Random things: 2/28/15

Another catch-all post.

Playing: Hyperdevotion Noire for the PS Vita.

Story is simple. Noire is on top of the battle for shares in Gamarket, and it’s not going to last long. She gets tricked into depowering everyone through doing something to the main power crystal that converts people’s faith in their nation into shares, and the now de-powered goddess needs to put everything back together again. She has the help of the other three goddesses though, her generals, and you, a random human who walks into the middle of everything and is drafted into being her secretary.

This game is different from the main series because it’s an isometric strategy roleplayer similar to Fire Emblem or Final Fantasy Tactics. You maneuver the goddesses on a grid and take turns beating up on whatever enemy force happens to show up this round. Your units are strengthened by the “lily” mechanic, in which close units will power up your skills in battle by…kissing you on the cheek.

Yeah, it’s about as lame as sounds.

Unfortunately this shares the same problem as the other Hyperdimension Neptunia games. It’s a chore to play. Oh, it’s not bad, per se; the turn-based action is decent, the story is serviceable, and there’s a mini-dating sim in the middle of the game focused around you helping to answer letters from Noire’s subjects. But the encounters are just long enough and just hard enough to make it not all that fun. Battles as early as chapter two quickly involve crawling up the field, taking one group of enemies on at a time, and inching to the boss who will unleash some absurdly powerful attacks on you. It doesn’t feel all that flexible, and you get the sense of slowly figuring out the sole correct path the devs want you to take to finish the level. Expect to retry battles the first few times when you realize how hard normal is. Tip: anything with a lot of HP will also hit you like a truck. Don’t run up to it if it’s in a group with friends.

It’s pretty much a fan-service game, and expect service shots of Noire as the game progresses. Honestly if you have a Vita, you probably bought this out of sheer lack of games, but it’s not really worth picking up unless you love Neptunia, and you probably already did that if you do.

Reading: Boys Be.

230px-BoysBe_vol01_Cover

This was part of a huge stack of manga I found for sale at the local Goodwill. I had read the series before, back in the day when Tokyopop was the top manga company in the USA. I was glad to pick it up again.

Boys Be is unusual is that it’s a book of love stories told from the male perspective. High school boys meet high school (and older) girls, and crush on them, fantasize about them, and maybe even declare their love for them. It’s not moe, and while it can be ecchi at times, it’s sort of a realistic type that you don’t see much of these days.

Stories involve a judo student who gets in an accident with a club-hopping fellow student, and falls in love, an otaku who finds love when a girl in his class needs to find a certain manga, a boy in love with a girl a full foot taller than him, a pair of friends competing over the waitress in a local restaurant, and a high school kid who becomes the subject of three vacationing office ladies’ gaze.

It’s nice to see a manga that tries to get inside the romantic life of guys, and while there’s sexiness, there’s also a fair amount of love and romance too. It’s not all that heavy-there’s no Flowers of Evil here-but it’s probably more of a healthy fantasy than a lot of the ecchi harem shows that have been coming out recently, cough, Testament of New Sister Devil, cough.

There’s also an anime out based on it, but it’s bad. Avoid it.

I still have a pile of other manga to work through. I find that I liked Shugo Charat more than I should have, and it was great rereading Full Metal Panic again.

Disliking: Catwoman’s Bisexuality.

Yeah, apparently she likes girls too.

I try not to talk about politics here on my blog. This is the internet, and people do debate a wide variety of things while treating people with consideration and kindness in real life. This, though, annoys me some.

I’m not a fan of retconning characters into new, more controversial forms. I’m really not a fan of how homosexuality is getting pushed not because the average liberal cares about it, but because approving of homosexuality is a cultural marker that separates them from us. If they really cared, they wouldn’t be doing these sort of “shock” reveals and berating people who dislike the change. They’d be making new heroes and legitimately exploring the life of an LGBT person given superpowers.

When they do stuff like this, or in video game culture, or in other geek areas, it’s really not to help people. It’s to score points off of others while reinforcing in-group solidarity. I think it’s getting to a point where people are starting to notice, especially considering how often homosexuality is present in respect to the percentage of people that actually are LGBT. I think the biggest sign of this was gay marriage; considering the total failure of gays to actually get married (the numbers are infinitesimally small) it’s obvious that the desire for it is more or less being pushed by straights. Why? What better way to marginalize your opponents than by branding them bigots?

