In Defense of Bofuri and “Generic” Anime

BOFURI: I Don’t Want to Get Hurt, so I’ll Max Out My Defense is a generic anime. It’s about a cute, ditzy girl who plays a virtual-reality MMORPG, runs an all-defense build, and goofs her way into becoming a ludicrously powerful god of destruction. There’s nothing in it that hasn’t been done in Sword Art Online, Konosuba, or any of the countless other game-based fantasy anime series out there. Even so, I had a blast watching Bofuri. It’s got a lot of charm, the main character is absolutely adorable, and its breezy vibes are the perfect antidote to our anxiety-inducing times.

It has a giant flying turtle in it! What’s not to love?

Generic media gets a bad rap sometimes. People often think being “generic” means dull, predictable, or lacking creativity. And while some generic anime might fit those criteria, the terms are not synonymous. “Generic” can also mean competent, dependable, and satisfying – like the sweet, simple vanilla in an ice cream sundae that prevents the more flavorful chocolate and strawberry from being too overpowering.

OK, not the best metaphor, but all my favorite ice cream shops are closed and I have a craving! (Source: Twitter)

So what makes something generic? Generally, it means that it has a lot of tropes that have been done before. Think of a shonen anime with an idealistic spiky-haired protagonist, or any high school anime that has a cute girl running with a piece of toast in her mouth. These tropes have been done so many times that they can feel tired and boring, especially for anime fans (who I think tend to be more genre-savvy than most) who may have seen them dozens of times before in other shows.

But it’s important to remember that these tropes are popular for a reason, and they aren’t bad by themselves. Idealistic spiky-haired shonen protagonists are popular because they are easy for young audiences to empathize with. And cute girls doing cute things are, well, cute! These “overdone” tropes can help a series reach a wider audience or resonate more with its target demographic. In more complex series, they keep the viewer grounded so they don’t get lost in all the plot twists and avant-garde directorial techniques. 

Even FLCL, the most bat-crazy anime I’ve ever seen, relies on common tropes to some extent

Furthermore, this formula can actually help draw the viewer’s attention to the things that stand out. Bofuri borrows a lot from anime like SAO, but the vibe the two shows give off couldn’t be more different. While SAO is a death game, Bofuri is about a bunch of cute girls goofing around and playing video games. Its protagonist, Maple, isn’t a hardcore gamer – she’s just a cheerful, air-headed girl who picked an unbalanced build and became overpowered through dumb luck. If SAO‘s theme is that the relationships we have online are as important as the ones we make IRL, Bofuri‘s theme is that video games are for fun, and we shouldn’t take them too seriously or get worked up when things don’t go our way.

It also helps that Bofuri is a well-made series, regardless of whether it’s generic or not. The visuals are gorgeous, and the music is fun and catchy. Maple is cute as a button, and it’s hilarious to watch her pull comically overpowered special moves out of nowhere. Who would have thought this adorable little cinnamon bun could turn into a kaiju or a frickin’ Gundam and unleash Armageddon on her hapless foes?

Yeah dude, same

When it comes to the media we consume, there is this pressure to always find something new or life-changing. But that’s unrealistic, and unfair to both audiences and content creators. A show doesn’t need to be a revolutionary masterpiece to be fun and enjoyable, and we shouldn’t expect it to be. As much as I love challenging and innovative anime series like Evangelion or Hunter x Hunter, those shows require a lot of mental and emotional investment to fully enjoy. Sometimes I just need to turn my brain off after a stressful day at work and watch cute girls doing gamer things, you know?

Bofuri isn’t going to blow your mind with deep storytelling, and its characters (besides Maple) are basically superfluous. But part of the series’ charm is that it never tries to be something it’s not. It never takes itself seriously, and there’s no out-of-place dramatic twists. And that’s fine! It’s a fun and lighthearted distraction, and one that couldn’t have come at a better time. Just because a show is generic doesn’t mean it doesn’t have a lot to offer. And Bofuri does have one essential life lesson: when in doubt, eat everything in sight! Oh, Maple, you adorable little psychopath.

This works, somehow

An Ode to Final Fantasy

When I was six, my best friend was a boy named Mike went to my elementary school. We’d spend every afternoon together holed up in his mom’s basement playing Super Nintendo. I loved Super Mario World and Pilotwings, but the game I always wanted to play was a weird little ditty called Final Fantasy IV. (Which we knew as Final Fantasy II, because numbers are weird.)

I was awful at it – I remember dying needlessly because I didn’t realize you had to use a potion to heal – but I didn’t care. There was something about the lush, colorful world, the complex and captivating characters, and the fantastical story that lit a fire in my young mind. I had never seen anything like it, and I couldn’t get enough.

I know it doesn’t look like much now, but this shit was the peak of video game storytelling in the early 90’s

If you’re into video games, you probably know the story of Final Fantasy: how a young, impoverished developer named Hironobu Sakaguchi had to make one more game before his company, Square, went under, and how that final fantasy (get it?) launched the most popular and influential RPG series in history. It’s unlikely success story, something that could be straight out of a video game itself. And it spawned a series that’s shaped my childhood memories, memories I still come back to two decades later. (Yes, I’m old- shut it!)

It’s hard to explain what Final Fantasy is about, because every game in the main series has a different story, cast of characters, setting, and even gameplay. What brings the games together is a style, a feeling. Final Fantasy is a series about swords, magic, crystals, steampunk technology, ragtag bands of misfits, evil empires, troubled heroes, Nietzschean villains, princesses with untold magical powers, and adorable yellow ostriches called Chocobos. It’s a weird and wonderful blend of fantasy, sci-fi, Greek drama, and, of course, anime. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

I can name all of these characters. No, I was not popular in high school!

