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“Creating the Magic”- How I do reviews

Everyone can be (and is) a fan or an enthusiast of something, and in some cases, it goes further than that, stemming into actual professional fields and careers. You could say as I’m starting this journey that I’m a hobbyist-turned-professional as of now. Extensive time and planning goes into the work people are bound to see and read here- and while reviews will vary greatly in genre, show content, and the types of individuals they may attract, they will have a binding element to all them (one system to rule them all!): A specialized grading system.


For each and every show, I had to devise a universal grading system that would work without fail. There was a few key reasons this task was monumentally important: First, to be a “universal animation critic” who talked adequately about both Western and Eastern shows (namely Japanese anime), the system need to be plausibly fair and work equally as well for something like The Fairly Odd Parents (a Western show) as it did for Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood (an Eastern show). Next, it was designed to preserve the imaginative and classic aspects of criticism while adding a quantifiable analytical element to shows. People like quantifiable numbers. Most reviewers, whether it be animation, live action shows, movies, etc., tend to use a four star scale or A-F grading. The focus was to create a superior system that would try as best as possible to add an objective angle in a field that is notoriously opinion-based. I cannot make the claim that everything can be 100% unbiased (as it’s impossible), but I will say it’s more impartial than any other system I’ve found out there. (I can only hope dear readers, that you’ll find the same thing to be true.) Finally, it’s meant to give a clear picture to both long-time viewers of a given show as well as people who’ve never even heard of the same flick. To accomplish all these angles was a tall challenge, but hardly insurmountable, and the system you’re about to see has been perfected on close to 100 animated shows from all genres, which you’ll see gradually rolled out. So, without further ado, here is the grading scale that you’ll see in every formal review posted here (and adapted sooner rather than later to video form as well!)


There were 5 key aspects to form a grade. Three are inherently important to any storytelling medium: Characterization, Story Quality, and Themes. One aspect is exclusively tailored and necessary for the medium: The animation itself! It’s not live-action, so that aspect which gives the art form its very name was very important to get a good grasp on. Finally, there’s a grab bag called “don’t insult the viewer” that was originally envisioned as judging whether a show’s writer wrote down to, or pandered to their audience (to the detriment of the show), or wrote something very smart that could be appreciated by everyone, advice on levels of violence depending on genre and target audience, and other such miscellaneous aspects, which also grew to include music (which was way too subjective for a separate category. Some shows have amazing scores, and other shows don’t have much at all, but can still be good shows.) Each aspect is then weighted on a 5 point scale, and add up to a 25 point score. This score then has a x4 multiplier to get a 100 point grade. And voila! There you have it. Below is more detail on what these categories entail specifically.

Animation Quality

This is the first, but not only aspect of animation. However, the medium inherently demands a certain quality. What kind of medium is it? Traditional 2-D? Cel-shaded? Stop-motion? CGI? All these methods have a certain threshold. The stories themselves are imaginary, so the world and characters should draw us in. The first way to do that is good animation. There are various shows I can name that were great starting with animation eye-candy. I can also think of a few clunkers that were impaired by poor animation or animation that simply didn’t work from the beginning. Problem Solverz was one of those shows- besides generally uninspired writing, the biggest complaint about this dud was the animation, which made it visually unappealing (and I can attest to this). Poorer animation can sometimes be saved by great writing, but that show had neither.

Characterization

Characters are the gateway into any show and frankly, if we don’t care about them, it’s likely we don’t care about their world, and thus, the show. In animation, this is even more important- since the worlds are inherently make believe, the characters must be convincing and relateable if we are to become interested. They should be dynamic too, at least the main characters- inherently flawed, but possessing some ordinary or outstanding characteristics that make them interesting, and a personality we can get behind. Some exaggeration is good too, particularly in animation where it is a bread and butter tactic of slapstick. And they should look good ideally too. There’s no such thing as a perfect character, but I like to think of animated characters by the “action figure criteria.” If it would look good in real life plastic, and continue to be aesthetically pleasing, it probably is a good design. One last note- designs are best either as simplistic (think tradition 2-D characters) or very detailed (such as most anime and for a Western example, Avatar: The Last Airbender). It’s surprisingly important how characters are almost always better suited for a specific style, and if the creators chose the wrong look for them, it can be very detrimental. Likewise, the opposite is true: good character design in the right style can synergize beautifully.

Story Quality

What kind of story is it- overarching or episodic? Is it a mix? If it’s episodic, does it make itself compelling, funny, or interesting in a roughly 20-30 minute block? For bigger arcs, is there continuity and are plot lines tied up in an interesting or cohesive way? How many filler episodes exist? The multitude of questions presented here are basic criteria that help to frame and decide if a show is fulfilling its story potential. While show runners tend to either storyboard or do written scripts, the way in which the show was written is inconsequential; rather, it is the end product on screen that gets all the attention.

Themes of a Show

Is there any overarching lesson we can take from the narrative? Animation doesn’t always focus as much on this, but it can be an important factor for quality. How smart a show plays cultural and social tropes is an indication of this as well. Used properly, it can have comedic effect. While I thinks some people would disagree, cartoons inherently should NOT be about pushing social agendas or propaganda, although I acknowledge this has been done. It’s quite different than a smart social criticism satirically. Themes will also be probed for the depth in which a show explores whatever elements are key to it, their integration into the story, and relative synergy back into the other key elements of the show (story, characters, etc.)

Don’t Insult the Viewer

You’d be surprised how relevant this is. Shows and movies with a family demographic run the risk of pandering to kids and ignoring the older audience; Shows aimed for slightly more mature audiences do take some risks, and when it goes from smart to insulting (such as Family Guy episodes in general to implied controversial themes in family programming) it can ruin the show and leave a bad taste in one’s mouth. This category, despite its name, also can award merit to great musical scores, unorthodox decisions by the director that work out but don’t fit the other catergories, and general advisement on suggested vs potential audiences.

 

Ratings Scale (A general guide):

25: The perfect animated show. This doesn’t exist, so we’ll say this is the theoretical threshold of perfection.

23-24.5- Instant Classics. These do exist, but they’re of a rare, extraordinary breed of show that just hits all the right notes. It’s not easy to pen a show of this caliber, but this rating system should accurately pinpoint such shows.

22-22.5: Likely Classics. Barely a cut beneath the shows above. Some minor flaw, perhaps. But still a gem of a show.

20-21.5: Excellent Show. Potential to become classics, were very good, had a few negligible flaws, but still great.

18.5-19.5: Very Good Show: Not next level, but solid productions that were enjoyable to watch and follow, typically speaking.

16-18: Above -average show- goes above the typical output, is usually enjoyable, but contains an inherently fatal flaw that keeps it from climbing higher, or it may not have enough development yet if it is an ongoing series.

12.5-15.5: Average show. Nothing particularly special, watchable, inherently flawed, and usually predictable.

10-12: Mediocre: More bad than good, likely not worth one’s time, are flawed in multiple aspects, though they may have the occasional bright moment.

Below 10: A bomb. Fatally flawed, a possible insult to animation, poor characters, poor story, poor animation, etc… and a definite waste of time.

Below 5: Probably “worst of all time” territory. It’s difficult to get a 5 or below on this scale.


So again, the 25 point score is multiplied out by 4 to get a grade out of 100%. The format allows for fair and balanced criticism and discussion, while adding that unique analytical angle. Here’s an example to finish this post off:

 

Name of Show (Network name, start year-end year)

Animation Quality: This will contain some thoughts about the animation of the show.   ?/5 points.

Characterization:  All about the characters. ?/5 points.

Story quality: Episodic or arcs? All will be explored here. ?/5 points.

Themes:  Family, friends, life itself…you never know unless you watched it. ?/5 points.

Don’t insult the viewer: Fanservice usually not welcome. ?/5 points.

Total Score: ?/ 25. Multiply that score, and you get your % out of 100%.


I know this is a lengthy explanation and a lot to take in, but the system is remarkably easy to understand once you see it in action. I’ll be posting formal reviews at least once a week to start; these can be anything from ongoing shows to real blasts from the past. Oh, and one last note: The only set in stone criteria for a show to be graded is: a) It has to be at least 90% animated, and b) It has to have accrued at least 1 full season to receive a preliminary review. Current shows will be updated seasonally. Movies also work in this format, and at some point, I may review these more formally as well. Finally, thanks to the Walt Disney Company- I don’t know if “create the magic” is trademarked by you guys, but it does make for a catchy title inspiration!

 

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Welcome to AniB Productions!

An innovative new way of looking at animation is here.

