Little Witch Academia – 18

Miracle Magical Shining Tornado Punch!

The Gist: Constanze is the side character of choice this week and the setup is a popular ghost hunting event called Wild Hunt, which Croix has somehow gotten Constanze permission to participate in. Akko wouldn’t have any role to play at all, were it not for her ability to cause havoc (she destroys one of Constanze’s mech helpers) and her neurotic urge to ‘help’ (she feels righteously driven to make up for destroying the mech, no matter how much additional damage she causes and how many times Constanze chases her away)

There’s a lot of legacy Gianax/Trigger going on here, with TTGL-style mecha fights — pushing to the limit — as well as Space Patrol Luluco style anachronistic aesthetic blends. (Rocket Powered Pirate Ship) While these nods are executed very well, with all the tongue and cheek over the top delivery you would expect, they are transparent call backs to better series from the companies past, and that ultimately points out how not-glory-days LWA is itself at present.

As to Constanze herself… there isn’t a lick of dialog. Nor, really, is background provided. She’s this generation’s only technomage, but she doesn’t have a strong connection with Croix (they are never in the same scene together) and that tech/magic blending doesn’t even draw comment from the other students or teachers. That’s stuff we already knew of course and the only additions are the implication that she is a deeply unhappy girl, a loner, who’s parents took a family photo in front of a swedish tall ship once… yeah, not much there?

You could probably argue that Constanze experienced character development this week. Slowly accepting Akko, even seeing value in Akko’s silly mech-drawing, and ending on a smile… but who cares? Constanze has existed as little more than background art for seventeen episodes so far. Again, who cares?

So we have another generic Croix-villain plot, featuring another B-cast member tagging along with Akko, that ends with Croix closer to whatever her villainy is but Akko gaining another friend, which will probably be necessary to unlock the final word or words. No word was unlocked this week and nothing consequential about the plot was revealed to the characters. Sucy and Lotte aren’t even in the story, save some background elements. Diana isn’t in the episode at all.

So why do am giving this week a higher rating than last? For all its negatives, in a vacuum, this episode just had more charm — and a heck of a lot more creative visuals too. Yes, it was completely generic by Trigger’s elite standards but those standards provide powerful emotional anchors and excitement all the same.

The Verdict: as a series, LWA is profoundly ill constructed. Gradually introducing more classmates as part of Akko’s world is fine but giving them stand alone episodes in the last act of a second season is idiotic. Even more so when it cuts the main cast out of the story. (I guess Diana’s research into Ursula’s true identity is just gonna… wait a bit) Beating the villains doesn’t feel earned and the world-building-elements just come out of nowhere. (For a show so full of details, I kinda wish we’d had more build up for the wild hunt… or a pay off)

But as a self contained episode it was fun and, if it had happened 10 episodes ago, it would have done wonders to round out the classmates. That said, if the pattern holds, next week will feature the girl who’s always eating… and I can not imagine that being remotely as interesting.

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Uchouten Kazoku 2 – 05

If I had to pick a single episode from last season that sold me on Uchouten Kazoku’s magical setting and ability to project care free fun, it would be the flying tea house battle. While I have mixed feelings about this season’s episode being about the same thing, there is no doubt that the format works tremendously well. The event pulls many characters into one space, the inevitable fight between Yasaburou and Kinkaku and Ginkaku provides enjoyably silly action, and fireworks (and flight) make for a lovely background for many introspective and contemplative scenes.

In many ways, the festival and action is secondary to a great deal of character development. While Sensei has always shown a soft spot for the tenuki (under his gruff old man treatment) this week puts him at the center of their lives as a wise figure deserving of the respect they always show him. Simply, he makes the older siblings get over their hesitation and confess their affections for each other. It’s gruff but also kind, and includes a brief telling that he did this for Yasa’s parents too. Cast in the warm light of the train car, surrounded by food and family, its a lovely scenes.

Speaking of the train, it was great to see Yajiro’s ability to change into a train looped back to. Not only is it great to see a throw away joke pay off, but it gives Yajiro a vehicle to participate in the narrative when he otherwise would be restricted to the well.

It was also a good choice to have Yajiro totally screw up the beginning of the event, by blasting off too quickly and spilling much of the meal inside his belly. Nothing really goes right for the tenuki. Not even when they are trying to be classy or show their power. It’s a great reminder of their place in the pecking order.

