Friday, 13 July 2012

Master of Epic: The Animation Age

With the current anime du jour being the extremely fun Sword Art Online, with a few vocal detractors whinnying about its similarities to .hack, I thought it was time I finally went to revisit Master of Epic, that other anime about life in an online world that was another of the victims of the great 2008 hard drive failure. At least, I think it was 2008.

Anyway, I’m certainly not one of the ones who thinks .hack has some kind of monopoly on fantasy stories set in the world (za warudo) of an MMORPG. Quite apart from .hack, SAO and this, there’s the Taiwanese manhua ½ Prince, which I very much enjoy, and then Ragnaroks anime and France’s Wakfu, though the latter two simply use the setting with a few oblique references to the origin rather than actively having the game as an explicit part of the narrative. The point is that .hack doesn’t have the monopoly on a setting within an MMORPG, and there’s also Master of Epic.

But Master of Epic is a bit different, because unlike those others, it’s a sketch comedy that pokes fun at MMORPGs in general. Master of Epic – or MoE (get it?) – is an actual MMORPG popular in Japan, with some very Japanese races: humans, elves, big beefy warrior types and of course little tiny cutesy lolis/shotas. The anime basically exists to send up the various silly elements familiar to MMORPG players – sitting down to recover health, setting up shops, forming parties with clueless people. There are also parts based on things that are probably exclusive to the game, like hair getting stinky and having flies circling it if you don’t wash it, but it’s easy for anyone who’s ever played any MMORPG to get the gist of these, and far more of it is universal. I particularly liked the short sequences where people in real life behaved as if in MMORPGs, which was hilarious.

Otherwise, we had things like the terrible beginner who keeps forming plans to beat enemies but rushes headlong into danger and gets destroyed, the big guy who has a crush on a cute little thing only for her to reveal her dark, monster-summoning streak, a little party who endlessly try to help their most useless member only for her to mess everything up, the craftsman who tries hard to impress a girl he likes even if she’s entirely indifferent, and a hilarious member of the big, butch race who had decided to wear a dress and help all other denizens of the MoE world with their fashion sense. Just about every episode is also bookended by a presenter duo who tend to segue into silly news reports that establish the loose theme of the episode, and at the end, a group of five colour-coordinated loli-race characters send up sentai shows in what starts as a quest for fame but ends up a battle against the show’s monstrous producer.

Though the animation is a mixed bag, with some sequences looking atrocious and episode 10 (I think it was) randomly looking better than all the rest, one thing MoE has going for it is the appealing art. The cute child-race, the pretty-boy humans and elves (adorable in SD form), the sexy women and the cuties, they are all drawn in a very attractive way that reminds me of Dog Days, which has just started its second season. Playing on the importance of image, some of the biggest laughs came from characters changing their looks, from masks that weren’t what moé fan Bukottsu expected to forced makeovers where flowing locks turn into Mohawks or a great big cross-dressing hulk picks out a new outfit for you. There’s even one poor female from the muscular race (who look Amazonian) who ends up forced into manba makeup!

Ultimately, MoE is of course throwaway. It’s sketch-based, light comedy with only 12 episodes, and today it’s already more or less forgotten. But if anyone wants a bit of an antidote to the seriousness of Sword Art Online, I won’t hesitate to recommend this bit of fun, for however inconsequential it may be, it is also undeniably funny. 

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