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 X: A tale of love and courage

「FF系 マブラヴタイトル」/「ぽかり@ぴくしぶ」

Muv-Luv is a journey.

Maybe saying it’s the longest visual novel I’ve played is a bit unfair because it’s really two or three games, depending on how you see Extra and Unlimited, and there was a good two or three years until Alternative was released. Still, going through the entire thing takes a ton of time.

The way I like to think about Muv-Luv’s unique structure is by comparing it to Clannad, where the really good stuff, Alternative and After Story, requires a lot of time invested beforehand in the content that comes before it. That’s not to say that the non-Alt/AS stuff is bad, but it’s definitely not earthshattering. And in the case of the Clannad visual novel, it’s probably not as important.

This isn’t true for Muv-Luv. If you’re only in Muv-Luv for the sci-fi, going through the school life hijinks of Extra is going to seem torturous but it is absolutely vital. This isn’t the same as Clannad’s school life routes or Fate/stay night’s Fate route. Extra matters, possibly even more than Unlimited does.

So when I say school life, I mean Muv-Luv Extra is basically your standard school life harem thing. Unremarkable guy goes to school and all of the girls he knows is inexplicably attracted to him. You’ve got childhood friend, mysterious rich transfer student, kuudere, and class president. Other characters include a bro and two teachers. And comedic and romantic things happen in this part and by the end of it, you’ll have a girlfriend. Congratulations!

So you finish Extra and suddenly the title screen changes and all of the heroines are wearing different uniforms. Here is where I’d really like to have been around for when this thing first came out because I have no idea if anyone expected this and what the reaction was. Even more so once you start a new game and find something called Unlimited. Now in Muv-Luv Unlimited, we start with some scenes from Extra. See, because you’re the same guy from Extra. Except now you wake up, walk outside your house and find that the city has been destroyed. HMMMMMMMMMMMMM.

Essentially, this entire thing is about Shirogane Takeru, a normal guy who gets thrown in to an alternate universe in which humanity is under attack by aliens and are losing. How does he deal with this? By breaking into a military base to steal a mecha and save the day, of course. Except that he can’t because he’s a high school student from 2000s Japan and doesn’t know about anything and knows no one.

That last thing pretty much guarantees he’s dead, but with some luck, he ends up becoming a trainee at the local UN military base and he gets a chance to show off his chops. Except, again, he’s a high school student so he fails miserably and holds his entire squad back because of his ineptitude. Unlimited is basically him learning the ropes and somehow getting it. This part ends fairly uneventfully, which brings us to Alternative.

In Alternative, Takeru mysteriously starts over at the beginning of where he was in Unlimited, except he’s retained all of his memories and experiences from Unlimited. This time, he’s going to do it right, which, as it turns out, is quite difficult even if he’s not the complete failure from before. It turns out saving the humanity is hard!

Here’s where everything exciting happens. Political intrigue! Mecha combat! Alien horrors! Military briefings! We finally get to see the mecha in action and there are some really fantastic action sequences. Yes, this is a visual novel and yes, it relies on tricks similar to Fate/stay night that use sprites and the visual novel engine to create a sense of dynamism to the combat. The other thing that adds to it is how the characters work together. Good squad combat is not something you see a lot of in mecha anime, but it’s here and I’d say it’s plays a pretty big part in the story’s themes.

This is also where all of the emotional payoff (read: gutpunches) is. And this is where all of the time you spent with Extra comes in, as the nature of the world you’re in is revealed and casualties mount. While Unlimited and Alternative take place in the same world, Unlimited doesn’t have quite the sense of danger that Alternative does because the aliens do not mess around when they show up. Sometimes we kind of forget that there’s a reason that humanity’s losing. All of this causes a number of oh, shit moments.

As we move from Unlimited to Alternative, the goal changes from trying to get the hell out of crazy apocalyptic world and get back to fun times high school to trying to save that world and the people in it. So now, he’s invested in that place, except that’s a scary place to have people to care for, especially if they’re fighting aliens bent on their destruction. What’s more is that even if he does end up finding a way to gtfo, can he bring himself to abandon everyone so he can chillax with his harem back in Extra?

Muv-Luv is not really about saving the world. It’s a lot more personal than that. How else would you explain Extra? It’s about Takeru coming to terms with this incredible situation he’s been thrown into and rising to the challenge of dealing with it. And it’s something that’s true for all the characters in Alternative. Everyone has things they would rather be doing, but instead, they have to deal with this terrible world filled with aliens and loss and it’s up to them to deal with it and decide to do something about it.

The game’s genre is “a tale of love and courage” for good reason.

