Currently playing (Neon White, my entire Steam backlog)

It’s been a while since I wrote about any games here, but I haven’t been idle on that front. There’s one game I’m nearly done with and will be writing about in a full review at some point this month — I don’t want to be too ambitious with my schedule considering how much work I’m taking on this month, but that much seems feasible. However, I’ve also been playing a new game and returning to some I’ve had on Steam for years (and maybe itch.io too?) Blowing the dust off of those, just because they’re there, and I don’t feel like spending any more money since I wake up in a cold sweat sometimes thinking about my debt. But then that’s a lot of us, sadly. It’s the reason I have the job I have to begin with. I sure as hell don’t do it for fun.

So let’s talk about something actually fun. Neon White was released in June last year on PC and Switch, but since my PC is garbage, I had to wait until the PS4 release in December to play it. I’m not much for action games as you’ll see if you look through the Games index page on this site, but there are two reasons I picked up this one, starting with the recommendation of fellow blogger Frostilyte. Our tastes in games don’t totally overlap, but his analysis is always a great time to read, and his looks at Neon White got me interested in checking it out for myself. And secondly — I won’t even make a show of downplaying this because I’ve already written about VTubers a few times on the site, but there’s a certain laughing dragon girl who played through the game, and her streams are always entertaining, but before watching any of it I don’t want to spoil anything for myself, least of all the solutions to the stages. That’s as good a reason as any, isn’t it?

Speaking of, Neon White isn’t a standard FPS as the guns might suggest. While there is plenty of shooting in the game, it’s far better described as an action platformer with puzzle elements. Each stage in the game up to the point I’ve played takes place in Heaven, where the characters including the protagonist codenamed Neon White have to clear out a demon invasion. The game’s primary mechanic is a card system: each card represents a gun (a pistol, rifle, shotgun, etc.) with a set amount of ammunition, but the card can also be used up and discarded to perform an extra function like a double-jump or a boost.

I’ll get into the system in greater depth when I’m done with the game, but it’s surprisingly intuitive and easy to get hooked on. There’s a strong speedrunning aspect to Neon White, but you don’t have to be a Hardcore Gamer™ to get into it. I’m certainly not. Another nice aspect of this game is that it’s pretty forgiving about jumps, allowing you to do demon-slaying parkour without worrying about pixel-perfect landings. However, the challenge is still there, especially for those who want to earn the top “ace” medal times in each stage for bragging rights (or the really extreme red medal times, of which I’ve only gotten two. Good thing these really are meant just for bragging rights.)

As for the story and the characters, you may have heard from Frostilyte or elsewhere that they are over-the-top ridiculous, and that’s totally true. Neon White does have a plot, but it feels like something a 13 year-old boy might write with plenty of edge and hot girls with guns etc. etc. The protagonist even has amnesia. What more can you ask for? It’s pretty much a bad anime plot. I’m not sure just how self-aware the developers were, but it feels like they just decided to go all out here, which I respect: commit totally to the over-the-top feel or don’t bother at all.

There’s not much more I can say so far — this isn’t a review since I haven’t finished the game, but I will be taking Neon White on in full at some point. Very fun so far, though.

And then there’s my backlog of old games. I have no hope of clearing this out, not unless I find a rich patron to fund me quitting my job and locking myself in my living space and living off of deliveries which I’d love to do if I could. But I can make a dent in the backlog, at least. Looking through my list of games on Steam, I have several visual novels, a few action platformers, and an assortment of stuff that I can’t easily categorize. I remember HuniePop 2 irritating me for some reason, but it is in there and I do want to return to it — it’s been long enough that I don’t remember what it was that annoyed me about that one. Maybe I was just in a lousy mood at the time. I also have Momodora III and IV, which I’ve meant to play forever now.

Momodora III by indie developer rdein, which I played ten minutes of before getting thoroughly beaten by the first boss. Those demons just won’t let up. But I will be back — the challenge to games like this is in getting the patterns down.

I’d like to get through a few of these sometime soon, but the VNs might take precedence. Not sure how I’ll approach my backlog, but I will at least put a few chips in it, if not even a dent. And HoloCure is coming out with an update this or next week, so I’ll be wasting at least a few hours there when that happens.

I hope the brief update was interesting, anyway. This week is going to be hell for me, so I don’t expect to be able to post anything else until this coming weekend. Hope you all have a better week than I do!

A review of Girls und Panzer

What comes to mind when you think of tanks, those armored war machines? Maybe you think of the Eastern Front, of Stalingrad and Kursk, or of North Africa, of Patton and Montgomery trying to chase down the Desert Fox Rommel. If I had to guess, these and other World War II-era campaigns were on the minds of the creators and writers of the 2012 anime Girls und Panzer. Yet instead of writing their tanks into a war story, they put them into a sports anime, and instead of a bunch of grizzled soldiers, they created a cast of schoolgirls to man those tanks.

You might already know something about Girls und Panzer if you read this blog for the anime at least. I’ve known about it for a long time myself, since it got a lot of attention when it first aired as an original anime about ten years ago. Granted, that was back during the massive wave of Cute Girls Doing Cute Things, but forming a tank crew and engaging in mock combat isn’t exactly a cute thing, or at least it wouldn’t traditionally be considered so. But then maybe that serious tonal gap was part of the appeal, just the thought of a bunch of schoolgirls blasting each other in WWII era-accurate tanks.

Until last week, I couldn’t have addressed the appeal of this show, but I’ve finally gotten around to watching the original 12-episode anime. So is Girls und Panzer just a novelty, or is there something more to it than “schoolgirls drive tanks”? I’ll get into it in depth below, but not before giving the usual spoiler warning. I guess this show is pretty well past the date where that would matter much, being over a decade old now, but I still have a lot more in my backlog, so I’d better show proper consideration for all the other backlog-watchers.

It looks like totally normal school life here, but there’s plenty to spoil believe me

Miho Nishizumi is a transfer student starting a new year at Oarai Girls’ Academy. Miho is clearly enthusiastic about her new school, having even memorized the names and birthdays of her classmates and immediately making a few new friends. But though her enthusiasm is very real, we soon learn the true reason for her transfer to Oarai specifically: it doesn’t have a Sensha-do team. But just what the hell is Sensha-do, and why is it so central to her school transfer? And why, despite her wishes, are the student council president and her officers demanding that Miho join the school’s suddenly revived Sensha-do program?

When “voluntary” electives aren’t voluntary, I know the feeling. Also notice the vice president’s glasses-style monocle.

Despite the student council leaning on her hard to take Sensha-do, they can’t actually force her to sign up for it. However, they can use carrots instead of sticks to encourage their student body to join the team: triple the credits, many more meal tickets at the cafeteria, and a nicely put together propaganda video espousing the value of practicing Sensha-do in which we learn what it actually is: mock combat with refurbished World War II-era tanks. Apparently tank warfare is the perfect sport for young women, training their bodies, sharpening their minds, and even making them more attractive to the opposite sex. Sure, why not?

I guess some guys do like women in uniform, but the student council is likely exaggerating a bit here. They have their reasons, some of which will only emerge much later in the story.

This pro-Sensha-do initiative is successful, with many of Oarai’s girls deciding to join the team, including Miho’s two new friends Hana Isuzu and Saori Takebe. They have their own reasons for joining the new tank team (my favorite of which is Saori’s “get a future husband right away,” which sadly doesn’t come off, or at least not yet.) But Miho is still extremely reluctant to follow them onto the team, flashing back to a memory of her previous Sensha-do service, of her diving into a river after a drowning fellow tank crew. She clearly has some trauma associated with this sport she’s trying to escape from, and she simply can’t bring herself to return to it despite the enormous pressure placed upon her by the student council, which seriously insists that she in particular join.

But she finally gives in. Not a big surprise to us considering the premise and the very first scene of the show, but though Miho finally decides to break through her fears and return to Sensha-do, she’s deeply moved by her new friends sticking with her in facing down the council. With the three of them now on the team, along with the student council president and her officers (who to their credit also join and man a tank crew themselves) they prepare for the challenges that lie ahead. Despite Miho’s insistence that she’s no good at Sensha-do, the council officers know otherwise: the Nishizumi family, namely her mother Shiho and her older sister Maho, are legends of the sport, and Miho’s natural talent and leadership skills soon emerge in their own right.