The first Final Fantasy on the NES is pretty barebones compared to later games, but it was groundbreaking for the time – an open map where every direction led to adventure and mystery. Later games on the SNES built on these foundations with a speedier battle system and more complex stories and characters. It was the first time games were about more than getting to the end of the level or racking up a high score. Final Fantasy proved that games could tell tales of war, love, loss, and hope, that were as beautiful and meaningful as anything in a book or a film.

The peak of the series’ 2D era, in my opinion, is Final Fantasy VI. It ditched the medieval fantasy setting for a gritty steampunk-inspired world, and was the first game to feature a female protagonist, Terra. It also has my favorite scene in all of Final Fantasy, when the badass female general Celes moonlights as an opera singer and moves everyone to 16-bit digital tears:

Square did the impossible: make teenagers like opera music

Speaking of music, can I take a second to gush about the musical goddamn genius of Nobou Uematsu? This man composed the music for almost every game in the series, and it’s impossible to talk about Final Fantasy without mentioning him. His melodies are instantly recognizable and can stir your heartstrings like nothing else. I grew up playing classical piano as a kid, and I learned a lot about music by teaching myself to play Final Fantasy songs by ear. It helped me appreciate the craft of composition and inspired me to eventually write my own songs. I would say Uematsu is one of my top 10 favorite musicians of all time, and I’m forever grateful for the gift of inspiration that his music has given me.

Final Fantasy VII changed everything. It was the first 3D FF game, and its animation sequences were downright jaw-dropping in 1997. High fantasy was out – now you were in the dystopian city of Midgar, fighting a corrupt energy corporation to save the environment. (It’s almost like in the real world… wait…) All the characters are unforgettable and have their own unique story to tell. The story is dark and psychological, containing some of the most devastating plot twists in video game history. But it can also be fun, goofy, and, sometimes, achingly beautiful. FFVII is the definitive RPG, in my opinion, and Square has been trying to recapture that lightning in a bottle moment ever since.

Tifa is QUEEN!

That’s not to say the games that game after aren’t great, though. I feel FFVIII is a bit hit-or-miss personally, but I love the incredible music and the game’s sheer ambition. FFIX is like a Greatest Hits of the series as a whole – it won back the old-school fans with its retro fantasy aesthetic, but it still has as much story and character depth as FFVI, VII, and VIII. And with Final Fantasy X on the PS2, Square shook things up again, with a gorgeous South Pacific-inspired setting and a story about finding your own ideals in a world corrupted by politics and religion.

Is it possible to love a game if you low key hate the main character? Just wondering

Unfortunately, after FFX, many of the original team left Square (now Square Enix) to work on other projects, and the series hasn’t quite been the same since. I did play a little bit of Final Fantasy XII, but found the combat system too unintuitive to really get into. FFXIII was critically panned for its linearity and incoherent storyline. And while FFXV won back some longtime fans, it didn’t get the same unanimous praise as earlier games in the series. It felt like Square Enix was just going through the motions, hoping that name recognition and nostalgia alone would keep Final Fantasy relevant for modern gamers.

But, hopefully, that will change very soon. With the Final Fantasy VII Remake coming out April 10, the world is waiting to see if this timeless story will blow everyone’s minds again in HD. I don’t own a PS4 myself, but I’m still psyched to see all the awesome gameplay videos and reactions from the community. I’m sure the game will keep the spirit of FFVII intact and be just as great as the original – but hey, even if it sucks, we’ll still have the classics to fall back on.

37 Final Fantasy VII Remake HD Wallpapers | Background Images ...

Final Fantasy has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember, and I love these games to pieces. And since we’ve all been stuck at home for the foreseeable future, it’s the perfect time for me to revisit some of these classic RPGs and feel like a kid again. If you haven’t played any of the classic FF games – or even if you have, but it’s been a while – why not give them a shot? Each one is a world unto itself, where the only limit is the disk space and the creative team’s boundless imagination.

And I didn’t get to talk about Final Fantasy Tactics at all! This game is an underrated masterpiece. The story is Shakespearean, the battle system is… hey, wait, the post is over? Damn >_<

5 Anime Guaranteed To Make You Smile

Even at the best of times, life can often be exhausting, unpredictable, and needlessly cruel. And in times of crisis, we all could use a pick me up! There are tons of deep, compelling anime that will blow your mind and fuck up your life, but there are also some cute, beautiful, and inspiring series that are guaranteed to make you smile. So here’s a few of my favorites, in no particular order!

K-On! (2009-2010)

K-ON!, Screenshot - Zerochan Anime Image Board

The poster child of the “cute girls doing cute things” subgenre of slice of life anime, K-On! is about five girls who start a band together in high school, only to find they’re easily distractible and spent most of their time eating cake instead of practicing. K-On!‘s strength is its adorable cast of characters, who all play off each other’s unique personality quirks. It’s easy to get attached and pick which girl is you amongst your group of friends. (I’m definitely Yui!) And the music is all great – it’s like the early Beatles as a J-pop girl group. What’s not to love?

Cardcaptor Sakura (1998-2000)

I swear she’s not flipping off the camera in this shot

90’s anime hits a nostalgic sweet spot for me, and Cardcaptor Sakura has a ton of old-school charm. Sakura Kinomoto is a magical girl who accidentally awakens the mystical world-destroying Clow Cards, and must catch-’em-all with the help of her gay best friend Tomoyo, her bi rival-turned-best-friend Syaoran, and her sassy gay magical teddy bear Kero-chan. The character designs are adorable, the color palette is warm and nostalgic, and the story mixes a Pokémon-esque adventure story with genuinely moving slice of life moments. If you haven’t seen it, or only remember the terrible English dub, Cardcaptors, it’s definitely worth checking out!

