Random Episode Ramblings #1: “Not What He Seems” (Gravity Falls)

A while back, a certain reader of mine requested at some point that I take a look at individual episodes of some shows. I considered the proposal and ultimately decided that it’d make another good series to write that would keep me going for a while…the only hard part being that I had to parse down to singular episodes I really liked. Most of the time, I usually am thinking about shows in their totality because I’m writing the graded reviews that are a major focus of this blog, and I also know other bloggers already do this kind of analysis…but I’m here to put the “AniB spin” on it. (I suppose I can grade episodes too!) So here’s the first episode I’ll talk about: “Not What He Seems,” from Gravity Falls.

There are any number of individual episodes worth talking about from Gravity Falls, the critically acclaimed Disney show that I talked about a while back, and it remains a personal favorite of mine, but I’ve decided to discuss a keynote episode of the show that brought together the best of its episodic and overarching storytelling blend, which in turn delivered on a great deal of buildup from the very first episode of the show (Tourist Trapped). It’s an episode that reveals in one explosive 22 and a half -minute package the truth about the journals, the culmination of a great deal of character development for Stan Pines, who I also wrote about in a character analysis piece, the actual purpose and reason the Mystery Shack exists (and it’s not just as a dumpy tourist trap), and finally, the explosive reveal of the mysterious “author of the journals,” in what is still an incredibly-well choreographed and animated moment.

 

It goes without saying that Not What He Seems is a Stan-centric episode, but beyond that, it’s how he ties into the entire current of mystery underpinning the entire show. While I talked at length about Stan’s role in another article, part of what makes this episode so memorable is the buildup to it. At the end of the prior episode- Northwest Mansion Mystery, Fiddleford McGucket’s fixed laptop shows a doomsday clock; since the finale of season 1 (Gideon Rises), the audience is aware of the massive portal underneath the Shack, and that the other journals were in the possession of Stan, who hid his double life working on said portal…until now.

The cold opening begins with Stan working in the basement again, apparently using toxic waste to fuel his endeavors. It also showcases another reason this episode stands out- the absolutely stellar animation. After the intro, the episode starts innocuously enough like so many other Gravity Falls episodes before it- as Stan decides to join in on some mischief with fireworks and then water balloons- and then, the facade is broken as the government shows up.

Watching Dipper and Mabel formulate an escape plan and then discover the uncomfortable truths about their “Grunkle Stan” before he had a chance to tell them is both genuinely uncomfortable and tense- a testament to the staff that such emotional sentiment was built up to this episode. In true Gravity Falls style though, there is still some unexpected moments of humor that work- and in this case, it’s delivered by Soos, whose well-meaning, albeit ham-handed attempts to protect the Shack and Mr. Pines bring just the right amount of levity to an episode where “serious” takes precendence over “humorous.”

The final 5 minutes of the episode however, is genuinely some of the best stuff you’ll ever see in animation, as the buildup come to a (literal) earth-shattering conclusion that brings many narrative threads to a head at a critical moment. Stan escapes from jail in a very cool scene (and Durland and Blubbs are playing pinata in the corner, haha), the twins have made their unsettling discoveries in Stan’s personal office (fake I.D.s’, newspaper clipping of his “death”, and a lot of doubt) and Soos shows up to protect the vending machine in the Shack’s gift shop, where after a brief reunion and struggle with Dipper and Mabel, the trio discovers the secret behind the door.

I’ll pause here for a moment to really take in the work on the drawing in these scenes. The creative team did an absolutely terrific job evoking “apocalypse,” from the reddened sky and sun, to the town literally tearing apart at the seams, and the portal itself, its massive energy surge threatening to warp the fabric of existence and send our characters into an unknown oblivion. It’s true that the writing made most of this episode and Gravity Falls on the whole, but Not What He Seems is taken to another level by the art itself- just look at this still panel:

“Grunkle Stan…I trust you.”

The decision to have Mabel make the final decision in such a key narrative moment was a crucial writing decision. Shown to be the “fun” sibling, with an insecurity towards growing up (and grown-up affairs), she is asked a hard question rooted in very real implications, a roaring rift gate potentially ready to unleash the apocalypse, and a difficult comparison: was Stan the “grunkle” she came to know over the course of the summer, or the strange man of double lives and false aliases her and her brother came to find? This line of questioning would be difficult for an adult, let alone a 12 year old girl…and she went with “trust” as an answer. Was it smart? In the long-run narrative, yes it worked out, but logically without further information it was not…but from a character-building perspective it was a perfect decision. Simply put, it showcased Mabel’s greatest strength- her ability to emphasize and give the benefit of the doubt to mostly anybody, was also her greatest strength, and that sometimes, the biggest decisions in our lives are not always as cut and dry as we want them to be, or pressing a giant red button, as Dipper would have been wont to do.

