Tag Archives: Fall 2018

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.

First Look: The Girl In Twilight

Karen:

This show has some unique little touches that make me want to like it, but it’s missing a hook. I’ve seen one episode, the second one has actually been up on HiDive for a few days now, and I’ve felt zero urge to watch it. I probably will at some point, but more out of a questionable sense of trying to be fair to the show than out of genuine curiosity.

And that’s a shame, because there should be a draw here. People using old-fashioned radios to travel to snowy in-between dimensions where they meet battle-hardened doppelgängers of themselves should be interesting, but somehow it just misses the mark here. The alternate dimension the girls stumble their way into just isn’t that interesting; it’s just a snowy plain with some monsters. The magical girl/resistance fighter version of the lead character should be intriguing, but so far she’s just a boring character, dour and serious to a fault. I want to say that the battle scene in this episode was good, but I’m not even sure; it was reasonably well animated, but felt generic somehow.

I think the main problem is that the characters just don’t pull you in. There’s definitely attempts to give them personalities; I appreciate the fact that there’s one girl who acts like she’s completely above all this silly occult stuff, but never fails to participate. Asuka’s obsession with chikuwa (a kind of processed fish paste) could be cute, but they overdo it to the point where it’s annoying. Somehow, even with the obvious effort made to keep the girls’ personalities distinct, it doesn’t quite take.

The one thing I do really like is the radio angle; amateur radio is this whole world unto itself that very few people know about these days, and I think it’s a really good subject to use as fodder for a sci-fi story. My dad uses a ham radio, and sometimes he’ll pick up nothing, and sometimes he’ll end up in a long conversation (in Morse code, of course), with someone from Lithuania or something. Like, ham radio is already kind of creepy and mysterious to me in real life, imagine what someone could do with it if they were actually trying to make it interesting.

There’s really nothing egregiously wrong with this show, but there’s nothing great about it either, and there’s way too much competing for my attention to keep up with something mediocre. If the second episode brings some much-needed excitement to this, I’ll keep up with it. If not, it’s out of chances to win me over.

Lifesong:

Asuka wants to go to another world and after some antics she and her friends actually pull it off. Weird scifi elements all relating back to sound waves and timelines get thrown around. It all felt careless at first, but I suspect it will come back into play later on as the story progresses.

So far Asuka doesn’t have a particularly good reason for wanting to go to another world. She and her friends seem to be trying it out more because they are board and want to try out something new. Maybe it’s an excuse to do something as friends. Each of them seem to have their own expectations of it.

When this group of friends ultimately end up in another world things get weirder. Asuka meets another version of herself fighting some sort of digital monster. I found it strange that an old analog tape recorder is what transfers the girls into this other world. The enemies explode into digital pieces Sword Art Online style when they die. There were other hints of digital things that caught my eye. The contrast of analog and digital makes for an interesting if not exactly compelling visual gimmick.

The Girl in Twilight took a very low key, subdued approach to storytelling for this first episode. Even with an action scene to pump some adrenaline into the mid point of the episode it felt low on energy. It knew what it was doing well enough to introduce elements that are interesting. It managed to make Asuka an immediately likable character with minimal effort. I like the approach, but I’m worried the story will become boring. We need something more exciting to take this story from mildly interesting up to compelling. Episode one fell short of that mark.

I had expected the story would be written by Kotaro Uchikoshi, but that isn’t the case. As it turns out the original concept is his, but Shogo Yasukawa handles writing the script. Perhaps that helps explain the difference in tone from other works by Kotaro Uchikoshi. Or maybe they wanted to do something different and I’m not completely on board for it.

The sense of mystery and the odd group of friends who don’t seem to take life seriously have my attention. I liked the odd visual gimmicks and potential mystery. It just wasn’t compelling. This anime will need to throw a more compelling hook at me within the next few episodes if it wants to keep me around.

