Overlord III – 03 – No Mere Village Girl

This week dispenses with Nazarick entirely and stays focused on Carne and Enri in particular as she suddenly faces a multitude of challenges as its de facto leader.

The young goblin Agu reports that he and his fellow tribesfolk were running from the Giant of the East and the Great Snake of the West, who in the absence of the Great Beast of the South (AKA Hamusuke) are gathering armies to fight the King of Ruin.

Carne Village may well be unable to escape getting entangled in such a conflict, and when the battle comes to its boundaries, they need to be ready. In an odd bit of timing, Beta Lupusregina has paid Enri a visit, and offers to ask Lord Gown for help, but Enri wants to first see if the village is capable of handling its own affairs.

Later that night, the Goblins capture several Ogres who Enri is able to convince them to fight for her, thus bolstering the defense of the village.

When Nphirea informs Enri he won’t be able to accompany her to E-Rantel tomorrow, Enri laments that she may be the only one in the world in her current situation. When they cut to another person in such a situation, Lord Gown, I half-expected him to sneeze, since someone was talking about him.

When Enri reaches the gates of E-Rantel, she’s quickly arrested and brought in for questioning. The wizard on duty identifies some powerful magic both in Enri and in the trinket Lord Gown once gifted her, which she learns is worth thousands of gold.

Just then, Momon enters the room, has a quick side-chat with the wizard, and Enri is released, just like that. It’s nice to have friends in high places, and nothing is higher than Adamantite.

Enri visits the very bureaucratic Adventurer’s Guild having to plead poverty, or at least tell them her village can’t bear the cost of the protection it will need without a subsidy from the city, acknowledging it won’t cover the entire cost. Enri drifts off while waiting, but when she wakes up, everything seems to be arranged, almost as if the attendant had been threatened to assist Enri or else…

Upon exiting the city (where goblins dare not enter) Enri gifts her protectors with stout new weapons. Upon returning home, she discovers a kind of “reverse coup”: everyone has conspired to agree that she and she alone should lead the village. It’s an honor she never asked for, but one for which no one else is better qualified.

Even Beta believes that, but as Enri is being officially installed, Beta hovers high above, laughing, when Yuri Alpha arrives beside her. While we had witnessed Beta being all buddy-buddy and helpful with Enri, here we see a different side of her; a sadistic side.

Now that things are going so well for the village, she really wants to burn it all down to see everyone’s faces. I wonder if Lord Gown would approve, if Beta is just having a moment, or if she truly hopes to watch the village perish. I for one hope she’s disappointed, and Enri and her ragtag defense force can hold off whatever’s coming from the forest.

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Hinamatsuri – 02 – Savin’ the Nation, then Hittin’ the Clubs

When another telekinetic middle school-aged girl suddenly appears naked in the street at night, then promptly dispatches the entire bike gang whose path she barred, it occurred to me we could get a new super-powered egg brat every week. It also occurred to me that might be too many brats, but this episode would come to allay my fears.

This latest one, Anzu, is not only a problem because she didn’t materialize in the apartment of one a mild-mannered and reasonable yakuza, but because she is on a specific mission to find and eliminate Hina.

All Anzu says its that it’s “orders from the brass”, but the less we know about where Hina and Anzu come from, the better, I say. The whys and wherefores aren’t necessary; just the fact that they’re here, and Nitta has to deal with it in a responsible way.

Nitta first hears about a little girl taking out the bike gang from his subordinate Sabu, but it isn’t long before she’s at the same ramen shop trying to dine and dash. Nitta pays for her, again placing the responsibility for an extremely powerful and dangerous being on his admittedly broad shoulders.

Nitta realizes that by treating the arrival of Hina the way he has, he may well have saved the nation, a fact he casually remarks to Sabu (who can’t possibly know what he’s talking about). He doesn’t shrink from his duty to save it again, this time from a potentially cataclysmic battle between two unchecked adolescent espers.

Once he gets a tip about Anzu’s position from Sabu via the network of homeless they pay to keep their eyes and ears open, he brings Anzu and Hina together, but gets Anzu to agree to a game of “look-that-way” rock-paper-scissors, with the two using their powers to try to make the other look in a certain direction.

Not only does the execution of this plan eliminate the threat of cataclysm, it also results in some seriously hilarious faces from Hina and Anzu as they try to force-pull each others faces up, down, and to the side.

