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I Gave BABYMETAL Another Shot!

In one of my older posts, I ripped into everyone’s favorite Japanese kawaii-desu metal crossover band: BABYMETAL. In their defense, I only listened to their first two albums, which doesn’t tell you crap about a band in the long run (unless it’s with god-tier bands like Alestorm). Also, that post was horrible, and I wasn’t as much of a metalhead then as I am now. With a much firmer grasp of the genre (and its ludicrous number of subgenres), I decided to try BABYMETAL again. 

Anyway, in the off chance you haven’t heard of BABYMETAL, here’s a basic run-down. They formed in 2010 under the guiding hand of producer Key “Kobametal” Kobayashi. Their style is, obviously, a fusion of googoogaga J-pop with metal. But unlike most traditional metal bands, the girls have zero know-how with the genre, the songs are all composed by people behind the scenes, and the instrumentation is done with hired help. Somehow, they have managed to catapult themselves into mainstream status, earning acknowledgement from figures like Rob Zombie, and the Metal God himself; yes, Rob Halford likes them. And they probably don’t even know who he is. I’m not jealous on behalf of other bands at all.

First off, one criticism that I will still stand by is their album cover art. Every single one is just the band’s name with different Photoshop effects on it. I’m sorry, but I’ve never loved a band with horrible album covers. Maybe some of the ones from the olden days are a bit dated, but with the power of current technology (and freelance artists online), anything should be possible. A real album would’ve had, like, ridiculously busy hand-drawn art of Japanese highschoolers shooting zombies with machine guns.

So, the music. Um. Where do I even start? Upon reexamination, a lot of it is quite good. Of course, for me “quite good” is not a particularly high score. The sound production is great, and they do genuinely sound like metal, strictly in terms of music. And given the branding, the melody and lyrics are really catchy. I can thank Ghost and Amaranthe for making me realize that pop and metal work well together; after all, metal has its roots in R&B. But for some reason, I still wasn’t entirely enthralled. 

Admittedly, I have no idea how  the music industry as a whole works, but I feel like part of why I’m not enthralled is because the music production is manufactured. While some people can decide to not care that something is manufactured, I feel like there is a visible effect. None of the music is written by the girls, nor by the hired band. And that just feels… weird. There’s some kind of chaotic beauty when it comes to a band (with italics): even if it’s only two members, I want to believe that multiple band members bouncing ideas off of each other is important for the creative process. Of course, if it’s not, then feel free to reprimand me in the comments!

Because I’m insane, I didn’t only base this post on the music itself. I just had to consult the Internet as to why people like BABYMETAL, and then indirectly offer responses to each answer. Keep in mind that a lot of these were Reddit posts from well before other Japanese artists like BAND-MAID started to gain a foothold. But you know what, BABYMETAL is still one million times more popular than them, so they aren’t entirely outdated!

According to what I gleaned, they apparently have wild live shows. As someone who’s never been to a concert, I can neither agree nor refute that. Someone else, in addition to the Apple Music bio, says that they adapt all kinds of metal subgenres into their music. Honestly, metal has such a maze of subgenres that I don’t even know if the bands themselves know what their own stuff falls under. For example, Oceans of Slumber’s OFFICIAL Facebook bio says that they’re a prog-metal band from Texas. However, every review of any of their stuff I read was all like, “Oh boy, this is great doom metal!” So who do I trust? For me, BABYMETAL has only encompassed thrash, power metal, and straight-up vanilla metal. For the sake of simplicity, I’m just going to believe it to be a fact so that I don’t go insane from subgenre inflation.

A lot of the other reasons given by the less than 1% of humanity that can’t help but feel represent the entire human race are mostly refutable. Well, not refutable, per sé; they are technically correct as far as BABYMETAL itself is concerned, such as the notion that BABYMETAL is very clean and family-friendly by metal standards. However, their reasoning doesn’t appear to take many other bands into account, like a cappella metal band Van Canto for example (who predate BABYMETAL by a LONG TIME). That’s why I feel like most BABYMETAL fans aren’t really metalheads, because as a metalhead, I feel like they should at least know of a lot of these other bands by comparison. Some of the comments I’ve read implied that all the bands they had listened to were stale, and BABYMETAL taught them to love the genre as a whole again.

I must say: Who the eff have these people been listening to (or lack thereof) to think that?! In just the past ten years alone, metal has gotten more varied than ever, and without BABYMETAL’s help, thank you very much. If you name me a reason to love BABYMETAL, I can recommend at least two other bands that satisfy the same condition (and obviously, they do it better). If you have listened to these other bands and still like BABYMETAL more, at least you had a fair comparison to make. 

But you know what, I can’t blame people for having never heard of these other bands. Becoming mainstream puts you in a position of robbing the poor to feed the rich. What I mean by that is that you’ll get so much attention, the niche bands who have to work harder to get attention get exponentially less attention unless they become mainstream themselves. I, for instance, haven’t heard of most of my niche bands until I magically stumbled upon them by looking at random lists in Apple Music. But even before then, I knew I had something missing musically in my life. You just have to be explorative, which is easy if you have a streaming service for music. It’s not at all hard to follow the metal market. Have some of BABYMETAL’s older fans completely shut themselves out of the market due to nostalgia? And if so, why did BABYMETAL of all things drag them back into the fold? J-Rock News had an article with interviews of fans of various ages, but none of them explained exactly how they came across BABYMETAL. I know I did because of Mario Maker. But how could an old geezer who doesn’t follow the market come across them WITHOUT also coming across these other bands?

Seriously though, the gap between mainstream and niche is monumentous, especially in a country as powerful as the U.S. In my experience, BABYMETAL is the only 2010s band to become this big in American culture. Beyond them, the most popular American hard rock and metal bands have still been Linkin Park and Slipknot for the PAST TWENTY YEARS. What about Oceans of Slumber, Helion Prime, A Sound of Thunder, or In This Moment? All new, shiny American metal bands, and yet they’re still little babies in diapers. The latter even had a Grammy nomination and I still don’t know ANYONE who’s even heard of them. 

Another reason for my not liking them is something I didn’t write in the old post, but something I had discussed with another blogger in that post’s comments. It was actually my first ever interaction with RiseFromAshes (who has great Japanese pop culture blogs, by the way)! Plugging aside, the thing that bothered me about BABYMETAL has to do with how Japan is viewed on an international scale. By being an idol-metal outfit, they cement the stereotype that Japan is all about goofy silly kawaii-desu sensory overload nonsense. As someone who’s studied the nation at length, I know that this stuff is a big part of Japanese culture. However, an uninformed American might not necessarily understand kawaii-ness is a recent addition to something much deeper and infinitely more complicated. BABYMETAL gives off an impression that Japan can’t be manly, even with a genre as manly as metal, and makes things rough for old-fashioned-type J-metal bands such as Lovebites.

I also read a big fat post on Reddit about BABYMETAL being special because they’re accessible. I don’t know enough of the facts to vouch for the age variety of fans they claim to have, but I can say that I don’t like how accessible they are. What pisses me off about it is that it’s framed as if their accessibility is factually good. In my experience, the toxicity of fandoms has consistently been proportional to its size. Yet, the notion that “accessibility = good” is arbitrarily a fact makes me feel like a subhuman species. Of course, that could be how I’m reading into whoever wrote that. As much as I try to sound as subjective as possible on my reviews, someone could see my values and think that I’m assuming that those values are factually good. Being human is fun, isn’t it?!

But you know what, no matter how much I can explain with facts, this all remains an opinion. In the end, I cannot explain why I’m not in love with BABYMETAL. I don’t think Su-metal is a particularly talented singer, for starters. I welcome the earworm that is Ghost’s ‘From the Pinnacle to the Pit’, but songs like ‘Gimme Chocolate!’ feel like an ear-parasite. And as far as memey-ness is concerned, any band with Christopher Bowes has more memes in one song than BABYMETAL has in an entire album.

