Abayo! : Time for a Hiatus

My dear readers know that I occasionally take breaks from blogging.  Essentially, I have a millions hobbies and pursuits, many of which suffer neglect.  At present, reading and fiction writing have been given too little attention.  To myself, my writing style appears to have ossified of late, and I feel like my articles draw on fewer authors.  Reading itself often helps me remember what I have read, which helps me add more substance to what I write.  Now, reading books, it pains me to relate, often feels like a chore–a sure-fire sign that I have been watching too much anime!

Cake

The worst thing about watching too much television lies in that it is designed to appeal to sentiment more than reason, as Russell Kirk, a 20th century American Conservative thinker known especially well by Hillsdale College graduates, writes in Redeeming the Time.  Is this a bad thing?  Not necessarily: there exist noble and moral sentiments which are good to exercise.  For example, we would think a man a poor American who never becomes moved by the Star-Spangled Banner.  The danger comes in relying upon sentiment to dictate all our actions.  It is possible for the mental muscle of reason to become so weakened that we are unable to judge our sentiments and emotions objectively–just think back to the final episodes of Gokukoku no Brynhildr.

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Anime Report for Winter 2015

 

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As you know, my dear readers, I’ve dedicated this season to watching the classics, with Ashita no JoeAngel Cop, and Urusei Yatsura featuring prominently among the following anime.  But some new shows managed to sneak onto my list due to the good things I have heard about them: Death ParadeAssassination ClassroomRolling Girls, and–most recently–KanColle.  Usually, this kind of post appears in the middle of the season and seems extraneous with the season’s end around the corner.  Yet, I wish to collect my thoughts on various shows and place them before you before writing my final ratings.  The shows are listed in order of enjoyment from least to greatest.

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Nihongo no Hon #1: Nanatsu no Taizai Volume One

In this series, I have started out with something easy: the first volume of Nanatsu no Taizai in the original language.  The level of the Japanese ranks even below Inuyasha in terms of difficulty.  Inuyasha happens to be the first manga I recommend beginners for testing their ability to read Japanese.  In Nanatsu no Taizai, the only thing remotely amusing about the Japanese is the name of Meliodas’s pet pig, ホーク or hooku–the closest the Japanese can transliterate the English word “hawk.”  However, I had no idea the author was going for “hawk”; instead, I took it as a play on the way one would transliterate the word “pork”–ポーク.  As you can see, the same characters are used, but the latter one has an accent marker to tell you that the character should be read “po” rather than “ho.”

Pardon my desk lamp.

Pardon my desk lamp.

Now, I should give my opinion on the story as one sees in volume one.  Many of my dear readers likely remember my prior remarks on the show, and I shall try to embellish on them here.  Volume one of the manga begins with Elizabeth convincing Meliodas, our hero, to seek the members of his gang, the Seven Deadly Sins, in order to oppose the Holy Knights.  Then, the hero fights a few battles (admittedly well done) against a Holy Knight and some henchmen before he meets Diana of the Seven Deadly Sins and the manga ends on a cliffhanger.  One already sees the common trope of the heroes wearing black while the villains wear white.  This is a fine trope which reminds the audience that they must always look beneath appearances in order to perceive people’s true intentions.  However, one needs to be as skilled in using it these days as Victor Hugo in Les Miserables, Richard Donner in Ladyhawke, or at least Akimine Kamijyo in Samurai Deeper Kyo.  (The last author happened to take the trope too far in Code: Breaker, and the reversals became silly.)  When the reversal of the usual symbolism lacks subtlety, it grates on the viewer.  Then, the concept our heroes going on a journey in order to find lost comrades and to overthrow the organization which has usurped authority in the kingdom has been done many times before.

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Rating the Anime of Fall 2014

Since we verge upon the beginning of a new season, it’s high time for me to give you my opinions on the eight shows I watched.  If not for The Banner Saga sucking me into its world, this post would no doubt have been published sooner.  But, anyone with a love for the Viking age, RPGs, and games of frustrating difficulty would be sucked into such a beautifully animated game!  But, let me go on to my ratings.

