Adhering to the Value of Narratives in Video Games

277e35534c549fcf78ac6a324562886e

Do not let the “Plan to Play” section of MyVideoGameList fool you; I have played a number of games throughout my life. Video games were, without a shred of exaggeration, my first love in life—the thing that I would most look forward to waking up to in the morning. It would make sense that throughout my time experiencing a wide variety of different games that I’ve come to develop a certain “fetish” for specific game types that appeal to me more than anything else. Pondering this for years, I always had an affinity for Nintendo games, games with colorful and cartoon-ish art direction, and games involving a lot of puzzle-solving. However, there is a specific aspect to games that has not only become more popular in recent years, but has evolved the state of video games into something that’s been debated on ever since. I am speaking of narratives, games with grandiose stories and moral messaging within its compact code.

For some time, I never realized how prevalent the impact of narratives in video games had on me as a gamer. In recent years, it’s become almost necessary for a game to have some sort of contextual motivation in order for me to care to try a game at all. Games such as Splatoon, Overwatch, and Sonic Mania are all titles that have fun features to their credit that make them enjoyable experiences, but none give me a lasting impression because there simply isn’t enough there for me to really care. And this isn’t to say the mentioned games don’t have narratives to them, they’re just not explored to the point where they become interesting on their own—whether because all further information is found through other sources or the game focuses more prominently on gameplay than story. This doesn’t bode so well for my standards, however, as my preferences have become more tailor-made to the manner in which a video game can immerse me within its world, something that is done best through world-building via characters and story. This leads me to uphold a likely unpopular opinion:

Narratives in video games usually make them better.

3cd661df099dd656ba3cbdefe9185034e35adafe_hq

There is no denying that a video game’s mechanics are what come first in a successful game. If gameplay is boring, then why bother? Gameplay, despite the message of this post, is the most important factor of a video game. With that in mind, the typical ratio for the critical player is usually 80/10/10 in accordance to gameplay/story and characters/art and sound. My own ratio is closer to 50/40/10, leaving games with stories/characters that utterly bore me and gameplay/art/sound direction that astounds me at best a 6/10.

Picking on Sonic Mania yet again (due to it being the inspiration behind this post), it follows this train of personal analysis. Gameplay is solid, smooth, and inspired. Art is perfect for what it’s trying to convey and adds even more pizzazz to the spirit of the Sonic series. Sound follows the same path as art style. Despite all of this, the story is bare-boned, and the characters’ personalities are only shown through very meager actions. I bought the game when it released ten days ago and I have yet to finish it, despite the game’s short-ish length. Why? Because I’m bored with it. Its gameplay and design aren’t enough to compensate for the lack of empathy I have to continue forth with the game, which is directly attributed to its simplistic story, and to some extent, its fan service. If I had to give it a rating at this moment, it would be a 6/10, verging on a 5.5/10. And I know that would make a lot of people upset.

8d9ff986ca1478a140686fece743b01f2caffc89_hq

Alternatively, a video game like Undertale is capable of being rewarded a 7/10 from me, despite having gameplay that barely passes off for a typical bullet-hell/Earthbound type of gamestyle. From a gameplay standpoint, Undertale is a pretty dull game that doesn’t have much to offer. The most challenge one faces is trying to identify how to pacify a particular enemy while dodging their attacks in the meantime. Very typical RPG mechanics. Where it lacks in gameplay, it more than makes up for in story and (especially) characters. While the narrative plays a little too much into THE POWER OF EMOTIONS!!!, its characters are a wonderful variety of fun that makes the game far more entertaining than its gameplay would imply. This succeeds in pulling the player in with assisting (or playing along with) the trials that face the people around them, giving them more motivation to explore the world and find information about said characters or about the major goal.

Of course, there are times when a game gets too ahead of itself and focuses far too much on one aspect, most notably narrative, to compensate for the lack of anything else. Games such as Gone Home or Depression Quest are examples of the narrative > gameplay argument that people rattle over to this day. With the technology present to humanity today, in which we can create games that allow these narrative-driven wholes, are games that focus more on story than gameplay really video games? Such is a debate that rages on among the levels of “The Console Wars,” but in the end, more games are more games, and I’m all the happier for the people who dedicate their time to doing what they love.

screenshot2016-01-05at5-02-16pm

As I continued pondering, I began to understand that narratives in video games have always been the most prevalent and notably nostalgic games of my childhood. Hell, thinking about all the games on my Top 10 List of Nostalgic Games has more than half the list contain titles with heavy doses of dialogue/text or detailed story progression. It took me twenty-something years to realize that the difference between Super Mario Bros. and Super Mario Sunshine was the fact that Sunshine had more charm through its ridiculously idiotic story and character roster. Such is why I hold the latter to be a better experience, and a better game altogether.

