The New Idols on the Block

I like to think I have a fairly refined taste in all things media. The truth is, though, we all have things we love even as we also acknowledge they can be, at times, silly and maybe even a bit problematic. Such is my love affair with rhythm games Love Live and BanG Dream.

I’ve been a fan of Love Live since my sophomore year. It’s a bit of an institution in my life and the lives of many others, I think. It was my introduction to the world of addictive rhythm mobile games, and it remains an important part of my life to this day. I’ve watched the anime all the way through and cried several times throughout. I’ve logged hours and hours into the mobile game.

(For those wondering, best girl from μ’s is Nozomi and from Aqours is Yohane. Best subunits are Lily White and Guilty Kiss respectively, obviously. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, don’t worry about it.)

BanG Dream is more of a recent favorite. It was introduced to me by a good friend of mine, and I had to jump through a few hoops to download it from the Japanese app store. Since then, though, I’ve been hooked with this game. It’s relatively new, and currently only has a Japanese version. (I had to enlist the help of my friend and a few guides to figure out what all the buttons do because… well, I don’t read Japanese.)

(And, once again, for those wondering, best girls are Misaki, Kanon, and Kokoro, and obviously best band is Hello Happy World)

And sure, it’s comparable to Love Live, but there’s something about it that has distracted me from returning to Love Live for a while now.

Because both BanG Dream and Love Live are made under the same parent company, Bushiroad, they get compared a lot. These comparisons aren’t always completely fair – true, they’re similar games, but they’re made by different teams and they have a lot of key differences. Actually, I think there’s a lot Love Live can learn from BanG Dream, and that’s what I want to talk about today.

First off, let’s get a little more in depth about what each game is.

Love Live is a rhythm and card-collecting mobile game. It involves “scouting” for cards of the eighteen main idols and a large collection of side characters. These cards are of different rarities and can be leveled up, strengthened, and put on teams to play “lives”, or songs where the player has to tap along with the rhythm of the music. Each card can be used to unlock small stories about the girl. These stories usually involve the girl just talking, although there are overarching stories about the eighteen main idol girls that are unlocked as the player levels up. These follow a loose story similar to the anime (I’ll go into the story a bit later).

BanG Dream is similar in that it employs the card-collecting rhythm game format and uses a combination of small single-character stories and larger overarching unlockable stories. Like Love Live, BanG Dream also features options to strengthen your cards and put them on teams. However, unlike Love Live, BanG Dream also features a relatively large world that is inhabited by the characters. Players can explore this little world and watch the girls talk or buy songs and powerups. In addition, BanG Dream features a multiplayer option that allows players to play alongside each other in order to increase their points and rewards. Finally, the biggest and most important difference between the two games is in their events.

Both Love Live and BanG Dream have events – these events coincide with the release of new cards, and participating in these events allows players the chance to earn these cards instead of hoping to randomly draw them in a gachapon. Love Live actually has several types of events, some allowing players to compete against each other directly, some making them play long strings of songs for points, and some simply adding on a chance to earn event points alongside their normal rewards for playing songs. BanG Dream has only one type of event, and it’s the most similar to the last event I mentioned in Love Live. However, and this is important, BanG Dream’s events are pivotal to the game.

Yes, events are fun and change things up in Love Live, but the reality is that they’re not always very worth participating in. The event card that is available is of the third-highest rarity in the game, and most seasoned players, unless they particularly like the look of the card, will probably have cards that are more powerful than the event one. In addition, Love Live events are notoriously brutal. A lot of success in events depends on playing near constantly in order to fully maximize the time given. If you look at guides on how to succeed in Love Live events, you’ll find instructions like “set an alarm to wake you up every few hours in the night so you can make sure you’re playing as much as possible!” And that’s… that’s ridiculous. I’ve never found the motivation to devote myself so fully to an event, and as such I’ve never been very successful in them.

In addition, events are just sorta… extra. The event cards are separate from the cards released into the gachapon “scouting box”, so a player who is looking only to get specific cards from that box might find more success avoiding the event entirely to focus on working towards increasing their chances to draw their desired card.

And that’s all fine and good, but it means that gameplay in Love Live can get really stale really fast. There is basically one good way to get love gems (the most valuable currency and the one used for scouting), and that is to build three of the strongest teams possible and to play lots of songs all by yourself. That can be fun for a while, but the game never challenges the player to change everything up. In fact, consistency is rewarded in this game. The players that continuously play in the most efficient, constant possible manner are the ones who tend to earn the most love gems… or least that’s what I’ve seen in my experience.

