“Make a contract with me and I will grant you power!”

So, continuing with the tropes. I decided to write this post because I happened to read two manga in parallel, both of which used this trope. What am I talking about? Let’s see, it usually goes as this:

The main character is a normal person, no obvious awesome powers. Then one day he meets a person (or a creature or some other kind of a sentient being) that offers him to sign a contract that will grant the guy powers and will bind the two together. Eventually he agrees, of course.

The two manga I mentioned were Cerberus and Holy Glory. In Cerberus, a boy named Kei walks into a haunted school where he and his friend are attacked by a kuzure (a ghost/demon thing). Before he falls pray to the monster, Yukifusa (another demon-like creature) offers him to become a “grave keeper” by making a contract. Kei has no choice as he wants to save his friend, so he agrees and obtain power to destroy the kuzure. Then as the story goes on, he slowly masters these powers, learns more about kuzure from Yukifusa, trains and so on.

cerberus 1

Kei and his friend

cerberus 2

She wins :D

In Holy Glory, a boy named Salt robs a strange man who calls himself Rudolf the Reindeer (I am not making it up). Soon after Salt is attacked by a cauchemar, an evil spirit. Rudolf was able to save him and offered him to make a contract and become a Sankt Nikolaus (still not making things up). Salt refuses, but later on his brother gets attacked and Rudolf isn’t strong enough to help, so Salt makes the contract and obtains the power to destroy the cauchemar.

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Three act structure – Hunter x Hunter

Tons of spoilers ahead.

As I said in my last post, I want to make a few posts about writing elements/devices that I like, the ones that make the stories enjoyable for me. And for a while now I wanted to make a post about Hunter x Hunter. I already written a sort-of reaction post on the manga years ago, but I neither covered all that there is to say about it nor did I have enough understanding to even be able to do it. And I don’t expect to do be able to cover it completely now either. Because Hunter x Hunter is complex, there is lots and lots to be discovered within that manga if you put in the effort. And if this post manages to convince you that this last statement is indeed true, then I’ll be happy.

gon killua kite

Being one of the HxH fans I have heard people praising the manga in all sorts of ways. People would say “the story is great”, “it is so well written”; but what exactly makes it great? It is hard to put a finger on, isn’t it? One of the most enlightening posts about HxH I’ve read suggested that one of the strong points of the story is that it follows something called three-act structure. This is a way to divide and structure your narrative. So let me give you my take on this.

The idea with the three-act structure is pretty simple. Your narrative has three distinct parts, punctuated by important events. The first part is the setup, it ends with an event that “changes everything”. The second part sees constant change in tension until the midpoint and then going on (maybe in a different direction) till climax. After the climax the last third part starts, and its role is to wrap things up. Sounds needlessly complicated and not very useful, isn’t it? Let me convince you otherwise :P

Gon and Killua

Let’s start with something simple. The York Shin city auction arc, remember that one? The first act in this arc lasted till the moment Kurapika saw the Spiders, that was the event that changed everything for this arc. Interestingly, from that point on the tension had actually been dropping, with Kurapika first defeating Uvogin and then the Ryodan faking their deaths. The panel where Kurapika walks through the night with a jar with scarlet eyes is the “lowest point” of the arc (I will keep using this phrase; I use the word “low” to describe the emotional state of the character or the emotional feel of an entire scene), the midpoint I mentioned previously. From then on, the tension picks up, with the start of the hunt for Ryodan, with their retaliation, and eventually the hostage crisis. The climax of the arc is, I believe, the hostage exchange moment. It is a bit spread out, but whatever, we don’t have to follow the structure exactly, that is not the point. The rest of the arc is obviously the third act.

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A man, a monster, a hero. One Punch Man

In my last post, I’ve been talking about bullet hell stories, and as it is often the case I wasn’t able to say if the setup in itself is good or bad. And it is to be expected, plot devices have their upsides and downsides. But, every once in a while I want to be able to say something more definitive, you know? So, I decided to write one or two posts about story elements that I think are genuinely good, examples of what I believe to be a good writing.

