Update, part 2 (10/31/2021: First impressions: Komi Can’t Communicate)

Happy Halloween, I guess. I’m not all that into it, but I’m happy that some people are. It’s also nice to give people some excuse to dress up as their favorite characters. But nothing spooky from me because I don’t really care about that sort of thing. I know I’m a killjoy, yes.

Today I’m continuing my breakneck-speed posting marathon with a continuation of that update post I started last week (hence the weird post title, sorry about that) this time shifting my focus to anime. I’ve picked up three new series that I’m now watching in addition to Aquatope and Jahy, which I’ll address next when they’re done at the end of the season. These next couple of posts won’t be anything even close to a full look at the fall season — as usual, I’m only watching a very small slice of currently airing anime, targeted to what I think I’d like, but it’s still a roll of the dice.

At first, I was going to just lump all three of these series together into one big post, but one of the series I’m watching consists of five-minute shorts (yeah, it’s Ganbare Douki-chan, of course; not much more to say about it now other than it’s nice, and I’ll most likely also cover it at the end of the season) and the other also deserves its own dedicated post. So for now, here’s my first impression of Komi Can’t Communicate.

Komi Can’t Communicate (or Komi-san wa, komyushou desu if you know that title better) is still another high school comedy, this time about a girl with extreme social anxiety and a guy who’s doing his utmost to help her resolve it. Our protagonist, Hitohito Tadano (left) is according to his own description an average guy who just wants to blend in, all the more so since he’s starting at a prestigious prep school where sticking out might cause him some trouble. However, he immediately gets a target painted on his back when he’s seated next to Shouko Komi, a knockout beauty who’s also mysteriously silent.

Tadano’s class obsesses over and idolizes this girl, which might sound nice for her at first — even Komi’s stony silence comes off as a kind of aloofness that just seems to make her classmates even more slobbery over her. But as Tadano soon discovers, this is a real problem for Komi, because she’s really not aloof at all: she just suffers from such terrible social anxiety that she literally can’t speak to other people. Tadano, almost by chance, manages to break through to Komi, and while having a long conversation with her by writing on the chalkboard in their classroom he learns that her dream is to make 100 friends.

This scene is a little sappy, but the sap is appropriate here and it’s not too much.

In a seemingly sort-of-joking way, Tadano writes that he’ll be her first friend and help her find the other 99, but Komi takes him at his word and emotionally accepts his offer. To his credit, despite really not wanting to stick out any more than he already is, Tadano takes his task seriously, and in the second episode we get to see his first attempt at fixing her up with Najimi, an old friend of his who’s an extreme compulsive liar but so talkative and friendly that Tadano figures Komi can’t fail at this first shot. And that’s as far as I’ve gotten by now, because even though the fifth episode of Komi is supposed to air in a few days, Netflix (where this series is being streamed exclusively at least officially) is only up to the second so far.

More on Netflix later, because the streaming service itself has become a subject of some mild controversy over its treatment of Komi. First, my first impression of Komi itself, which is pretty mixed. I thought I’d really like this series — the premise immediately grabbed me when I first heard about it, especially having been someone who for the longest time couldn’t cope in social situations myself. Sure, I was never quite as pretty as Komi is, so I didn’t get the weird, creepy, fawning idolization she gets from the rest of her class, but otherwise I can kind of relate. It’s also nice to see another series that takes this issue on; the last anime I remember seeing that addressed not being able to function socially was Welcome to the NHK!, which did a great job but took on a very different aspect of the problem.

I also like the two leads so far. Tadano might come off as a bit of a coward at first, but he seems like the type to really hold his ground when he has to, and though he doesn’t seem to consciously know it, his observation skills are pretty sharp. It is brought up in the first episode that every student at this elite academy has something special about them, so despite Tadano’s insistence that he’s average, it seems he’s really not. And then there’s Komi, of course: the focus of the show. She’s very sympathetic so far, and it’s nice to see her determination to greatly improve her social skills, at least to the point where she can talk to other people. The series also does a nice job of having Komi express her emotions without talking (as above — when she’s happy she sprouts cat ears? Sure, it’s cute so it works, that’s the rule.)

But then there’s every other character in the show so far. Granted, I haven’t gotten nearly far enough yet into it to really judge properly, but it seems like Tadano and Komi’s classmates are mostly a pack of raging assholes. Creepy assholes, too, because for as much as they weirdly obsess over Komi, they seem to hate Tadano to the point of wanting to actually murder him simply because he had the good fortune (?) to get randomly seated next to her.

