Category Archives: Reaction

Posts in response to anime, manga, or other media. We would call them “recaps,” except we’re not that diligent.

Review: Reborn as a Vending Machine, I Now Wander the Dungeon Vol. 3

(This review originally posted on The Fandom Post.)

A sentient snack vending machine continues to do a better job romancing the ladies than you might think.

Creative Staff:
Story: Hirokuma
Art: Ituwa Kato

This volume focuses less on the mechanics of Boxxo’s existence as a vending machine, and more on developing the supporting cast. On the face of it, this is good; how many times do we need to find out that Boxxo added a new kind of corn soup to his products? Do we really need to know how many points Boxxo has accumulated at any given moment? Probably not.

However, I think this series is meant for a particular type of reader, and we’re the kind who enjoy this kind of minutia. I’m the kind of person who actually enjoys organizing (and re-organizing) long lists of items in RPGs, and that’s part of the reason why the extremely detail-heavy nature of the first two books appealed to me. Several times during this volume I found myself asking “How many points did Boxxo just spend to do that?”, something I’ve never had to wonder with this series before. One of the things that made the series initially compelling is the fact that Boxxo’s point total is effectively his life; if he runs out of points, he stops operating, essentially death for a vending machine. I think you need to really care about how many points Boxxo has left in order to be fully invested in the story, and that’s something that doesn’t work as well when the narrative starts glossing over the numbers.

Regardless of whether other readers get hung up on the lack of detail (maybe it’s just me being obsessive compulsive?), this volume does benefit from the greatest strength of this series: the fact that, as a vending machine, Boxxo’s solutions to problems are never what you would expect from a more typical hero. His use of different vending machine functions is a little less creative here than earlier, but it’s still interesting to see him utilize the benefits of practically every single kind of vending machine created by humanity. This time around, he even starts functioning as a jukebox, which seems like a bit of a stretch to me– that’s a different kind of machine, right?– but I’ll allow it.

This volume does continue the narrative of Boxxo’s party’s struggle against the mysterious dungeon bosses, but most of it is spent on downtime with the ladies in Boxxo’s life: particularly Lammis, the mighty but surprisingly timid adventurer who carries Boxxo on her back, and Shui, an archer with a bottomless pit for a stomach and a heart of gold. The focus on Shui was somewhat surprising (in fact, I barely remembered that she existed before this volume), but not unwelcome, and an eating contest is certainly tailored toward the strengths of this series. I’m hoping we’ll eventually get more background on Director Bear, the trustworthy public servant who happens to be a grizzly bear, but I guess I’ll have to wait for another volume for that. There are some fanservice scenes (which illustrator Ituwa Kato appears to have some fun with), but they’re pretty mild altogether.

My one big complaint about this volume (and this series in general) is the fact that the main character feels the need to remind the reader that he’s a vending machine waaaaaay too often. Dude, the premise of your series is unique, it’s not like any of us are going to forget anytime soon, you know?

In Summary:
A more character-driven installment that tones down on the “gamey-ness” of previous volumes, which can be either a good thing or a bad thing depending on how much you liked the focus on vending machine stats earlier on. It still reads like a breath of fresh air compared to more formulaic series. Also, don’t read this book when you’re hungry: just don’t. You’ll probably end up demolishing an all-you-can-eat buffet, but if you planned on doing that anyway? Full speed ahead.

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?

 

On She-Ra And The Princesses of Power

I like the Netflix She-Ra reboot. Considering that I’m one of the people who grew up with the original as a kid– in fact, some of my earliest memories are of watching the Filmation cartoon– the fact that it won me over is somewhat impressive. After all, I’ve had about 30 years to remake She-Ra in the back of my mind, thinking about what I would change, and how can someone else’s vision compete with my long-simmering, highly personalized one? I tried to be neutral, but to be honest, I think I went into the show ready to hate it…but I didn’t.

