Light Novel Corner – Boogiepop 2: Boogiepop VS Imaginator (Part 1)

Boogiepop light novel 2 Boogiepop VS Imaginator Part 1

Author Kouhei Kadono
Illustrator Kouji Ogata
Genres Drama, Mystery, Supernatural
Published 1998 (JP) / 2006 (EN)
Pages 250
.

     I probably haven’t talked about it before, so I can tell that my story with Boogiepop franchise goes like this. Since I heard that there’ll be a new Boogiepop anime, I decided to finally pick up the light novels. Simply because some regard the franchise quite highly, and dipping a bit in anime (and associated media) history is never a bad idea. (Unless you get stuck on some CG of early 2000s.) Anyway, as always, procrastination did its job, and I barely managed to read the first volume before starting watching the anime. Now, the first arc that was covered in that volume, is already finished, so it’s time for the second one. I can’t say that I caught the train before  it even started moving, but still – I think it’s a valid idea to post my impressions of the novels before digging into the adaptation. So, here it goes.

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Light Novel Corner – Boogiepop 1: Boogiepop and others

Boogiepop light novel 1 Boogiepop and others

Author Kouhei Kadono
Illustrator Kouji Ogata
Genres Drama, Mystery, Supernatural
Published 1998 (JP) / 2006 (EN)
Pages 250
.

     Baccano at this point is regarded as a milestone in the history of the medium, be it light novels or anime. The energetic chaos of intertwining stories of many characters definitely is very entertaining, if only you can keep up with it. The truth however is that almost nothing pops into existence out of a vacuum, and Baccano isn’t an exception to that. If you think of it as an outgoing youth full of craziest ideas, you should also know that it has a grandfather – older, calmer and usually more grounded in reality. What’s that you ask? Why, but that’s Boogiepop.


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And, unexpectedly, an AMV

     I rarely do anything unplanned, but such stuff sometimes does happen. Most times than not unplanned things find me not because I actively seek them. Yet, to any rule there is an exception. Recently I’ve been reading as much Osamu Dazai as I could find, and this marathon became ignited by rewatching the first 4 episodes of Aoi Bungaku (which itself happened because I wanted something with similar character designs that Shigurui had). Both the written version of Ningen Shikkaku (or No Longer Human, as Dazai’s masterpiece is called) and the anime adaptation of it affected me quite a bit but I was surprised myself once I realized that I want to make an AMV of it.

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Scattered Thoughts – throat singing (and a bit of Shigurui)

     Did you know that a single person can sing 2 different melodies at the same time? Sounds a bit insane, doesn’t it? How on earth a single person could possess two throats or something? In fact you don’t need to visit Chernobyl (sorry for the bad joke) to be able to perform throat singing, otherwise known as overtone singing. I’ve known about this amusing technique for some time but what did surprise me, was to find it used in the soundtrack of Shigurui, anime I reviewed several weeks ago. As far as I know, no other anime soundtrack uses the technique so it is pretty obscure to say the least. Well, going into details about it doesn’t really concern neither anime, nor manga, nor Japanese culture (for the most part) but I think the more people will hear about some obscure trivia (that to me is quite interesting), the better. Don’t fear some basic physics stuff ahead, I hope I’ll make it comprehensible enough.

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Scattered Thoughts – what do I listen to?

     There probably isn’t a person who would say with absolute confidence that music has no part in their life. Music naturally is also a part of anime community, although not many people try to analyse it apart from stating that for example “Kajiura, Kanno and Sawano are cool” (love them all by the way, in that order). Listening to anime OSTs isn’t what I’d consider my hobby but I try to pay as much attention to it as I can. If an artist proves to be entertaining, obviously I try to dig deeper. As working in anime industry isn’t always what musicians only do, over time one band or another comes under my radar, so that’s what I’m going to talk about today – 5 Japanese artists/bands (that not necessarily have strong ties with anime industry) that I came to love.

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Light Novel Corner – Welcome to the NHK

Alternative title NHK ni youkoso
Author Tatsuhiko Takimoto
Illustrator Yoshitoshi ABe
Genres Drama
Published 2002 (JP) / 2007 (EN)
Pages 248
.