It’s not just the guys either

This might all just be a comment on how shitty high school is in general, and if so I can relate to that as well. But then it doesn’t endear me all that much to the rest of the class either, and considering Komi and Tadano’s goal of rounding up 99 more friends for her, that might be an actual problem, since most of these people don’t seem like they’re really worth befriending. I get that a lot of them are meant to be weird and quirky (the narrator says this straight out at the end of episode 1, in fact) but there’s a line where over-the-top quirkiness and wackiness turns into me smashing my face against a wall at how god damn insufferable so-and-so is being, so for me plain quirkiness without anything else doesn’t excuse obnoxious behavior even in a comedy like this. Thankfully, Najimi in episode 2 seems to be actually pretty cool despite their penchant for compulsively lying, but I hope that trend can be kept up.

I know Komi is a very long-running manga (up to chapter 324 as of this writing! Damn.) And I haven’t read any of it, so I’m sure the manga-readers will have a lot more insight to give about this adaptation than I do. These are simply my own dumb thoughts about the first two episodes. I’ll continue watching and hope the parts that are rough for me get a bit smoothed out, because there seems to be plenty here to like as well. I’ve also heard Komi referred to as a romantic comedy, so I guess that means there’s something between Komi and Tadano at some point, but if the manga has run this long this romance must be an extremely slow burn.

I did laugh at this bit, even if it’s an obvious joke to make

Finally, there’s the matter of Netflix itself. I know people have been griping over the lousy subtitles, and I’ve heard the fansubs do a far better job (including translating some of the text-based jokes these official subs miss, which Komi seems to have a lot of.) I can’t address the quality of the Netflix subs in a meaningful way since my Japanese still isn’t good enough to judge, but I know for a fact I’m missing out on a lot of those text-based jokes, and I’m not sure why they wouldn’t be translated. Unless the thought was that fans wouldn’t care, and if that’s the thought, it’s definitely an incorrect one. Fuck, maybe I just need to try harder to learn Japanese.

Then there’s the matter of the airing schedule. I watch almost all my anime on Crunchyroll through the VRV service. It’s kind of shitty as well, but at least those guys do a far better job of getting episodes to the rest of the world shortly after their original air date. The other anime I’ve started through Crunchyroll isn’t two weeks behind like Netflix is with Komi, anyway. Maybe if they really were taking the time to translate all those text gags that would be an excuse, but they’re not.

So I don’t know. Maybe it’s not a big deal and I’m just being impatient, but in these days of instantly being spoiled on shit on Twitter it seems like at least a kind of big deal to be as current as possible with the airing schedule. But please tell me if you think I’m being unreasonable here. Hell, maybe there’s some kind of contractual reason for the delay.

But that’s all I have on Komi for the moment. I’ll keep being a good boy and watching it on Netflix, but I wouldn’t blame you for going for the fansubs instead. I certainly won’t sit here pretending I never watched a fansub. We all have. At the same time, I officially won’t endorse that action, because I’m sworn to uphold the law and all that stuff. If Komi turns out to be good, anyway, I’ll be forgiving enough, and a lot of people seem to love it, so I’ll stick with it and hope for the best.

Five interesting and bizarre things about Persona 3 Portable

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Note: I just realized that none of this post makes any sense unless you’ve played Persona 3 already. So maybe don’t bother reading this unless you have. And you should, because Persona 3 is a good game (albeit incredibly long. I hope you have free time.)

Persona 3 Portable is a title I’ve been interested in for a while. In 2006/7, I ran through Persona 3, and about a year later I played the expanded “director’s cut” Persona 3 FES, and then I was sick of anything Persona-related (until Persona 4 came out, of course.) It’s 2015 now, though, Persona 5 is finally on its way, and there was recently a sale on P3P in the Playstation store, so what better time to look back at the series’ past? Also, it was on sale for five dollars.

If you’ve played either console version of P3, P3P does offer some new material. The most striking aspect of P3P is the choice it offers between the original male protagonist and a new female protagonist, opening up most of the main male cast to P3’s dating game. It also throws in a few completely new characters for the lady protagonist to interact with. A few things about P3P strike me as interesting, in fact. Here they are.

P3PFemProtagonist

1) The female protagonist’s hairclip

The female player character’s hairclip (hairbands? whatever) isn’t something most people would look at twice. I certainly didn’t think about it at first. But there is something significant about it: it’s a mark of her identity. It takes the form of two X’s and two straight lines. Unless I’m crazy, I would say it looks just like the Roman numeral XXII.

