP Rimiru is, he still looks like a weakling monster at first glance, and this continues to cause him problems. So there’s a big tiresome fight at the front gate of the Dwarven city, he and Gobta get arrested, and so on and so forth. Rimuru wins the affections of the Dwarves by creating healing potions, but I’m confused; didn’t Rimiru use up his supplies of healing potion by healing all the injured Goblins in the last episode?

CURIOUS!

With how over-detailed this show has been on mechanics, I kind of expect to know exactly how many healing potions Rimiru has available at all times; one problem with constantly giving all of this game-esque status info is that the audience starts to expect it…or maybe that’s just me.

Then there’s a whole boring part where a blacksmith needs to make swords, and Rimiru can make swords for him in exchange for craftsman coming back to Gob village, blah blah blah this part is so boring. I mean, I kind of like the idea that Rimiru’s early game “grinding” ended up being so useful– basically, he broke the world by overleveling early, which is what I usually do in a JRPG– but I just don’t care about the Dwarven military cause or whatever.

Then to reward Rimiru for all his help, the Dwarves take Rimiru to an elf brothel, I mean, bar. It’s a nice touch that all of Rimiru’s fantasies of elven girls in this episode look like they come from ’90s OVAs, which is when Rimiru’s human form would have been a teenager and hence discovering sex; impressive attention to detail. However, I’m not sure I’m too keen on the introduction of Elven sex workers, that just seems kind of depressing.

Wait a minute though– isn’t assuming the elves are unhappy because they’re sex workers inherently anti-feminist? If they have agency, perhaps they’re making the choice to work in this industry, and are reasonably happy in their chosen field? Perhaps I’m the real sexist for condescending to feel bad for them in the first place? I’M SO CONFUSED.

Hopefully, next episode will deal with Rimuru eating more cool monsters and their friends, and less blacksmithing and weird sex stuff.

 

Sword Art Online Alicization, Episode Three

LB:

First off, let’s address the elephant in the room: What is Japan’s obsession with goblins right now? They’ve appeared in at least three series this season alone. Is this Japan’s new shiny toy?

Getting to the actual episode, I have to admit that this season of SAO is moving way too slow. I realize that they have over fifty episodes to fill this time around, but can we please get some action sequences that don’t involve a big tree? The only time Kirito has held a sword this season is to attack wood, and that just doesn’t have the same impact as when he’s in a real fight against another person.

The whole story with Alice and Eugeo is proving to be a slog in the early going. I’d love to say that my endless love for SAO can get me through this early bit of story set-up, but the sheer amount of exposition we have to sit through is proving to be a bit much.

Here’s to hoping that things turn around quickly.

Lifesong:

Good lord, Kirito take down that tree already, I’m sick of looking at it! Better yet, Eugeo should take it down. That’s the better path forward, and the one I hope this arc takes if we have to spend another minute staring at the thing.

Sure, if Kirito goes into OP Jesus Mode and takes down the tree like it never mattered, that’s a lame end for the tree. But who cares about the tree? Okay, so half the anime fandom will work itself into a frenzy if Kirito kills that tree with a single sword skill. My opinion? Worth it.

Even if Kirito does take down the tree in a single hit on his way back to town, you won’t hear me complain. “But Lifesong,” you say, “we don’t want to see Kirito be all OP, OP protagonists are boring!” No, you’re wrong. Not about OP protagonists, but about the way this story is treating Kirito.

Kirito isn’t the hero character right now. He might take over that role at any point…that point might even be episode 3. I hope not, but it could be. If we look at the typical hero’s journey flow chart for a story, then Eugeo is the hero and Kirito is the mentor. However, I’m not sure if I buy that yet myself. I can see it with a heroine, but with a male character?

There is nothing wrong with the wizard working his magic. In this case the wizard is Kirito, Eugeo is the hero and we even have a replacement damsel for Alice; Selka steps up to fill the role for her too-removed-from-current-events-to-act-as-narrative-carrot sister. The comparison to Sugu makes me think about how forgotten Sugu is in the greater narrative. Maybe this is preparation for her return to relevance? Or maybe it’s a repeat storytelling tactic to bridge a boring part of the story to a more interesting one…

I find myself in an annoying spot with this Alicization story line. From a storytelling perspective, it’s doing fine. I like epic fantasy stories that start from humble origins and snowball into something massive. Alicization is hitting all the right notes to do that; It’s just doing it in short bursts over the length of a month. The pacing is an issue, but only because I can’t watch more now.

Imagine waiting three weeks to get through the into segment of The Hobbit. You know, the part where Gandalf convinces Bilbo to go on an adventure with the dwarves. Spending two hours on the lead in to an adventure is okay; in fact, I like stories that start this way. It gives me an easy in to invest in the characters naturally, without forced urgency. But spending three weeks on this is hard to take.

Looking back on this arc once everything has aired, my complaints will likely be gone. Right now? Well, at least we have hints that something might happen next week. Who knew I’d be so happy to see some goblins show up? How will Kirito and Eugeo get out of this predicament? Maybe the goblins just happen to have a magic axe that kills demon trees while they’re at it? I’d accept it.

Karen:

I’m filling in my part of the post last this week, so I can see above that LB and Lifesong are both frustrated with the pacing of this arc. I’m not sure how I feel; I’m not exactly riveted, but I have faith that things are going to pick up soon. Part of that confidence is likely due to the fact that I’ve been hearing good things about this arc in the novels for years, so I’m willing to be patient for a while. If I had no knowledge of the source material, I wonder if I’d be as forgiving?

And yeah, can we just stop with the goblins already? First Goblin Slayer freaked me out with it’s terrifying goblins, then That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime healed my psychic wounds with helpless, adorable goblins. Now SAO is trying to give me PTSD again with cruel, human-trafficking goblins, and I’m just tired of this goblin morality yo-yo. Next thing you know Conception will introduce elegant, angelic healer-goblins or something, but who knows, that might actually make that show watchable? It could happen.

