Category Archives: Sword Art Online

Sword Art Online Mid-raid Ready Check

Sword Art Online is an enjoyable watch, but I don’t particularly enjoy many aspects of it. I think with a broad stroke I can write off most of the things I don’t like under “this is way too chuu2.”

Such things include, for example, the paternalistic nonsense in the latest episode when Asuna was being stalked, or how Kirito is just this projection of all things chuunibyou (a “beater” duel wielding double phalluses made of the hardest material you can find and is probably the highest level character soloing mobs (almost) nobody can!), someone who is able to do everything important himself except all the domestic stuff, so he has some excuse to interact with cute girls, or generally the design of the MMORPG is not only outdated, but has some glaring problems that borders on anacronism. The list can go on, but it tops out at “why is a solo freak playing a MMORPG?” Because we have a term for this, and it’s not Beater–it’s Retard. Only an idiot play a MMORPG by himself the whole time. I guess even bots play with each other in those games! Yea yea he does play with someone else and he will play with other people eventually, but this loner attitude is for losers.

I’m not really a big MMORPG player nowadays, although I paid my dues in EQ and WoW over the years, plus handful of other games that I just dabbled in. I enjoy being hooked on it, and in a perverse sense I see the setup for SAO as the ultimate vacation. “Hey boss, some evil cyberterrorist hijacked my body so I have to play this game until I beat it, or I die. Can I take a sabbatical? Oh my health insurance will cover the cost of living, niiiice.” Do you ever feel like that? My friend who already put in his PTO days for Pandaria probably would agree. What’s more, our SAO overlord enslaved an entire server full of people, so you will have people to do stuff with even at all times, day and night.

I read this post not too long ago and it reminds me the one thing SAO did right that, say, .Hack//sign did poorly. That is exactly how the video game interact with reality in a way that the viewer can associate with. Back in the late 90s, .Hack appealed to the type of people who actually played, say, RO Beta or EQ, and the nods in the game are a great way to build on that connection between viewer and material. Fast forward to today, I think that alone is definitely not enough. SAO does refer to game mechanics, too, but it adds the whole dimension that, coincidentally, I could really care less for but elevates the show: a solid standalone narrative. You could treat SAO like a fantasy novel and ignore that they’re trapped inside this VR thing, living lives like fictional characters in a fantasy story. I think by cutting out (admittedly very potent plot juice) the real life aspects, it makes SAO an enjoyable story about MMORPGs as narratives like a MMORPG. Think of SWTOR without all the traveling.

To that end, I’m taking the assumption that a game is only a game when it’s fun to play. When it gets too personal or too serious, it’s going to require some change in perspectives. Fundamentally, that is going to happen when you try to rope in a couple friends for a weekend night crawling dungeons online, or any other similar activity. It just gets less personal and more business-like when we’re talking about 25 or 40 people and their collective weekend or whatever time zone they happen to be in, in order to not stand in the fire and make the other 39 people’s lives miserable. In FFXI’s and EQ’s cases, this number can be up by even more. In other words, MMORPGs are often very serious business, at least up to say 2009 or so.

Perhaps another way to look at it is that a honest look at MMORPG culture and fandom necessarily cannot be encapsulated by a chuunibyou-driven narrative. Think of the Guild for example; it’s more about normal, everyday lives. It’s not about some guy who is super powerful and beats all his foes. He doesn’t suffer any real setbacks. But because now we don’t have this everyday life thing to get in the way, we can enjoy SAO for what it is: just yet another hero’s quest, the ones that typifies the single player experience. There is not much MMO-y about SAO besides that other characters can interact with you; once you strip the gamer-game-character-dichotomy, it’s all just a fantasy setting with people in it.

Because, indeed, you can’t save the world in FFXI all alone by yourself, that’s for the home versions of such games. Juggling this dichotomy and undercutting the fundamental fact about MMORPG life makes SAO ultimately a sad exercise in excessive chuu2-ness, but also one that can be enjoyable as a single-player media that typifies the TV-viewing and novel-reading experiences. Personally it makes SAO a very difficult pill to swallow because I enjoy MMORPGs for largely different reasons, but I know for sure there are all kind of people out there who probably gets that power trip out of it.

And I can probably go on and show you how sad it is when people enjoy their power tripping on MMORPGs, because all that has happened is a player demonstrating his or her own pathetic nature for the world to see. It’s fine if you power trip all you want in some single-player experience, but, again, this is why it’s Retarded to be a Kirito in real life. Friends don’t let friends play MMORPG by themselves.

