Volume 18 of Sword Art Online marked the end of the massive Alicization Arc. Now, we can finally go to a new arc, in a new wor- wait, why is there a map of the Underworld inside volume 19? Oh my God. Of course… This is Kawahara. We can’t go to a new proper arc without some filler in between! This review covers the two-part filler arc: Moon Cradle.
Moon Cradle is set during the two hundred year time period that Kirito and Asuna are trapped in the Underworld, after they beat up Vecta and Poopoo (Laughing Coffin guy), and turn Alice into an android (or something). Everything’s all well and good, until a goblin is accused of murdering a civilian. It’s up to detective Kirito once again! After all, he’s solved a whopping one other mystery in his life; he’s perfect!
The first volume is basically figuring out who the murderer is, and the second volume is catching the booger. Like other SAO filler arcs (besides the Asuna one), Moon Cradle is incredibly boring. Furthermore, Kirito and Asuna get free plot armor, since we’ve SEEN them return from the Underworld in the previous volume. He also showcases more of his OP-ness from scenes like being able to force open a Vecta-only door with no problem.
The characters don’t get much better either. Sure, Kirito and Ronie (who’s role in the Alicization Arc I completely forgot) get to spend some time together, but it’s more so a kick in her crotch, since Kirito and Asuna will always be THE couple. But hey, at least Kirito is as “good” and “inspirational” as he always is (*proceeds to wretch*).
And similar to most of SAO, despite the urgency of the situation (which ends up escalating to both a murder and a kidnapping), the characters find some time to goof off. “Should we solve this mystery?” “We should, but I think we should have a picnic lunch first!” This is almost Log Horizon level of characters actively choosing to not advance the plot.
But the term “advance the plot” is applied loosely here. Most of the investigation is them discussing the nuances of the Taboo Index over and over and over again. And the one time they do something investigative, they just whip out some magic that allows them to witness the crime as it occurred! At this point, I’ve lost all knowledge (and care) of how the magic system in the Underworld works, so if you can prove whether or not the spell they did was possible within the world’s logic, then have at it and explain it to me in the comments section.
To end off the arc is a less-than-stellar climax. It builds up to the possibility of a team of two women fighting the bad guy, which would have been a nice change of pace. I say “would have been” because Kirito shows up right at the end and takes all the credit like the scientists who stole that one lady’s discovery of DNA. The actual conflict isn’t even resolved, and Kawahara even points that out himself in the afterword. But despite this, he’s chosen to start a completely new arc because… reasons?
Alicization was the first remotely descent arc in SAO, and now we have this. I’m sorry for being so rude, but I was seriously, lividly tired of that blasted Underworld! Well, it’s over now. So let’s hope beyond hope that Unital Ring is even worth half the pain of putting up with everything that leads up to it!
Last time on Re:ZERO, everyone gets attacked by Satella the Witch of Jealousy. Subaru and Garfiel (of all people) have to stop her. Fortunately, she can’t pass through the barrier due to her being a half-elf, and the trial being incomplete. But that doesn’t stop Garfiel from getting unceremoniously slaughtered by her. As she advances toward Subaru, he rejects her, and in response, her shadow swallows him to get him to love her. Fortunately, Echidna had a contingency plan: making Petra’s handkerchief a magic handkerchief that ends up saving him from the Witch. Also, the handkerchief turns into a dagger, which he promptly uses to kill himself and restart the loop. Back at the sanctuary, he’s comforted by Emilia. While Ram distracts Garfiel, Subaru recalls the memories he absorbed while in the shadow, and uncovers a secret room containing the real Ryuzu’s body. Apparently, the true purpose of the Sanctuary was to make Ryuzu clones that Echidna was able to possess, and effectively achieve immortality as a result. He also finds out that both Garfiel and himself have become Apostles of Echidna. His next task is the sitch at the mansion. He’s able to get Frederica and Petra to evacuate without a hassle, but Beatrice- as always- isn’t so easy to convince. He steals her “not-a-Witch-Cult” book and sees that it’s entirely blank inside. Apparently, Beatrice is a spirit contracted by Echidna to watch over the forbidden books in the mansion until “That Person” shows up. The moving scene that follows is, unfortunately, interrupted by Elsa’s arrival. Not even Beatrice can stand up to her, but Subaru manages to survive. Back at the Sanctuary, it’s already snowing, and Emilia shut herself in the tomb when he left. He goes in and finds her, and she starts getting unnaturally waifu-y with him. He leaves and confronts Roswaal- again- but this time Roswaal murders Ram and Garfiel before implying that he knows about Return by Death, and showing Subaru that he has the other version of the gospel that Beatrice had! He is also the culprit behind the snowfall, and it was all to break and isolate Emilia (a plan that had been in effect since the beginning, of course). Their conversation is interrupted when the Great Rabbit attacks again, killing Roswaal, and making the others burn themselves to death. Subaru flees to the tomb, where Emilia gives him a kiss… right as he dies again. After respawning, he seeks Echidna, but ends up taking the second trial instead, which involves seeing the outcomes of previous routes after he died. After all that, he encounters a spirit of Rem. But he knows better, and immediately recognizes her as an imposter, who turns out to be another Witch: Carmilla, the Witch of Lust. After almost suffocating for some reason, he ends up with Echidna, just like he wanted to! She offers to form a pact with Subaru, and all the other witches except Satellla show up! In all the confusion, Echidna has a grandiose speech detailing how Subaru’s ability to experience an infinite amount of outcomes turns her on. After her schpiel, Subaru asks her who Beatrice’s Person is… and, of course, Echidna has no clue… because Beatrice had to decide for herself the whole time. Subaru refuses the pact with Echidna, and the Witch’s tea party is joined by one more guest: Satella.
