Shingeki no Bahamut: Virgin Soul – 17

“Kill it on sight,” Charioce says to the Black Knight leader, referring to the red dragon…but is he saying that because that’s what he’s expecting to say, knowing Nina will doubtless put up a good fight? The two sides of Charioce come out again, bringing his roller-coaster romance with Nina to the fore.

Once the whole group is reunited, “gathering intel” is the order of the day. Those of you who were waiting for Rita and Nina to dress up as sexy demons, you got your wish this week. It’s not really that great a disguise, but Nina runs out alone anyway, eager to try it out.

It isn’t long before she runs into the other person in a bad disguise, Charioce, AKA “Chris.” Specifically, he’s visiting the grave of his dead mother (killed by Bahamut’s fire, like Nina’s father).

This, and playing football with the little demon children in the slums, is all meant for Christ to score brownie points with both Nina and us the audience. But for me, those points won’t be easily doled out, and even then are highly provisional.

The moment we all knew was coming: when Chris opens up enough that Nina wants to get closer and closer to him until they embrace and eventually kiss for the first time. It’s a very romantic scene (again, if you buy what’s happening, more on that later).

Things get even more Disney-esque when Nina realizes she can now transform into the red dragon at will, perhaps because of Chris’ kiss. She takes him on a moonlit ride over a calm, peaceful Anatae.

When they land (and Nina finds a robe), Chris gives her a token of his affection: a necklace with a red claw, before sending her on her way, promising the next time they meet he’ll explain more clearly what he’s after. I for one am waiting with baited breath for him to please, for the love of God, explain how all of the monstrous stuff he’s done will be worth it, and how having a dead mom justifies it?

For now, I’ll work with this theory: Charioce is literally two distinct personalities, and becomes the kind and gentle Chris when he is around Nina. We saw his change in expression after she left, so unless he continues to play her, that must be the case. To be redeemed, Chris would have to have no control over the horrific things King Charioce has done.

It’s thin, but another piece of evidence comes post-credits: The Black Knight leader, suspicious of Charioce’s “kill on sight” order, is convinced the king is “under the red dragon’s spell”—the spell that makes him Chris. Considering Nina is, in a way, under his “spell” as well, enabling her to transform at will, it would seem that spell is love, and the only thing holding Charioce back from attaining his goals.

Though even as Chris, it’s clear he still has every intention of carrying through with his plans. So is the Black Knight right, and his king is wavering due to Nina? Or is Charioce in full control after all, fully intending to use Nina, who has well and truly fell for him?

Is Chris real, and can he prevail over Charioce? That is apparently the question on which the fate of many people, demons, and gods now rests.

Shingeki no Bahamut: Virgin Soul – 16

Action is the name of the game on this week’s Baha Soul, with thrilling chases, an intense arena battle, daring escapes, and high-altitude rescues. It all starts when Bacchus, Hamsa, and Nina start talking about how and why Bacchus left Heaven, mentioning the hippogriff. El waits for his chance.

As Alessand continues to side with Charioce and Dias holds out hope for their old captain, Kaisar is stuffed in a cage and released in the middle of the arena, where he must fight Azazel to the death. Azzy may not be quite clear about why he’s still alive, but he’s not just going to lay down for the fallen knight, who manages to hold his own even though he’s missing a hand. Jaime Lannister, eat your heart out.

Once Bacchus, Hamsa and Nina realize El is missing (with Nina wearing El’s clothes, suggesting El went to the unusual trouble of dressing her after stealing her clothes) and formulate a plan to retrieve him, using lots of wordless hand (and wing) signals but getting the timing all wrong, causing a startled El to take wing and fly off.

Just when Azazel is about to put Kaisar down, Favaro, in the stands all along in a very puffy disguise (and clean-shaven), throws him Rocky, and Kaisar quickly gets the upper hand and “runs Azazel through” (though his precise strike doesn’t really touch Azzy).

As Favaro’s matador-like theme plays, he unleashes his crafty bounty hunter arsenal of crossbow bolts and smoke bombs, giving the three lads cover to escape, as Charioce reclines in his throne, seemingly unconcerned.

Nina catches up to El in a hovering platform in a very pretty chase through Heaven, but when she tries to pounce on him in mid-air she misses and starts to fall down and through the celestial barrier. Naturally, El descends at top speed to catch her, because he’s still, in her words “Mugaro”, despite having changed “a little bit.”

