[Reviews] (various)

There’s a few things I’ve seen and played that I’d like to write about just a bit on my experience with them. Some are more recent, some not so much, some I’ve even written about at some length before, but for one reason or another I don’t think they’re worth posting about at length in individual writeups, at least at this time.

Especially considering how it’s been a month and I still haven’t written the one on Nier:Automata.

Currently I don’t have many reviews up so data points are overall lacking. These should give a clearer view on what the value of my opinion is.

Anime


Angel Beats: 6/8
Memorable characters. Gets a bit melodramatic at times, but it completes the job successfully, and no problems can be found with its overall presentation quality. (range: 5~8)

Amagi Brilliant Park: 5/8
The initial premise setup and its sense of urgency was done well, but for most of its runtime it felt like a mediocre variety show. Unlike its superb visuals, tonally it’s just all over the place. Maybe the original was better? I don’t remember much other than air fairy’s luscious back, the pervert pink mascot, and Sento’s sentos. (range: 4~7)

Code Geass: 8/8
Boy gains superpower and fights against the world. (range: 6~8)

Code Geass R2: 6/8
My powerlevel is greater than your powerlevel. Also not a cohesive story. It was an incredulous trainwreck which was fun enough to watch the first time, but the overall quality outside the animation was a downgrade from the original. (range: 4~8)

Cross Ange: 5/8
First half is simple but shows signs of good direction and writing every now and again. Second half is terrible no matter which way you spin it and a chore, but the character of Ange is enough to carry it… once. This is only worth watching because Ange is an interesting character type and it’d be interesting to see someone like her in a world which doesn’t simply bend over to whatever she or the plot wants her to do. (range: 1~7)

Fate/Zero: 7/8
Just like the original VN, this story is largely carried by amazing standalone scenes which make the rest of the “actual story” pale in comparison – but this time, “the rest” is also pretty good. The second half feels rushed compared to what feels like a very carefully planned and arrange first half, but other than that it’s a good experience. (range: 6~8)

Gabriel Dropout: 4/8
Great ED, terrific characters, good animation, plenty of funny reaction faces, but in the end, there’s no reason to watch this over something else. In the end, in any media, the writing cannot be allowed to be the poorest contributor. It feels like something made just to make ends meet, for an audience that just wants something to watch. Which is okay. But for me it missed the cut. (range: 3~6)

Heroic Age: 7/8
Generic story with a generic premise, filled with generic characters using generic writing. A couple of the music pieces aren’t so generic. Overall consistency in direction, though, is not generic at all. (range: 4~8)

Kobayashi’s Maid Dragon: 5/8
Ravioli Ravioli Dragon Loli. Largely a visual experience, KyoAni really knows what to animate and how to color a scene. First ~third move things along, but the rest of it feels like disjointed filler, and the final episode had people out of character for the sake of wrapping things up. (range 3~7)

Madoka: 6/8
Madoka was really annoying and I only put up with because everyone was talking about how it was that decade’s Evangelion. Madoka both the show and the character; as far as I’m concerned all she did for the first 9 episodes was cry. Episode 10 was great, and definitely it wouldn’t have had as much impact if not for the first 9, but couldn’t we have done just a bit more with ~180 minutes worth of time? And how am I supposed to accept that conclusion? There’s some pretty strict logic explicitly established about magic, and as far as I can tell it’s contradicted. I can imagine how it was a groundbreaking anime, but even as of today I haven’t watched another magical girl anime so I don’t know. Perhaps one day I’ll rewatch it and see why it’s so great. Maybe I judged too much too early. But for now, from what I remember, not so much. (range: 2~8)

Infinite Ryvius: 8/8
Lord of the Flies in Space, except this time, there’s more than one lord, there’s an overarching plot and world tying it all together, and there’s as conclusive an ending as can realistically be, with fantastic music and voice acting. (range: 7~8)

No.6: 1/8, incomplete
I wanted to see something about utopias and societal structures’ effects on individuals and cultures. I got homosexuals wasting my time. (range: 1~4)

Psycho-Pass: 8/8
I wanted to see something about utopias and societal structures’ effects on individuals and cultures. And that’s exactly what I got. (range: 7~8)

Shirobako: 7/8
It could’ve had a better series-spanning story. The main character got less development and focus than the other supporting characters introduced in the beginning. That being said, everything else about it was perfect. (range: 6~8)

Steins;Gate: 8/8
This is the only anime which I don’t remember a single dull episode. Every episode had enough to keep me on the edge of my seat for the next. Its story has parts which don’t make sense, its art is undeniably terrible, but the writing, visual composition, timings, and music worked. Things kept moving, and they didn’t stop moving. Common wisdom says things should be changed up every now and then to keep everything fresh, that’s why fighting games have slow simple puzzles in them. Perhaps there were slow periods in Steins;Gate? If I really slowed down and thought about it, they’re probably there. But everything was arranged so that the story felt like it was always flowing. (range: 8~8)

Terra e…: 1/8, incomplete
3 episodes in and we have a protagonist who is actively aware of his superpowers and spends 2 of them saying “yadaa”, i.e. “I don’t wanna”. Like, that’s what he does. His lines are “yadaa”, “yadaa”, and “yadaa”. There’s no interesting visuals or thoughts which justify him to the audience. He just doesn’t want to be involved in something dangerous, even though he’s been helped and he can’t go back to the way things were. No reason. So I found no reason to continue. (range: 1~4)

The iDOLM@STER: 6/8

With worldwide economic depression and population/demographic instability on top of blank check ideology saying change is good with corruption and hypocrisy showing through the cracks at every other turn, moe rises because of a critical “new market”. It’s the oldest “market” for storytelling there is, but one that has been disdained and thrown away by the public because of how overused and exploited it’s been in every field. In a sense the genre’s distinction shows it too is a last-ditch exploitation, as it relies on the image of innocent young girls in order to function.

Moe sells “hope”.

