Category Archives: Anime

Cartoons animated in Japan, and sometimes China. And Korea. And Thailand. But they do the character designs in Japan and stuff.

Racism in Run With The Wind

Run With The Wind was a great show, one that goes to show just how broad a category like “sports anime” can be. Among the other things it did well, it tackled the subject of racism, and did so in a kind of understated, nuanced way. I rarely see this kind of thing done so well, and especially not in anime, so I thought it was worth taking a moment to call attention to it.

Just about all of the racism depicted in the show is directed at the character Musa, a black student originally from Tanzania who’s studying abroad in Japan. I was skeptical when they first introduced the character; the choice to introduce him completely naked reminded me a bit of the Kenzaburo Oe story Prize Stock, and you never want to associate Oe with anything. (Yeah, I went there. Suck it, Nobel Committee!) Having Musa’s first impression on the audience being his lack of shame at his nudity seemed to be walking a fine line between casting the character as “goofy foreigner with different ideas about modesty” and “dated idea of the noble savage, used historically to diminish darker-skinned people.” It wasn’t the most auspicious beginning, especially when black people have so few roles in anime to begin with.*

Turns out I had nothing to be concerned about, because Musa was a fully-fleshed out character for whom race was only one aspect of the whole. Yes, his race was relevant to the story and did come up at times, but he was never presented as a racial stereotype, and he was never portrayed as being different from the other characters. The characters were all different in the sense that they were supposed to be a ragtag group of misfits that somehow coheres into a team, but Musa was never portrayed as more eccentric than the other eccentrics, if that makes any sense.

The show was smart enough to address the elephant in the room right away, too. Early on, when the dorm mates find out they’ve basically been tricked by Haiji into becoming a track team, the twins comment that running will come easier to Musa, because he’s African. Musa acknowledges that assuming he’s automatically a better runner just because he’s African is prejudiced, but he doesn’t blow a fuse over it; he simply acknowledges the ignorance of the statement and moves on. Musa is presented as someone who doesn’t tolerate casual racism, but he also doesn’t hit back like a ton of bricks when he sees someone engaging in it, either. It’s clear he thinks the problem is ignorance, not malice, since his reaction seems more disappointed than upset or angry.

Things get uglier later on when Musa has to deal with racism from within his own race. The other African characters on the show are all student-athletes who are attending Japanese universities on running scholarships, and Musa is afraid they won’t accept him. His fears are valid; the other Africans blow off his attempts to be friends with them, and generally just treat him like he doesn’t exist. (I generally dislike the word “microaggression,” but I think it fits here; none of the other black athletes do anything outright horrible to Musa, they just consistently look at him with barely-concealed disdain and don’t respond to his friendly overtures.)

Why do they treat him so poorly? Is it because they’re meant to be evil, and the show is actually being racist by portraying the African  students as being so unsympathetic? I don’t think so; try looking at it from their perspective. In their lives, they are utterly surrounded by Japanese people; the only people they know who look like them are serious track runners. We don’t learn a lot about them, but it seems likely they keep to themselves. And here comes Musa, who just started running like ten minutes ago, and is a sensitive academic, not a career athlete. He has far more in common with the Japanese students who share his interests than he does with the other African  students, and everyone knows it. From their perspective, what is he doing there? Why is this guy who doesn’t even take running that seriously showing up at meets, possibly making them look less serious about running by association? Who needs that?

And yes, it is racist of them to assume that Musa should be in Japan on a running scholarship just because he’s African; that assumption, and their behavior toward him, is clearly depicted as a bad thing on the show. However, while they are being racist towards Musa, their behavior is understandable, because we can understand their insecurities. They aren’t succumbing to racism because they’re terrible people, they are making a mistake because they’re human.

This is where I think Run With The Wind is really brave in it’s portrayal of racism. It’s one thing to have an over-the-top evil Simon Legree character whom we can all denounce as racist and feel good about ourselves, quite another to show how otherwise good people can end up going along with racist attitudes. Portraying the skewed expectations that people sometimes have for other members of their own race is especially difficult to do; if done wrong, it can make it seem like you’re attempting to blame all racism on the people who suffer the most disproportionately from it. However, you can’t address racism responsibly if you only portray it as an inter-group problem; it’s an intra-group problem, too.

One more scene that’s relevant takes place later on, when the Kansei University Track Team starts to build some momentum. Kakeru and Musa overhear some guys complaining that the Kansei team has an African student on it, preferring them to field an “All-Japanese team.” The implication is that, since Musa is African, he’s not a ‘real’ Kansei University student and doesn’t count. Kakeru, hothead that he is and offended on Musa’s behalf, wants to go give these people a piece of his mind, but Musa stops him. It’s not that Musa isn’t bothered by these comments, but as he explains to Kakeru, what would be the point?