So, with this in mind, the next time you come across a video game review from me, know that there are types of games I enjoy and those I don’t, but I try to critique a game to the nature of its parts and what I feel it tries to exude most notably from them. Still, I’m not perfect, and games like Sonic Mania will end up getting somewhat low ratings because my mind is accustomed to games with a lot more narrative-focus. It’s something I’ve had to learn to get over, though these internal stipulations do have their share of exceptions, hence why I said games are “usually” better with narratives. My fondness of storytelling is something that happened to cross over into my gaming preferences, leaving me to feel encouraged by the future of video games and what they can offer. Such a path will not always be straight and narrow, unfortunately.

The (Rarely) Good, The (Usually) Bad, and Saekano ♭

saekano2 three

Light novel adaptations have a reputation for being disasters waiting to happen. The number of light novel adaptations that come and go each season seems to increase as time goes by, with a number of them being pelted by viewers with verbal insults and sarcastic raspberries. History has shown that many of these novel-to-anime transitions can be fairly successful (Toradora!, Monogatari series, Baccano!, to name a few), but to compare it to all the misses, the scale tends to dip towards a dark and stormy direction. In recent years, the number of these adaptations that have given me a stir has been quite low—try as some might to remain on my good graces—but a certain series has appeared that has reminded me that light novels can be a source of quality entertainment.

It does so by laughing at the clichés light novel stories normally cruise upon.

Saekano’s first season was a rocky trail, full of ups and downs and rough footings. Its biggest fault lie with its inability to stay consistent in both its parody and level of seriousness with its actual story and characters. It paints the image of the typical high school setting with the typical female character archetypes fighting over the typically overbland male lead while working together in the typical environment of a club. However, quite soon into the first episode, viewers will find something off about the dialogue, the situations, and one specific character. It follows the trends perfectly, though not without some subtle inclinations of self-awareness. Self-awareness? Subtlety? Together?

saekano2 one

Gloriously, it found its shtick. It uncovered the power of quiet strength within the ability to gently mock what it’s so keenly identifying with. With this, a path of unpredictability follows, allowing the writer to control exactly how these typically overdone situations play out, and how these typical archetypes are developed as people. Unfortunately, I feel it overindulges in its display of tense, sexual situations involving the male lead for the sake of sexual fan service. Too often it paraded itself as being self-aware while also partaking in everything it seemed to mock without reason. What would be a great way to mock the oversimplified, one-dimensional, and horribly slow pace of developing relationships between teenage characters abundant with sexual tension? Actually developing their relationships. Saekano doesn’t quite seem to understand this.

Hearing that a sequel was announced, I was honestly excited. I found there was enough potential left undone in the first season to warrant more chances in a sequel. To some extent, there are some lingering drawbacks to what Saekano ♭ does that ring familiar when reminiscing about the first season. What ends up becoming different is what it almost drops altogether.

The biggest compliment that one could give to Saekano ♭ is that it feels like a serious story. From beginning to end, the situations presented feel realistic within the context of the characters’ bonds and the weight of their club’s growing popularity. This doesn’t feel tight within its beginning episodes, which is probably the biggest flaw and another level of inconsistency that the story takes in stride. An occasional line about the characters being self-aware exist, but as the series goes on, it disappears. All it does is embody the drama and the emotions that would come with the story at its current position, months past its chronological starting point. As though Saekano as a series had evolved from its caterpillar roots into a butterfly of its own volition, it almost completely abandons its cynical nature and takes it upon itself to sterilize the tone for the sake of maximizing its emotional potency.

saekano2 two

This ends up being the most intriguing factor of Saekano ♭, seeing as it wonderfully transitions from its condescending mimicry to hopeful drama concerning following in one’s decisions and ideals. It does exactly what I felt should have been done more in the first season, even if somewhat sporadically and with many spoonfuls of bitterness. Its final few episodes provide a lot of character insight and how they would react under tense situations; “adversity,” if you will. Even if one character seems to be getting more than the other. There’s something there for people to latch onto, and no longer does the series rely on balancing the act of being serious about not being serious. Should it have taken this seriously from the start, who knows how the series could’ve ended up. As it is now, it at least gains points for being fairly unique.

I suppose the entire point of this post was to both generate buzz for a light novel-adapted anime I find of good quality while also lamenting that light novel-adapted anime can’t take more risks. I understand the business, the desire to make a profit by taking refuge into the clichés that sell and that work. Primarily sex and fantasy flicks that don’t offer much intellectual stimulation. But imagine a world where stories can be free to be as imaginatively weird or stupid or challenging as possible. To cast off the shackles of what the money commands and have people be given the liberty to write what they please. Ah! Please excuse me, I’m getting a little too idealistic. In any case, Saekano ♭ is a decent sequel and a rare example of a light novel-adapted anime that has enough to tickle the noggin to stimulate the internal pump, all while transcending its initial identity to prominent execution of industry standards.

