The Seasonal Anime Draft: Cop Craft, ep 6

It’s back to San Teresa for another episode of Cop Craft.  A warning to car lovers: this one might be hard for you to watch.

Tilarna feels the need for speed, but it doesn’t end well

Summary:  Tilarna accidentally gets Kei’s car totaled following a chase in which they knock over a truck carrying a load of alternate universe anime Playboy and Penthouse magazines stolen from a warehouse.  Kei’s boss gets him a beautiful new sports car through a police auction but also assigns him to the case of the stolen porn magazines and orders that Tilarna learn to drive and get a license.  Tilarna meets up with Cecil, who starts to teach her the ins and outs of driving these weird doreany machines.  Meanwhile, Kei and Tilarna’s colleague Tony goes undercover as a mob guy to track down the porn thief and sets up a sting operation/ambush.  We learn the criminal of the week is a Semanian trying to smuggle Earth smut to his porn-starved brothers on his home planet, where such things don’t exist.  For some reason, he can’t just buy up a bunch of cheap back issues of Playboy and Penthouse and sell them at marked-up prices back home on a black market.  No, I don’t get it either.

Tony is by far the best undercover cop we’ve seen so far — he plays a great mob dude.

The sting goes badly, and Kei and Tilarna end up having to chase down yet another criminal who takes Tony hostage and drives away.  Kei is temporarily blinded by a gunshot that grazes his face, so Tilarna takes the wheel and drives his car into the criminal’s car at a high speed, wrecking both but somehow not killing or badly injuring anyone.  Except for Kei’s new car, which bursts into flames.  Kei is naturally upset, but by the end of the episode he forgives Tilarna.  There’s also a b-plot where Kei is trying to get Tilarna her own place so she can get the fuck out of his house and stop freeloading, but she ends up just converting one of his rooms into her bedroom without him realizing and plants her ass there, and he accepts that too, somehow.

So all’s well that ends well?  I guess?

The episode does have a kind of happy ending if you ignore all the property damage.

Analysis: The more this series gets into the Kei/Tilarna dynamic, the more I like it.  This episode, Kei really did prove himself a softie by forgiving Tilarna for wrecking two of his cars and for secretly orchestrating a fait accompli where she wouldn’t have to move out of his place.  This is maybe sort of explained by Cecil while she’s giving Tilarna her first driving lesson — Kei had a younger sister who died ten years ago, and Cecil thinks he sees some of her in Tilarna.  The dead little sister thing feels a little lazy as a way to explain why Kei was so forgiving of Tilarna’s recklessness this episode, but at least they gave us some reason for it beyond “she’s a main character and a cute girl, so he has to forgive her.”

To be fair, the episode starts with Kei driving in a psychotic manner with Tilarna in the passenger’s seat, so she really learned reckless driving from him.

There was also some development of side characters, namely Tony.  It turns out that he’s quite a pure-hearted guy who believes in true love, which makes it all the harder for him to put on a tough mob guy act and talk about women like they’re objects (also the fact that he’s gay, but that seems like more of an incidental thing in this show.)  But he’s a pro, so he does it anyway.  The angry police sergeant character Zimmer also has a nice moment in the show where he again proves that he’s a stand-up guy who’s willing to look out for his officers even while he chews them out for being reckless idiots.

The most interesting development, however, came from the stolen porn plot, in which we learn that Semanian society is not okay with such material to the extent that it doesn’t seem to exist there, or at least not above ground.  We also learn that Tilarna, despite now being an adult and also a sword-wielding death machine, is so shocked by porn that she refuses to believe her parents had sex like the people in one of the magazines they confiscated.

Tilarna discovers the horrors of print pornography

Despite everything that’s happened so far between them, though, Tilarna and Kei don’t seem to want to part ways.  Tilarna went through the trouble of setting up her own room in Kei’s house without him knowing somehow.  And while Kei made a big show of trying to get Tilarna out of his place, he folded way too quickly when she told him she was staying with him for good.  It’s not like there was ever any chance she would have moved out — there are still too many Odd Couple style jokes to use with the two of them.  And if they’re going for the romance angle they hinted at this episode, it’s easier if they already live together.

Which one is Jack Lemmon and which one is Walter Matthau?

This episode was a big tonal shift from the last one, and I expect the show will go back to being darker (hopefully not literally darker, though; I could barely see some of ep 5.)  Until next time, stay (and drive) safe.

Advertisements

On reviews, scores, and objectivity vs. subjectivity

I’m in despair again.  This time about review scores.