You don’t win out over racists by getting into arguments with people on the street. You don’t drown out prejudice by yelling at people who are being ignorant, because if they could understand you, they wouldn’t be ignorant. The real work to chip away at racism, as Musa well knows, is the stuff that’s going on at the old dormitory, where the other students from all different walks of life have learned to see Musa as one of their own. It also chips away at racism when Musa participates in Track and Field as a hobby, while his main focus is his academics; he’s a talented runner, but he’s not the best runner on his team, and that’s okay, because that doesn’t have to be. Appropriate for a long-distance runner, Musa is seeing the big picture. He can engage with running at whatever level he wants, and he doesn’t need to care how other people perceive that. And by living that way, he may convince a few other people that they don’t need to care either.

There’s some other interesting stuff going on in RWTW. For one thing, the fact that Haiji forces the entire dorm to start running raises some interesting questions; people are very big on questioning consent in fiction these days, but apparently only when the topic is sexual in nature. On this show, one of the main characters tramples all over his teammates’ consent, and I haven’t heard a peep from the usual suspects about it. In any case, whatever I was expecting from this show, it wasn’t such a sensitive portrayal of racism, or such a mature, likable character in Musa. High marks, all around.

*I’m not suggesting by the way that Japan is being negligent by not including more black characters in anime; the only ethnicity regularly represented in anime is Japanese, and it’s Anime-Japanese, meaning the characters usually don’t even look Japanese. The question of what greater representation for non-Japanese races should or could look like in a medium where even the majority population doesn’t look like themselves is a really complicated topic that goes beyond the scope of this article. 

 

Be Careful With This Anime “MeToo” Moment

I feel compelled to talk about what’s going on with voice actor accusations in anime fandom at the moment, because at the rate we’re going, somebody’s life is going to be ruined. Some actor will be falsely accused of sexual assault, or maybe even rape, be blacklisted from the industry, and eventually kill themselves. Then we will all look at each other, blinking, confused, and wonder “how did this happen?” If I have a even a chance of preventing that from happening by speaking out now, I need to take advantage of it.

Before I go on, yes sexual assault happens at cons, it’s a real problem, and this should have been addressed way before now; I’m not disputing any of that. However, what I see happening now is that people feel guilty that they were asleep at the wheel on this issue for so long, and now they’re pouncing on any opportunity to remedy that, judgement is getting clouded, and potentially innocent people are getting caught up in it. What I’m advocating for here is not to ignore evidence of sexual assault (we all did that for too long), but only to treat every case as separate, so innocent people don’t get tarred with other people’s actions. This may seem like such a common sense warning that it doesn’t even need to be said, but many people are already starting to make this mistake.

Please do not assume because there’s a lot of evidence that Person A is guilty, that Persons B, C and D must also be guilty. Even if there are a million pieces of evidence that Person A has been harassing people at cons, all of that evidence pertains to that individual; it proves nothing about Person B. I already see another problem developing with Affirmative Consent, where people who see AC as the unquestionable standard are going to classify people as rapists, which people who do not accept AC as a concept will dispute. But then you’ve already started tarring someone’s reputation with something as monstrous as rape, where we should tread very carefully. There are a lot of dicey areas here.

I feel pretty sure this is going to fall on deaf ears– ableist, I know, but I can’t think of a better metaphor at the moment. (For the record, I am hearing-impaired myself, so I am part of the group one could accuse me of denigrating here.) People are wrapped up in “believe the victims, believe the survivors,” they want blood, and they don’t particularly care if one or two innocents are hurt because of it. Please keep in mind that you can support victims in general without unquestionably believing every single thing that someone says about someone else. Please keep in mind that it’s not hypocritical to say “There seems to be a lot of evidence that Person A is guilty of committing sexual assault, but much less evidence that Person B is. I’m convinced in one case, but not the other.”

Please keep in mind that while this situation mirrors what’s going on in Hollywood, this is not Hollywood. If someone accuses George Clooney or Brad Pitt of sexual assault, they have millions of dollars and armies of lawyers to fight it. Some anime VAs may seem famous within our little fiefdom here, but they do not have the same resources that Hollywood actors and actresses have. I think people sometimes feel pretty free to accuse famous people of bad things on the basis that these people are very powerful and can defend themselves (or at least comfort themselves by diving in their Scrooge McDuck-esque tanks of money if nothing else), but that does not apply here. If a working VA gets blacklisted from the industry over something they didn’t do, they don’t get to comfort themselves in their sprawling LA mansion; they are going to have a problem making rent, buying groceries. Claims of sexual harassment and sexual assault should be taken seriously, but let’s at least exercise some care before we put someone in that situation, okay?