The rating for this title and all others can be found on MyAnimeList.

Indiana Jones and the Archives of Inconsistency

indy 1

I’ve seen ’em all. Raiders of the Lost Ark, Temple of Doom, Last Crusade, and Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. The amount of fan adoration this franchise receives is unlike many in modern Hollywood, rivaling that of the Star Wars franchise or many of Disney’s animated classics. Because of this, many are subject to a very heavy bias when looking at this franchise through an objective lens. While I was made aware of various scenes from Jones’s adventures through parodies and references in other media, never have I actually sat down and watched the films until about a month ago, so there’s no nostalgic bias to be found here (for once). With the occasion of finishing the franchise (until 2020), I felt it’d be interesting to share a fresh perspective as to the weight of these (mostly) ’80s classics. And as the title implies, the theme here is inconsistency.

Referenced somewhat recently here, I did not care much for Temple of Doom. While user ratings for the film are fairly divided, with the more general perspective being positive, I found it to be a fairly insipid viewing. The inclusion of Short Round and Willie completely tampered any potential the film may have had if it didn’t focus so keenly on gross-out humor and silly popcorn theatrics. They ultimately had no place in the film, provided little chemistry with Jones himself, and had as much depth to their personality as characters from Sesame Street. This harshness towards these two characters specifically is due to their influence on the film’s tone, providing more of a comedic approach instead of a serious one. This would be excusable if the comedy was at all funny, but it’s not.

indy 2

Kingdom of the Crystal Skull gets a lot more backlash from fans for “ruining” the franchise. Critics gave it decent marks, but user score is typically fairly low, and it was even desecrated on an episode of South Park. Once again, this bunny with no nostalgic bias watched the film with an open mind, and while I think the film is bad, I thought Temple of Doom was worse overall. I thought Temple of Doom’s second act was better than Crystal Skull, but its first act was so horribly misguided that it nearly destroyed the whole experience for me. Crystal Skull has a sort of quality that almost hides behind the greatness of its prequels while trying to be so over-the-top that no one would ever accuse it of being so similar. It’s this absurdness that brings its quality down for many trying to take the film seriously, which it does a decent job at in the first half. Still, with enough references to fill a house, it can’t quite shake the foundations of a soft reboot, catering to newcomers while titillating fans of the franchise.

In my mind, two of the films in a four-film franchise are bad. Two out of four; that’s half the franchise. Not only that, but they’re the second and fourth films, respectively, causing a wave-like effect of turbulent highs and lethargic lows. One is good, one is bad, one is good, one is bad. Without the perspective of a diehard fan that grew up on the films proclaiming Crystal Skull to be the black sheep of the franchise, one can say that the series has always been flawed to some degree, and its consistency is seriously questionable, both in terms of overall quality and the pace of such within each individual film.

indy 3

What made the Indiana Jones films so enjoyable was the constant focus of thrilling action, the wonders of adventure and mystery, and the human drama that came with the characters along the way. This is fairly common knowledge to many, but pulling this off effectively is no easy feat. Raiders of the Lost Ark and Last Crusade have a good number of things in common, including the factors mentioned above. With lots of semi-realistic action, lovable character interaction, and a nose for gritty attitude, they both accomplished a mixed tone of light and dark that boded well for characters to behave as well as they did, with a lot of focus on memorable scenes and noticeable, subtle development. Not to mention, the bond between characters in both pictures, specifically Jones and Marion, as well as Jones and his father, almost single-handedly carry the torch for emotional appeal, seeing as both pairs have some friction between them. There’s a potent humanistic element that makes the adventures feel real and all the more grand for it.

Any more on Temple of Doom would be ad nauseam. Crystal Skull harbors a little character enthusiasm, though struggles to find any balance with the realistic qualms of Jones’s antics. Surviving a nuke by sitting in a fridge. Killer ants with a penchant for human flesh. Aliens. It goes above and beyond to entertain, however, it becomes more of a chore to take any of it to heart when it feels so jadedly superficial. The Indiana Jones movies were always somewhat silly, but Crystal Skull takes it to such levels of ridiculousness that Kali-Ma! seems like a morning stroll in the park. Everything about each scene feels so forced, so maniacally enthusiastic about being able to appeal to everyone that it loses some of its identity. In this sense, I can understand how the latest entry “ruined” the franchise to many. For me, the franchise couldn’t be ruined because it was never a stable library of greatness in the first place.