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8) Akatsuki no Yona – no rating

As you know, I forbear from rating a show until seeing how it ends.  Akatsuki no Yona boasts some great characters, beautiful backgrounds, good fights, and great comedy.  It also engages some interesting moral themes.  However, its vexatious and profuse use of flashbacks would earn it a three star rating if I were to rate it now.  The audience does not need to have complete knowledge of each character’s backstory!  Other than the Blue Dragon’s, they all contain information we’ve gleaned through watching the interaction of the characters in the present.  By resorting so frequently to this device, the writer gives the impression of being far too timid or greatly underestimating the audience’s powers of deduction.

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Despite how the flashbacks slow the pacing, I love this anime, and look forward to more of Yona’s struggle to become a worthy leader, Yun’s sarcastic remarks, Hak’s relentless teasing, and the final battle between Soo-Won and Yona.

 

 

Surprise Hak

Hak is hands down the best male character this season.

 

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7) Inou Battle Within Everyday Life – ★★★½

Kudos to Trigger for making what should have been a dull and forgettable harem story into a fun and sensitive tale of high schoolers with supernatural powers.  A friend of mine has noticed that it did not know whether it wished to be a fantasy, harem, or slice of life story.  I must agree: the story went all over the place.  Many episodes ignored the fantasy elements entirely, and the premise of fairies giving certain people supernatural powers for their entertainment seemed rather thin.  Only the last episode weaved in all these elements successfully.

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Be that as it may, I loved the characters and would watch Inou Battle Within Everyday Life again.  They even managed to make a harem lead interesting!  Though, Hatoko with her placid demeanor concealing a heart capable of great passion steals the show–especially after her rant in episode seven–a rant second only to Kei Kugimiya’s fanservice rant in episode 12 of Majestic Prince.  (Can’t find a link to that on YouTube.  Shikata ga nai.)

 

Don't dare to trifle with Hatoko!

Don’t dare to trifle with Hatoko!

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6) Psycho- Pass 2 – ★★★½

It saddens me that this sequel cannot be rated higher.  The original show came to be my favorite of 2013, after all!  The second season has an incredibly exciting middle but failed to separate itself more sharply from the plot of the first and gave us a dull ending–I almost want to call it a non-ending for how many loose ends it left us.  People want to blame Tow Ubukata for how Psycho-Pass 2 fell flat, but the studio’s wish to create a movie afterwards likely limited Ubukata’s options for the kind of ending he could make.  For me, a satisfying ending to the second season would necessarily have involved Akane Tsunemori toppling the false god of the Sybil System.  But then, the studio could no longer make money on this franchise, could they?

And Shimotsuki wins the award for most pathetic character this season.  Somehow, I could not hate but only despise this treacherous sycophant of the Sybil System.

And Shimotsuki wins the award for most pathetic character this season. Somehow, I could not hate but only despise this treacherous sycophant of the Sybil System.

However, the element of the show which annoys me the most was the shoddy logic applied to the Omnipotence Paradox.  The very fact that God cannot create a stone too heavy for him to lift proves His omnipotence.  To say that God lacks power because He cannot create a rock which he cannot lift is like saying that a being must be both omnipotent and omni-impotent in order to have the quality of omnipotence–an assertion which is obviously insane.  Though Akane’s solution works well enough in predicting the action the Sybil System eventually takes, that system is not omnipotent–as much as totalitarian systems of government do try to stand in the place of God in the minds of their subjects.  At any rate, I hope that this element of the show harmed no one’s ability to reason logically. 🙂

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5) I Can’t Understand What My Husband is Saying – ★★★★

Others may be surprised by how high this series is rated here, but the main characters related to me very well.  Also, this comedy caused me to laugh so hard that I nearly fell out of my chair once or twice.  The show also surprised me in the sensitive way it handled the issues facing young people in Japan over whether to marry and have children.  Danna ga Wakaranai  is not as epic or complex as other anime, but it knew what it wanted to accomplish each episode, executed the stories well, and even developed the characters more in 39 minutes than many series accomplish in twenty four episodes.  Who knew a series of shorts could boast dynamic characters?

