As someone who is so disconnected from society, it makes sense that I would have been out of the loop for the new, borderline-mainstream Canadian outfit, Spiritbox. They have established a massive following with only two EPs and a couple of singles, and their first proper album, Eternal Blue, has been hyped up as the best metal debut of the year. I listened to their earlier stuff out of curiosity, but this is the real test. For the sake of keeping up with the metal market, I had to listen to this highly anticipated album.
Spiritbox was originally composed of vocalist Courtney LaPlante and guitarist Mike Stringer. They released the original Spiritbox debut EP by themselves, but since then have recruited bassist Bill Crook and drummer Zev Rose. Apparently, their 2020 single ‘Holy Roller’ was what put them on the map. Will Eternal Blue slap, or will they be a one-hit wonder?
I normally talk about album cover art first, but what is there to say? It’s blue, and… eternal. They’re new, so I’ll give them slack. Also, I gotta stop having OCD for good album covers, because some artists just don’t have those.
As far as Spiritbox’s musical style is concerned, I have—surprise, surprise—failed to see their novelty. The reason is, similar to VEXED, I went into their music knowing what subgenres they were labeled under. And to be blunt, I think only one of them actually applies. From what I’ve read, Spiritbox is considered “post-metal” and “djent” in addition to metalcore and prog-metal. It sounds like a lot, but that happens when you make up subgenres that aren’t real (Oooooooooh snap!).
To use Layman’s terms, Spiritbox is prog-metal, albeit very moody prog-metal. For how crunchy the guitars sound, most songs are very melancholic, and have a very echo-y vibe to them. That’s it. If this is supposed to be post-metal, then I don’t think post-metal is “post” enough. Also, how can a music genre be “post-something” if the original genre still exists?
Musically, Eternal Blue is very solid, and very heavy. There are a lot of unexpected tone shifts, often in the space of the same track, and there is an impressive amount of variety when it comes to different atmospheres. The lyrics, however, didn’t really resonate with me. It felt like a more progressive spin on early 2000s Evanescence stuff, a band whom I wasn’t entirely sold on. The only song I really felt something toward was the final track, ‘Constance’, a song dedicated to LaPlante’s late grandmother, and people who have dealt with dementia.
Need more hot takes? I’m not particularly impressed by LaPlante’s performance. I’m sure she’s a good person, but when reviewing music, I must evaluate how vocalists sound. And here’s my evaluation: LaPlante’s got solid clean vocals, but has pretty meh growls. To use another 2021 debut by way of comparison, I enjoyed Megan Targett from VEXED marginally better, at least in the growling department.
Final Verdict: 8.75/10
Despite my complaints, Eternal Blue is a solid enough record for me to at least keep my eyes trained on Spiritbox in the years to come. You could chalk it up to me as “not being cerebral enough”, but the real struggle with Eternal Blue is understanding what makes it cerebral in the first place. Sure, there’s whacky, out-of-left-field hooks, but that’s just a metal thing, because metal musicians can do whatever the ding-dang-crap they want. Eternal Blue feels like nothing more than a great album, as opposed to “a game changer”, according to Metal Injection, who also say “the metal scene may never be the same after this”. I’d recommend it, but I wouldn’t consider it the debut of 2021. Even if you could exclude Wizardthrone—the band I had named debut of the year—because of the controversy, I have been listening to another contender who’s been under the radar, and you’ll see my review of that record fourteen days from today!
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?
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.
Preface: If you’re wondering how I already have a review of Attack on Titan the day after it finished, don’t worry; I didn’t pirate it! There are official channels through which to finish this manga right now, at least in the U.S. One is to read the last leg of it on Crunchyroll’s manga tab that they actually updated after the death of Flash even though most people never use it. Alternatively, you can buy the remaining chapters on BookWalker for about 2 USD each. Of course, you’ll have to have read all thirty-two currently published U.S. releases for it to work. But you know what, at least you’d be supporting the actual creator!
There are types of stories that have existed since the dawn of man. Romance, for example, as full of BS as it is, is one of the most enduring story types of all time. Stories like Hajime Isayama’s Attack on Titan are insanely common; plucky teens thrust into a world of strife against some “mysterious enemy” that the main character “happens” to be “special” enough to save the world from. However, Attack on Titan is probably one of the best variations of this story ever created. And here’s why.