Hello new readers,

Welcome to AniB Productions! Here on this blog will be an absolutely amazing compendium (mostly) about  animated shows, from both the West and the East, but also some potential talk about animated movies, or just the occasional random musing. I will have plenty of updates about reviews, thoughts on shows; candid, honest and thoughtful discussion is encouraged- a hallmark of a healthy society! I will also be planning to launch videos sooner rather than later on YouTube, but the written components of criticism and analysis here will still be very important. So whether you’re a huge anime fan, a longtime viewer of Western shows, or just casually interested in the medium of animation (and animated shows, by extension), I sincerely hope that everyone will find something here to interest and potentially inspire them! Please enjoy,

-AniB

 

 

Guest Review: Rurouni Kenshin

The tale of the wandering ex-Battosai, as told by a friend.

EDITOR’S NOTE: For the first time in the history of AniB Productions, there is a review written by another friend of mine, and in this case, it’s the anime “Rurouni Kenshin,” which follows the tale of a former manslaying assassin turned peaceful wanderer in the early years of the Meiji Restoration in Japan. From here on out, this is Tyler’s (or as he’d like to be known, “Onamerre” (pronounced like “on a mirror”) take on what is a personal favorite that he really wanted to cover.

The Lowdown:

Show: Rurouni Kenshin

Network/ years aired:

AniB’s thoughts: Rurouni Kenshin is a classic anime in which I’ve seen some of- but not all of it (at the time of this writing). While I’m certainly planning to finish the show far sooner than later, the review here is all Onamerre’s baby. He knows Kenshin’s signature special attack and can say it quickly in Japanese, piqued my own interest in the show, and I will say that while it has the slightly dated look of 90’s visuals, it’s an enthralling setting for a story. Taking place in the decade following the Meiji Restoration in Japan, it’s an interesting historical backdrop to an otherwise fictional setup and individuals with fantastic powers and abilities; and that being said, the main cast of this show is pretty likable. But enough from me- here’s his thoughts on the whole thing below!


Rurouni Kenshin Review by Onamerre
Animation: The art style of the show is a product of its time. Traditional 2D animation with some real-world footage rarely shown. The character models aren’t anything new, so the animation gets the job done there. At times, the colors do look bleak and boring, and other times, they really pop. Most of the fight scenes are terrific with special attention devoted to the antagonists of the series. Each fight (showdown) is memorable and distinctly different from each other. Overall, not bad, and it gets the job done. 3.50/5 points.

 

 

Characters: (NOTE: Some characters are omitted to avoid serious spoilers.)
Himura Kenshin AKA: Battosai The Manslayer. The protagonist of the show. Once the hyper feared and deadliest assassin of the Tokugawa War, he now wanders the country side offering his now reverse bladed sword to those unable to defend themselves and is at the mercy of charity as atonement for the many men that he killed. At first, he appears to be a bumbling goof ball that can seem annoying. However, at the turn of a dime, his repressed instincts come back to life, appearing as if he were another person altogether. Ever more present is his cross shaped scar on the left side of his face, forever there to remind him of his past deeds. His journey from cold blooded assassin to seeker of justice and peace is a worthy drama to watch.

 
Kamiya Kaoru: The narrator of the series. The first character the audience sees. Owner and sole master of her dojo. Kaoru is nearly forced to close her school down as the recently emerged Battosai starts to kill people using her school’s technique. Her school is saved after Kenshin, the real Battosai, defeats the imposter and restores honor to her school. As a reward, she allows him to stay at her school and live there, providing he does work around the place. In a way, she is the conscience of the show, always weighing the good and the bad of every situation. In truth, she is the one truly “good” and innocent character of the show. At times, she is the damsel. However, when she is in that position, there is no real way for her to escape it alone considering the aggressors, nearly match Kenshin’s skill. She is the mother of the Kenshin Clan.

 
Sagara Sanosuke: Hard-nosed gambler and drinker. Former soldier in the Tokugawa army, he and Kenshin immediately fought each other as the Battosai was an Imperialist. After being easily defeated and outmatched, Kenshin convinced him to start helping people, in which he would receive shelter at Kaoru’s dojo if he did so. Sanosuke is the typical “agro” character who thinks he’s tough, and always ends up flat on his ass as a result. However, he does in a way become a mentor figure to the next character on the list.

 

Myojin Yahiko: Orphaned from the war, he was essentially brought into slavery to a group of thieves, as his parents presumably owed them a debt, Yahiko being the price. Loud mouthed and big headed, he quickly fills the “annoying brat” character, however, he has high dreams of growing into his father’s role as a samurai. Seeing this, Kenshin refused to train him, delegating Kaoru to train using her school instead of Kenshin’s. Over the course of the show, we do see him mature and become quite skilled at Karou’s sword style. He and Sanosuke develop almost a brother like bond.
Oh, there are others…but talking about them would severely spoil the plot and most of the anime. Truly an interesting cast of characters, except the copious amounts of filler often dilutes them. 4.75/5 points.

 
Plot (Story quality): The show is broken up into three seasons. The first has some great arcs, but copious filler. The entire second season is the LEGENDARY Kyoto Arc. Unfortunately, the entire final season is filler. There were drafts in production for one final arc to end the series, but by then, it was too late. The notable arcs from the first season involve what I like to call the “Opium Arc”, the “Yutaro Castle Arc” (in my opinion, the strongest of the first season), and the “Pirate Arc.” The second season is a must watch. (I’ll refrain from talking about it as it simply would not do it justice!) Avoid the third and final season (aforementioned filler) . Overall, good (sometimes great) arcs, with decent to awful filler. 4.0/5.0 points.
Themes: Redemption/Atonement is the main one. Every character we meet has this as one of or the sole motivation of their actions. Disillusionment. Many of the characters involved in the war simply cannot adapt to what is happening in the country. As weapons are illegal to own and fighting is heavily discredited, a lot of soldiers who only know how to fight turn to crime, other plan on another revolution. It also hurts that the technology of the West is starting to rapidly change their culture as well. Power. Know this phrase and know it well as it relates heavily with the Kyoto Arc. “If you’re strong you live, if you’re weak you die.” 4.25/5.0 points.
Insulting the viewer: Being an anime made in the mid-90’s, the troupes of yore make an appearance. Mandatory Bathhouse Scenes? Yup. Philosophical Clashes that bring the show to a crawl? Yup. Unbearable Filter that singlehandedly killed the series? Anata wa ima sore o shirubekidesu! (You should know it by now!) However, the second season and memorable fights pick up the slack. 4.0/5.0 points.
Final score: 20.5/25.0 (82%)


Like what you see? Did you like what Onamerre had to say about Kenshin? Leave a comment!

An Easter Special: Catholic Cartoons

Rich in the Word of the Lord, and not so much in their budget.

First off, I’d like to say that I’ll be a little light on content for about the next month. As of this writing, I’ve got the final 4 weeks of my last semester in school, and finishing strong takes priority…that said, I’ll still look to get a piece out here or there, and this one I was definitely looking forward to.

It’s Holy Week in the Catholic liturgical calendar, and while Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday itself might not have much to do with animation or even some readers, it seemed appropriate to talk about a lightly treaded topic in the great wide world of the genre: religious animation. (Besides, I wanted to have a little fun!)

In particular, I’m going to be focusing on a variety of EWTN children’s programming that while it has all the moral goodness you might expect, it doesn’t necessarily get the budget of their brethren at a big network studio. But first on EWTN: It was founded in 1981 as “around-the clock Catholic TV network” by the late Mother Angelica, a sister enrolled in the Poor Clares of Perpetual Enrollment, a Franciscan religious order. Since her death last year on Easter Sunday, it has been commonly suggested that she might be canonized at some point as a saint of the Church.  If this sounds foreign to you, don’t worry; to boil it down, the network essentially was founded as missionary work by a very holy, pious nun (who just so happened to have a good sense of humor; she had a talk show that runs repeats every day on the channel.) The network does all sorts of programming, which includes daily Masses from a chapel in Birmingham, AL, and audiences with the Pope on a fairly regular basis. If you’re looking to find out more about the faith, Catholicism, have strong interest in theology, or wish to hear some different viewpoints on current-day issues than the usual news, EWTN’s a great resource. But the question still remains: What the heck does this have to do with animation?

Well, as it turns out, EWTN has a programming block called “Faith Factory” aimed at kids…and part an parcel with that is a variety of religiously aimed shows that on their own, might not have enough substance to warrant the full review treatment. However, I took the time to watch a number of episodes from these group of cartoons you might have never heard of, and I can draw a few conclusions on the whole: They’re not a terrible catechesis for young viewers of the faith, but as shows themselves, they’re dreadfully low budget and very straightforward. The first program, featured in the picture for this article is The Divine Mercy Chaplet for Kids, which pulls no punches as to what its contents is…the Divine Mercy Chaplet (which is a rosary-like prayer prayed on beads, specifically devoted to “the Sacred Heart of Jesus”) which is led by an animated nun in a chapel with a group of very happy looking kids. While the content is rather wholesome from a religious point of view, the animation quality makes South Park look world-class by comparison: it is the cheapest sort of Flash animation money can buy, and while I understand the cartoons here have an non-existent budget, it’s pretty dreadful from just a “how it’s drawn” point of view.

