An AniB Christmas Review Special: Coco

First off: A very Merry Christmas to all my readers on this blog! It’s been a wonderful first year of writing and what better way to mark the joy of the season with something I haven’t attempted yet – a movie review! The season is definitely about a variety of wonderful things, starting with the birth of Christ, but it’s also strongly about family, and Pixar’s latest outing- Coco- is an excellent example of this time-treasured theme done beautifully. Also, for those who still may have not seen it, don’t worry: This is a spoiler-free review!

The Lowdown:

Movie: Coco

Studio/year: Pixar, 2017

AniB’s thoughts:

“But, but AniB,” some might ask, “this movie is about the Day of the Dead! Dios de las Muertos! Not Christmas!”  Not to worry; despite the overarching subject material of the movie, Coco is a great Christmas movie, but more importantly; it’s a great movie, no add-ons necessary. Over a month after its release into theaters, it was definitively worth the wait to see Pixar’s latest gem of a film- one that once again is likely to be popular on the awards circuit for 2018 and the company’s strongest outing since Inside Out two years prior at the time of this writing (2015).

Coco is a special film, without a doubt. The story follows the tale of young Miguel Rivera, an aspiring musician in a family of shoemakers for several generations. In turn, the family trade had spawned from the indomitable matriarch Mama Imelda Rivera, who (as it’s explained in the opening sequence), started the business after the untimely departure of her husband in pursuit of his musical career at the expense of their baby child (who that is, I’ll leave up to those who haven’t seen the film to find that out.) As a result, the Rivera family enforces a brutal ban on music, despite Miguel’s love of it, and his secret idolization of Mexico’s greatest, late musical legend- Ernesto de la Cruz. From there, the story’s events unfold on Dios De La Muertos– a tradition the Rivera family, like most in Mexico, hold quite dear to their hearts. From there, quite the adventure unfolds…

An inevitable comparison was made by people to Fox Animation’s Book of Life from 2014; after all, the lead characters in both tales (Miguel and Manolo) are aspiring musicians both looking to follow their dream instead of the family trades of shoemaking and bull-fighting respectively, all wrapped in a festive, enrapturing world of Mexico’s Day of the Dead. However, Coco proves to have a deeper emotional resonance than the latter movie, and is overall the superior film, particularly in its attention to detail, the depth of its characters and the impressive world and story building that occur simultaneously. There’s some impressive eye-candy that makes full use of the medium through the movie’s sequences, including one involving Mexican papels (colorful hanging papers) in the very first part of the film, and the vibrant world of the dead (which was broken down in detail in a neat little segment by Pixar folks pre-movie, including Lee Unkrich.)

Most importantly though, this film reminded me yet again why I love animation, because so often as the folks at Pixar seem to do, they give wide-ranging audiences a glimpse into what animation can be, rather than the childish notions many still hold about it. Coco holds the basic tenets of animation that go back to Steamboat Willie and Co., with plenty of exaggeration, humor and personality, but it also goes about it in a genuinely human way that builds a cohesive story, excellent characterization, and emotional stakes that all too often, animated movies from other studios and outfits (particularly in the West) seem to forget. Prior to the film’s beginning, it was a stark contrast with some of the coming attractions that you tend to see when you peruse animated fare; there was fart jokes, a gnome movie that looked both unsavory and unlikely to change people’s conceptions of what animation can be (and featured one of the garden dwellers in a mankini, which was just awful); a pair of features from Laika and Aardman Animations that have some promise, but conceptually seem hard to get a great pulse on, and then the crown jewel of said previews: the widely-seen Incredibles 2 trailer (which I might add, the original is my personal favorite film of all time.) My viewing of Coco also avoided the widely complained about Frozen short that aired before the movie in its first two to three weeks of release; needless to say, I was quite relieved. Anyways, here’s my attempt on a grading basis for my first official animated movie review:


Animation Quality: 3-D animation. Being Pixar, this category is always superb quality and the best in the business for 3-D. The level of detail and craftsmanship in every shot, along with the detailed a vibrant character models breath life into an enrapturing world steeped in the culture of Mexico and the mythos of the Day of the Dead, all while creating a unique experience that also enhances the strong story backbone and the excellent soundtrack. 5/5 points.

Characterization: As mentioned, Miguel Rivera is the lead character; he’s a 12 year old boy who despite being stuck in a family who hates music for a very specific reason, aspires to not only be a musician, but chase his dreams like his idol, Ernesto de la Cruz. He’s a boy with big dreams, but increasingly finds his love for his family at a crossroads with his deeply held-musical convictions, a situation that finds itself at a head as the Day of the Dead comes…

The Rivera clan themselves are a great extended family that stretches several generations, including a number of dead relatives who are remembered religiously, with the exception of Mama Imelda’s wandering musician husband. Just who could that man be?…

Speaking of questions, you might be wondering: Just who is Coco? The titular character of the movie is someone very important to Miguel and pivotal in an unforeseen way; for the sake of not spoiling events, this character is very surprising how they factor into the film. (Those who have seen the film- you know.)

