So this week, I wanted to do something a little different that would (hopefully) provide some fun for me. While trying to figure out exactly what that would be, I managed to mangle two things in my head. You see, I had meant to tell myself ‘Let’s take a roll of the dice and do something at random.’ Somehow, I managed to replace the word ‘roll’ with ‘Crunchyroll’. And so this feature was born.
I am a big advocate of legal streaming sites, and found many a good show during my time with Animax. As it is, and for several reasons, I’ve switched to Crunchyroll. As soon as I heard the mixed up ‘Crunchyroll of the dice’, I knew what I was going to do. I’d pick two shows at complete random on the site, watch the first episodes and compare them both. The only rules I put in place were as follows:
- The series must be picked at random
- If it has multiple seasons, I go with season 1
- I have to at least try to watch the episode, no matter what show I get
So how did my first pair of random shows pan out for me? Let’s start with the first one that I watched.
Love Live! School Idol Project – May Our Dream Come True!
So this was an interesting start. Of course, I’ve not been living entirely under a rock, so I know of the show. I’ve even watched a documentary on NHK World TV that briefly covered a café that uses the show as part of their marketing and theme. What I had not done, however, was watch the show. Why? Because no matter how good the reviews, it simply did not sound like the sort of show that I would enjoy. I was well aware that that actually means very little and that it could very easily surprise me, so it wasn’t like I was averse to watching it, but it did mean that it was low on my list of potential watches.
The show opens up with the lead, Honoka, singing. She has a decent voice, the melody is catchy, and the animation of the cherry blossoms floating down was pretty good. Then we move on to what had happened before she started singing and get to the crux of the show: Honoka’s school is to be closed. As a set-up, this is fine. What bugged me was the opening video that followed. The song was super catchy, and while I cannot now remember it in my head, I did quite enjoy it as an opening theme. My problem was the animation. While the episode itself was animated very smoothly, the opening was worked in a slightly different style, using a technique that reminded me of a hybrid of the more recent runs of Appleseed and the second closing video for season one of Nura: Rise of the Yokai Clan. I’m sure this style is very popular, and in both those shows, it runs very smoothly. In Love Live though? Not so much. It honestly felt a little jerky to me, and the movements started to look a bit unnatural.
Back to the episode though and there are some really nice little things going on that really illustrate the difference between Japanese and Western schools, at least in my experience. Regardless of Honoka’s exclamation that she doesn’t want to have to test for another school, she does outright state that she loves her school. On top of that, Honoka and her friends make a reference to how sad it will be for the current first years not to ever have any juniors (i.e. new first years) when they reach second year. Certainly in my area that would not have even entered the minds of the pupils. We didn’t hate school, and we would have worried in the same situation (at least until we realised that it wouldn’t close until after we left), but the level of respect for school was different. It really seems like Japan puts such an emphasis on school’s importance and how much you should respect your school and enjoy your social activities, and that’s something that sometimes seems missing over here. The same goes for when she sees her Mum’s school pictures: she respects tradition in a way that many people I knew didn’t.
Honoka watches a performance by school idol group named A-RISE, and notes how popular they are and how much that helps the other school get new pupils. That’s important because her school is only closing due to low intake levels, so repairing that would ensure the school remains open. The song is again really catchy, perhaps even more so than the opening one, and so it inspires Honoka to try to start a school idol group in an attempt to emulate their success. That’ll be easy, right? Of course not. And Honoka’s friend Umi is there to give her the reality check that it it’d be a lot of hard work and that she would probably fail. Harsh? Yes. But it’s necessary. I try not to enter things without knowing how much hard work it will be, and it really confuses me when other people don’t do the same. So for that I say, ‘Well done Umi!’.
Next, we get another catchy song when Honoka finds a random pupil playing and tries to get her to join up. Again, the vocals are strong and the melody is good, so that gives me hope for the quality of the series musically. I mean, that’s four songs thus far and no misses despite my tastes generally leaning more towards rock and metal. We get a snippet of Umi where we learn that she’s a crack shot with a bow and arrow, but is struggling today due to Honoka putting the idol idea in her head. That was a nice touch as it shows Umi has having a nice balanced personality between tomboy and girly. There soon follows a little flash back to Honoka and her two best friends when they were younger, which illustrates that Honoka has always had lofty goals, is pushy about going for them and dragging her friends along with her, and they never regret joining her for the ride, even when things go wrong. As a result, the friends join the project.
The ending indicates that the project was snuffed out before it could begin in earnest, but we all know that that doesn’t happen. It does give a chance to show Honoka’s determination though and jumps us straight back to the beginning of the episode, launching into the full ending version of the song, complete more of the weird animation that grated on me earlier.
Sword Art Online – The World of Swords
This amused me as a random pick because I have intentionally avoided the show. I know how much the first season has been praised, and the premise kinda fits with what I like, but it all sounded very ‘Dot Hack’ to me. Is that a bad thing? Yes, because I love ‘Dot Hack’, and it would be unfair to compare the two as a result. So here I had to consciously avoid letting myself fall into thinking ‘rip off’ and take the show on its own merits.
We open with a brief run-down explaining that Sword Art Online is a new MMORPG that you access through a VR headset called NerveGear, and the game is immensely popular despite not officially opening up yet. The beta testers for it loved it, and the pre-orders were so high that only ten thousand copies were released outside the pre-orders. Our hero, Kirito, was a beta tester and happily logs himself in to enjoy the full experience.
