Sunday, November 29, 2015

Let's talk about the anime "Magic Kaito 1412" and magic tricks

An anime that I didn't hear many people talking about while it was airing was Magic Kaito 1412. I'm still catching up with the show at the moment, but I want to mention a few things about it.

First off, Magic Kaito is a manga series by Gosho Aoyama, who also wrote Detective Conan and, indeed, Magic Kaito is set in the same universe. Occasionally in both the manga and the anime, characters from Detective Conan appear in Magic Kaito and (I believe) the other way round too. A few years back, there were some animated TV specials that were marketed as "Detective Conan Special" even the ones that didn't have any connection to the Detective Conan characters at all. The new series (with the 1412 suffix) has Conan and co appear every so many episodes, so this is not lost at all.

"Kaito Kid" is a phantom thief and, most importantly, a magician (I'm not going to go into the story, you've got Wikipedia for that). Rather than concentrating on the phantom thief elements like other shows might, Magic Kaito concentrates on the use of magic tricks, illusions, etc. As someone who spent a few years of their childhood learning magic tricks from people such as Dominic Wood along with various books, there's a certain attention to detail Magic Kaito 1412 has that I can really appreciate.

At the start of every episode, there's a stage with panning spotlights as Kaito introduces the episode with an (often cryptic) message about the heist/performance coming up. Not explaining what they're going to do, but a little thing to think about as the episode begins (a clue, perhaps). You're then usually introduced to the characters of the episode who typically have a jewel that Kaito is going to steal.

At some point in the first half of the episode, there's a discussion between Kaito and his uncle regarding how the plan will take place. Feasible entrances/exits, security systems, etc. This part is very carefully directed so that some things are either not mentioned out loud and instead shown on a computer screen directed away from the camera (I know it's anime, it's still a camera shut up) or are whispered so you can't hear it. So you have a vague idea on what they're planning, but not necessarily how they will do it. This is Stage Magic 101: let the audience know roughly what you're going to do, to build hype, interest and intrigue, but not everything about the trick because they will know A) what to expect, and B) where to look to try and figure out the trick. So you'd say "I'm going to make this elephant disappear" not "I'm going to make this elephant disappear behind this curtain with a spotlight behind it so you can see the elephant behind the curtain". There are some magicians/illusionists (there is debate about which word is appropriate) who are completely silent throughout a trick or routine and instead rely on gestures, props and music to create more of a visual spectacle.

Speaking of visual spectacles (other than the ones on my face, ba dum tschh), Magic Kaito continues its episode, usually finding out more about the characters who will have their gem stolen, etc. Eventually, the night of the heist arrives and Kaito makes a point of making a show out of them stealing the precious item, rather than taking it and leaving, because where's the fun in that? This is the natural combination of magicians and phantom thieves (occasionally referred to as "gentleman/lady thieves", e.g. Carmen Sandiego, Arsène Lupin, etc). There's usually something that goes wrong with Kaito's plan for whatever reason, occasionally caused by the interference of the aforementioned Detective Conan or accidentally by the bumbling police officers. It of course seems like Kaito's going to get caught or be forced to give up the heist, but he then surprises everyone, including the audience (us) with a backup plan (either thought of in advance or thought of there and then) that is often very clever and catches you off guard. There's never been a single episode where I've said "I saw that coming" when it comes to the main heist, and especially the backup plans.

The only downside is that Kaito has a tendancy to be quite childish when in school, particularly with the typical anime "girl who is childhood friend sits next to protag in school and blushes 24/7" thing going on (it is still an anime at the end of the day).

Oh, and there's occasional moments when a witch (in protag's class, obviously) uses real magic against Kaito's magic tricks and there's a whole real magic vs stage magic sub-plot going on occasionally, but that's really just cos the witch (Akako) is a fun character anyway and hella tsundere (even voiced by Eri Kitamura).

Perhaps I'm just getting nostalgia from my days of magic tricks as a kid, but this show is good fun and worth checking out.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

I didn't like bits of Undertale

I think it goes without saying that this post will have crazy spoilers for all routes of the game. Only if you are done with the game and ready to embrace all spoilers should you read any further, not that I recommend reading further anyway because you're probably gonna disagree and get angry, but you're still reading so I'm screwed anyway. Welp!

