Tag Archives: video games

Sword Art Online Alicization, Episode 4

LB:

Finally!

That’s all I could say to myself as I watched the latest episode of SAO. Finally we got the action sequences that fans have come to expect from this series, finally we saw the damn Demon Tree felled, and finally, we saw our heroes embark on what I’m certain will be an epic journey. At least it had better be, or else I’m going to be one unhappy puppy. I quite liked this episode since it moved the story along so strongly. Things actually happened in this episode which made me want to pay attention to all the things.

There are still a ton of questions that need to be answered (many of which were originally raised by the opening animation rather than the episodes themselves, which is strange). My prediction is that eventually, we’re going to get to the big city and learn that Alice isn’t dead but has actually been drafted into the Integrity Knights. I have no idea what is going to happen beyond that (and I don’t even know if I’m correct or not) but I know that for the first time in a couple of weeks, I’m genuinely excited to find out.

Karen:

Wow, this episode did everything but give you a mug of hot cocoa and a backrub after it was over. A cool fight, everyone now remembers the stuff from episode one, significant plot advancement, and the demise of The Tree That Could Not Be Cut? What more could you ask for?

I do have a bit of a problem with reminding myself that the violence is not “real”– that is, even though they’re in a very realistic virtual world and Kirito feels pain, they’re still not in reality. I kept thinking during the fight that Kirito shouldn’t be able to take as much punishment as he was taking and still be able to keep fighting at full strength, but when you remember that it’s a virtual world, it makes sense; in most games, as long as you have 1 HP, you can function as though you’re perfectly healthy. Kirito may have been down to about 250 HP out of 1128 or something, but he didn’t die, so he was still functional.

We know from Ordinal Scale that Kirito is limited in Augmented Reality compared to full VR, so it makes sense that his battle performance in this setting is that of his video game avatar, since this is a full-dive situation. However, the fact that he has such detailed sensory input makes it more akin to AR than his previous VR fighting experience, and I hope that’s something that the show explores in more depth.

On the subject of the battle, that was some quality fight choreography and animation. It’s easier to forgive the talkiness of the last two episodes knowing that the show had such an ambitious action scene coming. Now, after this season, I could do with never seeing any frickin’ goblins ever again, but if I have to see goblins get beat up, this is the kind of style I want to see it in.

One thing that I found interesting was that Eugeo remembered Kirito when he was on the brink of death. The implication is that Artificial Fluctlights have the same “life flashing before my eyes” experience that real people do when they’re approaching death. If Eugeo’s memories of the Kirito of his childhood were overwritten by the System (which appears to have been the case), this is another example of the human soul overpowering computer programming. We saw this as far back as Aincrad, when Asuna was able to shake off a status effect through sheer force of will to save Kirito, so this is something that’s always been part of the show, for better or for worse. In fact, I wonder if this arc is going to take that aspect of the original SAO story (which many viewers saw as a weakness), and fully develop it.

Of course, there’s a danger of an overly optimistic/Care Bears sort of message here, like “not even computer programming is powerful enough to overcome the will of the HUMAN SOUL!!!!!” but I trust Reki Kawahara (at least at this point in time) to be a little more nuanced than that with his writing. I think the struggle of the Artificial Fluctlights to gain control of their lives is going to end up being more complicated than “Believe in yourself,” or rather “Believe in the computer code that makes up your soul!”

Otherwise, it was interesting to see how the villagers reacted to the unexpected felling of the Demon Tree. I thought they’d be scared of change, but for them, the task of evaluating anything has been outsourced to the Taboo Index, so it doesn’t even occur to them to be scared of change. I mean, if cutting the Demon Tree down a few hundred years early was a bad thing, it would have said in the Taboo Index “don’t cut down the Demon Tree early,” right? I’m interested in seeing more about how judgement and morality works in this world where all their rules are put down in black and white.

Yes it is obviously similar to real-life religion, but different in the sense that there’s no possibility for dissent. Every text-based religion (that I’m aware of, anyway), has it’s own disagreements in regard to interpretation, but as far as we can tell, there are no Rabbis arguing over the true meaning of the Taboo Index; it’s simply taken completely at face value. I wonder what it says about me that in an episode devoted mostly to hacking the limbs off of goblins, my main takeaway is “Ooooh, it’s like the age of the Great Rabbis without Talmudic Commentary!”, but whatever; I’m enjoying myself.

Lifesong:

Episode four wrapped up the “leaving home” stage of Eugeo’s adventure in style. The goblin fight was fantastic. The ebb and flow of Kirito crossing swords with the goblin leader and his hoard made every hit exciting. And hey, Eugeo is actually important after all. He may have almost died, but in the scheme of tragic Sword Art Online moments? It felt good to see him make it through the fight.

The hook for Alicization is finally in full bloom, and now that it is I’m excited to see where it goes. Sword Art Online has had moments in the past where it felt like an adventure, but never like this. It’s given supporting characters important roles, but again, not quite like this. Eugeo is the hero and Kirito is taking on the role of mentor.  It’s neat to see SAO breaking away from the new-heroine-of-the-week style if only in a small way.

The way Underworld is hyper realistic in tangible sensation, but still gamey at it’s core is interesting to me. Kirito’s injuries during the goblin fight are a new kind of problem for him because of the pain. Ultimately the injury isn’t such a big deal; same for Eugeo. He takes a hit that should kill him and some durability sharing fixes the issue. As realistic as it all feels, this world runs on numbers in the end.

Now that Kirito and Eugeo have launched their adventure, I want to see things from Asuna’s perspective. I hope we get to see more of what’s going on outside of this virtual world. The timing is appropriate; Kirito and Eugeo’s adventure is off to a strong start. Now please tell me why Kirito is stuck in Underworld. Asuna did promise to follow Kirito anywhere. She also knew a whole lot about the origins of Alice in Wonderland. Tragic tone setting or subtle foreshadowing? I’m not sure yet.

Perhaps the most satisfying element of this whole episode was the end of our dear friend, the Demon Tree. I didn’t realize how much I wanted that thing gone until I felt like standing up to cheer when Kirito finally landed a good hit on it. The story even gave Eugeo the role of finishing it off. It was his task, and he handled it.

I know it’s a popular thing to act like SAO’s storytelling hasn’t improved since the Fairy Dance arc. I disagree, but will admit Gun Gale Online and Mother’s Rosario were both far from the death game promised in Aincrad. I can argue till I’m blue in the face that even SAO’s worst arc still hits good emotional notes, but… that doesn’t and won’t make it what people wanted or expected from the series.

Alicization seems to be building on the themes it explored in Mother’s Rosario. Especially in the sense of finding ways to create a virtual reality fantasy that is more than a game. It’s what I want from SAO, but I wonder how other long time fans feel about this narrative focus? That’s become a more interesting question as the direction of this arc becomes clear.

If nothing else I feel good about the storytelling of Alicization. Episode four had a great fight and hit all the right emotional notes. I can’t wait to see where it goes next. I hope other fans are enjoying it as much as I am.

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.

Long Island Retro Gaming Expo 2018

The Long Island Retro Gaming Expo is probably the warmest convention I’ve ever been to. I’m not referring to the ambient temperature; the AC was working fine (and in the Planetarium, arguably too well.) I mean it felt warm in the sense of being incredibly inviting and friendly. Part of this is no doubt due to the efforts of the con organizers (who deserve plenty of credit for putting together a great event), but I think it’s also due to what the gaming community looks like in 2018.

You had babies in strollers clutching beloved Pikachu plushies, little kids wearing Mario t-shirts, older men and women who vividly remembered playing their Magnavox Odyssey in the ’70s, and everything in between. It was really a family event, not just because there was all-ages programming, but simply because there were a whole lot of families walking around. You had hardcore game collectors, anime cosplayers, tabletop enthusiasts, professional game historians, indie game developers, and little kids who just wanted to play Sonic all day long, and everyone seemed to be having a wonderful time together. I know that this one convention does not represent the state of gamer culture in the entire world, but the attendance at this event couldn’t be further from the stereotype of the stand-offish, “toxic” gamer.

The whole second floor of the Cradle of Aviation Museum in Garden City, NY was filled with dozens and dozens of consoles playing retro games. There were also plenty of classic Arcade cabinets. 

The main Freeplay arcade area, minutes before the doors opened at 10 a.m.; once the con was open, it was standing-room only in here.