(range: 5~8)

Videogames


Assassin’s Creed 2: 6/8
The characters aren’t the most interesting people ever, but they’re there, and the writers play them approximately correctly. Maps are varied enough in theme to keep things interesting, even though rooftop running everywhere feels about the same – none of them are slippery due to rain or something, for example. Boats were nice. Story is revenge and stumbling upon pieces of a grander mystery. The story-relevant puzzles sucked. But Ezio’s character sold the whole package in the end. (range: 3~7)

Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood: 4/8
I really liked this game the first time I played it, but after replaying it’s really just a bunch of side quests and menu mini-games in a less interesting map than its predecessor. There’s a story, but it’s sparse and forgettable. Horses and later fast-travel makes primary game mechanic largely obsolete. You also become a one-man army instead of an assassin. You also have an army. Game made entirely for fanservice. (range: 4~6)

Assassin’s Creed 3: 2/8, incomplete
A game whose primary mechanic is stealth freerunning in dense cities cities across rooftops decides it’s a good idea to put a lot of distance between buildings where there are buildings and long-range precision snipers on those rooftops with instant communication with every other sniper. There’s also a lot of space with no rooftops at all. Characters are who cares. Story is… not about anyone we care about. (range: 2~4)

Company of Heroes: 7/8
An RTS where you don’t need 300 APM! And the units have fun with you. (range: N/A)

Guild Wars 2: 1/8
I lost Fort Aspenwood for this. (last played Oct 2012)

LA Noire: 4/8, incomplete
The most boring and pointless open world I’ve ever seen, which you can thankfully avoid by telling the AI you don’t want to drive. This reduces the game to the interrogations and a little bit of clue-searching, which were not interesting enough for me to finish doing myself. I watched a streamer play it instead. Worth a watch. (range: 3~6)

League of Legends: 1/8
The game involves playing 20~50 minutes of mostly PvE to have the match be decided on, depending on the season and patch, 3~15 seconds of fighting, fighting which doesn’t necessarily involve you. This along with some other features make the game inherently “toxic”. Patches change how certain characters work entirely and come about at random, the developers won’t stop autofellating about how great and hard their job is, and there’s always, always new characters, which are just ever so coincidentally always overpowered on release. Also, it’s rigged. (last played Dec 2013)

MGSV: GZ, TPP: 1/8
This game sold a full price demo that was better than the actual game. It had a cutscene at the climax which is just two characters sitting across from one another, silently since the big song finished and it was too short, yours and the main villain’s, and you’re in a standard idle animation. In general it’s full of emptiness and false promises. Dropping a powerline and electrocuting people with it and various other “haha isn’t it funny how things can interact in that way” are the only things going for this game. The game’s map might as well have been procedurally generated, and the second “half” of the game is literally the same missions as the first half with a few extra difficulty conditions. Kojima is not a genius, he’s a hack. “Director”? Don’t make me laugh. (range: 1~4)

Remember Me: 5/8
The art, lighting, music, and world design (read: lore design, not level design) are top notch. The ass is ok. Everything else was unfortunately forgettable. (range: 3~7)

Rocket League: 8/8
An online PvP game which has a cheap box price where the devs implement continual microtransactions/patches that actually don’t screw with balance? And it’s fun? What sort of sorcery is going on here? That being said I don’t play it much because it really is physics based so experience is locked behind physical skill with a controller, which means many hours of practice – with a training mode that has lots of official and fan-made practice shots. Decent casual fun too. (last played Jan 2017)

Saint’s Row: The Third: 5/8
Yet another open world game where you get an arsenal of clothes, weapons, and vehicles, but it doesn’t take itself too seriously and has some fun. And it can be pretty fun.(range: 4~7)

Saint’s Row IV: 2/8
What’s the point in having an open world where there’s no meaning to any location, no meaning to any vehicles, no meaning to any weapons, and nothing can stop your momentum? Crashing into cars just moves them out of the way. Running into a building just sends you running up its side. The only thing which stops you are foot-sized objects, I can’t remember if they were curbs or parking blocks or what but something indescript of about that size were the only things that mattered. Enemies didn’t matter, world didn’t matter, story didn’t matter. Nothing mattered except foot-sized objects, and they were not the antagonists, though maybe they should’ve been. (range: 2~5)

The Stanley Parable: 2/8
This isn’t the first game I’ve seen talk Post-Modernism, but it’s definitely the worst. This gamename is only big because of marketing and lazy idiots who haven’t seen anything better. A waste of 20$ and a waste of 3 hours. Not worth watching either. (range: 1~3)

The Witcher 3: 3/8, incomplete
The graphics, Ciri, and Yen are great, and that’s about it. It took me quite a while to figure out what was wrong so perhaps it deserves some more bonus points, but the basic idea is that there isn’t really much to do. It’s open world, but you don’t have any good indication beforehand which areas are viable for you. I was taking what I thought was a shortcut through the woods to a certain sidequest when I got instagibbed after trying to run from an enemy I found that I couldn’t damage. The combat doesn’t pretend it’s more than two buttons and TTK is long. Weapon durability doesn’t add to anything. Never had money or anything I wanted to buy except healing and repair items. The writing was pretty good at some points, but there’s too little of it and too much crap inbetween. Probably would’ve quit sooner if I didn’t hear Sawashiro’s voice, probably would’ve quit later if I modded it to play as Ciri, but I would’ve seen the core stuff eventually. (range: 3~6)

World of Tanks: 1/8
It’s rigged. You are looking at models of tanks going through motions while after the game server flips a coin. (last played Mar 2017)

[Review] Kemono Friends

8/8

tlstxpk

A literal children’s TV show massively elevated by good writing and good direction.

I’d heard about Kemono Friends being a top seller despite its animation being CGI (read: terrible), its production quality being poor, and its writing complexity being nothing to write about. Both of these were pretty big turnoffs despite the continual porn of one certain character constantly popping up; I’d written it off as Japanese My Little Pony.

Then I saw this image.

61sn6ybWhy would someone make crossover art of a children’s TV show and a horror game?

