Sunday, August 21, 2016

Ink & Paint: Junko Enoshima Has Won

Ever encounter a series that you've enjoyed every entry of, even the ones that seem to be a bit too different from the previous entries, until one comes along that just takes all of that goodwill and curb stomps it?

Cuz that is exactly what I'm going through with Danganronpa right now.

(Take warning now - to articulate what bothers me, I'm going to be spoiling a LOT, from the new anime to the games. So leave if you're afraid of being spoiled. This goes for the DR3 anime, at least through the 5th episodes of each arc; if I missed anything from there out, I stopped watching & can catch up via reviews/the wiki entry.)

I loved the games. Even though the trials' rhythm game elements were infuriatingly tough for me (not a genre I'm good at) and Absolute Despair Girls was a third-person shooter, their stories & characters sucked me into this weird, twisted universe. Even the worst of them likability-wise were at least entertaining, and thanks to after-game stuff, no one felt one-dimensional.

The new anime sounded interesting - simultaneously wrapping up the main story centered around Hope's Peak Academy & its related cast while filling in the blanks connected to DR2's cast.  But the designs for the new characters should have been a red flag - with a few exceptions, they looked very same-y and very much like the generic idea of a "cool" anime character. What's more, the dominant coloring for these new designs - and their connected series - was various shades of army drab.  Compared to the colorful and vividly unique designs from the games, it just seemed dull and disconnected.  But it's Danganronpa, so how bad could it be?

When I started watching, there were a few characters who had promise - Seiko the nervous pharmacist who seemed very fragile but was shown to be a fierce fighter when needed, Bandai was cheerful & friendly despite everyone inexplicably hating his high-pitched voice & malapropisms (probably also didn't help him he was the only black guy), the older chairman was the only time an authority figure in this series seemed honest & sensible, and the best of the bunch, the Great Gozu, a boisterous & honorable wrestler who wears his cow mask with a three-piece suit. Outside of the returning characters, they are the only ones whose names stuck with me. Cuz they were the only likable new additions, and they are all dead.

Who's left?  Well, there's Sword Asshole, the leader of the crew & the clear writers' favorite; he's so obsessed with killing all sources of despair that he's willing to pretty much kill everyone.  Since he's so favored by the writers, he takes up a lot of screen time, and any efforts to portray him as anything else than a brooding maniac ring incredibly false since they are so (a) cliche and (b) badly done at that.  Also, his design is a straight up clone of Persona 4's player character.  His right-hand man is Punchy Asshole, a boxing expert who is the absolute worst of the bunch.  He gets his own damn paragraph, since he is absolutely key to the kind of missteps that are so off-putting.  There's their shared morality pet/love interest, Fridge Maid; she gets some added development in the Despair side, but it isn't enough to negate her shallow gimmick (she's Ultimate Housekeeper?!) or that, as my nickname suggests, she is the first to die.  Any narrative insistence that the Asshole Brothers are not assholes comes largely from her, not from anything we actually see them doing.  Then there's the loving couple of Stabby Joe (who never speaks but is quick to pull knives on everyone, all while wearing Vash's old coat) and Candy Womanchild (who takes it as a personal insult that Seiko is fatally allergic to sugar & thus won't eat her sweets); they're just really obnoxious in that generic school bully way, but since they're standing & Seiko is not, they're as bad as the Asshole Brothers.  Anyone who saw Wheelchair Girl that played ADG knew what her deal was instantly and was thus not surprised by ~*The Big Reveal*~ about her; she's not a character so much as a really obvious plot device.  Finally, there's the talent scout dude, who reminds me so much of a classmate who was a functional alcoholic through high school that it's kind of scary; he's just boring and unfunny.

(Oh, and Ultimate Animator. He's just a scared little rabbit who exists largely to give the Ultimate Imposter both a new role to assume in the Despair arc & a friend to give them a bit more development.  He's just kind of... there.)

Now, if all of these unlikable new characters stayed in the Future arc, I'd be fine. But because the writers seem to ~loooove~ these new guys so much, they're all over the Despair arc like ants in the sugar bowl.  It worked out okay with Fridge Maid - she gets a lot of good development as the erstwhile homeroom teacher of our DR2 kids - but everyone else (except maybe Seiko & the chairman) just becomes that much worse.  Candy Womanchild is the worst kind of mean girl, her boyfriend is still a blandly violent cipher, the scout is still a blase alkie, and Sword Asshole is just a device for vague conspiracy stuff. But the worst - the absolute fuck-this-shit-I'm-out worst - is Punchy Asshole.  The entire transformation of Hajime into Izuru and thus Junko's power over the DR2 kids & rise to power is wholly his fault.  Instead of "protecting" Hajime, as Punchy Asshole claimed, he just nearly beat him into a coma & mocked his lack of "talent", undoing all of the good the influence of Chiaki's friendship & the chairman's guidance did to make him feel good with himself.  Way to go, Punchy Asshole - you just helped Junko destroy society.

