Sword Art Online Alternative, Episodes 7 and 8

I decided to do a double post again, since not that much happened in episode 7. LLENN’s new partner Fuka is a lot of fun to watch, especially because she’s a different kind of crazy from Pito, but still pretty darn crazy. It’s like level-headed LLENN is just a magnet for crazy people, and this is something she’s just going to have to deal with for the rest of her life. Anyway, despite the fact that the show insists on calling them Team LF (boring), to me they are Team Death By Loli, and I feel good about it.

Earlier in the series I mentioned that I really don’t care about Pito, and that’s still true; I mean, I think her obsession with in-game death is somewhat interesting, but she could drop out of the story tomorrow and I wouldn’t really care. Now I’m trying to figure out if the fact that I don’t care about her is really hurting the story at this point. Technically LLENN is trying to save Pito, so being invested in Pito’s fate would make for a better story, right? But Pito is functioning as an antagonist in the competition, so it’s not like the show is asking me to root for her.

Pito is not a very nice lady, and probably a few fries short of a Happy Meal. Now if only I found her as interesting as the players of GGO seem to.

I want LLENN to succeed in defeating Pito and M in the Squad Jam for Karen’s sake, but considering the fact that Pito and M could jump off a cliff together and I wouldn’t care, it’s hard to feel like a lot is riding on the outcome of this competition. I imagine we’re going to learn something about Pito’s tragic backstory soon that will make us care about her, but I’m not sure I want that to happen; it would be refreshing if she were just a psychopath, straight-up, and that’s all there is to her. Like the show fades into a flashback, and we’re waiting to find out that her father neglected her as a child or something, and then it turns out her past was totally normal and she just really wants to die in a video game for some reason.

See, I complain that I don’t care about Pito, then I complain that I don’t want to care about her…so what do I want? What do women want? What do anime bloggers want? I don’t know. I think this setup, with LLENN being all “Don’t you dare die before I KILL YOU, Pito!” is clever and makes good use of the premise, but emotionally, it’s lacking.

Why do things look insanely cool the more physically implausible they would be in real life? I’m a sucker for the whole landing-on-the –sword/gun move, and it’s really stupid. I can’t help it though, it looks badass.

I do appreciate the fact that we jumped into SJ2 pretty fast with very little messing around beforehand, but as a result, it seems like Fuka had barely any time to get used to playing GGO. She says that she practiced lobbing grenades for hours, but is that really enough time to develop the mastery of the weapon that she has? After all, the people playing in SJ2 are supposed to be the cream of the crop, people who’ve been mastering this game for months, if not years; it seems a little convenient that Fuka got that good that fast. I guess we just have to assume that Miyu is a very talented gamer, no matter what she’s playing.

Was it really necessary to go for the crotch-kill, LLENN? I think she’s just showing off for her fangirls at this point.

So now we’re waiting for Pito to slaughter a bunch of foolish opponents; I hope the way she does it is suitably clever, because we’ve been hearing for a while what a good player Pito is supposed to be, but we’ve never really seen it. If it involves using one or more members of her team as a suicide bomber, I’m buying myself ice cream for being smart and seeing it coming.

My level of interest in this show is dropping a little, but it’s still enjoyable enough; it’s just not giving me a whole lot to talk about at the moment. I do hope that sometime before the end of the season, we see the girls’ rhythmic gymnastics team at a tournament or something, and they’re all busy on their laptops playing GGO and totally ignoring whatever they’re supposed to be doing.

“Ladies, what are you doing? it’s time for the synchronized baton-twirling prelims! Get your leotards ready!”

“Shut up Coach, we got sassy bitches to shoot!”

“But girls, we’ve practiced for months for this competition and–”

“Oh FUCK it’s that blonde chick with the twin grenade launchers, everybody hide under the truck!” *Cue Massive Explosion* “Damn You, Death By Loli!”

DARLING in the FRANXX, Episodes 11-15

Now that we’re getting into some story reveals, my enthusiasm for this show has dampened somewhat. I’m still enjoying it a lot, but it’s not going quite where I hoped it would go.

The childhood flashback episode was almost very poignant, but was spoiled by being just a little too perfect. I can just about buy that Hiro and 02 met as children and then were forced to forget, since they were both different from the other “specimens” and thus would have been drawn to each other, but the framing device of the storybook was just a little bit much. I guess 02’s nameless caretaker cared about her enough to try to teach her something about her place in the world, but the whole story is just a little too on the nose for my liking.

