The Biggest Frustration of Being a Manga Reader in the US

Anime is very easy to come across in recent times. Whether through Crunchyroll, Hulu, Funimation, Netflix, Amazon or illegal torrents, anime can be found anywhere and everywhere, as long as you know where to find it. You can complain about certain companies behaving a certain way with their shows (like Netflix not simulcasting, or Amazon being extremely late with their show’s releases), but overall anime is a much bigger thing nowadays and therefore much easier to find and watch.

What has suffered a major hit in America, at least, has been manga. Sure, you can do an easy search online and find illegal sites of fan-translated manga, but that comes with it’s own risks and potential frustrations. The translations might be both great or terrible in quality, most times maintaining very little of the nuance in the original text, the chapters might be months apart, some series might be abandoned completely and most times than not, the actual act of reading an online manga is tiresome and deeply annoying. There’s nothing quite like picking up a book with your hands, flipping the slightly rough pages, sitting down with a good drink, and experiencing the entire act of reading manga.

There are, once again, some options. Dark Horse comics have excellent omnibus releases (like the stellar Cardcaptor Sakura omnibuses), you have Seven Seas releasing a constant stream of yuri and shoujo titles (the likes of Bloom into You, Citrus, Netsuzou TRap, Oshiete! Galko-chan, and Strawberry Panic) and Yen Press with their Konosuba releases and their upcoming Youjo Senki light novels and eventual manga publishing in 2018. These, and many other companies are publishing excellently edited manga here in the United States, and the fact that it is sold in stores like Barnes and Nobles makes the buying and selling of manga, and therefore it’s propagation, a much easier progress.

Sadly, though, this isn’t the case with every manga series.

Where as you can load up KissAnime or Gogoanime and watch an entire, obscure show from 1987 at any time, many, many manga series are being left in the dust completely, with no way of ever being retranslated or rereleased. I mentioned Youjo Senki, but the actual manga came out in 2013 yet the translation has yet to come here at all, left for a 2018 release from questionable purchasing options in Amazon. I recently got very into Gunslinger Girl, and while the 1st volume of the Seven Seas omnibuses is in heavy supply for a great price, after that, it becomes almost undesirable to purchase, with most online stores not having them at all, and those that do, having them for at least $64 in price. The very same Cardcaptor Sakura omnibus release by Dark Horse is also increasingly harder to find, volumes 3 and 4 having almost exclusively 3rd party sellers in websites like Amazon, for much higher prices and astoundingly less physical quality.

Manga simply isn’t the big popular punch that anime is, and while that medium is growing more and more each season, manga seems like it’s becoming more and more of a niche, inviting a supremely low and unloyal fanbase and becoming harder and harder to find good quality prints and releases in North America. It’s honestly frustrating.

This wouldn’t be a problem if I read Japanese, of course, but most manga readers don’t have the drive, time, or money to heavily learn the language, leaving hundreds of potentially excellent manga untouched for the english reader, and that’s the biggest bummer ever.

Casshern Sins, and how Humanity is Subconsciously Addicted to Conflict

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Casshern Sins is fascinating in a way that’s very different to most other shows, because it takes an episodic adventure genre and uses it to explore the depths of the human psyche, all coalescing into one central theme that I have never seen be explored in media at all: Humanity’s dependability and need for conflict.

When we think about peace on Earth, it’s almost universally agreed on that it’s the most desired outcome for the future of humanity. People want peace above all, and hate the ideas of war and conflict basically conceptually. What many people don’t realize though, is how important conflict is despite how it’s been perceived as an objectively negative thing.

Obviously any kind of suffering is something most people don’t want, but surviving suffering leads to adaptability and evolution. Humans have become what they’ve become due to the strain they’ve suffered, from being hunted by wild animals 10,000 years ago, all the way through written history and all of it’s atrocities, to the modern day, where pain and death happen every day. It’s a part of our life as human beings and it’s lead us to the level of technological and societal sophistication that we currently maintain. We are what we are because of the horrors that happened to our ancestors.

What Casshern Sins mananges to show in it’s titular character Casshern, is that he is very much a man (or in this case, robot) tied to war and conflict. He cause the end of the world, plunging the Earth into an era of desolate landscapes, rust, and despair. He wishes to stop fighting, to repent for his sins, but the world that he lives in doesn’t let him. The robots that are left have all grown insane, hungry for his body and desperate to consume him in order to achieve immortality. Casshern is faced with these robots day after day, having to face the results of his actions. Due to what he is, the world is filled with pain.

This is very much similar to how humanity has evolved. Humans have turned humanity into a greedy existence, and now have to cope with the way that they have shaped their very being. The prominence of conflict is due to human’s actions, but now that humanity has reached a level of sophistication that conflict ins’t necessary, it has to repent and reflect on it’s sins now that the idea of war has been so ingrained in our subconscious. It’s for a reason that humans are the only species on Earth that has ever systematically eliminated members of their own race.

Casshern Sins paints a somber picture of humanity and how it’s shaped itself to unconsciously cling to conflict, despite it’s lack of necessity in modern times.

Fate/stay night – A Narrative Retrospective [PART 1 – Fate]

Oneself as an ideal.

The Fate route in Fate/stay night is the first route available when you begin the game, and it’s purposes are the following:

  • To introduce the player to the world of Fate, the Holy Grail War, and the history that preludes the events of the Holy Grail War that takes place in the timeline of the game.
  • To introduce the key players in the story, their superficial personalities (with the exception of some), their stances on the nature of the war, and some of their ideals and wishes for the future, and most importantly, for the Holy Grail itself.
  • To explore Saber and Shirou as a character duo, their stories, desires, opinions, and relationship, and how they blend together to form one cohesive thematic structure.

