Subseries Highlight: Sword Art Online Alicization Arc (Light Novel)

Sao Volume 9

Absolute Defense Shield, activate!

*ahem*

Hiyo, everyone! Today I’d like to talk about the Alicization Arc in a series I like both watching and reading despite acknowledging its many flaws! I’m aware that Sword Art Online receives a lot of criticism, much of it fair, and a lot of hatred, which feels a bit extreme. Regardless, I’ve been enjoying the latest arc in the light novels, and at least some of the content from that arc is going to be the subject of the anime’s upcoming season 3, so I decided to talk about it anyway! After all, I’m all about enjoying the best parts of a story despite its flaws and, in my opinion, this arc is the best that mainstream SAO has to offer so far. Flame me if you must – or try. This shield will never break!

An overview of the Alicization Arc’s role in the light novels – it encompasses volumes 9 through 18, so, by the end, it claims more than half of SAO up to that point. Until now, only volumes 9 through 14 have been officially translated into English, so even I don’t know how this all ends! However, as I understand it, the Alicization Arc can be split into two subarcs, and I’ve finished the first of those, and I really enjoyed it! I have no idea if season 3 of the anime can adapt 10 volumes of material – previously, the 25 episode seasons have covered 4 volumes each, so if season 3 is to tell us the full story of the Alicization Arc, I imagine it would have to be at least 50 episodes long. Maybe they’ll split it into two seasons.

I don’t want to ruin your enjoyment of the story whether you watch it or read it, so I plan to keep spoilers to a minimum. That said, I will touch on some plot points from volume 9 and hint at some facts from volume 10. Also, anything that happened in seasons 1 and 2 of the anime or volumes 1-8 of the light novels is fair game.

Volume 9 opens up… strangely. Kirito has somehow become younger. He lives in a small town called Rulid with his friends Eugeo and Alice. The setting is that of the start of a typical fantasy game. A simple village. Lush forests. A dark land beyond that none may enter. The people of this world are ruled by the Axiom Church and its Taboo Index, a set of rules that are not only absolute laws, but literally unbreakable. For most people. Heroes called Integrity Knights uphold the laws and protect the people from the denizens of the forbidden land. Rulid is to be a place of order and stability. As you might expect, that doesn’t stop Kirito – who has only ever known this world – from going on an adventure with his friends. An adventure that leads to dire consequences.

Then he wakes up. He was just testing a game for an acquaintance of his in the MMO industry. Whoops! That almost got dramatic! He recalls nothing of the time he spent in that world.

He then hangs out with his real life friends, including his girlfriend Asuna, his AI daughter Yui, and Sinon, a player of a competitive MMO called Gun Gale Online. The latter recounts the tale of her attempt to win a major tournament only to be defeated by an opponent who told her that her soul would be sweet. Creepy! Afterwards, Kirito and Asuna leave together – and are confronted with something truly frightening.

The Death Gun murders, previously stopped by Kirito and Sinon, were carried out by two former members of Laughing Coffin, a murderer’s guild from the original SAO, and one of their brothers. While the two siblings were brought to justice, the third person was never caught. And he – known as Johnny Black – wasn’t particularly happy with Kirito. So, in the middle of the night, Kirito finds himself the victim of a real life attack using the same substance that Death Gun used for his killings.

When Kirito wakes up, he’s back in that fantasy world, now his proper age – and with all his memories, save for the ones of his previous time in that world. Before long, he realizes it’s a virtual world, but that the inhabitants are not mere AI like in previous MMOs, but fully fledged people. With the help of a friend, he embarks on a quest to escape from this world – known as the Underworld – and to better understand the true nature of the people surrounding him. It seems as if his MMO insider acquaintance may have been more than he appeared…

That’s all I’ll say about the story for now! As I mentioned before, I really liked this arc. It touches on themes such as what it truly means to be a human being and delves deep into the characters’ souls. If you like SAO, I recommend reading the light novels and checking out season 3! If you hate SAO, I don’t recommend bothering! If you hate me for liking SAO, please don’t post in the comments below! Otherwise, though, I’d love to see your feedback. Are you excited for the next arc? Interested in watching season 3? Have you already read some of the Alicization Arc, and, if so, what did you think? Feel free to criticize SAO, too – just keep it friendly and civil. I hope you all have a great week!