There are also a number of short biographies on different saints of the Church in the same sort of animation, and if you can get past the cheap looks, they actually are quite interesting and certainly give a good primer about these holy men and women, especially for kids. Here’s one about St. John Bosco:

The series is actually “Once Upon a Saint,” as the intro tells us, and these shorts have been done for a wide variety of saints, from various points in the history of the faith.

(I will add that the average age of viewers that these cartoons are targeted at is much lower than the usual animation I review, but it’s still animation.)

There’s also a variety of other shorts which air everyday during the week around 4:00 PM, but this is a smattering of offerings. They might be obscure and low-budget, but they certainly hit the mark of “Catholic-kid friendly programming.”


Like what you see? Have any Easter memories or traditions of your own? Leave a comment!

Preliminary Review: Invader Zim

I am ZIM!!! Fear me…or rather, the diagnosis of a cult classic.

The Lowdown:

Show: Invader Zim

Network/years aired: Nickelodeon, 2001-2006; movie pending

AniB’s thoughts: I was initially planning to sit on this show’s review until October, but with the recent surprise announcement of the series’ return via a movie, and the Fairly OddParents review that I recently wrote, here’s a week of Nicktoons, for better or worse.

Surprised is really the most apt descriptor I have for Invader Zim’s unlikely return. The first show I thought of that may have spurned the move by Nickelodeon to do so was Samurai Jack, which after 13 years of being “finished,” is now airing an absolutely brilliant 5th and final season on Adult Swim on Saturday nights at the time of this writing. Zim, while a completely different show in terms of substance, style and writing does share two things in common with Samurai Jack: a early to mid 2000’s original run, and an incomplete story. And while I’m fine seeing the adventures of Zim and GIR again in movie form, featuring  their ham-handed attempts to take over Earth and do battle with Dib, their archrival, it’d be nice to have a tightened narrative focus, a refresh on the visuals, and some cleaning up of certain “gross-out” elements that figured prominently into the otherwise dark fantasy and science fiction tones of the original series. I do think that a movie might not be enough to do whatever justice the series really wants for a conclusion…but then again, how many times do cult classics actually get new life?

Changing gears a little bit, the original series is rather overrated by its core adherents, but it is a very unique show in the Nickelodeon pantheon at least: its pervasive darkness and science fiction-heavy elements are mixed with a type of kid-friendly black humor that in turn, is also diluted with slapstick and the usual “idiot ball” trope of some really dumb adults (and kids, for that matter); in the case of Zim, it’s almost a prerequisite to make the entirely convoluted plot-lines work, and to that end, it’s really the characters of this show that give it an odd charm. The closest comparable show I can think of in terms of style, era, and substance (to an extent) is Courage the Cowardly Dog: If dark and weird is your cup of tea, or your store of choice at malls is a Spencer’s or Hot Topic, you probably loved both or either of these shows…

Zim may hold the distinction of “cult-classic,” but nobody will mistake it for a masterpiece, and in the case of this production, it’s probably best. Its originality, particularly when it came to characters, shone through- but in equal measure the animation style, with its dark palette favoring purples and greens, and the style of writing overall also had the potential to throw people off. It’s overall an original effort that does more right than wrong- enough so that I’d say it’s at least “above-average” but whether it’s “good” (or “great”) is terribly hard to pin down. At the very least, the movie will hopefully answer a good deal of questions…and give us all a few more laughs.


Animation Quality: Traditional 2-D cel animation. Using muted colors and lots of greens, purples, blues and blacks, Zim’s colors leaned towards its off-kilter version of Earth and the strange universe the show exists in. The character models are very cartoony, but they work well for the show, and there’s only a few models that are truly off-putting. 3.25/5 points.
Characterization: The heart of the show lies in its zany and memorable characters, which in turn catapulted the entire enterprise forward.

Zim serves as the overzealous titular anti-hero bent on proving his worth as an Irken Invader; despite his puny size, big mouth and impulsiveness, his will is stronger to succeed than anyone else in his race…except he’s a menace to them to through sheer bad luck.

GIR, Zim’s dim-witted robotic assistant with a flair for human food, TV and pigs, often makes nonsensical comments and interrupts Zim often, especially when he monologues. Despite being deemed a “defective model” by Irken standards, GIR is actually quite loyal (for the most part) to Zim and contains a powerful array of weapons and modes, though he rarely utilizes them.

Dib, a boy obsessed with the paranormal serves as Zim’s archenemy and is the only human who consistently views Zim as an alien and a threat; this is in contrast to his younger sister Gaz, a dark, gloomy little girl with seemingly terrifying powers and wrath who holds little concern for anything or anybody aside from pizza and video games.

The characters tend to follow a similar line of thinking in each episode they appear in; however, the series does change up the plot lines to keep them fresh, and there is some character development, though not complete. 3.5/5 points.

 
Story quality: Episodic, with loose continuity. Zim was beginning to build a mythos and backstory in its second season before it was cancelled, which means it was incomplete in the story the show wanted to tell. However, most of the show’s episodes could stand alone. Featuring a blend of trademark humor that blended black comedy, slapstick and some randomness, Zim’s storytelling tended to usually be entertaining and unique, but sometimes strayed into uncomfortable and unsettling. 3.5/5 points.

 
Themes: Surreal and futuristic, the show’s thematic elements tend to focus more on its trademark humor and Zim’s mission. Therefore, it excels at what it does… but lacks depth thematically otherwise. 2.5/5 points.

 
Don’t insult the viewer: Dark and creepy are two aspects that happen in Invader Zim. There’s a couple cringe-worthy moments, but it’s a decent watch at the end of the day. 4.25/5 points.

 
Total Score: 17/25 (68%). Truly the definition of a cult hit, Zim is a unique show with sci- fi and vaguely dystopian themes running through its run. It’s very different, but worth a look if you’re into the types of themes and humor the show peruses, it can be very entertaining. It’s a flawed show, but a good deal of that had to do with its cancellation and the inability to finish the narrative that was developing. Hopefully, these issues can and will be resolved in the movie.

Review: The Fairly OddParents

A longtime cartoon has both positive attributes and glaring weaknesses.

The Lowdown:

Show: The Fairly OddParents

Network/ Years aired: Nickelodeon/ 2001- now (though there were shorts as early as 1998)

AniB’s thoughts: After a lot of recent pieces on Japanese anime, my focus now swings back to the West with a well-known show to most- the long running Nicktoon that has been SpongeBob Squarepants’ running mate on the network for over a decade and a half.

Technically, this is a preliminary review, seeing as FOP is still going in a 10th season, but at this point, it’s a formality given that the general form and context of the show is well-worn and well known. Therefore, from my perspective at least, it’s a show that started with some really original comic creativity and humor while also doing parody of other major cultural touchstones quite well, and then age began to set in as far back as 2008, when the show was only 7 years old in its full-series format (11 if you go back to the first shorts on Oh Yeah! cartoons) I actually talked at length about the “seasonal rot and zombification” of The Fairly OddParents in another piece that was from St. Patrick’s Day, so rather than rehashing that entire conversation, I’ll do my best to just focus on the show actually starring in this article and less so the meta-commentary further out around it.

If Butch Hartman’s masterpiece was Danny Phantom, this show was and still is his baby. (Mind you, it’s an enormous cash-making baby whose soul might have gotten sucked out at least going back 5 years, but still something he clearly cares about, if nothing more than as a tool for what I’d presume is a very comfortable livelihood.) It’s got all the elements of later Hartman shows including the spontaneous humor, the sound effects in conjunction with action (and while this is a technique as old as time in animation, FOP has a distinct feel to this idea), and the fast-talking, slice of life episodic format with its trademark convoluted premises, all honed down to a “T.”

Overall, The Fairly OddParents is an enjoyable, if zany experience in its earlier seasons and a retread milquetoast disappointment as it continues to wind on into what very well could be eternity with the way Nickelodeon hangs onto old franchises. In favor of the franchise, its parodies still hold water even from early episodes, and are often quite well done (i.e. the character the Crimson Chin. Definitely a reference to comics and certain heroes.) On the other side, recent episodes have opted for dated references, retread plots, uninteresting characters thrown in simply to “keep things fresh” and some of the gross-out and downright strange humor endemic to many a Nicktoon over the past decade. Graded on its entire body of work, the show comes out as pretty average- a viewing experience you may or may not want to see, but if you do, the episodes from 2001 to around 2007 are pretty solid on the whole (and the TV movies are a lot of fun as well- Channel Chasers anyone?) but after that, you’re on your own. (And Sparky, the magical dog from season 9 can die in a fire. Thankfully the writers  canned him after severe backlash…only to introduce a literal Mary Sue in the form of Chloe season 10. Zombie show indeed.)


