My Adoration of Expression Coupled with Anime

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Over the years, phrases such as “It’s too bland,” “It’s dull,” “It’s safe,” and “It’s formulaic” have been ingrained into the wordy musings of this blog. While I can’t speak for everyone, I can only assume that when I say these things, people think I mean they’re boring, bland, or formulaic in a general sense, when in reality, they’re all those things largely due to a single driving factor: expression (or sometimes referred to as “heart”). Now, something as vaguely termed as “expression” is a bit tricky to pin down in an objective sense, so as a small, yet effective example, simply look at the cute gif I have posted above of my favorite vampire waifu: Shinobu, from the Monogatari series. Notice the blended array of colors which supplants it out of its immediate reality, the emphasis on her allure being planted right on her face, and the almost cutesy representation of her original design that creates a distinct mood. This is what I like to call “expression,” something that exaggerates, defies, or simply heightens the norms of character exuberance and/or personality—which bleeds into other aspects of a creative work.

While this post is looking at anime, other art forms such as video games, manga, and films all work within a similar field, where expression can become a make-or-break factor in terms of my enjoyment towards it. Take a recently-crowned favorite manga of mine, Miman Renai, and the infinite amount of gush I wrote concerning its artistic chaos. Despite a simple story with inherently semi-problematic reasoning and characters who only briefly cross into territory that accentuates their complexity, the manner of expression and artistic freedom made me adore it to near-maximum levels. Silly faces, absurd observations, Egoraptor levels of emotional and physical overexaggeration, and an earnest atmosphere that coddled it all in a coherent space without (completely) destroying the confines of reality. This is by far the greatest spectacle of Miman Renai as an art form and a golden example of my love for “expression” in visual media.

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Taking into account my favorite anime, most of them have some form of expression to them, with the most vibrant of the bunch being Katanagatari (from the author of the Monogatari series, which isn’t shocking). Its entire aesthetic is bright and varied, with quirky character designs and a world with blown-up color. Best of all, its characters are hilariously one-dimensional, but in a way that screams parody rather than conforming to what sells.

However, my other favorites being Dennou CoilOokami to KoushinryouToradora!, and Shinsekai yori, someone reading my thoughts thus far wouldn’t be able to see what makes them so rife with expression in the way I’ve explained it to mean. And they would be right, because these other examples aren’t anywhere close to the absurdist levels of Katanagatari, but this is all surface-level stuff. These series’ expression is within the manner of their character progression and insight, such that they change gradually throughout the course of the series while still retaining the better parts of their core personality. Admittedly, Ookami to Koushinryou does not have a lot of what makes typical expression so infatuating, as it has a higher degree of focusing on an aloof narrative structure that simply embodies the relationship between its lead characters and THE POWER OF ECONOMY!!!

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Dennou Coil and Shinsekai yori, on the other hand, have another form of expression that aids in the development of both characters and narrative: artistic expression. Essentially, these series have “a point” they’re trying to make, or trying to envelop the viewer into a grandiose tale that one can empathize with and gather insight on various circumstances (i.e. loss of loved ones in Dennou Coil; social hierarchy in Shinsekai yori). The way the story is presented also plays a vital part in its retention of intrigue, which each series does splendidly enough to draw attention initially and reap rewards by the end; childlike adventure in a sci-fi setting with Dennou Coil, and the dangers of repeating the past in a fantasy setting full of telekinetic kids and anthropomorphic mole rats in Shinsekai yori. These stories with meaning are something that makes them intriguing to watch analytically as well as simply for pleasure. It also makes them more memorable for their inherent quirks as those without them. It’s part of the reason I gave mother! a good score despite not caring for it, and gave Mayoiga an average score despite its glaring technical flaws.

