Tsuki ga Kirei – 04

It’s the School Trip episode, and there’s a sense of adventure to the proceedings, as the whole amassed class boards the Shinkansen and arrives in a bustling Kyoto. It’s just the start of a dense, lush, richly-detailed episode that nevertheless has a light touch due to the elegant plot.

You see, amidst this big trip, all Kotarou really wants is to know Akane’s answer to whether she’ll go out with him; the sooner the better. Because cell phones are officially forbidden, he has to hide his and hope it’s not confiscated; otherwise he’s doomed.

And I’m not kidding when I say Kyoto is bustling; the scenes of throngs of tourists milling around are pretty impressive, even if the CGI models are a little stiff, it’s better than panning stills; not to mention the accurate-to-Kyoto environs look great.

The fact that Kotarou and Akane have to contend not only with their nosy classmates, but also the vast space and volume of humanity Kyoto throws at them, really heightens the tension. Will they be able to meet on this trip?

C’mon, haven’t we all been there at some point: staring at our phone, the only light in the room at night, willing that next text to come in from the person you like? Even if you haven’t, the tension is thick enough to cut through with a knife.

The show does an excellent job thrusting us into the shoes of both Kotarou and Akane, making their various friends, nice that they are, feel like hovering irritants. They want to reach out to each other, but they’re mired in their respective circles.

Kotarou finally gathers the courage to send Akane a place and a time to meet…only for his phone to be confiscated by a (drunk) teacher at the worst possible time.

From there, it’s a textbook “missed/lost connection” scenario, as Akane sent a text asking Kotarou to elaborate on what he meant by the time and place…and she waits and waits, to no avail. So much must fly through her head: did he lose his phone, or is he intentionally ignoring her replies?

The beauty of this particular situation is that it simply unfolds before us without undue explanation, exposition, and precious little inner dialogue, really giving the increasingly awful-feeling situation room to breathe without undue verbal interference.

Kotarou has to muster courage once more, in order to borrow Chinatsu’s phone to call Akane. And Akane is rightly pissed, though neither she nor Kotarou should place so much hope in the reliability of cell phones. That’ll lead them to ruin!

All’s well that ends well, thankfully, and the tension is released when, after voicing her frustration with her ordeal and with their inability to clearly communicate thus far, Akane is the one who musters the courage to say something: that she wants to talk with Kotarou more.

That’s her answer, all but eliminating the ambiguity her fortune said would lead to calamity. Sure enough, the pouring rain ceases and the clouds part to reveal the beautiful blue sky. Now let’s hope these two crazy kids didn’t catch colds!

Shingeki no Bahamut: Virgin Soul – 04

Like GenesisVirgin Soul is about two opposing sides who aren’t willing to compromise in the slightest, thus requiring a third party, impartial or not, to negotiate and avoid disaster. Only this time, the cooler prevailing heads are super-outnumbered, or in Nina’s case, is too much of a wild card herself to enact any change. When Nina hears what the king is doing to innocent demons, she makes a beaten-down Azazel hug her so she can turn into a dragon and put a scare into Charioce.

Instead, all she does is make the king stand in awe of her power, meaning he probably wouldn’t mind using her as a tool in his fight against gods and demons. Nina is, as Azazel says, like a  little Bahamut, which means as chaotic as she can be, she’s far more controllable than the titular beast. She causes plenty of property damage, but she’s in no danger of bringing down the world.

After Azazel’s ill-conceived standoff and Nina’s attack, things slow down considerably, as both are carted away by Rita in Bacchus’ wagon. It’s as good a time as any for Nina to let Azazel (and us) in on who and what exactly she is and how she got to be this way. Unlike other half-dragon children, she wasn’t able to transform easily.

Only when her heart raced from a cute guy does she transform, and then, exposively so. She treats it as a curse and a burden, which it most certainly is from her perspective, as she can’t even remember what she does while a dragon. That kind of loss of control probably isn’t that pleasant, to say the least.

After a half-hearted attempt to seduce Nina (by telling him if she can’t control herself, she should make love to him and let him try), he disappears, leaving Mugaro in Rita and Nina’s care.

Charioce, not totally believing Kaisar’s version of his relationship to Azazel, lets him live regardless since our favorite prettyboy saved the king’s life. Another familiar face is then introduced in the imprisoned Jeanne d’Arc, who won’t join Charioce’s crusade, and may just be the mother of Mugaro.

Then we learn where Azazel went off to: to find the headquarters of the organized demon army that’s itching to go to war with the humans. Azazel is only too happy to lead them in battle.

