Monthly Archives: April 2017

Why Peeping Analyze is the Best entry in Wixoss

I’ve really come to love the Wixoss franchise. While I was somewhat disappointed by it’s newest season, Lostorage Incited Wixoss, and found the recap film ‘Selector Destructed Wixoss’ a complete waste of time, I’ve also found myself coming to really enjoy the TCG that’s come out of it, and really appreciate both the first two seasons and manga tie-ins for what they did do well. Ever since my mid-summer, Madoka-induced mental breakdown that drove me to really need to find new things to love, and has since been the impetus for me indeed, having found those new things, Wixoss has been consistently in the background of that, and especially in the past few weeks, my interest and passion has only increased.

Now, as a majority of the entries in the Wixoss franchise have been written by Mari Okada – Who, if I may be so bold as to speak for the internet, has become known as ‘The woman who makes bad shows’ – the series has become fairly divisive. Of course, this is a ridiculous notion. While I’ve only experienced a small selection of Okada’s work and can’t say if I am or am not a fan of her writing yet, I feel I can say with some confidence that a lot of the criticism thrown her way stems from the fact that her work is ‘melodramatic’ and thus, bad because melodrama is bad because that’s what bad is, because that’s what everyone else online said, and I can’t form my own opinions on things because that’s har-

Ahem.
I mean to say is that I feel that because a certain someone made a certain video, and said Okada’s work wasn’t to his style, a large part of that video’s viewership collectively decided “Well, she does melodrama, and he says it’s not his thing (which means he hates it completely and totally, that’s clearly what I’m being told) therefore Mari Okada’s work is BAD because it’s melodramatic and melodrama is only ever a BAD thing and Mari Okada is only a BAD writer because MELODRAMA, MELODRAMA is BAD, Mari Okada is BAD and should feel BAD, WHY WATCH SHOWS WHEN I CAN MAKE ASSUMPTIONS ABOUT THEM BASED ON SOMEONE ELSE’S EXPERIENCES-“

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ANYWAYS, back on-topic.
But as I said, I’ve only indulged in a small sample of Mari Okada’s work, and thus can’t comment on my overall opinions of her as a writer. However, I can comment on my thoughts about the Wixoss series, because I’ve read and watched pretty much all of it that I can. On the whole, I’d say the biggest problem with the series has more to do with the stories it chooses to tell- Which is why my favorite entry is a spin-off manga focusing on the story of a secondary character.

Piruluk was Akira Aoi’s LRIG in Selector Infected Wixoss and after episode six, vanished from the anime nearly entirely excepting some very small cameos in the second season. More recently, she showed up Lostorage Incited Wixoss, the follow-up to the first two seasons, doing so in her human form as ‘Kiyoi Mizushima’. Her story was not at all expanded on in the two seasons of the anime, but instead in a manga known as ‘Selector Infected Wixoss – Peeping Analyze -‘.
I can say with the utmost confidence in my judgement that Peeping Analyze is by far the strongest entry in Wixoss, followed by the other spin-off manga, Re/Verse. The reasoning for this is entirely due to it’s nature as a spin-off, in much a similar way to how Danmachi’s Sword Oratoria is stronger than the novels from which it’s spun-off of. While it has to ultimately conform to the status quo, and can’t contradict what’s already happened in the primary storyline, it’s also allowed to take more risks and do it’s own thing because it’s not a story that’s dictated by the structure of certain things needing to happen- And from this point on, I will start spoiling things, so there’s your warning.

