Den of the Cyphered Wolf

Friday, May 26, 2017

Let's Save the World By Being Super Special Awesome At Video Games

Alright. So every time I feel the urge to poke fun at the myopia of anime fans I also feel the urge to reflexively point out I am one. Which is to say that despite myself I love the last few seasons of "a guy trapped in another world kicks ass by basically being the best ever... at playing a video game" shows.

Sword Art Online, Log Horizon, Overlord, Re:Zero, No Game No Life. I love that shit. But I'm also willing to admit that most of that stuff isn't challenging. That's not necessarily a bad thing. A movie or tv show or a book, comic or whatever can exist for no other reason than to cater to fantasies of its audience AND be engaging. Hell, if they really wanted to they could make it that and densely intellectually challenging. (Stick a pin in that.)  They found a nerve and damn it they aren't letting go anytime soon.

All the same, I worry that the medium is pandering a bit too much to its audience. So here is a list of stuff with similar premises that I think don't pander as much.
Summer Wars

As I hinted the "save the world by being super special awesome at video games" genre isn't exactly new. Hell, that shit has been around since Missile Command.

Yes I'm talking about War Games.

Okay. So if you're about my age and going nuts over the media of your childhood you've probably gone googoo for Digimon or if you're short on time Digimon: The Movie.

I liked it as a kid but I'll admit Digimon: The Movie is not good. But that's not the movie's fault. It was Robotech spliced out of three unrelated Digimon short films so what do you expect?  But the middle segment, Our War Game really is a pitch-perfect homage to War Games with a Digimon skin.

Two of the Digi-destined have to face off against a virus digimon that is inadvertently setting off a nuclear war.

The director decided, why not go back and try it again.

And it's kind of amazing. Seriously Summer Wars holds up with some of the greatest, most heartwarming stuff in the medium.

The movie uses the basic premise of Wargames to showcase character dynamics in a crisis amongst a large family and coming from a large extended family myself a lot of it felt real and honest to me.


Yeah, in all honesty, I really just wanted to just do a deep dive on this and this post would probably be that but I'm in the middle of an "involuntary media sabbatical", I'm broke and had to cancel my streaming services so I'm just going to have to talk out my ass.

.Hack//Sign is the Anti-Sword Art Online. Same basic premise but it's about how being trapped in a video game would suuuuuuuuuuuck.  Also, it manages to do that Frozen/Chronicle thing where for a long time you don't know if this kid is going to go Avatar Korra or Carrie White.

Which is more or less the point. In this world, he's given the power of a god and the show is about watching what that power does to him. Hint: It's not good.

See in Sword Art Online our Marty Stu main character often makes a big stink about how he's a loner and doesn't really get along with other people. Horseshit he ain't. Seriously, the show bends over backward to make nearly every female character his plausible love interest, including, I kid you not, his cousin.

Nope. .Hack//Sign on the other is actually about someone who is not so good at dealing with people and a whole lot of the story is centered around that, to the point where the key to solving nearly every other big problem in the show is breaking through his insecurities and getting him to make with the talking.

And I like that. I mean putting a bunch of miserable jerks in a situation where they all have to get past their shit and work together has been done but I still like how this show did it.

Seriously you could tell the basic story in like 3 episodes if Tsukasa believed in the power of friendship from the start.


Yeah, they basically did that. .Hack//Quantum is basically a faster paced less character-driven version of .Hack//Sign with better animation. I like the writing of .Hack//Sign better because it delves more into why the characters are the way they are and why it takes so damn long for them do the obvious thing and just talk to each other but .Hack//Quantum has better production values and is better at describing the weird sci-fi conspiracy stuff that was going on in the background in .Hack//Sign.

Also at least in spirit, it is one of the better compressed adaptations of a television show I've seen. They go all in on the basic premise of that story in a much smaller timeframe and it's worth watching just to figure out how they did it.

Sure they don't have all the same character names but you could easily go down a checklist on who's got who's personality and who serves what purpose in the story. Things are different but they nailed the spirit of the story.

12 Kingdoms
What might make the difference for me with trapped in another world stories, may be the main character and their reaction to being trapped. In Log Horizon everybody is more or less cool with the situation. It lets the show move on in some interesting directions, for instance, it gave the characters a reason to hold what's basically a constitutional convention in a medieval setting. Still though it's a little weird that none of them are freaked out. Didn't they have families? Lives? Hopes? Dreams?

On the surface, the 12 Kingdoms has what I'm sure must sound like the most escapist plot ever. A mythological creature basically tells an ordinary high school student they are the long lost absolute monarch of their own country in another world.  And reality ensues.

In its day the show got a lot of grief for how wishy-washy and unlikeable the main character is. But in light of certain people not considering how much work and responsibility leadership positions can be as well and how high the stakes are before jumping in feet first I think that complaint needs some reappraisal.

The show also serves as a crash course to wrap your head around the mandate of heaven. For westerners who have for centuries been fighting the idea of divine right to the point where I don't know if we can understand it anymore, this show does a pretty good job at explaining the mandate and why it's so important to understanding Chinese history

The main character starts the series really really REALLY not wanting to be in charge but gets the mandate of heaven beaten into her and turns out not to be half bad at the job once she gets her head out her ass.

Seriously by the end of it Yoko becomes a badass and is kind of my model for how to be a boss that don't take no guff.

She takes part in a rebellion against herself because in addition to being laughably corrupt her court manipulates her while refusing to listen to her orders.  Dear god do I love that arc.  She joins the rebel alliance to kick HER OWN ASS. And it is awesome. Probably the best animated medieval style siege I've ever seen on a TV budget. It's long, it's grueling. It's the Alamo with arrows. It's Blackwater before Blackwater. And while that arc wasn't meant to be the end of the series it's satisfying. Most of the main characters get a complete arc even a few I had forgotten about.
End of Spoilers

She basically does the King Solomon prayer for wisdom thing and that's what she winds up with, and dear god, do I love it.

Escaflowne and Fushigi Yƻgi

One of the criticisms I think the fandom is least likely to want to hear is that the modern anime landscape isn't welcoming to women. But it's fair. For the past 20 years or so the television market at least in marketing has been primarily focused on Shonen anime targeted to guys, And to me it kind of feels like it's getting worse, though that's just my opinion. At least in the well-marketed items, there doesn't seem to be the diversity there used to be.

And look I love that stuff. But I'm also willing to admit that my experience is that anime fandom tends to be overly dismissive of women and media targeted towards women. Now that's not just a problem with anime but it's there.

Here are two good trapped in a fantasy world stories I feel never got their due because instead of being mostly masculine coded escapist fantasies they're coded feminine. Fushigi Yugi, in particular, is very much aimed at young girls.

If you're kind of annoyed that modern anime sword and sorcery panders to the fantasies of teenaged boys too much this stuff might be worth a look.

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