Haikyuu!! (2013-)

Okay, so maybe cute girls doing cute things isn’t your style. But if you want a fast-paced, exciting series that will make you cheer for joy, look no further than Haikyuu!! Shoyo Hinata is a scrawny high schooler with dreams of being a professional volleyball player, but ends up on the same team as his rival. It’s got all the story beats of a classic shonen battle series: rivalries, tournament arcs, and an instantly relatable underdog story – but instead of crazy superpowers, it’s about a real-life sport any of us can understand. I don’t know shit about volleyball, but watching this anime made me inspired to start working out again. So why not give Haikyuu!! a shot, and see if you feel similarly inspired?

Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid (2017)

Anime can be pretty weird sometimes. I mean, where would you find a story about a disgruntled office worker who wakes up one morning to meet a terrifying dragon – only for said dragon to turn into a cute anime girl, make an over-the-top love confession, and insist on working as her live-in-maid? Despite the odd premise, though, Dragon Maid is a fantastically gay rom-com with gorgeous artwork and a lot of heart. The characters are fun and relatable, and I’m a sucker for any story about a group of misfits coming together to find their chosen family. There are some weird ecchi scenes that kinda make this a “problematic fave” for me, but the great comedic and slice of life moments more than make up for it. Gay Dragons FTW!

A Place Further Than The Universe (2018)

Who is best girl? Trick question: they all are

Disclaimer: this anime will make you smile, but it will also make you cry – possibly at the same time. It’s the story of four young girls, searching for a meaning to their lives, throwing caution to the wind to embark on an Antarctic exposition. It’s all about growing up and the transformative power of female friendship. The main characters all have multifaceted and endearing personalities, and their character arcs show how much this trip has helped them change and grow. I could gush about this anime for ages, but anything else I could say would probably head into spoiler territory. So if you haven’t watched it yet, it’s only 13 episodes. Watch it!

Top 5 Ways to Stay Sane During Quarantine

Everything is fine. And by “fine” I mean “the world is under quarantine, every day is a waking nightmare, and I can’t even buy toilet paper anymore!” It’s been a rough time for all of us, and we could all use some ways to stave off the simultaneous boredom and existential dread of social distancing. So here are some of the things that have helped me recently, and hopefully some of them might work for you as well!

1. Stay Connected

Image result for rascal does not dream of bunny girl senpai screencap
Whatcha looking at there, Mai? (Anime: Rascal Does Not Dream of Bunny Girl Senpai)

One of the hardest things about this pandemic has been the loneliness and isolation of social distancing. We need social interaction to survive – but who needs to go to a crowded bar or party when you have the internet? Shoot your friends a text, or video chat for a more face-to-face connection. You can watch TV with friends using Discord or the Chrome extention Netflix Party. Online games are also a great option, and even just hitting up friends on social media would help. I’m sure anyone would appreciate the extra company during times like these.

And don’t forget your furry friends! Whenever I’m having a bad, my dog Muffin always cheers me up. If you don’t have a pet, just watch some cute animal videos on YouTube, or stare at this picture of my dog sleeping until a feeling of peace and serenity washes over you. Works for me every time.

2. Be Creative

Image result for mugi guitar
Mugi can’t really play guitar, but she’s trying, and that’s all that matters (Anime: K-On!)\

I think everyone has a little creative spark in them, but often the pace and responsibilities of life doesn’t give us enough time to pursue our interests. So why not use the extra free time to try something new? Artistic endeavors like drawing, playing music, or writing are great and there are a ton of YouTube tutorials out there to help beginners. But you don’t have to be artsy-fartsy like me – creativity can also include things like cooking, or coding, or redecorating your apartment. Keeping a journal also works wonders: I write a page in my journal every morning, and it’s really helped declutter my brain and motivate me to start the day!

3. Stay Healthy – Physically and Mentally

Image result for how heavy are the dumbbells you lift
Get SWOLE (Anime: How Heavy Are The Dumbbells You Lift?)

This is the hardest thing for me. When I’m down, my normal coping mechanism is to crack open a beer and stress-eat an entire box of processed snack foods. But eating healthy and exercising can work wonders physically and mentally. The gym may be out, but you can still take a walk outside (while practicing social distancing) or do body-weight exercises in your bedroom. And yeah, I know cooking can be like pulling teeth for some folks – but there are tons of easy recipes online and it’s cheaper than delivery, so why not try it out?

But taking care of your mental health is just as important, and there are a lot of ways to do that right on your phone. TalkSpace offers online therapy, Headspace is great for meditation and sleep, and Happify is a free app that lets you play games to help overcome negative thoughts (really). And if you’re really down, don’t be afraid to talk to a crisis hotline. No matter what, you’re not alone. 

4. Watch Anime

This is a perfect excuse for me to remind you that you really should watch Symphogear if you haven’t already

Seriously. I don’t know about you, but I always feel better when I watch anime. It could be a slice of life anime to lift your spirits, or a long running shonen action series you can really sink your teeth into. Maybe there’s a series you’ve been meaning to watch for ages but never got around to. Or if you’re stressing out trying to find something, just rewatch one of your old favorites! Of course, you can sub this out for almost any hobby – reading a book, playing video games, listening to music, watching your favorite YouTuber… we all need a distraction from the world sometimes, so try to do something you love, just for you!

5. Remember: We’ll Get Through This Together

Image result for side effects may include death meme
If Shinji can find happiness in dark times, we all can too (Anime: Neon Genesis Evangelion)

I know this is a crazy time, and everyone’s scared now. But it’s important not to let our fear and anxiety turn into despair. This is far from the first time humanity has faced a seemingly existential threat and come out stronger. Just in the last 100 years or so, we’ve survived (among other things) a Great Depression, 2 World Wars, the rise and fall of the Soviet Union, the September 11th attacks, the entirety of Donald Trump’s presidency, and nine (count, em, NINE) Nickelback albums!

