12 Days IV: Meta-meta-meta-

「Rewrite攻略記念」/「k3」

「Rewrite攻略記念」/「k3」

It was cool the first few times I saw it, but visual novels are kind of getting out of hand with the whole meta timeline and universe jumping structural shenanigans. Rewrite escalates this situation further than Key had done before with Little Busters or Clannad. Of course, Rewrite offers something very different from its Key and universe-jumping predecessors, which was enough to placate me. At the very least, the side routes aren’t a waste of time like in Little Busters, so that’s already a huge improvement. Also Kotori is the best, thank you Chiwa Saito.

World End Economica episode 1: Quantitative Analysis 101

WORLD END ECONOMICA
A long time ago, I was searching for news about the newest Kishida Kyodan and the Akeboshi Rockets album, POPSENSE. POPSENSE came with a bunch of these funny little blue-haired faces, one of which was the album cover. One of these faces was noticeably different, having black hair and red eyes. It turns out that was supposed to be Hagana, one of the main characters from World End Economica and it turned out that the OP track was on this album.

That’s how I found out about World End Economica, which was a weird-sounding title and surely couldn’t have had anything to do with economics. But I was wrong, because it so happened that it was written by a certain Isuna Hasekura, who was responsible for everyone’s favourite wolf goddess medieval mercantile adventure. This was exciting to learn about until I realized that it was never going to be translated because it was a doujin visual novel. I shouted into the wind on twitter and magically received a response:

So now it’s been almost a year later and finally available for purchase with my hard earned yencoins so I can actually read it. Is there anything to it beyond economics on the moon? Why, yes, in fact, there is.

World End Economica is about quantitative analysis.

Our story begins in the grand moon city with a young vagrant, Yoshiharu, who’s pretty good at trading and has an intuition for it. At this point I’m wondering how the hell human civilization managed to build a financial centre on the moon but it’s still possible for someone to succeed at trading manually. And the story answered with Hagana, an incredibly socially awkward girl whose only skill is being amazing at math and is distraught because math is actually totally useless in the real world.

You might be able to see where this is going. Quantitative analysis is what we call the application of mathematics to finance. The idea is to take into account all of the data on the market and somehow model it so that you can predict and optimize when you buy and sell various stocks, how much of each stock, and at what rate. And of course, when you’re dealing with this much data and this many calculations, you’ll need to get a computer to do all of this for you and you can get computers to automate trading for you. This automation is what’s called algorithmic trading, where you essentially rely on computers and algorithms to figure out and do stuff automatically.

Because of how well it’s able to optimize profits and how quickly it gets data and processes it, it’s how a significant amount of trading goes on today. As a result, the market becomes a giant feedback loop of inputs going into these algorithms. The algorithms process this stuff and make decisions and take actions and generates a whole new set of data to be fed back into the algorithms again.

Now, this is great for all the mathematicians and computer scientists out there because all of a sudden, there’s another career track that’s opened up that’s willing lure us away from academia with large bags of money. But then the question is that once algorithms are doing all the trading, what do the traders do? This is something that I don’t have an answer to because I don’t really know that much about finance.

This also turns out to be a question that our MC asks himself too. He’s managed to help this girl discover that her talents aren’t a waste and that she can use them to help people. But in the course of using and developing her skills, she’s basically making bank and obsoleted him out of nowhere. So, is there a role for people in trading and finance if computers can do it all?

And that could be a pretty frightening question if you think about it. We’re used to robots replacing people for menial labour because they’re stronger or more efficient and better at doing rote tasks. But now, we’re able to replace traders with computers. And if you think about that for a bit, you realize that these algorithms fighting it out on the market are responsible for a huge chunk of wealth in the world right now.

And that brings us to the other question, which is can we trust the computer? Obviously, someone has to know how to transform the processes and data so that it can be shoved into a computer, but once we have something complex enough, it kind of morphs into a magical box. There’s no way to verify that this thing you’re feeding a ton of data is doing the right thing. So when your gut and the box are in conflict, which do you trust when you have tons of peoples’ money on the line?

Unfortunately, this is only episode 1 so I have to wait an unspecified amount of time before Spicy Tails decides to translate and release the next installment to find out where this is going. So far, it’s been intriguing enough for me to stick around, even though the art and music are fairly sparse and the editing could use some work. I guess the answer to getting my attention is to write a story about math.