The two of them are then saved by Bacchus and Hamsa, who called Hippogriff and skedaddled just when Heavenly guards surrounded them. Back to Anatae they go, where El intends not to fight, but to bring peace.

At a very picturesque meeting spot, Rita unites with Kaisar, Rocky, Favaro and Azazel. The latter tries to slink off, claiming “this is as far” as he goes; but Kaisar tells him if they all work together, they can save demons as well as humans and gods from Charioce’s havoc. I loved Rita’s smile when Azzy walks by her, Kaisar’s words having worked. And all it takes is a look to bring Favaro along for the ride.

Not long ago all of the main cast was imprisoned in some way. Now, suddenly, they’re all free (for now) and in strong groups (again, for now). Will the two groups stay apart, or combine to create a force even Charioce will have trouble with? Will Nina’s continued Charioce conflict jeopardize the whole enterprise? Can El succeed without using force (which we know is limited in its scope an duration before he collapses)? We shall see.

Little Witch Academia – 22

As Andrew sees a worsening situation with the soccer-fueled civil unrest, Chariot decides, at last, that she’s really, truly, definitely going to tell Akko her true identity…only for her only chance in this episode to be interrupted. And by Andrew, no less, via Diana, whom he’s able to contact because of their families. All for a lost hat!

Just as Diana is asking “Ursula” if she knows anything about the greatly increased stores of energy that correspond to the installation of Croix’s SSS system, Chariot spots her rival in the window to give chase.

This is an episode that doesn’t waste a lot of time, and its most leisurely scene is also its best because of the wonderful chemistry that has developed between Akko and Andrew.

As someone being told day in day out that his path has already been set for him, and defiance will not be tolerated, an idealistic free spirit like Akko is just the kind of girl he’d fall for, almost envious of her worldview.

He’s become far less dismissive of her flowerly hopeful little speeches, especially in light (or darkness) of the soccer protests. But he makes sure to check Akko’s boundless idealism with the caveat that she herself should be the one to take action, rather than wait for Chariot to swoop in and save the world.

Akko’s in full agreement: she’ll make the world happier and preserve magic with her own hands and heart. In his criticism, Andrew is aware that it applies to him as well.

While it’s nice to see Akko and Andrew laughing together and enjoying each other’s company, when duty calls (in the form of one of Croix’s little cube drones), Akko springs into action immediately, leaving her hat behind once more.

That cube leads her to a rooftop where Croix stands, and is all to happy to explain that the cubes are her handiwork, that she’s using “Noir Fuel Spirit” to absorb negative emotions from the people and converting it to magical energy. In effect, she’s saving the magical world, her way.

That way happens to be pretty much the opposite of how Akko would want to save it; by creating positive energy—happiness—and she tells Croix this is flat-out wrong. Croix responds by fusing her drones into a giant monster and attacking Akko with it.

Chariot arrives just in time to save Akko, and destroys the drone-‘dragon’, but in the process lets the cat out of the bag, a cat Croix is all too happy to pounce on. Here Akko finally learns her idol was beside her all along, in Croix’s words, holding her back. And while that might sound like emotional manipulation, it turns out Croix means it literally.

Chariot, it seems, is responsible for sapping Akko of her magic, back when she attended her show. Chariot absorbed dreams, rather than negative energy, to gain magical power. This is why Akko can’t fly; not any lack of effort or perseverance.

Right on the heels of Akko learning Ursula is Chariot, that revelation is a gut punch for poor Akko, who merely shouts about it being all lies before running away. Croix tells Chariot she doubts Akko will be pursuing the words anymore, all but claiming victory in a rivalry in which she deemed Akko Chariot’s proxy.

With the completion of this outing we’re down to three episodes of LWA, at least that we know of, and there’s a lot that needs to happen in some order: Akko regaining her composure and rising to the occasion and gaining sufficient power (be it through the words or through her friends) to foil Croix’s plans for world “reconstruction,” and hell, maybe receive a kiss from our boy ‘Drew.

That’s a lot, but now that LWA has kicked into a higher gear, I’m confident it can deliver on the denouement.

Re:Creators – 08

I found last week’s episode a bit plodding and tedious, but as Altair’s identity is discovered by all and a confrontation of ideologies mounts, this week’s sequence of emotionally-resonant conversations and its closing confrontation earns it a higher grade.

The briefing to the group proper on what they know about Altair so far kinda goes off the rails when Yuuya’s creator appears with a dismissive, aloof atitude, and Yuuya, sees it as provocation to sic his esper on him. Blitz’s artist is also there, but these are merely intros for people who may or may not play key roles later.