Cute fanart, sexy fanart, crossover fanart, these are all common. There are a few artists who really like drawing gore of cute things for some reason, but that’s not the case here either. Why would this exist? Why of all things a videogame from a different tone and genre that’s been dead for four years[1]? It could be that this was made by a big name artist who just happened to be a really big fan of this show and that game, but it resonated with me, and it resonated with others, so it couldn’t be cha-ching or marketing. What’s the show about? Why does everyone like it[2]?

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Kemono Friends definitely encompasses many different demographics; as an anonymous 2channel poster points out, it appeals to fans who like cute girls, animals, ruins, road trip movies, post-apocalyptic narratives, and whatever everyone else is watching. On one hand, it follows a familiar iyashi-kei formula: cute girls with simple, likeable and easily distinguishable personalities doing not much in a picturesque setting. Their cute clothing and art style and cheerful, innocent personalities (it’s still not clear what Serval eats or how she hunts) places them firmly in the moe category: girly and sweet enough to put the viewer at ease while sexy enough to keep older male viewers coming back or fantasizing. […] Yet unlike some other moe shows, Kemono Friends eschews fanservice to keep it family-friendly, as TATSUKI intended.

It’s an anime that can be enjoyed as a basic story with simple characters and a non-threatening atmosphere and as a perplexing mystery that discloses its secrets at a leisurely pace.

[Anime News Network]

The big reveals happen in the final few episodes, and there’s a few things which hint toward it sprinkled here and there throughout the series. The reveal’s contents aren’t really unique, and the way it’s primarily revealed is through a character who is from the very beginning established to be a plot device character. The rest again is a literal children’s TV show.

really good children’s TV show. It’s not about friendship, it’s not about self esteem, it’s not about learning about different animals and their environments, it’s an adventure. We’re told in the first 5 minutes what the purpose of the show will be and it trims everything towards that. Why the characters act like children is also explained in the story, but even if it was left just to “it’s a children’s TV show”, Kemono Friends uses that to strengthen its writing. Children don’t really need explanations and children are generally simple – or in other words, fewer obstructions to the adventure.

Kemono Friends doesn’t waste my time.

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The blue character says that the bus’s battery is empty and needs to be charged. The orange character barely knows what a bus is, doesn’t know what a battery is, or what it means to “charge” something. But her reaction is “Does that mean we can’t play?”. They wanted a “bus” for “playing”, the explanation sounds like the “bus” has some problem, the first and only question that needs to be asked is: is it broken in the way which means “we can’t play”? That’s all she needs to know, that’s all we need to know. What do we need to do so that we can play? All the reasons inbetween don’t really matter.

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The opening image[3] occurred in the first 10 minutes, after two short scenes where the hat character slid down a sandy cliff and fell into water while attempting to jump rocks across a river. The hat character apologizes in a couple of lines across a couple of following scenes, and other than a few responses from the orange character along the same lines as the one in the screencap, it’s not touched on explicitly any further. In an average American children’s TV show, that line’s existence would mean the rest would be an entire episode about poor little hat character’s self-esteem, 10~15 minutes of moping around saying sad things, and then in the final ~5 minutes of the episode, oh there was no need to worry all along, I just had to believe in myself! Then the next episode is basically the same thing happening to another character, and then another character, until they run out of characters, then it’s back to the first one, until they eventually happen run out of episodes[4].

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That doesn’t happen in this show. Things both big and small are given a short reaction, and then everyone goes on their merry way. There’s one extended reaction in all the 12 episodes near the end for the plot, which all in all is understandable and easily forgiven. And even then it’s fairly short. Basically the only thing which takes a long time is travelling or getting held up by some major event. There’s no long monologues, there’s no long conversations, and the lore reveals outside of the plot-related stuff near the end are also just a few lines here and there, perhaps with a little surprise from the great voice acting cast.

A lot of it is simply left up to the viewer. The lore and plot aren’t complex, and it’s not necessary to figure it out before the simple childlike characters do, but it’s easily doable, and it’s surprising how well it’s executed. I wrote off the haunted house episode as soon as I saw it was going to be the haunted house episode, and missed the chance to actually see the plot coming before it did. In a literal children’s TV show! I turned off my brain, the show kept chugging along like it always did, and then suddenly here’s the big one. Kemono Friends does hold your hand as you’d generally expect a children’s TV show to. No violence, no sex, everything’s pretty friendly, the aesthetic fits, the music fits… but for the satisfying stuff you need to do just a little bit of work on your own.

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It made me realize how much work is generally done for the audience in most media. High contrast lighting, strong music, multiple buildup scenes: in every aspect, well-funded TV shows and films aimed at adults will telegraph exactly what you should be feeling and what you should be thinking at every second. These are held as inarguably better for storytelling, but the cost of always being perfect is the cost of this is loss of investment from the audience. They’re interested only because it makes them feel something; beyond that they’re just waiting for the next hit. Hit them too hard too often, your story is now “melodrama”. Don’t hit them enough, it’s now “boring”. One solution is to only hit them the right amount at the right frequency, but that still leaves investment at zero. Interest without investment creates buzz, not a memory.

Characters in a memorable story need to overreact to things which aren’t a big deal and underreact or not react at all to things which are a big deal[5]. There’s other things too, but in terms of the writing these are among the things which need to happen, and Kemono Friends has this in spades. The lore has a grand mystery, yet no character reactions to it, because it’s explained why they wouldn’t really know about it or be interested in it.  Trivial things which have happened before, here’s a special exaggerated reaction face cutscene anyways, because it’s a children’s TV show. For the important bits emotional alignment with the audience is critical; outside of that, seeking alignment isn’t the best use of resources. Kemono Friends did a spectacular job in this respect.

And it succeeded with this skill in writing and direction. Characters were cute, but the season it aired in was fairly moe-heavy, and none of the characters were more than what’s usually derided as “cardboard cutouts”. Voice acting was good, but no big names, and subtlety was lacking[6]. Lighting was, with a few exceptions, nonexistent. Music usage was pretty creative, the music itself sounded like it was stock off some public domain library. Animation was terrible. Story was simple even after the big reveal.