And the worst part? There will be no satisfying narrative comeuppance to this.

The killing game in this series has no executions, so seeing these unlikable new jerks get their just desserts isn't likely.  From what spoilers I've heard from stronger souls who kept watching, they're actively walking back the melancholy-but-still-optimistic ending of DR2 thanks to the need to "build" the new characters more.  There is a strong feeling that, in a franchise that was built on trying to find justice for fallen friends in an unfair world & fight back against it with the sheer force of hopefulness, there will be no justice, no fairness, not even a glimmer of positivity or optimism.  This is where Danganronpa as a series is going to go from here on, and it is into a self-defeating pit of hatefulness, unsympatheticness, and, well, despair.

Despair into tomorrow.  Despair into your memories.  Despair into nothingness.

Despair into no longer watching and being actively afraid if the fourth game will be more of this instead of the stuff that actually was fun.

There have been a few series I enjoyed in this past year that I actively dipped on because they had new entries that were off-putting.  I loved the carefree world of Aikatsu! but because Aikatsu Stars introduced one of those unbearable shoujo romances where the main love interest is an utter bully to the heroine, I bailed.  I drifted from Precure after a strong season because while Maho Gilrs Precure isn't actively bad, it's just monotonous and feels very skippable & like the franchise has largely run its course.  And right now, Marvel Comics is taking a heroine I like (one that they're going to intro into the movies soon) and making her actively unsympathetic & borderline villainous, derailing several of the titles I read regularly as the heroes deal with the fallout of her (mischaracterized) bad decisions.  DC Comics is such a trash pile that I've basically had to give them up entirely.  2016 has been a very good year for very bad entries in very good series and driving me away from them.

So why not add Danganronpa to this kind of depressing list?

EDIT 10/2/16: So I am two things - a pig-headed, temperamental punk and a masochist. So of course, I kept watching DR3. And I'll say this - they managed to fix 90% of the complaints from above.  Between twists I genuinely don't want to spoil because they were legit clever and a truly amazing 11th hour redemption arc for the Asshole Brothers, I have to say that I was being pig-headed, temperamental, and hasty to judge AGAIN.  That said, the finale doesn't really work for me; it felt like they tried to hammer out a happy ending despite this being a franchise that's really not built for them.  It winds back a genuinely heartbreaking moment to get there, while the DR2 kids more or less have to keep being demonized even though they're sincerely cured.  But yeah, it wasn't as much of a garbage fire as the early episodes suggested it would be.  So consider this a mea culpa and a mild recommendation.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Further updates

So... still not in the new house yet. Between cleaning it out, getting relatives down to look through everything for something they might want, and getting paperwork coordinated, it's taken a LOT longer than I expected.  My goal is to finally be in there and getting settled as of the end of this month, but I said that back in March...

Anyway, I'm hoping once I'm settled and on my own, I can turn out more substantial content for this blog.  I can finish the SW6 Omnicommentaries, I can move on to some other series including:

  • A bit of the post-Zero Hour Legion,
  • Jurgens' Teen Titans, 
  • A late 90s attempt at "modernizing" Power Pack, 
  • An Ultraverse entry called Freex that will be my first foray into Malibu's short-lived heyday,
  • The legendarily bad Mutant X, and
  • Should the fates align & some light be shed on some urban legends, X-Men 2099 at long last.
Along with some other off-the-cuff stuff, I hope to at least get an entry or two a month done once I'm settled.  I've been wanting to do this for YEARS now and been kicking myself the entire time thanks to real-life obligations constantly diverting me.  Maybe, with obligations largely to myself, I can prioritize my writing again in some way since I'm the only one that ever took it seriously at all.

(UPDATE 6/20/2016: For the curious few/none, still not moved in. Stupid mortgage process...)

(UPDATE 8/21/16: Guess who's finally a homeowner...)

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Ink and Paint: A Ponderance from Idol Hell

For those who don't know, Aikatsu! is ending its original series in about a week.  And as much as I'm embarrassed to admit it, I'm a little sad.

You need to understand - idol shows, especially the all-ages ones like Aikatsu!, have kind of filled the niche once reserved for magical girl shows.  And this particular show was so relentlessly positive and feel-good that I frequently watched it as a pick-me-up.  Hell, the whole reason I got into it was because I was going through a depressive period and needed something positive.  Plus, being an all-ages show, Aikatsu! had no random gross fanservice to distract from the show (looking at you, random closeup of Eli's butt while she adjusts her bikini leg from Love Live...).  It was a fun, fluffy show.

