Curious Bits From a Curious World


Dungeon & Girls

Developer: iQubi Inc.
Publisher: Lunosoft Inc.
Format: Android
Price: Micro-transactions

First, let me say that Dungeon & Girls commits what I consider the most egregious sin of mobile gaming. It starts the game before you can enter into any settings or options, which keeps you from adjusting sound levels before play. This a sin because with the nature of mobile gaming you will most likely find yourself in a public setting and no one wants to hear your noise. Thankfully D&G doesn’t commit the second sin and actually allows you to adjust the game audio as well as allowing you to play other background audio. Personally I like to listen to audio books or podcasts while playing mobile games and a surprising number of mobile games do not allow for background audio.

Dungeon & Girls bills itself as a dungeon crawler deck building game. As you traverse the dungeon you use your deck of cards as both your movement tokens and as your actions. While in the dungeon you’ll see a bar along the left side of the screen broken into 5 meter increments with monster and box icons spread randomly throughout. If you stop your movement on one of these icons you either find a treasure chest or a battle respectively. At the top of the screen you have a display telling you how far you are from the end of the dungeon and the top left of the cards currently in your hand show you how far you can move by using that particular card. Defeating monsters and opening treasure chests can gain you loot which you can sell for gold or give to your partner to increase their affection towards you. The higher their affection, the more powerful they become. All very standard mechanics with no surprises from a competently made game.

Calling Dungeon & Girls a dungeon crawler is a stretch. There’s no exploration, no mapping, no constant back and forth, no getting lost. The dungeons are literally a straight line from beginning to end and a minimum of strategic foresight negates most of the risk of play. During the play-through above I was in almost zero danger and by the end of that first level I was defeating enemies with only a few attacks. Dungeon & Girls is an attractive game, but not a very challenging one. Most of the replay value will come from attempting to collect all of the partners and different loot and building affection with your partners. It’s free with a shallow learning curve and quick pick up and play style, so go ahead and give it a try for yourself.


Hollywood’s Ghost In the Shell and Personal Identity


In no way do I intend this piece as a defense of Hollywood or its myriad disappointing practices.

Since Scarlett Johansson was announced to play the lead in the Hollywood adaptation of the Ghost in the Shell (GIS) series there has been no end to the criticism by individuals who believe that the character of Major Motoko Kusanagi should be played by a Japanese actress or at least an Asian actress. While the “whitewashing” of popular media is a serious problem I think that decrying the casting of GIS is ignoring the larger philosophical underpinnings of the series. For instance, the titular “ghost in the shell” refers to human consciousness within technological constructs. This in turn leads to greater questions seeking to define what exactly it means to be human.

Those calling for a casting change should know that in GIS, Major Kusanagi does not have a biological body. She received a full prosthetic body when she was extremely young, how young depends on the particular story you are referencing but they all have her as several years preteen when her consciousness is first transferred to a prosthetic body. She has a 100% cybernetic body, a state of being that is extremely rare in the GIS world. Ignoring for the time being that we are dealing with a fictional character, what is the nationality or ethnicity of a manufactured body? In a world where consciousness can be transferred from body to body how much of an individual’s personal identity is connected to their physical appearance? Perhaps physical identity becomes a completely separate aspect from overall being once people can simply change a body whenever they need or want to.

Nationality is the easier of the concepts to define and attach to an individual. At its core nationality is just a matter of belonging to a particular nation. No conscious effort has to be taken and so inanimate objects can have a set nationality as well as animals let alone people. If you consider prosthetic bodies purely as manufactured trade goods, then there is no philosophical conflict. Nations routinely produce trade goods and many of those are restricted products due to various intellectual property concerns. Wandering into the realm of intellectual properties (IPs) things begin to get complex. Even in our current state there is a lot of discussion regard the nature of IPs. Copyright laws are already Gordian Knots attempting to spell out who owns what in regards to IPs. Now imagine adding the extra layer of having those IPs be the residence of a separate intellect. Let’s say that a Japanese citizen is in a horrendous accident and has to have their consciousness transferred into a prosthetic body. Most people would agree that this individual is still Japanese, that’s not the real issue. Let’s say that a Japanese citizen is in a horrendous accident in France and has to have a consciousness transfer. The doctors perform the transfer with the prosthesis they have on hand and once the Japanese citizen is healthy they attempt to return to Japan. Here we have a problem. The prosthesis that the French doctors provided to the Japanese citizen are restricted trade goods. When our Japanese friend’s consciousness was transferred to this body did it then become Japanese through presence? Since the body would be an integral part of this individuals continued life, common sense should dictate that the nationality would transfer from sentience to the current body. Corporate and international laws have very little in the way of common sense so situations like this would be a matter of real consideration in a world where individuals aren’t locked to any one body.