indy 4

Wrapping up, there is an indistinguishable charm that the Indiana Jones franchise manages to capture half the time. Even in the worst of times, there’s enough of a semblance of good merriment to hold over any person not so sternly idolizing of the whole product. I suppose the point of this post made into simplest of explanations is that the franchise isn’t perfect prior to a certain point. It’s important to look at things as single products, then add the outside context later on. How much this context influences one’s opinion is dependent on the individual, but one shouldn’t disregard one or the other entirely. Kingdom of the Crystal Skull isn’t great, but neither was Temple of Doom, and some didn’t even care for Last Crusade. Whatever shoots the sword-slinger is for anyone to decide. Just don’t be so picky.

‘It Gets Better’ Is Not Always Better

tenor

A few nights ago, I watched Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom for the first time in my life. My thoughts on it are not great—in my own words, I described the first hour as “rubbing my face against a boulder.” However, one thing I can appreciate about the film is that it gets better, as the second half of the film provides a lot of the dumb action fluff the first film does to near perfection, which helped alleviate the pain of the first half’s ruefully irritating shenanigans. Even with this, I gave the film a painfully low score of 3/10, as the first half’s lows overtook the limited enjoyment I felt for the second half’s revival, mostly because the end didn’t justify the means in a way that allowed me to give a damn about any of it. It got me thinking of the times when people would recommend various TV shows and anime with the discretion that it “gets better over time.” The more I think about it, the more I believe it’s a nice way of saying, “This series’s highs are better than its lows.”

As a watcher of most things visual media, particularly of the Asian variety, the discretion of “It gets better” is something I’ve come across a number of times, whether directly addressed to me or to others. I’m sure I’ve said the phrase a few times myself, though recently I’ve tried to shy away from it. With the combination of my own belief that anime almost never gets better and the added expectations placed when throwing that phrase around, it creates a conundrum that’s better left for an uncommon few.

katanagatari quote

In a more realistic manner, things are supposed to get better over time. To say that a certain series “gets better” is almost redundant, as characters, story, animation, etc. are never fully developed through the first couple of episodes. If a series were to not get better, whether by an objectivist’s sake or a structural sake, then the phrase would make more of a compliment. With as vague as the three-word combo is, this could mean any number of things, including the development of a number of different aspects. From my own experience, it’s usually meant to imply that characters become developed and their actions worth caring for, thus improving the mood and the overall entertainment value. Still, what’s to say it can’t mean anything?

Among the most common type of shows this phrase gets attributed to are the long-running popular shows a la The Walking DeadGame of Thrones, or any of the popular anime adaptations of Shounen Jump manga. True as it may be to insinuate that longer-running shows get better as they go on, the important thing to note is when. When does the series starting getting “good”? How long is a person willing to sit through mediocre or dull slop before pacing themselves for the good to come through? Is the recommendation of One Piece really a recommendation if it doesn’t start getting good until episode 207? Is Naruto a good recommendation if “It gets better” in Shippuden? Time is valuable to certain people, and if the “good” doesn’t compensate for the “bad,” then they’ll leave feeling disappointed, especially if they watched 206 episodes to get to that point. I’d rather not place unneeded expectations on a series when it could backfire harder than it could reward.

I trusted you!

As stated in the first paragraph, there’s a fine line between good and bad, with the balance of the two being the difference between being disappointed and being relieved. For me, The Temple of Doom had far too much bad to make up for it with some trivial good in the end. Allison to Lillia is a series I felt similarly about, except reversed; the first thirteen episodes were charming, if not illogically defined, while the last thirteen episodes undermined all of it and sank it into the depths of mediocrity. The reasons for the two examples are different, but mirror each other with a sudden dip/rise in quality. To say “It gets better,” one should be aware of what the recommendee considers good or bad, what they value, and whether one is confident enough in the show’s good qualities in overshadowing the bad. I also read a blog post recently describing how one show’s good was essentially ruined with one epitomizing episode of pure bad.

In one last argument against it, “It gets better” can be construed as parts of a series being blatantly mediocre. One can understand that a series needs time to develop upon the things it wants to convey, especially those within the genres of drama or psychological thriller, but if it gets better, that might just be saying the genre works, not that the entire product is worth watching. It creates a one-dimensional mentality that if it succeeds in one aspect, the rest can be ignored as non-important. I realize this idea can be far-fetched, but better to cover everything than skim. Perfect Blue is an example of something that I would say “gets better,” as its structure dictates that every detail matters in displaying its messages and intrigue. This doesn’t mean I feel the entire product is perfect, just that it succeeds very well in one thing in particular, and only because the other integral aspects are done well enough to make said one thing succeed. Code Geass’s first season also “gets better,” and unlike Perfect Blue, it’s in spite of its earlier meandering and not because of it.

cut it out

People have the freedom to say what they want when they’re recommending things, even if those things don’t necessarily help the recommendation. For me, to say “It gets better” is nothing more than an empty proclamation without the details to ensure its legitimacy. There’s too much at stake with the time available to those who pursue the art of binge watching. Whether it ends up planting the seeds of disappointment or undermining the show’s ability to pace itself, saying “It gets better” is not always better.