But the big loud emotional turn was Benten’s fight with Nadaime. Having stolen his couch for her own amusement and having never had anyone stand up to her, Benten really went into this with a target painted on her back. Yasaburou even remarks that he knew she would lose the second she lunged at Nadaime. (and it was foreshadowed by the mid episode card, showing ‘where Benten fell’ on the city map)

And as loud as that short fight was, Uchouten Kazoku immediately returns to the quiet, tender, introspection it does so well. Yasaburou and Sensei go to find where Benten has landed and sensei gives her a stern but fatherly speaking to. You are angry. Use it to get stronger. That is all.

The Verdict: Finally, a must watch week! It loops so many threads in together and it does so elegantly. So elegantly I’m not even sure I can put my finger on any one character dominating the story. So elegantly that I’m not sure there really is a antagonist in a traditional sense, as Benten is as much at fault (if not more) than Nadaime. (and in his own way, Nadaime is a far nicer person than she)

The formula is setting in, too, with a repeat of last week’s fake-out ending conflict opening as a non-conflict. (Everyone sucked into the Shoji board just ends up in sensei’s closet) While a strict formula isn’t necessary for a good show (or even good for most shows) having a rhythm is, and that was something Uchouten Kazoku has been sorely lacking.

Uchouten Kazoku 2 – 04

The Gist: Benten stomps on Nadaime’s freshly ironed shirts, but otherwise leaves without incident. Yasaburou’s older brother’s love interest is revealed and a bit of backstory unfolds revolving around Shoji. Tousen nudges Yasaburou to help his brother hook up with the girl, which he does, and all ends well… except that the love interest is magically sucked into a Shoji board right at the end. Dun dun duuuunnnn.

The Verdict: Despite being a mostly contained ‘drop’ in the story bucket, and not carrying over anything serious from the week before, Uchouten Kazoku brought the magic this week. All the build up to the Shoji tournament, and the final match itself, just worked nicely side-by-side with the character building. I don’t have much else to say I’m affraid — just go watch it!

Quan Zhi Gao Shou – 06

The Gist: Liu Hao, Ye Xiu’s former student and now junior captain, hatches a brilliant plan to disgrace Xiu for… kicking him out of the cafe for being drunk last week. That brilliant plan is to pretend to be a noob and join Xiu’s party, learn their tricks, and set better clear scores in some raids by using his full professional team. Yeah, it’s super petty. Yeah, Xiu sees through it immediately and plays along until Hao is so worked up he loses a professional match.

Later, Huang Shao, who beat Hao in the match, agrees to join Xiu to set a new best clear time. Shao is super famous and not happy that anyone would recognize him in the cafe… so he puts a towel over his head. Their plan works though and, by using a ‘crack’ in the level geometry to trap various mobs and even a sub-boss, they set a new record.

Roll credits…

I both glad and disappointed that Hao’s revenge plot lasted such a short time. On one hand, Hao is an idiot and his plot was stupid and poorly executed. So having it fail immediately prevents QZGS from feeling totally idiotic. However, on the other hand, continuing the Xiu is flawless plot continues a very dull plot. Character flaws make drama!

Similarly, Shao was a really dull character to add. Not only was he difficult to visually differentiate from other tier-two blonde characters, of which there are many, he’s constant talking annoys us as viewers as it does the characters in the show. If our heroes don’t like him, why would we?

Meanwhile, the story was compressed so much around Hao’s rise and fall, followed by Shao’s participation that there was no room left for Tang or Moon Dumpling to get meaningful screen time or development. The level itself didn’t help either, as it’s just a random night time canyon full of… like 3 zombies?

Couple this with QZGS’ typical wth choices like showing us the top edge of a door closing for 5 seconds, a scene that features no characters and has no purpose, and episode 6 doesn’t feel complete. At least I didn’t notice any longer shots of McDonalds laying around…

The Verdict: The story advances but the things that didn’t work remain the same as each week before it. The story doesn’t present a sense of purpose, Xiu himself is without conflict, action is generic and hard to follow, and the heavy use of CGI either looks cheap or out of place. An inexplicable fully rendered first person sequence, complete with ‘bounce’ to simulate walking, which doesnt simulate how we experience walking at all, is probably the best example of this.

Still, again as each week before it, King’s Avatar remains watchable. If only for its charmingly clumsy attempts to be super cool.