My first pick is One Punch Man series. Considering the fact that it had a very popular anime adaptation recently, I’ll assume that you have seen it or know the general idea. Actually, you will probably be fine just knowing that this is a story about heroes, and the protagonist is a completely overpowered dude, named Saitama. I will be spoiling some of the anime and manga plot twists though, so be warned. Let’s go.

OPM1

When discussing One Punch Man it is important to realize that while it is firmly set in the “hero genre”, it intentionally sways from the genre’s tropes. The very premise of the show, namely Saitama being completely invincible, takes away almost half of the standard plot progression devices that you can expect from a hero show. You can’t make your protagonist climb a power ladder, you can’t make a “dangerous opponent” for him. In fact, all the character dynamics for Saitama has to with his psyche, since his physique already has no room for improvement. And as Arkada explains in his review for the tv series, the mental challenges Saitama faces, such as unfairness, luck of recognition, stupidity or hostility of fellow heroes and so on, these become the driving force for the show. The audience can easily relate to these problems too, since it is something most people experience to some degree.

In case you haven’t seen or read One Punch Man, I must clarify this point a little bit. The mental struggles do not make Saitama doubt his convictions or hesitate in his actions. In fact, he is almost a lighthouse, as far as the morality and ethics are concerned, in a sense that he continuously becomes an aspiration for other people.

This post isn’t about Saitama though. It is about monsters. Or maybe just one monster, we’ll see. So, what are they, the monsters in the OPM universe? First of all, they are sentient creatures, most with intelligence level of an average human. Some of them have huge life spans, some are being creates just recently, some used to be humans, some are aliens from outer space, some are extremely violent and some are just potentially dangerous or disgusting. The one thing they have in common is, they seem to have serious trouble peacefully co-existing with humans. They are also hunted down and exterminated by the heroes.

saitama annihilates monsters

That is what typically awaits a monster, casual extermination

Sound a bit dramatic, right? Maybe a bit too dramatic for a show like One Punch man. The monsters here are supposed to be an enemy, same as in any other story, no? Well, that would be a popular trope too. Just for this discussion, I would divide stories into two categories. The first is the one where the “good guys” are in fact immoral to a certain degree and killing sentient “monsters” is just another showcase of their immorality (think of Hellsing, Blood: The Last Vampire, Dorohedoro). And the second is where the “good guys” are genuinely role models and nice people, and all the killing is sort of brushed aside (think of Slayers, Bleach, Dungeon ni Deai, etc). OPM definitely belongs to this second category. Not surprisingly, most video games where you fight monsters would fall under this category too.

So, doesn’t it sound a bit off to you? A story that focuses so much on the metal states of its characters, discusses morality and whatnot, but then chooses to camp with much more naïve shows and video games, ignoring this huge moral question, isn’t that a bit… weak? Especially since OPM is clearly self-conscious and understands the tropes of its genre.

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Bullet hell stories – realism in fiction

This is the third post in my realism in fiction series. This time I want to talk about the clash with reality that happens in certain kinds of stories, which involve guns and shooting. Lots of both.

Bullet hell is a term people use to describe videogames where there are way too many projectiles on the screen and you can’t possibly bother thinking about any single one of those shots. There are stories like that too. The ones I will bring up here are Black Lagoon and Jormungand. But before we go let me make a short detour.

When you have read your first few stories where characters fight with guns, I believe you asked yourself something along the lines “How long is this guy going to survive, fighting like that?”. Surely he is going to be shot one day, right? That is an old question too. Sword fighters surviving hundreds of battles also look somewhat questionable, or at least they should. But, for the sword fights there is a convenient set of arguments that can be used to justify survivability of the hero. The hero could be superior in speed, reflexes, physical strength and skill, making it literally impossible for most opponents to even scratch the guy. That is not actually a very good argument, but what’s important is – it is convincing enough. Additionally you can make it so your hero can survive a defeat, heal the wounds and get back into the story, this is realistic enough with many kinds of sword wounds.