All of these things are terrible and made humanity lose its collective shit, but guess what? We’re still here. We’ve not only survived; we’ve done things that it would be impossible for our ancestors to even imagine. When you think about it, humanity is freaking amazing! We’re gonna get through this together, and when it’s over we’ll have some crazy stories to tell our grandkids over drinks. So just take a deep breath, turn off the news for a bit, pour yourself some hot tea, and remember to love yourself today. It’s gonna be okay, even if it seems like the furthest thing from it right now.

What are some things that have helped you during the coronavirus outbreak? Let me know in comments. 🙂

Coming to a crossroads…

This post may be a bit rambly and not make a lot of sense, but hopefully it does to those of you who blog on here. I feel like I’m kind of at a creative standstill with my blog right now and not sure what to do next with it.

When I started this blog about a year ago, I didn’t have a plan for what I wanted to write about or anything. I just needed a place to vent my feelings, really. I started writing about things in my personal life, but that gradually shifted towards some of my hobbies and interests, particularly anime and manga… and now, that’s the main thing I write about.

Image result for aqua konosuba screencap
This is my life now (Anime: Konosuba)

And that’s great! I love my little blogging community and it makes me happy to read everyone’s posts, share our opinions, and get to know each other better. But lately I’ve been thinking, what else do I want to do with this blog? Do I want to do what’s worked for me so far, or do I want to try something new?

Because to be honest, I haven’t had been as motivated to watch and write about anime as I was even a few months ago. I still watch older series from time to time, but outside of My Hero Academia, I haven’t caught up with much new stuff lately. This is partly because I’ve been busy with you know, life, but I also have had a hard time keeping up with so many new releases and also catching up on all the stuff that I missed. Even the shows I really want to watch have been put on the backburner, because adding any more to my overstuffed backlog would be overwhelming!

Image result for eizouken
I’m sure I’ll love Eizouken… eventually…

Beyond the lack of motivation to watch stuff to write about, I’ve had a hard time deciding what I want to write about and how I want to write about it. I’ve thought about deviating a bit and writing some posts about other things: music, video games, stuff about mental health and LGBTQ+ identity… but I also don’t want this blog to be an unfocused mess or miss out on the awesome anime theme I’ve worked on for a while now. I’ve even thought about starting a different blog entirely, so I can write about more personal stuff, but running 2 blogs at once just seems… eh

Most of the posts I’ve enjoyed writing the most are the really in-depth ones, like my character and trope analyses or (my personal favorite) my Overly Long and Passionate Defense of Re:Zero. But those take a lot of time and energy for me to write, and I’m concerned their length might be a problem for some readers. Of course, I could just write shorter/less detailed posts, which are fun for me every once in a while, but I kinda feel like the more in depth stuff is what makes my writing stand out. How can I find a balance?

Image result for mio k-on screencap
OK, I’m definitely overthinking this (Anime: K-On)

To be fair, I’m not the kind of person who worries too much about likes and followers and all that. (If I did, I’d have a YouTube channel and every post would be something stupid like Top 10 Finest Butts in Anime!) But I also want all of my posts to be good, and enjoyable for people to read. I’m an only child so I have a pathological fear of doing poorly on anything.

So I guess I’d like some advice, if you’re reading this and you have a blog yourself. What do you do when you feel these kind of creative blocks and you don’t know where to go next? Do you like the kind of posts I’m doing, or would you like me to branch out into other stuff? And what kind of posts of mine do you prefer, if any? I would really appreciate any and all feedback, and thanks and I hope y’all have a wonderful day. ❤

Image result for new game gif
I’m fine, I’m fine (Anime: New Game)

Mari (tries to) explain the Fate series

One of the biggest questions that anime fans have regarding the medium, besides “Why is their hair like that?” and “What the hell happened in End of Evangelion?”, is “How should I watch the Fate series?” There are so many different Fate anime out there, many of which are alternate timelines, that it’s hard to know where to start! So I thought I’d talk a bit about what makes this franchise great, and give my recommended watch order.

Fate is an urban fantasy series about the Holy Grail War, a battle royale between 7 powerful wizards for the magical wish-granting device. They enlist the help of Heroic Spirits, famous and influential figures from real-world history and mythology, to aid them with their supernatural abilities. It’s like The Hunger Games, only with magic swords, grimdark tragedy, awesome music, and lots and lots of beautiful action girls.

These are just the blonde ones

The series started as the visual novel Fate/Stay Night in 2004, as the story of an inexperienced magus named Shirou Emiya who is unwittingly caught in the events of the Fifth Holy Grail War when he partners with Saber, the most powerful Heroic Spirit. There are three different routes the game can take depending on who Shirou grows closest too – in Fate he bonds with Saber, in Unlimited Blade Works he ends up with mega-tsundere Rin Tohsaka, and in Heaven’s Feel he chooses his childhood friend Sakura.

Fate/Stay Night Tohsaka Rin Type-Moon Saber  Matou Sakura anime girls Fate series wallpaper
Rin definitely has a thing for Saber too

Because of the open-ended nature of the original game, developer Type-MOON decided to make three Fate/Stay Night anime, one based on each route. The story differs drastically between them all, and they all build on each others’ plot twists, character development, and lore. It’s worth your while to watch all of them, in order, to get the full story and see how much the characters grow and change – and of course, to argue on the Internet about which one is your favorite! 2006’s Fate/Stay Night by Studio DEEN does have dated animation and includes some scenes from the other routes which mess up the continuity a bit – but I still think it’s a fine place to start if you want a full exploration of Saber’s tragic backstory.