It’s not perfect, but it picked up on the main weakness of the original show and improved upon it, and for that I have to give them a slow clap. Plus, the main things I didn’t like about it are things that I never liked about the show in its original incarnation either, if I’m being honest. Perhaps more importantly, this series brings up several interesting topics– the pitfalls inherent in updating character designs, the arguable responsibility tied to relaunching a property that has a passionate existing fanbase, and so on, that I wanted to discuss a little bit. It’s not that these topics haven’t been discussed, but in relation to this show, the conversations have been VERY polarized.

I’d like to say that I want to bring a little more nuance to these discussions, but that sounds like an incredibly pretentious-ass thing to say. However, the way discussion of this show online has been, I could probably run around hitting people with a literal sledgehammer and still be more nuanced than the current dialogue. So I’m going to go forward with my goal of trying to look at the show with a more discerning eye, my delusional sense of self-importance be damned.

First, I want to talk about the main things the show did right. Then I’ll get into the character designs and the other elements that have made the show more than a little controversial.

The Good: Honing in on Adora

A few years ago, I bought the DVDs of She-Ra: Princess of Power and watched them all. What struck me as an adult viewer was how much of a missed opportunity the show had in Adora’s character. Here you have this woman who was raised very nearly from birth to be a soldier for a fascist government, about two clicks away from being a Nazi SS officer. Then she realizes that everything she has ever been told or believed in her whole life is a sham, and her compliance has been at least partially caused by mind control. She leaves her “family” in the Horde, and starts a completely new life (in hiding) among the people who used to hate her as an oppressor. She also discovers that she has a real family, but they live on another planet and if she chooses to stay with them, she’s abandoning the world she grew up in to a hellish, dystopian future. So she can’t see her real family until Etheria is “free,” which may never happen, and she knows it. Pretty darn rough hand to draw, all told.

This, by the way, is why I always thought that She-Ra had a much more interesting premise than He-Man, who never had any such conflicts in his life. When Filmation launched She-Ra, they could have just done a simple gender-flip of the character, but they didn’t; they added a whole lot of morally fraught stuff that just begged to be explored. The fact that they barely explored any of it is disappointing, but at least some of that can probably be blamed on the perceived limitations of animation at the time. Filmation may have had good ideas for Adora’s character, but played it safe for fear of making the show too complicated for its intended audience of five-year-old girls.

In the original show, Adora adapts to these massive changes in her life so inhumanly well that it’s a non-issue. After the introductory Secret of the Sword miniseries, the only relevance Adora’s background usually has is that she knows how to get around the Fright Zone; one episode deals with her meeting up with an old friend from the Horde. But for the most part, once she gains the ability to become She-Ra, she becomes just like any other cheerful, freedom-loving member of the Rebellion– well, other than the turning into a magic-sword-lady part.

The Netflix reboot wisely focused on Adora’s character and the kind of culture shock someone in this kind of extreme situation would go through, and how others would respond to her. They show it in broad ways (Glimmer’s initial distrust of Adora, to the point of outright paranoia; Adora’s general lack of understanding of social norms), but they bring it home in surprisingly subtle ways as well. I especially liked the detail that Adora felt weird sleeping on a feather bed, because she’s slept in the barracks for her whole life. It also followed logically that sleeping alone creeped her out, since she’s always been surrounded by the sounds of the other soldier trainees at night. Cynically, putting Adora in bed with Glimmer for one night was a little nudge to the fans who want to see lesbian pairings, but on a character level, it made perfect sense.

One interesting change is that while the original Adora was magically mind-controlled by Shadow Weaver to obey the Horde, this new Adora was only controlled by Weaver through mundane emotional manipulation. I think that reflects a difference in attitudes about free will and compliance over the last 30 year or so. For the original creators, a non-mind controlled Adora might have seemed potentially responsible for what she did as a member of the Horde, and thus inherently unheroic. From a more modern perspective, we know that being controlled by a nefarious authority figure can be pretty darn powerful, so the new Adora didn’t need to be outright mind-controlled to qualify as a victim of  Shadow Weaver’s manipulation. That’s neither here nor there I guess, but noteworthy.

