September 24, 2017

Truth in Advertising.

Knights and Magic is a perfectly reasonable name for this show and not a misleading title in any way.


Trapped! in a Fantasy World would work too.


IN A WORLD where the transmigration expressway missed a turn at Alberquerque, one computer programer is reincarnated as a nobleman's son in a world that's ripped from the pages of Cliffs Notes of the Silmarillion...except for the giant robots.

The main difference between this show and every other show that involves a geek getting zapped into a fantasy world is that he's actually reincarnated and at at some point in his childhood, he encounters a giant enchanted suit of armor (which the knights in this realm use to fight) and suddenly remembers his past life as a highly regarded computer programmer and plamo Otaku.

This show actually starts out remarkably well. The story and world are in a lot of ways, very well thought out. 
For instance the way they handle magic is kind of neat.
There is a nice (and very atypical) side plot involving another individual's redemption, and a lot of thought went into the creation of the world and its characters. 

The plot develops quickly but logically, and the characters are well realized.  The show has a bit to say about bureaucracies, institutional inertia and how disruptive technologies can destabilize the international order (nothing terribly insightful mind you, but they touch on these issues). This is a nice touch given the premise of the show. It's just a very solid, remarkably well done and engaging show...

But then..

quite suddenly, (around episode 9) it appears that the writers received word that the show was only going to be 13 episodes and not 26 or 52 and the pacing gets downright... brisk, while he plotting gets inchoate.

The story moves all over the place so quickly that the show actually gets a narrator around that time to explain all the stuff that they're not showing the audience. 

For instance there are fragments of a really moving tale of a crown princess who must come to terms with an awesome responsibility thrust upon her...but most of that it taken care of off camera. There's a villain who seems to have a very dark and tragic backstory that was being developed until it was....not.

The show wraps up QUITE abruptly, and unsatisfyingly.  This breakneck pacing exacerbates the main negative issue with the hero. That is, he is so good at everything that he gives off a bit of a Mary Sue vibe...

...in more ways than one. 

Even more annoying, there are several interpersonal relationships between various characters  that start out really well written and fun (this is, astonishingly, NOT a harem show) These just get left unresolved in the mad dash to wrap up the main plot. 

The animation and art design was quite good (with the sole exception of the little mini-mechs, which never looked or moved right). Unlike the plot, this does not seem to have suffered much at the end and remains high quality throughout.

Knights and Magic, despite its painting by numbers premise, had a LOT of potential and seems to have had some real skill and talent working on it. It really does seem that the show was cut short unexpectedly and that is unfortunate. However, we should probably keep an eye on the director Yusuke Yamamoto and the writer Michiko Yokote in the future. Because both of these people have definite skill in their craft.

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September 22, 2017

This Did Not Suck

The Orville does not seem to be high art, but it's solid. I've seen two episodes and I'm tentatively optimistic.  




I was (pleasantly) surprised that its not a typical Seth McFarlane 44 joke a minute comedy, but rather a very Star Trekesque show done largely straight with a sitcom side-plot and a fair amount of snark. 

One thing I do like is that this is not the United Federation of Planets Planetary Union flagship/hottest, most cutting edge starship, but a mass produced 5th rate scout vessel whose captain and several of his crew have had...chequered...careers and this is their last chance to avoid being cashiered. They have this chance due mainly to a severe fleetwide crew shortage due to the recent massive expansion of the Union. This is, however, a small ship, with routine duties, so how much trouble could these spacers possibly get into?

Oh.

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September 08, 2017

This is an Unexpected Addition to my Film Queue

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September 04, 2017

Midterm Report Card

Concept A
Characterization A-
Basic Comprehension of American Superhero Comics A
Plot A
Screen Time for Frog Frau and Gadget Girl D-
Pathos B
Comprehension of What a Hero is A
Physics/Biology F*
Pacing C-


This has been a surprisingly good show, being Kohei Horikoshi's take on superheroes, specifically AMERICAN comic book superheroes, albeit in a Japanese setting and in a Shounen style of storytelling.

That last bit was a cause for some trepidation, especially as season two began with a  tournament fighting arc, which, in Japanese boys comics, is usually where interesting stories go to die. Fortunately, this show has thus far used such framing devices, not as filler, but as a way of providing venues for characterization of what is a fairly large cast. 

The breakneck pace of the first twelve episodes does slow considerably as much of the show's action is now taking place simultaneously in different locales and some events are told in a Rashomon style from different viewpoints. However, the story is continually moving along and most of the villians are actually quite interesting, several having interesting ( though admittedly warped) philosophical reasons for their mayhem. 

