The Greatest Horror Story Ever Pt. III (October Finale)

With another Halloween comes another bout of Higanbana, we’ve got 2 more stories to get through in The First Night, so let’s not keep waiting. Uploaded late due to a faulty connection. ごめんなさい.

First up is “One Girl’s Day”, which is barely a horror at all on its own, being more akin to a slice of life chapter up until the very end. Of course, this is shattered by the twist of exactly who the narrator is. It turns out that the POV character is the girl from The Haunted Camera, the one who Nonomiya drove to suicide. And this is a sort of replay of that fateful day which caused him to start gunning for her. I think this could’ve been handled a lot more subtly, but it’s still pretty good as a twist. I shouldn’t have to explain how this ties into the theme of bullying, go read my bit on The Haunted Camera for that. So, yeah, there isn’t really much else to say on this one, I liked it, had a lot of fun reading it, and the twist was genuinely shocking.

Last up in The First Night is “Utopia”. The story begins with a nameless girl jumping off the roof and committing suicide because Higanbana whispered in her ear and amplified her narcissism and misanthropy to the point where she believes that only death can get her to a world where she is understood, while Marie, the only good person in the whole fucking school, tries talking her down from the ledge. Higanbana then says that she’s going to do it again to a poor bullied child, with Marie pledging to find them first and stop them from listening to her. It then hard cuts into the story of Yukari Sakaki, one such bullied child. The fascinating part of her introduction is that it addresses the platitude of “just ignore it and it’ll go away”, showing just how wrong that idea really is. This is another part of why this book should be mandatory reading instead of those anti bullying PSAs, because it actually takes 5 seconds to point out that the solutions so many adults offer are complete fucking nonsense. So anyway, as she explains to the audience how her life is utterly miserable, Higanbana starts whispering in her ear that she ought to self-harm in order to escape from the pain. She is quite literally becoming characters’ shoulder devil. Yukari contemplating how she equated her own death with an escape from school leads into her positing on how society values like “people must try and avoid death” are perhaps baseless. Enter Marie, again, still being the only good person in this entire school, and dispelling this notion herself. In this conversation, Yukari quickly deduces a lot of who Marie was before she became a Yokai, and the conversation becomes about how she’s supposed to deal with her life. Marie actually calls out the bullshit advice given by the teachers, and explains how she herself fell victim to that attitude, showing that she really did take her teacher’s “life exam” to heart. Yukari, spurred on by this, realizes that it was not her who was ignoring her bullies, it was her parents and teachers who were ignoring her. Her backstory is actually quite sad, her mother died in a traffic accident and her father was so broken by this that he was left unable to properly function, so a lot of housework didn’t get done, resulting in a lot of problems for Yukari that caused the others to pick on her. The book spends a short bit on the mindset of her bullies, a reason why ignoring them did nothing, because to them, it’s like a sport, the result doesn’t matter, it’s about the thrill of doing it. There’s then a sequence of the ringleader of the bullies losing his house key and searching for it in the school at night, then eventually finding it in the bathroom. If you have been paying attention to who inhabits the school bathrooms in this story, you’ll know exactly what’s going on. He then somehow finds himself in the bathroom of the old school with no explanation, the notorious trigger of the eighth school rumor. “You there, would you listen to my pitiful story?” Marie takes this opportunity to scare him into breaking the rules of the mystery by telling him how she knew about his bullying. Instead of killing him, she instead uses this chance to terrify him into stopping the bullying forever. The next thing she does is try and get Higanbana to stop tricking Yukari, as it wouldn’t really be suitable to her style. This does not work out, and ultimately, while the ringleader stops bullying Yukari, the others do not. Marie, in accordance, decides to stalk the rest of them, looking for clues on how to get them to stop. Perhaps it would be wisest to simply start eating them, one by one, and have the surviving ringleader spread rumors as a result, but that’s not what she does. The next day, Yukari is out with a cold, and her bullies take out their anger at not being able to torment her by viciously kicking a curtain. Higanbana theorizes that this is because bullying is how people establish a hierarchy within society, and that it is therefore inescapable. Marie disagrees, instead thinking that they’d made it a habit, and a habit they were unable to break from, even when their target is absent. To them, bullying is their fun, essentially. So Marie sets out to try and figure it out herself by following them around for a while. She overhears them planning to hit harder and harder, until Yukari reacts the same way a previous victim had, before she had died in “an accident”. She then deduces that all the bullies seem to have originated from the same lower grade class, which is apparently is a major source of troublemakers, and that the entire class had bullied this one girl, who died by falling off the roof, suggesting that she had committed suicide and then been subsequently erased by Mr Principal. Apparently something had happened in their class the previous year, which Marie decides to investigate in order to find an answer as to why it made them so utterly sadistic. In the next scene, however, a new student transfers in, a girl named Reiko (whose design is weirdly reminiscent of Beatrice), who seems like a frail and timid sort. Naturally, they become close friends very quickly, along with shared stories over their experiences with bullying. Her theory on it is that bullying provides some sick form of nourishment, the way killing other living things provides food. Except instead of hunger, it is appeasing their insecurity. They also share experiences with the platitude of “look at those less fortunate to feel better about what you have”, which they suspect to be the source. Reiko has resigned herself to this fate, though Yukari is unsure about it. After an incident with curry the next day (Chie would be furious), Reiko finds herself at the very bottom of the social ladder, and Yukari is now one strep above her. Higanbana posits that bullying is like the baton in a relay race, you cannot get rid of it, you must pass it on to somebody else. This bullying of Reiko gets much much worse however. Not just that clique of boys, but the whole class, and even the teacher, are humiliating her now. It is at this point that Higanbana characterizes the new class condition as a utopia of sorts, as the previous pecking order has vanished in favor of everyone uniting to beat down on Reiko. Yukari compares this bullying and the possibility of willfully ignoring it to eating meat and ignoring the realities of the meat industry.  Yet she cannot accept that, and resists anyway. The book slips up here a little, by giving an inch to the “just ignore it” idea through pointing out that responding the way Reiko does makes things get a lot worse a lot faster. That’s not a terrible idea on its own, but the book doesn’t do enough to point out that the way Yukari tried to deal with it was just as bad of an idea. Higanbana actually calls Yukari out for her cowardice here, as she has thought of stepping in to help Reiko but refuses to do so out of fear. While it is certainly an understandable fear, it is still ultimately cowardice because it places the selfish desire not to be targeted over the well being of others, even those that she considers friends. Higanbana’s taunting actually works, and Yukari shouts at the rest of the class to stop, which actually does halt their behavior, and even the teacher slightly backs her up, admittedly in a cowardly and ineffectual fashion. Walking home from school, Yukari and Reiko pontificate on the nature of what she’d been doing, and how the refusal to step in ultimately just enables everything bad to keep happening. How bullying doesn’t just go away, you need to actually put a stop to it or it’ll just keep on happening. They actually fight over Reiko lying to herself as a way of coping with her bullying, and Yukari actually pledges to protect her, swearing that she will no longer fear anyone like that, because it hurts much more to stand by doing nothing and watching it happen. It is at this point that Yukari reaches the conclusion of fighting back against it outright as an option, destroying their false paradise. Her condemnation of Reiko’s previous response as possibly leading her bullies to tell themselves it was just fun games rather than actual bullying actually strikes a chord with me, as I was on the other end of that as a child, though nothing I did was anywhere near as bad, obviously. It was only when they cracked and showed how much it hurt that the rest of us understood just what we’d been doing. Anyway, back to the story. The discussion continues like this, until Reiko… changes. She becomes some sort of bizarre monster urging Yukari to join in on bullying her because it’s fun. Arguing from the premise that tormenting people is an addictive pleasure. Guess she cribbed more than just visual elements from Beatrice. Yukari sees in the distance that Reiko isn’t reflected in the mirror, which alerts her to danger. Reiko then reveals herself to be a Yokai, and attempts to eat Yukari, who is saved by Marie. “Reiko” then reveals herself to be Sumire of the Twilight, seventh-ranked school Yokai, who spirits away people who follow her at twilights. Her scheme is bewitching humans into bullying her and getting them addicted to it, and then leaving, so that she can devour those who they go on to victimize. A cruel twist is that her power does nothing unless actively bullied of one’s own free will, so the class bullying her because of the curry incident was their own willing decision. Marie prepares to square off with Yukari on the line, seeming unlikely that she would win, but it is at this point that Higanbana intervenes, stopping the fight with a simple truth. If Reiko vanished, Yukari would be next on the chopping block. Obviously the best option here would be eating enough of the classmates that they’d get the message, but apparently that isn’t on the table for some reason. Maybe get Mr Principal to erase all memories of Sumire’s previous forms, see if that does anything. Hignabana keeps whispering in Marie’s ear, trying to get her to stand aside, but she refuses. Marie is dragged into Sumire’s shadow and tormented with memories of when she was bullied in life, certainly a horrific measure. Needless to say, Marie loses to this, and vanishes. Sumire decides that she will indeed vanish, leaving Yukari the sole target of the class’ bullying, unless she herself agrees to join in on their bullying. Yukari is indeed tempted by this, for multiple reasons, but ultimately refuses to comply. The next day, nobody remembers Reiko existing, and Yukari is targeted once more. Unfortunately, she declines to actually resist, and has reverted to trying to ignore it. It is at this point that she is forcibly stripped as they claim to be washing her clothes for her. I must admit, in any other form of media, I would be revolted by the mere idea of including this, but the unique advantage of a third person omniscient perspective granted to a novel makes it less of a bad idea. She manages to get out of the circle and runs for her life, being chased by all the boys in her class. Fleeing down the stairs, she is tripped by Higanbana and splits her forehead on the floor, which actually snaps everyone back to sense for a short moment, and guarantees her a short solace in the infirmary. This is, of course, her first step from the beginning of the story, the pleasures of fleeing to the infirmary. Yukari is absent for a few days, tormented by her previous experiences. The rest of the class, without her, breaks into violent rage at bullying withdrawal. Naturally, Sumire is watching all this in smug self satisfaction. And even the ringleader from earlier breaks the promise he made and comes up with a plan even crueler than most of the previous ones. Big mistake. For it is at this moment that Higanbana appears in the road, causing the bus driver to swerve and crash through the guardrail., down the mountainside, killing all on board. As cruel as she is, she still does do the right thing sometimes. Sumire, of course, does not even dare talk back, let alone challenge her. Oh yeah, the bus driver survived though. The next day, Yukari looks back on her relapse with disdain, and transfers to her new class with a resolution to change for the better, as nobody there is among Sumire’s henchmen. Even Marie is there, as a Yokai rather than a student of course, and Yukari thanks her for saving her from her own suicide. They remark about how the futility of her fighting bullying was merely due to the scale, not the premise, and then say their farewells. Marie leaves to rest a while, having fulfilled her wish and absolved her regrets from life, with these words: “Live well, for there are no flowers which bloom in death. If there are, they are the ones that bloom to laugh at the pitiful dead. Higanbana No Saku Yoru Ni, the Unforgiving Flowers That Blossom in the Dead of Night.” Yukari then overhears some classmates mocking another, as well as most of them ignoring it, and stands up for the victim. Thus ends the story, and Part 1. So, this is the story that is by far the most direct on the issue of bullying and speaks directly about what to do about it, for the first time. It was not as scary as some previous chapters, and could honestly have done with being a lot more subtle in some places, but it was very enjoyable overall and a high note to end The First Night.