All things considered, nationality is a fairly simple concept to sort out. Nationality is at its core just a matter of lines on a map. Ethnicity is a completely different matter and here is where I think the more important questions surface. Ethnicity means belonging to a particular social group based on a shared cultural tradition. This is how a person could, for example, be a British national but ethnic Chinese. This matters because in this world of everyday cyborgs and impermanent physicality new ethnicities are being created. Obviously a person whose had cybernetic augmentation is going to have a different life experience from someone who has not. Even within a family the differences could be extreme. Imagine how differently your day to day life might be if you had a relatively simple cybernetic augmentation like one that would let you see in the dark. On the surface it seems like a pretty innocuous thing, but really think about how many lights you have to turn on during the course of a twenty-four hour period and how much you can’t do in the dark. So would someone who could see in the dark share the same cultural experiences as someone who couldn’t? What if they had a more advanced augmentation, maybe one that let them interface with computers directly? A pure flesh and blood human would not fair as well in an office environment working with people that didn’t need to use keyboards and monitors to get things done. This would lead to an even greater cultural rift and the list goes on. People like to think of ethnicity as a static ideal but it’s actual a fluid and relative concept. Ethnicity is all about differentiation, reds and blues, us and them.

In the GIS future the augmented humans are an ethnicity unto themselves and within that group there are even more divisions. Ghost in the Shell is all about attempting to define what is human. Is humanity a matter of appearance? Perhaps being human comes down to one’s actions instead. How about belief, is believing that you are human enough to make it so? When it comes to Hollywood’s new Ghost in the Shell movie, the question isn’t why is a Caucasian actress playing the role of Major Kusanagi. The real questions are, is Major Kusanagi Japanese? Is she human? That is where the spirit of Ghost in the Shell shines.


Dagashi Kashi: A Study in Taste and Charm

Dagashi Kashi
Genre: Comedy, Slice of Life, Romance
Year: 2016
Most Notable Feature: Candy everywhere

Dagashi Kashi is a genuinely sweet-hearted anime. Normally I’m more into the mecha and supernatural anime, but every now and then I need a break from the space operas and gore. Dagashi Kashi falls into that realm of lighthearted anime that doesn’t trip into ridiculousness and yet manages a surprising depth without being too self-conscious.

On its surface Dagashi Kashi seems like one long commercial for the Japanese candy industry especially considering that “dagashi kashi” roughly translates as “cheap sweets shop” each episode has a specific candy/snack theme. The story starts out with the unexpected arrival of the sophisticated Hotaru Shidare at the small town Shikada Dagashi candy shop where she meets Kokonotsu Shikada the son, and aspiring manga artist, of owner Yo Shikada. It turns out that Hotaru is the daughter of one the country’s largest candy producing conglomerates and has come to town to scout Yo Shikada for her family’s business. Apparently he’s known to have legendary candy knowledge which makes him a very desirable hire. The only problem is that Yo refuses to leave his shop until Kokonotsu agrees to take it over the family business. Conflict. Kokonotsu wants to be a professional manga artist so Hotaru begins her quest to try and convince him to take over the shop by educating him on the finer points of Japanese candy. Obviously this leads to the aforementioned candy advertisements as Hotaru, Kokonotsu(coconuts), and his two best friends the siblings To and Saya Endou wind up in situations featuring candy/snack products.

Do not let the candy shilling put you off Dagashi Kashi. A lot of people didn’t particularly like this anime and I think that’s because they didn’t understand the subtlety of it. They probably took a look at the generously proportioned Hotaru and thought this was going to be something completely different. Jokes on them because there is an actual story here. Dagashi Kashi takes place during the summer and does follow a coming of age line complete with a love story. Unlike the nonsense that tends to wind up in your typical harem animes or the ones where you have basically predatory females stalking the male protagonist, this anime lets the love affair develop in a more natural manner. You see Hotaru is not the love interest for Kokonotsu. Hotaru acts as a catalyst opening the door to possibility for Saya as she starts to see her childhood friend as more than just a friend. This makes sense and it feels natural. To set Hotaru up as the love interest would mean forcing the story into a nonsensical mess.

