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Tang is willing to watch the owner’s deep collection of tutorial videos…even though Xiu snarks that they are 9 years out of date.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.

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.

 

Quan Zhi Gao Shou – 02

The Gist: Ye Xiu is labeled a Team Killer loot thief by the fraud player who was planning to do just that. However, they both end up in a raid together again and Xiu’s pro-skills make everyone’s jaws drop and quickly all is forgotten and forgiven. (He gives almost all of the drops away to the other players after all.)

After scoring first-kill on three bosses in the server’s first night, Xiu gets invited to join one of the three powerful guilds but manages to negotiate for a lot of rare crafting materials instead. Then he takes a nap in a dirty side room because the internet cafe’s employee dorm is too full.

Meanwhile, his former team announces his retirement and a lot of people seem to be broken up about it. Especially the cafe owner, who sits outside sobbing next to him, completely unaware that she her newest employee is Xiu in the flesh…

King’s Avatar slides into its second week with the confidence only a truly clueless production can muster. The bangin’ guitar music is trying so hard to be cool. The flawless gamemaster protagonist can take down anything with a wry smile and already has other good players tripping over themselves. Fans are openly crestfallen with the news that Xiu is retiring because he was just so goddamn important to the world that we viewers should really feel for his dilemma.

It’s hard not to laugh at, honestly. While not incompetently delivered, visually or in sound, the particulars are silly. The central conflict, that Xiu is a nice guy and mean capitalists have chased him out from a game where everyone apparently loves him and he was the best of the best…lacks impact. If he weren’t obviously at financial risk for lack of livelihood, there would be no stakes at all.

Verdict: comparing Quan Zhi Gao Shou to Sword Art Online articulates the fundamental challenges faced by the show. Where SAO is a somewhat over the top tale about the life or death stakes of a virtual world on those who are not able to let go in the real world, QZGS is a more general low-key tale about the cultural impact the virtual world has on people who can’t emotionally let go in the real world. Both shows feature best-of-the-best protagonists that get vilified early on and who’s climb up the ranks will probably save a number of victims along the way.

There’s just no positive comparison beyond that. QZGS’ characters don’t imply subtlety, the real world doesn’t present cues of significance to bolster the conflicts in the narrative (we do not see sponsorship and money effecting anyone but Xiu) and the emotional connection common folks have with Glory’s pros is just tossed at us from nowhere.

It’s watchable. It’s interesting as a snapshot of Chinese culture (maybe?) and an early dive of their industry into the animation art form. However, it’s far and away from ‘good’ by any objective standard.

Re:Creators – 02

The Gist: Meteora directs much of the opening story and through her, we learn that the creation effect is not limited to one art form nor main characters. She is an NPC that begins the ending section of an RPG Souta remembers enjoying, after all.

A great deal of eating and exposition later, Souta helps locate the company that created Meteora and the individual that created Celestia. One Mr Matsubara, who agrees to meet them in public. To Celestia’s chagrin, he does not live up to her expectations as a god, let alone a clever man she would associate with.

Then Magical Slayer Mamika shows up, apparently having been sent at them by the ‘Military Uniform Princess.’ (AKA Gunpuku no Himegimi) As a ‘Sailor Moon’-themed creation, she isn’t especially reasonable to negotiate with, nor intelligent, nor ready when her magic attacks cause pain and blood…but she is seriously strong. Much stronger than Celestia without her mech.

Fortunately (or not), Mirokuji Yuya shows up at the end and shrugs off Mamika’s attack with ease. According to Souta, he’s the final boss villain of another game called Exclusive Underground. Where this is going, exactly, and how it will not result in at least one of these characters quickly getting killed off, remains to be seen next week.

Dun dun duuunnnn…

The Verdict: The concept, sound design and animation continue to be top notch this week. Mamika’s magic sound, which is like a cutesy popping bubble, was delightfully bizarre and great contrast to the ‘cool’ designs of the other characters. I loved the music in the opening theme and throughout the episode as well.