Back to SAO, I’m interested with what’s going on with Eugeo here. Back in the premiere episode, when Eugeo froze trying to save Alice, I thought he was struggling against his programming: he’s been conditioned (for lack of a better word) to follow the Taboo Index, only Kirito was urging him to rebel against the system, and it seemed like it was causing his Fluctlight into a Blue Screen of Death situation. At the end of this episode, Eugeo is freaking out again, but it’s not clear if he’s having programming conflicts, or if he’s just plain terrified of the goblins. Maybe both?

I think ultimately Eugeo and Alice are going to transcend being “artificial” Fluctlights and become real people (possibly other characters too), but there’s potential to do something interesting here. After all, the title “Alicization” makes it appear as though the arc is going to focus on a transition involving Alice, but wouldn’t it be interesting if the more important character was Eugeo, and Alice’s role is something else entirely?

Okay, I’m as bored with the unchoppable Demon Tree as everyone else, but I’m still intrigued with where the show is going overall.

Getting Acquainted With Light Novels

I’ve been aware of Light Novels for a long time, but somehow avoided reading them. I knew that a lot of my favorite anime were based on LNs, and the the subject matter of many of them was likely to appeal to me, but I always had other things to read that seemed more important. Plus, for a long time, it was hard to even get LNs through legal channels.

With the addition of services like J-Novel Club and Yen On to the marketplace, however, that last part has changed tremendously. Now, instead of occasionally seeing an LN release from a hugely popular series like The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, which was the case for many years, we’ve got more legally translated light novels available than anyone could possibly read. Well, it may be possible to read them all; my husband is certainly trying. His commute to work, once a time for games, has become Official Light Novel Book Club. In fact, due to his LN obsession, I think he’s clocked more books read this year than I have; this is not okay. Clearly, I needed to start reading LNs and catch up!

So for the past week or two, I’ve been dipping into my husband’s impressive collection of LNs on Kindle. I’ve read I’ve Been Killing Slimes for 300 Years and Maxed Out My Level, Volumes 1 &2, and Lazy Dungeon Master Volume 1. Obviously, I’ve just started getting acquainted with this genre, but I’ve noticed some things about it so far that I find really interesting.

What’s “Light” About Light Novels?

To get a good idea of where my tastes tend to lie as a reader, it might be useful to know that the last book I read before Killing Slimes was War and Peace…yes, that War and Peace. I like 19th and early 20th-century novels and I try to read a few every year; if I don’t, I’m afraid I’ll lose the ability to appreciate them, because it does require a certain kind of attention span. So I generally like my books long, detailed, and filled with atmosphere– even if said atmosphere adds about 500 pages of length to an otherwise simple story.

To someone with my reading habits, LNs are kind of a shock to the system. As a longtime gamer (and an anime fan for nearly as long), the subject matter of many LNs is right up my alley; I dig isekai, things involving dungeons, etc. However, the style of LNs is so different from the likes of Tolstoy and D.H. Lawrence, these books may as well come from another dimension. Gone are the paragraphs and paragraphs of description; gone is the deep characterization, the finely-rendered locations that have such a strong sense of place, you almost feel like you could live there yourself. All that breadth, all that depth, poof, gone.

A description of a forest in an old-fashioned novel could take several pages, delving into the flora and fauna, and the psychological impact of the forest on several different characters, and how their different responses to the forest reveal deeply embedded idiosyncrasies, how said characters view the world in general. A description of a forest in an LN tends to be like this: “There was a forest outside the house. It was a pretty big forest, and some mushrooms grew there. I saw rabbits there sometimes.”

It would be easy to jump to conclusions about what I’m saying here; that Heavy Novels=good!, Light Novels=Bad! But that hasn’t been my experience. What I find genuinely surprising is that, even in the absence of description, my brain fills in the gaps. The forest in Killing Slimes may be very simply drawn on paper, yet I find the image of the forest in my mind is still vivid. Similarly, while the characters often seem quite stock (typically they have one or two character traits and that’s about it), occasionally they’ll do something unexpected that hints at hidden depths. Basically what seems like it should be a shallow experience on paper, becomes a well-rounded experience in my mind.

I wonder why that is? Is that the secret of LNs– that we don’t actually need all these details to become fully immersed in an imaginary world, and sometimes the bare-bones approach is more than enough in practice? Or am I just filling in gaps in my mind because, as a more old-school reader, I expect breadth and depth and if it’s not there, I’m more than happy to make it up myself? I mean, maybe other readers aren’t getting a very vivid picture of a forest when they read I’ve Been Killing Slimes for 300 Years and Maxed Out My Level; maybe they’re just seeing some trees? I have no idea.

I’m looking forward to reading more LNs, especially Reborn as a Vending Machine, I Now Wander the Dungeon, and The Hero and His Elf Bride Open a Pizza Parlor in Another World. I’m also looking forward to reading more stuff by Edith Wharton, Thomas Hardy, and  Fyodor Dostoevsky; I don’t expect LNs to replace old-fashioned novels for me. But I’m discovering there might be a weird kind of interplay between the two for me, and that’s really intriguing.

 

Sword Art Online Alicization, Episode 2

Lifesong:

Kirito in Underworld works a lot better after hearing an explanation of the Fluctlight. I liked the flow of episode two; this place now has enough nuance to create a mysterious atmosphere. Kirito rediscovering it bit by bit was much more interesting than our introduction.

I found it interesting to note that Kirito can’t immediately spot the tell-tale signs of a digital world. You’d think he would know immediately based off the look and feel of it, but It takes seeing a digital menu to convince him that he’s in a virtual world. It isn’t hard to guess why someone might want to make a seemingly perfect virtual utopia like this. It makes the question of why they want to hide it from testers a more compelling mystery.