Yet not all is fine in dandy in the world of youthful naivety and cheeky children. Shounen anime are among the most exuberantly emotional anime on the planet, with episode after episode of monologues and screaming dialogue full of gusto and usually a lot of angst. This, in terms of what I’ve said, could qualify for an example of expression, and I would agree; however, with almost everything in life, execution is the name of the game. It is not expression alone that is what makes itself alluring, but the way it is the presented, the way it inflates itself with value, and the way it distinguishes itself from the crowd (or other ways that mean more to others than myself). Boku no Hero Academia is a great example of expression used in a very similar way to many other Shounen titles, but creates more meaning through focusing on characters by putting them in eventful situations and giving the viewer a reason to not treat them as background filler. The execution is not distinguishable at all, yet it works through tinkering—giving weight to one’s actions, and having that result in true character development. Because let’s face it, Boku no Hero Academia’s story is not nearly as captivating as its characters. Here, it works, while in other series where the focus is more driven towards narrative, it likely won’t work as well. Context is important, as one should be able to identify what a particular series is trying to do and why its type of expression works as well as it does.

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Which brings me to the obligatory “Trash all harem and trend-baiting series” section of the piece. Series such as Rosario + VampireNo Game No LifeBlend S, and Urara Meirochou all have a common fatal flaw: there’s no point to them. They indulge in what’s popular at the time for the sake of indulging in what’s popular at the time, putting no effort into any real stakes of human interest or conflict. While all are vibrant in their color palette, it doesn’t mean much when the execution is so derivative and void of impact. This isn’t to say these shows are (altogether) bad or that they can’t be entertaining to viewers (Lord knows No Game No Life is), but that they lack that sort of “oomph” (another word that mirrors “expression”) that keeps me interested long-term or invested in what’s happening onscreen. Their level of expression is fairly low in my eyes, which makes me immediately shy away from them if not for my allure to their easy-on-the-eyes design. And this applies to any anime that may or may not catch my interest in upcoming seasons. There’s a reason why I only watch two or three anime a season: the rest don’t scream, “Oh, yeah. That’ll be expressive and not super cliché.”

When it comes to anime, titles such as Ping Pong The AnimationKuuchuu Buranko, and Jinrui wa Suitai Shimashita are going to be infinitely more interesting to me than Free!Hajimete no Gal, or Monster (Sorry, fans). Their uniqueness, expressiveness, and potential for meaningful content are what draws me in more than simple fan service or a super-realistic plot full of normal characters. Again, this isn’t to say the latter series can’t work, but it doesn’t do much for me personally. I am, or at least I am developing into, someone who enjoys a blend of “objective” solidity and artsy-fartsy development or imagery. URAHARA was a series I had high hopes for due to the artsy-fartsy discretion, but the “objective” side faltered fairly quickly. It doesn’t always works, with execution and situation playing as much of a role in its power than the power itself. When it works, you have a crowded mess of eights and above in your anime list. When it doesn’t, your average rating per series hovers around a 5/10.

That’s what being expressive means to me. What does it mean to you?

The Objectively Subjective Objective

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For as long as I’ve been blogging, it’s curious that I never made a post like this before in the past. When people read my reviews and look at my (low) ratings for various series, they may think to themselves, “Well, what exactly does this guy look for in a series?” I understand only about one in a thousand people actually think that, as most are satisfied with simply looking and forgetting, but I figured it’d be nice to keep note of what makes my ratings my ratings. What makes me think a series is good or bad and, most importantly, why my opinion holds more weight to me than others.

Now, that last sentence may seem conceited, which I wouldn’t argue isn’t. Everyone has some sort of pride to them within their work or hobby that allows them to feel more confident in their ability to share their thoughts or opinions with others. Especially noteworthy of critics (or those who aspire to be) is the sense of “Elitism” that is stereotyped into the persona of anyone who doesn’t have a systemic average rating of, say, seven or above. I am no different, as while I’ve never been directly insulted through the term “elitist,” I have often called myself, in jest and seriously, more aligned with the elitist mindset than otherwise. There is a reason to this, and one of the major reasons I decided to write up this post.