Unfortunately, all the exposition around the concept and connecting the cast with Mr Matsubara came at the expense of good pacing. The opening two thirds dragged and the ending third felt rushed. Additionally, while I loved the opening theme, it immediately spoiled several characters appearing in the show to come. That didn’t do Yuya’s extremely short and clunky introduction any favors.

Ultimately, setting the stage for a fanfic mashup world should provide a good series in the long run (22 episodes, to be exact—ed.), but the speed at which thematically discordant characters have been thrown together, and uneventfully thrown together, just didn’t work this week.

Hopefully, the remaining characters will get more time to breathe on their introductory episodes. Otherwise, the crispness of the production and the curious premise will lose their shine quickly.

 

Quan Zhi Gao Shou – 01 (First Impressions)

The Gist: Ye Xiu, a pro-player of an MMO called Glory gets chased out of his team and is forced to start from scratch at an internet café. Fortunately, Glory’s 10th server has just started and he’s competing with other fresh characters, which makes his 10 years of experience a signficant advantage.

Meanwhile, in the real world, no one really knows who he is. Including the tom-boy who idalizes him, who he now works for, as an underboss at the internet café. Also, his weapon looks kinda like an umbrella…

You may want to check out King’s Avatar because it looks pretty good, albeit with a narrow color pallet and unimaginative character designs. The animation is crisp enough though, and the heavy use of CGI to render the real world spaces lets those spaces be highly detailed (and populated with figures) even if they feel clunky.

It’s worth noting that King’s Avatar is a Chinese production, which still counts as novel by anime standards. Nothing is cringe worthy but, if you watch a lot of anime, you will notice the pentameter of speech, and the sound of words, all feel ‘wrong.’ It’s hard to say if the generically evil boss who fired the MC suffers from this or is just generically evil?

You may want to skip King’s Avatar because it’s actually kinda terrible. Seriously, who thinks a 5 minute scene were pro gamers stand around a table being generically mean to ‘the old guy’ before making him quit the team was an interesting way to start an episode?

The poor choices for flow continue throughout the episode, with the MC immediately walking into an internet cafe and setting up an account the second after he says he’s going to take a year off and retire. The narrative works, as a string of events that make sense (enough) but the pacing is just subpar.

Verdict: I almost feel like I was laughing at King’s Avatar, not with it. Not that it has any comedy but, seriously, I don’t think the creators are aware of how infantile their efforts are. There’s so little character development and no ‘twist’ to the world either, that all this effort to tell the story of an older pro player who loves a fictional game return to glory from an obscure internet cafe a block from his former employer seems like a joke with no punchline?

But the Chinese cultural differences in language, story telling, and implication are enough for me to be curious for now. So I will be reviewing it, if not to the serious degree I normally do.

Did you have a chance to watch it? Drop a comment below!

Re:Creators – 01 (First Impressions)

The Gist: Souta Mizushino has pretensions of being a creator. He has the software to draw and sources of inspiration litter the room and world around him, but the spark hasn’t quite hit. He’s only a high school student after all.

Then, while watching the most popular anime of the season on his tablet, he finds himself transported into that world. Right in the middle of a fight that is not going well for show heroine Celestia Yupitilia and her ornate mecha. But the enemy isn’t what Celestia has come to expect from her world and, eventually noticing Souta, they aren’t in her world for very long.

Back on Earth, neither character quite knows how to act. Celestia quickly understands that, to some degree, she is a fictional character and, to some degree, Souta is not responsible for whatever has happened. Just ask quickly, her previous opponent has joined them on Earth and clearly has a grander understanding of what is going on.

Mystery, car chases, a third fictional character with magic rocket launchers appears, and a trip to the convenience store ensues. This. Show. Rocks.

You absolutely should watch this show because it takes all the conventions that could be cliché and does them so right. While we don’t know what exactly is going on and how, there’s a strong implication that human creation is the source of other worlds where people face the triumphs and hardships we imagine, and that even though magic from that world can carry over to our own, Souta himself (and humans in general) are not gifted with magical properties. Nor does Souta get the Re:Zero / Konosuba other-world adventure.

