Anime Review: Sword Art Online – Worth watching so far

Sword Art Online

Summary

Sword Art Online is an anime about an RPG MMO. If you don’t know what those acronyms mean, then stop reading. Actually, if you don’t’ know what RPG MMO means, I really got to wonder how you ended up at this blog. Maybe you need to check a browser setting, run a virus check, or adjust your mouse sensitivity, because you are in the wrong spot. If you are in the right spot, then you need to know that I’m probably going to say things about this series that could be considered spoilers. You can’t adjust your mouse to avoid that, but if you are afraid of spoilers, then walk away from the computer and call your mother. She worries about you.

Anyway, in Sword Art Online the players control the games through an immersive headset that cuts them off from the real world but allows them to control their player as if it was their real body. Only in this game something has gone wrong. Shortly after launch, the game wouldn’t let players log out. They are now trapped in the game while their real bodies are lying/sitting in the real world with the headset on. To up the ante, if the headset is taken off, they die. Also, if they are killed in the game, they die. The game creator doesn’t tell them why he did this, but the only way they can get out is to defeat the game.

The story mainly follows a player named Kirito as he wanders through the game. He was a beta player, so he knows the game better than most of the other players. He is also a loner, not affiliated with a group or guild. This is an important part of the story.

This review covers the first half of the first season.

The Good

I liked more about this series than I disliked. Maybe I’m predisposed to like something like this because I’m a constantly recovering and relapsing MMO addict. There are two things this series is doing so far that I like – it is giving me a character arc and it is giving me a variety.

Early on Kirito resists grouping up with anybody, then when he does it goes badly. He feels immense guilt about this, and resists doing so again. Then he meets a girl who he hits it off with, but she is kind of his opposite. She is a high ranking member of a large guild who are devoted to fighting on the front lines to defeat the game and free the players. At this point, the players have been trapped in the game for nearly two years. The story shifts from being about the game to being about their relationship and their relationship to their seemingly hopeless situation.

The other interesting thing the story is doing is variety. This could very easily be a series where the story is about dungeon delving, running quests, or fighting the big boss. While there are some episodes where this happens, there are also episodes that deal with how people are dealing and coping with their situation. People set up businesses, they become criminals, or they simply go fishing. This doesn’t sound like much, but it gives an anime about a game a very human feel.

The Bad

The art and animation is very average. Backgrounds a flat, not textured, and the color pallet is limited. The style is to animation what Calibri is to fonts – serviceable, sturdy, and won’t get in the way of anything else. The character design, creature design, and environment design all have this generic quality. Now I don’t demand that all anime be art – in fact when they try it most often fails, but I would like a little more wow when I watch.

The Other

There are some things that are just odd to me. This might be a reflection of culture differences, or just odd narrative choices. First, player loyalty to their guild is really important. The guild can dictate almost everything a player does. When players try to exercise freewill, it is viewed as an aberration and as the player being very disloyal. This drives several of the main plot points or character decisions in the first part of this series.

I like how they make game mechanics (health point bars, inventory, crafting skills) as being important. If you had to live like this, these ways of getting things done would be just as important in life as things like how to microwave a dinner, or drive a cars are in real life.

Final Verdict

I’m giving this series 3.5 out of 5 stars for the first part of the series. So far it has interesting characters involved in an interesting set of circumstances. They are managing to avoid the epidemic of endless angst meaningless inner monologs that is so common in anime (yes, I’m looking at you Attack On Titan). I’ve just got to the point where there is a major plot point and I’m very interested to see where they take the story from here.

 

TV Review: Arrow – Find a better use for your time

Arrow

Summary

Arrow is a TV series about the DC Superhero commonly known as Green Arrow. Oliver Queen is a young billionaire who likes to tie up young women…. Oh, wait, wrong story about a young billionaire. Actually, you could probably sell a 50 Shades of Green by mashing this vigilante superhero character with a light to medium BDSM setting – what am I thinking? There is no probability that this has not already happened in the juvenile cesspool that is fan fiction. Nevermind, back to my review.

Oliver Queen is a young billionaire by day and a buff, bow wielding vigilante by night. He spent 5 years marooned on a mysterious island after his father’s yacht was sabotaged and sunk. There, he learned a bewildering array of skills related to his survival. When he finally is rescued he comes back with a list of people his father told him were bad. His goal is to make these people right the wrongs they have perpetrated on Star City.

