Status Update

Hey guys. I know I kind of disappeared during Anime NYC, so I thought I’d take a few minutes just to let you know what’s up.

I knew the con was going to be difficult for me, since I haven’t been to such a big convention in quite a few years, and I struggle with crowds (among other things). Not only did I underestimate just how difficult it was going to be, but I also caught a cold, which made everything worse. I ended up leaving early, and haven’t really felt up to posting since then.

I’m disappointed I couldn’t do more at the con, but in some respects this isn’t such a terrible thing. I’ve always been torn in several directions terms of what I should try to cover on Otakusphere, and I think it’s safe to say I have now ruled out large cons as something I do. I may return to some of my smaller, comfortably-sized local cons, but in general I’m going to avoid con coverage; it’s just not my thing anymore.

Needless to say, getting sick +other problems knocked me off schedule with episodic blogging/podcasting etc., which I’d like to get back to ASAP. I’d still like to post my photos from the con, but for the most part I’m going to be focused on catching up on That Time I Was Reincarnated As A Slime and Sword Art Online. I will also catch up on My Sister My Writer, not because I’m covering it in any capacity, but because I hate myself and I deserve to suffer.

Thanks for your patience 🙂

 

Otakusphere (not) Weekly Episode #31: The Asuna Infiltration

Another week, another episode spent talking about seasonal anime. LB and I actually had some other things to discuss; unfortunately, silly Lifesong is busy playing video games instead of stuffing his face with anime and LNs. What’s up with that? How dare he take care of his mental health at the expense of his otaku street cred? Newb.

Now that we’re getting used to using this new format, there are some things to be aware of. Some of you have already noticed, but the episodes sometimes go up on Youtube a little while before I have a chance to make a post for them. So if you want to listen to new episodes ASAP, you can subscribe on Youtube. However, they never go up more than maybe a day earlier, so it’s not really a big deal either way.

Got any questions for us? Feel free to let us know in the comments. If we get some good questions, maybe we’ll take a break from seasonal chatting one of these days and do a good old-fashioned listener questions episode. Actually, that sounds fun, so if you guys don’t give us any good questions, I’ll probably just make up some.

That Time I Got Reincarnated As A Slime, Episode 5

After last week’s lackluster episode, it was a nice surprise to see the show mix things up this week. Rimiru gets put into situations where his Godlike combat abilities don’t really help him, and it’s interesting to see him muddle his way through problems where there’s no easy win button.

Unfortunately, we start off the episode still inside the Elf Hostess Club, so there’s a little bit more about how boobs are just the greatest thing. Look, if you’ve read anything on this blog before, then you probably know I’m not against fan service on general principle; it has a role to play. If an entire scene is just fan service and has little else going on though, I start to get bored. This whole Elf bar is basically just Rimiru thinking to himself “OMG I really like boobs,” and it’s old already. There are seriously like 40 characters pictured in the OP who haven’t even been introduced yet, we don’t have time for this nonsense.

Anyway, finally we move on from cleavage when one of the Elves offers to tell Rimuru’s fortune, using a crystal ball, and shows him the one he’s “destined to be with.” I could complain that having a fortune teller introduce the female lead this way seems like lazy writing, but let’s see what happens; maybe not all is as it seems. It could be that Rimiru is “destined” to be with this girl in a different sense than the one he’s imagining. In any case, the girl we see is likely the girl who we saw in the first scene of the anime during World War II, so I’m glad the show has remembered that she exists. I really am curious what her deal is.

To quote Deadpool, “That’s just lazy writing.”

Then we meet evil minister Vesta, sworn enemy of Kaijin, Rimiru’s Dwarf blacksmith friend. Vesta is making a big show of being annoyed that Kaijin dared bring “a monster” into such a fine drinking establishment, then dumps his wine over Rimiru’s head as an insult. What’s worse is, he does it with no regard for the Elf girl who’s lap Rimiru is currently sitting on. It’s good to know that Vesta is the kind of guy who’s mean to people in the service industry for no reason, because that means I don’t need to have any sympathy for him whatsoever. Kaijin tries to argue later that Vesta actually isn’t such a bad guy, and Rimiru and I are both like “I’m going to stop you right there.”