I’ve always felt the biggest weakness of the original Selector Wixoss series was that it was forced to do certain things by the way it was choosing to tell it’s story. It’s not a story about the characters being forced into a system with unbreakable rules, and trying to exploit that system or use it’s own rules against it, as happens in, say, Psycho-Pass. It’s instead a system that has the worst out-come for everyone involved- That is, of course, unless you happen to be the special one who has special powers and can break down the system because that’s something that can happen-
Yes, my biggest issue has to do with it’s protagonist’s roles. While the second season, Spread, mitigated this issue somewhat, it ultimately still went with the storyline of breaking down an unfair and cruel system, instead of playing the rules of a system against it. While Ruuko is not an unlikable protagonist, the fact she’s the special selector with the special LRIG really frustrates me, because unlike the series it’s cribbing it’s ideas off of, Wixoss doesn’t have a reason that justifies why the main character is the main character, and why she can do the things she does. She doesn’t have entire timelines converging onto her and giving her ultimate goddess powers- She’s just arbitrarily ‘talented’ and ‘special’. Tama’s similar, having an inexplicable existence within the series canon on it’s own and raising more questions than she answers by the end. Why did she end up with Ruu? Was she with Mayu the entire time prior? How did she end up as a card, anyways? If she wasn’t with Mayu, why doesn’t she remember anything? Why weren’t any of the other imaginary friends Mayu created capable of freeing all the LRIGs from their cards? Or were they, and did they just happen to not end up with a Selector who wanted something like that? How many other imaginary friends were there, anyways? I’d imagined there were like, hundreds, given how many you’d need to put the Selector battles on the scale they’re at. Are you telling me that this game has been going on this many years, and yet none of the dead imaginary friends ever ended up with Selectors who wanted to free everyone from the cards? And how old is Wixoss, anyways? Didn’t they say in the episode one it was a fairly new game? How could it have built up as much traction as it does across the series, and be as seemingly large-scale and ubiquitous as something like Yu-Gi-Oh or Pokemon, but be a new game?

Peeping Analyze, on the other hand, doesn’t have to worry about answering those questions, because it doesn’t have to raise them. It’s not constrained to tell the story of bringing down a cruel system, to which the characters are merely an end to that means, but instead, the opposite- A story in which the system is a means to an end in enacting the drama of those characters. And, in my opinion, that’s what all of Wixoss should have been the entire time, and why both Peeping Analyze and Re/Verse are much stronger than their anime counterparts. The Selector Battles are really incidental to the character drama, and serve only to further facilitate that drama. It doesn’t bother too much with the specifics of the lore, and focuses on the interesting way in which the characters play off one another, and how they grow and change and develop.

Peeping Analyze is not a story about taking down a horrible system. It’s a story about girls who’re drawn into and trapped within that system trying to exploit it in all the ways they possibly can, to the benefit of themselves and people they care about. For a quick run-down, the Selector Battles within the Wixoss series work as such: Girls of elementary to high school age (presumably that age range, anyways), will sometimes find special cards in decks of a popular game called Wixoss (Wish-Across). The special cards are called LRIGs, who as opposed to the LRIG role in the card game where they function as a character’s avatar, instead are living girls within the cards who exist to grant their Selector’s wishes. Loosing three times makes for the reversal of a wish happening and revokes a Selector’s right to battle further. Upon winning a certain number of times, and meeting certain requirements, the Selector becomes an ‘Eternal Girl’, and has a wish granted by her LRIG- Literally, as it’s revealed later on that becoming an Eternal Girl simply turns the Selector into a LRIG, while her former LRIG inherits her body and takes her place in life.

But that’s just the framing device for the series, and that’s not what makes Peeping Analyze good. If it was, then I’d probably be making this post about Selector Infected instead. I’m not, and here we are.
What makes Peeping Analyze distinct from it’s source material is the fact that failure is inevitable and constant. While Ruuko does have failures throughout the course of Selector Infected and Spread Wixoss, she’s still the protagonist and still the special selector with, by the end of the show, not just one, but two special LRIGs who have special powers beyond what’s normally possible. With Piruluk, this is explicitly not the case. Failure is essentially what Piruluk does best. Her initial desire is to save the closest person she has to a friend, Ayumi Sakaguchi, from a coma. Why is Ayumi in a coma? Well, that’s because Piruluk, as Kiyoi, couldn’t bring herself to open up to Ayumi emotionally. When she ran off and rejected her, Ayumi gave chase and then pushed her out of the way of an oncoming truck. Anime cliche aside, this is our first example of the fact that Kiyoi is in a constant state of failure. It was her failure to place her faith in Ayumi that lead to her hospitalization, and it’s Kiyoi’s realization of this, and the fact that not only did Ayumi save her life, but that she genuinely considered and wanted to be Kiyoi’s friend with no ulterior motive, that drives her into becoming a Selector. And that leads into her arc with Remember, who serves as her LRIG in this series.