Even though the con is primarily focused on the gaming of yesteryear, there was plenty of talk at panels about recent developments in the industry. About half the convention was in morning after the apparent Death of Luigi during Nintendo Direct; streamer Vinesauce even held a “moment of silence” for Luigi during his panel. (It lasted about one second, but hey, it’s the thought that counts, right?) More importantly, everyone was talking about Nintendo’s aggressive targeting of ROM sites; in some cases, it came up because I asked about it specifically, but a lot of other congoers broached the subject during Q&A sessions as well.

While no one condemned Nintendo for shutting down emulation sites, many guests expressed concerns about how this move could effect the preservation of video game history.

“Taking such a broad approach to the issue does actual harm to the medium,” said Jeremy Parish of the Retronauts podcast. “As it is, it feels like they’re cutting off access to the past.” Parish went on to suggest that Nintendo continue taking down ROMs of their own games, but perhaps allow ROMs for more obscure titles to remain available.

From left to right: Jeremy Parish and Bob Mackey of Retronauts, and Kurt Kalata, Editor-in-Chief of Hardcore Gaming 101. Their panel covered the history of SuperJoe.

“This is a tricky topic….there are some games that are out of print, that the only people that would be making money from them are second-hand sellers– for like $400, for some of these games,” said @VinnyVincesauce, a popular streamer. “So you want a game that is, let’s say, from 1989, that you can’t get on the Virtual Console, that you can’t legally own. Now they’re making it harder for you to get it, so it’s just gone now.”

To Vinny’s surprise, the Vinesauce panel filled pretty much the entire Planetarium at the museum. This was about as close as I could get.

Leonard Herman, video game scholar and author of Phoenix IV: The History of The Videogame Industry, had a different perspective on Nintendo’s actions. “I’m for that…As a writer, you have copyrighted materials. The copyright lasts the life of the person who wrote it plus 50 years, and whether you’re making money on it–whether it’s available or not– those copyrights should be preserved. And I found my book, the earlier editions, on the internet for download, and it infuriates me…not that I’m losing a sale…I just don’t believe, unless the person who put it out agrees to it, I don’t agree with that.”

Right: Video game collector and educator John Hancock, and Leonard Herman, known as the Father of Videogame History. Their panel together covered not only milestones in video game history, but how to dispel misconceptions about videogames and disseminate the facts instead.

“I’m torn, because as a preservationist, emulators are the only way to play prototypes and hacks and all that stuff, and I think that’s awesome,” said game collector John Hancock, Herman’s co-panelist. He went on to say how frustrated he was as a collector to see Nintendo pass on the opportunity to allow people to legally purchase ROMs for individual games, and instead focus on “half-baked” options like the NES Classic. “It frustrates me to no end.”

Shawn Long, better known as RGT85 on Youtube, also lamented the inability to legally purchase older games directly from Nintendo, using the example of Mario Sunshine for the Gamecube. “This should be done more on a case-by-case basis,” said Long, echoing what Parish had said earlier in the convention.

Naturally, there were plenty of other things to talk about besides Nintendo’s recent shenanigans. Pete Dorr of Pete’s Game Room hosted a very entertaining panel about collecting games for older systems, speed-running, and finding underrated gems in older console libraries. He has also very nearly convinced me that I need to speedrun Ehrgeiz: The Forsaken Dungeon, so if you hear any tortured screaming coming vaguely from the Tri-State Area, know that it’s all Pete’s fault.

The guys from the Stone Age Gamer podcast used their panel to pit controller-against-controller in a no-holds-barred Best of 16, “The Best WORST Controller.” With the help of the audience, they picked the Dreamcast controller as their favorite “bad” controller; personally, I think the fix may have been in for the Dreamcast from the start, but I will give the SAG guys the benefit of the doubt here.

The Stone Age Gamer panel: Kris Randazzo, Dean DeFalco, and Marc Raimo.

I even got to attend a panel on NESMaker, something I didn’t know existed before this convention. Software that allows you to make videogames without coding has proliferated in recent years, but what makes NESMaker particularly special is that you can burn your creation to an actual cartridge and play it on an NES console; obviously, you need to invest in some hardware to be able to take advantage of that particular feature, but it’s pretty amazing to me that this is even possible. In terms of features, the program looks to me like it has a lot in common with RPG Maker, although with fewer options; however, that might be a good thing. Apparently you can knock out a game in NESMaker in a weekend if you feel like it, whereas RPG Maker can consume your entire life if you let it (believe me, I know this from experience.) I’m not sure if I’m quite ready to drop $36 on the software myself, but for hardcore NES-era fans, this looks like a dream come true.

I have some other stuff from the con to post for you: keep an eye out for cosplay photos and my pick ups from the dealers room (aka “The Reason Karen Can Not Afford to Go To Conventions Anymore). Now I’m going to go obsessively look up information on speedrunning, because surely I can find the time to fit that into my schedule, right? Don’t answer that.

Tomb Raider II, Level 6: Diving Area

From the title, Diving Area sounds like it should be a fun little level. Imagine Lara set loose in some kind of lush waterpark filled with swimming pools, indulging in some underwater treasure hunting whilst taking in some of that gorgeous tropical sunshine. But no, that is not the delicious digital feast that has been prepared for us.

Instead, we’re still stuck on the inside of this claustrophobic, ugly-as-sin oil rig, filled with toxic waste, and whenever we’re not busy running from room to room to push buttons that should really be in the same damn room, some asshole keeps sneaking up on Lara from behind and setting her on fire. There’s room for improvement here, is what I’m saying.

If I can’t have idyllic underwater treasure hunting, I guess two packs of grenades stuck behind a giant fan will have to do. Seriously, this is a well-hidden cache of grenades, there should have been a Jade Dragon here or something.

I did come dangerously close to having fun with this level, because it’s usually pretty clear where you need to go next, plus the platform elements are fun. The experience was spoiled a bit by too many enemies, especially the new flamethrower baddies, who are just unfair. However, there was nothing about this level as singularly tedious as the second half of Offshore Rig, so I’ll take what I can get.

Have You Thought About Renewable Energy Today?

Why is there a pool of toxic waste in the middle of the oil rig? Are they also mining Uranium from the sea floor or something? I wouldn’t put it past Bartoli, I bet that guy wants a dragon AND a gun that shoots nukes.

One thing that I never got around to talking about last level was the fact that Lara’s stuck on an oil rig. I may not like the look of the location, but it’s kind of interesting thematically. Oil is made up of fossils, creatures from the past– plants, animals, who knows what else– that we dredge up from the bottom of the sea and use for power. From a certain point of view, it’s a kind of an exploitation of the past, although a kind of exploitation that Lara herself is guilty of; after all, I don’t recall seeing any solar panels on the roof of Croft Manor.

Mostly, this area is just a pit stop to fit in a few more levels before we get to the sunken ship area, and I don’t think it was meant to serve any larger symbolic purpose. However, the fact that this whole area is associated with the Bartoli cult and all the evils they do (plus the fact that it’s just generally inhospitable towards Lara), gives a pretty negative view of using fossil fuels for energy, whether or not that was the intention. You get the impression that after this little adventure, Lara’s going to seriously consider building a wind farm somewhere on her property…possibly because, after the body count she wracks up on this rig, there won’t be anyone left to process the crude oil anyway.

Puzzle Puzzle, Turmoil and Buzzsaw

This level doesn’t boast particularly impressive puzzles, but it does have functional (and reasonably intuitive) ones. Too much of the level is spent going back and forth between two rooms, because God forbid you ever be able to solve a puzzle in the same room you started in, but let’s be honest: if that kind of gameplay bothers you, you wouldn’t be a fan of Tomb Raider in the first place.

What’s kind of a shame is that there are some things about this level that could be really cool, but don’t really go anywhere. At one point, a helicopter takes off in the middle of the level, but you can’t interact with it in any way, and you’re usually too busy in combat to even see it take off. You do get the opportunity to battle frogmen (and with the acquisition of the harpoon gun, you can even duke it out with them underwater if you want), but the harpoon gun isn’t fun to shoot. Most of the time, even after you have an underwater weapon, you’re still better off picking off the frogmen from solid ground. There’s a giant, spinning buzzsaw on the floor, but you never get the opportunity to shove any enemies into it. C’mon Core, throw me a bone here.

The fact that Lara can’t reach this keycard without getting shredded by the buzzsaw is an amazingly frustrating little tidbit. It’s the fact that it looks like you should be able to just pick the damn thing up without touching the blade that does it.

