Archive for the ‘Anime’ Category

Thoughts on “Stein’s Gate”

September 5, 2019

So, on my post talking about “Happy Death Day 2 U”, malcolmthecynic recommended that I watch “Stein’s Gate” if I was interested in time loop stories. So, I went out and bought the original anime and concluding movie, and watched them. And what I’ll say about it first is that the anime is far more interesting for its description of how this sort of thing works instead of for its plot or how the time loop impacts its characters.

The first thing to address is this comment by malcolmthecynic on the show:

Japan often uses sudden, massive tonal shifts. It’s something frowned upon in American TV.

And the reason I mention it first is because … the comment seemed odd to me since I hadn’t notice any really huge or jarring tonal shift. I’m sure it’s there — the party to the invasion of gun wielding attacks that results in a critical death is probably an example — but it’s not something that stood out to me. Then again, I have watched a fair bit of anime and am a huge fan of JRPGs, so it’s probably just something that I’m used to (Persona 5, for example, does this where the team is having a celebration party at an expy of Disneyworld and watch Haru’s father die during that).

The overall plot of the show is this: a very eccentric scientist, Rintarou Okabe, is running a “lab” as a self-proclaimed mad scientist churning out inventions, and ends up discovering time travel. As part of testing it out, he ends up generating a world where a very bad event keeps happening, and so he keeps looping himself back in time to try to prevent it, and eventually discovers that the only way to do so is to undo all of the changes — many of which undid things that the people who undid them desperately wanted undone — that he did while testing the time machine … one of which, it turns out, will result in the death of someone else, forcing him to choose between the lives of the two people he cares most about.

What’s interesting about the time travel is that early on the show explains away any notion of a time travel paradox. Time travellers don’t actually change the past, but instead cause themselves to be shifted to another “World Line” where the changed events are the ones that actually happened. Thus, they never eliminate the timeline where they went back in time to change things, and so there’s no causal paradox. But what’s most interesting about this is the implication: time travellers never change time, but instead merely choose the World Line that they want to live in, that works out best for them or is the one they most like. Thus, time travellers can never actually “Save the World”, because the destroying world or totalitarian state world still exists and goes on as before, and in fact the people who the time traveller knows still have to go through everything that they go through in that World Line. It’s only the time traveller that doesn’t have to have those experiences and doesn’t have to see the people going through those things (unless the time traveller is a “Steiner” and remembers everything, but that’s another matter). But if someone dies in a World Line, the time traveller is not going to prevent it. All they are going to do is shift themselves to a different World Line where it didn’t happen to that person.

Unfortunately, the anime ends up ignoring that while still bringing it up every so often. The time traveller Suzuha asks Okabe to save her timeline from destruction multiple times, and yet when she returned to her time nothing could possibly have changed for her (unless she was the one shifted). So saving the world only saves it for a future Okabe, not for her, despite the drama being built around making things better for everyone. And even the deaths are portrayed more as him trying to prevent them rather than him simply choosing the World Line that makes him happiest. The anime, then, in its drama is relying on tropes that don’t actually apply to the version of time travel that it’s using. It would have been nice for Okabe to explicitly realize that he’s just picking the world he likes best and at least have a debate over that, not use “Save the world for all my friends!” as an unironic spur to get him back into the game. At the least Suzuha should have acknowledged that she wasn’t going to benefit from it, but the anime makes her, at least, certain that she, herself, would have a better future from the changes.

Another interesting thing that I thought of and the anime didn’t seem to was the fact that they were making minor changes that had strangely disproportionate effects. For example, everyone lampshades that it’s not possible that telling Luka’s mother to eat more veggies while pregnant would have her have a girl instead of a boy. They explain various odd changes as “The Butterfly Effect”, but what if that was false? What if, instead, a time traveller could never actually create a World Line with a time travel action, but only ended up being moved to a World Line — the “closest” one — where the event they changed had happened? This could explain all sorts of odd little changes without having to trace it back to the specific thing changed. It also could have explained the issues saving the lives because in the one case there was a cluster of World Lines where the character died in some way and so a radical — and completely unrelated — change would have been required to shift away from that cluster to make a World Line where the character lived the “closest” one, and for the other character finding the closest one required actually limiting the changes so that it didn’t hop to another World Line where the character died. The anime doesn’t really address this, but it does seem to work given what happens … at least most of the time.

But now, onto the anime itself. The anime suffers early on because none of the characters are particularly likeable. Okabe is an annoying nut. His friend Daru is a bit of pervert. Hikase comes across as … I want to say “Tsundere” in the way she reacts angrily to almost everyone at times — or, at least, Okabe and Daru — but then they act so badly towards her that her getting angry is almost always the right response, and when it isn’t it’s understandable that she would overreact. The only really likeable character is Mayuri … and she’s so relentlessly positive that it’s a credit to the work that we don’t end up disliking her, because that can get really annoying. As Cookies once commented — in old “What The?!?” comics — “Milk’s so perky, so bubbly … I’ve never seen anything like it. Sometimes I just want to … slug her REAL hard.” Mayuri could have easily been annoying, but they limit her prominence so she remains likeable, which is important given her role in the plot.