Showing Yuuya as an unpredictable hothead was nothing new, but I appreciated Meteora’s meet-up with Souta, in which she senses he’s trying to get something off his chest and tries to make it as easy as possible.

Souta still dances around matters far too much for my taste, but it’s definitely a start, and Meteora shows how she’s morphed from a fish-out-of-water game character to a warm, patient, understanding person who considers Souta a friend and hopes he feels the same.

Despite their wildly clashing worldviews (and for the record, Alice’s take on the “world of the gods” isn’t all that unfair or inaccurate) Mamika continues to embrace Alice as a dear friend; one she believes in an hopes will believe in her.

Alice does, and can, as she can tell from her words and actions that for all her naivete Mamika has a strong and pure heart. But Alice is caught off guard when Mamika suddenly jumps off the skyscraper they’re both perched on (Tokyo City Hall) and heads off on her own, indicating it could be the last time the two friends see each other, either on the same side, or at all.

Chiku’s been busy tailing Souta during his meetings with Mamika and Meteora, and she’s pretty sure not only that Souta knew Altair’s creator, but that the creator is dead, and Souta feels at least partially to blame. Not willing to wait for him to spill the beans, she used what he’d given others to paint a larger picture for herself, and Souta’s reaction makes it clear she’s spot-on.

As such, Chiku now has leverage on Souta, and isn’t about to let him get away with avoiding the reckoning she feels should surely await the protagonist of a world as messed-up as Souta’s. So she swaps contact info and promises him they’ll go on a “date” soon. Unless he wants to be exposed, he’ll do as she says.

As for Mamika, her ultimate destination this week is Altair’s lair (an ‘Altlair’, if you will) to confront her with the knowledge she’s gained, affirm that she considers her a friend too, and offers to help “save her soul”, and that of her creator. For all the talk of creators and/or creations expressing their affection for one another, Altair is having none of it.

She hates everyone and everything and wants to destroy it all, and her response to Mamika’s olive branch is to launch a fusillade of sabres into Mamika’s body. If talk failed, Mamika was always prepared to do what was necessary to stop Altair from destroying anything or anyone else, so she casts Magical Splash Flare in a thrilling finish to the episode. No matter who emerges from the resulting conflagration, things will never be the same.

Re:Creators – 07

I realize Re:C is a 22-episode run, enabling it to take its time when it deems it necessary, or when the plot demands it. But despite a couple of characters gaining important information for the road ahead (or at least drawing closer to it), I really struggled to figure out what actually happened this week, which is hardly ever a good sign that the episode itself was necessary.

The interesting multi-vector battle on the riverbank never met its potential, as Mamika flexes her mahou shoujo muscles to put an end to the duel between Celestia and Alicetelia as well as between Blitz and Mirokuji.

As a result, the Celestia/Meteora and Alicetelia/MUP factions go their separate ways, and we’re treated to the former faction….simply sitting around doing nothing yet again.

Chikujouin Makagami also goes off on her own, but only to visit and promptly murder her creator off-camera, no doubt using her power of words. In the process, she reads her own source material, starts to understand her situation better, and vows to “regroup” and continue her “Miracle Great Emperor Plan.”

I like how Chiku is only on her own side at the moment, but there’s such a thing as being too far-removed from and un-invested in everything else going on.

Meanwhile, Kanoya Rui’s creator has a hunch about MUP being the creation of a doujin artist on a DeviantArt-style site, and hits paydirt—before Souta comes clean about knowing her.

Souta’s continued refusal to do so is becoming a liability, not just in terms of the safety of creators, but in that all Souta’s character is, at least so far, is the secret he carries. I want more.

Perhaps my favorite part of this somewhat stingy, uneventful episode is one in which Mamika reaches out to Souta, believing they’re alone together, but actually being shadowed by Chiku.

Mamika admits that she may not be in a world where everyone like her gains power from simple “belief” in things, ideals, or people, but that doesn’t mean she’s willing to give up on her usual way of doing things; just modify it to better suit her new world.

She manages what no one else could: get some info about MUP out of Souta. Specifically, her name is Altair, and most likely hates the world of the creators, which definitely makes her capable of “planning something very bad”, as Mamika puts it. I just hope that “plan” isn’t just a MacGuffin.

We’ve seen people suffer and die, but recently, only by Chiku’s hand (well, words). When is whatever Altair is planning actually going to organize into something that actually threatens the world?