A note on a particular puzzle: the burner hall puzzle, the one where you can get the M16 if you know where to look for it. I swear I remember from years ago that I could hit one switch (turning off the first burner) then do a side-jump and hit the other one, allowing me to run down the hall, retrieve the circuit board, and make it back with plenty of time. This time around, whenever I tried to make Lara do a side-jump in this area, she kept hitting the ceiling and refused to jump; while I didn’t have a huge problem with it, this made the timing a lot less forgiving. Is this a difference between the Playstation and PC versions perhaps? It’s not important, but it bothers me because I have pretty vivid memories of solving the puzzle one way and it didn’t work this time.

Can you imagine if this fire extinguisher was actually functional, instead of just being there to mock you? Granted, Lara would die from being on fire before you could make it to the other side of the room to use it, but let’s not sweat the details here.

The Unbearable Cheapness of Flame Dudes

I don’t have a screenshot of a flamethrower, since I was always busy shooting like crazy whenever they were on screen, but I admit that was an oversight. So instead of the picture of the Big Bad Flamethrower guy I should have right here, enjoy this screenshot of Lara about to jump on a crane.

The idea that any death in Tomb Raider is “cheap” might seem a little silly. The whole franchise is based on traps that kill you instantly, not to mention a million other ways for our heroine to meet her demise. Unless you’re a serious fan and have the level memorized, you expect to see Lara die a whole bunch of times during any given level, and that’s not cheap; that’s just the type of game it is. That said, I still think the Flamethrower baddies are cheap, and overall a bad idea.

With most traps, no matter how deadly,  you can see them if you look out for them, and plan how to pass through them unharmed. In contrast, unless you know where all of them are in advance, the Flamethrower-toting baddies can just come out of nowhere and flame you, and then it’s Game Over. It’s okay to get a Game Over when you know you made a mistake and how to fix it, not so much when it feels like there was nothing you could have done differently.

This could be easily rectified too, since the amount of water on these levels could provide an easy out. If Lara can get lit on fire, she should be able to jump in the water and recover (like in The Dragon’s Lair), and then you at least have a fighting chance. Yet somehow, despite all the pools of water on this level, you often fight the Flamethrower dudes with no H20 in sight. To me, this creates additional difficulty for all the wrong reasons.

Bizarre Cutscene Theater: The Monk

When you complete Diving Area, you’re rewarded with one of Tomb Raider II‘s incredibly bizarre, disjointed cutscenes. A monk who has been trying to stop Bartoli thinks that Lara is a spirit guide sent to send him into his next life, and rambles on about that a little bit. Now, Lara doesn’t look like my idea of a Buddhist Spirit Guide, but to be fair, the dude has been tortured and lost a lot of blood. He is lucid enough to tell Lara about the Seraph, the key that Bartoli needs for the next stage of his plans. Bartoli, lurking on the perimeter, shoots the monk before he can give Lara any more information.

Now I know what you’re thinking; why didn’t he shoot Lara first? He had the drop on her, and she’s way more dangerous to him than an unarmed, delirious monk. I will repeat what I’ve said before; Bartoli passes up obvious opportunities to kill Lara because he wants to save her to play the Maiden to his Dragon. Like, what’s the point of even being a dragon if you can’t have your minions tie a woman to a stake and threaten to eat her? There is none.

But all of that is of lesser importance, because look at this:

YEAH I GOT THE WETSUIT! MY FIRST NEW OUTFIT IN TRII! I’M BLOWING THIS POPSICLE STAND!!!!!!

In perhaps the riskiest plan she has ever tried, which is saying something, Lara glomms onto a minisub that’s heading toward the bottom of the sea. For all Lara knows the sub could take an hour to get there and she would die from lack of oxygen long before reaching her destination, but the promise of pocketing artifact that both narcissistic Italian mobsters and delusional Tibetan Monks revere is just too much temptation to resist.

I’m still getting all the secrets. I don’t know how long I’ll be able to keep this up.

Best: When you finally drop down through the central hub and gain access to the whole level, it’s very satisfying. There’s a nice “aha!” moment when you realize how everything fits together.

Worst: The darn flamethrowers. They tempt you to save every five seconds, just in case you get immolated from behind around the next corner.

Rating: Two Uzi Clips Out of Five. Still brought down by too much combat and less-than-inspiring environs, but there’s some fun to be had solving a lot of small puzzles, so it earns an extra clip over Offshore Rig.

Next Up: 40 Fathoms, because there’s nothing that says “fun!” like suffocating to death a whole bunch of times before the level even properly starts.

Tomb Raider II, Level 5: Offshore Rig

Lara starts off the next major chunk of Tomb Raider II without her weapons, yet mysteriously unharmed. Given that Bartoli is really not a very nice guy, one has to wonder why he lets Lara live. Yes, I know if he didn’t, there would be no game, but let’s try to use in-game logic here: Why didn’t he just kill her while she was unconscious?  She’s already killed about 80 of his henchman (and maybe 30 of his dogs), so you’d think he’d want some revenge.

My guess is that he was planning to wait until he was a dragon and then kill her with his fire breath, because that would be a nice, theatrical use of his new powers. Either that, or the Fiamma Nera payroll was starting to get a bit unmanageable, and Lara actually did him a service by weeding out under-performing cultists. Maybe he was thinking of offering a her a job as his body guard, which would be the smartest thing he could do, but Lara busts out of her cell before the B-man can broker a truce, and now we’ll never know.

And So My Troubles Begin

This burner trap looks really threatening at first, but the solution is incredibly simple and kind of lame.

I really don’t like this level set in general. It has it’s moments, but in general it feels like your regular Tomb Raider session has been interrupted by Metal Gear Solid. You would think putting TR and MGS together would lead to good gameplay, but alas, no. It’s the sterile, industrial environments of MGS without the stealth and intrigue of that series, and the occasional plodding tedium of TR without any of the grandeur and atmospheric magic. Things do pick up a bit once we get to the sunken ocean liner, but we’re not there yet.

And argh, the color-coded keycards. Any Tomb Raider level that has Lara collecting key cards instead of ornate keys or ancient sculptures is automatically suspect.

I tried to enjoy this level, really I did, but it’s full of so many things that are just a pain. In theory, it’s clever that you need to manipulate your armed opponents into shooting out the windows for you so you can progress in the level, but in practice, you’re standing there, waiting to be shot, then getting shot. Not fun.

And getting sucked into the underwater fan about 20 times before you realize you have no need to go over there, ever; not fun.

And climbing lots of ladders. Not fun.

And getting shot by frogmen with harpoons, only to pull up on dry land and nail those froggy bastards with your pistols…okay, I admit, that part is a little fun. The point still stands.

Please sir, can I have the windows shot out? I would be so very grateful!

The Rig that Never Ends

This level isn’t very large at all compared to some of the ones we get later in the game, but it just feels too long. I think after Opera House, I wanted a quick, refreshing little level to get me used to the new environs while I recollected my arsenal of weapons. Instead, by the time you get to the giant, water-filled room with tons of precarious cat walks, it’s like “you’ve got to be kidding me.”

I’m tempted to chalk it up to pacing, except I don’t really understand pacing very well. People will talk about “pacing issues” in books or film, and I’m often not sure I know quite what they mean. Everyone has a different intuitive sense of how things should be paced, so calling something “poor pacing,” as if that’s the kind of thing that can be quantitatively measured, just seems kind of iffy to me. That said, I wonder if my overall dislike of this level can be summed up as poor pacing; there are parts of it I like, but those parts tend to be incredibly short.

Running on top of the seaplane is cool. It’s a shame there isn’t more to do here.

I made things worse for myself by missing the exit of the water room, so I ended up navigating the catwalks about 3-4 times, completely; that’s not the game’s fault, and should probably be chalked up to me being dense sometimes. But still, it happened, and it’s partially Offshore Rig’s fault.

I hate this room. Granted, it’s nice of them to put a pool of water under you so Lara doesn’t die when you fall, but in some ways that just prolongs the agony.

Just when you think you never have to hear that stupid alarm again, you pick up this keycard and it goes off all over again. Goddammit.

At least the combat isn’t too bad. There are a lot of foes that you can take out from afar with your little plinky-plink guns, and I appreciate that sort of thing. No matter the level, conserving ammo for my big guns makes my stingy heart proud.

Yeah, I took a long time on this level. I spent a stupid amount of time playing with the underwater switch that leads to the Jade Dragon thinking it was critical to my progression or something (it’s not).

Best: Jumping around on the plane en route to get your pistols, then experiencing the euphoria of being armed again once you find them. I swear, you can almost hear a chorus of angels singing.