Maho Nishizumi, seen here looking scary as all hell

But Miho will have to prove herself not just to her new school but to the other, far better-established academies around Japan, including her old school Kuromorimine, where Maho still captains the Sensha-do team. Miho’s previous conduct on that team, namely her abandonment of her tank to help save another crew on their team whose tank slid into a river during a match, while absolutely commendable, led to their team losing the match and was condemned as “heresy” against her family’s established “Nishizumi style” of Sensha-do. Will Miho be able to help train and build Oarai’s rusty tank team doing it her way, and will they be able to compete head-to-head with their better-practiced and equipped rivals — up to and including Maho and her Kuromorimine fleet?

And will Saori net a boyfriend? Well, I already gave that away, poor girl. Just wait until college.

In some ways, Girls und Panzer is very much your typical sports anime (or sports series in general.) We have all the usual story elements here: the prodigy who quit the sport after a tragic incident that she still blames herself for, but who gets called back to the sport to guide an underdog team to ultimate victory. Said underdog team is full of  wildly differing and sometimes over-the-top characters who have to be taught how to operate together as a team, which they do end up getting down before the big tournament where they win upset victory one after another by using their clever tactics against their rivals’ superior forces. There’s even a “the school will get shut down if we don’t win” plot running through most of the story, raising the stakes for the characters and the viewers considerably.

I’m not very much into the sports genre. Not into sports much in general honestly. The only sport I ever played was track and field in high school just because it meant I didn’t have to risk running into or touching anyone else because fuck that. But I have seen a few older sports movies that follow this general formula, like the ice hockey comedy classic The Mighty Ducks (and there’s a good test for the “90s kids” reading if you remember that movie or not, since it seems to have fallen out of our culture unlike say the far worse Space Jam, only remembered for meme purposes.1) Girls und Panzer hits a lot of the same standard plot points with similar outcomes for the cast.

My favorite character so far, Miho’s tank driver Mako Reizei. I know the feeling.

But though it follows the standard sports series formula, Girls und Panzer follows it in its own unique way. Yes, partly by being about schoolgirls who drive tanks. This premise was an extremely effective hook since it got me to watch a sports anime, which I normally wouldn’t bother doing. The novelty and spectacle of the show’s mock tank combat is definitely a positive as well — though I am a big history nerd (history being my other big love next to anime, games, and music, the only one out of them I don’t write about on this site all that often) I don’t know much at all about military history. At least not when it comes to the specifics: I can tell you all about the factors that lead to the declarations of war across Europe in 1939, about Hitler’s blitzkrieg, the division of Poland and the fall of France, the thwarted invasion of Britain, and the utterly disastrous attack on the Soviet Union. But don’t ask me about the specifics of the various armies’ equipment, and that gap in my knowledge beyond the basics extends to their tanks.

I don’t even remember which tank this was, but it certainly had some issues

My overly long-winded point is that though I don’t know about the specifics of tank combat, I was still able to appreciate all the tank combat featured in Girls und Panzer, and there was a hell of a lot of it. Aside from one match that gets completely glossed over (Oarai vs. the Italian-themed school Anzio, the subject of a separate OVA I’m going to have to watch soon) each of Oarai’s matches is depicted in full detail, starting with a practice game in which Miho proves her skill so well that everyone insists she become both the commander of her own tank and the team’s overall captain. Miho soon rediscovers a passion for tank combat, pulling her tank teams together into a cohesive unit. (Though not a perfect one: never chase an enemy feigning retreat into an ambush! Miho knows that, but some of her teammates don’t and make this mistake in their match against the Russian-themed school Pravda against her orders.)

Miho commanding her tank — not shown here, the rest of her crew inside.

If you’re thinking Girls und Panzer is over the top, I’d agree with you. The concept in itself is utterly insane if we’re looking at it from a realistic angle: while the matches in the show are represented as mock tank battles, the shells they fire at each other sure as hell don’t look mock in any sense. I think there was a line early on about the shells being blanks or “safe” or something, and while I’m absolutely not an expert in ammunition, tank armor, or any related subject, I’m pretty certain that Miho and her fellow tank commanders aren’t too safe riding around mostly standing outside the tank as we so often see them. Even the inside of the tank doesn’t look terribly safe, since very often direct hits in these matches result in smoke and flames. And while nobody in the show gets seriously hurt, Miho’s team is constantly calling the others on their radio to ensure everyone’s all right when they’re hit. Then there’s the incident in Miho’s recurring flashback, which implied that drowning was a serious threat for the tank crew she rescued from the river.

All that considered, while Sensha-do seems to have its dangers, I can mostly suspend my disbelief for the purposes of Girls und Panzer, I think for two reasons: 1) the story and its characters are both fun and compelling enough to justify said weirdness, and 2) the show almost immediately establishes its world as kind of a weird place. Why in the hell, for example, do these girls attend what are essentially boarding schools built on impossibly massive aircraft carriers, complete with artificial grass and hills? Again, there’s an explanation somewhere in the series that’s mentioned once in passing, but it seems like the writers really just thought it would be cool to do that without any other more substantive reason. And that’s totally fine with me. It’s weird, but it fits in with the weirdness of somehow non-lethal tank combat sports.

Man, do I hate this saying so fucking much. But it does apply here, both to Oarai’s first real match and more generally to the tactical trickery Miho has to use to constantly overcome the enemy’s greater numbers and firepower.

The absurdity increases with the various rival schools to Oarai, which each have a national theming to them despite all apparently being based in Japan: the British St. Gloriana, the American Saunders, the Italian Anzio, the Russian Pravda, and Miho’s old school Kuromorimine which I’m pretty sure is supposed to be German-themed (from the tanks, the uniforms, the school’s iron cross emblem, and the fact that Kuromorimine translates as “Black Forest Peak” — not sure why it’s not called Schwarzwaldberg or however you’d translate that into German.2) I think the idea was to pit Oarai’s mix of tanks from around the world against nationally themed WWII tank fleets, and it’s to the story’s credit that these other schools, or at least their Sensha-do teams, go all-in on that national theming, with the British school’s captain being extremely proper and drinking tea, the Russian school’s captain eating borscht while they have the Oarai girls surrounded and besieged, and the Italian school’s presumably drinking olive oil straight or something. Again, it’s all pretty goofy, but it works as a part of the generally over-the-top feel of the series.

The WWII theme aspect of the show also lets the writers throw in some nice historical references — take for one example Oarai’s vice president’s response to the Russian captain Katyusha’s demand for their surrender.

Despite all that, Girls und Panzer has an emotional core to it. Again, that’s not unusual for sports series, with the captain Miho forming bonds of friendship with her tank crew and her other teammates, and even with her rival captains from the other schools and their friends. Miho also has to face her own family, however, and this is where I found the series just a little lacking. The setup is fine: Miho has a different approach to Sensha-do than her extremely strict mother and her older sister do, and her actions as a tank commander at their school led to her transfer out and even her attempted and failed escape from the sport. And as you might have guessed, the final match in the tournament sees Miho fighting against and overcoming Maho, after which she earns her respect and even her hardass mother’s, who previously said she was prepared to disown her younger daughter over her transgressions. Her disgracing the Nishizumi style of Sensha-do is apparently just that great an offense that she needs to be legally written out of the family. I mean fuck, really?

What a household to grow up in. Much to her credit, Maho does try to stick up for Miho when speaking with their mother, but Shiho isn’t having it, at least not before Miho can prove herself on the field of mock tank battle.

However, the show never explains exactly what the Nishizumi style involves. “Iron rules and a heart of steel”, sure, but does that mean you have to abandon your potentially drowning teammates to their fates? In my mind, Miho without any doubt did the right thing in abandoning her post to save them. So it lost them a match — there are always more matches, but people’s lives can’t be replaced.

But then since I’m not even sure just how lethal or non-lethal Sensha-do is meant to be, even taking into account my willing suspension of disbelief, it’s hard for me to say how much danger any of the girls might be in in any particular circumstance. And combined with the very general and somewhat vague idea of the Nishizumi style we’re given, it’s hard for me to gauge just how unreasonable Shiho is being. Somewhere on a scale from “very” to “impossibly” as far as I can tell, but again, I can’t very well. Maybe if I knew more about tank warfare I’d be able to judge more effectively.

There’s also the fact that Sensha-do seems to be inherently unbalanced, since schools with greater resources can put far more tanks on the field than Oarai can without any kind of handicap in place. But that’s not a flaw in the story as I see it; seems more like an intended aspect of the sport and yet another obstacle for Oarai to overcome. And after all, it only takes a direct hit on the captain’s tank to win a match, no matter how many other tanks are still operational.