It’s not bigger than it is, yet it feels bigger than it is.

It’s not cute animal girls alone that are selling massive numbers of buckets.

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4haegbf

>a show with only 5 animators BTFO’d a Kyoani production in sales
Damn. Doesn’t Kemono Friends also have more merchandise that Maid Dragon?”

“They had a shop event that was supposed to last a few weeks that had to be converted into a “gallery” with original art and signatures from the staff because they went out of stock not even 5 days in.”

“Yes, mainly because they had to start creating merchandise on the spot simply to keep up with sales.

They took pictures of the VAs in both their character outfits and normal clothes and sold them in the store for 6000 yen.

And still sold out.”

“Are there kemono friends plushies?”

“none yet since nobody actually prepared for it becoming popular

They could only mass-produce plastic wash buckets with character logos which are funnily enough, sold out”

“Japs joked that it was an art museum by day 4.”

“I don’t see how other shows even come close when:

  • Kemono Friends labeled plastic buckets get sold out to the point that there’s a 5 buckets per person quota now
  • Kemono Friends broke on demand paid view records
  • Kemono Friends are doing collaboration with zoos nonstop, now with 5 municipal zoos running promo concurrently
  • Kemono Friends shop at Shinjuku ran out of things to sell in 3 days”

“Why the fuck would anyone buy 5 buckets?”

“You mean 10. They limit it to 5 because people bought 10 of it.”

When I started writing I planned to score this show a 7/8. I like more complex stories, and I was constantly aware that I was looking at low production values. Everything is just really simple.

Upon review I have to admit it was a really tight simple. There’s enough examples out there where things have been simple and bad, and plenty more complex and bad. Or, unfortunately, complex and mixed, where it feels worse because of how mediocre some parts feel in relation to the rest. Kemono Friends, certainly due to budget in some cases, overall must’ve been intentionally created as a very cohesive narrative and experience. In many places lesser directors with poorer direction would’ve made a lot of things unnecessarily complex, taking up a lot more time, and whatever the solution that episode, ruin the flow of the story as a whole. As it is, nothing was larger than it needed to be. Problems simply didn’t arise. Simple to view is not simple to create.

Kemono Friends is not perfect.

But it is a masterpiece.

8k221an


[6] Not always a bad thing.

[5] I read somewhere that learning is a result of overreacting to a problem. Counterexample: you probably don’t remember how to solve any marginally complex problem which you googled an answer for and instantly got easily applicable results.

[4] Specifically: Dragon Tales. It’s a general problem with American TV shows, whose genetics arise from radio broadcasts, which were run and written by committees, whereas anime arise from manga, which are generally run and written by a single mind. I read this explanation somewhere a long time ago but I don’t remember where I read it.

[3] (image link)

[2] I feel this is the highest aim of fanart.

[1] There apparently is a reason, but I’m not interested in playing more Dead Space.

Seiren vs Amagami: Tsuneki vs Haruka

It feels like a mediocre copy rather than a spiritual sequel.

I can’t even remember what Tsuneki’s first name is after four episodes, but I had Morishima Haruka engraved in my mind by the end of one. This goes beyond the type of romance each series is aiming for, the expected stuff is just missing.

Amagami’s protag got stood up two years before the story. In its first 47 seconds, Amagami plays it dramatically – the color scheme, the music, the angles. It’s not the most jaw-dropping thing ever, but it’s competent for a first minute. He gets there an hour early for the special day, finds out he gets stood up, and this is a memory from two years ago – Tachibana Junichi is established as a character who takes things seriously.

Seiren also opens with the protag’s impetus: 50 seconds on how he has no plan for his future. It uses the works to paint a somewhat light-hearted and humorous picture, but nothing particularly strong in any direction. He’s talking with a teacher about his Career Plans form, and she does most of the talking, even when he has other opinions. ??? Shoichi is established as a character who easily relinquishes control of situations to others.

Ah, it’s Kamita Shoichi. I watched four episodes, then the first 5 minutes again of Seiren before starting to write this, and then had to go back yet again to find his surname. I know his given is Shoichi because it’s said enough, strange that no one refers to him as Kamita? I wonder why. I’d have to look deeper into it. Then again I’ve watched over 20 episodes of Amagami so I don’t know how long it took me to remember Tachibana Junichi. For reference, “Kamita Shoichi” is shown on screen in the first second of Seiren as a written field on a form; the first instance of “Tachibana Junichi” occurs 5:05 in Amagami and is said by the protag’s best friend.

I don’t remember Seiren’s first arc’s love interest’s name either. I know she’s called Tsuneki. She’s called Tsuneki by the protag the whole time so I presume it’s her surname. She’s introduced in the third scene and makes her first appearance 3:50, and just like with Shoichi I had to see it three times and pay specific attention before I caught it: Tsuneki Hikari.

Just like Shoichi, her first scene involves her talking about what her career plans are. She asks two friends what their goals are, but doesn’t say anything about her own, not before our protagonist enters the conversation and changes the topic – by virtue of his being there, rather than anything he says. He does say something, but that’s not why he’s noticed. Tsuneki’s reveal is in three separate shots: first of her crossed legs, then of her back as she’s stretching, and then of her face. They have the slightest additional detail in their drawing, but beyond that it’s not particularly noticeable. The first piece of music not in the opening scene or opening song plays, and it’s lighthearted – and not particularly noticeable. It all feels matter-of-fact, and the song more attributed to “this event again” rather than “the introduction of the love interest”. The first powerful image related to her comes 4:53 with a noticeable sound effect; she was sitting on our protag’s desk and it left a butt-shaped mark. The protag looks up, and she is not shown. What’s shown isn’t relevant and never again becomes relevant, what’s important is 1) it wasn’t the love interest, and 2) it showed the the protag being embaressed and wishy-washy. It feels like a romance genre story would have another shot of the love interest as part of the reaction. That it didn’t made it feel like a different genre. There might be a payoff for what happened in a different arc, but it didn’t happen in this one.