      You probably have come across Welcome to the NHK at one point or another in its anime or, less likely, manga form but I doubt many are aware that the story originated from a light novel by the same name written by Tatsuhiko Takimoto. First of all, Welcome to the NHK isn’t an ordinary light novel, though it comes very close to being that. Its length isn’t that impressive, the narrative examines problems of young adults, and the cover illustration was made by none other than Yoshitoshi ABe. On the other hand, the novel certainly isn’t a graphic novel – there’s not a single picture inside, these young adults are past a high-school age, and their problems are a bit more complicated and dark than “Oh, senpai…”. Typical light novels often leave a hook in the end so that the series could be extended to at least several more volumes, and that’s not really the case with Welcome to the NHK. That should be enough to prove that this novel isn’t like anything else you can find, even if you have no idea what it’s about, and in that case I strongly encourage you to find that out. (more…)

Scattered Thoughts – Saya no Uta and morbid curiosity

     Fuminori was sitting in a place that should’ve been a café. Yet it clearly wasn’t. Everything seemed a perfect nightmare material – every single object there looked like it was made from living flesh, various internal organs, and gore; walls, the floor and the ceiling included. Even worse, next to Fuminori sat the creatures. Apparitions so hideous that the shortest of glimpses at them could haunt you the rest of your life. Their stench reeked of everything a normal person would keep a distance of a mile or so, and their distorted gurgling voices squealed barely understandable words. That wasn’t all – Fuminori knew that these monsters once were his dear friends, now completely unrecognizable and so disgusting he could barely retain his calm. Fuminori was the only normal being in this warped place, and it wasn’t a nightmare, it was his reality, and he was alone in it.

Nice world, isn't it?

     So cheerfully begins Saya no Uta, a visual novel created way back in 2003 but still retaining its uniqueness in the medium. There’s probably no reason beating around the bush so I may as well use the trump card that should get you interested – Saya no Uta was one of the first creations of Gen Urobuchi and the team at Nitroplus. Nitroplus is best known for releasing the acclaimed Steins;Gate visual novel and also for being involved with Fate/Zero novels, that also incidentally were written by Urobuchi. In Saya no Uta the man clearly didn’t hold back and pumped the visual novel full of depressing and sometimes disgusting content that would never be tolerable in, say, an anime. Usually art is consumed in order to be entertained, but Saya no Uta isn’t anything I’d call a pleasantly enjoyable experience. The dark side of it is interestingly captivating though. If you aren’t against some morbid curiosity, that is. Bear with me for a while to find out more, but only if you’re brave enough. I can’t stress enough that Saya no Uta is aimed to mature people, and only those with high tolerance levels. (more…)

Scattered Thoughts – why did Gyo fail?

     First of all – why is Gyo important? It isn’t, really. Still, there are a number of reasons why Gyo is worth investigating. For once, Junji Ito is a name you probably encountered if you’ve had any opportunity to familiarize with horror manga. Despite being popular, the only Ito’s work that has received an anime adaptation remains Gyo (which is interesting by itself), and Ito’s relation with anime remains relevant because of the new adaptation of some of his stories that has been announced some time ago. Returning to Gyo, its anime adaptation was made by ufotable, and that’s another interesting fact since at the time it was made the studio was just starting to build up its fame – Kara no Kyoukai movies weren’t as known and Fate/Zero had started half a year ago, but in times of Steins;Gate it was crucial not to be a studio known only for one good anime. Other ufotable’s projects had been even more obscure, so Gyo was a perfect opportunity to show off technical capabilities and affirm the name of the studio as one among the best in the industry. Still, the result seems to be rather frowned upon, so there arises a question – who’s at fault – Junji Ito or ufotable?

The former dental technician - sensei

     Junji Ito is an acclaimed mangaka and arguably one of the best in making horror stories. To be frank, that’s not really the truth. The truth is that Ito is incredible in thinking up how to mess with everyday world in order to bring horror elements and create an ominous and very unsettling atmosphere. His realistic and detailed drawings (especially all the unnatural and monster stuff) make every story far more disturbing. Still, the problem is that even if Ito knows how to get everything started, it seems like he has no idea how to conclude anything. More often than not the horror elements are so powerful that they sweep the ordinary world away and we get effectively an apocalypse. The characters usually are just left hanging with no clear conclusion when the things get so bad there’s no way of returning to at least a partially normal living conditions. On the other hand, Ito’s short works tend to stop right after the climax and thus leave some space to ponder what happened and what might happen next. It turns out that developing a story and providing a resolution sometimes is a worse choice than leaving an open ending exactly after the big reveal or a strong horrifying moment.

A walking fish?..