I think I would have preferred it if Hiro wasn’t her original “Darling”; if Darling was a random parasite hopeful who wasn’t promising enough and was culled from the herd. Then it would be really bittersweet that 02 keeps trying to recreate Darling, because she’s latched onto him as an idea rather than a person. That said, if they’d gone that route, they wouldn’t have had a good explanation for why Hiro is so well-matched to 02 as a pilot; having ingested her blood at a young age, it seems like it acted as a vaccine, so the later trauma of bonding with her was less damaging to him than it was to the other pilots, allowing him to survive it. Still, the whole thing is just wrapped in a neat little bow, which takes away from it. I don’t want this story to be neat: I want it to be messy and visceral.

The most interesting thing to me about the childhood flashback (other than Chibi-02 being painfully adorable of course), was the fact that Hiro’s outgoing personality and inquisitive nature were seen as curious and worrisome to his handlers. Being in that kind of love-free environment wouldn’t be good for any child’s natural development, so it makes sense that the other kids weren’t exactly cheerful and curious. However, the fact that Hiro seems to be the only curious child ANYONE had encountered makes me wonder if they’ve actually been breeding these kids to be compliant. Maybe the whole reason Hiro was a “special” specimen wasn’t anything related to his parasite ability, but the fact that he’s a throwback to a time before children were emotionally stunted.

Speaking of human development, we get something that looks like a fetus inside one of the defeated Klaxosaur cores, so it looks like the Klaxosaurs are a product of human meddling with nature. I kind of hope the story is more complicated than “Man tried to make himself more powerful, only the child of his creation turned on him!” but it looks like that’s where this is going. To be fair, the idea of Klaxosaurs as the nightmare children of humans would fit in well with this whole series theme of sex/conception.

After episode 15, I’m a little confused about what’s going on with Hiro and 02, physically. Let me try to lay this out: Hiro met 02 as a child and ingested her blood, effectively vaccinating himself against her influence, then was brainwashed into forgetting her. 02 was also brainwashed, but less completely, so she still remembered the existence of her “Darling,” but probably not precisely what he looked like. So she keeps hoping every new partner will turn out to be the real Darling, only to be disappointed again and again.

So she acts like Hiro is her real Darling, but deep down, she doubts it, which comes to light when she says that he’s just fodder for her. Then after Strelizia enables the shared flashback, she realizes he is THE Darling and she’s been using him like any other partner. The thing is, even if she knew he was the real Darling, wouldn’t she use him the exact same way?

Then again, when Strelizia fully activates after the two remember their shared past, she looks different; she’s all red, like 02 is no longer fighting her monster nature. So maybe knowing who the pilot is, 02 functions differently, and as a result, is no longer draining the life out of Hiro? Part of me wishes that this had been explained and part of me is just as happy that it’s left vague, since any explanation probably would have been tedious. I think the bottom line is supposed to be, “They love each other, therefore the robot magic works SUPER GOOD now!” and trying to think about it any harder than that is probably a mistake.

The big fight against the gargantuan Klaxosaur was very effective, with the OP song doing a lot of heavy lifting. I know that playing the first OP during a climactic fight scene is an old trick, but it works particularly well here, because Kiss of Death is so well-suited to this show. I think it communicates the feeling of frenzied desperation you would feel if you were fighting for your life; Kiss me now, because we’ll probably be dead tomorrow.

And then there’s the giant baby hand and uh…I’m not sure. Maybe there’s a giant baby Klaxosaur incubating in the ground, and all the little Klaxosaurs are just there to protect it. Maybe the Klaxosaurs started having babies because humans stopped, and if the humans want to beat the Klaxosaurs for good, the answer is not fighting them, but Kokoro’s “Your First Childbirth” book. I think that’s ultimately where this is going, I’m just not sure exactly how.

Amanchu!~Advance~, Episodes 8 and 9

Yeah So, that didn’t turn out well at all. I would say Amanchu! jumped the shark, except if sharks had been involved in any capacity, the girls would’ve been in or near the ocean, which would have made for much better episodes than what we got. This is, perhaps, the one instance where having the characters jump over a shark would have been thoroughly appropriate, which is pretty special.

I was willing to give this storyline the benefit of the doubt after episode 7, but episode 8 was a drag, and then I groaned out loud when I realized there was still another episode of this yet to come. There are some good ideas here, but everything is just ridiculously slow and drawn out, and Ai doesn’t make for a very interesting lead character compared to Teko and Pikari. So far, the Ninomiya twins have mainly been there to fill out the ranks of the diving club and get in a few jokes here and there, and now we’re suddenly supposed to really, really care about Ai? It doesn’t work.