Higanbana No Saku Yoru Ni, Part One: The First Night is an excellent book, every bit on the level of quality I would expect from Ryukishi07, and I eagerly look forward to starting The Second Night next year. As for ranking the seven stories thus far, my ranking would go thusly. First is the Haunted Camera. Still my favorite chapter for how well it handles the twist, how genuinely shocking it was, and how well it managed to pull off a genuine scare. Second is Hameln’s Castanets. Easily the most psychologically disturbing chapter, this one connects to the theme in the best way and handles an aspect of it in the newest and most interesting way. And it was a fantastic horror story in its own right, with extremely macabre themes and some genuinely horrifying scenes. Third is Mesomeso-san. An excellent use of extremely dark subject matter, the really disturbing part of this is the twist at the end, the speech Kanamori gives was shocking, because, as horrible as he was, he was right, and the knowledge that even one like him can be so right about stuff he said while trying to shift the  something he himself was objectively to blame for is deeply unsettling. Fourth is Utopia. Perhaps a little too long for its own good, this is nonetheless an excellent chapter and has the most valuable contributions to the overall theme. The twist was surprising, the tension was good, and the prose was arguably the best. Fifth is The Princess’ Lie. Very interesting concept, well-executed twist, all around good stuff. Sixth is One Girl’s Day. Though by no means a horror story, it provided some much needed levity, seeing how it comes between two of the heaviest stories in the entire package, meaning it’s another example of the Higurashi Effect (article callback). And finally, we have Shrine of the Guardian Deity. By no means do I dislike this story, I had a lot of fun with it, especially the cameo from a fan favorite Umineko character, but not only is it the least relevant to the overall theme, and the least unnerving overall, it’s also more of a setup for one of the stories in Part 2 (going by a few spoilers I know of). I eagerly look forward to Part 2, see you all next year.

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The Most Fatal Flaw of Horror (October Special #2)

So, as I have said many times, Horror is extremely difficult to make, and there are a lot of ways it can go wrong. But not all of these errors are equal, and there is one that is ultimately the worst of all, doing the most to ruin a story it’s in. And that is: shock horror. Now, shock horror isn’t always bad, there are cases where it is used well. Stephen King has practically made his career out of it, I enjoyed Corpse Party for what it was, and a lot of the more shocking scenes in Higurashi are extremely compelling, to give three examples. However, these are a few islands in a sea of piss, and their presence does not make that piss ocean any less disgusting. So, why is shock horror so bad as to be likened to an ocean of piss? Well, the primary reasons are fairly simple. One, it is not scary, it is usually just repulsive, two, it only continues to get worse over time, and three, it is fucking everywhere. Take any awful horror movie, or book, or game, and among all the reasons it’s bad, odds are “it tries to scare by being shocking” is on there. The thing about shock horror is that something is only shocking once, so it has to keep going farther and farther in order to get that reaction, and eventually, it goes so far beyond believability that it becomes outright farcical. This is a problem a lot of Horror media suffers from, especially amateur stories (see, creepypastas, a genre I was far too kind to last year), which have a nasty habit of trying to gain attention/notoriety by being shocking. I think another issue is that people confuse a lot of other emotions with fear, such as surprise and disgust. The latter is the more relevant one here, as it is the more common response to things which try to shock the audience. See, there are a few common methods to shock horror: gore, taboo subjects, and graphic imagery/sounds/descriptions that do not fall into the previous two categories. And the vast majority of the time, that isn’t scary. Gore is not scary, not on its own, anyway. Neither are taboo subjects (e.g., using rape as a shocking moment) on their own. They can be uncomfortable, sure, but scary? No. Being graphic for shock value is not scary, it is just off putting. Stop it.

The Art of the Monster (October Special #1)

So, it is not exactly a controversial statement to say that Horror as a genre is extremely reliant on what we could call a “monster” for the central conflict, be it an explicitly inhuman creature or a human who has been given distinctly inhuman traits. And it is also not controversial to suggest that most Horror (at least by volume) is fucking terrible at it. So, why is this, and what are the factors in those instances where it is done well? This is what I seek to answer today.

The aspects of an effective monster are, in ascending order of importance, what it is/how it looks, how it moves, how often and how much it’s used, and the symbolism of it. First off on this list are what it is and how it looks, two sides of the same coin. Ultimately, this doesn’t count for much. You could have the most ridiculous looking monster available within your means, and it can still be amazing if you use it correctly. The xenomorph was just a cheap rubber suit, Sadako was just a girl with a little makeup, and so on, yet they worked because they were used well. In fact, a lot of the best horror properties look slightly shit, because they are fully conscious of those limitations and have no choice but to be more creative in order to work within the means they have available.

