Morituri te salutant

I bought Dark Souls 2 over the weekend, and I’ve been playing it every day since. It’s quite fun.

Among many in the video game community, the Souls games are held up as the pinnacle of difficulty, with a typical playthrough resulting in at least hundreds of deaths for the player. I don’t really see it, though. My failures are the result of my miscalculations and are essentially just part of the learning process for a new player.

I do want to share my favourite story so far, which is about the first time my game got invaded. Other players may enter your game to help or hinder you, as they wish, and one such person did so to me. I was just minding my own business when someone glowing red showed up in my game. I bowed to him, since it seemed the polite thing to do, then he bowed back, then I stepped forward to get a closer look at him and he shot me in the chest with a crossbow. I didn’t know we were supposed to be fighting. He was classy about it and messaged me saying "Valar morghulis", so of course I replied back "Valar dohaeris" since no one is outdorking me.

Anyway, I also discovered this list of player names banned from Dark Souls 2. Players may choose the names of their characters, and if you’re familiar with certain parts of the Internet then you’ve already guessed that most of the banned names involve sex acts or are various synonyms for genitals. It’s kind of awe-inspiring that so much human creativity is expended on slipping obscenities into a video game.

Vox dei

I’ve been following the series When Supernatural Battles Were Commonplace. It’s okay. I like the premise of teenagers gaining superpowers for absolutely no purpose – no evil conspiracies to fight, no invading aliens, no villains bent on world domination. So they spend their time doing nothing of worth in their after-school literature club.

The group’s useless everyday conflicts, however, are not as engaging as I’d wish, so I’d say this is one of those nice but inessential anime.

Having said that, I quite like the work that the voice actress has been doing for Hatoko (the ranting girl in the cardigan), so I looked her up and she’s actually voiced a bunch of characters that I’ve liked.

Saori Hayami has done the voices for:

Tsuruko from Anohana

Yotsugi Ononoki from Monogatari (the corpse girl who kept saying “I said, with a posed look” after every sentence)

Yukino Yukinoshita from My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU

Izumiko Suzuhara from Red Data Girl

The thing of it is that each character Hayami has voiced has sounded distinct from the others. I have to say that she’s quite versatile in her work.

Behind the scenes

I just came across this Reddit AMA (Ask Me Anything) discussion run by Hiroaki Yura, the producer of Under the Dog. Basically, Reddit users ask questions and the person running the discussion answers. Obviously the person being asked is not obligated to answer all questions, but quite a lot of juicy dirt still manages to come out.
In this case, Yura doesn’t reveal much about the anime production process that should be too surprising for people familiar with how sausages get made in the entertainment industry at large. His description of the committee process for securing funding and approval for creative decisions, for example, sounds rather like the way studios send movies for endless rewrites and focus group testings and recasting. If you think about it, it’s bizarre that a bunch of beancounters should be the arbiters of expression, as if having lots of money is the most important criterion for creating art.

But that criticism of the present system of production is neither here nor there. It’s depressing, but the fact that the rich use their money to perpetuate their biases is not a revelatory observation.

What I did find interesting is the point that under the current production regime, anime with negative or tragic stories tend not to get produced. I hadn’t thought about it, but I haven’t seen a tearjerker anime show in a while. It’s all been happy and fun and affirming, and any sadness experienced are merely temporary setbacks or obstacles that the protagonist overcomes on the road to self-actualization.

Anyway, I’m still not convinced that Under the Dog will be all that, but it’s interesting to see that an insider to the anime industry is also sick of all the shows pandering to otaku.

High school of the dead

Back to back, Angel and the high school girl

I just started watching Angel Beats. So far, I like it.

There are some obvious things to be said about this anime. It’s about immortal high school kids in the afterlife fighting against obliteration by an uncaring angel of God, so you could say that the series is like Battle Royale in being a metaphor for the extreme pressure placed on Japanese kids to excel academically. Or you could also point out that the show is a self-centred teenager’s fantasy about being in a world that revolves around oneself, with no parents and with constant opportunity to star in rock concerts.

But all I want to say is that I enjoyed the second episode. I mean, the kids are so blasé about their deaths that they didn’t even bother to remember the death traps they set up in their own dungeon. The sight of heavily-armed civilians desperately fighting against a superior force recalls Iraqi resistance fighters, but the kids are too half-assed about their struggle to be taken seriously. Their own leader throws one of her own men down a bottomless pit for accidentally touching her butt, then solemnly intones “His was a noble sacrifice” when asked what happened to the guy.