It’s never not a good time to use screenshots from SZS

Let me back up about a decade and a half (I promise there’s a point to this trip through time, so don’t worry.)  Back in my school days, I used to follow two music reviewers: George Starostin and Mark Prindle.  These guys maintained websites dedicated to writing album reviews well before the modern age of easy blogging — before technologically untalented people like me could start free WordPress and Blogger accounts and dump words onto the internet without knowing anything beyond the most basic HTML tags.  Messrs. Starostin and Prindle were both excellent writers, very knowledgeable about music, and incredibly prolific (in fact, Starostin is still writing at a different address, though he seems to be on hiatus right now.)  Most importantly to me, they were independent voices that I felt I could trust far more than the hacks at Rolling Stone, Spin, and the other big music magazines.

However, Starostin and Prindle’s review styles were very different.  Starostin seemed to try to take a more objective approach to his music reviews.  While admitting that he couldn’t be totally objective, being a human with his own likes and dislikes when it came to music, he still tried giving a fair chance to artists whose styles he wasn’t naturally fond of (though he could and would tear an album up in a very entertaining way if he thought it was lousy.)  Prindle, by contrast, seemed not to give a damn about even trying to be objective.  He could and often did also write deep and interesting analyses of albums, but they also felt more personal in the sense that you were getting his opinions based purely on what he liked and disliked.  Prindle’s more personal style also came out in the various rants, anecdotes, and obscene jokes he’d drop into his reviews, usually without any warning to the reader.  Even though their styles were so different, I liked them pretty much equally, and I’m sure both of them have had a serious influence on my own reviewing style.

Source.  Though how “Movie X no longer has a 100% RT score” could be considered a story worth writing about, I have no fucking clue.

Now back to the present day, where people on Twitter and other platforms are tearing their hair out over the Rotten Tomatoes scores movies get.  Red Metal at Extra Life covered this already in a recent post about the reaction to the film Lady Bird getting one bad review from a critic, knocking its score down from 100% to 99%.  Some people were apparently losing their shit over this development.  If it can even be called a “development”, really.  No doubt they’d also be piling onto Red Metal if his own mixed review of Lady Bird had been factored into that score.  I haven’t seen the film, but I can say at the very least it’s impressive that a movie managed to get such dedicated fans that they’d scream bloody murder over a single poor review.

Or is that really what’s going on?  It looks to me like many people have expectations that certain artworks should be insulated from negative criticism, as though they have a God-given right to a perfect score on RT and maybe also on every other review score aggregator.  I have no idea where these expectations come from.  Even among my favorite games and albums, I can’t think of a single one that I’d yell at a reviewer for over a poor review.  I’d certainly disagree with said review, but as long as it was reasoned out well enough, I’d just think “Fine, that person has a different opinion than I do.”  Because we all have different tastes, different perspectives, different life experiences.  Not everyone has to like what I like, and I don’t have to like something even if almost everyone else likes it.

I like drinking beer, chewing on dried squid, and playing visual novels, but a lot of people don’t, and that’s okay.

So how should I approach my own reviews?  I’ve been writing reviews of games and other media for six years now (not on a very regular basis, as you can tell from looking at my index of reviews and dividing their number into six, but still, six years is a long time.)  I always try to write my reviews in such a way that they’re useful to every reader who follows this site or comes across it through a Google search.  But when it comes to the score I assign a work, I sometimes find myself facing this conundrum: if I score the work based too much upon my own subjective tastes, the score won’t be meaningful to a reader with different tastes from my own, and if I score it based too much upon some kind of as-objective-as-possible balance of factors, I’m removing my own views from the process so completely that I may as well not review the work at all.

I usually try to strike a balance between these two extremes, but sometimes that’s difficult, especially when the work I’m analyzing is directed at a niche audience.  I’m facing just this issue with the game review I’m currently writing.  Maybe I should just not worry about the problem at all and write whatever I want like Prindle, or maybe I should still try to take a more objective view of things like Starostin.  Maybe I’m overthinking this like I overthink every single other aspect of my fucking life.

Maybe don’t worry about cutting the cake precisely Chiri, maybe just cut it and eat some god damn cake

I have another question for you, the reader: if you write reviews, do you run into this problem?  How do you resolve it?  Or is it even really a problem and am I just overthinking things? If you don’t write reviews but only read them, do you really care about how objective or subjective the reviewer is trying to be?  And should anyone even care about Rotten Tomatoes or Metacritic scores aside from the film and game studios and distributors?

