What’s In a Character: Azusa Nakano

The youngest HTT member takes the stage!

Happy New Year once again! A new year requires new writing, and while a review would have been doable and straightforward to start with, it felt important to bring back AniB Productions’ most popular and liked series again: “What’s In a Character!”

Truth be told, there’s a number of character pieces in development. The term “development hell” is often used in gaming to describe titles that have had delay after delay and perhaps even outright cancellation for various reasons. I’m unsure if that applies also to writing on a blog, but sometimes it happens here with these pieces. To get the quality demanded by both the readers and myself, it takes extra time and effort, but also the juggling act we all know as “time management.”

Of course, nowhere is that skill learned better than in school, and in this “What’s In A Character?” we’re headed back there…again. No, it’s not the super-powered world of My Hero Academia or even a return to the Assassination Classroom, but rather, the charming real-life based domain of K-ON! It seems somewhat difficult to imagine this show’s run ended about 10 years ago at the time of this writing, but its charming characters, animation, and of course- music- have held up beautifully. While any of Hokago Tea Time’s (HTT for short) members are worth looking at in a piece, it’s the junior member of the group- Azusa Nakano- that gets the nod here. Turn that amp up and get ready to rock, as this piece explores this modest, talented member of the crew!

(MAJOR SPOILERS for K-ON! ahead.)


 

“Individually, they aren’t much…but they sound so good together!” -Azusa Nakano, on HTT’s sum being better than its parts

The main cast of K-ON!, in a word, is “adorable.” It was easy to become captivated by the girls’ everyday lives in high school, and while any one of them would be worthy of a piece, Azusa’s unique traits made her the pick. That isn’t to say the others won’t be revisited in the future, but the youngest member of the band gets to take center stage here.

An interesting aspect about Azusa is that she’s K-ON!’s “hidden” main character- one who doesn’t appear until well into the show’s 13-episode first season. A year in-universe elapses, and at this point the nascent HTT had formed within the structure of the Light Music Club, but outside of Yui, had failed to attract any new members in. While the girls’ “marketing campaign” featuring some dubious animal costumes had the opposite intended effect, it was a concert they gave that got Azusa interested in the first place.

As the only non-founding member of the band, Azusa often questioned the practicality of the club’s relaxed habits, and despite vowing to “not get caught up in their pace!”…she did.  Part of this was because of Azusa’s own mild nature, but the other members also had their own ideas. In particular, Yui affectionately took Azusa under her wing, characterizing her as “Azunyan”, or literally, “Azu-cat.” Their relationship was a weirdly inverted one, where Azusa was the more responsible and level-headed one while her “senpai” was good mostly at pushing her agenda of cuteness. (This is K-ON!, after all.) Some of the show’s more amusing moments came from Azusa’s capitulation to Yui’s will, from sweet treats to the cat-eared headband that both the latter and club advisor Sawako Yamanaka pushed fairly hard.

Perhaps the sweetest culmination of this friendship was when Azusa agreed to help Yui for a local talent show and sing a duet. Spending her personal time, she selflessly helped Yui’s dream become a reality- and in turn the two impressed as a duo, both to the neighbor Yui wished to sing to in the first place, and the other club members who came to watch, with Ritsu even commenting “they really prepped for this!”

Sawako is so into this moment. “Azunyan,” not so much.

Of course, Yui was not the only one who Azusa fostered a relationship with. She looked up to Mio Akiyama as a role-model of sorts, given her smarts, more practical nature and devotion to her bass guitar…only to be surprised by how shy and easily flustered she could be. In disputes or arguments in the group, Azusa often turned to Mio, but it could be rather hit-or-miss depending on the situation!

Ritsu, the band’s resident free spirit, nearly was responsible for driving Azusa away from the club initially with the excessive tea breaks she liked to take, but did become friends with her as time went on. Azusa was often quick to point out Ritsu’s slacking on her official club duties, but more importantly, served as a counterbalance so that (nominally) more practice happened.

Mugi, as usual, was an enthusiastic friend, and like the other girls, Azusa was surprised at her antics and enthusiasm for everyday life at times. She was indirectly responsible for the latter’s anguish at how much the club slacked off, given that she supplied the tea and sweets- but they were hardly refused when offered, or with little resistance. Azusa also marveled along with the others at Mugi’s hidden family wealth, be it at her spacious beach house or the unexpected discovery that her folks had a place in Finland!