Animation Quality: 2-D animation, about as average as it comes. It was this way back in 2001, and still is this way in 2015, obvious improvements in computer shading non-withstanding. It’s generally bright and colorful; the color palette is pretty easy on the eyes, and is still eye-catching enough, and despite the simple style, it usually augments the frenetic comedic action of the show quite well. 3/5 points.

 
Characterization: Two words: genre stereotypes. Before I delve into this idea though, a quick rundown of the main trio:

Timmy Turner stars as the “fairy godchild,” the 10 year old who receives fairies in order to improve his lackluster life, as far as the basic premise goes. He’s got buck teeth, a “silly pink hat” and shirt, and is remarkably reckless about a variety of his actions, particularly when it comes to wishes, and so, while Timmy solves most of the show’s episodic problems, he’s often the cause of them too.

Cosmo and Wanda are his “Fairy Godparents,” the magical creatures sent from the whimsical Fairy World to serve at Timmy’s beck and call. Aside from their wands which can grant any wish that does not violate the in-universe “Da Rules” (supposedly), the pair can shape shift, disappear and teleport long distances, and fly (they have tiny wings.) Overall though, they are silly creatures. Wanda and Cosmo in particular are foils: a husband-wife team with opposite personalities- Cosmo is “an idiot” in Wanda’s words, but knows how to relax, while Wanda is the smart one of the pair, though very uptight…meaning their dualism is something that’s been done many times before in other places and shows….which in turn leads back to my initial point in this section.

 

Cosmo is the most unpredictable thing on the show; Timmy becomes more formulaic as the seasons roll on, especially after you watched more than 5 episodes at any point during the show’s run. The supporting cast is mainly static but certaintly still has some of its own charms, from the Timmy’s insane teacher Mr. Crocker, to the massive ruler of Fairy World, Jorgen von Strangle (who is a parody of Arnold Schwarzenegger); character development is not a major focal point in the show but a certain predictability is. Overall not anything special, but also not anything particularly displeasing. 2.75/5 points.

 
Story quality: There’s a story? The show is episodic, and there only seems to be a very loose canon, involving mainly Timmy, his fairies, and Da Rules. Everything else seems to contradict an earlier event at some point, so you learn to ignore too much continuity fast in this show. As for its format, the canon can be partially excused, but not wholly. Later seasons bring down the score of originality in plot choices on the show. 2.25/5 points.

 
Themes: Wishes, be careful what you wish for, magic should not be abused… fairly harmless stuff, but perhaps the greatest virtue this espouses is that one simply cannot wish their problems away in life. Other than that, it’s typical plot of the day fluff. 2/5 points.

 
Don’t insult the viewer: The Fairly OddParents is standard animated fare for the most part, but the general scattershot direction of the writing can be slightly irritating. Other than this, it’s not particularly demeaning in any way. 4/5 points.

Total Score: 14/25 (56%). A completely average show in most ways, The Fairly OddParents is still one of the longest running animated shows on TV. Perhaps it’s the comfortable familiarity with the source material at this point, because the show’s biggest shortcoming is the stench of seasonal rot. For its length alone it will likely get an annotation in the history of animated shows.


Like what you see? Love the Fairly OddParents? Leave a comment!

Hunter x Hunter 1999 vs 2011 Part 2: The Hunter Exam, Pt.2

Welcome to the second part in a series of pieces about the Hunter x Hunter franchise; more specifically, a in-depth analysis between Nippon Animation’s original adaptation of the show, from 1999, and the more recent brilliant 2011 adaptation from Madhouse. Today’s focus will continue where the first part left off, detailing the remainder of the Hunter Exam arc and its characters. (If you missed Part 1, here’s the link. Also, to reiterate an important point from the overall introduction of the series- this is NOT about “which series is better”- that’s a different conversation and a totally subjective one at that.)

 

The Hunter Exam Phase 2- Gourmet Hunters, Picky Palettes (aka Menchi) (1999, Episodes 9-10, 2011 Episode 7)

Immediately you’ll notice one of those episode discrepancies that’s noticeable in the overall episode count for this arc between Nippon’s adaptation and Madhouse’s. While 2011 only spends one episode with this specific phase, 1999 takes a little more time with it…and there’s a probable explanation for it, concerning the judging of food and Menchi’s pickiness, which I’ll get to. But first, our examiners and one other very special character make their debuts here:

MENCHI

1999                    2011

Image result for menchi 1999 http://vignette1.wikia.nocookie.net/hunterxhunter/images/4/4c/Menchi.png/revision/latest?cb=20140707091212&path-prefix=fr

BUHARA

1999                   2011

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CHAIRMAN NETERO

1999                   2011

http://vignette3.wikia.nocookie.net/hunterxhunter/images/2/26/Netero99.png/revision/latest?cb=20120804203417  http://vignette1.wikia.nocookie.net/hunterxhunter/images/9/9f/Netero.png/revision/latest?cb=20140828073047&path-prefix=fr

In a notable change in appearance, Menchi’s hair is blue in 2011 but pink in 1999. Even more curious is that this change mirrors that of Machi, the Phantom Troupe member- she had blue hair in 1999 and pink in 2011. Go figure. She keeps the same hair style and that fiery sense of pride about being a Gourmet Hunter though.

Buhara is mostly the same, save that 2011 may have made him even slightly more massive, and to accentuate this, gave him a very ill-fitting yellow shirt. The first version of Buhara from 1999 had a far more form-fitting blue shirt, but either way, he still likes to eat a lot.

Finally, the eccentric chairman of the Hunter Association makes his debut on the request that the phase needs saving from Menchi’s overly discerning palette (and don’t worry, we’ll get to Beans, his trusty secretary, a bit later.) While the general design of Netero is nearly the same in both versions, the aesthetic is completely different: His hair is gray rather than mostly white as in 2011, and the newer version swaps the beige coloration of ’99’s robes for the flowing white garments, accented with blue edges and cuffs.

So as for the actual phase itself, there’s a variety of slight differences here, with the major plot points left intact. Here’s a bit of a rundown:

The food tasting test in the 2nd phase starts with the capture of the Great Stamp, a vicious carnivorous pig living in the swamp forest the applicant finished running through. In 1999, this beast is black-colored, but pink in 1999. Same weak spot though- right on the forehead.

-Both series are noted for Menchi’s unreasonably high standards for the cooking the applicants are asked to do, but in 2011 the only dishes she tastes are the pork from the aformentioned Stamps, alongside Buhara. In 1999, Buhara alone tastes the pork (and passes everyone); Menchi instead asks for everyone to make sushi, which goes disastrously, to great humorous effect. The ’99 version in this scenario is actually more faithful to the original manga.

-Also exclusive to 1999 is Menchi’s demonstration “of what it means to be a Gourmet Hunter.” She runs off into the wilds, uses her knives to nab a rare ingredient from an animal (a rare moss from a rare bear in the mountains), comes back and showcases the fruits of her labor via a rice dish. This was in response to the accusation of Todo the wrestler that “Gourmet Hunters aren’t real Hunters!” In 2011, she accomplishes the same goal of placating Todo with the retrieval and cooking of a spider eagle egg, the same task used in both versions to eventually pass the applicants onto the 3rd stage of the exam.

The Airship: Ball Game x Family Revelations

The “in-between” 2nd and 3rd stages of the Hunter Exam take place in both versions, but once again, 1999 has an additional element present that simply does not exist in 2011. There is a filler character- one named Anita, an applicant who failed the 2nd phase of the Exam and stowed away on the airship. She holds a grudge against the Zoldyck family for killing her father, but Killua eventually reveals to her the truth that he in fact was a notorious drug dealer. As part of her bit plot, the examiners on board also realize she is the stowaway that they’re looking for, and so her little side-plot adds an extra element to this slight pause of the Exam.

More famously, this section of the arc is noted for revealing the first substantial amount of information about Killua and his family, the first serious conversation that he shares with Gon since their introduction in the tunnel portion of Phase 1, and finally, the ball game Netero challenges the boys to. While very similar in both versions, there are some slight differences:

-Anita watches the game in 1999. As she doesn’t exist in 2011, it’s solely between Netero and the boys.

-The ball Netero uses is yellow with a black stripe through the middle in 2011. 1999’s has the same design, but is white with a red stripe.

-In 2011, Killua unveils his Rhythm Echo assassination technique at the start of the game causing Netero to remark about his mastery of the art (“What a dreadful child!”) In 1999, Killua never uses any such technique, instead relying on speed and agility to try and take the ball. When Netero bounces it off his face, he remarks it “was a pass [to himself.]”