Ultimately, Hina defeats a frustrated Anzu with ease, but when Anzu realizes how much Hina has changed since they last met (she talks and everything!), she decides it’s enough to take a lock of her hair and tell the bosses that the deed is done.

Hina, in turn, invites Anzu to hang out a bit before she returns home (wherever that is; I don’t want to know). After some video games, dinner, and a load of laundry, Hina and Nitta send Anzu on her way…only for her red ball teleporter thingy to not function because it was in the wash, leaving Anzu stranded and homeless (again). Maybe this time gangs will keep a wider berth.

While this leaves open the possibility Hina and Anzu will cross paths again, and I wouldn’t mind such crossings, she doesn’t wear out her welcome here, and isn’t present in the episode’s second half, in which Nitta realizes that ever since he took in Hina, he’s been off his Game.

His bartender/occasional date Utako thinks he’s joking when he asks her out with Hina sitting nearby; his usual girls at the girly club have heard rumors he’s put his Don Juaning on hold in order to lavish time, love, attention and money on his “daughter.” Nitta is appalled. He’s got to get his game back.

He does so in a less-than-subtle way, essentially ripping the time-consuming Hina off like a band-aid, leaving her alone in the apartment with a cold can of mackerel while he hits the bar or club or goes out on dates. Hina finds the mackerel novel and tasty at first, but soon it gets old and tedious, and she doesn’t like the loneliness.

Hina decides to take matters into her own hands, first by insisting she get to go out with him (resulting in a hilarious chase in which she’s waiting for him on the subway at the end, and he lets the doors close without getting in) to enlisting the aid of her too-nice-for-her-own-good classmate Hitomi. Hina learned from TV it’s better to use more than one person to follow someone, but she promptly ditches Hitomi at Utako’s bar, which is closed.

There’s a distinct feeling of not belonging in such an adult place, yet when one of the regular lushes lumbers in to tie one on, he’s no so much confused as delighted that the new barkeep is so young. He doesn’t even mind she doesn’t know how to make a highball; he’ll teach her.

And thus Hitomi, who as I said is way too nice to turn down an old drunk man’s offer to teach her how to make cocktails for him, ends up tending bar all night. When Nitta finally shows up, she’s relieved, but when she calls him Hina’s “dad” he gets upset and becomes another customer (rather than rescuing her).

Meanwhile, Utako ends up crossing paths with Hina, and tells her Nitta won’t understand what she wants unless she tells him straight up. It’s a great little playground scene that’s made more “Hinamatsuri-ish” by the fact Hina levitates off the swing and does a few lazy flips in the air while Utako is dispensing advice.

By the time Utako and Hina get to the bar, Hitomi has, just, like, become a bartender. I didn’t think I’d ever come across an anime not only in which a middle schooler is ditched in a closed bar, but accidentally becomes a thoroughly competent bartender over the course of an evening, without even particularly wanting to! It is ludicrous and amazing.

And there, to a somewhat sloshed Nitta, Hina tells him straight-up what she wants: to go to a girly club with him. In’s an odd request, but Nitta gives in to the booze-lubricated mood of the room and agrees.

But rather than just Nitta and Hina, everyone comes along: Utako closes the bar and comes, the regular drunk comes, a comple random salarymen come…and Hitomi comes too. The increasingly drunk Nitta even lets Hina levitate a bottle of champagne over a tower of glasses (even though such a service has to be specially ordered).

Finally, Hitomi gets a call from her worried-sick mother, who doesn’t believe her for a second when she tells the truth about where she is so late at night. The question Hitomi wants answered is why is she there. I can think of two main reasons: Hina, and passivity.

In the morning Nitta wakes up on the couch, in his boxers, with a hangover, an invoice for 2.5 million yen ($23,000) and a Hina eager to go out that night and do it all over again. Nitta pumps the brakes; from that day until further notice it will be a frugal household. Break out the mackerel!

Mahoutsukai no Yome – 17

In a diverting case-of-the-week that involves non-magical clients, Chise meets Stella, a girl just a bit younger than her, who can’t find her little brother Ethan after he ran off after they had an argument. What makes this most likely a magical case is that Stella’s parents have no memory of their son.