We’ll start by introducing the main characters, all of whom play a pivotal role in the development of the story’s themes and serve as narrative vehicles in which to explore them. These are:

  • Rin Tohsaka
  • Emiya Shirou
  • Saber
  • Sakura Matou

Let’s start with Rin Tohsaka, twintail “tsundere” princess of the 21st century. Her no-nonsense and rather expressive personality is apparent from moment one, as we learn about her position as a mage, her relationship with those around her, as well as the summoning of her Servant, Archer. Certain subtle elements of her summoning particularly illustrate how she behaves in certain situations, often treating moments of objective negativity as non-impactful or otherwise reacting with an air of palpable positive charisma, despite her ability to make mistakes often and sometimes at the worst of times. She’s not very melodramatic, is what I’m trying to say, and she maintains a competent state of level-headedness even when accidentally summoning the wrong Servant, when getting grabbed by Berserker, or even when being nearly gored by Kotomine near the end of the game. She’s carefully prepared and always has something ready to get her out of a sticky situation, even if she is already a supremely capable mage. Regarding her social life, more so than just being “tsundere” towards other people, she shows herself to be a very emotionally disconnected person, with the exception of a few closer friends whom she spends time with occasionally. As she herself explained, her existence as a mage conflicts with her social life (since exposing herself as a mage to the public might not only cause outrage and controversy, but also allow herself to become the target of unwanted attention from the often violent and ruthless Mages Association) to such an extent that she has chosen to sacrifice human connections in order to preserve the Tohsaka name and to honor not only her own self-imposed pride and skill, but also the memory of her perished father. This adds an extra layer to her character, as she has a personal burden that she has placed on herself as a result of the situation she’s found herself in, in order to maintain her ideals untouched and to not falter from her goals as a mage as well as her outlook on the world. She hopes for the best, but prepares for the worst, and always tries to reach logical and strategic compromises whenever possible. All of this is apparent from these first three days, and all of this is delivered through inner monologue and through her dialogue, especially with her conversation with Archer upon their meeting.

Her stance regarding the Holy Grail War isn’t expanded on completely until her more in-depth exploration in Unlimited Blade Works, but we get the gist of who she is from this route enough to where we can understand her motivations and her basic personality.

If you remember from the beginning of this post, you’d recall that Sakura Matou also was one of our leads, on the same breadth as Shirou, Rin, and Saber. Sakura herself is almost completely absent during the first route, but that has a purpose in and of itself.

Sakura is a dependent and brittle girl, who is more like a ghost than anything else. Firstly, she constantly gets treated like utter garbage by her “brother” Shinji, is physically weak and unfocused, strangely quiet and not very apparent. I say “brother” because Shinji isn’t actually Sakura’s brother; she’s in fact a younger sister to Rin. Ever since she was small, she’s been not only abused by a complete stranger for coming into his house and taking the attention away from him, but also has been cowering under the shadow of her older, much more socially respected sister, who perpetually shines her blinding light down on her fragile eyes. She’s a see-through girl, almost completely transient and unnoticeable. She blends into the background, and during the story of the first route, her existence disappears completely. This is done to instill a nagging in one’s brain, a feeling that there was something there which was left without signal, something that simply evaporated; a tingly feeling of a human presence, yet nothing but fog when you reach. Sakura herself is the main love interest during Heaven’s Feel, and we’ll explore her more during her route, but don’t forget her yourself. She’s perhaps the most important player in this game in the long run.

Returning to Shirou’s personality, how does he fair out?

The idea behind Shirou is that he’s initially portrayed as a flabby, uninspired and hazy person, without much motivations or any weight to his opinions, but it’s the journey of the routes themselves that inform the player of his deeper reasons and ideals. Each route focuses on a potential outcome of his actions and how that reflects on his established personality, and form a narrative progression throughout the entire novel. I won’t point it out right now, seeing as we first need to explore the other two routes in order to comprehend it fully, so just bear with me here. It’s our job as the players to get to know him after following his actions throughout the routes.

So, after that has been established, let’s explore Shirou just during the prologue alone. He’s demonstrated as being a very nice guy (and all the connotations of the phrase), adept with mechanical constructions, and often behaving nonchalantly and absentmindedly towards most things around him. He might become overly anal or erratic in certain situations (like accidentally coming into physical contact with a pretty girl) but this is all due to him being a very hormonal kid despite having a relatively clear head and self-aware attitude. Being a mage himself, he tends to be very accustomed to pain (due to his nightly training sessions), even if his abilities are vastly inferior to possibly every mage around him. He holds his “father” Kiritsugu as his perfect role model and aims to be just like him, possessing a rather vague but nonetheless passionate goal of “becoming a superhero”.

If you haven’t noticed, my description of his personality doesn’t seem to give light to any particular reasons as to why he’s the way that he is (in contrast to Tohsaka’s reasons for being the way she is), but that was all intended. The journey that Shirou takes in the Fate route is to not only show to us, the audience, what caused those ideals and opinions of life that he has, but also to make him realize why those reasons are as flawed and as broken as the ideals themselves. It all returns to that one central theme, “oneself as an ideal”. Shirou himself is just a vessel with which to explore that theme.

We are still a long way away from revealing why Shirou is the way that he is, though, so be patient.

And with that, we can jump straight into Saber herself and her character throughout the story, from beginning to end. Let’s go.