It’s starting to make geek culture suck. Gamergate (at least the sane side of it) and the reaction against Social Justice Warriors in general is really driven by this. People are not liking their favorite media being used as a stalking-horse to score points off of others with, and we’re starting to see geek culture decline as a SJW elite takes over and tries to use geek media as a new front in the battle.

I’m Christian and conservative, so I can’t view homosexuality as anything but sinful. That doesn’t mean I should be telling unbelievers what to do or how to live their lives, though. But the geek in me hates the new gotcha culture of point-scoring, and as one of the comments pointed out, DC already has close to 90 characters that are LGBT already, throughout its multiple imprints. It’s like the junk happening with Archie Comics right now; watching hipsters transform something that used to be a gentle, dorky series for kids into the second coming of Love and Rockets can be painful.

The next front seems to be polyamory and the various -sexuals. Pansexual, Asexual, Demisexual, whatever errors smart, clueless people hear in the herd-mind’s call.

Ending on bit of a cynical note, I guess. Hopefully all of your lives are doing better.


Top Ten Anime Of All Time: #8 Figure 17

Third in a series of posts about my personal top ten anime. This isn’t in any order, and the last one was Dual! Parallel Trouble Adventures.

I like anime that tends to be unusual. Figure 17 is truly unusual, and sadly underrated and unknown.

Synposis:

Tsubasa is a grade-schooler who has moved up north to Hokkaido with her father. He wants to become a baker, and is living on a farm with family. Tsubasa has’t really adjusted well, and is very shy. One day, she is present while a spaceship crash-lands in the forest.

That spaceship was transporting alien prisoners known as the Maguar. They managed to knock out the prison ship transporting them, and defeat the pilot, an alien named DD. The Maguar then goes after Tsubasa, who desperately hides in the ship. Out of desperation, she reaches for a Figure, an alien who is designed to merge with DD’s people and form a combat-enhanced version of themselves.

To her shock, she merges with the Figure, and defeats the Maguar. But it doesn’t end here. As she reverts back to human, an unexpected side-effect happens. The Figure transforms into a carbon-copy of Tsubasa, calling herself Hikaru. DD has no choice but to enlist the two children to help fight the Maguar until help arrives. But Hikaru and Tsubasa grow closer each day, and the Maguar are getting harder to kill…

Review:

One of the best cult anime out there. It manages to have its own, unique spin on things while honoring classic tropes. It also predated some modern anime trends.

The first unusual thing you’ll notice is that each episode is double the average length. At 45 minutes, there’s plenty of time for the story to develop, and the anime is not afraid to use that time. Many modern series are often so compact at 22 minutes that they seem hyperactive, and its refreshing to sit down and absorb the leisurely pace of Figure 17.

Figure 17 is also unusual in its setting. Very few anime are set up north in Hokkaido, and Figure 17 predated the trends of remote town slice of life farming anime by ten years. Not only does it evoke both Silver Spoon in the rural, farming background, it also does Non Non Biyori’s children in a rural school better, with more seriousness. The farm setting is done wonderfully, with episodes showing how hard farm life is, or the struggle of a teenager to not be spoiled by city life. It’s a gorgeous little slice-of life series, but it’s not only that.

Figure 17 is a riff on the classic trope of the magical girl. The original trope was that of a young girl who uses magic to grow up into an adult version of herself, and solve problems with her new power. Figure 17 is very faithful to that concept, even as it recasts it into a science fiction, realistic setting. It also subverts the trope of magical girls by having the real solving being done just by the growing relationship between Hikaru and Tsubasa. That close, sister-twin bond brings Tsubasa out of her shell and humanizes Hikaru, who shares her partner’s memories. It’s done wonderfully, with a lot of heartwarming moments.

Don’t be mistaken, this isn’t the “science fiction” of something like Lyrical Nanoha. Figure 17 takes the alien battling side very, very seriously. While Tsubasa and Hikaru are powerful, they really don’t like fighting. They are often afraid, and only want it to be over with. DD is not a Dumbledore; he is awesome in that he tries all he can to keep the girls out of the fighting, and is forced to ask their help. The plot is intelligent, and the battle is fierce, with each Maguar becoming stronger as the previous one is dispatched. Even the violence is there to show you how desperate the battle is; it’s neither gratuitous nor remote.