Seikaisuru Kado – 04

This week opens with a charmingly weird interaction between Shindou and the government. As the first two passengers leave Kado, he rejects the government’s request to represent Japan at the negotiation table (a role that would give him equal power to the prime minister) and even asks to be fired from all his earthly responsibilities. Everyone chuckles. Shindou has such an oddly specific need for fair play and balance.

Off at UN headquarters, the security council is pressuring Japan to turn over the Wan. In a nice anti-nationalist twist, the Japanese officials understand this view point (they agree if any other nation had Wan, they would ask the same) and would agree to the terms… except Yaha-kui zaShunina doesn’t want them to. To zaShunina, governments are a great structure for security, but they don’t eat bread, and his gift of bread is for the people who eat it: humanity at large.

Meanwhile, scientists are puzzled by the Wam, which appear to have 6 distinct shapes when observed atomically, and have an adaptive charge that immediately raises or lowers voltage to the needs of any connected device. Each Wam could be used as batteries for a phone or to replace an entire power plant. And it’s green energy too, producing no CO2.

The episode comes to a close with the UN giving Japan an ultimatum that includes military action. However, Yaha-kui zaShunina seems to have a plan…

Verdict: Seikaisuru Kado employs many nice framing techniques, including reflections and looking through spaces at the people who are talking. It gives many scenes a great sense of scale, or pushes characters closer together or farther apart. The stiff animations still look silly and the ‘action’ is almost entirely talking but there’s a lot of ‘smart art’ here.

That use of space extended to the clutter in it as well. I noticed the cgi model for the military tank in episode one repurposed as a toy in the background, and a no CO2 poster hanging on the board during the green energy discussion. Lots of little details that, if you have the patience to go back to previous episodes, could tell a small story on their own.

The music is still hilariously terrible and Hanamori’s annoying whiny personality feels out of place in the thoughtful setting. Doctor Crazy too.

Quan Zhi Gao Shou – 05

The Gist: a big show match is playing and Xiu’s former team seems to be doing really well, having swept the three round 1 v 1s. However, Xiu tells Gougou they will ultimately lose because Glory takes more than individual skill — it takes teamwork — and his former team is clearly lacking that. And Gougou barely has time to scoff and/or choke down another McDonald’s commercial before Xiu’s prediction becomes true…

Running with the theme of team work, Xiu arrives at Frosty Forest to re-claim the top clear score for whichever guild has hired him. Predictably, the guild scoff’s at his team roster, which includes a two girls and a knuckle-head wolverine with a brick. Little do they know, one of the girls is the strawberry-blonde bombshell pro that Xiu used to play with, and Tang’s hardly a slouch either. Soon, they lock in a new clear time top record, a full 5 minutes quicker than Xiu’s previous attempt.

“Yeah! Sun Xiang defeated Team 301’s captain, Yang Chong and rekted a newbie afterwards. Pretty stronk right??”

Early on, I’d mentioned that subtitlers are still new at converting Chinese to natural sounding English. Newness usually means they play it safe and keep translations fairly literal, which is why King’s Avatar is full of brother-this and sister-that lines.

This week, someone had a lot more fun and, even though the results were a bit silly and out of place when compared to last week, it shows how a little liberty in translation can go a long way to change tone and mood of a scene. Pretty Stronk right?

In all seriousness, if QZGS’ dialog had the L33t g@mer jargon from the beginning, even if it was just in the background and not from Xiu himself, the whole atmosphere would have felt less stuffy, and more believably fan-filled, which would have sold the Glory world far more effectively. I say this knowing full well that such jargon would not accurately represent Chinese sensibilities too — but such sensibilities are irrelevant for subtitles to begin with, since subtitles are intrinsically for a foreign culture’s benefit…

Reinforcing the team work thread was the appearance of two of Xiu’s former underlings at the café. They are a bit drunk following their loss and, after trying to pick up Tang, and trying to trash talk Xiu, it’s driven home that the team’s failure was on them as much as the new captain, because they didn’t counterbalance that new captain’s poor judgement.

You could read it as one more Xiu is smugly right scene, or one more non-chinese people are A-holes propaganda scene, or just roll with it as a genuine comment about the personal responsibility of all individuals for the collective to succeed.

But more than these academic and philosophical musings, King’s Avatar wants us to know that its point (and Xiu’s point) is that life should be fun. The guild members who are waiting outside to claim an arbitrary victory for their guild are bored to death — but their partners that followed Xiu inside are having the time of their lives. Even Xiu’s old pro girlfriend has fun just messing around in the raid. Smug or not, OP or not, that’s what Xiu brings: pure love for the game.

