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.

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.

DanMachi Gaiden: Sword Oratoria – 04

Things aren’t off to a great start when a red-haired woman pretending to be a sex worker strangles her john, then immediately cut to the far more lighthearted OP, then a flashback of Baby Ais being read a story by her mom. It’s an awkward and bizarre juxtaposition that’s a tonal mess. Unfortunately, “tonal mess” fairly accurately describes the episode of DGSO as a whole, as it delves deep into the murder mystery—a boring one!

The Loki familia is on a relaxing trip to the dungeon and stop to rest at an inn in Rivira, run by Finn’s acquaintance Bors. There they find the body of the man the woman killed in the cold open, then ruined his face so he couldn’t be identified…unless someone has the apparently easily obtainable Status Thief potion, which Bors has, so I don’t see the point of ruining the victim’s face, beyond inconveniencing the investigators momentarily.

Meanwhile, Loki takes the one child not in Rivira—Bete—into the sewers to investigate something, and ends up finding a whole mess of those giant plant monsters the familia fought last week on street level.

Bete’s a tough cookie and he has a magical weapon, but I still don’t see how he alone was able to defeat all of those monsters without Loki being bothered or tentacled by any of them. This makes them seem like far less of a threat later on.

From Loki and Bete we cut back to the murder investigation… where nothing else has happened. Seriously, it’s as if the scene in the bedroom was put on pause for the Loki scene. And what ewe come back to…isn’t great.

When Bors learns the victim was a Level 4 adventurer, he immediately suspects the female adventurers in the room murdering the victim, with the evidence that—sigh…they’re so sexyexcept of course for the flat-chested Tiona! LOL, get it, she has small boobs so she’s not sexually desirable!

Seriously DanMachi, WTF. It’s one thing for the innkeeper to turn around an suspect the large-chested women in the room of murder, but quite another to gather the entire town and announce that all women are getting full body inspections, then ordering them to strip.

I’ll set aside the fact there’s apparently no official police force in Rivira to investigate the murder. Is Bors for real here? Is he actually using the murder as an excuse to grope large numbers of women without their consent, or is he just joking around to lighten the mood? Either way, it just doesn’t work.

The inspection apparently goes forward, with the women volunteering to inspect the women, apparently buying into the ludicrous notion that all men are only attracted to a single body type and that body type will determine who was somehow able to seduce and kill a Level 4 adventurer. That’s pretty idiotic writing right there, and the tone of the situation is so all over the place it basically left me numb and disinterested.

There’s a connection between the murder, the goings-on in the sewer, and the Monsterphilia raid, and that connection only becomes more apparent when just after Ais looks at the strange creature-in-a-ball Lulune was contracted to take from the guy who ended up murdered, and totally freaks out.

The murdered guy and the guy Lulune met with seem to be different people, because the latter guy is not only alive, but uses a kind of dog whistle to call a horde of the plant monsters to the town. Monsters that we know Bete can deal with in a matter of seconds on his own.

I’m not sure I care anymore.

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 ;)

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.

DanMachi Gaiden: Sword Oratoria – 03

This week hews close to the Loki core of Ais, Lefiya, the Amazon twins, and Loki herself. While their goddess attends a banquet of the gods, Ais and Lefiya spend the evening adventuring alone together. The minute anything jumps out to attack Lefiya, she is rescued by Ais. It’s a common refrain thus far, and I feel confident in saying everyone is getting a little sick of it.

Things take a turn for the worse when they get home too late and the Monsterphilia date plans Lefiya thought were in the bag are crushed when Loki decides to punish them both by taking Ais herself. Lefiya then cries herself to sleep before realizing she’s acting like a petulant child and really needs to get her shit together, vis-a-vis being useful on the battlefield, and not a liability and perpetual grateful rescuee. Standing beside Ais means bringing more to the table than nice clothes, gifts, and a sweat towel.

As it did in the previous series, Monsterphilia goes a bit awry when Freya releases some dangerous animals, turning the streets of Orario into a battlefield. Loki sends Ais out to take care of the beasts, which she does in quick order with her Tempest ability, but Lefiya still can’t quite get a spell chant out before getting pummeled by a mandragora-style predatory plant. Even the twins can’t penetrate its thick skin, but Ais arrives on the scene and halves the plant, saving, and frustrating, Lefiya once more.

