Tag: anime

First Impressions – “Izetta: The Last Witch”

Whoa. Whoa. I know what you’re thinking. Didn’t I just review this one?

No. You’re thinking of “Brave Witches.” And that wasn’t so much a review as just tearing it a new one and shaking it until all the time I wasted watching it fell out. That wasn’t a review. That was therapy.

This is an entirely different show about witches. You’ll see.

izetta

The Basics. Okay. So this is a story about a fictionalized World War II-era Europe where where magic exists and a young flying witch must save her war-torn…oh, my God, it’s the same series, isn’t it?

Well, not exactly.

I won’t lie. There are more than just superficial differences between this series and “Brave Witches.” I don’t know how it happened, but I ended up watching this series immediately after that one entirely by accident. And while that fact alone made me want to stop watching almost the second I started, I’m glad I gave it a chance.

Anyway, this is the story of an alternate version of Europe with names so similar that I’m just going to use the real ones instead of looking up the fake ones. Despite an unified front by France and England, Germany’s superior tank and air power manages to drive France to surrender. And with English troops driven back across the Channel, Germany is free to attack the small, neutral land of…I don’t know. Luxembourg, I guess? One of those two countries between France and Germany with really high life expectancies.

In the face of sure defeat, the daughter of the Archduke, Princess Fine, undertakes a dangerous diplomatic mission to enlist the help of England. Unfortunately, she finds herself captured by German forces and sent to Berlin. Luckily, she’s saved by the young witch Izetta who literally tears the plane in half and rides them both to safety using a heavy machine gun like a broomstick.

The Good. What part of “tears the plane in half and rides them both to safety using a heavy machine gun like a broomstick” don’t you understand?

The action sequences in this series are good. So, so good. And with an interesting plot and genuinely likeable characters, I finally started realizing that comparing this show to Brave Witches wasn’t just comparing apples to oranges. It was comparing a very unlikable apple to a witch who flies around on a heavy machine gun.

But I’ll take you back to the beginning a bit.

The series starts out with the Princess escaping a moving train while German soldiers open fire on her and her bodyguards. This alone is such a good opening that you’re immediately left wanting to know more. You’re given a quick rundown of what’s at stake without being bludgeoned over the head with it. Princess Fine is a strong female character who isn’t relegated to the usual damsel in distress.

Well, I mean, yeah. She is in almost constant distress. And she gets captured. But before the first episode is over she manages to hold her own in a fight in a falling plane and gets shot in the arm. So by the time you’re saying, “Wow. She pretty much kicks the most ass of any character ever,” bam! Machine gun broom witch!

Izetta is a one-witch army, spending the third episode destroying an entire tank division and bomber formation using telekinetically-controlled swords and lances. And yet, you’re left with the idea that she’s just as fragile as any human. She can and does get knocked around. So even while she’s flipping tanks and piercing cockpits with spears, you never lose the feeling that she’s in legitimate danger at any given moment.

The Bad. For the most part, I was happy with the series, but I will admit it has a few small flaws. They were nothing that ruined it for me, but…well, I can’t just leave this section blank, so here we are.

First off, Izetta’s witch powers are a bit hard to understand. While it seems to let her control and throw things around with her mind, the second episode has her suddenly run out of juice mid-battle for no particular reason. Then, when she expends far more energy in the third episode, she seems completely fine. It worries me that her power reserves will be something of a plot device to keep the battles fair going forward.

Though, in all fairness, the fourth episode is called “The Secret of the Witch,” so maybe they’re gearing up for an explanation.

In a similar vein, well, Izetta is a bit overpowered. If she spends the rest of the series fighting conventional soldiers and weaponry, it’s going to be pretty one-sided. Though, given the German’s interest in her, there may be an evil witch counterpart to make things a bit more interesting.

In Conclusion. I’m rarely so pleasantly surprised by a series I expected to be bad right off the bat. But being wrong can have its perks.

Of course, as with any first impression, I could be entirely wrong. Three episodes was just long enough to see the major plot threads solidify and to learn who the main characters were. Starting in episode four things could go south fast. And I’ll be the first to say, as pleasant as it is to watch Izetta destroy entire armies, if she never faces down a tougher enemy it’ll be a missed opportunity.

I wouldn’t say it would be bad per se, but definitely not as good as it could have been.

In short, I’d wholeheartedly recommend the series to anime fans. I’m not sure it’d be worth the risk for non-anime fans, but it’s got a solid story, good action and a short enough character roster that I don’t have to go online to remind myself who everyone was. Frankly, that’s always a plus.

If you’re still on the fence, though, please enjoy this video of a witch flying around on a heavy machine gun like an absolute boss.

Though, a warning if you happen to watch this in mixed company. This is an anime. Witch butts figure prominently into the opening.

First Impression – “Brave Witches”

Writer’s Note: A first impression is meant to be a middle ground between doing a preview before a show and a review after watching the entire thing. It’s particularly useful to new shows that won’t be complete for several months yet.