First Look: Sword Art Online III, Alicization

Lifesong:

Digital spirituality is a theme that’s had hints in past story arcs. This is the first time the show addresses the idea so directly. All the jargon Kirito was throwing around as he explained where soul lives in the human mind was a bit much. The system he’s been helping to test didn’t immediately click into place with the story like I felt it should, and I had a strong urge to pull out a book on neuroscience by the end of it all. I guess that’s that not an awful thing for an anime to accomplish, but it felt a bit weird. I don’t mind some technobabble, but I don’t know enough to appreciate it yet.

Child Kirito in Underworld was an interesting way to start the new season. I felt like it wasn’t a particularly good hook, but the end of the episode made up for that. I have a feeling I’ll be going back through the first 25 minutes of this episode in a few weeks. There were a dozen concepts thrown around. They seemed important, but didn’t connect to anything I’m aware of in the SAO universe. Once the story has started to develop a bit more and I understand what the Taboo Index is, I’ll want to look back. For now, I’ll be happy to know why Alice and Eugeo are important enough to warrant so much early attention.

I was a little put off by the way the show starts without giving context. A few hints at who Alice and Eugeo are or why I should care would have been awesome. Why do I need to care about them? Overall I still liked their story, I just found the introduction odd.

I loved the short GGO sequence that followed immediately after Kirito leaves Underworld and reunites with his friends; Lightsaber Asuna was looking badass in her GGO attire. The vehicular mini-gun seemed like a perfect fit for Silica. It was good fun to see this cast again and begin a new adventure with them, and nearly everyone got a chance to show up and contribute something here.

That ending… Kirito and Asuna are all having a sappy moment, talking about their future and American… Kirito is all excited about leaving Kayaba Akihiko’s influence on behind to focus on the future. BAMN, bad things. You’ll need to watch to know what those are. I guess the story wouldn’t be as interesting if that worked out too easily for them.

It was a bit of a rough start, but not an uninteresting one. I’m super exited to see where this story arc is going.

LB:

Without a single doubt in my mind, SAO III was my ‘go to’ this season. No matter what other dreck the season churned out, this was my golden, shining ray of hope. Something that I could undoubtedly look forward to. Well, the first episode is out. Does it live up to the lofty standards that I’ve come to hold for this series?

Starting things off, it should be noted that SAO III starts with a double-length premiere which begins with Kirito as a child in a strange fantasy village with two other young children. Over the course of the first half, these children face a big event which separates them in a very dramatic fashion. Flash forward to the present and we learn that Kirito is testing a new piece of full-dive equipment which stimulates a person’s soul (which apparently resides in little tubes inside someone’s brain).

This was not an easy episode to get into. I absolutely understand why they went with an hour-long premiere, there was just so much that had to be told right away and there was no way to do it in only 25 minutes. That said though, with absolutely zero context given for why we were seeing the events of the first half until late in the episode, there is going to be a lot of confusion from longtime fans who haven’t yet read the light novels. Then Kirito’s technical monologue about soul technology in the second half made my head hurt even more, which did this episode absolutely zero favors. I get that they were trying their best to cram in a lot of information that the audience needed to know right away but good gods, that speech absolutely killed me.

Additionally, it should be noted that this is not a season for newbies to try and jump into the middle of. All throughout the episode, the series references major events of the past two seasons and does absolutely nothing to remind viewers of what happened during those events, so if you’re not already up to date on SAO history and lore, you’re flying SOL.

That said though, there were still a ton of fantastic things in this episode that fans of the franchise will adore. Besides the story set up, there are a couple of fun action sequences that remind us that Kirito and Asuna are badasses who don’t take any crap from anyone. Specifically, I’m talking about Asuna in her GGO gear kicking ass with a laser sword to take out another group.

Overall, this is the same SAO that we’ve come to know and love. While the first episode gets off to a bit of a rocky start due to the sheer amount of exposition we’re forced to swallow, I have absolutely zero doubts that the next year is going to be completely and totally worth it.