Next up is how it moves. This is a lot more specific, explicitly referring to monsters which are not directly moved by humans, ie, nobody in suits, or makeup, or what have you. In other words, monsters you animate the movement of. And it kind of applies to monsters controlled by humans, but not quite so much. As a baseline, monsters which move less like humans normally would come off as more unnerving as a result. Take, for example, stop motion vs CGI for animation. It is (or should be) no surprise that one of my favorite movies of the genre is Coraline. Directed by Henry Selick and based on a book by Neil Gaiman? Absolute dream match. Anyway, Selick really outdoes himself when the Other Mother becomes a more horrifying monster in appearance and movement, her movements have distinctly artificial and inhuman character to them, much more so than most of the other characters. While I cannot 100% prove this is deliberate, I mean, come on. It’s not like his craft would slip a notch at the most important part of the movie, at least for the animation. So yeah, the way the Other Mother moves in her more monstrous forms is unnerving in how inhuman it is, because we are, to greater or lesser extent, hardwired to identify with our own and treat things that aren’t as potential threats. In this case, since this thing is an actual threat, the best way to reinforce it is to put emphasis on this visually, both in how it looks and how it moves. It’s much harder to notice the second, but it ultimately has the greater effect.

Next is an interesting one, which is how often its used and how much of it you get at a time. And for an extra challenge, I will explain this without using Jaws as an example. So, there are two aspects to this. First is the most obvious, how much screen time is given to this monster? To quote HP Lovecraft, “…the oldest and deepest fear is fear of the unknown.” Now, this rule is not universal, the aforementioned Coraline had a lot of exposure to the main antagonist, but the catch there is that she was disguised with a more human form and more friendly persona for most of the story. The mystery that comes with little exposure to a monster is an excellent source of fear, even if writers (especially Lovecraft himself) can have a tendency to overdo it. Put it this way, to quote Clive Barker, “There’s only so many occasions in a book when the author can tell me that the monster was so terrible he doesn’t have words to describe it before I become irritated.” It’s all about striking that balance between what you do and don’t show in order to create something truly terrifying. This principle also applies to how much you show of the monster in the time it’s given. Or, to put it another way, what does it do with that time, how much of it do you see in a scene of it, and how does that execution affect the monster’s “scariness” factor overall? There’s a deleted scene in the original Alien where the xenomorph crawls out and stands up to its full height before attacking someone. Now, this was not only deleted from the theater cut, but even the director’s cut doesn’t have it. Admittedly, this is explained by Ridley Scott as being because if you actually saw the whole alien, it would be so obvious that it was just a guy in a kind of dumb looking rubber suit, but it doesn’t erase the genius of the move in general. Because you see so little of it at a time, it maintains enough mystery to always be intimidating because you don’t know what else it’s capable of. This principle applies very well to horror as a whole, unpredictable will always be scarier than the alternative.

Speaking of Alien, this brings us to the final and most important category: the symbolism. And this is by far the most fascinating, at least for me. As confirmed by film writer Dan O’Bannon, a lot of aspects of the alien are deliberate allegory for some pretty uncomfortable concepts, at least in so far as empathizing with them goes. The Face Hugger is the most overt in this regard, with its method of laying eggs in the victim’s throat being a deliberate evocation of the imagery and trappings of oral rape. Similarly, the Chest Burster is an evocation of childbirth, albeit with a deliberate phallic nature to its design. And then we come to the death of Lambert, which has a few disturbingly suggestive aspects of its own, with Scott saying in a later interview that the implication was meant to be something “really hideous” happening to her off screen. Combine that with how the last few shots of her are framed, with the tail of the alien flicking at an uncomfortable angle between her legs, and the rape symbolism implies something of a much more literal sort. (A much more detailed analysis of this theme can be found here.) And this was, to quote O’Bannon again, a way of “making the male audience squirm”, in this case by having them witness situations allegorical for things that tend to be both unfamiliar and deeply horrifying to think about for most men, and the brief feeling of empathy it creates is extremely disturbing. This use of symbolism, coding, and allegory is absolutely brilliant, and I wish more examples of horror media were willing to do stuff like this. Reality has many things that are fucking horrifying, and a lot of the greatest horror is that which evokes those things in some way or another. For another, totally different example, let’s look at the mystery/horror that is Legend of the Golden Witch. Yeah, that’s right, I managed to find a way to gush about Umineko here too! So, in the first book, the character of Beatrice is not seen in person until the very end, but her presence is constantly felt, as if she were constantly looming over everyone at every moment. The most we see of her is indirect signs, such as the golden butterflies when Kanon makes his last stand, or the vague hints of her presence when Natsuhi challenges her near the end. But that in itself is the symbolism of her presence, as implied in later books. Beatrice the witch from a symbolic perspective is a symbol for the unknown, the gaps people fill in between the blanks when they cannot explain everything about a given scenario, as well as when they’re led to believe something to be true. In essence, she is the embodiment of superstition given physical form. And it works so well that Battler, ever the grounded voice who never once entertained the notion of Beatrice being real, is thus utterly taken aback when she appears before him. In a way, it is as if his fear itself has gained physical form, and seeing this thing he denied for so long appear in front of him is an incredibly shocking moment. The symbolism is, instead of drawing on real world horror, using the audience expectations and questions about the story itself to make a symbolic point about its own narrative, something it would continue to do in all the other parts.

These elements are key to effective use of a monster, and the use of them is sadly rare among most horror stories. And their scarcity means that I am rather lacking in horror stories that genuinely interest me, at least for those which are based around some sort of monster. I’m always on the lookout for more good ones, though sadly I may be starting to exhaust the list.

So… This is About Clannad (February Special #3)

Clannad is in some ways beyond words. I have intended to tackle this titan ever since I started this page, but for today, I am only going to talk about one element: Nagisa. I have to laser focus on this, because fully going after everything in this monster of a series takes way more time than I have. For the purposes of this, I shall be drawing from both seasons of the anime, and her arc from the Visual Novel, and I will be skipping over the parts where another main character is in the spotlight. This is solely about Nagisa, and the way her plot is handled.

Before we get to the plot, I should talk about the two characters and how they mix personality-wise. First is Tomoya Okazaki (voiced by Yuuichi Nakamura), who is one of the greatest anime protagonists ever written and I will fucking fight you if you disagree. First thing we get is his attitude. Because of his uncomfortable history, he harbors a deep resentment towards the city, and has a pretty bad attitude, to the point where he’s pretty much a delinquent. He’s frequently late to school, argues all the time, gets in fights multiple times throughout the series, especially in season 2, and he doesn’t take shit from anybody. His depression goes away very fast, and he starts to enjoy himself more in everything, but his general attitude doesn’t change for a very long time. He has fantastic wit, he snarks about tons of situations with genuinely hilarious lines, he doesn’t have patience for the shenanigans of many side characters, and he doesn’t back down when push comes to shove. Honestly, I find him among the most relatable protagonists ever. And then we have Nagisa Furukawa (voiced by Mai Nakahara, my favorite voice actress of all time), who is practically his polar opposite. She’s shy, quiet, kind, and patient, but she lacks courage and can be something of a doormat. The effect this has is that where individually they are weak, together they are strong. Where he would lose patience and get fired up quickly, she’s there to calm him down and prevent the situation from escalating, and in season 2, she quells some of his more violent outbursts, like when he punches the wall after getting angry at his father. And where she would passively accept some unfair treatment pushed onto her, he steps up and fights back on her behalf, like when the student council tries to prevent her from doing anything to recruit new Drama members for various contrived reasons, so he leads the push to find ways around their complaints. It’s a perfect balancing act of working through each other’s faults, which is what makes it so heartwarming. And now, the story.