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Each week, I found myself looking forward more to this show than any other anime with the exception of Akame ga Kiru.  An accomplishment which reminds me of Tonari no Seki-kun.

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4) Madan no Ou to Vanadis – ★★★★

Were it not for the creator’s obvious love of medieval history, this show would have merited a slightly lower rating.  It had many problems, ranging from certain scenes displaying poor CG animation to Tigre transforming from a dynamic and interesting character to a dull harem lead.  His archery became boring to watch too as every arrow never failed to find its mark–there needs to be some uncertainty to create suspense!  Also, the hole in the center of the knights’ helmets annoyed me to no end–almost as if they placed a bull’s-eye on their helms for Tigre to hit!

Tigre with Bow

 

 

Nevertheless, the characters, intrigue, and battles made up for these defects.  If only they had improved on Tigre’s character, this show might have been better!

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3) Hitsugi no Chaika: Avenging Battle – ★★★★

This show could have become a classic.  It had plenty of originality and great characters.  The only show more quirky than it this past season was Shingeki no Bahamut.  Resorting to a deus ex machina for the ending is probably what keeps me from giving it a slightly higher rating.

Best expression of stunned surprise in an anime ever.  But, considering what happens at the end, I cannot blame them in the least!

Best expression of stunned surprise in an anime ever. But, considering what happens at the end, I cannot blame them in the least!

 

But, it did boast some great characters.  If I were to create a top five characters list for this season, Akari and Frederica would both find themselves on it.

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Red Chaika was not so bad either, but Akari and Frederica stole the show.

 

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2) Akame ga Kiru –  ★★★★

As an aficionado of the manga, I started watching this show hoping to see a masterpiece.  However, the anime suffers from a grave defect: it does not adapt the story convey the mood of the manga in the medium of anime.  When reading the manga, one does not have the impression that it means to be The Game of Thrones of manga.  It is more like the series Combat!! (probably the best WWII TV series ever made), where the fortunes of war may turn against any particular character but the deaths always come out of the blue.  A hundred death flags do not pop up before a character kicks the bucket!  Also, the manga is much grimmer, though there are certain parts of the manga which I was happy not to see again.

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But, not fitting the story to the medium seems to be a ubiquitous problem.  Studios feel like success is sure as long as they don’t deviate from a successful source.  Occasionally, this is true, as with manga like Inuyasha and Rurouni Kenshin, but these are exceptions to the rule.  Gokukoku no Brynhildr failed because they thought that they could animate the manga panel for panel.  The writers of Akame ga Kiru were forced to deviate from the original source for the last several episodes, and the results were rather pleasing–especially the last two episodes.

Akame's Warning

For all that, Akame ga Kiru was a lot of fun to watch.  The voice actors were well chosen, and certain fights were great.  The fight between Akame and Esdeath has to be one of the ten best anime swordfights I’ve seen.  The ending was also more satisfying than most other shows.

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1) Shingeki no Bahamut: Genesis – ★★★★½

Here’s the only show from 2014 to earn four and a half stars from me.  Shingeki no Bahamut boasts a shocking amount of originality for an anime based on a card game.  Despite the heavy use of pagan symbolism, many of the show’s themes convince me that this was a Christian fairy tale.  My dear readers have already perused one article linking the show to the Christian worldview, and I have another in the works.  The first draft of the upcoming article even mentions two works by C. S. Lewis–one fiction and one non-fiction.  Fans of C. S. Lewis are welcome to guess which two works these are.  One of them happens to be perhaps the least popular work he wrote after his conversion.

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This anime excelled very well on all levels.  It just lacks some nebulous quality which prevents me from giving it a full five stars.  You’ve truly deprived yourself if you have not watched this show!

Yes, that's Bacchus riding upon a magic duck.

Yes, that’s Bacchus riding upon a magic duck.

Thoughts on Various Anime and November

National Blog Posting Month and NaNoWriMo have come to a close.  Regarding the former, Medieval Otaku for the first time has managed a post for each day of the month–even if I had to resort to reblogging.  (I suppose next year’s goal will include only posting articles written by yours truly; though, I do have fun introducing people to some of the bloggers I follow.)  Regarding NaNoWriMo…well…I wrote one chapter and started the second.   All my inspiration was siphoned off to various channels.  Now, I shall see if I can deliver on my hope of writing a second novel by the end of the year.