From a more self-serving perspective, it also lets me badmouth a show I don’t have the energy, time or interest in finishing when its terribleness is a foregone conclusion.

I do, however, have some standards. I won’t give even my first impressions on a series until I’ve given it a fair chance. In my experience, any anime that’s going to be worth watching is going to get there in three episodes or less. More to the point, since most seasons of anime are only twelve episodes, that’s 25%. And while it’s certainly possible to turn things around by episode four or later, when’s the last time you saw an apple that was a quarter rotted and thought, “Well, sure it’s rotting on this side, but I’m sure if I eat it long enough it will stop being poison?”

With all that out of the way, onward.

brave-witches

The Basics. Brave Witches takes place in a world roughly similar to ours during World War II-era Europe. Only it’s under attack by an alien threat known as the Neuroi. And when conventional weapons prove ineffective against it, the only option is to use magic-wielding girls with animal ears and tails and Striker units – essentially miniature propeller planes on each leg – to fight back.

Or…you know, nothing at all like our world.

From what I can piece together, Brave Witches is meant to act as somewhat of an interquel between Strike Witches Season 1 and 2. From what I can also piece together, very little differs between the three variations besides the character roster. And while I haven’t seen either of the main series seasons (and this outing largely removed any interest in me doing so in the future), I think I can pretty fairly evaluate it on its own merits – when or if they should ever turn up.

I should also point out right away that this is an ecchi series. There are lots of girls running about, often in little or no clothing, teasing a lot of skin but never quite going into the realm of actual pornography. And while I generally don’t consider it a negative in and of itself, I could understand why this fact alone would turn some people off of the series.

The Good. I’ll be blunt. I don’t really have a lot to say here. The animation looks nice and the concept of having to use magic to combat an alien threat in a pre-modern-day world is at least somewhat intriguing. And if the magic had more resembled traditional fantasy magic than, say, tiny weird plane boots, I might have been fully on board.

One of the things I hear most often in praise of this show is how historically accurate the technology is. And I really don’t know what to do with that. Obviously, this technology didn’t exist in our history. So I assume it refers to something like how planes of the era stalled in low air environments or something and so do the Striker units…or…I really don’t know honestly. Moving along.

In any event, the battle scenes are pretty fun to watch if you can get past the questionable technology. The use of firearms alongside magic makes for a little visual diversity, even if the show doesn’t seem clear on how much damage each should be dealing. There’s an odd inconsistency in watching machine guns tear the alien craft to shreds in one scene and then have the damage instantly regenerated in the next, seemingly for no other reason than plot convenience.

In short, the entire story seems to hinge on the idea that conventional weapons were useless against the Neuroi and then…it doesn’t. There’s a whole opening sequence that shows plane-mounted machine guns did zero damage. But the next scene we see witches carrying similar firearms and devastating entire formations of the enemy. Which merits at least a raised eyebrow or two.

A more cynical person might say the only reason they had girls fighting the aliens was for gratuitous panty shots. So…basically me. I would say that.

The Bad. Frankly, there’s more than enough to dislike in this one to make a multi-part column out of it. Out of the kindness of my heart I’ll only focus on the most glaring of these issues, though. So miniature plane boots get a pass. For now.

What irked me the most about this anime was that I really wasn’t sure the message it was trying to get across. And when I say “message” I don’t mean “moral.” If I’d been hoping a show about witches who kept finding reasons to show off their panties would teach me something about life, then the flaw was with me – not the show.

What I mean is this. Hikari, our protagonist, is your typical young, enthusiastic girl with something to prove to the world. Her older sister, of course, has a ridiculous amount of natural talent that allowed her to rise through the ranks of the military and achieve an enormous victory against the Neuroi. And despite everyone’s unfair expectations, Hikari can barely manage even the most basic flight maneuvers. At its heart, it’s an underdog story, with our hero succeeding not through inborn greatness but raw determination.

Only, you know, not that at all.

The problem, in a nutshell, is that determination is Hikari’s only asset. The first half of a true underdog story is setting high expectations. And the second half is seeing the protagonist unexpectedly (and sometimes only by luck) surpassing them. Not surprisingly, without that second part the story sort of falls apart.

Her rise from the dregs to a position in the much-sought-after 502nd Joint Fighter Wing, on the front lines during wartime, is the worst sort of hand waving. It isn’t just that Hikari lucks her way through a test or two in lieu of any real skill. That much I could (and have) stomached. No, the problem is that she somehow manages to consistently fail at every task put in front of her, but regardless, we just cut to a commanding officer shrugging and promoting her anyway.

The immediate implication we’re given in the show is that the protagonist is so bad, so utterly incompetent at being a witch that if by some miracle she graduated it would only be because of the worst sort of nepotism. The show goes out of its way to tell us this. Then, in the next breath, it not only skips her all the way through school but straight to the front lines. And we’re never any closer to an explanation as to why than various officers pointing out her obvious flaws before sighing and rubber-stamping her file.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me set the scene a bit.