Worst: Uh, everything else? If I have to pick, I guess navigating the catwalks above the huge, water-filled room. It’s a good idea, but it just goes on way too darn long. Add in the fact that you end up traversing it a lot looking for the exit to the room, and it’s just annoying.

Rating: 1 out of 5 Uzi Clips. You’re supposed to start out hating this level, then feel awesome once you get your pistols back; unfortunately, the pistols only make me happy for about two minutes, and then I go back to hating the entire level. I’m sorry, Offshore Rig fans.

Next: Diving Area. Just give me my goddamned wetsuit already and let’s get this over with.

Tomb Raider II, Level 4: Opera House

There’s something intimidating about this level. Starting from the very first area, I always expect it to be a lot harder than it is. Yes, there are a couple of areas where you can easily kill Lara over and over again, generally while trying to avoid swinging crates/blocks/whatever, but it’s not actually that devious; most of where you need to go is laid out in plain sight, and you get fair warning before most of the traps. The amount of gun-toting enemies is a little bit insane, but you usually have enough space to move around that you can out-maneuver enemies if you’re smart about it.

Still, I was a bit apprehensive about getting up to this level, and I’m kind of glad it’s over now. My degree of nervousness towards this level is probably equivalent to how I would feel if I were to attend an actual opera and had to pretend I was enjoying it.

The Ghost of Opera Past

Blades of broken glass that come up to your thigh, and we’re not even in lobby yet? This is why no one goes to the opera anymore.

I’ve spoken before about how I prefer it when this series sticks to tombs instead of modern areas, but one thing I didn’t realize until this playthrough is that Opera House actually kind of works as a tomb. Think about it; opera is close to being a dead art form. Yes, operas are still performed, all over the world, but they only appeal to a very small percentage of the population. As far as popular culture is concerned, opera is dead as a doornail.

Once you start thinking about this level as symbolizing the demise of opera as an art form, instead of “random building where a stupid amount of Bartoli’s thugs are hanging out,” it starts to feel much more like a proper Tomb Raider level. I especially like the fact that the orchestra pit has been flooded; it’s like nature is reclaiming the theater, one tiny step at a time. I can’t decide if the frequent boulder traps work as part of this, or if they’re just ridiculous; right now I’m leaning towards ridiculous.

This is one of the only mid-animation screenshots of Lara I have ever managed to take. Don’t take this screenshot, it’s mine! I’m proud of it!

Did Bartoli and his group kick a theatrical company out of this theater? From the looks of things, this was a derelict building long before Bartoli & Co. got here. Friends, this is why we must always support the performing arts, in all their forms; if you abandon a theater and let it fall into disrepair, next thing you know it’s become a nest for ripped, dragon-obsessed cultists. Don’t let this happen to your local community theater, unless their version of Fiddler on the Roof is really just intolerable.

If Only I Could Get To That Place (That Is Totally Accessible)

This shot has nothing to do with the topic of this section, I’m just happy that I got a screen of Lara facing forward for once.

Another interesting thing about this level is that it strongly illustrates a problem not just with Tomb Raider games, but with this kind of adventure game in general; sometimes, you don’t realize where you can access. When I first played this, I was stuck on the audience side of the theater for a long time, because I didn’t realize the stage was accessible; you can do a running jump from one of the balconies onto the stage, but it doesn’t look like you’re supposed to, so I didn’t try. I don’t remember how I got out of this; the strategy guide might have been involved.

I can’t tell you how many times this has happened to me in Tomb Raider. “Gee, if I could get over to that ledge over there I bet that’s where the key I need is, but I can’t get there from here.” *insert an eternity of frenzied running around, followed by a desperate running jump to the ledge; it works.* “Oh, looks like I could get here all along; shame I’ll never get that hour of my life back that I spent looking for an alternate route.”

Am I the only one who has this problem? Maybe this isn’t an inherent problem with the game, and I just have really bad spacial reasoning skills? It’s possible.

Beware the World’s Most Dangerous Wooden Crates

I can’t tell you how many times I got Lara killed by this stupid swinging crate.

The main environmental hazard on this level is swinging items, either crates or sandbags. I find them irritating to deal with, but they’re pretty funny if you consider that the other main threat to Lara’s health on this level is tons of bad guys packing heavy weaponry. So while ruthless thugs with large guns just plink-plink-plink away at Lara’s health, like it’s no big deal, being grazed by a slowly-moving sandbag is equivalent to a death touch. Maybe Lara is just highly allergic to sawdust, who knows.

This is where the decision to institute the “save anywhere” system in this game really pays off, by the way. If you had these traps in the original Tomb Raider, and you had to memorize the timing for several of them in between each save crystal, no one would have finished Tomb Raider. I shudder to think what playing this level would be like if you couldn’t save anywhere you wanted…wait…actually, I know exactly what it would be like. It would be like Tomb Raider III. I’m trying to save my lamentations about TRIII until I actually get up to it chronologically, so I’ll leave it at that.

Immersion, This is Not

I wouldn’t call this level a complete failure on the graphics front, but it has a lot of issues. The main lobby area is pretty nice, but most of the side areas look pretty half-assed and unconvincing. The area above is supposed to be a dressing room (I think?), but it doesn’t really look like much of anything. The level is also frequently very dark, and while I know flares were invented for this purpose, it still bugs me.

I think I used three flares to get the Stone Dragon: three. Because the underwater area is pitch-dark, and you can’t use the cheap lighting effect of constantly firing Lara’s pistols while she’s swimming. I think collecting all the secrets is more important than hoarding flares, but there’s a part of me that always just wants more flares, like they’re candy.

Gunfighting For Profit, Not Fun

Since we spend so much of this level shooting it out with bad guys, this is a good time to talk about how combat in TRII works. Sometimes you can target enemies from far away and finish them off before they get close to Lara; that’s optimum. Sometimes though you have no choice but to get down and dirty, in which case it becomes a game-within-a-game of trying to exploit the enemies AI. If a foe isn’t facing Lara, he has to laboriously turn around, allowing the player to get a ton of free shots at the enemies back. With a little bit of luck, and judicious use of the roll button, it’s possible to take out a gun-toting enemy without taking any damage; just keep them turning in place.

That said, if an enemy gets the jump on you, a whole section of Lara’s health can be gone before you’re oriented properly to start screwing with the foe’s AI, plus there’s numerous other ways to mess up. Once I fell into the water-filled orchestra pit, allowing the guy on stage to take tons of potshots at me while I tried to swim away; I ended up reloading that time.

Given the save-anywhere system, it’s possible to save before every fight and make sure that Lara takes minimal damage. However, that also kills the spontaneity of the game; taking some damage and sucking a medipack is part of the experience. Basically if I really screw up, by letting the enemies get the jump on me and taking out all my health, I reload; if I take some damage from enemies while I’m trying to outfox them, well, that’s the cost of doing business.

Nice little detail I never noticed before now; if you look carefully, you can see the city skyline before you get on Bartoli’s plane.

I may have to get more anal about preventing damage to Lara if I start running short on health packs later in the game, but I’m going to try to continue playing with honesty, i.e. not constantly redoing every section until I do it perfectly. In any case, I used three health packs on this level and while I’m not proud of it, I’m not going to lose sleep over it either. Sometimes if you’re too busy mastering the game, you forget to play the game, and I don’t want to fall into that trap.

Yup, that’s three whole health packs. I also killed 44 bad guys, so my stats are still looking pretty good as far as I’m concerned.

At the end of the level is a cutscene I’ve never really understood because I can’t make out any of the NPC accents in this game, but short version: Lara hitches a ride on Bartoli’s plane, hears Bartoli talking about how everyone must have faith in his Great Dragon Destiny, and gets konked over the head by a muscle-bound baddy. I guess as good as she is, even Lara doesn’t have eyes in the back of her head.

Best: The whole elevator section. Once you’ve found the Relay Box and the elevator becomes functional again, there’s something really cool about riding the elevator down to visit an area you saw (but couldn’t access) earlier in the level. The fact that playing around with the elevator leads to a secret is just icing on the cake.

Worst: That last sandbag trap right before the end of the level. By this point, everyone is just tired of this marathon level and wants to be done with it, only you have to try to figure out how to time your jump so the slow-moving Sandbag of Death doesn’t disembowel Lara, and it’s just so tiresome. Let me on the plane already! I’m ready to have all my guns taken and shoved underwater, anything to make this stop!

Rating: Two Uzi Clips out of Five. I feel like this level earns at least two for pure ambition, but I just don’t enjoy playing it very much. I almost rated it a 3, but it loses a clip for poor graphics in many areas.

