Socrates Meets Reki Kawahara (Part I)

Socrates: So, Kawahara-sama, I watched the anime adaptation of your legendary light novel series, Sword Art Online, and I must say, it was quite the fascinating experience.

Kawahara: Subbed or dubbed?

Socrates: Subbed, of course, Kawahara-sama. I might not be a master of high art like you, but I’m certainly no pleb. As I said, I was fascinated by the story you crafted, but, since I know nothing, especially with regards to literature and the art of crafting fiction, there are quite a few questions I have for you, regarding a variety of different aspects of this story which you crafted. Would you mind answering a few of them?

Kawahara: Of course not, buddy! And I’m glad you loved my story, I take a lot of pride in it.

Socrates: Really? I see… Well, before I get to those questions regarding Sword Art Online, Kawahara-sama, I have a question about you. I believe you’re familiar with the maxim, “give a woman a fish she eats for a day, teach a woman to fish, she eats for a lifetime.” Tell me, do you agree with that?

Kawahara: Absolutely, though I think I’ve heard it phrased, er, a bit differently. But yeah I totally believe that… Haha, I often like to say, “give a man a light novel, he eats for a day, teach a man to write a light novel (and it’s not very hard, trust me), he eats for a lifetime in his parents’ basement.” In fact, I made a point of making this idea a theme early on in Sword Art Online. In the first episode, our great hero, Kirito, teaches Klein (who is actually my favorite character, to be honest) how to play the game. Initially I was using it as an excuse to take care of some exhibition, but then I was like, let’s be all literary and shit and make this a theme! I’m sure you remember the scene, which was adapted in the second episode of the anime, where that one asshole interrupts the council held before they took on the first boss. He says that the Beta testers have to pay for allowing 2000 players to die because they went on ahead and left the noobs to fend for themselves. Then Egil comes in and reminds him about the strategy guide compiled by the Beta testers using all the information they had learned in the trial period. Everybody in SAO was given an opportunity to learn how to fish. There are other examples too, y’know, I actually really put my heart into this bit

Socrates: Truly brilliant, Kawahara-sama. I suppose that’s what you consider a theme, but I’ll have more questions about those later.

Kawahara: Woah woah woah, now that was definitely a bit sarcastic

Socrates: My whole point with bringing up the teaching-to-fish analogy is that it seemed to me, surely the lowest common denominator of your audience, that Kirito often distributed free fish. He has to fight Heathcliff to get Asuna vacation time. Isn’t she the vice commander? Wouldn’t it have better for her to learn to assert the authority that should accompany her position? Or does this guild take vacation time that seriously? It seemed out of character that she wouldn’t just be assertive on the basis of her position. Maybe my mind was just too feeble to accurately gauge your characterization of her up until that point.

Kawahara: Yeah yeah yeah, I’ve heard that a million times before, it was a way to get Kirito and Heathcliff to duel.

Socrates: Of course, what a fascinating way to push your story forward. I mean, I have more questions for you regarding that later. What about the dear loli? Even though Kirito warned her about the dangers, that didn’t keep her from getting tentacle groped on two separate occasions, or is it just that these poor women find themselves in these dilemmas regardless of the decisions they make?

Kawahara: Yeah, no, the situations these women find themselves in aren’t brought about by themselves, but, like, let me argue my case a bit, will you? It’s not just relegated to technical skills, the way the teaching-to-fish theme is applied in Sword Art Online. Kirito and Asuna’s relationship (y’know, the greatest love story ever told), is built upon the ways, you could say, that they taught each other to fish, right? Okay, so in the murder mystery vignette, it starts out with Asuna nagging Kirito…

Socrates: (As women are accustomed to do)

Kawahara: … because Kirito is slacking off while the rest of the front liners are working hard, but Kirito points out that it’s Aincrad’s nicest weather setting, so it’d be a waste to stay inside playing video games. Kirito teaches her to make the most out of her time in Aincrad. Asuna’s berserk focus on escaping was stressing her out so much that she was reaching her breaking point

Socrates: Was it? I hadn’t noticed, of course, as I mentioned, I am but merely the lowest common denominator of your audience. Technically speaking, with regards to screen time, there was only one scene with her between the end of the second episode and the scene you’re describing.