On the other hand, BanG Dream’s events are pivotal to the gameplay. All cards that are released into the gachapon are released in conjunction with an event. In addition, each event has specific girls and specific traits of each card that give multipliers to the amount of event points you earn. This means your best team for one event will most likely be wildly different than your best team for the next event. So, the most successful, efficient player has to change up their play style every so often.

In addition, and this is important to stress, multiplayer is always an option in BanG Dream. In Love Live, multiplayer modes are restricted to one type of event that rolls around every so often. In BanG Dream, it is always a good idea to play with other players… and maybe it’s silly, but that adds even more to the constantly changing feel of the gameplay. When you have to constantly collaborate with others to be the most successful, it keeps things fresh and interesting.

Don’t get me wrong, Love Live is a great game and has a lot of things going for it. For one, it has a lot more years under its belt. There’s way more cards available. Plus, as an English speaker, it’s far more accessible. And I’m not really talking about the animes, but the Love Live anime is like… way better than the BanG Dream anime. Like waaay better. Although, interestingly, I find the overall plot of BanG Dream to be a bit more fascinating and complex than Love Live’s plot. (That might sound kind of weird, but… like, stick with me here.)

The Love Live anime is a simple story but it’s enjoyable because of the lovable characters, the music, and the fun and mostly high-quality package. The BanG Dream anime, on the other hand, is the same simple story but in a far worse package… or at least, that’s how the anime is. In the game, each of the five bands get their own unique story, and these stories can get surprisingly dark and complex. I enjoy it.

But I’m getting off track. Love Live is a great game, but I think it has a lot to learn from the likes of BanG Dream. Sure, the formula has worked for Love Live, but I think it could benefit greatly from the ways BanG Dream diversifies the gameplay experience. Love Live should add a constant multiplayer mode, or perhaps make use of the same sort of “certain characters and certain attributes give bonuses in the events” system that BanG Dream has. This could encourage changing up play style and would keep the game from getting stale, as it often does.

And maybe, just maybe, Love Live could wrench me back away from BanG Dream’s addictive clutches.

(Oh, who am I kidding, I’ll go back to Love Live again someday. I can never fully escape idol hell.)

Advertisements

Gushing About Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-Kun

When I started this blog on January 1st of this year, I made a promise to myself that I would post something new to this blog every single Sunday. As of now, April 23rd, I have yet to break this promise to myself. I don’t plan on breaking this promise to myself, either.

Less ingrained into this goal, however, is that every Sunday post be well-thought-out and carefully written. Ideally, every week I would be churning out excellent new ideas or posts that took lots of time and energy to compile.

But listen, I’m gonna be honest here. This week and next week are gonna be… kind of crazy. I already have a pretty low-effort high-quality idea for next week, but as for this week I was kind of at a lost.

And so, I decided that for today I am going to kick back, relax, and talk about something I really love. And I figured, why not make this a thing? I think the idea of having a series of posts that involve me just talking about something I really love might be a good thing. This won’t be a review, especially since I haven’t really watched this anime in a while. I’m not gonna go too horribly deep into analysis, and there certainly isn’t going to be much constructive criticism. No deep life meaning will be drawn. You and I are just going to get excited about this anime together.

Thus, for weeks like these when I don’t have much time to get too critical, I’ll post one of these “Gushing About…” posts. Maybe it’ll be an anime, like today, or a band or artist, or a TV show or book or movie or… gosh, anything really.

I should say firsthand that I’m probably going to be too worried about spoiling anything – although, honestly, in this anime there’s not much to spoil.

“Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-Kun”, known in English as “Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-Kun”, and hereafter referred to as GSNK to save my fingers, is a shoujo slice-of-life anime centering on the life of a high school student named Sakura Chiyo. At the beginning of the series, Sakura has just made up her mind to confess her love for her fellow classmate Nozaki Umetarou. In true shoujo style, she looks into the mirror, fluffs her cute red ribbons, pats down her uniform skirt, and marches into the classroom.  Nozaki stands alone there, lit only by the fading orange sunset outside. Sakura steps over to him, takes a deep breath and stammers out her confession, cheeks red and blushing. Then, silence. She waits for Nozaki to speak, everything hinging on his reply…

…And Nozaki hands her his autograph.