As for the others, they don’t really get developed very much and so it’s hard to relate to them at time. The two that stand out the most are Yugo and Moeka. Yugo is a semi-antagonist for most of the work, but the reveal of his big secret — and how those events shake out — pretty much comes out of left-field and is never really referenced again. As for Moeka, I liked the character but we don’t really learn much about her in the first part, which makes her big reveal and her breakdown in later episodes emotionally hollow: I like the character but didn’t really see all of that coming and so it really makes her seem a little nuts instead of someone with serious issues … which was probably the intent. Still, the ending she gets works well for her overall.

There’s also not much plot or characterization to hang your hat on. Okabe doesn’t really change much over the course of the anime, and in fact a part of it — mostly in the movie — is justifying his odd behaviour. He has a hard time with the time loop and its implications, but at the end isn’t really nicer or more stable than he was before, nor is he — at least by the end of the movie — inherently unstable either. The closest we have to a character arc is developing the relationship between him and Hikase, but that’s something that probably would have happened eventually without the time loop (by comparison, that was unlikely to happen for Bill Murray’s character in “Groundhog Day”). There is some development, don’t get me wrong, but it’s not enough to carry the work. And the most interesting plot detail — having to undo all of his friends’ desires to save a life — is touched on and given importance in that subplot but then is never really addressed again.

I also don’t really feel that the movie added anything to the series. Yes, we do get to find out more about Hikase, and she’s a character that I did come to like, but none of that adds that much and it somewhat contradicts the end of the anime by having Okabe and Hikase profess their feelings for each other there and then having them ignore each other for months to make that lack a plot point. Also, the actual time travel related crisis — Okabe fading out of existence — seems a bit muddled. The best I can unpack it is that in some way which World Line you feel you’re a part of determines whether or not you can be there, and Okabe’s experiences left him feeling that he wasn’t part of any, and so he’d fade out of at least one if not all of them. So Hikase goes back in time and kisses him to make him feel that this timeline is the one he belongs to. Kinda. What was funny about that, though, is that she does it to his teenage self and then sends him off to help Mayuri, and my reaction was that his teenage self was more likely to think “I wanna stay here and make out with the hot older woman some more!” [grin]. Anyway, I don’t regret watching it but don’t think the movie added much to things.

So, what’s most interesting about the anime is the unique time travel aspect, and unfortunately the anime muddles that up a bit for the purposes of drama. Still, it worked pretty well. The characters can be annoying but for the most part we don’t have to actually really like them or be able to relate to them to be able to relate to the issues that they’re facing. The idea of having to undo all of your friends’ dreams is meaningful even if all of the characters annoy you at some point. The plot, though a little screwy, moves enough to keep the interest up and not bore the viewer. It’s not the greatest anime ever, but it’s certainly more than serviceable. It was worth getting, I enjoyed watching it, and I’ll probably watch it again at some point.

Two final little odd notes:

1) Last night I finished the end of the first season of “Charmed”, which also features a time loop. It’s a interesting coincidence and also shows just how common that sort of thing is.

2) Carrying on from “Happy Death Day 2 U”, the aforementioned plot about undoing all of the dreams of the friends to save the character would have been a far better plot for that movie to use than what it did use. It’s interesting that it’s such a small plot in the anime but could indeed have carried a full movie.

Thoughts on “Vampire Princess Miyu”

December 6, 2018

So, the other anime that I managed to finish was “Vampire Princess Miyu”. Like “Mythical Detective Loki Ragnarok”, this is an anime series that I first saw parts of when I had access to an anime network on cable where I could watch episodes on demand, and found it interesting. So when I saw it in a local anime/manga store I decided to buy it and give it a try … and then didn’t watch it. This time I got through it and I have to say this about it:

It’s probably the most depressing show I’ve ever watched.

There will be spoilers for the show after this point, so be warned.

To be fair, what makes it depressing it also what made it interesting and work as a horror anime. The basic premise is that there are a number of evil creatures called Shinma out there who prey in some way on humans, usually by granting them some kind of desire that allows them to feed off of them and that leaves them usually dead or in fates worse than death when they are done with them. Miyu is a good Shinma and the Guardian, which means that it’s her job to defeat these Shinma and protect humanity. She arrives a new town with her allies Larva (a European Shinma that she defeated at some point) and a mascot-type creature called Shiina to do so, and ends up going to school and meeting some new friends Chisato, Hisae and Yukari. Another, more ambiguous Shinma named Reiha is also around and alternatively helps Miyu, with commentary from her talking doll Matsukaze who doesn’t care at all for Miyu. There are character threads and backgrounds for pretty much all of these characters in the anime, which will lead to an issue that I’ll get into in a little bit.

Why the show is generally depressing is that in order to build up the horror the show needs to gets us attached to the human victims, so that we feel the horror that they are being threatened with. However, the show goes a step further and has it be the case that things rarely, if ever, turn out well for those victims. One of the earliest episodes has the viewpoint character getting a beauty makeover by a Shinma who turns her into a mannequin. Her and all of the other women that the Shinma did that to remain buried as mannequins and it is implied that they are aware of what is going on as you can hear them whimpering in the dark, underground chamber where they are hidden. In fairness, that they did that was one of the more memorable things from when I watched the show the first time, but that sort of outcome is the rule, not the exception, which is one reason why the show is overall a pretty depressing one.