Review: Shadows for Silence in the Forests of Hell by Brandon Sanderson

Shadows for Silence

Hiyo, everyone! I’m still recovering, but I thought I’d share my thoughts on a novella I read recently: Shadows for Silence in the Forests of Hell by Brandon Sanderson. That name is a bit of a doozy, so I’ll just be calling it Shadows for Silence for the rest of the review. =p Shadows of Silence was originally written for the anthology Dangerous Women edited by George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois. As usual, I plan to avoid spoilers where I can but to cover the premise of the story.

The story takes place on the smaller continent of the world of Threnody, which is dominated by forests haunted by somewhat-sentient ghost-like creatures called Shades that are known to viciously attack people in certain circumstances. It begins at a waystop – in this case, a safe-haven from the shades where all are welcome – with two men discussing the dangerous and notorious bounty hunter named White Fox while one of them weighs his chances with Silence Montane, the woman who runs the waystop. Little do either of them known that Silence is actually responsible for the bulk of White Fox’s work.

But Silence, our protagonist, knows, and she also knows that a dangerous criminal with a huge bounty on his head is present at the waystop, disguised as a merchant. In something of a financial pinch, Silence, with the help of her daughter, William Ann, decides to use a light poison on the merchants to disorient them so they can kill the criminal at night, after he has left, and collect the bounty on his head. This puts them at great risk of drawing the attention of the Shades, whose ire is earned by starting a fire, drawing another’s blood, and running at night. Needless to say, Silence’s plan becomes complicated when unexpected events occur – but that’s all I’m saying for now!

I really liked Shadows for Silence in large part because of its haunting atmosphere and morally gray characters. Even though we didn’t spend much time with her, I felt Silence received strong character development, and I couldn’t help but blaze through the story. I would love to see more of Threnody. The idea of a world dominated by all sorts of latent horrors is super appealing to me. As usual, Sanderson does a good job keeping the story interesting and surprising. While few characters other than Silence herself receive too much development, I felt some were really relatable, especially Sebruki, a young girl whose family was murdered by the criminal Silence was chasing. While Shadows for Silence didn’t have the same striking impact as The Emperor’s Soul did for me, it was a great read, so I rate it 4.8/5.

Have you guys ever read Shadows for Silence? If so, what did you think? Do you know of any other series with eerie atmospheres? (The world of Sabriel fits the bill, and I liked that, too!) Let me know in the comment below! Have a wonderful week!

Recovery of an MMO Junkie Review

Recovery of an MMO Junkie

Hiyo, everyone! I’d like to apologize for not updating in a while; health issues have been getting the better of me, and to be honest, it will still take me quite some time to fully mend. Nonetheless, I’d like to review an anime I managed to watch while healing: Recovery of an MMO Junkie. As usual, I intend to keep spoilers to a minimum, but I’ll discuss the premise of the show. Here goes!

Our protagonist, Moriko Morioka, is a thirty year old woman who quit her job after becoming fed up with ‘real life’ and decided to become a ‘Super NEET’ who lives through MMOs. She plays a game called Fruits de Mer as a character named Hayashi, a male warrior-style character. She’s part of a small guild including a character named Lily, a healer who becomes one of her closest confidants despite neither of them knowing the other in real life.