Overall, I like BABYMETAL more, but I also dislike them more. The music is better than I thought, sure. But now, my envy toward them is worse than ever. Not only have they taken more attention from a lot of Japanese bands, I now realize that they’ve taken attention from a massive slew of Western bands as well. It’s good, but I don’t know what makes people (including the Metal God) think that BABYMETAL is one of the greatest things since sliced bread. Well, it’s not exactly new for me to have animosity towards something mainstream, is it?

Time Castaways: Steins;Gate but for Kids!

We all know time travel is iffy. It’s especially iffy in literature, since it’s something that could get needlessly convoluted very quickly. Despite all that, I looked at Liesl Shurtliff’s Time Castaways book series and thought: “This actually looks good.” Let’s see (and hope) if I was right.

In Time Castaways, three siblings by the names of Matt, Ruby, and Corey Hudson, take the subway to school and end up on the Vermillion, a time machine. Yeah, I don’t get it either. They join the crew, led by Captain Vincent, for literal shits and giggles, and they go on various time missions through time-space. 

This story sounds like one of those “edutainment” series, where the whole point is showing how much random historical trivia the author knows. Fortunately, about halfway into the first book, things escalate rather quickly. The established rules regarding time travel are quite simple, and it never goes to complete and utter BS territory, even towards the end where things would normally get out of hand.

And, well, that’s because the plot is extremely simple. Time Castaways more-or-less follows all the usual clichés of the time travel subgenre. Even the biggest revelation, shown at the end of book two, is incredibly obvious from the start. If you have experience with this kind of stuff, it’ll likely feel very cringe-worthy.

What makes Time Castaways stand out, however, is the power of family. Normally, the parents are like “Time travel? You kids need to go to the place with the nice guys in white suits for a while!” and the mom steals some MacGuffin from the main protagonist as punishment for sneaking out of the house so often. But here, the whole family ends up deeply involved in all the mumbo-jumbo, earning their spots as plot-relevant supporting protagonists.

The second book, unfortunately, suffers the same curse that most midpoints in trilogies have. It’s more-or-less a wild goose chase. It introduces the main MacGuffin of the trilogy, sure. But other than that, there aren’t any real developments until the climax.

Fortunately, unlike many-a YA novel, the final book is insane. It’s slow at first, but things go absolutely off the rails as everything comes together. If you find yourself emotionally invested in the cast, your heart will break into a million pieces at many points in the final book.

However, becoming emotionally invested in the cast is quite difficult. Matt’s only real trait is that he has seizures, and being adopted. His level of suffering is about on par with Okabe in Steins;Gate. But unlike Okabe, who has a whacky personality, Matt is… a kid. RELATABLE (*sarcasm*).

His siblings aren’t much better; in fact, they’re arguably worse. Ruby pretty much exists for an unfunny meme where she arbitrarily gets tossed around by the Vermillion, and that’s pretty much it. Corey, meanwhile, is a turd. He’s both the comic relief, and the “always jumps to conclusions” guy. Pretty much every rift in any relationship in the trilogy has him involved, and it’s annoying.

I think boringness runs in the family, because I didn’t particularly care for ANY of the Hudsons. They’re, well, family, I guess. As cool as it is to have the family be important, the characters themselves aren’t really that fun. I dunno, I’m probably spoiled by the utter god-tier level of Spy X Family’s wholesomeness.

Wow, half of this review is the cast! In addition to the Hudsons, we have the crew of the Vermillion. The only one who matters is Jia. She’s the waifu. It’s not even a spoiler that she turns Matt from a boy into a man. That’s about it. Brocco and Wiley are pretty much there. Albert exists to be an utter ass. His motive is supposed to be that he’s a British kid from the late 1770’s, who would naturally hate Americans, but that never comes up again in his character arc. Lastly, there’s Pike, who’s basically a wild card that they tease as someone super mysterious, but she’s more-or-less forgettable.

Finally, we have the main antagonist, epically named “Vincent.” Okay, so technically, saying he’s the villain is a spoiler for book one, but it’s extremely obvious that he’s the villain (he has a pet rat for one thing). He’s not a well-written antagonist. He’s one-dimensionally evil, with no strings attached. His motive for everything is literally him being jealous of someone else dating the same girl that he liked; what a brat! I’m not like those who think that EVERY villain MUST be complex and layered, but I like some fun personality to make up for it, and Vincent has none of that.

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Final Verdict (Whole Series): 8.5/10

Time Castaways is great. It sucks that it’s not that popular, since it’s so much better than what actually IS popular. The books have flaws, but they’re very fun, emotional, and full of family wuv. I recommend it to anyone who likes time travel and actually wants to see it done well.

ASHIDAKA – The Iron Hero: More Like “The All-Caps Hero” (First Impressions, Volumes 1 and 2)

I’m not one to normally read a new series just over a year after serialization. My first impressions of ASHIDAKA – The Iron Hero consist of the first two volumes, but that could end up being half or two-thirds of the story. A lot of manga, especially battle shounen, tend to get axed as swiftly and mercilessly as a Danganronpa character. But sometimes you gotta live life on the edge, and by the edge, I mean invest early in something that could easily get cancelled even after a cliffhanger. 

In ASHIDAKA – The Iron Hero, the world is full of robots called droids. Fortunately, people in this world are naturally born with two cybernetic arms coming out of their shoulder blades. However, because we HAVE to have racism, anyone who has more than one pair of arms is considered to be in league with Satan, and are persecuted. The titular Ashidaka (whose name is thankfully not in all caps like the title) is named after the Moses of this world, and he inevitably ends up on a mission to take down Mecha Satan (henceforth known as the Centipede). 

The immediate issue with ASHIDAKA is that it kind of dumps a ton of crap on you at once. It jumps right into combat when you don’t even know how anything works yet, you get a Biblical lore dump, Centipede destroys Ashidaka’s hometown that you’re expected to have an emotional attachment toward over the course of five minutes, and he’s roped into some secret Anti-Centipede resistance. Yeah, it’s a lot. 

There are also some things that seem inconsistent to me, but it could be because of either the fast pacing, or the mangaka didn’t put much thought into the story. For example, why are people racist against those with four or more arms when the specific count has to be a hundred in order to be Satanic? I feel like that was just thrown in there just to be symbolic for the sake of symbolism. There’s also someone who’s a massive jerk to Ashidaka exactly one time for what seems like nothing more than shock value. Maybe if the manga runs long enough it’ll get to flesh this stuff out.

Another sad thing is that the writing is pretty bare-bones. It’s not as copy-paste as Kimetsu no Yaiba (which I may or not be saying out of spite against Kimetsu no Yaiba but I digress), but it’s enough to where you could probably read the Japanese version and more-or-less know exactly what’s going on. It’s a real shame, since it looks like it has potential to have a pretty good story moving forward.

The big plus with ASHIDAKA is definitely the arms. Usually, only one character in a series would have robot arms, but for that to be the standard for everyone in the world makes it a bit more interesting. There are many types of arms, along with a whole bunch of rules that will likely be amended on the fly because battle shounen love doing that. At least they look cool; that’s what matters most!

Unfortunately, that doesn’t help the characters. Similar to Musashi from Orient, among others, Ashidaka is a case of a “shounen protagonist in a seinen world”. He has absolutely zero rationality, and will throw a hissy fit if anyone dies for any reason, even if it’s for the greater good. He aims to find a less costly way of fighting, but that’s definitely not going to come into play for a while.

Supporting him is Geji, who is a bit more composed, even if he is super abrasive. And honestly, that’s kind of it so far. There’s several people in the aforementioned resistance movement, but they all consist of extremely basic tropes. At least they look cool?

Speaking of looks, ASHIDAKA is decent enough in the art department. The fights are flashy, but it can be tough to tell what’s going on since everything has robot parts.

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Current Verdict: 6/10

ASHIDAKA – The Iron Hero is nothing spectacular so far. But hey, I only read two volumes. Hopefully, it’ll get better in the future.

Weeb Reads Monthly March and April 2021

Man, going on hiatus stinks. I’ve been backed up with so many posts, that I don’t know what to do! As such, this is going to be a massively long Weeb Reads Monthly. Fortunately, I only had one book for April. Nonetheless, you’ll want to grab some popcorn here!