Saber is, more than anything else, the embodiment of self-sacrifice and of youthful idealism. She was born as Arturia Pendragon, the daughter of the King Uther Pendragon, who himself was looking for a male son to make his descendant. Disappointed with Arturia being born a woman, he separated her from the royalty, giving her away to the mage Merlin’s care, enlisting her instead as a knight, taught to fight from a young age. Uther did this mostly because Saber was a woman, but Merlin cared not about this, and foretold that she would become a King in due time. Because of this, and her training as a warrior, she developed a concrete set of morals and ethics, all fueled by her desire to protect her country. “Only a king can save a ruined country headed for death”, she would say, motivated from her own pure sense of righteous abandon.

Hence the day came that the next King was to be chosen, she faced the mythical sword in the stone. As she stood there watching it, Merlin spoke words of warning: “Becoming a King means no longer being human”. With her own mental and physical strength, she succeeded in pulling out the sword Caliburn from the stone it was placed at, becoming King Arthur and ruling for 10 years before her death in combat.

To heavily summarize, she not only unified her people under her banner, but eventually, also caused it’s destruction.

During her rule, she was seen as something not human, unemotional, and almost deity-like. By her mere existence as a King, her constant self-imposed isolation and the fact that she was hiding her gender, the men serving below her turned against her, conspiring and eventually dethroning her by force after a series of idealistic disconnects. Her closest knights slowly lost their sense of agreement toward her, leading to what would be the end of her kingdom. Those last few men still loyal to her faced off against the subordinates which had betrayed her, and in one bloody battle known as the Battle of Camlann, only she remained, with a fatal would and with the men she called comrades laying dead by the hundreds. This tore Arturia apart, her spotless ideals now stained with the blood of her people. In her mind, she had been the sole reason for the destruction of her country, since according to her, if she had not pulled that sword out from the stone, none of this would have happened. All she wished for was another chance, an opportunity to turn back time and prevent her decision, to let another take the throne from her. She appealed to the world itself, and the world heard her. She would become a “Heroic Spirit” (an in-universe term for the souls of humans who have achieved impossible deeds during their life, becoming historical icons that are remembered across all of time as legends), and give her services to the universe in exchange for her wish. The universe told her that in order to fulfill her wish, she had to find the Holy Grail, or be stuck perpetually in her state of near death for eternity. When the Holy Grail Wars began occurring, she would be transported to the future, where the Holy Grail would appear, and where she could use it to achieve her desire.

That was pretty complicated in and of itself, and very heavily redacted for time, but what this boils down to in a narrative sense, is that Saber desired to escape from the decision she took on that day in which she chose to abandon her previous life and become king. Her ideals as a king had turned her into a figure of inhumanity, of righteous holiness that had become separated from mankind. She had stuck with her ideals for so long, that they permeated her emotions and became something essential to her very existence. She was treated as a king and made to live her life disconnected to humanity’s pleasures. Her dissonance with the feelings she felt against her kingship as well as her idealistic view of the world made her feel guilty, unable to accept the eventual tragic results that her actions had caused and was stuck in a mental loop of self-inflicted cause and effect. In her desperation, she failed to understand the error in her ideals and sought to change the past instead of changing herself for the future.

When she was summoned accidentally almost a century later, she came across a young man who, for the first time in her life, actively conflicted with her ideals and challenged her every step of the way. Her inexperience with any sort of emotion meant that she was susceptible to them in a way she’d never been before, and interacting with a man who fell in love with her and treated her first as a woman and second as a warrior was mind-blowing to her. She firstly disproved of it, stating her nature as a Servant (A Heroic Spirit summoned by mages to fight in the Holy Grail War) and closing herself off to him emotionally. But, as she spent more time with him, learning about his determination to always jump to save her, his endless devotion to helping people, and most importantly, his personal and romantic affection towards her ultimately proved challenging for her on a deeply impactful and psychological level. Her newly formed and confusing emotions regarding Shirou clashed intensely with her lifelong adherence to her strict and immovable ideals. Ultimately, she learned from him that oneself is not stuck absolutely to one’s own ideals, and forgives herself for the mistakes that she made during her life. She destroys the Holy Grail (after discovering that it was in fact a lie all along), confesses her love to Shirou, and disappears back into the past, having escaped from her loop, and finally dying the peaceful death that she desired for so long.

Saber’s story is one of coming to terms with the distinction between oneself and oneself’s ideals, and how following one’s ideals can lead to a path of never-ending conflict and inability to change.

[Hard Mode: The H-Scenes. Many people use the fact that the visual novel was originally an eroge to refute much of the thematic power that the series actually contains. I will agree that the actual inner monologue and dialogue used in the H-scenes themselves are extremely ridiculous and exaggerated (my favorite line being “her anus is defenseless”), but I believe that aside from inserting them there for marketing reasons and for a broader appeal, that they serve as major moments of development for the character of Saber. In the context of the story, Saber cannot absorb magical energy from Shirou since he is an inferior mage and does not have much magical energy of his own. She has used up a majority of hers in order to fight Berseker, another Servant, and now needs magical energy desperately or she runs into the risk of disappearing due to lack of energy. Because of this, during her first sexual encounter (which also features Tohsaka), she is in need of Shirou’s alternative source of magical energy, which is stored in his semen (The reason for this being that since Heroic Spirits are human souls, and they require consumption of other souls for magical energy, that semen is basically a pool of life juice, as human beings are formed out of semen in the first place. Genius, I know).