     Gyo in this context isn’t an exception. I guess the mystery of what exactly the horror elements are in this case is explained right away so it doesn’t really count as spoilers, does it? Anyway, you have been warned because the pleasure of seeing dead fish walking on seemingly mechanical legs is a pleasure you can’t miss. Ito has confirmed that Steven Spielberg’s Jaws had been a huge influence on him. Ito just came to think that a more terrifying thing than a shark in a sea would be a shark that can walk on land. And walk on land it does. A story seems pretty basic as a couple of tourists in Okinawa (at first) – Kaori and Tadashi – start observing weird things and how they get out of control in a true Junji Ito fashion.

...yup, this walking shark...

     Why Gyo fails as a satisfying manga mainly rests on the choice of trying to explain the strange phenomena. It could be argued that characters also aren’t that good, which is quite true, especially in Kaori’s case. The girl mainly spends time in a neurosis state arguing with Tadashi quite annoyingly. Yet, I think that it at least gives some uniqueness as a fighting couple isn’t what you usually get as the main characters in any manga. Especially when things escalate you can’t really accuse anyone of acting the way they do – human tolerance to weirdness and horror isn’t infinite after all. Still, let’s leave the characters aside because the pseudo-scientific explanation that hardly feels plausible with the best wishes overshadows everything else. Of course you have to have germs that were secretly cultivated for military purposes. Even if that was an alright explanation, there’re still many things left in the dark – for example how does the gas produced by the germs can make dead bodies move in a non-random way and pursue people? Do the mechanical legs multiply? The story finally lost its momentum near the end when a totally bizarre and pretty random circus scene was inserted that doesn’t really feel like being from the same story and that is another recurring flaw of Ito’s manga.

...and a walking arm?

     Ito usually gets inspired by random daily events that are only a bit unusual or unexpected, be it a thought he had, a shop window he saw or a woman that looked in a particular way. Ito then takes these elements and works them into being more unsettling, not necessarily trying to make a horror manga. Such stories sometimes form larger narratives but as the mangaka doesn’t usually try to think particularly good ways to connect them, the end product might become anything from the cohesiveness of Uzumaki’s everything encompassing spirals to disjoint and having very little common elements stories like Black Paradox or Gyo itself.

The quite famous Amigara fault

     To go off on a tangent a bit, there are two short stories included in the published Gyo volumes. The Enigma of Amigara Fault is probably the most well-known and regarded  as one of the better of Ito’s works, examining the claustrophobia and at the same time morbid fascination with confined spaces. The story also can be a perfect example of Ito at his best – not trying to explain stuff too much and just leaving everything at the climax. Nevertheless, it’s the other story that appealed to me almost infinitely more than Gyo itself – The Sad Tale of the Principal Post spans only 4 pages and is impossible not to spoil but it shatters all of reader’s expectations and masterfully provides a totally unexpected conclusion which by its ridiculousness is able to overcome its unbelievability. It’s only 4 pages, please go and read it.

The new Kaori with her red-shirt...I mean red-skirt...
anyway, it's the new Kaori with her new friends

     Let’s now leave the manga and jump right to its anime adaptation, though in some respects it can hardly be called one. The first minutes of the anime already present plenty of differences – Kaori is the only main character (Tadashi’s left in Tokyo which means we hardly see him at all) and it’s two of her friends that the girl starts experiencing the fish attack. As the story moves on, it becomes clear that for the most part Kaori’s and Tadashi’s original roles are swapped. The couple’s struggle to survive gets transformed into quite a simple story of Kaori trying to find her boyfriend in all the confusion. Along the way she’s helped by a random journalist because you can’t have a story without a male lead, can you? Naturally you begin to wonder why there’re so many changes introduced. To some extent it’s understandable because having a strong female lead usually is commendable but the way it affected other parts of the story makes it barely Ito’s Gyo. And all these changes just seem pointless. Why would you introduce new characters and split the original experiences of Kaori and Tadashi when there was a completely normal and reasonable story in the manga? Also, the anime tried to appeal to all sorts of audiences, and that means that the horror isn’t the only thing you get in Gyo. The thing is that the anime in the beginning didn’t shy away from including fanservice, and fanservice of the most ridiculous level – Gainax jiggles, obligatory pointless sex and a woman getting undressed while trying to escape some nasty pursuer. Moreover, the said woman (try to guess which of Kaori’s friends she is) was just an original character made specifically for that purpose and Junji Ito could never have drawn anything like that. But even fanservice isn’t consistent – the creators forcefully added new scenes but somehow missed a shower scene in the original manga, and that scene even had some justification for being there.