Connecting directly to the fluctlight in someone’s head gives digital worlds new options. The concept of transporting those light signals into a computer makes for good science fiction. Kirito’s theory that the NPCs in this world are too realistic is the clue. Imagine that as a company, you can offer a sort of digital afterlife. I’m sure that would find a market. The implications are fascinating.

Time passes faster in the virtual world than it does in reality. That means increasing the experiences one person can have during their life. Not only can you experience life longer, but you can potentially live forever inside the machine. That’s speculation to some degree, but it seems to be the general direction this arc of Sword Art Online is taking. If the company that made Underworld can copy a human soul and then host it in a human world without a human body… That’s basically immortality.

One last thing I found worth commenting on is the way Kirito is able to use a sword skill from Aincrad. Perhaps the base for this world is similar, but I suspect it’s more than that. Fluctlight is someone’s soul, right? It contains their memories and personality from real life. Wouldn’t it also contain their memories from time spent in other digital worlds? It may be more than sword skills Kirito that can use in Underworld. How long will it be before Kirito is flying around with magical imp wings, cursing himself for never learning any magic in Alfheim Online? Or you know, never bothering to fire a gun in GGO? I’m sure he’ll figure out a way to cope, but the implications are fascinating to think about.

Karen:

Though this arc is playing around with a lot of really interesting ideas, this episode was rather dull. Since Kirito doesn’t remember his original trip to Underworld, we’re stuck watching Kirito relearn all the things that we already know from Episode 1, which is a little frustrating. Watching Kirito put his deductive reasoning to work to figure out what’s going on keeps things from getting too boring, but I have to wonder if there wasn’t a better way to do this.

Speaking of boring, there’s poor Eugeo’s calling: hacking the same tree with an axe 2,000 times every day. I don’t know the significance of the Demon Tree to Underworld yet, but I took this as a commentary on the mind-numbing repetition of the kind of tasks you tend to take on in virtual worlds; daily quests you can repeat for years, killing the same monster over and over again in the hopes of snaring that .01% drop, and so on and so forth. One of the premises that the isekai genre is based on is “living in a world with video game mechanics would be hella fun”; here, we’re getting the opposite view.

And yet, Underworld isn’t supposed to be a game, as far as I can tell; there are no goals for the player. Yet it’s clearly based on games, and I would bet money it uses some of the same code from SAO, which is why Kirito’s sword skills seems to work in Underworld. It seems like Kayaba Akihito was the only one in the world who could program virtual reality worth a damn, so even years after the SAO incident, people are still ripping off his work. Kind of depressing, but certainly not unrealistic.

The most important thing we learn here is that Underworld is likely populated by Artificial Fluctlights– newborns that had their souls “cloned,” then raised from birth in this virtual environment. Huh. In Ordinal Scale, there’s some talk that the programmers have had enough with the “top-down” approach to AI; raising artificial souls from birth would definitely seem to be more of a bottom-up approach. It is a bit jarring that actual people are involved– I would have assumed that to make an Artificial Fluctlight, they would have just used algorithms or whatever to make a fake personality. Copying existing people’s personalities adds a whole ‘nother layer of ethical wtf-ery on top of everything.

I wonder about the role of the Church in this story. Unless the show does something really unexpected, wouldn’t the Church in Underworld be 100% right about everything? Their world really was created by a superior being (or beings), who watches over everything they do, and so on and so forth. Oddly, Kirito is a non-believer in the sense that he doesn’t have to believe; he knows. I’m kind of hoping that Kirito starts using prayer as a means to communicate with the developers, because I’m always interested when fiction explores inside-out religion; it’s one of my weird hang-ups.

Hopefully we’ve gotten all the (slightly painful) exposition out of the way and can move on to more exciting things now. There’s a lot of potential here, but it’s hard to be properly excited by it when most of the episode is taken up by two dudes talking under a tree.

That Time I Got Reincarnated As a Slime, Episode 2

We return to the adventures of the world’s most stupidly overpowered slime. Last time, our slime buddy met Veldora, a trapped dragon, and a beautiful, cross-species friendship blossomed. Now, Rimuru is trying to get Veldora out of his magical prison, but it seems like there may be limits to even the godlike powers of the slime…OR ARE THERE?

Ok, I admit, I’m confused here. First Rimiru tries to eat the barrier around Veldora, only to fail. Then, not ten minutes later, he eats all of Veldora, INCLUDING the barrier, and that goes fine? Let’s not even touch on the intriguing fact that Rimiru’s stomach is apparently some kind of portal to another dimension containing infinite space, why did that work the second time? Maybe his mistake the first time was trying to eat the barrier as a separate entity? Or did he succeed in analyzing the barrier with Great Sage in between his two attempts?

I don’t get it, so I’m just going to move on. Should I use this picture from now on whenever I’m confused by anything in an anime, by the way? That seems economical.

His best dragon buddy tucked away somewhere in the Infinite Digestion Dimension, Rimiru continues to make his way out of the cave, eating more giant monsters as he goes and gaining their abilities. By about the halfway mark of this episode, Rimiru has become so stupidly overpowered that I can’t see how anything short of an extinction-level event could possibly threaten him, but that’s not necessarily a problem. Sometimes a story requires a character to be super-powerful from the beginning, even though it defies narrative convention, and that definitely seems to be where this show is going. It’s interesting to me though that the main criticism of this show (that I’ve seen) is that it’s “too gamey,” meanwhile no JRPG actually works like this.

Or to put it in JRPG terms, in the space of this one episode, Rimiru went from using a basic Bolt spell to W-Summoning Knights of the Round, backed up with a mastered Final Attack-Phoenix. You are now geekier just for having read this sentence, and have a sudden urge to go breed pastel ostriches.

