Preliminary Review: Star vs. The Forces of Evil (post season 2)

The Lowdown:

Show: Star vs. The Forces of Evil

Network/years aired: Disney X.D./ 2015-

(SPOILERS AHEAD. Read at your own risk.)

AniB’s thoughts: Okay. Stop. We had enough manufactured drama at the Oscars. Take a deep, deep breath and remember to breathe out too. Don’t worry, I’m here to do the mental processing for actual people in the fandom, and as for everyone else reading this column, just know that the people who watch this show are really into it.  Well, welcome to the only Star vs. review on the inter-webs that won’t be tripping over itself in fandom shipping wars. (For everyone unfamiliar with me, I wrote a treatise on the subject on Valentine’s Day this year.) However, because of the story and character context of the show, I suppose such a discussion is unavoidable, but first, let me talk about the finale and the other non-romantically involved key points, which have my interest fully:

Toffee is back, Glossaryck’s gone missing, and Queen Moon herself is aware of the danger now that’s been brewing the entire season. This plot line has become very, very interesting, and with the “mic drop” that was the final minute of Starcrushed, the third season promises to go in a very different, complicated direction…and intertwined in that is Star’s relationship with Marco, where she finally came clean…and promptly left for what I’d presume was Mewni.

On the topic of “Starco” as the shippers call it, it’s been handled in a way so far that’s actually heightened the narrative tension as a part of the plot and not necessarily as an extraneous element. It appears Jackie and Oskar were both plot devices to set up this “destined bond” that was foreshadowed as far back as the Blood Moon Ball, and while it’s incomplete at the moment, it sets up one hell of a plot line for season 3, specifically for Marco, who’s been left on Earth…presumably with the dimensional scissors he won from Hekapoo. (Seriously, they’re too good of a episode prize to be a one-off gag.)

Season 2 on the whole represented a big step forward in the development of Star vs. The Forces of Evil. Building off of momentum gained in the lat half of season 1, the show’s growth was always going to hinge on the overarching plot of Star’s wand, her growing powers, and how the titular “forces of evil” would play into her destiny. Of course, this spilled over into the realm of young love…because of course it did. It’s maybe a little sappy how they went about it, but the emotion is there and there was actual buildup to what became a critical moment mirroring the finale of the 1st season (in this case, Toffee’s triumphant return and Star leaving Marco and Earth in general), and so, it was well done on the whole…especially that cold ending. (Something tells Daron Nefcy got some inspiration from the credits of Dipper and Mabel vs. The Future.)

What can we expect from a season 3? Probably more of the same in terms of humor, with the addendum that the show can continue to grow in new and unexpected directions courtesy of how its narrative is structured and the way that season 2 concluded. I’ve had a great deal of fun so far with SVTFOE, and I don’t want that to change. “Fun” and “high energy” are two of the hallmarks of the show so far, and it is so important that it does not lose sight of these aspects. It’s great that the writers decided to add even more gravity and seriousness to the end of the season in particular, but keeping a balance that works is key. Another Disney X.D. show- Gravity Falls– was able to find and maintain that balance very well; I’m keen to see what Star does, especially now with the titular character’s personal relationship entangled with her unfolding destiny as the heir apparent to the Mewni throne.


 

Animation Quality: Traditional 2-D animation, with some anime influence. It’s a unique art style that has roots in the magical girl-type show, with a bright and vibrant color palette. It’s rather clean for the many different monsters and locales on display, and comes off nicely. 4.25/5 points.

 

Characterization: The show revolves around two main characters: the titular Star Butterfly, the free-spirited princess of a dimension known as Mewni, who is sent to Earth in an attempt for her to mature and grow as a young woman, and Marco Diaz, her host family’s son and best friend.

Star is a rebel princess through and through; and while she’s hardly a “by the book” type of individual, she possesses a great deal of natural talent in magic and a sense of freewheeling adventure. Her relationships she’s made on the show have continually developed, and as a result, become more complex- you could technically even say “multiversal.”

Marco Diaz serves as Star’s best friend and host on Earth (as Star’s an “exchange student”). Cautious and straightforward, Marco’s a good kid who is hopelessly naive about veiled references and hidden feelings- he’s a straight shooter. He’s also a red belt in karate after the events of season 2, and is inexperienced (as you’d expect from someone his age) about romance.

 

They get into a variety of strange antics; the supporting cast is pretty zany, but it works in the frenetic style of the show. I’ll mention Star’s parents- who play an  important background role, Ludo, the main “villain” of the show; Toffee, the actual main villain, and a variety of Star and Marco’s friends and acquaintances, which include Janna, a troublemaking girl who becomes close with Star; Ponyhead, the wild princess who was Star’s first friend before coming to Earth, and Jackie, a friend of Star’s and longtime crush of Marco (though he is very timid about this fact for most of the season…) 3.5/5 points.

