Tag Archives: anime

Review: Thoughts on PreCure

Yeah, we’re going down an anime rabbit hole this week, partly because I splurged on hardbacks that won’t be here for a couple more days, mostly because I’m binge watching and have feelings…and a small part because of an upcoming surprise in roughly two weeks that makes me want to touch on my girly obsessions a little more publicly so no one is necessarily surprised out of liking me.

So I am a magical girl genre fiend…provided the story isn’t stupid and the transformation sequences aren’t sexualizing the characters. That means my options are extremely limited. Sometimes something really cool will happen, like Madoka, that break the genre, but usually you have three options: the classics (Card Captor Sakura, Sailor Moon–I can’t speak on Crystal yet, I hated the animation quality of the first season too badly and I hate Rini as a character and she seems to have an even bigger part in Crystal, soooo I’m dragging my feet, etc.), those gross animes that use a genre meant for young girl viewers as a chance to cater to the lowest denominator, or the one magical girl series that is always putting out new content–PreCure, which is short for Pretty Cure and is a bit like sentai shows, just with magical girls.

Now, PreCure feels like it has been around for ages, but it actually only came out in 2004. It just churns out a new team (with two early exceptions) every year, each with a different theme, and the main focus is supposed to be on these girls figuring themselves out and female positivity. The year actually surprises me because the first team, a pair actually, have such 80’s designs…and actually some of the others end up that way too. I’m not sure if it’s because the character designers for those seasons are older and don’t know what girls actually wear or if Japanese fashion during those years has gone weird, retro directions, or what.

The idea of PreCure is that the main characters are supposed to be in middle school, and the early seasons kept with that–the characters looked their actual ages. And sometimes, the newer seasons fall back on that. But PreCure 5 actually pushed up the physical or appearance ages of their team a little, and then Fresh! took it even further. While Heartcatch (which is what I saw a couple of years ago) tried to go backwards with three of the four members reflecting more childish bodies, Suite went right back to high schoolers…which sort of defeats PreCure’s purpose in my opinion and plus I just couldn’t fall in to Suite.

Now what caught my attention to PreCure in the first place? …Oh, I got suckered in, badly. They threw a cold, elegant girl associated with moonlight and roses into Heartcatch, I felt obligated to watch because that is my jam to the utmost. (My favorite Yu-Gi-Oh! character is Seto Kaiba and in Yu Yu Hakusho it is Kurama, I have tropes and aesthetics that you are guaranteed to get my attention with.)

Cure Moonlight

Admittedly, Cure Moonlight is a bad one to use as a measuring stick, she’s overpowered as hell, but I digress. I stayed not because there was one character who matched my preferred aesthetic, but because the writing of Heartcatch was absolutely to die for. I bawled at one episode, it was that intense.

The problem is, it seems like PreCure has one writer who is capable of taking the tropey, overly saturated parts of the genre and making them into something that is enjoyable not only for young children, but also for us old fossils who refuse to stay out of the genre. Yes, Heartcatch is fashion and flower centric, which should be too sweet to stand. But then you add that it also addresses familial commitments and pressure, parental abandonment or feelings of it, grief for passed friends, failing and having to figure out what happens next. It’s so hard to balance without going doom and gloom, but God did Heartcatch manage it.

I couldn’t find another one that caught my attention in the same way (I tried Princess, it made me cringe), though now I’m wondering if I was too hasty with some of the more in-between seasons. Why? Because I finally saw all the transformation sequences for the main team of Kirakira, which I initially dismissed as too stupid. Sweets, okay, animals, sure, together? To paraphrase Ginny, “WHY?! Why not one or the other?!” And then I heard the reasoning behind it and that just made it worse. Too stupid for words, hard pass, thank you. But see, it already had a crumb of my attention because the front three were in the same, more childish designs as Cures Blossom, Marine, and Sunshine had been. And the original clips I saw sped past the older two girls. So when I finally saw Macaron, I knew I was sunk.

