It is hard to easily express in which ways Grancrest War is bad; it is, in my opinion, such a combination of failed attempts to be interesting it ends up a singular kind of ridiculously uninspiring. Even trying to consider it from within its genre, a teen-focused power fantasy series, it feels alienatingly stupid. When writing about anime it is often easy to forget that much of it is written as mass entertainment for young people, and that approaching it with the expectations of an adult fandom is rarely fruitful. So anything that seems alienating and other may simply be something that an older audience are out of touch with, a reflection of, ultimately, a foreign country’s trends in youth culture. That is as maybe; I maintain Record of Grancrest War is still not very good.
Ultraman GEED was the first series in the franchise I had watched to completion, and it proved consistently impressive – not least because of the enthusiasm and love the cast seemed to have for it, which came across very clearly in the performances. It was a series that managed to make something quite continuity-heavy accessible; by this point there is a fairly established Ultraman mythos, so to speak, and the relationships between the various heroes and villains are quite central to the main plot of GEED. Nevertheless, it used various different angles to make itself accessible to its family audience – if anything, Ultraman is interesting in the long-running superhero franchises because it is very focused on referencing and maintaining its canon, but at the same time doing so in a way that attracts, rather than puts off, new fans.
Special Rescue Police Winspector (1990) is a series that regularly has me overreacting to its stupidity; it is gloriously over-the-top, often nonsensical in its approach to science and science fiction, and feels at times like it has perhaps two or three stock plots that are recycled in different settings. At the same time, though, I would absolutely recommend it to people looking for an entertaining and frequently plain daft superhero series. It may be stupid and contrived, even within the standards of its genre, but it is stupid in a very sincere and heartfelt way which manages – often enough – to make the viewer feel like they are laughing with the writing not purely at it.
I think three things motivate the player to continue playing the Danganronpa games; firstly the desire to “win”, and see the villains defeated and the survivors escape. Secondly, the morbid curiosity of detective fiction, the desire to see who dies and how those mysteries occur. And thirdly, the – in this case – equally morbid desire to see justice done for those murders. Ordinarily the pursuit of justice in detective fiction is not, per se, a perverse act to desire; the police intercede, or the detective pursues the crook, and they are sent to court and tried and that is that. But Danganronpa makes the act of justice into its own grotesque game that culminates in a parodic execution after the class become in turn judge and jury. The extreme, horror-movie tone of the executions – death by piano-shaped iron maiden, by fairground wheel of death, by baseballs, and so on – is just as memorable as the resolution of the mysteries and I would argue a driving factor in the game’s bizarre, horrific entertainment.
This article contains detailed discussion of the plot of Danganronpa V3, as well as Prey (2017)
In a lot of computer games, moral choices can be reduced to personality tests; they may be interesting dilemmas, but my enduring memory of games even as enjoyable as Mass Effect and Dragon Age is the choices still led you, eventually, to a fight or not a fight and a vaguely equivalent reward. This is not inherently a bad thing, the games still had memorable character moments, and generally hold up well as stories. Even something like The Witcher 3, which does not simply fall into good/bad decisions, generally has a lot of situations where the options are bad/worse and you as a player are not quite sure what will be worse (because the people the characters interact with are irrational, bigoted or stupid). But, nevertheless, it is not for no reason that moral decisions in video games became typecast as “do a good thing for a small reward, or a bad thing for a possibly bigger reward and a fight”; idea like Mass Effect‘s Renegade and Paragon points provided clear mechanical incentives for making choices that were often empathy versus utilitarianism. Bioshock was probably the weakest example of all; there, moral choice was “do you murder someone who looks innocent for immediate fiscal reward, or spare them for a larger reward later”. Hardly an interesting dilemma and almost a purely mechanical one.
A key part of the quality of Rurouni Kenshin: Tsuioku-Hen is its pacing and use of processions of dreamlike, almost wordless scenes; characters will move around and say little and yet the series uses visual and body language to make up for the lack of dialogue. It quite fits the characterisation that has been established in episode 1; Kenshin is willingly emotionless, childish in thought and deed, and Tomoe – the girl whose fiance he killed without knowing – is herself repressed and alone. I mentioned in my previous article on this OVA that it was rejecting, in a sense, all of the conventions of the typical assassin’s backstory; even now there is a humanising element (the thing that one would expect would lead to a sharp turn into mawkishness and saccharine cliché) it is in its own way different. It is two people both suffering unspoken emotional trauma (because the series has not even begun to address that Tomoe’s fiance is dead by Kenshin’s hand) talking at each other not about their problems.
When I began watching Rurouni Kenshin I felt a prequel showing the creation and life of the “Manslayer”, its central character (a retired, remorseful assassin who has laid down arms but cannot escape the past he created) would be superfluous; it seemed as a series to be showing a very “Ryosuke Takahashi” tale of someone with a past they were unprepared to share being reminded of it and trying to deal with it in ways which did not get in the way of their new life – even if they had to give up on that second chance for the greater good (Chirico Cuvie in Armored Trooper VOTOMS being the obvious parallel here but this is a theme that even turns up, in more optimistic terms, in Guy in King of Braves Gaogaigar – prepared to take up the mantle of hero which he believes has irreversibly dehumanised him unto death). Nevertheless, I was strongly recommended Tsuioku-hen, the prequel OVA, as one of the best pieces of animation the recommender had seen and I was richly rewarded by how in its first episode it set up something that far exceeded the usual sort of supersoldier backstory or “dark past seeking redemption” tale.
Warlord Games’ Test of Honour is best described as a pseudo-historical or pop-history wargame, a kind of midpoint between “serious” historical wargaming (focused strongly on accuracy over balance, and often breaking rules of what is considered “fun” in traditional miniatures gaming senses) and pure fantasy or speculation. Its mission statement, according to a Wargames Illustrated article was to “evoke samurai movies rather than a slavishly historical view of feudal Japan” (Graham Davey, quoted in WI354) and in this respect it achieves its aim. The rulebook is wholly free of historical context, the painting guides are genericised and do not even provide a list of historical coats of arms to imitate for historically-minded players.
In my longer review of Mirror’s Edge Catalyst I talked about how it was an ultimately anemic attempt at an activist piece of science-fiction; it failed to consider its liberal message on a level beyond what seemed to me to be the superficial. This was primarily a result of its creation of a bland dichotomy between terrorists on one end (who believed and exposited at great length that tacit acceptance of inequality made people a fair target for being killed in the name of the cause) and a peaceful progressive movement that seemed mostly to exist to make the protagonist appear to have agency. There was never a proper sense of struggle; the status quo seemed to be set up purely to hinge on the protagonist – and thus the player’s – actions.
Note: This article discusses in close detail the story of Mirror’s Edge Catalyst.
Having recently played both Dishonored games in succession, I have had the opportunity to compose my thoughts about the series; initially I was eager to discount it as not for me simply because stealth games are not my favourite type and the nonspecific steampunk-pseudo-British aesthetic of the first game, all whalers, fog and clunky technology, seemed overplayed and uninteresting. However, I came to quite enjoy the games as I played through them and even ended up playing the second in a mostly non-lethal fashion, with attempts at a much higher level of stealth and creativity than the first game (which ended up as a kind of farce as a masked assassin roamed the streets lobbing grenades and land-mines and shooting pistols at anything that moved).
Note: This review discusses a number of plot points from both Dishonored and Dishonored 2 and assumes some familiarity with the games’ stories.