Kuzu no Honkai: A Case of Sexual Timidity

Scums wish 5

Not to sound unsure of myself, but I would like to briefly note that my opinions and thoughts on this particular criticism of Kuzu no Honkai to be somewhat incomplete. It’s more of a gut feeling that I had watching the anime and having experience with other forms of dark, introspective series. This argument is something I don’t actually have too much evidence for, as some of the things I’ll go more into detail about can be debated against with ease. Consider this a messy opinion piece, something that I feel is present without the sort of solid foundation to legitimize its bearing on the quality of the series.

And I felt I needed to say this before I go on, as I feel it’s important to be honest with my readers about how I feel during such debatable pieces as this one. Too often I wonder if people who make extraordinary claims and back them up with such flimsy details aren’t conscious of how it makes them appear. Call it my own pride, but if a claim I make sounds sketchy even to me, I feel it should be noted before it’s said. It could also be a defensive mechanism because I’m too honest and I’d feel too bad about “deceiving” people.

scums wish 3

Now then, the claim in question is that Kuzu no Honkai is too naive. The manner in which it tells its story and the way it introduces sex as a means of showing the emptiness of the characters is incredibly simplistic and immature. Sex itself is something of a hot topic within the world of anime, but the fact that Kuzu no Honkai has it so prevalent within itself shows some lenience that rarely comes from mainstream anime. Unless, of course, the sex is used for laughs and giddy temptation. Really, one simply need to look at the ocean of harem anime, or anime that simply have characters show sexual attraction to those around them.

One could praise Kuzu no Honkai for portraying sex in an artistic or mature way, however I would disagree. The way it portrays sex is simply a refreshing spin within a medium where sex is taken too lightly. To have one go through a marathon of To Love-ruHigh School DxD, and Sekirei, then watch Kuzu no Honkai, one would definitely appreciate the change of pace. It’s not only limited to these types of anime, either, where sex is a blatant device to entice viewers, but others where even the prospect of holding hands is considered too risqué. A fellow blogger once made an intriguing point about how Kirito from Sword Art Online‘s quick path to OP status was a refreshing spin from the typical Shounen protagonist’s zero to hero approach. While that may be true for certain eyes and times, it’s something that doesn’t always work to make characters or stories better (further referenced for my disdain for SAO), as is the case here.

scums wish 2

Through another perspective, there’s the fact that while sex is led up to and hinted at, sex is never actually shown. Natsu no Zenjitsu shows plenty of sex, and not just the interpretation of it, but the act of it. The sights, sounds, movement of characters’ bodies and faces. Kuzu no Honkai‘s use of sex is little different to me than the way ecchi uses sex; both are used for enticement, only Kuzu no Honkai‘s intentions aren’t to lure viewers to drop their shorts, but to drop their hearts. I found it humorous that, try as the characters might, not a nipple was shown, never anything past foreplay, and the characters, despite how empty they seem to be portrayed, have enough humanity within themselves to cover up at the last moment. This could almost sound like a positive for the show’s characters, though not so much for the argument. This gave an air of the author knowing this would be shown on TV at some point, so they cut their losses and went for what would be most suitable for the general mass, instead of pushing it further.

Something that could be used in association with the previous point is the anime’s penchant for telling, not showing. While not always the case, there’s definitely a lot of telling within the plot, particularly by whoever is the focus of the individual development. Whether it be Hanabi, Mugi, or Akane, (though usually more Hanabi and Akane) the dialogue is definitely something one cannot help but feel overwhelmed by. Whether this overwhelming is good or bad depends on the viewer. For me, it was obviously very bad. Too often I felt what was being told to me was very clear based on their prior actions and train of thought, something I feel the series took too much advantage of. Watching Kuzu no Honkai was like listening to a teenager in high school monotonously overexplain the story of their first Facebook lover. Lots of angst, lots of self-reflection, lots of crying/cringing, and not a break in sight.

scums wish 4

Through the use of sex, this tell-a-thon mixes in with the fact that sex is never actually shown. It combines with the type of storytelling that relies on the viewer to fill in the blanks themselves, taking sex at face value as a symbol of one thing depending on the situation. It would be really nice to see the characters actually react to the sex, rather than the build-up to sex. Many times the characters fantasize about the idea of sex and what it would mean to them to have sex with the one they love or “love,” but fantasizing about sex and having sex are two completely different beasts. Not just foreplay, either. If Hanabi is wincing and in tears at having her genitals fondled, I would like to see her reaction to actually hitting the home run. That sentence sounded incredibly disturbing. Still, it would be intriguing to see if she continues to fight her overwhelming negative emotions or if she’d abandon them and simply let it happen at the expense of comforting pain. If only I had that chance.