If you couldn’t tell from that paragraph, volume 12 was full of revelations and turning points. Based on my past experience with Re:ZERO, the next several volumes will be pretty boring before it picks up again. Does this volume follow the same trend?
Well… yes and no. It’s not a constant pelvic thrust of pain and torture like the previous volume, but there are definitely some highlights. One important thing is that Subaru gets some much-needed growth. He gets another helping of waifu-speech, but this time, he gains some self-worth. This is a big improvement for him, because his whole “Hey look at me I’m a martyr herp-a-derp” has been annoying for a while.
Speaking of annoying, we finally get to resolve Garfiel’s character arc in this volume! And thank goodness too; I never liked the guy. He was a whiny brat who felt like he made the arc 1.5x longer than it already was. Unfortunately, it doesn’t offset the fact that his personality is 100% abrasive and nothing else. But hey, backstory is backstory, and that’s what counts.
And speaking of backstory, we finally get some more background on Emilia. Unfortunately, that “some” is really “a bit”, since this volume loves Garfiel so much. Plus, the things we learn about Emilia only scratch the surface, and we are cliffhung right when we’re about to get the full serving.
Another issue is that Re:ZERO once again shows its bipolar identity. It tries its damndest to subvert the isekai formula, and ends up clashing with that mindset like it tends to. There’s an emotional scene between Subaru and Emilia in this volume, and similar to his scene with Rem, it’s ripped right out of the Book of Waifus. It doesn’t help that the climax of the volume is a one-v-one of Subaru against Garfiel that reeks of the “white knight” trope. Gotta love it when a series has a great idea that contradicts itself in its execution!
While not as turbulent as the last volume, Re:ZERO shows that it’s finally gaining momentum. This was a great volume, and it promises that the next one will be even better. If you’re reading ahead of the anime, what are your thoughts on this current arc and this volume? Re:ZERO is very complicated to evaluate, and I’d love to hear different perspectives.
My job will have fully opened by the time you read this, but at the time of this writing, it was only partially opened. This gave me the chance to squeeze in one more Western animated series while my shift is substantially reduced. But what to pick? Steven Universe was a very emotional show, and I’m still caught up on DuckTales and The Dragon Prince, waiting for new episodes. Since I didn’t find the CG of the latter to be so bad, I thought I would watch a more… (in)famous CG series: Rooster Teeth’s RWBY. Even from beneath the rock I’ve been living under, I’m aware of the heated debates that occur over this franchise. So, because I love controversial media (for some reason), I thought I’d give the show a whirl to see what the hubbub is about.
In the world of RWBY, people rely on some magic junk called Dust (which is basically Sepith from Trails of Cold Steel), and that’s their only way to fight these monsters called Grimm. One night, a girl named Ruby Rose takes on some criminals with a crazy scythe-gun, and is sought out by Ozpin, the headmaster of Beacon Academy. He decides that “you’re a wizard, Ruby!” and instantly bumps her into the prestigious school, two years in advance. There, she meets three more color-coded girls (her older sister, a tsundere, and an emo girl) and they go on adventures together.
Like with Dragon Prince, I must discuss the visuals of RWBY first and foremost. “The Dragon Prince looked great,” I thought. “RWBY shouldn’t be so bad,” I thought. Oh, how wrong I was. I understood that The Dragon Prince was made with the backing of Netflix, one of the biggest entertainment distributors in the world, and also five years after the premiere of RWBY. But even with that in mind, RWBY takes some time to get used to. While the character designs are fine, everything else about the visuals is horribly wrong. I complained about The Dragon Prince’s choppy and inconsistent frames, but RWBY showed me that the smoother framerates of its animations look more stiff, unnatural, and awkward than in The Dragon Prince.
Fortunately, the visuals improve substantially over time, with it finally looking legitimately good by season 4. The fight scenes in RWBY are when it’s at its best… sort of. The camera swings too wildly for humans to possibly keep an eye on, and it relies entirely on pure spectacle. However, as a fan of over-the-top battle shounens, I love it. The animation is at its most fluid and impactful here. Also, the show is truly anime for one reason: everything is a gun. Scythes, gauntlets, even suitcases; they’re all guns.