Run, Forrest, run!

     When you watch the anime, you find some certain elements of the manga or scenes that clearly were inspired by the original Gyo, but in any case it remains only elements and the essence is lost. In such a case a walking octopus among all these fish becomes a pretext to introduce a tentacle scene. You know, tentacles? Any spirit of the manga and any element that makes Ito’s works recognizable as his own just simply vanished. At least in one respect the anime was equal to its counterpart – the questions concerning the mechanism by which the fish can walk, some other over the top moments involving the gas and a seemingly incomplete (although completely different) ending leave a lot to be desired.

Ito's stories never end well, do they?

     The animation belongs to an interesting period in ufotable’s history. Character designs try to be somewhat close to original manga ones but ultimately they end up being far more simplified and vastly different from the beauty of Ito’s art. At least usual Ito’s same-face-syndrome has been taken care of. The designs also are quite fluid – one moment you can even start guessing whether some rotoscoping was involved and other times you can wince uncomfortably at the seemingly unfinished product. Anyway, the designs come from a period when ufotable still cared to draw not as-pointy-as-you-might-prick-yourself (Tales series) noses, if any noses at all (Fate series). The backgrounds signify the point when the studio started moving to its present aesthetic, that being 3D more times than not, and that 3D looking quite lifeless and at odds with the 2D characters. Some 3D elements in Gyo look surprisingly well-made, as ufotable’s 3D department in general is quite adept at what they do, it’s just that it doesn’t really mesh with the 2D stuff. The studio might be excused because at the time of making Gyo the 2nd season of Fate/Zero was also in works but that’s only a fool’s argument. Even if 3D was done far better, I still think the story of Gyo was just more suited to be told in manga form. Bright colors clearly doesn’t retain the same ominous atmosphere that a usual black and white manga panels are able to achieve.

Psychedelic, but not that disturbing after all

As you see, Gyo is plagued by all sorts of trouble, and some of them came from Junji Ito himself while others were added by ufotable. Ito’s prime concern is to create unsettling imagery and what becomes of it and how it can be incorporated into a story (that should have an ending) seems to be of no bigger concern to him. It’s as likely as not that the longer stories of his will feel cohesive and finished and that is the main problem with his manga. Ufotable changed quite a lot in its anime adaptation and few of these changes were for good, or at least necessary and logical to begin with. From a historical perspective it was quite fun to see how a transition from the old ufotable to the new glossy aesthetic plagued by post-production gradients looked at some point. But yeah, Gyo makes little sense and even somehow you became interested in this cheap horror flick, go read the manga, especially the short stories.

     Have you ever encountered Gyo at some point? What do you think about Junji Ito’s storytelling and current aesthetic of ufotable?

Light Novel Corner – Baccano! Vol. 1 The Rolling Bootlegs

     To start from the very beginning, on this blog I’ve been mainly sharing my thoughts on various anime and just occasionally glossing over some manga. Recently this trend was challenged by a random post about a JRPG. Still the main focus remains anime and it only happens that sometimes I feel a need to share my opinions not about a particular anime itself but about its sources. It’s no secret that nowadays it’s almost exceptional to get an original anime – manga adaptations have been an ongoing trend for a long while but another similar tradition hasn’t been represented on this blog in the slightest, and that is the popularity of light novels. Without much search it seems to me that light novels aren’t that widely talked about, so there’s a niche that could be filled. On the other hand, reading isn’t something you can do easily while eating your breakfast or multitasking in other ways so the audience of light novels isn’t that big. Usually the interest declines once the anime adaptation ends (more often than not in not the most satisfying way) and a statistical person even with the best wishes to know “what happened after that?” gets his hopes smashed by unavailable (or available but in a pretty bad fan-translational way) and often enormously long series that keeps growing every second month or so. Recently there has been some quite convenient improvements in the sense of availability but it’s still a big investment to get into any light novel series. So yeah, the niche seems to be here and as someone who doesn’t shy away from a decent read, I thought that giving an opinion or two about some quite well known (or not) light novel series book-by-book wouldn’t hurt, especially if you as myself want to know what really happened next, even more so if an anime adaptation left you unsatisfied. And even among rather well-received anime adaptations I doubt there has been many series that fans craved to be translated more than Baccano!.