That they need to develop the plots and characters more to pull off the horror but also have a lot of backstory and character arcs means that the episodes tend to be a bit overstuffed, which means that the end resolutions often seem to be a bit rushed, and also make Miyu look weak. What usually happens is that Miyu confronts and reveals the Shinma, they banter a bit, it attacks, Miyu calls in Larva to attack it, and then she sends it back with her fire spell. There are relatively few cases where Miyu is the main combatant, which one would expect the Guardian to be. But after developing the horror and potentially things about the backstory, there really isn’t that much room to do anything more, which thus makes the confrontations a bit anti-climactic and disappointing.

All of this stuff, though, only adds to how depressing the series is because nothing turns out well throughout the entire series. Here’s where the big spoilers come it:

With Reiha’s arc, we eventually find out why she allies with Miyu even as she wants to kill her, and literally wants to kill her herself and not allow anyone else to do this. This is because Reiha’s father sacrificed his own life to protect the Guardian’s, who is Miyu. We also find out that the doll represents her dead father to her because her father told Reiha that it would protect her now that he couldn’t. We find this out something like five minutes before the doll is destroyed protecting her, which makes that a complete gut punch even taking into account that neither of the characters were all that sympathetic up to that point. And this is a major plot and character arc for the series.

But the worst is what happens to Miyu and her friends. Chisato gives her a friendship bracelet thing early in the series, and this represents their growing bond throughout the entire series. It’s even used to help defeat a Shinma later, with the claim being that its representation of friendship is what was responsible. The series also portrays Miyu making friends and fitting in as part of human society as character growth for her. Later, Chisato’s brother comes home and is revealed to be Shinma empowered by a cult or family of Shinma that are trying to kill Miyu. In defeating him — which she acknowledges will devastate Chisato because she cares for her brother so much — she ends up revealing herself to Hisae and Yukari, ending on a cliffhanger. At the start of the next episode Hisae has been killed mysteriously — which annoyed me because she was my favourite character in the series — and there is a debate over who did it. Yukari, then, is killed as well, and it is revealed that the murderer was Chisato, who in reality is a Shinma of the group that’s trying to kill Miyu, which she then proceeds to try to do. After a big confrontation, Miyu finally defeats Chisato, but the other two friends are dead and Chisato gets locked into a dream world — that the series established earlier that Miyu could create by having her lock some of the tortured humans into it, which places them into comas — where she is human and not a Shinma. Miyu and Larva then move on to the next town, alone again.

So, yeah, depressing.

Still, for all of those issues, it’s still fairly entertaining, if you’re in the mood for or can handle being depressed. Despite the fact that they killed off my favourite character, this is a series that I might watch again at some point.

Thoughts on “Mythical Detective Loki Ragnarok”

November 8, 2018

So, a while ago I had access to an anime network that let you watch a limited selection of shows on demand, and one of them was “Mythical Detective Loki Ragnarok”. I liked it, and so after cancelling that channel I was browsing in a store that sold anime DVDs and found it, and started to watch it. As usual for me, at the time it disappointed me, although this time I remembered the reason: the main female character, Mayura, was really, really annoying. It also automatically did a “Play All”, which at the time didn’t fit into my schedule. So, I left it. With my recent push to finish things, I figured it was time to sit down and watch it.

The basic premise is that Loki of Norse Mythology fame is kicked out of Asgard and sent to Earth in the form of a child. Mayura is a young girl who is obsessed with mysteries, and the two of them end up working together at a detective agency — I think Loki had one before she came along and she just joined it — specializing in the supernatural. This is at least in part because Loki is trying to gather enough evil energy to allow him to return to Asgard, and so seeking out those things is a great way to get that. Anyway, a number of other Norse gods show up as well — Thor, Heimdall, Frey, Freya (Loki’s love interest who doesn’t remember that she’s a goddess when she’s in her child form), the Norns, etc — and there are a number of adventures that take place around the framing device, although the gathering of evil energy plot gets sidelined about half-way through.

I don’t know much about the background here, but I suspect that this anime was based on a manga, because a lot of the time the storylines seem to be based on things that would have been explained — or should have been explained — later. As an example, Loki’s daughter Hel makes what is supposed to be a shocking appearance, except the figure only appears in one episode before being revealed in the next, neither of which are shocking or very suspenseful. More of a background would have allowed for us to wonder about that.

This also impacts the ending, where a number of threads are left hanging, likely because of the expectation of there being another series to continue them, which as far as I know never happened. How Loki was going to cause Ragnarok, for example, or for Loki to finally face Odin, or for Loki and Freya to get together or to settle the love triangle with Skald, and so on. These just kinda peter out, as the gods ponder returning to Asgard and then all eventually decide to stay on Earth, which makes for an unsatisfying ending.