Sorry, that was more than one question.  You don’t have to answer all of them if you don’t feel like it.  Or any of them.  In the meantime, I’ll go back to finishing my next review.  Maybe one day, I’ll write a review that will get me a headline on Indiewire about how I’m an asshole who made people on Twitter cry.  I can only hope.

The Seasonal Anime Draft: Cop Craft, ep 5

Cop Craft time again.

Kei and Tilarna at the office. It’s good that they included a little administrative work in the story.  Police work isn’t all magic swordfights, after all.

Summary: Our supernatural cop adventure continues as we follow Tilarna to the morgue, where she’s trying to defend Cecil from the corpse-turned-hot lady monster that killed her assistant.  Kei shows up at the last minute to help out in the fight and the monster vanishes after losing one of her arms.  Back at the office, Tilarna tells Kei that that thing was a vampire that has regenerative powers, as we learn when she later attacks and feeds on more humans around town.  Tilarna uses her magical nose to sniff out Vampire Lady (what I’m calling her now since she doesn’t get a name) at a mall where she’s holed up.  When they storm the mall, Kei gets knocked out and Tilarna ends up tied up in the vampire’s makeshift lair in a vacant shop lot.  Vampire Lady is trying to learn more about the world she’s just woken up in and questions Tilarna about it, but after Tilarna calls her a monster, she decides it’s time to feed again.

In a different context this could be quite a nice scene, but no, she’s a vampire.

Thankfully, Kei has recovered and bursts into the room with backup before Vampire Lady can kill Tilarna (or turn her or however it works.)  Tilarna warns that the vampire is invincible, but the cops fill her with bullets that seem to hurt her before she disappears and escapes again, this time into the subway.  Vampire Lady is guided by a magic light into a tunnel that leads her to a young man in a suit speaking in a familiar voice (the man doesn’t name himself, but he is definitely Zelada possessing some poor guy’s body.)  Almost-certainly-Zelada offers to help her but she bites his neck instead for some reason, killing him (but probably not killing Zelada himself; I’m sure we’ll see him again soon enough.)  Kei and Tilarna meanwhile hunt Vampire Lady down in the subway tunnels and fight her, there’s a suspenseful moment as she and Kei grapple in front of an oncoming train, and Tilarna saves Kei at the last second while Vampire Lady is run over by the train and dies, her body shattered into pieces like a broken vase.

Tilarna kicks Kei for again not thanking her for saving his life, and the episode ends.

Analysis: RIP Cecil’s shitty lazy assistant coroner.  You died before we knew anything else about you.

Also, god damn but was this episode dark.  I don’t mean in tone, though I guess it was a bit dark in tone with Tilarna almost getting her neck sucked dry by Vampire Lady.  About 80% of the episode takes place in the dark, either outside at night or in a mall after closing time, so it was sometimes hard to make out the action.  I also don’t get what happened when Tilarna grabbed Kei away from Vampire Lady before the train would have hit them both.  They were all covered in glowing light.  More magic, I guess.

I like Vampire Lady’s design, very classically vampiric-looking. But since her body shattered at the end of the episode, I don’t suppose we’ll be seeing her again.

This episode feels as close to “standard action show” as we’ve had from the series so far.  That’s not a bad thing, it just feels slightly filler-ish.  It does establish that Zelada is still around causing trouble (unless that’s some other evil wizard voiced by the same guy who voiced Zelada, which seems unlikely) and drop a few more hints that Kei has some latent magical power.  It also gives us a few more moments between Tilarna and Kei, like the one in which Tilarna tells Kei she knows a form of magic that can only be performed while naked (I think it’s supposed to be the magic Vampire Lady is using to regenerate) and then yells at Kei because she thinks he’s now picturing her naked.  Yeah, the show is going in that direction.  I’ll bet real money that there’s going to be an episode soon in which Tilarna and Kei have to go undercover to the beach and she yells at him for looking at her in her swimsuit.  Who’s taking?

Another bet: a closeup shot of Tilarna getting pissed off at Kei will be in every episode in the series.

A couple of the side characters other than Cecil are also becoming a little more prominent, especially Kei and Tilarna’s new supervisor Zimmer.  He’s sort of the stereotypical cop movie angry boss, but he also seems like the “tough but fair” type who has their backs as long as they’re in the right.  We’ll have to wait and see if he tells Kei and/or Tilarna to turn in their guns and badges at some point.  I guess Tilarna would get to keep her sword, at least, since she brought it from home.

I also look forward to learning more about Tilarna’s magic, especially that one kind where she has to be naked to use it.