Next Up: With Offshore Rig, my bitching about how much I dislike the whole underwater section of this game begins. If no one wants to keep reading, I’ll understand.

Sword Art Online Alternative, Episode 12

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

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

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

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

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

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

Miyu: “Have you SEEN me play GGO?”

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Onward, to another gratuitously violent adventure!

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

Tomb Raider II, Level 3: Bartoli’s Hideout

A Note on Format

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Raiding the Clubhouse

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

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

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

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

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

Library Raider

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: Three Uzi Clips out of Five

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

Up Next: Opera House

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

Summer 2018 Anime Season Preview

While last season was absolutely loaded with big-name franchises, this one only has a few; most of the shows listed here are new to anime. Because of that, anime fans seem a lot less excited for this season than they were in the spring, and maybe they’re right to be? I think a lot of people are secretly hoping for a severely sub-par anime season, so they won’t be watching much and can devote the time to catching up on their anime backlog.

You know what though? It’s never going to happen. Even if this season is horrible, I just don’t believe anyone is going to get around to finally sitting down to watch Tatami Galaxy, or the second season of Arakawa Under the Bridge. It’s probably just as well; I hear tell that if you ever finish watching everything in your anime backlog, you get transferred to another world with nothing but your smartphone and a box of Strawberry Pocky, and who needs that? I wouldn’t be caught dead in another world without Almond Crush Pocky.

I’ve used English names where appropriate; in most cases, these shows haven’t been licensed yet and do not have official English titles.

Attack on Titan, Season 3

The biggest name of the season, and consequently the show it would make the most sense to cover here at Otakusphere. Unfortunately, I jumped ship on AoT somewhere in the middle of season 2; I respect a lot of the things that it does, but I just don’t enjoy it anymore. When a story has a tone of not just darkness, but the kind of oppressive bleakness that AoT has, I think it benefits from being concise. This story has gotten dragged out past my capacity to care about this particular world.

If you’re psyched for the return of the show, hey, more power to you; I wish I could be on the same page. But unless I hear that the Survey Corps found a beautiful, Titan-free Utopian city with infinite food, where Eren and Mikasa can get some much-deserved chill time, I’m not watching this.

Free!-Dive to the Future (Season 3)

Yaay, a returning third season of a show that I’m actually up to date on!  This doesn’t happen often. Free! is really the perfect summer show. You could say it’s all pretty visuals and light on substance, but considering what a refreshing take on masculinity the show often displays, that may not even be true. What I particularly love about this show is that it makes me get off my ass and go swimming…like, I’ll be sitting around the house, about to be lazy all day, then I’ll think of how beautiful the water always looks in Free! and actually go outside. I don’t know if it’s even possible to watch Free! without jumping into the nearest pool immediately afterwards.

The thing is, much as I love it, it’d be a pretty boring show to cover episodically…unless I go to town commenting on the manservice. Then I’ll feel like a dirty old lady, but is that such a horrible thing? Is the anime blogosphere even ready for Dirty Old Lady coverage of Free!? Probably not! But now that the idea has occurred to me, I don’t think I can resist.

Everyone who isn’t a fujoshi, go hide. Find the deepest, darkest cave you can find, and hibernate. Make like Green Day and only Wake Up When September Ends, you don’t want to have to see this.

Gintama: Silver Soul Arc, Season 2

I mention Gintama out of a sense of obligation, because it’s a very major franchise that must have a whole lot of fans. However, it’s one of few big shounen franchises that I have no familiarity with whatsoever. I may not have seen every episode of Naruto, Bleach or One Piece, but I’ve seen a bunch; Gintama, not even one episode. Furthermore, I don’t even remember talking to another fan who was into Gintama. It’s always been weirdly invisible to me.

This anime has been airing in different forms since 2005, so it’s not like I’m going to catch up between now and the start of the season. But I feel a sense of what I can only call Gintama Guilt; as an aniblogger, I should at least know what this show is. Maybe I’ll just watch the first episode of this season and then try to make sense of it. I’ll be like those movie reviewers who went to see Avengers: Infinity War and then complained that it made no sense because they hadn’t seen the previous 15 movies…only in a funny, self-aware sort of way? Maybe this is a bad idea.

Overlord, Season 3

This series is a member of the elite club of “Wilson’s shows,” AKA shows my husband will sometimes watch on Saturday morning while I’m still asleep. So I’m not that familiar with it, but I have woken up in the middle of it, and let me tell you: that’s disorienting. Plus, whenever the main dude says his own name, I always think he’s saying “Own goal” and for some reason find that hilarious.

This is another one I won’t be watching– well, I’ll probably see like 5-10 minutes of random episodes while I’m semi-comatose on the couch before coffee, but that doesn’t really count. I do think it’s worth noting that in a season swamped with isekai shows, Overlord stands out as having a clear identity; there just aren’t that many shows where the skull-headed leader spends half of every episode lecturing his legions of minions on the day’s agenda.

Marvel Future Avengers, Season 2

Buh, what? Before putting pen to paper to write this season preview, I had no idea Marvel Future Avengers existed period, let alone that it was returning. Apparently it’s a kids show that hasn’t been too well-received. I wonder: does it deserve all the bad ratings it’s gotten, or is it getting slammed in the reviews because a bunch of adult Marvel fans are trying to enjoy something aimed at 6-year-olds? No idea.

Thinking back to how the X-Men anime turned out, it seems like these Marvel-to-anime productions never go that well. I guess this might have some use if you’re still hyped from Infinity War and need to get your Captain America fix from something…or if you’re six years old. Do I have many six-year-old readers? Kiddos, if you’re out there, please do not read my upcoming posts on Free! S3, okay? Kindly avert your innocent eyes.

Banana Fish

This manga is an institution. I remember hearing about it as far back as the ’90s, although I never got around to reading it. Looking at the description, it really doesn’t look like my cup of tea, but…I kind of want to try it anyway. I think I’ve always been subliminally impressed at how cool “Banana Fish” sounds when you say it out loud; it’s euphonic.

Stories about ruthless teen-aged killers and their evil mob bosses usually don’t hold my attention for too long, but you never know; it all depends on how the story is told. Maybe there’s a good reason I’ve been hearing about Banana Fish for decades now; time to find out.

How NOT to Summon A Demon Lord

One of the aforementioned flood of Isekai shows hitting this summer, this one sounds pretty typical. I’m pretty sure we have a few light novels for this series, but I haven’t read them yet. I could actually read them, then talk about what changes they’ll make to the anime adaptation like a knowledgeable person, but let’s be honest: that’s not going to happen.

The premise involves an awkward gamer guy enslaving (albeit accidentally) two hot girls, so expect the usual suspects to be freaked out by the fact that male fantasies exist. I’ll give it an episode; it’s certainly not being made with me in mind, but it at least has the potential to be funny. If it’s not bringing the humor though, I can’t see why I’d continue. I guess it’s possible that it could have an incredibly interesting fantasy world or something, but I’ll believe it when I see it.

Back Street Girls

I usually don’t do this, but this is one time where I think the capsule description should be included in its entirety:

A group of 3 yakuza failed their boss for the last time. After messing up an important job, the boss gave them 2 choices: Honorably committing suicide, or go to Thailand to get a sex reassignment surgery in order to become “female” idols. After a gruesome year long training to become idols, they successfully debut, with overwhelming popularity, much to their dismay. This is where their tragedy truly begins.

…Uh….

….where to start here….

It’s like you rubbed a magic lamp and said “Genie, please give me more representation of trans people in anime!” only to find out too late that this wasn’t a friendly, Disney-style genie; no, this was a true djinn, a proud and vengeful creature of fire and air that has existed since before the beginning of time, slumbering for strange eons, and now it’s insanely pissed at you for waking it up. So it grants your wish, but only in a way that’s more painful than killing you outright; that’s the only explanation for how this show exists.

It’s theoretically possible that this could plumb some interesting gender-bending territory, but most of the people who would be really interested in that sort of thing will probably be so put off by the premise that they won’t stick around long enough to find out. See, now I’m not sure if I want this to be good or if I want it to be terrible; defending a seemingly offensive show that actually has some redeeming value is my typical MO, but it this case….maybe it would be better if it was just God-awful from the getgo, and I never had to think about it again.

I have to try an episode of it though, because…because I just have to. Because otherwise, I’ll never believe that this was a real anime. What kind of whacked-out, fringe studio thought this would be a good adaptation to add to their catalog? It’s got to be some obscure, no-name, little…oh…oh, I see….