 

Anime NYC Part Two

As you already know if you saw my status update, trying to attend a huge, huge convention didn’t work out so hot for me. That said, there’s still some stuff I did at the con that I wanted to write a little about before we get too far past it. Besides, whatever problems I was having, at least I had tons of cool cosplayers like the above gender-flipped Sailor Moon Boy Band to cheer me up.

Saturday, Nov. 17 was unofficial Manga and Light Novel Day at the con, since most print publishers had their panels that day. I was able to attend panels for Kodansha, Denpa Books and Vertical, Inc.; I wanted to attend the Viz Media panel, but that was full to capacity before I even got there. Curses! It’s like Viz has mega-popular franchises in their catalogue or something. Yen Press also had their panel that day, but unfortunately, I was getting sleepy and dragged my sick ass back to the hotel instead of staying for it. Unfortunately, I couldn’t attend nearly as much as I wanted, but on the plus side, I found the panels I did attend to be quite interesting.

Manga Library

They had twice as much manga as this, but I didn’t take a pic of the whole room because I didn’t want to get photos of people reading their manga. Privacy, yo.

Not a panel, but I wanted to at least duck my head into the Manga Library while I was there. For a while, I didn’t really get the point of manga libraries at conventions, to be honest. It’s like, “I just moved heaven and Earth to get to this convention, at great expense; why don’t I just squander this opportunity by ignoring all the con programming and reading Fruits Basket in a corner for four hours?”

What I didn’t realize then, but has become increasingly obvious to me now, is that it’s really nice to have a quiet place at a major con where you can just relax, without being surrounded by thousands of other people. I don’t think the main purpose of manga libraries is to cater to people with anxiety, but if you do happen to have anxiety, being able to tuck yourself away somewhere nice and quiet with a favorite manga for distraction can be extraordinarily helpful. I know some cons have instituted “quiet rooms” or what have you for this reason, but I like the manga library better specifically because it serves multiple purposes. Even people who really like the hustle and bustle of a big con can benefit from spending a quiet hour or two in the manga library, and then people with anxiety aren’t effectively segregated from everyone else.

The manga library at Anime NYC was provided by the Carolina Manga Library. Carolina doesn’t just do conventions, but also schools and libraries, so check them out if you want to set up a manga book fair in your neighborhood– because why wouldn’t you?

Kodansha

The Kodansha/Vertical, Inc. panel was a long list of manga and light novel announcements, which are by now old news, so I won’t detail all of them here. They did spend some time talking about the new Sailor Moon Eternal Edition, which kind of annoys me; I just bought the complete English-language Sailor Moon manga that Kodansha put out a couple of years ago, and now they’ve got this whole new version with interior color pages and all that great stuff. Similarly, they’re releasing a hardcover “Collector’s Edition” of Card Captor Sakura in spring 2019, right after I just bought the omnibus editions of that series not long ago.

This is like when you rush out to buy a great JPRG, only to have it come out later for PSP or Vita with better graphics and added dungeons and all kinds of new stuff, and I’m getting tired of it. I guess I am happy for fans who get to buy these better-than-ever editions, but I’m not buying either magical girl series again; do I look made of money to you? Anyway, my personal regrets and bitterness aside, it’s a good time to be a magical girl manga fan (who isn’t me).

They also talked about a title called Gleipnir, which is supposedly like  “Pokemon meets Prison School,”; Kodansha editor Ben Applegate confessed to being “deeply ashamed” of how much he enjoys this manga, so if nothing else I’ve got to find out what’s going on there. Gleipnir comes out March 5, 2019.

Denpa Books

I didn’t even know Denpa Books existed until Anime NYC. They just started up this year, and considering that I haven’t exactly been watching the manga industry like a hawk, it’s not surprising that they’ve been kind of under my radar. But I was really impressed by what they had to show at the convention. Their publishing schedule for the next six months or so is full of unusual, quirky manga that you might not expect to see published stateside…and the manga version of the especially fluffy Fate/Stay Night spinoff, Today’s Menu For The Emiya Family.

Huh. I guess even artistic, boutique publishers need to milk the Fate cash cow every now and then to keep the money flowing (and who am I to judge?) To be fair, Denpa Founder Ed Chavez straight-up admitted at the panel that some of the titles that his company would be licensing would be done for financial reasons, despite the company’s general preference for more obscure titles with high artistic merit, so there’s no obfuscation about this.

Anyway, what’s particularly impressive about Denpa is that they’re a standalone company; they aren’t a subsidiary of Hachette, or Penguin, or any other large publisher, which is what you would usually expect. Out of their upcoming releases, personally I’m most interested in Maiden Railways. The fact that someone made a josei manga, focused on love stories, but said manga is also all about trains, sounds like something I would make up as a joke for the podcast, but no, apparently it really exists. I’m fascinated by the prospect of examining fanatical railroad obsession through a uniquely feminine lens, and if you’re not…well, let’s just say I question whether or not you know how to party.