Karen:

For a fan-favorite series, it’s kind of impressive that SAO would do something as potentially alienating to its fanbase as start out with a mysterious, half-hour-long sequence that does nothing but baffle everyone. Of course, this is the show that started out in season one by skipping two years of story continuity in Aincrad, with only the barest acknowledgement, so I really shouldn’t be surprised at this point. SAO takes a lot of risks that I still don’t feel like it gets proper credit for.

I was spoiled for this season, because I knew what was going to happen to Kirito at the beginning of this arc; I don’t know anything that happens afterward, but I knew that going in. So I spent this whole episode waiting for Kirito to get stabbed, and it kind of became this weird horror movie experience. It was actually a relief at the end of the episode when it finally happened, because then I could stop worrying about it.

This arc looks like it’ll be dealing with really huge themes, like the nature of the human soul and how far artificial intelligence can be pushed to resemble human intelligence. This is a good thing, because it’s really interesting territory for just about everyone (who isn’t interested in the future of AI?), but it’s also fraught with peril. I mean, do we really want SAO attempting to explain things like where the human soul exists in the body, and the nature of sentience, etc.? I mean, maybe Kirito is not the person I want exploring the subjects that humanity’s brightest minds have been grappling with for eons, you know? Maybe Kirito is not that guy.

Still, even if this storyline ultimately fails, it’s pretty much guaranteed to be a really ambitious failure, and I can get behind that.

On a more casual note, it was nice to see the whole gang together again. Early on, the strength of SAO was in the setting, and the characters were kind of perfunctory, but I’ve grown fond of them over time. I don’t stay up at night wondering what Klein or Liz do during the day, but I still smile a little bit when both of them show up…not to mention Silica with a Jeep-mounted machine gun; that was inspired.

Asuna I do care about a little more, seeing how she’s grown over time, and seeing her in GGO wielding a sword was gratifying. I wonder: can Asuna perform Mother’s Rosario in GGO? I need to know the answer; SAO, please don’t make me wait on this. Mother’s Rosario can make me cry, and I need to know if I should have tissues handy during any future GGO sequences.

Another interesting note was how Agil was just hanging out unobtrusively in the background while Kirito gave his whole “Let me tell you how human souls work” speech. Bet you $10 that it’s going to end up being significant that Agil heard that conversation, and he’s going to use that info to end up saving everyone’s asses, since that’s what he does. Best coffee shop barista/ bartender ever.

I’m withholding judgement on the whole Alice-in-Wonderland theme until I have a better idea what they’re doing with it, but on the whole, I’m excited to see if this series can really do something with these high concept, unapologetically intellectual themes while doing them real justice. Oh, and I hope that Kirito gets better and stuff, if he dies that really messes up my headcanon for everything that’s supposed to happen later on in Accel World.

Otakusphere (not) Weekly Episode 29

Look, it’s another new episode of the podcast just a week after the last one! If we can keep this up, the name of the podcast is going to become “Otakusphere (kinda?) Weekly.”

This week, we were really busy discussing the first episodes of the Fall 2018 shows. Key questions that occupied us: Should Sword Art Online really be talking about the nature of the human soul? What did English-speaking peoples do to A Certain Magical Index III to piss it off? Should Crunchyroll have some kind of a content warning for Goblin Slayer? (Spoiler: YES). And does Studio Trigger forever deserve it’s reputation for jerky animation after Kill La Kill, even something like 5 years later? All this, and more, on this episode of Otakusphere (Occasionally) Weekly!

Note: The director of Uzamaid! is Masahiko Oota, director of Himouto! Umaru-chan and like half of all comedy anime.

First Look: Between the Sky and Sea

Karen:

So, let me see if I understand the premise here. There are no fish in the oceans left on Earth, so the Japanese made giant water balls full of fish in space so they can still have fish for sushi. In addition to having the technology to somehow create these giant space aquariums, they’re also capable of going back and forth from space via rocket whenever they want. So far, it seems like we’re dealing with a pretty high level of technological achievement here, right? Go, future Japan!