No one would think any less of her if she just gave up and went with the medics (there’s not much less to think of her, at least in battle, after all), but thankfully Lefiya finds her courage, performs a full summon burst chant—her hidden specialty—then a massive Wynn Fimbulveter blizzard spell that destroys the remaining three mandragoras.

Turns out Freya didn’t release these vicious monsters; that would be Dionysius. Is he testing Lefiya? If so, I think she passed. And to her credit, while she finally did a thing and was useful, nothing’s really changed yet: she’s still far behind the one she wants to stand beside. She’ll have to prove to others and herself that she can keep it up—just as this DanMachi Gaiden has to continue to prove it’s worth my time.

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.

DanMachi Gaiden: Sword Oratoria – 02

After an action-packed return, Sword Oratoria settles down, as the Loki Familia returns to the surface and home to their patron, Loki. For those who weren’t a fan of apparent co-protagonist Lefiya’s bungling on the battlefield, you probably weren’t thrilled that she’s an easy mark for Loki’s sexual harassment (which all the other girls know how to avoid…though they should really report to H.R. More to the point…they need H.R., bad!)

But while she’s still finding her footing in battle, with one of the higher-ups like Riveria on her side, and the fact she’s cute and mostly harmless, Lefiya is treated like something of a mascot or good luck charm. She seems to revel in that role, and makes cheering Ais up her primary mission.

The higher-ups also see how restless and consumed Ais is with improving herself, and believes having an admirer close by will help her be more aware of others. It certainly can’t hurt for Lefiya to be beside Ais. Each can provide what the other lacks; it’s a good arrangement.

But the true reason Ais has been more down than usual lately is her encounter with the previous show’s MC, Cranel Bell, or “Tomatoface”, as a drunken Bete calls him at the tavern…the same tavern where Cranel himself is. Like the minotaur encounter, it’s another scene inhabiting the same time and place as DanMachi, only from Ais and the familia’s POV.

At the same time, Oratoria doesn’t lean too heavily on the events we’ve already seen, and when it does, the fresh POV, gives them, well, fresh context and insight.

As for what’s new, we get a lot more exposure to the various members of the Loki Familia and get to see them take care of things like bartering away dungeon loot and getting their weapons repaired—or in Tiona’s case, replaced—by some very exasperated smiths.

When the twins decide Ais needs more cheering up they take her on a shopping trip, where we see the stark contrast between their taste in fashion (much less is more) and Lefiya’s (lots of cloth; lots of frills). (They also put Ais in Hestia cosplay, which…well played, DanMachi).

When Lefiya foots the bill as thanks for Ais looking out for her (and because she just wants to) Ais finally puts two and two together and realizes everything Lefiya has done for her, and why. So instead of apologizing for not realizing sooner, Ais does all she really needs to do: she thanks Lefiya for blowing so much petty cash on her. It’s Cranel to whom she apparently feels she must apologize.

Was there way too much talk of boobs and grabbing and groping of boobs in this episode? Probably. But the fine slice-of-lifeity made up for that, and Lefiya was definitely of more use in town than in the dungeon, even if talked to herself and daydreamed too much. There’s still hope for her!

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.

Little Witch Academia – 15

The Gist: Professor Croix’s villainy is finally revealed, as is Akko’s destiny. This is in large part because Akko is lured to Croix’s lab and experimented on in her sleep, in the name of learning more about Chariot (and Shiny Rod). All of this leads to a magic battle with Ursula, which results in an anticlimactic stand off, despite some impressive effects leading up to it.

Having no time to waste, Ursula lays out the history of the great tree, of which only the leylines remain, and the importance of the 7 words, and that Akko’s spirit has been reviving them. She literally walks Akko through the memories of waking these words, which fills Akko with purpose and joy.

However, for whatever reason, she does not reveal that she is Chariot, nor does she warn Akko of Croix’s motives…

The good bits stuck close to Ursula this week. While the resulting face off with Croix was anti-climactic and unnecessary, Ursula’s battle up the steps of the new moon tower was nicely animated and gave us a great look at the powers of a competent witch. It was also nicely foreshadowed, as Akko walked past the dangerous looking archer statues and creepy decorations.

Ursula’s motherly explanation to Akko about the words was full of great feels too. While I don’t think a secret mother-daughter plot will be revealed, the filial love and pride was all there, and it was delivered with respectable subtlety.