Interestingly, Veldora’s disappearance into the Digestive Dimension appears to have created a power vacuum, even though Veldora was incapable of doing much for hundreds of years. I like the fact that in this world, strong monsters have political significance in the same way that natural barriers do in our world. Basically, Veldora was the mountains around Switzerland, and now everyone is coming for your sweet hot cocoa.

Serious Politics be happening here. I like the dragon-eating parts of the episode better.

Sadly, during all this political talk, no one says “We have all the best dragons, just the very best wyrms and firedrakes; I like dragons who DON’T get imprisoned in a magical barrier for 300 years,” so there went the show’s one chance at doing salient political comedy.

On the way out of the cave, Rimiru runs into a party of human adventurers, and my PTSD from Goblin Slayer kicks in. I was afraid that the humans were going to be brutally raped and murdered the instant they stepped foot inside the cave, but fortunately– since this show is pretty much the anti-Goblin Slayer— nothing like that happens. Even if some mean monsters tried to harass the humans, I guess Rimiru would just eat them and get new skills, so that’s comforting.

Nooo, go away innocent little blond mage girl! This cave is full of evil monsters, and only death and dismemberment lie before you! Oh wait, a reincarnated virgin salary man killed and ate all of the monsters already, looks like you’re fine? Err, don’t get cocky though.

So Rimiru finally gets outside, and then confuses me again by musing about his good friend Veldora Tempest, and how they haven’t seen each other lately. Maybe it’s a translation thing, but Rimiru’s lines here make it sound like he honestly doesn’t know where Veldora is and is hoping to run into him again soon. Dude, Veldora is in your belly, I’m pretty sure you were there for that.

Then my PTSD triggers again, because Rimiru is attacked by goblins! Except instead of being cruel, bestial, predatory goblins, these goblins are adorable little munchkins who look like they couldn’t hurt anyone. Like, if one of these goblins tried to assault someone, they would probably trip on the way there, get a nosebleed, then cry and need to go get a hug and a kiss from Mommy Goblin. This show has now healed my PTSD from Goblin Slayer, and I am very grateful.

This is how I like my goblins, Level 1 mobs wielding useless weapons and cowering like terrified third-graders. That grimdark show can go fuck itself.

I know it sounds like I’m making a joke here, but seriously? I’m actually very happy to have images of these super-nice goblins override the other ones in my mind. Very happy indeed. Sometimes the only cure for anime is indeed, more anime.

Oh my God it’s cute little gob kids, I want to hug all of them! Praise the cute goblins! Love the cute goblins! Forget all the more mythologically accurate goblins!

The goblins worship Veldora like a God, and the disappearance of their God is causing major problems. Rimiru never lets it slide that he ate their God, which is probably wise; no adherents of any faith have ever taken that news well. However, with the Direwolves now attacking Goblin Village, the gobs need a powerful monster on their side if they have any hopes of surviving. Fortunately for them, Rimuru Tempest, First of His Name, Eater of Dragons, Keeper of the Mysterious Hard Drive, Holy Virgin SalaryMan, and One True Scion of Pokemon Mystery Dungeon, is on the case!

The episode ends before the Direwolf attack commences; I think we’re supposed to be wondering what Rimiru’s strategy is here, but honestly, does it matter? Based on past experience, Rimiru can just eat all the Direwolves for dinner while the rest of the goblins sit around painting their toenails– but that would make for a pretty boring episode 3, so that’s probably not going to happen. Maybe Rimiru will just eat all the Goblins, they can go to the Infinite Digestion Dimension, and become one with their God? I’m not really looking for spiritual enlightenment from this anime, but hey, if it happens, I wouldn’t be opposed to it.

So that was episode 2 of That Time I got Reincarnated as A Slime. I’m pretty sure that one day, I will regret blogging about this show, but that day is not today.

 

First Look: Rascal Does Not Dream of Bunny-Girl Senpai

Karen:

*sits down with a bucket of popcorn*

Bunny-girls, huh? I bet this is just going to be one of those forgettable, dime-a-dozen, fanservice-centered romcoms where I can turn my brain off completely.  Stupid Fluff for the Fluff God, right?

*watches for five minutes*

*throws bucket aside, gets popcorn everywhere, starts taking notes furiously*

Talk about appearances being deceiving, I don’t think anyone saw this coming. The show that proudly sports a scantily-clad bunny girl in its promo art is quite possibly the smartest, classiest show of the season.

There’s nothing that unusual about the set-up: pretty girl has supernatural problem, boy tries to help, turns out boy has a supernatural secret or two of his own. In fact, when you look at the plot thus far on paper, the show is very similar to Bakemonogatari— a more down-to-Earth, street-level Bakemonogatari, but still. The dialogue between the two leads is even reminiscent of Araragi and Senjougahara. But Bunny-girl Senpai still feels very much like it’s own show.

If I had to pick one thing that sets this show apart, it’s the way the two leads are wise beyond their years, yet still believably come across as teenagers. For Mai, the celebrity, she has the kind of world-weariness you would expect from someone who’s been in the public eye since she was a small child, but she can also be naive at times; since, for all her experience, her opportunities to interact with people her own age have been limited. Sakuta, the “rascal,” has had to become a parent figure for his little sister, and has endured no small amount of hardship for her. He’s quick with a sophomoric joke, but it’s clear that his experiences have granted him a greater reserve of empathy than most teenage boys his age would have.

The two of them recognize kindred spirits in each other, and though their dialogue can be flirty and playful, there’s clearly an underlying mutual trust there that’s rare to see in two characters in this age bracket. It’s also clear that while the two are interested in each other romantically, there’s a lot more to their relationship than teenaged attraction. Sakuta may be very attracted to the beautiful Mai, but his primary interest is to support her and help her, not to get in her pants.