So “my brother, the author of the journals,” appeared. Ford’s official debut served as the conclusive finish to many questions in the show, and while his emergence from the portal is a massive turning point in Gravity Falls, it is secondary to everything else that happens in this amazing episode. The next episode in the show (A Tale of Two Stans) explained a great deal of backstory, but Not What He Seems served as a mid-season finale to end all mid-season finales. Alex Hirsch even described at one point that the episode was likely slated to originally serve as season 2’s endpoint, with a final season focusing on what the final 9 episodes did instead, but the result was still brilliant in setting the table for the sprint that was the end of Gravity Falls, but also as a stand-alone episode.

There’s probably plenty more I can say about Not What He Seems, or Gravity Falls as a whole, but it’s even better to go back and watch it again. And if you read this far and have never seen the show or this particular moment, do yourself a favor and watch it. It’s one of the best shows this decade, and in this author’s opinion, the best Western animated show of the same time period. Honestly, there’s more than one episode from the show that could make the cut for this column, but in the end, one of the most influential episodes in the show both as a standalone piece and pertaining to its role in the overarching story gets the nod as a stellar work of animation.


Like what you see? Want more Gravity Falls material, or episode reviews? Leave a comment!

 

Review: Assassination Classroom

A quirky, unique anime with a original premise hides a lot more depth than you’d expect.

The Lowdown:

Show: Assassination Classroom

Studio(NA Distrubutor)/Years aired: Lerche (Funimation)/ 2015-2016

AniB’s thoughts: This show’s title is ultimately misleading, but not inaccurate. The basic premise of the show- where a class of misfits at an elite junior high school in Japan are tasked with attempting to kill their new teacher- a strange octopus-like creature named Koro-sensei- sounds janky at first and perhaps even heavy handed, and I won’t lie, I was somewhat skeptical of how the entire production would turn out. As it is, this is a time I’m very glad to have been wrong, because this is a great show overall.

Derived from Shonen Jump, the famed manga publication, as so many other noted anime are, the show does have some of the usual things you might expect- some nods and brief fanservice, and references to other Jump franchises, from Naruto to Fist of the North Star. However, this show is very savvy about this sort of anime-specific craziness, and has a wonderful way of weaving these potential cliche tropes into its narrative, usually to comedic effect, but sometimes, also into a serious moment or plot line, and as result, it doesn’t waste time.

Split into two seasons spanning 47 episodes, Assassination Classroom flows thanks to a lack of filler, interesting, dynamic characters who by the nature of the show’s premise, literally develop as both people and students over the course of the show’s run, while learning quite a bit about themselves…and forging relationships and memories to last a lifetime.

If you can get past the unconventional premise (which the show does a great job of), you’re in for a real treat. Perhaps in a weird way the show resonated strongly with me considering my own circumstances in school (and recent graduation from college), but regardless of that, it’s a blind pick that turned out great.

 


Animation quality: Modern 2-D anime. It’s really very good looking, and the animation enhances the sort of whimsical, yet dramatic storytelling the show seeks to do. Character modes are on point and varied, to say the least, and mostly, the style is used to good effect.  4.75 points.

 

Characterization: The shows focuses on the titular “Assassination Classroom”- formally known as Class 3-E, a group of junior high students outed as misfits, underachievers, oddballs, and potential “late bloomers.” As it is, they need the inspiration of a great teacher to bring out their true potential, and so the mysterious yellow octopus-like creature whom they dub “Koro-sensei” is it. While he is blamed for destroying 70% of Earth’s moon, he also serves another purpose, hence the name of the show: the kids have one year to take him out, or the Earth will be destroyed. Koro-sensei has many fantastic abilities, including regeneration and speed up to Mach-20, but his greatest is that he’s a fantastic teacher- and cares about every one of his students…which seems greatly at odds with his initial reputation.

Nagisa Shiota serves as the show’s main character and protagonist. Slim built and noted for his long blue hair that collectively gives an androgynous vibe, he serves as the show’s narrator in most episodes while trying to discover his own path. Initially billed as weak, Nagisa shows frightening promise and aptitude as an assassin despite his unassuming size and strength, but does that mean the career of an actual hitman is in his future?… He’s noted for his kind disposition and willingness to lend a helping hand to his fellow classmates and anyone else who needs it, but possesses unsettling blood-lust in high pressure situations.