It’s an easy four stars out of five, with only the slow pace that might turn people off of it.

Personal/Spiritual:

This series isn’t something I could pull spiritual meanings out of. It’s mostly about Tsubasa growing up, and how Hikaru helps her do so. It’s a very tender series, with many heartwarming moments between the two of them. However, it’s not afraid to deal with loss, as Tsubasa herself misses her dead mother, and by the end of the series we will see even more sadness.

I think one of the attractive things about this series is that due to its age, it predates many of the modern anime pitfalls, most notably the symbolic unreality of them. By this I mean a lot of anime is very mannered, almost like a comedia del’arte. You don’t have characters, you have stock roles: the tsundere, the best friend, the ojou-sama. There’s not one bit of this in Figure 17, and all of the characters feel more like real people than anime ones. Sometimes the danger in anime is in removing us from appreciating the real world into a 2-d world of types, and Figure 17 allows none of that.

Yet it even does some tropes better than modern anime. Both Tsubasa and Hikaru are very moe, and whenever you hear this song, it’s a sign of some serious heartwarming moments coming on. It’s not forced or saccharine at all, and as the series progresses to the final end, it gets very, very sad. You really want to just hug the two of them.

Christians should be warned that despite the theme and young protagonists, this has some decent levels of violence and brief nudity. These are not designed to offend or titillate; instead, they show  how dangerous the battle is. This anime is difficult to track down, but it’s well worth it if you do; it’s a lot fresher and original than many modern anime, and doesn’t feel dated at all.

Next up in the series is Saint Tail, another magical girl anime that plays a bit with the premise. While doing so, it also has a Christian definition of the romantic struggle between boy and girl, as well as a very Christian-friendly atmosphere.


A Good Librarian Like A Faithful Servant

I didn’t expect to watch A Good Librarian Like A Good Shepherd. It’s another harem anime based on a visual novel, and a pretty bland one too. However, I wound up downloading a free episode on iTunes, and got hooked enough to watch the rest of the series on Hulu. It’s unusual in that it sparked some Christian thoughts in me despite being a mildly ecchi series.

Kakei is a young man who for most of his life has been obsessed with books. He had an encounter with someone who told him of a magic library, and he devours books in search of the one book that can tell him everything. One day he receives an e-mail from a mysterious person named the Shepherd, and that e-mail combined with a precognition enables him to save the life of Shirasaki, a shy girl who is trying to change her life. Kakei gets drawn into her Happy Project due to her warmth, and soon an unlikely group of people form around them. But the Shepherd still has plans for Kakei…

There were quite a few things that struck me while watching it.

1. Have we forgotten Christian service?

Shirasaki’s club has one aim: making people happy. One of the things that the series got right was the joy in serving others. While there’s an ulterior motive, it’s a very mild one; Shirasaki wants to make true the lies she was telling her sister about her own school life. At her heart, Shirasaki serves others and that light winds up reflecting off of everyone.

It made me think how little serving Christians actually do.

Maybe it wouldn’t be such a bad thing if we had some Happy Projects of our own. I mean, we have Ministry, capital M, but the Happy project was anything but, until the end. It was striking how mundane most of what they did was. Doing chores together, fulfilling requests for no reward, and more. That serving drew Kakei to Shirasaki, because he saw something in her he couldn’t understand, or even see in himself. Maybe a little less evangelization and more serving for the sake of serving might help the faith grow. I could see renting a small room or meeting in the back of a big library like the Happy Project does, and planning how to help others.

2. Even this has a purpose.

Kakei has suffered quite a bit. His stated purpose in the beginning was to read books just to understand people. He longs to live by himself in a peaceful world of his own. That makes the realization that even the bad times in his live may have a purpose to lead him to the good is so rewarding.

It’s a very Christian sentiment, I think. “In all things God works for the good of those who love him,” the verse goes. The suffering that many of the members of the Happy Project had is redemptive, and leading to a better life for them all. Even the closest thing the series has to a villainess loses not solely to be defeated, but loses so that she can realize the error of her ways before it’s too late. There’s pain there, but it’s the healing kind.

3. The Shepherds are the Angels.

Or the closest thing that anime has gotten to a Christian conception of one, anyways.