 

Story quality: Episodic, with an underlying story that begins to come on much more strongly in the final 3rd of the first season. So far, the show has shown itself to be a fun, wacky, and humorous show, mixed with some modicums of seriousness and drama. It’s an effective mix that I hope to see keep developing. So far, it’s a good start- not the level of season 1 Gravity Falls, but certainly worth a watch. 3.75/5 points.

 

Themes: There’s this idea of mystery and magic mixed with the idea of growing up and friendship, which then becomes more complicated with time. It’s adequately done, and while I believed it would be intriguing to see where it went this past season, it exceeded my expectations, opening up the potential for a very compelling  season 3. As a result more serious themes have been set in motion. 3.5/5 points.

 

Don’t insult the viewer: The show’s bursting with a good sense of fun and energy while staying rather clean. The theme song and outro are both very catchy, and there’s something infectiously enjoyable about watching this show, which is hard to describe.  5/5 points.

 

Total Score: 20/25 (80%). With an explosive final sequence of episodes, Star vs. The Forces of Evil finishes off its second season with both answers and questions as to where it goes next; a bittersweet cliffhanger that really could become something special. The show will receive an further updated review when Season 3 airs in its entirety… definitely worth the watch so far!


Like what you see? Dying to say something about “Starco?” Leave a comment!

Oscars 2017: Best Animated Picture?

Well, here we are again at the granddaddy of movie award shows. As someone who is involved in the writing of the field of animation, I figured it’d be best to offer a few words up on the Oscars and the only category that matters to yours truly: Animated Film.

Generally, I only care about results when it comes to award shows, much the same way as when I watch shows. I don’t follow the Oscars for their over-bloated pageantry, self-aggrandizing celebrities who pat each other on the back and give meaningless compliments to other influential people they know, or to watch people on the Internet have meltdowns over “x amount” of diversity or lack thereof. I’m just interested in the movies themselves, the people who put the work into said films, and the statistics behind it. So, here’s a list of the past 10 winners, with studios, to give a recent historical representation of this category (and note, the year is when the movies came out, not the award ceremony date, which is always the following year.)

2016: ?

2015: Inside Out (Pixar)

2014: Big Hero 6 (Walt Disney Animation Studios)

2013: Frozen (Walt Disney Animation Studios)

2012: Brave (Pixar)

2011: Rango (Paramount Pictures)

2010: Toy Story 3 (Pixar)

2009: Up (Pixar)

2008: WALL-E (Pixar)

2007: Ratatouille (Pixar)

2006: Happy Feet (Warner Bros.)


So going back a decade, Pixar has unsurprisingly dominated the category, taking 6 out of the past 10 awards- but only twice in the past 5 years. With Finding Dory locked out of the category this year, it’s guaranteed another studio will win it. And it may very well be Walt Disney Studios, who won two out of the last 3 times and managed to get two cracks at the award this year with Zootopia and Moana, which both made the grade. As for the outliers on this list, Rango was a surprise in a very weak year (2011) and Happy Feet was much the same, beating out the underwhelming (by Pixar standards, anyways) Cars and Monster House when the category only had 3 entrants in that year.

Historically, this category does not bode well for foreign film nominations, despite the uptick in such films for the category this decade. Only two times a non-American studio has taken home the prize- Aardman Animations in 2005 with Wallace and Gromit, and Studio Ghibli with the classic Spirited Away in 2002. Since 2001, that means only 12.5% of the time this award went to a veritable outsider; comparatively, Pixar has won 8 out of the 17 times the category has been an award- an astonishing 47% success rate, which is unreal for one studio. It honestly would be refreshing to see The Red Turtle or My Life as a Zucchini break through, but I’m not holding my breath.

The Academy also loves nominating stop-motion films if they get one, with the addendum that they almost never win. In fact, the aforementioned Wallace and Gromit is the lone example; while 5 out of the past 8 years including this one (Kubo and the Two Strings) have a nominee, including 3 movies of this variety in 2012, exactly zero have won. That could very well change, but it’s a little dubious for Studio Laika as it stands.

If you haven’t heard, or have been living under a rock the past 5 years, the House of Mouse has re-found its lost magic and has to be considered the favorite to bring home the award, with a 40% shot between its two nominees. I’ve believed for a while now that Zootopia, with its themes and message (not to mention, it actually pulled the “anthropomorphic animal” film off and was totally refreshing with it) will probably win the award, especially given recent history for the studio as well. At any rate, whether you love the Oscars or not, or are just here to read about more animation, it’s a strong category this year with 5 very worthy entries, which have had compelling cases made by plenty of other people. If you’re ever unsure what to think though, take my word for it: go out and watch the films yourself! There is no substitution for actual experience, and only then can you really form an original opinion. May the best movie win, and here’s hoping 2017 proves to be equally compelling!