Re:ZERO Volume 15

It was nice being ahead of the anime. At this point, the second season has likely finished the Sanctuary Arc and started a bit of the next arc. Fortunately, us losers who read the light novels at least get to complete the former before we’re left behind. 

So, in this volume, Subaru and Co. have to beat Elsa, the moe-blob beast tamer whose name I keep forgetting, and get Beatrice, the most stubborn waifu ever, to leave the stupid library. Oh, and Emilia has to FINALLY finish the dumb trials! That’s a lot to do, and it’s impressive that it’s all wrapped up here.

The only real flaws are that the fights are awful. They always were, in my opinion, but it sucks that they haven’t gotten better. You really have to like Re:ZERO for the story or you won’t like it at all. The other issue is that Beatrice really is a stubborn little b****, and they waste time by reiterating her tragic backstory over and over again to make us have feels for her. I liked this arc, but man, it overstayed its welcome!

Verdict: 8.9/10


Combatants Will Be Dispatched! Volume 5

In this volume of Combatants Will Be Dispatched!, we finally get to see the Demon Lord. It wouldn’t be an ecchi light novel if said Demon Lord wasn’t a cute girl, and as such, she’s a cute girl. The new character is named Viper, and she’s basically a parody of the overly self-sacrificial sad waifu. Remember kids: committing suicide is bad! Obviously, she’s no Grimm, but to be honest, she’s probably my least favorite character so far. Her martyrdom is kind of annoying, even when compared to the ever-scummy Six and Snow.

Anyway, the main conflict is them having to fight the Sand King. Action was never this author’s strong suit, and the fight in this volume is pretty unceremonious. There is a fun twist towards the end, but other than that, it’s pretty typical Combatants stuff.

Verdict: 8.35/10


Infinite Dendrogram Volume 14

As expected, the entirety of this volume is the fight that ensues at the summit thingamajig. After being withheld from seeing Nemesis’ fourth form, we waste no time seeing it now. It’s another cool and unusual power that further cements Ray as having one of the most interesting fighting styles among self-insert LN protagonists. The first major battle is against the King of Beasts, whom we’ve been building up to for a long time. And to no surprise, the fight does not disappoint. 

If these fights showcase anything, it’s that Ray still has a long way to go. I mean, c’mon, Dendro really is unfair when it comes to the one-of-a-kind, game-breaking boss drops. Nonetheless, the fights are incredible and engaging. 

Most LNs with all fights would be just that, but Dendro isn’t like most LNs. In the aftermath of the summit war (not to be confused with the Summit War in One Piece), we get some crazy new developments. Sadly, we aren’t going to know what happens next for a while, because apparently, something else was happening at the capital of Altar at the same time. Hopefully, it’ll give us some context on what the hell is going on.

Verdict: 9/10


So I’m a Spider, So What?! Volume 11

This series was finally getting good. A swathe of plot revelations have been brought up: our intrepid hero is a creation made by D, out of sheer laziness, and said intrepid hero becomes an intrepid villain. Ooooh, moral quandaries, even though no one else in the series is likeable so it doesn’t really work! Anyway, with this volume, So I’m a Spider, So What?! should finally be banging!

Having hope was my fault. 

Where the spider stands now, Shun’s red-shirted brother Julius is eleven years old. That means this volume is all about him. Look, I’ve seen all kinds of opinions that I disagree with, but this is a rare time where I’ll question your character if you like this volume. People seem to think that any and all character development is good, but I think this is an example of BAD character development. Sure, we learn about this man and his emotional insecurities or whatever, but… who cares?! It’s not just the fact that we know he’ll die; it’s that his existence has no bearing on the story. Good character development is, you know, ANY character in One Piece. This is just filler disguised as something good. If you have a good reason to defend this volume, let me know in the comments.

Verdict: 4/10


Cautious Hero Volume 6

So, the end of the previous volume was a thing. We have an established final boss, for starters. Oh, and Seiya gets sent back to earth, and is not allowed back. However, that last part is not in play for long. You see, the aforementioned final boss, Mersais, makes a big mess of reality. In order to fix it, they need to defeat her. But since the spirit world is out of commission, they need to restore three of the messed up worlds to establish a connection with where Mersais is, the first of which is Gaeabrande. 

Seiya is better than ever, obviously. But without a spirit world, where can he train? Fortunately, he is able to set up shop in the underworld. There, he lives with these twins who vomit blood on a regular basis. Also, everyone in the underworld is horny for deities. Good thing Cersceus comes with them; he can be used as a meat shield.

Overall, this volume is as good as usual. And despite the fact that we’re reusing assets, Seiya still learns new, interesting powers that further vary his fighting style. Also, there’s a sense of nostalgia for going back to these old worlds, even if the realities aren’t real.

Verdict: 9.35/10


Last Round Arthurs Volume 4

In case this series didn’t love Fuyuki enough, this volume is about her too. Or rather, the lack thereof, for she has a run-in with the leader of the Dame du Lac, and her existence is erased from everyone except Rintaro’s memories. The solution ends up being a quest for the Holy Grail, which Arthur himself couldn’t even get.

To put things bluntly, this volume is about as banger as usual. The action is intense, and the chemistry with the characters is just so darn good. The premise of Rintaro battling his “emo inner demons” has been becoming a bit of a running theme, but it looks like that’s FINALLY resolved here. Also, based on how this ends, there’s a good chance that the next volume will be the finale.

Verdict: 9/10


Eighty-Six Volume 7

It took seven volumes… No, not to capture the Merciless Queen, but something much more important: fanservice! We have a scene of them swimming in the mixed bath, which is supposed to be justified by some bigwigs wanting them to get a whiff of normal life after their constant sortieing. It’s about what you’d expect.

Fortunately, it’s not all filler. After some more of the typical reminders that Eighty-Six is actually a social commentary on racism, we finally get to speak with the Merciless Queen. Unfortunately, due to the fact that she has to be the “enigmatic character who withholds information for no reason”, we don’t get legitimate answers until three quarters into the volume.

Of course, the most “important” part is the party at the end. It would’ve been enjoyable, if I liked more than two of the characters. At the very least, we finally get to see resolution with a certain something (i.e. the something that fans are intended to have wanted the most out of Eighty-Six).

Verdict: 7.85/10


Rascal Does Not Dream of Siscon Idol

Ugh, this crap again. I have no idea how I stuck with it for this long, considering I don’t really like it at all. Anyway, Mai switched bodies with her failure idol of a stepsister, Nadoka Toyohama. While Sakuta has to figure out how to fix this, the girls have to get used to life as each other.

Man, this volume… to be blunt, I hated it. Sakuta doesn’t even do anything to figure out the problem; he kind of just goes with the flow. And honestly, this whole thing is a perfectly normal sibling rivalry drama. 

I just don’t get it… I understand the appeal of relatable issues, but I don’t understand why people laud writers who just take those same scenarios and put a supernatural spin on them. It’s the same thing, but with a cosmetic difference, yet it’s widely considered to be different. I’m any case, it’s safe to assume that I’ll be giving up on Rascal Does Not Dream for good.

Verdict: 5/10


The Invincible Shovel Volume 4

In this volume, every orb is collected. All that’s left is to defeat Zeleburg. Unfortunately, since Lithisia evolved into a shovel, the orbs don’t consider her part of the royal bloodline anymore. SO… they’re useless.

Fortunately, they just march into town and fight him with shovel powers. The usual antics ensue, and Catria gets shoveled more than ever, thanks to a shovel resisting device that needs to be recharged by her getting shoveled. We are also introduced to the shapeshifting demon, Elise, disguised as the pre-shovel Lithisia. Catria takes a liking to her, but sadly, Elise inevitably digs her own grave, just like everyone else.

Overall, it’s a great volume. However, the author might have dug themselves into a corner. You see, the volume ends on an insane cliffhanger, and after that is an author’s note saying “What the hell am I going to do with this?”. I have no idea how much longer the story goes on for, but chances are that Invincible Shovel is going to shovelplode on its shoveself.