So to boil it down to a simple bullet point, the new show’s decision to make Adora a more psychologically realistic, and hence sympathetic, character, was a great decision, and one that the writers deserve a lot of credit for. There were attempts to add depth to other characters, with varying degrees of success, but the new Adora absolutely delivers where original-recipe Adora lacked. That’s why I ultimately have to put this show in the “win” column, despite all the other criticisms I’m about to go into.

What I’m more ambivalent about is the way the show seems to be focusing on the relationships between the female characters to the exclusion of the few male characters who were actually important in the original show. In SheRa:POP, it was Hordak who stole Adora as a baby; in the reboot, its Shadow Weaver. Personally, I always found the twisted father/daughter relationship between Hordak and Adora/She-Ra to be potentially very interesting, but that dynamic is effectively non-existent in the new show, with Shadow Weaver having completely taken over the surrogate parent role. I’m afraid that the show is going to continue to ignore Hordak for having the audacity of being a male villain in a female-focused show, but honestly, it looks like they may just be saving his role for later seasons, so I’m withholding judgement on that until I see more.

I do like the fact that this version of Hordak appears to be chillingly competent. The buffoonish nature of Hordak in the original series seemed like it was due to Filmation trying copy their success with Skeletor, but Hordak was just never likable the way Skeletor was; he works better as a flat-out villain than comic relief, and I’m glad he’s being used that way.

Another change that I’m still left scratching my head about is the new Catra. Original Catra was a pretty simplistic, at times outright stupid character. She was jealous of Adora because of the time when Adora was “Hordak’s favorite,” but that seemed to be less due to any deep feelings concerning Adora, and more because she wanted everything to be about her. She was just vain and dumb, and I see why they needed to change her to make her anything more than a one-dimensional villain.

The new Catra is much more interesting and sympathetic than the original (which, to be fair, wasn’t that hard to accomplish), but I find it odd that Adora’s most important relationship in the show is now with her, when that relationship previously didn’t really exist. I do think they needed to expand on Adora’s “family” within the Horde, but I’m not sure if I really wanted the primary character in that family to be Catra. Oh well.

The Questionable: The Character Designs (AKA Who Are These People?)

There are a lot of things to talk about regarding character designs, but for the sake of having a clear place to start, I’m going to focus on one just one character: Frosta. In SheRa: POP, Frosta was something of a femme fatale who famously flirted with He-Man. If you want to see a real classic of the “How did they EVER get away with this on children’s television?” sub-genre, check out the episode Sweet Bee’s Home from the original series.

This lady is on the prowl! Lock up all your young men…perhaps your old men too, she’s not that selective!

In the new series, Frosta is…12. Technically 11-and-three-quarters. Barring the fact that she too has power over ice and snow, she has so little in common with the original Frosta that she may as well be a completely different character.

Here’s the new Frosta: lock up your candy and uh, fidget spinners? What are kids even into these days?

I’m not the kind of die-hard fan who’s going to be kept up at night by this, but still, I find it a little worrisome. What’s the point of rebooting an existing franchise, if you’re going to redesign the characters to the point that they aren’t the same character anymore and the names are just artifacts? Like most of the characters in the original series, Frosta didn’t have a ton of personality, but the personality she did have was all about being a pretty shameless flirt. By making the new Frosta not only completely different looks and personality-wise, but also prepubescent, they took away perhaps the one thing she had going for her as a character, which was her flirty nature.

The thing is, it’s not even like I dislike the new Frosta. The fact that she has some of the most powerful magic in Etheria, but she has to fight for respect due to her young age, is pretty interesting. She’s a good character; she just couldn’t possibly have less to do with the original Frosta if they’d tried. And that can come off as more of a rejection of the original show than a reinterpretation of it.