In any case, I want to read pretty much everything Denpa has in the pipeline, so don’t be surprised if you see reviews of some of their manga pop up here in the future.

Vertical, Inc

Most of Vertical’s panel was dedicated to the forthcoming release of the Katanagatari light novels and uh…I’m not a fan of that series. I watched the first episode of the anime when it came out years ago and was hella bored, so I’m not that interested in going back to read the source material. Translator Sam Bett of BestBettJapanese had a lot of interesting things to say about the translation process though, so it was still interesting on that level.

Just to give you an example, Bett replaced the term “deviant blades” in Katanagatari with “mutant blades,” because in his opinion, the term ‘deviant’ brought up moral, Christian associations that weren’t appropriate to the setting. I liked this anecdote because it goes to show just how complex the process of translation really is; you’re not only dealing with the literal meanings of words, but also their connotations, and where those connotations came from.

He also noted that he decided to use a lot of footnotes in a “Jokey, kind of postmodern way,” which almost makes me want to buy Katanagatari despite my general lack of interest in the series; I’m a sucker for footnotes. Perhaps I will review it just so I can talk about the footnotes…stranger things have happened.

That’s all for my Anime NYC experience; it may not have been a good time for me, but I still feel comfortable saying it was a good convention in general. It has pretty much everything you could want at an anime con, and then some.

 

Sword Art Online Alicization: Episodes 6 & 7

Lifesong:

Sword Art Online episode 8 comes out tomorrow and so I’ll try to keep this post on point as I rush through it. Truth is we didn’t have the time to dedicate our usual group blogging post and so I’m writing this up to bridge the gap.

To recap: In episode 6 we learned more about Underworld, the MMO like world that Kirito is stuck in. In episode 7 we got a two year time skip showing us what Kirito is up to in the world. Basically world building outside the game and world building inside the game.

It seems that Kirito is undergoing therapy in Underworld. I’m not sure if I trust Kikuoka, but for the time being Asuna and has no choice. As an audience we have little reason to question it. He is stuck inside for healing purposes as best we can tell.

Much of episode 6 revolves around explaining the difference between a top down AI versus a bottom up AI. I’m not an expert on AI in the real world, but I can say I find the concept interesting. The terms top down AI and bottom up AI are not new to me. I’m curious to see where Alicization intends to take them.

I suspect Kikuoka explained most of what we will need to know about AI to appreciate where the story is going. There are a few takes away that aren’t immediately obvious that I find worth pointing out.

Kikuoka said that they couldn’t copy the human soul of their staff in a successful way. Once the copy learns it’s a copy it breaks down. There is possible exception and we did get a quick hint at it in the episode. Kayaba Akihiko left his ghost behind on the internet or inside the seed that all modern VR games use as a base.

I’m not sure how exactly how internet ghosts work, but some part of Kayaba Akihiko is still around. His ghost probably knows about it’s own death. What that means for the story I have no idea. Kayaba Akihiko’s ghost may have even made a brief appearance toward the end of the episode. At this point it’s more of a tease than a fact.

The current dilemma for the JSDF is that their AI people are too perfect and have a hard time breaking rules. They need to be capable of breaking rules to think more like real people. Asuna asks if Kikuoka is looking to make AIs that can kill people. The application for how isn’t explained but I can make sense of the general process.

Kikuoka says early on in his explanation of Underworld that he is using it to make a general purpose AI. An AI that can’t understand why people break rules isn’t going to be very useful for law enforcement. A militant AI that can’t understand why someone is breaking rules isn’t going to be any good at combat. The big take away is that Kikuoka hopes to find combat application for the AI.

Overall the the pacing and world building of this episode make a lot of sense to me. If anyone has specific questions or points they are curious about feel free to comment and ask. I know it can be hard to find answers from someone who hasn’t read the light novels and won’t spoil the story.

My favorite part of the episode was Asuna’s counseling session with Koujiro Rinko. I could write a whole post on the moral dilemma in that scene, but for now I’ll say that it was a beautiful moment. It helps explain Asuna’s perspective. She can’t bring herself to hate Kayaba Akihiko because his sin was part of her fondest memories.

Episode 7 was… Well it was more world building at a breakneck pace. It seems like they skipped a whole tournament arc. As someone who hasn’t read the novels I’m not too bothered by it, but it does make the episode feel lackluster. Like it ran out of steam and deflated a minute into the episode. The animation quality even feels like it took a hit.

Most of this episode felt mechanical. Like it was going backward from point a to move us all to point b. The two big things caught my attention. Kirito’s new sword won’t allow him to use a 5 hit combo. Is that the system stopping him? Or his own cognitive function?