Karma Akabane is the top student in Class 3-E after his transferal from suspension there in the 1st term. Noted for his vivid red hair, seemingly slacker attitude and sharp tongue, Karma possesses genius intellect and hand to hand combat skills, only matched by his latent sadistic side (which is usually more impish on most days). He initially is blood-lusted to “kill his new teacher”  (he had a previous grudge against the one who got him punted down to E-class), but like the other students, Koro-sensei finds a way to win him over.

Kaede Kayano is the other “main character” student, though uniquely between her, Nagisa, and Karma, she plays much more of background/supporting role through most of the series. While her major involvement in the plot is largely unveiled in the second and final season, it would be a massive spoiler to mention it here…pegged as a kind, cheerful, and even somewhat ditzy person, Kayano is the epitome of “don’t judge appearances.”

While there are 28 students in Class 3-E and all of them receive some time in the spotlight, a few play bigger roles than others, and so it would be difficult to talk about every last one of them. I’ll say collectively they are as charming a classroom you’ll ever find in this genre, and for the most part, there’s an organic growth to their relationships as a group and in terms of character development that spans a collective range of emotions unusual to the genre and the sorts of tropes you might expect from a show like Assassination Classroom.

Additionally, other major side characters exist in the show outside of 3-E’s crew, from the rest of the academy they attend, to actual professional assassins, and Defense Corps. people. While each and every one of these characters could have something written about them, in this case, it’s best to discover it for yourself along with the class in the show…and for anyone who’s seen Assassination Classroom, this approach makes plenty of sense. I will commend the show’s ability to juggle a large complex cast rather skillfully as well- all while staying below 50 episodes, which is all very impressive. 4.5/5 points.

 

Story quality: An overarching plot structure with plenty of specific episodic bits sprinkled in, especially in season 1, but no filler. Given the unconventionally simply premise of the show, Assassination Classroom possesses a great deal more depth than initially meets the eye; while its humor might be slightly more geared in mind with seasoned anime fans (which is to say, it’s still decent for anyone), its drama hits all the right points at key moments and the story flow is excellent. 4.25/5 points.

 

Themes:  Incredibly enough, this show’s about growing up, seeking out one’s own potential and the capacity to learn in the school called “life.” It’s a quirky twist that in a show that features the idea of assassination in its name and core premise, it’s much more about the value of life and what you take from it, the relationships you make, and the lessons you learn from the trials one endures. 4.25/5 points.

 

Don’t insult the viewer: Surprisingly tricky to nail down the exact grade here. They do the occasionally cringeworthy thing…and then somehow parlay back into the main narrative seamlessly rather than as a one-off gag, and I’m not sure I’ve seen that before. It’s got a pretty solid dub as well…I’m not too high on the openings, but they still have a weird quirky charm if you watch them enough. 4.75/5 points.

 

Total Score: 22.5/25 (90%). A surprisingly great show with a unique premise, a fresh take on the tired high school tropes in anime, and a dynamic cast of characters, Assassination Classroom succeeds in hitting both humor and serious drama while being savvy to tropes and references. A must watch.


Like what you see? Have you seen this show before? Leave a comment!

Review: Samurai Jack

After a 13 year hiatus, the story of a samurai lost in the distant future comes to a stunning conclusion.

The Lowdown:

Show: Samurai Jack

Network/years aired: Cartoon Network, 2001-2004 (initial run), 2017 (season 5)

AniB’s thoughts: I had originally planned to write a encompassing Jack review as early as late 2015, nearly 2 years before I started this blog (at the time of this writing), but with the announcement and subsequent return of the Cartoon Network- turned Adult Swim classic, I put it on hold. Mind you, it was going to be a favorable look back on the original 4 seasons in which Jack faces “the Shogun of Sorrow,” Aku, and is flung into the far future, where the events of the show unfold, just like it is now, but with a great deal of fresh thoughts and material in the wake of 10 frentic, beautifully animated, well-written episodes that finally put to rest the very last of the Cartoon Cartoon series. (Previously, this distinction was held by Ed, Edd, n’ Eddy, which concluded with Ed, Edd, n’ Eddy’s Big Picture Show, the finale movie, but with Jack’s revival, it claimed the belt- in all likelihood for good.)