The first episode begins with various scenes of the Neuroi destroying towns, villages, cities and shrugging off enemy aircraft fire like it isn’t even there. It then shows two separate scenes where Hikari fails at the most rudimentary witching skills. And before you know it, there’s an announcement at school that due to a shortage of able bodies to fight in the war, the military has grudgingly allowed a student volunteer (and even then only in support roles outside combat areas). The idea is that among the upperclassmen, someone is advanced enough to at least fill a support role.

And then, the upperclassmen are just ignored, for literally no reason aside from some arrogant first-year student volunteering first.

Now, I should clarify at this point that the volunteer isn’t Hikari. In fact, she has no interest at all until her hastily-established rival, Mia, raises her hand. In one of the previous scenes displaying Hikari’s ineptitude, Mia flies circles around her and is in every way an objectively better witch. And it’s at this point, with an actual war going on, with mankind on the verge of defeat, that our plucky hero asks to go instead of someone who might actually be able to help.

In this situation, any competent officer would say, “I don’t care how plucky she is. We’re obviously sending the girl with the better scores.” But, of course, that doesn’t happen. Instead of sending the better witch, they hold an arbitrary competition to see who’s faster.

The competition ends up being a race with no skill component whatsoever, with the witch who finishes first being sent to the war. Anyone with an even passing familiarity with cliches knows that the outcome should be for the protagonist to win by sheer determination alone. But no. Neither witch finishes in the allotted time and both are disqualified. Then a bunch of people sort of shrug and send Hikari to the war anyway, despite both witches failing equally badly.

This sort of highlights my major problem with the show in a few ways.

First off, the military requested a witch to be sent to help because they were short on manpower. Only, once the race is over, they don’t choose anyone else. There was an entire academy of witches left to send – including the aforementioned but quickly forgotten upperclassmen – but because the two least qualified candidates couldn’t finish a race within the time limit, it’s probably better we just lose the war, right?

Speaking of forgetting things, remember Mia? I mean, the show spends almost three minutes trying to set her up as Hikari’s rival. She has more natural talent. She’s arrogant. She belittles the hero. So what happens to her after the race? I honestly have no idea, because they never even mention her again.

You see the problem here? Everything in this show exists as a contrivance to move the protagonist from Point A to Point K. Except, she’s barely even qualified to be at Point A in the first place. With each move to another Point she seems less and less like she belongs there. And without earning her trip from one point to the next, everything she does seems tremendously pointless.

They spend the first half of the second episode explaining that, of course, Hikari won’t be allowed anywhere near the front lines. And just as you’re wondering what sort of plot device will change all that, the Neuroi attack. Her sister is knocked out of commission and with her own Striker unit (of course) destroyed, Hikari has to don her sister’s advanced prototype gear. Again, the cliche guidebook says she should save the day with nothing but spunk, moxy and various other 50’s slang words, but by this point it probably shouldn’t surprise you that none of that happens.

Hikari doesn’t just fail to repel the attack. She isn’t just outmatched in battle. She’s completely ineffective, only managing to survive because the 502nd Joint Fighter Wing swoops in to bail her out while she flails about the sky uselessly.

At which point there’s a good deal more shrugging and they put her in the 502nd to fight on the front lines. Why? Because she asked, of course.

To put this in perspective, it would be like someone applying to be janitor at a football stadium but they completely blow the interview. Despite having better candidates, they’re given the job anyway. The following Sunday, the team’s star quarterback is injured, so the coach puts the janitor in the game. The team is promptly beaten 82-0 before the referees just end it out of pity. And afterward the coach says, “Well, you’re terrible and by all accounts we’d have done better with no one taking the snaps at all, but eh. You’re our new starting quarterback, I guess.”

By this point I was pretty irritated at the protagonist just being handed promotions for no good reason. I wanted to finish off a third episode but I was afraid that Hikari would somehow assassinate her army’s own General and then just take the job herself.

To my surprise, however, the third episode was my favorite of the bunch.

Why? Well, a member of the 502nd, Naoe, hates Hikari. And she spends the entire episode effectively arguing my exact points as to why Hikari shouldn’t be within a thousand miles of where she ended up.

She argues (correctly) that a seasoned frontline combat unit can’t babysit someone who hasn’t mastered even basic combat maneuvers. She even argues (correctly) that Hikari is a worse replacement for her highly skilled sister than no one at all. And when Hikari explains that she’ll just have to get stronger, Naoe hits her with the devastatingly accurate statement, “If working hard were all it took to get stronger, it’d be easy!”

“Right now,” she goes on, “we need someone ready to fight!”

And when Hikari argues that they’ll never know until they try, Naoe counters, “The weak put others in danger, too.”

I remember seeing the exchange and thinking, “Wow. I’ve never seen a show write dialogue so clearly aware of its own shortcomings while clearly being entirely accidental.”

The point of this – and Hikari’s subsequent failure to improve through training – is that the front lines of a war are a bad place to learn the fundamentals. Hikari isn’t just being naive when she ignores the very real possibility that having almost no magical power and her inability to fly well will probably get her killed. She’s being selfish by saying she’s more or less indifferent to anyone else who has to die protecting her.