12 Days IX: Hello, Gii

「現象数式使い」/「あや波平」

I don’t remember where I heard about Sekien no Inganock, but when I was trying to figure out which visual novel to play next, Inganock jumped out because of how different its premise was. I mean, the last few visual novels I read before it were Cross Channel, Tsukihime, Sharin no Kuni, and Muv-Luv and all of those started off with high school shenanigans and even if they did end up in very different places, all of the principal characters were a guy in high school and other high school students.

Sekien no Inganock is set in a steampunk city inhabited by half-human, half-animal people and is about a travelling doctor. He goes around healing people with, uh, math, I guess? So you can tell that I like this guy a lot already. Besides that, he’s fairly calm and unmoved and his brand of snark is pretty deadpan.

Anyhow, I really love everything about this visual novel. Yeah, the story is kind of obtuse, especially once it gets close to the end. And yeah, that internal monologue system is convoluted and impossible to beat without a walkthrough. But everything else? Fantastic.

The art is stunningly gorgeous, even the character sprites. All of the landscapes are great, but it’s the monster event CGs that are amazing. It’s one of those games that I probably don’t want to see as an anime because an anime will never be able to capture the art (kind of like how the Steins;Gate anime can’t retain huke’s texturing). The music is really fantastic. I really liked the voices, whenever they were present. All of this adds to the great atmosphere and setting. This is something that’s shared amongst all of the games in the What a Beautiful series and this alone is enough to get me to pounce on the rest of them if I ever get the chance.

What separated Inganock from Sharnoth was the characters. I already mentioned our travelling doctor main character Gii. He’s great. But the other character that I thought was awesome was Ati. She’s a catgirl tsundere bro, kind of like Ami from Toradora. Regarding Gii, she waffles between the line of friendship and romance. They help each other out in various business ventures and get drinks at the pub. She’s more of the street smart one, since Gii is kind of a nerd, being a doctor and all. These two really made the game for me and when I got to the end of Ati’s story, well, I mad.

A lot of people complain about the repetitiveness of the story. I guess that aspect of it reminded me of Star Driver because it wasn’t too long after it had finished and we all remember all of the people complaining about how Takuto always wins. Well, it’s the same thing here. We get an encounter and Gii figures the monster out, so he stretches out his right hand. And then after Porshion, who we are assured is not human, burns the monster up, we cut to some dudes with a clock or watch trying to climb some stairs. This is the sort of stuff I enjoy.

I didn’t go in with the expectation that it would answer every question I had and I didn’t really have a desire to understand everything I didn’t get. It was just a really nice thing to experience and I was quite satisfied with having gone through it once I got to the end of it. Well, not quite satisfied in that I’ll be jumping at every bit of news of more WAB games getting translated.

Clannad again

「CLANNAD」/「嘎哦」

Much to dad’s disappointment, I finally played through the Clannad visual novel. At first, I figured that I wouldn’t get much out of it since the anime was a sufficiently faithful adaptation of the visual novel. Then, I was bored and figured that since I already friggin love Clannad so much, it wouldn’t hurt to go through it again.

For the most part, I’m pretty glad I did. The most impressive thing about the anime adaptation was that there were elements in both the anime and visual novel that I preferred over the other. The differences in what was chosen for adaptation were pretty minor. While they didn’t affect the overall character of the story, reading it again with those changed details makes it a slightly different experience.

I played it with a walkthrough and the first impression I had was being glad that someone made a walkthrough because that game would have been impossible to beat without one. It’s easily the hardest one I’ve played and has some weird flags, like completing certain routes immediately before other ones and other things that would’ve been impossible to know about. This is in addition to being long and having a billion routes with the most surprising characters getting their own routes.

Obviously, the biggest advantage the visual novel has over anime is time. Nothing felt rushed when I watched the anime, but seeing the relationships develop felt a lot more natural in the visual novel. This isn’t just limited to Nagisa and, obviously, it’s more important for each girl if you’re on their route. But I think the relationships that benefit the most from this are with the main players who aren’t Nagisa in After Story: Akio, Sanae, and Yoshino.

The most unsettling thing was watching Tomoya develop romantic relationships with girls who weren’t Nagisa. And not just that but almost every girl’s route. Like, Ryou, Kyou, Kotomi, and Tomoyo were okay, since I was sufficiently prepared for it by the anime. But Fuko, Yukine, and Misae were all lolwut.

It was surprising to see Nagisa’s route involving so many pieces of the other routes. It made it really easy for the anime to just take a sought detour and finish each route off. I think the route that changed the most in the anime was Yukine’s route, which had that weird drama with the brother being secretly dead. In other routes, though, Nagisa’s absence felt really strange. This is most obvious in the Sunohara siblings arc, when, Sanae is super eager to help you for no reason.