Overall, though, the show is kinda fun. It mixes humour with drama and action, and mostly balances it well. There are times when it inserts an odd comedic scene in a more serious episode — usually with either Frey doing something insane or a love triangle issue with Freya — but it even lampshades this at least once. Loki and Yamano are an interesting pairing with some interesting running gags — Yamano buying everything on mail order — and the gods often fit in nicely to the plots under discussion. It has its hiccups, sure, but overall it’s pretty entertaining. I’ll probably watch it again.

My Lists Are Long …

August 3, 2018

So, I’ve talked about the lists I’ve updated and created to try and get things done. The three lists that are on the blog are, well, all rather long, and also aren’t entirely complete. For example, I only have three hourly shows listed on my list of shows to watch on DVD despite the fact that I do indeed have a rather large library of DVDs to watch, that contain both shows that I’ve never watched and shows that I have watched but really want to watch again. In fact, I’m not sure that I’ll return to Knight Rider after finishing Dynasty, and so it might not even be accurate (the half-hour list is pretty much right). And when it comes to my reading list, I have a large number of philosophical works listed and, on top of that, have a number of works that count as “literature” that I want to slide in there at some point. Oh, and I’ve already mentioned the six+ boxes of fiction that I want to read. Essentially, I’m setting up lists that, if I try to complete everything on them, will likely take me years to complete.

I might be overthinking this a little …

That being said, I am making progress. I’ve made good progress on the history books that I wanted to complete, and so can expect to finish the list in a couple of months or so. He-Man has stalled a little since I started slipping Dynasty in as well, but that’s only because I’ve taken time away from it to watch Dynasty, which means that I’m about half-way through it. All I really need to do is live up to my bargain and actually watch the half-hour show in the evenings, after watching one or more episodes of the hourly show and hitting a convenient time point. And I’ve still made some progress on He-Man anyway, especially in the last few days. Finishing Persona was a coup, and I’ve started Persona 2 and am making progress with it … although it turns out that games are working out the worst, because every time I play Persona 2 it reminds me of how much better Persona 3 and Persona 4 are, and a number of things keep reminding me of other games that I’d like to play. Thus, I feel the most dissatisfied with the games I’m playing, and there actually isn’t an alternative like I had with “Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire”, which was to read it for an hour or so and then read Deadpool graphic novels in my general reading time. I don’t have free general game playing time nor do I have a lot of games that I could play in general spare time to at least let me play a game that I want to play or enjoy. The counter to that is that for video games there are far fewer games that would make me feel that way; Persona 2 is just a special case, and only because I like the modern Persona games that much more than them that it drags down my enjoyment of those games.

However, an issue with this is that I have little programming projects in the queue as well, but the pressure to finish these things tends to distract me from doing them. It’s not so much that I consider those things more important than the programming projects, but that I consider them at about the same level, and due to time constraints it doesn’t really work to do them in the early weekend afternoons like I had planned. What I’m finding is that my morning stuff plus cooking lunch plus cleaning up takes me just past the starting point for those projects, but then that wouldn’t leave me a lot of time before I’m supposed to play games (and I only have a few days to do that as well). I don’t want to delay playing games because a) I need the hours to get through them in any reasonable amount of time and b) I don’t want to play them too late because then I might not fall asleep that well. Plus, playing them too late would also cut into the time I can explicitly watch those DVDs. So it’s just easier for me to start playing earlier and then finish earlier, and I still get my watching and reading done as well. It just ends up cutting off all of those little projects, which then makes me feel bad that I’m doing nothing on them.

I think a reshuffling of my schedule is in the offing …

Anyway, it’ll be interesting to see how I progress with this and how satisfied I’ll be with the whole thing as time goes by. So far it hasn’t been terrible and it has been nice to finish some things that I’ve always wanted to finish, but there have been moments when the things that are supposed to be mostly fun haven’t actually been fun. We’ll have to see if they’re fun enough for me to still have some fun with things while still feeling that I’m progressing.

Your chance to help decide what I write about!

November 29, 2017

So, I’ve been running with the three updates a week schedule for quite a while now, and it seems to be working out pretty well. It even managed to survive my incredible busy time without all that much of a hitch. In doing this I’ve also started to figure out what things work, what things don’t and how things can work out better in my schedule, which then might start to make the blog more predictable consistent in how things work and what sort of content you might see here. In short, there are certain types of content that work pretty well whether I’m busy or not, and that are also things that I like talking about and am going to do some things with anyway, so I might as well talk about them.

The key is that what works best for the blog are things that I can watch, read or do at any time and then comment on later without having to refer back to the original source material that much. If I can do that, then it really makes my blog writing more flexible and so gives me things that can be done in a relative hurry if I’m busy but that I can do in free time if I’m not busy. TV shows are the ideal for this, and books are probably the worst (since to comment on arguments fairly I generally want to quote from them). But since a lot of these things are things that I haven’t focused on or that are suddenly fitting into my schedule better than they did before, I’m also a bit short of things that fit into those categories and so need to find some new sources for those sorts of posts.

Here is your chance to guide me towards new things to try in those areas.