Showing the protag being wishy-washy is okay. We’re told in this scene that Tsuneki was the runner-up to the “Santa contest”, which both due to other anime and the way they talk about it is made clear to be some kind of school idol competition, so that’s great, but it wasn’t emphasized at all. Again, all matter-of-fact. It didn’t hit me until two scenes later and her second appearance at 6:58 that I consider that idea to make its first real appearance: a crowded cafeteria due to a certain limited meal, but Tsuneki has her own table because of that contest. But the embaressment and wishy-washyness of the other scene had to do with the butt mark on the desk, not that she was sitting on the desk at all, or that he had to approach the group to ask her to get off his desk. All of that other stuff was just whatever. Which means that he doesn’t actually feel anything about talking or being close to one of the most popular girls in the school. This is said explicitly two scenes later 10:35 when the best friend asks how he feels about her; he says “I find her hard to deal with I guess? She keeps messing with me all the time […] It’s like she’s a different species than us.” Her next important scene she doesn’t appear in; around 15:00 the idea floated is that she’s going on a summer vacation with a guy that isn’t her boyfriend, this time there’s stronger lighting, stronger music, louder (mental) voice, and interruptions for tension. The scene after this she does appear in but is more important for the protagonists’s impetus than her image; she appears as a part-timer and he doesn’t want to be left behind, “It’s like she’s far ahead of me in every facet of life”. So he decides to go on a summer trip to a cram school. Then she disappears from 16:45 to 20:53 where he daydreams about her in a swimsuit. Then she actually appears in something looking like a swimsuit, in a way the audience recognizes as her, but he doesn’t (he thinks it’s a ghost).

So by the end of the first episode my impression is: Shoichi is a wishy-washy pervert, except for the part where his opinion of the most popular girl in school is that she’s bothersome. Tsuneki is popular and may or may not be going out with multiple guys, and works part-time somewhere.

The scenes before we get to the love interest are:

00:00~00:50
lighthearted music plays. bright, somewhat washed-out colors, with good lighting. protag is wishy-washy with a teacher talking about his future. almost all of the scene is closeups of expressions. both sit throughout the scene, mostly face-level shots. only the room is shown.

00:51~02:20
(opening sequence)

02:21~03:46
no music. episode title displays. bright shot of school’s open gate, then scene gets dark, very dark in contrast to the gate. a can drops out of a vending machine, a figure starts talking, can is thrown over to the protag. protag talks about the same thing with this figure. they are outside, inbetween buildings. a group of people walk by, they talk about the leader of the group a little bit, then back to studying and grades. figure turns out to be someone who is less wishy-washy and is better at a ceratin subject. both are standing throughout the scene, mostly chest-level shots.

03:47~
no music. name of school is shown. back to the brighter colors, but no noticeable lighting and nothing is highlighted. love interest is talking with her friends about their futures. she sits on a table, the others are standing facing her. protag appears briefly, shot changes to the back of love interest stretching, protag appears behind her.

04:13
lighthearted music plays. same lighting and coloring. first shot of the love interest’s face.

~05:10
four-way conversation continues in various directions. 04:44 is another shot of love interest’s face. 04:54 has sound effect along with the butt-mark fading away on the desk. closeup of protag’s reaction (red-faced). one of the girls looks disgusted with him, he gets flustered and starts whistling and looking in various directions (no whistling sound). music ends, scene ends.

The scenes before we get to the love interest in Amagami are:

00:47~00:50
dramatic music plays. dark, muddy colors. protagonist talks about being excited for the important date. he runs up a long flight of stairs to a park with a view overlooking a city. music crescendos, protagonist realizes he got stood up. states this was two years ago.

00:51~02:17
(opening sequence)

02:18~03:51
more normal colors, lighting is noticeable. some girl is preparing for school in her room, she jumps down the stairs, 2:36 we learn her brother’s not up yet, she marches back up. 2:41 dramatic music plays, dark colors, protagonist is dwelling over the memory in the first scene. 2:58 music stops, colors return, the girl is the protagonist’s sister, she just opened a door on a closet he’s sleeping in and is jumping around saying he’ll be late. Music starts, they argue some more, and fight over the door. A couple of close-ups of their expressions occur during this time. Shots of the protag’s room also occur during this time.

03:52~05:13
music continues. colors are brighter, lighting less noticeable. they are walking outside to school. 04:23 someone puts a hand on his shoulder and talks about walking to school with a beautiful girl. music ends, protag pretends not to know him, mr. hand pulls out a swimsuit model photobook, saying he was bringing it for his close, close friend. protag is all over it in both facial expression and body language, sound effect plays, he “suddenly” recognizes mr. hand is his best friend! 5:02 we learn the protag’s name. chest shots, face shots, then they walk off together into the distance.

05:14~
tranquil music plays. lighting is somewhat brighter. incline with various students walking. various characters get shown. protag and best friend continue talking about the book. 5:39 love interest’s name appears for the first time as best friend says it and points. pan-up of love interest and a friend walking from behind.

05:45
first shot of love interest’s face. lighting is a bit brighter.

05:47~
best friend sings her praises. protag is lovestruck.

05:53
sound effect plays: brighter colors, textured, pan-up still of love interest. music crescendos slightly, protag’s voice gets closer as he sings her praises.

06:02
second still in same style.

~06:07
school bell rings, still ends, protag and friend run up hill. episode title displays, music ends, scene changes.

By 6:07 in Amagami I understand a few things about the protag and like him enough to root for him, it’s clear who the love interest is, I like the love interest, and I’m rooting for the guy to see how he’s gonna get the girl. The best friend seems like an interesting guy, the little sister is adorable, and there seem to be a couple of other interesting characters that may (do) appear in the other arcs. There’s been shots and color schemes of various kinds, and characters feel alive.

