Winter Anime 2015: First Impressions, Bear Edition

It’s time to preview Yurikuma Arashi, aka “what in God’s name did I just watch?”

The story; apparently a planet blew up somewhere. It’s fragments showered the earth, causing all the world’s bears to get intelligent, get magical powers, and decide they want to eat us all. More on this later. In this world, we see a girl’s high school inhabited by girls whose names all have “yuri” in them. This is not a subtle hint as to the direction of the series.

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We meet two girls in obvious Yuri love. We also meet two bears, who have taken the form of young girls and crossed over the gigantic Wall of Severance to eat as many young girls as they want. More on THIS later.

Of course, they set their sights on the cute obviously yuri couple we first meet, the ones who vow to keep their love alive.

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The main character’s girlfriend gets taken by the bears. This is bad, because the main character lost her Mom to the bears too, and has been practicing on the hunting rifle in order to get revenge. The bears apparently call her to the roof, and then I lost all track of what the heck was happening. You see, there is a court of bears for some reason.

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The three male bears try the two female bears who are masquerading as humans. Why? Because…

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Oh, that’s his NAME, too. I mean Sexy is his name. Anyways.

The bear court finds in favor of the two bear girls, who proceed to eat the poor huntress. By eat, we mean transform back into humans and have thinly disguised lesbian sex with. No, seriously. I can’t even post pictures of it. It’s even worse than the intro. It gets weirder later on when you find out the bears actually ATE ate the huntresses’s girlfriend.

I’m sure there’s more, but I gave up trying to figure out things at the end.

So plot? Makes no sense. Not even on a metaphorical level. There’s a parallel drawn between the human and bear “couples” and some junk about not giving up on love, but considering the bears want to either have sex with or outright eat girls, and the girls want to love each other in that old fashioned chaste yuri way, I’m at a loss to figure out what they mean. If it’s supposed to be a celebration of yuri and how we shouldn’t wall people out, showing the bears eating away a rival for their bizarre affections isn’t helping. The whole thing with the male bears judging the two female bears is weird too. Heck, the entire thing is weird, from start to finish.

For Christians, a big don’t bother. Honestly it feels like the director (who did Revolutionary Girl Utena) is just throwing pretty girls in bear suits (or naked) in yuri situations, with little to no rhyme or reason. The intro and the yuri scenes are explicit enough to give it a hard R, and there’s very little about the rest of the anime to even bother with. It’s not that I am against yuri anime, (except in the Christian sense of homosexuality being sinful) because there are good ones like Simoun, Kashimashi Girl Meets Girl, and Blue Drop. But this one is so pointless it beggars belief. I’d even think a lesbian would dislike it, because of all the mixed messages about the bears being lovers and predators in the same boat.

Really, pass on this. Little of value save for a good OP song, which you should only listen to without the opening video. This still is the series in a nutshell:

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Winter Anime 2015: First Look, Part Two

This time, I watched “Saekano: How to Raise a Boring Girlfriend” and “Military.” Mixed feelings on these two.

Saekano is about Tomoya, who longs to make an awesome game powerful enough to lure all the girls in the world to him. He assembles a small doujin circle of himself and four beautiful girls, and gets to work. Although the girls seem more interested in jumping his bones than anything.

This anime starts in the middle of things, with episode zero taking place in a vacation resort where the circle researches their game. After a wince-inducing two full minutes of blatant hot-springs nudity teasing (and I mean blatant) the scene shifts to them researching their game. The episode is clever in that they are talking about making your average visual novel while doing an episode which is pretty much a visual novel in content. One scene has them criticizing how to do exposition in a game, while actually doing the exposition the “right” way in the anime. It can be interesting at times. However:

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The cast itself could be a lot better.

You have Tomoya himself, aka “Mr. Ethical.” Only cares about his game, to the exclusion of romancing one of the four willing beauties by his side. A funny scene has him try to do a rousing speech about keeping the doujin circle going when three of the girls are playing rock paper scissors to see who gets to deflower him. Then you have the cast, which are slight variants on the usual tropes:

  • The ice queen, who has the hots for our hero (and who loses all cool whe she gets worked up enough about him)
  • The tsundere childhood friend who resents not being noticed and is clumsy
  • The sporty musician girl who is unhibited and free.
  • The wallflower girl who probably is the best of the lot, as she doesn’t care and mildly snarks about everything.

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While the show is clever, you can’t be sure whether or not it’s criticizing or pandering to certain anime tropes. The large amount of nudity and sexual positioning would give this an R, even though it’s all fan-tease: no nipples and no tentacles or whatever. The positioning in particular is very bad, especially with the sporty girl. The first two minutes is pretty typical of the entire episode.

So positives include some clever writing, negatives include a lot of teasing and pandering.