That quirk aside, I enjoyed Girls und Panzer a whole lot. It had everything a good sports anime (or live-action show or movie for that matter) should have: suspense, action, and some emotional connection among the characters as they form bonds around the sport. Those who despise the use of 3DCG might have a hard time with the series at first, since the tanks certainly don’t look hand-drawn, but I’m fine with it and generally with the use of CG for animated vehicles and machinery. I have a real problem when it’s used to animate characters especially, but that isn’t the case here. If anything, Girls und Panzer seems to be an example of how to effectively and more or less seamlessly blend 3DCG and traditional animation, because there wasn’t a single moment while watching the series that I was taken out of the action by an awkward-looking scene.

And man, some of those tank battle scenes just look good. If you wanted to see a set of schoolgirls rolling through a seaside Japanese town in full armor blasting the shit out of each other, be sure to watch Girls und Panzer. Though if it hadn’t had that emotional core and those endearing characters (for as much as some were intentional caricatures even, yeah) I wouldn’t have liked it nearly as much. And points for those historical references.

In the end, it’s all about eating a good meal with your true friends. That chicken katsu looks great too. Every other fucking anime I watch has to make me hungry, doesn’t it?

There’s another major title in my anime backlog down. Though I still have to watch that Anzio OVA, and then there’s the Girls und Panzer film (titled der Film, of course.) I have a lot of various OVAs and films to follow up on, actually. Maybe I just need to knock through all those one weekend.

In the meantime, you can look forward to more music, more anime, and maybe even something about my game backlog soon if my fucking horrible schedule allows for it! Until next time.

 

1 See also Rick Astley’s “Never Gonna Give You Up”. Its use as a joke back in the day was funny and it completely worked for that purpose, but it’s a pretty awful song in my opinion. That might be why the “Rickroll” worked so well.

Not that Mighty Ducks wasn’t also pretty goofy at points, but I remember it being pretty enjoyable back when I was a kid at least. At least we still have good movies from roughly that period like Bill & Ted and Back to the Future that people remember fondly. But now I’m way off track, which is why I put this bullshit tangent in the endnotes.

2 On that note, it bothered me for a while that Girls und Panzer was only written halfway in German. Fully translated, it would be Mädchen und Panzer, but I guess many more viewers know the German word for tank than its word for girl. And I’ve gotten used to the title by now — it just took some deconditioning from my high school German classes.

A full run through the King Crimson discography: Part 13 (Three of a Perfect Pair, 1984)

By 1984, the Belew/Bruford/Levin lineup was still together: the longest-lasting version of Crimson to date, though apparently things were getting pretty rocky during the Beat sessions. Good thing Fripp and Belew patched things up, otherwise we wouldn’t have gotten Three of a Perfect Pair.

Perfect Pair (or Three? Abbreviating this one is awkward) is generally seen as also a step down from the excellence of Discipline but a step up from Beat (so I guess a half-step up?) I more or less agree with that; it’s not for nothing that Discipline is the last of the four Crimson albums widely considered to be extremely influential/revolutionary/etc. (along with Crimson King, Larks’ Tongues, and Red, or that’s how I count them, at least.) It’s not that this version of the band had run out of steam after its first album — Beat had some great material, but it also varied wildly in quality and had a sharp division between its first and second sides, featuring both more straightforward pop and out-there experimentation with just a little of the blending that worked so well on Discipline.

Perfect Pair has some of that issue too. In fact, it seems after Beat that the band realized what they’d done and simply decided to play up this pop/experimentation division on its next album, splitting it into a brain-inspired “Left Side” and “Right Side.” As before, the first side is poppy and catchy and radio-friendly (even if the radio ultimately might not have cared, sadly) and the second is full of weird extremely radio-unfriendly instrumentals. It’s also generally considered that the first side belongs to Adrian Belew and the second to Robert Fripp, though I doubt it’s as clear a split as that — if you know Belew’s solo work at all, he has plenty of weird experimentation to go along with his “normal” music, and the pop stuff on Perfect Pair wouldn’t work without Fripp’s guitar either.

As with Beat, I like this “pop side” more than the experimental one. So much for my hardcore prog fan credentials, but fuck it, what else can I say? Model Man and especially Man With an Open Heart are fine 80s pop songs, the latter of which definitely should have been a radio hit with its extremely catchy verse and chorus (though as with “Heartbeat”, I think it was passed on in favor of irritating dogshit like fill in the blank 80s trash hit you hear at your local grocery store. If you want another reason to turn on Publix, here it is, though this seems like more of a licensing issue.) These are all pretty straightforward love songs, too — a nice way to introduce Crimson to your normie friends to begin corrupting their minds so they eventually end up hooked on repeated listens to “Fracture”. I’m certainly not as open as the “man with an open heart” in his song, but I guess I can appreciate the sentiment in Belew’s lyrics at least.

However, the best songs on this side and on the entire album are the two that I think effectively mix Crimson’s two sides again. The title track is one of the best openers the band ever came up with, its lyrics about a dysfunctional mess of a relationship woven into that interlocking double guitar line in different time signatures trick resulting in a really special song, one of my favorites not just from 80s Crimson but from the band’s entire catalog. And Sleepless isn’t far behind with its godly bassline — cite this song as one of the reasons Tony Levin is so highly regarded; he does an amazing job here — and its tense atmosphere.

After the fourth track “Open Heart”, we’re done with all this cool bright 80s pop/rock stuff and into the dark starting with Nuages. Aside from the beat poetry ode to an abandoned wreck of a car Dig Me every piece from here on is an instrumental, and most of them (“Nuages”, Industry, and No Warning) are what I’d call proto-dark ambient with their sometimes creepy, oppressive feels. This is also predictably where the album loses a lot of listeners (or where it gains the real weirdos, maybe.)

I’m not in love with this second side either, and not even with the closing Larks’ Tongues in Aspic Part III, that song series the band revived for some reason (maybe to bookend their career, if you start counting from Larks’ Tongues? Interesting to hear the 80s update, but I much prefer Parts I and II.) However, I also don’t hate them at all or even dislike them on the level I do some of that second side of Beat. Maybe it’s because these pieces really do create an effective atmosphere, especially “Nuages” and “Industry” — I can see them used in the context of a game with an urban/industrial sci-fi setting of some kind. If we’re on the continued hunt for “who did these guys influence,” add my bet of the second side of Perfect Pair -> modern dark ambient/vaporwave, a little of which I’ve covered on the site (see TOWERS and desert sand.) This shouldn’t be a surprise, since Fripp collaborated so closely with ambient godfather Brian Eno through the 70s and 80s and contributed a lot to experimental music through his own solo work.

Not that it makes me want to put on this second side any more than I do already. Like I said, I’m not in love with it, but I can respect what they’re doing especially on the more effective tracks like “Industry”. I think the atmosphere is effective, anyway, so if that’s what they were going for with these tracks, it mostly worked. And combined with two of the band’s best songs ever, the title track and “Sleepless”, and a collection of pretty fine New Wave pop, I’d rank Perfect Pair pretty highly. It’s not quite up with their four all-time classics as I count them so far, but I probably put this album on just as often as those. At least the first side of it.

Over the years I’ve come to appreciate the ambient and atmospheric a lot more in music, games, anime, any art in general as long as it’s done tastefully and effectively. Maybe I’m just getting old.

And that’s all for 80s Crimson. No, not even a posthumous live album this time to tie matters up, though considering how god damn good this band was live, that was a big mistake, one that would only be remedied with the archival release Absent Lovers over a decade later. Both that and the official concert video Three of a Perfect Pair: Live in Japan are highly recommended, featuring great renditions of a lot of this band’s best songs along with a few old favorites like “Larks’ Tongues Part II” and “Red”, and the video is worth watching just to see their stage antics — Belew having a lot of fun with his guitar effects, Bruford going nuts on his massive drum kit, Levin just being cool on the bass, and Fripp of course sitting down the whole time as he works away on his guitar. (And don’t miss the short travelogue in the middle with the guys wandering around Asakusa! I’ve only been there in games, sadly. But one day…)

As for the band, it was once again finished following Perfect Pair. I guess they’d gone through each primary color in their trilogy of album covers and had none left, or more probably Robert Fripp again felt the band had done its job and had to hang it up. I won’t even say it’s a shame this time: I’m just happy we got what we did. Though they never quite reached the heights of Red, 80s Crimson was just as skilled and enjoyable, and in some ways even more likable than the 70s version (though maybe that’s just Belew’s infectious positivity?) They had their excesses too, but then it wouldn’t be Crimson without excesses. So rest in peace, 80s Crimson.

Does that mean this post series is finished? Not even close (are you getting used to this theme?) King Crimson wasn’t dead but was merely on a long hiatus, though once again the members didn’t know it. Next post, we’ll be entering my era: the 90s. See you there!