On its own, Kuzu no Honkai is a decent series with an intriguing premise that can stand with the best of teen dramas. What the series lacks in subtlety, however, it more than makes up for with dialogue straight from an early Linkin Park album. Its dedication to its craft is admirable, though many (including me) could be easily turned off by how painful the amount of depressing self-deprecation the characters spew at themselves, to the point where they can’t take it seriously. It doesn’t surprise me that the series is so highly-acclaimed, taking into account that the average anime watcher is in their teens and are attuned to sensitive jargon. Still, I can’t help but wonder what the series could’ve been if it hadn’t been directed so heavily at only that demographic.

The rating for this title and all others can be found on MyAnimeList.

Updated Thoughts on School Days: A Middle Finger to Harem Tropes (Spoilers)

school-days-5

For a more formal (and outdated) review on the anime, click here.

There seems to be a collective agreement among casual viewers within the anime community: School Days is horrible, if not the worst anime in existence. It is casually placed among titles such as Boku no Pico and Mars of Destruction as the most pointless and disgusting creations anime has graced the living world. As a young, upcoming anime enthusiast, I had heard the rumblings of the community and became curious enough to want to see what the fuss was all about, seeing as any press is good press, or so they say. During the 2013 Summer of Anime, I went ahead and watched School Days for the first time… and hated it. I was disgusted, horrified by what had taken place. All the illogical reasoning from the characters and the laughable conclusion it decides to take; everything about what was said by the community was true: School Days was a horrible anime. But there was something about it, something I couldn’t quite place. It was interesting—I couldn’t rip my eyes away from the screen. The kind of dreadful feeling one has when they expect the most harrowing of climaxes. It didn’t feel right to reward it a one out of ten, especially when a so-called “elitist” wanted to distance himself from the masses. So, I slapped a five and called it a day, wondering what exactly it was that made the series so volatile.

Elitists in particular like throwing around a term sometimes to use as a compliment: “Deconstruction.” Many elitists like to use this term with Madoka Magica, which is supposedly a good “deconstruction” of the magical girl genre. What exactly is the meaning, the benefit of said “deconstruction”? In layman’s terms, it’s essentially flipping the script on a typical formula certain stories use that have proven successful in the past. Magical girl anime typically have a self-conscious, teenage (or child) heroine who don’t know what to do with their normal, dull life. Then comes a magical source that whisks them away and gives them a sense of purpose and magical abilities to ward off evil or the misfortune of the world. Madoka Magica is a deconstruction because it takes this concept and shakes it up, creating a new perspective that many wouldn’t expect from synopsis or cover art alone. Somewhat like walking into a bakery and finding a salad bar.

The point in explaining all of this is to translate the mindset going into School Days, which is also often referred to as a deconstruction of the harem and high school drama genres.

school-days-2

Usually I’m not one to argue “the point” of indulging in a particular subject, but there are some where if one isn’t experiencing it in a particular way, it’s really not worth it. Many often screech when someone tries to watch slice-of-life as a serious, character-developed story of constant entertainment. School Days is something I feel very much fits within this category; if one is to take this story seriously, then of course people are going to vilify it! It’s a hilariously unrealistic and disgustingly immoral story of psychopaths and erratic, sociopathic teenage behavior. As a true story, the only real benefit it has going for it is shock factor.

As the years went by, I continued to hear the impression that School Days was horrendous. It was horrible. Worst anime ever. Complete waste of time. Not worth a single penny put into it. Shortly after completing it, I felt they were justified in their complaints, as I was just as disgusted with the series as they were. However, time began to dull upon the disgust I felt for the series, and much like anything I hear about constantly, I begin to become irritable. I wanted to re-watch the series to become better acquainted with the reasons I didn’t outright hate the series in the first place. And with further pondering, I began to realize something very interesting.

What are some of the arguments people use when criticizing School Days?

“The main character is a cheating asshole who only wants sex!”