The plot is nothing new. We have the Titans—the “mysterious enemy”—ravaging mankind and driving them into hiding behind some walls (“But what about the possibility of an AERIAL ATTACK?!” Squidward Tentacles exclaims). After the designated first-chapter-death, the “plucky teens” join the designated “cool fighter people” and, well, fight the Titans.
I’m gonna tell you straight. You likely already know what’s going to happen, thankfully minus the dumb romance sideplot. As much as this series excels at foreshadowing and build-up, you don’t need it. If you’ve read stuff like this before, then you can probably make several ballpark guesses on what the low-down of this manga’s world is and at least one guess would probably be correct.
But you know what, strong execution beats lack of originality. The rules of how the different units of the military work are all thought out (even if the Survey Corps are the only ones who matter), the “parkour gear” or whatever it’s called is one of the coolest things I have ever seen, and there’s always something engaging going on in terms of plot progress. Even during a later arc that is notorious for its utter lack of Titan combat, the manga consistently keeps the momentum going.
Most of the time, I’m not a fan of “human” characters. But unlike cardboard boxes such as Rimuru Tempest from TenSura, Isayama actually seems to understand the definition OF a human being in the first place, especially what it’s like to be a teenager who has to live in a world of despair, and to have their perception of their established facts of life turned upside down numerous times. Wow, that was all one sentence…
First off, the three main characters—Eren, Armin, and Mikasa—somehow manage to maintain a relatively platonic relationship throughout the whole series. Two male characters and one female character, all of which are childhood friends, is a perfect love triangle, and any [bad] YA author would’ve done it in a heartbeat and ruined the story forever. Mikasa clearly has some level of “thing”-ness for Eren, but it’s seldom ham-fisted into your face but instead shown visually merely by the scarf that she wears; a gift from him when they first met. The fourth main character is Best Boy Levi, who is raw badassery and intellect rolled into one handsome boy. What’s there to dislike? The supporting cast is also phenomenal. From gambit-happy Erwin Smith, to potato-eating Sasha Blouse, to Actual Best Girl Krista, these kids are surprisingly easy to love.
This manga warrants a reread, because re-experiencing the story by watching the anime from the beginning, after having read past chapter ninety, really shows how organically they have developed over time. I cringed at the first episode, at Eren’s incessant whining, thinking, “Is this really the SAME GUY who I grew emotionally attached to?” THIS is character development at its finest.
“Rough around the edges” is an understatement for the art in this manga. Based on the “rules of art” that have been established over the years, Attack on Titan has “objectively” bad art. It’s not smooth nor crisp, but for me, it somehow “works” (It’s as if art was never meant to be assigned rules to begin with…).
If there is one “rule of art” that it follows, it’s gesture drawing. The many (MANY) tiny strokes in Isayama’s technique helps to convey motion in a spectacular fashion. I didn’t need the anime’s sakuga to feel the force of the parkour gear as our intrepid heroes flew through cities and forests, striking Titans as they went. All this in addition to his great sense of good panelwork makes Attack on Titan a tightly paced read. Not even the dialogue-driven chapters feel like a waste of time.
For the last paragraph, I’ll touch on the one thing that always ends up being divisive for long-running battle shounen series: the final act. Don’t worry; I’ll word it in the least spoilery way possible. Late-ish in Attack on Titan, an epic battle—one of the best in the series—unfolds in spectacular glory. But the aftermath opens up a can of worms that drastically changes the entire tone of the manga. Although it is still a great arc, the biggest problem is that it introduces a metric ton of new characters that I honestly didn’t care about, let alone remember their names in the first place. It also didn’t help that this was the arc where I had caught up on the most recent chapters, and ended up playing the waiting game most often. Since I’m always pressed for time, I can’t reread volumes to make sure I still remember stuff.
And honestly, like a lot of long battle shounen, the plot gets pretty complicated. There’s even the possibility that it was retconned at some point. But you know what, I still love this manga to death. You gotta give mangakas some benefit of the doubt, since a lot of them are forced to make this stuff up as they go along. No matter how confusing it got, I still loved Attack on Titan all the way through. Isayama knows how to make a story feel engaging regardless of what’s happening. That takes talent.
Final Verdict: 9.8/10
Attack on Titan is one of my favorite manga of all time. Isayama draws (no pun intended) influence from the very best of Western culture, without using any of the BS, to make a fantastic battle shounen series that miraculously maintains a consistent state of cohesion for a decade-long runtime. I’d recommend it if you want a shounen series that’s light on the fanservice, but I also just recommend it in general. The biggest issue will likely be the art if it doesn’t suit your tastes, but other than that this manga is a masterpiece through and through.
