On anime, games, and obscenity

Listen, sorry.  I had planned to edit and post my first deep reads piece today, but I’m pushing that back a bit because I’ve been reading a lot about proposed “anime bans”, essentially restrictions of work based mostly on their sexual content, whether the sexual nature of that content is actual or perceived.  All this reading put me into lawyer mode, and now I can’t bring myself to write about anything else before I’ve addressed these controversies to my satisfaction and hopefully to the readers’ as well.  Because while there is truth in a lot of the stories going around, some of them may be misleading, causing unnecessary misunderstanding and anxiety.  I’m not the top legal scholar in all the land, not even close, but I thought I’d take the opportunity to clear up a few basic questions about the American legal concept of obscenity as it applies to the shows we watch and the games we play.  (As much as I’d like to, I can’t address questions about the legal codes or traditions of Japan or any other state because I don’t know them nearly well enough.)

Fair warning: while nothing on this site falls into the 18+ category, this post does obviously deal with adult content.  So if that’s not your thing, you might want to skip it and check out the next post I put out that probably won’t have to do with anime titties, etc. if my schedule remains as it is now.  Also, while I am an attorney, none of what’s in this post (or on this site in general) is intended to be legal advice or to create an attorney-client relationship with anyone at all.  Finally, most of the legal analysis here is pretty speculative (i.e. I had to pull most of it out of my ass because a lot of it involves issues that haven’t yet been resolved by the courts) so you can take what I write with however much salt you like.  Sorry for the long disclaimer, but I have to put it there.  Now on to the real fun.

supreme court bldg

This is a serious post about law, but there will probably be a few anime titties as well, all included within the appropriate context of course.

With the 2020 Tokyo Olympics coming up, all the normal, well-adjusted people in my country and other parts of the West have started paying more attention to Japan.  And they’ve seemingly just learned something the otaku/weeb set have known for decades: that Japan produces ten thousand metric tons of drawn pornography per year in the form of manga and doujins that are sold online and at Comiket, and that even some of their anime and video games contain lewd or borderline lewd content.

Apparently some of these people have a problem with this.  Every time a game is slated to be ported to the West and it might contain questionable content, the battles begin on Twitter and Reddit and everywhere else over whether they should be ported over intact or censored.  There’s even been talk about the United Nations attempting to restrict content in anime and related media through Article 2(c) of its Optional Protocol to the Convention of the Rights of the Child.  While the article seems to be well-meaning — it’s prohibiting the sort of illicit, immoral pornography that nearly everyone already agrees should be prohibited — it’s extremely broad in its language.  And if read broadly enough, it would also place some anime and game content into a legal gray area at best.  The Optional Protocol doesn’t single out anime or anime-styled games, but the connection is easy to make: both feature a lot of young-looking female characters, not to mention the 800 year-old fox spirit goddesses who sure as hell don’t look 800 years old.  Thousands upon thousands of people read these posts and articles and rushed to buy, download, and torrent Fate/kaleid liner Prisma Illya and The Helpful Fox Senko-san before the all-powerful UN forces in their black helicopters destroyed every last copy.

By order of the United Nations, all cute magical girl gifs will be hereby confiscated

These stories also mentioned that the United States, Japan, and Austria, while generally supportive of the protocol’s goals, refused to sign in part because they felt Article 2(c) was overbroad and would unduly restrict freedom of speech.  Not that it really mattered all that much — even if the US, Japan, and Austria had been pressured to sign this Optional Protocol, none of them would have been bound to actually do anything to follow up on their commitments.  Protocols of this type are less legally binding than an agreement between two drunk guys scrawled on a bar napkin.  And then the napkin got used as a coaster for a pint of beer, and the ring it created made parts of the agreement completely illegible.  That document would literally have more binding legal power than a protocol to a UN convention.

Still, it’s worth considering whether and how your favorite lewd anime or game series could one day be legally banned from streaming services and online stores.  As everyone who’s had an internet argument about free speech already knows, speech is generally protected from government prohibition or interference by the First Amendment to the US Constitution.  However, not all speech is protected.  Making a credible threat of bodily harm is an exercise of speech, for instance, but it falls into one of the court-created exceptions to constitutional protection of speech.  Another exception, the one we’re concerned with in this case, is obscenity.