Sorry, sorry! I was just kidding, I swear.

That’s all for now.  Until next time, stay safe.

The Seasonal Anime Draft: Cop Craft, ep 4

Welcome back to the hard-boiled sci-fi cop drama Cop Craft.  If I had any doubts about this series up until now, this episode got rid of them.  The first three episodes were just fine (janky animation in ep 3 aside) but they feel like a mere prologue now, because this is where Cop Craft seems to really get going.

The climactic final fight with the bad guy that isn’t a final fight at all and ends around minute four of the episode

Summary: The battle on top of that skyscraper gets resolved when Kei and Tilarna manage to (literally) disarm the powerful mage Zelada, who leaps off of the roof to his supposed death, but we know how these things work out.  Meanwhile, it’s revealed in a flashback that Leahyah (the fairy trapped in the bomb) helped Tilarna out in the past and that they’re friends, and then Leahyah somehow saves both Kei and Tilarna by sacrificing herself in an extremely confusing scene.

I really like this shot. Would be more touching if we knew more than ten seconds of backstory about Leahyah and Tilarna’s friendship, though.

Leahyah is dead, our heroes are alive, and their mission is now over because it basically ended in failure.  The one-time partners say goodbye to each other at the San Teresa docks, and Tilarna sails back into the sunset.  Except not really.  After a montage of Kei putzing around town for a while, he returns home and finds Tilarna lounging on his sofa watching TV.  Turns out she decided to stay in San Teresa and has officially joined the police department as Kei’s full-time partner.  And also as his roommate, because she never settled her dispute with that hotel from episode 2.

I didn’t expect the creators to write something that bears a resemblance to a real employment contract, but they did. Not bad!

We then get another montage of Kei and Tilarna on the job doing cop stuff, and then they discover the stolen corpse of a Semanian woman that comes to life with evil magic at the end of the episode and attacks Kei’s ex Cecil in the morgue.  But since Cecil and Tilarna bonded earlier that day over how much of a stubborn heartless jerk Kei is, Tilarna is there to save her new friend from the zombie.  And there’s yet another cliffhanger ending.

Analysis: Cop Craft tricked me into thinking it was going to be a show all about the conflict presented in episode 1.  Instead, it’s apparently going to be a sort-of-episodic cop show with sci-fi and supernatural elements, which I am extremely okay with.  I can see some viewers being disappointed by this turn — after all, the whole illegal fairy trade and mind-control plot wasn’t all that fleshed out before it was resolved (?) and neither was Tilarna’s relationship with Leahyah, so ending it so abruptly is a bit weird.  To me, though, what we’re getting now is just as good, if not better, than what we started with.  Also, big bad guy Zelada is almost certainly still around.  You know the rule when it comes to villains like him: if you don’t see him actually die, he’s not dead.  Tilarna herself even doubts that he’s dead, so we should keep an eye out for him.

This is how Tilarna answers the suspect’s invocation of right to counsel.

I’m also in love with Tilarna.  She’s both cute and terrifying.  Her partnership with Kei seems to be working out pretty well too, especially since this episode clued us in to the fact that Kei has some kind of magical connection with his pistol, like Tilarna has with her sword.  Though Tilarna’s total disregard of the suspect’s constitutional rights might cause the pair some problems, especially with their new supervisor.  The lawyer side of me took over halfway through this episode to try to add up exactly how much trouble Tilarna should be in after beating the shit out of a suspect to get him to talk, and also after cutting another guy’s finger off during a police raid.  Also strikes me as weird that she’s just living with Kei now without them even having to talk about it.  Do detective partners also usually shack up together?

Tilarna gets pointers from Cecil about how to deal with Kei.

I also really like Cecil.  I have to admit that I’ve never been as friendly with an ex-girlfriend (or ex-wife?  I never had one of those, but again, not clear which one Cecil is) as Kei is with Cecil, so good on both of them.  I hope she survives next episode.  I need more banter between her and Tilarna.  That zombie can eat her shitty lazy assistant though.

So I’m very positive on Cop Craft right now.  Again, I can see how some viewers might be annoyed by the sharp turn the show seems to have taken, but I’m happy with what we’ve got so far.  The animation quality is back too, so that’s another plus.  I guess it was just on vacation for episode 3.  Hopefully that was just a hiccup.

Really, as long as we get more Tilarna getting pouty about not being appreciated for her brutal approach to justice, I’ll keep watching.

Once again, see you next episode, and stay safe as always.

