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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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“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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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?

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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.

The (Near) Perfection of Metroid Prime’s Opening Sequence

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There are very few experiences quite like Metroid Prime; not even with other games within its franchise. The game overall is a riveting, fine-tuned, and detailed adventure full of intrigue and atmosphere the likes Nintendo has yet to recapture since. One of the most important aspects of a story is with what people refer to as “The hook,” something to grab the reader right away and decrease the chance they’ll drop the story altogether. While many games take the time to lay out a basic tutorial section prior to any of the more extreme gameplay, Metroid Prime manages to do this and more with a perfect combination of context and world building. The execution of Metroid Prime’s hook, along with a dreary visual style and flawless handling, make it one of the most memorable and beloved opening sequences in video game history. Almost.

Samus Aran has received an unidentified distress beacon from a small space vessel and has taken it upon herself to track it down. Upon arrival, she is met with basic security measures, but the vessel seems all but abandoned. Should this opening scenario ring familiar for fans of the franchise, I deduce that this is an homage to Super Metroid, whose opening sequence is very similar. However, during the era of the Super Nintendo, the hardware could only capture so much of the presence set by that entrance, resulting in only a few, darkened rooms before meeting a harrowing conflict. In Metroid Prime, the scale has been done far beyond the capabilities of what its predecessor set. Room after room of decrepit, broken shambles of scientific activity. Samus can do little but take in the sights of the aftermath of a specific event that doomed the vessel and its passengers.

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Though not required, it is heavily recommended that one use Samus’s Scan Visor as much as possible during this sequence. While some may complain that it breaks the flow of the game, there’s an endless amount of information present to fill the void of narrative context along the way. What happened to this vessel? What are all of these holding units and specimens being used for? How did it get reduced to this miserable state? All of these questions being answered by logs found within and the remains of what turns out to be Space Pirates build a world and an atmosphere that only Metroid can properly manage to maintain. Scanning each and every area of the frigate brings froth a terrifying tone of foreboding that Samus is soon to discover.

Playing Metroid Prime for the first time, Samus knows only as much as the player does, embodying the eyes and ears of the player through the first-person perspective. While Super Metroid’s side-scrolling perspective does well enough from a narrative aspect, Metroid Prime’s decision to go first-person marked a turning point in the level of immersion present in the game’s ever-changing galaxies. Many of the sights become your own, with the dangers lurking becoming all the more intimate and frightening. It is you finding these things, fighting these creatures, and making your way deeper into what could be your inevitable demise.

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Even at 2002 and on a console not known for being high-powered, Metroid Prime’s visual style and sound quality are still top-notch even by today’s standards. With a crashed frigate in the middle of space, drifting aimlessly unmanned, there is a distinct lack in music and a higher emphasis on sound. The horrid coo’s of disgusting creatures known as Parasites, feasting upon the remains of deceased Space Pirates and interfering with the technical aspects of the vessel. The dying groans of what remains of the Space Pirate army. All that accompanies the trek only serves to accentuate the uneasy tension that grows with each room passed. The make-up of the environment is masterfully designed, portraying a ship that experienced a horrific accident, one which almost completely demolished its structure. Fire, debris, corpses, low-lighting, and the necessity to activate certain electronic access points are but some of what lies in wait. As the situation adjusts to meet the events to come, the music changes to suit every situation without fail. Little breaths of air, such as finding hidden trinkets and pathways leading to goodies, are met with a lapse of importance, done by the Metroid franchise’s signature jingle.

Technically, one could argue that this opening sequence is just a tutorial experience for the rest of the game. I would definitely agree, but what makes this so great is the context of the story that doesn’t make it seem so. The only thing that makes this stick out as one are the occasional messages that appear onscreen to aid the player with controls and useful tips. Excluding that, the opening sequence is one that begins the story of Samus’s descent to Tallon IV, the major setting of the game. It also introduces a major antagonist to combat later on in Meta Ridley. A chance to familiarize oneself with the control scheme and handling of the game while also fitting within what makes the Metroid franchise so remarkably eerie.