Pikari and Teko look about as engaged as I feel. I also don’t like how Teko is now a hypnotist who can send you back into a dream you woke up from; they’re taking this lucid dreaming thing too far.

I wonder if I’m being unfair to the show; like I’ve put it in a tiny little box, thinking “This show can only tell THIS type of story,” and then I get mad when the creators try to do something different. However, in this case, I don’t think it’s the fact that the show attempted this storyline that was the problem, it was how it was done. I think this could have worked very well as one clever, tightly-scripted episode, but at 3 episodes everything is just stupidly drawn-out and over-explained. For all the impact they had on the story, Pikari and Teko’s roles could have been excised entirely.

What’s interesting about this arc to me is that it reminds me very much of a Doctor Who episode, translated to the Amanchu setting. If you know anything about DW, then you know that a lot of the most highly-regarded episodes* are the ones that jump right into the story and never really slow down (Blink and Girl in the Fireplace immediately come to mind.) If this story had started right in the thick of things, with Ai and Peter in Neverland, without all the filler nonsense about juice boxes and what have you, it would’ve been much more compelling.

Apparently Cait Sith here ties these episodes together to ARIA, another show by the same author. I suppose this kind of thing is nice if you happen to be a big ARIA fan, but it doesn’t make the arc any better, otherwise.

Still, if this arc had to be 3 episodes long for some reason, there’s a lot of wasted potential here. It’s a major plot point that Neverland is filling with water, yet the water never gets above ankle-deep; why not fill Neverland with water, and have the girls dive in it? Showing the girls diving through a fantasy landscape could have led to some inspired art, and would have done a lot to make this arc feel connected with the rest of the show. No, instead we get more of the girls flying on brooms, because JC Staff is just on a Flying Witch kick this month.

I wanted Mato-chan-sensei to get a backstory; now she has one, but it has nothing to do with anything else on the show and doesn’t really do anything for her character. That’s just sad. Also sad is the fact that Ai sacrificing her happiness for Mato-chan by giving up her love has no weight to it whatsoever, since it never really felt like Ai was in love with Peter in the first place. It should have been a strong character moment for her, but instead it just felt empty.

Now Mato-chan is going to get some lovin’ and I’m not even excited about it, what the hell?

Worst of all, you can sum up this whole arc with “Ai’s panties save the world,” and that’s just…that’s just not right. I don’t think I’m a prude– well okay, maybe I am, but I’m self-aware about it– but I think having this whole drama hinge on a guy getting a look at Ai’s panties is just in poor taste. That’s the kind of thing that works in raunchy anime romcoms, where the absurdity is part of the fun, but here it’s just stupid.

I said that this show had won my eternal allegiance after Episode 3, and I think that’s still true; one bad arc did not make the good episodes cease to exist, after all. But darnit, show, stop pushing your luck, because I don’t think I can take another group of episodes like this.

*I’m referring to 2005-era Doctor Who; I’ve seen some episodes from earlier eras, but I’ve only ever really been a fan of the modern incarnation.

Tomb Raider II, Level 2: Venice

So my last Tomb Raider-related blog post was, uh *checks watch,* seven years ago. Look, you can see this as me being lazy and abandoning a project for too long, or you can see it as me valiantly attempting to combat the view that popular entertainment is disposable by refusing to bow to the quiet tyranny of time; the choice is yours.

The Urban Problem

I have a lot of problems with Venice, in fact with this whole Venetian level set, and it makes me feel kind of bad. I know these levels are largely beloved by fans, and I wish I could feel the same. But from the first time I played this level, back in 1998, I found it tedious and frustrating, and I’ve never been able to shake that feeling. Even now, when I have the level mostly memorized and can zip through it pretty fast, I still find it frustrating.

The first problem is that urban environments present practical problems for Tomb Raider, as a franchise. If we’re supposed to be in a city, where are all the people? Well, there are lots of gun-toting Bartoli henchman, but where all the non-packing, non-insane people? Putting in neutral NPCs would probably create as many problems as it would solve, but it still feels weird to be running around a city where no one lives; it’s kind of antithetical to the whole concept of the series, really. The whole set up of Tomb Raider implies that you don’t run into any people, because they all died thousands of years ago; when you’re in a modern city, and there’s still no people, you’re reminded of the artificiality of the situation pretty bluntly.