The other point of interest got mentioned in passing. Kirito said that this world can basically turn confidence into power. That allows someone to become stronger than their stats. His sword teacher senpai is one such example. Part of her excellence at combat is because she imagines it and believes in herself.

I’m curious to what degree imagination ends up a power source in Underworld. I suspect it isn’t part of the JSDF’s plan. They wouldn’t want AIs running simulations based off make believe. I’d think that has no purpose in real world military application. That makes me curious if this is something that’s always been a part of Kayaba Akihiko’s game design. Have we seen hints of it as early as Aincrad? Does he know something the JSDF doesn’t? That seems likely based off my quick speculation, but there is a lot we still don’t know.

Next episode is hyping up a duel between Kirito and some top ranking student. Lets hope we get to see this duel in all it’s animated glory. No more time skips please! At least, not so soon after the last one…

Anime NYC: Day One

I’m going to level with you all: I didn’t actually do that much at Anime NYC today. I was really tired by the time I even got here, and I only ended up making it to maybe half the panels that I’d planned on. I’m hoping a good night’s sleep in our (tiny) hotel room will help, and I’ll be able to see more of the sights tomorrow. Also, you can bet I’m loading up on that complimentary Continental Breakfast, so I should be well-fueled. Screw keto, I’m all about the free carbs.

First, I dropped into the Arc System Works Panel, where they were showing off their upcoming Kill La Kill game. The trailers and such they showed have already been posted online, however, new characters are now playable that were not ready at previous conventions, including Nonon. I hope I get a chance to make my way to the Arc System Works booth in the exhibition hall and try out the game tomorrow.

Next, I checked out the How to Live and Study in Japan panel, presented by Go! Go! Nihon. Frankly I think I missed my window of opportunity to study in Japan (*sniff*), but the service also offers Study Trips that combine a vacation with Japanese learning, so that’s a possibility for me– not right now, but maybe someday.

Presenter Christopher Lee detailed his own experience, and gave some details about the schools this program is affiliated with. I was interested to learn about Nihon Kogakuin Japanese Language School; it’s actually a top school for animation and design, but it also has a Japanese language program that’s open to total beginners. For Westerners who want to become fluent in Japanese and perhaps work in the anime industry someday, it sounds like about as good a deal as you’re going to get.

Next I sat in on a spotlight panel with voice actor Toru Furuya. Furuya has had about a billion different anime roles, including Yamcha from Dragonball Z and Sabo from One Piece, but he’ll always be primarily known to me as Tuxedo Mask from Sailor Moon. In fact, when it was time to put in interview requests for the guests for this con, I didn’t even try to get some time with Furuya, because if I tried to interview him in any capacity, I’d just be sitting there bug-eyed like “OH MY GOD IT’S TUXEDO MASK,” and that would just waste everyone’s time.

Furuya graciously answered questions about his roles in a long list of anime productions, but naturally I was most interested in his comments on Sailor Moon. When asked about his favorite part of that show, he noted that the actresses playing the Sailor Senshi were all very pretty, and he liked attending the recording sessions because of that. Heh. Gotta love the honesty.

Probably more interesting for long-term anime fans were Furuya’s comments on Gundam. He talked about the possibility of the original Mobile Suit Gundam series being remade with modern animation techniques, which prompted the question of whether or not he’d reprise his role as Amuro Ray if such an opportunity presented itself. Furuya answered in the affirmative before his translator even had a chance to translate the question. In general, Furuya seemed very enthusiastic about his involvement in the Gundam franchise (although he denied wanting a cameo in an American Gundam movie, should one ever be made.)

Next, like any self-respecting otaku with the desire to burn money I don’t have on keychains, plastic swords and wall scrolls, I checked out the exhibitors hall. Actually I behaved myself (for once) and didn’t buy much at all, but there was some interesting stuff going on in the hall aside from all the cool merchandise on sale. Yen Press has a bunch of little events going on to promote That Time I Got Reincarnated As A Slime, and as a pretty big fan of the show right now, I was pleased to see it. First, they had a “draw your own Rimiru” board:

Many slime fans had come this way before me.

So you know I had to get in on that:

There may have been better-drawn Rimuru’s on the board, but were any of them happier than this little guy? DOUBT IT.

Finally, I got to hug Rimuru! Yen Press is running some kind of contest where you get your picture taken with Rimuru and post it on Twitter and then you could win a prize or something, but honestly, I just wanted to hug Rimuru. Maybe I’m no Elven tavern wench, but I like to think that my Rimuru was reasonably happy with this turn of events.

He’s so squishy!