Author Ryohgo Narita
Illustrator Katsumi Enami
Genres Action, Historical, Supernatural
Published 2003 (JP) / 2016 (EN)
Pages 224
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     The first volume of the series, subtitled The Rolling Bootlegs, wastes little time to throw the reader right into New York City of 1930. As expected, gang business takes a prominent place in such a setting but on the other hand it’s balanced by other elements, such as unexpected inclusion of things like an elixir of immortality. Probably a third of the appeal of the story comes from the fact that such a weird combination of ideas actually was made to work. The Rolling Bootlegs basically examines the idea of what would happen if alchemy truly existed in the Prohibition era.

   Still, it’s not the story that makes Baccano! unique. The Rolling Bootlegs has quite a few quite diverse characters and naturally quantity and quality are interchangeable. The characterization is minimal but often strong enough to leave deep enough impression so that the reader won’t begin to wonder why everyone is so one-dimensional and more often than unchanging. There are some noteworthy individual characters like Firo, a young almost-member of one gang, Szilard, an old evil dude, Ennis, his homunculus (that meaning an artificial human that can be mind-controlled), Dallas, a wealthy thug, and Isaac with Miria, a pair of ridiculously lucky idiot bandits. The level of characterization can be seen from the mere fact that Isaac and Miria have a single wiki page dedicated for both of them. Some cheesiness in such motives as “I was looking for you because you were attractive” also must be pointed out. As you see, characters come a dime a dozen and limited length of the volume doesn’t really let to explore much, especially since the web of interconnections takes some time to be established. Generally that’s not a problem because the characters are just tools for the story to evolve. Sometimes you can wonder if the story isn’t a character itself – wickedly pushing one character or another in a particular way so that all the individual little stories intertwine into one giant intricate web of coincidences. And that’s the biggest charm of Baccano! – as you run through the pages you aren’t that interested in the fortunes of most of the characters – the main question remains how everything will continue to develop and what will come out of different encounters between the characters.

     Characters themselves might not be aware of all the connections and coincidences and it gives the reader even more satisfaction when you can sit on your high (and all-knowing) horse and smirk because you get that two characters that for example crossed each other at a street had far more in common than random passerby should have. Knowing the full story when the characters are aware only of some parts of it somehow is very satisfying. However, that feeling is restrained because some remarks by the narrator point out that he knows even more than the readers.

“We’ve robbed eighty-seven places, and in all that time, have I ever put you in danger?”
“About eighty-seven times.”
“…………”
“…………”
“There, you see?! It’s not even a hundred yet!”
“You’re right! That’s amazing!”

—Issac and Miria being Isaac and Miria—

     One thing I was left wondering about was the nature and summoning of the demon who granted the immortality elixir. Sure, it was portrayed to be an extraordinary event but also it was given only the smallest part of the book and its purpose was only to justify having immortal gangsters. Still that leaves a lot of unknown during this earliest time period not to mention the idea that a demon can so easily manifest to people. All these problems and lose ends basically arise from the limited space of the genre – I’m sure sooner or later Ryohgo Narita will be (or have already been) forced to elaborate aspects of the story that need that and at the same time can provide some entertaining story material.

     As a starting point of the long series (Baccano! as of now has 22 light novels and it’s not finished yet) the first novel isn’t the best example of how you should do it. The Rolling Bootlegs can even be viewed as a self-contained story that doesn’t absolutely require much more exploration. The mindset of the grand story in the first place is just portraying a segment of characters’ lives and they naturally extend more than can be stuffed into a one specific story, so inevitably some minor quips are here. Still, the main plot is resolved (the culmination was enormously and unexpectedly lengthy though) and even the very ending is a few words short of “and they lived happily ever after”. This stand-alone quality doesn’t retract anything from the bigger picture, it’s just not a very usual way of wrapping up things when everyone wants to grab attention and make enough space for future sequels at the same time strongly hinting at them.

     I guess some words about the relationship between the light novels and the anime need to be said. The anime adapts first few novels but there the storylines are all intentionally mixed up. On one hand you get even a better impression about the hectic swings of fate but for me it felt a bit too confusing. You need to pay all your attention not to get lost between the storylines, even though by themselves they are fairly simple and linear. Shared characters, especially when you still aren’t familiar with them, suck you into a mess that’s quite hard to disentangle. I’m not even talking about the first episode that screamed “hey, I’m complicated, hey, sucks to be you, hey!”.