Kiyoi’s arc with Sakaguchi serves to show the ways in which Kiyoi could be postiviely impacted to become a warm, more open and kind person if she had someone who properly served as a supportive friend. Having been shaped by only ever having had friends who were secretly in on making fun of her as a child had made her bitter and cold and unwilling to open up, but the realization that Ayumi legitimately meant to be her friend, and wanted to see her be a happier person who she could play Wixoss with makes Kiyoi lower her guard. Since Remember tells her that she’s meant to be there specifically to grant her wish, and because Kiyoi is trying to make up for what she did to Sakaguchi physically and emotionally by getting her hit by a fucking truck and by rejecting her attempts to befriend her, she’s more willing to try again and be honest wth Remember- Telling her all about how much guilt she feels over what happened to Ayumi, and how much she wants to play Wixoss with her, and do things over again. This in it’s own, smaller way was a failure on Kiyoi’s part- Denying her own happiness, and refusing to be honest not just with Sakaguchi, but with herself out of a fear of being hurt again. It goes to show how much confidence Kiyoi could have gained out of establishing a true friendship with Ayumi- And how much trust she’s been putting into Remember by telling her all of this. I almost forgot, my first time reading it through, that things had to have some kind of tragic twist because of how much Kiyoi had legitimately seemed to change on account of her guilt and wanting to better herself for not just her own sake, but for Ayumi’s. It really endeared me to what she was going through, and made me want to see her succeed.

That’s what makes it all the more heartbreaking, then, that her success is ultimately a failure in practically all aspects once more. When Kiyoi becomes the LRIG Piruluk, it’s revealed that she’s failed once more. If she’d been more cynical and suspicious as she had before meeting Ayumi, it’s likely she wouldn’t have either had a wish, wouldn’t have trusted Remember’s promise to grant her’s, or combination of the two. Even after having become a LRIG, Piruluk isn’t initially willing to give up, and it’s another sign that she has progressed as a person. Remember had essentially become a stand-in for what Ayumi would have been had Kiyoi and her’s friendship come to true fruition, and Piruluk continuing to believe in Remember’s ability to grant her wish, for all of their sake’s.
It’s that betrayal of her trust when Remember kills Sakaguchi that cements the fact Piruluk has failed. Every time she’s ever come close to opening up to someone, she’s been hurt- And now, she’s not just hurt, but someone has actually died because of her. She’s failed to be skeptical enough of Remember’s intentions, and now someone – The one other person she’d come to trust – is dead. She’s failed to save Sakaguchi. She’s failed to make good on her promise to do it right. She’s failed in every way possible.

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Seeing Piruluk go back to her old and closed off ways is incredibly poignant and disheartening, and really goes to show the despair she’s feeling after seeing Ayumi die and vowing to kill Remember. She can’t bring herself to connect with her Selectors because she’s not just afraid of getting hurt, but because her misanthropic relation to the world around her has returned. Life is cold, cruel and full of despair- After all, what good would it do to befriend her Selectors? She’s only going to be using them, as Remember was using her. It’ll only cause her more pain to try and open up- And opening up as Piruluk is dangerous. It only ever hurts anyone. It only ever leads to more pain. Even if she were to soften her heart, and warm up to her Selectors, she’d only be doing what Remember did to her. Even if they won and she granted their wish, she’d still follow through on her vow to take revenge on Remember and avenge Ayumi’s death. Even if they returned to their body, they’d only have gotten it back after Piruluk had killed a girl- Or, possibly, Piruluk would’ve simply killed Remember and then herself. If she did, it wouldn’t surprise me. This nihilism is most clearly exemplified by her relationship to Akira- They’re both only ever using each other, and neither considers the other as more than anything but a means to an end. They’re both pursuing an ignoble, horrible goal in that Akira wants to take revenge on Iona’s success over her, and Piruluk’s own desire to take revenge on Remember. They understand each other perfectly, and have nothing but contempt for one another beyond what they can offer for their mutual benefit. They only ever have ulterior motives.