As interesting side notes, there’s division amongst the students over Croix. While some students carry their tablets openly (reading ongoing stories about the shooting star no less) others like Amanda don’t see the point. If magic and science are the same thing, what is the value of magic in the first place?

Meanwhile, Diana Is starting to figure out Ursula is more than meets the eye. I suspect she will reveal the identity to Akko, which will pose a short term betrayal twist for Akko/Croix vs Ursula, before Akko x Diana join forces to save the day… but I suspect that’s many episodes off yet. (Diana is still looking for Ursula in the old Luna Nova year books)

The Verdict: Unfortunately, Little Witch Academia remains a not especially well constructed narrative. This is most obvious in the show’s use of repetition of scenes, which feel like a mix of filler and a lack of confidence in the audience to get (or even remember) what was important in previous episodes. Given the sluggish pacing and lack of focus, that lack of faith may even be deserved, but it feels no less like a cop out.

Take Croix as an example of LWA’s clunky structure. Not only is Croix not foreshadowed or built up in the first 13 episodes, but Croix herself claims to have been secretly observing Akko all this time. This makes her appearance as an antagonist feel rushed and tacked on and that lack of build up robbed the first season of purpose.

Compare this to the bizarre choice to keep Shooting Star as a recurring element that will, no doubt, play a roll in Akko’s eventual success — or compare it to Diana being in the crowd behind Akko at Chariot’s show during their childhoods’ — and you just have to wonder why Croix didn’t receive the same treatment? For goodness sakes, Andrew has had more build up than Croix, and he remains without any relevant narrative purpose…

In the end, the heart and rendering style carry LWA just above a 7, but not by much. I may go so far as say it’s the most disappointing show I’ve reviewed in a while, and the most disappointing I would still recommend you view.

DanMachi Gaiden: Sword Oratoria – 01 (First Impressions)

This spin-off of the original DanMachi follows the powerful sword princess Ais Wallenstein, newbie mage-with-potential Lefiya Viridis, and the rest of Loki Familia as they explore Level 50 of the Dungeon below the city of Orario.

Lefiya’s mentor, fellow mage Riviera Ljos Alf, wants her protege to get some practical experience on the front line in order to build up some nerve to go with her magical potential. Ais and the Amazon twins Tiona and Tione bail Lefiya out, to the chagrin of their comrade Bete.

The Familia runs into a foe they’d never before encountered on the boundary between Levels 50 and 51: colossal caterpillars spewing highly caustic acid. The party’s heavies sweep into action to relieve their less powerful comrades, only to find their conventional attacks aren’t that effective.

Riviera again charges Lefiya with performing the incantation that will summon the magic that will turn the tide of the battle, which is a mage’s job. That means standing there and chanting while all hell breaks loose around you, and not losing your nerve.

Lefiya…loses her nerve, so Ais has to use her Tempest ability to slice through the nearest caterpillars. Bete uses some of her power to make his kicks stronger, and Tione, tied up with caterpillar tongues, gets pissed off and tears her captors apart, with no regard for the integrity of her skin.

After that, Riviera herself chants a long and grandiloquent incantation that serves as a coup-de-grace or overkill move, mopping up the remaining caterpillars. With a number of injuries and no idea what else is beyond, their leader Finn orders a retreat for now.

Up at Level 17, a huge force of Minotaurs busts out of the walls, but they’re essentially small-fry to the higher-level adventurers like Tiona, who has a bit of fun running up to a Minotaur and icing him with one swift, brutal bicycle kick. Suffice it to say, I had no complaints about the combat animation, nor the dramatic but very appropriate battle music.

While the Minotaurs are no match for Ais or the Amazons, if any were to escape to the higher levels, it could mean big trouble for one of the lower-level adventurers, like, say…Cranel Bell! Hey, guy, wonder where you were at! It’s not his or Hestia’s story this time, however.

Instead, we see everything that led up to him being rescued by Ais…including him simply running away screaming after she did so. As Riviera said to Lefiya, Ais has problems too…they’re just different ones.

This was a solid re-introduction to the world of DanMachi and the vast and hazardous dungeon below the city of Orario. It seemed designed to shake us from our slumber by throwing us into one big battle after another, while also showing us how well-sorted Loki Familia is.

Mind you, I do miss the warm friendship between Bell and Hestia; we’ll see if Lefiya and Ais can carry a season. They certainly have plenty of supporting cast backing them up.