Re:Creators – 06

Souta realizes who the MUP’s Creator is (or was), but he’s reluctant to tell Celestia, who is back in normal clothing and is having fun with her new smartphone. And that’s pretty much it for Souta; he carries his secret with him and will have to resolve his moral dilemma another week.

This episode is all about the arrival of another new Creation, Chikujouin Makagami, who is nothing but trouble. Her arrival sparks the big multiplayer confrontation we knew was coming, while being an eminently fun-to-watch player in her own right.

As befits a dynamic-shifting character, Chiku is voiced by the illustrious Sakamoto Maaya, unquestionably one of the best in the business since her debut in Escaflowne two decades ago. She has a lot of fun in what sounds like a fun role to play.

Like a similar scenario in Captain America: Civil War, an eclectic combination of heroes and villains of diverse backgrounds, powers, weaknesses, and worldviews come together and we behold the beautiful chaos that ensues. To its credit, Re:Creators gives characters on both sides the opportunity to express their views one way or another.

The unlikely friendship between Alice and Mamika—one from a war-torn dystopia, the other from a Tokyo not dissimilar from the Creators’— continues with the two discussing how they should deal with the newcomer.

Mamika believes as long as someone is a “good person” they can be a powerful and worthwhile ally, even if their goals don’t mesh with your own. Alice hears her, and compliments her for “knowing where justice lies.”

Chikujouin will test everyone’s sense of justice, because she’s a trickster who loves flipping things upside down and inside out, including lies. When she catches a bookstore clerk in a web of “lies about lies” it seems to give her the power to summon beasts that tear him to shreds.

Kikuchihara and a normally-dressed Meteora (a subtle but nice touch for both her, Celestia, and Rui) determine Chiku is a villain (duh) and start their search, but Alice and Mamika have already found her.

The initially cordial encounter soon sours when Alice smells blood and malevolence all over Chiku, and Chiku realizes she has another mark in Alice with whom she can provoke into “lying about lies.”

Alice, naturally, dismisses everything Chiku says, calls her a “buffoon”, and charges straight at her. Before Chiku can make Alice stab herself with her own spear, Celestia arrives, with Meteora by her side.

Mamika and Meteora plead for calm—everyone’s in the same boat; there’s no need to fight each other—but hotter heads blow over, as Alice thinks no more of Meteora’s musings than Chiku’s.

Alice and Celestia won’t back down, so the two warriors go at it, and Meteora must defend Celestia with her shield. Tokar Blitz enters the fray on Team Alice, but first tells Mamika that she has the power to stop the fight. Mamika knows this, but is afraid to use her powers again after what she did to Celestia when they first met (justifiably so).

And yet it’s Tokar, disabling Meteora’s shield with a gravity round then preparing to finish her off, when Mamika finally says enough and intervenes, saving Meteora and destroying every bullet Tokar fires.

In a battle of clashing powers from clashing genres, I love how it’s the magical girl abilities that seem to be the most powerful here, precisely because they come from such a vague, whimsical, and non-scientific source.

From the moment Celestia and Meteora appeared, Chiku is on the sidelines, literally, and once the swords start to cross and the bullets start to fly, she kick back, cracks open a juice and enjoys the show.

I for one appreciated this approach, because beyond its meta value (she, like us, is eagerly awaiting what will happen next) it’s in a trickster like Chiku’s nature to play sides off each other, then step aside and let everyone beat each other up, leaving her unscathed.

This was the Re:Creators episode I’ve been waiting for, and it felt the fleetest of the lot so far. It’s an episode where everyone’s disparate personalities are on display and where interesting things happen when they butt up against each other.

Having Yuuya and Rui sit this particular battle out keeps things from getting too chaotic too fast—though I’m sure we’ll see larger and more complicated battles in the future.

I’m also glad it’s Mamika, who not only has the “purest” powers but also the “purest” sense of justice, who not only has wherewithal but also the moral compulsion to stop the fighting before someone gets hurt too badly.

She may be “naive” and may not come from as bad a place as some of the others, but she knows what she needs to know: that there’s a better way to solve problems than trying to kill each other. As such, she’s emerged as an important bridge between the pro and anti-MUP factions.

Those who don’t like it better be ready to taste an assortment of colorful hearts, stars, bows, and crescent moons.

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.

Re:Creators – 05

Episode five is talky, like the previous four, but the quality of the conversations ticks up thanks to a generous helping of light humor and a few significant steps forward with the plot, as the “good” creations add mecha pilot Kanoya Rui to their ranks and forge an official alliance with the Japanese government.