It’s hard to feel bad for Akira when she has her third loss, because it’s not like she was trying to do something good in the first place- But it’s easier to sympathize with Piruluk, as horrible as her aim to kill what is, essentially, herself, is. We’ve already seen how worn down she’s become- She’s failed everyone else. Every Selector prior, Ayumi and herself- That horrible desire, her one, disgusting wish, is the last thing she has to live for. While Akira might not have a modeling career, and it’s unlikely she could ever do much else when she’s so mentally unstable and has such a horrible personality, she’s also still alive, and still could, theoretically get better. She could cover her scar with make-up, she could reform her personality, she could go to counseling and do therapy to deal with her insanity- But for Piruluk, these options are no longer a reality. She’s literally trapped, confined to her thoughts and her thoughts alone, by the constraints of the card within which she’s trapped. The closest she has for company are the memories and dreams of Ayumi- The only person she would ever allow herself to confide in a situation like this. But Ayumi is gone. She’s nothing but a ghost, a fiction, and something that Piruluk can never dream to obtain again.

When Piruluk meets Amika, everything changes, because she’s once again, forced to acknowledge her own humanity, and is put in the position to cause someone she wants to befriend pain. Amika isn’t really distinct from Ayumi in any manner beyond one of them being dead and one of them being alive, and the fact they wear their ponytails on opposite sides. However, her introduction once again forces Piruluk to be emotionally honest with herself and her desires. Amika’s identicality to Ayumi makes her want to open up, and truly have a friend in someone again. She finally has the ability to be emotionally honest with someone, to relate and share their pain and friendship, and it’s with that she has to confront herself, and if her means of using Amika would justify the ends of killing Remember to avenge Ayumi. Is that something Ayumi would want? Probably not. Piruluk has a moment of self-realization as she realizes that Amika is essentially both herself as Kiyoi, and an embodiment of Ayumi at the same time. Like Ayumi, she’s popular in school, friendly and stubbornly believes in Piruluk. Like Kiyoi, she’s hurting out of fear of loosing someone important, and believes her LRIG will simply grant her wish in a straight-forward manner. Realizing that, and that winning both ways will turn her exactly into the person she wants to kill, Piruluk has a crisis of faith in herself, and comes to open up- Just a little bit – to Amika, determined to find a way to grant her wish without betraying her in the way Remember did.

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But things don’t get better- Because they always get worse before they get better. It’s after we’ve established that Amika and Piruluk have a good thing going, and a good possibility of granting her wish that shit hits the fan again. The progress which Piruluk made with Remember hasn’t returned, and it’s easy to understand why- But she has gotten a little better. She’s happier with Amika, at the very least, and seeing her get even that much respite is something all on it’s own.
But she still can’t open up. She hasn’t been honest, still, and won’t be, and Amika and Piruluk’s later encounter with Remember as a Selector in Kiyoi’s body is the perfect example of this.
As Piruluk doesn’t want to loose any chance at either remaining by Amika’s side or her chance for revenge against Remember, she isn’t honest with Amika about the consequences of Wixoss battles. That’s not a crime in and of itself, but it still shows that just like with Ayumi, Piruluk can’t bring herself to be a true friend. She can’t trust Amika completely, and be 100% honest about what’s going on. It’s fittingly ironic, then, that the first person she is ever honest to is the one who spills the beans to Amika about what’s going on. Remember comes back into the story to show that Piruluk both is and isn’t wrong. Her desire for revenge in and of itself isn’t a bad thing- Seeing her flit around in Kiyoi’s body, mock her and seemingly ruin her chances at granting Amika’s wish only makes it easier to understand the place of deep-seated hatred and resentment that Piruluk feels towards her. But it also shows just how serious the consequences could be for Amika- After all, she’s naive and ignorant to how sad the Wixoss battles might inevitably be, and seeing her fearful reaction to the truth only serves as a reminder about the fact that ultimately, the way Piruluk is intending to go about things is wrong. It doesn’t help that when Amika is in-the-know and confronts her on it, that Piruluk reverts to that old defense of emotional dishonesty and detachment to try and convince Amika to throw her away. She’s only setting herself, and Amika up in a position to be hurt again by doing so, but she knowingly does so because she can’t bring herself to open up. It’s understandable because it’s hard to be honest. It’s hard to tell someone your thoughts, to make yourself vulnerable. It’s scary to let someone else know what you’re thinking, and pretending that you’re distant from it all, and nothing will faze you. It’s scary to give someone else trust- To hope they won’t take advantage of you, to give them power over you.