It all begins with the moment Tomoya meets Nagisa, on the hill leading to the school. As any of my regular readers would know, the anime begins with the single greatest opening scene ever, full stop. Not only is it a perfect visual metaphor for his attitude at the start of the show, seeing life as a gray mass devoid of meaning, but it’s a genius way to show the way she changes him by giving his life meaning and bringing the literal and metaphorical color back to it. Her goal early on is simple, reestablish the drama club, which has fallen by the wayside. Whether through compassion or pity, he decides to help her, becoming the backbone of her efforts as he has the fortitude she lacks and won’t put up with the shit everyone else tries to force on them. The primary focus of their time in season 1 is on getting the drama club to succeed, far more so than it is in the VN. The VN has much more focus on them getting together than the show does, with them hooking up far earlier and doing much more within the same time period. But I’m getting ahead of myself. There are many many obstacles in the way of them fixing up the drama club, from not having enough members, to not having a teacher to sponsor them, to another club fighting for the same teacher, and so on and so forth. This is a bizarre difference between the anime and the novel that honestly baffles me. The anime keeps their storyline practically aromantic for the entire first season, while in the novel, the budding romance between them begins much earlier and has much more focus. While in the anime, he only confesses to her in the very last scene, after the big performance was already finished. This is most assuredly not in line with the novel at all. In the book, he confessed after yet another thing got in the way of forming the drama club, all the way back before Mei visits, which is about halfway through the arc. What I found especially strange was this moment right here.  Screenshot (50)What makes this moment so bizarre to me in the anime is that it’s one of the many scenes taken exactly from the novel but with a lot of things different (ie worse). For one, in the novel, there was an actual reason why Nagisa is crying, it’s because yet another thing came up to try and fuck them over, which proved to be one obstacle too many, and Nagisa broke down, while in the anime, she just randomly starts crying out of nowhere. While this isn’t exactly out of character, it’s just not as well justified as it originally was. Second is that there’s no reason for this to be here, because it doesn’t really go anywhere and you could cut it without losing anything from the story, which is most certainly not the case in the novel, because of the third major difference, which is that this is originally the scene where Tomoya confesses his feelings to Nagisa, therefore one of the most pivotal moments in the entire book, but in the anime, it seems like he might be about to say something, but they’re interrupted by Kyou, so nothing happens and it ends up being a kind of superfluous scene that’s just there to incorporate one of the most famous shots in the novel. Now that’s not to say I don’t like the scene, it handles some things very well, but I’ll need to address those later. It’s at this point in the book that the drama club almost falls by the wayside, as the beginning of the romance between the main characters is more important, so as a result we get a lot more romantic moments between them, like the confession in the schoolyard, their first kiss at the picnic, and the date in the old school building, all 3 of which were cut in the anime. Come to think of it, I don’t remember ever seeing them kiss once in the anime, even though there was a perfect setup for it already in place. Even if it couldn’t be at the picnic, because that already happened by the time they get together, it could’ve been at the baseball game in season 2, or almost any point in the next 15 fucking episodes. There’s a lot of moments where it would’ve been appropriate to include something of the sort, like when they first spend the night together in his apartment. But for whatever reason, they include nothing of the sort. Instead, season 1 is focused more on him helping her establish the drama club, and while there are moments like the embrace in the courtyard, they seem almost platonic by comparison. But when we do finally get that confession scene, it’s beautifully drawn, beautifully acted, and it forms a good capstone to season 1. It seems to have taken the place of the schoolyard date that was a major plot moment in the novel, but it does its job well enough. Thus concludes season 1, and with it, the Nagisa arc of the VN. Screenshot (56).png

And now… the notoriety of season 2. I’m not gonna lie, the reputation of this season is well earned. It is every bit as sad as fans say it is. But that’s not what we’re here to talk about today, the time for that will come in future, once I can stop crying enough to actually talk about it. Instead, we’re here to talk about everything leading to the emotional sledgehammer moments, the time they spend together as a couple just dealing with their lives. I’m gonna be blunt, this is probably the single greatest idea in a romance story ever. I know this is more of a setup for the depressing stuff later, but it works so well that if you removed every depressing thing to come and just cut it right before the first shotgun blast of sadness, it would be just as effective. What I’m getting at is that the crying isn’t what makes After Story so great, though it is certainly among the most memorable things about the series. The real genius in After Story is how it shows the life they have together after they start dating, and it moves through things like the two of them finding jobs, getting their own apartment, getting married, and ultimately having a child (though the last one ends in infamy). Honestly, there should’ve been more focus on these, as the season is at its strongest when it shows how they deal with the struggles of living, so more time devoted to how they handle various problems would be appreciated. There’s some far more romantic scenes here in comparison to season 1 (though still not approaching the novel), with my favorites being the hand holding scene and the talk about wishes. But I cannot beat around the bush forever. The notoriously heartbreaking scene is every bit as upsetting as fans have built it up to be, and the replay of all the major moments involving Nagisa up until then puts a real cherry on the gut punch cake. Tomoya has fully slid back into his depression the next time we see him, which is both completely understandable, and a major factor in his overall character arc, which I will not be discussing today. It’s a powerful way to reinforce how much Nagisa meant to him, and it subtly reveals his biggest mistake. Though he falsely believes his mistakes were in meeting Nagisa, dating/marrying her, and having a child together, in reality, his failure was how he reacted, by pushing away Ushio and drowning himself in work and depression. It’s a powerful story beat for sure, and his dedication to continue their mission is inspiring to watch. I’m going to skip over the rest of the Ushio arc, as I have one more thing I need to talk about. Time rewinds, and it begins again. People have called this part many things, including a lie, a cop out, and a waste. Me? I call it fucking therapy, as I needed something like that after everything before it. From a story perspective… you know what? Fuck it. I’m not going with the story perspective here. This is all about what it means for the main characters, and it’s the only thing either of them truly wanted, a happy ending that they thoroughly earned by then. Sure, maybe it’s a miracle that would make even Bernkastel’s jaw hit the floor, but perhaps that’s a fitting way to end this series. They just went through the worst, and now, a reprieve. Plus it finally gives a point to all the Illusory World stuff, which otherwise could’ve been cut with no problem. It’s good to see something like fantastical elements justified properly within the story instead of just being there and going nowhere, and it’s done in arguably the best way here. So ends the story of Clannad.

With the story covered, there’s just one more thing I want to talk about: the music. Clannad doesn’t really have that much music, and there are a few tracks which are repeated often for effect. Of these, the one I want to talk about is the fifth track: “Nagisa”. This is probably the most iconic song on the soundtrack, as it shares a tune with the first season’s ending theme, as well as the song Nagisa always sings. It’s one of the most beautiful songs I’ve ever heard, and it’s used absolutely perfectly. Whenever something emotionally powerful involving them happens, like when they meet, the embrace under the tree, their first kiss in the novel, his confession in the anime, and a ton of moments in After Story (including the notorious end of episode 17), this song plays in the background. Not only is it an effective use of a great song, but it really establishes this song as “their” theme, it’s the song which signifies the main couple, and every moment it plays in is associated with it. Go to the comments in any video of this song, and you see people associating it with any of the various powerful moments in the show where it plays, and it really shows how memorable these moments have become. Not only does it speak to how effective the use of music is, but it also shows how powerful the moments themselves are, that people can remember them all even years later just from hearing the background song again. That speaks to the strength of the writing, in addition to the more tangible elements like visuals and sound.

Despite the strong tragedy element, Clannad remains one of my all time favorite romance shows, and it remains my gold standard for how to do romance in the most heart wrenching way possible for a truly unforgettable experience. Despite the series being ten years old, and the novel even older, it is still among the most beloved anime (and VNs) ever, and for very good reason. The way everything is written, how strong the character personalities are, the compelling relationship writing, and the entire narrative of After Story really sell the romance, and result in the final story being nothing short of beautiful. I am very glad I decided to tackle this story, because I absolutely loved it, and I will continue to enjoy it for the rest of my life. And it left me in so good a mood that I can’t muster up the anger needed for the next piece I have planned, so I’m taking next week off.

Let’s Talk About LGBT Representation (February Special #2)

I figured it’s about time I jump face first into the fires of politically charged subject matter. And this has been a pet cause of mine for a while now, so it’s high time we talk about a particularly divisive topic: LGBT representation. Now, it should be a surprise to no one that this discussion is a thing, representation of minorities is a pretty common spectacle in political discussion of art, and it’s not like this is a binary discussion either, there’s a hundred sides with a hundred positions, and no one of them is right 100% of the time.

Still, let’s begin with this statement: as a whole, I am in favor of including more LGBT people in art as a whole. However, and there is a huge however, I am absolutely not in favor of a few things that come along with that argument. First and foremost of these is the idea of representation for its own sake. I brought this up in my RWBY article with the character of Ilia, but I really hate it when a character is gay for no reason other than either pandering or just to be there. The former especially is flat out insulting, as I don’t find “look, here’s a gay character, be happy with it” to be at all compelling. That attitude is, thankfully, rare, but it’s always infuriating when it does appear. But the latter is no good as well, because the cynical inclusion of gay people just to have them be there is no better. If you’re going to include something like that, give it a point. I’ve heard it argued before that doing so makes the statement that it’s not a big deal and shouldn’t be treated as such. I, frankly, disagree, because you don’t send that message by doing nothing with it. If you’re going to include it, make it matter.