I will not deny that every opinion is inherently subjective. I will not deny that the differences in perspectives and priorities for each individual person will affect what they find good or bad about a particular subject.  I will deny that these opinions and theories cannot be objective, especially when dealing with a purely artistic or creative medium such as anime. I’ve dedicated my entire critical life to studying the standard guide to what makes a work good or bad based on the context of the subject. Anyone has seen it in a typical review set-up: Story, characters, art, sound, etc. These things are what I would argue can make an opinion objective in nature, though not concretely. I believe in the objectively subjective, that things can be argued into being more true than not; that, say, Toradora!’s characters are more realistic than unrealistic, or One Punch Man’s story is too comically one-dimensional to be given credible weight to its drama. Not that these become established facts, but become credible enough with substantial evidence to be able to be understood by the general public.

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One of the most irritating phrases I’ve heard in my time online is “Everything is subjective anyway, so why make such a big deal about it?” If everything is subjective, why even bother critiquing? Why even bothering distinguishing what is good and bad? Why even blog? Why even watch? Why even be different? Why not just release a bunch of shit for no reason because it’s all subjective anyway and nothing matters? Please bear with my snarky attitude, but it’s something that I feel is too slippery a slope to be said so easily. It almost sounds nihilistic to me; nothing in life matters and we all die in the end, so why put any effort into anything? The beauty of critiquing is so that we can appreciate what makes things good and bad, what resonates and what should be worth one’s time. We critique so that we can continue to attempt to shape the works of others into something bigger and better for more to be able to enjoy. That’s why being more objective than subjective matters to me. So that I can distinguish what makes a series worth not only my time, but your time.

I can enjoy the living hell out of something and still think it’s shitty on a technical level. Take my review of Custom Robo. I love that game to death, but it’s not great in any sense of the word. The gameplay is fine, but the story is incredibly standard, the characters are beyond cheesy, and the graphics are absolutely putrid. It’s not something I would actively recommend if it weren’t for the off-chance that it could allow people to enjoy the game as I did so many years ago. Basically nostalgia. Despite the fact that I adore it so, I only gave it a six out of ten, and that may be generous of me. I could absolutely rate it higher based on enjoyment, but I don’t think the qualities of the game are good enough to warrant so high a score just because it means a lot to me. That would be unfair of me to reward a game for being special to me, for being overly subjective with a topic on my own bias. That’s another reason why objectivity is a large part of what I try to embody.

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On the opposite spectrum, mother! was an incredibly intriguing and thought-provoking film, with great attention to tone and tension. Yet, by the end, I was left with an unsatisfying feeling, especially knowing that it all had one, all-encompassing meaning. I ended up not really enjoying the experience, aside from the fleeting question of “What does it all mean?” I awarded it a seven out of ten. Something I genuinely love gets a six while something I barely enjoyed gets a seven. That would almost seem blasphemous to some, but it’s something I feel strongly about—it’s the type of integrity I try to apply to myself for the purpose of critique. I want people to know what a film, a game, or an anime is worth on its own, while filling in the little details that make it what it is (through my own lens). That is what it means to me to be objectively subjective: to judge a topic based on its core parts and what it succeeds in doing regardless of personal preference or enjoyment. And I expect those who come to read my posts to know that that is what I strive for. All of my ratings are still my own, and I can rate something higher or lower than what it deserves, but I’ll do what I can to explain myself past a simple number score.

So with my brain fried and my fingers slowly bulging with every clack of my keyboard, I’m hoping this makes enough sense for people to acknowledge what makes my ratings my ratings, and how my religion of objectivity is a means of genuine worth rather than a stubbornness to avert societal norms. I’ve felt this way for a long time, and it’s taken some time for me to really develop as my own mental self has grown. To be more open and inviting of ideas; for a long time, I wouldn’t accept that everything was inherently subjective! While something of a personal case, it’s not something I feel more should do, but I would encourage others to take a more intrinsic approach to series and what they’re worth in terms of general characteristics. Of course, I never really delved deeper into that, as what makes characters good or bad is, again, fairly subjective, but I feel it’s the thought that counts. People should just think more, y’know?

Adhering to the Value of Narratives in Video Games

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 ♭

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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?

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.