Why does it matter? Well, when I said that some of my earliest memories were of She-Ra, I didn’t mean just my earliest memories of television, or my earliest memories of cartoons; I meant my earliest memories period. I think that’s true for a lot of people my age. When something has that kind of formative status in your life, you want to see it treated with respect, even if it was silly in many ways. The people who complain “This new cartoon is RUINING MY CHILDHOOD!” are obviously exaggerating (and not helping their cause in the slightest), but hey, childhood memories are precious to us. If you want to ignore the source material and create  your own characters, by all means, create a new show; don’t take something that has a special place in many people’s hearts, then make arbitrary changes that go beyond modernization to the point of ignoring the original story and characters.

No, Netflix’s She-Ra is not ruining my childhood; it’s not ruining anyone’s childhood. And the changes to Frosta, or Glimmer, or Bow, don’t make it a bad show. But I think there is a certain amount of responsibility inherent in relaunching something that people associate with their childhoods, and I’m not sure that the creative team behind this reboot was fully cognizant of that. I’m all for inclusion, but if you want to include everyone, “people who loved the original show” are part of everyone; if you ignore that, you aren’t being very inclusive, are you?

On another topic, the attempt to give the characters different body types may have had some results that the creators didn’t necessarily intend. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with varying the body types; after all, the only reason why all the characters on the show had the same bodies originally was because it was cheaper to animate that way. But considering the fact that She Ra herself is still a tall, slender white woman with flowing blond hair, it kind of comes off as a half-hearted gesture. Like “yes, it’s okay for all the less important, darker-skinned women to have more realistic bodies, as long as the main character is still a blond supermodel.” She-Ra’s apparent lack of breasts has sparked some debate, but to my mind, that just makes the supermodel comparison more apt.

In the ’80s, She-Ra and her friends fit the ’80s ideal of a supermodel: feminine face with obvious makeup, hourglass figure. Now She-Ra fits the more modern ideal of a supermodel: androgynous, flat chested, but still long-limbed and blond. And there wouldn’t be anything wrong with that, if I didn’t get the impression that one of the main goals of this show was that they wanted to move beyond the whole supermodel ideal. What’s more hurtful: a world depicted with minimal diversity, where everyone has identical bodies? Or a world where people can have different bodies, as long as the one really important person is still a tall blond? This could just be me, but I find the second paradigm more worrisome. At least in the first case, it was clear they weren’t trying to portray reality at all; in the second, they go halfway there, but stop in a really uncomfortable place.

For the record, IDW’s Jem and the Holograms comic books went a similar route: diverse body types everywhere, except for Jem, who looked like a supermodel. The comic was self-aware about this though, and did some interesting things with it, but that’s another post.

The Disappointing: The Animation

She-Ra: POP was made in the ’80s on a shoe-string budget. The series was notorious for reusing stock animation, and generally being as cheap as humanly possible. What made it even more limited was the fact that Filmation was clearly reusing animation they’d already developed for He-Man, with only minor changes, so the animation was tired before She-Ra even started.

Compared to that, the Netflix/Dreamworks series is better, certainly. The animation is much more fluid, and there’s a lot more variation in camera angles, all that good stuff.  So it’s an improvement, but I wonder: is it enough of an improvement for a show that’s been dormant for this long?

Really, it’s 30-plus years later. The Animation Renaissance happened in the years She-Ra was off the air. The technology has improved by leaps and bounds; there are tools available today that the artists at Filmation couldn’t even have imagined. The animation in the new She-Ra shouldn’t just be better than the original show, it should be leaps and bounds better; night-and-day better. The fact that it’s only middling better is just sad.

Yes, the animation succeeds in the sense that it’s adequate to tell the story, but many designs lack detail; character’s heights are inconsistent (especially She-Ra herself), and the whole thing just lacks any sort of wow factor. The sequence where Adora transforms into She-Ra in the original show may have been reused 50 million times, but it was still pretty stunning when you first saw it. By now, transformation sequences are a dime a dozen, and She-Ra’s is nothing special.