Souta describes himself as the Narrator and, right from the get go,  Re:Creators makes the point that this is the story as he remembers it, full of consequences, action, and thought.

But what really lofts Souta and Celestia above high above expectations is how they respond to their situation visually and through dialog. Anime is full of confused male leads who just repeat whatever ‘unexpected thing’ they hear right back as a question, and confused leads who ask idiotic questions or take an absurd amount of time to accept what is going on around them.

Sure, Souta spends a lengthy walk with his mouth hanging open in shock with a confused look, and has no particular goal moving forward, but he gets what’s going on around him, which lets the world show itself to us, without being overly expositioned in the process.

Celestia fares about the same, processing the evidence she sees and moving through a range of reasonable emotional and tactical responses until some of it is obvious. Her behavior just makes sense, and that makes me tremendously happy as a viewer.

The Verdict: Solid writing, fantastic voice work and music, extreme density of content (especially in the epilogue-as-prologue, where a mysterious girl commits suicide by train), and top shelf animation put this very very close to a perfect 10. It only falls short in comparison to my other 10s (Re:Zero’s emotional roller coaster or the pure splendor of Fate or the originality of FLCL). Give it time though, it may just get there.

For now, go right now and watch it!

Busou Shoujo Machiavellianism – 01 (First Impressions)

The Gist: Aichi Coexistence Private Academy was once an all girls school but, for reasons not entirely clear, it was made co-ed. However, this resulted in the girls bringing weapons to school and, eventually, the rise of the Supreme Five Swords—the baddest warrioresses on campus who ultimately run the school.

Now, Aichi is the destination for male students too tough for the regular school system and Nomura Fudou, our unwitting protagonist, fits that bill to a T…

You may get a kick out of Armed Girls’ if you can roll with how silly it all is. The art is decent enough, with short-cut but acceptable action animation and good enough character designs. Everyone in the cast speaks with a slight accent. All the boys are in drag. The first of the five swords wears a literal devil mask, which breaks cheekily after she and Nomura accidentally kiss. Silly stuff like that.

You may groan and roll your eyes at Armed Girls’ because everyone in the cast is basically a pretentious a-hole, a cliché, or both. (The french girl’s haughty fake laugh is especially cringe inducing)

The pace is also a bit slow, with an over reliance on characters standing still to yell at each other and/or introduce special techniques that don’t stand out visually from each other. The result feels very formulaic and, combined with the characters all being unlikable, Armed Girls’ doesn’t feel like much love was put into its production.

The Verdict: Nomura Fudou seems like the intended protagonist, obviously, but in many ways Rin Onigawara is set up to experience more emotional change along the way. Regardless, I’m not sure Busou Shoujo Machiavellianism actually has a protagonist, as Rin and Nomura  get about the same screen time and neither has an especially compelling backstory, mystery, or quest.

I didn’t find Busou Shoujo Machiavellianism especially funny or exciting. It’s just good enough to review, but not so much so that I actually want to review it. For goodness sakes, the only eventful element of the first episode is Nomura x Rin’s accidental first kiss, which is itself a total cliché…

Gantz:0 Review

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The Gist: a feature-length CG movie covering the Osaka Arc from the Gantz manga. This arc is between halfway and two-thirds through Gantz’ 383-chapter long story, which means the movie had to shed several characters and a ton of build-up to present a manageable story. For example, the manga’s co-protagonist Katou gets a modified introduction right at the beginning of the arc, which serves as a brief introduction to the rules and world of Gantz for the viewer.

Generally, the changes ‘function,’ from the standpoint of making a coherent movie, but that movie is not very compelling. Despite cutting characters, the arc requires introducing the Osaka team, which is huge, even if its only there to be blown apart. The arc also pits our heroes against a massive challenge, with no room for that core cast to build-up credibility for taking on that challenge, nor an emotional connection with the viewer should they fail.

The result is somewhat like asking the third Lord of the Rings movie to work as our only ‘movie’ adaptation for the novels. The viewer will probably understand what is going on, but why would they care?