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But without that trust, we can’t function. As humans, we have to learn to live with that pain and move on. We have to learn to deal with our hurt, and keep going.
And that’s what the rest of the story is really about. When Amika engages Remember in a last-resort attempt to get Piruluk to grant her wish, everyones (ahem) cards are on the table. If Remember wins, she’ll hand off Piruluk’s body to another LRIG, and Amika’s mother will die. If Amika wins, she’ll either continue to have Piruluk, or she’ll become an Eternal Girl and her mom will still die. There’s no win-win situation on the table, and once more, it’s all really Piruluk’s fault. Had she been honest, Amika wouldn’t be in her current position- And once again, more people are posed to get hurt because of her choice of actions, and her inability to open up. So it’s finally when Piruluk has had enough, when she herself can’t take her own dishonesty and finally comes to open up that progress can be made.
Piruluk is only able to open up after a battle begins; Which is really a bit of a theme with her, only being able to be honest with others when she’s in pain. Opening up to Amika about what she really wants is cathartic and painful, because it’s a point that takes seemingly so much time to reach- It’s so hard for her to work up that courage and reach out after what’s happened to her. But when she finally does, for once, it pays off. For once, Piruluk opens her heart to someone else, and she is finally, finally rewarded for it. She finds herself able to move on, and while she doesn’t forgive Remember, she finally stops drowning in the despair of Sakaguchi’s death. She makes peace with that part of herself, and acknowledges no good will ever come if she continues to hold herself accountable and uselessly pursue vengeance. It’s with that she can finally, literally, grow.

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True Wife Tier.

And it’s with that realization that she comes to see how she can repay Amika, and make up what’s been done to Ayumi. It requires her ultimate sacrifice- That she give up the one thing she’d had up until then, her desire for revenge. But Piruluk’s made peace with herself, and with that desire. She’s evolved, literally and emotionally, beyond needing that to go on. So, utilizing her characteristic dishonesty once more, she tricks Amika into changing her wish- And looses on purpose, betraying Amika only so much in that she chooses to lie for the sake of helping her. As this means Remember wins, it lets her, theoretically get away with what she’s done, and means Piruluk will never again have the chance to harm her- To make her pay for what she’d done, to her and to Ayumi. But just as Ayumi saved her, even as Kiyoi had rejected her, as Amika was going to give up her body for the sake of their friendship, even as Piruluk had lied to her, this girl had come to grow up. She’s come to save the person she cares about, without sacrificing her own happiness, because granting Amika’s wish does give her happiness. Sakaguchi can never come back, and she can never undo the reversed wishes of the Selectors she’s failed- But she can give a life for the one that was lost, and grant both her own and Amika’s wish for the one that could have never be granted for her as Kiyoi.

The ending’s more of a cop-out, but a deserved one. I don’t mind that the ending of Peeping Analyze allows Kiyoi to reclaim her body, while leaving Remember to suffer. It’s deserved, both ways- Kiyoi has proven herself deserving of another chance, of being worthy of having as close to normal a life as a girl can get after what she’s been through, and Remember’s proved herself deserving of the semi-eternal punishment of being locked within a card forever. It’s a hopeful ending, because despite the system still being in-place, our heroes, at the very least, have earned their happy ending.
They’ve earned it together.

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DanMachi: Sword Oratoria is a GEM (Good Enough Manga)

(And yes, I did steal that title from Moviebob.)

So, back in 2015, there was a shitty light novel show produced by J.C. Staff that got most of it’s attention based on a stupid meme. That show was called Is it Wrong to Try To Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon, also known Danjon ni Deai o Momoteru no wa Machigatteiru Daro Ka. Due to it being a rather generic light novel show, aside from the aforementioned meme, most of the press it got cited it as either average or worse, and after the popularity of the boob ribbon died down, everyone stopped caring.
Though I’d initially had no interest in the series whatsoever, my friend convinced me to read the manga of the main series, and I found myself vaguely impressed to find it wasn’t complete and utter garbage. Now, it wasn’t good – But it also had some points of interest, and I didn’t come to regret the time I’d put into reading it, though it hasn’t really made me interested enough to actually keep up with the fan translations.
A few days later, though, I found out that similar to another light novel series with an anime by J.C. Staff, DanMachi had a spin-off novel called Sword Oratoria, focusing on one of it’s lead characters, Ais Wallenstein. After a little deliberation, I decided, ‘Hey, why not? I’ve got time. Might as well.’