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Naruto Gaiden, Sasuke and Sakura

Way before Naruto manga has ended I was planning to write a review for it once it does. I wanted to cover Kishimoto’s strange obsession with childhood as the only meaningful part of person’s life, his take on fate, family, free will, give him his due for making a few very memorable characters, etc. When the manga actually ended though I had another topic added to this list, and it is what I want to discuss here. So, let us go to the chapter 699 for a brief moment.

The chapter 699 finishes the main story. We see the aftermath of Naruto’s fight with Sasuke, see Sasuke apologizing to Sakura for causing trouble all this time, we see that Sasuke was eventually pardoned, thanks to Kakashi and Naruto. Now, I want you to read a page from that chapter, it is pretty interesting:

Sasuke and Sakura 1

Road to redemption, huh. What do you think that should mean? What exactly did Sasuke do to have to redeem himself? What is going on in his head at the moment? Let me make a guess.

The whole story about Sasuke was centered on revenge, from the time he was introduced till Itachi’s death. Revenge wasn’t his only thing though, he was also a normal hot-headed school boy, also a lonely orphan confused in his feelings, same as Naruto. When Itachi died, Sasuke suddenly lost the main purpose of his life and acted confused for quite a while, until he finally made the only obviously right choice returning to Konoha. His quest for revenge as well as his confused wanderings made a good deal of harm, undeniably. Still, nobody important to the story died in the process (and this manga does not care too much about nameless characters, as per usual). So, what is weighing down on Sasuke’s conscience?

I think nothing does. Sasuke doesn’t strike me as a guy who cares about the bad things he did, we’ve never seen him show that emotion. One thing that he does care about though is keeping cool appearances. And I think this is the real reason why Sasuke choses to travel for a while. After loosing his life’s purpose, returning to Konoha he so gloriously abandoned and threatend to destroy, and also after acknowledging Naruto’s leadership he needs time to collect himself, to rebuild his own identity in a new manner that would allow him to stay cool in these new circumstances. Spoiler alert, that is exactly what he does, he ends up being a “shadow hokage”, never being in the village and going to super-important missions; that is exactly the position that allows him to keep face. So my point is, if you take his words at the face value, then Sasuke is lying here, it is not a road to redemption, it is just him being in need to spend more time alone.

Don’t take me wrong by the way, I am not hating on Sasuke. In fact, that weak self he is showing is my favorite part of his entire character. “I am an avenger” and other pompous nonsense he was saying is cool, I guess, but it is when this image breaks that he becomes actually interesting to me. Sasuke being insecure about loosing to Naruto, Sasuke feeling the burden of living alone, Sasuke taking great risks for the sake of his comrades, these are the moments when his pretty normal human side starts to show, and I like them the best. So, don’t take me seriously when I make fun of him, I only do it cause he is such an easy target ^^’/

Now, let’s read the next page:

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Umineko no Naku Koro ni, manga

Umineko no Naku Koro ni (When the Seagulls Cry in English), a bit of a long title, eh? One of the inconveniences with such titles is that once you put them in a post’s title it already becomes a tad too long, so you have no room left to clarify what you are going to write about. So, let me explain it here. So far I have read two Umineko manga series (also called episodes), Legend of the Golden Witch and Turn of the Golden Witch, and 5 chapters of the series following them, Banquet of the Golden Witch. Haven’t seen the anime, don’t know the plot for the rest of the series. In a way, I am in the middle of the story, since each manga series I named is a part of the whole Umineko no Naku Koro ni thing, same as, say, all Harry Potter novels are part of the same story. But this suits the topic I want to talk about.

I’ll start introducing the characters. This is Battler, the protagonist of the story. He is a part of the third generation of his family, who are all cousins.

What I want to talk about is why one would want to read Umineko series. And I would have to explain why one would want to ask this question as well. As I go on, I hope you’ll see why I think it is alright for me to talk about something like this without having read the whole series.