Cure Macaron

I knew just from how her face was drawn, this character was too interesting to ignore because that face reflects a lot more personality than usual tropes. A little bit of digging, and I had suspicions that whoever wrote Heartcatch was involved with Kirakira. I am only 17 episodes into it, and I can guarantee that, or at the very least someone there took a few pages out of her book because it is hitting on deeper themes already, and it is also doing it in ways that are different than Heartcatch had previously done (or really, that I had seen everywhere). Cure Macaron being a prime example, who is also smart, finally someone who is as smart as the villains!!! I am also admittedly eating up the Macaron and Chocolat interactions with a spoon…

So, what does that mean about PreCure? Well, it’s like any other sentai show (or the U.S. equivalent which is Power Rangers). Sometimes, everything from story to character designs is on point and something that not only young children, but also older viewers. Other times, the character designs are awful or at least illogical, but the story might be salvageable. Sometimes the character designs are great, and then you are left with superficial garbage for story. And then there are times it’s a total wash. It’s sort of a round robin coin toss on what is going to work, what isn’t, and what is going to survive. But you know what? At least PreCure tries new things with each team, and tries to go, “Okay, you didn’t like this years PreCure, next year is different so maybe it’ll be more your speed.” I can get behind that.

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Writing: Cliffhanger vs Hook and Responsibility

I had vague plans of talking about something else this week. And then Ginny went poking around and discovered that Sly Cooper 5 wasn’t even being worked on and…nerd rage happened, and this post suddenly became a whole lot more necessary for my sanity.

Most readers, movie and anime watchers, and video gamers know what the universal consensus of a cliffhanger is. It’s where there is a completely unresolved ending to a chapter/episode/game, usually a very obvious sequel plug. Readers/watchers/players hate them, because they are driven to move on to the next whatever it may be, even if they may not have the time to put down the book/watch another episode/play another hour. Fanfiction readers in particular hate them because, unless the fic is completed, you may be waiting months for the next chapter. And everyone hates them at the ending, because then you have to cross your fingers and pray the developers/writer get to do the sequel or else you have unresolved questions.

But there is actually a tool that writers use called a hook that is commonly misconstrued as being a cliffhanger. The difference is where exactly the two are placed. If it’s at the end of a chapter or an episode that is not the last one, it is actually a hook, meant to keep you reading or watching. This is an important tool, actually, because writers are dependent on getting you through the entire book/movie/TV series without growing bored. If you get bored, you won’t have anything better than “eh” feelings about it, and then you may not read/watch another. Game developers have less of this problem because most gamers are A-personalities who will want to get all of it anyway unless it’s a really bad game, but it’s still a factor.

Hooks are necessary. If you don’t have a hook after almost every chapter/episode, you aren’t going to keep your reader/watcher interested, and you are sunk. But cliffhangers, which are the unresolved endings, are another story. I had a professor who said she always ended her books with an unresolved question, which made me just cringe. It was sequel bait, she admitted to it being sequel bait, but unless I had the contract for the next book, I would not be doing it. It isn’t fair to those who love the book if you never think up enough ideas for a sequel or can’t get it to sell. There’s also the factor that at minimum, a new book in a series will come out once a year, sometimes more, especially if you weren’t contracted for it to begin with. That’s a hard wait on fans.

I’m not saying cliffhangers don’t have their places or uses. If you have the contract and you know the book will be out in a year, I say go for it. It will jack up your sales as fans are desperate to know what happened. This worked for Garth Nix and John Flanagan, who got me to rather hurriedly buy the next books in The Seventh Tower and Ranger’s Apprentice series (respectively) as soon as they came out. It makes churning up publicity for the next book bigger, which means more sales. Sadly, publishing houses have gotten savvy and actually check to see how your last book sold before they will buy your next book or decide how big of an advance to give you. The first month or so will be your biggest sales on a new release, and then they will go down fast, meaning you need to sell as many as possible that first month for the sake of future books. Also, you don’t make royalties until you pay back that advance (which, given the percentage you get of sales, can take a while).

This is a double-edged sword. It won’t take long for word to get out that the book/movie ends on a cliffhanger in this day and age (unless you are like me, I tend to pick up books and forget to fact check). However, if I do fact check and know there’s a cliffhanger, I will wait until the next book or until the series is finished before I will touch it, since I don’t want to waste my emotional investment in something that might not see completion. (Which is why I have not read or watched Game of Thrones, btw.) So you cut some of your sales off at the knee until the next book comes out and resolves the cliffhanger, when you’ll probably see a higher spike in sales of both books. It’s a long-term game rather than a short-term, which some publishers can’t see.