But if you just want the best Fate has to offer, you can’t go wrong with 2011’s Fate/Zero. Taking place ten years before Fate/Stay Night, Fate/Zero tells the story of Shirou’s adoptive father, Kiritsugu Emiya, whose ruthless pragmatism is a stark contrast to Shirou’s idealistic hero complex. (Kiritsugu is the kinda guy who, upon realizing he has to fight a bunch of rich and powerful wizards, decides to just shoot them all with a big ol’ gun!) Written by Madoka Magica’s Gen Urobuchi and produced by Studio Ufotable, the anime has thrilling action, thematic depth, and so much tragic irony the ancient Greeks could sue for copyright infringement. And all the music is fire:

I’m obsessed with anime music, y’all

To sum up:
If you want to get the full scope of the Fate storyline, watch in release order: Fate/Stay Night > Fate/Zero > Unlimited Blade Works > Heaven’s Feel
If you just want to start with awesome action and story, watch in chronological order:
Fate/Zero > Fate/Stay Night (optional in this case) > Unlimited Blade Works > Heaven’s Feel

Of course, there are also a ton of spinoffs out there too! I haven’t watched every single one of these and it would take way too long to explain them all, but I’ll just go over some of the popular ones:

Fate/Apocrypha is an alternate timeline where, instead of a battle royale, two noble families fight each other in teams for the Grail. If you just want to watch one Fate anime, this one works as a stand-alone story – plus it has probably my favorite character in the franchise, the adorable femboy Astolfo!

S-rank in gayness

Fate/Grand Order is a crossover adventure story with more characters than Avengers: Endgame. Ritsuka and Mash must travel through time to destroy the evil gods wreaking havoc on history, making friends with plenty of fan favorite Fate characters on the way. Yes, it’s a mobile game adaptation, but one made with actual effort. The Babylonia arc is airing now, while the Camelot arc will be adapted into a movie this summer.

Image result for fate grand order babylonia
The closest thing we’ll get to an anime Epic of Gilgamesh

There are two side stories that are not essential viewing, but fun to watch if you’re a fan. Carnival Phantasm is a gag parody of Fate/Stay Night, while Today’s Menu with the Emiya Family is, well, a cooking show. After spending so much time with these characters fighting to the death for their ideals, watching them just hang out and be silly is genuinely sweet. Plus, Saber wears a maid outfit, so…

Fate is a massive and complicated series, but there’s a lot to love if you’re the right kind of nerdy to get into it. It’s like fan-fiction come to life: you get to see famous heroes from many different cultures and time periods fight, make alliances, and, of course, fall in love. Mythology buffs love it, but there’s enough action and drama for all kinds of anime fans. And sure, maybe they just turned all those kings and heroes into pretty ladies to sell more figurines, but it is legitimately empowering to see so many female, queer and gender-divergent characters kicking ass with the best of them. Fate is one of my favorite anime franchises and I hope some of my ramblings helps it make a bit more sense for everyone.

(And before anyone asks, YES, Fate is actually all about sex. The visual novel was originally a porn game. Magic energy is transferred through sex. It’s weird! But that’s anime for ya.)

I swear this is not just an excuse for me to post fanart of Saber all day (Source: Twitter)

When you wear a mask for so long, you don’t remember what your real face looks like

This isn’t really a fun post and I’m not really sure if I should even bother writing about this, but it’s just something in my personal life that has been on my mind and I have to get it off my chest for a bit. Sorry if this is kind of long and doesn’t really have a point to it. I’ll go back to ranting about Japanese pop culture when I feel like I’m up for it. And um… I don’t really have any good pictures that relate to this, so I’m just going to put in pictures of my dog. OK?

His favorite thing is sleeping

So I have high-functioning autism and I’ve always known I was different from everybody else. When I was a kid, I had very few friends and often got bullied for being socially awkward and fidgety. I didn’t understand how to communicate with people and most of the time, no one bothered to help me try or give me any support whatsoever. My dad, my peers, my teachers, everyone just thought there was something wrong with me, and it made me incredibly withdrawn and shy for most of my childhood and teenage years.

When I got to college, I tried to be more extroverted and go out to parties and stuff, and after a while I got better at talking with people. I realized that if I copied the speech and mannerisms of other people I knew, or famous people in the media, I could bullshit my way through social interactions and make more friends. I knew it was a mask, but I felt like no one liked who I really was, and I had to construct a fake persona to get anyone to even pay attention to me. After a while I got really good at it, and the copious amounts of alcohol I drank for most of my 20’s lowered my inhibitions enough so that I could go to a nightclub with tons of people and loud music and not feel like my head was about to burst from the noise. Of course, I wasn’t happy with it. I was absolutely miserable. And I couldn’t understand why I could feel surrounded by people and yet still feel so sad and lonely.

Masking is a common phenomenon for people on the higher end of the autism spectrum, and especially for women. They say this is because girls are raised to be more sociable from a young age and taught more about social etiquette than boys are. I was assigned male at birth so I can’t really say if this applies to me, but I definitely feel that as a trans person with autism, there’s an immense amount of pressure for me to not stand out any more than I already do. If I speak in too low a register, if my hair and makeup aren’t on point that day, if my posture or the way I flap my hands or literally anything I do looks off to people, there are social consequences for me. It could mean anything from missed job opportunities to social rejection to some asshole trying to mug me in the street because I looked like an easy target (I scared him off with my pepper spray, but it sucks that I even have to keep that on me).

And it fucking sucks. Having to hide or change the things you naturally say and do is exhausting and stressful. It makes me feel like I’m not good enough, and that people don’t really like me for who I am. It’s why I tend to not form close relationships with people unless I’m sure they will understand my quirks and my particular brand of crazy. It’s why I have become so introverted and don’t like to go out unless I absolutely have to. It’s how I got so burnt out last year that I basically couldn’t leave the house or even get out of bed for months because of some real hardcore depression.