 

* A general note on the album cover, because despite its simplicity I thought this one deserved some attention. Apparently that weird symbol wasn’t just something the guys pulled out of their asses. According to the album’s Wikipedia page:

The Peter Willis designed artwork illustrates the sacred–profane dichotomy while being a simplified version of the Larks’ Tongues in Aspic cover; a rising phallic object represents a male solar deity about to penetrate the crescent figure, a female lunar deity.

So there you go. And now I can’t look at this cover the same way ever again.

Currently watching: Kubo Won’t Let Me Be Invisible

What would I do without an anime series or two every season to use as an escape from the professional world of reading and analyzing and processing god damn legal documents all day? I don’t know, so I’m thankful that I have still another such anime in the currently airing Kubo Won’t Let Me Be Invisible / Kubo-san wa Mob wo Yurusanai. This is one of the latest manga-to-anime adaptations in the subgenre of odd couple slow-burn school/university romances. If that’s not an established subgenre now, it should be, because see also Takagi-san, Uzaki-chan, Nagatoro,* Bisque Doll, and plenty of others I haven’t watched yet.

The story this time centers on two high school students, starting with male lead Junta Shiraishi. Junta is remarkable in exactly one way: he so lacks presence that people regularly don’t notice when he’s around, even when he’s right next to them or standing in front of them. The poor boy isn’t merely a wallflower — he is quite literally invisible to others until he projects his voice and/or gesticulates enough that he gets noticed. This causes Junta some obvious problems with getting recorded in the class attendance rolls, and though his classmates don’t think poorly of him, he doesn’t really have any friends either.

Junta seen here eating lunch alone as usual. He’s alone, but he doesn’t seem to mind his solitude all that much.

One day, however, Junta meets a classmate who can see him. Nagisa Kubo occupies the seat next to him in the back of their homeroom class (as usual, it’s always either the back row or the second to third to the back next to the window.) Nagisa knows Junta is practically invisible to the rest of the world thanks to his lack of presence, and starting from the first episode, she challenges him to try to test those limits and to stand out in various ways. Junta isn’t crazy about putting himself out there after a lifetime of blending into the background, but Nagisa has a strange sort of hold on him that he can’t explain. I wonder — it couldn’t be that he’s falling for her, could it? No, that can’t be it.

Nagisa testing the limit of Junta’s lack of presence/invisibility in a provocative way

Kubo-san is just three episodes in right now, but I can already tell what direction it’s taking. The romance takes off almost immediately, with a few perspective switches to Nagisa in which she pretty much all but confirms that she’s crushing on the plain self-described NPC Junta. Given that she’s a top student and a popular figure at their school, whereas Junta is Junta, we might wonder what it is about the guy that attracted her. Junta might wonder that as well, since it hasn’t yet crossed his mind that she’s into him, though in usual form for this subgenre he seems to share her feelings without really realizing it.

But while Junta seems unremarkable in every way aside from his relative invisibility, he’s already shown himself to be a conscientious and at least kind of intelligent guy. And anyway, who gets to decide what the heart wants? The heart decides that for itself, and though it sometimes makes stupid fucking decisions without consulting the head, I wouldn’t say that’s the case here barring a twist that Nagisa is secretly a yandere or something.

Nagisa’s big sister Akina, who immediately knows she’s crushing on someone. I’m looking forward to more from Akina in the coming episodes.

Of all the other series I’ve watched in this slow-burn odd couple romance subgenre or whatever I called it, Kubo-san feels by far the most like Teasing Master Takagi-san. Nagisa herself gives off strong Takagi vibes with her relatively light and playful teasing of Junta, though unlike his male lead counterpart Nishikata, Junta doesn’t feel the need to challenge Nagisa to battles of strength or wit to settle the score. Being older and more mature, it makes sense that he’d be a little cooler about Nagisa’s prodding, though he’s also naturally quite passive anyway.

Massive Takagi-san vibes here in particular

I don’t have any further comments on Kubo-san at the moment except that it’s nice so far and I like it. This is the second Pine Jam production I’ve seen following last season’s Do It Yourself!!, and based on these two I have a positive impression of their work — neither show necessarily looks amazing, but the art styles are vibrant enough and suit their subjects, and I’ve heard the style in the Kubo-san anime is very faithful to the work of original manga writer/illustrator Nene Yukimori. I haven’t read the manga at all, but the anime gives me some of the warm feelings I got from three seasons of Takagi-san and that I’ll presumably get from the Takagi-san movie whenever it’s made available on our crap streaming services, and that’s certainly a good thing.

Speaking of, I’m watching Kubo-san on HIDIVE. After some of the bullshit Crunchyroll’s been putting us through, I’m feeling a lot more charitable towards HIDIVE these days, though it’s also far from perfect. But just a note in case you have an account with them that you can catch Kubo-san there. Based on the first three episodes, it’s worth a watch, and hopefully it will keep that quality up.

 

* Yes, I’m also watching the second season of Nagatoro, 2nd Attack. Nothing much to add about it so far except that yeah, it’s still good, and I will most likely be writing something about it at the end of the season because as much as I like the softer teasing of Kubo-san and Takagi-san, I also enjoy the slightly sharper edge we get with Nagatoro. But there’s my comment in case you thought I’ve forgotten about Hayase and her put-upon senpai Naoto: I haven’t!

A full run through the King Crimson discography: Part 12 (Beat, 1982)

For the first time ever, a King Crimson lineup would completely hold together long enough to record more than one album, a true miracle. Beat is also one of the few Crimson albums that sort of has a concept, this time a tribute to the Beat Generation of the 50s. All those references went over my head aside from the very obvious stuff in the opening Neal and Jack and Me — I’ve never read Jack Kerouac, but I understand that the references go further than that just from reading about some of those connections online.

Concept aside, Beat continues the interlocking guitar lines and the mix of experimental and pop sense of Discipline. It’s also a step down from Discipline. Maybe that was to be expected considering that every track on the previous album was a winner, but my feeling is that Beat is a lot more uneven than its predecessor. Even those two “pop” and “experimental” aspects of this 80s Crimson that were so intertwined in Discipline feel as though they’ve been unwound somewhat, so that while the mix is still here, it’s not blended in quite the way it was before.

There are just a couple of songs that I feel do blend those sides of Crimson, and they also happen to be my favorites (and also all on the first side of the album.) Waiting Man combines a distinctive and hypnotic drumbeat with a great delivery from Adrian Belew, and Sartori in Tangier is a memorable instrumental with some of the flavor of Discipline in it. I also like “Neal and Jack and Me” as an opener, though it’s not the absolute best 80s Crimson would come up with — that would be the opener to their next album. But man, that ending section really works nicely.

Every other song on Beat either falls definitively into the “pop” or “experiment” slot, and out of those five, I only really like one. Heartbeat is about as close as King Crimson ever got to being a top 40 pop band — it’s a straightforward 4/4 love song, and I’ll set aside my pretensions here and say it’s a good one. The fact that this wasn’t a pop hit in 1982 is a shame, though maybe it’s a blessing in disguise that it was never overplayed so that I don’t have to hear it every time I go to the grocery store. (Then again, the grocery store doesn’t play good 80s pop/rock, only stuff that I disliked at first and have grown to completely hate like “Sussudio” and “Heaven is a Place on Earth”. Please, expand your fucking playlists, you corporate drones!)

But then the second side of Beat is a major dropoff in quality from the first. The Howler is rough and ugly without much of an aim (kind of reminds me of “The Mincer” off of Starless and Bible Black in fact, both for that and the similar title) and Neurotica is just too damn neurotic for me to enjoy and without much else to recommend it aside from the chorus. Even the softer Belew song Two Hands doesn’t quite work for me, though I see the more romantic types enjoying it. And considering my favorite romance is Saya no Uta, that might say a lot about just how romantic I am.

Either Saya or the classic Nekomata fight in SMT Nocturne, a true heartbreaker that one. Still waiting for my hybrid SMT/Persona digital demon dating sim.

That leaves the closer Requiem. This instrumental seems to be among the most controversial pieces in King Crimson’s catalog. Understandably so: it sounds like one of 70s Crimson’s improvs in the 80s sound, and as with a lot of those pieces, it gets equal love and hate or at least disinterest. But while it’s not my favorite track on the album, I do get something out of “Requiem” that I don’t get out of some of Crimson’s other improvs. This one feels like an eruption, building up slowly into its climax near the end of the track after which it slowly fades away. Sounds suitably mournful for a piece titled “Requiem” too, though who it’s a requiem for, if anyone, I’m not sure. Probably not for the band, since they’d be around for a while longer in this form.