The reason this jumped out at me was the tarot. Anyone who knows even two sentences of information about the Persona series knows that the tarot is one of its key themes, even going back as far as the old Persona games on the Playstation. And as Igor tells you near the beginning of P3, you, the player character, are 0, “The Fool”, the card that represents infinite possibilities (or something.) If you take a closer look at the tarot, however, you’ll find that The Fool is categorized both as Arcana 0 and Arcana XXII. Thus, the female protagonist’s XXII hairclip/band thing. There’s no way in hell it’s a coincidence, and it’s just one of the subtle details the artist/character designer quietly slipped into the game. I think this is pretty cool.

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2) Interlocking social link routes

If you played P3 vanilla or P3 FES, you should absolutely play as the girl first. Not just to fulfill your inner dream of pretending to be a schoolgirl (as was the case for me, obviously) but because the female protagonist’s social links are in part different from the male protagonist’s. Most of the links seem to be with the same characters, but much of the contents of the links are different because of the player character’s opposite sex. Yukari’s link is a good example of this: while she’s initially a little removed from the hero, she’s much more open towards the heroine from the very beginning.

P3P does feature a few brand new links, though, and they dovetail nicely with the existing ones. Rio, for example, is the captain of the tennis/volleyball team (the only female sports teams at the school, apparently) with a longing for one of the male protagonist’s social link friends. Even characters who were talked about but never had lines in the old P3 make an appearance in the course of these new social links. And, of course, you can now date the dudes. (Unfortunately, you can’t really date the girls as a girl – no same-sex relations in the world of Persona.) These new social links, and the additions to the old ones, help make P3P feel like a fresh experience. They also make me remember how unlikeable some of those characters were, like creepy fuck Kenji shown above, or like main cast character Yukari, who honestly is annoying (but entirely realistic!) in parts.

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3) Your teachers are still incompetent

One of the common threads running through P3 and P4 (and P5?) are the goofy teachers. Who can forget the extremely crabby Japanese-with-a-New-York-accent Mr. Morooka, or the slutty mature lady teacher Ms. Kashiwagi, who came pretty close to showing her cooch to the entire class on her very first day? Even the less central teachers get weird personalities, though, and P3P continues that trend. The greatest standouts here have to be the math teacher who can’t seem to do math problems without getting three wildly different answers, and the Japanese history teacher who can’t shut up about the Sengoku era and breezes over whole centuries-long time periods in a couple of minutes because he only wants to talk about samurai and bushido and all that stuff. I’ve worked as a history teacher, and I can tell you that if I had skipped over 3000 years of world history just to spend three weeks on the Mongol conquests, I’d have been kicked out of my teaching position on my ass. It’s a wonder that P3’s Gekkoukan High and P4’s Yasoinaba High keep hiring these dipshit teachers – only a few stand out as competent. Oh well, they’re good comic relief.

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4) There’s a Ken Amada social link now, and it gets weird

If you played either P3 on the PS2, you probably remember Ken Amada. He’s the little kid of the P3 team. There are spoilerish reasons for why an elementary school student is on your high school shadow monster battle squad, so I won’t go into them. The important point here is that Ken is a little kid. Mature for his age, sure, but he’s still 10 according to Atlus.

So it’s kind of weird that you, as the female protagonist, can date Ken in your social link with him. You could argue that’s not quite what you’re doing, but you totally are. Nothing illegal is suggested, but the real litmus test in my opinion is whether the same scenario presented in this social link would have worked if the characters’ sexes had been reversed. My guess is that Atlus would have removed that social link the fuck out of the game as quickly as possible.

springbreak

5) Fanservice and more fanservice

The Persona games seem to be unique among the Shin Megami Tensei family for featuring a small degree of fanservice. These bits of fanservice usually sit out of the way of the normal course of the game (i.e. you need to do a sidequest or fulfill a certain condition to get the fanservice in question) and they aren’t featured in the plain vanilla versions of P3 and P4. In P3P, though, the fanservice is compounded by the fact that you can now play as a girl and run around Tartarus in a bikini, the same one you wear on the summer vacation part of the game. FES let you do this with Yukari and Mitsuru, and their beach outfits remain in this version of the game. You can also dress up all three in fantasy-style bikini armor, which is prominently featured in Tartarus early on in glowing yellow chests. Of course, I had to use this armor, because it was the best around at the time. That extra 12 DEF is vital, you know.

Okay, so maybe the fanservice isn’t all that surprising, but I wonder about the point of it. If you want the beachwear, you have to pay out the ass for it, like 300K each. It is fun to listen to Yukari complain about being forced to wear a bikini in battle when you talk to her, I guess, but that’s about it. To P3P’s credit, it also offers bathing suits for the male characters to wear in battle, so you can’t accuse Atlus of being misogynist. Though I’m sure the multitudes of Tumblr users somehow found a way to do so.