However, in this glistening hi-tech world, somehow, all of the lore of fishing– including simple concepts like “bait” and “nets”– has apparently been lost. For some reason, the only way to procure a fish to make into a delicious Crunchy Tuna Roll is to beat it up; and not just beat it up, but beat it up in a mech. And not just beat it up in a mech, but beat it up in a mech powered by a deity you summoned from your smart phone.

Unfortunately, deity-enhanced-vehicular-fish-homicide is a man’s world, meant for manly men who don’t think twice about punching a Beluga whale in the face with a magical truncheon. Now a bunch of young girls, featuring lots of pluck and significant cleavage, want to prove that they can fuck up space fish just as well as any man, thank you very much. Except how can they prove their mettle in pitched tuna-to-mech combat when the completely untrained Haru hasn’t even installed the God app on her cell phone, and giant, bellicose crustaceans are on hand to crush the women’s empowerment movement ONCE AGAIN?

Jesus Christ, this show is ludicrous. From the beginning, I thought this might be a semi-serious sci-fi series, albeit a very optimistic one. Then we got to summoning Gods with your phone and I had no idea what this show even was anymore.

It’s pretty clear that we’re supposed to be feeling righteous indignation over the way the male fisherman treat the female cadets, but the old-fashioned sexism just seems so out of place in this setting. You mean, in a world where they have space travel, enabled by female mathematicians, and they still don’t realize that women can perform traditionally male jobs? Or does this anime take place in an alternate universe where women have done nothing but cook and have babies for the entirety of human history, but they somehow have The Jetsons-level technology anyway? If that’s the premise, in some ways that’s even more bizarre than the whole space fishing thing.

I can’t deny that this episode was entertaining, but mostly because I couldn’t believe the logic of what was supposed to be happening. The main character’s cluelessness annoyed me; I understand how that kind of character can be charming if handled properly, but her excessive ditziness just made me think that she really isn’t cut out for space fishing. The other characters didn’t make much of an impression, except for the female teacher, who just seemed overexcitable and unprofessional. Based on the way the female characters act, it’s almost like the men are right to assume that they can’t do an actual job.

Is it wrong if I watch this show rooting for the girls to fail, and hoping that the sexist oaf fishermen dudes end up being right about everything? Okay, I know that’s not how this works and the girls are going to end up being the very best space fishermen ever by the end of it, but wouldn’t it be kind of hilarious if it didn’t work out that way? Like, in episode 12, Haru was just like “Wow, space fishing is really hard if you’re a girl! My feminine little hands can’t even grasp the controls! I think I’ll just go back home and marry my cousin, that sounds easier.”

So yeah, I’m watching this show in the hopes that everyone fails miserably in their goals. This is usually called hate-watching, but you can’t hate a show where people fight space fish using magical spears; you just can’t. There is nothing hateful or hatable about this show, it’s just really bizarre that it exists and the fact that it’s based on a cell phone game doesn’t seem like a good enough reason for said existence. I will admit that the underwater environments are rather pretty, and that’s going to be my excuse for the 3-4 hours of my life that I will now waste on this series.

LB:

One thing I love about anime is that every time you think Japan has run out of ideas and is in a slump, something comes along to completely shatter that perception. In this series about grrl power, a group of young girls aim to go into space so that they can become space fisherwomen despite the odds stacked against them.

Right away, this series sets up the story and the challenges/sexism that these girls are going to face throughout the entire run of the series and it works. Within fifteen minutes I was cheering for these girls to show the boys what-for and give them a good space fishing whupping. Sadly, that doesn’t happen in this episode but I am absolutely dead set on watching these girls do their best to make the boys eat their words.

If the first episode is any indication, this is going to be a very fun series to watch this season and I can’t wait to see more!