Like what you see? Surprised I wrote about movies for a change? Leave a comment!

On Animation Channels and Decision-Making Pt. 2: Nickelodeon

This piece is the second in a mini-series about networks’ decisions about animation in the 2010’s so far. In part 1 (https://anibproductions.wordpress.com/2017/02/21/on-animation-channels-and-decision-making-pt-1-cartoon-network/), Cartoon Network was up to bat; while the decade has represented a sort of bounce-back and evolution for the network, it wasn’t 100% perfect…but what actually is? Today, I’ll be taking a look at one of its arch-competitors who has seen better days:

 

Nickelodeon

 

Once upon a time, Nickelodeon was undoubtedly the cutting-edge of innovation in TV animation when it came to the West. In the 90’s, the network breathlessly pumped out hits, from Ren and Stimpy to The Wild Thornberrys and Rugrats, and it continued that run of success into the early 2000’s with a nascent star show that had emerged: SpongeBob SquarePants. I’ve been convinced for a while now that Nick on the whole became drunk with its success, and since around 2005 (the Avatar shows non-withstanding) there’s been a rather steep deterioration in the quality and types of animation on the network, which brings us to present day at the time of this writing- early 2017, where the studio that made “sliming” kids cool actually came up with their first legitimate hit in a while, The Loud House. While there’s a great deal to discuss about Nickelodeon in general, there’s going to be a strong effort to keep this analysis just to 2010 and beyond, though external factors might be needed for further context.

 

At the turn of the decade, every animation outfit was still recovering from the 2008 recession, and an end of the period that had very few bright spots. Avatar: The Last Airbender had ended back in 2008, and Nickelodeon, unlike its brethren at Cartoon Network and the House of Mouse, decided to continue doubling down on old franchises that had served it very well. While this meant The Fairly Odd Parents and longtime animator Butch Hartman on one hand, it really meant the network’s own Mickey Mouse franchise- of course meaning SpongeBob. The show about an anthropomorphic sponge and his pals living in the fictional town of Bikini Bottom had grown from a mega-hit show, to a movie, and after the network decided it couldn’t live with it ending, into a massively bankable franchise with merchandise, advertising and the whole nine yards. Nickelodeon had become synonymous with the sponge, and while it had raked in massive profits, the show itself was starting to age quite badly as the 2010’s got underway. The original quality of writing and humor the show adhered to under its “classic” seasons with Derek Drymon at the helm had given way to a show that had cheapened its characters, wrote wholly contrived and repeating plots; and while the animation had improved dramatically as a result of  getting a budget consummate with a triple-A show, underneath the shiny exterior lay the core product rotting even as money rolled in. This has become a recurrent theme for the network in recent years- shiny exterior, bad internals.

While SpongeBob continued to serve as both the network’s main driver and spokesperson, the quality of newer shows coming on air was by and large forgettable. While I’m planning to review these “dime a dozen” Nicktoons, I already did showcase one- the highly forgettable Fanboy and Chum Chum, and while that show technically got its start in 2009, the majority of its run was in this era, so it counts as an example. It wasn’t the only show that showed the newer group of executives at the studio had lost touch with what had made the network great (and how to spot good animation in general); there was everything from Planet Sheen, a ghastly spin-off of the moderately successful Jimmy Neutron series from the early 2000’s; Sanjay and Craig, which was styled to look like Bob’s Burgers without any of the charm and a lot of toilet humor, and T.U.F.F. Puppy, which while not nearly as bad as some of the other entries here, failed to capture the following of Butch Hartman’s previous shows- the aforementioned Fairly Odd Parents, or his magnum opusDanny Phantom.

So what was the good news in the maelstrom of awfulness I portrayed? The Legend of Korra. Appearing in 2012 as a compelling re-entry into the Avatar universe, it was initially meant to be a one-shot show (which I cover in my review for TLOK.) Without repeating said review verbatim here, the way Nickelodeon treated the show during its run was utterly baffling. While a variety of other shows (from the brief list above) got a ton of leeway, Korra had very bad treatment for a top-rated, best performing, critical success type of show. In an era where Nick had become irrelevant mostly for  viewers looking for innovation, Korra got people through the doors; its storytelling, while not perfect, was still leagues ahead of the juvenile plots other Nicktoon featured, and the animation was top notch. So what did Nick do? Took it off the air in season 2 for online viewing only, and cut its budget. Ultimately Korra wound up having success despite self-created obstacles from the network; I’d advise reading the review for more on the show proper.