Soundtrack review: Katamari Fortissimo Damacy

It’s been a while since I reviewed a game soundtrack, so I thought why not take another one for a spin.  This particular soundtrack I only own a digital copy of, so I can’t tell you about the inserts or liner notes, but the music itself is enough to write a review, isn’t it? I’m not a professional at this.

If you can’t tell from the cover to the left, I’m talking about Katamari Fortissimo Damacy.  This is the OST to Katamari Damacy, a weird ass PS2 game that pretty much defied categorization when it was released back in 2004.  If you’ve never played any of the Katamari games, imagine rolling a sticky ball around a city that grows as it collects objects and is able to pick up increasingly larger objects as it grows such as cats, mailboxes, cars, fountains, trees, entire buildings, and eventually whole land masses.  That’s more or less the object of a stage in a Katamari game, or at least of its most fun stages.

Katamari Damacy was one of those wacky new things from Japan when it came to the States, the kind of game that made people think “wow, look at the crazy shit they come up with over there.”  Something like Super Monkey Ball or Seaman.  It is also a complete classic.  I’ve only played the first and second games in the series (We Love Katamari, also for the PS2) but both are well worth picking up.  They have a style of goofy lighthearted humor that is actually pretty funny and not annoying as such attempts can often be, and one that also gels with the unique gameplay style that the series established.  I don’t know why someone made a four-hour longplay of Katamari Damacy, since it’s the kind of game you really have to play yourself to get anything out of, but here’s one on the off chance you’ve never seen it before:

The same “wacky and interesting” vibe delivered by the game is also carried by the game’s music — in fact, I think the soundtrack to Katamari Damacy is one of the reasons the game did so well.  Even if I’m not totally in love with all the tracks here.  That’s not a criticism of any of the songs on Katamari Fortissimo Damacy, though.  The old breakup line “it’s not you, it’s me” comes to mind when I think of some of these songs, except in this case that phrase isn’t a lie; it actually describes how I feel about a few particular songs on this album.  (Well, that line doesn’t even work in the context of a breakup, but the subject of breakups is outside the scope of my blog.)

Before getting into that, let’s start with the positives.  I really like about half the songs on Katamari Fortissimo Damacy.  The theme of the game, Katamari on the Rocks, is a fast-paced song with a big horn section and a chorus of singers in the background.  This establishes the lighthearted feel of the game, and it’s a catchy song aside from that — good luck getting that “naaaaa na na na na na naa naa katamari damashii” line out of your head after hearing it the first time.  A Crimson Rose & Gin Tonic uses a 1940s-style big band setup with female jazz vocals, a style that I really like.  I’m also a fan of Katamaritaino for being such a nice chilled out song with relaxing vocals.  I really am getting older; every year I appreciate this kind of easy listening stuff more.  But this is good easy listening.  Tasteful.  Like João Gilberto or Tom Jobim.  In fact, there’s a really good bossa nova-style song on the second Katamari album that I’m not reviewing here but that you should check out anyway.

My favorite song on this album might be Katamari Mambo, a song that features two main vocalists: a goofy comic relief sounding-guy who keeps trying to start singing the song’s lyrics proper, and a lady who keeps interrupting him to sing said lyrics in a strikingly sexy mature voice (sorry if that sounds weird, but I can’t describe it any other way; just hear it for yourself.)  Add to that the fact that the song is full of lines that sound like sexual innuendo, and you’ll start to wonder how Namco got this one past whatever the Japanese equivalent of the ESRB is, if they have one.  Good thing the lyrics weren’t translated into English for the game’s western release, or else concerned parent groups might have started a campaign against it (this was back in the day when they were the ones primarily fighting against “inappropriate content” in games instead of our current set of usual suspects.) I’m always a fan of getting stuff past the censors, and Katamari Mambo is energetic and catchy enough to keep on my playlist forever.

The song’s main singer, Nobue Matsubara, also has a metric ton of albums out since the early 80s that all have covers like this, so I guess she’s been a big deal in Japan for a long time. No idea what these might sound like, though.  Leave a comment if you’re a fan!

However, while the game’s musical quirkiness works for me in some places, in a few others it doesn’t.  Like Cherry Blossom Color Season, for example, which features a bunch of little kids singing.  Which I’m just not a fan of at all.  Same goes for Katamari of Love, the ending theme to Katamari Damacy.  That song doesn’t feature annoying little kid singing, but I still don’t like it that much.  I can’t point to any really good reason for my dislike, though.  Maybe this album is just too god damn quirky and positive and happy for me to take all at once.  Or maybe the songs I like on the album are the ones I heard first while playing Katamari Damacy, and the novelty of the game along with the novelty of the music made a positive impression on me at the time.  I can’t think of any other reason why I’d like Lonely Rolling Star and dislike Katamari of Love, because there’s nothing technically wrong with the latter.  Same goes for a few of the other songs on the album that just grate on me sometimes.  In fact, if I’m in a bad mood, I can’t get into any of this Katamari music at all — even most of the songs I normally like end up irritating me.