It should be noted in both versions, Gon uses his boot as a tactic to try and get the ball, and the boys both dive for the ball, only to have Netero use his Enhancer abilities to get there first. Killua gives up at that point, while Gon continues on, his goal switching to get Netero to use his right hand, which succeeds. Gon then passes out. Finally… Gon wears a white t-shirt here in 2011, and a blue one in 1999; Netero has white pants and a dark shirt on in 2011 while he wear olive-colored pants in 1999. Killua essentially has the same outfit in both versions.

Here’s a video of the 2011 version to illustrate the scene. (Guess what- it’s the English dub!)

I know it didn’t work, but the Rhythm Echo technique looks really cool.

Phase 3: Tenuous Teamwork in Trick Tower (1999, Episodes 13-17, 2011, Episodes 8-12)

I’ll start here by comparing a certain chatty ninja side by side here, as well as the latest examiner, Lippo:

HANZO

1999                                                          2011

http://vignette3.wikia.nocookie.net/hunterxhunter/images/f/fa/Hanzo99.png/revision/latest?cb=20140808122037&path-prefix=fr http://vignette2.wikia.nocookie.net/hunterxhunter/images/f/ff/Hanzo.png/revision/latest?cb=20140808122119&path-prefix=fr

LIPPO

1999                                                              2011

http://vignette1.wikia.nocookie.net/hunterx/images/e/e4/Lippo_1999.png/revision/latest?cb=20120131195812 http://vignette4.wikia.nocookie.net/hunterxhunter/images/b/be/Lippo_%282011%29.PNG/revision/latest?cb=20120108064856

Hanzo is remarkably similar in both his appearances; easily the biggest difference is the red scarf he wears in 2011 around his neck area. His wrapped forearms and ankles are gray instead of white in 1999, and his shoulder “pads” are slightly rounder in 2011. Finally, his eyebrows are slightly more stylized in his more recent appearance.

Lippo also maintains most of his appearance. He’s a short man, with the main distinctions between his two anime iterations being the color of his mohawk (black instead of purple in 1999) and the tint of his sunglasses (orange instead of clear). Either way, he loves watching the intrigue of Trick Tower unfold… especially Majority Rules.

It is during this stage the main four characters of Hunter x Hunter are together for the longest period of time alone (along with Tonpa), and the most famous part of the tower challenge is the 5 v 5 challenge match between applicants and prisoners. A few things to note here:

-Maijitani is pale-skinned in 1999, and blue in 2011. Either way, he gets anchor-punched by a vengeful Kurapika who sees the fake Phantom Troupe tattoo, and threatened by Leorio over the edge in both versions.

-Gon’s win in the candle challenge, as well as Tonpa’s surrender and Leorio’s weakness for women are replicated in both versions quite similarly, and the team loses 50 hours either way.

And since we’re talking about a big moment for Killua as well, might as well throw in Johness as well:

JOHNESS

1999                                                        2011

http://vignette2.wikia.nocookie.net/hunterxhunter/images/5/5b/Johness_99.png/revision/latest?cb=20120716080447 http://vignette4.wikia.nocookie.net/hunterxhunter/images/7/70/Johness_tries_to_kill_killua.jpg/revision/latest?cb=20120615110051

Notably, Killua’s assassination of the mass murderer slightly differs: In 2011, after removing Johness’ heart, Killua holds it out tauntingly until his adversary collapses, “giving it back” in his dead hand afterwards after he had begged for it. In 1999, it’s decidedly more brutal as Kil opts for crushing the heart in his hand as Johannes looked on. Definitely a bit more graphic for sure.

The last big moment for Trick Tower occurs in the final room, where Lippo had set a trap for the time-starved applicants (they only had 1 hour left to finish at this point:) The long path or the short path to the finish, with a catch-22: The short path could get to the bottom in under 3 minutes, but only 3 of the 5 would have been able to go, while the other path allowed passage for all 5, but was stated to take 45 hours. In both Nippon and Madhouse’s animes, Gon’s idea to choose the long path and break through the wall to the short path in order for all 5 members to pass is inspired by Leorio and Tonpa’s bubbling dispute and the latter’s use of a heavy battleaxe, which smashed the floor tiles. What differs is how they show this final act: In 1999, the act of breaking through the wall and the journey down the shaft to the finish on Killua’s skateboard is shown as it happens; in 2011, it’s shown in a flashback after the group emerges from the passageway with no time to spare (and Leorio and Tonpa jousting with each other.)

The “Bonus” 3rd Stage- Shipwrecks, Treasure Hunting, and Teamwork (1999, Episodes 18-20, 2011 N/A)

Perhaps the single biggest divergence between both versions, the Nippon Animation adaptation has a mini-filler arc that sees the Exam applicants in a “bonus 3rd phase” that in turn actually gives us some interesting character interactions and some depth to side characters that in turn, actually adds some heightened emotional tension to their outcomes in the 4th phase of the Exam that follows. Interestingly enough, it also is the first time Illumi is revealed in his true form for the 1999 anime, when Kurapika, drifting into unconsciousness during the 20th episode (they’re in a cyclone), sees the eldest of the Zoldyck children take the wheel of the ship (though he does not know his identity as Killua’s brother yet.)

A Most Dangerous Game of Tag- 4th Stage on Zevil Island (1999, Episodes 21-25, 2011, Episodes 14-18)

The 4th stage really puts the abilities of the applicants to the test in a “real-world setting,” and so we’ll give a cameo appearance here to the man who tracked Gon as he followed Hisoka: Geretta. It’s also time to give a nod to Ponzu, known for her big poofy hat full of bees:

GERETTA

1999                             2011

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PONZU

1999                                    2011

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Another character who’s remarkably similar between the two adaptations, he’s definitely got a unique flair and some skill with a blow-dart gun, but stands no chance against Hisoka…but then again, who usually does?

Ponzu underwent some heavy changes. Her hat is bigger in 2011 and yellow with a white brim; she’s got a pink shirt but cream-colored pants and a lighter blue shade of hair. In 1999, the hat is smaller and pink-colored, as is the rest of her outfit. (She still faces the same dilemma in both versions though, with the cave and Bourbon’s snakes.)

Killua’s scene where he screws around with the Amori Brothers and Hanzo goes largely the same way in both adaptations, with some minor differences. Kurapika and Leorio team up to take down Tonpa and the monkey tamer in both versions- however, in 1999 Kurapika sets the monkey free from his master, and Tonpa makes his last stand trying desperately to get a badge as time expires rather than staying tied up the whole time. (And thus ends the legend of the Rookie Crusher…until next year.)

Finally, there’s the entire issue of Gon’s quest to get Hisoka’s badge and confrontation. Notably, the process to learn the skill of casting his fishing rod at the precise moment goes about the same in both versions, but when he follows Hisoka’s bloodlust, it’s at dusk/night in 1999 as opposed to day in 2011. Nippon’s version also shows Gon stewing over his first real letdown/scare in the series after Hisoka clocks him; the 2011 anime doesn’t really linger on the scene as much. Still, the badges will be held onto for another day…

Finally, the Ponzu escape scene happens much the same, and with that, the 4th phase concludes, leaving only 9 applicants left for the last stage after the grueling tests (though according to Killua, he doesn’t think so.)

The Final Phase: Tournament Showdown (1999, Episodes 26-30, 2011, Episodes 18-21)

Finally, the end of  the Hunter Exam is upon us, and with it, three final characters get a profile:

BODORO

1999                   2011

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POKKLE

1999                   2011

http://vignette3.wikia.nocookie.net/hunterx/images/5/58/Pokkle_1999.png/revision/latest?cb=20120109105919 http://vignette2.wikia.nocookie.net/hunterxhunter/images/0/0a/Pokkle_HxH_11.PNG/revision/latest?cb=20120323055002

ILLUMI ZOLDYCK (AS GITTARAKUR)

1999                   2011

http://vignette3.wikia.nocookie.net/hunterx/images/6/69/Gittarackur_1999.png/revision/latest?cb=20120109105917 http://vignette1.wikia.nocookie.net/hunterxhunter/images/e/ea/Illumi_Gittarackur_HQ.PNG/revision/latest?cb=20120108073227

Pokkle actually has a similar appearance, but his clothes colors are different and more muted in 1999, and his hair color’s brighter in 2011. He still passes the 4th phase in both versions by using a poison arrow to incapacitate his target.

-In 1999, Leorio, Pokkle, and Hanzo initially believe the final test is going to be a written exam. While Pokkle insists on studying fairly, Leorio lines his clothes with cheat sheets, while Hanzo conspires “to steal the answer sheet.” Regardless, all are wrong when Netero reveals the tournament instead.