Fast forward to now, and The Loud House has been a shot in the arm to a network that was largely anemic and uninteresting in the year following Korra’s conclusion. The TMNT show the network has had is the only other show really worth mentioning as “good” through the period; while I can’t lay claim to having really watched it yet, reports are that it’s rather faithful to the franchise and the best iteration of the turtles in a while (and I’d hope so, considering the awful cash-grab movies of recent years.). It’s been my opinion for a while that Nick needs to part ways with its two oldest franchises- FOP and SpongeBob– and set them out to pasture so a new way forward can continue to be forged. Their rivals a long time ago made the move to develop entirely new generations of shows; these two are relics of about 3 generations of animation ago at least and stopped being truly relevant or innovative for quite a while. There’s nothing wrong with celebrating a long-running show, but when they’re the type that are essentially repeating plots at this point and adding extraneous characters with no actual value, it’s time to finally end the charade. I’ll end by saying that I definitely want the network to succeed, but in order to do so, it’ll have to continue rediscovering its roots as an innovator and realize quality will win the day in a increasingly competitive marketplace; one where online threats have emerged in addition to long time competitors on the airwaves.


Like what you see? Have a favorite Nicktoon from over the years? Chime in on the comments!

 

First Top 10 for Animated Shows

Ten reviews, ten grades, first listing.

Here at AniB Productions, I’ll be keeping track of all the graded reviews I’ve published so far and every so often give an updated version of this list. Here’s the initial top 10:

  1. Gravity Falls (98%)
  2. Avatar: The Last Airbender (98%)
  3. Cowboy Bebop (97%)
  4. Young Justice* (93%)
  5. The Legend of Korra (85%)
  6. Codename: Kids Next Door (84%)
  7. Dragon Ball Z (84%)
  8. Phineas and Ferb (84%)
  9. Neon Genesis Evangelion (81%)
  10. Fanboy and Chum Chum (9%)

(NOTE: “*” denotes a preliminary review, or a show that is still in progress.)

I’ll just note that technically Gravity Falls and ATLA are tied for first…but among that top 3, it’s splitting hairs.


Have a show you wish to appear on this list? Agree or disagree? Leave a comment!

Preliminary Review: Young Justice

A surprising turn of events resulted in season 3.

EDITOR’S NOTE: If you took the time to read the stickied post on the blog’s front page (https://anibproductions.wordpress.com/2017/01/27/creating-the-magic-how-i-do-reviews/), there’s a mention at the bottom about what a preliminary review is. Essentially, these are seasonal reviews for shows still not yet completed (so I’m grading the total body of work up to that point in time); I can do multiple preliminary reviews for shows if they have several seasons, and grades, as well as perceptions, change accordingly. In the case of this show, Young Justice, I thought for a number of years that anything I’d write formally on the show would constitute an air of finality, because the show was infamously canned by Cartoon Network in 2013 for some very dumb reasons (which I touched on in the Cartoon Network decisions piece and will do so again here), but after a strong crowd-sourced and fan-fueled push since then, Netflix swooped in to save the series, and so a 3rd season, which probably will wrap up this enigmatically fun, albeit serious take on DC’s younger heroes, is now in production. And so, there is no better show to introduce the preliminary review; one that will no longer be doomed to steep in unrealized regrets and unfinished plot holes.

The Lowdown:

Show: Young Justice

Networks/ years aired: Cartoon Network (Netflix), 2011-2013; 2017-

AniB’s take: An enormous mistake was rectified with the announcement of this show’s 3rd season, which will air on Netflix, and while this in a vacuum might not mean much, it is in fact a massive victory for quality animation. Young Justice initially was a tragic story; an extremely well-made show with a compelling story and a fresh, true-to-the DC original character development, it was promptly shuttered after its second season (also titled as Young Justice: Invasion), a baffling reversal for a show that had gained quite the following and generated good ratings. The answer for this unfortunate turn of events was later said to be linked to toy sales and network executives’ unwavering penchant for the coveted 7-13 year old boy demographic- the holy grail of target audiences for a kid’s network. Young Justice had in fact attracted too much diversity in its large following- quite the irony- and from my perspective at least, this was a baffling reason to let a quality show go. If you get a different audience than you initially expected, but it’s big, and the show is good, run with it. A good business should be flexible, always looking for an opportunity to grow, and in this case, Cartoon Network was inflexible. There was also another reason Young Justice might have gotten the axe…because the network was planning to release a “light comedy version of Teen Titans.” That’s another review…

As for the show itself, the first two seasons went from “remarkably promising” to “totally compelling.” Young Justice made an entire side of the DC universe accessible to viewers not steeped in the comics’ ethos, and made sure to establish plenty of individuals that tend to be niche in the comics (think Black Canary, or Aqualad, one of the leads, as an example), while emphasizing certain well known faces and downplaying others (Lex Luthor? He’s definitely a player. As for the Joker, he barely registers.) It managed to balance a large cast while not overshadowing its leads with the most well-known of characters, such as Batman, and the result is a cohesive universe that never feels hijacked into something it’s not. There’s complex relationship-building, including some romance that doesn’t feel forced, and it’s actually a very fun dynamic to watch adolescents growing into young adults navigate typical social anxieties related to their age with more typical superhero duties and problems.