So, one thing that I’ve found myself lately is watching Extra Credits youtube videos and commenting on them (which in their case means “Disagreeing with them”). In fact, I’m planning on commenting on another couple of them in the near future. But other than SF Debris, I don’t really watch a lot of youtube videos, especially when it comes to gaming. And about the only other commentator on games that I read consistently is Shamus Young, and I’m thinking about digging through his old columns — which he is planning on revisting himself, making this so much easier — to find some other things to talk about. But what other video game commentators do you guys like to watch or read who might have things to say that I might find interesting and want to talk about? While ones that I would probably disagree with are in some sense good — because it’s always pretty easy to write posts disagreeing with people (Hi, Extra Credits!) — I’m also open to people who just say things that might bring up interesting, tangentially related ideas for me to talk about (Hi, Shamus!).

A couple of caveats, though: for youtube videos, the videos can’t be longer, on average, than a half-hour, and can’t be Let’s Plays. Text reviewers are not only excluded from those restrictions, they’ll get precedence because it’s easier for me to read them anywhere and quote them if I want to talk about what they’re saying.

Another thing that I’ve recently started doing more frequently is commenting on TV shows that I’m watching in general, which you saw with Sabrina the Teenage Witch, Transformers, and most recently Cheers. I’m currently watching Frasier, and will talk about it as things go along, and I still have a show like Wings waiting when this is done. But since I don’t watch a lot of TV in general, I don’t have much of an idea of what shows might be worth watching, and for my purposes — see the upcoming caveats — don’t want to risk trying something out that I don’t think will be good.

Right now, there are a number of caveats. First, for at least the next year it looks like half-hour shows are what I’ll be watching, and that’s all that I could do for the blog because it would take me too long to watch hourly shows to be useful for generating content on the blog. However, that isn’t limited to sitcoms, as it can fit into anything that is half-hour in length and sounds interesting, like cartoons (for example). Second, these have to be completed series, and it has to be the case that I can get the entire series for a reasonable price. Ideally, if I can order them all on amazon.ca, that would be wonderful. EDIT: I’ll pretty much be buying DVDs, so if it’s not out on DVD the chances of my watching it are slim to none. Third, they can’t be too long; the eleven seasons of Frasier and Cheers are probably about the limit, although that’s more number of episodes rather than number of seasons.

As an example, I’m right now looking to see if I can get Hot in Cleveland — which I’ve talked about before — and maybe, now that its run is done, 2 Broke Girls if I can get the seasons for a reasonable price. Big Bang Theory is out because it is still running and is too long anyway, as is something like The Simpsons for the same reason.

I’m also interested in getting suggestions for books to read and talk about. I do want to keep reading and writing about deeper and more serious topics like that, even though it takes me a while to get around to commenting on them (I have finished reading Philipse’s book, for example, but still have to finish writing posts about it), and I’m a bit out of the loop on what the most recent or, for some genres, even what the popular books and topics are. So I’d be looking for suggestions in the genres of theology, philosophy, and history primarily. I’ll also consider requests for TPB comic editions (but, at least for now, not Alt-Hero).

Now, just because something isn’t listed here doesn’t mean that I won’t be writing about it. For example, I still intend to write about video games, but that will still be limited to the ones I play, and I won’t be soliciting ones to consider as something new so I can talk about it on the blog. And I’ll talk about music and my own eccentricities and do song parodies and talk about computers and write philosophical posts regardless. It’s just that these are categories that it is both relatively easy for me to write about and that I’m fairly uninformed about what’s out there that I might want to get into and write about, which is why I’m asking for suggestions here.

Also note that this isn’t like Chuck’s requests. I don’t put these on a list and promise to have them completed at some time in the near future. I’ll do them if I feel like it and get time and can get them without breaking the bank. I’ll try to respond to all comments as to whether there’s even a chance of it and I’ll try to put something up for things that I’ve bought and so plan to get to at some point, but any suggestion you make here is a suggestion that I’ll consider but may not do, even if I think it’s a good one.

Thoughts After Re-watching .hack//Sign and Liminality

June 21, 2017

The first anime that I really watched and really got into was almost certainly “.hack//Sign” and “.hack//Liminality”. Well, I might have watched “Sailor Moon” and “Yu-Gi-Oh” first, but in general I thought of those as cartoons rather than as anime, and really didn’t realize or understand what anime was at the time. Sign and Liminality, on the the other hand, were clearly anime. And while I still don’t really watch a lot of anime, it was them that made me realize that such things existed and were worth watching.

How did I get into them? Well, the “.hack” games came out on the PS2, which I owned at the time, and as a JRPG fan I found the premise and gameplay interesting enough to give it a try. The games came with Liminality, and since I had them anyway I might as well have started watching them. And I enjoyed them, which is what I think gave me the push to give Sign a try. And I really enjoyed Sign.

The key here is that the plot of Liminality and Sign is not exactly interesting. I mean, it’s a fleshing out of a plot for a JRPG that wouldn’t be nominated as one of the best plots ever made for a JRPG. The premise of something going on in an MMO-world that was impacting people in the real world was different, but there’s not that much that you can do with that plot-wise. And Liminality and Sign, to their credit, didn’t try. Instead, they both focus on characters and character interactions, with the plot being little more than a big picture that has a major impact on the lives of the main characters, Liminality in the outside world, and Sign in the MMO-world.