Finally, Miguel has a de-facto sort of pet, a hairless street dog named Dante. Eternally happy with a big sloppy pink tongue hanging out of his mouth and always hungry, Dante is a loyal companion, though a bit slow on the uptake.

The emotional stakes and character development in such a contained amount of time is very satisfying and well-done. Much of this focuses on Miguel, and [spoiler], another certain someone he meets in his travels who’s down on his luck, but it’s wonderful to watch and experience first-hand. 5/5 points.

Story quality: As expected of a movie, Coco is a wonderfully engaging story, but as is Pixar’s hallmark, avoids the pitfall of cheap, low-brow humor in favor of a tightly paced narrative that also doubles as a musical with the excellent score that was composed (more on that in a bit). The story itself has a wonderful ethnic flair, and seamlessly transitions from part to part in the film for a cohesive well-crafted story. Most importantly though, the emotional core of this film, which I keep coming back to, is absolutely stunning, and must be seen for itself. 5/5 points.

Themes: Mi famila, mi familia, mi familia! Yes, family is one of the most time-worn themes out there, but this film nails that aspect beautifully by sculpting the film’s actual story around just how deeply that tie can run. It never gets old to see family done right in a film, and the specific way in which this idea is achieved is truly unique. Aside from that, there’s a undertow about while it’s worth following your dreams, and perhaps “seizing the moment!” as Ernesto de la Cruz puts it, it’s also fair to question one’s morality in how far they will go to achieve such a vision… A solid, solid execution of both these major ideas rest in Coco though, and that’s extremely satisfying. 4.25/5 points.

Don’t insult the viewer: Coco’s a masterpiece. Truly, this is a beautiful movie for all the reasons I already listed, but one other truly outstanding aspect remains to be discussed: the score, composed by Michael Giancchino. This film is Pixar’s best when it comes to music, taking heavy influence from sister studio Disney in crafting an authentic Mexican flaired bevy of songs, which are both beautiful and catchy. (Also, what’s a movie set in Mexico without guitars and mariachi? The answer: a sad film.) 5/5 points.

Total: 24.25/25 (97%). Coco is a triumph of animated film yet again from the folks at Pixar, with deeply cohesive storytelling that bears a true emotional core. This film is definitely for everyone- but in the kind of way that will deeply resonate at the heartstrings in any age. It’s definitely a must watch.


Merry Christmas! Like what you see? Chat about Coco in the comments!

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What’s in a Character: Nonon Jakuzure

Cute face, spunky, sassy personality: One of Kill la Kill’s Elite 4 takes center stage.

 

Finally, after many months of waiting, the “What’s in a Character” series returns, with a piece about…Nonon Jakuzure? Yes, it’s true that I wrote about Kill la Kill here, with no minced words, but I have my reasons for this highly unusual pick. She might not be the main draw of her home series, but she has a way of stealing the show on screen, whether it be through her devastating musical endeavors or just being the right mix of sass and cuteness…Without further ado…here’s Nonon!

WARNING: Spoilers for Kill la Kill ahead.


“Why?”

Choosing a character from an anime that I’ve made no bones about on its gratuitous fan-service might seem strange at first glance, but in reality, Kill la Kill does have some key aspects that work incredibly well in its favor. In particular, it has both superb character design and some pretty good character development, especially when it pertains to its key characters. While these discussions often revolve around Ryuko Matoi, the lead character, or her arch-rival/half-sister Satsuki Kiryuin, they less often fall on the latter’s faithful elite subordinates and commanders- the so-called Elite Four- and in conjunction with that, even less often on any of the individuals within that grouping. One such individual just so happens to be Nonon, and boy is she something else.

Chosen as one of Satsuki’s elites, Nonon is definitively not meek. The defining trait of Kill la Kill’s indomitable band leader of doom is her unabashedly rude, pompous and overconfident front that she juxtaposes from a position of power, hidden under a thin layer of saccharine sweetness and inauspicious cuteness. While this alone does not make Nonon’s character worth writing about, the context in which she’s deployed does to a by and large extent- and so the question of “what happens when you throw this character into unexpected binds and insane situations?” unfolds dramatically in concert with Ryuko’s challenges of Honnouji Academy’s various clubs, inevitably leading into confrontation with Satsuki’s Elite Four.

One of the truly remarkable aspects about Nonon as that she’s not a sympathetic character (at first) or even a protagonist archetype, but someone who is the right mix of sweet and sour who can become in equal part likable. There’s a clever juxtaposition of her musical motif- the band conductor- against her actual personality, which is far more spunky and not at all what you’d expect. She might like classical music, but her way of fighting is a punk rocker at heart under all the fancy trappings.

Physically, Nonon isn’t that impressive or crazily proportioned like some anime girls (including this series). She’s fairly petite, and has no defining physical features that would normally mark her as a key threat…but in a classic reversal of form, she might in fact be the nastiest and trickiest Elite Four member to fight- and her specially powered-up series of Goku Uniforms through the series emphasize a nice blending of her aforementioned motif along with disproportional power to her appearance.