While, yes, GSNK is a shoujo anime, and unapologetically so, from the very first scene you get the feeling it’s self aware. The humor is all exactly like this. It sets up like a stereotypical high school romance would, but the charm of the series is how it breaks these stereotypes in absurd ways.

If you’re wondering, the reason Nozaki gives Sakura his autograph is very simple! While he seems like a regular high school student, he’s actually incredibly popular shoujo manga artist Yumeno Sakiko, an artist praised for “her” incredible knowledge of the hearts of high school girls. In reality, though, Nozaki wouldn’t know love if it kicked him in the face. He’s far more interested in creating shoujo manga as an art, and he devotes much of his life to people-watching and observing the world around him as inspiration for the next installment of his popular manga series.

Nozaki, still under the impression that Sakura is a big fan of his manga, invites her over to his apartment and has her help him ink his art, and thus, the over-arching motif of the series begins. Nozaki has a habit of employing his friends into helping him meet his deadlines for his manga, and as the series progresses, the cast of characters who find themselves at Nozaki’s, helping him put in backgrounds or do screentones or draw effects grows steadily. At the same time, the series focuses on the lives of these high schoolers, and their relationships with one another.

I think the best part of GSNK is the strength of these characters. As I mentioned before, the series is well aware of the trappings of its genre, and plays with the stereotypes in a way that makes it both familiar and entirely unique.

nozakura

Sakura fits the bill as a shoujo heroine to a T – she’s cute and tiny, she has her signature polka-dot bows, and she’s motivated by, among other things, an unabiding passionate crush on her fellow classmate. But at the same time, Sakura often plays the straight man in much of the humor. And while, yes, her love of Nozaki is often played for laughs, it’s pretty clear that she’s well aware of his shortcomings. She’s often the first one to groan at his naivete, or crack sarcastic jokes about his obsessive tendencies.

And on top of that, Nozaki is far from your typical shoujo romantic interest. He is decidedly masculine-looking, but he’s not even remotely charming. He’s obsessively focused on his work. (In fact, his relationship with his characters in his manga is perhaps one of the most relatable things I’ve ever seen in any show ever. You truly do become both malevolent god and doting parent to your characters…) He’s deadpan and rather stupid, and yet… Sakura loves him anyway. And for his part, while he obviously doesn’t understand her, he definitely respects her and relies on her.

While Sakura does do some pining, the two of them actually spend a lot of time together, and seem to be pretty close. Most of the time, Sakura and Nozaki make a pretty good team, and many of their scenes together don’t have to rely on the romantic tension to be funny. (Consider the iconic scene, pictured above, where they both forget their umbrellas and have to make a mad dash home – shielded by Nozaki’s school jacket. It’s definitely not played up romantically, but it is hilarious.)

wakaseo

The supporting cast of this anime also shines, although my favorite duo is absolutely Seo Yuzuki and Wakamatsu Hirotaka. Seo is Sakura’s best friend, and simultaneously the tough girl delinquent and a musical genius with a voice like an angel. What more can be said about her other than that she’s hilarious and the queen of my heart? Not much… well, except for her adorably hilarious relationship with her underclassman, Waka.

The dynamic between the two of them is sadly ironic – see, Wakamatsu is a first year basketball player who is constantly tormented by Seo, who often stands in and helps with the boys’ basketball rehearsals. His anxiety over these encounters leads to insomnia, to the point where there is only one thing that can lull him to sleep… a recording of Seo’s beautiful singing.

Of course, he doesn’t know the recording (which he got from Nozaki), is Seo. And Seo doesn’t know the effect her voice has on him. And so these two dance around each other, constantly coming close but never quite figuring out how intertwined their lives are. It’s frustrating but it’s also hilarious and is probably my favorite part of the whole series.

kashihori

Not to be outdone, the princely Kashima Yuu and her harem of devoted fangirls is constantly amusing, topped only by her relationship with the tragically short Hori Masayuki. They’re both excellent actors who love and respect each others’ craft, but they can never quite see eye to eye (both literally and figuratively). The audience is left somewhat to wonder whether what these two have is romance… or a rivalry… or just a really weird friendship? Who knows? Probably not even them.

mikorin

And of course I can’t forget Mikoshiba Mikoto, or “Mikorin” to his friends. He just doesn’t fit as well into a pairing as the other characters, but that’s a point I’ll get back to in a second.