It’s a great story that a beloved show got a chance to make a return that was rather justified. The cliffhanger at the end of season 2 now will find a resolution, and there is no doubt in my mind the show will pick up right where it left off, with innovative storytelling, worldbuilding, and a continuation of the outstanding character arcs that have become a hallmark of the show. I’ll be the first to note a letdown, but I doubt it will happen. If you haven’t watched the show, now is a great time to do so; that way, you can be caught up when Season 3 finally releases.


Animation Quality: Traditional 2-D animation, digitally animated. Like most DC shows, Young Justice has impressive animation in a variety of very different locations. The character designs are very pleasing, and the backgrounds are stunning. Notably, the action sequences, which there are quite a lot of, are all extremely fluid and very enjoyable. Masterful work. 5/5 points.

 
Characterization: The show balances a relatively large cast over time; for our purposes, the main cast through the two season are Robin/Nightwing, Kid Flash, Superboy, Miss Martian, Aqualad, and Artemis, all of whom form the initial Young Justice squad in the show.

Dick Grayson, true to his comic book origins, starts as Robin in season 1, and after a timeskip, is Nightwing. Well equipped (in more ways than one), a martial arts master and detective, as one might expect of Batman’s one-time protege, he’s the de facto fill-in leader for the squad (as an early storyline actually designates Aqualad as the team’s leader.) He’s also got great acrobatic skills, virtue of his origins as a Flying Grayson, a backstory preserved in this show. As for the “Robin” moniker and identity, it’s passed onto Tim Drake in the second season, who is mentored by Grayson.

Wally West is Kid Flash. He’s best friends with Grayson, is a fast talker and is looking for a girlfriend at first (initially Miss Martian), but (spoilers!) eventually falls for Artemis. He’s always looking to help people in need and loves collecting souvenirs from missions. In the second season, he takes a “retirement” from the team, though that doesn’t prove to be completely binding…

Aqualad, known also by his Atlantian name, Kaldur’ahm (pronounced “Kal-durr-ahn”), is the former right hand of Aquaman and the son of supervillain Black Manta. Wise and calm most of the time, he’s a skilled warrior and the leader of the Young Justice team; in season 2, he’s revealed to also be highly skilled at covert operations.

Superboy, or Conner Kent, starts off as a genetic experiment of the Genomorphs (a group of alien scientists, to keep it simple) and is a physical hybrid of Superman and Lex Luthor. Somewhat anti-social and veiled about his feelings, he grows a great deal as a person while learning better ways to use his powers and immense strength through the first two seasons. He also becomes romantically involved with Miss Martian for a time (which becomes some complicated buisness indeed…)

Miss Martian in fact is a white Martian who is brought to Earth by the Martian Manhunter. Her telepathic and mental powers are formidable; the Manhunter even said they could surpass his own. As a shapeshifter, she models her appearance and personality to a large extent after an old TV sitcom “Hello Megan!” and actually has a bio-ship that transports the team to missions.

Finally Artemis (her name is the same as her actual identity) is the late addition to the team. A skilled archer who works with Green Arrow after the disappearance of his ex-protege Speedy, she’s actual in fact (spoiler!) the younger sister of villainess Cheshire and daughter of Sportsmaster. Initially quite at odds with Wally West, she falls for him, and in the second season, takes on a covert mission and identity as “Tigress,” (which actually shifts to be her main hero outfit.)

The other young heroes could probably be defined more as “significant supporting characters.” An excellent move the show does is push the main DC heroes (i.e. Batman, Superman) into the background, so while they’re there, they neither usurp the focus from the Young Justice heroes, or act as deus ex machinas. Finally, despite the two seasons being immensely enjoyable in terms of character development, the show’s characters were not fully realized, as it was clear a 3rd season would have resolved some issues still. This was unfortunate. 4.5/5 points.

 
Story quality: Seasons 1 and 2 could be considered two distinct arcs within a larger overarching story. Ultimately, what starts as a simple request from three sidekicks to be more than just sidekick turns into an elite covert ops team who gets entangled in the master plan of a mysterious entity only known as “The Light” and their operatives. Season 1 deals more explicitly with this; Season 2 has The Light in the backdrop as the Reach become the main antagonist for the the arc. Season 3 is likely going to resolve everything, and what we received so far has been engaging and very satisfying. 4.5/5 points.

 

 
Themes: The show deals with a broad spectrum of issues with relationships, friends and family, and even romance on a fairly mature level. It also deals with blurring certain lines between good and evil, and a complex view into a variety of different perspectives. It’s also a superhero show which never got to finish what it started. 4/5 points.

 

 
Don’t insult the viewer: High flying, action packed, and full of emotion, the only insulting thing initially had been the show getting canceled as it continued to build up its plot. However, now there is nothing holding this grade back. 5/5 points.