Kawahara: …Anyway, Kirito teaches Asuna to stop and smell the roses, and Asuna teaches Kirito that investing yourself in a relationship is worth the risk, right? I mean, he was never one to be social, but when he first tried it, well, it didn’t go that well, did it?

Socrates: I kind of thought Kirito kind of figured that out on his own, since he decided not to push her away, right?

Kawahara: Well, yeah, but I figured Kirito was willing to take the risk with Asuna because he knew she was strong…

Socrates: …Not as strong as Kirito…

Kawahara: Ha, of course not, but strong enough for him not to push against the kind of momentum their relationship was gaining after the murder mystery.

Socrates: So it’s better to invest yourself in relationships with people that are strong?

Kawahara: Well, I mean, at least in a death game, right? Just look at The Hunger Games! That being said, as cold as it sounds, I can’t say it’s the kind of principle I disagree with. Doesn’t it make more sense to ally yourself with somebody strong, strategically or romantically? Survival of the fittest, right?

Socrates: I mean, Kirito looked pretty emaciated at the end of the Aincrad arc, but I’ll give that to you.

Kawahara: Leafa recognized Kirito’s power and was quick to ally with him, despite him being “one of them (a race that exists only in the game)”

Socrates: What about Shinon?

Kawahara: Ah, good point, Kirito was able to seduce her by playing innocent and pretending to be a woman, but I think she helped him out ‘cause she saw a bit of herself in him.

Socrates: Anyway, back to the fish thing, I’m glad to hear you value that maxim, and your comment about how you so skillfully incorporated it into Sword Art Online actually transitions perfectly into my next question. Would you rather read a story about a character who is given a fish or a story about a character who learns or has learned how to fish? Which premise do you think would make for a more compelling story, Kawahara-sama?

Kawahara: Hmm, well, of course, as I’m sure you’ve already assumed, I would much rather read a story about a character that knows how to fish. I guess you could say that, for me, the key to making a great character is to make them a great fisherman, like Kirito is!

Socrates: I see; a great character must be a great fisherman. So then would learning to fish be what you consider character development, Kawahara-sama?

Kawahara: Character development? Ummm… yeah, well, I guess that fits pretty well with the whole metaphor, especially considering the examples I gave before regarding Kirito and Asuna… Wait, but it’s not like I can limit it to that, I mean, anything is possible in a story, right? The teaching-to-fish method is just one that I used quite a bit.

Socrates: As expected of your literary brilliance, Kawahara-sama, but I have a strong aversion to such open-ended answers as that one, y’know, they cause me to hurt myself in my confusion. There’s another anime light novel adaptation that I’ve watched and enjoyed, called Bakemonogatari. I think it might be able to give us some direction as we explore the idea of character development. Are you familiar with it?

Kawahara: Oh yeah, the Monogatari series is like my favorite harem anime… Lol, just kidding. Yeah, that’s one of my favorite anime, and definitely my favorite light novel series. I remember reading the first Monogatari novels as soon as they came out. I don’t know how Nisio Isin manages to write stories like those, where the characters feel so special and real. He’s actually quite a bit younger than me.

Socrates: I agree! Let me try to apply that show, at least its first five story arcs, to the fishing metaphor. Would you agree that in Monogatari, characters dealing with personal problems is the fishing?