Yes, in the back of your mind, even in the first game, you always know you’re playing a video game; it’s not like making TRII Venice look more populated would really change that. But I think it’s safe to say that Tomb Raider achieves a higher level of immersion when set in, err, tombs, versus modern environments. Interestingly I think they pulled this off better with the London levels in Tomb Raider III, since in that level set, it felt like it was about 4:30 A.M. there and Lara was exploring mostly abandoned buildings anyway, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

The first vehicle you can ride in all of Tomb Raider and I…don’t like it too much. Maybe this is just me, but I feel like I’m constantly getting on an off the damn thing when I don’t want to, and it happens a lot less with later vehicles.

The second major problem is I think the level’s primary puzzle is a bit too clever for its own good. Maybe I’m just mad that I blew up Lara about a zillion times on the mines trying to clear this level as a teen, but I still think the boat puzzle is too hard to figure out without the aid of a strategy guide. I mean, this is the first TR level in history where they even give you a vehicle, and you’re supposed to figure out a)that you can completely destroy it and b)you can jump out of it at the last second before an explosion? My memory is a little hazy, but I think at the time, I thought you were supposed to improve your speedboat piloting skills to the point where you could navigate between the mines; obviously, this didn’t work out so hot for me.

On one hand, I complain that this puzzle is too unintuitive. On the other, I know that if this game were made today, NPCs and in-game prompts would probably give you about 47 hints about what you were supposed to do, and there would be no satisfaction when you solved it. Maybe I’m just never happy?

Eventually I destroyed one boat pretty much by luck, and forgot the second one existed, so I completed the level the wussy-way; swimming through the gate and completely missing the harried boat ride through half the level. Imagine my surprise when I started the next level and Lara was in yet another speedboat.

Is it possible that very few players were stymied by this puzzle, and I was just being dense? I guess it’s possible. Besides, I have to admit, when you do know what you have to do and you succeed with the timed boat challenge– complete with taking your boat to places where boats are definitely not meant to go– it is pretty darn satisfying.

The Joy of Awning Hopping

It’s hard for me to see past the negatives with this level, mostly because of bad memories from 20 years ago messing with my perception. However, if I give Venice a fair shake, there are some really nice elements here. Jumping from awning to awning is much more fun than it should be; same with jumping up to the fancy glass windows, shooting them out and then running inside. Somewhere out there, there is custom level that’s all about jumping on awnings and shooting out fancy windows on raised overpasses, and I really need to be playing it right now.

I also like the secret placement; sure, burying two little dragons in the black depths of an underwater catacomb is a little harsh, but if you haven’t figured out by this point in the game that they’ve been handing you buckets of flares for a reason, that’s on you.

Once you get this mysterious door open, that’s when the fun starts. I can never get enough of scouring dark catacombs for shiny things, especially when there are lots and lots of shiny things.

Have I mentioned that love collecting flares in this game? I feel like they’re the closest thing to money in the game, so my hoarding instinct takes over;  I’m pretty sure I’ve finished the game with 60+ flares in my inventory. It’s like a game-within-a-game to see how well I can get along with stumbling around in complete and total darkness without using the obvious tool. Hey, did you know that in a pinch, you can use your pistols instead? Lara’s pistols illuminate the area around her briefly, so if you fire them like they’re tiny little machine guns, you can almost see where you’re going for a little while there. Sadly, this does not work underwater, which is where you tend to need flares the most, but oh well.

Speaking of the swimming element, it’s cool to be swimming along, pull up on a dock, shoot some henchmen, jump back in the water and get on with your day. In practice I always get Lara shot about twice as often as she needs to and end up getting frustrated, but that doesn’t change the fact that the idea of it is cool.

Is there some kind of theme park attraction where you’re in an entirely floating city, and you can climb up on the dock to buy ice cream or something, but then jump back in the water to swim to the next attraction? Because that sounds like it would be insanely fun. I may have to stop playing Tomb Raider for a bit and petition all my local waterparks to implement this feature.

Best: Hands down, the best part of the level SHOULD be doing the timed boat race, which is really innovative and feels exhilarating when you pull it off, but as you now know, I have a love-hate relationship with that puzzle. So instead, I’m going to say that the best part is the whole sewer-like area you enter after getting the first speedboat; you may burn through flares like mad, but it’s a blast finding all of the hidden items and secrets. Those uzi clips nearly buried in the sand in a dark corner underwater…*chef’s kiss*

Worst: The excessive number of enemies in the first area, especially the one that pops up after you pull the switch in the boathouse. We’re just getting used to fighting human enemies in TR2, and you throw like five of these bozos at us? Plus mean dogs? No thank you.