Thankfully, Kaijin is even more offended by this behavior than I am and punches Vesta hard in the face, twice! Rimiru advises Kaijin “Not the face! Go for the body!,” which made me laugh out loud, because that’s exactly the kind of advice my Mom used to give me in case I ever needed to beat someone up in school. Look, there were bullies, okay? It was self-defense. Realizing he’s probably just ended his career in Dwarf Kingdom, Kaijin offers his services as a craftsman to Rimiru, who’s of course all for it. That’s awfully convenient for our favorite slime, but if it keeps the plot moving (and gets us out of the friggin’ Elf bar), I won’t complain.

The camera slows down just to make this punch extra satisfying. Thank you, Mr. Director.

Apparently you can’t just go around knocking out political officials in this world, or anywhere really, so Kaijin, Rimiru and co. all get thrown in jail. Kaijin exposits about Vesta’s dark history with the Magisoldier project, which looks like some incredibly messed up piece of quasi-demonic engineering. Seriously, this episode of That Time I Got Reincarnated As A Slime became Evangelion for about five seconds there, and I was confused, but pretty into it. Anyway, Vesta is still steamed that he failed in creating Eva Unit 01 and blames Kaijin for it, hence their beef. Interesting world building, although I’m not sure it entirely jibes with everything we’ve seen so far. For one thing, they have lab coats in this world? Seems kind of anachronistic.

Our heroes get thrown into a ridiculous kangaroo court, where even their representation has been bought off, and it looks like everybody is about to sentenced to decades of forced labor. I think the Dwarven Kingdom is supposed to be relatively advanced compared to the rest of the world in this anime, but damn, their justice system still needs some work. It doesn’t end up mattering though, because the Dwarf King, Gazel Dwargo, sees through all the nonsense and changes the sentence to simple exile, which allows Kaijin and co. to start a new life away from Dwarfland and their stupid shadow- military-industrial complex. Yaaaay monarchy! This may seem like proof that Dwargo is benevolent, but as we soon learn, Dwargo knows who Rimiru is; it may have been a defensive move. Because if he and his friends got unfairly sentenced like that, I really can’t think of anything that could stop Rimiru from Water Blading everyone in the room to death.

Gazel Dwargo is kind of like one of those grand kings from Game of Thrones, only– you know– competent.

I really like the fact that actions have consequences on this show, even seemingly small ones. Apparently Dwargo was clued into Rimiru’s significance by the fact this random slime just conjured a bunch of 100% effective healing potion effectively from nothing; people should take notice of that sort of thing. In most anime, I think creating that bucket of healing potion last episode would have been completely forgotten, but not here.

Minister Vesta gets his just desserts, since Dwargo is on to him and is pissed off that his relationship with Rimiru, Slime God, got off on a bad foot because of all this silliness. Maybe Vesta will learn to be nice to waiters now, but I doubt it. Anyway, since Kaijin’s friends are all coming along for the ride, Rimiru has accomplished his goal of acquiring Dwarven craftsmen, and is ready to head back to Goblin Village.

Damn, the first five minutes of next episode are probably going to be spent on the dwarves ogling the curvy female goblins, won’t they? I really hope not, but I think I know which show I’ve signed up for by now. I’ll have to steel myself to resist this shameless pro-boob propaganda.

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.

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

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

Tsurune

SAO Alicization

Uzamaid!

Rascal Does Not Dream of Bunny Girl Sempai

Run With The Wind

Ms. Vampire Who Lives in My Neighborhood

Conception (dropped LIKE A TON OF BRICKS.)

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

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

Episode 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Episode 4

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

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

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

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

CURIOUS!

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

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

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

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

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

 

Sword Art Online Alicization, Episode Three

LB:

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

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

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

Here’s to hoping that things turn around quickly.

Lifesong:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Karen:

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

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

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

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

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

Getting Acquainted With Light Novels

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

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

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

What’s “Light” About Light Novels?

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Sword Art Online Alicization, Episode 2

Lifesong:

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

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

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

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

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

Karen:

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

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

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

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

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

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

That Time I Got Reincarnated As a Slime, Episode 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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