Obviously, Stella’s a wreck, but she’s not so much of a wreck she isn’t totally freaked out by a huge skull-faced dude coming out of Chise (or speaking through her body, turning her eyes silver). I also snickered when she reacted to the dog talking.

Turns out the big teddy Elias gave Chise also turns her excess magic into crystal flowers, like a kind of release valve to preserve her body. She puts those flowers, which are like candy to fae, to good use asking the various beings in the forest where the kid went.

In fact, Chise, wanting desperately to do something for someone after so much has been done for her (though if we’re honest, she’s done plenty), goes so far as to let what looks like a more feral Elias suck her blood in exchange for info on Ethan’s whereabouts. This troubles Stella greatly, but as Elias tells her, mages aren’t omnipotent, and in exchange for something, they must be willing to give something in return.

When they finally locate Ethan, he’s in the clutches of the ancient trickster Ashen Eye, who has claimed the boy as his own after Stella’s harsh words to him (“I don’t need you!”) broke their familial bond and made the kid fair game.

Knowing what happened when Ashen Eye was involved before, I figured no one was actually in any real danger, even when both Ethan and Elias are sucked into a dark void (Ash isn’t omnipotent either, but he’s been around the block, and  a lot more powerful than the younger Elias).

The loss of Elias causes Chise to wig out momentarily, but Ruth consoles her. Ash simply wants them to jump through a few hoops; he’ll only keep Ethan if they can’t find him, and if he and Stella can’t reconcile. As they search, Elias must deal with Ethan, who immediately takes a liking to his bony head.

This causes Elias to transform into a kind of Winter Ops version of Chise, and with his uniquely non-human perspective on humanity, gets Ethan to define what he thinks family is. It’s more than just blood; it’s people you want to be with more than anyone else, even if you don’t always get along and say things you don’t mean.

Chise uses the pelt that Ashen Eye gave her to transform into a were-bear, and uses her heightened sense of smell to locate Elias and Ethan. As I suspected, Ash is satisfied the siblings have learned their lesson and warns them to choose their words carefully, because they aren’t sure who might be listening who will take those words seriously.

When initially speaking through Chise, Elias got Stella to agree to pay them in “sweets” for their services locating her brother (who the parents now remember, reuniting the family as it was). But Chise gets something a lot better for her kindness: she gains a friend in Stella.

And hey, even after all that exertion, Chise doesn’t pass out, cough up any blood, or go into any kind of trance or coma, so everything comes up Team Ainsworth this week. I just hope Chise doesn’t immediately revert to her “ZOMG I’m so useless” attitude next week; she’s without doubt earning her keep.

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.

Quan Zhi Gao Shou – 05

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Quan Zhi Gao Shou – 03 (OOPS!)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Granblue Fantasy the Animation – 01 (First Impressions)

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The Gist: Granblue Fantasy is the story of Lyria, a abused special magic weapon on the run from The Empire, and Gran, a friendly knight, who comes to her rescue in the woods. Gran is killed along the way and Lyria must resurrect him and unleash the power of Bowmut to defeat the evil-face villain and escape.

I literally spent 40 minutes laughing with hatred at this show, which contains exactly zero drops of joy, artistic expression, nor professional craft.

It may be tempting to watch Granblue to witness its profoundly generic and overwhelmingly slow structure, which are impossible to capture in stills. It may be tempting to watch if you enjoy the game, which has lovely character designs, with vivid color and shading, absolutely not captured here.

Please, in the name of the 40 minutes of life I can never get back, do not. This is a profoundly terrible show.

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There is an unfortunate dialog convention in Fantasy RPGs, which I refer to as “Question, answer, answer repeated as question, answer.” (QAARAQA for short) It is usually reserved for the protagonist, to reinforce information that absolutely does not need to be reinforced for the viewer/player, which results in a mentally limited protagonist and disrupted narrative flow.

“Who’s chasing us?” “The Empire.” “The Empire!? They’re dangerous!” “Yes. We must escape them!” “Escape them!?” – Oh just shut up!

GranBlue Fantasy the Animation QAARAQAs frequently, often while characters are standing around before and after its brief action scenes. Not only does this result in a repetitive cycle that adds nothing to our understanding of the world or the characters, as they are only restating obvious plot points we’ve seen or can infer without emotional nuance, it totally derails the flow of action.