The legal concept of obscenity has been around for a long time and typically applies to images, writings, and other works that are generally considered lewd, disgusting, or distasteful.  For the purpose of maintaining public morality, works that are deemed obscene also fall outside First Amendment protection and can be prohibited by law.  However, the definition of obscenity in the US has narrowed over time to the point that it now only applies to a few very clearly harmful types of material.  For an anime series or game to be found obscene, therefore, it would have to be pretty god damn immoral and probably demonstrably harmful somehow, or at least a court would have to think so.

Good luck explaining the concept of Nekopara to the court

But how do we determine what’s obscene and what isn’t?  Thankfully, the Supreme Court in the 1973 case Miller v. California provided us with an extremely problematic and vague legal test to find and separate out the obscene works.  Here’s the infamous three-pronged Miller test as set out by Chief Justice Warren Burger:

1) Whether the average person, applying contemporary community standards, would find that the work, taken as a whole, appeals to the prurient (meaning entirely sexual) interest;

2) whether the work depicts or describes, in an offensive way, sexual conduct or excretory functions, as specifically defined by applicable state law; and

3) whether the work, taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.

We don’t even have to read past that first prong to realize the Miller test doesn’t work anymore.  The idea behind it made some sense in 1973 — different places in the US have different standards of what constitutes offensively sexual material.  So, for example, the very same art installation displayed in Greenwich Village, NYC and then in Mobile, Alabama might shift from being not obscene to being obscene because the standards and norms in the locality surrounding that art have changed.  Today, however, the internet has turned the country, and to some extent the entire world, into a single “locality” in the sense that any content, no matter where it was created, can be accessed anywhere.  For this reason, the courts must now effectively use a national rather than a local standard in some contexts, even though the majority in Miller explicitly rejected the use of a national standard for obscenity.

This works in the fans’ favor, because a national standard is necessarily going to be slacker than a local standard for what’s deemed offensive.  And while that second prong is a bit vague (what exactly does “sexual content” entail?  How broadly should that be read if the state law defining it is vague?), the third prong of the test is extremely difficult to clear: almost every work created has “serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value” of some kind.  Using the current standard, therefore, almost all anime and game content should pass the Miller test, at the very least on the basis that it contains serious artistic value.

Admittedly, there is a problem for the fans hidden in the language of the test.  Notice who’s applying these community standards: “the average person.”  Who the hell is that?  What’s an average person?  The legal answer is that it’s a kind of meld of a bunch of people picked off the street at random. Granted, that is a bullshit legal fiction made up for the sake of convenience. However, if an obscenity case ends up going to trial, guess who determines what that “average person” thinks? The jury, which is quite literally a bunch of people picked off the street at random.  And that’s at least a little scary, because you never really know what you’ll get with a jury.  On the other hand, the Supreme Court later found that the third prong requires a higher standard of review than that, which means greater protection for the speech in question.  Thank God for that third prong.

Some people think Kill la Kill is just fanservice, and some people think it’s a masterpiece. But what would the “average person” think?

I don’t mean to be an alarmist here. The free speech clause of the First Amendment hasn’t been eroded in the way certain other clauses to other amendments have. Freedom of speech is still one of the most closely guarded and strongest constitutional protections we have, and it’s backed up by a lot of precedent following Miller.  The fact that the internet is so damn full of weird pornography and screeds about how the government is run by evil lizard aliens is proof enough that we’re free to express ourselves in most any way we want.

However, that doesn’t mean the clause won’t be eroded in the future.  The religious right is still a politically powerful force in the United States, and they’ve shown their willingness to try to shut up speech that they consider lewd or blasphemous.  Remember the petition to Netflix to remove the “satanist” Amazon series Good Omens?  Not to mention the less stupid but still very stupid campaigns against the Harry Potter and Pokemon series in the late 90s.  Considering their great (and not entirely unsuccessful) efforts to break down the wall of separation between church and state also contained in the First Amendment, there’s no reason to think they have any special respect for the free speech clause.  Parts of the leftist and progressive movements are also trying to shame writers, developers, artists, and publishers into “cleaning up” their work and altering it to suit their moral sensibilities.1  While these groups are not generally pushing for government censorship, they are trying to create a chilling effect on art, and it’s not a major leap from that to calling for the imposition of legal restrictions on content.