Now, why am I nerd-raging over the Sly Cooper games? Because they have become the perfect example of how not to do a cliffhanger ending. When Sucker Punch finished the first three, they were fairly resolved and self-contained. While there were openings that could be fun to play with, fans could also be fairly content with where it had left off, so if nothing else ever happened, we’d be okay. Then Sony and Sanzaru Games got a hold of the property. It took eight years (I think) for Sly Cooper 4: Thieves in Time to come out. And it seemed to be worth the wait. Cut scenes were now animated, there was a lot more depth to the 3-D renderings. Story-wise, it was sort of lacking and when it came to game play, a lot of old moves/gadgets had gotten left behind, but it was a good first start for a series.

(Okay, I was disappointed that all the ancestors were basically skins for Sly, and had all the same moves with a specialty one or two. Because chronologically, some of the characters shouldn’t have had access to moves that had been invented by other ancestors yet! Okay, and they can’t decide which eye Henrietta “One-Eye” Cooper lost. That’s annoying.)

The problem was, there was a “secret” ending that showed that Sly had gotten lost in Ancient Egypt when the time machine exploded. Which is where the original enemy of the series, Clockwerk, and the Cooper line’s rivalry started, and the Cooper line started period. One of the villains, Penelope, had escaped from prison in the epilogue. And even if you hadn’t unlocked the secret ending, Sly was lost in time and space! It’s a giant, giant sequel hook…and they aren’t going to do a thing with it, supposedly at this time, which means it might be another eight years and another developer switch before we see it. If we see it, since they are set on rehashing the first games in movies now (with awful character designs, don’t get me started).

If you use cliffhangers, please understand the responsibility that you are getting into with your readers/watchers/players. You are leaving them with huge unresolved questions and feelings. It can help your sales considerably…until you fail to follow through. And then it ruins your credibility with them, and you will never get that back. They will start waiting until something is completely finished before investing their time and energy, which means while you’ll see huge spikes at the end of a project, you’re early sales will be bad and this will make your publisher/developer be leery of giving you green lights on new projects in the future. So be careful with your evilness. It could be your career’s downfall.


Review: Dusk Maiden of Amnesia

Happy Halloween! And with that, a special post just for the holidays. (Or at least, one of my favorite ones and the kick start to the fall/winter festivities.)

Dusk Maiden of Amnesia (which has a much fancier Japanese title that I will not insult anybody by trying to write myself) is a Japanese anime that is a combination of murder mystery, horror, slice of life comedy, and romance. It follows a high school paranormal club with the president being a ghost herself! Yuko Kanoe has no memories of her life or how she died, and she has haunted the school for years, leading to many ghost stories to develop. But then Teiichi Niiya sees her (and her remains) and the two team up to try and discover Yuko’s past. But there is a kernel of truth to all the old stories, and there is more to Yuko’s memory loss than they could ever have guessed…

Despite the wildly different genres this story travels between, it actually balances them really well. I never felt mood-whip-lash as I went from horror to something romantic to something mysterious, etc. It all flowed very well together. I thought the fan service was a little too strong with Yuko, but then, I’m not big on fan service in the best of moods, so… The romance was cute and dramatic and full of squee (all good points). But the end game is weird for me. I like my romances to end with a solid base for the future, so I can easily imagine where it is going to go next. But… Half of this couple is a ghost. A teenage ghost at that. What are they going to do as he grows older? What if he ever wants kids? It just sits weird for me. Don’t get me wrong, I bawled like a baby there at the end, but… I sorta wish he’d ended up with the great-niece instead.

The characters weren’t simple constructs, not easy to show in such a short medium. The main three (or who I saw as the main three) had several different dimensions to them. Yuko’s past and her way of dealing with it was heart-wrenching in its self-destruction. Teiichi had to struggle with how far he was willing to go for his feelings or if it was better to just go with the flow. Kirie has to struggle not only with who she thinks Yuko is, but also with who she is and how that affects her life. The rest of the characters were pretty flat, but that only let the focus stay on the main three and bring their issues to the light. And it was awesome.