To be honest, the visuals served to make RWBY one of the funniest battle shounen I have ever experienced. The humor was legitimately on point in the show, and it wouldn’t surprise me if they had influence from the best of Weekly Shounen Jump. It’s the kind of stupidity that I’ve grown to love ever since I started reading manga all those years ago. The awkward movements made it even funnier for some reason.
However, despite the anime influences, RWBY is still a Western fantasy, and a modern one at that. And if you couldn’t tell, it is qualified to fall into the Harry Potter knockoff category. In the early seasons, the plot is mind-numbingly simple, with typical gag-shounen-meets-school-drama antics coupled with some YA awkwardness; a very difficult combination of tropes to get used to.
Being a modern fantasy, RWBY does another common thing: making its world an overly obvious mirror to our society, i.e. racism. The people who get targeted for discrimination are the Faunus. They are essentially furries, which ironically, adds another layer of social commentary. Anyway, the big problem with the Faunus is the White Fang, a terrorist organization that has resorted to rather… harsh methods of ending racism (which isn’t at all ten times more relevant in 2020 for any specific reasons). Honestly… I didn’t really care much for this line of narrative. It’s a topical topic for a reason, but this is one of the things I enjoyed The Dragon Prince for not having. I like adventure fantasies the best, and there really aren’t enough of them in this day and age.
Like any gag shounen, RWBY inevitably makes the transition to a more serious and plot-driven story. However, it’s not that simple. During production of the third season, the original creator of RWBY tragically passed away. The rest of the team has been carrying on with the series since, but it’s at this point where the show became the divisive debate-starting show it is today. It makes a transition that’s extremely risky for the genre: from gag shounen to straight-up seinen.
There are a couple of issues with this. One is that the transition is not at all organic. Normally, most shounen start out with short arcs, some of which last only one volume. Then, an arc goes for two volumes to make the reader think, “Finally, they’re actually doing something substantial with these characters and ideas.” Then, there’s an arc that’s really long and is generally considered the best, followed by a unanimously hated slog to the end. I get that not all battle shounen are like this, and RWBY definitely does not follow this pattern either (but in a bad way). There is a very visible instant in which the show completely changes with no build-up whatsoever: Season 3 Episode 6. After that, it packs on the emotional baggage to no end, and it becomes very hard to take seriously if you’re not super-emotional.
Also, Eastern angst and Western angst are two completely different things, and if you’ve read any of my YA novel reviews, you’d know I don’t entirely enjoy the latter’s company. While a lot of edgy stuff from Japan can tackle some uncomfortable themes with surprising elegance (Chainsaw Man, Torture Princess, Tokyo Ghoul, Monster, etc.), I’ve found a lot of the same from Western culture to be pretentious and heavy-handed. Additionally, some of the voice acting has enough gravel to pave a whole interstate highway. At the point I’m at, the few gags they do use feel jarring instead of something meant to break the ice. But in all honesty, it’s not terrible. The show is still enjoyable, and if I had liked the characters better, the feels would’ve actually struck a chord with me. However, due to the fact that it gets more and more controversial from here, I can’t guarantee that my opinion isn’t going to sway drastically in later seasons.
Regardless of the narrative, there is a somewhat great cast of characters to motivate you to keep watching. Each of the four girls are typical tropes: Ruby, ditz; Weiss, tsundere; Blake, YA protagonist; Yang, brash. But they all have genuinely good interactions with each other, and overall truly feel like a ragtag team of young’uns. They go through a lot of character development, even if it makes them come off as typical YA drama queens. Unfortunately, their fellow peers are similarly tropeish but with less… interestingness. A boy named Jaune is a typical underdog, a girl named Pyrrha is a typical hyper-justice-girl, a girl named Nora is Ruby but with a hammer, etc. Even when they all go through big emotional crises in season four, I didn’t care for any of the kids besides the four main ones.
However, the adults make up for it. My favorite character ended up being Ruby’s uncle, Crow. He’s your typical bad-ass, trollish, yet down-to-earth father figure guy, and it’s hard not to like him. There’s also a fast-talking professor named Oobleck, but he’s- sadly- a pretty minor character. Also, this one guy named James Ironwood has the best worst name (I’ll leave society’s many euphemisms to explain why).
I can’t say the same for the villains, though. As much the show really tries to do a moral ambiguity angle, the major antagonists fall under the typical Saturday morning cartoon villain category, at least up to where I’ve watched. This one swindler named Roman Torchwick is entertaining enough, but it’s not the case for the people he’s getting his fat stacks from. He reports to this woman named Cinder, who is literally Azula from Avatar. Her two minions, Mercury and Emerald, are just about as uninteresting. Cinder reports works under the true mastermind of the series, some alien(?) named Salem, but there’s not yet enough information to really say anything about her.
