「Visual Collection/Series Premiere」 Blade & Soul #01.

Blade and Soul #01.

Source Material: Blade & Soul
Studio(s): Gonzo
Director(s): Hiroshi Hamasaki (浜崎 博嗣) , Hiroshi Takeuchi (竹内 浩志)
Writer(s): Atsuhiro Tomioka (冨岡 淳広)
Character Design: Eri Nagata (長田 絵里), Hyung-Tae Kim (김형태)
Chief Animation Director: Eri Nagata (長田 絵里)

Background Information:
Blade & Soul is a Korean fantasy martial-arts massively multi-player online role-playing game (MMORPG) developed by NCSOFT’s Team Bloodlust developer division. Having been in development since 2007 yet still void of many promised services, such as overseas and console (Playstation 3 and XBox 360)  releases, the game is considered as currently in development hell. In spite of that, due to recognition of its innovative game mechanics, its artistic and stylistic design, and NCSOFT’s established reputation with previous series (Guild Wars, Lineage, Aion), it has garnered widespread attention as an accomplished entry in the MMORPG industry. While the anime series is to adapt from the source material itself, its release precedes the establishment of the game’s Japanese servers.

Summary:
Aruka, a skilled assassin of the Tsurugi Clan bearing a scar resembling the shape of a swallowtail butterfly, was the sole witness to the murder of her master by three assailants belonging to the Param Empire. Since the incident, she has made it her personal mission to put an end to the vendetta and exact revenge upon the three assassins she prominently remembers from her vague memory. While bathing in a pond and reflecting upon that fateful evening, she is discovered by a pair of brothers who recruit her as a bodyguard, not after being overwhelmed by her physical prowess. Now serving Mori, the young female successor of a village, Aruka is exposed to the devastating influence of the Param Empire on people other than herself. The imperialism of the Param Empire has turned the village into a target land for the cultivation of “sky spirits,” flowers that grant supernatural powers upon being cultivated, subsequently establishing a common enemy for Aruka and her employer. All throughout, Aruka  retains her stoic nature towards both her friends and foes, failing to even bat an eye when the whole village is attacked and countless people are killed before her. Ganza, essentially an unexceptional character of mini-boss-eque nature (filler, even in mini-boss terms) volunteers himself as someone who can defeat Aruka, over-estimating the power of the sky spirit bottle he  possesses. Aruka assassinates Ganza with one skillful maneuver with two blades but is ultimately unable to stop the army that accompanied him. As Aruka and Mori watch the destruction of the village from afar, Aruka tells Mori to pursue vengeance. Then, while cutting her own hair, Aruka clarifies that instead of taking revenge, she is merely abiding by law.