The Verdict: of course, reused animation from episode 3 and QZGS’ typical middle of the road quality didn’t really elevate that sense of fun. Nor does Gougou as a character (she’s pretty awful) and, as a non-Chinese, I do roll my eyes about all the villains being blonde, but QZGS sells another entirely watchable novel experience this week. So I’m not complaining too much.

Little Witch Academia – 17

The Gist: Shiny Rod indicates the 5th word is nearing but, before Professor Ursula can tell Akko much more than ‘it has to do with tradition’ she’s whisked away by school duties. So Akko and a very angsty Amanda O’neal head of to the Appleton Academy, which may be the hiding place of the Holy Grail. Hey, if the Holy Grail isn’t traditional enough, what would be?

Unfortunately, AA is an all boys school full of rich jerks that hate magic. Surprisingly, Amanda is able to pass for a while, but not before king of the jerks Louis Blackwell more or less becomes the main character of the episode. His father is chairman of the school and the Nation’s Minister of Defense but… its a very questionable decision to introduce another new character for an already bloated cast seventeen episodes in. Even less so when he’s just an assier version of Andrew…

Speaking of Andrew, he has a nice conversation with Akko which demonstrates how different their world views are. He is driven by duty and nearly only does things he is required to do, where she is driven by a sense of purpose and personal desire and almost never does what she is expected. The message clearly started to connect with Andrew, and was driven home even more when Akko wanders off before he finishes a tirade. (before he notices she’s left)

Eventually, Andrew has to intervene when Louis captures the girls. Being Andrew, his solution is to propose a formal duel, as is tradition at the academy. This goes well for Amanda twice and, as she’s saved Louise’ life by the end, she is free to go. Maybe the witches even gain a few young allies to boot!

The Verdict: LWA continues to do everything wrong but somehow be just charming enough to keep my attention. I appreciate that Akko doesn’t unlock a word this week but, in structure, the episode unfolds the same way it would have if that had been the case. It’s a weird throw-away module featuring mostly side characters and barely hinting at the core plot.

Amanda x Louis’ duel was nice enough (Amanda’s Chun’Li spinning kick was totally boss) but Amanda herself isn’t a terribly likable character and resolving that she will ultimately stay at school with Akko due to friendship solves a problem we didn’t have before this episode.

Sprinkel in a ton of unanimated panning shots, a very straight forward ‘Croix is still up to no good’ thread, and you have a big pile of meh?

Quan Zhi Gao Shou – 03 (OOPS!)

Oops! Episodes 3 & 4 posted very close together and possibly out of order, which I did not catch until watching episode 5 today. This means last week’s review should be read for episode 4 and this review retcons for episode 3.

What did I miss? The real episode 3 introduces Xiao Tang as a naturally APM-talented friend of Boss Guoguo, who Guoguo considers her ‘personal cheat code.’ However, Tang is not a Glory player, because she finds the game too simplistic…until she loses a string of PvPs against Ye Xiu.

While this setup is only a small portion of the episode, seeing Tang as a competitive player with social connections to the cafe, changes her relationship with Xiu a bit. Her interest in his play style being sincere thirst for self-improvement and revenge than casual interest of a layperson who’s been swept into the game through Xiu’s recent pop culture impact.

This doesn’t really change my review of episode 4, other than explaining where Xiu got money to buy everyone McDonalds food, and why he shares it with Xiu (it’s her money, which Xiu won through wagering on games and he’s giving it back to her as food, in a way of softening his harsh critique of her ability). However, it makes Tang’s participation in episode 5 more believable.

What Else? The episode also introduces the frozen forest stage and Xiu’s first speed clearing of it as a player for hire. Again, this doesn’t change anything in episode 4, except to make the alert at the end of the episode about a specific event, and not that competitors are generally catching up ti Xiu, but there’s that. Also, like Tang, the frozen forest plot is a major component of episode 5. Regardless, it’s not necessary for understanding that plot…

In some regards, it actually weakens episode 5 because its just one more example of Xiu smugly beating everyone’s expectations with ease. More importantly, episode 5’s raid on frozen forest reuses animations from episode 3…

Verdict: Graphically, King’s Avatar’s use of CGI for figures can be distracting, the action is often tightly framed and difficult to follow, reused animations are disappointing, and I can’t help but laugh at the crystal-clear sky it presents above China. Overall, its clunky, smug, soft nationalist propaganda full of McDonalds advertisements…but that’s what its been from the beginning?