To no viewer’s great surprise, eventually Moriko coincidentally encounters Lily’s player in real life, a businessman named Yuta Sakurai. Naturally, neither knows who the other is. Eventually, they (literally) bump into each other and Moriko falls over, briefly landing her in the hospital with a contrite Yuta at her bedside. The two exchange numbers, ostensibly so Yuta can check up on Moriko, but the former finds the latter taking up more and more of his thoughts. Eventually, events transpire that hint that the two know each other better than either of them realizes…

And that’s all I’ll say for now! Recovery of an MMO Junkie is a short (10 episode) slice of life anime, so it would be unfair to expect it to provide a profound, iconoclastic worldview, but it does succeed at being what it tries to be – cute, and funny at times. It was a nice, fun little show for me to watch while I myself was recovering. It does have the downsides of being predictable and, in the end, feeling like an incomplete story, and it may be difficult to get into if you aren’t at least a little familiar with MMO culture, but I found it charming enough to make up for those faults, and as an MMO player myself, I enjoyed its nods to the genre. I therefore rate it 3.7/5. It’s a nice little anime to watch if you’re into MMOs and want to enjoy something cute.

Have any of you seen Recovery of an MMO Junkie? If so, what did you think? If not, have you seen other MMO-based anime or played any MMOs yourself? Let me know in the comments section below. I’m not certain if I’ll be able to post next week, but I’ll try my best! Until next time, I hope your lives are epic!

Sword Art Online Alternative Gun Gale Online Review

GGO Alternative

Hiyo, everyone! Today, I’ll be covering a story in a franchise loved by many and bashed by perhaps even more! Sword Art Online Alternative: Gun Gale Online takes place in the world of Gun Gale Online as seen at the beginning of SAO season 2, but the cast of characters is entirely new! No Kirito here! SAO Alt GGO (as I will be calling it for the rest of the review) evades several of the pitfalls of mainstream SAO. Since it will doubtlessly come up, I’ll start by saying I do like the existing SAO anime despite acknowledging that they are rather flawed. Personally, I just try to take as much enjoyment as I can from stories! But I would prefer to focus discussion to just SAO Alt GGO for this review, so for now, let’s just forget about the rest. Even if you hate normal SAO, you may enjoy this!

SAO Alt GGO is focused on Karen Kohiruimaki, a Japnese woman who is quite tall and has a complex about it. At the advice of her friend Miyu Shinohara, she decides to retreat into a virtual world to escape, and converts from game to game until she finds one where her randomly generated avatar happens to be short and cute, as she wishes she could be. Naturally, that VRMMO is Gun Gale Online. At first, she plays just for the escapism, but, as time goes on, she becomes fond of the game, advancing her character and meeting new people.

One of those is a quirky woman whose avatar is named Pitohui, a long-time veteran of GGO. She takes LLENN (Karen’s avatar) under her wing, and the two become friends and teammates. Pitohui, too, plays GGO to avoid real world problems. She says that, some day, she and LLENN will go all out against each other in GGO, and, if LLENN wins, the two will meet in real life – a prospect LLENN finds scarier than appealing, I think!

One day, Pitohui convinces LLENN to sign up for Squad Jam (SJ), a free-for-all tournament between teams of up to six players. Pitohui herself is unavailable that day, so she has LLENN partner with her friend M, an experienced man with a knack for strategy. Since LLENN’s own real life plans fall through on the day of the Squad Jam, she agrees to enter alongside M, as part of a team of a mere two players. Of course, I’m not going to tell you what happens after that! SAO Alt GGO is only twelve episodes long, so if you’re interested, you ought to check it out for yourself!

While I don’t intend to get into spoilers, one of the things I loved about this anime was how it showed how several VRMMO players were driven together in the world of GGO by their real life insecurities and problems. Karen/LLENN and Pitohui were both ultra relatable to me. It felt quite nice to explore virtual reality themes without intrusive fanservice.

It’s hard to go into too much detail without spoiling something, because the meat of SAO Alt GGO’s story occurs after the Squad Jam plays out. So, instead, I’ll just recommend that if you’re interested in virtual reality based anime, this one is worth checking out. If you liked the original SAO, you’ll probably like this too, and if you wanted to like SAO but found some of its flaws difficult to look past, you may find them absent or mitigated here. SAO Alt GGO is provides a lot of good action and an interesting story surrounding characters who feel capable without being too overpowered. As in normal SAO, the music is good, too!