Before we start though, I want to give a shout-out to all people who have seen the anime but haven’t read the manga. As I have not seen the anime I can’t judge it, but my impression is that it is a completely different experience from the manga, so when you read this post, please try to set aside your previous experiences with this story. To be clear, I have this impression for the following reasons. First, according to MAL, the 26 episodes-long anime adapts an equivalent of 4 manga series, which have 102 chapters total, and each Umineko chapter is 25-50 pages long, packed with material. So, there were likely pacing issues. Second, from what little I saw, the character animation looks nothing to write home about, where as the manga’s art is top-quality. Third, the anime has only covered half the story, so I wouldn’t be surprised if the ending wasn’t great. Forth, and most importantly, I think the story itself isn’t very suited for anime adaptation. So, please don’t judge the manga by whatever you experienced with the anime.

This is Natsuhi. She is part of the second generation, which comprises of siblings and their spouses.

Now we can finally start (spoilers ahead). So, why do I think it is a good question as to why one would want to read Umineko? At its heart, the story is a mix of a supernatural mystery and a detective novel. There are all sorts of reasons to read both, right? Well, here is the thing. Umineko repeats its plot every episode (meaning, every series). So a lot of the normal enjoyment of a mystery novel goes away after a while. You know the sequence of events, the characters at play, you can predict what will happen with a high probability. For example, in the first episode Natsuhi was the adult who survived and guarded the youngsters and in the second episode this role was given to Rosa. From the way first 5 chapters are laid out I can confidently predict that Eva will take this role for in the 3rd episode. So, I am not reading the story for sudden unpredictable turns of events, which is part of the thrill of a mystery novel.

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One Piece and life goals – realism in fiction

This is the second post in the “realism in fiction” series. In the first one I tried to describe the effect of having your story be as real life-like as possible, which is the most literal meaning of “realism”. I also talked about how breaking this sense of connection with real life in takes away from the feeling of the story. Here I want to talk about something different. I’ll focus on characters’ life goals and hopefully I’ll be able to make a convincing argument that this is directly linked to how realistic a story is.

Strawhats

I chose One Piece for this post because it is such a good fit for this topic (nothing to do with the fact that the manga is celebrating its 20th anniversary in a week, I swear!). The manga is very long and rich in detail for both the world and the characters, and it is well written too, allowing a meaningful discussion. Also it is a good excuse to feature Oda’s art on this blog ^^/

Perona Brook

Speaking of art, hope you don’t mind seeing a picture separating every paragraph, cause that is what I wanna do ^.^

Okay, let us start with simple examples, looking at the first members of Luffy’s crew. Luffy himself is famously going to become the pirate king, that is his motivation. It was rephrased as wanting to be the person with most freedom, which is supposed to clarify it, but it doesn’t. The “pirate king”, the “person with most freedom”, they are both completely abstract ideas. And it is very fitting that to become the pirate king Luffy seemingly needs to find One Piece, the McGuffin of this manga. You can easily wave all of this away as just an example of lazy writing. So how real is this motivation? Well in fact, it is very real. Almost anyone either experienced it or can understand how it feels, I think. “I want to become a great scientist!”, “I want to be famous one day!”, “I want to be a rock star!” and so on, all of those goals are almost as vague as Luffy’s. When you are a kid and you feel a desire to become something, you don’t necessarily imagine it in realistic (if any) detail. Neither does Luffy. He goes one step further though, refusing to learn what awaits him in the future (I am referring to the scene where he refuses to accept information about Raftel or One Piece from Rayleigh). In a way, his mindset is similar to that of a school boy who haven’t yet decided on his future occupation but is still thrilled about it and works hard to make it happen. So, on emotional level at least, Luffy’s goal is realistic and relatable.