The club’s affection for Azusa as a full-fledged member was seen in many ways, from her cat-themed tea mug that was obtained, to her taking on the role of watching the club’s baby turtle they obtained- Ton. The turtle’s existence in the club room was a result of Yui’s belief that Azusa had wanted him- a thought that wasn’t true at first, but after the effort of obtaining him (via selling Sawako’s old guitar, no less), what had been an initial curiosity turned into a companion the pigtailed girl was very fond of taking care of.

Azusa was also at the center of a secondary trio in the show within her own year, as she became fast friends with Ui Hirasawa- Yui’s younger sister, and Jun Suzuki, a spunky girl who often asked why Azuza joined the Light Music Club, while harboring her own secret interest in the group. The trio had a few spotlight episodes, most of which showcased some summer escapades- and the fact that the focus of this pieces gets very easily sunburnt.

Setting Guitar - K-ON! Wallpaper (1366x768) (144774)

A passionate, talented musician.

All the silly, cute parts of the series did not change a fundamental fact about Azusa: she was an outstanding guitarist. More serious and dedicated to her craft than her band-mates, she often pushed to practice when no one else would, and sincerely hoped the club would spend more time on music and less on tea and sweets- something that never quite happened.

Azusa provided a major talent infusion upon joining the group, and understood the fundamentals of the guitar extremely well, along with more advanced techniques. She was shocked that Yui did not despite being impressed with her initial performance and energy at the welcoming concert of her freshman year, and in turn would wind up advising Yui more on her craft than the other way around!

It was Azusa’s talent, determination and experience, along with her junior status that made her the only logical choice to carry on the Light Music Club when her friends all were set to graduate. Furthermore, it spoke to her character as a person that she’d be entrusted with the club’s fate by herself, as without her, there was hardly a guarantee for a tomorrow as far as the Light Music Club went.

One of the more emotional moments in any show comes courtesy of K-ON!’s series finale, where the graduating members sing a song of farewell and gratitude to Azusa, knowing that she alone could carry the torch at their school. And indeed she does, ending the series playing a solo instrumental version of “Fuwa Fuwa Time,” one of the band’s signature songs. While not in the anime version, she carries on the club and even forms a new band when the others leave, leading the way.

All of the events that form her character point to an individual who was passionate about music, a great friend to those she knew, and a responsible person. Add in that she’s relatedly adorable, and very cute when she’s taken off-guard, and you have a real winner of a character. Not every individual has to have an epic backstory to be great, but Azusa’s strength lies in the total characterization that she receives, both in her own right and in the context of the people around. It’s true that this is a strength as well of what is an outstanding “slice of life” show in general, but Azusa Nakano manages to still be very unique among this quirky cast, and worthy of the “What’s In a Character” designation.


It wouldn’t be an Azusa piece without this scene:

Some things in life are irresistible.


Like what you see? Big fan of Azusa or K-ON!? Leave a comment!

 

2020: A Look Back and Ahead at Animation

Bye bye yesterday, indeed.

Happy New Year, everybody! I hope everyone has enjoyed Christmas, Hanukkah, or whatever holiday you celebrate. Amazingly, we’ve reached the end of another year, and with it, another distinct chapter in the history of the world and by extension, animation. A few years ago, back in the early days of AniB Productions, I mused about the state of Western animation at the time (it was 2017) and said “we’ll revisit it at the end of the decade.” Well…that time is now! And as a farewell to the 2010’s and a hello to the 2020’s, this is a special piece that’s going to take a big and little picture on what’s happened and perhaps, where we are going next decade with a few predictions. Let’s get to it!

THE BIG PICTURE

The 2010’s were by and large a transitional decade for the medium, whether in the context of the West or the anime scene. Stateside, the decade had started in a turbulent place with many beloved 2000’s series having come to an end recently, and a general void begging to be filled by trendsetters yet to be named. One may have been a late 2000’s holdover that ran all the way to 2015- Disney’s Phineas and Ferb, but it was arguably the Cartoon Network duo of Adventure Time and Regular Show that would be the progenitors for most other Western TV fare this decade. In turn, the rise of the so-called “CalArts” style- a cartoonish, deformed-esque style defined by characters with big heads and eyes became a huge trend, and was noticeable in many of the decade’s big hits, from Gravity Falls to Rick and Morty.