But then, “Requiem” has the same problem some of Crimson’s wilder pieces have: I have to really be in the mood to identify with their dark, jagged, rough atmospheres. I just happen to be in that sort of mood more often than I’d like. I guess this music isn’t meant for very happy people, is it? Then again, Adrian Belew is optimistic enough to balance things out — just go back to that first side if “Requiem” isn’t your thing.

So Beat is all right. Still a good album on balance, but certainly not the one to start with the 80s lineup of the band in my opinion. Though if you have a friend who’s really into 80s pop and they haven’t heard any Crimson yet, consider sending them a link to “Heartbeat” — it really could fit onto that Vice City radio station, the one that starts with playing “Billie Jean” (and now that I think of it, wasn’t “Owner of a Lonely Heart” in there too? I wonder if that game eventually led some kids to get their minds expanded with Close to the Edge and Relayer. It all comes back to 70s prog in the end!)

And before I move on to the final album in the 80s trilogy (and spoilers there I guess) I have another bonus track to highlight. Absent Lovers is another instrumental, one I’d never heard until going through this full relisten, and I like it more than half of the tracks on the album proper. So why didn’t it make the album? Just as with “Dr. Diamond” on Starless, it’s a mystery.

Currently watching: NieR:Automata Ver1.1a

Hey, the new season of anime is here, and so is NieR:Automata Ver1.1a, an anime adaptation of the game NieR:Automata released several years ago. Automata (not to be confused with Replicant, Reincarnation, or other NieR-related titles) is currently only three episodes in, but I already have some thoughts about it, and apparently the production is being put on hold for a while at this point because of COVID. That’s based on comments I’ve seen online, and though I’m not sure how much credence I should give those, either way I may as well highlight this series now. I should note that I’ve played the game this anime adapts, but I’ll avoid spoilers in this post beyond what’s contained in these first three episodes.

No, this isn’t a spoiler: it’s the first scene of the show

If you’re new to it, the basic story: Earth was long ago attacked by aliens who created machines to fight for them, and in the resulting war, humanity fled to the Moon. The only force remaining to fight for human civilization are an army of androids with various combat and analysis functions. While androids have been fighting on Earth for centuries at this point, our central characters at the outset are two top-of-the-line models from the elite combat team YoRHa, the battle unit 2B and scanning unit 9S, who are ordered to work as a team and make contact with the ongoing anti-machine/alien resistance in an unnamed ruined city.

This seems like a fairly straightforward operation at first. However, the machines may turn out to be more than mindless automated killers. What challenges will 2B and 9S face on Earth, and just who can they trust?

Well okay, 2B doesn’t need any introduction, does she? And in case you were wondering, yeah, she’s been done justice in anime form.

If you’ve played Automata the game, there’s a lot you’ll immediately recognize. Nearly all of the first episode runs alongside the prologue of the first route of the game exactly, mostly following 2B’s perspective as she joins an assault team flying from their base to a large ruined city on Earth, making it into the city as the team’s only survivor, and meeting up with 9S to take care of a major machine threat (in this case a bunch of walking, talking oil rigs that shoot lasers.) However, by episode two we start to get some new material and a couple of new perspectives, joining the non-YoRHa, less advanced androids fighting against the machines in the city as a part of the Resistance that 2B and 9S later link up with.

The other, more interesting, perspective featured in episode two is that of the machines themselves. Most of them act like and are treated as mindless killers, but a few have begun to ignore the androids completely, living their machine lives in seeming peace and even starting a flower garden in the middle of the city’s ruins.

It didn’t take long for them to get to the “machines aren’t what they seem at first” stuff.

The proxy human vs. alien war between the androids and machines overtakes these attempts at peaceful living, however. When 2B and 9S arrive at the makeshift city camp of the Resistance, they agree to help get rid of a looming machine threat out in the nearby desert, but what they find there is shocking: another group of machines doing their best to imitate a human society, only not a pacifistic one this time. Upon the androids’ arrival, the machines panic and join together to generate an entirely new machine, one in the shape of a man with the new ability to shield against and dodge attacks. 2B and 9S finally manage to “kill” this new machine at close range with their swords, but strangely enough it bleeds, and out of its wound comes another identical man-shaped machine with even more formidable power than the first. The androids flee at this point, sending word back to headquarters about this evolving machine threat.

This third episode also follows the events of the game pretty closely, though with some differences (for example, the unhinged android Jackass taking more of a role in bringing 2B and 9S to the desert and acting as effective comic relief with her obsessive behavior.) I’m looking forward to seeing more out of some of the game’s more interesting secondary characters and events from perspectives we didn’t get in the game.

Part of the city’s android resistance team headed by Lily, right. Expecting to see quite a bit more of them as the story continues.

I’d go into more details here, but you know, spoilers. And not just for Automata: there’s already been a reference back to Replicant that you wouldn’t know unless you’d played that game, but that’s one I don’t even remember seeing when I played Automata. But even if you haven’t played either game, you might have guessed from these first three episodes that Automata is not a typical sci-fi war drama, if there’s such a thing as a typical one of those. Knowing Yoko Taro, even those of us who have played at least Automata and think we’re familiar with its story will probably end up being surprised. There’s no relaxing when he’s involved, and that’s a good thing — I’d much prefer surprise twists, assuming they work, to a straightforward adaptation of a story I already know.

As for the presentation, I don’t have any serious complaints. The anime is using the game’s soundtrack, a massive plus considering that the Nier games have some of the best BGM ever created. It would have been out of the question not to use the original backing tracks anyway, since the series’ music is so closely tied to its stories. The visuals are fine too — I’m not the biggest fan of A-1’s style, and I would have loved to see what a studio like ufotable could have done with this story instead. But though the game has plenty of spectacle, the story and its characters are more than strong enough to make up for any shortcomings in presentation, and aside from a bit of not great-looking CGI in the first episode, I’m okay with the anime on that front so far.

I couldn’t get any screenshots from the third episode because fuck Crunchyroll as usual, so here’s another from the first. The relationship between the stoic, silent 2B and the chatty, upbeat 9S is a central part of the story and can be pretty amusing at times. I’m looking forward to their amusement park scenes myself, assuming the anime is headed there.

There’s not much else I can say at this point without actually spoiling parts of the story, so I’ll shut up. I’m interested to see what newcomers to this series think of the story so far, though. Is it just a confusing clusterfuck at this point? If so, don’t worry — that’s purposeful. I’m not sure how long this series is supposed to run, but the game kept key parts of its story hidden for a long while, and I expect the anime will do the same.

Enjoy the ride in the meantime, though we sadly won’t be getting past the third episode for at least a few weeks. I’ll be keeping an eye out for the return of Automata to its regular schedule whenever that happens. Until then, here’s a special sign off: Glory to mankind! (And be sure to watch each episode all the way to the end! You won’t want to miss the post-credits sequences, believe me.)

The anime roulette: part 4

It’s time again. After half a year and a lot of anime watched (at least by my low standards and with my busy schedule) the anime roulette returns with a set of series I haven’t seen one second of yet. But why now exactly? Did I just watch the new Wheel of the Worst episode on YouTube and remember that I had this post series dormant? No, of course that’s not the reason. Maybe not.

Whatever motivated me to bring it back, I have plenty of anime to potentially watch, so there’s no lack of material for the wheel. If you haven’t read the previous posts (and see parts 1, 2, and 3 if you’re interested) the idea here is that I spin a wheel with 10 to 12 anime series on it at least three times and watch at least the first episode of whatever I land on. Here’s the wheel I’ll be spinning for this fourth installment:

And a full list of the anime on the wheel, because some of the titles are annoyingly cut off:

Arpeggio of Blue Steel
Citrus
Deaimon: Recipe for Happiness
Healer Girl
Kiyo in Kyoto: From the Maiko House
Let’s Make a Mug Too
Mahou Shoujo? Naria Girls
My Life as Inukai-san’s Dog
O Maidens in Your Savage Season
Rascal Does Not Dream of Bunny Girl Senpai
Revenger
Uma Musume: Pretty Derby

The anime in the above list fall into three categories: 1) series I’ve been meaning to start but just haven’t gotten around to yet, 2) series that I had no previous plans to watch but that intrigued me somehow when I came across them recently online or on one of these awful streaming services I use, and 3) mines, or series that I’m pretty sure will be somehow painful to watch based either on their notoriety or the fact that they sound fucking ridiculous to me, and not in a good way. There are three mines listed among the 12 series — can you guess which they are? I won’t spoil them until/unless I land on them, but you might be able to guess anyway.