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Yet, the title promises some thoughts on various anime.  Below are blurbs on select themes in each show or my overall impression of them.

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1) Akame ga Kiru

The sharp deviation from the manga we see in the last few episodes of Akame ga Kiru increased my interest in this show.  Unfortunately, I have an idea of what to expect: everyone except Tatsumi dies before the Prime Minister and Esdeath are taken down.  Or, will the animators find a way to surpass my expectations with the last few episodes allowed to them?

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That the anime never became popular in Japan leads to this precipitate ending.  The weakness of the first six episodes–with the possible exception of the first–hurt this shows ratings.  They should never have set out to produce an exact replica of the manga, but people in the entertainment industry are often lazy.  Also, though there have been a few excellent battles, the uneven quality of the fights with some being downright poor must also have turned away some action fans.  Despite that, I’m looking forward to watching all my favorite characters die in tragic fashion.  If they make their deaths epic enough–especially should they reach Kikuchiyo of Samurai 7 level epic, I’ll give the anime four stars out of five.

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2) Akatsuki no Yona

This anime has become a classic tale of  good vs. evil, where the good guys win because the Universe is behind them.  Despite how common such a story is, who does not delight in seeing the weak and downtrodden conquer the wicked and powerful?

And His mercy is from generation to generation
on those who fear Him.
He has shown might with His arm,
He has scattered the proud in the conceit of their heart.
He has put down the mighty from their thrones,
and has exalted the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich He has sent away empty. (From the Magnificat, Luke 1:46-55)

Yona is like the Blessed Virgin Mary in her lowliness, but, because Yona has the Mandate of Heaven, she shall trod a powerful tyrant underfoot–as did St. Mary.

akatsuki

The flashbacks have hurt the advancement of the plot.  However, I believe that the following episodes will concentrate on the progression of Yona to becoming a powerful general until the eventual downfall of Soo-Won–not out of revenge, but because the deed is just.

Upside down

3) Chaika the Coffin Princess: Avenging Battle

This show has been a lot of fun.  I have not let down my suspension of disbelief enough to do more than enjoy Chaika, but I love how much more solid the plot is in this season.  The episodes have focused on leading up to a final battle between the red and white Chaikas, and that battle will be fun to see.  Among the characters, Akari and Frederica especially shine for their quirky personalities and humor.

akari et Frederica

ICUWMHIS

4) I Can’t Understand What My Husband is Saying

Touching and funny adequately describe this anime.  A several episodes speak less about otakudom and more about the vicissitudes of married life.  The point of the show seems to be encouraging salarymen and salarywomen to stop being concerned only with their careers, otaku to stop focusing merely on anime, and both to seek the joys of real romance and married life–including children.  Japan really needs more shows with a message like that: in fifty years, the Japanese will be an endangered race at this rate.  More need to marry and have children–people of European descent too for that matter!

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5) Madan no Ou to Vanadis

I’m impressed by the author’s love for the Middle Ages.   Sure, it contains a few errors, but the battles feel authentic (except for the occasional use of magic, of course!), and the embattled feel of the Middle Ages is well replicated.  It must be remembered that Vikings, Celts, Saxons, Muslims and other barbarians all attempted to carve up Europe during the Middle Ages.  It is amazing that European culture survived.

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I like how the anime refers to the Muslim invasions in episode eight by refering to the invading army as name Muozinel.  Muslim armies often outnumbered their Christian opponents, but Christians often carried the day through a combination of better armor, tactics, and sheer courage.  (I remember reading about one Christian victory in Spain where the Christians won despite entire units being annihilated during the battle.  Like in episode eight of Madan no Ou to Vanadis, victory was achieved through the Muslims routing after the death of their leader.)  Muslims menaced Europe from the 8th century until the Battle of Vienna, which was fought from September 11, 1683 – September 12, 1683 and ended Turkish campaigns against Christendom.  My mother’s family comes from Croatia, which earned the nickname “the Wall of Christianity,” due to the Turks’ inability to conquer the country entirely.  You can bet that I loved watching episode eight. 🙂

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6) Psycho-Pass 2

I’m convinced that this is the best show of the season.  Some people accuse it of having an incoherent plot or being too similar to the previous season, but such people have not adequately suspended their disbelief. 😛  We knew that the characters would fight against the Sybil System again, and having another antagonist who wishes to take it down is the most obvious way for this plot to begin.  Besides, the last episode indicates that the Sybil System will actively turn against Akane in the future.  Don’t you want to see what happens when Akane becomes Public Enemy #1?