Anyway, P3P is worth playing, even if you’ve played P3 already. You’ll have to find some way to spend the time until Persona 5 comes out, after all.

Persona 2: Innocent Sin – first impressions

After being turned inside out by my fall exams, I need something to take my mind off the impending doom of bad grades and extreme depression that will follow. The answer seems to be Persona 2: Innocent Sin, which I’ve been playing since my mindbendingly hard Corporations exam ended early today. (If you’re a law student as well, maybe we can agree on this: fuck Corporations.)

Like most of the people I know who are into JRPGs, I played Persona 3/4 and enjoyed them both, so I thought I would try out Persona 2, which I’d heard good things about. P2 is split into two separate games, Innocent Sin and Eternal Punishment. And since Innocent Sin is apparently the first in the series, it seemed like the natural choice. Both P2 games were originally released on the Playstation, and Innocent Sin was later ported to the PSP, which is the version I’ve got.

This is the old original cover art for Innocent Sin, but I think it's a lot cooler looking than the kind of generic PSP cover.  Somewhat unsettling in that Kazuma Kaneko style.

This is the old original cover art for Innocent Sin, but I think it’s a lot cooler looking than the kind of generic PSP cover. Somewhat unsettling in that Kazuma Kaneko style.

Several things about Persona 2 will be familiar right off the bat to those of you who’ve gotten through your 60+ hour playthroughs of P3 and P4. The first is the high school setting. The idea of the Persona series is that it’s Shin Megami Tensei at high school, starring several students who have awoken to their innate power of Persona to fight demons. The same is true here. P2 is also, like P3/4, a lot more character-driven than main line SMT games.

There seems to be both a lot more and a lot less in P2 than in the later titles. There are several armor and weapon shops, a secret casino where you can play video poker and slots to win weapons and items, and a load of extra dialogue with your party members in each of these places (these don’t really add much except flavor, but it’s a nice addition anyway.) There’s a hunger mechanic that lets you give your party members temporary stat bonuses when they eat at one of the several restaurants in town. There’s also an interesting rumor system in the game whereby you can exchange rumors with certain characters and pay a detective agency in town (Kuzunoha Detective Agency, a nice reference for fans of the Devil Summoner SMT spinoff series) to spread those rumors that benefit your party. The “all rumors are true” theme that also crops up in Persona 4 a bit with the Midnight Channel is present in Innocent Sin and seems to be really prominent, both in the game mechanics and in the plot.

There are some elements of Persona 2 that will be familiar to P3/4 fans, like Igor's Velvet Room.  No fusion, though.

There are some elements of Persona 2 that will be familiar to P3/4 fans, like Igor’s Velvet Room. No fusion, though.

What’s not here is the Social Link system, which was created for Persona 3. P2 does set you up with a silent protagonist and a core party of characters that have good chemistry, like in P3 and P4, though. Fusion is also not present: new personas are gotten through a weird card-collecting system that I haven’t figured out yet. One nice thing about the Velvet Room, though, that P3/4 for whatever reason decided to lose, was a rotating soundtrack. As nice as “Aria for the Soul” is, I sure got sick of hearing it during my fusion ordeals in P3 and P4, but P2 mixes it up with a couple of other pieces, including Debussy’s “Clair de Lune” and Satie’s “Gymnopedie No. 1”. Which I’m extremely grateful for. Why P3 and P4 dropped everything else in favor of the Velvet Room’s main theme I can’t understand. It’s not like they could have had copyright problems with such old pieces; they’ve got to be in the public domain by now.

Enough of that. Pretty much everything else is good so far. About 6/7 hours in, the plot is engaging, and the art and music are really good, sort of how I’d imagine a Persona game on the Playstation would be. The only complaint about Persona 2 I might raise at this point is that combat is pretty slow – one of the early bosses I fought was quite easy to beat because he was barely doing any damage to my party, but he seemed to take forever to whittle down to 0 HP.

A proper review is forthcoming (whenever I finish the game, anyway) but so far I think most fans of the ultra-popular PS2 Persona games would enjoy Persona 2, despite ts pretty stark differences in gameplay mechanics from later Persona titles. Not to mention its relative graphic limitations. It was released in the 90s, after all, so you’ll have to give it a break on that count.

Persona 2 also has a kind of bizarre sense of humor like its successors.  That definitely helps.

Persona 2 also has a kind of bizarre sense of humor like its successors. That definitely helps.