-Also in Nippon’s version, Gon and Killua share another friendship moment when the former reveals his technique for gaining Hisoka’s badge; Killua in turn practices with Gon’s fishing rod and masters the the skill rather quickly, much to his friend’s dismay.

-The building in which the final exam takes place in appears to be the same in both versions, but the lighting of 1999’s makes it seem far darker inside than 2011’s, which is very bright by comparison.

-Notably, Kurapika and Hisoka face off first in 1999, unlike 2011 where Gon vs Hanzo takes place. It is the only full-length fight between the two series that only is shown in full in Nippon’s adaptation, whereas in 2011, it is Satotz’s recollection of the fight to Gon, only showing that Hisoka “said something” to Kurapika and conceded the match to the latter.

Gon and Satotz have the same discussion after he’s KO’ed by Hanzo in both versions. However, because the order of the Hisoka-Kurapika fight and Gon’s bout with Hanzo were swapped in Madhouse’s adaptation, Gon never sees the fight in this version, whereas he’s present for it in 1999.

Speaking of the Hanzo fight, it’s interesting to see how hard it is for Kurapika and Leorio to restrain themselves during the fight, as they’d become quite attached to Gon. Kurapika’s scarlet eyes actually appear here, one of the very few times it happened outside of Phantom Troupe -related incidents and a sign that he cares very much for his friends.

-The tournament bracket in both versions is directly inspired from Togashi’s first manga, Yu Yu Hakusho, where Team Urameshi is forced to fight their way through an uneven bracket to win the Dark Tournament. Unlike that scenario though, Hunter x Hunter’s tournament here has it so only one applicant will not pass if the tourney reaches the final stage, which it does not, because…

-Killua’s confrontation with Illumi is actually remarkably similar between both versions. In 1999, it was impossible to realize that he was actually influenced by Illumi’s needle implanted in his brain (as that version never reached the Chimera Ant arc), but aside from that, Killua’s burning desire for a friend and his internal conflict come to a head (which both anime do a nice job of.) Leorio also bursts in and comes to the defense of Killua, reminding him “You and Gon are already friends!” in entirely the same way both times.

-Finally, here’s Killua’s despair and the untimely murder of Bodoro from 2011:

Needless to say, Gon is not happy. Not happy at all. He want to know where his new best friend is, and whether it’s Nippon Animation or Madhouse, he isn’t stopping until he gets answers…and he know just who to ask.

With the Hunter Exam over and the licenses handed out, Gon obviously has some unfinished buisness with Illumi Zoldyck. The 3rd part of the series will focus on his journey to save Killua and paying the family a visit at Kukuroo Mountain with Leorio and Kurapika. In other words, get ready for the Zoldyck Family arc- 1999 vs 2011 style! In the meantime, check out the 2011 show review or this character piece on Killua for your reading pleasure.


Like what you see? Is the Hunter Exam your favorite arc of Hunter x Hunter? Leave a comment!

Review: Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood

The journey of two brothers deep into the mysteries of life itself is gripping.

The Lowdown:

Show: Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood

Network/ years aired: Adult Swim-Toonami/2009-2010 (dub 2010-2011)
EDITOR’S NOTE: While originating from the same franchise and manga, this show is completely different from the 2003 anime titled “Fullmetal Alchemist,” being a far more faithful and fleshed-out adaptation of the manga. That said, the ’03 show is still excellent on its own merits; just don’’t expect a ton of story overlap save for about the first 10 episodes.

AniB’s thoughts: One of the best anime from the first decade of 2000, Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood is actually the second adaptation derived from the original manga, coming about 6 years after the 2003 Fullmetal Alchemist, which diverged onto an anime-exclusive storyline with original characters and a far different ending for our heroes, the Elric brothers. While it is a beloved show by anime fans, for those who are unaware, FMA: Brotherhood is an absolutely terrific choice to check out in the genre even for the most casuals of fan for a variety of reasons: stunning animation, dynamic characters, a intriguingly crafted fictional world, and a dark quest that serves as the undertone to the entire show.

In the last decade while the anime industry on the whole has seen a downturn, this show shone brightly in 2009, in the wake of global recession and animation worldwide slumping. It was not entirely surprising that Bones (the Japanese studio behind it) would want to revisit the franchise with a more faithful adaptation of the manga, but what was surprising was how well the show came off to viewers. It was like a warm glove retelling the story of Fullmetal Alchemist essentially in the first 10-14 episodes, with some minor differences, mostly pertaining to emphasis on certain characters, but after that point took off into its own story, introducing new characters like May Chang, a princess from the far East country of Xing, who was skilled in a particular form of alchemy (which in this show serves as a major plot point and unique skill endemic to a few) and Ling Yao, also from the same country, who (spoilers!) was in search of the secret of immortality. The story also traverses along a far different and frankly much darker path than 2003’s version; a journey that has plenty of unusual twists and makes great use of all the details and locales it takes place in.

While my thoughts here hardly do justice to the entirety of the show (especially the main villain and his massive scheme), it is an absolutely fantastic outing that does live up to the high praise and hearty recommendations of many a fan. I think the grading below does a nice job of explaining the rest to both seasoned viewers and newcomers alike.


Animation Quality: Modern 2-D anime, with certain 3-D elements in spots. Gorgeously animated, the country of Amerstris and its people are brought to life with vibrancy, detail, and fluidity. The character models are well-detailed and pleasing; a good number of key characters maintain their appearances from the 2003 anime, but some do receive some slight changes in model as well. The action sequences are truly outstanding- the fights are fast-paced and fluid, and the story narrative blends well with what the animation is doing, enhancing the overall effect of drawing the viewer in. Truly a fine job. 5/5 points.

 
Characterization: Once again, FMA: Brotherhood stars the brothers Edward and Alphonse Elric in their search for the Philosopher’s Stone in a bid to regain their bodies after a horribly failed human transmutation (a taboo form of alchemy.)

Ed is the older of the duo; sporting long golden hair, his distinctive automail arm and leg, and a pet peeve for being called “short,” he’s a prodigy at alchemy and the titular “Fullmetal Alchemist,” having become the youngest state alchemist in Amestrian history. Despite his short temper, Ed has a close relationship with his brother and childhood friend Winry Rockbell, and a relentless determination and promise to Alphonse to meet their goal of regaining their bodies.

Alphonse is his younger brother; having lost his body, his soul is bound in a hulking suit of armor, which belies a kind and gentle boy inside. Even more highly skilled in hand to hand combat than his brother, Alphonse looks to protect Ed and fulfill the same promise, looking forward to the day he regains his human form.

Winry is their close childhood friend; a skilled automail mechanic, she is the proud inventor and maintainer of Ed’s arm and leg, and cares deeply about the two. She improves her skills over the course of the show, finds herself more and more involved in the thickening plot of the Elric brothers’ adventures, and might have a thing for Ed…

Colonel Roy Mustang is the Flame Alchemist, the man who recruited the Elrics to the military and who secretly is launching a bid to become Fuhrer of the country in an attempt to make positive change. Using special gloves with alchemical symbols emblazoned on them, Roy can create huge explosions, hence his name. He has a loyal team devoted to his goal; this is headed up by his loyal right-hand, Lieutenant Riza Hawkeye, an expert marksman and all-around military specialist who in fact hides a secret on her person…

Maes Hughes is Mustang’s best friend; he is a keen investigator and busybody who is hard not to like and dotes on his family excessively, but his tendencies can lead him into some trouble… The rest of Mustang’s team is Jean Havoc, a unflinchingly loyal and competent soldier, Kain Fuery, a young soldier with incredible skills in communication and tech, Vato Feldman, his intelligence man, and Heymans Breda, an information gatherer. (While more can be said, FMA: Brotherhood has a huge cast.)

Van Hohenheim is the mysterious father of the Elric brothers who left them at an early age; a man who rarely shows what he is planning or thinking, he travels from place to place, though not without reason… Scar is a vengeful warrior from the city of Ishval, where a bloody war of extermination wiped out most of his people. His arm is engraved with a unique alchemical tattoo that allows him to utilize a powerful destructive alchemy upon contact, something he uses initially to wreak havoc on state alchemists in a revenge tour…

Ling Yao is a crown prince of the country of Xing, having traveled across a huge desert to Amestris in search of the secret of immortality (to become the next emperor). His absent- minded introduction belies a smart, fierce, and highly skilled warrior who is relentless in what he pursues. Attended by his loyal guards Lan Fan and Fu, the three of them are a force to be reckoned with… May Chang also come from the East; a crown princess of Xing in pursuit of the same goal as Ling. She is highly skilled in the art of alkahestry, a form of alchemy practiced in her native land, and travels with her tiny pet panda, Xiao-Mei.