It’s J.C. Staff.

That makes a warped kind of sense, actually. J.C. Staff’s output is like a box of chocolates; a box of delicious chocolates that occasionally includes a sheep’s eyeball, for no reason.

Hyakuren no Haou to Seiyaku no Valkyria

One of the aforementioned torrent of isekai shows hitting this season, this one involves a guy who uses his “solar-powered smart phone” to help his allies. Geez, was In Another World with My Smartphone really that popular? Or just a harbinger of things to come?

This fantasy world appears to be Norse-flavored, so we’ll see if dipping into that rich mythology is enough to make this show stand out from the pack. The only anime that comes to mind that’s done a really good job with Norse mythology is Oh! My Goddess, which is a different genre entirely, so maybe there’s some room for them to do something new here.

Huh, now that I wrote that, now I’m sure there are probably about 30 famous anime that are heavily based on Norse mythology, and I’m just forgetting them all at the moment. If you know of any, remind me in the comments; I’ll feel stupid, but you’ll be spreading valuable knowledge.

Shichisei no Subaru

One of the absolute tsunami of isekai shows hitting this summer, except…I think this one may take place entirely in an MMO, without the MMO becoming “real,” so does that even count as an isekai show anymore? Who makes these rules?

Apparently it deals with someone who died in real life but still exists in the game, and I’m having serious .hack flashbacks. Hey, remember .hack//SIGN? Twenty-six episodes of characters saying “How is it that Tsukasa can’t log out?”, “What do YOU think of Tsukasa?”, “Is Tsukasa alive in the real world?”, “Are you waiting for Tsukasa?” “What does Tsukasa think about the fact that he can’t log out?”, oh my God, it was excruciating. But we all watched it for that gorgeous Yuki Kajiura score, didn’t we? Pretty sure Subaru doesn’t have that going for it.

I’ll give this a shot, although to be honest, I can’t be sure if I’m hoping it’s something like a new .hack or dreading it; like, I don’t want to go through another .hack//SIGN experience, but I kind of feel like it’s something we need every once in a while, like an annual physical or something? It’s hard to explain. I’m just going to have to try to get past the fact that every time someone says “Subaru,” I’m immediately going to think “Emilia-tan! Emilia-tan!”

For those not in the know, that last bit was an in-joke about the anime Re:Zero; yes, while talking about anime, I make dumb jokes about different anime. Because I feel the need to show off that I watch a lot of anime; just having this blog is somehow not enough.

Tenrou: Sirius the Jaeger

Vampires and werewolves fight each other in the 1930s; this could be fun. However, it’s being done by PA Works, which I do not associate with this kind of material. In fact, even though they just did Uma Musume and that should be my new association, I will always associate this studio with Hanasaku Iroha, a show that was as interesting as watching individual blades of grass grow. Like, they were beautiful pieces of grass, filled with morning dew and reflecting the sunshine and all, but you were still sitting there, watching grass grow.

It would be entertaining if PA Works applied that kind of languid pacing to supernatural creatures beating the tar out of each other, but they probably won’t; it’ll probably be paced appropriately, but just not that exciting. The best thing for this show would be if the vampires turned out to be crazy-ass Hellsing-type vampires, but then it would be so firmly in the horror camp that I wouldn’t want to watch it, so uh…yeah. Probably not one for me, but there’s potential here, at least.

Happy Sugar Life

LB called my attention to this one a few weeks ago, and I’ve been mildly afraid of it ever since. It’s about a teenaged girl who will do anything to protect her (underaged) love interest, including murder. These kinds of stories just don’t appeal to me, and I’m not entirely sure why.

I could say they make me uncomfortable, but it’s not like I’ve ever had an experience in real life that would give me a basis for being any more uncomfortable with this than any other story with a dark edge to it. I could say that I don’t like it because one of the lovers is underage, but a)age tends to be really arbitrary in anime anyway and b)the two girls may not even have sex, or get anywhere near having sex, so I’m not losing any sleep over that.

Basically the only thing that’s of interest to me about this show is the use of the phrase “Happy Sugar Life,” which should win some kind of prize for Most Ironic Title of Summer 2018: Ezo’la, I may not enjoy your show, but as a fan of smart-ass titles, I salute you.

Grand Blue

Remember how I said I was happy to be done with Amanchu!? Apparently I’m not really done with Amanchu!, because this show sounds exactly like a gender-swapped Amanchu!; a scuba diving show featuring a boy who hangs out around his family’s eponymous, diving-based business.

It’s possible this show will hash out it’s own identity, but I’m afraid. I’m afraid that instead of bitching every week that Pikari and Teko aren’t going scuba diving often enough, I’m instead going to be bitching that this kid and his buddies aren’t going scuba diving often enough, and I don’t want to be that person; I don’t want to be the girl always complaining that an anime isn’t doing exactly what she wants. But, gosh-darnit, is it so much to ask for a show about scuba diving to heavily feature scuba diving? IS IT?

In any case, I’m going to do my best to put thoughts of other shows out of my head when I watch this and give Grand Blue a chance to prove itself. Plus, on another level I’m kind of happy there’s going to be another ocean-centric show; just like FREE!, this kind of stuff really belongs in the summer season, after all. But God help me, if they start pulling any magical realism shit mid-season, I’m going to be pissed.

Harakuna Receive

Another summery show, this one focuses on beach volleyball. Typically you would guess that this show would be full of fanservice, via tons of bathing-suit clad babes and convenient camera angles, but I wonder; that’s not a given these days. Lately these shows about female athletes seem to focus on the athletics more seriously than you would expect. How much fan service was there in Uma Musume? Scorching Ping Pong Girls? Keijo!!!!!!!!?…okay, forget Keijo for a second, but still. There’s definitely a trend of some shows being more subtle with the fanservice and leaving the “lewding” to the doujinshi, and I’m wondering if Harakuna Receive will be one of those.

See, now that I’ve said that, this show will probably be 99% bouncing boobs and I’ll feel like an idiot for suggesting otherwise. Still, if it’s all boobs I won’t watch it, but people who enjoy boob anime will have one show they’re into this summer, so it’s all good. I’ll give this a chance to see if they’re going to take the volleyball angle seriously, but I won’t be terribly disappointed if they don’t.

Hanebado!

Another girls’ sports anime, this one about badminton. You know, a few years ago I would have passed over this without a second glance, but now I’m looking forward to it. If Scorching Ping Pong Girls could make ping pong exciting for me, when I have no interest in it, this show can probably do the same thing for badminton.

Come to think of it, whether or not I care about the real-life sport seems to have no bearing on how much I like a sports anime. I couldn’t possibly care less about football, but Eyeshield 21 is one of my favorite series of all time. Hmm, now that I’ve made that connection, I’m kind of hoping Hanebado! will turn out to chronicle the adventures of a girls’s badminton team managed by Satan, but I’ll probably have to settle for a non-hellspawn team. I’ll manage, somehow.

Cells At Work!

Of all the things to anthropomorphize, now red and white blood cells are getting a cuteness makeover. It’s a clever premise, but I feel like it might be unhealthy for me to watch this show; I’ll over-identify with all the different cellular organelles and it’ll start seeping into my daily life.

“Wow, I feel so energetic today, thank you Mitochondria-chan! I’d better eat a good breakfast to keep White Blood Cell-kun strong!” No thanks, I have enough problems overthinking my biology as it is. I approve of the fact that this show is being made in a general sense, because it’s different, but I’m not watching.

Aguu: Tensai Ningyou

This is going to be a dancing anime, which is cool; we don’t get a lot of those. I haven’t seen Welcome to the Ballroom yet, but supposedly that’s basically a shonen sports anime with dancing, so Aguu: Tensai Ningyou may be more artistic. However, instead of just being about dancing, it’s also about little palm-sized spirits and some kind of civil war going on between them: the war between the “Seamstresses” who somehow create these little spirits, and the “Saviors” who…fight them? Dance the tango with them? It’s all a little vague.

I keep thinking about the fact that “seamstress” used to be a codeword for “prostitute,” and I should really put that out of my mind, because that slang hasn’t been used in like 100 years, but I can’t help it. Now I’m imagining all sorts of things that likely have no relevance to this show, and it’s making it hard to focus. I definitely want to give this show a try, but I really have no idea what to expect. If it seems like the anime is inspired Black Swan, it will trigger my deep-seated fear of all things related to Natalie Portman and I’ll have to bail. Hopefully it won’t come to that.