Verdict: 8.25/10


Torture Princess Volume 6

This has been one of my favorite light novels of all time since release, but apparently, not enough for me to not miss a volume. In fact, it’s been four months. By the time you’re reading this, volume seven will have come out. But for the sake of being able to talk about it without spoiling THIS volume, I have to save that blurb for May. 

Anyway, shit’s hit the fan. Elisabeth and Jeanne were all means to an end, that end being to have God and Diablo bring about the apocalypse. Kaito has to take matters into his own hands, which is actually easier done than said, since he’s gotten so powerful at this point. Because of how things stand, he gets a real chance to wear Elisabeth’s shoes for once. It’s quite engaging, if I do say so myself.

As expected with Torture Princess, this volume is utter bonkers. We don’t just get insane new plot developments, such as the Saint’s backstory; there’s also a ton of battles against truly nightmarish critters. The ending is, well, a mindf***. And according to the author, this was just the first arc. So, I guess it was a blessing in disguise that I only had to wait one month for the start of part two. 

Verdict: 9.85/10


Conclusion

Boy, that was long! Hope you enjoyed this little college thesis. I’ll be back next month with the seventh volume of Torture Princess, and hopefully other good stuff. Oh, and that’s assuming I don’t end up mashing May with the June stuff (which is just as likely).

She-Ra and the Princesses of Power: An American Magical Girl Series (with a lot of shipping)

Despite me being a big weeb, I am more than willing to admit that cartoons are better than anime by a long shot, at least modern ones. However, a number of them tend to be a bit predictable. One day, due to the impulsive part of the brain that says “F*** it”, I decided to watch a Netflix show called She-Ra and the Princesses of Power, reviews of which said it had a lot of depth. However, I was hesitant because it’s a reboot. While I loved DuckTales 2017, I was able to appreciate it because I at least knew the characters from other Disney stuff. But with She-Ra… I never heard of the original 1980s cartoon to begin with. Oh well, here I am nonetheless!

So, uh, the main protagonist starts out being raised as an orphan in… the bad guy place? I feel like that would’ve been too complicated in the ‘80s… Also, the “bad guy” group is called the Horde, and their leader is named “Hordak”, as in, the Horde. Ack. Seriously? Anyhoo, said protagonist, named Adora, ends up sneaking out with her anthropomorphic feline friend—creatively named Catra—to some forest where she finds a sword. After being told esoteric nonsense, our Adora-ble friend turns over a new leaf as the swole Princess She-Ra. 

I should start by saying how awesome this show looks. The art is simple, but effective, with a wide variety of pleasing color palettes and anime-like particle effects. It looks a lot like an American graphic novel, which I normally don’t enjoy, but the animation helps bring life to something that would otherwise be lifeless. Similar to Avatar, the characters are very anatomically correct by cartoon standards. 

Like The Dragon Prince, She-Ra 2018 follows a linear narrative right out of the gate. The show wastes no time getting interesting, as Adora swiftly realizes that the Horde has been shoving propaganda down her throat. Also, in case you couldn’t tell from Catra wearing a lot of red, she becomes the Zuko of this series when she finds out about the whole She-Ra thing. And speaking of She-Ra herself, Adora has to get acclimated with the power starting out.

As with about 90% of all American media for kids/teens, She-Ra 2018 has a pretty explicit theme of identity (which I can assume is not part of the original). Adora tends to be torn between her old life with kitty friend, and her new life with the people who are clearly the good guys. Plus, a lot of the residents of this world (which I forgot to mention is called Etheria) clearly know She-Ra as some kind of public figure. This puts pressure on Adora that is (as much as I hate saying it) something relatable to anyone who’s grown up in a first-world country; we all got told that we have to fix the entire world at least once as kids. 

Despite my hearing that She-Ra 2018’s story had depth, it’s sadly not the case. Well, technically it does have depth to an extent. There is a lot to the story, yes, but it’s incredibly straightforward. Also, despite what they set up between Adora and Catra, there is still a clear good and evil side. Even though certain individuals within the horde get interesting character development, the Horde itself is just one-dimensionally evil for no reason. But you know what, a kids’ show is a kids’ show, and it’s not like I exactly enjoy those SUPER complicated stories in the first place. 

Although it does nothing new, She-Ra 2018 reinvents the wheel quite well. It eases you in, but doesn’t waste time with random antics like most cartoons early on, yet giving you enough time to like the characters before sh*t hits the fan. Fortunately, there is enough humor to go around, even during the trying times. The humor is pretty much the standard for modern cartoons: witty comments and an awareness of its own running themes.

However, there’s a weird issue with season two. While She-Ra 2018 doesn’t waste time with cartoon antics early on, it starts doing just that in the second season. While there are some important developments sprinkled throughout, the second season does have its share of self-contained issues that have the usual lack of proper context. Fortunately, it is the second-shortest season, but it’s still the weakest nonetheless.

As good as the story is, it wouldn’t be crap without its likeable cast. Adora definitely has issues to work through, what with realizing that the empire she’s been serving is bad and all. Fortunately, these are all legitimate insecurities which aren’t even remotely on the level of smooth-brain of most cartoon protagonists (but that doesn’t mean she isn’t smooth-brained, period). The friends that she ditches Catra for end up being incredible supports. One of them is a glimmering princess named Glimmer. She starts off as a pretty typical “nakama”-type, but ends up going in an interesting direction later. Unfortunately, she ends up having a fair number of smooth-brain moments, even if they aren’t as bad as other cartoon characters. Plus, the unspecified limit to her magic is a plot detriment that becomes redundant until a certain point.

The other friend is the only male lead: an archer—an archer—named Bow. Yes, an archer named Bow. I checked IMDB and, indeed, that’s how his name is spelt. Not Bo, Boh, nor Boe; but Bow. His favorite band is probably Unleash the Archers (*laughs while slow-clapping*). Like Sokka from Avatar, he offers most of the comic relief, but he’s also very physically and technologically capable.

Of course, the show isn’t called She-Ra and the Princesses of Power for nothing; i.e. there are other princesses. From the valleygirl Mermista, to the nerdy-ass Entrapta (the names of whom I’m probably spelling wrong), each princess is good at one thing, and they do that thing to the Nth degree. Also supporting the main heroes are the chuunibyou pirate Sea Hawk, and the sassy horse Swiftwind. 

In order to make the show good, however, you need antagonists that are equally as likeable as the protagonists. But despite how big the army is, there aren’t that many people important enough to have names. Fortunately, quality supersedes quantity here. Take Best Girl Scorpia, for example. She’s basically a ten-year-old trapped in a ridiculously swole body, and is almost always enjoyable to see. A bit higher up the ladder is Shadow Weaver, who is—sadly—your typical Saturday morning cartoon villain, who’s all like “I’m bad and stuff”. She does get character development, but it’s quite literally something you’ve seen before. At the TOP of that ladder is the aforementioned Hordak. He seems unremarkable at first, but it turns out that there are a lot of other sides to him.

Last and yes, definitely, absolutely not least is who I can only assume is everyone’s favorite character: Kitty-witty Catra. She’s like Zuko and Azula in one, busty cat body. As Adora’s childhood friend, she becomes very livid very fast when Adora is all “Hey, I like these other people instead”. But for Catra, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger… uh, wait, that phrase doesn’t work here. Basically, she uses that anger as fuel to become the biggest bi—wait, she’s a cat. She becomes the biggest, er… *asks Google what a female cat is* Molly (apparently) in the Horde. 

However, her character arc is way more complicated than that. In fact, I was legitimately impressed by Catra. As the series goes on, she battles very clashing emotions and insecurities. I’m willing to bet that she would’ve just been some twinkie who said brilliant one-liners such as “Hey Adora, cat got your tongue?” in the old show. But on the other side of the coin, she can just be written off as “an angsty emo kid” like Sasuke from Naruto. She-Ra 2018 needs a re-watch just so you can really take in exactly what causes Catra to go awry and when; you’ll need to understand how people work REALLY well in order to get why (and if it makes any sense).