I’d rate SAO Alt GGO 4.4/5. It got me hooked early on, and before I knew it, I had marathoned the series and waiting for a season two. xD

Have any of you watched Sword Art Online Alternative: Gun Gale Online? If so, what did you think? Let’s try to avoid talking too much about normal SAO in the comments; I don’t want a flame war on my hands. That said, I’d love to hear your opinion on the VRMMO-centric genre of anime! Personally, I’d like to see more of it, so I welcome your recommendations! Hope ya have a wonderful week! Ciao!

Danganronpa 3 Review (Anime)

Danganronpa 3 Future Arc

Hiyo, everyone! Today, I’m gonna review Danganronpa 3, which is an anime, not to be confused with the game Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony. Full disclosure – I am utterly obsessed with the Danganronpa franchise, so that may affect my opinions. =p

Since this anime is nothing new, and I absolutely cannot recommend watching it unless you’ve completed the preceding games (Danganrona: Trigger Happy Havoc, Super Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair, and Danganronpa Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls) I’m going to assume most people reading this know what happens, so this review will be positively teeming with spoilers. If you’re invested enough in the games to have played the first three but haven’t yet watched this anime, I recommend it. It’s split into three arc: Future, Despair, and Hope. By the way, the correct watching order for the episodes is Future 1 > Despair 1 > Future 2 > Despair 2 > … >Future 11 > Despair 11 > Future 12 > Hope. It’s rather convoluted, I know. xD

Aaanyway, that said, I’m not going to explain the differences between the three sides of the anime, ’cause I presume that going forward, my readers already know! Instead, I’ll talk about the parts that really stood out to me, starting with the Future Arc.

We begin with your typical killing game, this one lacking much of the usual charming presence of Monokuma and using members of the hope-centric Future Foundation as participants. Honestly, we aren’t given much time to get attached to many of the new characters; emphasis is placed on the returning Makoto, Kyoko, and Aoi as well as Munakata and Sakuraka. The eventual twist that the “attackers” were all killing themselves due to brainwashing was a bit surprising, but the lack of anything resembling class trials made this killing game completely unlike the ones in Danganronpa 1 and 2. Instead, the focus was on character development for a select few.

Unsurprisingly, Kyoko alone was capable of solving the whole mystery. What wasn’t expected was her “death” via a rather devious forbidden action. It was sort of obvious she’d find some way to survive, but, even so, the assumed loss allowed for some good character development in Makoto. (I also enjoyed the few cute moments between the two.)

I’m not going to lie. My fav –

Actually… *Casts flame shield around herself.*

As I was saying, I’m not going to lie. My favorite part of the Future Arc was the inclusion of Monaca, who is also my favorite character in the franchise. xD Her newfound apathy is ultra relatable to me. She didn’t have all that much screen time, but what she did have was good, and expanded on the character discernible to the careful observer in Ultra Despair Girls. She was never actually all that invested in despair, just in finding a place for herself. In the end, Nagito convinced her that acting as an avatar of despair was not really right for her, so she decided she had no place in the world at all and left to become a space NEET! To the casual observer, that decision may seem incredibly random, but it’s actually pretty consistent with her character. I’m glad she didn’t die. But, since she’s my favorite, I hope we haven’t seen the last of her. xD

Let’s shift gears and talk about the Despair Arc a bit. It re-introduced us to all our favorite characters from Danganronpa 2, including the human version of Chiaki. That said, the real star was, unsurprisingly, Junko. Really, the whole arc is about how she took all sorts of things – many good, like class 77’s close friendship, and others bad, like the unethical Kamukura project – and twisted them all to the purposes of despair. In brutal fashion. Some of the parts that most stood out to me was the Student Council’s little killing game and Chiaki’s death. Junko was totally the star of the show.