The story was this quirky mix of everyday little mysteries and some of them stacking together with the longer running series, only in sneaky unexpected ways. The villain was actually something internal, which is also something that really vibes well with me. In something short like this, you don’t have time to play with both internal conflict and external conflicts seriously. You can dabble with one, but it has to resolve itself within the episode because through the series, it will get tangled and possibly get forgotten. They did the right thing and focused on the internal conflict within the group and within the main title character. Sometimes I still wanted to throw a shoe at the TV as it dealt with the day-to-day stuff, but I put up with it because it made the ending all the more bittersweet.

The horror aspects were not as bad as I was afraid they were going to be. This was not Hansel and Gretel all over again. No nightmares (actually, Agents of SHIELD has given more nightmares after season 1), and it actually handled the scary elements well and in ways that made sense. I thought the school was horribly contrived as was the illness from the memories, but it wasn’t something that completely broke my suspension of disbelief. It was just a bit of a push, even for a ghost story. The entire setting was that way, really. It was such a push to make it work, to keep it isolated like they wanted it. I don’t entirely see the purpose of it, unless things in Japan are really quite that different. Really, I think the fanservice though is going to remain the worst part of the whole series.

Overall, I think the series was well done and well written. I mean, even the introduction and closing sequences were well thought out with what happened in the story that particular episode (which was really creepy a couple times). It was a perfect way of doing a short series. It had a resolved ending, it focused on what it wanted to bring out, and it didn’t waste time with everything else. I wish other animes would learn from it. (Like Magical Warfare. Dear GOD, do not get me started on the last few episodes of this first season…)


Blood + (anime) Review

Part 2 of my little series here, this time with the anime that got me interested in the franchise to begin with. I think Blood + will always be my favorite anime, so it’s nice to review it and share some of why I love it so much.

Much like Blood: The Last Vampire, the series follows Saya on her hunt for monsters. But there were some definite changes for the anime series. For one, Saya begins the first season as a normal high school girl and part of an adopted family. A monster attacks her school one night, trapping Saya. But a mysterious man known as Haji forces her to drink his blood, hypnotizing Saya. She uses a sword laced with her own blood to crystalize the monster. At first, Saya is horrified by what she’s done, and refuses to fight, despite the near-orders from a man named David on behalf of Red Shield. But when her father is injured and almost turned into one of the monsters, she takes the first steps on her journey. It takes four seasons for the truth to come to light about Saya’s past and her relation to the enemy Red Shield is sworn to fight. In the process, we are given a huge cast of colorful characters, each adding another piece to the past and to the present. The ending of the anime is full of sorrow and grief, but with an edge of hope for the future.

Obviously, I’m leaving details out of that summary, but that’s because a) it would take way too long to summarize four season (fifty episodes) neatly and b) I don’t want to spoil anything. Animation wise, it’s spectacular for its time and it still holds up today, at least in my opinion. Saya’s skirt length in the first half annoys me a little, but it gets better, so I let it go. When it comes to the historical character designs, they did very well with the costumes being authentic. Lewis’s design is a little racist, but I’ve seen much worse in anime, and all things considered, I let it go. It really doesn’t hit you how bad it is until you look at it in hindsight. The only thing that sort of irks me is there is a bit of generic work for the background or arc specific characters. I wish they had been given a little more effort.

The huge cast of characters and the sheer level of back story might be why I love this series so much. To begin with, for once we don’t have this airheaded whiny baby for a protagonist! Oh happy day! (You have no idea how happy this makes me, seriously.) Admittedly, Saya doesn’t want to fight, and often struggles with being expected to, but I found it didn’t really bother me as much, especially as more and more of her back story came to light. Considering her relation to the enemy, without the hatred she rightfully has for them, she wouldn’t want to fight them. Once her memories are back, it makes a lot more sense, as does her final wish that she managed to get Haji to agree to. And when she comes to terms with what she is, after what it costs her, you can see that she is trying so hard to be tough when all she wants to do is fall apart. Even in the end, that tough part falls aside as her kind nature comes through towards her greatest enemy. It takes the combined efforts of both Kai and Haji to get her to change her mind about what she deserves.