That’s not to say that the show is devoid of sexual humor; a few of Sakuta’s lines left me blinking, like “Wow, did he seriously just say that?” But it’s like this show manages to properly acknowledge sexuality without being overwhelmed by it. In one of the most memorable scenes, where Mai traipses around the library in her revealing bunny suit (it makes sense in context), she looks gorgeous as can be in the outfit, but the anime never resorts to using lewd camera angles to play up her sex appeal. I’m not saying that using that opportunity for fan service would even be a bad thing, necessarily, but that’s just not something this show appears to be interested in.

The real fan service is the dialogue between Mai and Sakuta, which sparkles and crackles with wit without losing all sense of realism. In theory, it would be a boring show if these two kids just talked to each other for the next ten episodes, but honestly? I would probably be okay with that. It’s just fun to watch them bounce off each other.

In addition to all it’s other virtues, this show reminded me that sometimes my assumptions about a show (or a game. Or a book. Or any piece of art.) will sometimes prove completely wrong. And that’s a fantastic thing.

LB:

After two episodes, I’m ready to declare this title to be one of the “winners” this season. There are so many great qualities to this title which should please even the most cynical anime fan; deadpan humor, mature and relatable characters, a solid story (so far)… the list goes on, really.

The one thing that bothers me about Bunny Girl Senpai is that it has a VERY slow, methodical pace. This is a series that absolutely enjoys lingering and taking its time with the delivery, which might bother some people. Every episode feels like it’s double-length because of how slowly everything moves.

I know that there are a lot of good shows this season, and not everyone has hours and hours to devote to weekly anime. This is one of the shows that you should absolutely be paying attention to, however. A solid pick up, I think that this one is really going to pay off in the end.

Lifesong:

Supernatural anime problems that explain themselves with Schrodinger’s Cat tend to be awful. It’s too early to say this one won’t go down the same path, but at two episodes in I already suspect it won’t.

More than anything else the dialogue of this story is what locks my attention in place. The way the two characters interact is a joy to watch, weaving together mystery and drama all in the same breath.

The way the storytelling manages to introduce new elements is impressive. To build up a mystery we have a girl who is vanishing from existence, and the backstory of another girl who has already gone missing. All done while two characters flirt their way through scenes in a charming, low-key kind of way. The slow pacing is disarming. After two episodes, the story already feels ready to explode in a new and tragic direction.

I find myself impressed by the lack of anime cliches in the dialog. The weird elements at play are not what I expected. Before starting the premier episode, I read something about “Adolescence Syndrome” in the premise. I had assumed that meant this was another anime where the characters believe special things are happening to them that aren’t real. However, vanishing from existence is a real problem in this story. It’s something that’s happening to Mai, and the why and what of that story is compelling.

I already have more expectations for this anime than anything else out of this season. It feels like someone took the dialogue-driven mystery of the Monogatari series and introduced it to the existential crisis of The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya. It’s a bit too soon to say if it can hold a candle to either of those stories in the long term, but we’re off to a good start, and I can’t wait to see more.

 

First Look: Conception

Karen:

There are a lot of worthy shows we have yet to write up this season, like Bloom into You and the surprisingly delightful Rascal Does Not Dream of Bunny-Girl Senpai, but I just had to write about Conception immediately. It’s terrible, but it’s terrible in a way that’s just hilarious to me personally.

I guess you could say it’s “so bad it’s good,” except for a lot of people, I think it’s really just going to register as normal-bad. And that’s fine, but if I’m getting some enjoyment out of it, no matter how perverse, I gotta give it credit for that.

We start out with a bunch of oh-so-sexy female silhouettes, letting us know immediately what kind of show this is. But there’s something wrong with these illustrations; I can’t figure out what it is, but these women’s bodies look weird to me. Like everyone looks kind of sinewy and detailed in the wrong places. This isn’t the OP, is it? This better not be the OP. That would just be sad.

What is going on with this poor girl’s body? I think that’s supposed to be her butt in the foreground, but it looks more like her knees, doesn’t it? Maybe she’s a zombie and she can twist her pelvis a complete 180 degrees around? Curious.

We open with our protagonist, Itsuki, learning that his cousin (and close friend) Mahiru is pregnant. Who’s the father? No one, apparently; Mahiru just up and became pregnant, without ever having sex. See, this is where the show wastes a perfectly good plot, because I was so ready for her baby to be Jesus Mark Two, and then that doesn’t happen. I mean, think about it; imagine a normal high-school based anime, except the main girl is magically pregnant, and you don’t know if the baby is going to be Jesus 2.0 or the Antichrist? And all the other characters are trying to figure out whether or not her baby is going to bring about Armageddon based on her pregnancy symptoms? That could be a quality show. Alas, we are not so lucky.

Itsuki and Mahiru then get sucked into another world (update your “Number of Official Isekai shows this season” lists), then Mahiru basically vomits up a demon. We later learn that this is what Star Maidens do to clean out impurities in their systems; expel badly-animated monsters. I hope that if I expel a monster to purify my uterus someday, it looks cooler than a villain out of the 1980s My Little Pony cartoon.

This is the “monster.” Was the guy who normally does the lighting and shading out sick that day? Because the entire scene with this dude looks unfinished. Maybe it would be understandable if the show wanted to put the emphasis on the sex scenes, but seeing as how there are NO actual sex scenes….

Itsuki manifests a magic sword, because he is a magical hero sort of fellow, and vanquishes it. Some exposition later, we learn that this world relies upon visitors from other worlds to fight evil for them, for some reason. So Itsuki and Mahiru are the latest pair pulled from Earth to help fight the monsters of the labyrinth.

Wait a minute…if the monsters are in the labyrinth, can’t you just leave them there? Is it really necessary to fight them? I mean, I guess we have to assume that the monsters of the labyrinth will break out eventually if they aren’t dealt with, but we don’t know that; for all we know, there’s no need to fight these monsters at all and the Powers that Be just want something shiny at the bottom of the dungeon.