After watching that scene, how could I not like this show? Hopefully the rest of the series is just as enjoyable.

Boy meets girl

I started reading a new manga, Shishunki Bitter Change, which is about a boy and a girl inexplicably swapping bodies back in grade school. Which makes it sound like a lot of other body swap stories, but instead of taking place over a single wacky weekend, the status quo has still not reverted years later. In fact, by the latest issue the kids are in high school and still hoping that they’ll wake up in their correct bodies.

The series is also not comedy, but is more about the ways the kids cope with their new bodies over the years. The conflicts are small and low key: The girl feels down that the boy is getting her first period, the boy feels left out when the girl and his best friend discuss boxers versus briefs. The two meet everyday and tell each other about the life that the other is living for them, and they promise each other that they’ll live the best possible life for the other person to return to. It’s very sweet and sad and I’m guessing from the title that this series won’t have the ending the protagonists want.

An interesting point to consider is that this began as a webcomic. I know of other body swap stories, but this is the only one I’ve come across that focused so much on issues of identity instead of getting caught up in plot shenanigans about posing as one’s own boyfriend or that kind of thing. The tone reminds me of Onani Master Kurosawa, another webcomic turned into a manga, in its quiet realness.

Anyway, I do recommend checking this thing out. A quick google will reveal all to the curious.

Uhh . . .

This is seriously one of the most batshit synopses I’ve ever read:

Akikaze Cosmos is a regular elementary student who also helps take care of the hostel that her mom operates in the town of Hanami. She is incredibly responsible for her age and seems much more mature than the other older residents of the hostel, like the high school girl Soyokaze, the college drunk Sonoko, and the pervert Raita. Everything about this hostel and the town of Hanami seems normal except that everything outside of the town is a nuclear desert where no one is allowed to enter. But when Cosmos unwillingly wanders into the lifeless desert, she is somehow transformed into a magical angel.

Elevator pitch

Okay, here’s an idea for a movie: You know how aliens came to Earth and gave us the tools and the science to build like pyramids and Stonehenges and shit? Where did all that high tech space hooey go?

Well, maybe a greedy alien developer was going to demolish their community skate park, so the Atlanteans bet everything on a breakdancing contest that was going to be broadcast live across the galaxy. Unfortunately the alien champion was too fly and – according to the ancient rules of breakdancing – all of Earth had to give up its advanced technology. All this and more in Breakin’ 3: Intergalactic Boogaloo.

Hollywood, I’ll take that cheque now.

Our enemy is our lack of funding

You may know that Studio Trigger went to Kickstarter to fund a new installment for their anime, Little Witch Academia. It seems other studios have followed in their wake, with Under the Dog being the next anime to join the crowdfunding ranks.

I’m cautiously optimistic about this turn in the industry but not overly enthused. There’s a chance that studios will end up marketing to ever smaller niches, for example.

Of course, there’s also no guarantee of quality or originality. This Under the Dog thing is apparently about child soldiers drafted by the UN, for instance. I’ll wait until the reviews come in, but I’ll keep an eye out in the meantime.

Tittle at titles

What the hell is up with anime lately, anyway? The titles are basically a descriptive sentence containing a plot synopsis. I realize this isn’t really a trend from within anime, but because a lot of anime are light novel adaptations. The trend is therefore merely carried over from light novels themselves. Sample titles:

  • There’s no way my little sister is this cute
  • My youth romantic comedy is wrong as I expected
  • I couldn’t become a hero, so I reluctantly decided to get a job
  • My girlfriend and my childhood friend fight too much

Seriously, this is getting ridiculous. What if Star Wars had used the same naming convention? “I went into space and kissed my long-lost sister”?

It also seems that the crappier series are the ones that try to squeeze the entire premise into the title. The ones that pander to a ready-made audience of otaku, I mean (implied incest, flat female characters, harems, etcetera). In fact, this article states that the inherent crappiness and ephemerality of light novels – which are, quite frankly, a dime a dozen in Japan – necessitates squeezing the premise into the title to catch the eyes of bookstore customers who are confronted by shelves of stories so unoriginal that the customers can barely summon the energy to read the plot synopsis on the back of the book.

Fortunately, an insider states in the article that he believes that the trend will burn out soon. New light novels will need another way to distinguish themselves from the pack. Yay for cyclical trends in fashion?

The week in pictures

Yes, that's an image of a girl biting the head off a live fish.

Yes, it’s an image of a girl biting the head off a living fish. Chaika: The Coffin Princess wins the Internet for this week.