(SPOILERS AHEAD. SKIP TO THE GRADED SECTION IF YOU WISH TO AVOID.)

The finale of this show, for better or worse, will be talked about for a long time, and while my initial reaction was that the show could have used 20 more minutes, it was satisfying on the whole, bittersweet and fitting in the end. Jack made it back to the past, Aku was finally defeated, and as for Ashi…we’ll get to that in a second. The episode was crammed with cameos, callbacks, and perhaps the greatest troll job Aku’s ever pulled in playing the original Samurai Jack intro to the world in announcing he’d captured the samurai. We also got at least one last meeting between the Scotsman and Jack, and that was wonderful- but another question worth wondering, “was it all a dream?” Because as Jack looks out up the beautiful valley at the end, it might as well have been- for nobody in the past truly knew the suffering, pain and struggle it took for Jack to save them all and change the course of history.

As for Ashi, she was Season 5’s most notable addition. She had an entire character arc crammed into the course of 10 episodes, and despite the horde of Jack’s past allies, Ashi stands out and does so well.  Slowly, she becomes Jack’s romantic interest in a total 180 from her intial role- an assassin of the “Daughters of Aku,” a cult that worshiped Jack’s mortal enemy. As it turns out, her “Daughter of Aku” title was no mere nickname, but literal- as in quite the twist, she was quite literally Aku’s daughter…which made for a very interesting endgame. Being part-Aku, it was she who was able to create the portal to the past…but in the process of “undoing the future that is Aku,” she undid herself from existence. (It was quickly pointed out the similarities of Ashi’s end to Nia from Gurren Lagann, and so Jack is our Simon here- he saved the world, but couldn’t quite save the one he loved, and that enough qualifies the bittersweet ending as exactly that.

Not to be forgotten in any analysis of Samurai Jack are the four seasons that defined the show from its original run (and what would have comprised a complete review prior to the revival season.) As the show was in Cartoon Network hands at the time, it was designed to be far more episodic with some recurring elements and characters, and it was during this period in which several staples of the series were established, as well as the bulk of the show, from the mask-free animation style that remains striking (and slightly updated, though still the same 13 years later) to many memorable characters, most notably the Scotsman, a trash-talking firebrand of a man with a machine gun for a peg leg and Jack’s equal in combat.

The original seasons also served the purpose of building the world in which Genndy Tartakovsky was able to build a convincing dystopian future- one that had plenty of Aku’s evil influence, but also parts yet not ravaged by the evil overlord. In saying that, the idea of “hope”- or lack thereof, as the 5th season appeared and Jack came to fight his inner demons- is pivotal to the thematic aspect of Samurai Jack, and without it, it couldn’t possibly be the show that it is, nor would we have received the ending we got.

On one other specific note for season 5, Scaramouche, the self-proclaimed “Aku’s #1 assassin, babe!” became a fan favorite, starring as the main episode villain in the first new episode after 13 years (XCII), and after his defeat against Jack, went on a quest to inform Aku of the samurai’s missing sword. (Unfortunately for him, his info was outdated in short order).  Noted for his scatman inspiration and fast-talking mouth, he was a likable villain worth mentioning, considering his dark humor and attitude brought some levity and action together into the grimmer interpretation of Samurai Jack. And as his catchphrase goes, “That’s all, babe.”


Animation Quality: A unique 2-D animation, mask free (so no outlines). Season 5 featured a refreshed, upgraded version of the original style, which took the show to another level aesthetically. Samurai Jack is a dazzling array of environments, characters, and circumstances. It features fluid action sequences, and most importantly, is able to successfully convey the story with its settings and animation. They did a marvelous job- both during the original run, and through the final season.  4.75/5 points.

 
Characterization: Jack himself is a wonderfully simple but complex protagonist, who is continually developed as a character in every episode during the original seasons as the stoic samurai. In the 5th season, he is forced to confront despair and fading hope head on, and so the darkness he fights is not only Aku’s, but that of his own heart. Unparalleled in combat and trained to the peak of human perfection, his goal is to return to his home in the past and defeat Aku.

 

Aku, the self proclaimed “shape-shifting master of darkness,” is masterfully voiced by the late Mako, who brought the character to life in the first 4 seasons, and is carried on by Greg Baldwin in the final chapter. Unspeakably evil, but also outlandish and humorous, Aku is the incarnation of “chaotic evil” in a character and seeks to only bring darkness and despair to all. Interestingly enough, Aku has somewhat of a human side in his remarks and jokes, but it’s limited to that- he’s unafraid to smite anyone who annoys him or he deems a threat. The mortal enemy of Samurai Jack and his father, the Emperor, he vows to destroy the samurai to break all hope and cement an eternal reign.