So Undertale happened. A game that has taken the Internet by storm for its take on morality in games, music and overall good story and characters. I agree with many that it's a very good game and one that will be remembered for quite some time, comparable with (if not surpassing) many big name games. I've finished the true pacifist [sic] route twice, with a full reset in the middle, the second play through trying other options and seeing more things I may have missed the first time round. On my other computer, I've been playing the genocide [sic] route to get a bit more context for a few things and out of pure curiosity. After playing the game so much, I could write a lot about what I really like about the game, but that would just be repeating what the rest of the Internet is saying. Instead, I think I will talk about the bits I didn't like, or at least came away from it with a sour taste in my mouth.

First off, there were a few parts of the game where it seems unnecessarily obtuse in imparting information that you need in order to do something, or making it clear that something was even possible in the first place. The most notable example of this was the battle with Toriel. I wonder how many people were convinced that they had no other choice but to kill them to continue? I sure was. I killed them on my first run through. I also personally know of at least one other person who is convinced that there is a way, but they can't find it. I get the message though. "Determination" and all that shit. "You must be determined to hammer an option in the game that isn't the first thing you select in almost any other encounter in order to spare this person". Toriel's name isn't yellow/pink, so the game has taught you that this monster can't be spared yet, so do something else. Maybe to other people it's super obvious and I just need to "get good". Either way, it felt like an oversight in a game where everything is super intentional and, thus, out of place. Honestly, if Toriel's and Asgore's fights were reversed, where Toriel would destroy the "mercy" button until you got their health low, while Asgore kept the "mercy" option, but did what Toriel did, it would be way more obvious because the "mercy" button remained intact, and you would have to survive the attacks until you hit the button enough times. I'm not sure if people would agree with that one (probably not) but that's one thing I didn't like much.

Okay, next up is the ending to the neutral [sic] run, or rather the bit with Flowey. Flowey gives you a hint on how to get the "true" pacifist ending if you spare them. If you don't spare them, you don't get the hint and, thus, no clue on how to progress to the true pacifist, or even that there was one in the first place. Obviously, the Internet exists, but "after leaving the core, backtrack until you get a phone call from Undyne" seems, much like sparing Toriel, completely non-obvious unless you get that hint. I can only assume that someone going through the entire game again, but this time being as pacifist as possible, getting the Flowey message and then going to find Alphys is what is expected, and probably what I would've done if the Internet didn't exist and I found out about it through osmosis.

The big thing that negatively affects the game for me was the ending to true pacifist [sic]. Once you've beat neutral once and probably gone through the entire game again because you killed Toriel and then finished with the Asriel fights, you then find out that the name you typed in at the start was not the name of the character you were playing. Once you trawl through all the game's text and piece it together, it turns out you were actually naming the first human who fell down a long time ago and was adopted by Toriel and Asgore. The character you were playing as is actually called "Frisk".

Now bear with me a second here while I get psychological on you.

Imagine you are playing through a role playing game. You name the character you're playing as after yourself. You style them after yourself. You play as them. That character is you. Then imagine that, in the game, you got killed and replaced by someone else with a different name, only they look like your character did.

They are the ones everyone is happy to see.
They are the ones attributed to saving the world.
They took the happiness that should've been mine.

In Undertale, just as you think you've saved the world, it takes that glory away from you and gives it to "Frisk" instead.

I felt cheated out of my happy ending.
I was no longer a part of this story.
I became a simple bystander as "Frisk" was praised by everyone.

Is this the actual motivation behind doing a genocide run? Putting that ending aside, there's no real motivation behind doing a genocide run because all the characters are lovely. You wouldn't want to harm them after a true pacifist run. But then the Frisk thing happens and I'm left thinking "but I did this. I helped everyone. Frisk isn't me." In the genocide run, everyone refers to you by the name you put in. It's definitely you who is the cold blooded murderer, not Frisk. So the game has you remembered as being a murderer, or someone else entirely. To actually leave your mark in the game world, kill everything.

To try and shoehorn yourself back in, you can assume that the physical human that you are moving about the underworld is called Frisk, but you are possessing the human as a spirit or "soul" as the first fallen human to either make up for what you did when you first fell down or to finish what you started and kill everything. It's not exactly ideal though, as you can't claim credit for something when you're a ghost.