While there was more exposition and piece-moving than previous episodes, there was still the usual things to like about this Bahamut, not the least of which Nina turning into a dragon again, and her great reactions before and after she does (and her seiyu Morohoshi Sumire is knocking it out of the park). We’ll see if the cooler heads can make any progress with the extremists next week.

Saekano 2 – 03

Tomoya and Eriri find themselves suddenly confronted by the Hashima siblings, whose Rouge en Rouge game company put out a demo of a game very similar to their own.

While Megumi does her best to keep things diplomatic, it isn’t long until Eriri and Izumi are coming to blows.

Sure, they’re low-impact blows, and each seems to want to empower the other to do their utmost to beat each other (at art, not physically), but then there’s the fact that, at the moment, I don’t much care particularly how well Blessing’s game does relative to Rouge’s.

Isn’t it enough that the team works hard and puts out a game they can be proud of, into which they put their blood, sweat, tears, and passion?

In between acting like she and Tomoya have been married for years, irking certain male classmates, Megumi is preoccupied and fired up by Utaha’s surprise story revision.

But the only way they’ll know whether it works or not, and which script to choose for the game, is by implementing it. That means a lot of work just to catch up to the Rouge demo, with no guarantee their output will surpass their rival’s.

When one all-nighter involving Tomoya and Megumi only nets 20% of the work, other measures need to be taken. When Michiru suddenly arrives, appalled that Megumi spent the night, Tomoya sees an opening, and asks his cousin to recruit her Icy Tail bandmates into doing the gruntwork necessary to plug Utaha’s new story into the game.

They pull a second all-nighter, and considering how late I’m writing this on a Thursday night, I can’t say I don’t relate to their exhausted state when they’ve completed their task.

All that work makes it that much more harsh a slap in the face when Tomoya meets with Utaha and utters the line above. Apparently, after story, art, music, and programming have been combined, neither of Utaha’s stories cut the mustard; at least not now that Tomoya is convinced Iori has a better story up his sleeve.

He requests a complete rewrite—certainly his prerogative as game director—but I assume Utaha is dismayed by his blunt assessment, as I was. In an attempt to outdo Rouge, could Tomoya be overplaying his hand? By demanding perfection when perfection may be unattainable, will he only end up driving his partners away one by one?

Sakura Quest – 04

This week everyone helps Sanae move out of her old, bug-filled house. While helping out, Yoshino can’t help but notice the exquisite wood-carvings or ranma built into the house. Turns out Manoyama’s wood carving is one of Japan’s government-protected traditional art forms. How ’bout that!

Yoshino thinks they might be able to use that to boost tourism…er, somehow. In the meantime, after Shiori’s truck breaks down, they get it serviced by Doku, the local tinkerer and inventor, who also happens to have a frikkin’ perfectly functioning biomechanical exoskeleton in the bed of his, get this: Ford pickup truck. There’s all kinda wrong going on that preceding sentence.

In a show that’s going for simple slice-of-life realism, I failed to see the need for a Kuromukuro crossover. Yeah, this tech is out there, but some old guy in a shed in the sticks banging it out? It’s a bit far-fetched. But that’s not even the worst of it.

They get some poor young wood-carver to make decorative accessories to tack onto the exoskeleton to make it more appealing to the olds. Because if its one thing the elderly love, it’s really heavy impractical stuff that can fly out of control at a moment’s notice due to dubious R&D!

I realize the Board of Merchants’ chairwoman is supposed to be the curmudgeonly counterpart to Ushimatsu’s more openness to innovation, and the ideal philosophy, if there is one, is somewhere in between. But when Ririko’s grandmother asked them where their sense of pride is, I was kinda hoping she’d asked where their sense was, period.

Look, I understand the episode was trying to give each party in the woodcarving debate their fair shake, and Yoshino and her ministers aren’t the “good guys” by default, but they really didn’t help their case with such awful, cockamamie ideas.

The result of their failure is that Sanae tells Yoshino she’s out as minister, saying her heart isn’t in it. That’s ironic, because I don’t think my heart is in Sakura Quest anymore, either. Somehow the prospect of watching twenty more episodes of Yoshino and her cohorts fumbling around doesn’t seem all that appealing.

At this point, I think I’d rather do some woodcarving…the kind that doesn’t trample on centuries of tradition.

Sagrada Reset – 04

Occasionally, I like a show that keeps me engaged; that challenges me; that even leaves me in the dust if I’m not sufficiently aware. Sagrada Reset is all of those things so far, and there’s a genuine thrill in not knowing just what the hell is going to transpire from one episode to the next, in addition to being emotionally invested in the characters—something that didn’t seem feasible in episode one.