No, seriously. The Shepherds are a group of people who magically help people to have happy lives. They work behind the scenes by reading the books of people’s lives and giving a push at the right moment to prevent catastrophe. It’s VERY much like a guardian angel, and their clothing choices subtly reflect this. They only wear  black suits, but this evokes Wim Wenders “Wings of Desire,” where the angels in them were similarly garbed.

The idea though evokes angels well. With the Library itself being a quasi-spiritual place, it feels a lot more like a Christian might think of an angel or helper to be, as opposed to the typical anime versions of it.

***

It’s an interesting series, despite its flaws. It’s not really well animated, switching styles oddly at points. There’s a lot of fan service, and it really is a typical harem anime. It drew me mostly in spite of all of the flaws. Looking at the wiki the same visual novel team did Fortune Arterial, which I also liked despite its issues. A Good Librarian made me think about the faith a little more though, by reminding me of joy in service, the redemptive purpose of suffering, and of the Shepherds of our own that work to aid us.

Christians probably would rate the anime PG13. It has a lot of fan service, but in general its mild. There’s some teasing of the viewers expecting to see yuri, by having two friends lead up to it and then…do absolutely normal things. Considering that this is based of an adult visual novel, you’d expect more Fruit of Grisaia-level fan service and less clothed jiggling. You might roll your eyes a lot.

No real violence or blood at all, although the main villainess has an unhealthy obsession with someone. Probably would only rank a 2 star “okay” rating from me, but it got me watching in spite of that.

NOTE: Yeah, I haven’t forgotten my ten best anime. Figure 17 is long to watch, and I’ve only been sneaking single episodes of anime when I can. It’s coming up as soon as I get a break.


Review: Nurse Hitomi’s Monster Infirmary

What’s a one-eyed school nurse to do?

Hitomi works in a school filled with monster girls and monster guys. Along with her not-so faithful assistant, she eases the troubles that monster teens have on the road to growing up. Whether it’s shame over an incredibly long tongue, or an invisible girl wishing she was a little less invisible, Hitomi is there to help. Just not so much with anything involving depth perception.

Monster Girl books have a sketchy rep. The entire genre had its roots in hentai, and while it’s gotten more mainstream these days, there’s often plenty of perversion to go with your bevy of cute girls. Nurse Hitomi is in between My Daily Life With Monster Girls and A Centaur’s Life. While the Nurse often has to deal with some weird fetishes (don’t lick that eyeball!) it’s nowhere near as raunchy as My Daily Life. It’s not so pure as A Centaur’s Life though, although it shares the latter’s positive spirit.

It does have an interesting theme, however. The stories in this volume tie around accepting yourself, or the changes in your body. Sort of the importance of caring for and liking yourself. The art style is a lot looser and freewheeling than you’d think, and the monster girls are pretty cute without being too overtly sexual. The book is a collection of five short stories, each with a different girl or with Hitomi herself. Mostly fluffy, feel-good stuff, with a little grossness.

There’s not too much depth to it, and I’d be surprised if it ever got an anime series. But it makes for a decent slice of life read if you’re finished with A Centaur’s Life, and don’t want to get beaten over the head with the mammaries in the other monster girl book. It’s still a bit icky at times, as the long-tongued girl and the zombie girl have some gross moments. PG-13 for some adult situations, but little actual nudity apart from silhouettes.

Not really much Christian about monster girls, though. It’s an odd trend where women are sort of “othered,” and in the process made more cute or endearing. It goes against the idea that men and women were of one-flesh, and in a way goes back to the old legends about Lilith, being completely separate from Adam. Not of his essence, and she became the mother of monsters. In practice, like I said, the genre is incredibly skeevy and not something you want to hit pixiv or the web to find stuff on. Maybe one day we’ll get one without any objectionable content. Even A Centaur’s Life has an occasional fixation with nudity and a couple of WTF scenes in it. You won’t miss too much if you pass the genre by.

Nurse Hitomi isn’t bad, for all that. Considering it’s from Seven Seas, it’s positively chaste compared to the rest of their line-up. I’d probably recommend just browsing it though, unless you’d like a new slice-of-life with little drama to it.


Do I Turn In My Geek Card…

…if I think Transformers: The Movie sucks?

Some context. I watched this movie in the theaters, as a kid. I was big into Transformers. Like really big. Watch all the cartoons and own the toys big. So I remember watching this as a thirteen year old, and my dad saying I was glued to the screen.