Believe it or not, people cheat. It is a simple fact of life and despite what anime would lead you to believe, many teenage boys would gladly cheat if it guarantees them sex. In harem anime, especially ecchi harems, many of the women would gladly give the male protagonist exactly what he wants, but he never takes it. Why is this? Why does the male lead never have sex with the women who want him? Because it’s wrong? Perhaps. Because it’s against his morals? Most likely. But why is it that every harem male lead always behaves in the exact same way no matter the title? School Days simply answers this question, and it gets shit for it. I’m not arguing that the cheating asshole should be despised, because he absolutely deserves to be, but to say that the anime is flawed because of this is naive.

school-days-3

“Why doesn’t Kotonoha just leave Makoto?! He treats her like garbage!”

Why do the women within a harem find the male lead so fascinating when, usually, he’s little more than “a nice boy with good morals”? Even within School Days, many of the women he sleeps with give the excuse that he was a “kind and caring” person who’s trustworthy, and was nice to them in one way or another in “the past.” This is just as much the explanation that other harems use to justify the infatuation to the male lead, and in some cases even less. Despite, at times, knowing they’re part of a harem, the group of women oftentimes compete with one another for the male lead’s affection, yet he will likely never yield. Why go through all the effort of remaining faithful when the future looks fruitless? Why is this male lead so irresistible that the women are willing to degrade themselves to embarrassing acts? This blind dedication is hardly new within anime.

“Why are all the girls actually sleeping with him?! WTF?!?!”

This one’s actually fairly funny. School Days actually makes fun of this by having the women constantly complain to themselves, “I really shouldn’t be doing this with you! Take some responsibility!” Sometimes before, usually afterwards, the women of Makoto’s harem regret their actions and guilt themselves into a corner, then resort to doing it again for the sake of covering that guilt with physical pleasure. Only to repeat the process over and over! It’s actually hilarious in hindsight, the irony involved in a situation like that. Makoto’s no fool, either. He knows it. In all seriousness, this is again no different from normal harems and how the girls blindly devote themselves to the male lead’s whims. Of course, the male lead doesn’t show himself to be a cheating sociopath, but for parody’s sake, this criticism actually works for the series.

“That ending?!?! Holy shit!!!!!”

Also fairly funny. The ultimate ridiculousness that makes School Days so memorably insane. The devotion that these women have for Makoto and the lengths they go to to be able to always be by his side. If Infinite Stratos 2 can have its harem of women compete in a moe contest organized by a cupid-like character to get the male lead aroused (unsuccessfully) for shits and giggles, then I don’t see how School Days and its ending is any less ridiculous considering the psychological profile of its cast of characters. If anything, its actually somewhat realistic, though certainly not justified.

school-days-4

The point I’m trying to make here is that School Days is a deconstruction, a parody, a joke. To look at it from a completely serious and normal understanding is a dead end. With context, this series is a hell of a lot more enjoyable, and even slightly funny! To analyze these things from the perspective of a normal harem drama, it makes School Days feel like a Mel Brooks film, an obvious parody aiming to take shots at the norms rooted within the genre. Of course, School Days is more nuanced. It portrays itself as one within the genre, without making itself immediately known. The last two episodes are, in my opinion, the dead giveaway that this series is literally fucking with the viewer. To have the girl who wanted Makoto’s male friend randomly sleep with him!? And then chastise him for being so irresponsible for playing with Sekai’s feelings? The irony, the beautiful, scrumptious irony!

Of course, this also makes School Days an incredibly one-dimensional viewing, only for those able to identify its parody. Even after a second viewing, I can understand people’s disdain for the series. They don’t see it, nor do they take the time to find it, taking everything at face value. I don’t mean to criticize this as a means of lazy watching, but there’s a lot of value to School Days with a different perspective. If people don’t care to watch the anime as a means of laughing at clichés, that’s no issue. It is, essentially, a twelve-episode joke directed at harem norms. One can only find enjoyment with this if they can appreciate the property of deconstruction.

Even with all this context, School Days is a slog to watch, as a lot of the opening episodes rely on exactly what they mean to parody, to rope the viewer into a false sense of security. The characters are fairly dull, fairly cliché, and the situations are no different. Even character dialogue is mind-numbingly boring and insipid. The biggest genuine complaint one could have with the anime from an objective standpoint is that it’s abysmally boring. It tries so little to make anything of interest arise out of certain situations, especially within the first three episodes or so. One likely wouldn’t even care to continue to “the good stuff” with the bland introduction. The art and animation is fairly decent, though not without a gray tint that makes everything feel ordinary and unappealing. If not for the sake of incredible irony, there is absolutely nothing here other than shock factor.

school-days-1

It’s not the worst anime of all time. It’s not even a bad anime if one has a penchant for laughing at clichés (I know I do). The ridiculousness is off the charts, but it’s intended to be. The characters are illogical and downright disturbed, but it’s intended to be. Everything here is carefully formulated to construct the biggest middle finger the anime medium has ever seen, similarly to something like Panty & Stocking. Of course, it’s hidden—very carefully and very subtly building to the ultimate ending of bloody proportions. I had a great time with it my second time around. Why not give it another shot as a so-called “ironic viewing”?

