I don’t read many visual novels because they’re almost all uh… pretty bad. I’ll occasionally pick up a free or cheap one on Steam because Steam’s awful recommendation algorithm won’t stop suggesting them. But then, they almost always disappoint. They often run the same anime girl archetypes (and it’s almost always girls. Not much otome seems to make it onto Steam), most have weak art (4 original character designs and 5 backgrounds is not a selling point!), and, most of all, so many of them have terrible, terrible writing.
I’m not here to complain or put down the visual novel medium because, again, I only ever really read the free ones put out by hobbyists that take advantage of Steam’s lax store policy. I know that I don’t have a fair sample for careful commentary.
Instead, I just want to observe a personal point of interest: so many English-language visual novels, even those originally written in English, read like translated Japanese. Or in other words, instead of simply borrowing the visual novel medium to produce fresh English-language works, some visual novel writers seem intent on imitating both the tropes and the language of their Japanese inspirations, resulting in a hodgepodge of stodgy prose that doesn’t quite sound Japanese… and doesn’t quite sound fluent English either.
Today I’ll be picking on Kill or Love, a free visual novel on Steam by Andy Church about “obsession, loneliness, and, based on your choices, varying amounts of murder,” not because it’s good or bad but because it has so many examples of such odd pseudo-translated writing (and because it has Yandere, yum yum). I’m not going to pretend to be rigorous or even generous – I’ll just note some of the lines that interested me and give a probable Japanese inspiration. So, let’s start off with a fan-favorite onomatopoeia:
[Ugh, it’s been a while. Through late February and early March, I was just too busy with work and applications to write. But then the virus hit and I gave up on having any sort of routine, even a leisurely one for this blog. It’s hard to find anything interesting to observe when you’re stuck in a box.]
Sooo, bored inside during quarantine, let’s introduce Hentai Nazi, a typical Unity Engine shovelware game that for some reason floated to the top of my Steam recommendations feed. It’s terrible!
But with nothing else to do during this dull coronavirus lockdown, and leeching off my computer for any inch of entertainment, I impulse bought it. And god damn am I going to get my 89 cents of value out of it, even at 55% off. I finished the game itself in less than an hour though so I’ll need to drag out the entertainment for a little while longer…
Now though, with the conclusion of the fall 2019 anime Beastars, about a high school for anthropomorphized animals struggling through a conflict between herbivores and carnivores that results in the murder of an alpaca, I finally have something good to suggest to my students in Tokyo Ghoul‘s place — because Beastars does everything that Tokyo Ghoul tried to do, just better, from themes about discrimination and growing up to its general production quality (even despite Beastar’s sometimes awkward 3D animation).
First then, I suppose I should briefly re-explain my distaste for Tokyo Ghoul before moving on to my recommendation for Beastars itself:
~ because it’s not like anybody’ll click that over-sized link above!
For the past year or so, I’ve made casual tradition out of picking out the worst-rated anime towards the end of each season just to… see. I’ve covered a few here on this site and avoided writing about several others because I couldn’t even finish a single episode. But with the addition of the anime short Tenka Hyakken: Meiji-kan e Youkoso! (rated 4.8 out of 10) to the bottom of my list this season, I’ve begun to pick up on a trend that I had never noticed before:
All of the worst, or at least the most bizarre, of my bad selections in recent months originated as adaptations of gacha or collectible card games.
When does Girls’ Last Tour (Shoujo Shuumatsu Ryokou)take place? I googled the question and found no answer on the first few result pages. So, while re-reading the manga through a surprise digital detox sprung on me by a broken computer, I thought I could provide an answer:
Porco Rosso, the 1992 anime film about a flying pig-pilot who does battle with sky pirates in interwar Adriatic floatplanes, might be Studio Ghibli / director Hayao Miyazaki’s most memed movie. In addition to that thumbs-up image above, plenty of lines make common appearances on anime meme boards like “You make me think humanity’s not a complete waste,” “Laws don’t apply to pigs,” and the classic “Better a pig than a fascist:”
But for all the memes, Porco Rosso is a surprisingly apolitical film, with those lines representing more throw-away jokes than a vigorous thematic ideal. Yes, the titular character Porco is a typical anti-authority anti-hero who chafes under the rule of Depression-era Italian fascists. But he’s also such a severe misanthrope that if he happens to take anti-fascist action, he only does so because the facists happen to be in charge. Combine that apathetic position with what might be Miyazaki’s weakest feminist message among his otherwise excellent cast of believable female characters and I don’t know what to do with Porco Rosso. Yes, it’s beautiful, as all Ghibli movies are. But despite the anti-fascist hype, it lacks much of Miyazaki’s characteristic thematic focus. In a word (or two), it disappoints.
Okay, I’ve already done my sarcastic mockery of Assassin’s Pride but I feel compelled to dive into this bit of madness again. The image above fascinates me. Why why why would anyone wear a necktie in their chest pocket like that?
[Oh, this is a “spoilers but who cares” style post. But who cares, Assassin’s Pride has nothing surprising to spoil.]
I often feel that much of the online English-language anime commentariat – including myself — have miscalibrated target-demographic detectors, even despite the prevalence of descriptive age-gender labels like “shounen — boy” and “shoujo — girl” across the industry. Why apply adult standards to a series for six-year olds? I don’t know, but a lot of people do.
Ah, but with Assassin’s Pride from this fall 2019 anime season, there can be no doubt: this series is a tweeny delight. I am twelve and want more like this.
Assassin’s Pride cries out for the creation of a wave of teenage fanfiction full of cosplay-in-writing anti-heroes to express the darkness in every youth’s ultimately good soul, if only society would accept their oppressed status as a half-lancanthrope. That is to say, if Assassin’s Pride isn’t fanfiction itself — I mean, check it:
Assassin’s Pride is perhaps the most juvenile anime I have ever seen – and I do seek them out with great zeal every season. Let’s skip the plot and character summaries here because if you’ve seen any other shounen adventure series in the past decade or so, you’ve seen Assassin’s Pride; it uses every oldest trick in the inoffensive teenage edge-appeal book. I don’t know how better to structure this sarcastic trope accounting though, so let’s make an arbitrary checklist:
Hm, I guess it really is just one face. But Mile’s moods carry the whole show (Watashi, Nouryoku wa Heikinchi de tte Itta yo ne! — Noukin for short, I guess. The title’s even longer in English so I can’t be bothered to copy-paste it again).
Noukin has a simple, solid formula for its semi-parody: whenever some stupid tropey-dopey anime or isekai thing pops up, played seriously by the supporting cast — pop — a disbelief face in reaction from our lead heroine Mile. After all, why attempt to dispute the ridiculous foundations of the isekai genre when you could just stare in disbelief?
I like it best when the faces *pop* across just a single frame. Low animation quality and production shortcuts hidden behind an excess of static reaction faces, you ask? Nahhhhh… Shhh shhh, quiet now. It’s just an, um, stylistic choice, like a budget Humanity Has Declined vibe. Compare to that series:
Hmmm, Mile’s face from Noukin isn’t quite up to Humanity Has Declined‘s superb quality of deadpan, but it’s still close enough for me, a real keeper — the first isekai I’ve enjoyed since I don’t care to admit — if only because it seems to enjoy mocking the genre as much as I do!