Kawahara: Uhh, yeah, actually, well, not really in the case of the snail but I don’t know… Well, of course, I mean, that’s what Monogatari is all about, ain’t it? I guess since all of the apparitions are really just representations of whatever emotional baggage each character is dealing with, yeah, being able to deal with them would be like knowing how to fish. Actually, now that I’m thinking about it, Oshino’s mantra, “only you can save yourself, but I’ll lend you a hand” isn’t too different from the teaching-to-fish analogy we’ve been discussing. In Monogatari’s case it takes quite a bit of mental fortitude and humility for each character to actually go fishing. Nisio Isin really is fantastic, especially at writing great characters. Go on.

Socrates: So you’d say that character development in the Monogatari series is, like it is in Sword Art Online, when the characters “learn how to fish?”

Kawahara: Yeah, I’d say so, I think. Wait, no, but that… That’s way too specific, I mean, I’m not even sure that applies to Sword Art Online, to be honest, but we can run with that for the time being.

Socrates: Now, it may have very well gone right over my head, but how does that fit with Shinon’s character arc?

Kawahara: Lol, actually, now that you mention it, I’m reminded of the ending credits sequence from the Gun Gale Online arc.

Socrates: Oh yeah, I loved that, it was always my favorite part of the episode, and not just because it meant it was over.

Kawahara: Ouch. Anyway, that ED basically illustrates how Shinon taught herself to fish in that arc, right? Still, I don’t feel comfortable settling with that specific definition. I mean, this whole dialogue has gotten much messier than it was ever supposed to be.

Socrates: I agree, I was surprised with how poorly thought through my inquiries have been, it’s turned into more of an interview than a dialogue, really. Maybe we’ll do better in part two.

Kawahara: If there ever is a part two, I mean, does this writer ever not leave things half finished?

Socrates: Lol, good point. Anyway, back to the central question: what constitutes good character development? It may seem like a dumb question, but somebody asked the author to explain it the other day. What definition would apply to all the examples we’ve discussed from Monogatari and Sword Art Online?

Kawahara: I mean, character development, in my experience primarily as a consumer of stories, can be defined as a character changing over the course of a story or portion of a story while still being recognizable as the character they were established as in the beginning, but, I don’t know man, I’m just a light novel author. In my opinion, the characters and their development are the most fundamental substance of a story, especially in this genre, which is dominated by coming of age stories. Character development in light novels and in much of anime can really be understood as just growing up, y’know? Light Novels are written for angsty teens to read and escape reality while also affirming their way of viewing the world from which they seek to escape, so it’s not like there are many light novels that illustrate what it means to grow up… But what do I know, I was just minding my own business having fun writing light novels and shit, *sigh*. To the reader, I suppose I’ll see you in part 2, if it ever comes, I hope you were at least mildly entertained by this clusterfuck.

30 Day Anime Challenge Day 1: Gurren Lagann

What was your first anime?

Who the hell do you think I am?

I was inebriated the first time I watched anime. If I hadn’t been, you probably wouldn’t be reading this. What show was it that captivated me enough to keep me from passing out while my friends went off-campus to another party? Gurren Lagann, of course. One of those friends, after I asked them if I could join them on their way to that party, began lecturing me on Gainax, Trigger and Imaishi, and told me, “now go back to your room and don’t come out until you’ve watched the first three episodes of Gurren Lagann.” I did just that. Oh boy. I was all like, what the hell is going on? I had no clue at the time how incredible this animation was. I ended up making it to episode eight before I stopped watching. That was the October of 2014.

I picked it back up in the following summer, which I spent almost exclusively watching anime. I’ve only recently come to realize how awesome Gurren Lagann really is. It is a masterpiece of anime logic and the gunmen aren’t the only things that defy physics (for better or for worse). This easily one of the most influential anime ever released. It marked the end of Gainax’s golden years, which stretched from 1995 to 2007. What a way to go out. TTGL’s influence can be seen most obviously in the productions from Gainax’s wayward daughter, Trigger. Kill la Kill obviously, and this season’s shining star, Little Witch Academia, are inseparable from the legacy of Gurren Lagann. Last year’s best show, Flip Flappers, consistently reminded me of Gurren Lagann. I’m currently about half way through my rewatch, which I’m taking it rather slowly. This show is so awesome, so bombastic, so everything that makes anime great.