So what about the stuff that didn’t make the cut for the anime? Again, I have to note how impressed I am that the anime managed to fit almost everything in in a way that makes sense. Even some stuff that didn’t make it initially found its way back in through the extra episodes. Of that stuff, I didn’t find that reading it added much that the anime didn’t handle. Of course, I would be down for a Tomoyo After anime of some sort.

The biggest exclusion was Kappei’s route, which makes sense since he’s practically invisible until you decide to enter his route. That makes me wonder why his route is included in the game. Is it because they felt sorry for Ryou getting shafted hard in Kyou’s route? It’s really weird.

The other story that doesn’t happen in the anime is Akio’s little escapade. What I found kind of strange about his route is that it’s a branch off of After Story that gets its own ending. I don’t see why it couldn’t have just been rolled in with the rest of it like Sanae’s or Yoshino’s was.

While After Story remained largely the same, there are some important differences in the visual novel’s account of the development of Tomoya’s and Nagisa’s relationship. The visual novel doesn’t really give Nagisa many things to be happy about. I was surprised that their initial failure to get the theatre club going was actually the starting point of their formal relationship. And then there’s Nagisa getting sick almost immediately after the play and her terrible school life after Tomoya graduates.

There’s a lot more focus on their relationship too, since all of that running around doing stuff for and making friends with the other girls is all gone. In the anime, Nagisa is able to participate in all of this helping and friend making stuff, but in her story in the visual novel, she doesn’t really get any breaks like that. Basically, it’s all about how Tomoya and Nagisa build their relationship in spite of all the crap that gets thrown their way.

For the most part, the anime is excellent. It’s one of very few anime adaptations of a visual novel that’s a perfectly fine substitute for the anime. If you do choose to play it, do know that it is super long. Unless you have a lot of time and you really like Clannad, you probably won’t get much out of playing it instead of or after watching the anime.

12 Days X: When the trolls cry

「ベルンさま」/「ガガミング」

「ベルンさま」/「ガガミング」

No, it’s not quite over yet, but this year, I got to experience the joy of the six month waits that accompany each successive Comiket. Yes, after going through Umineko EP1-4, I was suddenly left with nothing to do but wait for the fine folks at The Witch Hunt do their stuff. It’s definitely different having about half a year in between each Episode. For one thing, it was a lot harder to hold the details of each Episode with months in between playthroughs. But now, there is only one left as the pieces of the game are almost set in place.

Chiru was something I was really looking forward to because it would mean the beginning of being able to make sense of the insane things that went down in the first four Episodes. Of course, I didn’t expect it to be as straightforward as Higurashi’s Answer arcs, but I don’t think I was quite prepared for Ryukishi07 to continue in the tradition of Umineko by throwing in even more characters and new reveals that add to the questions rather than answer them.

Well, that’s not entirely true. While the Core arcs doesn’t show us what “actually” happened (and it’s unlikely that it ever will), it does explain how the mechanics of the games work. Things like the role of the Detective and Knox’s Decalogue give us the framework and a direction from which to approach the stories of each Episode. Throughout Episodes 1-4, we were essentially flailing around, looking for any possible explanation for what was going on, but the Core arcs finally let us narrow down the search space for plausible theories.

Not only that, but we get a lot more Meta-world shenanigans. Somehow, there’s a lot more time spent in the Meta-world, away from the events on Rokkenjima. Like the entire game in general, a lot more of the time is spent on the mechanics of the games instead of the events that are occurring in the games. The various witches and furniture and demons are getting a lot more screentime than the original 18 are, which is fine with me, because they get some amazing scenes.

And that’s not to say that there’s no reveals that aren’t more direct. There are a ton of hints scattered throughout these arcs, but EP7, much like Higurashi’s Minagoroshi-hen, has some pretty huge reveals. No, the mystery isn’t explicitly solved, but it should be close enough that a bit of thinking should get you pretty close, if not right at the answer.

For all the focus on proof and logic in the Question arcs, the Core arcs shift the focus pretty bluntly in EP5, with the introduction of Furudo Erika. Why are things like the Decalogue and other rules of the games revealed now? The Core arcs are much more about the nature of the story and why things happen rather than what or how things happened. Somewhere along the way, we realize that denying the Witch won’t necessarily give us the good end, because it means there’s still someone running around on the island murdering people. So the question now becomes finding out why there’s someone on the island murdering people.

Umineko has been an insane ride and I’m definitely looking forward to finally finishing it and having my head explode one last time next year.