Review:
First off, I would just like to say that it’s really difficult for me to not compare this anime adaptation to the original game. Of course, while they are two entirely different mediums, that’s not said in the sense that they don’t share many aspects, but rather, in the sense that they should be equally respected as distinctive art forms. So, in consideration to the congruous narratives, reworked character designs, the recycled soundtrack, and other similarities,  it’s quite easy to say that this adaptation pales in comparison to the elegant execution of the original game. If anything, I’ll just have to trust myself when I say that I would undoubtedly think the same even if I had never heard of the game prior – and hopefully it’s fair to ask for you too to take my word on that. The thing about Blade & Soul is that for an MMORPG, it has a spectacularly riveting and engaging narrative. And in all honestly, it’s hard to come across one that succeeds in conception and execution of its story, especially when the fine line between game-play and cut-scenes is thickly veiled by the individual preferences of each player. Not perfect, but better than most, Blade & Soul does well in establishing the plot as a cultivated and integral part of the game, wherein the awe-inspiring artistry in design and graphics essentially present the cut-scenes as a worthwhile and standalone picturesque experience. But while it is an exquisitely visual adventure, Blade & Soul also knows how to balance its elements through game mechanics. To that effect, I believe it is very important to know, for example, what to place in cut-scenes and what to place in player-optional NPC talk bubbles. In translating the visual appeal, atmosphere, story and lore of an open-world game, one faces the challenge of depicting these intricacies, such as the gorgeous environments that the player can simply admire while walking their character towards an NPC, into concrete frames of an episode that ultimately subtract from its overall twenty minute run-time. There’s an unavoidable drawback to every scene implemented, so it goes without saying that attempting to emulate every single component of the game would be nearly impossible. Even so, in evaluating this premiere episode in more anime-suitable standards, it’s also hard not to be discontent with Gonzo’s recreation. I wouldn’t call myself the biggest fan of Studio Gonzo at all (though if it can produce another masterpiece on the level of Gankutsuou, I would consider that one of the greatest comeback of a studio in anime history) and that line of impression continues with the production value of this here adaptation. In regard to Aruka as the main character, a static air accompanies her disposition, so that while she is admittedly of a bad-ass nature, it’s ambiguous as to whether or not she’ll justify the role of protagonist through hard-driving character depth and/or development or whether she’ll remain the archetypal avenger all twelve episodes. Additionally so, aspects that could accentuate the story-telling oh-so-well, animation of action sequences and general art quality are also quite lackluster and flat, a lot of Aruka’s movements being simplified into non-dynamic animations. On the other hand, when action is low-key, it’s still hard to appreciate the beauty of the environments and scenic shots as much as one would in the game. And as always, I’ve it a point to be concerned with how the scheduled episode count will affect the series overall. One cour is usually not enough to present a magnificently compelling series, but it is always enough to make me fretful. Of course, there are those series that can do just the seemingly impossible in twelve or thirteen episodes, some in even less; but the fact remains that at this point, with a series that is missing satisfying core elements as well as the additional oomph factor, there is too much to be desired. If you ask me, the first artistic desecration was when they changed the “&” in the original title to an “and,” and it probably all went downhill from there.

Rating: 7.2/10

 

Advertisements

Log Horizon #25. and How-to Properly Seize A Second Season

Source Material: Mamare Touno (橙乃 ままれ)
Writer(s): Toshizo Nemoto (根元 歳三)
Studio(s): Satelight
Director(s): Shinji Ishihara (石平 信司)
Music: Yasuharu Takanashi (高梨 康治)

It’s easy to underestimate the possibility control and power of money on any given industry, and the major power of the media mix in anime is no exception. Especially in recent years, we’ve seen our fair share of questionable adaptations every season. Shows that are adapted into anime series before even having enough content to satisfy one cour. Shows that are altered completely from their original narrative. Shows that are oh-so well deserving of continuation but are ultimately truncated. And shows with essentially unnecessary continuations. For both the good and the bad sides of this coin, it’s definitely an interesting conundrum about a certain influence on culture. All of this is open to contention, of course, though one fact remains constant and that is the inevitability of further exposure. Whether they be manga, novels, games or even the more up-’til-lately less indulged mediums such as light novels, visual novels and the like, getting an anime adaptation will increase audiences. That is a formula that has long since been set in anime-drawn stone, which really brings us to the true topic of this article, a little niche light novel series I like to call Log Horizon and whose anime adaptation I like to call ‘the best MMORPG sub-genre anime I have had the pleasure of watching.’

Leaving aside a thorough synopsis of the overall series for another time, what we’ll discuss is its state in the last fours weeks of its broadcast. After a thrilling finale at the Battle of Zantlead, the arc focusing on the conflict with The People of the Land comes to a satisfactory close. Back in Akihabara, the army-disbanded adventurers are back to their free-willing, adventuresome selves and are effervescent in their post-victory celebration and indulgence in the first ever Scale Festival. It’s not really a set-up for another gripping battle, at all. This is evident when this in-between arc’s antagonist arises, a nobleman and person of the land named Lord Malves, who besides in countenance proves to be no spectacular authority, no more a threat Shiroe. What worth he does prove himself to be, however, after two episodes of moderate lime-light, is a fantastic red herring. As a generous fate would have it, the issue with Malves is effectively resolved within the first five minutes of the season finale, leaving a whole lot to be covered in terms of embellishing the episode greatly with a sense of yearning for the riveting teased things to come, a sense of nostalgia through heartfelt moments with the eponymous guild of the show and just a general sense of astonishment at wonderful story-writing.