He isn’t a guy I dislike, but Kirito (and to an extent, Asuna) should really take a back seat and enjoy their GLOOP GLOOP moment, out of our view. Meanwhile, MORE DEBAN plz.

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You Had Me at Episode 3: Summer 2012

Coming in, I thought this season is a weak season. But after looking around, it’s probably not that bad; maybe even slightly over average. It’s not as great as last season for sure, but looking around I see a lot of bloggers thinking this season is weak. I don’t know. If we throw all these shows on the wall and see which sticks, there might be an average amount of winners in that bunch. Wish times like this I have a magical power that summons empirical studies of whatever at my command. Like, “Magical makeup! Summon science!” [Of course, if you are one of those people who think Fujiko was the best anime last season and only one worth watching, you can save us some time and just go die in a fire.]

I’m ordering this by no order, and shows I don’t list are either ongoing, dropped before I get to 3, or in a couple cases, I didn’t even try them. Hopefully I didn’t miss anything [edit: now that I added Joshiraku].

  • Jinrui wa Suitaishimashita: Thumb up. Solid satire with some bite, and easy to go down like all good satire. So good, I can do episodic, and tempted to do so!
  • Total Eclipse: Thumbs missing. My initial impression of Muv-luv Alternative: Total Eclipse was actually this “pervy” figure of Cryska, followed by Yui with a SMG. You can tentacle some armada if you are interested in more details, plus some backdrop to the Total Eclipse story. I got my first real piece of the action at AX where we got backed-to-back episodes one and two right after a Kurinoko/ayami performance. I think I liked that more. But to be fair, the first episode after the two set-up episodes felt like kind of like this, where it’s trying to “throw back” to a Top Gun-ish narrative. I’m going to wait to episode 5 before really risking for a call since to me the story didn’t quite begin until ep3.
  • Tari-Tari: Thumb up. It paves its own path, which is reason enough to watch if you are interested in the subject matter at all. Looks sharp and entertaining for the most part; just waiting for the story to gel and the CDs to come out.
  • Oda Nobuna no Yabou: Thumb up. Probably the one dark horse anime this season. It’s surprising competent, production-wise. Studio Gokumi x Madhouse = woah. Kanae’s performance props the show up as much as the good pace things are going. Its only drawback is that some prerequisite knowledge about history through the games really helps your enjoyment.
  • Campione: Thumb down. The only things going for it are the delicious fanservice and voice cast. The concept could be interesting but it’s executed in a very dull way.
  • Kokoro Connect: Thumb up. Character drama needs good acting and we have it. I feared Hisako Kanemoto would be the weakest link but with the Yui episode come and gone, she actually did a pretty good job. The animation seems like that knock-off Kyoani style but there’s nothing offensive about it.
  • Sword Art Online: Thumb down. I don’t like it but it’s a compelling watch. The production value is nice and I can empathize with the grief…as in, oh hey you just got trained sort of grief. Or in episode 3’s case, some one in their guild went Leeroy. I suspect though at the end of the series that might become true for actual viewers of this anime, at least the griefing part. The best strategy is to enjoy what little kernels of joy each episode provide you now, rather than later.
  • Kono Naka ni Hitori, Imouto ga Iru: Thumb down. Nakaimo is a trash show you can drop but it’s definitely the one good trash show out of the rest of the trash show this season. Main credit for being interesting in terms of plot and presentation. Conceptually it is way worse than most shows this season…if not THE worse. Which also is a credit to its favor if you look at it the other way.
  • Koi to Senkyo to Chocolate: Thumb down. I like this show’s approach to politics and elections but it’s not going to cut it. Only for harem/visual novel types (eg., this is kind of trashy). Not thrilled about the art style, but it does the job. I’ll probably end up watching it LOL.
  • Dakara Boku wa, H ga Dekinai: Thumb down. Sorry to say, Aya Endo fans, but this is worse than QB season 3 I think.
  • Natsuyuki Rendezvous: Thumb up. Why? Because I like the persistent take from the NTR angle. It really juices up this otherwise kind of boring josei fantasy. I’m also impressed how it can fit both manservice and womanservice in that tidy package. Kou Matsuo and his crew aside, it’s back to the basics of noitaminA, which is usually worth at least a look.
  • Binbougami ga: Thumb up. Another show with a potentially downward outlook, the opening episodes have a big impact but it’s the kind of show that often will settle into a pattern and it’ll get repetitive quick. I won’t be surprised if I end up dropping this show in a few weeks. It’s good to hear Hanazawa in an unusual role but I’m not a big fan of this performance. Toilet-level slapstick comedy, however, scratches my itch. It’s like the companion piece of Jintai.
  • Hagure Yuusha no AESTHETICA: Thumb down. Speaking of toilet humor, this one reached bottom first. I think I probably would enjoy this show if it can crank up the level of ridiculous over time, but that also means this show is not for most people. Perhaps if it looked better, a few of the more voracious viewers would give it a chance and get as far as the Kanatan-voiced, stoic-dere loli character….which is to say, yeah, you’re not missing much. If you’re on the Kana Ueda yuri-kei train of thought, though, consider Hagure Yuusha that bullet train from Yuriseijin taking you to heaven. If you like the populist nonsense in this show…well don’t get too serious.
  • Utakoi: Thumb up. Because it’s kind of the dirty josei/shoujo stuff some of you like, but also it’s better than average for its category (edutainment). I probably should drop it, but given how all the shows I want to watch airs between Thursday and Sunday, it fits into those empty Tuesday-Wednesday slots.
  • Joshiraku: Thumb up. I have a soft spot for the stuff that goes on in the ED, but that aside, the jokes tend to come at a good clip and enough of them hit. And sure, I like the girls enough, but more as people than as cute girls. (Are they even cute? Even Kigu?) I realized I can enjoy enough of the jokes raw (which is to say, not very many at all) but the tedious buildup to the punchline makes the whole thing not fun when you’re mired with the not-funny stuff. So I guess dropping this show would be the thing to do if the fansubs stop.