So I’m not giving this album a rating.  I just don’t think I can judge it objectively enough to assign it a meaningful score.  Not that any of my reviews, or any reviews at all, are ever objective, but this time I really feel like I’m being unfair to the work in a way I can’t help.  So here’s my general view of it: this is a good album, and if you’re not a bitter, miserable asshole like me, you’ll probably appreciate it more than I do.  Or maybe you won’t like it that much, and that’s fine too.  This is one of those cases where I’d recommend playing the game over listening to the soundtrack on its own, though.  Katamari Damacy is still a lot of fun, and the music contributes to the game in setting a rhythm and pace for the player.  And the game is a hell of a lot cheaper than the album — a quick search shows used copies of Katamari Damacy available for several dollars, while the soundtrack will run you more than 30.  If you have a PS2 lying around and haven’t played this or any of the Katamari games, consider that a solid recommendation.  Or you can buy the Switch remake Katamari Damacy Reroll, but I haven’t played it, so I can’t give it a rating either.  Some fucking reviewer I am, huh?

The Seasonal Anime Draft: Cop Craft, ep 3

Back for yet more Cop Craft.  Yeah, I said I’d keep this review series going through the whole season, and I’ll keep my word.  However, from now on, I’ll be keeping the summary section as short as possible, with just enough to give my analysis context.  I didn’t set out on this project to write an episode guide, and that’s what it would become if I were to continue with the format I’ve been using.  I also have to consider time constraints; I have to work as much as possible while I’m still being paid by the hour, and I can’t pay my creditors in opinions about anime (or about games or music, for that matter.  If I could, I’d probably be debt-free at this point.)

Tilarna undercover at the club, drinking a water on the rocks.

Summary: Where was Tilarna headed at the end of last episode?  To the club.  Specifically going undercover to visit chief bad guy Elbaji’s nightclub, where the two have a confrontation.  Elbaji bests Tilarna in combat and abducts her, taking her to his secret illegal fairy drug storage facility in an old stone tower outside of town where the mage Zelada plans to interrogate her.  Kei is somehow able to track them down, calls for backup from his supervisor Roth, then gets impatient and storms the base by himself to save Tilarna.  Tilarna, however, breaks out of her bonds on her own with magic and then kills Elbaji after Kei throws her the sword she left behind last episode.

This guy turned out to be a scrub.

Zelada is then put under arrest, but plot twist!  Turns out Roth is a traitor.  He shoots Tilarna and forces Kei to let Zelada go at gunpoint, because he’s an asshole who wants violence between humans and Semanians and so is Zelada.  After trying to trick us into thinking Tilarna is dead, the show revives her (turns out Roth only shot her in the sword hilt?) and Kei uses the distraction to kill Roth.  Then the pair go after Zelada, who’s about to explode that fairy Kei and Tilarna were out to rescue on top of a tall building, and we get yet another cliffhanger ending.

This fairy is still important, but we still don’t really know why.

Analysis: Remember how I wrote last post that I hoped the animation budget wasn’t running out?  Seems like I was right to be worried.  Parts of the battles in this episode play out in slideshow form, and the parts that don’t have some cheap as hell looking animation anyway.  I’m no expert, but even I can tell when the studio’s cutting corners.  It’s really too bad, because Tilarna is a beautifully designed character, which makes seeing the lousy animation in her fight scenes all the more disappointing.  Why go through the trouble of having her swordfight in a skimpy cocktail dress if it’s not going to look any good?

At least some of these still shots look nice.

Speaking of that dress, it looks like Cop Craft is going to find an excuse to put Tilarna in a new costume every episode judging from the first three (I didn’t bring up her all-black funeral attire last episode, but she’s packed for every occasion.)  So if you’re into fashion, this might be the show for you.  I also liked the bit at the beginning of the episode where it’s clear that Tilarna is not comfortable going out to a club or wearing heels or any of that nonsense and that she’s only doing it for the sake of the mission.  She’s a knight, after all.  Some cute characterization there.