And like, I’ve gotten better at it and I’m trying to be more true to myself, but it’s not always an option in this world. For example, I can’t really be myself at all when I’m at work. I work in retail and deal with customers day in and day out – and even though I always feel exhausted and stressed from that much social interaction and small talk, I always have to present myself as this friendly, outgoing sales rep. Even when customers misgender me or treat me like garbage, or my boss criticizes me in front of them for every single thing I fucking do… I have to keep my cool and put a fake smile on, even when every cell in my body just wants to run in the bathroom and cry until my face turns blue.

The sad reality is there is a huge stigma against autistic people, and it makes it nearly impossible for people in that community to get on in society without hiding some aspect of ourselves. People constantly insult and belittle autistic people online and in real life. When I was in high school, people spread a rumor around that I was going to bring a gun on graduation day and shoot everyone. Do you know how horrible that feels? To have people who don’t even know the first thing about you think that you’re some sort of violent lunatic? Or have doctors, teachers, and the media all say that you’re a broken person, unable to fit in society or have anything close to a “normal” happy life?

His least favorite thing? Taking a bath

And it’s really hurtful to me because I don’t think that there’s anything wrong with me for having autism. I wrote about this a bit last year, but I think it’s actually helped me become a smarter, kinder, and better person all around. But most people don’t see it that way. It’s unfair that I have to work so hard just to be seen as a functioning human being, but others won’t even be the slightest bit understanding of my individual quirks and differences that really don’t have any impact on them whatsoever.

I’m trying to be better about expressing myself more fully, but it’s been so hard after all these years of hiding it. It’s gotten to the point where I don’t know which parts of me are who I really am, and which parts are just the fake persona I built up to get other people to give me the time of day. It makes me doubt myself and wonder who I even truly am. And I don’t have any solutions for this. If I’ve been wearing a mask for so long, how am even I to know what my real face looks like?

I don’t have any conclusion to all this. I just wish people weren’t like this. I don’t think that neurotypical people are bad, but there is just so much ignorance and judgment and hate in the world and it sucks that I feel like I am subjected to that in some small part almost daily. I know I have it pretty good all things considered, but I’m not asking for the moon here – I just want to be able to be myself without feeling like people are going to hate and ridicule me for it. Is that really so much to ask?

His other favorite thing: Walks on the beach 🙂

5 Anime That Would Be Awesome as Video Games

Anime and video games have been an odd couple since the beginning. There have been tons of video games based on anime over the years, and games like Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest are clearly inspired by anime’s unique visual style and storytelling. But a lot of anime-based games don’t use the source material to their full potential. Most of them are Street Fighter knockoffs or mobile games designed to waste your time and money on gacha mechanics (no thanks!). So I thought I’d talk about some anime that I think would make amazing video games. I’m sure none of these will be made, but hey, a girl can dream, right?

Made in Abyss – A dungeon crawler with RPG and platforming elements

This one’s so obvious, I’m shocked that it hasn’t been made yet. The world of Made in Abyss feels like the perfect setting for a video game, from its nightmarish monster designs to the way the Abyss is separated into different levels that all increase in difficulty. To me, this game could be a 3D Metroidvania, where you jump and shoot your way through the Abyss’ massive dungeons and explore every nook and cranny for loot. There could even be a survival mechanic, where Riko and Reg must find food to replenish their health and stamina, and use Reg’s grapple ability to avoid dangerous hazards and enemies. Just writing this makes me want to play it so bad!

Cardcaptor Sakura – Basically, Pokémon as an action-RPG

Do people still like Cardcaptor Sakura? Well, I do! It’s so cute, and super gay. It combines the classic magical girl formula with the monster collecting element that made Pokémon such a hit, and I think it would be a lot of fun to play as a game. The object would be to collect all 53 Clow Cards by defeating them in combat, and each one would give you new unique abilities and powerups. Maybe you could play co-op with Sakura’s bestie Syaoran, or there could be a multiplayer option to compete with your friends. The light, laid back feel of the anime would make this game great for casual players and kids of all ages. 

That Time I Got Reincarnated As A Slime – A Civilization-esque strategy game

I feel like including an isekai is cheating, but Slime-sama is different from most isekai in that it’s more about building a nation than vanquishing a foe. I’m a huge fan of the Civilization games, where you play as a real-life historical leader and build a nation from a tiny village to an industrialized superpower. So why not do the same thing in a fantasy setting? You could bring all the races of goblins, orcs, and big-chested yokai unto your fold, fending off invaders and expanding your influence through clever tactics and diplomacy. Best Slime Rimuru’s overpowered abilities would be a lot of fun to use in combat, but you could also try to go for a peaceful victory to avoid unnecessary conflicts. As long as Nuclear Gandhi doesn’t show up, we’re good!

Ghost in the Shell – A cyberpunk stealth shooter

Cyberpunk seems to be coming back in vogue these days, so why not have a game based on Ghost in the Shell, one of the best works the genre has to offer? Major Kusanagi is a top-tier badass, and you could use her cybernetic body and l33t haxx0r skills for some awesome combat and stealth mechanics. You could rush into a building and gun down the bad guys, or hack into their security system and shut everything down before they notice. It could a dystopian Metal Gear Solid. Hell, why not just hire Hideo Kojima to direct it? I’m pretty sure he’s not busy.

Fullmetal Alchemist – An open-world action-adventure

FMA had a few games come out in its heyday, but they were all kinda “meh”, and came out before open-world games were a thing. But could you imagine a game like Breath of the Wild set in the Fullmetal Alchemist universe? It would be insane! You could play as Ed or Al, following their story in the anime and exploring the massive world of Amestris. Imagine going from the desert ruins of Xerxes to the icy battleground of Fort Briggs, using your alchemical knowledge to find the truth behind the Philosopher’s Stone and defeat the Homunculi in epic God of War-style boss battles. Maybe you could even play as other characters for certain parts, like reliving Mustang’s incredible fight with Lust in Brotherhood. Or you could even bring your friends along for some old-school multiplayer co-op! The possibilities are endless. Come on, game developers! A great FMA game would have all of you swimming in pools full of money, Scrooge McDuck-style.