By 5:10 in Seiren the only interesting shots that have appeared are of the protagonist’s face, the teacher’s face, the butt-mark, and the throwing of a drink from mr. smarter-than-the-protagonist to the protagonist. There’s a few more angles when showing the love interest’s legs and butt, By the end of the first episode I still wasn’t sure if Tsuneki or the teacher was supposed to be the love interest. I knew she was because I’d seen her in the promo art, but that’s not what the art itself told me. The protagonist does not feel strongly about anything, and I don’t feel strongly about him. I don’t care about any of the characters introduced. The love interest acts a bit spicy, but she’s not very interesting either.

I’d go through Amagami’s first several minutes in more detail, but this is already pretty long, and if I had to expand what I wrote above I’d have to expand quite a bit. In other words – I was only able to write so much about Seiren because other than what I wrote, not much happened, and it doesn’t make me feel like a lot of things happened. Amagami makes me feel like I’m missing things constantly. I really want to know the layout of the protagonist’s house. Of his room. Of his sister’s room. Who are all those characters I saw? How is he going to get the girl? I don’t feel interested in anything in Seiren except how he’s going to get the girl, but that’s because that’s what I came here for, not because the series itself made me interested. I mean, I guess I’m interested in whether he gets some with the teacher. But that room felt like a closed room, the vending machine open-air hallway felt like a closed room, and the classroom where we’re introduced to the love interest felt like a closed room. Amagami used the excuse of the protag’s sister waking him up to show a great shot of their house and snuck in a couple of details about his and her rooms. Walking to school is an excuse to show off different characters. Seiren does it here and there, but they’re few enough that it feels calculated in the mass of boring shots. Amagami feels like it does it in almost every shot, if not every shot, and multiple times per shot.

This sort of difference continues for the 4 episodes of screentime for each heroine’s arc.

I feel Junichi’s pain, I’m mesmerized by Haruka, it feels like any guy with just enough luck and enough of the right attitude at the right time could find and fall in love with a great girl and live a happy life. He wants her, he tries hard, with some luck and some time together, they get a dynamic going and eventually she pins her hopes on a relationship too. It’s dramatic and romantic.

I don’t care about Soichi and I barely care about Tsuneki. The rest of the arc isn’t about their relationship, though it does build during that time. It’s about the time they spend at the summer cram school, which happens to be at some resort in the mountains. Circumstances bring them closer together, but their dynamic doesn’t really change. There’s a lot of explicit commentary, other characters will talk about how they’re close, or how she made a meal for him, or how she’s wearing his clothes, and maybe there was a line about how he’s close with the most popular girl in the school, but between them they don’t really change. She’s mostly focused on escaping the cram school, and he’s focused on how hot she is, and on the cram school. Then in the last episode we find out the time she spent with him and a few others at the cram school made her think seriously about her future, and she says this to him, though he doesn’t reveal that it’s the same back. It’s a bit melancholic though, which I like, and his inability to say it fits his wishy-washyness, which I also like.

But Seiren unfortunately is not a 5CM/S. There’s no buildup. There’s no aspirations or dreams which are met, or aren’t met. Soichi doesn’t have any dream, throughout the story he only does things because he doesn’t want to be left behind. Tsuneki doesn’t seem to have any particular motivation at all, until partway through the third episode she suspects Soichi for ratting her out about her part-time work, which in turn led to her being sent to this cram school. There’s no other conflict. There’s a few gratuitious shots of her body, and we get to see and hear his thoughts and reactions, but he never acts on these, and she never notices. In the final episode we find out someone else ratted her out in some sidestory which barely registers, she gives it up real easy with the takeaway “nothing can stop a girl in love”. The primary conflict. Given away. Just like that. To something that hasn’t been developed at all. Which is fine too, this still isn’t the killing blow, the killing blow is when Soichi asks her out to the beach later and they have an underwater kiss. Why? Where did this come from? We know he has feelings, and we might’ve suspected she had feelings too, but the only times we see her not put on a facade in relation to Soichi is when he compliments her for her work ethic / cooking / side of her he doesn’t expect.

There’s one obvious point of escalation that happens beforehand when she asks if he’d like to see her in a bikini, and then we do, but that scene opens with her already in a bikini, from a distance, they’re talking for a bit, and we get a pan-up of *the protagonist* before getting a pan-up of her, more than 30 seconds after we first see her in it. And when we do get it, it’s not special. Same lighting, same color, etc. Contrast to Amagami where the first time we see Haruka in a bikini is a much brighter and more colorful close-up of her ass, then her tits, then a pan-up of her, before returning to a (normalized color/lighting) reaction shot of the protagonist, with someone making a big splash coming off the waterslide to punctuate it.

Turns out Tsuneki “never had confidence in any of [her] skills”, that was her takeaway from the summer trip, and now she wants to study overseas to be a cook, which was part of her duties at her part-time job. Which, now that I look for it in the second episode, was probably the first time she showed an embaressed face. But like everything else it was very matter-of-fact. No close-up. No special lighting. No special colors. So in the end the underwater kiss was more like a business kiss, and the whole thing a business relationship. Soichi got the confidence to go to the summer cram school from Tsuneki, Tsuneki got confidence to pursue cooking from Soichi, she kissed him, no confessions, she actually turned it down because “I don’t want to half-ass anything, so let’s keep things as they are”, -he agrees immediately-, they don’t have any meaningful communication after that, Soichi follows in her footsteps again by aiming to become a nutritionist or something, works at her old place part time, and then after a timeskip she comes back and they meet again.

They meet again and they’re just standing there. Her with a big backpack and travelwear, him with an apron behind a counter. Side shot.

Flat.

I suppose it’s better than nothing that they bothered to airbrush in some lighting and stuck a additional colorful details in for that shot.

I never got the feeling that they were both deeply in love, but, due to the circumstances of where each of them were in life, how he wasn’t particularly talented and had a lot to work on while she had this one chance that required her to go far away, that it was a love that couldn’t be. If that’s what it was, I’d have loved it. Tragedies are great. But that’s not what it was. I was told she was the most popular girl and she developed feelings for this guy she always picked on, but I never saw her being popular, I barely saw her develop feelings at all other than simply spending time with the guy which could literally be explained as entirely circumstantial, and she seemed to just drop hard feelings at will anyways. The only hard feelings she didn’t drop were her feelings for her future as a cook. Seiren doesn’t feel like a highschool romance story grappling with the difficulties of modern working life realities, it felt like highschool students anticipating working life realities with some gratuitious shots here and there and a kiss thrown in.