The Japanese storytelling techniques notwithstanding, this is a show that GETS the American superhero genre in a way that American superhero comics often don't anymore. Most notably it appears to be a disquisition of the nature of heroism. At least three of the characters are pointedly reflective of some of the more obnoxiously nihilistic 'Iron Age' tropes, not in homage to those ideas, but in mockery of them.  The number one hero of the universe, a pivotal, but largely background character named All Might, is a VERY American superhero combining the best aspects of Captain America and Superman. Powerful and idealistic, All Might is an astounding beacon of strength and sincerity...
IN A WORLD 
...where superheroes are basically licensed mercenaries . 

You see, some years prior,  superpowers spread like a disease through the general population granting over 99% of humanity "quirks" which range from the useless to the dangerous. Superheroes are, perhaps surprisingly, not passe' since the criminal element is similarly blessed. Superheroing is somewhat akin to private security firms, licenses and bonding are required and they work closely with the police (many have product endorsement side gigs based on their social media presence). One way to get a license is to go to an accredited superhero college...This is the goal of one Izuku Midoriya, who has, since a young age dreamed of being a superhero. There's just one problem, as the show starts he is revealed to be one of the infinitesimally small number of people with no quirk at all. 

The main characters are for the most part quite likeable and (generally) idealistic, though perhaps not quite as much as they think they are, heroism being more than a career path or physical strength (as they are finding out). Interestingly, even some whose goals seem at first glance to be cynical are pursuing them for noble reasons. This is really, well done.



This series is a shonen show, and all that implies, but it is an outlier of its genre in a most positive way. I am enjoying this series immensely more than I have any right to be right now. 


* This is as it should be.

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Eromanga Sensei Ends

Actually, Eromanga Sensei ended some time ago, but I only just finished it as shortly after watching the first few I had developed a nagging fear that it was going to be horrible. 




Fortunately it was merely offensive. 



Sometimes exuberantly so....



The show did not conclude, it merely stopped, though there was continuous, if unsteady character development throughout. It remained enjoyably silly till the end. On the debit side, it kind of jumped the shark when the second female author entered out of left field. More disappointing was that her arrival made the series an actual harem show (which it had not quite been up till that point). Still, it was cute and generally funny. It also had a lot to say about the creative process, but it really said all it had to say in the first 8 episodes, and it was pretty much fan service after that.


 and crossovers...with troubling implications.

Some of the characters, particularly those introduced later, appear to have been conceived by rolling dice and referencing an NPC encounter table, but I must say that Elf Yamada is one of the better characters in recent years, having surprising depth and complexity for an utter loon. The show did not live up to its early promise as it spent the last third checking off every trope box on the harem show bucket list as if to apologize for the quirky and touching first part. Disturbingly, this may imply other...issues...with the plot. 

It's still cute and funny overall, but nowhere near what it could have been.
(Or was.)



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Lost in Translation

So, in an attempt to mitigate simultaneous afflictions of boredom and writers block, I went and watched the Japanese dub of RWBY which is currently streaming on Crunchyroll. 


Wow.

This interpretation has a truly bizarre series of editorial choices. Some, like  the almost complete omission of the JNPR story elements one can almost get one's head around. Others, like severely cutting the fight scenes (removing most of the cute character bits and even some of the better choreography) are completely inexplicable.

To be fair, the very odd Jaune Arc...er...arc in the first season was indeed a dumpster fire of a subplot (until the end), but it clearly established why Jaune appeared to be a few islets of brilliance in a sea of derpitude. 

Along with Weiss, Jaune is one of the characters who has come the farthest in overcoming personal shortcomings, and without this backstory, his later development (especially in season 4) is not going to have anything like the same impact.  That whole arc as well as the other excised footage also developed Phyrra's character, establishing her both as 'the pro from Dover' and as a mentor to many of the other characters, particularly Ruby. The whole notion that JNPR are genuinely significant to the story is lost, as are several things that seemed to be random, throwaway bits, but were, in fact important foreshadowing. This can't help but hurt the show later. Indeed, one of the best and most consequential conversations in the series, (Ruby's "Nope" speech from season one) is completely omitted.



Way more important than we initially thought.

The voice work is off as well. However, it's not that the voice acting is bad per se (it's not) but rather that the characters are voiced as straight up versions of their respective (assumed) archtypes. To my surprise though, the guy they got to play Oobleck nails it. 

I'm not sure, but they may have cut as much as 45 minutes out of the show as of the middle of season three, much of it, as is noted above, fairly consequential to the later plot. 

This brings back memories of my youth in anime fandom when everyone was griping about how edits by the American rights holders would almost inevitably gut the impact of or destroy the cohesiveness of the plots of anime brought to the U.S.

Well, it's not just American distributors that do that...

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