12 Days I: Something stolen

「武御雷Type-00F」/「ひろぽん♪」

Just as we learned in Muv-Luv Alternative, it doesn’t take very long for everything that’s been going so well to just crash and burn. Six years after the promise at the end of Akane Maniax, we finally have ourselves a Muv-Luv anime. So it’s a sidestory, that’s okay, I can’t say no to more Muv-Luv. Oh, but it features a song by Koda Kumi. Also, it looks kind of bad. Also, the BETA look really bad. Also, it’s veering into really dumb territory. And the characters are unlikeable and stupid. Oh no, what does this mean for the future of Muv-Luv in animation? No. Please, no. Make it stop. Cue the piano.

THE MOST ANTICIPATED GAME IN HISTORY

A visual novel about disabled girls with origins from 4chan based on some extra pages in some doujin sounds like the most horrible thing and shouldn’t exist, but it exists and is actually not horrible at all. But everyone knew that already when the demo came out, what, three or four years ago? Everyone was waiting for it, but kind of like Starcraft II, I don’t think anyone expected it to get released within our lifetime.

So, the story goes the main character, Hisao, gets a heart attack and discovers he has a heart condition which leads to him being enrolled in a high school for students with disabilities. And then life becomes an adventure with choices.

Katawa Shoujo is a galge and seeing as how I played it right after I finished Little Busters, it was really hard not to compare it to Key’s brand of visual novels. I’d talked about Little Busters before and mentioned that it seemed more ridiculous than the usual Key stuff. Instead, Katawa Shoujo was able to get me to care about the characters more, simply because what they were going through was a real thing that could happen.

And because these were real things, the characters felt more like real people. A big reason why moe template characters don’t feel like real people is because the only flaw that they have is whatever otherworldly problem manifests soon after they meet you. Real and serious problems make the characters more believable and it seems like the writers really had to think about the implications of what each disability meant for the development each character.

For instance, one of the more interesting characters in Little Busters was Kud, whose problem was basically being half-Japanese and half-foreign and not knowing where she belonged. Of course, her Engrish was played up for the uguu factor occasionally, but her being unable to find belonging made her much more interesting than other uguu~s.

Realistic problems affect the characters. Some of them are born with them. They act differently than those who weren’t. Some of them overcompensate for what they don’t have. Some of them don’t care. In some ways, it’s not so much the disability affecting the character, but how the character’s personality is magnified by how they deal with it.

The characters have very strong and distinct personalities. Normally, the main character is a blank stand-in so that you can feel like that guy, but Hisao has just enough written about him that he’s his own character. At the same time, he’s still undefined enough that his personality changes depending on which girl’s route you’re on. A result of this is that in every route, he has really good chemistry with the heroine.

So since the individual routes matter and hit upon different things, let’s go through them.

Shizune’s route was the least enjoyable. I’ll admit that a large part of why I didn’t like Shizune’s route is because I didn’t like Shizune or Misha. They’re interesting when they’re together, but I didn’t like either of them because I don’t think I’d get along with them. I’m not really into the short hair or megane either. But most importantly, I thought most of the route was kind of boring, probably because the problem in this route was relationship drama.

Lilly’s route was enjoyable. Like Shizune, Lilly’s had her disability since birth, so she’s used to it by now and none of her problems really come out of that. And in fact, she’s a well-adjusted person who’s doing well, so she’s not having any problems on that front either. Most of the route is actually about Hisao dealing with his new life and how that affects his relationship with Lilly.

Emi’s route was one that I didn’t expect to like as much as I did. I don’t usually like the archetype that Emi’s character is drawn from, but I think her trolling with the nurse made her more likeable than just the energetic girl. She’s one of the characters who wasn’t born with her disability and has it play a role in the story (the other being Hanako). While the theme in both of their stories is kind of the same, their stories are different in the way they handle their situation. Emi is pretty conscious about her situation and does stuff about it, whether or not it’s actually helpful. Also, the nurse seemed eerily similar to Souma from Working!! (and by transitivity, Izaya from DRRR!!).

Rin’s route was the most surprising. In the other routes, Rin’s disconnectedness and resulting lines are pretty amusing, so I went into it kind of expecting some eccentricity and laughs. It turned out to be rather serious and not hilarious at all. It definitely colours her responses, even outside of her route. Like Lilly, her disability isn’t the root of any problems she’s facing. I can’t recall off the top of my head of any other visual novels where the protagonist and one of the heroines have such unpleasant development and struggle to understand each other.