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Where is Monogatari Headed?

The Monogatari series has been, by far, the most compelling long running anime series of this decade. It is easily the best light novel adaptation I’ve watched so far, and, as much as I’m enjoying Katanagarari, an adaptation of another novel series authored by Nisio Isin, I don’t see that changing any time soon, if ever. Monogatari is a hot mess, but I wouldn’t have it any other way; that’s part of what makes these stories feel so real. I can imagine Nisio Isin staying up late at night, contemplating some sort of emotional turmoil, then awakening the next morning, picking up a pen, and asking himself, “now, how will I use Monogatari to tell a tale of that turmoil?” It’s like Monogatari is a medium of its own that Nisio Isin has a monopoly on.

Of course, there are many strands of cohesion that tie Monogatari together as a whole. To those that have read the final volume of Owarimonogatari, or at least its spoilers, it seemed as though all these strands had come together and neatly wrapped up Monogatari once and for all. However, Nisio Isin has gone ahead and announced another season of Monogatari. It will be titled Monster Season. Has Isin really not yet exhausted the Monogatari format? Haven’t all our characters grown up with the lessons they learned from their experiences with apparitions? Perhaps not.

What has been left unresolved in Monogatari? The first thing that comes to mind is not an unresolved problem, it’s a sorely missed character. Hopefully, in Monster Season, Nisio Isin will be generous enough to treat us to another Kaiki arc. While we’re on the topic of Kaiki, although I am not one to aggressively “ship” characters in the entertainment I consume, I do believe that Hanekawa and Kaiki have some great chemistry. I think that it is fair to say Nadeko’s character development has run its course, although that doesn’t mean she won’t show up. Kanbaru’s coming of age story has also concluded, I believe.

Whatever Monogatari has in store for us in Monster Season, I’m sure Kanbaru will be playing a major role anyway, most likely as a specialist or specialist in training. Perhaps we will see her formally confront Gaen, who pretended to be unrelated to her when they first met. I think it goes without saying that Hanekawa will continue to, well, be Hanekawa. Her story arcs have the most definite sense of completion, so I’m sure she won’t have to deal with any more apparitions springing forth from her own mind. I can only imagine her playing a support role. I think it is possible, especially if Monster Season takes place after some sort of time skip, that the Fire Sisters might be brought into the loop regarding apparitions, especially since Tsukihi has been helping Nadeko with her manga and is an immortal apparition herself.

There’s one final matter that I can’t imagine Isin leaving alone. He’s not going to let Araragi go off and live a happy life while ignoring what would inevitably become an awkward situation. I’m sure every Monogatari fan has thought at one point or another how weird it will be for Araragi to spend his life with Senjougahara with Shinobu, his “lifelong partner,” lurking in his shadow all the while. Kizumonogatari’s ending was designed by Oshino so that “everyone would be miserable.” Since then, both parties involved have grown fond of the bond they forged. However, Araragi should know by now that he can’t have his cake and eat it too. I bet you Nisio Isin will force Araragi to choose between Shinobu and Senjougahara. This should be quite interesting.

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A Case for Scum’s Wish

If you follow me on Twitter, you probably notice that the majority of my tweets regarding this season’s anime are about either Maid Dragon or Demi-chan. Those two shows are absolutely delightful, and both have brought tears to my eyes on multiple occasions, which is no easy feat. However, the shining star of this anime season, for me, is easily Scum’s Wish. Of course, if you know anything about the plot of Scum’s Wish, you surely know that the characters do just about everything except shine.

