It’s witchcraft

Promotional picture featuring the titular Yamada and all 7 witches

I watched the entirety of Yamada-kun and the Seven Witches over the weekend. It’s about a teenage boy discovering that he and other students at his high school have powers related to kissing, with the first one being body-swapping. It’s a decent comedy and I actually laughed at several places, especially at the scene where the protagonist’s friends experiment with the limits of body-swapping with each other.

However, while the show is pleasant enough, it’s nothing absolutely great. There’s not a lot that makes it really stand out. The fanservice isn’t explicit or prevalent enough to draw in the pervs, the romances are too low-key to really get the ‘shippers, the comedy peters out near the end and is replaced by plot drama seriousness, and the plot drama stuff itself isn’t really that compelling. I think this is one of those shows that people will forget about in a few years.

The brave ones

Braves of the Six Flowers is the shit. The shit.

It doesn’t have anything deep to say, it’s a just rollicking good fantasy adventure story. The animation is great and the backgrounds are lush and detailed, but that would just be putting lipstick on a pig if the pace of the story did not move so quickly. Even the fanservice is mild enough to be easily forgiven, though I still think it shouldn’t be there.

I appreciate the pseudo-Aztec setting, which is not something you see everyday in anime. The story isn’t anything original – six chosen heroes must band together to defeat a demonic invasion – but the series just puts everything together in a satisfying way. In this way it reminds me of Argevollen, though this show looks a lot better.

Praising a work as competent may sound like faint praise, but producing art that’s merely satisfactory is not as easy as it may seem. I was particularly aware of this fact since I’d watched Chaos Dragon before turning to this show.

The cast of Chaos Dragon posing all action-like

Chaos Dragon has an interesting pedigree. The project was spawned from the tabletop roleplaying game sessions of a group of top writers. However fun playing that RPG was, it did not translate very well to a similarly enjoyable anime. I found the first episode cliched and uninteresting. There’s a country, it was conquered and partitioned, there are rebels fighting the occupation and there’s a dragon killing people. Ho hum. The bad guys were cartoonishly evil, the hero was impossibly good, the tragic origin was predictable, and the politics was naive and simplistic. Plus the animation was so-so.

I realize that black and white morality and naive politics are prevalent in much fantasy fiction, but just because something happens a lot doesn’t mean I have to like it. During the viewing my mind kept wandering as I added to my mental list of criticisms. I won’t be watching any more episodes.

Anyway, there you have it. One hit and one miss from the current anime season.

Shadows of the black empire

Junot Díaz on the relationship between minorities and science fiction:

Look. Without our stories, without the true nature and reality of who we are as people of color, nothing about fanboy and fangirl culture makes sense. What I mean by that is, if it wasn’t for race, X-Men doesn’t make sense; if it wasn’t for the history of breeding human beings through chattel slavery, Dune doesn’t make sense; if it wasn’t for the history of colonialism and imperialism, Star Wars doesn’t make sense; if it wasn’t for the extermination of so many indigenous nations, most of what we call “first contact” stories don’t make sense. Without us as the secret sauce, none of this works, and it is about time that we understand that we are the Force that holds the Star Wars universe together. We’re the Prime Directive that makes Star Trek possible. We are… in the Green Lantern Corps? We are the Oath. We are all of those things. Erased, and yet without us? We’re essential.

That’s some good stuff. Maybe I should finally finish The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.

True romance

I recently watched the first episode of the anime Actually, I Am, which revolves around a love confession. It wasn’t my thing, but while watching I had to ask: do Japanese kids actually do this kind of thing?

See, the classic love confession from anime and manga goes like this: a school-aged character approaches in private their secret crush (normally a classmate and one who they may not have even spoken with before) and tells them, “I like you, please go out with me”.

I’d never really thought about it, as this cliche is very common in anime and manga, but I realize now that this is a pretty damn awkward situation to be in. When approached by a near-total stranger – who you may only have spoken a few words in passing to before – and asked for a date out of the blue, the normal reaction is to tell them no. With this in mind, isn’t the classic love confession approach basically a recipe for rejection?

Considering it further, the love confession strategy seems like something a socially awkward person would do. They know they want to go out with someone but they don’t really know how to approach them so they go all in. They skip the getting-to-know-you part and go straight for the asking out part.

Really, a more reasonable approach, and one more conducive to success, would probably be for the besotted party to befriend and hang out with the object of their romantic interest first without immediately going for the metaphorical jugular.

It’s such an obvious stratagem that I have to wonder whether Japanese kids actually do the love confession thing at all. Is this basically just a cliche that mostly exists in the minds of anime and manga writers? One wonders.