The plot is developing, even if this episode was confusing at times.  For example, why is Tilarna suddenly able to kill Elbaji almost instantly with her own sword where she couldn’t with the spare sword she was carrying around in her purse?  Presumably that has something to do with latena, which she claims is created by the emotions of the user that attach themselves to the weapon and improve its effectiveness.  But then why did she fall over as though she were dead when Roth shot at her but hit her sword?  Was that a feint that she choreographed with Kei?  But it couldn’t have been, because they weren’t expecting Roth to betray them.

Also, whatever this was about.

Shit, I don’t know.  I have no idea what’s going on in this show.  I’m guessing that we’ll soon learn more about who Zelada is, since he’s obviously a much more serious enemy than the now dead Elbaji, and also more about Tilarna’s magic abilities.  Tilarna also sniffs a little latena in Kei’s pistol, so presumably that means something.  What exactly is anyone’s guess.  In the meantime, I’m still looking forward to what follows.  Even if the animation quality’s gone off the cliff.  Again, that would be disappointing, but there’s more to a series than its animation, after all.  Though at this rate, maybe it would have been better if they’d just done a visual novel adaptation instead.  No animation required.

Well, that’s life.  See you next episode, and stay safe in the meantime.

Backlog review: Senran Kagura Estival Versus (PS4)

I hate summer.  Maybe it’s because I live in the South, where our summers are unbearably hot and humid, but I can’t stand this season.  And ever since I became an adult, summer has lost the one benefit it carried, which was being out of school.1  All that’s left are the heat and the insects.  So give me fall.  Give me winter.  I’ll even take spring with all its allergy-triggering pollen.  But the rest of you can god damn keep summer for yourselves.

However, even I can’t resist the call of the beach.  And never mind that I’m a neurotic nerd who refuses to go out into the sun without wearing long sleeves and pants, or even that I live four hours from the coast, because I’ve got Senran Kagura Estival Versus. I’ve had this game for over a year, in fact, but until recently it’s just been sitting in my PS4 backlog.  I decided to dig it up again about a month ago, and I’m happy I did, because it makes for the perfect escape.

I hear you, Murasaki. Sorry for putting you through all this.

The Senran Kagura series is a bit infamous among gamers for its copious amounts of fanservice, and it’s naturally gotten more than its share of complaints from the big western game review sites for it.  But God bless them, developer Marvelous! and creator and producer Kenichiro Takaki keep putting these games out, and they keep getting NA and EU ports (though unfortunately not without some cut content recently thanks to Sony’s new policies, namely in Senran Kagura Reflexions for the PS4.)  The look and feel of Senran Kagura owe a lot to character designer and artist Nan Yaegashi, whose artistic direction is responsible for the “bouncy” nature of these games.

Yaegashi is also responsible for the many special CGs in the game.

Released in 2016, Senran Kagura Estival Versus is a beat-em-up starring the usual cast of ninja girls grouped into different academies that seem to have been built for the express purpose of teaching young ladies how to beat the hell out of each other.  One day, each of the four first-string teams of shinobi are magically summoned to an extradimensional tropical island by Sayuri, a retired shinobi and grandmother of Asuka, the leader of one of the four teams.  Sayuri explains to the girls that they must fight each other in the “Millennium Festival”, a battle royale that pits all four teams against each other in a completely non-lethal “defend the base” sort of game, and that time in their own world will stand still while they carry out their contest.

However, matters are complicated when some of the shinobis’ dead relatives also start to appear on the island, alive and seemingly healthy.  Upon being questioned, Sayuri explains that this island is home to shinobi who have passed on to the next life.  Although the four teams are intense rivals, their members are also friendly with each other on some level, and they all agree after talking it over that Sayuri and her assistants seem to be hiding the true purpose behind the festival.  Meanwhile, some of the shinobi start to lose their nerve, expressing a desire to permanently stay in this new dimension with their deceased family members and creating friction with those who want to win the battle and return home to fight an ancient evil that’s awoken to threaten life on Earth, conveniently just at the time the shinobi were teleported to this island.

Asuka fights some low-level shinobi grunts.

It wouldn’t be right to say that Estival Versus is nothing but fanservice.  It has a plot that serves the game perfectly well, and its drama is nicely balanced by Senran Kagura’s brand of absurd humor.  I already addressed this in my review of Our World Is Ended, but I have no problem with throwing “inappropriate” humor and sex jokes into a game as long as it doesn’t cause too much of a tone problem, and it doesn’t in this case.  And anyway, it wouldn’t be a proper Senran Kagura game without all the lewd jokes and wacky girl-on-girl hijinks and misunderstandings.  If that’s not what you’re into, you already know the series isn’t for you anyway, and if you are, it’s just a good time.