 

(I already commented on Ashi from season 5 in the spoiler section.)

 

The rest of the show features a quirky, interesting group of characters, with the occasionally recurring one (the Scotsman comes to mind). As the show is primarily focused on Jack’s development, it does this very well, often letting the animation action convey Jack’s personality with an economy of spoken words.  The writers also are successful at making side characters episodically interesting. 4.5/5 points.

 
Story quality: Beautifully scripted, epically varied in its narration, and ever focused on Jack’s character development and the situations he’s put in, it’s perfect in the first 4 seasons. With the shift in tone and format the 5th season brought, a tightly scripted narrative arc told hold over 10 episodes and while the pacing feels arguably rushed to an extent at the end, the ending is still mostly fitting and remarkable.  4.5/5 points.

 
Themes: A classic story of good and evil, but done with the sort of complexity developed through Jack (and Aku) that really grabs one’s attention. There’s a focus on the test of one’s limits, and the belief in overcoming the odds for a good end. Everything the show explores, it tends to do well at thematically. “Hope” especially is focused on as a theme…and the struggle to keep that flame alive really becomes prevalent as time goes on in the narrative.  4.5/5 points.

 
Don’t insult the viewer: A gorgeous show, Samurai Jack is a stellar achievement in animation and writing. It was wonderful to see it come back and receive a proper conclusion after many years, and it was well-worth the long wait. 5/5 points.

 
Total Score: 23.25/25 (93%). Genndy Tarkovsky’s masterpiece, Samurai Jack is a triumph of Western animation and perhaps the finest of the old Cartoon Cartoons lineup on Cartoon Network. Masterfully inspired by many different animated styles and themes before it, the story of a lone samurai in his quest to defeat the ultimate evil continued to age gracefully up into its revival season, and then finished the tale with a satisfying conclusion.


Like what you see? Still in awe over the Samurai Jack finale? Leave a comment!

The Return of the Critic: AniB’s End of Semester Blowout!

Hey everyone,

It’s been a while since I’ve regularly posted, and while I’ve slipped in a few articles here and there (see the Easter special, or the revised top 10 list), I haven’t had a new review or “thought piece” for a while. So, with my final semester of undergraduate work finishing up, I have a big week of reviews and material I’m looking forward to sharing with everyone! Here’s the schedule:

5/21: Review: Samurai Jack (the final season will end the night before!)

5/23: Review: Assassination Classroom (Ansatsu Kyoushitsu)

5/25: Random Episode Ramblings #1: “Not What He Seems” (Gravity Falls)

5/26: Review: Steins;Gate

5/27: Review: The Huckleberry Hound Show

There’ll be plenty of other material again going forward, but after finishing school and taking a self-imposed hiatus, I’m very excited to get writing again! (And don’t worry- part 3 of the Hunter x Hunter comparison series is coming still!) I’ll also look to potentially slip something else in before the schedule officially kicks off.


Excited to read some new material? Like any of these shows? Curious about any you haven’t seen? Leave a comment!

2nd Top 10 Shows Listing

It’s the end of April, and 19 shows are on the board. Time for a refresher!

Well, I haven’t been writing that much lately, but with the end of April upon us, it seemed like a good time to update “the top 10.” This is strictly based on grades; note the top 5 are all so closely graded any of them really could be #1! All the reviews are linked to their shows here as well.

 

T1. Avatar: The Last Airbender (98%)

T1. Gravity Falls (98%)

T2. Cowboy Bebop (97%)

T2. Hunter x Hunter (97%)

T2. Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood (97%)

6. Young Justice* (93%)

7. The Legend of Korra (85%)

T8. Codename: Kids Next Door (84%)

T8. Phineas and Ferb (84%)

T8. Dragon Ball Z (84%)

Dropped out: Neon Genesis Evangelion (81%), Fanboy and Chum Chum (9%)

Just missed: Rurouni Kenshin (82%), Ben 10 (81%), Evangelion.

NOTE: “*” denotes a preliminary review.

Once again, 97% and 98% is splitting hairs. I’d say any of those shows have a legitimate claim for the top spot. (It also goes without saying they’re worth a watch!) For a refresher of what the first Top 10 looked like after only 10 reviews, click here.


Still not seeing a show you’re hoping to see here? Agree or disagree? Leave a comment!

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!