Lifesong:

Fighting for equality against the patriarchy has never before been so filled with mobile game gimmicks. Taking on the force that kidnapped all the fish on earth and brought them to space is a rough job for a bunch of young women, but someone has to do it. It wouldn’t be fair to let the men have all the space mech fish fighting with mobile app fun to themselves. Fair warning, trying to follow this story requires a generous amount of suspending brain activity. Part of my mind is still in denial that this anime exists. Maybe it’s all just a hallucination? Nope! It’s still listed on Crunchyroll… And the episode still plays! Here we go…

Between the Sky and Sea felt like it was trying to capitalize on a popular political concept. Rather than attempt to make any kind of serious political statement, this anime exists to draw attention to a mobile game. The characters play the mobile game in space to power up their mechs and fight fish. The women are bad at it and that seems to be the story hook? I’m not sure. The sense of denial I’m dealing with here won’t be gone while writing this first episode is still relevant.

Oddest of all the bizarre elements at play is their teacher. She freaks out when one of her students uses a masculine pronoun to refer to herself. I get that she is sensitive because women have only recently earned the right to play mobile games in space, but… She needs to calm down. Patriarchal mobile games don’t justify freaking out at someone for referring to themselves with a masculine pronoun. More seriously, is that actually a problem in Japan or just a fantasy element added to this anime? I feel like heroines who use boku are common enough. I had to watch the scene a few times to make sure I understood why she was so panicked. I don’t know.

Despite all the ridiculous world building I did find Haru’s personality charming. She just wants to fish in space and seems to ignore all the nonsense going on around her. Can the politics go away and leave pure Haru alone to her mobile game fish-fighting in peace? I’m ignoring my suspicion that she isn’t smart enough to care and hoping the story isn’t planning to go there. It will, won’t it?

Maybe the message of this story will end up being politics suck, go fishing in space and play your mobile games. Don’t mind what others say even if people hate you and your stupid, worthless mobile game deity; Have fun and own it. If that’s the point this anime was trying to get at, then more power to it. I’m almost certainly giving it too much credit in an attempt to explain nonsense. I’m going to move on to something else before I spend more time looking to make sense of this anime, before my own sense of reality is harmed.

First Look: Run With The Wind

I tend to like sports shows where the main character has a kind of weird, sideways entry into the sport. If the guy or girl has been playing the sport since they were a little kid, and has been dreaming of making it to nationals the whole time, chances are I won’t like the anime much. I prefer the approach of Yowamushi Pedal, where Onoda only develops biking prowess because he keeps riding back and forth to Akihabara to indulge his otaku lust; or Eyeshield 21, where Sena never wanted to be a running back, but conveniently learned how to sprint after an entire school career of trying to outrun bullies. And then there’s Initial D, where Takumi is forced to develop crazy street racer skills because his Dad is too damned lazy to do his late-night deliveries himself.

So on my personal scale of “Unwilling sports anime protagonists,” a boy being caught shoplifting and then having a secret scout for the track team observe him and think “My, what excellent running form that purse-snatching bastard has!” ranks pretty high. It bodes well for my enjoyment of this season.

There’s some really clever writing here. Early on in the episode, when main guy Kakeru is introduced to his roommates in the (soon-to-be) track and field club, it’s one of those “look how zany everybody is!” sequences, which usually rub me the wrong way; it usually feels forced and artificial. Usually everyone will have one stock personality trait, and we’re supposed to find it hilarious that their stock personality traits rub one another the wrong way. Somehow, Run Like the Wind made the characters feel just fleshed out enough that this sequence worked the way it was intended to; the characters seem distinct, and funny in their own way without trying too hard.

Furthermore, not only is Kakeru pressured into joining the team in just the kind of weird way I like, the entire dorm gets tricked into becoming members of the track team. I don’t know why college student Haiji wants to reform the track team so badly (and his methods for doing so are very likely illegal) but gosh-darnit, I have to respect his commitment here. He is basically a vicious track-and-field predator, but since this is anime and not real life, we can enjoy this for the absurdity that it is and not get too bent out of shape out of it.