Seiren’s art is worse, its music is worse, these are less important, it’d still be worse than Amagami if all of those things switched. For some inexplicable reason the opening song gets cut off rather than a nice fade-out, which brings me to something important that I forgot, the above tragedy-type story isn’t hinted at at all in the OP or ED. The final shot of Amagami’s OP is a snowglobe of a Christmas tree, reminding us that the goal of the protagonist is to have a date in time for Christmas. The rest of its OP are shots of the girls either by themselves or doing everyday things at school. So, makes sense. What does Seiren’s OP depict? Close-ups of the girls, a close-up of a pair of legs, love interests with a few shots each establishing their general character, and then the girls playing in a field. There’s no trick being played here either, the lyrics paint about the same idea. The final two shots are someone dropping their cell phone and reaching out for someone, and kissing behind a curtain in a classroom. So, you’d think, that Seiren is supposed to be able realizing working life difficulties, then overcoming them.

I think Amagami made the right choice to open their omnibus with Haruka. The protagonist’s drive is for a date by Christmas, and what better goal than the school idol who doesn’t have any particular conflict or strong interest in anything, except by the end, the protagonist? If it started out with a couple of the other ones it almost certainly would’ve crashed and few people would be interested enough to watch the rest (which is terrible in terms of how anime gets funding), and the others even though doable would’ve required more work, since they all have activities which they’re associated with which require significant time investment. Haruka’s time investment is going to the library to find photobooks of puppies. It’s a romantic comedy with some drama, and Haruka is the ideal candidate.

I don’t know what Seiren’s about. It’s definitely not a comedy. It’s not really a romance. Not really a drama either. The protagonist here has no drive, but supposing it’s the one we’re told about, then Tsuneki isn’t really a good choice.

If the idea is that he needs to start taking his future seriously, and we’re trying to write a series where the thought of a future of work breaks apart budding love, the first girl should either be the class rep or a class rep type who has everything set in stone but finds out even for her there are things she can’t control:

The protagonist finds out about this summer cram session she’s going to so he decides to go to it too. Protagonist sucks, and sucks so bad publicly that she feels compelled to help him out privately, she finds out he’s absolutely atrocious in either skill level or work ethic, they talk about what it means to be productive and what it means to have something to live for. She trains him, short montage of progress and hijinks. Love interest gets a call, has to leave, cram session ends, summer ends, teacher explains empty desk, fall term is well underway before she gets back. She doesn’t look well. She doesn’t perform well. She loses public image after being called on one day and not having the answer. Protagonist pipes up to keep the lecture going, shot of the love interest not reacting to the situation. That day the protagonist finds her after school, he asks a lot of questions, hits the mark with one, she lashes out at him in public, he takes her hand and pulls her somewhere privately.

He pokes her some more, she spills the beans, worries about her future and what to live for, protagonist confesses his feelings, that he had nothing to live for, but now wants to live for her. Details about who initiates the kiss in what way depends on personality details about protagonist. Whoever initiates tries to move one step further, the other one breaks it off. They both come to the understanding that going further would cost both their futures. Since she’s still better than him academically he can’t help. It could end in various ways from here. The happiest way would be that she recovers enough to be good enough for her original plan rather than be a prepared ace, and he rapidly improves enough to join her on it.

What we get instead is a girl who’s also uncertain about her future, but doesn’t show it much, and is interested in the guy, doesn’t show that much either, and in the end gets her motivation from the guy, but she never finds out that she inspired him too. She has only the slightest of reasons to like this guy, her kiss doesn’t seem to mean much at all just like any of her other reactions, neither he nor she seems to feel too strongly about breaking it off, nor when meeting again by chance years later.

No close-ups, no lighting change, no music change, no voice change, no expression change, no body language.

I was originally suspect about Seiren because they’re only releasing half the planned heroines right now; 12 episodes for 3 love interests now and who knows when for the other 3. But now I think that whoever decided that made the right decision. I haven’t paid attention to the tastes of the anime market in particular, but I sure as hell wouldn’t buy DVDs of this.

I’m going to watch the rest of it eventually just because I am marginally interested, and because I’ve wanted to learn storywriting and this looks like a uniquely easy situation to learn it in: two professional versions, one a masterpiece and one which appears to be something even someone completely untrained could do better at.

Seiren: 3/8


Tsuneki Hikari, Seiren, first three face shots:
Morishima Haruka, Amagami SS, first three face shots:

Psycho-Pass

Pyscho-Pass is the best anime I have seen.

Its greatest strength is that all characters are reasonable. Characters that are shown have their reasoning and personality fleshed out at least to the degree that their screentime and plot importance would warrant. All characters, even the ones which are not part of the previous set, exhibit behaviors and use argumentation that would fit their position and desires. There are zero exceptions to this rule. No one, due to a new piece of evidence or turn of events, suddenly changes character. If anything, Psycho-Pass uses these crises as opportunities to illustrate more on who exactly each person is.

Generally speaking, a cast of multiple strong characters does not appear, and when they do, they are not so numerous, and not in a plot-driven story. In Psycho-Pass, characters are defined by their goals. Neither character nor plot are simply decoration. Even if one views it as simply plot or character-driven, the anime still operates just fine. It was constructed both to satisfy casual consumption and to withstand intellectual scrutiny – though if you attempt the former it will push you towards the latter.

If we ignore a few scenes with poor animation, it is my opinion that Psycho-Pass has no weak points. The anime has at least a reasonably strong showing in every area.