But I agree with the consensus that, until the current story arc, this last season felt like oddly lifeless wheel-spinning.  It introduced too many new idols & new brands entirely too quickly, cluttering an already massive cast (the main idols alone number around 17 at my rough count).  It felt distracted and designed like something where the creators no longer cared about anything other than their "sell the game" obligations.  Previous seasons at least had plot reasons for every new introduction, but this one felt like some Bandai exec was saying "Hey, you need to introduce Dolly Devil and Mecha PaniQ now, so think of something!" and that was all that was done for the script.

There was a lot to like about this show.  Like I said, it was a positive show; the main competition the girls had was always within themselves, and even the girls who declared themselves rivals would encourage, inspire, & support each other.  The songs and (most of) the clothes were very cute, and while most of the character had "their" hook, each felt like someone who'd be fun to follow individually.  The fandom in this country stayed relatively small, mostly thanks to an unfortunate lack of legal streaming, and with a few exceptions (such as the game purist on Tumblr and whoever keeps editing TV Tropes to act like Hikari was a major character), most of them have been pretty cool.  And as weak as this abbreviated final season has been until now, I'll miss it.  (I'll probably keep the first Christmas episode in my regular holiday viewing rotation.)

I'm looking forward to Aikatsu Stars and seeing if it's a full sequel or if it's just set in the same general universe.  So far, the designs look good, and what I've heard of the songs in the previews is catchy.  And maybe reducing the brands in-show used will mean that my favorites don't get abruptly forgotten (I still miss Futuring Girl).  We'll see.  But yeah, this is the show that dragged me into idol hell, and I hope its send-off is appropriately solid.

(FYI, when the last episode is subbed, I'll post some thoughts here.)

UPDATE 3/29/16, 7:55 AM EST: Well, scratch that idea. The subs I use haven't bothered to sub the finale in what is close to a week.  This has me worried if anyone will be willing to sub Aikatsu Stars in a timely manner, and that's due to start later this week.  We'll see, but for now, apologies that my plans for a finale review have been thwarted.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Update from a possible future homeowner

No tags on this one - I just wanted to give a quick update.  Due to a recent death in the family, there is a house in the family that we're working on "selling" to me.  That means I will have a mortgage and utility/homeowner expenses for the first time ever.  Before we can get to that, I need to get my unfortunately high credit card balances down to a manageable rate & build up my savings again.  This means cutting out a lot of fun stuff, which has been intensely depressing.

But hopefully, it'll all work out, it'll all be worth it, and I can truly start to live my own life in my own place.

I know I don't update anywhere as much as I should or would like to, but if you're curious about the radio silence this time, here's why.  Actual good reason this time instead of depression-fueled procrastination.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Magical Girl Obsession: Teeny Tiny Witch Hat Precure

As sure as family crises and the occasional head cold, the newest Precure series has been announced this Christmas.  Maho Tsukai Precure (a.k.a. Maho Girls Precure) feels like a throwback in several ways - the two-girl team with a joint transformation, the monstrous-sounding villains, the visible age difference between civilian & Cure forms, etc. It also has some fun new concepts, such as having the girls attend a school for witches in training. ANN has info on the overall premise, so I'll direct you there instead of repeating it. Either way, it sounds like a deliberate nod to both Toei's own Ojamajo Doremi series and the "cute witch" roots of the magical girl genre.  Since this past season was really very solid, I'm looking forward to this one.  But of course, I wanna review the new designs.

First, the civilian forms for Mirai (top) and Riko (bottom).  Very cute - I like Mirai in particular, since she looks like she could be related to Haruka with her big, wide eyes.  Maybe they could be cousins or something.  Riko's kind of serious demeanor is interesting, too.

As you can see, the two girls look visibly older as Cure Miracle & Cure Magical (respectively), but only by a year or two. Miracle's design has drawn cries of her being an "Ichigo rip-off" (in case you're unfamiliar, they're referencing one of the mains for Aikatsu!), but really, the most overlap is in the "blonde wearing pink" color scheme & that applies to a lot of pink Cures.  Her dress is cute, but I think it's also kind of generically cutesy, which is probably another source of the "rip-off" accusations.  Cure Magical's dress is a lot more unique - I especially like the capelet - but it's also a tad busy.  I'm also the only person weirdly okay with her bat-wing hair.  
It's worth noting that I am among those disappointed that the girls' witch hats are so very tiny.  I know their civilian school uniforms have standard-size witch hats, but a traditional magical girl with a normal witch hat as an accessory would look pretty amazing.  This way, though, they're tiny to the point of being silly.  Well, this is Precure we're talking about...