Before I get to my current score, I must clarify that I’m not criticizing RWBY because it stopped being what I wanted it to be; it’s just that the show felt more generic after the tone shift. I wholly understand that not everything can be original, but a lot of the content felt like it was ripped right out of How to Make Your Audiences Bleed Tears in Five Easy Steps with no finesse or variation. Compare the portrayal of the Faunus- which is the same exact allegory to American history that’s been done eleventy other times- to something like Eighty-Six. Both are commentaries on the exact same topic, but Eighty-Six does it in a way that feels much fresher than what RWBY does.
Television is also a deceptively limiting medium for visual storytelling. Once in a blue moon, you’ll have someone like Satoshi Kon who can do something interesting with film as an entertainment medium, but RWBY is not a Satoshi Kon film; a lot of it had bog-standard cinematography, such as those “hard-cut-to-black-with-some-kind-of-distressing-sound-effect-cliffhanger” techniques. I suppose I’ve been spoiled by manga, which have billions of combinations of panel layouts that all subtly contribute to the mood of a scene, or books, which can use the written word to at times convey more emotion than an image ever could. Also, Legend of Korra taught me that I should be examining television through an entirely different lens, as a lot of things I find typical are less common on TV. I’m even willing to bet that RWBY wouldn’t even have been allowed to air on network television, and could only exist as an indie program, for whatever dumb bureaucratic reason.
Current Verdict: 8.35/10
RWBY is a typical battle shounen in presentation and plot structure. It is great mindless entertainment, and I honestly don’t see why so many people take it so seriously. The food fight at the start of season two shows what I believe RWBY is at its best: over-the-top action with goofy slapstick. Unfortunately, I don’t entirely like the darker turn it took, mainly because it took it too fast. RWBY seems to be trying to be a fantasy epic on the scope of something like Trails of Cold Steel, but without the foundation that those games took time to build. Overall, the show is pretty middle-of-the-road, and I do not understand either side of the arguments with this show (but like I said, that could change). These seasons are stupid short, so I should be able to see RWBY through to the end without much hassle.
Notice that I didn’t title this post “How to Get Japanese People into Western Pop”; after all, Western culture is already incredibly popular over there (*cough* for some ghastly reason *cough*). I specifically used the word “Weeb” because I imagine that a lot of non-Asians who love Japanese culture don’t exactly love Western music (as much). However, what happens when a J-Pop star feels very, very Western? Welcome to milet, Generation Z’s equivalent of Hikaru Utada.
I don’t know much about milet, but Apple Music shows a number of singles and EPs dating to 2019. However, almost all the songs in those EPs, and new ones, end up on milet’s first album, eyes (not to be confused with MYTH & ROID’s eye’s), released in June of 2020. She has become extremely popular already, with her album surpassing King Gnu’s smash hit album, Ceremony, on Japan’s Billboard (and btw, King Gnu is hugely popular in Japan, so that’s a big deal) and ranking in 1st place for a good while.
This milet album was incredibly challenging to get through. Something about the use of synth, sound production, and milet’s singing voice felt like the Western pop that I hate. “How can you hate it if you never listened to it, weeb?” you ask. Oh, I listened to it. Throughout high school, it played on the radio that they happened to have in classrooms on Pandora, and during various social gatherings that I begrudgingly attended (specifically in vocational school). Being exposed to this stuff was traumatizing. The annoying repetitiveness and lack of variety drove me insane, and defined my distaste of mainstream hits. From what I call “The Happy Song”, to “I Think We Can be Something for Real Yeah-yeah-yeah-yeah-uwu”, to “The One That Sounds Like it’s Saying ‘Jar Jar Binks’”, these… tracks are the reason that I eventually got into J-Pop. While not perfect (looking at you, Kyary Pamyu Pamyu), Japan has some amazing and varied music, a lot of which I ranked above many classic Western bands of old. It was my perfect escape.
But then milet… ugh. I didn’t really mind the music of her songs, but what triggered me the most was her singing. She sounds exactly like a lot of those Western singers I didn’t like, whose names I cannot say because it was on the radio and I never knew who they actually were. milet’s voice is… how do I even say it? I don’t at all mean to be hurtful with the following statements; I legitimately cannot think of a better way to describe her voice. milet comes off as nasally, whiny and like she’s constipated. Look up the song that’s like “Hello from the other side” or something like that in the chorus… that’s basically how milet sings.
After getting through a third of her album, I was actually able to tolerate milet. Some of the songs have genuinely good atmospheres and melodies that aren’t ear-grating like the aforementioned “Happy Song”. Despite the album reeking of mainstream, there was still a decent amount of variety and experimentation. Also, from watching anime and actually meeting Japanese people in person (in Epcot), they seem to have an inherently pleasant way of speaking, which makes milet a better singer. I know it sounds stereotypical, but there truly is a visible difference in timbre between her and whoever does “Yer Guhna Hear Me Rooooa-oh-oh-oh-oh-ohar”.
Overall, I found her album surprisingly enjoyable. Maybe someday, I’ll actually try to listen to people like Adele and Taylor Swift (or I won’t). With milet’s rising success and admirable English-speaking ability, I could see her being cast as the lead in a hypothetical Japanese Disney Princess movie (even though Mili’s singer, Cassie Wei, would be way better), and having listened to her music before it was cool would make me the hippest guy on the block. If you’re someone who’s trying to convince your J-Pop loving friend that there’s another hemisphere of music out there, then milet’s a good transitional point.