(Yeah, I was about to outgrow them shortly after.)

So recently, during the huge snowstorm I brought Transformers: The Movie into work. My coworker is also a big geek, and he was telling me about how I didn’t know what I was getting into, since he practically memorized the film. I said “come at me, bro,” and we started watching.

It was sad, because the movie is horrifically bad.

I’m not a guy who is a film snob or anything, but this was Italian science fiction film bad. As in, the story makes no sense. It’s the future (2005 to be exact) and the Autobots have allied with humanity. Meanwhile the Decepticons are plotting a raid on earth. They hijack a ship, and some surprising carnage results.

Of course, you wonder why they need to hijack a ship, because it’s not like there’s any planetary defenses, or even more than fifteen Autobots on earth. But they do. Cut to the Autobot Hotrod, fishing with Spike’s son. They notice that the ship arriving on earth is damaged, and Hot Rod fires on it, spoiling their surprise attack.

Then we have a big battle which culminates in a lot of Decepticons being maimed, and Optimus Prime dying. He passes on the Matrix of Leadership to Ultra Magnus, and crumbles into dust. Meanwhile a big planet called Unicron is trying to eat planets.

The fleeing Decepticons toss into space the battered Megatron and all the other Decepticons wounded in the fight. Unicron comes across them, and the screenwriters rip-off Marvel by having Unicron make Megatron his herald. No, really, Unicron in the entire film is a hands-on, robotic Galactus. Now turned into Galvatron, the new herald and his wolfpack of Transformers hunt the Autobots and the Matrix of Leadership, the only thing that can harm Unicron.

It sounds good, but watching it again you realize that it really is on the level of a Michael Bay film.

  • The art switches between competent 1980’s animation (though nowhere near the level of The Bionic Six or Silverhawks) and some really bad work. The thing that will grate you the most is that they cannot keep scale to save their lives. Unicron and Grimlock are the worst offenders, changing size relative to others frequently. Even then, the biggest upgrade to the art is more shading.
  • Grimlock starts out badass when he and the DInobots fight Devastator, but then is turned into an idiot for the rest of the film.
  • There’s a lot of clunky words, mostly from the veteran Autobot Kup. The actors seem to just dial them in every time they come across one. Like the universal greeting: Ba-weep-gra-na-weep-ninnybog. Yeah. they say this. Three times. Actually any time Kup opens his mouth you want him to shut up.
  • He’s not the only one. Blurr (voiced by an actor famous for talking really fast) grates on the ears. Hot Rod is bland, and overacts like mad. Leonard Nimoy does as good a job as any one possibly could, but Orson Wells as Unicron can’t overcome some ridiculous dialogue. Pretty much only the original voice actors come out sound decent. Eric Idle especially is wasted as wreck-gar
  • We are introduced to the stupidest transformer in history, Wheelie. He rhymes in a high-pitched metallic rasp, uses a slingshot as a weapon, and breakdances. Yes, breakdances.
  • And just a lot of not making sense. The Autobots flee earth for some reason, despite having no real reason to do so. After all, aren’t all their defenses there? Spike’s son Daniel is inexplicably along for the ride, despite having no reason to do so. Unicron likes to call Galvatron back home to berate him for letting the Autobots go despite him being much closer to them at the time than he was later. Megatron has to reach down for a hidden pistol to shoot Optimus with, despite his transformed mode being a gun. Lots of things like this.

No really, it’s a mess. This isn’t just being hypercritical, because I had no reason to when rewatching it. This was discovering something I liked as a kid was really, really bad.

Pretty much there were three things that were good about it:

  1. The soundtrack, which was very eighties. It’s better to listen to outside of the movie though, as it doesn’t always match the action.
  2. The battle on earth, which was surprisingly violent and grim
  3. Arcee.

  4. Yeah, admit it. She was hot. Many a budding otaku discovered robot girls back in the eighties due to her. The roots of 2-D is better than 3-D run deep. Anyways.

Still, it’s sad to realize something you liked so much as a kid is, well, crap. Especially when “You’ve Got the Touch” is a geek anthem. You realize how much of geek culture is transitory and dependent on its time to be considered good. When the time passes, and the culture changes, you have to face facts that what you liked sucked. Not everything is like that, but it’s a little sad at how many popular things actually are. Another example that sparked this post was the PlayStation game Parappa the Rapper. Legendary in its time, but picking it up now I realize the game is virtually unplayable due to a horrible gameplay system that gives no indication when the correct time to hit a button is.

