Anime Review: Sword Art Online

Standard

Posted from my Facebook December 22, 2012

40861l

Sword Art Online is a shounen anime series which captures virtual reality, online gaming, and human survival tactics together at the same time. I do admit that among most anime fans, SAO is perhaps one of the most popular series from this year, perhaps because these themes I had mentioned are intertwined. Its premise is chillingly realistic (in a gamer’s standpoint), it features two compatible protagonists, and it has more girls playing a sadistic MMO than perhaps the number of girls that actually play games of this RPG genre (okay, that might be a stretch, because I’ve heard quite a few female voices over Ventrilo back when I was playing World of Warcraft. On the other hand, it is World of Warcraft I’m talking about).

For the most part I enjoyed the series because it followed the somewhat-noble direction of perhaps the greatest VRMMORPG (Virtual Reality Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game) player in the anime world, almost to a point where I felt that the protagonist was doing all of this to save the friends he had met along the way from what I will just call the “Gamers’ Apocalypse:” a condition where everyone plays the game and can’t get out of it until they lose.

And on that note, I LOST THE GAME!!

Unfortunately, I’ve come to realize that this was probably the handy-work of some writer who probably imagines that the most noble people in the world are in fact the ones that make it to the top. This hero known to the gaming world as “Kirito” is a simple solo player whom for the most part plays for his own survival. I don’t care what you say about this protagonist, but I know what solo players in the gaming world are actually like, being that I was one of them for a long time in other MMOs. Solo players complete video games for the enjoyment of the game mechanics itself, regardless of the fact it is in a huge virtual social space (hence the name “Massively Multiplayer”). They quest by themselves, they act and strategize in their world independently, and for the ones that essentially have no life, they are extremely good at player versus player activity because they are used to the concept that no one truly helps them become strong other than themselves.

There is one very obvious flaw in the solo player’s logic: why would you solo in a world that requires one to interact with many personalities to get quests done? I realized that my reclusive antics from the real world were transcending into the virtual world as well. A friend once told me that I’m supposed to play MMOs for the “MM” part of the deal. Slowly but surely, I realized the reason I was playing was not for my enjoyment but for my addiction to escaping into a world that was not my reality; and therefore I had to quit playing MMOs altogether.

I mention all of this because I believe Kirito is probably the same way. He unfortunately could not leave his supposed virtual reality though because he was trapped in it. Having him be the hero of this paradigm glorifies the antics of solo players in MMOs; granted he was lucky to find at least one friend he could confide in most. Personally though, I don’t think that one should exalt the solo player because he’s a solo player. Having a person stand on the top on his own in the MMO complex undermines the very reason MMOs exist: to have interactions with other players!

But I do have to say there is one thing I think is true about Sword Art Online’s premise. When you play a game, you should probably ask yourself what drives you to keep playing? Whether it’s clearing dungeons, beating up other players, providing a helpful hand to others, or simply just interacting with your best virtual friends, these are goals which are quite vague, based on the assumption that one is allowed to live forever. Games to me are supposed to have a finite objective, where knowing what needs to be done is clear and has a projected endpoint. I don’t start projects without a timeline of how I’m going to get it done, and playing a game is no different.

Advertisements

Old Lystria

Standard

Image

For those who don’t know, this is what I call “old Lystria.” She was my most attached character from World of Warcraft. Lystria Densine, as I had called her, was a gnome warlock who had lots of adventures with her various guilds she had been in over 2 years of gameplay, and has had an even more colorful background history in an unfinished novel I attempted to write. Unfortunately my obsession with World of Warcraft has ended, and old Lystria is now retired. This is the remaining screenshot I could find of her on my computer.

Nonetheless, I still use Lystria as a name for myself (granted I am admittedly male in real life) for other single-player RPGs I play as well as reminisce about the cute little warlock from time to time. Lystria’s story is a complicated one, as she is “Chaotic-Good and misunderstood,” and someday, I might revisit the story if I ever have the time, effort, and inspiration.

Nowadays, The True Lystria just posts reviews about things I like to critique (emphasis on “like;” if you’re looking for someone who likes to bash bad things like there’s no tomorrow, I know a few critics who are like that). Lately I have been reviewing a lot of anime/TV shows, but I will probably check out books and video games as well. We’ll just have to wait and see.

So anyway, welcome to my blog. Yay!

Anime Review: Folktales from Japan

Standard

Posted from my Facebook June 23, 2012.
On 11 March 2011, a travesty occurred in Japan which devastated the country equal to the events of the United States’ disasters on 11 September 2001. Not terrorists, not man-made phenomena, not even Godzilla, could make a travesty so huge on this nation of islands; but a single earthquake, followed by tsunamis and nuclear waste warnings, brought attention to the country that coincidentally founded anime, that the world had to respond. To this day, there are still many victims who suffer from the colossal damage; and yet, this anime I will discuss rose from the ashes in response to the cries of the Tohoku region.