Military! is the first three-minute show of the season. This is pretty much the show in one picture:

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In a funny intro, Souhei finds out that his salaryman dad signed the wrong work papers, and is now a mercenary in a faraway kingdom. He has enemies that will also target his son, so he sent two subordinates to guard him.

Two pint-sized absolutely crazy subordinates who might just kill him first.

Imagine if the two girls from Kill Me Baby! had to guard someone, and this is the short. It’s not bad, and at three minutes is the perfect length. Any longer, and the girls will annoy you. Except for a scene with bunny panties, it’s a mild pg-13. Not really great, but it’s three minutes. You wont miss the time you spend watching it.

Unfortunately it seems like Funimation is getting a lot of licenses, and their streaming service is horrible for me. I won’t be able to comment on Yuri Kuma/lesbian bears and other series till they hit Hulu. But as much as I can. I’ll try to give a full impression on all the series coming up this season.


Anime Winter 2015: First Look, Part One

Yeah, it’s that time again. A new season of anime has begun. It’s time to take a look at the first three series coming down the pipe. We’re looking at Cute High Earth Defense Club LOVE, Kantai Collection, and The Testament of New Sister Devil.

Cute High Earth Defense Club LOVE! is the first series I’ve watched, and like all first series of the season, it’s pretty sketchy. Two boys are bathing in a bathhouse before school. Out of nowhere, a pink wombat-like alien breaks through the roof and tries to get them to defend the earth. After a lot of pleasing, the two boys and three others agree, only to be transformed into the Sailor Scouts. I mean magical boys.

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Yes, it’s as bad as it looks, right down to the anime nudity transformation scenes. The five boys are direct copies of the five sailor scouts, with Sailor Moon combined with Sailor Venus in the form of the center teen. The one saving grace is that the characters are aware of this, and there’s some parody of magical girl tropes in the show. Giving random names to random attacks has never been so fun.

However, it’s painfully apparent it’s meant to appeal to the fujoshi with the entire cast being pretty boys. The best comparison I have is imagine Meganebu! but with the characters aware of how absurd things are. The satire is more gentle than laugh out loud funny though.

Apart from the magical transformation sequences (which remind us that guys cannot pull off the exact same transformations with “pure nudity” as the girls, it’s a mild PG. Not really offensive, but it starts out dull.

I liked Kantai Collection much better, but I like Strike Witches too.

Earth has been invaded…by a fleet of pretty girls who have the powers of battleships. Our only hope is to find girls with the spirits of ships themselves, and train them to fight. One such girl, the spirit of a new, advanced destroyer named Fubuki, is getting used to her new life when a sudden offensive happens. Can she emulate the oh-so-cool carrier Akagi?

I was looking forwards to this, and it didn’t disappoint.

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It has the same vibe as Strike Witches, but so far with far less fan service. The first episode introduces us to a ton of fleet girls, and has them fight against the invaders in a battle. The story centers around the girl-ships of Torpedo Fleet 3, and it was animated well. I haven’t played the game, but I haven’t seen complaints about how faithful it was to it. Especially cool moments involved how they get the battleship parts on the girls, and Akagi fighting the invader flagship like a boss.

It’s a silly concept, but done really well. Maybe Pg-13 because the girls get “clothing damage” when hit, just like the game. Still, I look forwards to future episodes.

The Testament of New Sister Devil, not so much.

This is how I feel about this series.

This is how I feel about this series.

Basara is a teen boy happily living with his dad. Out of the blue, his dad says he is remarrying, and now he has two cute little sisters. Dad, being the anime dad he is, leaves shortly after. The first half is the usual “new anime sister” stuff, and is a pretty bad ten minutes.

The second part reveals that his “sisters” have their own reasons for being there, and Basara has a few secrets of his own. Imagine High School DxD combined with the tired old “demon lord” tropes, and you’ve got this series. The main character honestly is a dead ringer for DxD’s lead, and the wince-inducing nude intro sets the tone that this is going to be yet another sexy fanservice harem show.

R mostly for nudity and gratuitous loli onee-chans. Not really keen on it, as it seems to just be blending some really tired tropes other series have done better.

That’s it for the first shows of the season. As more become available I’ll add my impressions of them.


How Far They’ve Come

It’s hard to believe that in under thirty years, anime-styled video games have come from this:

To this:

The first game is Golgo 13: The Mafat Conspiracy, released in 1988 for the NES. The second is Guilty Gear XRD sign, released in 2014. The second video is a demo of instant-kill moves. If you can hit it just right, you can finish your opponent with a single attack, done in a spectacular (and often hilarious) cut-scene. It’s amazing how seamless the transition is. My favorite is pirate girl May packing her unconscious opponent into a cannon on top of the Super May Ship.

It’s not just that, though. Even in regular gameplay Guilty Gear sparkles. The animation is so fluid and detailed that you can make out the facial expressions on the characters. In this combo video you can see with every single move May’s facial expressions change.