Enough stalling: on to the spins. We’ll be starting with…

Hey, I’m actually happy about landing on this one. I’ve been meaning to watch Bunny Girl Senpai for quite a while, but as mentioned above, I just haven’t gotten around to it. I’ve found this roulette concept is a nice way to get myself to bite the bullet and start those series, and by doing that I discovered Yuru Camp and other anime I’ve liked or even loved. I have similarly high hopes for Bunny Girl Senpai: despite the strange name that apparently puts some potential viewers off, everything I’ve heard about it suggests that I’d like it. So let’s meet this Bunny Girl Senpai, whoever she is.

Spin 12: Rascal Does Not Dream of Bunny Girl Senpai

Quite a compelling start to this post. It’s very likely you already know about Bunny Girl Senpai, but if you don’t, it does feature a rascal and a bunny girl senpai. The “does not dream of” part of the title is still pretty cryptic, though by the end of the first episode I think its meaning may have become a little clearer.

Wild rabbit spotted

Second-year high school student Sakuta Azusagawa is in the local library when he spots a schoolmate, his senior Mai Sakurajima — dressed up in a full bunny girl outfit. He’s naturally shocked by this sight, but even more strangely, no one else in the library is reacting to the spectacle, even as Mai seems to be trying to get people’s attention. When she walks up to Sakuta, she realizes that he alone can see her. However, when he calls her “senpai” and she realizes they attend the same school, she warns him not to tell anyone what he saw and to just forget it ever happened.

Can’t blame him, I wouldn’t be able to forget it either.

Sakuta does keep his mouth shut about the incident until they meet again, but as he tells Mai upon running into her on the train going home, he can’t very well forget such a sight. Realizing she can’t just wipe his memory, Mai tells Sakuta why she was walking around the library in a bunny girl suit: she’s recently noticed that on a certain day of the week, every week, she becomes invisible and inaudible to almost everyone, as though she simply doesn’t exist, and this bunny girl experiment was a way to test just how undetectable she was. A popular actress from the age of six, Mai has always been in the spotlight, but she’s been trying to escape from it into a quiet, somewhat normal high school life. She didn’t want to be quite this invisible, however.

It’s a fantastic story, but Sakuta believes Mai and believes her condition is connected to a violent incident he suffered through himself. After getting off the train, Sakuta invites Mai to his apartment and shows her his own strange affliction: a large scar on his chest that he received when he woke up bleeding one day for no apparent reason. Sakuta’s younger sister has suffered similar mysterious wounds after being verbally attacked by her classmates. These and other strange incidents like them are being grouped into a phenomenon known as “Adolescence Syndrome”, although said syndrome still seems to be treated as an urban legend at this point.

After Sakuta delivers some unwanted advice about going back into acting, Mai storms out of his apartment and disappears for a while. Sakuta carries out a fruitless search for her, one that becomes desperate when he believes she might have come to harm or worse. But by the end of the episode, he finds Mai sitting outside his apartment. It seems she’ll have to rely on him for a while, since he and his sister are currently the only people who she knows can see and interact with her.

This feels familiar

I’ve seen Bunny Girl Senpai compared to Monogatari. That may turn you on to or off from this series depending on how you feel about Monogatari, but it’s a plus for me, and I can see why people draw that comparison now: both have to do with students suffering from mysterious, possibly supernatural, afflictions. Sakuta and Mai also remind me quite a bit of Koyomi and Hitagi, both in terms of their personalities and their relationship. My guess (a complete guess, since I haven’t spoiled myself by looking at the show’s tags) is that they’ll have some kind of unconventional romance as they try to work out these mysteries.

There seem to be plenty of other girls in the central cast too, and if most of them are centered around Sakuta, there’s another connection to Monogatari: that “harem but not really a harem” theme. Unless it actually is a harem this time, but from episode 1 I doubt that very much. I just don’t get that feeling from this show. Another big plus, because I generally don’t enjoy harem series.

Sakuta’s sister Kaede is in there too, but again, not really. Sakuta might be a rascal, but he’s not a degenerate thankfully. Less of one than Koyomi so far at least.

My impressions of Bunny Girl Senpai so far are extremely positive otherwise. It’s nicely produced, the story is intriguing, the characters and their snappy dialogue are done well if a little unrealistically (but then I don’t insist on realism — I like that stylized dialogue when it’s done right, and again see also Monogatari) and the ending theme Fukashigi no Carte is beautiful. Like Made in Abyss, this is a series I probably would have watched as it aired, but since it also aired back in 2018 when I was barely watching any anime at all, I missed it. But I’ll definitely be continuing Bunny Girl Senpai, and probably soon.

Well, that was a great start to this new round of spins. Hopefully we can make this a streak with the second (and avoid the mines, though landing on one of those may be fun too?)

Nice, another result I was looking forward to. Arpeggio of Blue Steel doesn’t seem to get that much talk, but I know it as the shipgirl anime before the mobile games Kantai Collection and Azur Lane came out and produced their own anime adaptations. The KanColle and especially the Azur Lane anime don’t seem to be highly regarded (though I did like Slow Ahead! as a light diversion) but Blue Steel sounds like a promising one. Let’s hope this first episode lives up to my moderate expectations!

Spin 13: Arpeggio of Blue Steel

Another interesting first episode. The premise is definitely unique, anyway — I think this was the first time the “warship embodied in/personified as a girl” concept was used; the anime aired in 2013 and the manga it was based on started back in 2009. Whether it does better with that concept than the mobile games it influenced — we’ll see.

Earth’s future is bleak. A mysterious and deadly naval force called the Fleet of Fog one day shows up seemingly out of nowhere (though the prologue notes there’s a connection to climate change and rising ocean levels somehow, but don’t worry about how I guess — if the connection was actually made I missed it) and starts attacking all humanity. After the human fleets are wiped out or confined to port, the Fleet of Fog blocks all shipping lanes and chokes off commerce, sending civilization centuries backwards into a new dark age.

However, there is a potential savior of humanity out there in the seas: the submarine I-401 Blue Steel, commanded by the wanted rogue naval cadet Chihaya Gunzou and his small crew of also teenagers. This set seems to be the only one that can effectively fight the enemy fleet with its practically alien technology, but why? And who’s that girl sitting in the center of the bridge who knows their enemy so well?

Iona and Chihaya in the middle of combat

This is not the actual World War II-era I-401, of course — this new I-401 is a Fleet of Fog ship that for an unknown reason sailed itself into a Japanese harbor, giving itself up to the enemy but remaining in a locked-down and unusable state as we see in an extended flashback. That is, until the cadet Chihaya is shown the secret enemy tech by his instructors. When he touches the ship, it activates, and an unknown girl named Iona shows up at the academy that day insisting that she and Chihaya speak alone.

It turns out that Iona is a former member of the Fog Fleet, the embodiment of the I-401, and her orders are to only obey Chihaya Gunzou. After confirming that Chihaya wants to break out of humanity’s stalemate and take a serious stand against the Fleet, she calls up her ship (or herself?) by blasting her way out of dock and inviting him on board.

I don’t even have to make a stupid joke here, make your own

Chihaya boards I-401 (and/or Iona) and together they pilot the submarine out of the academy harbor, escaping its guns and disappearing into the night. This makes Chihaya as much of a traitor and rebel against his side as Iona is against hers, but they have a purpose in common now. Or at least their purposes are compatible: Chihaya’s to break humanity out of its confinement, and Iona to follow all of Chihaya’s commands.

The first episode ends with a jump back into the present as Chihaya and his crew successfully sink a Fog ship in order to protect a rocket launch from attack, after which we meet a few of our enemies: more ship ladies, all embodying various other World War II-era Japanese warships. Yeah, the connections with KanColle and Azur Lane are very obvious at this point.

I’m not exactly the “step on me” type, but for Takao? Sure.

I don’t have much to add to what I wrote in the synopsis above. This first episode of Blue Steel is clearly meant as background and setup for the real plot that I’m guessing starts in the second episode. A series with such a uniquely strange concept (or again, I believe it was unique back in 2009 when the manga started its run) needs an episode like this to explain what the hell is going on. We don’t yet have much of a how or why to this shipgirl question — are they aliens or even interdimensional beings, why are they attacking humanity, etc. etc. — but I hope we’ll find out more as the plot unfolds.

There’s a lot of why around Iona as well. She doesn’t even know why she’s been commanded to obey Chihaya, except that he’s the child of a naval commander killed in battle who apparently had massive importance, enough that a submarine of the enemy fleet defected to find and bind itself to his son.

Iona, waiting for Chihaya to return from a meeting with the rogue crew’s government clients, on the I-401 deck. Or on her own deck?