If you couldn’t tell, the whole show revolves around a single love triangle: Adora, Glimmer, and Catra. Since the show’s done, there is at least an answer to that now, but I imagine that the fandom was very toxic while She-Ra 2018 was still airing. Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. Throughout the show, I felt like there was a massive multitude of potential ships, made evident through various context clues, such as Glimmer being jealous when Bow goes to a party with another girl. So no matter what happens, there will be at least five different reasons for you to unconditionally hate this show. Fortunately, they don’t drop the ball and have every ship either sunk or unaccounted for; there ARE clear winners, you just have to do the unthinkable and deal with it.

And for the record, this show is really good at not feeling like a reboot at all (which is a compliment). In DuckTales, I had a pretty good hunch of who was carried over. But in She-Ra 2018, everyone felt so modern that I have no idea if anyone was carried over at all. It could’ve been everyone, or even no one. I can only assume that everyone is carried over because of how uncreative their names are. 

If there is any real, substantial flaw with the show—minus its god-awful opening sequence, nakama-powered Deus ex Machinas, and abundance of fake deaths—I felt like Etheria itself was faulty. The setpieces are very pleasing to look at, but there’s no real sense of space in this show. As far as I’m concerned, the different kingdoms feel like they’re within a hop, skip, and a jump from each other. There’s also one character whose existence is implied early on but they never actually appear in the show. Furthermore, there’s no reason to care about anyplace. They make you give so many f***s about Bright Moon, but there is literally nothing there but the castle and its whopping six occupants. But you know what, it beats filler episodes where the cast stops at nondescript villages that never show up again to solve self-contained Saturday morning cartoon antics!

~~~~~

Final Verdict: 8.7/10

She-Ra and the Princesses of Power ended up being a much better cartoon than I expected, even though I prefer The Dragon Prince (assuming its remaining seasons are just as good as the early ones). I’m especially glad that it wasn’t just ham-fisted P.C. Feminist propaganda; they actually put in the effort necessary to convey it through context. I can’t remotely imagine how the old She-Ra would’ve fared by comparison, let alone imagine what the plot would’ve been. I recommend She-Ra 2018 if you like magical girl shows but want a bit more class than what Sailor Moon offers.


P.S. with Spoilers

I thoroughly enjoyed this show, but I feel mixed about the ending. Sure, it’s good that they resolve everything cleanly and cohesively. However, the fact that the Adora and Catra ship actually got to sail felt like pandering. Their love is definitely not shoehorned in at the end; it’s readily apparent since the very first episode as long as you know how writing works. Look, I’m saying this without looking up other reviews of the show, but I feel like they ended Catra’s character arc that way just to pander to a fandom that would’ve otherwise berated them. If they planned it to be that way from the start, then cool. But man, though, it just so happens that the biggest ship actually sails? Since when does that ever happen?

Bravely Default II: It’s… a Game

I was curious about Bravely Default ever since it came out. However, by the time I wanted to bite the bullet and try it, new copies somehow shot up to the triple digits, even before the death of the 3DS. I had also heard that the game ends on a whimper and that it had… microtransactions? Yeah, no thanks. Instead, I ended up jumping into the Bravely series with Bravely Default II for the Nintendo Switch.

In Bravely Default II, a young man is shipwrecked… somewhere. He runs into some lady named Gloria who is on a mission to find the four elemental Crystals (traditional MacGuffins). With the help of two other people, named Elvis and Adelle, he ends up helping Gloria find the MacGuffins. And yeah, that’s it.

Before covering the story, I need to lay down some groundwork. The game allows you to name the main protagonist, which is fun. Also, Bravely Default II has the option to play with the Japanese voice acting, like with most JRPGs these days. But for some reason, either variety or self-deprecation, I decided to play the whole game with the dub. Keep in mind that the dub might color my impression of the story and characters.

I’m not a big fan of Final Fantasy or Octopath Traveler’s plots, but at least they tried. Bravely Default II feels so half-assed it comes off as intentional. The story is so generic to the point of… nothingness. At least Dragon Quest has different dialects to give it more charm. I tried my darndest to give the writing a chance, but it didn’t take me long to start mashing A during cutscenes. Other times, I’d actually watch Twitch or YouTube while playing through; I was THAT uninvested in the story.

The game is also rather silly when it comes to chapter cutoff points. Normally, when you beat the boss of the current chapter, it starts the next one in the following cutscene. However, that’s not the case here. Instead, you have to be well on your way to the next town, and then randomly, the next chapter will start. And as you can expect, this will open up new quests in previous towns. As someone who prioritizes sidequesting, this really bothers me! Why couldn’t they have just ended the chapters right after the major boss fights like normal people?!

And to rub salt in the wound, the game has  next to no sense of accomplishment. You collect these MacGuffins that are messing up the various regions of the game, but it doesn’t fix anything. I know it’s really rare for a JRPG to allow you to explore the world after you’ve saved it, but Bravely Default II straight-up doesn’t care. For example, when you collect the Water MacGuffin flooding the one town, said town does not revert back to normal. Even having it gradually revert back as you advance through the game would be nice, but nope!

As far as the voice acting is concerned… Eh. I feel like the voices do fit the characters, but the performances themselves are inconsistent. When they’re being normal, it’s alright. However, a lot of the attempts at being emotional are about as effective as the one notorious instance of bad acting in the 1952 adaptation of A Christmas Carol. Of course, because I hate myself, I kept the dub on for the whole game. The only lines I enjoyed were some of the in-battle commentaries (like Adelle saying “What the?! You suck!” when inflicted with a debuff), but like any JRPG with in-battle commentaries (hi, Xenoblade), they got very grating. 

The characters are… meh. It’s not like there isn’t character development, but it is very bare-bones basic. There’s nothing that completely changes how I view a character, compared to—say—Sanji’s backstory in One Piece (the FULL backstory to be exact). The only remotely likeable character is Elvis, and that’s simply because it’s really hard to not like anyone with his dialect.

So, the gameplay. Since this is my first Bravely game, I have no idea what mechanics carry over from Bravely Default and what mechanics are new. As such, I’ll just explain everything! Hooray!

If you’ve played Final Fantasy and/or Octopath Traveler, a lot of mechanics will be super familiar. The stats are more-or-less self-explanatory. However, I must point out two outliers in the stats. For starters, aggro is a base stat that all characters have. Naturally, you want it to be higher on tanky people. There’s also a weight stat. All equipment increases weight, and if it goes over the maximum capacity, their base stats decrease even if the actual equipment is better than what they have.

In terms of combat, stuff if pretty self-explanatory. It plays more like classic Final Fantasy than anything else. You can toggle between single-targeting and multi-targeting for magic. Also, you can freely target enemies or allies with a move. Obviously, this means that zombies’ weakness to healing spells is accounted for. Enemies also have the annoying ability to counterattack, but thankfully, the game specifies if their attack is a counter. However, you’re going to want to have a plan to deal with counterattacks FAST. Eventually, it gets to the point where enemies—specifically bosses—will counter literally everything, and it’s obnoxious.

There are some new things, and by new, I mean things that were probably introduced in Bravely Default but since this is my first Bravely game it’s new to me. This game has BP, which sounds similar to the mechanic from Octopath Traveler. It’s not even remotely similar. Up to 3 BP can be used, sure, but instead of boosting one move, it adds multiple actions to a single turn. As much as I love the boosting in Octopath Traveler, this use of BP has a lot more utility; you can heal and then immediately attack an enemy, for instance.

The catch is that BP is not used in the same way as Octopath. Keeping in with the game’s title, every character has a Brave and Default action. Brave is what consumes BP, and Default is a defensive stance that gains BP. You more-or-less have to just spam Default, which can make battles kind of slow, especially early game. However, you don’t actually NEED BP in order to use Brave. You can go into the negatives with BP if you really want to. The risk is that the character will lose as many turns as they are in the negatives, and must wait until BP goes back to 0. To make things scarier, enemies can use Brave and Default, but are thankfully subject to the same penalties.

If there’s anything I don’t like about combat, it’s how stat modifiers work. Like in any good JRPG, stat buffs and debuffs can be stacked. The game makes sure to specifically tell you the maximum stacking effect, which is nice. But the problem is… it takes forever, and it feels like they don’t last long at all. Reusing the same buff does not add to the duration like in Octopath Traveler, so you have to constantly be watching for the visual indicator that the buffs are about to expire.

Although you only get four characters, jobs more than make up for it. The system works pretty much like it does in any JRPG with jobs. You have a main job and a sub-job. The important thing to know is that sub-jobs do not level-up in battle. What you’re encouraged to do is max-out a job, then make it a sub-job, since you’ll have all the abilities of that job no matter what. Every job has a passive skill that can be set to an ability list, even if you aren’t that job. The game straight-up recommends that you prioritize Freelancer, and use its JP-boosting skills to level up subsequent jobs.