So it would be wrong to assume things will simply continue as they always have.  There’s a reason groups like the American Civil Liberties Union and the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund still exist — it’s important to remain vigilant in protecting our rights and to not take them for granted.   Also, always keep in mind that “_ should be banned because I think it’s gross” is not a legitimate argument in favor of banning or censoring something.  Some people seem to think it is for the frequency they use it, but it most certainly isn’t.  Prove the material you’re trying to have banned fails the Miller test and have it found obscene by a court.  Nobody is arguing that genuinely harmful material shouldn’t be found obscene if it deserves to be placed in that category.2  If you can’t manage to get that ruling, however, all we’re talking about is a difference in taste.  And as the ancient Romans said: “In matters of taste, there can be no dispute.”

And as Senran Kagura producer Kenichiro Takaki said: Tits are life, ass is hometown.

I guess my point is that your lewd anime girls probably aren’t going anywhere, at least if you live in the US, but also that we shouldn’t grow complacent.  I’m also assuming that Japan won’t pass any serious restrictions on its own content, based partly on their answer to the UN’s Optional Protocol and partly on the fact that lewd anime girls are probably one of their biggest exports, and why risk that for basically no benefit in return?  I could be wrong in this assumption, but again, I’ll leave that issue to those who actually know something about Japanese law and politics.

So that was my combination legal treatise/angry rant.  I hope it was entertaining and/or enlightening.  If you have a question, a differing opinion, or a burning desire to call me insane or an idiot for what I’ve written, please post a comment below and we can get a discussion going. 𒀭

 

1 Full disclosure, as usual: I’m pretty much on the left myself, which is why it breaks my heart when other progressives rail against the shows and games I like as harmful or regressive just because they don’t fit their own views of political and social orthodoxy.  I’ve gone on about this before, so I’ll spare the reader here.

2 Edit: I shouldn’t say nobody is arguing this, because there are people who argue that the concept of obscenity should be scrapped entirely, allowing for every kind of sexual expression aside from those harmful types that are already banned by law. In fact, I like that idea myself. However, in the current social climate, I don’t think it’s realistic to expect that we can do any better than the Miller approach to obscenity.

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Deep reads #0: Preface

Yes, it’s yet another new feature here on the site. This time, though, the idea behind it is very broad — it’s just going to be me writing about certain themes and concepts present in games and anime series and other forms of entertainment I like.  This gives me the opportunity to cover both works that I’ve written about before in greater detail and sharper focus and works that I’ve been meaning to write about for a while.  I’ll be lumping most of these posts into sub-series sorted by theme that might run anywhere from 2 to 4 or 5 posts.  I hope this whole series/sub-series setup doesn’t get too tangled up or confusing.

Hell, the title I’ve chosen for the feature is already confusing enough.  I went with “deep reads” because I’m covering these works in greater depth than I normally would in a basic review and because every other title I thought of was too clunky, but the “reads” part doesn’t make much sense because I probably won’t be covering any books.  I do a mind-numbing amount of reading at work anyway.  Someone else can write theses about profound works of literature; I’m sticking to weeb-centric and weeb-adjacent games and shows just like I always have.  And western stuff as well.  Anything that grabs my interest, really, but the point is it will be the same sort of stuff I’ve written about for the last few years here.

I admit I’d play video games for 3 days straight if I could get away with it, but I wouldn’t do those second and third things just to be clear

Since these posts are going to be more analyses than reviews, they’ll all be full of spoilers.  If you’re curious about my opinions of these works but you don’t want to read a particular post because you’re avoiding spoilers, here’s a blanket statement that you can rely on: I recommend checking out every single work I’ll be writing about in this series, because I more or less like all of them.  They might not all be for you, of course, which is why I say I recommend checking them out instead of buying them right away.  Though if you trust my judgment and taste enough to do that, I’d be very flattered.

You can look forward to the first post in this series soon (or soon-ish, at least.)  In the meantime, feel free to follow me on Twitter even though I hardly ever post there.

A review of Cop Craft, season 1

Let’s finally close the book on the summer 2019 anime series Cop Craft, at least for now.  My weekly review posts were all extremely spoiler-laden, so if you’re looking to go into Cop Craft more or less blind, read this spoiler-free review instead to find out if you might like it enough to check it out on Funimation’s streaming service (or to find the episodes in other very obvious ways that I won’t address here.)