 

Total Score: 23.25/25 (93%). Young Justice is a gem of a show, focusing on a number of lesser-known DC heroes, mixing in intelligent storytelling with a compelling backdrop, and some outstanding action sequences. It speaks to the quality of the show when it was able to garner a high grade in spite of its layoff and current incompletion; the 3rd season is much anticipated not only for fan excitement, but to really cap this review off. I’d suggest checking it out if you haven’t already.


Like what you see? Know lots about the DC universe? Leave a comment!

On Animation Channels and Decision-Making Pt. 1: Cartoon Network

Hey everyone! This is the beginning of a 3 to 4(?) part mini-series where the discussion will be about some of the impactful decisions major animation networks in the United States have made over the past decade in regards to shows. The opinions expressed in this regard are completely my own- but I watched the networks and did some research all the same.

 

The other day, I talked about my thoughts on the 2010’s in animation from a viewing perspective: that is to say from a wide lens-sort of viewpoint about some of the better things I’ve observed, and on the whole my view of the decade is fairly positive at this point in time. It’s unlikely to change too much in part because we’re now on the back 9 of the decade and the opinion was formed with the majority of the years already in the bank, but there was another side to that discussion that intrigued me enough to write about: Network decision making.

To preface this discussion, I’m going to talk about the main 3 US networks known for animation: Cartoon Network (which includes sister block Adult Swim in this conversation), Nickelodeon, and Disney X.D., where all of the House of Mouse’s animated series have migrated to, away from their traditional home on Disney Channel (which has devolved into fairly awful sitcoms, but I digress.) I’ll also throw Fox a bone here too, as it’s noted for its mainstream adult fare, which while commonplace, is not particularly impressive. This is more of a detailed breakdown of decision-making by these networks and provides a sort of context for the decade as well. For the first part, I’ll be taking a look at:

Cartoon Network

At the dawn of the new decade, Cartoon Network made the fortuitous decision to green-light both Adventure Time and Regular Show. That decision alone ensured the beginnings of a resurgence for a network that had seemingly lost its way in the waning years of the 2000’s. Having two anchor shows was a boon, but what about some of the network’s other decisions in the meantime?

-From the 2000’s, the network carried over Star Wars: The Clone Wars:

While I haven’t talked about this show in depth with a review yet, it would be amiss to not give credit that keeping this show under contract from Lucasfilm in the final years prior to the Disney acquisition was wise. In all likelihood the final Star Wars show to be broadcast on a Disney rival, the show continued to improve and grow in complexity…too bad the time slot didn’t. The show finished season 5 on the network in 2013 before airing its final salvo on Netflix.

-The ballad of Genndy Tartakovsky: A promising failure and an unexpected return

Tartakovsky, the well-known Russian animator behind yesteryear hit Dexter’s Laboratory and the first crack at the Clone Wars era in Star Wars, came back in 2010 with an innovative, darker new show- Sym-Bionic Titan. In what is one of the more underrated tragedies of animation, the show was canned the next year after only one season that was very, very good…because toy sales… or lack thereof. (More on that issue later.) However, it was not the last of Tartakovsky this decade: He returned to direct the long-awaited but totally unexpected 5th and final season of Samurai Jack, some 13 years after its initial stoppage.

-Toys, toys and toys…fun to play with, terrible strategy to choose shows

While a whole review column is going to be devoted to what is an utterly asinine policy, Cartoon Network executives’ biggest mistake- or rather, lack of foresight, is that it’s perfectly fine to have a show succeed outside a target demographic. What happened to Young Justice is a perfect example, where it gained a diverse following but got the axe because…wait for it…it wasn’t big enough in that holy grail target demo of 7-13 year old boys, and therefore, not selling enough toys to them. What? (Fortunately, the tragedy of Young Justice does not end like Sym-Bionic Titan; the long-awaited Season 3 is being developed for Netflix.) Quality of show almost unanimously carries to financial success without being forced; look at any of the decade’s shows that hit it big, including some of Cartoon Network’s own, from Adventure Time to Steven Universe.

-Death of a bad idea: Live action shows

When your network literally has cartoon in the name, being anything aside from a specialty network in animation is a really dumb idea. And part and parcel of the wayward late 2000’s was a foray into poorly conceived, poorly written and “never should have happened in the first place!” live action shows. Incredibly enough, the network tried airing them as recently as early 2013; to everyone’s relief there’s nothing in the works (and hasn’t been) for almost 4 years now.

– Everyone’s “favorite show”…TTG

Well, it’s not a formal review/rant, and I’m also going to get there, but…a major issue for the network, even as they emerged into this new era of animation, is the absolute lovefest the higher-ups at Cartoon Network seem to have with this awful, awful production. It is shoved into every spare timeslot (including ones that really should go to other shows), promoted endlessly despite universal scorn, and somehow has survived nearly 4 years and 5 seasons. And yet…nobody I’ve heard seems to like it, except apparently “some kids,” which is hardly a ringing endorsement. It’s an insult to the original Teen Titans series which is fantastic, focuses far too hard on very low humor (to the point where’s it’s not even funny, if it was to begin with), and reportedly was the de facto replacement on the network for Young Justice. I’ll leave it at that.