Chio-chan no Tsuugakuro

A girl tries to get to school; mayhem ensues. This could possibly be really clever and fun, but it also could be really repetitive and stupid. It would be great if the obstacles that Chio encountered on her way to school started off mundane and became more and more elaborate over the course of the show, until there’s a full-fledged alien invasion or something getting in her way, but I’m not sure; the fact that one of the scenarios that Chio is going to have to fight is “a sudden urge to go to the bathroom,” does not exactly fill me with confidence.

I’m assuming this is a short, because it’s hard to imagine a full-length anime with this premise, but I’ve been wrong about that before; we’ll see. If if it’s not a short, it might be downright painful to watch; some things are charming in three-minute installments and should never break out of that mold.

High Score Girl

Hell yeah, an anime all about video games circa 1991! I’m excited for this one. I want to remember my childhood, but of course I didn’t grow up in Japan, so it won’t really be my childhood; still, it feels like a good opportunity to remember someone’s childhood.

Remember the ’90s, back when we thought Francis Fukuyama was on to something with his whole “End of History” theory, and we thought life (and video games) were just going to keep getting better and better forever? Well, we were kind of right about the video games part, but damn, things have just gotten dark since the ’90s. Granted, plenty of awful stuff happened during the ’90s too, but we weren’t aware of it at the time, so it sure seemed like the world was becoming a better, safer place every day….

Okay I’m getting too far afield of the anime preview, but I’m really interested in seeing what this anime does. If it focuses on the culture of ’91, that will be really interesting, but even if it only focuses on video game culture specifically, that too appeals to me. I just hope they don’t make the mistake of making a production that feels identical to 2018 shows with a thin overlay of ’90s era style. I want this to be so ’90s that I’m thinking about Pogs, Tamagotchis and the cool jacket that kid in the Crossfire commercials used to wear. Remember that game? I had that game. I bet you’re jealous now!

Phantom in the Twilight

A supernatural cafe in London, full of hot guys, that only opens at night; if you’ve ever read Otakusphere before, then you probably know that they had me at “cafe.”

Seriously, I’m cautiously optimistic about this one. This could be one of those classy occult shows that anime (and seemingly only anime) do so well, like Kakuriyo: Bed and Breakfast for Spirits or Mushi-Shi, but that’s far from a guarantee. Studio LINDENFILMS has a kind of odd back catalog of work, but they did make Poco’s Udon World, a lesser-known show that I really liked, so they’ve got some cred in my book. My fear is that there’s going to be too much emphasis on all the mysterious, handsome men, and the show is going to try to get by on attractive character designs instead of good writing.

The thing with mysterious, handsome male characters that writers often screw up is that if you bring them too much to the forefront, they cease being mysterious. They they’re just handsome, which is boring on it’s own. If the hot guy characters remain enigmatic figures in the background, and the story focuses it’s energy elsewhere, this could be a good show. If.

Kyoto Teramachi Sanjou no Holmes

It’s a mystery series that takes place in a coffee shop…oh wait, no it doesn’t. It takes place in an antique shop. Well then, fuck you and the horse you rode in on, show! I only watch coffee shop anime!

Okay, I am capable of watching things that take place in other places of business, I just don’t know if this series sounds that appealing. Whenever I’ve tried to watch an anime mystery show, it’s always been pretty poor– GoSick, God’s Memo Pad, etc. Then again, maybe this’ll be the one with good writing that will make me feel bad for my negative opinions toward mystery shows? The fact that the leads are chasing down the mysteries of these old antiques means that the show does have the potential to be interesting, and even poignant, but I’ll believe it when I see it.

Tsukumogami Kashimasu

Another antique shop setting…not really antiques, but miscellaneous household goods, which is close enough. Except, this one is a historical taking place during the Edo period, and the household goods tend to be haunted. I kept getting confused between this show and Kyoto Teramachi Sanjou no Holmes, trying to remember “Which is the show where the items are haunted, and which is the one where they’re worth a lot of money?”

Another show with the potential to fit into that “classy occult” category that I like so much, but it also has potential to be a bit of a snoozefest, I think. It might be entertaining to watch both this one and Kyoto Teramachi Sanjou no Holmes and see which one comes up with better episodic stories about inanimate objects. I might make a spreadsheet.

Senjuushi

Oh no. Oh noooo. It’s a gun anime. It’s a post-apocalyptic dystopia where people are forbidden from owning firearms, and then the spirits of classic guns materialize to fight for the good of the world, or something.

I have to admit, sometimes I have trouble separating a show from how it’s going to be perceived in the Western fandom, which is unfair. Because all I can think about is the complaints this show is going to spawn about “conservative propaganda” and “alt-right talking points,” and I’m already tired of that discussion, and the show hasn’t even started yet.

Look, I’m not saying that the show is going to be any good, or that political criticism is automatically bad, but can we just remember one little thing here? That this show is Japanese, made from a Japanese perspective, and applying American politics to it (especially fringe American politics that aren’t that well known outside of the U.S.) doesn’t make a helluva lot of sense?  Can we let it exist in its own proper context without dragging it into a minefield where it was never meant to survive?

I don’t know, maybe this will actually be fun to watch, but the so-called “discourse” around this show is probably going to make me want to stay far, far away.

Ongaku Shoujo

It’s about c-level idols, and I’m sorry, but isn’t this called Wake Up, Girls!? I’d like to say that I liked Wake Up, Girls! enough the first time, but the fact is that no one liked Wake Up, Girls! the first time; it’s a show that keeps getting sequels despite having , seemingly, zero fans. It’s one of those anomalies of nature, like how bumblebees can fly when all the laws of physics say that they shouldn’t.

Maybe Ongaku Shoujo will stake out an identity of it’s own, but I have enough trouble getting invested in idol shows that are happy and optimistic from the getgo; I really don’t want to watch a show about sad, wanna-be idols who are living on instant ramen to get by. Only way I’m watching this is if I hear good things about it after a few episodes have aired.

Shoujo Kageki Revue Starlight

This looks to be the more typically bright-and-happy idol show, as opposed to Ongaku Shoujo, so maybe try this if you haven’t had enough Love Live!/Idolmaster/etc. I mean, it’s hard to believe that there’s someone out there who hasn’t had enough of that, but I’m sure this person exists, and they too deserve to feel joy.

I might check out the first episode because one of the girls is named Karen and I like keeping tabs on my anime doppelgangers. But unless this show has something different to offer right out of the gate, I’m focusing my attention elsewhere.

Sunoharasou no Kanrinrin-san

This looks like it’s going to be a cute-girls-doing-cute-things show, except one of the girls happens to be a boy. This might end up being the show this season that does some exploration of gender identity, without being ridiculously offensive to 99% of the audience right out of the gate the way Back Street Girls is.

It’s hard to predict with this one; it all depends on how main-guy Aki’s issues with gender are treated. If they use them as a source of cheap jokes, that sounds pretty bad, but if it’s a CGDCT show, it’s hard to see how they could avoid those kinds of jokes even if they wanted to.

I’ll give it a shot, but if the pattern is Aki tries to act like a boy–> the girls treat him like a girl and giggle–> he gets mad, rinse and repeat, I’m not sticking around. Sadly, I think that’s the most likely scenario.

Yuragi-sou no Yuuna-san

Wow, there are a lot of haunted anime this season. This one is about a hot springs inn haunted by the ghost of a 16-year-old girl, and the poor guy who gets roped into helping her with her unfinished business. I might have skipped this one just on the basis of there being so much other occult stuff this season, but I’ve heard some good things about the source material, so I’ll at least give it a try.

It’s made by Xebec, who are largely known to the world as makers of fanservice anime, and largely known to me as makers of Softenni in particular. I doubt it’ll happen, but if this show takes the Softenni approach to broadcast censorship and covers the girls’ privates with pictures of adorable cows and sheep, this is going to rocket up to “must-watch” status.

Island

Man washes ashore on mysterious island, begins mad quest to save the island from its decline; cute girls are involved. My gut is telling me that this is going to be overly ambitious and boring, but hey, my gut has been wrong before. This was one of the first summer shows to air and the first episode is already up on Crunchyroll, so there’s no need to wait if you’re curious.

Jashin-chan Dropkick

Violent slapstick comedy where a deranged gothic-lolita type summons a demon girl, and the two beat each other up a lot or something. I have a weird feeling that this is going to be like the evil twin to Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid; a story about a relationship between a human girl and a powerful, non-human woman, only instead of warming your heart and filling you with hope for the future, it just makes you want to sit down and cry.