Anyway, this moment represents for her her first sexual experience, as she was too young to ever go through it before the took up the sword and became king. She’s deeply flustered during all of it, and basically has a meltdown because of it. She tries to justify to herself that her reason for having sex with Shirou is for her own wellbeing, but in the end, she is receiving so much pleasure that she simply gives in. After this point in the story, Saber develops a very obvious affection for Shirou, one that appears here and there in various moments, particularly during her date with him. That same day, when they argue about each other’s ideals, she ponders for five whole hours about what she feels for him, about his opinion of her, and about her own past. In the second sexual encounter, it’s only her and Shirou, and the lustful hunger is palpable. She tries to justify to herself again that it’s because she needs to recharge her magical energy, but ends up giving in to her desires and accepting her feelings for Shirou. It all culminates in the final moment right before she vanishes after defeating the Grail, when she tells Shirou that she loves him. It’s actually an integral part of her development as a character, and while the literal portrayal of the scenes is over-sexualized in over-the-top ways, the subtext of those scenes is still important for the overarching plot of Saber’s route.]

And that’s basically Saber’s character. In the 24-30 hours it takes to finish this route, it’s apparent that she is a layered, complex, and evolving character that has actual reasons for her actions, a meaningful emotional progression that has relation to her character and to those around her, and a solid, appropriate conclusion that marks the end of her journey in a satisfying way. But wait, there’s more.

We’ve been talking so much about Saber that we’ve skimmed over Shirou himself. And before we reach our final point, we need to talk about his development during the route.

As I’ve explained before in this endless post, Shirou is (superficially) a person with stubborn ideals. Now let’s take a look at the reason behind those ideals.

He was born in a family that has been lost to the passage of time, but in a more thematic sense, Shirou’s life doesn’t officially start until the great fire that destroyed his hometown 10 years prior to the events of the visual novel (the one that was caused by the Holy Grail War during Fate/Zero). This fire killed his entire family and all of the people in his town. He alone survived, walking aimlessly through the brimstone-laden remains of his life, the screams of the burned piercing his ears and branding themselves into his memory. He wanted to help all of them, but in the end, helped no one, because of fear and self-preservation. He was certain he was going to die, and when his body could not muster it anymore, he laid down and prepared for death. In the last moment, the mage Emiya Kiritsugu found him, the two sole survivors of the horrid massacre that occurred. Kiritsugu cried when he found him, giving thanks to the heavens that he could at least save one person from the disaster which he himself helped to cause. In this moment, Shirou found a reason to live again, to be able to do what Kiritsugu could not: To save everyone.

This is his primary ideal, but something that is left open to interpretation until the very end of the story is that Shirou is suffering through many of the psychological symptoms of a person with Survivor’s Guilt. He spends his time looking up to the figure that saved his life, yet always regrets the fact that he was the only one who survived that blazing night. He values other’s lives far more than he does his own, always aiming to save everyone, yet subconsciously sacrificing his own life (and humanity) for the potential safety of those whom he loves. Does this remind you of anybody else?

His reasons for his ideals are all rooted in an underlying sense of guilt that pushes him to disregard his own life; the ultimate “nice guy”. It’s rather sad, really, knowing that his good intentions are all due to a feeling of existential hatred.

It’s that propensity to act selflessly that also conflicts with Saber’s view of the Holy Grail War and of herself as a Servant. She knows that her purpose as a Servant is to die for her Master, but Shirou’s persistent resistance to that idea is what causes her to begin to think more deeply about her own ideals, and wether or not they are as different from Shirou’s as she thinks they are. Remember the fact that they argue restlessly throughout the whole story about what the best course of action is, about each other’s safety and how they matter to each other, and engage in awkward, emotionally charged scenes that make them spark and react chemically, something which they are not used to normally.

In the end, when the false priest Kotomine Kirei gives Shirou the chance to use the Holy Grail to reverse the events of the past, he refuses. By falling in love with a gorgeous girl, discovering her outlook on life and how much it reflects his own, he has surpassed his ideals and rejected them, realizing that the past cannot be changed and opening the doors for a brighter tomorrow.

In the end, this shows that both of them share the same childish ideal and spiral thinking. They both begin the story regretting the actions that they were thrust into doing, and they both want to (consciously or subconsciously) return to the moment it happened and do it differently, if even do it at all. After spending time with each other and sacrificing themselves for the sake of the other, their romantic love for each other and their eventual mutual understanding makes them realize the mistakes in their thinking and ultimately learn to move on from the burden of the past and become new people. It’s a message about compromise, opening yourself to the people around you, seeking salvation outside of your own repetitive mind. It’s about learning to accept and embrace the opinions and ideals of others, and for not only coming to terms with those of your own, but of those of the people you love. For Saber, it’s the end of her journey, and for Shirou, it’s the beginning of his.

And that is the story of the Fate route in Fate/stay night. The theme of “oneself as an ideal” blends perfectly into it’s two primary characters and uses their relationship as a device for the progression and completion of the theme. It’s a very optimistic story, as it starts with despair, becomes filled with love, and ends as a song of self-realization.

The overarching narrative strength of the novel is far from over, though, as there are still not only two more routes to explore, but also the entire story put together. Stay tuned for next week, as we will be diving waist deep into the neutral realism of Unlimited Blade Works.

Legend of the Galactic Heroes – Episodes 49-52

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The following are scattered notes while watching episodes 49-52, so prepare for some unpolished writing.

  • Reinhard’s persistent regret of Kircheis’ death.

It’s no secret that Reinhard regrets and ponders over the death of his lifelong friend, even a full year and a half after his death. This level of ideal attachment to the image of his mistake is tearing Rein apart, slowly, but surely. It’s like slow motion suicide, one that consumes every particle of logic and forces the one experiencing it to drown in a whirlpool of sadness and frustration. He constantly speaks to Kircheis, a form of latent denial, as Rein has elevated him into a holy and godly status, a pure man much more righteous and noble than he ever will be. It’s almost as if he’s unconsciously pleading for some inkling of help, for something to set him down the right path, but he’s gone too far.