Image result for wario money
Or maybe Wario-style would be better, since we’re talking about games after all

An Overly Long and Passionate Defense of Re:Zero

HEAVY SPOILERS for Season 1 of Re:Zero in this post, if for some weird reason you clicked on it and haven’t seen the series already

Modern life kinda sucks, doesn’t it? Capitalism disenfranchises entire populations and exploits the poor to make the rich even richer. Technology has made us alienated and miserable. Politicians and the media have created a cycle of perpetual anxiety and outrage. Millions of people struggle with debt, mental illness, and addiction. But what if you could get away from all that and start over? What if you could live a life free from the shackles of society, in a fantasy world where you can be anything you want to be? What would you do to have this, and what would you be willing to sacrifice?

Re:Zero – Starting Life in Another World took the anime community by storm back in 2016, and it hasn’t lost any steam in the four years since then. It’s arguably the most popular isekai series around right now. But there are just as many people who think the series is generic shlock with an over-reliance on gore and an unlikeable protagonist. I would know: my first time watching Re: Zero, I got halfway through before I nearly dropped the show out of frustration with its lead, Subaru Natsuki. But I’m glad that I stuck with it, because I eventually realized that while Re:Zero appears like just another isekai story at first, it’s actually – secretly – kind of a masterpiece.

I’ve even been reading the light novels, which are equally amazing

To explain this, I want to talk about a question that seems obvious, but is actually quite complex and confounding: What is Re:Zero about? On the surface, it’s about the same thing every isekai story is about: a young otaku protagonist is sent to a video game-esque fantasy world, gifted a unique and overpowered ability, and sent on a quest to conquer the evils of the land while winning fame, glory, and a harem of hot babes in the process.

Except, well, it’s not really like that at all. The Kingdom of Lugunica, the setting of Re:Zero, has many of the same political and social problems as our own world. The ability our hero gains, Return by Death, is actually a curse from an evil witch. The ladies, while definitely attractive, have their own personalities and goals that often clash with Subaru’s. And Subaru dies, constantly, due to his own weakness, selfishness, and stupidity, until he learns to accept his own limitations and work to become the hero he always wanted to be. Re:Zero is not just any old isekai – it’s a horror/fantasy/coming of age story about a flawed teenage antihero learning the violent and painful struggles of growing up.

Image result for re zero subaru death
We should be thankful none of us have to actually die to learn these lessons ourselves!

But while Re:Zero is definitely Subaru’s story, I want to come back to him in a bit and talk about the outstanding worldbuilding and supporting cast. While most isekai series drop its heroes into a world tailor-made for their own benefit, the Kingdom of Lugunica is a socio-political clusterfuck not unlike that of our own world. There’s massive inequality and discrimination against demi-humans is rampant. The government is run by a bunch of corrupt pencil pushers who would rather argue amongst themselves than do anything to solve their nation’s problems. And there is an enemy from within: a death cult of religious fanatics who are also basically incels. The world of Re:Zero is massive and complex, though you need to read the novels to get the full scale of it, and it goes a long way in making its story and supporting characters truly shine.

And the characters are all great. Emilia has everything you’d want in a strong female lead – she’s pure-hearted and only wants the best in everyone, but tough as nails in combat and not afraid to put her foot down when she’s treated unfairly. Ram is an under-appreciated master of sass who goes out of her way to help others even when they don’t ask for it. Ferris is the most adorable crossdressing cat-boy in the universe and has become something of an icon in the trans community. And Rem – well, there’s a reason that there are so many overpriced figurines of her. She’s gorgeous and has arguably the best character arc outside of Subaru himself. Watching her grow from an insecure and ill-tempered demon maid to a confident and loving heroine is so damn heartwarming. She’s definitely my pick for Best Girl of the series!

Even Emilia’s gay for her in the OVA

Of course, none of this matters if the series doesn’t have a hero that the audience can relate to and cheer for. So here’s my big hot take: I think Subaru Natsuki is a fascinating and genuinely underrated protagonist. He may not be strong, sympathetic, or even likable at first, but that’s kind of the point. Subaru is a reflection of our own deepest fears and insecurities, and an example of how we can recognize and overcome them to become the best possible versions of ourselves.

I get the hate directed towards him. I really do. For most of the series’ early arcs, Subaru is kind of a dick. As an otaku shut-in raised on escapist media, he comes into Lugunica with a weird mixture of cluelessness and entitlement. He knows nothing about how this world works, but expects it to cater to all of his needs anyway. He’s oblivious to social customs and other people’s feelings, and constantly makes dorky pop-culture references that go over everyone else’s heads. He falls in love with Emilia despite knowing almost nothing about her, and that shallow infatuation gets extremely possessive and creepy during the Royal Selection arc. As he sank deeper into despair, I couldn’t help but think, “Why doesn’t this lazy, selfish idiot ever get the slightest modicum of self-awareness, realize that the world doesn’t revolve around him, and use his unique abilities for others and not just for his own benefit?”

Image result for re zero
Oh.

Subaru Natsuki isn’t just some dorky Japanese kid transported to another world. He is the hikkikomori in all of us, the product of a world that is so hard to thrive in and so damn easy to escape. He’s anyone who, due to mental illness or an inability to function in society, has locked themselves in their bedroom and spent years of their life in a fantasy of their own mind. He’s anyone who’s had a stronger attachment to the fictional characters on their television or computer screen than the living, breathing human beings they share the Earth with. And no matter where Subaru goes, or what he does, he’s just going to have the same problems over and over again until he realizes that and makes a genuine effort to change and connect with others.