Sagrada is also dense, and if you blink you might miss a reset or a vital piece of information. For all its seeming randomness, it builds, so far, off every little event and detail it’s presented thus far. It doesn’t insult the audience’s intelligence, it demands it, and it won’t hold your hand. That can make it hard to follow, even frustrating at times, but despite getting a little lost at times I felt it still holds together.

This week is a particularly bloody and violent episode, as Asai promptly learns that Minami Mirai was killed by Hisuchi-kun, hence her becoming a ghost that haunts him to start the episode.

Of course, she wasn’t just shot or strangled, she was killed when Hisuchi, who gains nourishment not from food (he’s an intense germaphobe) but from information he sucks out of others like an intel vampire. Minami had too much, and he went to far. He didn’t mean to kill her; it just happened.

But just when Asai and Haruki are wrapping their heads around the murder, they are confronted by Murase Youka, whose sudden violent, homicidal outburst would be out of character if we knew her character. I didn’t realize it at the time, but we later learn there’s a very good reason for her very odd, violent behavior, and it all comes down to Haruki’s Reset ability.

Asai orders Haruki to reset before Murase kills him. Back at school, Haruki is glad when Asai tells her they haven’t gone to the festival yet (girl wants her DATE). They visit Tsushima for answers, and he tells them more about the “MacGuffin”, which enables anyone who possesses it to control all the special abilities in Sakurada…only to then tell them exactly what and where it is, obviously trusting his students won’t take it.

Someone does take it…or rather, ends up with it by chance. That person is Minami, who isn’t killed by Hisuchi-kun this time because Asai and Haruki visit him. They’re joined by Murase, whose knowledge indicates to Asai that she’s able to remember two resets back, but not one. He also learns about her M.O.—her desire to destroy and remake the bureau into something more effective after it failed to save her brother.

Indeed, it’s Murase who helps them find Hisuchi’s house, using her ability in a way I didn’t expect (while explaining the hand-shaped hole in the wall last week). Hisuchi tells them about Minami ending up with the stone, and he helped her because he was guilty for killing her.

I’d say that that never happened, but it actually did, and Haruki’s ability didn’t negate that fact, it merely rewound and, well, reset things to her last save. Murase ends up stealing the MacGuffin from Minami, lightly wounding her in the process, but Asai assures Haruki they don’t have to go after her. All will be taken care of in due time.

In the meantime, Tsushima gives Asai a new job: to convince a truant, Murase, to come back to school. To do that, Tsushima believes Murase needs to be utterly defeated, to show her that she still has more to learn before starting a revolution against the Bureau.

Asai visits Nono Seika with some takoyaki, to muse over the Murase situation in a calm place. And he thinks of Souma Sumire, who told him its better to say something than nothing, even if it’s bad, and to not be afraid.

After that, it’s his big little date with Haruki, who is resplendent in her yukata, and doesn’t just smile but blushes upon receiving the gift of a hairpin. It didn’t look like Asai was paying attention to her when she spotted it, but clearly he did. I loved that little detail.

He asks Haruki for a favor, and the next day we see she’s joined him beside the river to confront Murase. She thinks they’re ready to join her cause, but Asai wants to test her abilities first. Haruki saves, then she obliges, and Asai offers almost no resistance as she puts her finger through his hand. During the fight he suspects she attacked them the first time because she wanted a reset for herself, to forget Minami Mirai’s death.

An increasingly agitated Murase is certain she has Asai in checkmate, even noting that if Haruki resets, he’s only two steps away from her, and she could easily defeat him before he had time to do anything. But it’s Murase who’s in check, as Asai moves his head into her hand, which goes through it, killing him horribly. He does this before ordering Haruki to reset…so she doesn’t.

Then something I didn’t expect happened: Nanako Tomoki beams his voice into Haruki’s head, then Asai’s voice comes through—in that moment, a ghost, just like Minami was—giving Haruki the reset order. She resets, and Minami remains where she is: exactly in a location where when Asai said “Bang”, it looks like he struck her down.

Stunned by this course of events, Murase promptly concedes defeat, which means she’ll honor the terms of their agreement, return to school, one day join the bureau, and make it better that way. Asai also tells her the cat is fine, chilling with Nonoo. He holds out his hand to shake hers in order to celebrate their new friendship.

He’s quite sure that her ability has worn off, making it safe to touch her, but the episode still ends just before they touch, so good it is at messing with us. Still, it’s mission accomplished—and what a baller mission it turned out to be.