  • The nature of historical quotes and historical inaccuracies.

It’s fascinating to think that most history that has been recorded is in some way incorrect or manipulated. As the saying goes, “history is written by the victors”, but it extends much more than that. The past is a well of knowledge, yet that much of that knowledge has been lost to the passage of time, to the faults in our memories, the fragility of word of mouth, and simply those wishing to not reveal the actual events to the public. Some of this manipulation might be due to controversial realities, the condemning of appraisal of someone, or any reason, really. The fact of the matter is that history is more often wrong than right, and people are quick to make mistakes about historical accuracies and such. I myself have made a large mistake when speaking about Adolf Hitler in a previous post of this series, proving my point.

  • The Yang vs. Reinhard battle to come and it’s potential outcome.

Finally we get to prepare for the main event of the show, the Battle of Vermillion. This event has been building up for the whole show and it’s bound to be either completely bombastic and insane, or totally flipped on it’s head and possibly subversive. These two geniuses are clashing against each other, reading for traps, loop-arounds, “keikakus” and other tricks up their sleeve. If they’re truly evenly matched, the battle might even be as straightforward as possible, both anxious to try any advanced tactics for the fear of potential countermeasures. The Empire and the Alliance are both on the tip of the needle, balancing wildly and only a wind’s push away from falling into the black pit of annihilation. As I’ve said many times before, the stakes could not possible be any higher. The result of this is a rather overwhelming temporary and near victory for the Alliance, as Rein got impatient and sent out his ships to pursue a decoy. The battle as of episode 52 is not yet over, and the Empire is looking worse for wear than ever before.

  • Yang’s confession to Frederica and all of it’s adorable perfection.

Yang has always been a bumbling eccentric, but when it comes to love, his expressions of utter confusion and his inability to properly describe his emotions is perfectly Yang. Federica knows this, as she wholly agrees, even at this horrible display of middle-school-crush behavior on the part of Yang. Seeing this side of him reminds me that he’s just a human, a big kid in a uniform doing his best yet still afraid of girls. On the other hand, Julian sluggishly swallows his drink, acting like a disgruntled 40-year-old fresh out of a divorce. Much like Yang’s comment about their ages and attitudes switching, the child Julian has learned of the unfairness of love while Yang gets taken back in time to a world of innocent affection and emotional perplexity. It’s beautiful.

  • The sheer brutality and bloody carnage of the portrayal of the Battle of Vermillion.

For perhaps the first time, we get to see in depth the inside of the ships, and all of the bloody and tragic torture occurring to the soldiers within them. Guts flying out, bodies burning, decapitation, electrocution, space pressure, these poor pathetic men die in every way imaginable, some instantly and some screaming for their mothers in pure agony. We’ve become accustomed to clean lasers and white explosions, but we rarely see the horrors of the Hell inside those ships when they actually get destroyed. It adds a whole new layer of crushing nihilism and hopelessness that’s often overlooked in the show. As brief as these scenes are, they are instantly stuck in our minds and are hard to forget.

Fate/stay night – A Narrative Retrospective [PART 0 – Introduction]

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Fate/stay night is the story of a young man coming face to face with the nature of his ideals, those of the people around him, and of a situation far beyond his capability of understanding. It’s the story of emotionally charged, hormone packed children doing everything in their power to survive a deadly situation, and conflicting with their own feelings and those of each other. It’s brutal, passionate, silly, insane, poetic, animalistic, and endlessly memorable. And I’m gonna write about it!

Everyone and their mothers have watched Fate/Zero, a few less so have watched the 2006 Fate/stay night by Studio Deen, and even less so have watched the 2014 Unlimited Blade Works adaptation. Well, did you know that the original work that inspired this massive and super popular series was an eroge released in 2004?

The two men responsible for the entirety of TYPE-MOON and all of it’s games and franchises are the writer Kinoko Nasu and the artist Takashi Takeuchi, who published the Kara no Kyoukai light novels in 1998, formed the company in 2000, released the visual novel Tsukihime in December of 2000, and began working on Fate all the way until it’s release in 2004. Nasu had written the script for the Fate route in college, and developed it’s two alternate routes while developing the game.

A lot of people don’t know that, and it’s easy to find out why. Visual novels are a medium much more niche and obscure than anime, the latter of which has spread worldwide and has become a heavy hitter of entertainment much more than it ever was originally conceived to be.

Visual novels are a much longer and more hardcore type of storytelling, one more similar to long-form, multipart books than actual anime, which requires a lot more time and effort from the audience. Many who are curious about the Fate series tend to scoff at the length of the VN and watch the shows instead, but this is lowering the impact of the VN and how much of a fantastic piece of fiction it is.

It clocks in at about 64 hours for the completion of the three routes, and yes, that is a fairly scary amount of time necessary to play it, but it’s safe to say that most people who have finished will deeply recommend it from the bottom of their heart.

This series of posts is meant to be a retrospective on the entire original game, it’s themes, characters, subtexts, and more. With that said, let’s set the stage.

For those uninitiated, the novel divides itself into three alternate story paths, which are played in the following order:

  • Fate: This is Saber’s story, and serves as an introduction to the game’s characters, themes, mechanics, and plot elements, leaving much of the deeper secrets of the lore shrouded in mystery. The central theme is “Oneself as an Ideal“.
  • Unlimited Blade Works: This is Rin Tohsaka’s story, and also serves an an in depth dive into Shirou’s motivations and his inner struggle with his own views of the world and goals for his future. The central theme is “Struggling with oneself as an ideal“.
  • Heaven’s Feel: This is Sakura Matou’s story, and serves as a nihilistic breaking point for many of the characters and their tales. The central theme is “The friction between the real and the ideal“.