Tilarna will chase down and arrest all pirates

Our tale starts with Kei Matoba, a grizzled detective in San Teresa, a large American city on the Pacific coast (which I’m still positive is meant to be alternate universe San Francisco.)  San Teresa has a special status as the gateway city to a group of immigrants called Semanians from a planet connected to Earth through a mysterious wormhole gate thing that appeared out of nowhere some years back.  At the beginning of the series, Kei’s partner is killed by a corpse being controlled by Semanian magic during a sting operation gone wrong, and in the course of the investigation a new partner is assigned to him: the Semanian knight Tilarna Exedilica, a young noble lady with a haughty bearing but an honest and straightforward personality.  Kei and Tilarna clash at first, but they end up working together and even developing a strong bond as they learn to complement each other’s strengths and weaknesses.

They also live together in an Odd Couple-style arrangement

If that sounds familiar, it might be because this is the basic setup of every buddy cop series and movie ever made.  Cop Craft was a bit different from most of the other series airing last season for just that reason — it borrows a lot from western sources, namely from American cop dramas, and throws in a whole lot of sci-fi and mixes them together.  This invited a lot of comparisons to Bright, the Netflix original movie with a somewhat similar premise that took a beating from critics in 2017.  Cop Craft is based on a light novel series that started in 2009, though, so there certainly wasn’t any inspiration from that film here.  In fact, a better comparison might be another Will Smith movie: Men In Black, only Tommy Lee Jones is 30 years younger and Will Smith is a cute sword-wielding girl from another planet where due process and defendant rights don’t exist.

Tilarna-style interrogation. I guess this alternate-universe USA doesn’t have Section 1983 protections against police misconduct.

The story of Cop Craft is decent enough — there are a few plots that start and get resolved throughout the 12-episode run that are presumably taken from writer Shoji Gatoh‘s light novel work.  These plots are contained within a larger story about the clash of cultures between Earth natives and Semanians, a clash that plays out on a small scale between Kei and Tilarna.  This both gives our protagonists more depth and raises the story’s stakes, especially in the second half of the series, which deals directly with issues relevant to real life like nativism and xenophobia.  Thankfully, Cop Craft deals with these issues in a way that’s neither preachy nor heavyhanded.  Tilarna does face discrimination while working with Kei because of her origin, but the show doesn’t treat her detractors as faceless villains — they’re all depicted as real people with real fears.  Misguided fears, to be sure, because Cop Craft has an obvious anti-xenophobic message.  But that message is effective precisely because it treats these issues as complex.

The greatest strength of Cop Craft lies in its characters, however, and specifically in the relationship between Kei and Tilarna.  Kei is the jaded old cop who’s been forced to accept corruption and the influence of money and politics in his work, and Tilarna is the young hothead who acts before she thinks but who also forces Kei to remember his old ideals.  Beyond that basic archetypal stuff, these characters are just really well-written and grow closer over the series in a believable way.

The context to this scene is pretty interesting, but I’ll let you find out about it for yourself.

There’s not much more I can say about the plot or characters without spoiling, so I’ll leave it at this: Cop Craft is worth watching just for Kei and Tilarna.  A few of the surrounding cast of characters are interesting as well, particularly the police coroner Cecil, but Kei and Tilarna are almost always at the center of the action, which is a good thing.

Speaking of action, yeah, there is action in this show, and a lot of it looks lousy.  The animation in Cop Craft is wildly inconsistent, ranging from decent to awful.  If you saw the above stills and thought “wow, this show looks beautiful” — yeah, some of the still shots are detailed and nicely show off the excellent work of character designer Range Murata, but the action scenes look rough, with a lot of obvious animation shortcuts.  I don’t know much about the technical aspects of animation, but I do know what looks good to me and what doesn’t.  Most of Cop Craft looks like it was made on an extremely tight budget, with 95% of the detail reserved for the scenes where the studio obviously wanted to make Tilarna look really good.  Even some of the still shots lack detail to a distracting extent.

There’s also one episode that’s so dark you can barely make out anything.

I have to assume the studio (Millepensee, who also co-produced the widely-hated 2016 adaptation of Berserk and what look like a few “cute girls doing cute things” comedies I’ve never heard of) just didn’t have the funds to make something that looked better. It’s a real shame — I know there are people who will avoid watching Cop Craft because of its rough animation, and I can’t blame them for that. This is a visual medium, and the visuals matter.

Still, if any of the above stuff sounds interesting to you, I recommend checking out Cop Craft, even if it is visually rough around the edges sometimes.  Look at it this way: if I told you the visuals and animation in Cop Craft were beautiful but that the characters and story were dogshit, I wouldn’t be recommending it at all.  If I want to see nice visuals and nothing else, I’ll look at my artbooks again.