Rating: Two Uzi Clips Out of Five

This is my honest opinion; please don’t hurt me.

Coming Next: Bartoli’s Hideout, where I’m going to try to put aside all my issues with Venice as a whole and just play the damned level.

(Screenshots from Katie’s Tomb Raider Screenshots; used with permission.)

Food Wars! The Third Plate, Episode 20

After last week’s barnstormer of an episode, this one was a much more quiet affair, focusing on the kids developing the teamwork they need to win a Team Shokugeki. After a whole show full of arrogant young cooks insisting that their food is the best, it was kind of nice to see the kids pointing at each other and saying “You made the best dish,” “No, YOU did!” and really meaning it. That’s probably too much growth for them to demonstrate just based on one mock battle, but what can I say; Erina’s Grandpa is just that good.

They look so good together…but wait, I want Soma and Megumi together, right? I need to close my eyes and think of Megumi.

Something’s been bugging me about the dish of the week though. Apparently, the three main components of Hachis Parmentier are spiced ground meat, creamy mashed potatoes, and baked cheese. Um…how do you go wrong with that exactly? You’d almost have to be trying to screw that up. Soma even throws sardines in it, for some reason, and still doesn’t manage to ruin it.

This Week’s Food Porn: A giant ball of meat, mashed potatoes, and cheese. Because it takes several great chefs to make that taste good, right?

This Week’s Food Porn Part II: Team Saiba’s version of the same dish, which was so far afield of the original, they should have probably been disqualified. Lucky for Soma, I don’t make the rules.

There’s also a good bit here about Erina learning to improvise for the first time, which is pretty amazing if you think about it. She’s devoted her entire life to cooking, yet because of her rigid upbringing, she’s never just experimented in the kitchen; everything she has ever made has been either from a recipe, or so premeditated that it may as well have been. It’s like there are no limits to the sadness that is Erina’s life.

After the Mock Battle which was really more of a Mock Cookout of Respect and Friendship, the rebels and Azami’s faction meet for a Shokugei Rules Powow. Everybody can use as many team members as they want, but it seems like they can only choose from enrolled Totsuki members, so the rebels don’t have the option of getting help from their expelled friends. I think Gin and Soma’s Dad are also competing in this battle, which seems odd, but I’ll wait to see how that plays out.

Azami tries to claim that Erina has to compete on his side since, as one of the Elite 10, she is technically part of Central. To be fair to Azami, I don’t think he actually expected her to give into that, because he doesn’t seem remotely surprised when she tells him to go shove it. Erina gives up her rank so she has no ties to the Elite 10 or Central, which would be a powerful gesture…if she weren’t already internationally known as the God Tongue. They actually need her more than she needs them, but it is a strong moment for her asserting her independence against her domineering Dad, and I don’t want to nitpick too much.

The Food Goddess That Shouted “I” At The Top of Hokkaido

Then Erina agrees to do whatever her Dad tells her for the rest of her life if her team loses, and uh, what? I feel like someone should have stepped in there and said “Waitaminute Erina, think about this, you don’t have to promise him that!” then again Saiba has already agreed to basically become Azami’s love slave if he loses, so I guess we’re just at the level of ridiculous stakes now. I’m wondering if Saiba’s gambit is to lose, but in the process of the match, warm Azami’s frozen heart so much that he becomes a good person and doesn’t enact these ridiculous punishments. I mean, that would be lame as hell, but maybe more sensible than Saiba being just that sure that he’ll win.

I know I’m back on the Rindou-obsession train, but most of the interesting stuff in this episode had to do with her. Not only does she do a great job of dressing down Eizan while pretending to defend him, but she specifically says goodbye to Soma at the Rules Powow, and no one else. I wasn’t really serious that time I said she could be Soma’s sister, but now I’m beginning to wonder…that red hair/yellow eyes combination isn’t common, even in AnimeLand. Do we know anything about Soma’s Mom? I honestly don’t remember if we ever learned about her during the previous seasons.

Okay, so this episode may have killed the momentum a little bit, but I’m still looking forward to the Team Shokugeki. I have a sneaking suspicion that next episode is going to be filler, but hopefully I’ll be wrong, and they’ll be starting the competition before the opening credits. And maybe Rindou will cook something, and then I can have a pony.