After her commanding officers agree (again) that she’s useless, they decide to send her back home. But there’s another surprise attack where she fails to be useful in any way, almost getting two other witches killed when they try to protect her. And what’s worst of all is that it happens because she refuses to fall back been ordered. It was at this point, I realized, that in addition to being utterly useless, she no longer even met the requisite likeability to qualify as an underdog.

But, of course, it couldn’t end with her getting sent home despite that obviously being the choice any intelligent officer would make.

In the last few minutes there’s yet another Neuroi battle that ends with her doing nothing. In her debriefing, Naoe says that Hikari did nothing and in no way changed the outcome of the battle. So, naturally, Hikari’s dismissal is put on hold…despite there being no new information that contradicts that decision. And at least one new incidence of failure to follow orders that nearly caused three deaths.

In short, business as usual.

In Conclusion. I have a hard time saying this was a terrible series. That’s mostly because I haven’t watched the main series and I really don’t think I’m the intended audience for this sort of show. That being said, this show being terrible makes it very easy to say it’s a terrible series, extenuating circumstances notwithstanding.

For me, there’s just no point in watching the rest of the series.

From this point on, Hikari is bound to progress as a character and witch. Not because she’s shown signs of growth thus far but because the plot will need her to. She’ll inevitably need to save the day in the end. And when that time comes, I’m sure her (probably very sudden) growth will be just as contrived and feel just as unearned as everything else in the series.

In the end, I’m not really sure what the writers were trying to accomplish. The whole thing is a mystery of the most head-scratching variety. Hikari starts out as an energetic, likeable girl with something to prove by succeeding. By the second episode it was clear that she might never succeed. By the third episode, her constant decision to put her own needs ahead of the safety of others actually made it hard to like her. And by the end of what I saw, with an unearned position on the front lines, I wasn’t even sure what she was trying to prove anymore.

It’s certainly a…different direction to take the classic underdog story, though probably not a worthwhile one.

Anime Pet Peeves

inuyasha

I’ve recently had the opportunity to watch more anime and it’s been good for the soul. It brings me back to simpler times in college when I had only $133 to my name but no real expenses to speak of after food. Hence, anime was the flaming garbage can I chose to dump a lot of my money into.

Over time that sort of lifestyle started to become increasingly unlivable. I mean, there was more and more money after I graduated (for reasons entirely unrelated to the diploma I received, I assure you). But the idea of spending three-quarters of my available funds on buying anime started to become more and more pathetic as I started making larger and larger amounts of money.

Not to mention the huge amount of debt (for reasons very much related to the diploma I received) I had to pay off every month.

But now anime is pretty much free to stream. (Cough, plug for Crunchyroll, cough.) So aside from that small cough, things are good here.

On the other hand, anime is a bit of an emergent property – a larger whole that isn’t obvious from its smaller pieces. Adorably stupid characters become infuriating after thirty episodes. Overpowered characters are obviously going to be the solution to any problem after you see them do just that for the tenth time. In short, you may want to think twice about binge-watching anime. Like cheese, what’s pleasant in small chunks might become essentially indigestible in large enough amounts.

Anyway, you know the drill by now. Bold first sentences. Supporting evidence. Let’s do this.

Relationships that never progress. Pretty much every series feels obligated to have a relationship these days. Even in cases where an ancient evil is on the verge of breaking out of its magical seal and bringing about the end of the world. I mean, we need to reach the top of the Mountain of Spirits in the next four hours or else fire will rain from the sky until the end of time, but you know…let’s have a filler episode where the girl takes the hero shopping and she’s not sure whether it’s a date or not.

I’ve made my peace with these, no matter how tacked on they feel. But you’d think there’d occasionally be some sort of resolution. Nope. For the most part, any time a couple seems to actually be progressing there’s some misunderstanding or a one-episode villain who steals a kiss or a fog that gets everyone drunk and they’re so embarrassed of confessing their true feelings that it sets them back again. And we’re stuck in a holding pattern until the main character’s undead ex-girlfriend dies all over again.

I actually started that paragraph speaking in a general sense, but by the end, I’m pretty sure I was just talking about “Inuyasha.” Wow. Through almost 200 episodes and four movies, the closest thing we got to romantic progress was a non-canon movie kiss.

Granted, depending on your interpretation of the ending, Inuyasha and Kagome eventually got married, but that was a pretty long walk for a thirty second payoff.

And speaking of not knowing how to resolve things…

Series that don’t know how to end. Maybe they knew how in the beginning. Maybe they had a good idea where they were headed. But by episode 800, it’s pretty clear that their actual intent is to wait until the Sun goes red giant and vaporizes the Earth, thus ending it all for them.

I don’t mind long series. In fact, I’ve rather enjoyed a number of series with an upwards of 26 or 52 episodes of very rewarding story. Both the “Fullmetal Alchemist” series were over 50 episodes. “Yu Yu Hakusho” was pretty great, too, and that was well north of 100.