Hanako is my favourite character, if not necessarily my favourite route. Out of all the characters, I think Hanako’s backstory and story are the most Key-like. She’s basically the shy, quiet girl with tragic past (so the opposite of Emi) and most of the route involves protagonist-kun breaking her out of her shell. Well, at least until the end, where the resolution to her route is not very Key-like at all. While the ending was good, it seemed kinda short. Or I don’t know, maybe I just wanted to see Hanako be happy some more.

Obviously, Katawa Shoujo isn’t about disabilities or disabled people or how disabled people are people just like us. I’d like to think that we don’t need a visual novel to teach us that. And, I mean, the central problems to the stories have very little to do with the characters’ disabilities. It’s all about Hisao learning to understand people, especially the girls he’s building relationships with. The caveat is that they, and most people, make that very hard to do.

Ordinary boy who experienced extraordinary youth

「正月2012」/「ZEN」

So my predictions have been a bit off, but there’s still plenty of time for Little Busters to get a KyoAni anime on that timeline! What I think is more surprising (other than Haruhi getting more anime before LB) is that the translation for the visual novel is finished and I’ve played through it, long before a Little Busters anime has even been announced.

Little Busters is an interesting experience for me, because it’s the first “real” Key visual novel I’ve played without knowing much going into it. Sure, there’s Planetarian, but that’s relatively short, so I don’t count it. Sure, there’s Angel Beats, but that’s not a visual novel. And sure, I’ve played Clannad, but it’s Clannad and I know everything about Clannad.

I mentioned before that Angel Beats made me wonder whether I really like Key or if I just really liked Clannad. Even better than an anime, I think the Little Busters visual novel is a perfect opportunity to see where my tastes lie.

Like any good Key work, Little Busters has to have a theme. That theme happens to be adolescence or childhood. Alright, then. From this, there are a bunch of things that are pretty similar to Angel Beats. We’ve got the setting down and there’s a good chunk of the game that’s spent on trying to put together a baseball team. At a glance it seems like it’s all about living out your youth and all that. The common route mostly just made me wonder why they bothered to create Angel Beats when they had this lying around.

You’ve got your usual suspects in the cast: socially awkward childhood friend who likes cats, disgustingly cheerful nice girl, shit-stirring genki girl, suspiciously combat-hardened and cool onee-sama, quiet book girl, and dojikko with verbal tic. But, the main character isn’t the usual Key template blank but mildly snarky dude. Instead, you’re a Hayate (from Hayate the Combat Butler) except you’re kind of weak instead of absurdly competent. You’ve also got a bunch of childhood friend bros, the Little Busters, who watch your back and are actually pretty important to the main story. Obviously, every important character ends up on the Little Busters baseball team.

Structurally, the whole thing is pretty similar to Clannad. You’ve got all of your routes that you have to do before you get a swing at the route that ties everything together. What’s different is the common route, where you’re building up stats and rounding up people and comedy happens. I actually like the common route, if I ignore being put through it about six times.

Where I’m pretty dissatisfied is with the side routes. I went in expecting the usual Key stuff with fatal sickness and astral projections. I think the main problem with this stuff in Little Busters is that the writers realized that they couldn’t fall back on the same old stuff again, so they tried to spin up some new awful tragedy for each character.

Before, the tragedies were pretty grounded. Someone lost a family member or someone is terminally ill. That stuff is easy to empathize with. The most outlandish stuff is the astral projection or animal spirit stuff, but even then, that stuff is sort of left to mystery.

In Little Busters, they take something simple and try to add another layer to it to try to make it new. So someone loses a family member, but they also regress into a catatonic state whenever they remember. Or someone is feeling out of place because they’re half-Japanese and struggling with their cultural identity, which is a real thing and you can empathize with that. But then they add this crazy backstory about their homeland under civil unrest and it’s like what.

And it’s not like they succeeded in making these developments new. I’ve watched and played almost all of the Key anime and visual novels and that basically let me SEE THE ENDING, so to speak (not that they weren’t making it extremely obvious). When I didn’t predict how a route would go when I got halfway through it, it was because there was the aforementioned ridiculous thing that was bolted on.

The “real” story, as in the right girl’s path together with the final route, is better in that the twists were actually kind of interesting instead of dumb and it’s where it differentiates itself from Angel Beats. How the story unfolds is a bit more clever than Clannad’s handling of the After Story route.

It’s definitely not as great as Clannad and I don’t think even the main route came together all that well. Even though it was better and actually interesting, a lot of it was still kind of ridiculous. I’ll let light orbs go, but this was kind of pushing it.

This all makes me kind of worried about Rewrite, but that has a trailer where a guy fights a dinosaur, so who knows?