“Quietly, the spiral of destiny turned.”

—The Narrator knows it all—

     Another quite apparent difference is that the novel uses a framing story that is absent from the anime – a Japanese tourist just hears the story from a certain someone. The fact that the whole immortality (and fast wound healing) is talked about in the framing story detracts some of the mystery elements that surrounded the anime where a fresh viewer didn’t know that he could expect such things. To be frank, it’s a bit weird how matter-of-factly immortality, alchemy and summoning demons is presented. I think in this case I prefer the more subtle reveal of everything in the anime. Compared to the realistic world of 1930s (minus immortality but that isn’t a game-changer) the fact that you have to use demons (do demons ex machina exit?) to justify the core events of the story feels like pushing too far, especially since at least at this volume no demon has any prominent role at all.

     Reading Baccano! makes it very clear why the genre is called light novel – the text easily flows through your eyes and you’re left with a wish to get more of the same but after some time you begin to feel like having eaten some fast food – it was tasty but still not the best food in the world. To be praised and remembered, Baccano! needs to elaborate its characters, maybe offer a longer story and some explanations about elements that were just glossed through.

 I believe, this light novel is

 2Decent

     Should you read it? If you enjoy insanely paced fast-food books, yeah, definitely grab a bite. Still, it’s not as attractively complicated as the anime seems to imply. Nevertheless, reading enjoyment at least for was certainly there, and not only because I want to know the source material well and then take advantage of the opportunity to know what happened after the anime ended.

Scattered Thoughts – tasting Tales of Berseria

     I’m not an avid gamer, and it’s even rarer for me to completely finish a game. Usually I just either get bored with the gameplay or get stuck (and then get bored). That looks completely different from my completionist-like stance towards anime, but I guess I just hope to finish any game I started some time in the future. Considering gaming that have ties with anime my portfolio is even scarcer – apart from some visual novels (still waiting to complete Fate route of Fate/Stay Night and finish several remaining routes of Tsukihime) I don’t think I’ve ever finished anything else, and my only knowledge about Tales series stems from the Zestiria anime, so for me Tales of Berseria is a big deal, so prepare for a lengthy post.

Excerpt from the OST: 'Theme of Velvet' by Motoi Sakuraba

     The story begins in not the most unique way possible – you, and that also means the protagonist Velvet, get your share of peaceful jogging around before being abruptly taken from this pleasant life to another, full of dark emotions and almost no hope. Velvet’s younger brother (as adorable as it gets) ends up being killed and that changes Velvet to the point of her only goal becoming revenge, no matter the means, no matter the collateral damage. As usual with such games, later on Velvet’s quest turns out to be a part of a far bigger problem that is the mandatory saving of the world.

Not that impressive dungeon

     The world provides plenty of beautiful locations – from cities to harbors and grassy plains, from icy landscapes to tropical beaches and volcanoes, though sometimes visual repetition isn’t avoided. Another great aspect of the game is that the story sometimes leads back to some already explored locations that changed from your previous visit – it makes the world more alive. Also a nice idea is that the NPCs over the world discuss the news (that usually are about Velvet’s travels). The facts they usually get wrong but that also enhances the realistic nature of such talks. You feel that it’s important what you have accomplished and you affect the world more than just going to a random dungeon and finding some stuff here that nobody cares about. Despite quite strong world building, when you get down to some caves, dungeons and old temples, the boredom slowly starts to seep in. These confined monster areas feel very much the same, closed by plain walls, one chamber not different by any means from another. There’s another problem with that. The monster areas feel a little too long – each time you start, eager to learn what kind of creatures roam around, but sooner rather than later you just end up mashing the same buttons for the best attack combination.  Later on you acquire more abilities but, as most of early stuff still works reasonably well, I ended up not using much of that.

Button mashing time!

When you have the battle system figured out and the combat has lost its novelty, it becomes a serious chore and the only remedy for that is avoiding the monsters. Speaking about an occasional lack of uniqueness, there is only a very limited number of NPC models and it actually took me a while to come into terms that all these people don’t really travel from one location to another with you but are just a way to cut the costs.  At least if you’re bored, there’s always some mini games here and there so you need only choose between card playing, doing the most damage or improving your reaction time among other things, but it’s only a temporary solution as you inevitably need to return to the main story.

What a bunch of weirdos!