I think that’s it. Other shows of note:

  • Eureka 7 Ao: Episode 12-13 kicks things up a gear, which is sooner than the first series. The setting plays a bigger role than ever, which is nice for long-time fans. I wonder if they can actually tie this in with Xam’d setting-wise wwwwww.
  • Rinne no Lagrange: In Stellvia we have the group-cry episode. Now we have the group-yuri episode. Thanks, Tatsuo Sato. At least you are consistent!
  • Space Brothers: Yawn.
  • Yuru Yuri: Yawn♪♪
  • Sengoku Collection: At least I have no idea what the next episode is going to be about! But it’s getting kind of boring, at least in the past month; they need to spice stuff up.
  • Moyashimon Returns: Put me in the camp of people who think season 1 was special and season 2 is missing that special something. Nonetheless it is still a decent watch.
  • Dog Days: Hopefully season 2 will way surpass season 1. So far it has. But I’m not watching this show~
  • Accel World: I was hoping to see this plot concept earlier, but I guess it’s okay to have this story now.
  • Hyouka: Still really dull, even if the school festival episodes have been really a treat.
  • Horizon in the Middle of Nowhere 2: The barometer is, “will I doze off during any of their long exposition/tirades?” If yes, it’s a so-so episode; if no, it is a good episode.  So far the count is about 1 to 2 and I suspect by the end of season 2 it’ll come close to even.

And I’m still watching Sket Dance. It’s still my type of humor.

PS. What is amazing (again) is that other than Hyouka and Joshiraku, every show on this list is getting a North American “stream.” (Funi’s 2 new shows aside, which I presume they will play catch up at some point in the very near future.) I wonder why…

PPS. I’m actually keeping up with over 20 shows at the moment. And I thought it would get better after last season….time to cutcutcutcut. I guess I did with AKB0048 already…

PPPS. Yep I missed a show. To make up for it, here are some links to peeps from GG and their notes on Joshiraku. It’s pretty fun to read. Check it out.

PPPPS. I went back and watched Joshiraku 3 and slotted it in. And removed Ebiten because, well, it’s just clutter at this point. So yeah. By the way, Ebiten HP is LOLs.

From Dennou Coil to SAO: We’ve Gone Post HCI

Technology moves really fast, especially in areas where there is a lot of economic incentive to innovate. HCI stuff, big time. But it wasn’t too long ago that science fiction begin to imagine what it would be like in the next “dimension”; the orthogonal turn from linear improvement of, say, how fast and power computers are, but to how these faster and more powerful computers enable things that we cannot even dream of doing before. For example, AI is one of those very staple thing, but mimicking intelligence is as old as when the first monkey learned from mimicking the next. None of these forefathers were big about, say, streaming from the cloud. Or being able to torrent to dropbox. Or be able to control sex toys via USB.

The reality of the situation is that, well, reality has long since caught up to fiction. When Google demoed their skydiving glasses (go to 1:27:00 or so) during this past Google I/O, the only thing missing was Densuke. The reality was that wearable visual augmentation hooked up to a computer with network capabilities was something that was around since I was in undergrad, and that was a long ass time ago. It was just a problem of how practical you can make it, and figure out what the heck people would use it for. I think Brin & co is still working on that.