As before (and after) QZGS remains watchable, weird, and by definition ‘different’ as does not quite follow Japanese or Western conventions. Tang x Xiu has potential to be an interesting relationship and Glory, as an arbitrary item for them to compete over, is serviceable. Nothing else to say about it ;)

Renai Boukun – 04

“There are piranhas in that pond.”

The Gist: Yuzu-chan takes center stage this week, with a silly backstory that explains her love for her sister Akane and establishes that Yuzu has always been a tripping-prone klutz for…some reason. We also learn that Yuzu doesn’t actually attend Akane/Aino’s school but, instead, an all-girls school in which she uses male body-doubles in drag to fill her place.

Back in the present, Shiramine Shikimi shows up and is clearly just pretending to be a meek girl in need of help. (She’s obviously the mean pink haired girl from Akane x Yuzu’s past) After getting Aino to follow her to an abandoned hospital, she traps him with magic gum and begins to torture him with nails and BDSM.

Fear not! While it ends to be continued, Guri x Yuzu x Akane are on their way and at least 2/3 of those characters have an idea what is going on…

Cell phones occupied much of the humor this week. The biggest player being Guri’s new smartphone, which is full of romance-specific apps as well as a weather report for the afterlife. However, Aino’s flip phone makes an appearance to deliver a gag that Guri has sent him undressing pics of Akane with the subject line “Present for your personal pleasure.”

Otherwise, much of the humor focuses on Yuzu’s foolish personality and the phone’s “Compatibility Barometer” which shows the various one-sided romances in the four way couple. Unsurprisingly, from a humor stand point, Yuzu and Aino would make the strongest couple, even though neither would be happy to admit that…

The Gist: Renai Boukun is all about great gags and subtle details. Yuzu’s family fountain is full of Piranhas, the unexplained app icons on the phone featuring art for each of the show’s characters, rescuing Yuzu from an extremely shallow stream, great audio cues and timing like Yuzu’s rejection noise and face — it’s all hilarious!

Renai Boukun also took a risk this week. Going dark with Shikimi — really dark with a sadist dry humping a torture victim — spins our soft and care-free expectations of the show on their head. It says boldly that anything can happen. Except, that’s not really want anyone should want from a well timed comedy is it?

Little Witch Academia – 16

The Gist: Team Akko visits Lotte’s family and immediately befalls an outrageously rare curse that slowly turns everyone into moss. (before eventual death) Without adult supervision, the Girls must band together and collect the ingredients for a cure. However, Akko quickly becomes the only one left and, not knowing the area or as much about magic as her friends, she struggles until the end.

But this is LWA we’re talking about. Akko learns patience and, coupled with her natural endurance, and Shiny Rod, she saves the day and unlocks another word! (MAYENAB DYSHEEBUDO)

This week gave us some great set pieces like the Yeti who’s self conscious due to internet bullying, the irritated reindeer who’s poop Akko must collect, and the general goofiness of the curse.

It also carried the usual Akko/Sucy/Lotte charm, with Sucy’s love of the Hapansilakka pies (and Akko’s hatred of it) playing for some good laughs.

However, episode 16 is absolutely rushed and it’s point about Akko needing to learn patience was too simplistic. The fact that we learn anger is the most efficient medium for magic to be absorbed by the villain’s robo/magic devices doesn’t really add anything. More so, because we see this from a disconnected viewer-point of view, and not through a revelation to our heroes.

If LWA was only 12 episodes long, I could forgive it, but that’s not the case. More importantly, many of the first 12 episodes felt rudderless and pointless diversions from the central plot.

The Verdict: From the moment Professor Ursula says the next word is something Akko lacks and really needs to learn, the entire point of the episode becomes groan-inducingly clear. It’s all delivered well enough, with plenty of quirky LWA details and nice animation, but there’s nothing creative under the surface.

Hopefully, Akko will learn the next few words through a more dramatic (or at least touching) process. Otherwise, the gains the show has made by establishing it’s long term focus will quickly fall apart.

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.

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 (CORRECTION: – 04)

(This is the review for episode 04. For the review of episode 03, click here.)

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.