There are a lot of ways to describe exactly what Scum’s Wish is, from ‘Toradora, but problematic,’ to ‘a harem deconstruction, minus the harem, minus the deconstruction.’ I think the latter description, which was the one I’ve used myself, offers some interesting insight. I always look at music, anime, political events, art, etcetera in the greater context of the history surrounding them. When I first read the Scum’s Wish manga, which was the first manga I’d ever read, the first and most distinct connection I made was, of course, to School Days. This is one reason I believe that School Day’s is a must watch for all anime fans. Like Evangelion, FLCL, The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, Angel Beats, Monogatari, Puella Magi Madoka Magica, and Sword Art Online, School Days, whether you like it or not, is a title that is frequently mentioned in reviews of many anime that have been released since.

Scum’s Wish reminded me of School Days, but as I thought more about what School Days was, a harem deconstruction, I quickly realized that Scum’s Wish was not a harem, and since it was not a harem, it could not possibly be a harem deconstruction. Scum’s Wish is the anime equivalent to the first member of a new species. It has inherited quite a bit from its predecessors, but it is too different from them to be considered the same species. This is a good thing for anime. This genre was born among the early visual novels, most prominently, White Album, which eventually received a fantastic anime adaptation in 2009. There were many other visual novels from that time that revolved around infidelity, and the first of these to receive a widely viewed anime adaptation was School Days. This tradition of infidelity-centric visual novels is most interesting because these stories typically end in a huge clusterfuck. I can’t really give any examples without giving spoilers, but if you’ve seen any of these shows, you’ve got a pretty good idea what I’m talking about. Unfortunately, Visual Novel adaptations, especially eroge adaptations, are, for the most part, not very good. Part of this comes from the problems that come with adapting multiple routes, but for the most part its because of their questionable final causes.

We’re only five episodes into Scum’s Wish, and it is already a huge clusterfuck. Scum’s Wish is a deeply psychological show as well. The characters are constantly striving to understand the reasons why they interact with each other the way they do, and we know that because we’ve spent some time in each of the protagonists’ minds. They’ve all gotten, or will get, some time serving as the narrator. This show feels very real. I suppose what I’m trying to say here is that Scum’s Wish is a special show, and if you aren’t watching it already, you should consider picking it up.

My All Time Favorite Anime

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I need to post something today in order to keep up the momentum I’ve been building, so I’m gonna provide a list of my all time favorite anime. I’ll revisit this now and then to go into more detail explaining why these are my picks for the greatest anime of all time.

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  1. Neon Genesis Evangelion + End of Evangelion
  2. Flip Flappers
    1. I might very well just be riding off the high that came with Flip Flappers last season, so maybe this will change. It is the most triumphant anime of all time. It has a happy ending, and that was refreshing.
  3. Puella Magi Madoka Magicamahoushoujo-7-12
  4. Monogatari
    1. I’ve watched the entirety of this series over 13 times
  5. Oregairuyahari-ore-no-seishun-love-comedy-wa-machigatteiru-zoku-my-teenage-romcom-snafu-too-episode-9-13-15_2015-05-29_10-27-47
  6. Toradoratoradora-23-large-32
  7. Shin Sekai Yori
  8. Eden of the East
  9. ef: a tale of memories/melodies
  10. Clannad/(Afterstory)
    1. Consider this a guilty pleasure. I understand very well all of this series’ problems.
  11. Spice and Wolf
  12. Hyouka
  13. Sound! Euphonium
  14. The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya + Disappearance
  15. Gatchaman Crowds

This is definitely subject to change. There are some shows I need to rematch and there are many that I have yet to watch. Let me know what I ought to make a priority.

In Response to the Recent MyAnimeList Controversy: Social Justice Weebs

This was originally a comment on myanimelist’s recent Facebook post on the issue.