We got a lot of shots of Tilarna being cute and pouty, and that’s all that really matters

And that’s about it for Cop Craft.  Sadly, I don’t think we’ll be getting a second season considering how little attention the anime series seems to have gotten.  The light novel series is still being written and published, though, so there’s always a chance.  Maybe when the isekai craze finally dies down, there will be more demand for an urban sci-fi fantasy cop show and a better studio with more resources will be able to produce it, and then I won’t have to qualify my recommendation at all.

The Seasonal Anime Draft: Fall 2019

Fall is upon us, and so is the fall lineup of anime series, which means I have to decide what new show to pick up for this stupid Seasonal Anime Draft thing I’ve cursed myself with.

It’s impossible for me to use this SZS screenshot too many times.

I’ve got good news and bad news about that.  The bad news first (because that’s always the best way to deliver it): I don’t plan to write episode-by-episode posts this season like I did for Cop Craft.  This is partly because I’m losing some of my free time to work now in my efforts to make more money that I really need at the moment, and partly because there isn’t a single show this season that immediately grabs me in the way Cop Craft did.

That’s not to say there’s nothing that interests me, though.  Which leads me to the good news: I’ll be watching not one but three series this season and probably writing both a mid-season piece for all of them together and separate end-of-season reviews for each one.  I’ll do my best to stick with all of them, but I will drop one or more of these series if it somehow turns out to be unwatchable garbage.  In that unfortunate event, I’ll also write up a piece explaining what exactly made me hate said show(s) so much.  But again, that hopefully won’t happen.

And the shows I’ve chosen to watch are…

Val x Love: This is an adaptation of a manga series I haven’t read, so I’m going in blind here.  The premise sounds fantastic, though: a loner student nobody likes is contacted by the Norse god Odin, who tells him he has to save the world “with love” and sends his nine valkyrie daughters to help out.  This series sounds like it could be amazing or a complete disaster, or possibly both at the same time. Expecting some grade A fanservice either way.

Kemono Michi: Rise Up: I don’t typically go for isekai series, but this one looks different enough to capture my attention. The setting seems like the most generic isekai medieval/Renaissance European town you could possibly imagine, but the protagonist is a pro wrestler who loves animals.  So when the princess of this world asks him to exterminate the beasts of the kingdom, he refuses and instead tries to make friends with all of them.  This show also looks like it’s going to contain fanservice, this time mainly of a bunch of animal-eared/tailed girls.  (Okay, you’re probably not that surprised that I picked this show to watch.)

Fate/Grand Order – Absolute Demonic Front: Babylonia: I have a weird history with Type-Moon.  I really liked the original VNs Tsukihime and Fate/stay night, even with all their flaws, and I loved Fate/Zero without any reservations at all. Ever since F/Z, though, I haven’t been keeping up with any of the Type-Moon properties.  So jumping into this spinoff series based on a mobile game of all things might be a horrible idea. I can’t even give you much idea of the premise because I honestly don’t understand it, even after reading the synopsis and watching the extremely confusing mess of a trailer. The best I can do is “someone time travels to ancient Babylonia to fight gods or something.”

Also, Gilgamesh is back.  Here he is in Fate/Zero, chilling out on his giant golden throne.  By the way, if you haven’t watched Fate/Zero, do that as soon as possible.

But I figure why the hell not give it a try?  The prospect of seeing the supremely arrogant Nasuverse version of Gilgamesh ruling over his native city of Uruk is interesting.  And even though I haven’t played Fate/Grand Order, I have seen plenty of pictures of the new Servant Ishtar around, and… let’s just say I’m a fan of the character design.  Because it’s simply Rin Tohsaka in a skimpy outfit.  From what I gather, the Mesopotamian goddess of love has possessed Rin for some reason that you probably know if you’ve played this section of F/GO.  I read it as Nasu’s excuse for putting Rin in a skimpy outfit and nothing more.  Not that I’m complaining.

I’m still not playing this god damn “free-to-play” trap game, though.  I don’t care how hot Ishtar Rin is.

Anyway, a question for you, dear reader: what anime series are you looking forward to this season, if any?  Feel free to post a comment telling me about it, or telling me I’m an idiot with shit taste, or telling me anything at all.  In the meantime, I’ll be working my day job and writing up my full Cop Craft review.

The Seasonal Anime Draft: Cop Craft, final episode

Are you ready for the season finale of Cop Craft?  If you aren’t, then don’t read any more of this, because that’s what I’m writing about today.