Most of the members of class 77 were not really expanded upon as characters in Danganronpa 3. We did get to learn more about Chiaki, who is basically the protagonist of the Despair Arc, and we got to see Izuru in action, which was amusing in its own way. Mukuro’s portrayal was a bit… odd. But the story was otherwise rather predictable. Then there’s the whole brainwashing issue. Honestly, it was disappointing to see Junko rely so heavily on that despite the talent to inspire despair through setting up brutal situations she showed in the games. It would have been much more compelling if she had convinced class 77 to turn more naturally.

The brainwashing issue extends into the Hope Arc, which ties Future and Despair together. Mitarai’s goal to brainwash the world into ridding itself of negative emotions was kind of boring. Really, the final episode existed largely to give cameos to the post-Danganronpa 2 versions of class 77. They ended up being the ones to stop Mitarai and take all the blame for the Future Foundation’s killing game. I suppose the point was to show us hope in the form of the seeds Makoto planted by saving the former-Remnants finally bloom. Since Kyoko survived, none of the characters from previous games actually died. (The real-life version of Chiaki is technically a different person than the AI version.) That left the whole series feeling a bit meaningless. I guess Danganronpa has just made me a junkie for character death~

Anyway, despite Danganronpa 3’s many flaws, as a fangirl, I’m still gonna rate it 4.2/5. I found it quite entertaining. I really hope to see even more of the characters we’re become familiar with thus far.

Have you played or watched any Danganronpa stuff? If so, what do you like most about the series, and what did you think of my review? If not, why are you still reading this? xD I mean, I kinda of just spoiled the whole series, but I still recommend you check it out. =p Until next time, may your days be shining beacons of hope… or may they drag you into the depths of despair. Whichever you’d prefer. =p Buh-bye!

 

Why are we so invested in fictional characters?

Hiyo, everyone! Today, I’m going to talk about something I’ve been thinking about for a while – and, as a result, I’ll be making my first ‘philosophical’ post in quite some time! Why do we care so much about fictional characters?

The obvious initial explanation is that most of us are capable of empathy. Although we probably haven’t been on the sort of wild adventure many fictional characters experience, we’ve all faced our own struggles in life, so we’re able to relate to characters who are going through anything at all similar. But what I want to discuss is something a bit deeper than that. Something that may be common or may just be a quirk of mine. You see, I find myself often more attached to fictional characters than real people.

That’s a surprising outcome, to say the least. After all, you can’t really interact with fictional characters, They’re almost without exception not as thoroughly fleshed out as real people. So I’d like to explore a few reasons our (or, at least, my) interest in them is so strong.

To that end, I’ll list some differences between being attached to real people and to fictional characters.

  • Fictional characters exist to entertain. To do that, their writers find ways to show us as much about important characters as they can. The point of building up a character with a hidden past is to eventually reveal it. That’s not something you can say about the real world. Everyone you interact with in your daily life has their own personal issues to deal with, and they often won’t tell you all the details, if any. As a result, some of them will forever remain enigmas to you. There’s also the fact that, once a series involving a character is complete, they’ll never surprise you again. You don’t have to worry about them having interests you find unpalatable. They can no longer disappoint you when their stories are over. I expect that, to some people, that stability is appealing.
  • The fact that there are so many gaps in our knowledge of characters can actually make them more relatable. That’s because we can project ourselves – or whatever else we want – into those gaps. Many characters are written to face challenges broad enough that a wide variety of people can see connections between themselves and the character facing them. Think Elsa from Disney’s Frozen. There’s a reason the song ‘Let it Go’ was so popular. While I doubt any of us are harboring hidden ice magic, many of us have thoughts, experiences, or feelings that we feel the need to hide from others. By putting her fear behind her, Elsa delivers vicarious catharsis.
  • As humans, we’re curious about a broad range of emotions, but many are not ones we welcome into our own lives. No one wants to experience overwhelming guilt, or the grief of losing a loved one, or the devastation left in the wake of a catastrophic event. By letting characters have those experiences for us, we can explore those scenarios without anyone ‘real’ getting hurt. Tension that would turn to panic in real life instead becomes a source of entertainment when fictional characters are exposed to it. That’s why media like Game of Thrones are so compelling. Instead of worrying about how imperiled characters’ predicaments will unfold, we’re able to look forward to what will happen next.