The Good

I liked the set up of a vigilante living a double life and trying to re-integrate into the modern world. A bit like Zorro meets Batman while being a fish out of water. I liked to see how the people who have all thought he was dead for the last 5 years come to accept the fact that he is alive, and come to adjust to having him around. There was the nice angle of this being about his redeeming his father’s legacy while at the same time redeeming himself from the person he used to be. The combination of this dual character arc and the interweaving stories really made me want to watch Arrow.

Also, I was interested in the superhero story. I like superheroes, even more so ones that have to deal with real world problems and situations like parents, friends, business, how to keep your secret hideout a secret…in addition to all this, the set up promised to see this from the ground floor. We get to see Arrow start out and make his inevitable mistakes as he learns what it takes to be a billionaire vigilante.

The Bad

There was all this promise for this series. Then there was the reality.

First reality – there are no characters, only walking props. The characters don’t speak, they deliver lines. They don’t have any independent or lasting motivations other than to make whatever implausible plot point that needs to happen, happen. Arrow’s first sidekick/helper does nothing for three or four episodes other than show up in the secret hideout to act as an emotional or rational foil to Arrow’s on again off again brooding. He just shows up, in a suit, and slips right into the inner monolog to spout off inanities.

Second Reality – If you don’t have real characters, why have real dialog. Nobody talks to each other. They say things that they say, but they bear very little relation to what the other person said, or to what is going on around them. The sister character, Thea, thinks her mother is fooling around and she brings it up constantly for several episodes whether anyone if talking about mom, the stepfather, relationships, the morality of vigilante justice, global warming, or how did a trust fund poof survive for five years in the wilderness.

Third Reality – Without characters, or dialog, relationships that look remotely like the interpersonal or intimate interactions between higher primates are impossible. It’s like if you had to image how a society of lizards would relate to each other, then you just added random dialog and let people deliver the dialog then you would have the relationships in this series.

The Other

There are other things that are irritating, but compared to the bad really don’t qualify at bad. First, this series often looks like a bunch of kids playing dress up. Yes, billionaire would likely have more opportunities for fancy dress, but the women are putting on the ritz ever other episode. I would worry about a shiny fabric shortage, but the dresses are so short and the women so thin that isn’t likely a problem. Sitting down or getting out of a car without exposing yourself would be an issue though.

Secondly, Oliver Queen and his skills are implausible even by comic book standards. A pampered, spoiled rich boy spend 5 years on an island and manages to become an expert in Archery, MMA-style fighting, emergency medical treatment, Russian, Chinese, underworld criminal activity, and parkour. The problem is that you are never worried that he won’t succeed because his abilities are so wide ranging that he will always have a way to get out of it.

Final Verdict

Initially, I was intrigued by the early set up. A changed person comes back and his to re-integrate into his old environment all while he has a very different purpose in life from the one he has before. That early promise has never been fulfilled. Quite the opposite. That early promise has been splattered with no dimension characters delivering moronic dialog in completely unbelievable situations. I’ve given this series 17 episodes to start showing some level of competence. It hasn’t and it’s showing no signs of doing so. Sorry Arrow, this one sided relationship is over.

Movie Review – The Hobbit Battle of the Five Armies – Probably a few armies too many

Battle of the 5 armies

 

Movie Review – The Hobbit Battle of the 5 Armies

Summary

There once was a little story of a little Hobbit in a little house…. Then it was mutated, added-on to, stretched and expanded until it was barely recognizable as relating to the original story. A bit like Hulk vs Bruce Banner. Yeah, hulk is humanoid in form, and has dark hair, but that’s where the similarity ends. In my analogy, the movie is the Hulk and the little story is Bruce Banner, just to be clear.

The Hobbit Battle of the 5 Armies is the third installment of the movies based off of the beloved book called The Hobbit. This book serves as sort of a prelude to the Lord of the Rings trilogy, also made into three films. Note the subtlety here – Lord of the Rings was three books made into three movies. The Hobbit was one book made into three movies. This is the single biggest problems with these movies. They are augmented with things that add only time. Not depth, not character, not interest, only time. This complaint has been voiced by the Geekaverse and the mundane world, so this is the last I will mention of it.