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Most of this post has been a lot of subjective praising of atmosphere and narrative context, but for those wanting something easy to grasp, Metroid Prime controls beautifully. The beam weapon shoots at fast as the player can press the button, the movement is fluid and realistic, input is responsive and never faulty. The game is so well-tuned that even glitching the game is a meticulous process of taking advantage of the game’s intense programming. The only recurring issue I have on occasion is with the Grapple Points, but those are used only once in the opening sequence, so it’s hardly worth noting. Such precision makes battling at tip-top shape efficient and immensely gratifying. One will truly feel as though they’re the universe’s greatest bounty hunter.

The building of tension, the looming darkness behind every door; this foreshadowing leading up to the first boss of the game, and the source of the vessel’s destruction, makes the slow entrance to her domain all the more chilling. Prior to the fight, one can choose to scan a pile of Space Pirate corpses directly before the central core of the frigate, with it describing the bodies as not “. . .[having] been here for long.” This chilling threat makes the lead-up to the battle all the more impactful, even if the boss fight itself isn’t too tough.

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What would a Metroid title be without a self-destruct sequence? It at the very least doesn’t feel random this time, as defeating the Parasite Queen has her fall into the reactor core, effectively overheating the power running through the frigate. Again, the music changes from that of nervous anticipation to stressful panic as the player is given seven minutes to escape the time bomb of a space vessel. This change of pace gives the “tutorial” feel of the process feel far behind, pushing the player to think on their toes and traverse what they’ve already experienced back to the entrance. No longer is the slow pace of scanning everything and finding out all that took place, all Samus is focused on is survival, taking advantage of every tool in her arsenal and the disintegrating foundation of the ship. This energy and pace is made all the more memorable by the length and size of the ship altogether, a vast difference from the station in Super Metroid. All the more memorable, for all the wrong reasons, is what occurs during the escape.

At one point, Samus must scan an electrical output to give power to an elevator. Upon doing so, the game will cut to a cinematic scene where Samus quickly turns and faces an oncoming collection of explosions, with the shockwave hurling her hard into the wall of the elevator. Struggling to regain her balance, the suit begins to spark and malfunction, breaking apart into a lesser version of her Varia Suit, simply referred to as the Power Suit. With this, she loses a large assortment of her weapons and utensils, including the Missile Launcher, Morph Ball, and Grapple Beam.

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This entire scenario is completely garbage for a number of reasons. While I understand the need to remove items only to find them later on to pad the game, the manner at which it happens is highly illogical. Samus has time and again been shown to withstand a number of strikes and attacks from a variety of different powerful creatures. All of a sudden, the shockwave from a few (visually benign) explosions is enough to knock her back so hard against the wall that it not only destroys her current suit, but flings her other accessories onto the planet below? Lazy is all I can describe it as. Lazy and ridiculous. Why not have Meta Ridley launch a surprise attack against Samus and take her items and scatter them across the surface of Tallon IV? That would make a hell of a lot more sense in hindsight. It’s the one noteworthy thing about the opening sequence that makes it less than flawless.

Nintendo has a high collection of games throughout the years that have had a huge emotional impact on millions of people around the world. For me personally, Metroid Prime is one of those few undeniable experiences that keeps me intrigued and immersed no matter how many times I play through it. It may even be my favorite game of all time, but that’s for another time. One thing’s for sure, though, Metroid Prime has one of greatest opening scenes in the history of Nintendo and video games in general, with a great blend of atmospheric transitions and top-notch technical design and gameplay. It beautifully attains the level of intergalactic space drama that the series used to be known for, without the need for heavy bouts of dialogue and emotional monologues. Everything the player needs to know is shown through the nuances of the game’s environmental storytelling and the optional inclusion of detail through scanning the trinkets that make it up. Even when nothing is said, it says a whole lot more than spoken words could ever manage.

Patience Is a Virtue, Except When It Comes to Ongoing Scanlations

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I will be busy within the next ten days, so posts may be a tad infrequent/shorter than normal. I’ll be back off my feet come Christmas time.