“Case Closed,” on the other hand, is currently sitting around 832 and is as close to ending as it was fifteen minutes through the first episode. (The creator mentioned having an ending in mind, but that was in 2007 so I’d take it a grain of salt.) Even if it ended tomorrow it’s build itself up so far that no outcome could be worth the wait. It would be like your parents giving you nothing for Christmas for 17 years in a row. By that point you’d probably just give up on the whole mess or (more likely) assume you were Jewish.

Series with a perfectly good ending and then they just kept going. I get it. Money is a thing. And writers and artists tend to get more by continuing a series than they would by stopping and holding out their hands to random passersby on the street.

The classic example was “Dragon Ball Z.” Depending on who you ask, it was originally planned to end earlier or much, much earlier. As a result we slogged onto a few different planets, through a few more enemies who absorbed people to become stronger and what felt like seven or eight years of “Dragon Ball GT.” And say what you want about the material that followed, it’s always best for a series to end on its own terms on a high note than to be run into the ground.

A more recent example (specifically of the “running into the ground” variety) was “Bleach.” Despite having a perfectly good ending after our hero gave up his powers to defeat the enemy-turned-god-turned-butterfly-turned-god-again, they decided to head into another long training arc where he regained his power on the way to continuing his adventures. Only…he didn’t. Sure. I mean, he got his powers back, but with the sudden end of the series immediately after, it was a lot of run-up for a very short jump.

Or, maybe more accurately, a stumble directly onto its face.

Oh, and this crossed my mind while I was writing this, so consider it a bonus. It’s not technically a problem with anime itself. But it did come up an awful lot while I was trying to finish a few of the longer series that hadn’t finished getting dubbed yet.

Starting a series in one language, then switching to another. This isn’t a question of whether the original Japanese or English voice actors are better. Like the reddish stream running behind the local Pepsi bottling plant here, that’s an argument I just don’t feel like wading into at the moment.

(For me personally, it depends. Having a kid means it’s nice to watch subtitled anime when he’s around during the occasional flurry of f-bombs. And other times, well, if I wanted to read I’d get a book. Or, more likely, I’d get an audiobook so history’s most pleasant British people could read it to me.)

In any case, there’s something just fundamentally wrong with the characters switching voices in the middle of a series. Recently I tried watching “Cowboy Bebop” in the original Japanese. After listening to Steve Blum nail Spike Spiegel over the past twenty years, it’s weird to hear some other guy’s voice coming out of his mouth. It would be like your mom suddenly having a new voice when you woke up one morning. And also, she was speaking Dutch.

Unless she started out as Dutch and…well, you get my point.

Since I’ve been watching a lot more new anime as it comes out recently, I tend to watch more of it in Japanese first with English subtitles. And yes, it’s just as weird the other way. I tried watching some of it translated and it feels like everyone is talking in slow motion or something.

Also, people scream differently in English versus Japanese. You’d think being terrified would have the same sound no matter where in the world you were. Then again, you’d be just as surprised looking at one country’s list of animal sounds compared to another’s. What does the rooster say? Kikiriki? Like hell he does.

In the grand scheme of things I realize it’s a minor nitpick, but aren’t they all, really?

Abridged Series Where Less is More

Author’s Note: Yes, I realize “Abridged too Far” was low-hanging fruit so far as pun-based titles go, but it sounded like the opposite point I was trying to make here. And no, that doesn’t take the sting out.

a-bridge-too-far

Author’s Note 2: I’m still using it for the title picture, though, because Sir Sean Friggin’ Connery.

For those not in the know, an abridged anime series is more or less what it sounds like. You take an existing series and shorten it in one of two ways. The first of these is to cut out filler strictly for the purpose of streamlining it. (The only two examples I can think of were both done by the same studio as a means of fixing a broken series – “Evangelion” and “Dragon Ball Z.”) The second, objectively better way is to cut the show in such a way that it’s essentially a different, more hilarious show.

An abridged series isn’t just a very short series, like “Krod Mandoon and the Flaming Sword of Fire.” Although, that show was very short. And frankly, hilarious.

But as I’m so fond of saying by way of teasing future columns, that’s a whole other thing.

For the sake of completeness, I’m going to talk about four here – half of the first variety and half of the second. Of course, there are many more than just four of these, but you should understand that these are almost exclusively fan works. Thus, their overall quality often varies somewhere between the low end of mediocre and the lower end of MS Paint.

Dragon Ball Z Kai. Despite getting into other anime in high school, I didn’t watch Dragon Ball Z until about two years into college. I still remember to this day the conflicted feelings I had over watching Vegeta and Cell scream at one another for two entire episodes on the way to Vegeta’s ultimate decision to stop fighting entirely.

As far as places to get into Dragon Ball Z go, it was probably the worst imaginable. It showcased the worst flaws in the fight scenes while accomplishing nothing at all, all with essentially no outcome. And given that it was an episode central to the main plot, I couldn’t even give it the “filler pass” I tend to give scenes where Goku wants to learn to drive or when Gohan wants to date some random girl just to pad out time.