Prepare to be pummeled cheerfully, jauntily and utterly one-sidedly!– Nonon, to Ryuko upon entering battle for the first time

In battle, Nonon proves to be ruthless, overwhelming Ryuko for stretches in her initial uniform before ultimately tasting defeat after a fierce battle, overwhelmed by the power of Senketsu. However, in all her on-screen battle appearances, she never backs down from a challenge, suggesting a fair bit of courage despite the bravado and attitude she possesses. As adversity mounts for her and most of the main cast with the show’s second half, her mettle is tested along with the rest of her compatriots, especially the other Elite Four members, as the truth of Honnouji Academy’s purpose and the Life Fibers come to light, and the subsequent turn to join up with their former archenemy- Nudist Beach.

Initially serving as a supporting antagonist, Nonon’s role shifts through the series while remaining steady in one key respect: as a loyal friend and subordinate to the aformentioned Satsuki, and while her loyalty is admirable, it borders on fanaticism. Her outsized sense of importance and rank meets some harsh reality as the show rolls on though, but admirably her bond with her boss/friend does not diminish.

Nonon’s temperament becomes a bit more muted after the defeat of Satsuki by Ragyo Kiruin, the latter’s mother, and her own losses that she suffered to Ryuko (although the latter point also made her hungrier for personal vengeance that never totally came.) While she briefly enjoys a resurgence of success in the show’s “School Raids” arc, the total defeat and takeover of Honnouji changes her role and position. She becomes a rebel fighter along with the rest of the Elite Four in the eccentric Nudist Beach group- guerillas dedicated to destroying the alien Life Fibers that serve as the core plot point of Kill la Kill.

 


When you boil her down to her essence, Nonon Jakuzure is a piece of work, but one that seems to get better as you continue to watch her. She’s not the main star (but you can tell on some level she wants to be); she’s bratty and cannot stand getting her way initially, but instead of simply preserving that personality statically through the show, she grows from her experiences while keeping a trademark caustic wit and sass that fits her position as the most trusted of Satsuki’s inner circle. There’s a decent, believable backstory to her as well, and it’s a simple, yet easy way to justify the roots of her actions, along with her positive trait of true friendship…Often times, a solid supporting character doesn’t need too much to fit their role well, but Nonon goes a bit above and beyond that with her well-though out design, developed personality and continued importance in the show even after her major defeat to Ryuko. Oh, and she has a kickass theme:

What does that mean?

Also, I couldn’t help but think of this as well:

(Well, she is part of the Elite 4.)


Like what you see? Any further commentary on Kill la Kill or Nonon? Leave a comment!

Hunter x Hunter’s Chimera Ant arc is finally getting an English dub

It’s about time- A brief history of HxH’s longest arc.

A few months back, I wrote excitedly about the fact that Greed Island for the first time was receiving an English dub, despite existing in some anime form since at least the early 2000’s. However, this might be even bigger…

An arc considered by many serious fans of the Hunter x Hunter manga and anime to be one of the finest not only in the show, but also across the genre, is finally on the verge of being dubbed. Very early Sunday morning will mark the beginning of the longest arc in the series airing in English on Toonami in the United States, and for those who haven’t seen it- buckle up, you’re in for a ride.

As with the Greed Island piece, here’s a brief history of the Chimera Ant arc:

2003: As the original HxH anime continued on with its set of Greed Island OVAs’, Yoshirio Togashi released the beginning of the arc in the manga on October 8th- which coupled with the frequent hiatuses of the series, would result in it lasting until April 2012- nearly 9 years!

2011: The Hunter x Hunter reboot (and the series mostly talked about) begins. At this point, the Chimera Ant arc is not complete yet in the manga, let alone the anime.

2013: Roughly a year after the manga finished the arc, the anime begins its version of it, marking the first new animated Hunter x Hunter story part since Greed Island’s OVAs finished in 2004. The arc would run into early summer of 2014.

2017: With the conclusion of Greed Island’s first ever English dub, the Chimera Ants will finally be heard in English on the Sunday of this writing (12/10/17 for posterity.)


As it stands, it’s rather difficult to talk too much at length about this very long and detailed arc without major spoilers for those watching for the first time, but the places in which the story goes during the next 60 episodes crosses the ranges of human emotions and psychology in ways shonen anime rarely, if ever does. It will be interesting to hear the VA choices for several characters, including the duo in the picture for this article, and with the shift in the story, it should really test the abilities of the dub actors to capture the same depth and intensity as the original VA’s.

Overall, there’s a lot to be excited about- and in many ways, it’s like an early Christmas present. Here’s hoping for both long-time fans and newcomers alike the English experience of the Chimera Ants is unforgettable.

Finally, here’s the very nice ending theme of the arc, but in 8-bits:

(I’ll leave the full version for the newcomers to discover. Credit to Studio Megaane for the track.)


Like what you see? Any more thoughts on Hunter x Hunter? Leave a comment!