I can’t speak to the quality of the anime that’ll be coming out this April, and though J.C. Staff has been able to make some pretty good shows in the past, I can’t say I’m expecting much. I also don’t know if the light novel is drastically better than the manga, because if I’m going to spend my time reading any fantasy light novel focusing on a hot blonde with a sword and magical wind powers, it’s going to be Fate/Zero.
But what I can say is that despite all the negative Danmachi press is that it’s…Good enough.

One big problem a lot of light novels have is that because the tropes for the genres have become so ubiquitous and so engrained into the essence of light novel storytelling, that a lot of stories and and characters start to blend together. Everything becomes different, but the same. Speaking as someone whose only seen so many light novel shows, even I can still point out a lot of the universal themes and idea contained within a lot of them. If you have a light novel set in a high school setting, there’s going to be a cynical, moody twat for a main character. There’s going to be a tsundere, a little sister, or some combination of the two. There’ll probably be another guy who serves the role of being the best friend, and there’ll probably be a cute childhood friend girl who gets dumped for the tsundere imouto. Similarly, if you want to have an action centric light novel, the main characters are going to use swords, the main girl will probably have long hair, and no one will ever have heard of a shield.

In that sense, Sword Oratoria doesn’t really break type that much- It does focus on a light novel girl with long hair who uses a sword. However, what sets it apart from a lot of it’s ilk is that Ais is not at all inherently related to the main character of Danmachi. Though they do become friends and meet each other multiple times throughout the series, they aren’t roommates, don’t go to the same battle school, and both have vastly different power and experience levels. Ais is on an entirely separate level from where her male counterpart is, and isn’t constantly hanging around him. This not only gives her room to have her own stories and adventures with her own friends and teammates, but similarly keeps her from being constrained to the role of the boring protagonist. Because so many light novel heroes are meant to be self-insert characters who the audience can very easily impose themselves onto, they’re rarely, if ever, allowed to fail at what they set out to do. Even when they do seem to fail, more often than not, there’s some kind of final, magical asspull that lets them get through whatever was trying them before with absolutely no effort. However, because Ais isn’t attached to her romantic interest like a leech is to human skin, she is the main character of her own story – A story that isn’t constrained to all the typical light novel tropes -she’s allowed to grow into something beyond being a generic sword wife. More than that, there are actual stakes to her narrative, because Ais has the all-too-rare trait being allowed to fail. It allows for her to grow because she’s actually able to be challenged; Ais, much as she’d want you to think otherwise, isn’t invincible, and she can be beaten. She can, and does get broken down, defeated and can’t always score the win. She can’t always save everyone, and she’s not a perpetually, perfectly moral and infallible wife. She has flaws and problems, and it’s incredible just how much this does to add stakes and weight to Sword Oratoria’s story- Something else I should get onto.

A lot of light novel stories get flack for just kind of spending a lot of time meandering with nothing happening at all – Which is a trope the original Danmachi really, really falls into. There tend to be two big reasons for this, and one is because the story is often driven by the protagonist’s desire to ‘get stronger’, which is such a vague and intangible goal that it means next to nothing and can really only be affirmed to have happened when other characters exclaim “Wow, this power is so unbelievable! Who could have imagined Protagonist-kun could get this strong?!” in the middle of fight. Secondarily, there’s the fact another large portion of a lot of light novel stories tend to be bogged down by establishing the character’s harem, and the protagonist selectively going through and fixing all his side bitches’ problems for them.
Sword Oratoria is able to avoid this because while Ais is the main character of her own story, she has obligations and has to answer to people with more authority and power than her. Her story is not bogged down in generic harem bullshit, because while she does have a harem of lesbian admirers (including myself), their stories aren’t Ais’ story. She’s not there to solve their problems- Everyone has to wipe their own ass without her help, and Ais has neither the time or the ability to be able to help everyone she meets. She can’t spend all her time grinding endlessly at her goal, because she answers to higher members of her guild, who need her to be doing certain things, even if they go against Ais’ own wishes. That’s not to say Ais is just a silent, uncaring and obedient doormat. She does care about her friends, and she can be insubordinate, and it’s not uncommon for her to go off on her own and do what she wants- But she’s not the hero of everyone else’s story. That’s their job, not her. Ais has other priorities, other responsibilities. Because of all these things, the plot never fully stops moving- Even when it slows down for quiet moments, it doesn’t ever grind to a halt.