So what does fiction do when reality has caught up to it? In Japan’s case, you make a moe heroine and pour some kind of white, viscous fluid on her, using this new technology. Yep!

Well, entertainment and fanservice aside, I think Sword Art Online approaches the whole virualized reality thing by playing on the experiences of hardcore MMORPG gamers. And by that I mean games like UO, EQ or FFXI, and by that I mean definitely not WoW, although WoW probably gives players enough of an in given how similar that was to those two games. While it probably isn’t the first anything to build on some kind of new HCI paradigm, SAO is the first one that I know which builds on the newly introduced concepts that came with the advent of MMORPG.

By definition, MMORPGs are constructs that are significantly different than their historical, single-player-offline sort of deal. Compare that to, say, Dennou Coil’s Densuke or thermonuclear beard war, people probably have an easier time imagining dealing with the mechanics of SAO (the game) than having to walk Densuke everyday, even if we do walk our dogs and what not. There’s just too much of a gap between walking your dog versus walking your virtual dog that lives in your glasses; or rather, since we have no idea how it walking your virtual dog, we can only think of it like walking with a real dog. On the other hand, we can imagine a virtual reality WoW experience easily, and it is nothing like actual WoW.

(The point I want to make by excluding games like WoW is because I get the feeling SAO is created by someone who has realized how punishing and annoying some of these games are. And WoW is basically the polar opposite of punishing. The whole exclusive, “leet” streak Kirito takes is all too much for me to take seriously without questioning the credentials of what’s at stake, or how this story got to the point it did by episode 3. Soloing in a game means different things if you grew up with FFXI versus, say, any WoW and post-WoW games, let’s just say.)

Anyway, I think it would be interesting to see if SAO is indeed pulling from the viewer/reader’s experience to construct the emotional context that the story takes place. It certainly is considered otaku material, so we do have that going. If we contrast SAO with Accel World, I feel that connection is the biggest difference between the two. In SAO you feel like playing a MMORPG (albeit in a very chuu2 way); in Accel World it feels like just another chuu2-shounen manga formula.

PS. You know SAO is otaku lit when the game is populated largely by guys. In reality more women play MMORPGs than any other types of games! At least, in the west.

Books And Covers, Summer 2012

From a consumption perspective we can look at our intake of anime like a diet, where some semblence of balance and moderation go a long way to make what you watch more enjoyable. But that’s kind of not applicable to describe the voracious: people like me, who are always following a dozen or more shows at any given time. The episodic grind, to some, probably parallels more to a race. Each racer is some title and whoever makes it to the end, in first place, wins. I find this survival-of-the-fittest paradigm easy to latch to real-life practice. Take AX weekend–the 5-day ordeal significantly limits my anime intake. It happens to take place at the week where a lot of shows are ending and some shows are starting, so I have a slimmed pool of finales to choose from. Those I reach for first (in this case Tsuritama if you wondered) “wins” this figurative race.

Honestly, both analogies sound like jokes from Jintai as human society declines through its overly sophisticated detachment from reality and greed-based irreverence of consequences, from commercialism to consumerism. Anime is not created for the sake of people consuming anime, right? Chicken are not born because people would eat them, right?

Where is my sentient toupee?

I think people who are capable of this kind of introspection will get a kick out of Humanity Has Declined, or Jinrui wa Suitai Shimashita. Or just Jintai. Mai Nakahara’s wry delivery is dry and grit-free like the pastel artwork and children’s storybook-style designs, evoking enough of a dissonance once the viewer gets beyond its seemingly candy shell. Or in this case, chicken skin.

PA Work’s next original high school rom-com Tari Tari does not disappoint. Granted, I didn’t expect very much of it going in–much like how I didn’t expect very much of True Tears at first–but so far the show simply has a mind of its own and blazes its own path. The characters remind me of my friend Vinny, who does not take whining for an answer and would only bitchslap someone in his head, not in real life. (Let alone on the butt.) In this case Sawa-chan is a superior creation worthy of his adoration. I, on the other hand, find the entire experience on the oddish side of things and, as Hyouka would have it, 気になります. Also, you do note that Sawa is treating Konatsu like her equine friend, right, with that “pat on the back”? I guess that is C83 material.

I did watch the first two episodes of Muv-Luv Alternative: Total Eclipse at Anime Expo, so with episode 2 now airing this past weekend I can spoil some beans. Well, first off, it was not a huge shock that we’re rid of Yui’s friends, but it’s kind of gruesome. The real show doesn’t start until episode 3, so I really have nothing to offer here besides a good luck to those of you braving the games as a result of the anime adaptation. Oh, I guess I really like Kuribayashi’s ending theme. Finally something that doesn’t sound like every song she does.