That’s it for Day One of the con. “But where are all my licensing announcements? Where are my copious cosplay photos?” We’ll get there. I just nearly started an electrical fire in the hotel room trying to make a cup of decaf, so I think I’m going to cut my losses for today and GO TO SLEEP.

Otakusphere Weekly Episode #32: Vampire Investment Tips

This time around, Sword Art Online gets us talking about the future of warfare, we investigate the possible deeper meaning of Mai’s bunny suit in Rascal Does Not Dream of Bunny Girl Senpai, and I’m getting surprisingly invested in Between Sea and Sky, considering the fact that I still think it’s dumb and it will never stop being dumb in general. In addition, we childishly yell at Kyoto Animation for having the audacity to make a silly archery show instead of Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid Season 2/ Sound Euphonium Season 3/literally anything else, and speculate about Sophie Twilight’s financial situation.

We didn’t end up doing Listener Questions this week, because uh…I forgot. We’ll do it next time, for sure, so if you have any more questions, let us know in the comments.

Also, Paw Patrol is best show and Skye is absolutely BEST GIRL:

Yes mai waifu is a Cocker Spaniel/Poodle mix who flies helicopters, get your own.

That Time I Got Reincarnated As a Slime, Episode 6

This episode really surprised me. When last episode introduced the idea of Shizu as Rimuru’s “destined” person, I thought the show was probably going to take a roundabout route to get to her. Maybe Rimuru and Shizu would meet on different sides of a big conflict, multiple comical misunderstandings would ensue, and it would take about ten episode to clear everything up so they could have a proper heart to heart. Instead, the show skipped all of that tomfoolery and the two of them got to connect almost immediately, with no complications.

You would think that would be an example of boring writing, but in this case, I think they made it work. Especially since the show has already shown that Shizu is part of Rimuru’s destiny, why stall on what’s clearly already a foregone conclusion? If anything, I found it refreshing that the two characters were able to find each other and communicate so clearly without having to deal with arbitrary obstacles placed in their path.

“What fresh hell is this?” wonder the tired adventurers. Plot hell, my friends. You are joining the main plot.

But more on that later. First, the adventurers we met in episode 2 have apparently been having a rough time of it. Their job was to confirm the absence of Veldora, which means their showing up right when Rimuru was leaving the cave wasn’t a coincidence, which it seemed like at the time. Now they’d like to take a little rest from adventuring, but apparently the Adventurer’s Guild owns their asses for life, because they’ve been commanded to go back into the wild and…do what, exactly? It seems like they’re supposed to monitor the monster activity has changed in the post-Veldora landscape.

So they’re assignment is basically “Keep track of how many monsters try to eat you, then report back.” I would not want to be a member of this particular guild; something tells me the benefits are not that great.

Shizu, who we first met waaaaaaay back in the opening scene during the WWII flashback, finally shows up. It’s about time! We still don’t really know what she’s after, but she’s willing to team up with the info-gathering party temporarily, so at least she’s more than just a face in the shadows now.

Total Badass has joined your party.

Meanwhile, Rimuru is testing out his new powers. He uses his imitation skill to turn into a giant Tempest Wolf, then uses his Black Lightning skill. Apparently, when he’s in Tempest Wolf form, the effect of the lightning is amplified, thus it’s super-powerful. Do all of Rimuru’s skills become several times more powerful when he’s in Tempest Wolf form? Because if so, that seems a little broken, even for him. At this rate, a Water Blade from Giant Wolf Rimuru will be able to decapitate entire enemy armies.

Some time has passed in Goblin village, and I’m so glad the show decided to gloss over it to keep things moving. The dwarves are doing their thing, and the village is expanding, and that’s all good but I really don’t need any more details. More interesting is the arrival of 500 Goblins from surrounding villages, who heard about the Goblin Naming ritual and are hoping for their own power-up. I like the common sense characters display in this world. “Wait, you mean the guys in the next village over got to become super hot just by pledging allegiance to some slime? How do we get in on that action?”

Yaaay, more cute Goblin kiddies!…oh, wait. Fuck.

Unfortunately Rimuru grants their request and goes on another Naming spree (wisely not shown), which kind of sucks for me; I was hoping we’d have more cute little-kid type Goblins running around. Now they’re all adults with killer bods and my maternal instinct is left with nothing to hang onto! Well, except for Rimuru himself, I guess; that little motion he does before he transforms is adorable.

Back to our human friends, they’re running for their lives from giant insects because…reasons? Well they give a stupid reason, but the real reason is that the show needs to give Shizu some monsters to beat up so we can all see what a total badass she is. A pretty cool fight scene follows– not quite up to the level of Kirito vs. Head Goblin Dude in Sword Art Online Alicization 4, but still, pretty well-animated. Shizu both viciously stabs things and lights them on fire, which shows a kind of thoroughness that I appreciate. Upon seeing Shizu’s face, Rimiru recognizes her as the girl from the crystal ball and muses that he wasn’t expecting to meet her this soon; you and me both, pal.