The story is intriguing enough again that I plan on continuing it into that second episode. Though I can’t lie to you — the “shipgirl” designs are certainly nice and a big draw for me. Especially the enemy ladies Takao and Kongo. I also like how the whole bizarre ship -> woman personification is handled here, with the human aspect of the ship being just a manifestation of that ship but not actually human, more like another part of the ship itself. So I guess if a ship of the Fog Fleet gets sunk, it takes the “human” girl attached to it with it and they both “die?” Or “sink,” or whatever.

Well, it’s still confusing, but in my opinion this approach makes more sense than the “girls with giant guns strapped to their bodies flying around on water skates, but maybe also manifested as actual ships sometimes” thing from Azur Lane. To be fair, I haven’t seen the main Azur Lane anime, though. Maybe I’ll add it in as one of the mine options in the next roulette post considering what I’ve heard about it.

As for any complaints about Blue Steel so far, it uses some very awkward and distracting CG in certain character interactions, but otherwise it’s fine. Though I hope they somehow justify the use of the musical term “arpeggio” in the title. Did the author know what a god damn arpeggio is? One of these shipgirls does have a grand piano on her deck for some reason, so I’m hoping we hear some arpeggios out of her at least.

She’s not even playing properly in this scene. And what’s that form? Feet on the floor! Straighten your back! My old piano teacher would have a time sorting this girl out.

So, two for two on anime series I want to keep watching so far — another promising round of spins! Can we make it three for three?

No, of course we can’t. With my luck, I couldn’t have expected to escape this round of spins without taking a hit from one of those guns, without stepping on one of the mines I buried. Mahou Shoujo? Naria Girls is as the title suggests a magical girl anime, and possibly the worst one of all time based on its ratings. I’ve mentioned before that I don’t usually pay that much attention to a series’ ratings on Anilist or MAL — I’ve dropped a couple of series I started in the 80s/8.0 range on both sites, and I’ve enjoyed a couple rated in the 60s/6.0 range. Some of that just comes down to individual taste.

But there’s a certain point at which the more objective qualities of a work are so lousy that almost everyone has to agree it’s trash aside from the truly and genuinely out there (or the truly contrarian types.) Naria Girls has a 33% on Anilist and a 3.8 on MAL, so odds are very good it’s horrific. And despite what you might think, I’m not even really into the magical girl genre. The closest I’ve come to it was the Blue Reflection series, and the magical girl aspect of those games wasn’t the hook that pulled me in, so this Naria Girls series is unlikely to grab my interest even if it’s not completely terrible.

But I’ll reserve judgment until I actually watch the first episode. On to it:

Spin 14: Mahou Shoujo? Naria Girls

Oh. Oh no.

Well, no surprises this time. Naria Girls is indeed awful.

The story is as simple as possible: three color-coordinated schoolgirls become magical girls because they have to free a prince from a crystal, and a magical mascot stuffed bear thing travels to our world to make contracts with them. But the story doesn’t matter. I can’t even say the writing in this first episode was bad, because to criticize the writing there would have to be any writing to begin with, and aside from a few possible scribbles on a bar napkin outlining the basic magical girl plot I don’t think any of this was even planned out.

what

This eight-minute episode shifts between two styles: a slideshow of pretty rough illustrations (see the first screenshot above with pink girl — she has a name, but it also doesn’t matter — that’s not animated in the slightest) and scenes of the girls in 3D model form with a static background that look like they were made in MikuMikuDance. Except I’ve seen MMD videos that look far more professional and polished than this shit.

As for what actually happens in the show, I couldn’t even tell you outside of the outline I gave above. Most of this episode, and I’m assuming most of the entire series, consists of what sound like totally improvised comedy sketches that have fuck all to do with anything magical girl-related. These scenes reminded me most of those Hololive 3D livestreams — something like this, only those girls actually have comedic timing and direction, and again, those scenes look far more polished than whatever this is.

These three might be magical girls now, but I won’t be joining them on their journey. The best praise I can give Mahou Shoujo? Naria Girls is that it’s short, at only 12 eight-minute episodes, but then that’s still far too long. Even two minutes each would be a stretch for what we get here. At least it doesn’t seem to take itself seriously at all, but there’s a limit to just how self-aware your work can be to justify its poor quality. There are shows I really enjoy like that that are trashy but fun, like Plastic Nee-san, but there’s a massive difference between trashy and just plain trash, and Naria Girls is the latter type. If I had to guess, I’d say this project was created as a cheap tax write-off, because I can’t imagine what audience it was meant for. Certainly not magical girl fans, because I’m sure they wouldn’t accept such a low-quality work.

Sorry for being so harsh with you, Naria Girls, but take solace in the fact that you’re still at least better than Pupa. If there’s a worse anime than that, I’d like to see it.

And that’s all for this fourth round of spins on the anime roulette. I might write another one of these soon, or maybe not — I’m not following a schedule these days. Not that I ever really have. But if you have any recommendations to make from among the shows I haven’t landed on, feel free to make them! I’m happy to pull something off of the wheel and watch it if I get the energy to do so. Until next time!

A full run through the King Crimson discography: Part 11 (Discipline, 1981)

After three collapses and three reformations, this fourth collapse of the influential and successful Wetton-Bruford (and Cross and Muir) brand of King Crimson in 1974 was the final one and the true end for the band. So everyone thought, apparently including Robert Fripp himself. He must have had some great foresight, because the “first wave” of progressive rock Crimson inspired in 1969 would famously die off in the following years, with fellow prog men Yes, Genesis, and new ex-prog band member supergroup Asia transitioning into highly successful commercial 80s pop/rock and others trying, failing, and disbanding.

Throughout the rest of the 70s, everyone from Crimson went off on their separate ways, including Fripp, who started a solo career and got into collaborations with other hardcore music guys like Brian Eno. His path took him into further collaborations with David Bowie and Talking Heads, where he’d meet the up-and-coming American guitarist Adrian Belew, who got his start with Frank Zappa and also ended up working on tour with Bowie and Talking Heads. This big musical web ended up putting Fripp and Belew together in a new project, with Bill Bruford returning on drums and the also American, also extremely talented bassist Tony Levin joining in (also on something called the Chapman stick, which is a sort of big guitar neck without the body powered by touch alone. Sorry to any stick players reading for the probably awful description.) This new group was originally called Discipline, but eventually I guess the group felt it was Crimson-ish enough with about half of the old 70s band there to bring that old name back, so they did, and their new “debut” album received the Discipline name instead.

I’ve been trying to avoid lengthy “history” sections like the above, but it’s impossible to avoid in this case. If you were to jump directly from Red into Discipline, straight from “Starless” to Elephant Talk, without knowing the name of the artists involved, you’d never believe they were both created by King Crimson. Yet they were — despite the shared name, this Crimson sounds nothing like any Crimson that came before it, the difference in sound being all the more dramatic because of the passage of time. More importantly, I’d argue as many others have that despite their very different New Wave-ish sound at this point, King Crimson along with Peter Gabriel were the only “old prog” guys left working in that truly progressive spirit. Discipline is another seriously influential album, their last “big” release in that earth-shattering sense, and it’s easy to see why: all seven songs on this album are exciting and fresh, combining Crimson’s experimental edge with a new catchy pop sound. They’re woven together effectively kind of like the knot on the album cover — the perfect cover to describe its contents, even if it probably does have some esoteric reason behind it (just ask Mr. Fripp about that — it was the same with the Larks’ Tongues sun and moon graphic, though beyond looking cool I have no idea what it’s about.)

The signature of this new 80s Crimson was the “interlocking guitar” sound. For the first time, the band had two guitarists in Fripp and Belew, and they use that opportunity to play intricate and complex figures, often in different time signatures, that weave around each other as on Frame by Frame and the instrumental title track. These are more than just pieces to show off technique — they really pulled me in when I first listened to this album and they still do. This intricate guitar work around Levin’s bass/stick and Bruford’s drums to even better effect in the fierce Thela Hun Ginjeet, in which Belew recounts his run-in with some tough guys in New York City where they were recording. And of course it wouldn’t be a King Crimson album without a wild experimental piece: see Indiscipline, one of the times I think the wild experimentation works, possibly expressing paranoia or neurosis through the unhinged instrumental sections and Belew’s vocals just as well as Talking Heads could in their own work, and at times even better thanks to Belew’s impressive guitar effect antics.

Bocchi is good, but can she make her guitar sound like an elephant? With the right equipment, probably. I have no idea what these guys were using to make their bizarre sounds.