Another interesting feature of this anime is that it features an exchange student from Tanzania, Musa. It’s unusual to see black characters in anime, and even more unusual to see a black character who lives in Africa. I did find the show’s handling of Musa to be a tad uncomfortable; introducing him stark naked has some unfortunate implications, even though I get that it was supposed to be part of the ‘look at how zany everybody is!’ montage. Same with his roommates making a point of stating he’s “really smart!” as though people would naturally assume otherwise.

That said, I think anything they did with Musa was bound to seem racially charged in this situation. The whole introduction to the dorm kids has a tone of “look at this group of weird eccentrics,” and then they introduce the African character. Anything they did to make him “weird” could be read as racist, but if they avoided that by making him the straight man, that may actually have been more racist. I think it was a bit of no-win situation, and even though the show’s treatment of the character so far made me raise an eyebrow, I do think it’s overall a good thing that the show is trying to present a more diverse cast. I’m going to be very interested in seeing how the writers handle Musa’s character going forward.

Just about the only thing I didn’t like about this episode was the fact that Kakeru clearly has some kind of important history with running; likely he was a high school track star, then something happened to disillusion him, and he’s become the kind of down-on-his-luck guy who’s reduced to robbing convenience stores for food. I think I would have preferred it if Kakeru had no history with running and only developed his great running form due to his frequent shoplifting, but that’s just me and my weird taste; there is drama to be mined from his background, to be sure. Hopefully good drama.

It seems like this show is going to deal primarily with long-distance running, so that means we won’t have to deal with the annoyance of a 100-meter dash being drawn out for three episodes so everyone has time to have their proper mid-race epiphanies. Long-distance running is something that hasn’t really been covered in anime to my knowledge (please feel free to correct me in the comments if I’m wrong!), so I’m very interested to see how the show is going to make this not-very-TV-friendly sport compelling.

All that, and just watching this show inspires me to get on the treadmill and jog more often, so that’s a big point in it’s favor. I’m also slightly inspired to go rob a convenience store, but fortunately, as I live in the United States, our convenience stores suck, so it’s not even worth the effort. If I go to Japan though? Totally stealing some melon bread from a Lawson, and when I get arrested, I’m blaming Run With the Wind.

First Look: That Time I Got Reincarnated As a Slime

Lifesong:

Why is some robot voice granting special powers to a dying salary man? What kind of nasty stuff does he have on his PC? What exactly does it mean to be reborn in a fantasy world as a slime? That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime doesn’t attempt to answer the first two questions it throws at us; I fear it might cop out on the third.

Our protagonist isn’t an ordinary slime. If that’s what you wanted out of this anime, you had best give up now. Given the speed he is powering up I suspect he won’t be spending too much time as a blob- like object. Promo art and then the ED animation all but confirm a more humanoid form.

The pacing takes a slow approach to introducing us to our slime’s new home. The unique aspect of being reborn as a slime carries the episode and makes it into something funny. I’m glad the episode decided to focus in on the little details of what it means to be a slime. We don’t know why he is special exception to the general “slimes are mindless” rule, but the comedy makes it work. The implications of being a super powered slime are amusing to think about if nothing else.

How long it will be before Satoru has a reason to ingest a human and take on their form? Will he even keep the same name? Is he even still a he? I bet slimes are gender neutral and… Oh god, what is the appropriate gender pronoun for a slime?

To its credit and my surprise, none of the heroines show up in episode one. Instead, the first companion for our slime protagonist is Storm Dragon Veludora. I had a good laugh at his tsundere act. I’m not entirely convinced he won’t turn out to be a she and transform into a humanoid loli dragon form, but so far so good.

I expect this anime to have harem elements so it’s interesting the first episode didn’t feel a need to show any of it. We got a quick mention of wanting to “screw every girl I see” as he is dying, but that was it. It’s a safe enough bet the “predator” skill our slimy protagonist gets out of the whole dying deal will be the cause of harem antics. I liked the way episode one dodged around that for an episode and introduced us to dragon bro instead.