Special moves are also different than in Octopath. Unlike in that game, where you learn the special after completely mastering the job, Bravely Default II‘s system has it to where each MacGuffin has to bless a character, allowing them to use the special of whatever job they have. The conditions to using a special are not by consuming 3 BP, but by using specific commands a LOT. They provide buffs to the entire party, but instead of lasting for a fixed number of turns, they expire in real time when the special theme that plays after using the move ends. These buffs aren’t helpful until more characters are blessed, in which case you can immediately use another special when the first one is about to end, to carry over the current buff along with the new one.

One problem I have with the jobs is that a number of them are… bad… ish. The Beastmaster, like Octopath Traveler, is capable of being really powerful, but I hate it. Just like in Octopath, you can capture weakened monsters to use in battle. Unlike Octopath, where you have a limited stock of monsters and a fixed amount of usages for them, Bravely Default II gives you unlimited stock, but only one use per monster. As such, you pretty much have to grind captures. It’s a pain to do, however. While you are able to see the monsters’ HP (unlike Octopath), your odds of capturing are pretty much impossible unless they have exactly one HP (which is easy to deal with thanks to the Mercy Strike move but it’s still annoying). Also, there are rare unique monsters that can be captured, and like Octopath, capturing them sucks. In fact, I couldn’t capture a single one of them! Since they’re rare, you probably would never use them, even when fighting the final boss. In the end, capturing monsters IS well worth it, for many bosses would’ve walled me if I hadn’t.

There are a few subtle distinctions that make this game different from classic Final Fantasy. For starters, gravity magic is real nasty because it does a fixed percentage of your MAX HP as opposed to your current HP. However, the most important distinction is weapons with special effects. For example, the staff that casts Cure is in this game, but unlike the classic games, where its attack is changed to Cure, you actually need to use it as an item to cast Cure in this game. This change does give these weapons more utility, but it would be nice if the game’s eighty thousand hints included one about that mechanic.

Just in case you didn’t want to finish the game in under a hundred hours, the protagonist has the ability to explore the seven seas on his own. To put it bluntly, this game has one of those “send characters off to do something then come back the next day for goodies” things. The thing about this mechanic is that it only works with the Switch in sleep mode while the game is running, meaning that you’ll be increasing playtime by a LOT. It’s a good mechanic if you have a full-time job that isn’t gaming; you can boot up Bravely Default II, have him shove off, and reap the rewards after work.

They also have a new Triple Triad: B ‘n’ D. It’s a simple yet insanely complex card game about occupying territories. I have accumulated many losses (since I suck at tabletop ANYTHING, even a fake tabletop anything). But in the end, it’s worth doing (even if it will gouge out your eyes). There is a “No Keepsies” rule that you can use so that you don’t lose cards when you are defeated, but you can’t dictate the rules until you obtain one of each card the opponent has. If there’s someone you really don’t want to fight multiple times, fight someone you can change the rules with to get extra card points, and then take all of the tougher opponent’s cards in one fell swoop after beating them once. As is Triple Triad tradition, make sure you save scum before a tough match!

As much as I loved Octopath Traveler visually and audio-ly, Bravely Default II disappoints by comparison. While the towns are created in beautiful pre-rendered backgrounds (which you can actually tell where to go since it’s not a PS1 game), the overworld is about as bare-bones as the story. There’s next-to-no variety in terms of landmarks and geography, plus dungeons tend to be very easy to get lost in. The soundtrack is one of the more forgettable I’ve heard in a JRPG. In fact, most of the songs are all remixes of a basic theme depending on the region.

In terms of difficulty, Bravely Default II is just like any JRPG, at least on Normal Mode; early game is rough because of a lack of options, then it steadily gets easier as you get more powerful. Also similar to the genre, most regular mobs won’t be that troublesome (as long as you don’t have too many jobs that clash with each other), but bosses can rough you up, even if the game considers you overleveled. There are superbosses on the world map, and those are what you’d expect them to be.

I was already over ninety hours by the time I beat this game, but guess what—it has a post-game. However, it’s not just a post-game, it’s the true endgame. Beating the “final boss” gives you a lousy ending, and reloading the save will grant the cast a premonition of that ending, triggering an entirely new chapter. There’s new quests and story beats, as well as the true final boss and ending. The big addition is the ability to go into portals where you fight past bosses to be able to raise corresponding Jobs three additional levels. They’re worth doing, but they SUCK. The past bosses attack in groups of several at a time, and all gain 1 BP as a counterattack for literally EVERY action. Even if you could use a move to reduce their BP, that move could in itself trigger the counterattack.

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Final Verdict: 7.35/10

Bravely Default II is a solid JRPG which harkens back to the good old days. But to be honest, I wasn’t entirely fond of it. I think Octopath Traveller—by comparison—would be a far better game if it weren’t for the invisible encounters and the tedium that comes with its Hunter job. Heck, part of me thinks Octopath is irrefutably better DESPITE those flaws. Double heck, I like DQXI better than this. I dunno, this could be the fact that I maranthoned Bravely Default II talking, but the game feels kind of just… there. To tell the truth, I didn’t even bother finishing the post-game content. I recommend Bravely Default II if you’re a diehard JRPG fan who doesn’t have a full-time job outside of gaming.

The Executioner and Her Way of Life Volume 1: Subversion and Yuri. What’s Not to Love?

Preface: Guess what? I’m going to Disney again this year, not once but twice! The first of the two trips is in a couple of weeks. Unfortunately, the hiatus I took earlier has still backed me up by a lot. While I could schedule some posts to be published during the trip, I just didn’t want to think about it on Disney property, especially since this is a special year for my relatives. As such, you’re going to get a special treat: from tomorrow to May 1st—the week before the trip—I’m going to post every single day. All of these posts have been ready to go for a while, so don’t worry about them being crappy!


Just because I was on hiatus doesn’t mean I didn’t read new light novels on release! Unfortunately, by not posting a review of The Executioner and Her Way of Life within the first week it came out, my review is not exactly going to be relevant. Oh well, that’s just how I roll!

In The Executioner and Her Way of Life, a boy named Mitsuki is summoned to another world. However, he’s rejected faster than Naofumi from The Rising of the Shield Hero. Alone and without a home, he has a fateful encounter with a girl named Menou. She’s nice and sweet and loving, and SHE STABS HIM TO DEATH. Yeah, this story’s actually about Menou, a girl hired by the church of Faust to kill all Otherworlders before their powers cause untold destruction. Unfortunately, her next target is probably the most overpowered isekai protagonist of all time: Akari Tokitou, a girl who can reverse time whenever she’s mortally wounded, effectively rendering her unkillable.

“Plot hole!” you exclaim, “Why not kill her by poisoning her or torturing her slowly so that she begs for the sweet release of death? Since it only reverses mortal wounds, then you can hurt her as much as you want without killing her…” Actually, that gets explained in the story. The special powers that Otherworlders use are uncontrollable, and are really scary when they go haywire. Menou’s entire homeland—including its inhabitants—were turned to salt by one of these powers, with Menou as the sole survivor. She cannot risk anything that could set off Akari’s power, especially given that the power is literal control over time.

In terms of writing, well… Executioner is about as redundant as most light novels. They give good enough context for you to glean key information on the worldbuilding, but then explain it all in the next passage. However, this one is much more bearable just by being a damn good story. The main purpose of the volume is the journey to the capital of Garm, where the shit inevitably hits the fan. There’s an action sequence en route, but there really isn’t a point to it but to stir things up.

The key to this series is in the cast, and they are quite an interesting bunch. Menou’s problem is that she has to act all friendly toward Akari in good old Among Us Impostor fashion. As you could imagine, this will inevitably result in something similar to [name redacted] from Attack on Titan, who ends up getting so caught up in the role that they have an identity crisis. Unfortunately, all this psychological crap regarding Menou is just told to us instead of something that could be organically developed. Menou at least makes up for it by being kind of a badass.

My favorite character so far ended up being Momo. She’s this loli who’s yandere to Menou, and she’s very entertaining. As expected from most lolis, she is also quite adept in the subtle art of murder. Unfortunately, the two other major players end up being a weak spot. Akari is kind of a YA protagonist, who arbitrarily falls head over heels for Menou because of fate. She’s apparently the one Otherworlder who isn’t a sociopath, and it’s supposed to be a whole “moral ambiguity” thing. We also get to see the skimpily-clad princess, Ashuna, but she’s a typical fight-savvy lunatic.