PREFACE: Most of this post, up to the second half of the Alicization Arc, is a reworked draft of an old MyAnimeList review that I had, at the time, written from memory. If I mention anything about the actual story that ends up being inaccurate, it’s entirely on me. I did NOT feel like rereading volumes of something I don’t even like (spoilers: I, an Internet critic, do not like SAO) when I’m already swamped enough as it is. I hope you can bear with me.
Light novels had definitely changed drastically at the start of the 2010s, and it can largely be traced to one source: Reki Kawahara’s Sword Art Online, published in English by Yen Press. It was the first light novel I’d ever read. I enjoyed it at first (key word: “at first”), but since joining the anime community, I’ve come to know full-well the criticism that the series has garnered over the years. Due to its episodic nature, I will be splitting this post by story arc. Apologies in advance… I’m not going to be bringing anything new to the table.
Volumes 1-2: Aincrad
The world’s first VRMMO, Sword Art Online, is released. However, the first players who log in are unable to log out, and death in-game becomes death IRL, which is evidently all according to the keikaku of the game’s original creator.
The main character, Kirito, is as blank-slate as his character design, and is insanely powerful for no reason (I get that he played the beta, but it doesn’t explain his equipment setup, that the game ISN’T EVEN PROGRAMMED TO ALLOW). The far better female lead, Asuna, doesn’t take long to become a inconsequential girl with untapped potential. Kawahara develops a running theme of reminding us just how much of a beauty she is and that she is Kirito’s and nobody else’s. It gets annoying, especially since I don’t consider her THAT attractive.
Due to the series originally being an entry to a writing contest, it kicks off with a decent setup volume before it immediately guns it to the final boss. The second volume is filler that serves no purpose other than to introduce new characters who do almost nothing in future arcs.
Volumes 3-4: Fairy Dance
After the SAO Incident, Kirito finds out that Asuna has been imprisoned in the final dungeon of the new hit VRMMO, Alfeim Online. He plays it immediately, with no PTSD whatsoever (of course) and goes on adventures.
His sister Suguha (who gets her blandness from her brother) wants to commit incest with him for some reason, but she is ultimately another inconsequential female protagonist. Of course, the same happens to Asuna; here, she officially becomes a damsel in distress, instead of a strong, independent woman.
The story at this point is more focused than Aincrad, although there is padding. The arc is also notorious for a certain… choice scene in the climax, the likes of which WILL be rearing its ugly head again.
Volumes 5-6: Phantom Bullet
My personal least favorite arc. Because our Mr. Perfect, Kirito, is more powerful than the Japanese Self-Defense Force, he is given a secret mission (which takes all too long to explain even though we already see the incident told to us in the prologue) to find a serial killer in the new VRMMO Gun Gale Online.
Well, at least it’s a game that plays entirely different from SAO. Too bad he just uses a sword again and inexplicably dominates the best player in the game. Talk about beginner’s luck! That aforementioned best player in the game is a girl by the in-game name of Sinon, who would’ve had a decent character arc if she didn’t become another Kirito concubine. Sigh…
Despite its promising pulse-pounding action, the arc is somehow insanely slow. It has as much dialogue as a Monogatari novel minus all the charm of Monogatari.
Volumes 7-8: Mother’s Rosary and Filler
Kirito steps aside for Asuna to bond with a girl who’s first name is Asuna’s surname for some reason. Unfortunately, this other girl, Yuuki, is really uninteresting. While my Fault in Our Stars PTSD makes me hate Yuuki (since her whole character arc is her life-threatening disease), it is a decent look at Asuna as an actual PERSON. However, Volume 8 is filler, set in arcs that have ALREADY happened, making it irrelevant. And bad.
Volumes 9-18: Alicization
The most ambitious arc thus far, and the one that actually managed to curb some critics’ fervor against the series. However, I remain unchanged. After an IRL run-in with a Laughing Coffin straggler, Kirito is put into a coma… and strapped to another VR machine. Only this one takes him to a new project called the Underworld, a new type of virtual world with an overly long, complicated, and not at all engaging explanation as to how it brilliantly emulates real people… or something.
Unfortunately, while the ideas are amazing, the execution is still lacking. Despite how “human” the people in the Underworld are supposed to be, they’re just as boring and uninteresting as previously introduced characters. The ones who showed the most promise- more promise than anyone in SAO up to this point- are Eugeo and Alice, two “NPCs” who end up playing major roles. Kirito also has some genuine struggles, and Asuna shows some traces of her prideful, confident self from the beginning. But Kawahara’s old writing habits consistently get in the way to the point where it seems like he was actively TRYING to get in his own way.