It’s funny also that the animation in video games seem to be overtaking the animation in anime itself. If you compare this to World Trigger, or even Sailor Moon Crystal, there’s no contest. Something like Karen Senki, which also uses the cel-shaded style, looks low-budget.

I think a lot of people forget how much change we’ve had in not even a single lifetime. This is a fun little comparison of how a single sub-genre of video games has improved in only 27 years. Can you imagine what it will be like in fifty? Eighty years?


Review: Unbreakable Machine-Doll

It’s hard to give this one a rating at all. It’s objectively a bad anime, on Infinite Stratos level. But somehow in manages to hook you despite the one-note characters, bad writing, and scatter-shot plot. Two stars for that.

In an alternate-world London, a young puppeteer named Raijin, and his automaton Yaya arrive at a school for puppetteers. His reason? To get revenge on the man who killed his entire clan. Even with the strength of Yaya, it will not be an easy thing. But his own ideas may need to be put on hold, as events surrounding the school may claim his attention first. If he even can survive long enough to do anything about them.

It sounds cool, and the anime has some serious style and flash to it. There’s some great voice acting and some strong character performances, notably from Charlotte and her dragon automaton Sigmund. The world is decent, and the action sequences strong. It draws you in, with little downtime during or between episodes.

However, once you finish the series, you realize how awful it is.

The characters that started out great become idiots or caricatures. Yaya is sex-crazed to the point of absurdity, and most of the female cast seem to lose their brains whenever Raijin says something that can be twisted into naughtiness. Raijin himself heals impossibly fast when the plot demands it, despite hinting his connection to Yaya drains his life force. We’re talking healing from near-fatal injuries in the same day fast. He tends to pull off plans of incredible foresight, yet he’ll challenge his enemies in broad daylight or do stupid things. Charl’s sister Henrietta is one of the stupidest characters I’ve seen in anime, period.

The plot itself quickly loses focus. The initial revenge story is lost in what feels like an adaptation of just one or two books of a manga. It sets up an entirely different enemy only to reveal their true nature, and then the anime ends. This wouldn’t be so bad if it weren’t the only season made. Don’t expect any closure.

Yet despite this, it was a lot of fun to watch the first time. It can succeed in spite of itself. Charlotte is a tsundere, but she’s written surprisingly well for one. Sigmund and Yaya both have great identities, and Raijin still manages to be a decent action hero despite having to be idiotic often. It’s a good rental/one-time anime to watch, and the ending song is very catchy ear-candy. Bon!

However, for Christians, serious caveats. This one hits NC-17 levels at times solely on the raunchy dialogue. It takes the traditional “interpret what the hero says as perverted” and takes it up to such ridiculous levels that it actually manages to be funny. One scene with Henrietta is such a ridiculous overreaction that it actually makes you wonder what the writers were thinking; literally NC-17 material. There’s a lot of suggestive dialogue overall, although sometimes like the end (where Charl’s “secret” is revealed and actually consoles Henrietta-she pads her bra) it can work despite itself. Yaya constantly wants to jump Raishin’s bones, or throttle him when she thinks he’s looking at “vixens.” Some nudity, but not as much as you’d think. Violence approaches R levels.

Not really much in the way of Christian themes. A missed opportunity was to delve into Raijin’s character through is relationship with Yaya. He steadfastly refuses to do the deed with her, despite him having every reason to. It’s shown that he sees automatons like people, and there’s nothing stopping him from loving Yaya, but instead of making it clear he values her as a person there’s an explanation he is still betrothed to someone. This despite the fact he is on a suicide mission, more or less. I think it would have been better if he actually did marry her, and there could have been a lot more focus on the nature of “banned dolls.” Do automatons made of human parts have souls?

Nothing really is done with it, though. The ending concept of the machine-doll, a perfect fusion of humans and doll. goes nowhere. It winds up taking its stylish beginning and fizzling out at the end. It’s a decent anime despite this, but the raunchiness will probably put off most Christians from wanting to watch it.


New Years, 2015

It’s a new year, and with that comes new resolutions. No, not resolutions, but planning instead. The past year was spent resolving some internal questions about the nature of my writing and my nature both as a Christian and a writer. Having come to peace with this, I can now plan with a clean conscience.

For 2015, my goal is to write four chapter books in four unique series for self-publication in 2016. These are early/middle grade books, so total word-count would be in the 10-50k range apiece. I have the series already determined in my mind, and they’ll mostly be fantasy, with a single science-fiction book. They will also be secular.

I also plan to write two Christian spec-fic novels. Probably around 50-70k word count. However, I am writing these to get God off my back.

What I mean by this is that every Christian author has an internal conflict about their writing. Should I write for God, or for man? Should I be using my gifts as a ministry, or as a profession? This conflict has slowed my desire to write for some time now, and it was only recently that I resolved it. I will do both, but I have little faith in the Christian market. The novels I write will be mostly for God, and if I choose to publish them, I’m not expecting much.