Show me the money

I’m currently finishing up the final episodes of Gunslinger Stratos. It’s about kids fighting in the future for a science fiction Macguffin. The series is based on a video game, which is quite clear from the finale because it feels like a boss fight. The episode title even sounds like it’s straight out of Chrono Trigger (Showdown at the End of Time).

The whole thing is full of cliches about friendship, fighting for one’s dreams, and some light distrust of adult authority. You know, the usual. The show also keeps making a lot out of the belief that humanity is doomed to conflict and war.

It strikes me, though, that probably most of the writers behind this show have never experienced a day of hardship in their lives. The closest they’ve come to war is watching it on the news, though it’s more likely that their experience of war comes from movies and other fictional depictions.

Pontificating pompously about a subject one has no direct familiarity seems to me like a very teenaged and juvenile thing to do. Which makes sense since this show is made for juveniles and those juvenile at heart.

Anyway, I think I liked writing this post more than actually watching the last episodes of this show. I guess we have to get our enjoyment where we can get it.

Deus vult

Haha, what the fuck? Knights versus Vikings versus samurai?

It’s a goddamn multiplayer Dynasty Warriors! With Dark Souls-ish fighting mechanics. I approve.

At least it was here

I’ve seen what may possibly be the final episode of Community. This show has never been a laugh-out-loud comedy for me, except for this finale, where I was honestly laughing at three points: when the black guy on the stool was revealed, when the dean was shown dancing behind Chang, and when Jeff was strangling Abeds. This is a deservedly meta finale for a meta show. I especially appreciated the dark turn of the board game commercial at the end.

Also, I never bothered to look up the words to the theme song. Turns out it’s darker than you would expect from the peppy sound. Is it about suicide like M*A*S*H or what? Here’s the extended version:

The 88 – At Least It Was Here

Give me your hands
Show me the door
I cannot stand
To wait anymore
Somebody said
Be what you’ll be
We could be old and cold and dead on the sea

But I love you more than words can say
I can’t count the reasons I should stay

Give me some rope
Tie me to dream
Give me the hope to run out of steam
Somebody said it can be here
We could be roped up, tied up, dead in a year

I can’t count the reasons I should stay
One by one they all just fade away

I’m tied to the wait and sees
I’m tired of that part of me
That makes up a perfect lie
To keep us between
But hours turn into days
So watch what you throw away
And be here to recognize
There’s another way

Give me some rope
Tie me to dream
Give me the hope to run out of steam
Somebody said it can be here
We could be roped up, tied up, dead in a year

But I love you more than words can say
I can’t count the reasons I should stay
One by one they all just fade away
But I love you more than words can say

Farewell to arms

After three years I’ve finally finished playing Valkyria Chronicles. Popular opinion of it is correct – it really was one of the best games of the PS3 console generation. Think of it as a World War 2 movie in video game form, except since it’s not based on real history then the female sweethearts do more than pine away at home for their menfolk at the front lines. The grand sweeping emotions don’t get cheesy or mawkish. It’s basically a sweeping war epic, and I feel that bittersweet sadness I sometimes get after finishing an engaging story full of characters who live on in my mind long after the last page is turned or the final scene is finished.

And what characters! The game itself is a sort of turn-based squad game, similar to the rebooted X-COM, but unlike X-COM your squaddies aren’t randomly generated and have short biographies available for your perusal. Knowing the details of your soldiers’ lives adds nothing to the mechanics of the gameplay, but learning that Juno never told her commander of her feelings for him or that Dallas went to an all-girls school makes me appreciate it more when I order them into danger. I’ll miss Freesia, the travelling desert dancer; Jane, who hated the invaders ever since they destroyed her flower shop; Oscar, the coward who became a soldier when his country needed him and his brother Emile, the sickly young man who nevertheless became one of my best snipers; Rosie, the cynical bar maid and chanteuse turned militia trooper; Claudia, the shut-in who couldn’t stay hidden away when her home was bombed, and Karl and Lynn, the interracial couple who were swept up in the greatest conflict of their generation.

There’s a New Game Plus mode, but despite how much fun this game was I don’t think I’ll ever play it again. Once was enough, and more than enough.

Russia’s department of trolls

Your reminder that we’re living in the 21st century:

The Agency

From a nondescript office building in St. Petersburg, Russia, an army of well-paid “trolls” has tried to wreak havoc all around the Internet — and in real-life American communities.