Which gets us to our male leads. For the first two seasons, it’s pretty much Haji and Kai, Saya’s older adopted brother. I could never get behind Kai/Saya, just because they were raised as siblings, plus he was just annoying to me. Very much the usual anime protagonist, thankfully this anime proceeded to smack him down and show him exactly how ill-suited he initially was to help his sister. After he was pretty much removed as a romantic interest, I liked him much better. By then, he had matured a good deal, and was taking his sister’s fight a lot more seriously. Haji came into the series with the obvious markers as being the romantic interest. His devotion to Saya can border on the creepy occasionally, but considering their relationship and what has happened to him over the years, I can’t blame him. He had a horrible burden to carry with him over the years, and he did so out of love. The second half introduces a third love interest, Solomon, who is on the enemy’s side. I’ve always felt like Solomon was just in love with Saya because instinct, or what his big brother Amshel convinced him was supposed to be their instinct, told him he was supposed to. And because he was that sort of dreamer type, he went along with it, even if it went much further than Amshel had intended.

The rest of the cast is far too huge for me to go into detail. There’s Red Shield, there’s the historical allies and enemies, there’s the Sif (my favorites), there’s the Cinq Fleches Group… To go into explaining them would not only spoil the series, but take me more words than I want to spend. I will spend a little time on who is described as the primary antagonist, though I really consider her the secondary one: Diva (Amshel is the primary for me, always will be). My god, she is amazing. I think one of her lines in the end of the series describes her best, “Now Saya, that’s not fair. Only you were treated like a human.” She really raises the question if what is wrong with her is nature or nurture, and she inspires pity from the audience rather than straight hatred, a nice change. As for why the Sif are my favorite… They are set up to be this force to be manipulated, and they fight against it, struggling for survival even as they die one by one, just because of how they are created. I can’t help but wish they would get that chance at life.

Plot wise, there is a lot going on in this series. It really can be divided into two halves: before the destruction of the Red Shield’s headquarters, and then a year after (yep, there’s even a time skip). Before, it really focuses on the memories that Saya has forgotten, and trying to find their main enemy, Diva. There is also the Sif’s sideplot, and the actions of the antagonists, who aside from Diva are leading up to something. Then there is what Diva is wanting, which is really ambiguous at that point in the series. The second half is Saya desperately trying to find Diva before she goes to sleep (her big sleep which lasts for thirty years), while the plans of the Cinq Fleches group, the survival of the Sif, and Diva’s wants all come together in a climactic final two episodes. I really didn’t find a lot of plot holes, and what few there were would have slowed the series down too much, so I can understand why there was no follow-through. Even the timeskip made sense to me. The plans we saw being put in place in the first half need time to ferment, and at least two of the protagonists needed time to grow and deal with their grief. I wish the ending had pushed on the hope aspect (as I’m covertly referring to it) a little more, but that’s a personal opinion, and there’s fanfiction for that.

The setting was possibly the most far-reaching I’d seen in a serious anime like this. It doesn’t stay in Japan like a bad cliche. Instead, it goes from Japan to Vietnam to Russia to France to the US… Very much a global-span, which makes a lot of sense with the plot. Some of the world-building is confusing as it is presented to you, but once you lay it all out after seeing the series, it does make sense. Basically, the world-building on vampires requires a bit of Fridge Logic to make it work. Of course, that’s fine by me, I like that element to a show, where it makes me think about it, as long as it makes sense. Don’t get me started on when it doesn’t. At times, it felt like it was pushing it (my fan theory is that the Sif aren’t created, they were initially real humans, but that only has limited backing. The cloning still feels stupid), but I was able to swallow it while I watching it, and it didn’t kill my love for the story, so I guess it got away with it.

Overall, the show is a bit like a very rich desert. Let’s say one of those giant slices of chocolate cake they serve at Cheddar’s (never eat one alone, seriously. It is meant for sharing. With like, four people). There is a big cast, a complicated story, and an equally complex world, and it takes its sweet time telling it to you so you don’t get overwhelmed. Layer upon layer upon layer. It is one of my favorites, and I definitely recommend it. Just, pace yourself.