Shizu in Action: A Story in Two Parts. Part One.

~fin~

Back in Goblin Town, Rimuru makes a Dragon Quest reference that Shizu laughs at, confirming his suspicions that she’s from his world. At first I thought that was illogical, since Shizu is supposed to come from a time decades before Dragon Quest existed, but they clear up later that she heard about it from another Japanese person, so that’s okay. I can buy that Shizu would have glommed on to any other Japanese immigrants to SlimeWorld that she found and got as much info out of them about her home country as possible.

Then there’s a truly magical scene, where Rimuru shows Shizu how Japan recovered after World War II after she was summoned out of the world in the midst of the Tokyo firebombing. When people talk about “wish fulfillment” in anime, it’s always said in a very dismissive way, like it’s immature and shameful to use media to fulfill wishes. This scene features a very mature kind of wish fulfillment: the desire to somehow connect with people who suffered the worst of the brutalities of history, and show them that the world really did get better after they died. To show them that even if they weren’t lucky enough to experience it, their friends, relatives, and countrymen got to see a much better tomorrow. That the world didn’t end in fire and pain and darkness, because that’s not all there is to life.

I really didn’t expect something this beautiful from this show, and I’m still processing it. I think there’s maybe a broader point here about the isekai genre not necessarily being as escapist as a lot of people think it is, but I have to ruminate on that.

Anyway, just when we thought we had gotten all the info on Shizu we were going to get for one episode, the show gives us her “origin” so to speak. There’s several interesting things going on here: for one, Veldora told us that summons take groups of mages, yet as far as we can see, Shizu was summoned by one guy. Were the other 30 mages just hiding in the shadows, or is this one guy simply that powerful?

Secondly, Powerful Mage Guy gives Shizu to an Ifrit, saying she might “have an affinity to fire.” At first I thought the dude had a screw loose, because look, the poor girl has had part of her skin burned off from the summoning. If she’s flame-resistant, she’s sure chose an odd way of showing it. I thought about it later though and came up with this: Mage Guy was trying to summon a host for a fire being, and Shizu just happened to be completely surrounded by flames. Considering there seems to be a computer-like intelligence running this world (see: Great Sage), maybe the Computer thought. “Human +fire= host with fire affinity,” when in reality, Shizu just had the bad luck to be in the middle of a burning city when the summoning was going down. It makes sense if the intelligence behind the summoning was ticking boxes and didn’t understand the broader context.

This was…surprisingly terrifying. I think the Final Fantasy games have given me warm and fuzzy feelings toward Ifrits that are quite frankly dangerous. Ifrits are NOT your friend.

If assigning Ifrit to her was basically a mistake, that would explain the health problems she seems to have in this episode; maybe she isn’t better suited to being a host for Ifrit than anyone else, and it’s taking a toll on her body. Or maybe hosting Ifrit is just that arduous, I don’t know. In any case, I’m interested in finding out if my guess about the mechanics of Shizu’s summoning is correct.

So, wow, that was some episode. This show would have to jump the shark pretty darn hard to lose my allegiance after that Rebuilding After The War scene, but I once said that kind of thing about another show, which then proceeded to jump the shark exactly that hard. (It was Amanchu, by the way.) So there are no guarantees, but for now at least, I’m impressed.

Sword Art Online Alicization: Episode 5

Karen:

Since this episode focuses on Asuna, this seems like a good time to take a step back and look at what a cool character she’s become. During the Aincrad arc, she was an immature kid– which was totally understandable, since she was a sheltered teenager drawn into something huge that she couldn’t have anticipated. Nevertheless, she did seem a little whiny and self-centered to begin with. But she’s grown to the point where, by the time of Mother’s Rosario, she not only felt like an adult, but she essentially became co-protagonists with Kirito. That set-up pays dividends here, where the whole episode can be Kirito-free and it never really feels like we’re missing out on the “main” character.

She also functions similar to Kirito now, using the same kind of hands-on approach to problem solving. Part of that is because she hasn’t been his girlfriend for years without learning anything, and part of that just goes to show why they work so well as a couple to begin with. They aren’t together for only superficial reasons; they both have an almost pathological need to right injustices. On a more basic note, we now get Hero! Asuna rescuing Damsel! Kirito, and that’s a nice change of pace.

In terms of the larger story with Rath, I’m wondering about Kirito’s overall significance to the Underworld project. Obviously Rath wants Kirito’s consciousness in there because they expect his presence will cause the AI to grow in a certain way, but does it necessarily have to be Kirito in that role? I think it’s less that Kirito has super-special soul juice or whatever, and more that he just happens to be the person who was integrated into the system first, so Eugeo and Alice have memories of him. If it turns out they need Kirito because he is just that special of a snowflake, I’m going to be a little disappointed.