Rokudenashi Majutsu Koushi to Akashic Records – 04

After its best episode yet, I wasn’t under any assumptions that the show would keep getting better and better, but last week is followed up by a solid, satisfying outing that explores the new status quo among the class now that Glenn is actually giving a shit; this is something that couldn’t be explored last week because of the far more pressing terrorism.

It’s Magical Competition time, and the games will be performed before the queen herself (and Rumia’s biological mother) Alicia VII, but Class 2 is unenthusiastic. Glenn assures them he’s after nothing less than Victory, and appoints those he believes are the best in the individual fields the various events focus upon.

Because the whole class is involved, and Glenn is so confident, everyone becomes engaged and motivated, and Sistine becomes his very active advocate of his strategy. Only Rumia and we know the truth: Glenn actually would have preferred to use only his best students for all the events.

But he can’t go back now; he’s in too deep. I appreciate that he’s bearing the discomfort that comes with knowing he’s dug himself in a big hole, but is willing to stick it out for the good of his students. In fact, he doubles down by entering a bet with Class 1’s instructor Halley involving three whole months of salary…and the bastard is already hungry!

The competition prep is punctuated nicely by a B-plot involving Queen Alicia’s guilt over abandoning Rumia (even if it was for her own good), as well as a glimpse of family life with the Fibels. For her part, Fibel considers Sisti’s parents her mom and dad, and Sisti her sister, so that’s all there is to it.

We later learn on the day of the competition that Celica is an old friend of Alicia’s, meaning not only does the queen tolerate her familiar manner, but she also trusts Celica’s faith in Glenn. That trust is validated when Class 2 goes on to place in all the events thus far, surprising everyone, including themselves and Glenn.

I believe a non-trivial amount of their success is thanks to the confidence Glenn instilled in them all, backed up by Sistine and Rumia, which allows them to focus and maximize the skills they need to harness. It’s also great to see Glenn put Rumia in the Mental Defense event, knowing full well from the past couple episodes how tough she is (more than Sisti, to be sure).

When Glenn sees Rumia’s badass Class 5 competition, Jaill, he starts to sweat a little, especially when the instructor in the even turns out to be a real perv. But to Jaill’s credit, he’s not an overly aggressive or disrespectful opponent; he simply believes he’s the best and Rumia is as frail as she looks.

He’s mistaken, and the revelation that he ends up unconscious while standing while Rumia is still awake to take the win was another great surprise. Competition episodes can be a bore, but this one excelled by leaning on its characters and their relationships. It was a lot of fun.

Uchouten Kazoku 2 – 03

The Gist: Benten returns and crushes Tenmaya, who is both obsessed with and terrified of her. Yasaburou and his mother Tousen visit Tousen’s mother, an ancient white fluffy tanuki, and ask for help turning frog-brother back to normal. The grandmother is blind, kind, and cryptic, but offers some medicine.

Later, Yasaburou and his little brother visit Nadaime’s new location, which is a lovely roof top mansion, and share some afternoon tea. Benten shows up and completely fails to dominate Nadaime. Major magical conflict can not be far off now…

As is often the case, Uchouten Kazoku wandered us through several lovely, dialogue-heavy scenes that straddle the line between inconsequential and deeply magical. However, because Uchouten Kazoku treats its magical settings and characters as everyday occurrences, exposition is kept to a minimum.

What is grandmother’s place in tanuki culture? What are the other tanuki doing around grandmother? Is it a ceremony simply because she is old or is she part of the shrine or something else? Leaving us with a heavily detailed but unknowable scene renders it dreamlike. Captivating.

The rise and fall of Benten is more or less the defining arc this week. As with Nadaime, she abruptly falls from the sky full of power and crushes Tenmaya. While we learn no details about their rivalry, and Benten is almost as interested in Yasaburou’s moon (stolen by Tenmaya) as she is in Tenmaya himself.

Here Benten is full of power and flaunts it. Yasaburou has no course but to ask very nicely for his moon back and Tenmaya has no choice but to shed his fake skin and flee. Benten casually rolls the moon around her fingers and, when she tires of it, simply throws it back into the sky before demanding even more courtesy from Yasaburou and wandering off to visit her master.

That domination comes to a quick end when Benten arrives at Nadaime’s new house and arrogantly lays down on the couch Nadaime had planned to use for his afternoon nap. Always polite, Nadaime asks her to leave and when she will not, he spreads a sheet on the floor and dumps her out. Paying her no mind, he thanks everyone for their visit and gets ready to nap.

The contrast between Nadaime and Benten is rather interesting. Both are powerful and throw their weight around but it is hard to figure out which is ‘good’ or not. Despite her malice and abuse, Benten seems to care for Yasaburou. (At least she cares enough to want his attention) Where as Nadaime, despite being generally polite in dialog, is obviously dismissive of Tenuki in general. He’s tolerant of them, but does not especially desire to have them around.