~~~~~

Verdict: 8.75/10

The Executioner and Her Way of Life is starting off great so far. Of course, that doesn’t necessarily mean the whole series will be great. For now, I recommend it to isekai and yuri fans!


P.S. with SPOILERS

Alright, so I’m kinda annoyed that the whole “church is bad” trope ended up rearing its ugly head again, despite how unique this series is. Fortunately, the crazy crap with Akari at the end definitely makes up for it. Apparently, she knows that Menou is trying to kill her, and is pretending to play along. Also, in the future, Menou’s mentor is going to try to kill them all in the salt place? Yeah, this one’s going to be very complicated moving forward.

A Bittersweet Return: Evanescence — The Bitter Truth Album Review

Evanescence is a strange band all right. They went mainstream overnight with their massively popular first two albums, Fallen and The Open Door. Unfortunately, things got complicated within the band and they have since gone on numerous, long hiatuses. Their 2011 self-titled album wasn’t just different, but it was also the first after a long hiatus very early in the band’s career. Needless to say, they’re still strong numbers-wise, but nowhere near as much as they were. 

As mentioned in one of my older music posts, I decided to check them out. I enjoyed Fallen and The Open Door, but I never fell in love with them. And it’s probably because I wasn’t in love with those albums, that I was able to enjoy the 2011 album with an open mind. Saying that anything beyond those first two albums is Evanescence’s best work seems to be the minority opinion these days. So, of course, I want to piss off their fandom by saying that 2021’s The Bitter Truth is their best album yet. Let’s see whether or not I agree with such a claim myself.

Of course, I gotta look over the album cover first. I always thought Evanescence had weak album cover art, and The Bitter Truth is no exception. It’s just a mouth with a pill on the tongue. If I wasn’t already listening to this band before the album’s release, I probably would’ve ignored it when stacked up against others. Good thing that what matters is the music!

I might as well start by discussing the pre-release tracks, since those technically came out first. Most of them are good, but they’re kind of… ordinary. Of course, I’m probably just saying that because I—again—am not a diehard Evanescence fan. My least favorite track of the pre-releases ended up being ‘Yeah Right’, but not because of the song itself. Musically, it’s good, but when the band stated that it took them a decade to write it, my impression of ‘Yeah Right’ was colored in a negative way. By way of comparison, Queen’s ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ was written and recorded a couple years faster. My favorite track (of the pre-releases) ended up being ‘Use My Voice’, which felt like it had the same pompous, tween spunk of their classic stuff, while still feeling different stylistically. 

In fact, the whole album feels like that. The Bitter Truth retains more of their original, early 2000s emo style than the previous studio outing (which was a decade ago. Holy shit). There’s your usual gothic synth, as well as the sad piano (although they’re still missing the world’s smallest violin). Even the lyrics are their old brand of dreary, esoteric nonsense. For example…

“I’m not fine” / “I don’t know if I will be alright” / “But I have to try” / “I know you’re with me, so what if we do fall apart?” / “Give into all that we are” / “And let all the broken pieces shine.”

Um… I guess that’s relatable? Those lyrics sure take me back to when I was a miserable, friendless child in high school that no one understood. But to be honest, Evanescence is the kind of band where the lyrics don’t matter. Vocalist Amy Lee can sing the menu of Papa John’s Pizza and we would still love her. Even though she’s all old and stuff, she’s still as talented as ever. 