The fact that the combat-based clothes-tearing carries over to the post-battle cutscenes maybe slightly deflates the drama of Miyabi not wanting to leave behind the spirit of her dead mother, but that’s okay.

As far as gameplay goes, Estival Versus is on solid ground.  All our favorite shinobi return as playable characters along with a few new faces, and they have a wide variety of fighting styles, some easier to use and some more difficult/frustrating.  This makes it a little annoying that the game requires you to play as every single shinobi at least once to make it through the main Millennium Festival campaign, since the player character is swapped after each mission.  However, it’s not such a big deal: the game lets you change the difficulty level at any time, so if you find one particular shinobi hard to control, you can always switch over to normal or easy mode for her mission if that’s not too shameful an act for you to bear.  Grinding is also easy to do, though it’s not especially necessary.  Upon completing one of the main campaign missions, you can return to play it with any character you like, meaning you can pit a character against herself in battle, which is always fun.  And if you’re really up against a wall, the game gives you the option of cheesing boss fights by butt-stomping your enemies into submission, though that move doesn’t trigger those famous strategic-clothes-tearing-off sequences that would occur otherwise during battle.

Murasaki is my favorite character, even if her weapon is frustrating to use and totally stupid from a practical perspective.

While Estival Versus does have paid DLC, the great majority of its extra content is unlockable within the game proper, which is something I appreciate.  And there is a lot of it.  Each character gets her own story consisting of five unique missions in addition to the main campaign, and there are extra campaigns on top of those.  None of these missions offer anything different gameplay-wise from the usual “beat up huge crowds of low/mid-level enemies and then beat up one to three of your fellow shinobi” structure.  That’s more or less the whole game.  However, what you do get are a lot more goofy scenarios and dialogue between the characters.  Because not only do these girls fight each other when they have an argument — they also fight when they’re having an otherwise nice, civil conversation (my favorite: shut-in Murasaki beating the writer’s block out of Mirai so she can continue her online novel.)  Fighting is what they know, and it’s what they do.  And it’s what you’ll do if you play this game.  There are also the usual antics you can get up to in the dressing room, where you can try out the dozens upon dozens of costumes and put the girls in embarrassing poses if that’s your thing, but that’s all entirely optional.

So this is one of those cases where assigning a score feels pointless, because you’ll already know whether you’ll love or hate this game before you play it.  Estival Versus is a very competent brawler, and the basic gameplay is fun if you’re into that style of game.  But if you’re not a fan of the Senran Kagura aesthetic, you probably won’t like this or any of the other games in the series.2  For my part, I give Estival Versus a 6, because that’s just how much I liked it.  If giving a lewd anime girl beat-em-up such a high score means I lose my credibility as a serious game reviewer… well, as far as I know, I never had any such credibility in the first place, so that’s okay with me.

Yes, this game is a masterpiece. Fight me.

Also, this doesn’t seem to be mentioned very often, but the Senran Kagura games I’ve played before have good soundtracks, and this one is no exception.  The Estival Versus OST features a nice mix of western and eastern instruments and styles, and some of its pieces are really catchy.  And every single character has a theme song as well.  The composers certainly weren’t slacking off on this project.  In fact, check out Yumi’s theme: it’s partly a rearrangement of Mozart’s Requiem.  See, this is actually a very classy game.

1 Which reminds me of one of my favorite quotes from The Simpsons from back when the show was good, between Homer and his son Bart when Bart complains about missing summer after breaking his leg and getting a cast: “Don’t worry, boy.  When you get a job like me, you’ll miss every summer.”

2 I don’t think any of the Senran Kagura games deserve to be dismissed on the grounds that they reflect bad gender politics, because they’re mostly over-the-top games that don’t really try to say anything about gender politics.  In fact, you could argue that on the occasions these games take a serious tone, they represent empowered female characters who face their problems head-on.

But this is a subject for a different post.  All I have left to say about it right now is this: if these games honestly creep you out, I can’t criticize you for feeling that way.  Everyone has different tastes.  I’d just like it if the “woke” crowd on Twitter and elsewhere would also recognize that fact and stop calling for these games to be censored or not exported to the West.  If you don’t like them, just don’t fucking buy them and let the rest of us have our fun.  Can we agree to that?  (Well, of course we can’t, because they get off on exercising control over others by attempting to shame them over their taste in games and other media.  But good luck getting these brave guardians of wholesomeness to admit to that.)