I’m not one to enjoy massively popular media, so you’d naturally think I’d despise the Walt Disney Company, at least in their current, mainstream-savvy form. Despite that, I ended up giving Frozen 2 and Onward overall positive scores, in complete disregard to how much I criticized them. Why is that? Get ready for a rant!
The main reason for my claim is that most of their movies- at least the good ones- have a lot more substance than most mainstream content. There are a lot of popular things I’ve consumed that basically go down a checklist of what people inherently love and don’t do anything remotely inventive. One manga example is Kimetsu no Yaiba, which barely gets the benefit of the doubt because the author ended it when it was at its peak (relatively speaking) instead of milking it.
Although their main demographic is children, Disney at least saw ahead and made sure that those same viewers would enjoy their movies in adulthood. This is something I learned five years ago, when I watched The Incredibles during a Movie Under the Stars event at Walt Disney World. As a kid, I had seen it so many times, I basically had the movie memorized. However, when I saw it at age nineteen that night, I saw it for the first time ever. As an adult, I was actually able to understand what makes it one of the best Pixar movies of all time, in ways that I couldn’t have comprehended as a kid. It was an amazing experience, and it stays across most core Disney movies (MOST of them; Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, you haven’t really aged well, narratively speaking…).
One of the things that makes Disney movies enduring is that they have strong supporting characters besides the cliched main ones. I don’t really like Snow White or Ariel as much as some of my actual waifus, but the Seven Dwarves and Sebastian are timeless. There’s also characters like Olaf, the ultimate Disney husbando. And of course, there’s nothing like a good Disney villain. They have iconic personalities and exude intimidating auras thanks to their brilliant animators. The Evil Queen, Maleficent, Lady Trumain, Ursula… and also Hades and Yzma, who have gotten a billion times more popular in recent years; they are among the most memorable antagonists of all time (except Hans in Frozen). These days, most people are probably looking forward to them more than the good guys (who actually watched The Little Mermaid Live for any reason other than fangushing at Queen Latifa?).
And of course, there’s the MUSIC. Disney has had master songwriters that don’t get talked about too often, but they’re real geniuses, writing songs that people still sing to this day. I don’t think the ENTIRE Disney discography is perfect, but a lot of it—especially the newer stuff—is really, really good. The other important factor is that ever since they had the brilliant Howard Ashman work for them, the songs also contribute to plot progression in a very Broadway-esque manner. I still listen to songs from Frozen casually (PS: ‘Let It Go’ deserves all the praise it got, fight me), and that’s just the tip of the iceberg (no pun intended). And just when you think they’ve run out of ideas, something like ‘Lost in the Woods’ from Frozen 2 comes up. I remember thinking, “Oh boy, a bad, melodramatic Krifstoff song shoehorned into an already shoehorned subplot”, at first. But when you hear that eighties guitar riff out of nowhere, it’s like, “What the crap?!” It’s safe to say that Disney would have not made it this far if they didn’t turbo-charge their films with amazing music!
I also love the Walt Disney Company itself, more so than the movies. For starters, they are pretty much one of the few bastions of goodwill left in the world. I’m sorry, but that’s how it is. Most other companies are too selfish and/or corrupt to even try to do better for the world, and others have pretty much given up on even trying. They don’t just make movies, they help animals and the earth through the Disney Conservation Fund, the use of environmentally friendly buses, and massive solar panel farms. To accomplish so much, they need a LOT of funding. These people don’t just need movie budgets, but they need to be able to manufacture merch of literally ALL kinds, as well as paying the millions who are working at several theme parks AND cruise ships. So, yeah, some of their movies might be riskless cash grabs, but they kinda need it once or twice in a while. If it weren’t for their vision, I would probably accuse them of pandering just as easily as any crappy hack writer.
And as much as I hate to say it, I must acknowledge the value of being able to relate to the main protagonists. They’re generic to a fault, but they definitely had an impact on cultures around the world. Their arcs (and the narratives of the movies in general) are not marred by any sort of cultural barrier, making them lovable to anyone. I also can’t deny that they have saved a lot of young’uns from torment, especially in the case of Frozen. They also handle wish fulfilment themes in ways that are genuinely good, at least recently. Most of the time, the tropes say, “You’re special for no reason now go be a wizard Harry.” Disney merely says “You’re you,” which is a lot better. In fact, as much as I said I loved good Disney villains, they seem to be moving towards complete abandonment of main antagonists in the favor of developing their protagonists, which I’m interested to see moving forward. But you know what, if you only love Disney movies because of the relatability aspect, then I feel genuinely sorry for you; you’re missing out on some really well thought-out, detail-oriented media.