One of the "hooks" of this series is that the girls have gemstones that allow them to transform into Ruby, Sapphire, & Topaz variant forms.  I hope these are used more effectively than the form changes in Happiness Charge Precure, which looked really awesome but were only utilized once or twice apiece & solely for crowd control.  

First, there's the Ruby forms. Not sure what the overall theme is besides the striped bows, but there's a common hairstyle for each form change. These are probably my least favorite of the designs; Ruby Miracle just looks sort of generic & Valentine's-y, while Ruby Magical has those awful, awful garters & looks like a Christmas-themed gothic lolita. Pigtails are cute for both, though.

Next is the Sapphire form, which could either be sky themed or ocean themed and has a much softer, more toga-esque feel.  Both look pretty cool, but I like the colors in Sapphire Magical's dress a lot & I also dig Sapphire Miracle's elaborate ponytail.

Finally, there's the Topaz form, which is probably my favorite.  Its theme of sweets is pretty apparent, and it has the signature Precure bonkers-ness that I enjoy.  Also, finally, Cures with braided hair!  The bazillion hard candies on Topaz Miracle's outfit are pretty cute, but I adore Topaz Magical's sublimely stupid flan hat and pudding-themed skirt.  It's ludicrous and I love it.

So yeah, I'm looking forward to Maho Girls Precure. Go! Princess Precure was surprisingly good even with a mid-series creative shift (which worked, because it meant removing Shibata), and it looks like they're going with an all-new staff whose worked on all of the past seasons in different roles.  It should be interesting to see where this season goes and if it's as much of a loving nod to both the series' & Toei's past as the announcement suggests.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Magical Girl Obsession: On the Subject of Leaks

So of course, after I say I can't think of anything to say, I have something to say. And it needs to be said.

You are not entitled to information leaks about a TV show and/or movie.

Again, you are not entitled to leaks.

You are not entitled to leaks.

As much as December info leaks are seen as a sort of Pretty Cure tradition at this point, they are not something the staff of the show actually wants to happen.  They want you to be surprised & interested in the show because of the information they offer, not because someone found an early design in a detail-reduced form on a candy wrapper.  They want you to enjoy the plot twists, not have them spoiled months in advance by copyright registrations being trolled for info.  Have a bit of basic respect for the creators wanting to give you the best experience they can.

Toei has, on the whole, gotten pretty good at thwarting the leak-makers.  After the aforementioned copyright searchers spoiled the reveal of Cure Sunshine in the early weeks of Heartcatch, they created whole characters, settings, & plot lines for Suite that were deliberate red herrings to keep the real story & cast from being spoiled.  They've managed to keep merchandise previews with pictures from being released until a week or two before the official announcement.  They've found a way to incorporate the potential leaks into the intended hype cycle.

But the Suite fake-outs wouldn't be necessary if people didn't feel that these leaks were somehow owed to them.  People on the internet tend to be... impatient, and like I said before, they don't have much respect for the human beings behind the stuff they enjoy.  Just look at the people demanding George RR Martin "finish writing before you die", which is wrong & insulting on so many levels towards someone they claim to respect.  Waiting a week or two extra shouldn't be treated as a form of punishment - although for some of you, it's really deserved.

EDIT: So of course the first poster is released the evening I write this.  I will write up a post reacting to the Maho Girls Precure designs once I can view them in a less busy manner.  Seriously, that poster is kinda busy & doesn't give you much of a design idea other than their faces & their fairies. So look forward to that eventually.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

A Brief Update

So reality just body-slammed my family for the past couple of months. I won't go into details, I'll just say what I've said about this situation, which is that living longer means nothing when the mind continues to die. Also, if your siblings beg off helping you for stuff like fishing trips & beach homes, you aren't as close-knit as you insist you are, and you shouldn't even count them in your decisions. Needless to say, it's been all hands on deck to help with day-to-day living.

I'm trying to think of stuff for an end-of-year wrap-up, but there isn't enough to really cover.

There haven't been any leaks for the new Precure season outside of one nearly unseeable poster, and while I really admire how Toei has managed to keep everything under wraps, it also means I can't do a "get hype" post until the official announcement. That usually happens in late December.

It's hard to plan projects when every day is a sea of chaos & mundane work, so unfortunately, no updates on that front.

But I'm posting mostly to assure you that this isn't a dead blog. Not that there really are any readers who care outside of Eastern European spambots, but I felt the need to post something.