Honestly, the first two things are minor niggles that were a little frustrating at the time, but it's not that big a deal. The final one though is why, despite massively enjoying Undertale, it left me with a sour taste in my mouth. Regardless of that though, I'll certainly be interested in whatever Toby Fox does next.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Regarding Aikatsu!, the big slump of 2015 and basically me oversharing

Before the big slump of 2015 (more on that later), I had a routine. For every anime season, I would review the massive JPEGs of doom to see what shows are coming up, shortlist the shows that sound like they could be good and prepare my streaming, torrents, etc accordingly. I had been doing this routinely since roughly 2008-2009 when Toradora was airing (the first anime I watched weekly as it came out with the fansubs). 

Fast forward to 2012, specifically the Autumn or "Fall" season. This season was home to a few big names: Chuunibyou season 1, Hidamari Sketch x honeycomb and Girls und Panzer to name a few. Now, generally speaking, each anime had a description, cast, hashtag, etc to give you a rough idea and it was this that I would base whether to watch a series or not. Sometimes I'd pick something up from recommendations too I should add. So generally, you'd get something like this:, 2012

But there was one show that just plain didn't have anything written about it. One show that stood out as a "who cares". One show that made me think "sounds stupid, like YuGiOh but with idols. I'll watch one episode as a laugh.", 2012

So, first things first. Yes, I watched the first episode of Aikatsu! completely on a whim and expecting to drop it. As part of writing this blog post, I just this second finished watching episode 1 again to see if I can remind myself what made me continue watching. It has been quite a while since I last watched it, so it might be nostalgia talking, but the characters, the music, the genuine fun the show seems to have is still there, even if the CG was super wonky back then. Truth be told, I often skipped the song in old episodes of Aikatsu! as they often repeated the same songs every week for a while and the CG was super wonky.

Fast forward to today and we're approaching 3 whole years since the first episode. I've watched every single one and I've seen the first movie too. Lately, they've got a much bigger variety of songs to choose from, and the CG looks fantastic! Click here to see a comparison of just how far the CG has come over the first 54 episodes, not to mention the newest ones look even better!

So what is "the big slump"? Well, in 2014 I got a significant other who encouraged me to watch shows I wouldn't normally be interested in because I watch "too many little girl shows" and not enough of what they liked. So I figured I'd try and expand my horizons a bit and watch some other shows. This lead to me trying to watch a bit of everything and not really having the time to do it. This person became particularly toxic towards the anime, music, and basically everything I enjoyed and, eventually, me as a whole. I was watching less and less anime to the point where I hardly watched anything. I finally left that relationship at the start of 2015. That person is long behind me now and I want nothing to do with them ever again. This left me with an issue: I had many series in my backlog that I couldn't bring up the enthusiasm to attempt to catch up on. Despite parting ways with this individual, I was still, what I consider, quite broken. I just couldn't get the enthusiasm to watch most anime. I can't watch something if I'm not in the mood for it, and the mood only happened a couple of times a week at most. The biggest issue for me was starting new series, not knowing what you're in for. I also blame part of this on Madoka Magica, a series which I utterly despise, probably not because it's a bad show, but because I forced myself to watch it all and became completely depressed as a result. It's not a show I enjoyed, but I watched the whole thing because everyone else was and I didn't want to feel left out, but I feel worse off as a result so thanks everyone. Any sequels or continuing shows I was fine with, I'd still be watching these every week. Most notable of these is Aikatsu! of course. This slump continued until mid-2015 where I got myself into another relationship of sorts, but one that basically had an agreement that neither of us were super sure about whether it would work out for various reasons. I was very happy with this relationship and, although it has since ended, I feel like a better person because of it as I'm starting to understand just who I am, what I am and what I enjoy and be way happier with it. It also seems to have reset my anime watching-ness...that's a word, as I'm now marching through my backlog with a few episodes a day, rather than a couple of episodes a week. I basically consider this relationship-like thing I had to have basically rebooted me and I'm on the way to getting to how I want to be.

Let's go back to Aikatsu! again. I'm still watching this show every week and I have been doing for almost 3 years (minus 2.5 weeks at time of writing). I can't explain quite how happy this show makes me. I have so much fun seeing what the characters are up to, hearing the new songs, buying the CDs and, hell, I even managed to meet Ruka, Mona and Miki from Aikatsu Stars while I was in Japan last month (they seemed pretty psyched that someone from the UK came to see them, and I can gloat that I was the only westerner there). I just have so much fun with this whole franchise every week! I'm going to do my best to get to Japan to see the third film (second story-based film) next summer, as that's my new number 1 goal after I completed my "just get to Japan, doesn't matter what happens while you're there, just get there" goal in July.