While a good chunk of the second half of the arc is spent without Kirito onscreen, it’s not much better than what precedes it. A lot of the positive reviews of this section- the War of the Underworld, as it’s officially called- stated that it single-handedly redeems SAO as a whole by giving the side characters more development. One of my biggest pet peeves is the notion that character development alone, and always, equals good characters, period. Sure, on paper, it’s great that all those other people get fleshed out. But in the end, they were still boring, and I completely forgot who they were after finishing the arc.
As a final note, I’m not a fan of the art of SAO. While a lot of the characters do have the “overly complicated clothes” typical of a lot of JRPG characters, they’re facial expressions look generic and lacking. It also looks very shoujo-y, which earns even less points from me.
Verdict (Average of All 18 Volumes): 6.25/10
I acknowledge that what I’ve said here doesn’t bring anything new to the table. SAO has kind of become a rite of passage for any anime-related internet personality, so I decided to make my contribution now. I heard that Alicization marks the end of the stuff that Kawahara originally wrote when he was a teenager, so maybe it’ll actually get better moving forward. But for now, I can only recommend SAO for those who want a fun and mindless escapist experience.
I’m a big fan of J-Pop, and I’m a seriously big fan of metal. So, it stands to reason that I’d LOVE the kawaii metal group, BABYMETAAAAAAAAAAAAL! Heh-heh, you saw the title of this post; it’s not that simple, not even remotely. In fact, I only started listening to them over the course of Feb. 2020! Just keep in mind that no matter how critical I get, I don’t straight up dislike the group; otherwise they would’ve been on my Top Five Least Favorite Japanese Music Artists post.
So, what is BABYMETAL? Well, you probably should know, for they seem to be one of the few Japanese music artists that have become known even among those who don’t follow Japanese culture. Formed about a decade ago, they have grown incredibly popular, with performances all over the world. They even have a full bio for themselves and each of their studio albums on Apple Music. That’s how you know they’re a big deal! Their claim to fame is the unusual combination of cutesy idol J-pop and angtsy metal.
With such a brilliant idea, BABYMETAL should’ve been right up my alley. But in execution, it’s nothing more than the same catchy beats of idol pop, but with an edgy paint job. They’re mainstream in disguise. “Well, you cur, you seem to like risky and eccentric groups,” you point out (Assuming that you’ve read my other music posts up to this point), “BABYMETAL is an incredibly brilliant and ballsy band. You’re having the same reaction as the old farts who hated Elvis Presley and the Beatles because it was different from the crap they grew up with. You’re no different.”
BABYMETAL is ballsy? Actually, I think the exact opposite is true. My problem with them isn’t that they’re too eccentric for me. On the contrary, BABYMETAL is mainstream to the max. It sounds like an idea that couldn’t possibly fail; by combining catchy, “radio-friendly” tunes with metal’s angry vibes, they are able to appeal to both pop and metal fans at once. And that bothers me to no end. It’s kind of like how a lot of young adult novels are marketed as dark and brooding, but have the same romance tropes as a Disney movie. I suppose what I’m saying is that BABYMETAL is the YA novel of music.
“Well, hang on a second,” you argue once more, “you’re saying that the problem with BABYMETAL is that their songs are catchy, which is typical of most mainstream artists. But isn’t that, you know, THE POINT?!” You cross your arms in defiance. “If BABYMETAL tried to do stuff like- say- prog rock, then they wouldn’t be BABYMETAL. The POINT of BABYMETAL is to BE catchy, because that’s how idol music IS. Are you claiming that a rock or metal band cannot be a rock or metal band without taking some kind of creative risk?! You know, Rob Zombie- an ACTUAL rock artist- loves this band, and I’m willing to bet that he knows more about music than you, bub!” You’re probably correct for the most part. If BABYMETAL has succeeded at anything for me, it’s challenging the very definition of a “rock band”. Like you (or rather, my personification of you) mentioned earlier, they honestly are a challenge to the stuff I liked when I first got into music, such as Rush and Queen, with their continuously changing musical styles and experimental ideas. Despite how “open-minded” I claim to be when it comes to some of the weird music I like (including Queensryche and Genesis to boot), I ended up becoming alienated from mainstream music. It’s funny how the human mind works. However, at this juncture, I have no authority to objectively define “rock”, and honestly, with how much it’s changed since Presley, I doubt ANYONE has that authority. It’s pretty much a matter of subjective perspective at this point; it all depends on how me, you, or Zombie have come to understand “rock” based on our own different experiences.
In the end, though, I do like a guilty pleasure. I’ll admit that some of their songs are pretty darn succulent. Maybe, once in a while, I’ll put on a BABYMETAL song and rock out. But even then, I have to immediately follow-up with a REAL group, like BAND-MAID or Crossfaith. Maybe if they had the same manager as, say, Dempagumi.inc, they’re music would’ve been more varied and better. Heck, some Dempagumi songs, like Precious Summer, are already kawaii metal as it is.