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Blue Heaven – realism in fiction

Today I want to talk about Blue Heaven, a manga by Tsutomu Takahashi. Also if all goes according to keikaku plan this will be the first in a series of post where I’ll be focusing on different aspects of “realism” in storytelling (hence the title). So let’s start!

Blue Heaven

Blue Heaven is a story about a dangerous individual being rescued from a small boat in the middle of Pacific ocean. His rescuers bring him aboard a luxurious cruise liner packed with passengers. The guy isn’t just dangerous, his hands are already covered in blood and there is no way to hide the fact, so he will have to flee from his benefactors to retain his freedom, while committing new crimes, all on board a huge ship in the middle of nowhere. Sounds interesting? How about you go read it, if you haven’t already? I am going to have to spoil at least half of the manga, so consider it carefully. The manga is only 24 chapters long, plus a few unrelated bonus chapters, it is not going to take too long.

Blue Heaven, Seiryuu

Alright, let me first recount the story. As I said, the story begins with a cruise liner saving a guy, Seiryuu, from a boat. There were two living people on that boat, and as we soon learn from that second guy, there were 11 more of them, but Seiryuu killed those. By the time we learn these details, Seiryuu had already escaped from his cabin, killing the person who guarded him, and started wandering the liner. The next thing Seiryuu did was finding a lone passenger and striking a conversation. They drink together, then Seiryuu get into his cabin and murders the guy, but not before interrogating him to get as much information as possible. Thus, Seiryuu was able to assume the identity of that passenger, and get a little bit of a breathing room. After all, that cruise liner holds about 2000 people, finding a new face isn’t an easy task.

Blue Heaven

So, what did the liner’s crew do to counteract this? First, they immediately saw the situation in all of its complexity. They rightly guessed that Seiryuu will mix in with the public rather than with the crew. They understood that there are only a few people who know Seiryuu’s face, and that those people would be targeted by him. Recognizing that their enemy is capable (being able to kill 11 people), they armed a group of people with guns. Also, they made a facial composite, which would soon prove to be useful, as one of the personnel members recognized Seiryuu as one of the passengers she saw earlier. You see, they did a fairly good job already. They also decided to call all the Asian passengers to one room, where they could try to identify Seiryuu. This is a drastic measure, definitely not something you would want to do to your passengers, and it is pretty questionable in terms of safety of those passengers. But, it shows crew’s dedication to deal with the problem as soon as possible.

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JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure and Figuration Libre

If you want to praise JoJo I think you would talk about its sense of humor combined with its unique narrative, especially the visual aspects of it. Like, it is fun to watch a vampire whose head was just split in half putting it back together, but having it a little off, so he has to adjust the two pieces, which seems to make him slightly annoyed.

Even better is to watch two dudes fight, where one throws a steamroller at another, and then both repeatedly punch it to make the machine hit the opponent. There are hundreds of awesomely stupid things like that in the series, and they all work because of how the show presents them. It is not all about actions scenes either, this anime can make even a static image work. Like this one, when an ark antagonist assumes a ridiculous pose and the anime treats it like focal point:

Dio Brando

It isn’t just one particular antagonists, they all do the poses

The whole anime is like this. People act as if they are actors on a stage, they strike poses that look like they belong to an athletic dance performance; the events are unpredictable and ridiculous while the characters are always in dire predicaments. You never know what would happen, would they outsmart their enemy or would they just overpower him or her, or will they get out on a sheer luck.

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Denpa-teki na Kanojo, episode 1 – tropes

Before we start let me say that this is not a review of Denpa-teki na Kanojo. If you want a review – we already have one written by Shaurya, you are welcome to read it. Here I want to discuss this OVA rather than to review it, so I’ll assume you’ve seen it. It is a good show by the way, and it is fairly short too, so if you haven’t seen it you can start watching it now and come back in 40 minutes =)

Ame Ochibana

I decided to write about Denpa-teki na Kanojo because it gives me a great opportunity to talk about certain recurring setups in anime. Before we start though I would ask you to try not to let any negative preconceptions about these tropes to guide you as you are reading.

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