While this is a somewhat good-sized listing of all of FMA: Brotherhood’s main cast, it is a huge, diverse pool of characters, many of whom are not mentioned here (such as the Homunculi, the main group of antagonists), and of the ones talked about, there is much more to say, but I will ultimately note that overall, the characters of this show are outstanding, receive great development, and it is much more satisfying to watch then to try and explain it all here. 5/5 points.

 
Story quality: Revolving around the Elric brothers’ quest, the show becomes much more complicated than you’d initially think. Fans of 2003’s Fullmetal Alchemist will feel a very familiar, similar story progression for about the first 10 episodes; however, the shows begin to greatly diverge after that particular point, and the manga-centric direction Brotherhood takes is in fact more fleshed out and satisfying than ’03’s anime-original plot, which was very good in its own right. Expect plenty of action, expertly played emotions, and big questions to play themselves at the right time. 4.75/5 points.

 
Themes: There is a massive play about the role of “God,” “Truth,” and morality going on in FMA: Brotherhood. There fundamentally human questions are explored in unique, albeit symbolic and literal ways through the show, which is fueled by the backdrop of “alchemy” as the show and universe it’s set in portrays it. Does it get weird at times? Definitely. For the most part though, it’s a uniquely gripping take on questions not always explored in animation, or many other mediums for that matter. 4.5/5 points.

 
Don’t insult the viewer: There are certainly some hair raising moments, quite a bit of blood, and some fights that get quite violent. However, they fit so well within the scope of what this show is going for that it really does not affect what it’s looking to achieve at all. 5/5 Points.

 

Total Score: 24.25/25 (97%). A terrific anime that improves in every way from the franchise’s first animated series, FMA: Brotherhood takes the series in a whole new direction, pacing itself with engaging characters, a gripping story, and a powerful thematic message about morality itself. Definitely a must-watch.


Like what you see? Love FMA: Brotherhood or the 2003 Fullmetal Alchemist? Leave a comment!

Hunter × Hunter- 1999 vs 2011: Part 1- The Hunter Exam Pt. 1

Welcome to the first in a series of pieces about the Hunter x Hunter franchise; more specifically, a in-depth analysis between Nippon Animation’s original adaptation of the show, from 1999, and the more recent brilliant 2011 adaptation from Madhouse. Today’s focus will start perhaps the most comprehensive comparison of the two versions to date. (Also, this is NOT about “which is better”- that’s a different conversation and a totally subjective one at that.)

 

Hunter x Hunter. Just thinking about the show brings a rush of memories and moments to my head, not coincidentally involving a lot of Killua Zoldyck, one of my personal favorite characters, and his best friend, series protagonist Gon Freeccs. However, this article is not primarily about character building, themes, or the usual potpourri entailed in our reviews, both written and filmed, but rather, the most (or is it the first?) in-depth journey of both anime adaptations that exist for the franchise- the original 1999 adaption from Nippon Animation, and its subsequent OVA’s, or original video animations that only saw release in Japan, and Madhouse’s highly acclaimed, well loved 2011 version which retold the entire story from the ground up, and added two additional arcs as well- the Chimera Ant and Chairman Election.

 
To start with a bit of a primer: If you don’t know this series, turn around now if you wish to avoid spoilers. If you fall in this category and wish to continue, know that Hunter x Hunter is a franchise created by Yoshihiro Togashi, initially as a manga series, which has the unusual position of being adapted into two high quality anime (and that I’ve wrote a review of the most recent version). If you haven’t watched it, either version is fine but this author’s suggestion is the 2011 version, which you can find on Netflix and across the Internet, with an excellent English sub, while the dub is still coming out on Toonami as of this writing (and recent episodes can be found on their site.) If you want further information, you can also reference the graded review I’ve linked above for 2011, and if you’d like to get a better grasp on the characters, I wrote a piece about Killua.  As for everyone else, you know what happens, so we’ll dive in for real now.

 
The 1999 anime from Nippon is not quite as well known, but covers the same territory as the 2011 version, stretching from the Hunter Exam to roughly three-quarters of the Yorknew City arc in its initial 62 episode run. The OVA’s, or original video animations, which were released after its initial Japanese run at the turn of the millennium, finished Yorknew and added the entirety of Greed Island. However, these OVAs ended in 2004, and with them, so did Nippon’s involvement with Hunter x Hunter. As a result, the focus of this study will be from the Hunter Exam to Greed Island, which is covered up to episode 75 in Madhouse’s version. While this covers a great deal of territory, don’t expect (spoilers!) Knuckle, Palm, Morel, Ikalgo, Meruem, or any other characters exclusively from the Ant arc onward to appear here… but most of HxH’s major players appear by the end of Greed Island as it stands, and the material that is comparable turns out to be a very fulfilling comparison as is.

 
While there are some key differences (which we’ll be covering most, if not all of them), and a slew of smaller ones (mostly pertaining to aesthetics and animation), the two versions largely follow the same track through the arcs that will be focused on. However, one of 2011’s defining hallmarks was its tighter focus on the original manga material, and so some sneaky “filler” in ’99’s adaptation was either omitted or never came up. Aside from analyzing the episodes themselves, one way to know this is the episode count: It took Madhouse 75 episodes to cover the exact same ground as Nippon, whose entire adaptation topped out at 90 episodes with OVAs included. So the question begs itself: What changed in 15 extra episodes? As you’ll see, the answer will become quite clear.


ARC 1: THE HUNTER EXAM
(Nippon ’99, Episodes 1-30, Madhouse ’11, Episodes 1-21)

Ah, the place that started it all- the Hunter Exam. Fraught with danger, a whimsical sense of adventure, and the first glimpse into the expansive world and cast of Hunter x Hunter, it also boasts the distinction of being the most classic to form shonen arc in the entire show. Immediately, you may have noticed the episode discrepancy in the beginning of the section. There’s a answer to that, but the first comparisons to make are with our main cast. Being the start of the entire franchise, the arc gives us our four main characters- Gon, Killua, Kurapika, and Leorio- but it also introduces a slew of other notable and important recurring characters as well, from Hisoka and Illumi, to Hunter Chairman Issac Netero. So to begin, we’ll start with pictures (Hey, this is an animated show- it matters!)

GON FREECSS

        1999                            2011               

http://vignette3.wikia.nocookie.net/hunterxhunterpl/images/0/02/Gon_1999.png/revision/latest?cb=20141129200718&path-prefix=pl   http://vignette1.wikia.nocookie.net/hunterxhunter/images/b/b4/Gon-2011.png/revision/latest/scale-to-width-down/200?cb=20120115022050

KILLUA ZOLDYCK

1999                                 2011

http://vignette4.wikia.nocookie.net/hunterxhunter/images/d/db/Killua_1999.png/revision/latest?cb=20130530141716&path-prefix=es  http://vignette2.wikia.nocookie.net/hunterxhunter/images/7/7c/Killua-2011.png/revision/latest?cb=20120115021804

LEORIO PARDKNIGHT

1999                  2011

http://vignette4.wikia.nocookie.net/hunterxhunter/images/e/e5/Leorio_1999.png/revision/latest?cb=20120606094316  http://vignette4.wikia.nocookie.net/hunterxhunter/images/0/08/Leorio-2011.png/revision/latest?cb=20120115021510

KURAPIKA

1999                            2011

http://vignette1.wikia.nocookie.net/hunterxhunter/images/b/b1/Kurapika_1999.png/revision/latest/scale-to-width-down/200?cb=20120606093759  http://vignette2.wikia.nocookie.net/hunterxhunter/images/2/25/Kurapika-2011.png/revision/latest?cb=20120115022414

From top to bottom, you can see the main foursome have retained their distinct characteristics and identities in the transition from ’99 to ’11, though there are varying degrees of differences. Compared to some of the other cast members though, the differences are rather minor, as you’ll come to discover.

 
Starting with Gon, you’ll see his basic design hasn’t changed too drastically, but he is actually a tad shorter in the ’99 anime (picture notwithstanding), and his shorts are actually a bit longer…or is it his legs? Another thing to note about Gon and the rest of the characters in their style comparisons is these of far brighter colors and slightly thinner looking models. Ultimately, the change in art direction made everyone in Hunter x Hunter look sharper, but at least personally, I like the style of both anime adaptations, as it’s also one of the main factors that sets them apart. Gon also has spiker hair that seems a bit taller in his 2011 model against his ’99 one, and this slight change also seems to work just fine. Gon’s outfit remains mostly the same, but his boots are solid green and white in Madhouse’s version, removing the brown laces and tops, and his jacket no longer has black cuffs and collars.