As for the other side, well, I could complain about them plenty, but I would start to sound like a broken record, as far more writers and critics have already thoroughly deconstructed those attitudes, and the main point of this article was a little expansion on why I’m so wary about most inclusion of LGBT people in art, because far too often, it’s just there to be there and nothing is done with it.

What I Want in a Romance Story (February Special #1)

So, time to kick off the month of Romance. And I figured, what better way to start this than with a few things I actually really want to see in a romance story? Everyone has their preferences, things they want to see done in the genre, so I figure a few of mine would fit right in. So let’s begin.

First off, show how the other person changes the life of their romantic interest. This isn’t very often seen in romantic stories, for a reason I’ll address later. However, seeing how this changes the lives of those involved really reinforces how strong it is. This should be a baseline for every romance story out there.

Giving the characters good mixing personalities is a basic tenet that I talked about in my Beginner’s Guide last year, but we all have preferences for which kinds of personalities we find tolerable. Instead of something I want to see, this next one is something I don’t want. Absolutely no tsundere. It’s been done. And done. And done. And, in my opinion, it was never good to begin with. Having your main girl (as this trope is practically exclusive to girls) act like an asshole early on is not really that compelling. I get the base logic behind it, but honestly it just doesn’t work for me. I can’t help but shake the feeling that the more believable form of this is that her initial appalling behavior permanently sours any relationship she might have. Especially in situations where said behavior is physically violent. It’s the sort of thing that rationally thinking people just don’t get over. And I just find it insufferably annoying in almost every instance. Stop it.

Next is one that applies more to certain kinds of stories, primarily television, so I will address it as such. Do not end the season with them getting together. Once again, I see the logic here, it’s kind of a climactic moment that can theoretically be a memorable note to cap off a show with, but at the same time, the flaw with it is that it doesn’t show what said relationship ends up doing. This ties into another point: show what life is like for both of them together. The reason Clannad got away with changing the timeline of events so that the confession scene is later on (thereby at the end of season 1) is because After Story is the perfect embodiment of this concept. The story doesn’t end with them getting together, it shows their lives together after that happens, in a fantastic way. More on that in a few weeks. This all ties together and shows why you shouldn’t just end your story with them getting together. Because that’s not the end of the story, and shouldn’t be treated like it is. People like me want to know what happens after that, how the story continues after they get together, the impacts that has.

Next is a simple one. Give the lead a distinct personality. This should be so simple that any idiot can understand it, but it isn’t. Far too often, the male lead (or, on some notorious occasions, the female lead) is a generic self insert character with nothing distinct about them. I absolutely hate this practice, and most people seem to agree with me. It’s boring, it’s lazy, it’s off putting, everyone hates it. So give both leads extremely distinct personalities, it makes your story memorable.

Now is a much more controversial topic: sexuality, and how to address it. In my opinion, it absolutely should not be shied away from. I could give the usual “part of life” reasoning, but I actually have an even stronger reason for this. Quite simply, it’s a core aspect of the characters. Everyone reacts to it differently, and addressing how the primary characters feel about it really adds an interesting angle to the story. Far too few stories do this, and it’s a massive well of untapped potential.

To round this article out, I finish with this: to deliver a truly effective punch, here’s a step I want to see more of. Start off with at least one of the main characters severely depressed, and have their outlook change as a result of the events of the story. In my opinion, it’s among the most heartwarming things one can do in a story, and there’s a lot more potential for it than anyone seems to notice.

 

Also, Yuri is great, we need more of it.

 

2017 Highlights

So, 2017 was a very mixed year in general,but when it hit, it really hit. Every field I can talk about gave something excellent worth mentioning, so I won’t have to worry about any “by default” entries the way I did last year. With that in mind, let’s take a look at the best 2017 gave us.

First off, movies. This movie was one I was interested in from the moment I first saw the trailer, solely from the credits. Though sadly I never got to review it, as I didn’t see it until recently, it proved well worth the wait, as it was excellent in virtually every regard. That movie is Baby Driver. Director Edgar Wright strikes again, and does it in style. While this movie is not as good as the likes of Hot Fuzz, it is still a great movie in its own right and makes for a fun action movie that tops everything I saw this year. And obviously, I cannot talk about this movie without talking about its music. The music used in this movie is virtually all licensed songs, used in creative ways that sync perfectly to the onscreen action, which makes it all the more memorable. The song choice is very good, the directing is as creative as ever, and the story is a gripping action comedy of high caliber. Plus, it introduced me to one of my favorite Queen songs, which is a nice bonus.

Next up is games. It’s been a very strange year for the video game industry, with most of the major Game of the Year contenders coming early on in the year, and a lot of the late year releases were disappointing to a degree. The game which ultimately rose above all the others was Nier Automata. The previous games in the series are very bizarre to review, because they combine very good stories with gameplay that’s riddled with flaws. Thankfully, this installment is developed by Platinum, who are quite possibly my favorite developer currently making games. This results in a game which plays beautifully, thereby eliminating my major complaint with previous entries. So combine that with a story that lives up to the previous games. and you have something masterful. To explain why is to spoil the surprises, and for once, I am completely unwilling to do that. Go and play it for yourself, you absolutely need to. And for once, I actually need to talk about an honorable mention. And it should be no surprise that said honorable mention is Doki Doki Literature Club. Anyone who read my article from back in October shouldn’t be surprised that I’m talking about it, not because it’s a masterpiece or anything, as a VN it’s good, but not great, instead because of the effect it’s had. While VNs have had an audience in the west for decades, they were always in the back, never really attracting much attention except from those already interested in that sort of thing. DDLC is the first VN I’ve ever seen gain mainstream attention, and hopefully it’ll lead to others finally getting the recognition they deserve. That’s what’s truly important about it, and I’m sincerely hoping the legacy of it will be an increased attention to VNs as a whole. Only time will tell.

Next up is anime. Now last year, Konosuba was my anime of the year by default, it was the only show I saw that I actually liked. This year is completely different. The year started with three very strong contenders, among them the sequel to Konosuba itself (which was a really tough runner up).  Hit after hit landed this year, with a few notorious bits of junk in there. And ultimately what won out was Little Witch Academia. I must say, I think I’m turning into a fanboy of Studio Trigger, not just because of how much I love Kill la Kill, but because of this show. Every episode is its own individual story, and the show constantly brings new delightful stories to the mix. Everything I love about Trigger’s style is present in this show, and it makes for an astounding show that I enjoyed every single episode of. Episodes 7, 8, 17, and 18 in particular are phenomenal examples of the craft, and are what I would point to if I were asked what I would consider a perfect single episode of animation.  Any show that is on the level of being able to achieve this is definitely going to get positive attention from me, but in a show which nails it over and over again the way this does more than earns its place as my favorite show of the year. And with Trigger taking on several projects in 2018, my hopes are high that we’ll be seeing them again next year.

Music this year hit its peak for me early on, because my favorite band released a new album in January, and that album is 11 Short Stories of Pain & Glory, by the Dropkick Murphys. I’m a huge fan of Celtic styled music, and I loved this album from beginning to  end. Be it the endlessly hilarious First Class Loser, the bizarrely catchy I Had A Hat, the wonderful cover of You’ll Never Walk Alone, the perfectly sorrowful 4-15-13, a memorial to the Boston Marathon bombing, or the pitch perfect closing song Until the Next Time, this album is utterly fantastic and I loved every song in some way. It’s clear the band has still got it, and I can’t wait to see what they do next.

So 2017 was a great year in terms of the highs it hit. Here’s to hoping 2018 will do as good or better, because I always love being able to add a new favorite to my list. Time will tell, I suppose.

The Greatest Horror Story Ever Pt. II (October Finale)

WARNING: Full spoilers for all 3 stories

So, a year ago today, I talked about the first 2 stories in Higanbana No Saku Yoru Ni, Mesomeso-san and The Haunted Camera. It only makes sense to continue this tradition and talk about another set of stories, as Higanbana is still the greatest Horror I’ve ever read.