For those unaware, I like to partake in manga whenever anime feels too loaded to sit through. Manga, I feel, is an easier hobby to partake in due to the reader determining their own pace, while anime runs on its own, expecting you to keep its pace. Not to mention, reading a single chapter of any manga will inevitably be much faster than a single episode of a standard anime. As a critic, it’s nice to be able to consume things at a pace I’m comfortable with, which allows me to think without having to worry about constantly remaining vigilant for more information. There’s a catch, however, to the slow and steady approach to scanlating manga over streaming anime: consistency is not guaranteed.

Look above at the picture of Sekitou Elergy via MangaHere and the rate of its scanlation. It’s a surprise the fiftieth chapter is even there at all, as the series seems to be all but abandoned by this point, despite its ongoing status. With no official English release for the books that I can find, I’m left to sit and wait, hoping that someday something will come of it. Though I’m pessimistic, there’s always that slight chance that someone will pick it up. It’s all a matter of popularity and feedback, so it seems Sekitou Elergy isn’t as popular as I feel it deserves credit for.

More than lamenting upon lost series, however, is the prospect of reading a manga through to the end with infrequent updates. I can’t count the number of times where I’ve read a manga when it’s more than halfway scanlated, come to the end of the scanlation, then have to wait anywhere from a few months to a few years to finally see its ending come in English form. Aside from the frustration of waiting extended and unpredictable periods of time, it also becomes harder to retain everything about the series worth noting.

A memory of something significant or similar can only stretch so far within the subconscious, depending on its importance to the person. When it comes to manga that one has been reading for years, reading a new chapter may as well be reading the first chapter, as while the characters and settings may ring familiar, the impact of their actions and intrigue have all but been lost. This is especially so for manga that are updated with new chapters once every month or so. Manga like Haji-Otsu, which I’ve already reviewed, and Tonari no Kashiwagi-san, which I plan to review, become harder to analyze in their entirety when all you recall clearly is the last fourth of the manga’s bulk. Being patient with scanlations shows a definitive interest and commitment to following through with something, but it can also prove to be an internal storm of questioning how much you can emphasize when deciding on a particular score. This problem escalates when the manga is fairly uninspired.

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The quick fix to this would be to only read manga with consistent updates. Take Noblesse for example. An update every week, more or less. Not all manga get this kind of treatment, unfortunately, as a large number of less popular titles get pushed to the backseat to make room for what brings in the crowds. There may be some intriguing, relatively unknown manga with an interesting premise that is hardly being worked on, because Shounen Jump’s latest shiny scrap piece is hogging all the more efficient scanlators. If you happen to enjoy the more publicized works of popular mangakas, then you’re in a safe spot. For those like me who enjoy venturing out into the world unknown, you better pray that someone else is just as dedicated to it. Or you could learn Japanese.

Another solution to this is to only read completed manga. But I know how hard that can be. Some stories just feel too filled to the brim with potential that we can’t help but start them early on. Even I was hesitant to start Sekitou Elergy knowing it had been updated once in the last four years, but I don’t regret reading it in the slightest. Of course, now I have this lingering longness reminiscent of a princess in a secluded castle… One could also simply buy the English-translated versions via bookstores and what-not, but that usually entails that the series was finished scanlating regardless—that or it’s just that popular.

Exceptions will always arise, as so with almost every correlating string of events. The point of this post wasn’t to have the reader take my ratings for manga with a grain of salt, but to provide a sort of justification for why it may seem harder for me to accurately describe in detail the rights and the wrongs of a particular story. I have a number of upcoming manga reviews that deal with this elongated wait of upcoming scanlations, and going back for new updates almost feels like stepping into a new world entirely, which is entirely off-putting. I could always re-read them from the beginning, but Nana to Kaoru has somewhere near 150 chapters. Re-reading that from the beginning is something I will spend an eternity on. An eternity, I could say, that feels the same as waiting for a manga to finish.