I have a bad feeling about this for some reason, but studio Nomad does have a pretty solid comedy track record with shows like Ika Musume and Ouran Host Club to their credit. So it could be very funny, I just can’t shake the sinking feeling that the jokes are going to get old halfway through the first episode.

SHORTS:

Cinderella Girls Gekijou, Season 3

I always forget if this is a spinoff of Love Live! or Idolmaster (*checks wiki; it’s Idolmaster.*) Considering I’ve never seen any Idolmaster proper, I’m certainly not starting with this, but I mention it here for an important reason: for idol fans, it seems like this is the anticipated show of the season, more than Ongaku Shoujo or whatever else is starting this year. Which is pretty impressive, considering that it’s a short.

You go, idol fans! Wallpaper the internet with your Cinderella Girls fanart, it’s all good. I don’t have to watch the show to share a tiny piece of your happiness.

One Room 2

The big debate with the first-person-perspective show One Room was whether it was really creepy, or just sort of mildly creepy; I found the first episode so boring that I never properly found out. But apparently some people really enjoyed contemplating that question, because One Room is back with another room…or maybe the same room? It’s probably the same room.

I wonder; if I decided I wanted to watch this season, do I need to watch the original? Like, is there serious One Room continuity? Or is it like “Yeah, he talked to this girl in his room, then they went down to the vending machine and got a soda, then they went back to his room, then she said ‘bye’ and that was the end of the season.” Now I want there to be a tremendously detailed One Room wiki so I can catch up on all the lore!

(I just checked…there is no wiki…I am sad. Someone get on that, please.)

BanG Dream! Girls Band Party Pico

I am embarrassed to admit that I didn’t know what BanG Dream! was until just now. Apparently it’s a K-On-esque show about a bunch of girls who form a band, and Party Pico is it’s little chibi spinoff. If you like watching cute chibi girls do whatever, you probably can’t go wrong here.

See, I’m just mad because after finishing Sound Euphonium S2, I thought I had seen all these ‘girls in a band’ shows, but no, there’s more. I promised myself I wouldn’t watch Kids on the Slope (the boys-in-a-band show) until I finished all the girls-in-a-band shows, and now it looks like it’s never gonna happen. Damn you BanG Dream!, ruining my summer viewing plans!

Asobi Asobase

This isn’t listed anywhere as a short, but I’m putting it in the shorts category because I refuse to believe it’s a full-length show. It’s about girls who play hand games and…that’s it. They play hand games together.

Tonari no Seki-kun proved to me that a show about nothing more than kids goofing off can be great, especially if it’s a short. But unless Asobi Asobase is bringing Seki-kun levels of devious brilliance here, I find it hard to imagine this being entertaining for more than one episode. Hey, maybe I’ll be wrong; maybe Asobi Asobase will be the surprise hit of the season that we’ll all remember years from now. But right now, just thinking about it seriously makes me want to lie down and take a nap– not even kidding, I’m going to spend like two seconds writing something on Encouragement of Climb and then I’m taking a nap.

Encouragement of Climb, Season 3

FUCK YEAH MORE ENCOURAGEMENT OF CLIMB, BEST SEASON EVAH! CLIMB THOSE MOUNTAINS GIRLS, SHOW ‘EM WHO’S BOSS! AOI, TRY NOT TO GET ALTITUDE SICKNESS AGAIN, THAT SHIT IS DANGEROUS! SHOW THOSE LAZY YURU CAMP BITCHES WHAT IT MEANS TO BE OUTDOOR GIRLS!!!!!

…oh yeah, I went there, Yuru Camp fans. What are you gonna do about it, huh? I’d say COME AT ME, BRO! but I’m about to go lie down and take a nap for about three hours, so don’t come at me, that would be bad sportsmanship. Hey, have you ever heard that writing about shows you haven’t even seen for several hours can make you lightheaded and delirious? I just learned that today.

Sword Art Online Alternative, Episode 11

Oh my goodness, do I love Fuka. Everybody on this show is having huge philosophical problems negotiating the line between games and reality in a VR world, and Fuka has it all perfectly separated like she’s playing an NES on her grandparents’ couch, and that’s about how much she cares. It’s glorious.

She somehow manages to delay LLENN by tying LLENN’s shoelaces to one of her grenade launchers, and and uses a knot that would make an Eagle Scout proud. So poor LLENN has to spend seriously half the episode trying to untangle her goddamned shoelaces, meanwhile Fuka downright skips towards the enemy team like she’s playing hopscotch on the playground. Then she gets her hands and feet shot off, but no big, she walks it off in time to save LLENN in dynamic vehicular fashion, all while blatantly hitting on her with as much sass as possible.

Guys, I’m afraid. I think I may love Fuka as much as I love Rindou in Food Wars!, and if you’ve read my Food Wars! posts, you know that level of obsession probably isn’t healthy. I’m making a mental note to address that with my therapist, but the meantime, I guess we should discuss the rest of the episode.

CHERISH FOREVER

So Pito plays with some of her opponents before she gruesomely kills them, leading one to ask her if she’s having fun doing this. Uh…well, yes, it’s a video game, sport. Of course Pito is having fun. I get the point being made– at what point do acts of clear sadism stop being acceptable in virtual reality on the basis that it’s “Just a game?” It’s an interesting question, but once again, I think people who are deeply into a game as violent as GGO have probably waited too long to ask this question.

One of the SHINC ladies who got eliminated makes a mean remark that most of the players left in SJ2 are women, and “real men” would play with more guts; it seems really bizarre and out of place (albeit intentionally) not just because this woman is a member of SHINC, but because of what a feminist anime this has been all along. In addition to the obvious point that most of the characters (and the best players) are women, this is a story of a man trying to save the woman he loves, only he’s powerless to do it, and the only person who can actually save her is her female friend; it’s an inversion of the “only this special man can save the woman” narrative.

Yes, I just called an anime feminist and think that it’s basically a good thing; hell has now frozen over. Hell is even available for ski vacations, so get your reservations in before all the good bungalows are taken.

Speaking of SHINC, they seem to have used up their ingenious plans allowance for this month last time, because they don’t have much a of as strategy for taking out Pito and M. Basically the remaining members of the team sacrifice themselves so that Boss-lady Eva can try to sneak up on M from another angle, but it’s a pretty transparent gambit and doesn’t work. So that’s one more team down. We’re now left with Team Death By Loli, Team Batshit Insane Starcrossed Lovers, and some other mystery team who’s waiting in the shadows until the smoke clears; they seem like smart people.

There’s an interesting moment when LLENN starts to break down, overwhelmed by the pressure. I think the problem is that “I have to brutally kill Pito so I can save her, because she’s my friend and I care about her!” is just too confusing to understand in the heat of battle. She decides she’s going to truncate her motivation to “I am going to kill the everloving fuck out of Pito,” and forget about the larger context. I like this; it’s psychologically realistic to me that LLENN would have this problem and need to simplify her thinking.

What follows is a pretty stellar extended action sequence including jeeps, cliffs, multiple kinds of guns, grenades, natural gas explosions, and crazy stunt driving. My hat is off to the animators at 3Hz Inc., because it’s pretty rare to get a multi-part action sequence this exciting and well-animated in a TV anime. I guess I am now eating my words from earlier in the season, when I kept insisting that GGO just didn’t look fun, but hey; I like being wrong when the result is awesome anime.

“As I lay dying, I have no regrets…except for choosing Barbie Doll Pink as my color for camouflage. Not one of my better ideas.”

I said last time that I would be very excited if LLENN jumped, landed on Pito’s photon sword and then flipped off, and that did not happen; actually, now that I think about that, I think there are some mechanical problems with that. What we do get to see is LLENN stepping Pito’s face and then backflipping off, so I’m still pretty excited; not quite to the level of dancing in my chair, but it’s getting close.

Hello, my name is Karen and I approve of this face-stomping.

LLENN sacrifices the second version of P-chan to get to Pito, so we’re now left with the two ladies with no guns. They’re going to have to settle this with melee weapons, in properly brutal fashion. Meanwhile, I assume Fuka is going to take on M; I don’t expect her to beat him, but I expect her to lose in such a way as to make him wish he were dead, because that woman has a gift.

Well, one episode left, right? I think it would be really funny if the one other team that’s off in the mountains somewhere just sat on their thumbs and did nothing, only to win after the remaining foursome all take each other out in incredibly graphic fashion. In fact, I would bet money on that happening; any takers?