If there’s any real problem with this album, it’s kind of… Evanescence itself. Like I said before, I enjoy them, but I never once thought that anything they made—even Fallen—was worth all the hem and haw. I don’t even think Lee is the goddess that most fans consider her. They’ve been working in the music industry for twenty years, and there are debuts that I would consider better than this album. 

~~~~~

Final Verdict: 8/10

Evanescence’s The Bitter Truth is—indeed—their best album (according to moi). However, it’s just not god-tier. I don’t know why this band is so big, when Fallen is outclassed even by stuff that was out at the time. I can’t recommend this to someone who’s not acquainted with Evanescence; there’s just so much better out there. I feel like only fans of the group can love it.

Top Five Song Covers

Theoretically, anyone can make a cover of a song. However, it takes balls to make a cover that offers a new take on a well-known hit, especially if it ends up surpassing the original. For the heck of it, I thought I’d showcase my Top Five favorite covers. The rules are simple: I cannot reuse the same artist, both in the case of the cover-er and the cover-ee. Also, in order to properly gauge the cover, I need to be familiar with the original version. With that said and done, let’s cover the covers!


5) Ad Infinitum — This Is Halloween

Of course, I gotta have an obscure band that none of my readers, let alone most of the Internet at large, knows about! Well, I suppose I should tell you who they are. Ad Infinitum is a very new symphonic metal band; in fact, they only have one album so far. For a debut, their first album is really freaking good. However, what made me want to listen to them was seeing the track listing and noticing a cover of ‘This is Halloween’ from Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas

Gotta love a fellow Disney fan! Given the original song’s darker theme, metal is a perfect genre to incorporate into a cover. And, well, if it wasn’t obvious given my taste, I think this is a better version. Since the original is sung by multiple characters, vocalist Melissa Bonny sort of had to do some roleplaying. And guess what, she kicked ass! She’s a great singer normally, but this cover gave me new respect for her singing prowess. 


4) ILLUMISHADE — Into the Unknown

You’ve probably never heard of ILLUMIUSHADE, since they’re new and all. ILLUMISHADE is a Swiss metal band that released an extremely ambitious concept album last year, which just so happened to be very enjoyable. Similar to Gloryhammer, every member is a character in an original story that they made up.

Oh, and the song they cover is another Disney number: ‘Into the Unknown’ from Frozen 2! Knowing this cover existed is what convinced me to check them out, and well, it’s worth it. Their Guardian (good God, I hope I got that stage name right) does an unexpectedly good job of being on par with Adela—I mean—Idina Menzel (it’s as if metal singers are the best or something), and the heavier instrumentation obviously helps. This version’s a real banger, that’s for sure!


3) In This Moment — Fly Like an Eagle

I have praised In This Moment a lot, specifically for being the effed up American metal band that I wanted, but didn’t get, out of Slipknot. They have never stagnated, and have tried numerous approaches to their sound. This also includes covers of songs that don’t seem to suit them at all! They’ve done an effed up version of Billy Idol’s ‘White Wedding’ (with new lyrics and Rob Halford), a banging cover of Phil Collin’s ‘In The Air Tonight’, as well as a cover of Queen’s ‘We Will Rock You’ with guest singers.

For some reason, I really love their cover of Steve Miller Band’s ‘Fly Like an Eagle’ (a.k.a. Hot take: the only Steve Miller Band song I like). It maintains the trippy feel of the song, but with that In This Moment touch to it. The best part is that, apparently, this song wasn’t originally intended to be a cover of ‘Fly Like an Eagle’. They just did the music and were like “What if we made this ‘Fly Like an Eagle?’” In This Moment is such a good band, that they can put out amazing music by accident! 


2) Disturbed — The Sound of Silence

Why do I have something popular on here?! Well, because I actually love it for once! Disturbed has done a lot of covers, from Tears for Fears’ ‘Shout’ to Genesis’ ‘The Land of Confusion’, all of which were really good. But—and this probably goes for a lot of people—none of them beat their cover of Simon and Garfunkel’s somehow still relevant ‘The Sound of Silence’.

Seriously, wow, it’s really hard to describe just how good this cover is. One thing that truly shows a talented metal band is not how good they can be as a metal band, but how good they can be completely unplugged, and this song conveys that. The most unexpected thing to come from this cover is how amazing Disturbed’s vocalist, David Draiman, is at crooning, of all things. His voice is deep, sad, and full of emotion, even when he cuts in his signature gravelly sound toward the end. It’s absolutely incredible. It’s also the first time EVER that a song not pertaining to Disney ever moved me to tears. Literally; I was crying after I heard this for the first time. I don’t bat an eye at any Danganronpa character death, but for some reason, some metal band’s cover of a folk song I’m not emotionally attached to has me spilling buckets.


1) Epica — Dedicate Your Heart!

Does this song title not sound familiar to you? Translate it into Japanese: “Shinzou wo Sasageyo!” That’s not a coincidence. The winner is a cover of the third opening of Attack on Titan. In fact, Epica has a whole EP of Attack on Titan covers. Your favorite of these will likely be dictated based on how much you love the originals, and since the third OP was my favorite, ‘Dedicate Your Heart’ is first place on this list. 

Sometimes, I regret abandoning Linked Horizon, the original artist for the first three OPs, the fourth ED, and the fifth OP. I actually ordered one of their albums. They were my first ever symphonic power metal band. And looking back, they’re only an impressive band if you’re like the many twelve-year-olds who’ve never listened to power metal before, and got their first impression of the subgenre from Attack on Titan. After hearing Epica’s covers, I no longer regret falling off of Linked Horizon.

Epica does such good justice to these songs, that they become the originals. I believe everything about them is better than the originals in every way. The instrumentation sounds so real that it makes Linked Horizon look manufactured and fake. And of course, Simone Simons—who is pretty much a Titan herself—blows the original band’s vocalist into oblivion. Not gonna lie, my whole idea behind this post was for me to offer a sizzling hot take on one of the most iconic anime openings of all time.


Conclusion

Alrighty, that’s another controversial music post wrapped up! Apparently, we learned that Western metal bands should cover anime OPs more often. With that said, AMARANTHE NEEDS TO COVER ‘HACKING TO THE GATE’… uh… please.

Ozma of Oz: Literature’s First LGBT Protagonist?

The Oz series has been an absolute acid trip thus far. Book two, The Marvelous Land of Oz, had a startling number of ups and downs, along with all the usual controversies of the time period. However, despite me insulting L. Frank Baum’s intelligence numerous times in my previous two reviews, he wrote a gender-fluid character: Princess Ozma, a girl who had been identified as a boy until magically sex changing back into a girl. So yeah, considering what Baum did to Feminism with the Army of Revolt last time, I can’t wait to see how much he offends a people that he didn’t even know about in book three: Ozma of Oz!

In Ozma of Oz, we reunite with Dorothy, who’s sailing to Australia with her Uncle Henry. After yet another cyclone, she (and a yellow hen) end up in the Land of Ev. It’s like Oz, but… worse I guess? Anyway, she has adventures and eventually meets Ozma.

First, I must once again point out the author’s note in the beginning. Like the previous book, Ozma of Oz was written because of fan mail. However, he wasn’t just compelled to write this book, but actually followed suggestions from said fan mail. It’s almost like a precursor to the Drawfee Show on YouTube, but at the same time, it’s like that guy in Bakuman who tried to write a manga with fan suggestions (and if you read Bakuman, you know how well that turned out).

Fortunately, the novel starts with what I think is the most hilarious development yet. The first monsters Dorothy and the hen encounter are these humans with wheels in place of their hands and feet. And they’re called… the Wheelers. I don’t know anything about Yu-Gi-Oh outside of Drawfee (and other horror stories I heard about the actual card game’s system being BS), but I at least know a character was localized with the name Joey Wheeler, and had a New England accent in the dub. As such, I imagined Dorothy being chased by an army of Joey Wheelers with wheel appendages, and it was quite a laugh.

Baum also makes another unintended prophecy. Forget Orson Scott Card and Philip K. Dick; Baum was the first to predict social media, in the form of a robot named… Tiktok. Yes, spelled that exact same way. Tiktok. 

Baum once again had the opportunity to go further, with the potential to beat Isaac Asimov to the punch. But alas, he drops the ball pretty much the instant Tiktok is introduced. It is explicitly and repeatedly stated that Tiktok isn’t alive, despite the fact that he literally has a setting dedicated to thought. As someone who’s seen the Data episode of Star Trek Next Generation, I groaned at this cop-out. I mean c’mon! I’m pretty sure the phrase “I think, therefore I am” was at least established at the time! It seems someone hasn’t learned from Jack Pumpkinhead in the previous book.

But wait, there’s more! Baum screws up again thanks to the aforementioned pee-colored poultry. The Ozma reveal was brilliant, but the yellow hen ruins it. The hen is a female, and is named Bill. While that in itself is still cool, Dorothy is disgusted by the concept and insists on calling the hen Billina. Why does Baum do this?! If he was just as uncomfortable with breaking gender conventions as anyone else in the 1900’s, then why did he have the Ozma thing in the first place?! This also applies to the sexism issue from the previous book. After I made that post, I remembered that he also had Dorothy kill the Wicked Witch of the West herself in the first book; a real act of Feminism, yet he quashes it in the sequel! I know that most old books are sexist, racist, etc., but at the least they’re consistent.

At least Baum managed to predict one thing properly: How the Grinch Stole Christmas. The main antagonist of the novel is the Nome King, who turned the royal family of Ev into antiques since the old king literally pawned them off to him. While the Nomes are arguably a precursor to the dwarves from a novel that wouldn’t be published until forty-three years later, they are most definitely a precursor to the Grinch. The illustrations show them as green fuzzy humanoids; just like the Grinch! I’ll also admit that the Nome Kingdom is the most creative setting yet… is what I would say if we got to see it for more than five minutes. OH! At the very least, Baum predicted Gundam with the giant robot guarding the entrance!

Here we go… the cast, who are about as awful as ever. If you couldn’t tell from the Billina thing earlier, I officially hate Dorothy now (not like I enjoyed her before). Scarecrow, Tin Woodman, and Lion come back, but they are pretty much unchanged. Tiktok is also a pile of crap. He’s not just unutilized potential, as discussed before, but he’s about as inconsistent as Baum’s policy towards Feminism. Tiktok says that he cannot harm anything, but ends up doing most of the fighting throughout the novel. YOU HAD ONE JOB, BAUM. 

Fortunately, we have a silver lining. Billina is a pretty decent character, despite caving in to Dorothy changing her name. She’s sarcastic, and lays eggs whenever she darn well feels like it. Additionally, the Nome King ends up being the most interesting antagonist yet, mainly because he’s NOT one-dimensionally evil like a Saturday morning cartoon villain. He’s honest and reasonable, but is also a bit sadistic, given the challenge he gives Dorothy and Co. to save the Evs. Unfortunately, Baum drops the ball by making him 180 into a Saturday morning cartoon villain during the climax. At least he’s learning?

~~~~~

Final Verdict: 6.95/10

Just a little more, and I’ll rate an Oz book at a seven or above (unless they start to degrade from here)! Ozma of Oz was a lot more creative than previous volumes, even if it still pales in comparison to some modern stuff (and Tolkien). It looks like I’m in it for the long haul for sure. Wish me luck (I’m gonna need it)!