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 ;)

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.

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.

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!