Upon his arrival, Kirito meets Klein, a new player who spots how apt Kirito is and asks him to teach him the basics. Having been respectful and not acted like a tool, Kirito does so. What was quite nice with this was that it not only showed some likeable personality traits for both characters, but served a purpose in advancing the viewers knowledge of the game. As they talked, Kirito explained how the movements work and how the battle system plays out. He also commented that there is no magic in SOA, which I thought was an interesting little touch. Without magic, there is no sudden learning of a conveniently useful and mega powerful attack that just happens to be what was needed to win whatever big battle. Now, they did also say that there are potentially unlimited skills to learn, so they may yet renege on that point later on, but as a start, it’s fine by me.
Next came the dilemma: The ‘Log Out’ button had disappeared from the player menu, meaning no one could log out of the game. ‘Why not remove the headgear?’ I asked myself, and almost immediately it was explained that while it was activated, the brain was not sending messages to the body in terms of movement. Good save SOA. While Klein lives alone, Kirito mentions that he has a mum and a sister, so they may come and remove the headset … and Klein gets creepy and starts taking an interest in Kirito’s little sister. Urgh. And he’d been so likeable up until then too.
Anyway, forced warp and we get a system alert message tile its way across the sky, complete with a nice little blood drip effect that forms Raistlin Majere from Dragonlance … no, wait, it Kayabe Akihito, creator of the game. He explains that everyone is locked into the game, that forced removal of the NerveGear will result in the player being fried, and that if you die in the game you die in real life. All perfectly sinister as a set-up, so that’s good. The only way to escape is to clear all 100 levels of the game, a task that the beta testers didn’t even get close to. Next, he gives the players mirrors that remove their avatars and make them look like their real life bodies. That led to an amusing scene where a guy and a girl that had been flirting suddenly realise that the girl is in reality a guy and the guy is not near the seventeen that he claimed to be. A real risk of online use? Absolutely. But it was put across in a funny way, so I don’t mind laughing.
Finally, Kirito decides to run off to the next village because he knows that the limited resources in village one will be sued up quickly as players try to level up. It’s here that he parts ways with Klein and swears that he’ll survive. The Ending video that follows features a good first look at some of the yet-to-be-introduced characters, and a song that I thought was just OK. The soundtrack has seemed quite limited actually, but what I’ve noticed was pretty good in terms of musical scores, so the ending theme is the only real musical disappointment thus far.
Let the battle commence!
I will now compare each series on several different aspects. The winning series in each category gets two points, and both series get one point in the case of a draw. The battles will be: Best Opening Episode (in terms of achieving the goal of setting the series up), Best Main Character, Best Supporting Cast, Best Storyline, Best Animation, and Best Soundtrack.
It’s actually kinda hard for me to give a good comparison here. It’s not even that the series are so different that makes it difficult, it’s that I enjoyed them both more than I was expecting. Did going in with low expectations help? Perhaps. Honestly though, they were both good opening episodes that did a very good job of being what opening episodes should be: a solid introduction to the main character and the storyline that they’re embroiled in. Best Opening Episode: Draw
When comparing the leads, Kirito and Honoka, I would say that they both seem pretty likeable thus far. Kirito has perhaps shown less of himself at this point, so Honoka may just about edge him in that department, but the main thing is that neither has done anything to annoy me. Best Main Character: Honoka (Love Live!)
The supporting cast is an easier one to judge. Klein was the only real other character to get any time in SOA, and even leaving the creepy bit about Kirito’s little sister aside, there wasn’t really too much to him. Sure, he was nice, but that’s about it. Traversely, several personalities have started to show in Love Live! Already with both Umi and the Student Council President standing out for me. Best Supporting Cast: Love Live!
From a storyline standpoint, both shows have decent premises that have been set out nicely by the opening episodes. Love Live! is clearly going to be a decent story about chasing dreams, not giving up etc., while SOA takes a more Science Fantasy bent with a virtual setting. In terms of potential, Love Live! seems relatively limited in what it can do: some wacky hijinks, some touching moments, and a focus on determination. SOA on the other hand could easily incorporate the same things with some added action and some real peril. To me, that gives it the clear lead. Best Storyline: Sword Art Online
The animation here is pretty close in both series. Everything moves smoothly, the backgrounds are really nice, and there are some really nice little touches where needed (i.e. the cherry blossoms in Love Live! and the digital lighting during attacks in SOA). I really can’t overlook how off-putting I found the opening and ending animation in Love Live! though. For that, I dock points. Best Animation: Sword Art Online
As I’ve already mentioned, SOA seemed really limited in its use of music, at last as far as things standing out go. There was a nice little flourish after the episode title came up, but outside that nothing leapt out at me other than the ending theme not really clicking for me. On the other hand, Love Live! featured a number of really catchy songs that I found myself enjoying far more than I expected. This is therefore an easy category to judge. Best Soundtrack: Love Live!
Final Scores: Love Live! – 7 points, Sword Art Online – 5 points
So there you have it. I enjoyed both shows far more than expected and am certainly open to watching more of each, but Love Live! just about takes the top spot in this battle. Given my normal tastes in shows, that wasn’t how I expected things to turn out, but what can you do? Regardless, I hope you all enjoyed my first Crunchyroll of the Dice! Perhaps I’ll do another one further down the line.