I will be doing one post a week, covering all three routes. The Fate route post will come out on the 25th of July, the UBW route post will come out on the 1st of August, and finally, the Heaven’s Feel route post will come out on the 8th of August.

Still, if you truly want to experience the story in the best way possible, find a link, download the visual novel, and play it yourself. Yes, it’s long, yes, it’s slow, it’s a metric ton of reading. You might have to step out of your comfort zone but do it anyway because you will not regret it. You have my word.

Legend of the Galactic Heroes – Episode 47-48

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Episode 47 is basically a buildup to episode 48, and a way to show us the positions of the various factions in the coming battle as well as some of the more important side characters.

We see that Julian and his team of undercover Alliancers take over an Imperial (star) destroyer, we see the state of the coming battle’s respective armies (with the Empire having a 3:1 advantage on the Alliance, aside from the Alliance’s fleets being barely put together, an amalgam of other fleets and random old ships), as well as the destination: the desolate and uninhabited Rantemario Starzone.

All of this is to set the stage for the largest scaled and most dramatically acute battle we have seen thus far. The fates of the Alliance’s independence, Phezzan’s relevance, and the Empire’s total dominance are on the table, and at any moment, that table could flip, break, or burst into flames. Anything is possible, and with all of these diverse players and insane plans going around, the future looks unhinged and chaotic. A perfect aura for the events to come.

As the battle begins, it’s obvious that the Alliance’s troops are disorganized and of differing opinions on what to do. Some fleets fire immediately, while others remain unmoving, and nothing of their placement is tactical at all. This seems like an obvious disadvantage, but looking at it from a different point of view, it might prove to give them that one-in-a-million upper hand, knowing that they’re fighting the Empire.

You see, the Empire is always tactical, always intelligent with it’s approach to battle, always following some form of rule or dogma when fighting. The Alliance does the same, normally, but in this situation, the unpredictability of the hodgepodge fleets in the Alliance is proving to be confusing and detrimental to the Empire, since the regular conventions of space battle are not being followed, predictions and counterattacks flying right out the window. It’s honestly genius in the part of the Alliance, even if they themselves aren’t really responsible for the state that their fleets are in. It’s just fascinating to see Mittermeyer have trouble with an enemy that not only is 3 times smaller than them, but also wholly unorganized. It really did through a wrench in their plans.

As the battle progresses though, and this chaos is returned to normal as the Empire attacks full force, the Alliance releases their fighter pods and comes up with a another rather impressive plan. They fire upon the enemy’s engines instead of simply at them, making their ships useless and also proving a wall of Empire ships that prevents their side from attacking in fear of friendly fire. It’s strange that this tactic has only appeared for the first time in this specific battle, but it’s still marvelous that we see new and fascinating strategies each time a major battle breaks out.

This though, proves to be futile, as the Black Lancers get called, and the final attack commences. The Alliance gets royally flushed from all sides, losing pretty much half of it’s force in a single unified blow. Bucock is left in a state of emotional disrepair and is about to commit suicide, but his men warn him that his duties are not yet over and his life has the chance to save the lives of the remaining captured young men of the Alliance, he takes up the offer. This doubt and self-sacrifice is incredibly interesting, and proves to show the level of turmoil that he feels toward his role as an Admiral and his responsibility of the men under him. What a truly respectable man.

But suddenly, out of nowhere, Yang and his fleet rush into strike into the Empire’s back and turn it back into a stalemate. Better late than never, am I right?

Reinhard once again gets his assured victory robbed, and his desire to fight Yang keeps growing and growing.

Summer 2017 Surprise #1 – Princess Principal

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“Sometimes, a lie will become a truth in the telling.”

Studio 3Hz gained quite a name for itself as well as a loyal following after last years arthouse adventure Flip Flappers, and this year, it’s returning with a show that masters the style and smooth classiness of old-school steampunk and mixes it with an episodic spy-centric storyline. Welcome to Princess Principal.

The show centers around it’s titular spies, the stoic and compulsive liar Ange, the smug and rather gothic Chise, the always energetic yet inconspicuous Beatrice, the charismatic and verbally assertive Dorothy, and finally the enigmatic yet strangely mysterious Princess.

The characters all have distinct and fascinating personalities, especially Ange, who is cold, calculating yet never predictable and always surprising. Her stigma about lies and deceit lends well to the show’s narrative, as it plays with the audience’s expectations and always results in things never being as they seem. This makes for constantly twisting episodic narratives that feel complete and concrete.

The setting of the show is a strikingly detailed steampunk-ed London, which has all the workings of a functioning and believable world. It pulls no punches about it’s dirty and dusty rawness, from the actions performed by the main and supporting cast, as well as by the moving parts of the story itself, which all weave together solidly and have no moments of either narrative downtime or of inconsequential scenes.

The fact that it’s original also lends itself to the medium of animation rather well. Adaptations from manga or light novels have vastly different pacing, mostly revolving around the reader’s own speed while reading, but here, the story it feels properly condensed into the entire episode.

The fight sequences (aside from feeling frenetic yet always lighthearted, sort of like Lupin III) have interesting connotations to them, from regular gunfights in corridors, to car chases with gravitational components to them, to many more. They’re always different, always fun, and never feel interrupted by it’s dialogue and witty banter.