As for anime, this past 10 years may be looked back on as the time where being a fan finally became more mainstream. Mall stores are loaded with merch of the most popular and current shows; the Macy’s Thanksgiving parade has featured a balloon Goku the past few years, and even Netflix has adapted popular series into live action (whether or not this was advisable is another thing, but that’s a different discussion.) In addition, the quantity of anime has increased several-fold year after year- so much so that there’s almost a saturation (and a real question of industry working conditions.) Sometimes, you have to dig a little harder to find the good stuff, but the cream always rises to the top and like many decades that have passed before it, this one also produced some outstanding fare.

In both the East and West, the rise of streaming services has been a major story of the decade, changing the way most people consume these shows, and making the medium more accessible than ever. From Crunchyroll to Netflix, and various other means that exist, the internet has supplanted TV in all ways as the choice to view- although you can still watch the late-night Toonami blocks if you’re so inclined.


So with a quick look back, I’ve decided to pick from what I’ve seen at least, my top show picks from the past 10 years in both the West and the East. I would have extended the column to movies as well, but I’m thinking it’ll be a different post for another time. Very curious to see what people think of these picks!

MOST INFLUENTIAL CARTOON OF THE DECADE: Adventure Time

Was there ever any other option, really? No series defined animation quite like this one, which encapsulated the decade with a run that almost perfectly coincided with the years themselves, revived a flagging network, and became a sensation where even casually, you’d see people with merch. But from a pure animation perspective, this show set the tone, and then lived up to what it did, growing and evolving over its brilliant, often weird and quirky, but always imaginative run.

 

BEST CARTOON OF THE DECADE: Gravity Falls

There has been some really interesting choices as the decade’s unfolded, but despite a few years passing now since its completion, Gravity Falls really is a delightful gem of a show, blending skillful humor with great detail and an intriguing plot that also takes time to flesh out the characters in this quirky town. It’s sometimes easy to forget, but there was few shows worth old-school appointment viewing on debut this decade, and this was one of them. I also considered Samurai Jack’s revival here, but as the show was originally from the 2000’s, it was more a completion of a masterwork that demanded it.

 

MOST INFLUENTIAL ANIME OF THE DECADE: Attack on Titan

I really could say One Piece here for longevity, but I think it’s had a greater impact in the manga world, and it wasn’t a debut from these 10 years. There’s plenty of shows that were good, but what ones have had an impact globally and beyond? One answer is My Hero Academia, which certainly has that cache, but it was only for a little under half the decade. No, the best answer may be Attack on Titan, a show whose debut galvanized fans everywhere, even to the point that one year a kid dressed as Captain Levi showed up at my door at Halloween! And it truly was a decade show, with seasons spaced out at the beginning (2013) and end of the period (2018, 2019).

 

BEST ANIME OF THE DECADE: 

Just one pick, eh? There are many worth the crown of this distinction, but it had to be something where we can look back years from now and say “yeah, that was a masterpiece.” Not everything ages well! For every Cowboy Bebop, there’s a 70’s Devilman out there. So in the end, I’ve picked two, because why not:

Hunter x Hunter and Steins;Gate.

steins;gate.png

There’s specific points for these picks. For one, Hunter x Hunter is my favorite for a reason, and it is a remarkable achievement in long-format shonen anime between how well it’s done and its remarkably engaging cast and themes. It is the second adaptation of the source manga after 1999’s effort, and and for all intensive purposes improves greatly on it. The ability to flawlessly switch genre-styles within show is masterful, as is the subversion it performs on common tropes. Add in that it has one of the most uniquely remarkable arcs in any show (Chimera Ant) and there’s a great case for it here in this column. Running from 2011 to 2014 in its Japanese debut, and its English dub from 2016 to 2019, it really was a show of the 2010’s. (Read the review here!)

Steins;Gate on the other hand, was a different ride, one that wove time travel and the consequences of it right into its very fabric. Of all the series in the 2010’s, I think this one will be remembered uniquely for a few reasons (and the review is also here!)

2011 was a remarkable year for anime. Aside from these two, it also featured Fate/Zero, Nichijou and Madoka. However, these two are excellent adaptations from source material, which takes away nothing at all, but I want to nominate one more dark horse candidate that’s anime-original for the story:

Little Witch Academia.

Why this show, you may ask? Well, for one, yours truly watched it. Can’t pick something you don’t know. But more importantly, it has a little bit of everything you could ask for, from a spirited, memorable cast, to a enjoyable story, gorgeous animation and some incredibly uplifting themes. (You can read my review here if you haven’t, or peruse a character piece on Akko Kagari as well.) But I also asked myself, “how will this age?” and the answer is clear that it’s going to be like fine wine. It doesn’t date itself with dumb references in-show, the plot itself is timeless, and the show is accessible even to a younger audience, with an appeal that’s broad but hardly to the lowest common denominator. Finally, the story about how it got to be green-lit from Trigger and how it started as a fan-sourced project and special is interesting. Feel free to look it up.