Things are lighthearted at first, as Kanoya proves to be very mild-mannered when not riled up, then things get tense as the JSDF raids the home of Kanoya’s creator. This is where I came to appreciate Meteora as the official spokesperson of the creation/creators. Measured and precise in her words, she’s able to calm the situation and put the soldiers at ease. None of the others in that house could have done it better.

They end up before a board of government bigwigs called the Special Situations Countermeasures Council, and briefed by the council’s General Coordination Officer, Kikuchihara. The proceedings are understandably a bit stiff, but things are lightened considerably when Kikuchihara informs Meteroa of the missing JSDF weaponry she “borrowed”, for which she can only offer a sheepish but sincere apology.

Fortunately, Kikuchihara is a stabilizing force, like the Meteora of the bigwigs, and has an open enough mind to appreciate the creators and creations’ situation, while acknowledging the former’s status as persons, offering them legal status and government protection.

Their shared goal of fixing what the Military Uniform girl broke and returning everyone to whence they came is sure to go easier with the coordination with Kikuchihara and the council.

Despite likely being offered government-funded accomodation, Meteora and Celestia decide to remain at Marine’s house, which is just fine with her, as it’s made her home life more fun, as “every night is girl’s night”, as Meteora puts it.

The four guys (one of whom, Kanoya, is voiced by a girl) aren’t as enthused, as Kanoya’s creator’s house was destroyed, but of far greater concern to Souta is his sudden realization of the origin of the Military Uniform girl: it would seem her creator is Shimazaki, who took her life by jumping in front of an incoming train at the very beginning of the first episode.

It makes sense that Military Uniform girl is trying to overthrow/destroy the world of creators, considering it’s a world that essentially rejected her creator. Hopefully more will be revealed about Souta’s specific connection to Shimazaki. Until then, some nice incremental progress was made, with just the right amount of comical flair to avoid things getting to stodgy, but enough seriousness to maintain credibility.

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.

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 ;)

Re:Creators – 04

(For this week’s Re:C I’m filling in for Franklin, who is currently battling a bit of a backlog in both inbox and anime queue. Ganbatte, Oigakkosan! —Hannah)

After learning her creator died in an auto accident, a rudderless Meteora does a fair amount of soul-searching, starting by purchasing the game she’s in and playing it all the way to the end, in an effort to both learn more about herself and the person who created her, in hopes that information will help her make an informed decision about what to do next.

She painstakingly reports all of this to the others, as well as presents her hypothesis about this world only being able to take so many “translations” of creations before it crumbles under the weight of all the “contradictions.” For the fourth straight episode, this involves Meteora talking and explaining in a measured tone for an extended period of time—until the sun sets outside, in fact.

And while it does manage to hit some emotional beats towards the end—basically, she likes her creator, his creation, and wants to fight to get everything back to the way it was—it once more expose’s this show using such scenes as a crutch to keep the audience appraised. It’s too much tell and not enough show.

The chatting continues in a dark warehouse, where the onna-kishi Alicetelia has captured her creator and forced him to revise her world so there isn’t so much dang war, only for it not to work. The Military Uniform Princess assures her that this is an our worlds-vs.-their world situation, she’s leading the revolt, and could use able warriors like Alice.

We meet Beardy, who like Yuuya is content to have fun in this world for a time, and not in a rush to return to his world. Mamika also softens “Alice-chan’s” character somewhat by questioning rash side-taking, especially with people like the MUP, while tucking into boil-in-the-bag curry, the package of which bears Mamika’s likeness.

One of Matsubara’s fellow creators then calls him, informing him that one of his creations—a young mecha pilot—has suddenly appeared, along with his mecha, who on the surface looks like he’d be on Team Celestia/Meteora. That leaves just one more main creation from the promo art and OP to introduce: the Oushino Ougi-esque Chikujouin Makagami, who looks more like Team MUP.

As this is a 22-episode run, it’s not unusual to not have all the main players introduced after four episodes. But there remains a sluggishness and a feeling that we’re not seeing as much of the potential of this premise as we could, and are instead hearing a whole lot about it from static characters as other characters sit around in rooms listening.

To be blunt, I’m eager for Re:Creators to get out of those rooms and start kicking some ass out in the world. With the lines starting to be drawn among the creations according to how they want to proceed, hopefully we’ll get more actual confrontations soon.

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.

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.