Is there anything you once loved that time showed was worse than you thought?


Random Things, 2/19/15

Various things I’m doing in between watching Figure 17 for my ten best anime series.

Playing: Jeanne D’Arc, PSP.

It’s a surprisingly good strategy RPG for the PlayStation Portable. In a fantastic Europe, Jeanne D’Arc wields a magical amulet and fights the demon-influenced English to liberate France. The graphics in particular are amazing: bright and colorful 3-D polygons that make the Disgaea games look bad. There’s a staggering amount of full-voiced anime cutscenes too, some lasting five minutes long. I’ve barely scratched the surface of the game so far, and it’s a lot of fun.

It’s also interesting because it doesn’t shy away from religious themes. Jeanne believes that God is speaking to her through the amulet, and generally the people believe she is the Pucelle, sent by Him to save France. I’m not sure it will keep on like this, but it’s a rare game so far that isn’t bashing the Church. It’s also not particularly rare or expensive; my used copy set me back eight bucks, and it’s one heck of a bargain at that. You can also find a digital version on the PlayStation Store, on PS Vita.

Watching: British Wrestling.

..of the 1970s.

It’s quite different from American wrestling. For one things, it uses a round structure, and victory is decided by two pinfalls or submissions, or one ten-count outside of the ring. A pinfall or submission will end the current round, and interesting you can also lose by receiving too many public warnings. The referee can warn you twice publicly for bad behavior, then the third time costs you the match. In practice, the warnings are there to get the heel of the match some comeuppance. You’re also not allowed to attack your man while he is on the mat, and he gets a ten count to get on his feet or risk disqualification.

There’s some difference in terminology. An arm bar is an arm lever, a side headlock a side head chancery, and the mat is the deck. Matches tend to be slower and more deliberate, with few high-flying moves and no fancy (or dangerous) slams. Surprisingly, it’s a lot of fun. The slower pace enables more of a story to be told in the match, while the lower-impact moves keeps them safer in the ring.

One of the wrestlers I can’t get enough of us Les Kellett. He’s a comedic wrestler, and probably one of the world’s best. His story/angle is that of a naughty schoolboy almost, and he has some of the most creative and colorful spots (tricks) I’ve seen. This match below is him with Polish wrestler Jonny Czeslaw, and both of them absolutely sparkle with style and comedy.

Comparing: Fifty Shades of Grey and The Sheik.

Did you know that we not only had a movie identical to FSOG over 70 years ago, it became so famous as to make its male star a household name and possibly Hollywoods first male sex symbol? gave the world the famous Latin lover Rudolph Valentino in 1921, with its tale about a powerful sheik and his white female captive. But there’s a tremendous parallel to the modern FSOG, even granting the different levels of explicitness.

  • Both were based on best-selling salacious books
  • Both were about men who emotionally and physically abuse the women they take a fancy for.
  • Both were adored by women watchers, to the befuddlement of men.
  • Both were about female adoration of the “bad boy,” in spades.

However, The Sheik was arguably worse. Unlike FSOG, its heavily implied he rapes the female lead, which was something explicit in the book. FSOG is getting a lot of heat, but The Sheik never did, and became a minor cultural force. The original book was racist, with screeds against racial miscegenation, and even without that in the movie the whole “Arab sultan abducts white traveler” is pretty skeevy, too.

Yet Valentino is a legend, while FSOG will probably be forgotten in six months. There’s a tendency to romanticize the good old days in life, and this is a small reminder that no, people don’t often change that much.

Writing: Yes, I still do it.

I’m currently starting the fourth chapter book in my first new series. It’s not as impressive as it sounds, because each book is roughly 10k words. By the end of Feburary I will have it done. 40k words in 2 months.

After that, I have a second series I need to write, then a third. The goal is to get them ready for 2016, so I can release them independently. After the first series is finished, I might take a brief month break to hardcore write a Christian speculative fiction novel. I’m not really keen on pushing that side of my writing though, because that genre needs publishers and people with money more than more writers. But I’ll need to shift gears some for a break, and that might do well.

I’ll keep you posted as 2016 comes closer.

