Short Reviews, GameLit Anime

This is just a few short reviews on some GameLit anime that I’ve watched recently.  Most of these are based on light novels or manga series, I have no idea how faithfully they follow the plotline of their original series.

Re: Zero

The first one up is Re: Zero.  This is the iffiest of the GameLit Animes because although the MC often talks in gaming terms, there isn’t really any game mechanics.  It’s more of a portal fantasy with magic and a very mild sprinkling of game terminology.

It runs counter to almost every portal fantasy.  The MC is not a bad ass nor does he become one.  He only has one power, which is the power of dying and resetting, what he calls “save points”.  His life is a really horrible version of “Groundhog Day” where he gets killed in various grotesque manners and then gets reset back to a particular spot and time in the past.

Unlike “Groundhog Day”, the reset point isn’t one day back, but instead its back to a particular point that sets off the series of events that led to him getting killed, either because he made a wrong choice or missed an important clue.

He admits to being an Otaku, so finds nothing strange about being teleported to a mystical World.  Unlike most shows where he’d have a bevy of powers, he finds out he has virtually none.

He does later on learn use magic, (the series implies that everyone can use magic at least at some level), but all of the skills in fighting/magic etc. have to be earned according to the rules of the portal World, which means years of study and practice.

Since the entire series takes place over a very short time span, the character never undergoes any great power curve.  Instead, he learns what the rules of the World are and how to utilize other people in order to achieve his goals.

Unfortunately, his way of learning about the World is via dying, and make no mistake, he dies dies several brutal deaths, even going into complete shellshock at one point.  This brutal treatment of the MC gets tempered by some of its more light-hearted and comedic elements, so it’s not as relentless as say Gantz or Berzerk.

One problem with the anime, which it does sell pretty well, is how traumatic dying is for the protagonist.  There’s several scenes where it seems like just committing suicide would be the easier route than what will be a certain, grisly death, but with only one exception, he can’t bring himself to commit suicide.  Still, you’re going to wonder why he doesn’t ask about a suicide potion or some other way to die besides getting disemboweled or eaten alive.

Another problem in the anime is that we never really find out why the protagonist has been transported to the World, what his connection is to the jealous witch, why she stops the MC from revealing any details about his connection to her, or several other crucial details.

In terms of both style and structure, it’s different than what’s typical of the GameLit animes out there, but it’s still a good series.  4.25 stars out of 5.

Overlord

This anime is awesome.

OverLord is the story of the highest leveled player in a MMORPG that is going to be shut down.  He was once a member of what looks like the most powerful guild, but as the game lost players, each of the original members started leaving the game.

On the final day before the game shuts down, he decides he’s going to simply watch the World until the game completely shuts down.  As the time approaches, instead of the game getting shut down, he’s teleported to the game world, or the game world-ish, since he comments on a few changes in the World he wakes up in versus what the game is like.

He’s now the highest level player in the game.  And it’s really what Overlord does with an OP protagonist that really makes it special.

Most shows stay focused on the OP MC, (i.e. “Sword Art Online”).  But once we know that the MC is severely overpowered, there’s no real tension in any scenes, since we know they’re all but immortal.  Overlord keeps the MC in the background as a presence that’s felt, but most of the story revolves around side characters with their own goals and motivations.

The MC wants to be a good guy, but he’s the ruler of the undead, most of whom were preprogrammed to be if not exactly evil, then callous towards human life and suffering.  In order to get the NPCs under his command to do the right thing, he has to convince them that all of his moves are intricate twelve dimension chess moves that they have no hopes of understanding.  There’s a lot of fun in watching him bluff his way out of problems and in the underlying tension between being an evil overlord and wanting to help people out.

The anime even focuses on the people who will be the antagonists, giving the viewers a chance to learn about them so that viewers are rooting for them as the underdogs.  This is not a series where the fate of any battle is uncertain, the MC is so overpowered that the best spells the top mages can cast are several levels lower than his spells.

The biggest criticism is that it pulls plot armor out all over the place, mostly by not telling the viewer what equipment, items, spells, hp, mana, skills, etc. the player has.  He will seemingly have whatever item, equipment, or spell is necessary to solve any situation.