And look, there’s an honest-to-God love song on this album in Matte Kudasai — the first Crimson love song ever? I think it might be, unless you count “Ladies of the Road”. It’s a good one too, featuring more of Belew’s guitar tricks with his replication of seagull cries and also the two non-English words I remember hearing on a Crimson album. I understand 80s Crimson was fairly popular in Japan, and it’s no surprise if so — there’s something city pop-sounding about “Matte Kudasai” and a few of Belew’s more pop-oriented songs still to come. But then city pop and New Wave seem to have been tied together pretty closely anyway, and similar fusion/proto-electronic guys like Yellow Magic Orchestra were already well established by this point. And finally, don’t forget about The Sheltering Sky, a nice, peaceful instrumental that I used to overlook.

I’ve seen Discipline described as feeling cold or distant, but I never had that feeling about the album myself. It’s extremely precise, sure; if you’re a fan of “math rock” you absolutely need to listen to this stuff if you haven’t already, especially if you want to know who influenced guys like Tool. But does precision equal coldness? I don’t know. Even if it does, this music is both enjoyable and innovative enough that it doesn’t matter, but there’s plenty of warmth in “Matte Kudasai” and heat in “Thela Hun Ginjeet” (right in the title too, if you know what it means!) Discipline is excellent overall and a must-listen: I’d rank it right up with Crimson King and Larks’ Tongues all together just below the pinnacle of Red, even if, again, it sounds absolutely like none of those albums.

But that’s the game with King Crimson as we’ve seen. Expect the unexpected! There’s a lot more Crimson to listen to as well — I think we might be halfway through the catalogue at this point. So I’ll hopefully see you next time.

A full run through the King Crimson discography: Part 10 (USA, 1975)

Yes, it’s another live album, and put out the year after the band folded yet again. These posthumous live releases are starting to become a theme — my copy of the album even has an “R.I.P.” at the end of the track and personnel listing on the back cover. Though for some reason, just like with Earthbound, there’s no hint of this album on the band’s channel aside from Asbury Park, my least favorite track, go figure. Why? Who knows. Maybe these albums have some weird licensing issues.

But thank God, very much unlike Earthbound, USA is a worthy enough tribute to the Wetton/Bruford/Cross lineup it represents, a recording taken from their American tour as the album’s title suggests. The track listing this time actually makes sense and isn’t totally stupid, featuring plenty of good stuff from Larks’ Tongues (“Part II”, “Exiles”, “Easy Money”) and just one improvisation (“Asbury Park”, named after the city they were playing in New Jersey) that’s actually okay — plenty of energy in that one at least.

In fact, the energy and skill is all on display in USA. Just as importantly, the recording more or less does the band and their material justice, with “Larks’ Tongues Part II” as a special highlight from the first side. And look, they’re still playing “21st Century Schizoid Man”! This track was the closer on the strangely short original vinyl release of USA — but still a great closer, and this 70s Crimson lineup does an excellent job with it.

If that were all I had on my version of the album, I’d complain about Red going completely unrepresented. However, the CD reissue of USA I own contains two bonus tracks: “Fracture”, one of the better possible choices off of Starless and Bible Black, and “Starless”, which is the best track on the album and an even better closer than “Schizoid Man”. Maybe that’s sacrilege to say, but I think these two songs are held in just about equally high esteem by fans anyway.

Not much else to say except to look out for Wetton’s ad-libbing in the first verse of “Easy Money”. If that “health food-” line in “Great Deceiver” was an awkward one, at least to my American ears, this one is quite literally criminal. That’s not an argument you’ll win with a judge, John. Not unless “licking fudge” has a more innocent connotation than I’m imagining.

So USA is a good album. Worth picking up for sure if you find yourself getting into this band and want to hear what they sounded like back in 1974 when they played live. It really is a different sort of energy, and it’s nice to hear the crowd noise come in on occasion — I can imagine myself in the crowd, and I may well have been if I hadn’t been about a negative dozen years old at the time. And if you want to hear this lineup of the band live without buying USA, the roughly concurrent archival live release The Night Watch is up on Crimson’s channel, and it’s probably good too. The closest I ever got to seeing these guys actually live was an open air concert by Adrian Belew and two guitar prodigy kids he was touring with years ago — but that’s spoiling what’s coming up next in this series. I hope you’re ready for some Discipline!

A full run through the King Crimson discography: Part 9 (Red, 1974)

Following the release of Starless and Bible Black and a North American tour, King Crimson would kick out violinist/keyboardist David Cross and record their next album Red as a trio. I’m not sure why Cross had to go, because the guy seems to have been good at what he did, but I’m sure band historians know the answer. In other words, not me: despite how long this post series is running and will continue to run, I’m mainly interested in the music, though I have heard a comprehensive band documentary is coming out soon that I’ll definitely watch.

But if you were wondering why Cross wasn’t featured in the band portrait on the cover of Red (a first and last for the band, and a real rarity for progressive album covers) that’s the reason. On the plus side, the band here brought in a few guest musicians to add some flavor, including former Crimson players Marc Charig on cornet, Mel Collins on soprano sax, and old founding member Ian McDonald himself on alto sax.

And as for the music: this is it. I’ll have to save my actual final judgment until the end of this run of albums, but ever since hearing it up to this day, Red has been and is my favorite King Crimson album and one of my favorite musical works of all time. It’s extremely focused, purposeful, and powerful, full of amazing moments and memorable lines. Out of its five tracks, the only one I’m not in love with is Providence, another live-studio hybrid improvisation (and for that reason the only track featuring Cross on violin and the reason he’s listed in the album’s credits — I think it’s called “Providence” because they recorded it in Providence, RI, but that’s just a guess based on later song naming conventions.) Even this improv is better than most of the similar material on Starless, however, creating a nice dark atmosphere that works in its spot between the first side closer and the album closer as a whole.

The other four are absolute winners, starting with the opening instrumental title track. Red sets an extremely heavy tone that continues throughout the album, mixing later with the second track Fallen Angel, which intersperses softer, calmer verses with that heavy guitar tone again in the chorus. Both make for an excellent opening to Red — it’s a contrast that somehow also blends beautifully. The first side ends with One More Red Nightmare, which add a little humor with lyrics about fear of flying. But the playing is serious: the track sounds like what it feels like to fly through a storm, especially in its instrumental stretches, and with Bruford banging on what I used to think was sheet metal but was actually an old cymbal they pulled out of the trash somewhere — either way it has a nice “thunder” sort of effect to me.

As much as I love those pieces, it’s the final song that makes Red a legendary album. Starless isn’t just my favorite on Red, it might be my favorite song of Crimson’s, period. At the very least, it stands up there with “Schizoid Man” and “Epitaph”. If I had to say what I like best about this lineup of the band, it’s all in “Starless” with its masterful building up and releasing of tension. But then any extended description I try to write of “Starless” doesn’t do it justice, so I hope you’ll just listen to it and see what you think.

Maybe I can express my feelings in gif form more effectively, so here they are

I thought I’d write more about Red than this, but there you go: the work speaks for itself. Even Mr. Christgau liked it, so I’ll return to him at least a little of the credit I took from him in my Larks’ Tongues post — I have to be fair. And speaking of being ahead of their time once again, this album didn’t do well upon its release, but over the decades it’s gotten its due as one of Crimson’s greatest works. Nirvana fans take note: Kurt Cobain cited Red as an influence, and I can the seeds of that late 80s/early 90s grunge in there.

So what do you do when you’ve made what may well be your magnum opus? Following Red, Robert Fripp decided King Crimson had said all it had to say and dissolved the band. This might seem astounding, but it does fit in with what seems to be Fripp’s general idea about music and creativity: don’t get stuck in a rut and continue to actually progress. That’s what he’d do, and what some of the other Crimsoners (?) would do as well, with Bill Bruford heading off to help out Genesis as a guest drummer after Peter Gabriel left and Phil Collins took up singing duties and then later heading off to the world of jazz, and John Wetton heading off to do whatever he did throughout the rest of the 70s before co-founding Asia, where he and a few former Yes and ELP members didn’t do much musical progressing anymore but made a whole assload of money, and who can blame them. And Ian McDonald went off to co-found Foreigner. People really don’t realize just how central this band and its members were to the shape of popular music, even the stuff you wouldn’t necessarily associate them with.

And was the end of King Crimson. Requiescat in pace.

Except, once again, it wasn’t. Fripp might have retired King Crimson by decree, but it would rise again in a new and totally unexpected form seven years later. If you’re not familiar already, there’s no way you’d be able to predict what they’ll end up sounding like upon their return. The next post will be a look at another live album from the Wetton/Bruford/Cross lineup, though, so we’ll have one more look at the 70s before jumping forward in time.