So, first up is Chapter 3, The Princess’ Lie. So, this chapter focuses on Midori Kusunoki, a rich girl referred to as “Princess”  by everybody. She’s kind and thoughtful, is revered by her classmates, and gets anything she wants without anyone objecting, as they all agree she’s great enough to deserve it. So, yeah… Midori is a Mary Sue, because this is a Ryukishi07 story, and that guy is a maniac who’s still trying to prove that nothing is beyond his ability to make into good writing. And it turns out to work. See, Midori used to be bullied by everyone because she flaunted her wealth around, but she did a deal with a Yokai called the Black Tea Gentleman in order to get the lead role in a play, she changed her attitude, and people started loving her as a result. Another character, Nozomi Kawada, is essentially who Midori used to be, just a complete stuck up ass who can’t let go of her pride even to make her classmates stop shunning her. So for a while, things are just fine, people start practicing for a play based on Umineko (with Midori as Beatrice), while in school everyone talks about a new anime based on Umineko (calling it Sea Cats, even with a little nod to Daisuke Ono, the voice of Battler), and generally things go great for Midori. Until a mysterious curse (no, no, not that one) starts taking effect, causing random bouts of pain, even turning her food into insects (no, no, not what you’re thinking of) , and all of it seemingly connected to Nozomi.  Ok, so let’s jump straight to the twist. Marie shows up, breaks the BTG’s power in order to stop the curse, and it’s revealed that everything was a lie. The way Midori thinks she’s been treated is actually how Nozomi has been treated all term, the bullying never stopped, she never got the lead role in anything, her actual contract was to make her into Nozomi, within her own mind, the “curse” was actually when her sense of reality started to break through (so the pains were when she was being beaten by other students, the insects were snuck into her food by another student, etc), and everything is a lie. Higanbana shows up, gets Marie to back down, and the BTG allows Midori to keep living the lie. This overall is a good arc, it’s not as horrific as the last two, but it definitely proves that even the Mary Sue isn’t bad enough to be unfixable, at least not for Ryukishi07. Also, I sincerely hope Higanbana ate Nozomi as opposed to Midori (who she’d originally planned on eating), because if one thing the arc showed us is true, it’s that Nozomi is indeed a complete and utter bitch who deserves to be swallowed up and erased by a demented ghost doll. (As a side note, this is why I love this job so much. The fact that I can say something like that and have it make complete sense in the context of what I’m talking about, priceless.) As for its commentary on bullying, well. it does at least portray how awful it feels to be trampled on by everyone, even if you kind of deserved it at one point, and how even completely changing your personality sometimes can’t make that stop. Which is honestly really depressing. As I said last year, this should be required reading in schools despite its disturbing content, because it teaches the issue in a way nothing I’ve ever seen really has.

Next up is Chapter 4: Shrine of the Guardian Deity. This one is much shorter than the others, and introduces Michiru Sakurada, who will end up coming back in a future story as well. She has a mix between Erika’s twin tails and Dlanor’s drill curls, the eyepatch Rikka wore in Chuunibyou, and as a result, an extremely compelling design. She also has a sixth sense, although she doesn’t use it because nobody would ever believe her, so she feels it’s better not to see their misfortunes coming if she can’t stop them from happening. So she goes to this run-down old shrine in the back of the schoolyard and prays for the guardian spirit to stop the school festival. It turns out, a head injury to one student caused by a falling chair was the result of one girl damaging the shrine and inciting the wrath of the local deity (no, no, not that one). So, to protect the girl from the curse, she brings her to the old school building late at night, and tries to attract good spirits to protect the girl. This attracts the attention of Marie, who follows along and wards off malevolent spirits due to her strength as a Yokai. Upon hearing the girl’s story, Marie, seemingly the only genuinely good person in this whole series, decides to give her the protection she wishes for. The next day, she approaches the shrine with the intent to confront the guardian spirit. There she finds the nurse, repairing the shrine. Obviously, the nurse doesn’t recognize Marie (due to all memory of her being erased by Mr Principal), but Higanbana, who’s also there for some reason, remarks that the nurse can also sense Yokai, implying she has a sixth sense too, or perhaps that Higanbana gave her the ability. Then, after Marie explains the story to Higanbana, the latter summons the shrine guardian… and it’s Sakutaro (yes, that one). Umineko references galore here. Now his name is Sakunoshin,  but he’s still exactly the same as always. Obviously, he wasn’t responsible for the curse, because really, what would he even do for a curse? Cry loudly in their ears? And so this casts doubt on what the real cause of the curse is, assuming it even exists at all and isn’t just a coincidence. Then it turns out the girl hit by the chair is actually hospitalized with appendicitis, because this is a Ryukishi07 story, and chairs are completely harmless. So then one girl refuses to apologize, and Michiru (the real culprit) attempts to drop a fire extinguisher on her head, but is stopped by Marie, who questions her about her motives for attempted murder. Michiru explains how she did it because no matter what she saw, nobody would believe her, so she decided to create a curse of her own in order to prove she was right. In the end, she wanted everyone to apologize to the shrine master because of the sense of shock she’d felt emanating from the shrine when it broke, which was so awful that she wanted those responsible to make amends. Then she breaks down crying, Marie confirms that her sixth sense is real, and that brings the story to a close. This is the first one not to touch on the theme of bullying, and isn’t particularly scary either, but is nonetheless a fun read, so we must move on.