All of that largely boils down to one truth: People are driven by conflict. Without some conflict, however minute, life quickly becomes boring. That’s why it’s such a central component of stories made to entertain. We yearn for conflict, but we want to experience it in a low-risk way. Stories can give us our fix of it without jeopardizing the relatively harmonious lives many of us wish to lead.

Anyway, that’s my initial take on the matter. If you guys are interested in this topic, I’d totally be willing to think on it further. For now, I’m curious to hear how others feel about it. Do you share my feeling of heightened interest in fictional characters, or have any thoughts of your own on the matter? Are you interested in seeing more posts like this? Please let me know in the comments below. Until next time, I hope you find stories that seize your attention!

The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky Review

Trails in the Sky FC

Hiyo, everyone! Today, I’m gonna review a delightful RPG called Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky. Before I get into the details, I’d like to mention that, despite what the above image says, the game is no longer only available on the PSP; you can get it on Steam, too. It’s also the beginning of its own story arc, so it’s a great place to jump into the series if you haven’t tried it before!

Our story begins when the protagonist, a little girl named Estelle Bright, welcomes her father, Cassius Bright, home after an extended absence. Cassius was gone on a mission – he is a member of the Bracer’s Guild, an organization that strives to help people with their requests, big or small, as long as they deem them worthy. But, this time, Cassius’ return is different, because he comes back with a mysterious boy around Estelle’s age named Joshua. Joshua’s past is completely unknown to Estelle, but Cassius seems to know something – enough to feel comfortable adopting Joshua as a son.

Years later, Estelle and Joshua are sixteen, and have finally been accepted into the Bracer’s Guild as Junior Bracers. Cassius has to leave on another of his missions, so he gives the easier set of his unfinished tasks to Estelle and Joshua. At first, they start small, but they quickly find themselves involved in matters of increasing importance. Then, it is revealed that the airship Cassius was on went missing. Estelle and Joshua set out to travel the kingdom of Liberl in search of their father and to earn the recommendations needed to become full-fledged Bracers. Unbeknownst to them, they will soon find themselves involved in matters that will shape the future of their country.

I don’t want to spoil the story any more than that! If you’re into jRPGs, I promise, this one is very much worth your while. Battles take place in small fields where the position of your characters matter, reminiscent of a strategy RPG, but aside from movement issues, the combat system felt more traditional to me. The characters are quite customizable thanks to magic-granting artifacts called orbments. Trails in the Sky has a pleasant anime aesthetic, and the music is quite good, often cheery or exciting.

The game shines most with regards to story, worldbuilding, and characters. I found myself always eager to see what was going to happen next, and quite invested in all the characters to join my party. Liberl’s orbment technology gives the world a slight steampunk vibe, though most characters wear clothing more typical of a fantasy RPG. There are plenty of mysteries to be solved and revelations to witness. Then there are the character interactions! I really enjoyed watching their relationships develop. I couldn’t help but feel close to them, especially to Estelle and Joshua!

The only large downside with the game, in my opinion, is that some sidequests and other important items are extremely easy to permanently miss. You’ll often need to go to exactly the right place within a very small timeframe to unlock hidden events. Therefore, if you’re a completionist, Trails in the Sky is best played with a guide.

That said, for the above reasons, I simply love this game, and can’t recommend it enough. Therefore, I rate it 4.9/5. I’m super excited to play the sequels!

Have you guys ever played a Legend of Heroes game? If so, which were you favorites? (Please don’t spoil me!) If not, what RPGs do you love most? I’m eager to hear your opinions in the comments below! I hope you all have a charming week!