Tilarna gets some nice badass action girl shots in this episode

Summary: We rejoin our protagonists in the van they’ve been tossed into by the corrupt FBI agent Chan.  Zelada is in the front seat and puts Kei and Tilarna to sleep with a magic spell.  When they wake up, they find themselves separated: Kei beaten to a pulp and handcuffed to a chair in an interrogation room with Chan, and Tilarna bound and held captive in Zelada’s swanky penthouse.  We get a back-and-forth sort of double scene in which we learn (again) that Zelada is an asshole who wants to sow discord between Semanians and Earth natives because he hates Earth culture and its degenerate effects on Semanian society, and that Chan is an asshole who just wants to blackmail the future mayor of San Teresa to get rich.

It’s quite clear that Chan is prepared to kill Kei once he gets access to Kei’s phone to delete that photo of Marla and her husband’s assassin from last episode (as we’ll soon learn, the reporter Randall has already met that fate) and Zelada decides to kill Tilarna once he realizes he can’t convince her to join his anti-Earth-culture cause.  Kei and Tilarna are action stars, though, so of course they both fight their way out of their predicaments despite being bound.  Kei manages to beat on Chan with his hands literally tied behind his back and chokes him to death with his thighs in an impressive display of strength, then he starts fighting Zelada’s corpse army on his way upstairs to the penthouse (yes, Kei and Tilarna are in the same building, though it’s not apparent at first.)

Kei busts in and he and Tilarna have a final battle with Zelada in which each is forced to use the other’s weapon, ending in old Z getting shot by Tilarna and decapitated by Kei.  Then Kei and Tilarna head up to the rooftop and wait for police backup as they have a nice moment together.  Kei offers to delete the incriminating photo of Marla so that the xenophobic douchebag Tourte isn’t elected mayor, but Tilarna insists they turn it in.  Finally, we have a montage in which Marla gets arrested, Tourte gets sworn in as mayor, and Tilarna decides to stay in San Teresa for good, continuing her tenure as Kei’s partner.  And then the OP plays in place of the ED, which I thought was a nice touch.

Just hanging out on the roof in a shot that looks a lot like one of Range Murata’s portraits.

Analysis: Well, damn.  What’s left to be said about this finale?  It was pretty nice, got the job done, and tied up the loose ends, all while leaving the door open for a second season.  The fight scenes were interesting as well, with Kei and Tilarna having to figure out how to resist and defeat their captors while handcuffed.  The very final fight between Zelada and the protagonists was a bit confusing, though.  There was a lot of trickery going on, with Zelada turning into flying red energy to escape Kei and Tilarna’s attacks.  And apparently Zelada can deflect bullets, except when he can’t.  Maybe Kei managed to distract him by blasting that rock music that Zelada hates, even though Kei should have no reason to know that Zelada hates it because he wasn’t in the room when that was revealed.

Oh well, who gives a shit about all that?  Cop Craft might be considered an action show, but I cared a lot more about the relationship between Kei and Tilarna than about the action scenes, and this season closer provided a nice cap to that development.  I’ve said before that I thought the show was hinting at something more going on between Kei and Tilarna, and even though nothing like that is firmly established here, it’s hinted at once again with one of Tilarna’s final lines.  If you follow the light novel series, I guess you know how that’s going to proceed.  The rest of us will have to wait for a second season if it ever happens.

And I hope it does.  Cop Craft has its shortcomings, but I enjoyed it enough to want more.  Hopefully that more includes a bigger budget, because I’d love to see Tilarna flying around and swinging her blade in intense action scenes that actually look good.

As usual, the Tilarna closeups are by far the best-looking shots in the show

And with that, I’m done with my beat-by-beat review of Cop Craft.  But I’m not done with the series quite yet.  I’ll be posting a no-spoiler full season review soon, so please look forward to that.  Until then!

The Seasonal Anime Draft: Cop Craft, ep 11

Things have slowed down a bit here.  Sorry about that.  A lot of work combined with life being not much fun at the moment, even less than usual.  But I’m still watching Cop Craft.

Generally a bad idea to stick your finger in Tilarna’s face

Summary: Kei and Tilarna interview Tourte, the still-living mayoral candidate, who proves himself to be exactly the kind of asshole we thought he’d be, chewing out Tilarna for being a Semanian and acting like a pompous blowhard.  Tilarna points out that San Teresa was originally Semanian land that got warped into the Pacific Ocean or something, but Tourte doesn’t care and insists that Semanians don’t fit in with Earth’s society.  Our heroes leave the interview without any leads as to who killed Mozeleemay, but with at least a vague impression that Tourte wasn’t involved.  Meanwhile, the rest of the vice squad are pursuing their own leads in the same case and manage to come up with the identity of the murderer: an ex-Marine who went AWOL during the initial war against the Semanians.