And when he finally does, in Episode 18, it floored me and made me a bawling mess. Subaru finally admits all of his problems to Rem – his pride, his jealousy, and his laziness, and it’s more brutal for him than all of his deaths put together. But Rem (BEST GIRL FOREVER) tells him she doesn’t see him that way. For all of his weakness, Rem recognizes his strengths – his resourcefulness and unmatched bravery in battle, his ability to see in others what they can’t see in themselves, and his selfless dedication to protect all of his friends. Sure, Subaru is an otaku hikki-NEET, but he embodies all that communities’ strengths as well as their weaknesses. While he can only think of himself as a pathetic mess, Rem thinks of him as a hero – the kind of hero he always wanted to be.

All while the most beautiful insert song plays in the background. Have I mentioned how amazing all the music in Re:Zero is?

I’ll be honest: I see a lot of myself in Subaru, or at least myself when I was younger and still in the closet. I was bullied and ostracized a lot as a kid, and after a while I looked for anything I could find to escape my own reality. I started binge drinking, got addicted to drugs, spent thousands of hours playing video games in the dark, and got too emotionally attached to girls who were clearly wrong for me. It took years of slow, painful, sobering growth for me to realize how miserable I was and try to change myself for the better. I’m not anywhere near where I want to be yet, but at least now I’m trying. Watching Re:Zero helped me remember how far I’ve come, and how I can work harder to make myself a stronger, kinder, and braver person.

Re:Zero is not perfect, and it’s not necessarily a series I’d recommend to just anyone. Compared to the breezy tone of most isekai, its dark, psychological vibe can be a real turnoff to casual audiences. The pacing can be inconsistent at times, and I think the series does go a bit overboard in making Subaru so unlikeable before his character development kicks in. But for my money, there is no other isekai series I’ve seen with as much intrigue, personality, depth, and raw emotion. If you somehow haven’t seen it yet, or even if you have and didn’t particularly care for it, try watching it again with an open mind. You might find that you end up liking the series a lot more than you thought you did at first.

And if you still find you just can’t deal with Barusu’s constant bumbling? Well, that’s fair. I don’t blame you.

But at least I hope you enjoy this fan art of Ferris that I drew

Music in Anime: Why You Should Watch Symphogear

Symphogear is the best anime that you’ve probably never heard of. It is a magical girl/super robot/music anime where a bunch of adorable girls fight aliens in the most over-the-top action scenes imaginable (in a good way), using mech suits powered by J-Pop. If you took every anime ever made and threw it into a blender, it would probably be something like Symphogear. And everyone in it is gay!

Even Chris? Especially Chris.

There’s so much to love about this series, from its jaw-dropping transformation sequences to its ever-expanding medley of Best Girls, but the main selling point, for me, is the music. Every Symphosong is a banger, and there’s a new one in almost every episode. The action sequences are timed perfectly with the music, and holy shit are they amazing!

All Might would be proud

The music is incredibly eclectic, mixing electronica, rock, and even classical music to constantly keep you on your toes. Each Symphogirl has their own unique design, personality, and weapon of choice, and their character songs often showcase a different genre of music which reflects who they are as people. The punky tsundere Chris sings loves rock music, and guns through her enemies like an 80’s action movie star…

…While my personal favorite, the sultry blue-haired samurai Tsubasa, often has elements of traditional Japanese music in her songs. It’s a great fit, since her voice actress, Nana Mizuki, is an enka (a type of Japanese folk music) singer.

Have I mentioned how amazing the transformation sequences are? I have? I’ll just say it again then

Of course, no great action anime would be complete without an intimidating and varied rogues gallery, and Symphogear delivers in spades. The villains range from a mad scientist who can’t stop chewing the scenery to the Transgender Illuminati (yes, really), and they’re all a ton of fun to watch. And they get their own songs too! The egotistical alchemist Carol has an incredible singing voice, and is so freakin’ badass she can stand up to three lesser villains without moving at all:

While the series’ epically ridiculous action scenes get the most attention for their pure spectacle, that’s not to say that the show is lacking in substance. All of the girls have well-developed character arcs that show them overcome their personal hangups and grow closer together as a team. Hibiki, like any great shonen protagonist, learns to face her insecurities and become a strong leader, while Tsubasa struggles with breaking out of her icy shell and opening up to people. There’s a real camaraderie between them all, as they constantly support each other and build each other up when the going gets rough. This makes even the non-action scenes, like Tsubasa and Maria’s incredible pop concert in Season 5, just as fun and exciting as any of the battles:

And contrary to almost every anime ever made, the series just gets better and better with each successive Symphoseason. The first season is a bit shaky in the animation department, but the story, characters, animation and music improve seemingly every episode. By the time you get to the final season, Symphogear XV, your mind will be constantly blown by the most intense sakuga this side of Mob Psycho 100.

Because what anime would be complete without picking a fight with God and winning?

Symphogear is an amazing and criminally underappreciated anime. If you’re a fan of classic Gainax action shows like Gunbuster, Evangelion, and Gurren Lagann, you should definitely give this series a shot. It’s got fantastic action, wonderful characters, a story that can be surprisingly dark when it wants to be, and, of course, an absolutely bangin’ soundtrack. It’s also probably the gayest anime I’ve ever seen (although, to be fair, I haven’t watched Revolutinary Girl Utena yet). Plus, Crunchyroll has the first three seasons on YouTube, so you don’t even need a subscription to watch it!

…It is very, um, anime, though, so it’s probably not a good one to watch with your parents or anything.

Symphogear Symphogear XV GIF - Symphogear SymphogearXV Chris GIFs
How much of the animation budget do you think went into that bounce?