Oda Nobuna no Yabou so far is inoffensive. Any show with Kanetomo-sensei deserves at least 3. That said I’ve only dropped one show thus far after 1. But watching 2 concurrent shows featuring warring-state generals as nubile anime girls may be too much; we shall see. At least in Nobuna’s show there are plenty of dudes, even old ones. Having at least tried my hand at the game (oh gosh which platform was it IDK), the whole thing is not entirely unfamiliar.

I dropped the Chiaki Kon-directed La storia della Arcana Famiglia, because Mamiko might be the only thing worth watching for me in the show. The lead girl is a bit too much like a typical reverse-harem lead. It’s not my sort of thing anyway.

If I needed more crappy Italian riffage, there’s Yoko Hikasa in Campione! if you swing the other way. Action, fanservice, a bit of a potato-kun action, it’s not much to riff on, actually. At least there’s some car-service. I mean, seriously, let’s put the “sha” in itasha. Or Pikasha for that matter. A bit of a personal anecdote: On Friday, I picked up this month’s Super Dash & Go! for the Yoko Hikasa photoshoot. I didn’t realize she was actually wearing some Campione-inspired outfit in that shoot until I saw the first episode about 12 hours later. Great way to leverage that 2.5D stuff in your mix-media focused mag, yeah? I think they’re doing it right if I am buying this magazine. Which now means I can take a look at how horrible the new ROD reboot is.

I rather enjoyed Kokoro Connect. It doesn’t look as stunning as, say, Hyouka, but if Hyouka was half as interesting as Kokoroco it would already be the show of the year. That said, Kokoro Connect is also an off-beat piece, and besides the plot device that makes me kind of cringe on the inside, I don’t see anything wrong with it. The voice cast is solid and I think they’re set up for some pretty cool drama. My only real concern is just how will they handle the humorous streaks…so far it’s kind of too subdued for my liking. If you can get through Natsukise, this is easy-peasy.

Like Jintai, I enjoyed Utakoi in a real-life kind of way. It’s by far the most educational anime I’ve seen in recent memory. However unlike Jintai, Utakoi just makes me cringe half the time. Plus, traditional love stories are usually not that funny; in that sense I applaud the show’s attempt to spiffy them up for entertainment. It’s way more palatable than Folktales from Japan.

Natsuyuki Rendezvous is a solid romance that represents the rock noitaminA is built upon. I’ll keep along; the Kuo Matsuo direction + Ken Muramatsu music combination is easy to go along with. Too bad I get the feeling there won’t be a spontaneous musical episode? As long as it’s not too sappy. The NTR joke is well-done.

So, I Can’t Play H is not quite the same as Dakara Boku wa, H ga Dekinai, so “I Can’t Do H” sounds much better. There’s a lot of plain nudity in this show; it’s kind of the schtik (in a High School DxD sort of way). I admit the “transformation” scene when the fire burns away Risara’s clothes is pretty cool actually. But is it cool in a “LOL Guilty Crown” sort of way or “LOL Queen’s Blade” sort of way? I think it might be the latter. Aya Endo lending her voice probably does not help.

Sword Art Online is probably my least favorite new show this season. It’s way too chuu2. From what I understand the first episode is just set-up, so I’m perfectly happy to give it three. So far there are little else that bothers me about the show, but nothing grabs me either. I guess with Accel World airing at the same time, I have another source to tap into that fantasy genre-turned-shounen-formula. The plot and device of SAO is better fit for a joke than anything actually intriguing. I mean, how can people take it seriously? I enjoy the jokes way more than the anime thus far. Like the one about Korea. Or Brazil. Or China.

Nakaimo is… WHO IS IMOUTO? THERE IS A SISTER AMONG US. Who is imouto indeed! I mean, this. It’s a harem anime this time, straight-up with the Mom character saying “Dude, bag a girl, get married, win your massive inheritance, you’re already deemed talented enough.” It’s not my favorite sort of setup for harem, but I’m going to take it like a man for Jtor here.

Koichoco is short for Koi to Senkyo to Chocolate, which means love, election and chocolate. It makes no sense unless you watch the show. I guess going in the show I know it only by name and by heritage, which is to say I was expecting something closer to this. But I should’ve known better and see it may be more like this. Well, the voice cast is intriguing so I’ll give it a spin. Most likely I’ll be entirely off base anyway, why fret?

That’s it for now. Meanwhile I’l leave you some food for thought about the decline of humanity.

PS. I was going to link it for the Tsuritama post, but odP’s PV about fishing that debuted at AX is appropriate in the decline of humanity sort of way.