And that’s what grabbed me about the series, and grabbed me this time, too. While this time Tsukasa annoyed far more than I think he did the previous time I watched it, and BT’s duplicity also grated more, Subaru and Bear and Mimiru were as intriguing as ever, and I found a new appreciation for Crim. In Liminality, while Yuki really annoyed me I really liked Mai and Tokuoka, and so was willing to sit there and watch them do various things in an attempt to make things better.

This time through, the last disk of Sign was a bit of a slog to get through, which also happens to be the point where they move from characterization to having to rapidly advance the plot. I preferred the general character interactions, and loved the callbacks to previous character moments, like BT echoing Bear’s “I’m gentle, but not a pushover” line from, I think, the first episode later in the series. I didn’t feel that way about Liminality … but then that one was only four episodes long, so the last episode still had character moments and enough plot to keeo things going.

I managed to get through three of the four games in the series and had started the fourth, and mused about playing it again recently. But, all in all, I think the animes worked better. But maybe I’ll play it again and change my mind.

A fangirl by any other name …

May 1, 2014

So, there have been a lot of controversies in the geek/nerd/whatever-we’re-calling-it-these-days sphere, over what seems to be the most popular topic in most areas lately: sexism. It seems that some T-shirt company made a set of shirts that read as follows:

Shirt 1 – “I like fangirls like I like my coffee. I HATE coffee”.
Shirt 2 – “I like fanboys like I like my coffee. I HATE coffee”.

Cue angry denunciations of the first shirt, mostly for being sexist and discouraging women from being geeks and tying it all back to the old “fake geek girl controversy”. The company responded to the comments with a post on their Facebook page, saying this:

So, we’ve apparently received some bad word on our fan girl shirt, with accusations of sexism being thrown at us from a certain few bloggers…

…who have completely ignored our other variant shirt on display or didn’t even bother to ask our take on it.

Apparently it’s only sexism if it is insulting to one gender. Woo double standards. …

Anyways, the fangirl/fanboy shirts can best be explained like this: fangirls/boys =/= fans. Fans are people who like and genuinely respect a fandom, and it’s creators. Fangirls/boys are like those who have an unhealthy obsession who make us all collectively cringe in pain at what they do to the things we love.

No one should ever defend these kinds of people. Seriously, they make the rest of us look bad.

Before I get into the blog posts, if you read the comments one of the objections to this is that while they have a fanboy shirt, fanboy does mean what the sort of obsessive fan that they talk about here, but fangirl just means any girl who is a fan, and so it’s a problem. Well, let’s make sure that it does, shall we:

From dictionary.reference.com (note that the entry I’m using here is one that combines fanboy and fangirl into one entry):

a person obsessed with an element of video or electronic culture, such as a game, sci-fi movie, comic or animé, music, etc; a person obsessed with any other single subject or hobby

From Oxford American English:

• informal • derogatory An obsessive female fan (usually of movies, comic books, or science fiction).

And from Oxford World English:

A female fan, especially one who is obsessive about comics, film, music, or science fiction

Only the last definition even hints at it applying to all female fans, and still makes it clear that in general it’s meant to apply to obsessive ones. And before anyone uses that to support the claim of a difference between the terms “fanboy” and “fangirl”, here’s the Oxford World English definition of fanboy:

A male fan, especially one who is obsessive about comics, music, film, or science fiction.

So, no, if the fangirl T-shirt is a problem, then so is the fanboy T-shirt, at least in terms of terminology. They mean the same thing.

Now, some have commented that they aren’t really taking exception with the sexism, but with the shirt implying things about how people ought to be fans. The problem is that the terms fanboy/fangirl are usually given to people who … try to tell people how to be fans of a work. Most commonly, what made the terms derogatory is that it refers to people who jump into any conversation about a work and rant about what people should like about a work, insisting that it’s the best thing ever and no one should ever find any flaws or problems with it and that no one should ever, God forbid, not like the work. That’s just inconceivable for the stereotypical fanboy/fangirl. These are the people who give the hobby a bad name. not those who are saying that that sort of obsession isn’t a good thing. So those complaining that this is telling people how to be fans of a genre or work should be the ones who hate fanboys/fangirls the most.

But, aside from that, the sexism really is the big complaint here, and the comments on the Facebook page that it seems that trying to apply a criticism to women seem to be valid. Aside from most of the comments on that page, we have this article from Rebecca Pahle. She starts off in the title talking about “Fake Geek Crap”, which is odd since no one has or does claim that fanboys/fangirls are fake geeks. They can be legitimate geeks. They’re just bad ones. To make that accusation is like saying that alcoholics are fake drinkers; yes, they are still drinkers, and are just too much so. The same can be said for fanboys/fangirls; they’re still fans, but take it too far.

Now, she does manage to stay somewhat focused on telling fans how to like a work, but she does link it to sexism directly here:

…that rightfully got a lot of people ticked off because of the way it perpetuates the toxic “there’s only one right way to be a fan of something” attitude that’s long infected geek culture and often manifests specifically in a way that’s intended to push girls out of geek spaces.