With the good riddance of our short-lived villain, things are immediately taken up a notch. A moment between Minori and Shiroe finally has her simultaneously confronting the Akihabara populace’s general opinion of Shiroe as well as confronting Shiroe himself. At last, Shiroe is posed with a particularly heavy-hitting question that doesn’t revolve around strategic analysis but rather, around him as a person. It is here that Shiroe expresses his own personality quite explicitly, which is such a seldom occurrence for him – and you can’t help but notice that he must have had a long and emotional history with his past guild, something that always seems to linger in the back of his head as he plays that role of the “villain in glasses,” brooding behind the scenes of everything. And if I had to put a finger on it, I would say a huge deal of this demeanor involves Kanami, a character I’m anxiously looking forward to finding out more about. Conversely, in the tween eyes of Minori, we can see how much her image of Shiroe, once so glorified, is losing its luster, though not negatively so. If anything, Minori has quickly grown out of her phase of idolization and is subconsciously equalizing herself to Shiroe, even pitying him to a certain extent in this episode. It’s hard to say whether this shaping of her outlook on Shiroe and people in general will play strongly towards her affection for him or not; but either way, it’s a damn fine level of character depth. Of all the new Log Horizon recruits, Minori is definitely the brightest of the bunch and the level of her character growth is something so satisfying that it could enable her to surpass Akatsuki in terms of a likeable character, even if the mentioned is frankly cooler in combat ability, appearance and class (that’s MMORPG class, not aristocratic class, mind you).

But of course, as she probably heard me say that just now, Akatsuki was looming in the background and witnessing the whole discourse, she possibly being the only one more specialized in covertness than Shiroe, something that speaks for their own compatibility I suppose. (A cinematographic quality worth noting is the framing in three shots, wherein Shiroe is seen looming over the entirety of a twilight Akihabara, then Minori is revealed beyond that scope and a while later, Akatsuki is even more so beyond that. A very nice sequence of composition.) And in my opinion, this was a much needed advancement. Beyond her moe stature and position of over-poweredness at level ninety, Akatsuki really needed a stronger persona and connection with Shiroe to have anyone rooting for her  attempted courtship. This being especially necessary considering her longer history with our megane protagonist. Though by this, I’m not saying that I enjoyed seeing Akatsuki essentially hating herself for being so unobservant of her beloved despite being so aware of her own lifestyle of inconspicuousness. Quite the opposite, I was overjoyed at the under-the-stars guild dinner scene, that when all the cards were on the table and everyone was being so open with each other, the girl was able to brush aside her self-directed frustration and take part in the unity of the members. Truly, if that isn’t what a guild family is for, then I don’t know what is.

Speaking of good and bad sides of coins earlier as well, Shiroe’s romances and the coin Shiroe fiddles around with in his fingers this episode, it’s an interesting dynamic that is introduced between Shiroe and Nureha, guild master of Plant Hwyaden and interim leader of the Minami District. God knows Shiroe has enough romantic interests for the time being (though I suppose more age-appropriate ones are welcome) but additionally so, the relationship, or rather, obsession, that Nureha has with Shiroe almost seems to resemble Shiroe’s position of captivation towards his past and still mostly undisclosed (frustratingly so) guild master, of the Debauchery Tea Party. And I guess when a resemblance to deep-rooted memories doesn’t work, there’s always a buxom figure and irresistible fox-tail. Proving to be calm, cool and collected as always, Shiroe resists the irresistible and rejects Nureha’s guild membership offer. Further excessively, he continues to renounce their relationship and essentially makes a declaration of war with Nureha, a course of action that I thought was a bit sensitive; but I wouldn’t say it makes me skeptical of Shiroe as much as it makes me eagerly anticipate just what the story can ensue towards.