When I heard about Dragon Ball Z Kai, I was cautiously optimistic. It offered a tighter story presented with more modern animation techniques. What could possibly go wrong? Well, as it turns out, the voice actors could realize they’ve been doing the same voices for roughly eighty years and totally phone it in.

Okay. So I realize that’s both harsh and untrue. These are people who love the series, I’m sure. Nobody was just coming in for a paycheck, at least as far as I know. But after so long of yelling the same attack names (and just plain yelling), it’s understandable that their performances (and vocal chords) would start to get a little tired.

Especially when this was literally Dragon Ball Z again – just shorter. No new plot points. No new anything. It ended up being more or less exactly what was promised, delivered in such a way that almost no one was happy.

DBZ Abridged. I didn’t discover this series on YouTube until about a year ago, but trust me when I say it was well worth the wait. As much as the creators of the original series might hate to hear it, I honestly consider this the definitive way of getting from one end of the series to the other with you interest still intact.

Most of the plot points are actually untouched, meaning you could watch the entire series in maybe a quarter of the time and still know almost everything that happened. (Almost as if it’s some sort of abridged series. Gasp!) Sure, Goku is an idiot, Vegeta is constantly furious and Krillin is just plain pathetic, but most of the character changes are exaggerations rather than outright changes.

Except for Popo being a vaguely racist masochist, which in my opinion is an improvement over his bland, forgettable performance in the original.

The dialogue is snappy and memorable. It’s infinitely quotable. And except for its nasty habit of being hit with legal claims by the original copyright holders every few weeks, it’s probably one of the best things not on television right now. Like, seriously, top three. You need to go watch it right now whether you like anime or not.

In an extremely meta joke, here’s Dragon Ball Z Kai Abridged – an abridged abridged series.

Rebuild of Evangelion. For those of you who haven’t watched the original Evangelion series, I want to spoil this for you. And no, that wasn’t a typo. I would love to spoil this for you. The only trouble is, nobody knows how the hell it ended.

Evangelion is essentially the anime version of an Olympic runner falling in the home stretch after absolutely dominating the competition. Or it would be, if that Olympian failed so badly that his greatest fans went on to petition for his execution the next time he tried to run a race. It starts out as a coming-of-age story involving teenagers dealing with their own problems. Also, they save humanity from giant monsters-of-the-week by piloting equally-giant mechs. And if anything, it’s even better than it sounds…until it just crumbles before your eyes.

There are a lot of rumors about what happened with the last two episodes. Money problems. Studio meddling. The director wanting to create a giant middle finger to the fanbase that would live on long after his mortal flesh decayed. Either way, it was about fifty minutes of flashing pictures and giant naked girls in space while the main character loses his mind and everyone turns into puddles of orange liquid.

Interspersed with some admittedly awesome mech battles, but still…

Many people were thrilled when they heard the series was being remade in four  movies that condensed down the plot. Finally, it meant we could put all the ugliness behind us and see the story we’d wanted to see from the beginning. And then it fell apart again. In exactly the same way.

The first two movies are admittedly gorgeous. And I think I prefer them to even the solid original work. But episode three starts in a weird dystopian future after the world ended and nothing quite makes sense anymore. Episode four seems to be on indefinite hold and may or may not ever be released. Either way, the sudden shift of the narrative in exactly the same direction as the first time it got screwed up suggests it doesn’t really matter. Jesus Christ giving a piggyback ride to Hayao Miyazaki couldn’t save it at this point.

After all these years, it seemed a remarkably odd choice to tear down the wreckage of the original, shrug and then rebuild the same pile of wreckage all over again.

SAO Abridged. There are a lot of ways you could compare SAO Abridged to DBZ Abridged. Both are fan remakes of popular shows. Both were tweaked to offer a more humorous take of their original source material. The main difference between them was that Dragon Ball Z was good, whereas Sword Art Online was a dumpster fire.

It’s one thing to take a good series and make it better. It’s one thing to take a good series and make it worse. But turning Sword Art Online into a pleasant watching experience is nothing short of lead-to-gold-level alchemy.

This, however, does come with two small caveats. The first and worst of which is that I think you actually benefit from watching the original series beforehand. It’s certainly not mandatory. I just feel like I gained an entirely new insight from watching them one and then the other. Of course, your mileage may vary. I fully understand if watching twenty-six episodes of the original is a bit too much of an investment to squeeze a little extra enjoyment out of the abridged follow-up.

Especially when it starts to slide into weird slug hentai around episode eighteen for no particular reason whatsoever.

The second caveat, though it may go without saying, is that it’s a far less faithful adaptation of the story. The overarching stories are the same, though the characters and episodes are just plain different. I’m not saying this is a bad thing, especially when the dull, half-dimensional characters from the original didn’t give them much to work with. I’m just saying that they’re essentially two different series that just happen to have the exact same footage.

In the best possible way.