But because I listen to too much music, I’m inevitably going to have to axe BABYMETAL from my life. They aren’t the worst thing ever, but to me, they are severely overrated. I honestly can’t recommend this group to anyone, especially dedicated metal fans. If you want a better version of the same general idea, try Passcode. Or, if you want a different unusual combination of styles that organically mesh together as if it was the most natural thing in the world, try Wagakki Band.
This was honestly a very tough review to write. I got into Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba (published in English by Viz) months before the anime- that freaking anime- aired. At that time, it had a pretty niche fanbase, like any anime-less manga would in the West. But my whole perspective of it changed when the anime launched- especially the viral nineteenth episode- and made the franchise mainstream overnight. Kimetsu no Yaiba has become one of Jump’s bestselling manga in recent years, even overtaking One Piece as the #1 bestseller of 2019. It has now become the embodiment of everything I hate about mainstream culture and marketing, similar to how I feel about BABYMETAL (which I’ll cover in a future post). I was going to give it a relatively high-ish score at first, but how much will my contrarian-ness affect the score now?
So, Kimetsu no Yaiba’s premise is as simple and unoriginal as it gets. In Taisho Era rural Japan, Tanjiro Kamado lives a happy life with his mother and siblings. But of course, he comes home one day to find his whole family dead (easy emotional hook, check), i.e. slaughtered by a demon. Only his sister, Nezuko, has survived, but she’s become a demon herself (cute girl who needs to be protecc, check). He then goes on a journey to become the #1 Demon Slayer (lofty goal, check) and kill the guy who orchestrated it all.
If you couldn’t tell, Kimetsu no Yaiba is mainstream to the Nth degree, following each shounen trope with little to no deviation. Fortunately, the mangaka at least seemed pretty aware of this, and chose to breeze through a lot of training and entrance exams to get to the real demon-whooping that readers actually want. After Tanjiro joins the Demon Slayers, he basically goes out with Nezuko (who is conveniently small enough to carry in a box) and fights whatever demon is terrorizing whatever area. The only saving grace of the narrative is its fast pacing.
The characters aren’t much better. Tanjiro is your typical, wish fulfilment protagonist. He runs on plot armor, and is inexplicably loved by everyone, even the demons that he cuts down; every single one of them goes through their “tragic backstory” to make you sympathize with them at the last second before Tanjiro kills them, and then they thank him for being a good person in their final breath. His sister, Nezuko, is marketing incarnate. She basically exists to be cute (which works, as I have seen on the message boards when the anime aired). Sure, she can actually hold her own in combat, but her cuteness is definitely a higher priority and a big factor to the franchise’s success.
There are a couple of saving graces, however. Joining Tanjiro are Zenitsu and Inosuke. Zenitsu can be annoying, given that he’s a big fat wuss who exists to provide comic mischief, but when he falls asleep like Bodkin from Wizards of Once, he becomes a super powerful bad-ass. Inosuke is a buff chuunibyou who wears a cool boar mask. These two aren’t the best characters in the world, but they’re enough to make Kimetsu no Yaiba more enjoyable.
Given the traditional battle shounen structure, Kimestu no Yaiba is full of throwaway antagonists who rarely last more than an arc. But among them is the actual main antagonist, Muzan Kibutsuji. He is a legitimately intimidating villain who has a very suave aura about him. He might be an a-hole to his minions, but he’s at least dressed fabulously.
Sadly, that’s pretty much it for the cast. What remains to be discussed are the many other Demon Slayer people that Tanjiro looks up to. I always forget who they are almost immediately after every reading session of the manga, so that really speaks of how unremarkable they are. The only one I remember is Giyuu, but that’s just because he’s the first one encountered, and his name is funny.
In the end, the one thing I can appreciate about Kimetsu no Yaiba is the fact that it ends startlingly quickly; clocking in at 205 chapters despite its insane popularity. Out of everything in the manga, the best thing that could’ve happened was for it to end, so that the mangaka didn’t have to worry about shoehorning in unremarkable antagonists just to pad it out for ten more years (like DBZ and Naruto).
The art is, uh, an effort. I’m not gonna crap on the art like everyone did when the anime came out. Sure, it’s not as “clean and crisp” as the anime, but it has a unique charm to it. Also, the fights are more than visually appealing enough. But like what critics said about the anime, the great art can only go so far to offset such a cookie-cutter narrative.
Final Verdict: 6.75/10
Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba is a fairly enjoyable manga that managed to end on the best possible note. Is its popularity undeserved? Hell yes. Is it the worst thing ever? Not quite. Like I said in the beginning, I’m being extra harsh on the manga because the anime was insanely successful due to the inherent appeal of Tanjiro’s simple and idealized personality, Nezuko’s cuteness, the visual spectacle, and the presence of famed composer Yuki Kajiura. Raw, human emotion, not perturbed by critical thinking, is imperative in order to enjoy Kimetsu no Yaiba; enough to have your heart melt from the backstories of people that you know for five seconds. By now, it should be obvious if this manga’s your cup of tea, so decide accordingly.