-Different directions for social messages

I’m going to keep this bland, but more recent efforts like the popular Steven Universe have tried some very different messages unfamiliar to Cartoon Network shows even 5 or 10 years ago. For me, they are hardly the main focus, but they do exist; whatever the prominence of said social ideas is stays up to the viewers to decide. I think that’s clear enough.

-Some big successes, some failures

Like all their competitors, there has been shortcomings and triumphs. Adventure Time, Regular Show, and more recently Steven Universe have been big hits, and even on a smaller scale, something like The Amazing World of Gumball apparently found a niche; conversely you have TTG, Uncle Grandpa, and some others that range in terms of financial success, but not so much critical success, which I’ve elected to focus on here.

 

-The return of Toonami

Adult Swim made arguably the best decision in their history to revive the beloved anime block. Like the old days, (at the time of this writing), tune in on a Saturday night into Sunday morning- and there’s a mix of old favorites and new dubs.


 

Obviously this isn’t every last aspect of Cartoon Network’s (or Adult Swim’s, for that  matter) decision making over the past 6+ years, but some key points that I thought were worth noting. It’s a nice addendum for context with the original thought piece (https://anibproductions.wordpress.com/2017/02/17/the-2010s-in-animation-what-i-think-so-far/) that inspired this writing, and I’ll have more of this mini-series coming out!


Like what you see? Are you a big fan of Cartoon Network? Chime in on the comments!

 

Review: Phineas and Ferb

Oh, the things you can build on a fine summer’s day…

The Lowdown:

Show: Phineas and Ferb

Networks/years aired: Disney Channel/XD, 2007-2015

AniB’s thoughts: I think I know what I’m going to write today! First, a quick shout-out to S.G. of Rhyme and Reason for the request. I was going to review  Phineas and Ferb at some point, but your input helped me to fast track an important, influential, and most of all, fun show up the priority list. (And no, I’ve still got Steins;Gate on the list, don’t worry!) Indeed, Phineas and Ferb‘s very essence lies in the two key parts of every episode: what in fact will the titular characters do everyday of their summer vacation, and to that same end, the question can also be asked of the B-plot always involving Agent P (aka Perry the Platypus) and Dr. Heinz Doofenshmirtz. What the writers did with that structure though, is nothing short of incredible.

Phineas and Ferb was a terrifically innovative show that continued to hold its own even after other major Western shows emerged post 2010. It combined a bright color palette mixed tastefully with simple animation that worked quite well, an entire catalog’s worth of original songs from every episode, and a consistency that ensured it saw little drop-off in performance, some 8 years after its debut. The last point in particular was very impressive, as these types of episodic shows (albeit one here  that had a loose canon and constantly self-referenced past events) have an unfortunate tendency to usually fall to “seasonal rot”- the term used for a show that’s still chugging out new episodes long after it should have been put out to pasture. Nickelodeon has two perfect examples- SpongeBob SquarePants and The Fairly Odd Parents are still airing new episodes in 2017; they are both long past the point of being innovative or even relevant- relics of about 3 eras back. To further illustrate this point, what era are all the SpongeBob memes from? (Hint: try pre-2004.) Even The Simpsons, which most critics tend to fawn over its amazing run in the 1990’s, has become a victim of this symptom; the only animated show still in production on the planet with a starting point in the 1980’s, it’s become staid for what it was. Back to Phineas and Ferb, another major reason it was able to avoid this problem was a creator-driven ending that felt natural, and a simple story structure that allowed major flexibility in where the show-runners could go with it. In that sense, Phineas and Ferb reminded me of Codename: Kids Next Door– it was only a matter of how big and crazy the writer’s ideas could go, all wrapped up neatly when it was time.

The show also contained some pretty great specials; in particular, its parody story of Star Wars was brilliantly done; while the events of the original movie still went on, it was still a uniquely crafted Phineas and Ferb story using the backdrop of Star Wars, with plenty of clever references that even I was surprised how on-point they were- and it worked beautifully! (The best nod had to be that they made fun of Jar Jar unironically. And Greedo shot first.) There was also the Marvel special, and the finale episode it itself was a special. (Kudos to Agent P- somehow after the entire show’s run, Phineas and Ferb never caught onto his secret identity- movie nonwithstanding.) I was often amazed at how clever the writing was in this show, and before Gravity Falls took the mantle of “biggest Disney TV cartoon airing” sometime in 2014 (in my personal opinion), it had been Phineas and Ferb that had really nailed the appeal to all audiences amazingly well. Was it a perfect show? Well, no- but its cultural impact (which isn’t a factor in grading) and precedents it set for other Western animation is undeniable. There’s also a high degree of re-watchability, and the fact that it’s also an extraordinarily easy show to pick up- because it’s also a case of where “simple” is better in animation. On to the grading:


 

Animation Quality: Traditional 2-D animation. Bright, vibrant and with an unmistakably simple touch, Phineas and Ferb’s animation pops with an eye pleasing color palette and easy character designs that while rather straight forward, are aesthetically pleasing. 4/5 points.