Another aspect that I’ve come across is the vast amount of fan theorizing that’s been going on even after just the first episode. The 1st episode’s story (while being rather uncomplicated in the grand scheme of things) is packed with little tidbits of potential secrets for the future, and knowing that the show is heavily steeped in lies, it’s not difficult to get carried away with predictions, and that also makes for fascinating conversation, especially in 4chan’s /a/ board, where watchers have already made character evolutions, revelations and more that all have solid backing and just increase the interest in the show ten-fold.

Researching the show’s staff, we get some very concrete ideas as to what this show might be about. Let’s take a look:

  • Director: Masaki Tachibana, most known as director of .hack//Quantom, Barakamon, and Tokyo Magnitude 8.0, as well as storyboard for Evangelion 2.0, Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex (and 2nd GIG), and Noir.
  • Script and Series Composition: Ichiro Okouchi, known as as scriptwriter and series composer for Azumanga Daioh, Code Geass (and R2), Kakumeiki Valvrave (and Season 2), Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress, Planetes, and Turn A Gundam.
  • Art Director: Nobutaka Ike, most famous as art director for Paprika and Perfect Blue.
  • Music: Yuki Kajiura, who’s a legend in the medium and famous for the soundtracks and/or theme songs of the .hack franchise, Aldnoah.Zero, Arslan Senki, Baccano!, Boku dake ga Inai Machi, Chrno Crusade, Portrait le Petit Cossette, Fate/Zero (and 2nd Season), Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works (and 2nd Season), the Kara no Kyoukai films, Kuroshitsuji (and II), Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica, Mai-HiME, So Ra No Wo To, and Sword Art Online (and II).

From these staff members (except perhaps Yuki Kajiura, seeing as her music, while excellent, doesn’t affect the story at all), it’s easy to determine the nature of this show and what it will try to be, and from the first episode, the signs are all there.

It’s a half action, half spy story, with moments of violence being preceded with secret plans and political manipulation, with massive twists coming in at the show’s climax upending everything we know about the show. These are all traits found in shows like the extremely frenetic and insane Code Geass, as well as the complexity and nuanced narrative of GITS, mixed with the excellent action choreography and visual style and flair that Kabaneri has. The art direction and backgrounds are all impressively realistic and detailed, and the design of the steampunk world itself is very concrete, but the show still lends itself to moments of interspersed warping and vastly “out-there” scenes, like the opening of PriPri as well as in certain scenes in Paprika. The show might be told in a non-linear way, seeing as episode one was labeled “Case #13”, and might either skip cases entirely or regress back in time to the forming of the team of spies.

It’s all very viable as of right now and up for debate, but this show is definitely one to check out. It’s not difficult to understand if you’re paying attention, but it does require some more inquiry and attentiveness from the viewers in order to be fully grasped.

P.S.: Don’t believe her lies.

Legend of the Galactic Heroes – Episodes 42-46 (The Ragnarok Arc PART 1)

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So, for this, since I’m slowly losing material on which to write about, I’m going to simply binge this entire arc and post a full, absolute analysis of everything I can find interesting to talk about. The individual episode posts have become either completely reaching, factually wrong, or plain uninspired, and seeing as this is quite possibly the biggest and most bombastic arc of the show thus far, there will definitely be plenty to talk about for the next 13 episodes. Take note that I’ll be typing many of the paragraphs as I’m watching, so many answers that I’m asking might be answered in later sections of the post.

The Gjallarhorn blows, and Ragnarok begins.

Firstly, since Julian mentioned this in the beginning of the episode, Federica Greenhill might be fully head-over-heels in love with Yang, and if this is the case, it adds further fear into my heart about her wellbeing. Federica has been a figure of comfort and peace for Yang and myself, as a beautiful, pleasant woman who packs a punch of smarts and charisma. While love does bloom on the battlefield, in this one specifically, love tends to be obliterated by lasers, and that’s the main concern that I have. Kircheis seemed unstoppable, yet he perished sloppily and completely out of the blue. I know my two best boys Reinhard and Yang are fine for now, but people like Julian, Federica, and Schenkopp on Yang’s side, and Oberstein (not kidding), Annerose, and Hildegard on Reinhard’s side.

Back to romance, the idea of Yang being with someone in a fulfilling, wholesome relationship seems strange and off-putting. Yang has always seemed above carnal desires (aside from his best friend the alcohol), and not one to reciprocate intense feelings of affection. He’s a slouch, a layoff and a very irresponsible adult in the very mundane connotation of the word. He might lead thousands of ships into victory multiple times, but Julian was the one who fixed him up and pushed him out the door. He might’ve even remained in that state of perpetual laziness were it not for some type of external help. He seems tired of the age in which he was born in, perhaps thinking he was born too late into humanity’s lineage. Perhaps that’s why he wanted to become a historian so much.

After Reuenthal’s fleets try to assault Iserlohn, and ends rather anticlimactically (this is all that happened in episode 43), the Empire’s troops leave Odin and prepare to strike through Phezzan. As they take the planet with as minimal casualties as possible (I believe we saw no more than about 3 or 4 dead, but probably more), Julian plans to escape back to Yang, and Reinhard establishes himself as the Kaiser of the Phezzan, things seeping underground are slowly permeating out into the breathable air, and more and more things are left open-ended and mysterious.

Firstly, let’s talk about the execution of the two Imperial soldiers who mugged and raped a Phezzani woman, and how their deaths may be the start of a much harsher system of law enforcement and oppression. True, the act they committed should be punished accordingly, but personally, I’m still not familiar with the sight of a fully public (and even televised) death penalty, and especially not from a firing squad. In our society, that’s not a thing anymore, but knowing that it is a viable option in the Empire, it scares me to think what other methods of capital punishment there are. Especially knowing that perhaps, lesser crimes might be punished in a way that vastly undermines it’s justification. Will thieves’ hands be cut off when caught? Will adulterers be stoned to death? The Empire seems above this, but this display was a little shocking, if technically morally correct.