And it’s definitely a extensive route Log Horizon has assembled for itself. The closing moments in this episode re-created the legitimate sense of adventure and friendship that has been a core element of (and that has made me enamored with) this series all throughout. Following a truly MMORPG-tributing and gratifying action sequence involve our current line-up of Log Horizon adventurers and the usual energizing ED sequence, Shiroe informs Ri Gan he is leaving Akihabara and the announcement for the second season wraps the finale up. Something about Shiroe looking more mischievous than usual made me believe it was actually Nureha disguised as him talking to Ri Gan, but if my paranoia isn’t something to worry about, there is a sense of conceptual symmetry here. Admittedly, it is a bit saddening to see Shiroe essentially abandoned most of what he has established in Akihabara these past twenty-five episodes (especially so damn amazing comrades, shout out to Crusty), but what is an adventurer’s life other than one of taking risks and reaching new heights?

So, now in posing the post’s question, how does an anime properly seize a second season? Well, for Log Horizon:

A great introduction season through and through, no news announcements concerning continuation preceding the final episode broadcast, a mislead of sorts at the near end to make you think it’s just another completed series to drop in the recess of your memory bank, and then a full payout in the end with a myriad of moments that will remind you of the show’s best qualities, a clincher of story-writing that tells you things can get even better, and the crowning announcement that things will indeed get better. Damn more than good enough for me.

And to think, it all started with a hamburger that had some flavor.

Ragnarok Online II: Legend of the Second (NA Servers Official Launch!!)

In less than one hour’s time, history shall be made, a historical happening that is quite near and dear to my online heart. The first North American (English) server of Ragnarok Online II will go online, clocking in at nine, that’s right, NINE years after the game’s first conceptual announcement in 2004.

To this day, the original Ragnarok Online remains one of my favorite games of all time. (Only contending against Final Fantasy X for the main title.) The game’s innovation of 2D sprites in a 3D environment broke the sphere of side-scrolling MMORPGs and proved to have one of the most, if not the most technical game-play. Let us not forget the huge amount of customization in the game present in the class system, accumulating more than 20 individual occupations, creative catalog of class skills, unique card system, and more. Ragnarok Online ushered in a new era of creative mechanics and thrilling supplementary content. not to mention its premise based off the joint-mythological battle of the gods, which just screams epic. (The game’s alternative subtitle is The Final Destiny of the Gods, god damn, how can you not want to witness that?)

Despite all of this, more than anything, what I enjoyed most about Ragnarok Online were the personal experiences. Of course it was the construction of the game that let me so to speak, find a life in the game, but when I retrospect, what really mattered most to me were the friends and interactions beyond the game. And for that, I am forever thankful that the game itself could emulate a home for me. I often say that some of my best friends ever are the ones I met online and only interacted with online. And although I’ve lost contact with them all (Curse you, private server wipe!), I still believe that to this day. Needless to say, at that early age of however old I was, I found a true subculture in the world of MMORPGs, and most specially, Ragnarok Online. From the perception of the present day, where the industry seems to be desolate and moribund; those remembrances seem bittersweet, but that’s exactly what defines those memories as precious to me.

Bring me back to the years 2004-2007 and you would find me as a boy ecstatic at the announcement of Ragnarok Online 2: Gate of the World. It was during those years that I yearned to re-experience the joys of Ragnarok so I did everything to my power to re-create that grandeur. And oh boy, do I mean everything, from e-mailing a blogger offering Korean open beta accounts, putting the game’s installation file and/or actual post-installation files on a USB for my friends to play, making dozens and dozens of e-mail accounts for some reason I don’t even remember, and even searching through loads and loads of forum posts about bypassing Korean Social Security Number (KSSN) requirements. In the end, it was all to not much avail. I was able to play the game with one or two friends, but the experiences paled in comparison. For the most part, I was able to enjoy the game for the game and not much beyond that.

Since then, time has dwindled my anticipation and passion for the Ragnarok franchise, but I will always cherish it as a defining phase in my life. Today, I openly welcome the English release of Ragnarok Online II: Legend of the Second with open arms. If there is anything I learned from my past attempts, it’s that you cannot force the greatest moments in your life. They are that great because they are beyond your expectations. Now, since the servers are to open in ten minutes, I’d like to publish this post on that very optimistic note. Here’s to great gaming and heavenly friendships in the online community!