Mikorin looks to be your stereotypical pretty boy cool guy “every girl loves him” type. Which is… true. Except Mikorin is also incredibly socially anxious, and often deeply embarrasses himself with the flirty things he tells girls. He’s far more comfortable playing otome games, and yet, regardless, he gets roped into spending time with his adoring fangirls anyway. There’s something very relatable in his endless cycle of shallow confidence and self-loathing, and he’s a loveable character for sure. (Plus, he’s excellent at drawing flowers for Nozaki’s manga and I’m SO JEALOUS ABOUT THAT MIKORIN TEACH ME HOW!!!)

But this brings me back to my last point in this (unintentionally very long) tirade. Yes, Mikorin doesn’t fit into a pairing quite as easily as the other characters do and yet… it doesn’t matter? One of the things I really appreciate about GSNK is the amount of time it spends developing not just the main pairings. It’s easy to throw together Nozaki and Sakura, Seo and Wakamatsu, and Hori and Kashima because their relationships are, well, ships. But there’s also great stuff between Seo and Sakura, whose yin and yang friendship is too precious. Wakamatsu looks up to Nozaki as a senpai, and often goes to him for advice. Kashima and Mikorin are rivals turned best friends! Sakura and Seo try to teach Kashima how to sing! Nozaki writes scripts for Hori!

While, yes, GSNK is a silly anime, it’s a silly anime with a lot of heart. It cares about its characters, and it expects the audience to as well. It’s legitimately funny, and smart, and basically the only anime that’s had me hurting from laughing so hard. Do yourself a favor and watch it. (And campaign with me for a season 2 because the manga has SO MUCH MORE CONTENT that would be INCREDIBLE animated so COME ON!!)

Anyway, thank you for indulging me in this… oh god, nearly 1,700 word rant about this anime. We’ll be back to our regularly scheduled quality content next week, I promise.

Review: “Gakkou Gurashi!” is Surprisingly Good

gakkougurashi

I finished “Gakkou Gurashi!” or “School Live!” about a week ago and, let me tell you, I was not expecting to ever be able to type that sentence truthfully. To be honest, this show looks nothing like something I’d enjoy (I say, very hypocritically, as I realize that it resembles “Love Live”, an anime I adore, even down to its name… but whatever.) This show is… definitely surprising to say the least.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Since this is my first review, I thought I’d speak a minute on how reviews are going to work on this blog. Since I think reviews are great ways to recommend good stuff to people, I want to make sure to give readers an easy way to avoid spoilers. For that reason, each of my reviews will be two parts. The first part will be a general recommendation with no spoilers, and the second will be a more in-depth review of what I thought, spoilers included.

For this anime, that means the spoiler-free part is going to be very vague, just because about 90% of what I can say about it is a spoiler.  So, uh… sorry in advance?

General Overview [Spoiler Free]

“Gakkou Gurashi!” is an anime about Megurigaoka Private High School’s School Life club, and its members Yuki Takeya, Yuuri Wakasa, Kurumi Ebisuzawa, and Miki Naoki as they go about their daily routine and club activities. Along with their teacher and advisor Megumi Sakura and high-spirited dog Taroumaru, the girls of the School Life club live at their beloved school and take part in all of its activities. And… that’s really all I can tell you. Anything more, and the completely fascinating first episode of this anime is spoiled, and I would hate to do that.

What I can tell you is that this anime is certainly worth you time. It has its flaws – namely a cliche main cast, some really hyper-stereotypical character interactions, and cheap fanservice – but I was honestly able to overlook this just on the strength of its storyline alone. If you’re thinking you might want to check this show out, though, DO NOT, I repeat, DO. NOT. google search it. Do not look up anything about it. Just go to whatever anime streaming website you prefer, put on your blinders and click the first episode without reading anything else.

Even if you’re not too interested by the synopsis alone, I highly recommend you at least check out the first episode. Wait until you’ve seen the entire first episode to judge this one – I promise you won’t regret it. Honestly, the experience of going in blind to this anime’s first episode was enough for me to justify watching the rest of it, even if it never quite ventured into any genres I particularly enjoy.

… And really, that’s all I can say without giving too much away. This anime really does wait to show its hand, so give it a chance, at least. I recommend it.

More in-depth, spoilery review under the read more!

Continue reading