Next up is a very infamous story, Chapter 5: Hameln’s Castanets. Before I’d read Higanbana, I had still heard of this story, as I had been warned by a friend that it’s among the most disturbing things she’d ever read, so I was rather dreading this one. But enough backstory, what’s the plot of this one? Well, it opens with students crowded around the school’s rabbit enclosure, beholding a grisly sight. Some rabbits had their ears torn off, their limbs, tails, and organs removed, their bodies slashed up or beaten purple, cruelty that was beyond belief even for the students in what must be the worst school in the fucking prefecture. Even worse, some of the rabbits were still alive, left to suffer and die in horrible pain. Even the teachers are stunned at the sight. And for some reason, counting both the living and dead rabbits, there are far more than there are supposed to be. It’s then implied that a similar incident may have occurred at a nearby elementary school, which makes the teachers nervous. It’s also noted that 4 students have recently vanished, which gives the impression that either a.) Higanbana went for an all you can eat buffet and Mr Principal hasn’t cleaned the mess up yet, or b.) there may be a serial killer on the loose. The story then shifts to a member of the animal raising club, the boy with the highest grades in the age bracket, Hikaru Nihei. He’s largely quiet, if only because he has no friends, and often listens in on conversations like one about Mesomeso-san. Then he realizes that his stuff was stolen and thrown away again, which means he has to throw away another notebook and use a textbook that’s now soaked in milk. Yeah, the bullying theme is back full force this time. So then we find out his only place to relieve stress is among the rabbits. He’d been more or less forced to care for them by the other students, but he ended up enjoying the task anyway. So then  it turns out he’s bullied for the whole “full of himself” reason, and in his frustration, he throws one of the rabbits into the ground and kicks it. Yeah, he’s got serious problems. The thing he hates most about their bullying is that they never physically hurt him, which means even if he committed suicide, they could deny the bullying ever happened. So with this bottled up frustration, he lashes out at the rabbits, because they’re defenseless and can’t fight back. As cruel as it is, he finds it morbidly cathartic as well. And who should turn up but Marie, the only good person in this entire fucking school. She seemingly didn’t notice the rabbit abuse, and calmly interacts with them until she notices the injured one, which drives Hikaru a little crazy. She frantically apologizes, and that just makes him angrier, as he lashes out with insults that not only hurt her, but him as well, because they’ve been in similar situations before. Marie then vanishes, much to his shock. So of course he recognizes that she’s a Yokai, which sets him on edge. At that very moment, who should appear but Hameln, he of the Castanets, an unranked Yokai who haunts the music room. He knows exactly who Hikaru is, what he’s been doing, and various other things about him. And so he begins to tell a ghost story, the story of Hameln’s Castanets. It’s not one of the Eight Mysteries, but it goes like this: If you go in the music room at night, you may hear a disembodied clicking sound. If you investigate, you’ll find nothing, but that clicking will grow louder and louder until you realize that you’ve been turned into a rat, and that clicking was the sound of your own teeth. And then Hameln will appear, and those who became rats followed the sound of his castanets, never to be seen again (the Pied Piper of Hamelin is the obvious reference here). Hameln requests that Hikaru spread the story around, so hopefully he can become a ranked Yokai. Then he calls Hikaru out for his animal abuse, as well as the foolhardy rationale behind it. Then he offers help, in the form of offering to change them into rabbits. Yes indeed, that means exactly what you think it does. So then we cut to some obnoxious guys exploring the old school building, where they’re confronted by Hikaru, who throws rabbit shit at them. Sure, why not? They chase him to the music room, and then… click, click, click comes the sound of Hameln’s Castanets. They hear it draw closer and closer, until it’s right behind them, and then they’re turned into rabbits. Enter Hameln, who tells them the story, and thus they realize they’ve become the first victims of the ghost story. They pass out and wake up in the rabbit enclosure, where Hikaru stands before them, armed to the teeth with scissors, box cutters, and other improvised torture tools. Despite their attempts to escape, it proves futile, and the story cuts out on a shot of Hikaru’s face, resuming the next day with people talking about two dead rabbits. Those 4 missing students mentioned earlier? Should be no surprise what had happened to them. Thus would begin Death Note Via Rabbits, as Hikaru and Hameln work together to begin a revenge quest. But before that can begin, enter Higanbana, messing about as usual. She calls him out on his lies and idiocy, how he fails to understand what it truly means to kill despite having done it himself, things of that sort. This conversation is interrupted, though she promises they’ll speak again soon. In the staff room, one of the teachers acts as a grief counselor, before mentioning that the rabbit cage would likely be removed soon. For Hikaru, this doesn’t matter much, he doesn’t need the ordinary rabbits anymore, he can just use Hameln’s powers instead. Then the teacher gives a speech on the irrationality of evil intent, which seems to be a sub-theme of the chapter. Then the teacher asks if he can get along better with his classmates, which doesn’t seem to match what we’ve been told. Then we find out he’d thrown out a girl’s notebook because he’d felt she was terrible at taking notes, and then distributed his own notes to the entire class. So it kinda makes sense that everyone saw him as full of himself, because he kinda is. Now look, I get it. It can be really hard not to try and correct the course of your classmates if you feel they’re doing everything wrong. But the way he went about it was arrogant and pretentious, which led to everything that happened. Obviously this is all a misunderstanding caused by his bizarre personality, but that doesn’t really justify anything, which the story clearly knows and demonstrates. So anyway, Hikaru gets angry, and thus begins the plan to turn the teacher into a rabbit next. Like I said, this is Death Note level shit. And who should be back again at that very moment but Higanbana, ready to continue where she left off. Thus, Hameln and Higanbana meet for the first time, with the former being a little too egotistical, and making a very poor impression on his superior. He plans to use his powers to depose Marie and take over her ranking, which just makes Higanbana give her best Umineko laugh. Hikaru gets angry at this, and shouts at Hameln to turn Higanbana into a rabbit. He agrees, but since they’re not in the music room, he’s powerless. Higanbana tells Hikaru that by giving that order, he basically tried to kill her, which means he’ll suffer retribution, and knowing her, it’ll be horrific. She laughs again at how he thinks he knows what killing entails, so she decides to prove how wrong he really is. How? She forces him to murder the two guys all over again, but this time, in their human forms, in  the exact same way as he’d killed them the first time. It goes into pretty intense detail, not so much about the gory scene taking place (though it wouldn’t be a Ryukishi07 story with no gore at all, at least not with this premise), but more about Hikaru, his emotions, and what his experience is like now that he can’t dehumanize the people he’s murdering. Every finger lopped off, eye gouged out, stomp to the chest or face, his reaction to doing all of them on a human being is given in great detail, and it’s horrifying. Not because he doesn’t care, because he does, which makes him easier to empathize with, if only for a brief moment, meaning the audience ends up feeling some of that as well. So, after that, Hikaru is thrown back into the staff room, screaming at the top of his lungs. Higanbana really is straight out of a nightmare. Night has fallen, so Hameln uses his castanets to turn Higanbana into a rabbit.  He then plans to turn Hikaru into one, but he grievously underestimated Higanbana, who turns into the Killer Bunny from Monty Python and tears him to pieces. And then, she has one more thing in store for Hikaru. What he had experienced still wasn’t the full extent of understanding murder, because he’d only experienced it from the killer’s side. So she uses the cursed castanets to turn him into a rabbit, and deposit him among all the others, who promptly tear him apart (and also rape him). But he can’t die, he just has to live through the torture. He was given one chance to apologize, but he got it wrong, and was dropped in the cage, doomed to live out his life experiencing the torment he had inflicted on others. So ends Hameln’s Castanets. Ok, so now my opinion. Wow, she was right. That was pretty fucking dark. But as a Horror, it was incredible. This was the first time we see Higanbana really go off in such a gruesome manner, and it really works. This is easily the scariest so far, and further reaffirms how this book deserves its crown. The grim and macabre tone really pays off, and this story is one of the most horrifying things I’ve ever read. Now that being said, how does this tie into the theme? Well, most movies about bullying tend to touch on how bullies are often bullied themselves, but none ever truly show it the way this does, because this gets inside the person’s head, looking at their psychology and how everything affected them, why that makes them lash out, and more about who they are as people. As a “Cycle of Bullying” story, this is a dark and gory masterpiece, which makes me very happy indeed. Will definitely reread every Halloween.

Overall, these 3 were absolutely incredible, and prove furthermore that Ryukishi07 is a macabre genius. The standard set by the first two stories is matched perfectly by these 3, showing once again that Higanbana No Saku Yoru Ni is the greatest Horror ever written, it knows how to consistently scare the reader, and, I must keep saying, there is no trope which Ryukishi07 can’t do justice. Great way to leave this month on a high note, and there’s no doubt I will cover 3 more a year from today. Until we meet again, I am B. Analysis, and I will return to continue my reign of terror next October, because after all… The Culprit cannot die.

Doki Doki Literature Club: What the Fuck Fuck Fucking Fuck Fuck Fuck Fuckedy Fuck Fuck is This? (Bonus Episode)

WARNING: CONTAINS SPOILERS AND GRAPHIC IMAGERY. BE FOREWARNED.

I must preemptively apologize for the title, but seriously, what the hell is this? It’s like a bizarre fusion of Higurashi, Undertale, Clannad, and a small touch of Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure Part 4. But, I mean… my god, where do I start? The basics, I guess. Doki Doki Literature Club is a Visual Novel released on Steam in October 2017, and has gained infamy in the last few weeks due to the disturbing nature of events that occur in the story. I was fascinated by this, and, being the VN fan I am, obviously I had to read it. So let’s dissect this monster, and showcase how bizarre and horrific it truly gets. (Also, for the first time, I’m including images in an article, because you need to see some of this for yourself. I have a lot to go through, so it’ll be kinda dense in places)

Before we get to the story, let’s discuss the characters. You are [Your name here], a typical high school anime protagonist, for better or for worse. What’s especially interesting about this VN is that there are no side characters. At all. It’s just you, and the 4 main girls. With that in mind, let’s move on to them. The first of the four is Sayori, a childhood friend character whose personality can be best described as “Rena Sans Cute Mode”, which is to say that she’s very reminiscent of Rena Ryuuguu from Higurashi, but she doesn’t have the tendency to take home cute things she finds. She’s even got a surprising amount of depth compared to what I was expecting, what with her backstory of depression and the great work put into making it believable and torturous-sounding to read. Needless to say, she quickly became one of my favorites. Next is Yuri, who’s basically Kotomi Ichinose from Clannad, a quiet, socially awkward bookworm who takes comfort in talking to the main character. However, she slowly gains an obsessive side, at least after the first part of the game concludes, and then it really comes to a head as things go on.  Next is Natsuki, who’s a tsundere with self worth issues, implied to have been caused by a difficult childhood. These characters are all pretty simple, not too much depth, but they never feel flat either, because what traits they do have are very well reinforced and executed in order to make them seem more alive. And then there’s Monika. 20171026182557_1

Monika is basically Mion Sonozaki early on, but that starts to subtly change pretty soon. She’s slowly revealed to be an obsessive yandere with no concept of the 4th wall, and is the source of all the horrific and bizarre occurrences in the game. That about covers the main characters, now let’s get to what you’ve all been waiting for: the bizarre and frightful events of the story.