Furusato Saisei: Nihon no Mukashi Banashi –or its English title Folktales from Japan— is a collaboration between TV Tokyo, Tomason, Sony, and Peter Pan Creation to tell the stories passed down by the people of Japan. Each episode consists of three short tales roughly 7 minutes long apiece. According to Crunchyroll, most of these stories are in fact told from Tohoku in hopes that hearing these stories would give the victims some comfort. Additionally, however, I feel that this has another effect: that the Japanese and anime lovers worldwide can learn a little more about the values and culture which emanated from this region as well!

While Folktales from Japan is a family-friendly series –unlike most of the series that Americans enjoy– to call it a series specifically for children would be an understatement. Like folktales from any part of the world, there’s wit, morality, and something to be learned from an older generation which transcends across all ages. I’m sure a lot of fans are somewhat disappointed that the art style is certainly different from what they’re used to (I’m talking about girls with big eyes and wavy long hair), but that simply makes this series more unique to viewers.

I won’t go into detail about any specific episodes because I’d probably spoil the stories for my readers (or they pretty much already know), but I will say that you might recognize the values and maybe some references you might have come across in other anime and manga you have watched or read. To be honest, I’m personally a little behind on this currently-airing series, but I do plan on watching the rest of the episodes.

As one who traces some of my roots back to Japan, a concerned citizen of the world, and an anime-lover, Furusato Saisei: Nihon no Mukashi Banashi comes highly recommended from me; if not for enjoyment, definitely for the knowledge gained from watching each story.

Anime Review: Kids on the Slope

Standard

Posted from my Facebook June 18, 2012.

Kids on the Slope (Sakamichi no Apollon, in Japanese romanji) takes place in mid-1960s Japan and focuses on the lives of a group of high school kids who have a love for American jazz. Through the romance, the music, and of course, the drama, this josei series created by Yuki Kodama tells how life itself is like a jazz compilation: spontaneous, beautiful, and always finishes with an unpredictable outcome. This can certainly be a reflection on the 1960s culture worldwide as well; but let’s face it, the only sixties stuff I recall from history class was more on the lines of the Cold War and Rock ‘n’ Roll.

Oddly enough, Kids on the Slope is also the first anime I’ve seen where Christianity (or at least the fact that a character is a Christian) plays a significant role in the story. Metaphors such as futuristic priests who carry crosses for machine guns, as cool as it is, doesn’t count. Since the majority of Japanese people are Buddhist or some modern version of Shinto, anime and manga are more likely to have themes around their cultures (and trust me, there’s a lot of them). Having Christianity in the mix is certainly not a new idea in incorporation with anime, but Kids on the Slope has definitely opened the door for more possibilities. Two of the main characters are in fact Christian, and one of them styles the rosary as a necklace rather than a charm, for a very heart-warming and positive reason.

Although this series is josei (and therefore is geared more toward women than men), Kids on the Slope comes highly recommended, especially if you are an avid lover of music.

Anime Review: The World God Only Knows

Standard

Posted from my Facebook November 22, 2011.

 

Judging by the title of this anime alone, I was thinking that it would have a faith-based premise to it right off the bat. Then again, I have to remember that this series and comic is coming out of Japan; therefore my expectations of the use of “God” is probably not in the same context as that of an American audience. This series had little to do with religion, but it does have quite an abstract meaning to one’s perception of reality. For that, then, this series makes reference to a God not on grounds of religion, but rather of philosophy. After all, that which we cannot perceive as anything “real” is certainly the world God only knows.

The World God Only Knows is an animated series directed by Shigehito Takayanagi, inspired by the manga written by Tamiki Wakaki (originally given the title, in romanji, Kami Nomi zo Shiru Sekai). The series had two successful seasons in Japan: one in Fall 2010 and another in Spring 2011.

The story takes place in the present day, focusing on an unlikely protagonist: Keima Katsuragi, a high school student who’s obsessed with playing dating simulations on his hand-held game console. He finds that wrapping his mind in the world of video games best fits his personality, regardless that he excels in his academic work while not paying any attention in class. One day, he meets up with a demon from Hell named Elucia (or Elsie) which asks Keima to help her with a mission. Upon his reluctant agreement, Keima and Elsie are then bound in a demonic contract by becoming “buddies,” capturing lost souls among (real) girls by getting the female host to fall in love with our game-obsessed protagonist! To seal the agreement, Keima and Elsie also have bands permanently around their necks until the contract is completed (for an undetermined time) which is set to go off by cutting their heads off in the case that the binding contract is broken (thankfully, that hasn’t happened…yet).