It was nice to see everyone working together as a team; even something as simple as Klein driving Asuna around in his car shows that in the real world, they all have different roles and can contribute in different ways. Considering one of their team members is a nigh-omnipotent AI, things feel a little bit stacked in their favor, but I guess it’s a little bit late to be complaining about that? It just goes to show, if you ever find a down-on-her-luck orphan, be nice to her: she may turn out to be a Goddess AI who can hack government databases for you! Always a useful tool to have in one’s back pocket.

I may be the only one here who doesn’t care what happened to Kirito’s assailant. Until the show gives me reason to believe otherwise, I’m going to assume 1)Asuna called the police and 2)he’s in jail; the end.

Finally, I’m interested in the fact that Kayaba Akihito had a lover; they may have revealed that before, but this is the first time I remember it coming up. It would be easy to assume that Akihito was an angry loner who was lashing out at society, but the show has always portrayed him as more nuanced than that; granted, the dude straight-up murdered 4,000 people and viewers should always keep that in mind, but I appreciate what an interesting character he is regardless. It’s interesting how he, and his dream of an imaginary castle in the sky, continue to affect the world of SAO even years after his death.

My early reservations about this season have pretty much evaporated by now; now I’m interested to see how the Underworld plot is going to interface with Asuna’s plot. I don’t see any reason why Asuna couldn’t just visit Underworld in a dive, but in some ways, it might be more interesting if she remained separated from Kirito and had to fight her battle on a different front. We shall see.

LB:

Originally, I enjoyed this episode until the last five minutes or so– though, now that more has been explained to me, I’m finding myself coming around on it.

The big issue I had when I first watched this episode was that at the very end of the episode, Asuna was able to fool top-level security checks, multiple times mind you, simply by having Yui switch the database profile photo with hers. That seemed WAY too easy for me to buy at first, but since I’ve watched this episode I’ve been told by multiple people that this is a perfectly viable way of hacking the system and it’s made even more plausible due to the fact that Yui is like a God-level AI. So yeah, never mind I guess?

Other than that, I really liked that we’re getting a break from Underworld to see what everyone else is up to. The lingering question in my mind, however, is all about the initial attack from the Laughing Coffin member that put Kirito in a coma. Was that attack pre-meditated by RATH in order to get a great test subject? Or was it just one big happy coincidence? That’s an answer that I’d really like to have about now but I’m guessing that if we ever do find out the answer, it’s not going to be for quite a while. *sighs*

Lifesong:

Japanese military is not what I expected when I asked to see the outside world, but it makes enough sense to me. I don’t know how well known the idea of an AI arms race is for most people. If you’ve never heard that term, take a moment to google it. It fits Sword Art Online and might give you some interesting thoughts to chew on.

Alicization appears to be Japan’s answer to an AI arms race. It brings a dozen new questions to the table, like what does Japan’s military want to do with these AIs? I’ve been speculating that Underworld is some sort of immortality project. Now that I know the government is behind it, that’s only one of many possibilities. Immortality doesn’t seem to be the focus.

For now I have more questions than answers about Japan’s AI goals. I can’t speculate past the political and economic powers of developing an advanced AI. It’s an interesting topic. Its inclusion elevates my curiosity for more world building. How do the rules the AI in Underworld live by fit into the larger goal of this military project?

The military twist is cool, but the real MVP this week is Asuna. Not only did Asuna manage to hack a Japanese government database with the help of her own AI, she located and infiltrated the naval base holding Kirito faster than he figured out how to cut down a tree! Who’s the OP one now?

Episode 5’s portrayal of hacking was fantastic. Step 1: Change the picture in a database. Step 2: Walk in and pretend like you belong until you do your thing. I appreciate how down to earth that is. No fancy pseudo-science hacking magic, just some plain old BSing.

Speaking of BSing… Whatever happened to the guy who stabbed Kirito? The story hasn’t acknowledged his existence beyond what he did in episode one. Did Asuna go into berserker mode and beat him senseless? Did that stab wound from Kirito somehow take him out? Maybe a wild AR Pokemon hacked into his brain and put him into sleep mode until the plot remembers his relevance? I don’t need that explained now, but it feels odd that it wasn’t mentioned.

I felt like this episode did a great job of bridging Kirito’s stabbing and catching us up with Asuna and friends. I wonder if Asuna will be able to jump into Underworld? But I need more information to speculate the purpose of Underworld. Developing AI makes sense, but why is Kirito needed? Maybe that’s Kikuoka’s whim more so than anything else? The episode title for next week leads me to believe we will get some more answers ASAP. I can speculate more after that.

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.