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The Verdict: From a technical standpoint, Gantz:0’s character models, lighting, and sets are decent but not mind-blowing. The lip sync isn’t spot on, the lighting and framing don’t feel like they highlight scenes clearly, and the shakey-cam is oh my god stop it! Overall, it lacks thought or style.

There’s some irony to this because Gantz’ weapons and vehicles were already CG-rendered in the manga, and the manga did a great job framing out scenes and conveying what was going on.

Unless you are already a Gantz fan, it’s difficult to see a reason for you to watch this. Unfortunately, if you are a Gantz fan (especially if you’ve read all 383 chapters of it like myself), you’re not going to get much out of this either.

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Hand Shakers – 01 (First Impressions)

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Jist: Tazuna is a quiet high school student who loves to tinker with and fix things, getting so focused he loses track of time. One day he comes across a hospital bed not unlike the one where he watched his younger sister die.

Tazuna takes the girl Koyori’s hand, and receives the “Revelation of Babel.” He’s then attacked and chased by a pair like him and Koyoti, Break and Bind, but with Koyori he learns to summon millions of gears he can fashion as shields and swords with which to fight back.

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First of all, this show is very elaborate and shiny. Those who watched K or its sequel are no strangers to Suzuki Shingo’s baroque style that employs sweeping camera angles that fly around not one but many animated characters, nearly photo-realistic settings, and super-saturated colors.

There isn’t a single shot in this that doesn’t have something going on, whether it’s highlighted dust motes, lens flares or sun rays, or any other number of tiny details. I’ll be honest: it was a little overhwelming, especially after the relative stillness of ACCA.

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It also reminded me a bit of the Star Wars prequel films. Let me explain: their producer, Rick McCallum, spoke with pride about how dense every frame is, how much is going on at once. But while a little bit of chaos is nice, put too much shit in every single frame, without any kind of hierarchy, and the audience’s eye can’t focus on any of it and basically throws up its eye-hands. In other words, too much stuff and too much excitement can be static and boring.

There’s no denying Shingo’s ambition, or the fact he makes a damned impressive and distinctive-looking show here. But there are many instances where the cracks show, and where frame rates slow to the point we’re back in the mid-nineties, watching PSOne cutscenes.

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Not only that, Break and Bind’s rain of chains simply aren’t interesting enough to occupy as much screeen time as they do. It’s fun watching Tazuna and Koyori dart through a tripped-out alternate dimension of the city, dodging the chains from the BDSM couple…until it isn’t.

There’s more to dislike: Tazuna’s inner stream-of-consciousness to open the episode (and his running commentary throughout) was generic, uninspiring shonen-speak. Break is your typical loud-mouthed one-dimensional villain (ironic considering how much in this show is 3D), and female characters’ busts are a size too big and bouncy for my personal taste.

Hand Shakers is big on jargon (babel, ziggurat, nimrods) but small on telling us what the heck is going on and why. So far, the characters of Hand Shakers are being literally and figuratively out-shined by their environment. And like Lily’s reverse tower card, that’s not a good sign.

There were some nice isolated moments of music/animation/character synergy; that and the overall scope of the visuals are good enough for a 6, but—and I can’t believe I’m saying this about this show—I’m going to need a lot more.

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Spiritpact – 01 (First Impressions)

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The Gist: You Keika is from a long line of exorcists but his generation is nothing more than fortune tellers who repair computers on the side. He’s also a bit of a lazy asshole who offhandedly trash talks anyone who talks to him. One night, while rummaging through a dump for spare computer parts, our hero witnesses a real exorcist fighting a spirit.

The Verdict: While visually sub-par, what really kills Spiritpact is its reliance on a sitcom style of humor. Characters slide-pan into the scene to fling one liners as if there was a laugh-track, which there isn’t but even that would have made it more interesting.

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The soundtrack is similarly cliche or out of place. Ironically, it works well with the pacing, in so far as it emphasizes how terrible the pacing is. Here’s some dialog, accompanied with ‘thoughtful’ piano music:

“Who the heck are you?” squints Keika, who is lying on the ground of the junk yard, awash in red sparkles.

