A-1 Pictures throws down a challenge to Ufotable: this is how you do a proper Servant battle:
For most of the series Fate/Apocrypha had been pleasantly meandering towards the inevitable battle royal, one of those series that held my attention week to week but was never all that impressed with, the next permutation in the seemingly endless line of Fate spinoffs. This week’s episode though kicked things up a notch or two. The video above is just a small sample of what’s basically an episode long fight between various Servants, all epic distortion, dirty animation and blast effects. Everything is in motion and blurry, giving a sense of the enormous powers being thrown around.
It’s a different approach from that what we’re used to from Ufotable’s take on the Fate series, which is much more focused on providing clean, sleek action and the sensation of speed more than raw power. Personally I prefer A-1’s approach here. Much of what Ufotable did in Fate/Zero and Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works felt glitzy and too sleek for its own good. The fights especially felt unmoored from physical reality and while the source material is good enough to overcome this in those series, if you look at some of Ufotable’s other work, like its various video game and pretty boys adaptations, they become all glitz and no substance. Technically the animation is brilliant, but there’s no soul to it.
This is the literal opening minute of Just Because!. Relentlessly mundane and slow, it sets the tone for the rest of the episode, which follows several characters through an average day at high school just before their last summer break. There’s not much of a plot, just setting up things for the series, like the new student transfering in and meeting up with a friend he last saw in middle school. There’s nothing here that you haven’t seen before in any high school anime, but it’s done so well, both in how it’s animated and how it’s written. All this mundane stuff would’ve been background fodder in another high school show, quick scenes inbetween the real content of cute girls arguing with each other or two people falling in love. Here, one character just sat around reading and being bored before she has to go to cram school. It feels real in the same way that Tsuki ga Kirei did. if it can keep this up this could be a very good anime.
Five minutes of this douche shouting was enough to put me off watching this series. Not that I had much hope for Black Clover to begin with, as I’d already tried and dropped the manga it was based on for being too dull, too generic. There’s always the chance that an adaptation will be enough of an improvement to keep my interest (Aho Girl being the most recent example), but as I’ve found out time and again, usually it doesn’t.
The problem I had was contemplating spending more than just a couple of minutes with this godawful protagonist. Even without the hellisch screeching he is annoying, a spikey haired idiot who thinks enthusiasm is an adequate substitute for talent, having all the faults of your typical Shounen battler protagonist, with none of the charm. Add in that the first we see of him he’s harassing a nun (!) to marry him and it was bye-bye Black Clover. I just didn’t want to see this asshole getting power thrown in his lap or follow him on whatever kind of derivative quest he was undoubtly going to go on because I know he would irritate me to no end each week. Anime has no shortage of unlikeable male protagonists, but this one takes the cake.
Rebecca Silverman’s review of Netoge no Yome wa Onnanoko ja Nai to Omotta? seems to confuse comedic exaggeration for mental illness:
The problem really comes from Ako, the supposed heroine/love interest of the story. Simply put, she’s very annoying, but more at issue are the reasons why she’s annoying – Ako’s character is built on the idea that she cannot tell the difference between real life and the game. She insists on calling Hideki and the others by their game handles in school, persistently believes that she and Hideki are in an exclusive romantic relationship because they are “married” in “Legendary Age,” and she even occasionally attempts to access her game menu in real life. She’s clearly intended to come off as socially awkward and isolated, someone who can only find solace in the fictional world of the game where she doesn’t have to interact with people face-to-face, which is supported by her closed-off body language and persistent misinterpretation of her classmates’ efforts to befriend her. However, she presents more like someone who has a serious mental health problem, parasitically attaching herself to Hideki and ignoring his discomfort while occasionally exhibiting potentially dangerous behavior.
It’s something I saw a lot of when I went cruising for Love Hina fanfic having just completed the anime, where writer after writer took the slapstick violence poor Keitaro was subjected to and treated it literal. Now sometimes this was done deliberately, as in one story, where the writer looked at the Keitaro/Naru relationship as an essentially abusive one, but most often this seemed to be done unconsciously, as if the writers weren’t aware of the conventions of slapstick comedy. (Or choose to ignore them, to spice up a revengefic). Netoge no Yome wa Onnanoko ja Nai to Omotta? is a typical anime romcom, where each character’s flaws exaggerated for effect and just like how you shouldn’t apply romcom behaviour in real life, neither should you apply real life logic to a romcom.
Furthermore, this criticism misses the point completely about Ako. It’s not that she doesn’t understand the difference between online and “real life”; it’s that she explicitly refuses to. She fell in love with Hideki online and saw no reason to behave differently offline. Which is, as somebody who did the same, is perfectly understandable. I met and fell in love with my wife online and in my group of friends this is not a rare occurrence. The conflict that drives the series is Hideki has to adjust to the idea that the half serious, half jokey “marriage” he went into with Ako — when he still thought she was a dude roleplaying a girl — is actually serious to her. She loves him and the has to decide whether or not he can reciprocate that love.
All of which is brought as Ako needing to distinguish between on- and offline life better, but as noted the series starts to abandon that premisse in the second half. It’s more that she’s the classic type of antisocial nerd, not all that good at talking to people or making friends, coaxed out of her shell by the club members in general and Hideki’s growing love for her especially. Yet while Hideki keeps insisting that “the game and reality are separate”, this is constantly undermined by Ako equally persistent assertion that friendship and love in game do apply to the real world as well. If you love in the game, you love for real
Which is not to say that you can’t have issues with the way all this is portrayed, or worry that it could perhaps trivialise real world mental problems. But you do have to understand the genre conventions under which this series was working to understand its message.
He’s not wrong…
Aho Girl‘s first episode was as annoying as the character herself but the episodes since have improved dramatically, simply by expanding the cast. Yoshiko being an idiot & Akuru punishing her harshly while she professes her love for him was getting old fast by the second sketch; having more people to bounce her off works better and makes Akuru less obnoxious too. When everybody is an idiot, Yoshiko’s own idiocy doesn’t feel like some sort of mental disability anymore. And the new characters are great: there’s her mum, desparate to marry her off to Akuru so her old age will be secure, her teacher trying to teach her something, anything, only to be roped in by her stupidity, the yankee who only wants to be friends with Akuru, the morals officer in love with Akuru who always falls for Yoshiko’s plans to get closer to him, all idiots. With just Yoshiko as an idiot, the series would’ve been cruel: if everybody is an idiot, even our straight man Akuru, it becomes funny.
Tsurezure Children also has a cast of idiots, but slightly more realistic idiots, as they’re all teenagers in the throws of their first love, unsure about how that whole love thing actually works. It’s an ensemble show, with several skits per episode, so it can be a bit hit or miss. I dislike the rapey student council president and his yankee love interest frex, but at its best this is hilarious, cringe comedy at its finest. Tsurezure Children also does a fine line in heavily blushing school girls (and boys). On the whole it’s a good example of how much you can do to tell a story in only bite sized chunks at a time, doing more than some full length romance series manage over a season.
With Gamers, watching the first episode felt like an exercise in predictability. There’s the antisocial loner nerd (also seen in Nana Maru San Batsu who likes video games, who draws the attention of his high school most beautiful and perfect girl, who of course turns out to be a secret gamer herself and who invites him to her newly created games club. And then it surprised me. Because he said no. Instead of getting the usual club story about a rag-tag team coming together to storm the world of competitive gaming, we got a protagonist who just want to play video games for fun and an ever spiralling out of control love pentagon between him, the game club president, the girl he plays his online games with, his normie friend and said friend’s girlfriend, where the relationships get so complicated even the characters have to draw relationship diagrams. Best thing: almost all of it is in their over active imaginations and everything could be resolved if they just sat down and talked to each other… Like Tsurezure Children there’s a lot of cringe comedy here as people behave like idiots and draw the wrong conclusions, leading to some spectacular reaction faces, but there’s also a bit of pathos as people get their hearts broken…