     Staying true to the genre, soon a group of adventurers forms around Velvet, each with his own objectives and problems, but temporary goals still prove to be strong enough to more or less unify them. At this era of the world, most of the seraphim (basically spiritual beings) are bereft of free will, being used only as tools. A little seraph whom Velvet saves from such a fate soon becomes very important to her but Velvet struggles to distinguish him from her dead brother, to the point of also naming him Laphicet, her brother’s name. At first Laphicet was just a doll without any semblance of a character, but his development into someone who can speak his mind and make wise decisions was probably the biggest among all the characters. Laphicet’s emotional change is also helped a lot by another member of the group, Eleanor. The apparent unannounced fight between her and Velvet for the affections of Laphicet doesn’t take much time to get established and that ended up being quite fun. Anyway, Eleanor also has her own goal – being an exorcist and initially opposing Velvet’s movements, she started to question the decisions of her superiors and dig up all the truth about their works. That inevitably led her to become a part of this anti-governmental band of weirdos. Eleanor also has a subplot of recovering from her traumatic family circumstances by herself developing some motherly traits.

A cutscene of a 3D fight in the game...

The two male members of the group doesn’t have much going on – with Eizen constantly looking for his vanished pirate captain (and thinking about his mysterious sister but that sadly didn’t get much time) and Rokurou trying to find and kill his brother. Still, the biggest impression was left by the final member – a witch Magilou. At first she seemed to be one of those immensely full of herself and very annoying characters but eventually I ended up liking her a lot. A character who doesn’t take anything seriously, is able to exploit every situation for her own benefits and is absolutely unpredictable automatically is very charming. Magilou also has a more serious side beneath her wacky exterior and it’s even more fascinating to see it shine from time to time. Every important character (and location) has his own musical theme that well suits his characteristics. There are some interesting parallels between the characters and sometimes it allows for them to reconsider their options, to better understand themselves or just to see how different philosophies might lead to different outcomes from the same starting point. There’s also a negative side to that – too much of even some good stuff may go sour and I don’t even care to count how many different tragic mother-daughter relationship permutations Berseria used.

...and the same fight in the Tales of Zestiria the X anime, only in 2D

     As you see, the group of the adventurers is particularly varied and character designs convey that. Each character has his color code and alone looks at least ok. The problem is when everyone gathers together – the colors clash. It seems like no one bothered to give any thought about visual character chemistry. Cowboy Bebop for example did wonderfully choosing character color scheme that looks good when characters are alone as well as together and with Berseria sadly that’s not the case. There are other things like Velvet’s gear. It’s no doubt that it looks cool but practicality of it is questionable. A fantasy game may get away with a retractable blade on a wrist but even if at first Velvet only thought about revenge I doubt that she would never think of changing her attire into something more appropriate if not more practical compared to her default outfit. Who needs so many extra belts anyway? Continuing about character designs, naturally they change quite a bit between 3D gameplay and 2D skits and the effect is ambiguous. Well, the mere fact that some of the cutscenes are 2D and others 3D feels quite weird. Velvet looks far better in 3D without that so-pointy-you-can-prick-yourself nose. On the other hand 3D Laphicet looks anything but adorable with his too huge eyes that show very little personality which is present in 2D images.

Velvet, rags and belts included. Also a discount on a demon arm.

     Let’s get a bit deeper. Now what I’ll say may sound like a blasphemy to hardcore Tales fans, especially since (for all I know) it might be one of the trademarks of the series, but here it is – the world is not consistent considering its seriousness and believability. One moment you might encounter a very emotional scene with Velvet struggling with her humanity and a few moments later end up collecting lost souls for some crossbreeds between cats and teletubbies. The game lets the player acquire and use various cosmetic outfits, varying form maid or school uniforms to beach clothes, pirate eyepatches and other random stuff. Personally I can’t imagine myself playing a game where a person with cat ears argues about serious battle tactics with a person with a dog’s tale, while a third person with a bikini (leaning against an iceberg) casually observes everything. Of course there’s no need to take advantage of this possibility so that’s not a big deal. Nonetheless, even without believability-bending cosmetic outfits constant encounters with Katz people (and the like) and especially the enormous silliness of Magilou’s companion normin Bienfu in my mind clash very hard with the mere idea of being in a story of saving the world. I understand that some comedy is needed and for the most part it works fine (not to mention that marketing loves mascot characters), but I think that such a foul-mouthed, annoying and just plain ridiculous (not even considering his hat) character like Bienfu adds little to the game. If the game is marketed as a very serious one, exploring deep matters and dark themes, I expect it to retain all these aspects more or less for the whole game, not only at certain times. Well, Velvet herself sometimes seemed to get carried pretty far away from her initial resolve to dedicate all her energy to the revenge. That may emphasize her human side but how much her resolve is worth then? Also laughable seems the scene where Velvet refuses to drink because she isn’t the legal age yet. I appreciate the message but I doubt anything else should feel as out of place as this from the lips of a person who apparently doesn’t give a damn about anything else except her sole objective.