This would seem to imply that there’s an implication here that’s worse for women, and note that her update to the shirt to a more accurate version replaces “hate” with “scared of” which is a common complaint aimed at supposedly sexist geeks who don’t want women to get into the hobby because they’re scared of them. But at least she does say multiple times that it’s about not telling fans how to like a work, which is better than the original post by Greg Rucka, whose title starts by linking it to gatekeeping of women in geek culture and spends most of the post talking about the trials of his daughter and ends with this:

And some asshole thinks selling a shirt that, essentially, says, GURLS STAY OUT is funny. He’s talking to my wife. He’s talking to my daughter. He’s talking to my friends. He’s talking to my fans. He’s talking to some of the best writers in the industry, some of the most gifted artists, some of the most talented creators in the arts.

GURLS STAY OUT. Heh heh heh.

Since Pahle references Rucka’s article to claim that the creators of the T-shirt ignored the main issue of telling people how to be fans, one would assume she’d, well, read the article. And anyone who read that article would certainly forgive them for thinking that the main issue was sexism, not “telling people how to be fans”. In that sense, it almost sounds like “moving the goalposts” is in play here: once the “fanboy” T-shirt was “revealed”, sexism wasn’t as easy a case anymore, so it switches to the real issue being about telling people how to be fans. Again, this wouldn’t be an issue if Pahle hadn’t referenced Rucka’s post, which is clearly more about sexism than about telling people how to be fans.

The facts of the matter are this:

It isn’t sexist to use the term “fangirl” to describe an overly obsessive female fan, particularly one who is annoyingly vocal about that obsession in a way that implies that if you don’t like what she likes, then there’s something wrong with you or you aren’t really a fan or you don’t know what you’re talking about. It is less sexist to do that than to try to lump all of those fans — male and female — into the term “fanboy” which, as anyone who knows anything about feminism knows, normalizes the male and so is incredibly sexist. While it many be debatable, a good case can be made that overly obsessive fans of any gender are a problem for the geek community, precisely because they end up telling people how to enjoy the works or the genres that they refer to, and that is indeed bad for the community (the objections on that point are valid, as far as they go). In the Facebook quote, could the creators of the T-shirt be doing that (some earlier comment/version of the post might have made reference to hetalia shippers and something else, but it’s not there now)? Maybe, and for that they’d deserve criticism. The shirts, however, don’t actually say things like that , and so to harp on that would be nothing more than a distraction from the issues around the shirts, which started the mess in the first place.

There’s nothing wrong with the shirts, as far as I can see. And if people disagree then they can … post comments here (no swearing, please) telling me why I’m wrong.

Persona 4: The Animation

March 19, 2014

It may not have come up here that often, but I’m a massive fan of the Persona series. I’ve probably put well over 500 hours into the various incarnations of Persona 3 (including FES and P3P) and Persona 4 (including Golden) each. Those are my favourite games ever.

I was browsing through TV Tropes during a slow time at work, and noticed that they’d done an anime series based on Persona 4. I went to Amazon and found the English translation there in Blu-Ray, and decided to buy it, and give it a try. And so for the past two evenings instead of writing on my blog or writing comments or doing, well, anything else, I sat down to watch it. And I have to say … it’s very well done.

If you’re a fan of the game, you’ll appreciate the little touches that make it look like the game. You see the calendar as days advance. The commercial break cuts are showing the status of the MC’s main attributes, and you see them go up and up over time. Those will look a little weird, however, to people who haven’t played the game, but only the calendar is really something that you’re actually supposed to pay attention to. One failing of the series is that what day it is isn’t really made important to the game, although the weather kinda is. But it’s very easy to completely ignore all of that information since it doesn’t directly play a role in the series, at least not as much as it did in the game, and the calendar is very obvious so it might be a bit confusing and annoying to people who haven’t played the games.

But, of course, this is a short anime series tracking a game that could easily have 40 – 50 hours of gameplay, so they were going to have to cut some things out and change some things to make it work. Now, this is the sort of thing that tends to ruin video game or book adaptations to movies or anime, since deciding what to cut and what to keep is actually really hard to do. Cut too much, and you end up leaving out what everyone actually liked about the original media. Cut too little, and you end up with something that might play well to the die-hard fans of the original media, but doesn’t work at all for those who don’t know anything about that and just want to watch a good movie/anime. That was exactly my problem with Watchmen. And you have to add to that that most writers and directors don’t want to just copy the original media. They want to put their own stamp on it and make it somehow different, something that reflects thought and artistic merit. So there are always going to be changes when you convert from one media to the other, and this is where most adaptations fail.

P4: The Animation makes a fair number of changes, some of which might be controversial. As an example, the introduction is greatly shortened, and leaves out one of the better scenes and one that, in hindsight, reflects the relationship between Chie and Yukiko better than almost any other: after Chie convinces the MC to walk home with her and Yukiko, she eventually asks him if he finds Yukiko attractive. This embarasses Yukiko, and the MC can react in many ways. This scene highlights what each get from the other: Yukiko is shy and reserved, and so wouldn’t approach or talk to the MC, so Chie’s boldness works to get her into the group, effectively. On the other side, Chie at least feels that she’s using Yukiko’s looks as an in: the MC might not want to walk with Chie, but almost everyone will want to walk with Yukiko. This plays out with their Shadows later who make it explicit, and is left out of the anime.