This is in-part due to the fact that while Sword Oratoria is ultimately focused on Ais, it’s also got a large cast that adds enough personality to most of it’s characters that it feels more akin to an ensemble piece at times.
In a lot of action stories with multiple characters, it’s not uncommon for there to be a break in the action between two characters to focus on what’s going on with someone else- And that’s not wrong to do, but a lot of the time, it can be incredibly frustrating to suddenly cut away at a dramatic moment to see what’s up with who the hell ever else. However, in Sword Oratoria’s case, even though it can still be really annoying to be suddenly drawn out of what’s going on in one place, I never feel irritation about the fact I have to focus on the characters who we’ve switched to. Much as I want to see Ais get stronger and overcome her personal issues, I also want to see Lefiya grow. I want to see more of Loki, and more of Dionysus and Filvis. In comparison to the main Danmachi story, where all of the protagonist’s friends are sticking to him, and relying on Belle (Danmachi’s protagonist’s name is Belle, by the way) to basically get them anywhere, and thus shoving all the impetus of their personal development onto Belle’s shoulders, the semi-ensemble cast in Sword Oratoria allows more characters to tackle their own development head-on, without relying on Ais having to tell them that she “knows they’re a good person” or that “she believes in them”.
Similarly, because a lot of these characters aren’t specifically needed within the primary storyline where Belle is the star, they’re allowed to be killed off and get hurt. While, admittedly, most of the cast they kill off is really just side characters who aren’t given more than one or two distinguishing characteristics, and you know this spin-off isn’t going to have the balls to kill off any of the major cast, it does still add a sense of drama and stakes to the narrative knowing that in theory, anyone could get killed off at any time.

On the note of people being able to be killed off at any time, because most of the cast in the Sword Oratoria spin-off are both much more powerful and more competent than any of the main cast for Danmachi itself, the threats and challenges they face are vastly more threatening and intimidating. Whereas Belle’s most important fight thus far – Going by my limited knowledge of what’s actually happened in the anime and manga – was with a minotaur, the Loki familia’s battles have been against hordes of monsters that’d eat minotaurs for breakfast. While Danmachi is constantly telling you how dangerous the dungeon is, and that the characters ‘need to be careful’, you really can’t buy into it because Belle’s a protagonist who’ll “Stand-Up-And-Protect-His-Friends-And-Never-Ever-Fail-Because-They-Need-Him!!!!!!” Sword Oratoria, on the other hand says, “Yeah, the Dungeon’s pretty dangerous”, and then actually goes on to show you. It doesn’t just want you to take it’s word that the Dungeon is ‘Totally-A-Dangerous-And-Hazardous-Place-And–Oh-God-Please-Believe-Me”, it has actually follows through. It shows you the monsters, and shows you that, yeah, people do die, and do get fucked up from going in the dungeon- And, while you know it won’t, it always at least tries to get you to think ‘-And that could happen to Ais and friends too.’ It never really works, because as the reader, you’re smart enough to deduce that ‘Yeah, this isn’t the kind of story that’s willing to go so far as to kill off or put majorly important characters out of commission’, but the fact that it does go out of it’s way to tell you that, ‘in theory, if this weren’t the kind of story that it is, it could theoretically happen to our protagonists‘ is appreciated. I appreciate that it’s giving an effort, and that it’s trying- Because that is so, so much more than what most of them will ever even attempt.
And really, that’s what makes me like this manga.

It’s not perfect. There’s plenty of problems I could list off about Sword Oratoria- The pacing could be hell of a lot tighter. Ais’ design is essentially a direct rip-off of Saber’s from Fate/Stay Night, and her powers and personality are painfully similar – Though Ais is more of a ‘dere’ than Saber – and the story is still hampered and constrained because, ultimately, this is still a manga adaptation of a spin-off of a generic harem-action light novel. But it’s a manga adaptation of a spin-off of a generic harem-action light novel that’s trying. It doesn’t excel at any specific thing- But it’s doing enough to distinguish itself, to justify it’s own existence. It’s giving a goddamned effort, and if all of them cared enough to do that…Well, maybe we’d see a change in these kind of stories. Maybe they’d get better, and could stand on their own, and come to have a reason to exist. Maybe light novels could heal their ruined reputations, and come to be something really special again…

But until then I guess we’re just going to have to keep bitching about the Asterisk War and Sword Art Online.

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