The Good

Smaug is pretty freaking cool. He is powerful, smart, selfish, and cunning. More Smaug, less everything else would have made this a better movie.

The dwarven castle under the mountain was cool. Layered, complex, art-deco meets gothic stone, and moody.

King Thorin was good. A king with more than a little chip on his shoulder develops a world class case of paranoia (a mash up of his performance in clips from the Shining would be great) and causes a horrific loss of life. He was a good character.

Bilbo was great. He is the best character, his is our stand in. He is the outsider, like us, taken along on a grand adventure. He has a strong sense of loyalty and right vs wrong that is unwavering in the face of circumstances. He is clever, likeable, and funny. Every scene with Bilbo was a joy.

The Bad

Deaths. Death should have meaning in a story. Without meaning, we don’t know what to feel when the character dies. Is it funny, as when the bad town leader was squished during Smaug’s attack, or is it tragic as when we see the bodies washing up on the shore afterwards. There are two deaths that are supposed to have meaning in this story, but they fall far short – Thorin, and Filli/Killi

Thorin’s death comes after a long, long fight sequence set up by a ridiculous set of events and assumptions (riding mountain goats? It’s a trap, but the trap is never sprung? Let’s split up when we faced with a likely overwhelming force waiting for us… ugh). So, by the time Thorin get skewered, your disbelief has been stretched beyond suspension until it is a limp, flaccid thing unfit for use. I will talk more about Thorin later.

Filli/Killi. They are brothers/cousins. The point is that they are inseparable. And they idolize and are utterly devoted to Thorin. They are his ersatz children. So, rather than keeping these devoted warriors close, he sends them to scout the likely ambush. They, having the combined IQ of a fine shire grown gourd, split up to scout the tower. These two dipshits seem to be auditioning for a teen slasher film – as victim 1 and 2. Killi get caught, gets steel poisoning, and then gets dropped a few stories off of a tower and lands right in front of Filli. Filli flips and storms up the tower. Then he has an extended fight, saves and is saved by his forbidden love, and then gets stuck with a pointy thing and dies. Wait, you say. He fights with his forbidden love? How can that charged situation be meaning less? Well, I’ll tell you.

These two star crossed lovers, a dwarf and an elf, have as much chemistry as raw liver and a pile of lukewarm rice pudding. The lumpy kind of rice pudding. They are utterly unbelievable as romantic partners. Interestingly, when they are fighting together, it’s kind of fun, but that quickly is over and it’s back to their incredulous yearning. His death ends up being a relief.

Last problem – not enough Bilbo. He has scenes, but in this ensemble story that includes no less than 5 armies, 5 wizards, 3 kings, and a guest appearance by the sandworms from Dune, there just is not much room for our little likeable hobbit.

The Other

The biggest problem is structure. Bilbo is telling this story, so the book is from his point of view, but it is not really his story. At the core, this is Thorin’s story. He is the character that wants something and it is his need that drives the plot. But our view of him is all from the 3rd person point of view. We don’t get to like him enough to have his turn to the crazy side then his eventual demi-redemption, be the emotional closure that is necessary. There are several other stories going on, but none of them get enough air time for us to be vested in the outcome enough to care. Brand and his people – will they get a new city? Will he lead them? Will the uni-brow weasel get his come uppence? We never know. Will the other dwarf king take over the mountain kingdom? We never know. Will the elven king get his people’s artifacts back? We never know. All we know is that Bilbo and Gandalf ride home – but then Bilbo’s house is getting auctioned off because he was gone too long. He stops the auction, but we don’t’ learn anything else. Who was behind the auction? How is Bilbo regarded in the shire now? We never know. There is not closure for anybody but the dead in this movie. The endings are completely open. This movie is a flimsy hospital gown in a drafty hall.

Final Verdict

I’m a sucker for these films, and for these books. I’m not a purist. I don’t think that Arawen was an affront to the legacy, so I’m realistic here about the sausage that has to be made when adapting a book for the screen. This was worth watching for me simply because I needed to see the last film. I accomplished that. What was not accomplished was the ending of a story.

 

Scott Weber

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