Itsuki flirts with a doctor examining him, who seems to reciprocate his feelings, and we get a lot of lewd camera angels of her. Of course,  if Itsuki and the doctor hooked up, that would just be regular, consensual sex without any morally reprehensible element of coercion, so of course this show wants nothing whatsoever to do with that.

To save this world (or fight the monsters in the labyrinth to get the shiny thing located in the chest on the bottom floor, who knows), Itsuki must impregnate 12 “Star Maidens,” of which his cousin Mahiru is one. The magical Star Children that result from these, err, encounters, will fight the monsters. Why can’t Itsuki just fight them off himself? He already has a magical sword, which is usually 95% of what you need to defeat JRPG monsters, so I’m a bit unclear if this whole baby factory is really necessary.

That aside, when Itsuki “impregnates” someone, that’s not really what happens; we’re told that the baby just “pops out,” presumably through a portal or something, so there’s no actual pregnancy and no process of childbirth. Damn, where do I sign up? I’d become a Star Maiden if it meant I could have another kid without going through all that nonsense again. Okay, so maybe I’m not a Holy Virgin or whatever (TMI?), but my Star Child would have many useful properties! Primarily, any child of mine is guaranteed to love the absolute fuck out of mindless dungeon-crawling, and if the game this show is based on is any indication, that’s something a hero in this universe is definitely going to need. Vote for Karen for Aries Star Maiden this November, I won’t let you down.

Anyway! These two cousins need to get it on, stat! And here’s where things start to get really hilariously awkward. The two of them are led to a bed, and Itsuki is wearing handcuffs because…why? It’s never explained, he’s just handcuffed for no reason. Then he tries to take off Mahiru’s halter top, but not only has he apparently never seen this item of clothing before, he seems to be unfamiliar with the concept of clothing in general. He seriously tries for like 10-20 seconds, with his handcuffed hands, to take off Mahiru’s top by pulling down on one of her little spaghetti straps, and this is when I started laughing out loud. Why doesn’t he just take the shirt off over her head? How did he get this old without knowing how shirts work?

I don’t think I can really explain just how bizarre and unsexy this is. This poor kid is being forced, essentially at gunpoint, to have sex with his cousin, except he’s handcuffed, has a fear of shirts, and both partners are being harassed by a horny stuffed animal who seems to have no role in the plot other than to recite sophomoric euphemisms for sex, non-stop. I mean, I’m sure one of the main criticisms this show is going to get is that it’s “really just porn,” or something like that, but I find it hard to believe that anyone is seriously aroused by this.

I mean, hey, I don’t judge: if you find this kind of thing really sexy, more power to you, I guess? But it’s about as intuitive as finding a scuba-diving giraffe sexy, it just doesn’t seem like it’s meant for that purpose.

So we don’t get to see the sex, because if there’s one thing you never get to see on one of these “really just porn” shows, it’s actual sexy times. Considering there’s 12 Star Maidens and 12 episodes to the season, it seems like a safe guess that each episode of this show will focus on Itsuki courting a different girl…except it isn’t really courting, because they have no choice in the matter. These girls have been raised from birth to create magic kids, so I’m not sure why there needs to be any preamble to the sex. Itsuki’s going to be like “It is time to make a Star Child,” and the girl will be like “Yes, time to do our duty to the Fatherland,” and then it will fade to black, for the sake of all the sex we’re not seeing, and will never get to see. What are they going to do with the other 23 minutes of the episode? It’s mysterious.

There really isn’t a good reason to recommend this show, but personally, I just have to see how they continue to make this allegedly fanservice-centered show the unsexiest thing in the universe. If this show were competent, there would be a place to discuss the disturbing implications of the coercive sex inherent in the premise, and so on and so forth. But this show is just too ridiculous for that; in order to be disturbed by it, you’d have to take it seriously for at least five seconds, and I don’t believe that’s possible.

This is actually supposed to be Itsuki’s crotch, we think, but whenever they zoom out, there’s no bulge and it just looks really weird. 

Lifesong:

When I think of Conception the first thing that comes to mind is now red boxers. I felt like half the episode was spent panning around the protagonist’s crotch. He’s stuck getting “examined” by some nurse, tied to a bed.

Why does the protagonist spend such a long time tied to a bed, you might ask? Well, they had to info-dump the dungeon crawling stuff somehow. Why not explain the how and why of magical baby-making with slow pans over a nurse leering at the dude’s package? There was even reciprocal leering! The protagonist leers at the nurse in her tight, form-fitting outfit while she leers at his red boxers. The whole thing reminded me of one of the bathing scenes from the Monogatari, only it wasn’t over-the-top enough to clue anyone in on the joke.

This first episode is funny. It’s funny because it’s awkward. It’s also lame, and lame because the storytelling is awful. It wants to be taken seriously, but doesn’t deserve any serious thought. I want to stress that those are two different things. It’s bad, but not because the comedy is failing. The storytelling is just super dumb; It’s the method more than the content. And on a certain level, that’s pretty damn impressive. I’m basically telling you that the storytelling is dumber than the premise.

I actually enjoyed this episode a good deal and I’d be lying if I said otherwise. I was laughing the entire time. I’ll almost certainly watch another episode or two. It’s so awkward it’s hilarious. It’s like a nerdy teenage who just hit puberty singing I’m Too Sexy completely off-key and expecting to be taken seriously.

As far as info dumps go I’ve seen worse than slow pans and service shots, but there was something special about the animation here. The magic was in the way the camera gets too close for anyone to actually be sure of what’s supposed to be on the screen. One more element to make the whole thing funnier than it should have been.