Are these truly the top anime of the decade? Perhaps. As a writer, critic and then fan, I suspect everyone will have a different answer, and I’d like to think this one is no worse than anyone else’s reasoning or logic.

WHAT’S NEXT FOR ANIMATION?

Well, my guess is as good as anyone else’s. We started the decade on cable; we ended it streaming, and what turned out to be good and popular wasn’t even on anyone’s radar when it all started. So a few predictions shall suffice:

-The CalArts style will fade out by mid-decade for a different style.

This is history talking here. Each decade has been distinct stylistically and this might be the safest bet- that a new or recycled style comes back into prominence in the West. We’ll see though.

-SpongeBob finally ends.

Underrated aspect of the 2010’s has been “zombie shows”- titles that have lived generations and eras which continue onward. This falls more under “bold prediction” but the yellow sponge’s run will dry up at some point, and crazier things have happened. Heck, long-time running mate The Fairly OddParents ended this past decade, so it’s not impossible.

-A previously unheralded anime genre takes center stage.

In the 2010’s, that had to be the isekai explosion led off by Sword Art Online, but with the saturation of that area, the new decade is ripe for something fresh. We’ll all wait enthralled and one day realize it’s happened, but not until we start scrolling through releases.

-The foreign film drought continues at the Oscars.

I know this isn’t the animated movie column, but it’s criminal how little attention non-American fare gets in stateside circuits outside of industry professionals and passionate folks like perhaps yourself, dear reader. It would be nice if it changed, but I don’t suspect it will.

 

-More revivals of older shows will happen.

Recent years have borne nostalgia trips across culture, from Star Wars to DuckTales, and in turn, I expect more of the same as we get into the new decade. If there’s one thing Hollywood is good at, it’s recycling ideas, and I think it’s become applicable to animation as well.


Well, that’s it from me! A Happy New Year to all, and a big thank-you for all the support for the blog. Here’s to the end of one decade and the beginning of a great new adventure with you all!

(Leave a comment if you’d like!)

AniB’s Top 10 Anime Openings!

The return of the blogger, with some musical fun!

Hello everyone! So, I’m not dead, I’m still committed to AniB Productions, and I’ll square off the most obvious question: my long absences are both academic and hardware-related. (Seriously, my laptop needs a keyboard replacement at the time of this writing.) As both a thank you to the loyal readers here and an apology for said frequent hiatuses all year long, I’ve got a fun piece in store for you all!

Anime openings are in simplest terms, “the gateway to a show.” Often times, they are our first impression of a series, and they must encapsulate some essence of the show in question in a roughly 90-second block of higher-budgeted animation and song. What exactly makes a great opening tick is a fairly subjective exercise though, even if certain broad objective standards are to be recognized in doing so. For the purpose of this piece, I’ll attempt to note these unifing factors of OPs as I progress though an unusual write-up for me on here: my personal top 10 anime openings! (It’s actually extended out to 15, so extra fun for anyone wondering “what was cut off?”)

Long-timer readers may recall I did a “top 10” listing of my top ranked and reviewed shows on here years ago now (back around when I first started writing here, probably close to 6 months into running AniB Productions.) Since then, while the site has featured lots of reviews, character and thought pieces, there hasn’t been a ranking-type writing in a long time, and I couldn’t be more excited to get underway. Here we go!


Honorable Mention (5 that almost made the cut):

For these guys, I’ll give a short explanation before hitting the ones you’re all waiting for:

15) That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime (Nameless story, OP 1)


Disclaimer: If you were looking for a pretty good isekai and an opening to match, you might be in luck here. Slime, despite its unwieldy title has two very nice openings in its first season, and “Nameless story” gets the nod here, for both a great visual and musical appeal. It gets you excited for this show, no doubt. (Review pending here!)

14) Utayo! Miracle (K-On!!, OP 2)

“That bass line is amazing, Mio.”  Probably my first thought about the song can be summed up there, as there’s this incredible bass part in the middle of the song that feels like a much deeper cut than it has any right to be in a show featuring adorable leads. Just fun to listen to, and the visuals are great as well.