The rating for this title and all others can be found on MyAnimeList.

Thoughts on Yama no Susume (Season One) and Why I’ll Never Give Shorts High Marks

yama-no-susume-1

As odd as it may be to bring this up here, but I’m very much looking forward to the release of Oshiete! Galko-chan’s standalone OVA in the coming days. I found myself charmed by the refreshingly realistic (albeit still cliché) banter among the teenage female cast. Despite this, one may be confused to see the relatively low rating I gave to the parent series—a measly five out of ten. If I enjoyed the series so much, why not rate it higher? It all has to do with the way I formulate my ratings.

Good stories take time. There are some that require less time than others, depending on the type of narrative being presented, but for the most part, I feel there’s a necessary amount of focus necessary to fully develop an enthralling and immersive experience. Take Shelter, for example, which is highly regarded for the depth of the story it presents in a puny six-minute music video. I, however, didn’t care for this as I felt it wasn’t enough to make me believe and trust the story as real, or real enough to empathize with. Such is the issue with anime shorts and those who aren’t given ample time to showcase all that it could while juggling other priorities such as entertainment value. Yama no Susume is yet another example, with twelve episodes spanning only three and a half minutes per piece.

yama-no-susume-2

Many would think that seeing a four out of ten would give the indication that I didn’t care for this series. This is both true and false, as I could very well do without the experience of seeing it, but that’s not to say I didn’t like it. At best, I feel Yama no Susume’s debut season to be a harmless bundle of fun, full of cute girls deciding various things related to mountain climbing. There isn’t much that the series does to really try and flesh out the characters aside from their base personalities and precursor conflicts. The female lead, Aoi, is scared of heights due to a traumatic accident on the playground that left her with a broken arm. Her childhood friend, Hinata, made a promise with her that they would climb mountains together in the future. With this ironic contrast, how does the series decide to have Aoi get over her fears? By climbing a mountain in the third episode. Very little hesitation, very little struggle along the way. A clumsy foundation that leads to a simple slice-of-life flick with some bouts of moe to pave the way to the finish line.

A solid foundation isn’t necessary to a show’s success, sure. This feeling plays more into another reason I never rate shorts above a five or so: they feel more like a distraction than an experience; a snack instead of a meal; a bottle rocket instead of super shells. I’ve yet to experience an anime with episodes under ten minutes or so that I feel give me everything I’m looking for in objective entertainment. Perhaps this is unfair, as I’m trying to compare shows with longer runtimes and (likely) better effort to showcase something more. However, the cycle of quality based on my own interpretation of it rings true for whatever is put forth in front of me, compromising by highlighting the things that are important in making a particular work “good.” After all, were I to objectively criticize porn, a key factor would be whether or not I, ahem, become engrossed in it. I would still focus on other aspects nonetheless, but why try to criticize a horse for being a goat, eh?

yama-no-susume-3

With this rises the question of whether or not Yama no Susume does well with what it tries to accomplish. What exactly does it accomplish, though? Cute girls are mountain climbing. There’s that. Aoi, however, is given a little insight into her situation and has key faults in her character highlighted as the story goes along. She’s socially awkward, hesitant in her decisions, and not confident in her own abilities. By series’ end, she does experience an ounce of growth in her resolve, resulting in a more peaceful atmosphere of events to transpire. For this, the series is worth watching, though only for those expecting the bare minimum in development. As I’ve said many times, making a character go from weak to strong is among the easiest of blueprints to execute. Anything else? Well… it’s easy-going, I suppose. I feel it makes the series more dull with only Aoi going through what most humans can relate to. Other characters simply fill space or provide to the… humor(?) of the anime. There isn’t a whole lot of comedy present. Or drama. Or romance. Or anything aside from acute tranquility.

So despite the low score, Yama no Susume as an anime short isn’t necessarily a bad watch. It just doesn’t do much different from those within its own classification, such as Oshiete! Galko-chan or Danna ga Nani wo Itteiru ka Wakaranai Ken, both of which I feel are better shorts overall. With its second season being bumped up to a two-cour series with eleven-minute runtimes, perhaps it can do better with what it couldn’t do with its first batch. That, however, doesn’t make Yama no Susume’s first season any less forgettable, though not without some enthusiasm.

The rating for this title and all others can be found on MyAnimeList.