Meanwhile, riots and fighting break out between Semanian and Earth humans over the murders of Kahns and Mozeleemay.  In the middle of this chaos, my prediction from episode 10 comes true as Mozeleemay’s wife Marla steps in as a mayoral candidate in the place of her dead husband.  However, at a tense, secretive park bench meeting between Kei, Tilarna, and a reporter who showed up last episode, we see a photo of Marla with her husband’s assassin in a hotel room, implying that Marla had her husband murdered.

The lesson here is if you’re cheating on your partner with his future assassin, you should probably keep the curtains closed

Before Kei and Tilarna have too much time to be shocked by this news, they’re ambushed and arrested by a bunch of FBI agents.  Tilarna sniffs out latena and determines that all but one of the agents are corpses being controlled by magic.  And sure enough, they dump Kei and Tilarna into the back of a van where they’re greeted by none other than big bad guy Zelada, where the episode ends.

Analysis: Just getting this out of the way: I won’t complain about the animation quality anymore.  There weren’t any action scenes for them to screw up this time anyway.

There were a lot of extreme closeups of Tilarna’s face as usual, though. They really like using these shots, don’t they?

A whole lot of plot stuff happened this episode, probably because there’s only one episode left, at least as far as I’ve heard.  We still don’t know what Zelada wants with Kei and Tilarna, except perhaps to kill them, but that seems a little too straightforward.  Marla having her husband murdered certainly doesn’t come off as a surprise — as we know, she has no problem with having people killed, and putting her weak-willed husband out of the way lets her pursue power on her own terms.  The fact that Zelada captured Kei and Tilarna while meeting the reporter who turned over that evidence suggests that he has a connection to Marla as well.  We know Zelada wants to sow discord between Semanians and Earth humans, so maybe all this is just in service of that goal.

Eh, close enough

All the anti-immigration/xenophobia stuff in this arc is pretty interesting.  It’s hard to watch Cop Craft without making comparisons to the current situation, especially in my own country, where the public’s opinions now range from “open the borders” to “deport all the illegal immigrants right away.”  I’m not sure how much the plot of Cop Craft is influenced by current events, considering the fact that it’s based on a series of light novels that started in 2009, but even if there’s no direct link the issue is definitely timely.

Thankfully, Cop Craft is not approaching the subject of xenophobia in a preachy or heavy-handed way.  Tilarna and the other Semanians trying to live in San Teresa aren’t presented as mere helpless victims, and Earth natives who have problems with them aren’t presented as complete assholes who are hateful for no reason.  All these people have reasons for feeling the way they do, reasons that the show explores a bit.  Tilarna realizes as much this episode when she compares the two current mayoral candidates: Tourte, who’s an anti-Semanian zealot but seemingly an honest guy, and Marla, who publicly supports Semanian rights but who has also used murder as a political tool at least twice at this point.

Tilarna learns about American democracy this episode, which boils down to choosing which candidate you think is less of an asshole.

I can’t stand works of fiction that try to make political points by bashing them over your head with purely good protagonists who spend their off time feeding orphans and widows and ridiculously evil villains who kill kittens for fun.  Thankfully, Cop Craft is not at all like that.  Its characters come off as pretty realistic — most of them are just people trying to live their lives who are thrust into difficult situations and conflicts.  Cop Craft pretty clearly takes a stance against anti-immigration and xenophobic views (after all, the bonding between Kei and Tilarna is one of the central elements of the series, so it wouldn’t make sense otherwise) but it approaches the issue with some nuance, which I like.

That doesn’t mean we can’t still enjoy some weird fanservice this episode, though

Anyway, the writers have certainly woven a tangled web here.  I’ll be impressed if they can sort it out in one episode, and I’ll be pissed off if they fail to do so and end the season on a cliffhanger.  Especially if we end up never getting a season 2.  I don’t read light novels (nothing against them, of course, I just don’t) but if that happens, I’ll have to seek the original work out to see how the series ends.

Let’s just hope for the best.  Until next time, stay safe.

The Seasonal Anime Draft: Cop Craft, ep 10

After a week off, Cop Craft is back with episode 10 and the continuation of the second half of episode 9’s political assassination plot.