One of the reasons people loved the original was because it was so beautiful. It was beautiful in a very ’80s, prefab way, but beautiful nonetheless. I’m pretty sure that’s why I latched onto it as a child, instead of a dozen other cartoons I could have become obsessed with. The new show isn’t beautiful, and the lack of beauty isn’t because they dared to give the characters more diverse body types; it’s not beautiful because beauty doesn’t appear to have ever been an important goal for the project. I don’t understand why you would want to reboot She-Ra without trying to make it beautiful, but it feels like that’s what happened.

There’s probably some larger point here about how, since ideas of beauty were once more limited, instead of acknowledging those limitations, people are now pointing the finger at beauty ITSELF as the problem– but to be honest, I don’t know if that’s really fair. I don’t know if what’s going on is really that insidious, or if I’m just really unimpressed with the animation, and I’m making too big a deal out of it. Putting huge, psychological critiques aside, let’s just agree that the animation could be a lot better looking than it is, okay?

Before I let go of this gargantuan post, here are a few more observations about the show that didn’t really fit anywhere else:

–Bow is another character who has very little to do with his original incarnation, but New Bow is so likable that it’s tempting to forgive it. Even so, if the writers thought a major character like Bow was so boring that he should be scrapped, how much did they like the original show in the first place?

–The dialogue is cringe-worthy at times, which was true of the original; now it’s cringe-worthy in a different way. It used to sound stilted and unnatural, now they were obviously trying so hard to sound natural with the banter that it sometimes backfires and sounds really fake. Sometimes the dialogue is great though; it really comes down to which particular episode you happen to be watching. Every mention of the “Best Friends Squad” should have been stricken from the script though.

–The lack of Kowl bugs me. I know they had about a zillion characters to introduce, and maybe Kowl was one too many, but his sarcastic comments are missed; it’s not the same coming from Glimmer.

–Speaking of Glimmer, I couldn’t decide if Karen Fukuhara was overacting, or if New Glimmer is just the kind of annoying person who would over-emphasize certain words all the time just to make a point; it’s probably the latter. The original Glimmer was pretty much an airhead, so I wish they would have done with her something more like what they did with Perfuma; made her a bit goofy, but with a will of steel. New Glimmer is probably the least likable character in the new show (and I’m including Shadow Weaver here).

–I do not care for this incarnation of Swift Wind, but I admit it’s for pretty silly reasons. I expect my winged unicorns to sound like old Jewish Grandpas, thank you very much: RIP Lou Scheimer. More seriously, the fact that Swift Wind sounded so much more mature than everyone else was what helped him stand out; now he’s like everybody else, except a horse.

–Lauren Ash of Superstore fame plays basically the She-Ra version of her Superstore character with Scorpia, and it’s pretty great. This show needs about 150% more Scorpia. Maybe I’m being hypocritical here, since New Scorpia is nothing like her original incarnation, but it’s different when you reinvent characters who were barely even in it in the first place to make them something special, as opposed to a main character.

–The writers had to walk a pretty difficult tightrope in regards to He-Man lore; they had to put enough references to He-Man in there that it will feel natural for He-Man to show up at some point (assuming the rights for MOTU ever emerge from legal hell and Netflix gets to make the He-Man reboot they surely want to make), but not SO many that the lore is dependent on him, because he may never be available. I think they did a good job of creating something that can stand as its own mythology, but could be expanded if necessary.

–The show is doing something interesting with princesses. When Adora becomes She-Ra, everyone (including her) thinks that she has now become a princess, because apparently being a princess in this world means “girl with powers” and has nothing to do with lineage; at no point does anyone speculate that Adora’s parents must have been royalty for her to be a princess. It’s kind of like they’re setting aside the actual definition of “princess” in favor of the fantasy connotations the word has. I’m interested to see where they go with this.

…okay, that’s it, I’ve written enough about She-Ra. Probably. For now. I think.

 

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.

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.

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.