If I felt like this episode had been attempting comedy I’d be giving the staff two thumbs up…but I’m fairly certain it wasn’t. Some other elements like the protagonist forgetting how shirts work may have been intentionally awkward… I think they were going for sympathy with the protagonist’s I’m-about-to-get-laid panic, but it didn’t quite work. The mascot character was probably intended to be funny, but is actually the most cringe-worthy part of the whole episode.

I enjoyed Conception for all the wrong reasons. I remember enjoying the game Conception 2 back when it released– at least the first 10 hours or so, which is all I played of it. Now I’m wondering if that game’s story was equally dumb, or if this anime version of the franchise is just in a class all its own.

First Look: UzaMaid!

Lifesong:

Tsubame Kamoi is out hunting for a job where she can play dress up with a cute girl and she actually finds one.

Episode one did a good job of portraying the comedy dynamic between Tsubame and Misha, her new dressup doll… No, her new care-taking responsibility, that we can expect her to take completely seriously. The comedic timing was good. The jokes go into lolicon territory immediately, but were only uncomfortable; it never crossed the line in a way that made me feel like Misha was actually at risk. Dogo Kobo’s signature style added an extra touch of comedic personality to scenes.

The comedy works, but the comedy isn’t what I expect people to talk about or want to hear about. Tsubame is a bit of a creeper. Knowing that she was in the JSDF helps explain her personality and gives her some context, but doesn’t stop her from being creepy. Good if your okay with a comedy that makes you slightly uncomfortable… bad if well, you aren’t.

I felt that Tsubame’s over-the-top personality was more of a joke than a serious take on what makes her tick. Is she a lolicon, or does she love playing dress-up and likes to say things she shouldn’t? It’s worth pointing out that Tsubame has her own childish gym outfit that she is willing to wear out in public; that says a ton about her personality.

Okay, so she almost certainly has a clothing fetish for clothing designed to be worn for younger girls… that’s creepy in the context of caring for a young girl, but is it creepy enough to put Misha at risk? Based off the words coming out of Tsubame’s mouth? Yes, absolutely. Based off how she acts? Maybe.

I don’t want to justify the nonsense that comes out of Tsubame’s mouth. Instead I want to point out what I felt the episode was doing. By making Tsubame a source of discomfort for Misha we get a easy setup for a comedic struggle. It’s a struggle that works because it makes Misha an instantly sympathetic character. Tsubame’s part works because we aren’t sure how serious of a pervert this woman actually is. It’s a comedic dynamic that only works because it’s agnostic in defending Tsubame. It gives us reasons to think she might not be so bad and then drops a bomb on us near the end of the episode to question our own doubt. It’s a comedic bait-and-switch that works well for the tone this anime is setting up.

If you take Tsubame at face value then she is an unrepentant, creepy lolicon. If you are willing to look past face value? Who knows. I suspect that question will drive whatever story UzaMaid! has planned for us as Misha attempts to drive her off and fails, repeatedly.

The creeper hook worked. This show is funny and its uncomfortable undertones fuel the comedy. I’m curious to see if it can walk the balancing act of remaining funny in creepy territory. Based off what I saw in episode one, I suspect so.

Karen:

I’m confused about something here. The premise is that a woman with a Lolita complex ends up becoming a maid for a young girl, and hijinks ensue as the girl tries to avoid her aggressive new maid’s tender, err, affections. If you interpret that as this poor kid being saddled with a sexual predator as her caretaker, well, that’s pretty disturbing. Is that really what’s going on though?

Based on Tsubame’s behavior, what she really wants is to dote on Misha– feed her delicious food, dress her up in pretty dresses, pat her on the head, etc. She says some things that make it clear that she has a Lolita complex, but does she actually want to have sex with Misha, or do anything particularly sexual with her? It doesn’t seem like it to me. But if the whole premise is a lolicon taking care of a loli, and the lolicon doesn’t want to have sex with the loli, isn’t that kind of cheating on the writers’ part?

This dynamic is a lot less objectionable (to me, anyway) if Tsubame’s interest in Misha is portrayed as more aesthetic than anything else. If anything, it’s pretty clear that the story is going to be about the awkward transition between Tsubame going from, err…what she is, to becoming a mother figure for Misha, without presuming to try to replace her mother (since no one can do that.) Chances of any sexual activity between the two characters beyond the level of a hug is virtually nil; the question is, how far will they go in the process of poking fun at the idea?

Director Masahiko Oota has a slew of funny comedies under his belt (Gabriel DropOut, Sabegebu!, Love Lab) and Uzamaid benefits from excellent comic timing. This premiere episode is so funny and energetic, it’s easy to overlook the eyebrow-raising premise…for now. This show is going to need funny supporting characters to offer other sources of humor besides Tsubame’s obsession with her young charge, otherwise this isn’t going to sustain 3 episodes, let alone a whole season.

Considering Misha’s difficult emotional state, there is an opportunity for this show to do something genuinely poignant here– that is, if they don’t push the loli humor angle so far that viewers find it distasteful and give up on the show. Given this director’s track record, I think chances of Uzamaid finding the right balance are good, but you never know– they’re playing with fire here. Despite every redeeming point I’ve mentioned, if the main character were male (and it was called Uzabutler), this would be uncomfortable to the point of being downright unwatchable. Basically, only blatant sexism is making this show at all appealing, and I’m not offended by that so much as kind of amazed by it.

LB:

With a show like this, it’s best to go in with no preconceived notions and an open mind. Of course, the problem with this is that if you don’t watch it right away, the chatter will color your opinion regardless, so it’s a very tough balancing act. That being said, I went into this one with only the basic hope that it would be entertaining and in that regard, UzuMaid succeeds… barely.

The running gag with this series (if you weren’t already aware) is that the maid is a former master sergeant and a lolicon. She gets hired to be the maid for a young girl who recently lost her mother and spends most of the episode attempting to molest her mistress, and that’s supposed to be hilarious.