Around 8:30 a.m. on Sept. 11 last year, Duval Arthur, director of the Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness for St. Mary Parish, Louisiana, got a call from a resident who had just received a disturbing text message. “Toxic fume hazard warning in this area until 1:30 PM,” the message read. “Take Shelter. Check Local Media and”

St. Mary Parish is home to many processing plants for chemicals and natural gas, and keeping track of dangerous accidents at those plants is Arthur’s job. But he hadn’t heard of any chemical release that morning. In fact, he hadn’t even heard of Columbia Chemical. St. Mary Parish had a Columbian Chemicals plant, which made carbon black, a petroleum product used in rubber and plastics. But he’d heard nothing from them that morning, either. Soon, two other residents called and reported the same text message. Arthur was worried: Had one of his employees sent out an alert without telling him?

If Arthur had checked Twitter, he might have become much more worried. Hundreds of Twitter accounts were documenting a disaster right down the road. “A powerful explosion heard from miles away happened at a chemical plant in Centerville, Louisiana #ColumbianChemicals,” a man named Jon Merritt tweeted. The #ColumbianChemicals hashtag was full of eyewitness accounts of the horror in Centerville. @AnnRussela shared an image of flames engulfing the plant. @Ksarah12 posted a video of surveillance footage from a local gas station, capturing the flash of the explosion. Others shared a video in which thick black smoke rose in the distance.

Dozens of journalists, media outlets and politicians, from Louisiana to New York City, found their Twitter accounts inundated with messages about the disaster. “Heather, I’m sure that the explosion at the #ColumbianChemicals is really dangerous. Louisiana is really screwed now,” a user named @EricTraPPP tweeted at the New Orleans Times-Picayune reporter Heather Nolan. Another posted a screenshot of CNN’s home page, showing that the story had already made national news. ISIS had claimed credit for the attack, according to one YouTube video; in it, a man showed his TV screen, tuned to an Arabic news channel, on which masked ISIS fighters delivered a speech next to looping footage of an explosion. A woman named Anna McClaren (@zpokodon9) tweeted at Karl Rove: “Karl, Is this really ISIS who is responsible for #ColumbianChemicals? Tell @Obama that we should bomb Iraq!” But anyone who took the trouble to check would have found no news of a spectacular Sept. 11 attack by ISIS. It was all fake: the screenshot, the videos, the photographs.

Four ways to forgiveness

There’s no two ways about this: Spirit Circle is a damn good manga. Unfortunately, it’s rather hard to discover this for yourself, as all the synopses I’ve read make it sound incoherent or unremarkable. Take this one, for example:

Fuuta Okeya is a normal 14-year-old boy, except for the fact that he has the ability to see ghosts. A cute girl transfers into his class one day, but acts particularly aggressive towards him. This girl called Kouko Ishigami is followed around by a ghost called East. Fuuta tries to get along with her but ends up failing after she sees the birthmark he usually keeps covered. She then declares him as her enemy, his birthmark as a cursed brand and claims they have a long history, while talking about reincarnation. Who is this girl and how are they connected?

“Oh, it’s another high school story,” you might think. “Is it like Bleach? I’m guessing from the art it’s a comedy-romance and the reincarnation angle is the only unique thing about it. Oh well, high school comedy-romances are a dime a dozen.”

A girl and a boy fighting in the present day, as two young people in the pre-Hispanic Americas, as an old witch and a young knight, and as a ninja and a feudal Japanese swordsman

Hell no. I would never have tried this manga out if I hadn’t known it was written by the same person as the one behind Lucifer and the Biscuit Hammer, but I’m glad I did. I think I have enough samples of his writing now to say without hesitation that Satoshi Mizukami knows how to write a moving story.

Basically, Spirit Circle is about the dispute between a boy and a girl that stretches backward and forward to the past and the future and back again, through different reincarnations and universes. In the present day, the boy searches through his past lives to find the reason for the girl’s animosity, while in each life the two fight and try to find a way to stop fighting.

Don’t get me wrong, this manga is definitely funny. There actually is comedy and romance in this series. But each reincarnation of the two rivals lives rich and full lives with their share of tragedy and suffering and peace and joy. Some heavy shit goes down, and not in just the past lives of the two.

The series is available on Crunchyroll’s online manga service. I do have to mention that I read it on my tablet and the app has the annoying tendency to occasionally show me a page that I’d already read. If that happens to you, I recommend exiting the manga and entering it again; that should make the proper page show up.

I’ve found Crunchyroll’s online manga offerings to be rather sparse in number and in quality. One might call it hit-or-miss but in my case I’ve found more misses than hits. This manga, though, is definitely one of the good ones. It’s also being simultaneously published, which means that it’s still not finished. However, from the way the story is going I think it’s almost done. If it sticks the landing then it’s going into my list of favourite series.