The story is divided into three parts, which I will nickname “Happy Days”, “Bites the Dust”, and “Just Monika”. So, Happy Days is just what you’d expect. Like the beginning of any Higurashi arc, mixed with a bit of Clannad, you can spend your time hanging out with the Literature Club, paying more attention and appealing to whichever girl you like the most (when going for the true ending, you need to replay this 3 times for all 3 routes), which gives you little romantic scenes and cute little images of them. 20171025214309_1But don’t let your guard down, because that’s concealing the horror that’s about to begin.  In the meantime, Happy Days still sets up little bits of info about the girls which will become important later, like Yuri collecting knives, Natsuki having trouble with her father, and Sayori only being that cheerful when you’re around. All 3 of these will become important to greater or lesser extent in future, but for now they’re just brushed off as no big deal. So you continue along the route of whatever girl you choose, until the day before the big school festival, when Sayori reveals her struggle with depression, and eventually you get a choice on how to comfort her. Tell her you love her, or tell her she’s your best friend. Obviously you’re going to go with the former, it’s an important piece of how the rest of the game plays out. Anyway, the next day, Sayori is late again, so you go on to school without her, but when Monika reminds you why she’s late, you rush to her house, where you find a gruesome sight. Sayori has hung herself. Thus ends part 1.

Immediately after this, the game seemingly resets, and when clicking “new game” (or at least, the corrupted button that SHOULD read new game), then the intro of the game plays all over again, but with one major difference: Sayori is gone. So, to clarify, time has reset, and Sayori has been erased from existence completely. Thus begins… Bites the Dust. While Happy Days was a bright and fun little experience with the Club, Bites the Dust is a little bit of that at times, but slowly becomes more bizarre and horrific. After the first day, you get a message saying “Special Poem Unlocked”,  and when you read it, you’re greeted with this.20171026011107_1After… that, the story puts greater emphasis on Yuri. You spend a lot of time with her, but new twists are added to her character. Know how I said earlier that Yuri had a knife collection? Turns out, she doesn’t just look at them for fun. No, she cuts herself. When you discover this, Bites the Dust activates again, you find yourself back in the classroom, and things stay normal for a little while. But Monika is acting very ominous, and it isn’t long before more and more bizarre shit happens. Yuri’s seemingly obsessive tendencies get worse and worse, Bites the Dust activates a third time before Monika intervenes personally, and events just get more insane. Natsuki tries to give you a cry for help against Monika, but suddenly suffers some terrible affliction, seemingly puppeted by Monika. 20171026194137_1 Shortly after, everything resets slightly, and things really go off the edge. Yuri goes off the deep in in shocking fashion, first at Natsuki…20171026192505_1 … and then eventually declares her love for you, and you have the option to accept or decline. If you accept (I did), she laughs. And laughs. Then…20171026194626_1 …she dies. You sit next to her corpse all weekend, watching the blood dry, her eyes dim, and everything grow worse. Then, Monday, Natsuki finds you and runs off right before Monika appears. She uses her abilities to erase everything in the world except you and her,and thus concludes Bites the Dust.

Just Monika is the shortest of the 3, essentially a single scene. Just you and Monika in a small room, as she explains her existence as the only self aware character in the whole game, destroys the fourth wall a bunch, and explains how she erased everyone. To progress, you have to go into the game files… and erase her. Her reaction once you do goes from shock to anger, then sadness, and eventually regret. So she uses one final Bites the Dust to reset the whole thing back to the beginning, but she no longer exists. You can replay the start with your friends for a happy ending, and that basically concludes the game.

So that’s a basic summary of Doki Doki Literature Club. Keep in mind that I only covered the bare bones, and that there’s much more disturbing stuff in the game that I haven’t covered. Since this game is free to play on Steam, I highly recommend playing it yourself. It has these really heartfelt portrayals of living with depression, desperately trying to cheer up a depressed person, losing a friend to suicide, and things of that sort. It has messages of what it’s like being an author as well, with some genuinely fantastic writing advice. If this author becomes a regular presence in the VN scene, I’ll be quite happy with that. Maybe the explosive popularity of this book can help the VN community grow, only time will tell. Until then, this book gets a full A+, with a Pretty Good seal of approval. Go out and experience this for yourself, it’s well worth the effort.

Creepypastas, When the Internet Does Horror (October Special #3)

So, the retrospective isn’t happening, because I couldn’t rent all the movies I was going to review. Instead, I took my backup, which is a look at what happens when random people on the Internet try their hand at Horror. Aka, the creepypasta (fucking hell, that name though). So, for this piece, I’ll be looking at the concept as a whole, perceptions of the community, a few of the popular stories, and even a little bit on the one I like the most. So, let’s begin.

First off, the concept. So, with amateur writing being on the rise, largely fueled by the ability to self publish on the internet, it’s no surprise that amateur Horror is fairly common. What’s a little more interesting is where they tend to pop up, which is mostly on forums sites. I guess that’s the easiest way to get an audience, but it also tends to result in being viewed mostly by idiots. Not really the point. Anyway, these sorts of stories and the community around them have utterly exploded in recent years, and now have a sizable fandom and a reputation that strongly proceeds them. Before I touch on that, let’s finish up on the subject of the topic as a whole. So, no matter the general quality of stories (and believe me, a lot of them are utter shit), I think it’s fantastic that people are able to self-publish their own Horror stories online, and a well made story can absolutely help boost a prospective writer’s portfolio, help get them experience, and other great effects like that. So the concept is solid, let’s look at the fanbase.

The CP community has a reputation for being kinda shitty, and to be honest… it kinda deserves it (no offense to my friends in said community). All the most common things people complain about are definitely present, such as bizarre fanart and ridiculous fanfictions (erotic ones at that). However, it’s definitely not the worst one I’ve ever seen, not even close, and I certainly know some brilliant people in said community (does that satisfy those of you who are already sharpening your pitchforks?), who exemplify everything the fandom should be. To be honest, I’m a low-key fan of some CPs myself. So, while the fandom shows why it has such an abysmal reputation a lot, it’s nowhere near as bad as it’s been made out to be, and it’s got very distinct good elements. Just like most fandoms, if I’m being completely honest (keyword: most).

Now, a quick run down of a few famous CPs. For this, I’ll cover Jeff the Killer, Happy Appy, the Russian Sleep Experiment, Squidward’s Suicide, Lavender Town Syndrome, and (just for a laugh) Sonic.exe. First off, Jeff the Killer. A personal favorite among my CP loving friends, this is probably the most iconic CP ever written. And for the most part, it deserves that recognition. Despite a few annoying contrivances here and there, the overall story is pretty well written (at least comparatively), and it’s much better than I expected. I first heard this story about 5 years ago, and I really enjoyed it at the time. Came back and read it again, liked it less than I did, but still found it enjoyable. Next up, Happy Appy. Despite my annoyance at the prevalence of the “kids’ show but snuff” trope, this one is one of my personal favorites. The narrator is better than most, the plot makes some very good turns, and the story overall was quite entertaining. Minus some very very stupid contrivances, anyway. Next, the Russian Sleep Experiment. When I was younger, this was one of my favorite CPs, but as I’ve gotten older, I’ve just found it more and more silly than anything else. Doesn’t hold up too much under scrutiny, in my opinion. Now for a kind of stupid one: Squidward’s Suicide. In my opinion, this story was never scary, and is honestly just ridiculous from beginning to end. I read it again this week and laughed almost nonstop. Next up, Lavender Town Syndrome. This isn’t so much a CP as it is a bizarre theory, but I’ll treat it as a CP for the sake of it. As a theory, it falls apart immediately as scientifically impossible, as anyone who listens to the Beatles would know. As a story, it fares better, though it doesn’t really go into depth enough and needs to be expanded in my opinion. Last of all, the abysmal failure of Sonic.exe. To be honest, I can’t do this catastrophe justice myself, so I will instead point to a talented narrator by the handle of Thar Creepy Reading. His video, aside from being drop dead hilarious, explains its faults far better than I can. But here’s the cliffnotes version: terrible narrator, laughable cliches, trying to make Sonic scary, “hyper-realistic”, done. That covers the big ones, let’s move on.

I’ll keep this brief. My favorite CP ever written is… NES Godzilla. It’s not that scary, but it’s very well written, there’s a ton of effort put into everything, and it’s an immense amount of fun to read. Definitely read it, it’s fantastic.

So that sums up my opinion on the topic. Sorry I couldn’t do the retrospective, maybe next year. I’m still going to do Higanbana next week, and I’ve got some other stuff in the works that’ll be out soon enough.