The fact of the matter is that there is a large overlap between American anime fans and the Alt-Right. There also happens to be an overlap between the ideologies of the alt-right and of Nazism. President Donald Trump is a reprehensible individual, and now that he has become President, people are going to start believing that his behavior and his words are socially acceptable. We can’t have that happen. We can’t let people believe its okay to be racist again. We can’t go backwards. As a society, those with voices that are heard must seize every opportunity to condemn these words and behaviors, whether we bear direct witness to them or not. This is how we actively define Social Deviance. We need to make these people feel uncomfortable. For those whose support Donald Trump rode upon when he was elected, we are the Socially Deviant. However, they are the minority, and the majority must use this opportunity to better articulate our arguments against the sort of Bigotry that Trump promotes.

maxresdefault-24There is no such thing as cultural relativity, not if we want to be able to differentiate between right and wrong. Humans need to hold steadfast to their convictions. That’s how we make a difference. Nazism is always evil. There should be no controversy in condemning it. Even if this was a controversial article, that would have been all the more reason for MyAnimeList to leave the article unaltered. This isn’t a matter of being offended or not, its a matter of the marginalized being threatened. Those that have voices that will be heard and have half a brain must condemn President Trump’s poisonous rhetoric. Its a time for heroes in this great country. Everybody must take a stand to stop this evil from spreading. We must become that which the enemies of decency and reason label us. We must become Social Justice Warriors.

…Or, if you prefer, Social Justice Weebs.

 

 

 

A Preface for My Feature on Flip Flappers and Funeral by Arcade Fire

I’m very excited for my album/anime project, a series of essays, ramblings, or whatever you’d like to call the words that I type to make sentences, that advocate listening to a specific album as a companion piece to a specific anime. As I type this, I know I have over 3,000 words written on the legendary 2004 album “Funeral” by Arcade Fire as the ideal companion piece to the star of 2016 and of the greatest anime of all time, if you’re asking me, Flip Flappers. My love of the album has deepened m relationship with the anime. I’ve always been able to relate to that album, but in the essay I’m writing, and in other album/anime pieces I’ll write in the future, I can see how the protagonists of the show, in this case, Cocona, Papika and Yayaka, might be able to relate to the album on their own. This has deepened my relationship with the show and its characters as well as Funeral itself. I always enjoyed that album, but it was always one of those albums I enjoyed and listened to every once in a while, but it was never one of the first albums to pop into my head when I would ask myself what my all-time favorite albums were. It was more of an afterthought. Now that I’ve delved into this album for several listens keeping in mind the trials and tribulations of the Flip Flappers, Cocona, Papika and Yayaka, I’m coming to a greater appreciation of the album that I’m sure would have otherwise been possible.

Generally, the albums and anime that I match together for these think pieces will share similar themes and have similar moods. The purpose of this series of features is for me to have fun. I hope that, if you read these pieces and listen to these albums, you can come to a better understanding of the towns, characters and issues discussed in our favorite shows. I will also write a few features that will use albums as guides for understanding some themes or character types that tend to pop up a lot in anime. I know someone will ask, so I will promise to find an album about Tsunderes, but the recurring theme or issue I had in mind was actually depression. If you’ve been there, you get it. If you haven’t, it’s pretty tough. Cocona is one such example of a protagonist that starts her show off mired in depression. In the future, I will be writing about the album Unknown Pleasures by Joy Division and how it can help us understand our depressed anime protagonists. We’ve always had them, and they take the center stage in many of the most compelling anime out there. Shinji, Tomoya from Clannad, although I’m sure you readers all have differing opinions on that show, Kyon from Haruhi, Senjougahara, Hachiman, Houtarou, and Yukiteru from Future Diary (who is often considered a Shinji rip off) are all social outcasts and begin their stories from similar points. Last season had another show with a protagonist who was pretty blatantly depicted as depressed, Rei from March Comes in Like a Lion. Battling depression is one of the most fundamentally human struggles there are, and only a few anime are able to provide original and compelling animated accounts of those struggles. Unknown Pleasures is a static album. It’s not about overcoming depression, it’s more like a snapshot of depression mentality.flipflappers63