As Phezzan gets captured, we then see the sheer insanity and desperation that the politicians are going through thanks to the fall of Phezzan, from the anti-Lohengramm Imperial Prime Minister and his subordinates, to Bucock and the remainder of the Alliance’s fleets, to even Yang and his crew, as they must prepare to act under these dire situations. People are dying from heart attacks and aneurysms, nobody knows what’s going on, and some remain unfazed, perhaps by shock or simply by knowing that this day finally would come.

The Empire have the obvious upper hand ten-fold, and it’s looking more and more like the Alliance is coming to an end sooner than later. Wu Cheng mentioned the possibility of Yang holding up in Iserlohn, and how it’s a bad choice, but will he truly move into the open in order to fight the incoming Empire? They are at their doors, while Yang remains put in Iserlohn. It’s all up to Yang, so hopefully he manages to at least reach a satisfactory stalemate.

And immediately after I wondered this, Yang and all of the soldiers and civilians from Iserlohn escape and return the fortress back to the Empire without much trouble, except perhaps for Lennenkampf. Other than this, this episode served not much else, except some obviously preachy Yang quotes. Been there, done that.

 

Legend of the Galactic Heroes – Episode 41

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Firstly, I’d like to formally apologize for my incorrect historical anecdotes from yesterday. I thought I’d stumbled on to something interesting, and even if I was half-right overall with my main point, there was a lot of detail that was just plain wrong. I’ll stick to either what I was doing before (character study and symbolism) instead of the more research heavy historical allusions and other real-world similarities (unless I actually know about them).

Anyway, with that out of the way, we can delve straight into the nitty gritty of today, and how the next few episodes will be pure chaos incarnate.

Firstly, Yang is getting all of his closest subordinates and advisors relocated to other positions, and as stated by Bucock, this is a terrible idea. No real need to explore this point, since it’s rather obvious why it’s a total 180 from what would be the most effective scenario. Or is it?

Yang might lose a lot of his effectiveness when away from those he trusts, but those people aren’t completely useless on their own. Perhaps allowing Yang’s chosen ones a more broad platform to defend, they might turn up with a turnaround for this seemingly impossible feat. The Empire sure is looking unbeatable, though.

Next, Operation Ragnarok! Reinhard’s final plan for total universal domination, and this time, no punches will be pulled. Over 1 Million ships will be deployed for this full-force assault on the Alliance, and the stakes couldn’t possibly be higher. But, again, as this show tends to upend it’s own expectations, this plan will most likely be either a complete failure, or events in the battle will go so out of control that something new entirely may form in turn. Will Reinhard finally snap and go full maniacal laughter? Will Yang become the supreme democratic ruler of the now broken Alliance? Anything is fair game now.

Legend of the Galactic Heroes – Episode 40

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Wow, today’s episode was something completely fresh and fascinating! An in-depth  documentary about the history and progression of the Empire and Alliance? Sign me in!

We’ve already explored the history slightly, but never in such a vastly different way. Portraying it in a History Channel-type TV segment is genius, and it further establishes the concreteness of the world. It’s obvious that such an event would have countless documentaries made about it (just like another conflict which I’ll touch upon in a bit), and it serves to show just how full this fictional universe is and how it’s brimming with real-world similarities that extent past the surface level. Attention to detail, man.

Rudolf is the key to this whole story, and reminds me almost completely of another man in history, who also started as a soldier, rose up in the political ranks, and eventually became so powerful and influential that he reached deity status: Adolf Hitler.

The most interesting thing about Hitler is hearing not about how many people he killed (even though this cannot be denied, of course), but about what he did to better the lives of his country’s citizens, and with Rudolf, there’s very much the same level of transient morality that goes to both extremes at the same time.

Hitler was a deeply troubled and hateful being, but his reason for doing so was a love for Germany and his perception of evolutionary superiority. Because of this, he turned Germany from the most economically pathetic, socially broken, and universally despised country on Earth into one of the most powerful nations on the planet, all within a time frame of 10 years. He was elected Chancellor in 1936 and by 1942, Germany was waist deep in a continent-spanning war that it was winning without much effort. The German people were given brand new roads, vehicles, technological and entertainment inventions, cultural expanse and much, much more. How could they not fight to protect this seemingly perfect society?

Now, let’s take a look at Rudolf. During his reign, he managed to push humanity into a new space age, practically destroying any problem that the species had to deal with. The Galactic Empire was formed because the people living under Rudolf’s rule were so in love with him that they put him on a pedestal made for gods. His speeches were charismatic, filled with an unquantifiable power that struck deep in the hearts of those hearing it. Who’s another person that was treated in much the same way? Hitler, of course.

Rudolf, like most people, also had some personal views on superiority that might’ve gone to an extreme level because of his god-like state, and decided to enact the “Inferior Genes Exclusion Law”, which shares most (if not all) specifications with Hitler’s eradication of Jews and other “inferior humans”. And, much like in World War II, the actual percentage of casualties was a microscopic amount in relation to the population of the planet.

The similarities between Rudolf and Hitler are too strong to ignore (especially after even the narrator mentioned that the nobles Rudolf chose were all white and with Germanic names, which makes it all much too obvious.

It’s true that Rudolf was a very controversial figure in the world of LoGH, but there’s no doubt that excluding all the atrocious actions he committed, he also pushed the boundaries of humankind, taking the fight to the stars and making the world what it ended up being.

And I’d say Reinhard’s story is looking a little too much like Rudolf’s story for this not to be important in the final test.