Some drama in a nice field of flowers

     There are also some other dislikeable things. There’s a tiny treason subplot and in terms of the story it should be something big and important but it get brushed under the rug never to appear again. The guilty character doesn’t even get any inconvenience because of that as others just shrug off everything as it is a completely natural thing and nobody needs to worry about that. Another thing concerns the villains. It’s believable that the main one thinks he’s a good guy and it’s possible that to some extent what he’s doing is for the greater good. Nevertheless, his lackeys lack any complexity. Thus all the hard work spent staging Velvet as an antihero feels a bit pointless. I think it would’ve been far more interesting to have Velvet’s opponents better explored or just to make them at least somewhat likable or their actions justifiable. Velvet’s original revenge goal already is sinister enough and going on only because of selfish reasons until the end would’ve created far more complicated conflict. Velvet already struggled to acknowledge that what she has been doing isn’t really justifiable but that was undermined by making her opponents too evil and step by step reshaping Velvet into the herald of good people.

Need some comedy?

     I can’t say the ending was applaudable. At first the lead up to the final battle was rather unsatisfying. It’s natural that games try to hype you up quite a lot before the ultimate fight, but Berseria stumbles a bit in that department. When a character says “let’s prepare for the final showdown” and you do, but then follows a monster area, twice or thrice longer than usual ones (in no area the repetitiveness was so irritating than in this one), and apart from that many map areas that interconnect in various ways made it particularly easy to get lost there. The final fight itself proved to be deliciously challenging, and using some potions became a necessity, and that never had occurred before due to my normal difficulty setting. When the fight ended, there inevitably was an animated wrap-up. I guess its biggest problem was that overall it felt more like a “now go play Zestiria” kind of ending. On the other hand, pretty much the same thing happened to Zestiria’s ending itself – everything was just cut off, and in a completely unforeseeable way. When you get invested in an intricate story, one of the most fun aspects is trying to guess how the characters will achieve their goals (because they always do). All the fun evaporates when the story doesn’t find some clever path that has been hinted through the journey but ends in a Deus ex Machina way because of magic (or some alternative of that, the essence is still the same). You then just think “Oh well, I guess it’s also possible to do that” and go on with your daily stuff. The fate of Velvet was just like that. I don’t know if anything of her ultimate end was said in Zestiria and it would be even more frustrating if the answer is negative. Most of the other characters just went on with their lives almost as if nothing had happened. I can’t really say that apart from Laphicet any of them accomplished much in the first place. A fan of the Tales universe will probably find many lovable points that interconnect both Zestiria and Berseria, and recurring characters are one such thing. Despite the fact that such a connection gives more historical depth for the story, that comes with a price of having less options to wrap Berseria up, and that in my mind turned out to be not the least problem of the game. Maybe making Berseria a stand-alone game would’ve worked better?

Excerpt from the OST: 'Magilou, the great sorceress' by Motoi Sakuraba

     Overall I think I’ll remember Tales of Berseria quite fondly. Thanks, Tales of Zestria the X, for directing my attention to  this game, even if you as a story failed quite a bit yourself. The overarching question of Berseria – whether interests of a single person or society are more important – gives some food for thought and in the end the game provides a definitive answer to that – individuality must always be considered no matter what. Because it’s rather the journey and not the conclusion that counts, the story was engaging enough. Game mechanics may not have been the thing in the world, but as I stayed for the journey and the world, I think my time spent was worth it.I still don’t have the slightest idea what does the name Berseria itself mean (unless it’s a confirmation that Berserk manga will have an ending).

     Some time ago Lethargic Ramblings posted some thoughts on the whole Tales franchise and that, apart from assuring me to write about Berseria, also was entertaining in its own right, so check it out if you haven’t yet.

     Have you played Tales of Berseria? What do you think about it and other games of the franchise?