However, notwithstanding that, the things left out aren’t usually that important, and some of the additions are brilliant. In the game, I never really felt much sympathy for Yukiko; she seemed more whiny and in some ways at least obliviously mean. However, her Shadow gets a full episode, most of which is setting up her backstory more than the game did, and seeing her not only working really hard at the inn and the subplot with the bird she saves really shows her as someone who does care, but is frustrated and feeling trapped. The reference to the bird’s escape and the link to Yukiko’s realization works really well to bring it all together, better than the game managed. So it’s a major improvement over the game.

The protagonist is named and voiced, and that adds a lot to the anime as well, as it gives him a personality beyond the Stoic. He has a rather odd sense of humour at times, which adds to the humour of the anime overall.

The dungeon crawls are left out, which I don’t mind that much, except that they tend to add small scenes in the middle just to remind you that they happened, but which often feel like they’re facing overwhelming force rather than something manageable but that just wears you down. Also, the boss fights are much more action-oriented than tactical, which was disappointing to me. Yes, you can see the tactics involved if you look closely, but I shouldn’t have to do that.

But the key to the Persona games is the Social Links, which are also the things that it would be the hardest to adapt. And for the most part they get truncated a lot. In some cases, you can’t even recognize them if you’ve played the game. However, they are also all there, and the highlights do tend to get hit. More focus is put on the key relationships — with the party members and with Dojima and Nanako — but for the most part they get used as breathers from the major story events that end up as hopeful, funny and touching, often all at the same time. But if you watch the anime, you will really miss out on the S-links.

The story events get much more focus, which makes sense because they provide an arc and a focus that an anime really wants. And they work fairly well. The main murder mystery events are hit and sometimes expanded, and even the small side events generally get a decent treatment. This is the part that those who haven’t played the games should still be able to appreciate, while those who have will be able to see it a little differently and sometimes with a bit more depth, since in-game all the reacts of the MC are just yours, while in the anime they can play with the MC’s personality more and thus give you funny and heart-rending reactions that not only work, but also make sense.

And I really like Aika, and the small subplot of Aiya’s deliveries was interesting. And how the dungeon crawls were done eliminated any need to explain how they could get their weapons into the TV all the time.

Overall, it’s a very good series, and I recommend it. The biggest problem I had with it is that it’s a little expensive for the amount of time it runs, so if you aren’t a huge fan of the games you might have a hard time justifying the price. But it should be enjoyable both to those who love the games and to those who’ve never heard of them.

A Little Bit of Character …

February 2, 2012

So, I was browsing the archives of Twenty-Sided, and came across this discussion of Read or Die. Shamus didn’t like it. The Read or Die OVA is, in fact, among my favourites when it comes to anime. Reading the comments, some of the stuff he says about it is accurate, and some of it is stuff I hadn’t really noticed, and some of it is stuff that wouldn’t bother me (I’m not too concerned about anti-Americanism; for me it doesn’t make it better or worse if it doesn’t get in the way). But notwithstanding all of that, I still really like Read or Die … the OVA. I don’t, in fact, like Read or Die: the TV. So what explains this?

Character.

Yeah, there are a few plot holes, and Yomiko’s ability can be a bit over the top. But I never noticed, because I like all of the characters in the work. I like Yomiko, and Nancy, and Joker, and Drake, and pretty much all of the main characters in the OVA. I don’t like the initial characters, at least, in the TV, except for the one that I thought I wouldn’t like (the one who doesn’t like reading). So with two series that are about the same, and one with characters I like and one with characters I don’t, I love the one that has the characters I like and hate the one that has the characters I don’t.

So it seems that my enjoyment relates to how well I like the characters.

This holds true for the other anime I’ve watched. I like Record of Lodoss War, but that’s because I like a lot of the characters. I also really like .hack//Sign because I like Bear and Subaru and Crim and even some of the other characters (Tsukasa can be annoying). The story in .hack//Sign is fairly weak — although better if you take the games and Liminality into account — but the character interaction is exceptional, and that’s what I liked about it.

This also seems to be at least one reason why I like Space: Above and Beyond so much. The characters and character interaction are done really well. I have problems with the revamped BSG because it doesn’t do characters and character interaction well. Babylon 5 is great because it has both great stories and great characters. I even think that I prefer Angel to Buffy — despite liking both — because the focus there is more on character interaction and less on just Buffy and how she relates to the world.

This also explains my problems with “A Song of Ice and Fire”. I’m halfway through the third book and despite its long character list there aren’t that many characters that I actually like … and if they aren’t involved in the section that section is less than interesting to me. Compare it to “Wild Cards” — which I loved — and you can see that the characters are better in “Wild Cards” than in “A Song of Ice and Fire”. And I really like “Rogue Squadron” because the characters — most importantly, Wedge himself — are done well and interact well.

I do believe that a great story with lackluster characters is something I’d still enjoy. But it’s clear that great characters in a lackluster story is also something I’ll enjoy. The ideal is to have both, but I can live with one, and it seems can suffer weaker stories better than weaker characters. Although I need to find more examples of both to do a proper empirical experiment …