You can compare this to how Hunter x Hunter does it, where you know what powers everyone has and see the clever uses they come up with for their powers, which is also how early Naruto worked and My Hero Academe.

This is a five star recommendation to watch.

How Not to Summon a Demon Lord

Do not watch this anime.  It’s sort of like Overlord, except incompetent. It borrows so heavily and so poorly from Overlord that it draws attention to itself.

In this story, the MC is the highest level character in a game when suddenly, he finds himself transported to a game World.  Two women in the game are trying to summon a demon, which is the MC.  After summoning him, they cast a spell on him to bind him to their will, except he has a ring that reflects all magic spells cast on him, so the two women end up becoming chained instead.

Like Overlord, the MC is overpowered to the 100th degree.  Unlike Overlord, the show features all of its time on the MC, we learn very little about the supporting cast except one has really big breasts and is ditzy, and the other one is smart and has small breasts.  That’s about as much personality and character development as they get.

The MC doesn’t fare any better.  He’s an otaku character who never left the house and now he has two beautiful women that are his slaves.  If you’ve seen one harem anime with this trope, you’ll know all the plot beats.  He has no defining personality traits beyond that.

Keeping in the “Like Overlord But” category, the MC of “How Not To” spends a whole bunch of time acting like he’s really evil when he wants to do good.

However, there’s literally no reason for it.  Overlord has a vast army of NPCs that think of him as an evil ruling overlord, “How Not To” simply makes things hard on himself for no reason.

Seemingly even the artists working on the anime know it isn’t any good, as they throw in gratuitous fan service for absolutely no reason.

If you want to show women with big breasts running around in their panties, that’s fine. So long as it’s part of the actual story and relates to what’s going on in the scene.  If two characters are making love and getting undressed, wonderful.  Have fun with all the fan service you want when it makes sense in the context of the scene.

When it’s not ok is when it’s a random scene with exposition and there’s nothing sexual going on in the scene and yet the camera angle is a low-perve shot upskirting one of the female protagonists. Outside from the creepy perve factor, this tells me that the shows writers and animators know that they don’t have enough to drive the story forward, so they say, “Well, look at some T&A for a moment and let’s distract you from how boring this all is!”

Trying to distract me from how bad your show is does not leave a good impression.

The lack of personality results in a serious flaw in the show.  Personality gets defined by the moral choices that a character has to make and how they overcome them.  We won’t know a character is loyal unless they’re put in a situation where they are given a choice between being loyal or some other equivalent moral code.

Let’s give an example.  Suppose you have a story where the MC is a rogue.  They have a friend who is dying of a rare disease, but they know where a potion is being held that will cure the friend, and they have the skills to steal it.  But they know the potion was made for the dying king, who needs it in order to survive.  If the king dies, the kingdom will go into disarray with possible civil wars and wars with other kingdoms in the horizon.

The choice the character makes at that moment and their justification for that choice determines what sort of personality and moral code that character has.

However, “How Not To” never features any sort of moral quandary or problem.  This is partially a huge limitation of any OP protagonist.  Since the protagonist never has to make a hard choice, they are never forced to develop any sort of deeper personality.  The way Overlord solved this is by focusing on the problems of the side characters and making the MC have to hide his good deeds behind a facade for his followers.

There’s one other thing about the fan service in “How Not To”.  Overlord occasionally women dressed sexually, usually relating to them being a succubus or having some explanation for it.  However, every single woman in “How Not To” walks around practically naked, even when their job is something like “Head Magic Researcher”.

 

So, it’s terrible as GameLit, but how is it as comedy?  The first episode has a few chuckle moments, but if you’ve seen the “I’m a virgin and I suddenly have a harem”, it’s all the same jokes you’ve seen a thousand times.

If you compare it to a comedy like Hinamatsuri, the problems are evident.  Hinamatsuri relies on character driven comedy, so it spends a huge amount of time going into the personalities and quirks of even very minor characters.  However, since “How Not To” doesn’t have any characters to build off of, the humor is the same joke told with minor variations.

If you’re really hard up for fan service or want some quick, cheap laughs, “How Not To” might scratch an itch.  I was completely underwhelmed by it though.  2 stars out of 5.

 

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