Snowing: It Sucks.

If you’ve been hearing about the tons of snow dumped on Boston and Southeast New England, yeah, it’s happening where I live. We’ve probably gotten a good three feet of snow cumulatively. Thankfully, it could have been far worse. I haven’t lost power once, nor have any pipes burst this time. Even the internet has stayed up, with no downtime.

However, the snow has been accompanied by some bitter cold, even for NE standards. I’m someone who enjoys cold weather, but even I have been huddling inside waiting for the cold snap to pass.

So what is going on in all of your lives?


Top Ten Anime Of All Time: #9 Dual! Parallel Trouble Adventure

This is the second in a series of posts about my ten favorite anime of all time. The previous one was , and this time we’re discussing the mecha series Dual!.

Dual is an anime that I’d have a hard time defending on objective grounds. It was a part of the big boom of anime spawned after the release of Neon Genesis Evangelion in the 1990’s. Anime like Argento Soma, Betterman, Gasaraki, and others took advantage of the new interest in mecha shows that bucked the traditional Gundam formula. Dual was one of these shows, created by the person behind Tenchi Muyo!.

Objecively, it’s a little better than average. But so many of this shows tropes and ideas have hit me on a personal level that it will always be one of my favorites, and I legitimately enjoy every bit of it.

Synopis:

Kazuki is a teen troubled by visions of another world. In that world, giant robots fight it out in battles that he cannot understand and cannot affect. He’s gotten used to it, and even blogs about the battles, naming each mech and trying to make a story over it. One day, he runs into the school’s princess, Mitsuki Sanada, who takes an interest in him. An unhealthy one.

You see, she has plans to help her daddy prove his research about alternate worlds. So she lures him over to her father’s laboratory, and an experiment quickly goes wrong. There truly is another world where mechs fight, just as in Kazuki’s visions, one that forked off of the chance discovery or disposal of an alien artifact. Now Kazuki is in this world, and part of its battles. And others are there too, including alternate versions of some people he knows very well…

Review:

This is both an underrated and unusual anime. As I mentioned, it’s heavily influenced by Evangelion, but it’s actually the anti-Evangelion; it’s a fun adventure where everything ends well, and no one has the crippling psychological issues that everyone in Eva has. Where most of the Eva-clones tried to be a copy of that series, with darkness and death, this one just borrows some of the style of it and instead has its own identity. It works a LOT better than you’d expect, because of this.

That style tends to show in the unusual story itself, and also in the way it riffs off of Evangelion. You have Shinji in Kazuki, but a healthy, normal boy. He doesn’t chase the destiny in front of him, but he doesn’t whine or shrink away from it either. Asuka is here, in Mitsuki, but Mitsuki is a daddy’s girl, and a bit of a brat instead of emotionally abusive. We have the Rei clone in a green-haired girl named D, but unlike Rei, D reveals a personality, and an importance to the plot that isn’t as icky as Rei’s role was. You even have a Gendo clone in Professor Sanada, but one played for comedy as well as one who finds he actually likes to be a father instead of a person who uses his kids. The mix of familiarity and novelty works well, and none of the characters feel like ripoffs despite the obvious homages.

The animation is basic 90’s anime. Decent, but not really fancy animation combined with the use of CGI. This was novel at the time, and the subtle uses tend to be more effective than the blatant ones. This series has a decent cast, and is one of the few anime that has a dub that is a decent alternative to the original Japanese language track. It’s aged pretty well.

The major issue would be the pacing. The first 8 episodes are well done indeed, but the last five rush things. The last episode is a silly (by the series’ standards) OVA which ramps up the fanservice a little. It’s the personal aspects that really sell the series to me, though.

Personal/Spiritual:

I don’t think any other series has resonated with me as much as this one has.

Like always, there will be SPOILERS in this part, because a lot of the appeal is based on the plot.

One of the most unusual things about this series is the idea of war as a game. In the alternate world, Professor Sanada’s rival Rara discovered an alien artifact that in our world was just ignored. He uses its power to conquer the world, but does it in a wonderful way which I wish more series used.

Instead of violence, he has set up a game. Every now and then, his daughter, Miss Rara, declares a challenge trailer to the rest of the world. When that happens, the alternate world’s Professor Sanada tries to stop the robot Rara sends. If they lose, (or give up by sending a call sign) the Rara army wins more territory, If they win, the world is okay till the next trailer. Rara does this to limit the damage the artifact could cause, and is actually not a villain in the usual sense. Well, a very friendly one if he is.