I should also note (as caveat two point five) that SAO Abridged does have the same problem when it comes to copyright holders. Despite Fair Use being fairly clear on parodies, each and every episode has been taken down thus far for as long as month while Sony Music (of all copyright holders) files suit. But as long as you catch it immediately after uploading each new episode or don’t mind a little wait, it’s not much of a problem.

Since I don’t have anything shorter to preview…I don’t know. Just watch the first episode.

There’s no real conclusion to this, though it kind of has me wondering if there are any other quality abridged series out there. I may have a look around. Assuming I find anything worth posting, I’ll be sure to include them in a followup.

Suggestions, naturally, are welcome.

Where You Go, I Cannot Follow…

Game Dice

I don’t want to get into the whole argument as to whether one is born a nerd or it’s a choice they actively make.

I lean towards the former, if only because as far as my memories go back, I was doing something I would have probably hidden from my wife (if she hadn’t also been a nerd). There was the obvious stuff, like being a little too into video games. Or anime. But there were earlier signs, like channeling my early writing energies into so, so much Sonic the Hedgehog fan-fiction. (I might still hide that one from my wife, actually.)

Or possibly teaching myself how to read just to spite the teachers who said I couldn’t be taught by reading every book in our house. And consequently reading the first Wheel of Time book at the age of eight because it had the coolest cover.

People would assume, then, that I like anything and everything that’s even remotely nerdy. And for the most part that’s true. But even I have my limits.

I’ll start with probably the nerdiest thing I’m involved in and then move on from there.

Subtitled anime. I’ve actually never understood why some people just couldn’t watch anime in the original Japanese. I sort of get the argument some people make about not wanting to read while they watch a movie, but only if that’s how they feel about everything.

If you refuse to watch “KonoSuba” (arguably one of the funniest anime series ever made) and then turn around to watch “Les Miserables” (not arguably just really, really boring) in the original French then you, sir (or madame) are a filthy liar.

Japanese Pop Nightcore music. Okay. I realize I was supposed to start the list of things too nerdy for even me here, but I just remembered this one, and it’s probably a bit worse than subtitled anime.

In my defense…well, I don’t need a defense. Nightcore music is awesome. And some English song lyrics are cringe-worthy, at best. (That’s a whole other column, though. Stay tuned.)  Musical lyrics attained perfection in the Queen era and, to a slightly lesser degree, during William Shatner’s on-again, off-again interest in spoken word albums. In short, I’d much rather have no idea what anyone was saying than hear them say something really, really stupid.

Okay. Seriously. Now we’re starting the list…

Tabletop games. Let me preface this by saying that I really want to enjoy these. I should also explain that a good part of why I never got into them was because I’ve been perpetually isolated from other nerds that might even play them with me. I’ve had exactly one real experience playing Dungeons & Dragons, and it didn’t go well.

I was playing as the typical rogue/thief character and exploring the depths of one ancient ruin or another when I found a door that was locked and couldn’t be opened. I later learned that this was “flavor text” by the dungeon master just meant to flesh out the scenery. I took it as a challenge. And, after a streak of rather uncanny luck in my dice rolls (three 20’s in a row), I’d managed to pick the lock and wedge the door open so it didn’t fall again. The dungeon master promptly conjured up some chest to be in that room and told me to just loot the thing and stop derailing his story.

I then proceeded to bash my skull open on the door because I didn’t crouch low enough and died due to a rather uncannily bad streak of dice rolls.

It’s certainly not something I’d mind trying again. But for the moment, it’s not something that’s really feasible for me. And it’s probably the one item on this list I honestly regret not getting into.

Live Action Role-Playing (or LARPing). Basically, you take tabletop gaming, remove the tabletop and then go outside instead.

Sometimes you dress up in cosplay first.

I have nothing against it, strictly-speaking. My only real issue is that its one of those things that requires all the individual gears to be moving in the same direction. All you need is one person who decides they’d rather never be hit and it turns into a bad day playing pretend at recess. “I throw fireball! It hit you and…” “Nope. You missed.” “Um…I throw a lightning bolt! It paralyzed you.” “Nuh-uh. It made me stronger!”

My problem with this is, I had too many friends at recess who were “that kid.” If we were playing superheroes, they were Superman. Oh, and kryptonite couldn’t hurt him. Also, he had a gun for some reason? It made my Batman infected with the Venom symbiote look downright reasonable in comparison.

Latching onto some scrap of nerdy territory and then judging everyone who wanders by. When I grew up, being a nerd wasn’t socially acceptable like it is today. You had to do that sort of thing on the down-low.

So I understand why some people who have defended comics, anime, etc., for decades being a little annoyed that now everyone and their kid dressed as a stormtrooper is getting involved. These people put a lot of hard work into being part of a counter-culture that everyone hated them for. It’s like driving in the slow lane for miles and then having someone cut over at the last moment to skip all the waiting – except replace “miles” with “thirty-six years.”

And “waiting” with “having goat blood poured on you at prom.”