As much as I love Japanese music, I admit that nothing’s perfect. There are many artists that I’ve had to abandon, but mostly because I listen to too much music, and I just couldn’t squeeze them in. But sometimes, I straight up don’t enjoy the music itself. This list will showcase the Japanese music artists that I couldn’t enjoy no matter how hard I tried. Now you’ll get to see how much of a contrarian I am, for most of these artists are among the most popular Japanese singers in the world.
I really wanted this to be BABYMETAL, which would’ve made all five entries contain mainstream artists. But my feelings for them ended up being extremely complicated, so I resorted to sakanaction instead for fifth.
Normally, I love weird bands, and sakanaction is one such band. They’re more or less the Japanese Pink Floyd, and I don’t exactly like Pink Floyd. The band’s music tends to be very surreal and mellow, which isn’t my favorite combination.
But to be honest, it’s the vocalist who made me drop sakanaction. The actual song compositions do create some very unique vibes, but the moment that he starts singing, it all feels dissonant and messy. For some reason, I just cannot stand his voice! Maybe the dissonance is on purpose, or I just don’t appreciate some hidden nuance in the band. I’ve started getting into King Gnu and Queen Bee lately, who come off as better versions of sakanaction, and have more emphasis on rock.
I started with someone more obscure. But noooow, you’ll start seeing some actually popular people.
“How dare you hate MIYAVI, you curr!” you exclaim (assuming you’re a fan of his), “This man’s helped refugees from all over the world!” Sorry, but, the music’s got nothing to do with that. In all seriousness, I did want to love MIYAVI’s music really badly. He seems like a really good person, based on what he posts on his Twitter. But no matter how great of a person he is, I can’t enjoy his music.
MIYAVI’s music comes down to very basic groovy beats with a side of synthesizers, and an admittedly sick-sounding electric guitar. The production and mixing of the music makes it sound really bee-bopping and loud, but it’s neither of those things upon closer inspection. His music’s not the worst ever, though… not by a LONG shot.
3) Hikaru Utada
You might not know who this Utada person is as you read this post… until just now, when I told you that she’s done songs for Kingdom Hearts. “Oh, she’s that person who did that song! But… I love that song!”
Thing is, Utada’s apparently got more to her name than Kingdom Hearts. She’s got over three million Twitter followers for a reason! But I don’t know what those three million people see in her music that I don’t. Most of it is very slow and… slow? Boring, too. Nothing of what I heard from her ever stood out to me.
But if there’s one thing Utada does right, it’s the process of singing. She’s got a seriously lovely voice; deep and soothing. I was also told by an associate that she does all song composition, production, and mixing herself. If that’s true, then Utada does earn at least some respect from me.
I’m kind of cheating on this one, for Perfume was one of the first non-anime J-pop groups I ever tried to get into… like, eight years ago. I’m a different person than I was at that time, so I can’t authoritatively state how I’d feel about Perfume if I tried to listen to them now, especially since I only watched the official music videos then and didn’t have Apple Music. But based on what I remember, I can be DAMN sure that I would wholeheartedly dislike Perfume to this day.
Perfume is a chill techno group and that’s that. Their music is full of catchy beats and sci-fi atmospheres that I find to be very bleh for whatever reason. It’s not “ceaseless dribble”, but it’s not something that I’d particularly enjoy. There’s not really anything else I can say about them other than that.
1) Kyary Pamyu Pamyu
It’s one thing to not like an artist. But I cannot STAND when the marketing behind someone is a straight up lie! Kyary seems to be one of the most popular Japanese singers in the world, and I can only scratch my head in confusion.
One look at any of her album covers or music videos will likely elicit a reaction to the effect of, “Holy crap! This chick’s so wiggety-whackin’-weird! I love it!” There is a lot of… er… otherworlldly imagery associated with Kyary. It helps promote her content while also establishing an identity to make her stand out from the rabble.
But imagery is imagery, nothing more, nothing less. What I mean is… her music is the exact opposite of her image! To be fair, I only listened to half of Kyary’s best of album… but I felt like it was enough. Despite how “weird” she is, the music itself is mainstream. So disgustingly, by-the-book mainstream. The songs are basic, with simple, catchy beats and no variance. All of this is dressed up by her unusual choice of lyrics, as well as the production of the music videos.
Call me a hipster, but I also dislike Kyary because I’m jealous that she’s more popular than one of my favorite pop groups, Dempagumi.inc. Dempagumi is what Kyrary says she is; wild, eccentric pop music. As I mentioned in this post, Dempagumi addles with the brain’s pattern recognition by always switching up the tempo to constantly keep you on your toes. Kyary doesn’t do any of that crap! The only good version to come from her is nano’s cover of Ponponpon eight years ago (that video is still up by the way, highly recommend checking it out)!
I don’t want to be a troll. I went into listening to all of these artists with full intention of enjoying them. But I simply didn’t. What do you think about the people I introduced here? Do you enjoy them, and if so, why? You probably have found some way to appreciate them that I failed to notice. Who are your least favorite J-pop artists? Feedback is welcome!