 
Characterization: Featuring the titular main characters, their big sister Candace, some close friends, Agent P and Dr. Doofenshmirtz, the show had a lovable main cast.

Phineas Flynn is the main protagonist; sporting a tuft of orange hair on top of his pointy head, he is a constantly upbeat boy with a genius intellect and creative mind to match. With his catchphrase (“Ferb, I think I know what we’re going to do today!”) he is the main driver behind all the major inventions seen in the show, which in turn he usually loves to share with his brother, friends, and even strangers depending on the setting.

Ferb Fletcher is Phineas’ stepbrother; he is English and speaks far less frequently, but is very close to the former and also has an intellect and creativity to match. Ferb often ist the one making timely quips, and is a equal partner in all the brothers’ summer endeavors.

Candace Flynn is the biological sister of Phineas and stepsister of Ferb. A typical teenage girl, her favorite activity over the summer is her numerous attempts to “bust the boys,” meaning to catch them in the act of doing something extreme, which as a running gag, always fails (with the exception of one time, but that has a caveat all its own.) She has a major crush on Jeremy Johnson, who in turn sees Candace as a good friend. She’s often seen as paranoid because of her failed busting attempts, but ultimately loves her brothers.

On the flip side, Agent P (aka Perry the Platypus) and Dr. Doofenshmirtz are arch-rivals in the tied in B-plot of every episode. Perry is an anthropomorphic platypus who is in deep cover as the Flynn-Fletcher family’s pet; in reality he’s a secret agent working for the agency O.W.C.A. with the assignment of thwarting Doofenshmirtz. He wears a fedora in action.

Dr. Doofenshmirtz is an incompetent evil scientist who actually makes very effective evil machines (known as “-inators” through the series), but always misapplies his creations, leading to his constant defeat. He’s actually a decent guy and not really that evil; over the series he and Perry actually become “frienemies” of sorts, as their daily routines rely on one another. He also has a daughter (Vanessa).

Finally, Phineas and Ferb have three friends that make consistent appearances: Isabella, a kind, bright girl who leads a Fireside Girls Troop and is their next-door neighbor and best friend; she and Phineas have actual feelings for each other (though it’s in a puppy-love kind of way at this point…), her catchphrase is “Whatcha doing?” (which is actually her first line in the series. Baljeet is an Indian-American boy who absolutely loves school to the point that he signed up for numerous summer classes; he also possesses a genius mind but is very high strung about his grades. Finally there’s Buford; while he’s a self-proclaimed bully, he’s invited along on Phineas and Ferb’s summer adventures to the point that he’s actually good friends with all of them, particularly Baljeet. He’s fa rmore sensitive that his initial appearance and actions suggest, and in a friend group that featured a variety of talented personalities, he’s often the straight man.

The other supporting crew was solid as well; the dual story lines of whatever the brothers were doing alongside Agent P’s and Doofenshmirtz’s exploits made for a very Loony Tunes-esque feel. 4.25/5 points.

 
Story quality: Episodic, but extremely inventive. The show’s writers did a great job of keeping the formula original through the show’s run, with original scenarios, smart references and allusions, and a savvy sense of humor. The consistency in structure worked to the show’s advantage- and it was a fun exercise to see how the writer riffed on what could have easily become very cliche and boring (i.e. Doofenshmirtz commenting on how he literally expects and waits for Perry every day.) 4/5 points.

 
Themes: More than anything, Phineas and Ferb focuses on the possibilities of imagination and invention, as well as family, friendship, and the total encapulation of one’s summer vacation. To that end, it’s well done, if not particularly super deep. But it’s sure a lot of fun. 3.75/5 points.

 
Don’t insult the viewer: Clever and inventive, Phineas and Ferb is a fun show with no objectionable material. Most impressive was the incredible amount of original scores produced for the show, episode by episode, and it created a slice-of life musical in a lot of ways- very unique! 5/5 points.

 

Total Score: 21/25 (84%): Emerging in a era when the major animation networks experienced a few years of downturn, Phineas and Ferb shone like a bright light. Carrying the torch for Disney Channel until 2015, it has been a critical and commercial success. As a show, it’s certainly a lot of fun and hits the mark; it’s definitely one to check out.


Like what you read? Wondering if your summer vacations can be as crazy as this one? Leave a comment!