 
Next up is Killua, who out of the main cast received the biggest overhaul from ’99 to 2011. Aside from the palette and general model shifts that are present in all 2011 versions of the characters, Killua has been updated in a way that makes his character a little fluffier, starting with his hair. It goes more evenly around in its distinct, messy style instead of out like in ’99’s version, and while still detailed, is less so comparatively. His eyes have also been altered too, making them more expressive, and his face thinned out a little so he’s a more believable 12 year old. Killua’s signature outfit that he wears during the Hunter Exam is fundamentally the same, but the colors have been altered to a brighter palette, and his shorts have been made gray, longer and slightly baggier, and his legs appear thinner as well. Finally, his shoes are roughly the same design, but received the same brighter coloration in line with the rest of his model. Of course, Killua wears more distinctly different outfits than anyone else over the course of Hunter x Hunter, but for his basic model comparison, we’re sticking with his signature appearance, which is from this very first arc of the show.

 
Following the two boys is Kurapika, who of the four received the least amount of tweaking model-wise. While Kurapika shares the newer brighter colors and slightly thinner body notable in Madhouse’s version, there’s not much different aside from his feet (where he has socks in 1999, and a slightly different shade of blue for the shoes), and his eyes, which also get slightly more expressive in the newer version. Kurapika may in fact be the least changed character, model wise, from 1999 to 2011, perhaps a testament to great design in the first place, or that there’s only so many ways to do the distinct outfits he wears. However, the biggest change isn’t pictured: the representation of the scarlet eyes in animation between ’99 and ’11.

 
Finally, Leorio receives some slight tweaking from his 1999 version, his hair being noticeably more spiky, and his suit a little more form fitting, accentuating his height. His briefcase, which in the picture here only can be seen in Nippon’s version, was also redesigned in 2011, sporting a red a black checkered pattern on the front. Overall, Leorio’s appearance can be described as “sharpened” between the two versions.

 
Admittedly, a lot of aesthetic differences can easily be spotted just by looking at the main cast. The most noticeable is that the original ’99 anime was at the tail end of the era where shows were mostly hand-drawn, and the shading and lines are distinctly different than a modern 2-D anime with computer shading. There is more detail in some ways from the original anime, be it the individual strands of Killua’s hair to the wrinkles in clothes, and while some nuances are lost in transition, other positives are gained as well; 2011’s models have a much brighter color palette compared to the relatively muted tones of 1999, which is typical of the overall transition in the industry from hand-painted cels to computer shading.


As for the Hunter Exam arc itself, there are several differences between the two versions; 1999’s could be considered more “substantial,” featuring an entire (well-done) extra leg of the Exam, while 2011’s remains more faithful to the manga version, save a few instances. Let’s dive in.

Gon’s Backstory: The First Appearance of Kite (1999: Episode 1, 2011: Episode 76)

In the 1999 anime, the first episode starts by featuring a younger Gon in danger from a adult foxbear, a larger predatory animal. As he is about to be killed by the creature, a mysterious man appears, and using a katana takes out the foxbear, sparing Gon. It turns out to be Kite, a Double Star Hunter who came to Whale Island searching for someone… This scene is actually faithful to the first issue of the Hunter x Hunter manga, whereas it occurs as a flashback in 2011’s version in episode 76, the starting point of the Chimera Ant arc. Because chances are that we won’t be revisting Kite in this series, here’s a quick comparison of his character models:

KITE

1999                             2011

http://vignette3.wikia.nocookie.net/hunterxhunter/images/1/1e/Kite_1999.png/revision/latest?cb=20140520230533&path-prefix=es  http://vignette4.wikia.nocookie.net/hunterxhunter/images/9/93/Kite_mainpic.png/revision/latest?cb=20130424051614

We can continue to compare the scenes. In 2011’s, Gon is slapped by Kite afterwards, an action that is praised at a different point by Ging Freeccs, his dad. Ging’s Hunter License is left in the care of Gon (as Kite had been carrying it), but in ’99 is specifically wedged in a tree. Finally, Gon protects the orphaned foxbear cub in both versions, but only in 1999 do we get to see the efforts of his results as he raises the cub; the fully grown foxbear is incredibly fond of Gon, who obviously spent a great deal of time with it growing up (and considering he didn’t have a human friend until Killua, this makes lots of sense.)

Journey To the Hunter Exam Site (1999: Episodes 1-5, 2011: Episode 1-3)

In both versions, Gon travels with Leorio and Kurapika on the captain’s ship from Whale Island to the next city. However, in 1999, two entire episodes are spent on the island, including a filler episode where Gon meets Leorio at the port instead of on the ship (and also showcased Leorio arm-wrestling, and Gon’s connection with animals.) As with many of the supporting characters, the captain also has different colors for his clothes and model than 2011:

CAPTAIN

1999                                             2011

http://vignette1.wikia.nocookie.net/hunterxhunter/images/5/5f/Captain_99.png/revision/latest?cb=20120818125251  http://vignette1.wikia.nocookie.net/hunterxhunter/images/0/08/Captain_2011.PNG/revision/latest?cb=20120110035309

(In both versions, the trio bond on the ship after a rough night at sea.) Upon arriving in Zaban City, Leorio turns around and heads up the mountain with Gon and Kurapika after momentary hesitation. In ’99, he actually gets on the bus at first, only to realize it’s going in circles.

In both versions, the trio must pass the trivia test, though in 2011 it shows the aftermath. (Leorio also goes ballistic in both.) The mountain guide scene goes relatively the same, as does the initial confusion over the fact that the restaurant and not the church is the actual entrance to the Exam. The 2011 version also gets to the actual Exam quicker; it only uses 3 episodes for the journey as opposed to 5 for 1999.

The Hunter Exam: Part 1 (1999: Episodes 6-8, 2011: Episodes 4-6)

Ah, Tonpa the “Rookie Crusher.” (I know that’s what y’all were waiting for- he’s the real threat to everyone.) Model aside, he’s peddling spiked laxative juices in 2011, something that immediately makes Gon and company suspicious, and that Killua actually drinks with no ill effects, thanks to poison immunity. In ’99, Tonpa instead plays coy to begin, has no juice, and deceives the the trio initially. Killua also does not speak until he talks to Gon in the first phase, simply eying him in his first-on screen appearance. He also does not intially give his name to Gon, but in both versions dismounts his skateboard. The 1999 version also has an extended part to the first leg of the exam: a booby-trapped passage filled with poisonous sap. Tonpa brings an exhausted Leorio and Nicholas (remember him?) here to die: while the latter is driven insane, the former, along with Gon and Kurapika who cam back to check on him, are saved by flash grenades from Killua- actual tools of the trade.

TONPA

1999                                    2011

http://vignette2.wikia.nocookie.net/hunterx/images/f/f6/Tonpa_1999.png/revision/latest?cb=20120109121546  http://vignette2.wikia.nocookie.net/hunterxhunter/images/5/50/Tonpa_2011.PNG/revision/latest?cb=20120110063137

HISOKA MORROW

1999                          2011

http://vignette1.wikia.nocookie.net/hunterxhunter/images/c/c2/Hisoka_1999.jpg/revision/latest?cb=20120606081412  Hisoka PR Movie

 

Hisoka also makes his first appearance. Most notably, the ’99 version has Hisoka sporting blue hair during the Exam as opposed to his usual red, which appears from the Heavens Arena arc onwards. In 2011, he gets that amazing Spanish guitar theme and the really flashy trick where he disintegrates an applicant’s arms; in ’99 he merely scares the crap out of a guy with his usual card-throwing tricks. Take a look:

Either way, you can’t say Hisoka doesn’t make quite the first impression.

Finally, there’s the first examiner of the phases: Satotz. Sporting his distinct hair and mustache-without-a mouth combo, he’s very similar in both versions, the most noticable difference being the stride he uses to lead the group of applicants to the next stage. In 2011 he has an exaggerated step with an arm swing that despite its strangeness, covers a lot of ground quickly. In 1999, it’s much more of a very fast walk.

SATOTZ

      1999                              2011

http://vignette3.wikia.nocookie.net/hunterx/images/5/55/Satotz_1999.png/revision/latest?cb=20120109105920  https://myanimelist.cdn-dena.com/images/characters/10/139775.jpg

In 2011, Gon and Killua have a footrace to the end of the underground tunnel, in which they tie at the end. In both versions, the man-faced ape attempting to deceive the applicants in the swamp is killed by Hisoka’s cards, followed by praise and a warning of expulsion from Satotz. Also true to both is the swamp encounter where Hisoka “plays Examiner,” and becomes acquainted with Gon, Leorio, and Kurapika; notably, this is still one of the only combat scenes in the entire series for Leorio (and he doesn’t do much here except take an anchor punch to the face.) Finally, Gon and Kurapika manage to barely make it to the second phase in both versions- the latter’s sharp sense of smell being the reason they make it.


The next installment will finish the Hunter Exam, starting with Phase 2 featuring Menchi and Buhara, and will also talk about the special “bonus phase” only present in the 1999 anime! Feel free to leave a comment.