Of course that would matter more if GranBlue contained action in the first place. While characters do run around, occasionally launch shimmery attacks, and there are 2 CGI dragons, the animation is lethargic or lacking narrative tension or hilariously adherent to RPG battle conventions, or all three at once.

In one scene, after a few seconds running away from a long conversation, Katalina stops and walks up angrily to four imperial knights harassing villagers in the forest …and swats them to the ground with her rapier. She doesn’t run, she just walks up to them and splat, they fall over, with exactly the same sword-swing and fall-down impact you would expect from a broad sword. The only thing missing was red damage point numbers appearing above the knights’ bodies.

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While the character design is quite detailed, that level of detail limits shading. The result looks flat, lacking volume, and the line quality, which is best described as ‘sketchy pencil’ looks sloppy, unfinished. Other visual notes like Vyrn not flapping her wings, rather bobbing up and down in the frame, and that 20 minutes of the episode are spent running aimlessly through the same muddy-colored forest, gives an overall feeling that no effort was put into the production of this show.

Certainly, nothing compared to the lovely rich colors and bold shading in the game. (Don’t even get me started on the audio, the generic high-pitched girl voice dragon, or the laughingly evil faced villain who also has a generic high pitched voice/laugh.)

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The Verdict: Fantasy tropes aside, GranBlue‘s structure is terrible. Scenes are interminably long, often featuring characters standing around expositioning content we know or are smart enough to infer.

11 minutes in, Gran and Katalina spend 4 minutes next to a fallen tree re-explaining the current story. This is immediately after running away from a group of soldiers, without a sense that they’ve ‘gotten away’ or are hiding. They’re just here, nonchalantly talking about the plot. No tension, nothing.

“Gran! Please use my power.” “Your… power?” “Yes” – ARGH!

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Blood-C 12 (Fin)

Fumito reveals himself as the mastermind of Saya’s entire ordeal. He captured her, a being with the strength and abilities to go toe-to-toe with elder bairns, but rather than human blood, she feeds off of elder bairn blood. He made a half-elder bairn play the role of her father and created the whole shrine maiden artifice as a vehicle to propel her to fight the bairns Fumito sent at her. After killing all the cast save Amino, he escapes to Tokyo, shooting her in the face as she lunges at him…but the game he started isn’t quite over.

For those who wanted the bloodiest, most disturbingly goretastic finale, well, you got one; though most of that gore was covered up by censors. That’s okay, I just ate a rich dinner, and was thus relieved to only have to catch the gist of the carnage. I’m not sure if a future Blu-ray release will be uncensored or not, but if it is, I must remember not to eat a big meal prior to re-watching it. Notably, after making themselves far less likable last week, Nono, Nene, and Tokizane get their bloody, karmic comeuppance. But there wasn’t just grisly death on display; we were also treated to some exquisite Saya ass-kicking that got downright lyrical and reached a fever pace.

Fumito’s obviously an immensely powerful person, but also an immesely sick, disturbed, evil person, and the multiplying elder bairns he unleashes on the fake village to slaughter all the extras just drives that point home. That being said, he’s a human being. He doesn’t believe Saya can kill a human, but if ever there was one for whom she could make an exception, it’s him. This whole series could be boiled down to one, long, harrowing, emotionally and physically torturous practical joke played on Saya. Come next June, she’ll look to settle the score in the film that will wrap this story up.


Rating: 4

Sket Dance 18

Leave it to Sket Dance to take something as innocently mundane as a board game and go totally nuts with it. The game in question is called “Hyperion”, which I’ve never heard of, but it’s used as a vehicle to riff off of dozens of franchises and genres, as well as the practice of becoming a little too obsessed and involved in a game.

This is another one of Mr. Yamanobe’s games, and since it was a board game and not anything athletic, it was definitely worth a fresh episode. He warns Himeko that girls tend not to have fun playing Hyperion…and he turns out to be absolutely right. Everything about the game rubs her the wrong way, and she’s further irritated by how easily Bossun and Switch slip into utter madness.

Yamanobe keeps the game going by making the Sket-dan trek with him out to the countryside for the world tournament, but it only turns out to be two grandsons of Yamanobe’s late mentor, Master Wang. They were just fulfilling the wishes in Wang’s will. The now cosplaying boys snap out of it, much to Himeko’s relief. This episode wasn’t without its silly moments, but it was so blissfully absurd, it worked for me.


Rating: 3