For the rest of the series, Keima comes across over seven young women whom he has to woo in order to release the loose souls bound to them. Keima uses his knowledge of dating sim flow charts and premises to help him successfully woo the girls and Elsie then captures the loose soul thereafter.

Still however, our protagonist is quite an impassionate person in reality. His one weakness is that he doesn’t like real girls. He is only interested in the women he meets in dating sims. This is where we find a disconnect between our anti-hero and how normal people would perceive him. The fact that Keima Katsuragi has this utter dislike for reality, particularly around relationships with other people, makes him almost god-like; or should I say, for the majority of my audience, inhuman. What this means for us is that the reality we have is quite tangible and is therefore quite painful, especially for our protagonist. Ultimately, the one thing he strives for is to find idealism in his reality; which is impossible to find in a metaphysical standpoint, no matter how close one gets to it. Hence, the show refers to the world God only knows, which is our metaphysical state.

Since ideal states cannot be found in our reality, our protagonist turns to a virtual reality found in the games that he plays. Video games, which are mainly a form of entertainment for people, also depicts an alternative to the real things people must deal with on a daily basis. Video games have a set of rules, boundaries, and laws which cannot be violated within the system, unless the user chooses to do so. A user-controlled environment has little complexities that can off-set our anti-hero because the workings of the environment are relatively simple compared to the real world. For some, perhaps this simplicity is what one might consider most ideal: a world where you, the user, is completely in control of your paths. Such is how a dating simulation works.

To explain a typical dating sim, or more commonly known as a “visual novel,” the user controls his destiny by choosing certain events which will lead him to a particular path in the game. Such choices in a game environment give the user god-like powers in this virtual world because all the other characters will act accordingly from his will. After all, the programs written in a typical dating sim have no built-in intelligence and are therefore forced into submitting to certain reactions depending on the user’s path. Reality, unfortunately, is not this simple because we cannot control the paths set by another player in the real world. This instance in a real-life situation would be like playing the same dating sim with a two-player mode, where players somehow had to woo each other in order to create an ideal path. Therefore, the user does not have full control in a real-world situation because his paths do not trigger events made by another person’s own decisions. This is the bane of reality for those who seek the most ideal state in their lives, where one has full control of their destiny.

It is ironic that our protagonist, Keima Katsuragi has wooed so many real girls in this series, and yet the one girl he loves most is a horribly drawn figure from a dating sim he finds in the bargain bin at a game shop. I suppose it goes to show that beauty truly is in the eyes of the beholder, but I digress. While taking his time to go through this particular video game, Keima begins to question what is most ideal to him in a world of video games; seeing that he had built himself a reputation of being the “God of Conquest” in dating sims. At this point in the series (which is pretty much the climax of season 2) he comes to the conclusion that the most ideal world is far too complex to put into a realistic setting. After all, it is reality that he detests the most; and therefore anything found to be tangible can never be his ideal. Perhaps this is how we as people should also view ideal states in our lives. Reality sucks. If all ideal states are realized, then that ideal state also sucks. I will attempt to put this in a logical format:

 

All realities are bad things.

All ideal states are reality.

Therefore, All ideal states are also bad things.

 

This argument appears to be valid. However, ideal states cannot be realistic because metaphysically (or truthfully) they do not exist and are therefore not real. This argument is therefore not sound and should not be taken as a truth. What we can take away from this, however, is that if our ideals are based on reality, then our ideals are bad things. Keima Katsuragi realizes this about his ideals the most, so he finds that his most ideal video game, his most ideal girlfriend, his ideal world, cannot be described in terms of reality.

No real things are good things. No real things depict ideal states. Therefore all ideal states are good things? This argument is actually invalid (and if you don’t believe me, try making a Venn diagram for it yourself!) The truth is, ideal things cannot be depicted by things that the human mind can comprehend, not even with scientific tools like logic trees or Venn diagrams. Katsuragi, the God of Conquest, understands best what he does not want from his reality, but he cannot fully grasp the concept of his ideals because ideal states cannot be grasped by real means. Still however, this does not mean that his ideals are nonexistent. While no real things are good things and no ideal states are real things, it follows that some ideal states are in fact good things (again, make a Venn diagram; it’s actually valid). Human beings may not always have good ideal states, but that does not mean that such ideal states do not exist. It is the goal of all individuals to then find these ideal states and use it as a means to improve themselves and our society at large. Such a goal is impossible; but then again, that’s why ideal states are in the realm of goals, and not objectives. In the end, our ideal states can only be found in the world God only knows.