This is INCREDIBLY appealing. The middle of the series, where Kazuki joins Sanada’s team to fight, is the highlight of the show, especially when he discovers that Rara’s not an evil mastermind, not one bit. And when he realizes Miss Rara is a counterpart of a certain person back home…

This idea, war as a game, has become a part of my mindscape because of this series. Very few anime have the “no villain, no hero” idea and yet make it into a positive force. There’s plenty of anime like Akame ga Kill where it’s perfectly fine to have everyone be villains and antiheroes, but not many that have people on either side be normal and even heroic in their own way. The true villains of the show are misguided if anything, or just selfish, and a certain heroine isn’t so pure herself in the end. But it always ends well.

The story itself hits all my buttons, too. It’s an alternate world tale, and a heroic one. The conceit of having two worlds with two different versions of the same people is interesting, and the first few episodes show how disconcerting it would be to travel to a world where YOU are the only one who is different. But it’s fine adventure, too. One of my favorite spots comes late in the series, where Kazuki has a choice. He can stay in the world he belongs in, or he can leave it to fix things left undone back in the alternate world. The scene where he looks up at his giant robot, nods at it, and says in effect, “Yeah, I have to go back. I can’t leave it like it is now,” has always touched me. There’s no normal life for you, not just yet.

I even found after I wrote Triune: Three as One that I made homages to many of the characters in Dual. Doctor Ion in his non-armored form was always close to Professor Sanada in my mind, and SARA shares some of D’s concept, although the two are night and day. I liked the contrast between daily life and a secret life of adventure that Dual had, and I like to think it is a part of my own work as well.

Finally, the gentle adventure always appeals to me over the violent one. This isn’t to say Dual is bloodless or cozy, but despite having some seriously good mech battles, it’s not about the carnage. It’s funny, but not ecchi. The characters have depth, but aren’t angsty. And the concept is legitimately interesting; the mystery of the world and the alien artifact is revealed slowly through most of the series, and quickly at the end. It gels into something that personally appeals to me, even though I admit I can’t call it a work of art or even a hidden treasure.

I’m not sure I can draw spiritual parallels from it, though. Sometimes a secular work can just be a good, moral work that appeals to what C.S. Lewis called sub-Christian values; the common moral values that we all strive for that are the best of the pagan world, whereas the Christian values are the best of the world beyond. Sometimes it’s okay to be refreshed by those pagan values, because they aren’t at all bad in themselves. Dual is a fine adventure tale, and adventure is a part of life as much as charity, humility, and self-sacrifice.

There’s also some nostalgia here too. Dual! Parallel Trouble Adventures will always be linked to the TV network TechTV, as it was one of the mainstays on its Anime Unleashed block. There’s also the 90’s aspect, where a lot of the bad aspects of today’s anime simply do not exist. There is no yuri, nor much in the way of pandering save for the last OVA episode. While it’s a harem, all of the characters aren’t types like modern harems are. Mitsuki is a tsundere, but only in romance; she treats Kazuki perfectly fine at times, and schemes instead of abuses him. D is an emotionless girl, but not underage nor cloyingly cute. Kazuki is obviously a mecha hero, but he’s awesome in a sense because he accepts his role. Contrasted to Shinji, he not only accepts the offer to become a core unit pilot right away but the next scene shows him studying a manual, his face set and serious, in order to be a better pilot.

You can contrast this with Dual!’s spiritual successor, Tenchi Muyo: The War on Geminar. Geminar is heavily inspired by Dual, with the same “alternate world” idea, the same “only male protag can pilot a mech” plot, and the same “secret of the world” kind of idea. But Geminar is different, and not just in its fantasy setting. It’s heavily sexualized, with characters that quickly become stereotypes and a plot that becomes nonsensical fast. Even the comedy falls flat, with it centering around all the girls wanting the hero and the hero being a perfect Mary Sue.

Dual! will always be something special to me. Not many anime hit me on a personal level like it does. It’s quirky, unusual, and a product of its time. But it’s a good product of its time, and a fun mecha show.

Next up in the series will be the science fiction “magical-girl” series Figure 17.


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