The Verdict: Despite the masterful craft poured into Uchouten Kazoku, it is not always an exciting nor engaging show to watch. Again, as last week, episode three was full of action, characters and conflict, but it lacked a sense of purpose. Nadaime’s shirt ironing, Yasaburou’s grandmother, and Benten playing with the moon were all interesting curiosities but, not counting Nadaime and Benten’s cliffhanger showdown, nothing consequential actually happened.

Zero kara Hajimeru Mahou no Sho – 03

This week the party of Mercenary, Zero and Albus arrive in the bustling trading town of Formicum. Zero reports to the guards at the gate that she and Albus are Merc’s sex slaves, and they’re allowed to pass at half cost…though it could be argued you can’t put a price on Merc’s reputation.

Once there, Zero shows Merc some gems, and he tells her she only needs one small one to buy a fine set of new threads, which she does. I like the look, even if the clothes are a bit baggy on her. Zero also shows off her utter lack of modesty by trying to change in front of men and women alike. That’s so Zero!

Once they’re settled in…at an inn, Merc tries to sneak out but Zero spots him and they go out drinking, only to re-encounter another Beastfallen who has three captive girls who Zero knows are not witches. So Merc enters and wins a duel with the wolf-man and the girls are freed.

The sprightly dialogue between Merc and Zero continues to entertain, and it’s always fun to watch Merc take down a baddie. But as Merc’s defeat is never remotely in doubt, the whole episode lacks any kind of serious stakes. Still, it’s a pleasant enough watch for an overcast Monday afternoon.

Renai Boukun – 03

The Gist: Akua meets Guri officially, Akua and Aino work out their troubles, Guri’s love note book gets burned up, everyone is worried their relationships have fallen apart, Tiara-san is introduced, the trouble with the notebook is resolved, everyone is happy ever after. (sorta)

So much wacky goodness happens this week and basically none of it matters in detail. Sure, Akua is chased by a rapacious demonic penguin that cemented her relationship with her brother long ago in their childhood. Sure, Guri’s notebook is burned during a hilarious gender-role-reverse-expetation fight between a bad boy and a squad of scorned ladies. Sure, Tiara-san is one trashy former cupid that god knocked up and her phone has now replaced Guri’s book as the prop of the show.

But the joy of Renai Boukun is just in the timing of all these absurd happenings. The penguin could have been pedo-bear or an 8 bit character or anything random as long as the joke remained that it talked with its eyes. Guri could have lost the notebook in any number of ways — or the relationships could have become at risk through any number of megufins — as long as she basically showed no concern while all the other characters freaked out. Tiara-san didn’t even have to exist — they could just have written ‘love note’ on a new book and had everything else play out the same.

But, despite the lack of importance to any detail, all the precision in how those details play out in sound, framing, gesture and timing works very very well. Giggle on the floor blade sticking out of your head wonderfully well.

“It’s okay! There’s steam and mysterious lights. So people can see anything important.” – Guri, nude in the bathroom

The Verdict: Love Tyrant is almost the complete opposite of QZGS in so far as Love Tyrant doesn’t look special at all and doesn’t try to be cool either. In fact, if the comedy were not so tightly orchestrated, I wouldn’t even think it was trying hard to do that.

In short, Love Tyrant doesn’t take anything seriously in it’s search of fun. Laugh with it as it laughs at anime in general, and the romance genre specifically. Laugh until you puke. And love it!

Quan Zhi Gao Shou – 03

The Gist: This week introduces Xiao Tang, a female player who appears to be new to Glory and has come to the cafe for guidance. Like many in the cafe, she’s become aware of Ye Xiu, not only for his string of skilled first-kills but also for his unusual classless-character and all-crafted gear. To the cafe owner’s annoyance, Tang wants to pursue a classless like Xiu. However, the two women quickly move on from any conflict when Tang is willing to watch the owner’s deep collection of tutorial videos…even though Xiu snarks that they are 9 years out of date.

Tang has decent APM and is a quick learner but we don’t know anything significant about her. While it’s likely that she will end up in Xiu’s team of noobs and weirdos, her current role is the same as the unnamed onlookers of the cafe—simply a perspective to show us Xiu’s growing impact on Glory’s popular culture.

To QZGS’ credit, showing us Xiu’s impact through Tang and keeping Tang only one step removed from the background, is a decently subtle conveyance. Unfortunately, QZGS also has nameless characters utter unintentionally hilarious lines like “I’ve truly broadened my view today” and “He is truly wearing money” when they view Xiu’s all silver armor and gatling-gun-spear-warhammer-umbrella.