I don’t believe in judging people as being “true fans” or “real gamers” or the like, because I want these things to be welcoming and hospitable to newcomers. Because as much as some people might hate people not as devoted as they are getting involved in their interests, they should just be happy that this is something they can openly enjoy now without being stuffed into a locker. That or, you know, the goat blood thing.

Not to mention, there’s always someone nerdier out there. So before you go judging someone for only watching Sailor Moon and Dragon Ball Z, remember there are people out there who could just as easily put you to shame. Only they won’t, because they’re too busy actually enjoying their lives.

Anime Cliches – Missed it by That Much

That’s right. I’m pulling out the Maxwell Smart quotes. For all six of you still alive to remember that, you’re welcome.

Wait. For that matter, why do I know about that? I was born a good decade or so after that show. And trust me. It never came up in conversation. Ever.

Anyway…

Dodge.jpg

I remember spending a good portion of my college days defending anime. I was one of two (and a half) people who liked it, whereas the other eighteen guys were pretty much all productive, useful adults. Well, I’m still watching anime. And where are they? In productive jobs, being a meaningful part of society. So who’s laughing now?

Still them. Always them. It haunts me.

Anyway anyway…

One of the major issues (with various sub-issues) was that anime was riddled with cliches that made it unwatchable at times. When it comes to cliches, I’m probably more forgiving than most – in large part due to the fact that cliches appear in literally every single entertainment medium from movies to manga to crude bathroom stall jokes.

But I will acknowledge that some can be annoying. Today, in particular, I’ll be discussing how attacks in anime and manga never actually land. Ever. Go check. If you’ve ever read anything where an attack connected, it was probably a bootleg issue or something.

For those unfamiliar with the genre, I can understand your disbelief. “How can an anime last hundreds of episodes and be almost fifty percent battles and hardly anybody is actually getting hit?” you might ask. “I just saw that one guy shoot a laser out of his hands that blew up the actual moon. Like, in the actual sky. And then it was gone.”

Well, it happens a few ways.

 

First off, flash-stepping (or whatever it’s called in your anime of choice) is garbage. If you don’t know what that is, it’s how most anime and manga show movement happening faster than the blink of an eye. And whereas actual dodging requires preparation, tensing the muscles and leaping out of the way, a well-used flash step can just move them eighty feet away.

Often with a smug look on their face as they taunt, “Oh. Were you trying to hit me?”

I’m not a fan, mostly because it seems to work under mathematical principles I don’t really get. I mean, why aren’t they doing that all the time? Couldn’t you just vanish and reappear with your fist through your enemy’s face?

And while we’re at it, why does it make that sound? You know, the one that should sound like someone moving at the speed of sound but instead sounds like shuffling through a stack of papers really quickly.

 

Regular dodging isn’t much better. It’s a nice way of letting the audience know someone is out of their league in a fight. But when it goes two or three episodes that way, ugh.

Or sometimes they let attacks hit them when they could have dodged, just to show their opponent that things are about to get real.

 

But the worst dodge cliche is Naruto’s substitution jutsu. Okay. I watched that clip (and the weird clip after it for some reason). Kakashi is dead. Like, super dead. They held a short funeral for him a week later that was attended by friends and family. Proceedings began on the disbursement of his property and assets according to the wishes in his will. On the one-year anniversary of his death, the gang gets together to share drinks and talk about the time they spent together and…oh. Wait. No. It was a tree that died.

But if that’s the case, where did all the blood come from? Did that tree bleed? For that matter, did that tree scream in a thoroughly convincing impression of a dying person?

I appreciate creating tension by making us think a character is dead, but when the reveal equates to “nuh-uh,” it loses a bit of its punch.

Anime battles are very dusty. Another popular method of just screwing with viewers is having a barrage of attacks land, throwing up dust. In my experience watching maybe two or three hundred different shows, the person in the dust or smoke has only actually been hurt once. One and a half counting the time a character self-destructed holding onto an enemy, killing themselves but leaving the enemy unharmed.

Again, I feel like it’s meant to build tension. Did they get him? Is the battle finally over? But pattern recognition means we already know the outcome. If it’s a bad guy, they don’t have a scratch on them. If it’s a good guy, maybe he’s breathing hard and his shirt is sort of torn but he’s otherwise unharmed.

And then, I don’t know. He launches into a speech on the power of friendship or hope or some crap.

Conclusion: I realize it’s a bit of a turn-off for some people…but honestly, it’s not as bad as it seems. In a real world bound by regular physics it makes sense to be realistic. When characters can punch through mountains, though, I understand that dodging is sort of a necessary mechanic. Otherwise fights would be over in twelve seconds and “Dragon Ball Z” would’ve lasted about as long as a blowout college football game.

Besides, for every fight where you get annoying cop-out dodges that just seem to prolong a fight, you’ve got one of these:

 

Yeah. When’s the last time someone on “Law and Order: SVU” pulled off one of those? No. Seriously. I’m asking. I haven’t watched in a few seasons and I think the planet-cutting episode would be a good place to hop in again.