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7) Shingeki no Bahamut: Genesis

A commentator warned me about the religious syncretism and the scantily clad angels.  Sure enough, episode six felt rather jarring to me.  If the angels are gods, they’re no longer angels.  The only parallel between Christianity and the religion of Shingeki no Bahamut is the inclusion of Joan of Arc–but, she’s pagan, which does not mesh with the idea of a Catholic saint!  Also, as the aforementioned commentator said, there is a theme of gods and demons–good and evil–vs. choas.  This doesn’t work!  Despite D&D’s inclusion of a lawful evil category, evil is chaos!  God created an ordered whole–a cosmos–when he created the universe.  Satan was the first to try to disrupt this order when he declared himself God.  Even now, the devil principally fights against God by inducing human beings to disorder and perversion.  A brief look at the Seven Deadly Sins reveals that they are all disorders.

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That aside, the show is spectacular!  The characters are interesting, and each episode offers surprises to the audience.

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Soo-Won’s Rejection of the Will of Heaven

At last, I have caught up with Akatsuki no Yona.  This is a fun fantasy adventure, despite the faults in pacing and overabundance of flashbacks.  *Spoilers from here to the end.*  Soo-won’s claim that he assassinated King Il in order to avenge his father fascinates me.  He pretends to the justness of his action, but refuses to declare his filial piety openly.  Why?  Does one meting out justice act in this manner?  Did Orestes deny his killing Clytemnestra and Aegisthos?  No, one acting in the light of justice does not hide his deeds.  Soo-won’s conduct makes me think that his father was in some way culpable for being slain.  After all, if King Il had been vicious enough to commit the crime of kinslaughter in the case of his brother, then why did he not kill Soo-Won?  Decimating a family line was not unheard of in ancient China, where this anime seems to be set.

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The coronation scene in episode six answered some of these questions for me.  Soo-Won rejects being crowned by a priest.  Then, he denies that he needs Heaven to maintain his throne, saying that, even if Heaven is against him, he means to triumph over his enemies.  (Crunchyroll translates Ten (天) as god or gods, but 天 literally means Heaven.)  And, this elicits loud cheers from the crowd, which prompt the new head of the Wind tribe to ask Son Monduk if they can leave such annoying people at once!  I am forcibly reminded of when a crowd of people during Theodore Roosevelt’s campaign broke out into a loud cheers and applause after hearing a speaker proclaim: “Vote for my Colonel and he will lead you just like he led us: like sheep to the slaughter!”

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Indeed, I myself should prefer to cheer the second speaker over Soo-Won.  The ancient Chinese in particular would not have known what to make of Soo-Won’s declaration to rule in defiance of Heaven.  The emperor ruled by the Will of Heaven, which he was supposed to follow.  Discovery that the emperor had lost the Will of Heaven was sufficient grounds for revolt.  (Natural disasters, famine, and pestilence might be adduced as evidence for this.)  For a Chinese emperor to claim that the Will of Heaven is immaterial to his reign is to deny all legitimacy.

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In Soo-Won’s heart of hearts, he knows that he cannot justly claim the right to rule.  His throne is built upon treachery and maintained by tyranny.  He has gained the whole world at the loss of his soul, shown very well by him trampling the memory of Hak and Yona prior to being crowned.  But, it is impossible that a ruler can maintain the throne without the Will of Heaven.  The first six episodes reveal the vanity of Soo-Won’s actions and foreshadow his downfall.  Tempus incerta, sed finis certa.  The builder builds in vain unless the Lord builds with him, and Soo-Won has rejected God in his quest for power.