This is unfortunate because the crowd-tells-us format is much more conventional and the opposite of subtle (it’s used by many manga artists to convince the viewer that a character or action or item is cooler or more important than would be obvious to the viewer on visuals alone). The resulting contrast makes Tang’s more restrained and interesting expression of the same narrative concept less impactful. It feels like the creators don’t trust the viewers to be smart enough to get the point, which is kinda insulting…

It’s worth noting that King’s Avatar is brought to you by McDonald’s. At least, that’s what appears to be the case, as several long-sweeping glamour shots are dedicated to the brand (and it featured prominently in the background of the first episode).

While the scene itself isn’t terribly obtrusive, perhaps even making a cultural point about the characters, the product placement itself is jarring. Not counting an inexplicably photo-textured tree outside an office window, the food packaging is the highest detail content in the episode. The rendering quality is high enough, it may even be output with real commercial grade frames and textures from McDonald’s itself.

This choice is bizarre for a few reasons but the biggest is one of QZGS’ core failings. Simply, if Glory is so important to QZGS’ world, and the pro-players are a significant vector of Glory’s connection with the masses, we should see physical evidence of Glory and the pros all throughout the world. Putting Glory branding and themes on the food packaging would have been a very easy way to show that. However, since no such attempt was made, the food only reads as a commercial for a real world brand, and the believably of the QZGS world is again diminished.

Similar can be said about the photographic tree. From a technical stand point, it’s a very lovely panning shot with a shift in ‘camera’ focus from the tree to the wall of the office. The colors are rich and it sets an interesting mood…except it doesn’t. Like the food, it doesn’t expand our understanding of the world beyond being ‘pretty’ and if it is an intentional attempt to contrast the beauty of the real world against the claustrophobic, dark, and lower render quality of the online world and the interior of the cafe, it fails without more scenes to reinforce that point. Animation is expensive and time consuming, so if a scene does not add value, why create it in the first place?

Back in Glory, the three most powerful guilds are camped outside a graveyard watching a bunch of noobs foolishly go after a world-boss. While none of the guild captains especially like or trust each other, often having lost major club events at the hands of one another, they eventually agree to work together to take down the boss when the noobs get squashed.

Except one of the noobs turns out to not be a noob so much as a chaotic idiot who passes up finishing-move-openings of his own making to do things like slap the boss and cause said boss to go into rage mode. (Comically, this character has wolverine claws on his right hand and carries a brick in his left.)

Xiu shows up too and quickly takes charge, APM/Umbrelling the heck out of the vampire-gunman-boss’ head. Of course this spurs the guilds into action, as they don’t want to let Xiu score another first kill on the server. Too bad for them, Xiu has anticipated this outcome and uses the noobs to max out the Boss’ redline counterattack, effectively dumping an army of zombies into the charging guilds.

Xiu, Wolverine/Brick, and the noobs from Xiu’s previous party manage to take down the boss in the ensuing chaos. Little Little Moon is even there. As before, Xiu only wants the glory and the crafting materials and everyone but the guilds leaves happy. And even though the guilds are not happy, a quick back and forth over messenger leaves them without much room to complain. World bosses only exist for first kills anyway…

Can a westerner appreciate the nature of Chinese storytelling, which has not yet adopted western standards as universally as the Japanese? Can a Chinese show be criticized for failings in timing, sound design and narrative purpose as established by western convention? Should Chinese viewers be expected to have the ability to the difference between nationalist propaganda, clichés, or quality?

There are two core ways to approach art made outside of your own culture and choosing which is appropriate depends on context. The first approach is to judge the art strictly on its source-cultural’s standards and is appropriate for art made exclusively within those cultural standards and for that culture only. Think of this as the “art history” method, because it applies mostly to pre-global cultures or situations where the artist knows something ‘isn’t right’ technically, but has a reason to do it anyway. For example, pre-renaissance art often contains figures of all different sizes that make no sense in space but that isn’t important to critique because, in that cultural context, the figure’s size showed his or her importance.

The second approach is reflective of the foreign culture’s response to your own culture. The key is that the artist/creator is aware of you own culture’s norms and is either emulating them or using them to make a comment about the foreign culture. In this case, critiquing the effectiveness of that culture’s use of your own conventions is just as important as what that culture could be saying about those conventions. A funny example of this is Russian ‘Cowboy’ movies in the 1950s, which had a political message, as well as a popularity because all-things-American were popular, even in Russia.