There are only two things that do not make sense: The holo’s source and function limitations, and the Dominator’s power source and output. Neither of these pose a problem in the end because the story isn’t about the technology, it’s about the people who use the technology. This is admittedly a fairly common goal in science fiction, but most stories in my experience do end up getting lost in the baubles. Psycho-Pass gives constant reminders about how the world, with all its changes, doesn’t really change. Perhaps the best example is the office’s cooling system. These days we expect a central HVAC basically everywhere we go, but the office shown in Psycho-Pass is clearly only using three wall-mounted fans. They aren’t built into the wall, they don’t have fancy blades, and they don’t even have a filter or grill for safety. This simpler, rougher aesthetic pervades the entire series, and when it doesn’t appear visually, it reminds you that the environment is only a holo depiction.

Even then it does not attempt to simply beat you over the head with it. In every conflict, the audience is always presented with a choice: which side do you believe, which do you support? It does not attempt to pass judgement with the results. Instead it accepts things as they are, and in every situation draws out actions from the set of most reasonable possibilities at that point in time. Most stories either shoehorn morals afterwards, or do it so poorly that it looks like an invocation of chance / deus ex machina. Neither of these are descriptions of the events in Psycho-Pass.

I should also note my appreciation for the production’s attention to detail. There are many things they did to alleviate inconsistencies and concerns that would regularly be considered as irrelevant. In one of the early opening CGs flying over the city, I thought it was weird that the tallest tower was at the edge of the city, and at the time I passed it off as lack of resources to complete the rest of the city “behind it” – this stemmmed from the common depiction of skylines in anime and elsewhere; the tallest building is always in “the center”. In later ED sequences, Psycho-Pass assured me that the emptiness was not a mistake – it depicted a shoreline of the city, with that very tower right next to it. Another instance is when a character practices quickly reloading a revolver. The character had no training with it beforehand and was going to rely on it, and I like that the project team behind this spent the minute or two of screentime to show the character just drilling something that was important in their thought process.

Of all the dystopian futures written across multiple mediums, I think Psycho-Pass is the closest to the path that we will take. This is largely because it depicts events similar to the ones we have already had in our world, and shows how it is also part of the story’s “Sibyl System”. In America the most common comparisons for dystopias are Orwell’s “1984” and Huxley’s “Brave New World”, but neither of these draw too many comparisons to how the world existed at the time. “This could happen”, the books proclaimed, and readers everywhere responded “Well something else could happen too!”, and so most people just enjoyed them as stories. Psycho-Pass however takes events that have already happened / have been happening and incorporates them. This is the way most change occurs (i.e. not wholly revolutionary). The changes to society in Psycho-Pass, while based on a very specific kind of computer system that operates in a very specific way, do not really change people. There are still people happy with the way things are and in a believable way, not like Orwell where everyone uses words like “doubleplusgood”. In bad situations people are also still relatable. The events in episode 14 have played out in real life multiple times in multiple places; the only difference is that there are no robots with happy mascot costumes, which really doesn’t change anything. The events with the helmets are also believable: people ran when the situation was not favorable, and retailiated when it was. As mentioned earlier, Psycho-Pass does not get lost in its technology.

Technology is just a tool. Having and not having the tool may change the user, and the user may change their strategy and tactics based on what tool they have and what situation they’re in. It does explicitly say multiple times that “in the end it’s just about the users”, but what it finally expresses is not that either, because it’s not as if everything other than ideology and willpower are negligible either. They are important to be sure. But when it comes time to the real thing,

“Isn’t using the net just like using knives for cooking or using paper to write things down? It has nothing to do with good or bad. It’s like, it’s there, so we accept and use it.”

It’s about doing what you can with what you have, and more importantly, that before you can do that, you have to know what you can do and are willing to do.

__________________

Number Justifications:

Story(10): There are some things that probably could’ve been done better. I’m told that basically everything was foreshadowed, but I couldn’t see it at the time so I don’t find them to be relevant arguments. That being said everything that it posited it executed well, so any complaints about how it got there are pretty irrelevant.

My favorite episode was the pilot. I think it did its job well in accurately reflecting the entire series.

Art(9): Akane could’ve been cuter? All around it’s definitely up to Production IG standards, no complaints.

My favorite piece of art… would have to be the Dominator. It too ends up taking its place in the story, theme, and message though, which only makes me appreciate it even more.

Sound(9): I didn’t like the first OP/ED set, the second set was enjoyable – but these are hard to control the outcome of, at least as far as I can tell. The sound effects otherwise though show the same attention to detail as in the story and in the art. When Kogami is speaking to Akane in the elevator, his voice echos a little – these things are rare to see. One would think that an anime with people talking half the time and in suits almost all the time can’t really do much to do in the sound department, but the people on sound behind Psycho-Pass definitely caught my attention and earned their pay.

I will definitely remember the second ED.

Character(10): Largely talked about this in the main review. I see amazing characters here and there all the time, but they’re always surrounded by only one, maximum two, other full characters – and when it is three characters, it’s usually a love triangle story and everything revolves around that. Infinite Ryvius succeeded at having a lot of characters you could remember, but didn’t really make them full characters – it seemed that they were just representatives of ideas or archetypes. Psycho-Pass did basically everything I could hope to see. Every time a new situation came up, I wondered if this time the writers would get lazy? They never did. It always felt like it would be possible, maybe, someday, to meet the agents of the MWPSB. In this, the scenes of Akane in her home and meeting up with her friends were definitely not wasted in building both her character and the Psycho-Pass world.

I like all of the characters by the simple fact that they’re all developed. I think I like Masaoki, Akane, Kogami, and Mika the most though, in that order.

Enjoyment(10): I did marathon it, but I didn’t feel that I had to watch the next episode right then. For most of the series I could simply pause and attend to important matters – but not so much that I could simply forget about it. I can see how both of those have their strengths, and they lend themselves to particular kinds of anime – Steins;Gate needs the marathon feel, and Aria needs the any-time-you-please feel. For the pacing, style, and purpose of Psycho-Pass, this sort of middle ground, or third ground, was where it needed to be. This was where GITSSAC tried to be, I think. Production IG definitely learned from their experience.

Overall(10): I believe Psycho-Pass has a clarity and depth of message and a skillfullness and care of its execution that is unparalleled in this medium.