And seriously, they are detail-oriented, in a way that transcends OCD. It’s made readily apparent if you go to Epcot and look at the architecture. Everything is authentic and accurate right down to the last brick. That same attention applies to their movies. If you watch the behind-the-scenes of some of this stuff, you’ll see them have board meetings over a three-second shot. It sounds excessive, but they need to do it because they know that those details make or break the whole picture, even if it’s stuff that no casual viewer would even think to look at.
So, in conclusion, I’m willing to bet that most people really do just enjoy Disney movies because of their eye-catching visuals, and the audience’s innate desire to see “themselves” in the narrative. But from a professional standpoint, they’re decent movies, with great soundtracks, from a team that’s constantly moving forward. While I still don’t entirely enjoy the wish fulfillment themes that they perpetuate, they at least have substance, and that’s something that makes them stand out from the rabble.
Weekly Shounen Jump has had some really great manga, and it’s had some not so great manga. While they have a system to weed out the latter, cases like Kimetsu no Yaiba show that it’s not perfect. A little manga called Jujutsu Kaisen (published in English by Viz) has risen to a pretty high level of popularity, without the need of a successful anime adaptation (even though the anime will no doubt make it quite popular overseas). Let’s see whether or not it deserves its popularity.
In Jujutsu Kaisen, a high-schooler named Yuji Itadori has a run-in with Megumi Fushiguro, a student from the curse-fighting Jujutsu Highschool, when he seeks a cursed object that Yuji’s classmates have come across. Yuji helps him fight back the curses that attack them, but things get hairy. Yuji ends up eating the cursed object- a severed finger- and becomes more than powerful enough to fight the curse, but is nearly possessed by the finger’s owner, Ryomen Sukuna. Due to Yuji’s strange ability to suppress its power, he’s recruited as a new student of Jujutsu Highschool in order to collect and consume the rest of the fingers… after which he will be executed.
Let’s cross that bridge when we get to it; this is a First Impressions, after all. I had thought, based on Chainsaw Man, that Jump is trying to become more mature in order to recover from the slump it’s been in lately (a lot of series from 2019 onward have sold poorly), but alas, it seems that Chainsaw Man is an exception and not the rule. Despite how often it waxes poetic about life and death, Jujutsu Kaisen is a pretty typical shounen manga.
As expected of most Jump manga, Jujutsu Kaisen starts by getting us acquainted with the main characters as they fight random enemies in self-contained mini-arcs, followed by a training arc. For the most part, the ideas of cursed energy and techniques are pretty generic, but the neatest aspect of the combat in Jujutsu Kaisen is the domain techniques. These are basically field effects that look really cool, and add a bit of spectacle to the fights.
The manga picks up after twenty-odd chapters, which is when the first major arc starts. It introduces the main antagonist (who will likely get replaced by someone less memorable if the manga ends up running for eight more years), and ups the ante by a lot. And I mean A LOT.
Typical shounen manga means a pretty one-dimensional cast. Yuji is a pretty generic, brash idiot, and the thing with Sukuna seems more like something to make him edgy than to give him a moral crisis. His classmates, Megumi, and the female lead, Nobara, aren’t that interesting either outside of their fighting abilities. Fortunately, Jujutsu Kaisen at least tries with some of its characters. Yuji’s teacher, Satoru Gojo, has got a pretty good sense of humor, for instance. There’s also some other students in other classes who are pretty wild, such as a literal panda bear, as well as some interesting folks from their rival school in Kyoto (such as mah boy Toto).
The art of Jujutsu Kaisen is where it shines. It’s sketchy and dirty, but full of personality. The fight scenes are fast and spectacular, and really help the manga shine. The character design is also excellent, with a plethora of good-looking women.
Current Verdict: 8.75/10
Jujutsu Kaisen is indeed a very mainstream manga. However, with great art, and a number of admittedly creative ideas (such as a decrepit old geezer who fights with an electric guitar), it stands out from the rabble. I recommend it to any battle shounen fanatic.
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.