QZGS clearly falls into this second category, as it employs many western techniques, and its subject matter is relatable to topics in the western world. In techniques, QZGS uses discordant sound effects to punctuate sight-gags and guitar/rock music to assert ‘coolness.’ It is also clearly made to be an ‘anime,’ which could be argued to be cultural appropriation from the Japanese for the sake of coolness too.

In topic, QZGS touches on capitalism, sense of identity and belonging, virtual addiction, and aging out. While the views on capitalism (notably spearheaded by villainous blonde people) are obviously Chinese-state message norms, westerners can relate to all of these concepts. Quite easily in fact, because so many western norms are exploited in their delivery.

The delivery of those norms fail miserably. Take the sound that accompanies Tang’s decision to try Classless for example. It’s not only misaligned with the gesture, but the sound itself is wonderfully out of place. The result feels slapped on because the creator knows a western-style joke would have a discordant note there, but the creator has no idea why or how to use it specifically.

In another example, as seen in the image above, we are treated to six seconds of…floor tile. Eventually, Ye Xiu steps into said frame, after hearing people talk about him in the background, but the six seconds of floor tile is mostly without sound or motion or purpose. Certainly this creates nervous tension through our expectation that something will happen, which is based on conventions of story telling where showing the viewer a dark and empty space at shoe level will mean something… but, in this case, it appears to mean nothing.

More importantly, lingering on floor tiles and empty frames has no Chinese cultural significance either. It’s just empty, un-animated space and like the photographic tree it begs the question: why?

Verdict: Thus far, QZGS features a hero that’s smarter and nicer than most. The fighting is conventional and the twistless-take on the virtual MMOs, there are no stakes to be had. The viewer knows that hero will win the fights at hand and even if he didn’t, what would it matter? There is no drama.

Then there’s the product placement, which you could read a few ways. The cafe boss is proud, ignorant, and haughty, so of course she’s taken by western fried foods and is a bit of a glutton (she’s not even willing to give thanks to Xiu for buying the food for the group). Is this misogyny a Chinese cultural norm, is it simply to reinforce how this gluttonous woman is losing her connection with Chinese culture (she’s not even aware that a cultural hero is sitting next to her), or does it have no meaning at all? It’s hard to answer, given how un-thought-out QZGS has been to this point.

Yes! QZGS is constructed well enough to be watchable. In the future, it may even serve as a snapshot for how far Chinese animation and pop culture has come or where they are going. QZGS may even produce interesting musings on internet addiction and the emptiness of modern life—the core cast all exist only to play a game, which is just an MMO.

For now? It’s just people hanging around playing an MMO that isn’t notably original or interesting. If that’s not enough to hold your attention, go watch something else.

Alice to Zouroku – 04

Nearly the entirety of this episode is spent in the cramped dark interior of a Hummer in which Minnie C continues to restrain Sana and lectures her about the fact that she’s not human, but rather a random but extremely powerful phenomenon that’s taken the form of a little girl.

Their scenes feel numerous and repetitive, until Sana meets someone who looks like her older self in her subconscious, then musters the energy to transport Zouroku into the car with her and Minnie C.

This occurs after Zouroku makes it clear he not only wants Sana back, but wants to make her a part of his and Sanae’s family. Sanae concurs, but hopes in the future her gramps will be more open and communicative with her and Sana.

When Zouroku is in the Hummer, he wastes no time lecturing Minnie C, who is unquestionably up to some of the “crooked stuff” he hates so much. Minnie can justify her beastly actions all she likes; as far as Zouroku is concerned, Sana is a little girl who doesn’t deserve this treatment…even if she isn’t really a little girl (and the jury is very much still out on that).

When Minnie starts shooting her service pistol, Sana tries to surrender, but Zouroku won’t let her call herself a monster or a waste of time. It’s his choice what he gets himself into, and now that he’s into this, he’s committed to her well-being.

That being said, neither Sana nor Zouroku have the power to oppose Minnie C, which is why seeing Ichijou Shizuku arrive at the scene to rescue them is necessary.

Her appearence in her suit left me doubting she was the same “cosplaying” girl who saved Sana from Minnie in the first ep, but now at least we know she’s a “Cabinet Information Research Office Secret Service agent”, and Ryuu and her superiors are well aware of her abilities.

This episode felt like it dragged the rescue out, and as a result, it was very monologue-heavy. Also, Ryuu’s assurances everything would be fine (which they turned out to be) kinda sapped the tension. I’m glad Sana and Z were rescued, and have a powerful ally who knows how to properly use her powers.