I say this because I do not see any real desire from Christians for distinctively Christian works. I see a lot of talk, because people are afraid to say they don’t like them and like secular things better. But the market to me has shown that currently Christian speculative fiction is a writer-driven thing with a tiny readership, and Christians would rather believe Harry Potter is a Christian book series than read Christian books of their own. This is not a mindset that inspires me to make writing Christian spec-fic my sole aim.

I still in my heart really want to see a vibrant spec-fic culture, but I think writing books is not the way to do it. The only way to do so is for people with money to back the creation of the genre and the fandom with serious capital. You cannot bootstrap a Christian geek culture; you need people who are willing to invest real assets into it and fund high-quality projects and fan culture to have any chance in swaying public opinion. I would like to do this, but I’m not sure it’s possible for me to and even if I could, it would take ten or twenty years to amass the resources. So I feel the need to bury the idea of Christian spec-fic currently and focus on developing my career as a writer and amassing resources and capital to maybe one day spark the culture into life.

This is going to mean a lot of learning and effort. It’s going to be a busy year full of learning, and in a way I look forwards to it. It’s better to be busy and struggle with serious plans than to be idle due to a divided conscience. I hope that all my readers face the New Year with clear plans and an untroubled conscience, and that we all move into the future productively.


Have Yourself A Very Merry Body Horror

So, it’s Christmas time. I do what any self-respecting gamer would do, and start playing Parasite Eve.

You have to love local used game stores. Especially the arbitrary way they price things. Fairly rare PS One RPG, thirteen bucks. Common as heck Xbox 360 Sonic game, Fifteen.

You have to love local used game stores. Especially the arbitrary way they price things. Fairly rare PS One RPG, thirteen bucks. Common as heck Xbox 360 Sonic game, Fifteen.

For the non-fossils among us, Parasite Eve is one of many orphaned Squaresoft franchises that never made it past the PS2 era. Based on a best-selling book in Japan, it’s about what happens when the mitochondria in our bodies reveal themselves to 1) be intelligent 2) not like us very much. This means a lot of people bursting into flames or mutating into jelly, except for the heroine Aya Brea, who has ties to the evil Mitochondrial Eve, the first collection of mitochondria that have taken over some poor opera singer.

The first game is better than you’d think, It’s set in New York City over Christmas, and it feels very much like what a Resident Evil RPG would be like. The basic gameplay is clear, yet with a lot of depth to it. It’s a PSone game, so it looks terrible, but it ages better than something like Silent Hill. There’s only three titles in the series, with the 3rd being the Third Birthday for PSP. That’s going to be purchased soon.

It’s interesting playing it again. It makes you feel not a little old when you realize the game starts at December 24, 1997. Seventeen years ago. The storyline is one of the better ones in JRPGs, and there’s a lot of horror in the fact that something deep inside of you that is the only reason you are able to live now wants you dead. It’s really an underrated series, and it’s sad that it’s joined games like Vagrant Story, Threads of Fate, Brave Fencer Musashi, and Xenogears in Old Video Game Heaven. Not many games manage to mix Survival Horror and RPG as well.

Kind of made me think about horror some too.

One of the things that Christians take for granted I think is that we have a belief system that destroys a lot of the horror that things like Parasite Eve can evoke. There are two aspects to why the game can be frightening. One is the squishy icky gory monsters, and the other is the cosmic horror of something so intimately bound to our bodies hates us, and wants to “overthrow the nucleus.” The latter is neutralized a lot by our faith.

Christians believe the world is fallen, yes, but that the creation overall is good. The appeal of cosmic horror is that the creation is not good, at a fundamental level; ultimate reality is very hostile to humans. Not just in a “we’ll kill you, eat you, or make you sick” like we find in nature, but either an uncaring or intelligent malevolence that causes madness or worse. I knew when I read horror seriously in my teens, that was one of the few things that would chill me. When God is silent or doesn’t exist, that inability to know can lead into fear that something horrid is out there that really calls all the shots.

But faith in Christ destroys this. The universe in a sense is broken due to sin, but it’s not disordered to the level of cosmic horror. Something like Parasite Eve would have been very unnerving to younger me, without a belief in God. It’s not a big stretch to go from an eternal silence to a malevolent one. Now though I feel inoculated against it. Even if the world is broken and full of horrors, it is not the normal state of affairs nor is it by design. Someone made it for good, and it will be good again.

That can give you a lot of peace. Horror is all about things that you do not know, and one of the few things you can say you know as a Christian is that God made the world, and called it good. It’s a surprisingly effective vaccine against the fear that our mitochondria might decide to spontaneously combust us.

Although not the typical Christmas fare, at that.

 


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