The good news is that there are some genuinely smirk-worthy moments in this first episode; mostly in the form of the young girl Misha reacting wildly to this incredibly buff, fearsome, warrior woman who has come into her life and doesn’t appear to be going anywhere at any point in the near future ( or at least for the next 11 to 12 episodes).

The problem is that so far, UzuMaid only knows how to do lolicon gags and even by the end of the first episode those were wearing thin. If this series doesn’t learn to do something new in a serious hurry, it’s going to lose its audience very quickly. At the moment, UzuMaid is a one trick pony and that trick isn’t even particularly good or funny.

I doubt that I’m going to stick with this one.

First Look: Goblin Slayer

Karen:

Lifesong warned me that there was going to be some really dark stuff at the beginning of this series, so I thought I was prepared for it. This is how I got through the first four seasons of Game of Thrones; I don’t like violence and gore, but if I know when the really bad parts are coming, I can emotionally steel myself, and then I’m generally okay. (In the case of GOT I had already read the books, so I knew where the gory parts were.) Unfortunately for me, even having a pretty good idea what to expect, I wasn’t really prepared for the level of violence on this show; after the fact, I kind of wish I hadn’t watched it.

That’s on me though. There’s a reason I haven’t watched Berserk, despite the praise it gets. There’s a reason why, even though I watched all of Claymore, I kind of wish that I hadn’t. It’s not Goblin Slayer‘s fault that I suddenly decided that I must have become less sensitive this stuff than I actually am.

Violence aside, there are some interesting ideas here. I like the fact that the scenario the show opens with is like a bog-standard JRPG opening: a party plans to go to a minor dungeon, fight some small monsters, get some coin, rinse and repeat. I think we’ve gotten so used to this scenario in both anime and games, that we forget that this still involves fighting monsters who are trying hard to kill you. Goblin Slayer is like a reminder that “Hey, you know all those games you play where you feel badass for beating up on Level 1 monsters? If those games had any realism at all, you would be dead the moment you made a mistake– because the monsters would fight back.” Maybe it’s not so bad to be reminded of that; that the fantasy media so many of us enjoy tends to lie to us about that, constantly.

I also appreciate the fact that the main character is a healer with limited abilities, as opposed to the standard fighter/ninja-type main character. Granted, by the end of the series she’ll probably get some kind of super-holy mega spell that immolates dozens of monsters at once, but for now, she’s extremely vulnerable. Considering the fact that the goblins prey on young women in particular, choosing to continue adventuring after learning about the danger she faces seems courageous almost to the point of insanity. What happened to her to make her so determined? Was she just born with a will of iron, or is there something in her backstory that was even more scary to her than a pack of murderous goblins?

As far as the sexual violence is concerned, I’m not sure what to think. I think the important question in situations like this is “do they show the horror of sexual violence without eroticizing it?” but even that question is more complex than it seems. You would think simply implying that sexual violence is going on without actually showing it is the least dangerous course, but in some respects that might be worse; because if you don’t show some aspect of the sexual part of sexual violence, then you’re glossing over what makes it so horrible. Is it worth sanitizing the sexual element of the violence, in order to prevent it from reading as erotic to some viewers, even at the risk of minimizing it? I don’t think there are any good answers to that question, and I’m suspicious of anyone who claims to have a simple answer.

Considering the fact that this show is just too dark to be in my wheelhouse, you’d think I’d drop it like a hot potato…but I’m not certain. At least if I watch it, I’ll get to see the party kill a lot of evil goblins; if I don’t watch, then in the back of my mind I’ll always be wondering what kinds of horrible stuff is going on in this world that I just can’t face. This is what happened with Claymore, by the way; I really wasn’t comfortable with the subject matter, but at some point, it felt like if I tried to drop it, I was just going to have nightmares wondering about what horrible things were happening in it, as opposed to just biting the bullet and getting it over with. That way, at least I got proper closure.

So…do I recommend this show? I don’t think I want to go on record as recommending it. However, if I’m engaged enough in the world that I still plan on watching it, isn’t that a form of approval? Perhaps more significant than saying “I like this/didn’t like this,”? I have no idea; I’m still trying to figure out how I feel. Ask me again in January how I feel about this series and I’ll probably have a better idea– assuming I’m not just hiding in a little ball in the corner at that point, whimpering to myself that I should have stopped this anime habit back in the Sailor Moon days.

Lifesong:

Goblin Slayer wastes no time showing us exactly how nasty goblins are. Kidnapping, rape and poison are just a few of their tricks.

I read the first chapter of the manga back when YenPress first picked it up, so I knew what I was getting into. To the anime’s credit, it does give several big hints that our band of adventurers aren’t prepared. The manga was far more shocking. Even knowing how the manga plays out, this first episode was hard to watch.

Goblins are nasty and goblin slaying is nasty. This first episode did a flawless job of selling both of those aspects. When asked the question “But what if there’s a good goblin?”,  the Goblin Slayer responds by saying they’ve already failed the alignment test when they leave their hole.

Goblin Slayer is the type of anime to draw a lot of attention from people who wish it didn’t exist. If you are in the “disturbing things shouldn’t be on TV” camp, then you aren’t going to like Goblin Slayer.

The story is well told. The storytelling attempts something brutal, and nails the delivery. Say what you like about the content, but it is compelling. I’m both curious and horrified to think about what other nasty things goblins get up to.

The justification given for wiping out goblins is hard to argue with. Where this anime excels is in making sure you want the Goblin Slayer to continue his job; That’s successful storytelling in my book. Even if you come away feeling too squeamish to watch more, the story accomplished its goals. Goblins are a nasty blight, and they need to go.

A Blog for Anime (and Other Stuff)

%d bloggers like this: