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Hey Spitz, What’ve You Been Watching? March 2018

よっ。When will it be warm again? Will it ever be warm again?
It seems as though every once in awhile I get the hankering to ramble on again about anime games. Anime is popular, so where’s the budget for video games based on popular anime series? Why is it we can get a few dozen Atelier games brought West a year, but something like Idolmaster is a no-go?
Is it a voice licensing issue? A localization pipeline problem? Wouldn’t it make more sense to gather up all of your resources to produce a truly great game based in the Sword Art Online universe, rather than pushing out yet another mediocre one every year?
When is the last time a game based on an anime series was released and turned out to be a genuinely great game, and not just “okay”, or “appreciable by fans of the series”? As the medium becomes more popular and widespread, it becomes more mind-boggling as to why some of the series which should lend themselves so perfectly to a video game adaptation so often fail to capitalize on the idea.
Here’s what I watched recently:
 

Sword Art Online The Movie: Ordinal Scale-
Being an alternative to FullDive virtual reality, Augma has seen tremendous success for those cognisant of the Sword Art Online debacle four years ago.
This newer technology, a headset worn by the user, supplies an augmented view of the world around them. It can be used for a myriad of purposes – messaging, music playback, internet access, and even as a form of revenue through the breakout hit ARRPG Ordinal Scale.
Within the world of Ordinal Scale, which resides parallel to our own, anyone can be a hero, and those with outstanding rank can even reap real world rewards from participating retail partners.
How much safer is augmented reality than VR though? When the tangible and fictitious overlap, where does that leave the soul of man?

What I Thought-
It all comes back to Aincrad, doesn’t it? There are, as seems tradition with this series at this point, contrivances within the plot to keep things moving, but this is a fairly paced film without any real filler or any throw away scenes to think of.  The plot does enough to keep you engaged, and as a bridge between the two existing seasons of the anime and the upcoming one, it plants its seeds well without distracting from what it needs to make this film feel self-contained at the same time.
The premise of an AR RPG, and the idea of the technology being more cutting edge than full dive VR seems rather odd, but when you look at where something like Pokemon Go went at its peak, and how commercial VR headsets are common, yet augmented reality devices are not, the premise of Ordinal Scale starts making sense, and even begins approaching believable to a degree.
On paper, the concept of an AR game based around pretending you’re swinging a sword at an imaginary creature feels like an extension of LARPing, but it is admittedly salivating to think of rolling around town with a group of friends to slay creatures the general populace are unaware of. It has a Lovecraftian vibe to it, and evokes Hunter: The Reckoning as well. And this is what Sword Art Online has always been best at: concepts. Even when the execution falters in some damnable ways, the ideas nestled within SAO’s various narratives are if nothing else interesting and thought provoking.
Then, once the action hits, this film is quite a treat. These sequences are stylish, fast paced and loud, and Ordinal Scale’s combat is a step beyond that of previous games in SAO in that not only does it require stamina and dexterity from the player, it being a real world activity, but the roles within combat are more traditional as well, so there are numerous great shots of player tanks with shields bravely enduring a flurry of attacks while the damage-doers look for an opening to seal the deal. The sequence which closes the film is particularly exciting, and pulls a few unexpected punches to further push the intensity.
Kirito continues to be the least interesting character in the series, and while there are still a few stray moments of the various heroines fawning over him, that aspect has been thankfully toned down here. The antagonistic force of the movie is a step up from the past, too. In a series which has had perfectly “hateable” antagonists in the past, who were more or less bad guys because they were bad guys and that’s the long and short of it, the conflict found here is on one level cliche, but on another, relatable and enjoyable to see develop over the run time. Much as the series has been up to now, the plot is more a means to an end than a draw, but it’s getting there, and the characters who tell the tale are at least worth hanging out with. (Cept Kirito. Dude sucks.)
Sword Art Online The Movie: Ordinal Scale is the ideal film follow up. It reminds you of where the series has been and where it currently resides before sprinkling a tease of what the future might bring.  It probably isn’t necessary viewing for SAO fans, but it is a film every bit worth a watch.
 


 

Pop Team Epic-
When they were younger, Taira Daichi and Hoshifuri Sosogu promised one another that when they were old enough, they’d be betrothed. One day however, Sosogu moved away, and in the years leading up to her return, Daichi had all but forgotten about her.
Sosogu never forgot about him though. Now an idol, she’s determined to reclaim the time the two lost, and to make Daichi remember the promise the two made to one another all those years ago. Thus begins an all too familiar tale told through an all too familiar drum. That’s a heart metaphor.

What I thought-
Pop Team Epic is condensed nonsense. At times, this is a glorious thing to behold, with absurdist non-sequitur gags and bizarre references removed from all context delivered with a sputtering, flat-facedness which just begs you to break.
Most of the time however, Pop Team Epic’s attempts at eliciting a cheap laugh out of the viewer falls rather flat. It has a very ‘throw everything you can at the wall without worrying about how tacky it is’ style, which means segments sometimes drag on for longer than needed, gags will be revisited which weren’t especially funny the first time, aforementioned references might pop up with no accompanying punchline or purpose other than to say “Hey, remember that thing?”, and the list goes on.
Sometimes though, you want stupid, and Pop Team Epic is very stupid.
Where Pop Team Epic fails is not in its ambition. This is a hodgepodge of odd ideas and unrestrained silliness with a weird combination of visual styles and a nonsensical structure.
 


 

Slow Start-
Though she would appear the same as any other high school student, with high hopes for the future and a bright personality, Ichinose Hana harbors a terrible secret.
Leading up to her high school exams, she contracts a most unfortunate case of the mumps.
Due to this, she is unable to enter high school when she is supposed to, and thus is forced to attend a year late!
When she arrives, the complex she has developed about reaching high school late begins to bear down on Hana. What would her new friends think of her if they knew?

What I thought-
Leading the charge in the character design department this past season was Slow Start.
This is good, because aside from it’s energetic cast of nicely designed characters, Slow Start doesn’t offer much as far as narrative or memorable slice of life comedy scenarios. It’s a rather by the numbers series, which is of course disappointing.
There is at least some character growth over its run time, and while it lasts, Hana and her new friends’ cuteness and overflowing energy does well to bring a bit of cheer; it’s just remembering what happened after the fact which poses a problem.
Slow Start knows what it is, and even if it doesn’t go out of its way to do anything new or interesting, this is a nicely produced and joy inducing slice of life series.
 


 

Karakai Jouzu no Takagi-san-
Nishikata-kun has it tough. Rather short and rather middling when it comes to academics and athletics, not to mention a fan of decidedly not very masculine manga series, his self-esteem and patience is relentlessly tested by being at the receiving end of constant teasing.
This teasing isn’t done by bullies or older siblings or anything of that sort though, but rather his seating neighbor at school, Takagi-san.
Though his plans to get the best of her always backfire, Nishikata is determined to get the best of Takagi-san and make her feel the same embarrassment she causes him.

What I thought-
Then there’s Takagi-san, which after a preview last October, I was emphatically on board for.
A somewhat more relaxed series than the typical moe affair, Takagi-san is closer to an adolescent love story than a comedy series. It becomes clear within the very first episode that Nishikata and Takagi have a special friendship, and it’s heartwarming to watch Nishikata attempt to keep these feelings at bay, while Takagi, clearly content with them, takes every opportunity to make him uncomfortable.
Yamamoto Souichirou’s character designs come through great, and segments from another of his slice of life series, Ashita wa Doyoubi are incorporated as breaks in the going-ons of the main duo.
There isn’t a narrative here, but Karakai Jouzu no Takagi-san makes up for it with its warm, lovable slice of life antics.
 


 

I’ve fallen off of Dragon Ball Z for the time being. That series, even Kai’s more condensed version, is a bit of a slog, and a repetitive one at that. If only there were a more abridged version I could watch somewhere… Nah, I’m sure nothing like that exists.
I have my old software on my new pc and have done some smaller tests. It’s looking good. Since I don’t have infinite hard drive space, the question recently has been do videos become 720p at 60 fps, or 1080p at 30? I’m looking to get a license for XSplit, and when that happens, the door is wide open to streaming. (I haven’t forgotten about White Day, either.)
Spring is here (!), along with its accompanying anime season. Anything look good? I’m looking forward to gobbling up Amanchu!’s second season, and having watched the first episode of Gun Gale Online, I’m looking forward to seeing how that pans out as well.
See you later!
(Last year this month.)
次回までね。

Hey Spitz, What’ve You Been Watching? February 2018

ようこそ~!You always expect a new year to be a fresh start, but 2018 so far has been a whirlwind.
Speaking as an American, social politics are easily one of the most oppressive forces bearing down on you out there.
It comes from a good place. We’re all human beings and want to be treated as such. It’s a no-brainer. If someone is being misrepresented, or held down for unfair reasons, then that’s an issue.
But the problem with social politics is that one is able to pick and choose where and what might be the cause of inequality with little fear of backlash, often leading to the dulling down of creative flair, or in more blunt terms: fun.
It’s a massive trend in gaming in particular, and has been for years now, and while personally I appreciate the manner gaming advertising has grown up a bit thanks to this movement, I don’t care for how it impacts video games regarding presentation. Video game worlds draw you in because they let you escape. They’re over the top, and this distracts you away from the things which are bothering you to enjoy yourself. Does 2B from Nier: Automata make the game less thought provoking or entertaining because of her attractive character design?
The rising popularity of anime in the West has be worried that, in order to cater to our impossible social political requirements, series might start taking on a duller style.
For example, could Dragon Ball Z be the same without Master Roshi being an old pervert? I’m sure. But does taking a comic relief character such as him out, or altering his personality to not be grabbing nurse hineys and ogling Bulma’s breasts all the time solve much of anything in the grand scheme of things?
It’s tough to say where inequality starts and ends; everyone has a different answer. Just like everyone has different tastes and tolerances for toilet humor or innuendo. When the path of social politics intersects with my escapism though, I’m not a fan.
A lonesome backlog series is all I’ve got:
 

Gugure! Kokkuri-san-
Ichimatsu Kohina is an instant ramen enthusiast. As a self-proclaimed doll, she finds little need for much else.
Friends? Who needs ’em.
Family? Don’t be silly.
A styrofoam cup of noodles is all she needs.
That is, until out of boredom (just boredom, you see), she performs an incantation to summon the fox spirit Kokkuri-san
One spirit begets another, and Kohina soon finds her home harboring a number of spirits, each with their own unfortunate vices.

What I thought-
This series has been in my backlog for a very long time. Having watched the first two episodes and fallen off for some reason or another, I was happy to hop back in, and those first few episodes were just as charming and humorous as I had remembered.
The issue with Kokkuri-san though, is that once you’re past the introduction, it doesn’t go out of its way to continue changing things up to keep itself fresh or engaging. New characters come (and some are almost instantly forgotten about), but once their quirk is established, their interactions become one-noted and quick.
There is a sort of sad undertone nestled underneath the slice of life gags, but this is largely swept under the rug and never brought up again at a certain point. This is too bad, because I think if this series had closure to such things, it would give the viewer something to look forward to other than the next airless gag or uninspired scenario. The series looks and sounds great (I love that OP), and the characters themselves are fine for what they are, but the comedy begins lacking the sting or shock to keep you rolling, and the most endearing character, Kohina herself, seems to fall to the wayside while Inugami and his spirit brethren hog the spotlight.
This is a comedy series which seemed to have overlooked its potential.
A solidly entertaining front end can’t save this series from its been there, done that slice of life trappings. Gugure! Kokkuri-san is not a series without laughs, but a few good gags spread out over the course of twelve episodes simply isn’t enough to fill your stomach.



 
The PC was upgraded recently, which not only makes producing video content snappier, but also opens the door to higher quality streams, so the options have expanded a bit as far as things like that go. Whether the time will be set aside to take advantage of that, it’s tough to say. January and February have been exceedingly noisy for my apartment, so there has been next to no opportunity for the quiet needed to record White Day episodes or the DB FighterZ feature I’ve wanted to do for the past few weeks. Yell at them for me, would ya?
Speaking of which, the launch of DB FighterZ has me watching through DBZ Kai, which in part explains the limited post here. There are flaws for sure, but Kai seems to be a good option for someone who isn’t as interested in filler, and while maybe I’d be humming a different tune if I were waiting for new episodes week to week, but at least in Kai’s case, the narrative is paced very well, and episodes end in a manner which makes you want to immediately watch another.
See you next time!
(Last year this month.)
それじゃ。

Chill and Chat: Guardian’s Crusade

Before we get back into White Day, let’s take a little time to stress our pc a bit with a slightly longer than usual video!
It was an afternoon of experimentation, but I think we’re at a sweeter spot when it comes to understanding the limits of my capture software and where to set voice audio.


 

And to those curious as to the results of the test:
– My external HDD which houses unposted Soapbox content was set to FAT32 rather than NTSC, so it needed to be converted to the correct format before I could render the video (There’s a 4 gig transfer limit to FAT32, and this video clocked in at a cool 4.4).
– Whether it’s the software’s fault or my clunker pc’s fault, the software used to capture gameplay doesn’t like it when a video is longer than 35 minutes or so, so I had to cut it into 30 minute chunks before I could plug the footage into my video editing software.
– The first time I tried to edit sound levels of the gameplay in my editing software, my pc crashed and I thought I might’ve lost my work. Luckily I did not.
– My microphone picks up every little detail, which when there is total silence is a very bad thing. Noise gate settings took some tinkering but I think they’re at a decent spot now (?).

And as an added note: I finally have a worthwhile internet connection, which means I can now stream from my PS4 (and though I haven’t tested it, I would assume my XB1 as well) at a good quality.
My pc still needs an upgrade, so until then my options are limited, but maybe weekly or bi-weekly streams could be something we could do?

Spitz’s Year End Wrap Up 2017

[There should be no spoilers here!]

明けましておめでとうございます!
It’s a new year again, which means there’s open potential for a multitude of wondrous things on the horizon!
Before we go out to greet those things however, there are a few words left to be said about some of the experiences 2017 brought, as well as a cool list collecting said experiences into an easy-to-traverse list.
 

Anime:
We haven’t gotten to the round-up yet, but it was a spark disappointing to look over the number of series I was able to finish this past year. This is only when in comparison to past years, of course. There was a strong showing of slice of life series, with the anime adaptation of Fushimi Tsukasa’s next big series post Oreimo, and one of the easiest to return to series over the past year, Anne Happy, thanks to its lovingly unfortunate cast of characters.
I finally took care of some of the big looming series of the backlog, with the films Ghost in the Shell and Girls und Panzer der Film being huge standouts.
It was also a year worth remembering for catching up on the Love Live! series, which you can be sure to hear more about below.
It wasn’t a year for quantity of series, but in a few key cases, quality of series was markedly high for 2017.

Games: 
2017 was a torrential success in games, notably up front. We saw a triumphant return to form with Resident Evil VII, a peerless showing by Nintendo with The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, and even Sonic the Hedgehog returned to the speedy, stylish place he belongs for but a flicker before that candle was snuffed out again.
This is to name but a few of the great games 2017 brought, and each of the three listed above were strictly single player offerings; something which seems unheard of these days.
Of course there were multiplayer games, too, with a solid but still somewhat limited Destiny 2, and a tremendous new entry in the Tekken franchise. We also saw games as a service poke and prod at us like mice in a lab, testing our patience.
This was a year for the books, for sure.
 

The Round-up:
If you’ve been here before, you know the drill, but if not, here is a list of the anime and games I talked about over the past year, listed in alphabetical order. Click the name of an anime or game to open a tab for the article(s) or video(s) in which it was mentioned.

Anime:
Aho Girl
Ai Mai Mii: Surgical Friends
Alice to Zouroku
Anime Gataris
Anne Happy
Blend-S
Castlevania
Demi-chan wa Kataritai
Eromanga Sensei
Flip Flappers
Gabriel DropOut
Ghost in the Shell
Ghost in the Shell (live action)
Girls und Panzer der Film
Hinako Note
Imouto sae Ireba Ii.
Kemono Friends
Kimi no Na Wa.
Kobayashi-san chi no Maid Dragon
Koe de Oshigoto!
Love Live! School Idol Project
Love Live! School Idol Project 2nd Season
Love Live! The School Idol Movie
Love Live! Sunshine!!
Minami Kamakura Koukou Joshi Jitensha-bu
One Room
Piace: Watashi no Italian
Sekai no Yami Zukan
Tenshi no 3P!
Yamishibai Season 4
Yamishibai Season 5

Games:
Call of Duty WWII (Soapbox Post / Youtube Link)
Fatal Frame 2 Spookbox Halloween Special (Soapbox Post / Youtube Link)
Resident Evil VII (Written Review)
White Day Episodes 1-10 (Currently Incomplete) (Soapbox Posts / Youtube Playlist)

Spitz’s Obligatory Year’s End Awards Section:
“…Of the Year” awards are something I don’t really like, especially when you’re someone in my situation who reviews or talks about series or games that weren’t necessarily released over the year in question.
I do like thinking up arbitrary categories to continue praise for the things I loved over the past number of months though, so here you go!

Anime:

Biggest Impact:
Love Live! (/Sunshine!!)
It may be a bit unfair to regard both seasons of Love Live!, its film, and Sunshine!! as one entry, but it’s difficult not to, as both exhibit many of the same overall themes, and are essentially a continuation of the concept of school idols.
Regardless of the contrivance necessary to put it here, Love Live! is wonderful and deserves every bit of praise I might toss at it. Each season feels distinct, and comes with its own great music and sincere (if at times admittedly a bit hokey) moments. The character designs are all so, so good, and if you dwell in the moor that is 萌え, there is an overflowing fountain here to bathe yourself in.
But the reason it’s worth mentioning here, is because under all of the cute anime ladies and the silly character moments and even things like the production quality and the soundtrack, there is a great deal of introspection in this series which paid off quite well. Sunshine especially hits a chord at a point, when it brings up the question of when you pour your heart into something and then have nothing to show for it, how do you deal with that?
If I were to voice an issue I have with the series as a whole, it would be that its depiction of high schoolers is pretty head-in-the-clouds. Having both Muse and Aqours’ respective classmates do nothing but cheer them on is much unlike any teen behavior I recall encountering before I grew my cobwebs. If this is in service of presenting the idea of being a supportive person not only to your friends but of anyone with their heart invested in a goal, then I’m perfectly okay with making that concession.

It is also impossible not to bring up the manner with which Sunshine handles Muse’s legacy. Removed from the series, and considered purely from the point of view of someone interested in storytelling and world building, the scenes in which Chika and the other girls of Aqours talk about Muse and retread their steps are among the standout scenes of the series. Hearing the girls talk off-handedly about the group (sometimes making mistakes when it comes to the details), and watching them (along with you as the viewer) become excited when they realize their story has led them to the same places Muse had been – it all comes together to make the characters seem grounded in a place where the world doesn’t revolve around them, but has been a stage from which many stories have already been told; the scene which introduces Saint Snow is absolutely perfect in this way.
This is a series which I think many people, even those who aren’t typically into moe affairs might appreciate, and it is a series which has earned every inch of its fandom. While I feel like I’ve already rambled on, it would be easy to continue going on about everything Love Live! gets right, and this is even without considering the second season of Sunshine!!, which I unfortunately couldn’t steal away time for (but will soon for sure).
 

Best Character Designs:
Kemono Friends
It was a good year for art design in anime on my end, with the simple but effective Hikari from Demi-chan wa Kataritai, the charming puff-balls of Sakuranomiya Maika, and the Love Live! series’ truckload of wonderful character designs, but when all else is considered, I believe the most aware of how great the character designs were, it really comes down to Kemono Friends. A western outdoor fashion-inspired American Beaver, a stylish, suited duo of silver and gold foxes, and my enduring favorite, the Japanese Crested Ibis, Kemono Friends’ designs were always interesting to look at, with simple but smart details which allured but didn’t distract.

This is saying a lot for a CG series, where the character models are very low poly and otherwise a bit rough on the eyes to look at. Kemono Friends is a tremendously charming series in its own right, very well suited for younger audiences or someone with an eye for the colorful and cheerful, but because of its superb character designs, it left a lasting impact. It’s a real shame that a second season is in muddled territory at the moment, but there’s always a chance, right?
 

Most Underwhelming:
Castlevania
It may come off as pretentious or something, but as more and more time seems to go by, the less enjoyment I get out of Western movies and tv. We’ve lost our knack for crafting tangible worlds, and populating them with characters worth hanging out with. If it’s a series aimed at adults (young or old it would seem), the baseline seems to be just fill it with excessive sexual content or violence, because that’s what adults like, I guess? And Castlevania, Netflix’s original animated series continues this.
Castlevania has always been a dark and often violent series, sporting evocative artwork in many instances, it’s true, but to me at least, these things weren’t situated as the center of the series’ identity, and it was very disappointing to hear all of the praise for this series, especially from people who enjoyed the games, and then watch it myself and have my reaction be little more than a shaking of my head.

When I think of Castlevania, I think exploration. Even the earlier, linear games had this feeling of exploration which is completely lost in this animated series. To me, Castlevania is a series about a martially capable protagonist going up against the night and its various evils and coming out on top. It’s a series about strange creatures and bizarre magic, and a stylish flair to give it its own unique identity. It’s about instantly recognizable goth-rock musical themes (and did you hear that soundtrack?).
I got none of these things from watching this animated series.
This take on one of the video game series I love was not what I was looking for, and I have no interest whatsoever in watching more of it once it continues, presumably this year.
 

Games:

Let’s get something out of the way first:
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
Breath of the Wild is unfair, which is why it can only be mentioned outside of the other categories.
In the best games, immersion is number one with a bullet. Nicely tuned or innovative mechanics will get you distance, but the ability to latch onto a player and keep them hooked onto a game, and have that game inhabit their thoughts well after the session is over is achieved most effectively through immersion.
Immersion is what Breath of the Wild excels at, through a combination of excellent sound design, likable characters, a large, open-ended world, and smart hindrances baked into the game’s mechanics.

More notably early on, Link is fragile and weak, and as the player you are required to begin thinking about solutions to problems which make use of this limited strength. Weapons will break, ammo is limited, and your ability to endure extreme weather or a beating in combat makes exploration and ultimately progress an arduous road, but thanks to how open-ended this game is, its challenges don’t feel unfair or oppressive.
As you travel about Hyrule, the game’s myriad systems open the door to creative solutions to problems, or to simply mucking about in fun ways. A lightning storm might bring you a swift end when the metal weapons on your back catch the attention of a lightning bolt, but hours later, this knowledge might have you tossing a sword into a group of moblins, bringing them that disastrous fate instead.
This is a game with a tangible world, but a game which limits you as a character in it just enough to make you believe you’re existing within it.
It is by almost all regards, a master class, and I was more than happy to toss away my multi-dozen hour save when it came the time to upgrade from Wii U to Switch, and start again anew.
This game is also responsible for me purchasing a capture card, which in turn led to me posting video series here on the site. So… there’s that, too. Take that as you will.
 

Best Single Player:
Sonic Mania
Sonic Mania is not the game I put the most hours into over the past year. It doesn’t have the best soundtrack (it’s close though!), or a great story, or even the most engaging gameplay.
Sonic games have been the punching bag of gamers everywhere for years now, and for good reason. Even as someone who was a Genesis kid and actively preferred Sonic games over Mario in those days, the modern showing wrought on by Sonic Team has been agonizing to watch.
A question was posed by someone online, as to whether Sonic was ever actually good, or if it was just what we had. We were burned by Sonic 4’s attempts at nostalgia, and all hope was more or less lost. Eventually, I started to think that yeah, that is probably the case.
Then, during the summer when the time came, I started up Sonic Mania, and in those brief hours on its launch night, all of those years of pessimism and doubt washed away. The sights and sounds and most importantly the control, were all 100% spot-on.
Christian Whitehead and his development team are not game developers – they’re game fans, and Sonic Mania is not a product, or even an argument for Sonic after years of misguided blunders – Sonia Mania is a celebration.

The plucking of music and level segments from Sonic’s prime years, and the reworking and remixing of them, and then supplementing those meticulously crafted levels with brand new ones? It gave off such a bright, loving feeling that rarely traces video games – that the individuals behind the game miss how things were just as much as you do.
Remember this stage? So do we. This music? We loved that tune, too.
In the brief hours I spent playing Sonic Mania this year, I was a child again, and that beats everything.

(Additional Mention)
Nier: Automata
When I think back at the games which informed my interests and expectations for what video games, or more specifically what video game stories can be, it brings me back to Metal Gear Solid on the PS1. That was the first game where I recall being invested in a video game’s narrative, and where a good part of that is simply the (at the time) rare amount of care put behind that games story, much of it had to do with the way that particular game, and to a lesser degree the later games in that series, handled the fact that it was a video game.
A rare breed of entertainment is that which fully utilizes the strengths and potential of its medium, and it pleases me to say that Nier: Automata makes wonderful use of its medium in telling its story. It isn’t about breaking the fourth wall, it’s about acknowledging the fact that your game is a game, and using the tools games have which other mediums do not, to tell that story in a way that would otherwise be impossible.
Aside from its story, Automata also happens to be a stylish, satisfying and quite open-ended action game by terms of customization through the game’s Plug-in Chip system and through the limited but wildly different available weapon types. It also treads a line between character action game, arcade shooter, and modern scrolling shmup game, the latter of which made me ecstatic to see, as Automata is likely, sadly, the closest thing we’ll get to a big budget shoot ’em up game at this point.
It isn’t much of a looker for the most part when you’re speaking of its environment, but the game’s style is enunciated by its character design and animation.

2B is the rare video game character who can look awesome standing still, and when the chaos of battle ensues, the way everything moves makes the visuals sing in ways its otherwise drab looks should make impossible.
Added to this is the game’s soundtrack, which is by leaps and bounds the most unique sounding collection of themes I have heard since Splatoon in 2015. Sometimes somber, sometimes pressing, it supplements the on screen action perfectly, and is a soundtrack I’ve been happy to have on outside of the game. If you can appreciate a finely timed crescendo, you will not be left wanting.
 

Best Multiplayer:
Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare
CoD: WWII is a bit rough around the edges, and perhaps with time I’ll warm to it in the way I did to IW after its promotional beta (hard to hold my breath), but looking back on 2017 and the good times I had with competitive multiplayer, I would be a doofus not to give it up to Infinite Warfare once again. Between the last Year End article I wrote and this one, this game has seen its season pass through, adding over a dozen terrific maps (and admittedly a couple clunkers) as well as a host of different weapons to keep itself fresh.
As is always the case with Call of Duty, at a point the non-straight forward gametypes became ghost-towns, but this was no hindrance on my ability to boot the game up every once in awhile to go to work in TDM, more often than not with new weapons or maps to enjoy.
It isn’t the most innovative game out there, or even the most exciting, but what Infinite Warfare is, is razor sharp in ways other shooters simply aren’t. The weapon handling and character movement are perfectly tuned, and the game only has a couple of “meh” maps out of the bunch (both found in the final DLC pack, even).
Infinite Warfare continues to be the best shooter no one praises but me.

 

Were There the Time:
Persona 5
2017 is the year where I didn’t have the time.
Among the best games I have ever played are Persona 3 and 4, and because of that, Persona 5 was one of my most highly anticipated games of the year. Having played through the aforementioned games well after their respective releases, the idea of a brand new Persona game on current hardware, with a brand new Shouji Meguro soundtrack to listen to at release was an idea I was completely behind.
But then the day came, it coincided with a most unfortunate personal ordeal, and the rest is sort of history at this point. 2017 continued, and it has been a struggle to keep up.
100 hour JRPGs are a difficult thing to get through when you’re pressed for time, and a story of that length is not something easily appreciated when your mental faculties are being dragged from numerous directions at once, and because of this, Persona 5 saw very little attention since its launch. This is something that bums me out tremendously, though I guess it does well to set up the continuance of the trend which is me playing through Persona games well after their release.

 

Most Underwhelming:
Super Mario Odyssey
This has unintentionally become the award for “game everyone seems to love but me”, but this was never my intention.
When I think of what Mario games are, and what I want from Mario games, I always have the concept in my head, birthed from my earliest memories of the series, of relatively short (let’s say 3-5 minute) levels with set start and end points.
This is not what Odyssey is, and I’ll whole-heartedly admit that I’m the problem here in expecting this game to be something it never claimed itself to be.

For what it is, Odyssey is a game filled with polish and charm. It looks good, plays well (though motion controls are always a minus, even if they’re largely optional here), and seems to have a good amount of variety. It’s just the idea of wandering around these larger sandbox environments with the hope of finding or mistakenly stumbling upon Moons to progress which pushes me away. For whatever reason, directionless exploration worked for me in Breath of the Wild, but here it just bores me to tears.
Maybe I’ll come back to it and it’ll grab me in a big way, but as it stands now, it depresses me to say that Super Mario Odyssey isn’t my kind of Mario game.
 

And As For Me:

Looking Back:
As I mentioned above, this was an oppressively busy year for me, most notably over the past three months. So much so, that I’m still coming to terms with and still struggling to process things which occurred early in the year.
Pain was there, but there were thankfully fewer hospital visits this year, and thanks to a small circle of friends and plenty of cute anime ladies to bring the cheer, moods are high and hopeful.
Sleep is something which needs to be a high priority, which is probably the biggest lesson learned this year. When things get busier and busier, your options for doing the things you want to do dwindle, and at a point the decision needs to be made for whether suffering some exhaustion in the name of social or recreational enjoyment is worth it in the long run.
It’s easy to brush it off, but sleep is important.

Looking Forward:
White Day, love it or hate it, is coming back soon. Once that’s finished up, I already know what the next playthrough will be! There are always a metric ton of ideas for videos or series I’d love to do, but (and I feel like a broken record at this point) it all depends on how much time I have.
Anime monthlies will continue of course! Since I have a video production capability now, the idea of doing video reviews for anime has come up, but I don’t own a video hosting service, and copyright holders are understandably harsh about people posting things which don’t belong to them. Don’t expect the change to video, I suppose. I enjoy doing written reviews more anyway.
 

Spitz’ Soapbox is a personal project. I’m here because I want to be here and for no other reason, and the idea that any number of people out there are at least interested in what I have to say in passing, is an idea that warms my heart.
I truly appreciate whoever you are, and I offer my sincerest thanks for reading my words or watching my silly videos over the past year. The site will continue into 2018, and I hope you will join me.
Thank you.

Hey Spitz, What’ve You Been Watching? December 2017

Oh… how nice of you to come.
Welcome to the final anime monthly for 2017! It’s a new year, which means we have a reasonable excuse to hit the reset button on some of the bad habits or trends from the previous year, while reflecting on where we could have improved on maybe social skills or perhaps financial skills as well.
Personally I witnessed a large chunk of foolishness over the past 365 days, and might have been the cause of more than a fair share of it myself. There will be more time for these considerations later however. Let’s talk about anime!
The Fall anime season was hit or miss on my end. Here’s what I had time for:
  

Blend-S-
Poor Sakuranomiya Maika…
While she does her best to be friendly to her fellow man and go about her business as an otherwise cheerful young lady of small stature and traditional looks, her inability to perform otherwise simple interactions with other human beings does terrible things to her confidence.
Then there are her slanted eyes, which come off as sneering or perhaps even sadistic to those poor souls who encounter her.
It so happens though, that one of those poor souls belongs to an Italian man named Dino, who is the proprietor of Cafe Stile, and who just so happens to be looking for a young lady to fit the Sadistic archetype.

What I thought-
Slice of life comedy series come and go en masse, and I wouldn’t be as audacious as to say this one has any particular degree of staying power, but what I can say is that while it lasted, it never failed to bring the charm.
Similar to series such as Gochuumon wa Usagi Desu ka?  and Kin-Iro Mosaic, the focus here is on the characters, and Blend-S is a bit uneven there. Sakuranomiya Maika’s two characters in one makes her a treat to watch, but some of the other denizens of Cafe Stile cater a bit too closely to their specific molds, and come off as forgettable because of it.
It’s nice seeing a few males in a moe series such as this though, and having one be a romantic interest of the poster girl is a good chance of pace as well.
This series had one of the more uplifting opening sequences I’ve encountered recently; always capable of grabbing my attention and immediately brightening my day, and the production otherwise gets the job done, too.
Blend-S isn’t here to change the mold, but it is a slice of life series with good character, and entertaining, albeit by the numbers scenarios. If you have enjoyed series such as Gochi-Usa and Kin-Iro Mosiac in the past though, then by all means, stop in for a bite.


 

Anime Gataris-
Ah, anime. High school student Asagaya Minoa is familar, though admittedly only through a series seen by her at a young age, years ago.
She is a newbie at Sakaneko High, and despite her mediocre knowledge of anime media and fandom, a gleam is seen in fellow student Kamiigusa Arisu’s eye; the gleam of potential.
Together, the two create an anime club, despite the scorn of the Student Council and the debates or disagreements that occur between the two of them and the colorful cast of characters their anime club begins attracting.

What I thought-
Have you ever been in that situation where someone suggested a television series or a book or whatever else to you, but because they never shut their mouth about it, they soured you on the series in question before you even learned anything about it?
This is the vibe I got, watching Anime Gataris.
The constant mugging for acceptance; the nonstop references to other anime series. It just came off as obnoxious to me; as though this series creators were trying as hard as they could to impress their viewers with how many other series they could reference.
Which is too bad, because there are most certainly redeeming qualities to this series, with the prime being its excellent character designs. There are scant few admirable moments in there, but surrounding them is a four hour flight sitting next to the most annoying friend you have.
Maybe Anime Gataris has its heart in the right place, but the methods it employs to show it only manages to cause the opposite effect.


 

Imouto sae Ireba Ii.-
Hashima Itsuki is a young man who has seen relative success as a novelist.
He also has an irrational obsession with little sisters.
Surrounding Itsuki are his good friends, some of which are writers themselves, such as the man whom Itsuki directly competes with when it comes to novel sales, Fuwa Haruto.
Together, this oft eccentric bunch go about their days, enjoying one another’s company while doing what they can to achieve their goals.

What I thought-
I feel as though this series had its lunch snatched right out from under its nose by Eromanga Sensei last season. I say that because it seemed as though Ireba was trying to raise the ante on things such as fan service. Eromanga’s fan service and vulgar language were shocking, but Ireba couldn’t come along this shortly afterward and do the same thing, so it just ratcheted it up a few notches.
This ends up making the scenes in which that vulgarity or fan service appears feel forced and not at all shocking, and this is a bummer because I think there are aspects to how Ireba handles its characters and their specific backgrounds which are really quite effective, and pulls you into its characters in ways Eromanga didn’t.
The character designs are decent enough, though unfortunately they don’t quite live up to Kantoku’s original designs. There is a realistic simplicity to them which with the given art style, becomes quite drab and uninteresting to look at when drawn in this less detailed way.
 A victim of going second, Imouto sae Ireba Ii. didn’t manage to snatch up the same ground its predecessor did, but for what it is, it’s a series with memorable characters and its own number of moments sure to catch you off guard.


 

The Year End wrap up is receiving its finishing touches, and will be posted either tomorrow (2nd) or Wednesday (3rd). Not right on the cusp of the new year, but c’mon man, I’ve been working my tail off these last few months!
(Last year this month.)
See you there! Maybe!(?)
もう一回!

Hey Spitz, What’ve You Been Watching? November 2017

(This article is certified 100% spoiler-free.)

おい。It’s getting cold, which means clogged sinuses, heavy clothing and next to no free time. What a time to be alive!
One of my personal frustrations with the anime industry (in the West) is that while the anime industry is seeing a rise in favor, and many series see disc releases, there are many series yet which I for one would love to add to my collection, but haven’t been picked up, at least to my knowledge, for official release (Highschool Fleet, Majimoji Rurumo, Genei wo Kakeru Taiyou, Shakunetsu no Takkyuu Musume, Amanchu! to name just a few). Of course, in an industry which has so many series that it would take a lifetime to even attempt to watch through them all, there are bound to be a few favorites here or there, whether of high or low general appeal which might be overlooked.
Japan has in recent months made it a much easier process to import certain goods including video games and video from sites such as Amazon.jpn, but for non-Japanese speakers, while this may seem like a more direct method of supporting the series we love, it doesn’t exactly solve the problem once you go to actually watch those releases. Region codes for discs are another headache…
Worldwide anime releases aren’t where they need to be, but it’s good to see that step by step we’re getting there.
I apologize for the lack of attention the Soapbox has been seeing over the past few months. It is been supremely busy at work.
Here’s what I watched between September and now:
 

Kimi no Na Wa.-
Miyamizu Mitsuha is a girl frustrated with her life in the traditional countryside.
Tachibana Taki is a city-faring student with a part-time job.
With the approach of a shooting star, the two awake one morning to realize they’ve swapped bodies! While it fades after but a single day, this odd happening comes as goes as it will, leaving the two in over their respective heads.
Kimi no Na Wa tells the story of these star-crossed teens and their struggle to cope with this bizarre phenomenon, while juggling the chaos it brings to their lives.

What I thought-
If you’re familiar with Shinkai Makoto, and have watched one of his films before, then there’s a certain expectation when going into a new movie of his, that if anything, it will be the most amazing production you’ve seen recently, and Kimi no Na Wa exemplifies this with flying colors.
Where some anime films, and to a lesser degree tv anime may exhibit artwork frame by frame which would be welcome adorned upon your wall as a piece of art fit for everyday appreciation, the visuals on show in this film are so scrupulously vivid and displayed with such immaculate attention to detail, that it begs for multiple viewings just to soak them all in. From small scale scenes which glint beautifully under the sun, to jaw-dropping time lapse cityscapes, there really is no way to understate the visuals.
The story is also solid, though the body-swap premise has been done before, robbing this film of a bit of its novelty. If you’re in it for the character, it’s still worth a watch, as both Mitsuha and Taki are tangible, relatable and likable in their own ways. A little more time is spent with Mitsuha’s life situation than Taki’s, which makes gives her more staying power, but both characters’ respective lifestyles and personalities play through well, and both sides of the story come with them a small group of supporting characters, all of which are likable in their own ways.
I’m admittedly a little underwhelmed with the overall impact this movie left, but that isn’t to say I disliked the narrative by any degree. It is a solid love story with its own share of comedic as well as memorable moments, and the movie builds to its conclusion superbly.
Kimi no Na Wa. might not break new ground with its premise, or tell a life-changing narrative to be contemplated, but its peerless production quality and tangible, relatable characters make this film an urging recommendation.


 

Flip Flappers-
Pure Illusion. It is a world which runs parallel to our own, which, before meeting the endlessly bright and boisterously energetic Papika, Cocona had never known existed.
Within this world, seemingly anything is possible, and its very make-up contorts and changes into something entirely different every time the two find themselves there.
Within the confines of Pure Illusion, a tremendous power resides, and a rival group is out to claim it for themselves.
What is the nature of Pure Illusion, and how do Cocona and Papika fit into it?

What I thought-
I have not watched a series in recent history which I was so baffled by.
Flip Flappers brings the goods in the art and animation, with great use of color, a wonderfully bright art style and fluid animation to bring it all to life, but the plot is a bit obtuse. The episode to episode structure is a bit similar to your typical shoujo/shounen monster of the week series, though rather than the enemy changing, the environments in which the “enemies” appear are the focus here.
The open-ended nature of the environments in which this series takes place allow for a tremendous amount of creativity, and this is a series which has no qualms with referencing anime series of years past with its various styles. There’s some Evangelion in there; there’s some Fist of the North Star in there; there’s some magical girl and some horror in there as well.  This willingness to greatly alter the style and sometimes tone can make this series feel a bit sporadic and uneven, and coupled with how loose they are about tossing in narrative morsels, it can sometimes feel as though Flip Flappers doesn’t have much of an identity to call its own.
That said, there is nonetheless an appeal to a series such as this, because it’s difficult to know what sorts of visual treats you’ll be treated to from episode to episode. Waiting to see where it goes next became entertaining in its own right at a point, even if it drags its feet with its narrative.
Flip Flappers is a series with a short attention span. While this can be frustrating, it also means that it’s a series with a seemingly endless amount of creative things to show you, and while the story isn’t much to write home about, the visuals are at times an artistic marvel. If you aren’t against style over substance, check it out.


 

Girls und Panzer der Film-
After their past victories in the competitive world of Sensha-dou, Nishizumi Miho, Kadotani Anzu and all of the girls of Ooarai Girls High School have trended along with their lives, participating in friendly tankery skirmishes with rival schools.
Not all is as peaceful as it would seem however, as manipulative forces seek to continue the decommissioning of Miho and her friends’ school.
It is decided by these dark forces that in order to keep their word in leaving the school open, Ooarai would need to best a college-level Sensha-dou team in a battle of attrition.
Enlisting their freshest battlefield strategies, and calling in the help of a few familiar faces, the girls of Ooarai High rise to face their greatest challenge yet, and to save the school they hold so dear once and for all.

What I thought-
If you had told me that this movie was largely comprised of a single, thirty on thirty tank battle, I might have forcefully set aside time for it a little sooner!
Contrivances are put into place a bit when it comes to setting up the tankery match which takes up the bulk of the film, but this contrivance in turn leaves the door open for future stories told within the Girls und Panzer universe, which I suppose is a contrivance worth making.
I’m an ignorant man, so I’m willing to admit I’m likely incorrect, but in my limited knowledge, I cannot think of another film devoted almost entirely to a single battle sequence.
It’s an idea which, when put on paper, is equally grand as foolish, because what action can be is exhausting.
Girls und Panzer der Film does a great job of breaking up the pace, though. By smart use of musical cues, and utilizing the slow pace of tank warfare, this massive battle is broken into smaller skirmishes, allowing for particular groups of characters to take the spotlight.
The movie budget allows for great animation and boisterous sound, but the ambition afforded by its longer run time is what makes for a crack at such an impressive concept.
It’s fascinating, but der Film also brings the goods as a vector for flexing the fandom muscle, as all of the faces you’d want to see from the series leading up to this point make an appearance, even including Anchovy and her band of knuckleheads from a previous OVA.
If I had to voice a gripe, I would say that all of this focus on the chaos of tankery competition means less attention to plot, which in turn means that Shimada Alice, who is the fresh face of the film, sees next to no love from the narrative. More backstory or even more screen time would have been nice, because she’s a force to be reckoned with on the battlefield, and her character design is just wonderful. What’s there is great (watching the hall monitor girls fall into the depths of depression in the most adorable fashion imaginable was a hilarious highlight), and it’s tough to get too bent out of shape when the action is so good, but it’s worth mentioning.
Girls und Panzer der Film is a motion picture above even its own moe aesthetic and its sometimes over the top action. Rather, I would be audacious enough to say that it is an impressive achievement, as it masterfully takes on the daunting task of stretching a single, massive battle out over almost the length of its run time, and carefully manages to be neither exhausting nor dully paced despite it.


 

In more ways than one, it is the busiest time of the year, but thankfully with this year’s Call of Duty out, there aren’t any more big video game releases for a bit. The Autumn anime season continues, and the series I’ve been finding the most joy in out of the series I’ve picked up is Blend-S. What have you been watching?
(Last year this month.)
じゃ。

Spitz’s Spookbox: White Day Episode 10

I hope everyone’s Thanksgiving was stress free and enjoyable!

In this week’s episode:
– We play a stirring melody.
– We have another run-in with Glasses and Carol.
– Some sort of vagrant sneaks in?

Episode Notes:
I’m knee-deep in the holiday grind at the moment, so in order to focus on the anime monthly and the end of year round up I’m putting off new episodes of White Day for now. It’ll be back, but it may be a few weeks!