I’m not sure what I expect out of That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime, but episode one sold me on watching more. I felt like the storytelling both knows what it’s doing and feels confident about it. Those are good signs. I can’t wait to see how it all plays out as the implications of becoming a slime god in another world unfold.

Karen:

Funny, I had just been reading complaints about how the isekai genre was played out and creatively bankrupt, and then I saw this show. I don’t know if it’s going to prove to be all that innovative (time will tell), but it did an excellent job of reminding me why isekai stories are fun in the first place. It’s light and playful, but also goes into considerable detail about the kind of issues you might face if you suddenly found yourself reincarnated in another world. Questions like, can a slime see without eyes? And if you were reincarnated as a monster, how would you know what you were?

Probably the most interesting idea here is the notion that your “powers” in the other world are determined by your last words/thoughts in the human world. Granted, it seems like a lot of people would say some variation of “ow,” so pain nullification should be a common skill. Still, it’s intriguing to wonder where this system comes from. Is some benevolent, God-like creature trying to correct the injustices of life by giving good people another shot at existence, but kind of screwing up the finer details? Considering the way all-powerful dragon Verudora acts, I think powerful characters on this show may all be slightly confused and incompetent, which I dig personally.

I’m also really curious to find out what the deal is with the girl who apparently died during WWII. Maybe her last words were “Damn, I really hate fascism,” and her powerset involves being super-libertarian? Does that count as political humor, and if so, should I flog myself?

Just about the only thing I didn’t like about this show was the fact that the OP gives away the fact that Satoru, our slime-protagonist, eventually gets some sort of human form. You would think that would be a secret to keep under wraps for at least an episode or two, right? Of course, this may only bother me because I’m intrigued by the idea of the main character being stuck as a bouncing slime for 24 episodes, because it seems like it would be a nightmare for the writers. So basically, I’m a sadist who wants to see the staff of this show suffer, but you should probably ignore that and just focus on the fact that this show looks like it’s going to be some good, clean, JRPG-inspired fun.

Well, relatively clean; I don’t think we really want to know what was on Satoru’s hard drive.

LB:

I’m going to sum up why you need to watch this series in two words: tsundere dragon.

What? You need more? Alright, here goes… while I’ve said out loud in public that I am feeling “over” the isekai genre, this one caught me off guard with how downright cute it is. While the initial set up of Satoru getting stabbed out on the street and being worried about people finding out what porn he has on his computer during his dying moments is a little bizarre, the subsequent time that we spend with him in his slime form was absolutely charming.

While I didn’t like the change from his original gruff male voice to something much more high pitched and perky, that’s a minor complaint, since it ended up growing on me within a matter of minutes.

The only really frustrating thing about this episode is that most of it is spent explaining Satoru’s new basic slime skills rather than setting up the story and world that we’ll be spending the next 24 episodes in. With that much time to kill though, there is no real rush and while some people might find the pace to be a bit too relaxed, I have full confidence in what I’m now certain will be an enjoyable ride. Pick this one up early and get ready for two cours of fun.

Otakusphere (not) Weekly: Episode 28

After a slew of technical difficulties, thanks to Youtube Livestreaming, the podcast is back! LB was busy having a life this week (don’t know what’s up with that), but that leaves Karen, Sal and Lifesong to go through the Fall 2018 Anichart and pick out what we’re watching. Topics covered include Space Fishing vs. Soul Fishing, feline urban planning, and how we’ve become absolute anime studio partisans after swearing we would never, ever do that.

This is a different format for us, but one that’s probably going to be more workable long-term than posting the edited shows we were doing before. If you absolutely loved the edited shows, where I made an effort to remove some of the dumb nonsense that comes out of my mouth and most gratuitous “UM” sounds, speak now or forever hold your peace.