“I am Tanmoku Ki, a Youmeishi.” a gray haired man in your dad’s vision of cool clothes you can find at Nordstrom replies. He’s standing on a pile of trash, with You in the background and this static shot remains un-animated as he continues talking. “I purify the wold that has been defiled by evil spirits.”

“In other words, an exorcist.”

This is followed by You being a proud asshole about how great his ancestors were and how much better that makes him than Ki, which is animated like Charlie Brown and the Peanuts, the piano still plodding away…

You have no reason to watch this anime.

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Schoolgirl Strikers: Animation Channel – 01 (First Impressions)

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To find our King Arthur, of course…

The Gist: this is the story of an all girls’ school’s semi-secret monster fighting team, that exists because monsters are appearing mysteriously more often than usual. While monster fighting and mystery are on tap, the true conflict appears to be cast need to balance their school lives, quirky friendships, and monster fighting lives at the same time.

You may enjoy SSAC for its visual gloss and character designs. Nothing is remarkable, especially the heavy use of CG for backgrounds, but the heavy use of color overlays for the technology and the bright pallet give it a rich feeling and pop.

The humor may also give you a smile, especially Protagonist-chan‘s quest to fabricate 7 Mysteries of the school, to make the school more exciting and possibly less likely to be criticized by the School Board in the process. (Cute concept, right?)

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The Verdict: Unfortunately, SSAC’s opening battle, which featured a dull gray CG rendered background and underwhelming sci-fi girls attacking a goofy-looking monster without any setup, followed by a GIRLS TAKE A SHOWER scene, completely tossed my interest out the window.

It’s neither quirky enough, nor is the action’s quality high enough, for me to get invested in what appears to be a large and forgettable cast. I didn’t even process any of their names! Unless Winter’s offerings are extra terrible, I can’t imagine reviewing this moving forward.

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To Be Hero – 10

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The Gist: Yamada, Data-link, Older Prince and yes, even Min-chan are all destroyed by the Evil Emperor as Old Man looks on, unable to fight. As Min-chan’s book about Old Man being a hero falls to the ground, the question must be asked: will he rise to the cliche or will he fall to this crushing turn of events?

Verdict: I’m not sure what else To Be Hero could have done with itself by this point? This week followed the poop humor path (young prince fires urine balls at the emperor and older prince’s toilet simulates urinating on various characters) and the super evil villain kills everyone while the hero is down cliche, neither of which is very interesting…

Unfortunately, the animation was sub par too.

To Be Hero has some great highs but, over all, the characters are by the numbers when it comes to emotional connections and plot developments to invest in. What isn’t generic is poop and urine and anal related. If that’s fine with you, you may enjoy the moments between the tightly scripted humor sections. Otherwise, save yourself!

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To Be Hero – 09

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Trying to commit suicide with a fish earns best scene this week. Maybe the only humor in the whole episode…

The Gist: Lots of poop jokes knit Old Man and the Space Princes’ various antics at the dinner table together. Or not, depending on your tolerance for poop jokes.

However, the ultimate result is everyone accidentally drinks to water of despair and wants to commit suicide. Meanwhile, Min-chan, the only person not to drink the water, discovers an old notebook in her box of treasures and it contains childish drawings of each weirdo currently making her life crazy — including her father, who is a super hero in the drawing.

Then Space Emperor arrives through the roof. Roll credits

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Verdict: The needle of quality swings wildly again for To Be Hero and, even though the reveal of Min’s book adds some interesting mystery to the show, I can’t even be charitable. Way way wayyyyyy too much of the episode was dedicated to poop and characters acting stupidly. The older of the Space Princes even drinks his own trap while talking about it because… Plot I guess?

Watching To Be Hero is maddening. Some episodes are tightly scripted laugh factories. Some episodes have heart amidst crude and inept characters. Yet some episodes are just gross, pointless wastes of time. In it’s own way, this means there’s something for everyone, but also something to annoy anyone trying to watch the whole thing. At this point, my rating is shifting down to a 5 from the average 7 just because I do not actually enjoy (or even want) to watch a significant portion of TBH’s run time.

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