Also with more pouty Tilarna, we can’t go without that

Summary: Kei and Tilarna follow up on their investigation of the murder of mayoral candidate Kahns, who was shot dead by the reanimated corpse of a Semanian.  We know he was being controlled by the evil mage Zelada because Tilarna told us so last episode, but the voters don’t — all they know is that a Semanian killed him, stoking anti-Semanian sentiments among Earth natives.  To pursue their lead, the team have to question Cole Mozeleemay, one of the two remaining candidates, at his campaign headquarters.  Things start awkwardly when Mozeleemay recognizes Tilarna as the undercover officer who acted as the bait in his prostitution sting arrest.  But then his wife Marla steps out from the shadows to take over the interview, and Kei and Tilarna realize that she has her husband by the balls (in Kei’s words; for once this isn’t me just being vulgar for no reason.)

The real power player in the relationship.

Marla cuts their interview short because her husband has a campaign speech to deliver.  Kei and Tilarna are about to head back to the office when they hear gunshots coming from the auditorium, however — Mozeleemay has been shot in yet another assassination attempt.  Kei uses some fancy detective work to determine who the shooter was based on the recording of the event, and he and Tilarna chase down their suspect, who turns out to be not one of Zelada’s puppet-corpses but rather an independent actor capable of using mildey, or Semanian magic.  Unfortunately, they’re forced to kill the suspect during their fight with him.  Even worse, FBI agents show up to “take the case over”, insulting Kei and Tilarna in the process as simple city cops (yeah, it’s that tired old cop show trope.) We get a confirmation that Mozeleemay is dead.  Then Kei and Tilarna head back to the office, where Tilarna gives the vice squad a demonstration of how Semanian magic is used to transform items, showing how the assassin was able to smuggle a gun disguised as a camera into the auditorium.

We finally get an explanation of how Tilarna performs her magical girl-style costume transformations.

Finally, Kei and Tilarna hit the road again to pay a visit to Tourte, the last alive candidate in the mayoral race and an anti-Semanian zealot, and as they approach his headquarters they run into an anti-Semanian protest, which is where the episode ends.

Analysis: Cop Craft is frustrating to watch. 

There’s a lot to like in this series.  I’m a big fan of Tilarna and her relationship with Kei.  And while I didn’t mind the more lighthearted episodes this season (and I definitely didn’t mind the Tilarna fanservice we got out of it) I also like the more serious turn the show is taking with this political assassination plot.  The show is taking xenophobia, something we have plenty of in the real world, and is using it in an effective way to create tension.

Yeah, the good times are mostly over, just like I thought.

I don’t even mind all that much that the writers killed off Cole Mozeleemay.  At his core, he just seemed like a lecherous guy who wanted to use his power to bone women with impunity. I’m sure they could have done more with him if they’d wanted to, but this turn of events just builds the tension even more.  And anyway, it’s clear that his wife Marla was the real political mind between the two of them.  My big prediction for this post is that she’ll take over his campaign and use the voters’ sympathy over the murder of her husband to get elected.  That could be interesting.  I don’t know how they’ll connect this plot thread to Tilarna and Kei now that Cole is dead, though.  I guess Tilarna has figured out that Marla was probably the one behind the murder of her friend Zoey, so maybe she’ll still try to take revenge for that.

But I have to address the animation quality this episode, which was back in the toilet again.  Parts of the action scenes looked awful, and even some of the still shots lacked detail.  I’m not going to post any of the really bad screenshots this time because I don’t even want to look at them again.  If you’re curious, head over to the various anime boards on Reddit and 4chan; I’m sure they’re posting the worst of the worst and calling the show garbage.

I’m pretty sure 99% of the show’s budget went into Tilarna’s close-up shots and the fanservice scenes in episode 8.

Let me be clear: I don’t think Cop Craft is garbage just because its animation quality is wildly inconsistent.  I’d much rather watch a series with good writing and compelling characters but lousy animation than one with great production values but dogshit-level writing.  But then I imagine how this show would look with a better animation budget (or a better studio?) and it makes me sad.  It’s all the worse for the fact that I really like Range Murata’s character designs.  It feels like they’re wasted in episodes like this.

Well, at least the show is still interesting to watch.  The uneven animation quality doesn’t put me off too badly; it’s just disappointing.  Here’s hoping it improves again.  That’s all I’ve got for now, so until next time, stay safe.