Hotaru’s self-proclaimed purpose for coming to town is to make sure Yo Shikada agrees to work for her family’s company. Her entire demeanor shouts that she is all about candy. Somehow her look is at odds with all of that though. There is a simple answer for this; we are seeing Hotaru through Kokonotsu’s eyes. A mysterious girl drops into this small town as a representative of a large company. To small town Kokonotsu she is the most sophisticated individual he has ever encountered outside of the television and manga the two genre which color his perception of Hotaru. By all accounts Hotaru is the same age as Kokonotsu and his friends but she seems disproportionately mature. She is new and exotic, a peculiarity in the small world they have all grown up in and something for them to measure themselves against. Hotaru is the mysterious stranger who shows the small town folk their deepest hearts before riding off into the sunset.

Dagashi Kashi is a charmingly made slice of life anime. It is the type of feel good story you watch while remembering when you used to get summers off and that one girl you were always too much of a chicken to talk to. The candy shilling can be distracting but even that is done in a quality and amusing manner. Give Dagashi Kashi a chance, we need more anime like it.


Maria the Virgin Witch

Maria the Virgin Witch
Genre: Historical Fantasy
Director: Goro Taniguchi
Year: 2015
Favorite Episode: Episode 12
Most Notable Feature: The mercenaries were believable even if a bit two-dimensional
Fan Service: Yes
Would Own: No

Maria the Virgin Witch follows the titular character as she attempts to stamp out war in her small corner of the French country side. Maria is the most powerful witch alive and uses that power in an attempt to save people. By interfering in the wars of man Maria is going against the will of the Church of Heaven so one day the Archangel Michael issues a warning and a curse. If Maria continues to use her powers around humans she will be destroyed and if she loses her virginity she will lose her magic. With that kind of set up, how could this be anything but the greatest of anime?

The animation is solid even if the costume designs leave something to be desired. Call me a prude but scantily clad teenagers don’t add anything to an anime. All in all Maria the Virgin Witch is a perfectly watchable anime. It suffers a bit from pacing issues and the myriad characters lack depth. For instance the mercenary camp follower could have been a very interesting and compelling character if only some time were spent telling us anything about her. Every time she was in scene left me wondering what her story was. You also have an underlying story revolving around the philosophies of free will, predestination and the moral foundations of the church. Stories that could have really made an impact were instead left to fizzle. Maria the Virgin Witch is an anime worth watching if you happen to stumble upon it, but I wouldn’t go out of my way for it.


Tokyo Ghoul: An unmitigated mess of story telling


Genre: Supernatural, Action, Drama
Director: Shuhei Morita
Year: 2014-7 till 2015-3
Favorite Episode: Season 1 Episode 12
Most Notable Feature: Such a Lovely Cafe
Fan Service: No
Would Own: No

Tokyo Ghoul tells the story of college student Ken Kaneki who becomes a ghoul after a date with a beautiful young woman, sort of. While Kaneki is ostensibly the main character of Tokyo Ghoul he is missing from large chunks of the show as the story takes odd meandering paths. Along these paths the viewer is introduced to a glut of different characters all of whom have their own mysterious motivations and backstories. Some of these backstories are explained, most are not, and the viewer is expected to care about them all. This begs the question, “Who is the good guy?”

Ken Kaneki was minding his own business and then one day he becomes a ghoul. He is the obvious choice for good guy protagonist except he kills cops on a regular basis. The CCG (Counter Ghoul Commission) is the government agency responsible for investigating and neutralizing ghoul activity. Obviously this leads to conflict with Kaneki, his friends, and other ghouls in the city. Do you root for Kaneki, our underdog, or the CCG who are responsible for maintaining public safety amidst the ghoul threat? The ghouls eat human flesh if they want to continue living, and a good portion of the CCG is psychotic sadists. This leads to a rambling story that attempts, poorly, to offer justifications to all sides which in turn make all sides less likable. Only the super power combat sequences could save this series.

Sadly, the combat in Tokyo Ghoul gets tired very quickly as it suffers greatly from DBZ syndrome. DBZ syndrome is a condition denoted by characters that are the most power known individuals in the world until someone more powerful surfaces leading to the original most powerful becoming even more powerful. DBZ syndrome is more commonly referred to as 9000+. Since the characters continuously get stronger any tension from the possible outcome of a fight is quickly lost. Instead the viewer is left wondering if the characters actually have any true notion how the whole ghoul condition functions or if the writers even bothered to delve that deep.

If you are looking for a story driven production Tokyo Ghoul is not for you. If you are looking for a compelling action series, skip this anime. If you are in search of riveting drama, look elsewhere. Tokyo Ghoul was probably hoping that it’s manga source material would act as a binder for the various loose bit that comprise this series. To that I would say that if a production cannot hold its own, then it should not be made.