Re:Creators – 03

The Gist: The conflict between the good guys and Magical Slayer Mamika is quickly broken by the arrival of an unnamed medieval woman (or onna-kishi if you will) riding a quasi-Pegasus. While Mirokuji Yuya could probably have defeated the new arrival, she retreats almost as quickly as she appears.

Thus follows a lengthy exposition sequence where Yuya and team good guys have a bunch of food at a family restaurant. Celestia is still wounded but not so much that she doesn’t want to learn more from this quasi-bad guy and he’s not so bad-a-guy that he won’t accept a free meal. Especially if it includes a tasty ice cream parfait.

During their exchange, we learn that the Military Uniform Princess approached him along with an old man, who is most likely the detective with a gun shown in the opening credits. However, Yuya saw through the MUP’s request and immediately blew her off. After all, her idea of modifying their worlds via their creators strikes him as unimaginative when that same line of thinking could give them so much more power in their own worlds…and that’s ignoring the fact that their own worlds are not much more than cages.

Yuya would rather live in our world and experience all the fun after all. He’s not even mad that his world is ‘messed up’ for our enjoyment—he’d even like his friends (and enemies) to be in our world, to share in all the fun…

Later, Team Good Guy experiments with what Yuya mentioned: can Mr. Matsubara change Celestia’s abilities by writing about them? What about having Celestia’s illustrator, Marine, make an illustration? The answer is a masterfully done ‘No’, including a great use of sound design…but it brings the group closer together, including Celestia telling Souta he has time to learn how to be a better and more confident illustrator.

Also, Marine has a contract with Meteora’s development company and offers to take her on a tour of the building…

Elsewhere, the Military Princess talks to no one in particular about her need to destroy the world. It has something to do with Setsuna, no doubt her creator and the girl who committed suicide in the opening of episode one, and who has some relationship with Souta. Mamika watches on silently from the sidelines…

The Verdict: The balance of action, character and exposition was tighter this week, and the depth we gained from the characters added charm and nuance to their being. That said, not a lot happened—again—and it presented another boatload of sometimes clunkily-delivered exposition.

In the end, sound design, charm, production values, and the ongoing mysteries earn it my recommendation. While Yuya was kinda annoying, and talk-heavy, his not-entirely-evil personality and pragmatic outlook on the world was enough not to drag the story down. I also greatly appreciated his annoyance at how slow Team Good Guy was to realize all the things they could try to benefit from.

 

Eromanga-sensei – 03

When Masamune investigates the abandoned, possibly haunted house next door, he’s surprised to find Yamada Elf has just moved in: and likes to play the piano naked after a shower to get inspired to write.

After the standard accusations of peeping tommery, she invites him in, and most of the episode is given over to making Elf a little more dimensional, if still grating in her intense, obnoxious arrogance.

As Sagiri’s bedroom window faces Elf’s office, you’d think it wouldn’t be long before she found out who Eromanga-sensei is, but Elf sees Masamune’s sister and thinks she’s just that: a little sister who has fun drawing, not the person whose services they’re fighting over.

It’s also a bit shitty of Masamune not to even mention to Sagiri his little wager with Elf, considering Sagiri is the ‘prize’. Then again, it’s a good thing that Masamune isn’t the perfect MC while everyone around him is flawed in some way.

Indeed, Masamune’s flaw seems to be that in spite of Elf’s toxic personality, incessant pretentiousness, and pronunciation of ahhh-neee-may, he can’t help spending time with his new neighbor, nor indeed being a fan himself, even if meeting Yamada-sensei wasn’t what he expected.

For a time, it doesn’t seem like Elf invited Masamune in just to rub his nose in her superior success, but to spend time with a fellow author. She earnestly asks why he’s a fan, and he earnestly answers: after a death in the family, her books cheered him up. They taught him that novels can “save lives” of some readers, and for that she has his heartfelt thanks, competition or no.

Elf’s reaction betrays a softer, more genuine side to her, even if it’s short-lived and she’s back to being awful the next day. But it’s also clear that she’d rather have Masamune around than not, and also strongly disagrees with his workaholic approach to authoring, as she considers her job a “hobby” and only writes if her motivation is maxed out.

Despite knowing nothing of their competition involving her, Sagiri is uneasy anyway because her big brother, who has been All Hers up to this point, is suddenly ‘in the web’ of a cute, rich next-door neighbor.

While her music and online fans keep Eromanga merry, I feel one of the factors that drives her motivation to draw is knowing Masamune will always be there in the house, serving her meals and protecting her.

Yamada throws a thorn in that arrangement, and it will be interesting to see whether that motivates Sagiri to explore beyond her room. But yeah…Masamune really should tell her about his wager with Elf.