13) A Cruel Angel’s Thesis (Evangelion, OP 1)

This song may as well be the unofficial anthem of anime opening everywhere. Talked about, praised, scorned, memed and edited in dizzying array, “A Cruel Angel’s Thesis” doesn’t really need an introduction, but it remains the best part of Evangelion years later.

12)  H.T. (Trigun,OP 1)

A classic banger right here, Trigun’s opening is just a straight minute and a half of shredding on a guitar. Few openings have ever sounded as epic before or since- and while the visuals are admittedly hit or miss, the music does not disappoint in the slightest.

11) Through the Night (Outlaw Star, OP 1)

Finishing the mini-trip through the 90’s, Outlaw Star, along with this opening are underrated by the current generation. This is a rock-solid piece that serves as a fine entry point into Gene Starwind’s adventures (and another show that definitely deserves a review.)


So that’s the preliminary round. What did I find personally as the best of the best?

 

 

My top 10:

10) Kimi No Sei (Rascal Does Not Dream of Bunny-Girl Senpai, OP 1)

A mild surprise, given the recent nature of this show (and the review that has yet to be dropped!) but this catchy tune from The Peggies is likely to wedge itself in your head as well as it did to mine. The opening to a show that is much deeper and more psychological than the title suggests, it’s always a welcome start to the high-event episodes.

9) Kyouran Hey Kids!! (Noragami Aragoto, OP 1)

Honestly, either of the Noragami openings could have slotted in here, given that the show had the pleasant rarity of two outstanding openings. The second season’s pick, by the Oral Cigarettes, gets a slight nod, for combining a banger of a song with some really well paired and interesting visuals. While Noragami itself is the definition of a “solid, good show,” both OP’s deserve the distinction of being noted in this column.

8) Hyadain no Joujou Yuujou (Nichijou, OP 2)

A while back I talked about the standout music from this show, and at least some part of that was the energetic openings from Hyadain, who did some really cool producing tricks to make some interesting audio output. While either of the show’s openings could come into this slot, much like Noragami, the second one’s frantic but fun energy gives it the subjective (but truly non-existent) edge.

Aside from the technical wizardry of this piece, Nichijou’s a standout in its specific genre, and at least a part of that is due to how well the music works for it. While the piece in question about it can be read here, the openings do an amazing job of setting the tone for the surreal comedy that Nichijou embodies.

7) CAGAYAKE!Girls (K-ON!, OP 1)

While all the K-On! openings are delightful, the original takes the cake. Featuring two versions mirroring visuals of HTT pre and post Azusa Nakano joining the club, this song’s the perfect representation of a great show- energetic, upbeat, cute and with the synergy of the lovable main protagonists.

In a very real sense, K-On! as a series is “never-ending girls’ talk.” Following the high school careers of the main characters turns out to be every bit as fun and unexpected as this song seems to imply- and regardless of whether you’re a guy or a girl, it’s very relatable as a life experience.

6) THEME FROM LUPIN III (2015) (Lupin III: Part IV)

While any variation of the famed Lupin III’s theme could have fit this slot, it’s Part IV’s refreshed updated of the ’77 theme that takes the cake here, with just a hint of Italian flair. A jazzy classic from the long running franchise, the Lupintic Six always hits this out of the park- and frankly, this one wouldn’t be out of place at a jazz performance, top anime lists aside.

The song has actually undergone several variations over the years, the most recent of which was Part V’s Parisian-themed take in 2018, but it’s worth looking up the different versions just to hear the different twists on the leimotif. Like its source material, it’s aged like fine wine. (RIP Monkey Punch, you are missed.)

5) Re:Re (ERASED, OP 1)

Erased was a great show, with all the right notes of suspense, an interesting lead and cast, and a very well executed mechanic. Of course, the review I wrote on that would echo the same sentiment, but another well executed part of this anime was its opening.

Sure, the song from ASIAN KUNG-FU GENERATION is catchy as heck as is the music, but it’s really the superb attention to visual detail in this one coupled with the notes that lifts this one as high as it is on the list. Nothing is irrelevant in the greater picture of the show- and like how things come together for Satoru Fujinuma, so too does the visuals for the viewer as the plot accelerates.

4) MIND CONDUCTOR (Little Witch Academia, OP 2)

The last in a series of openings on this list that could have featured either one, Little Witch Academia is blessed with two superb efforts from YURiKA, who some of you may also recognized performed Land of the Lustrous’s opening. “MIND CONDUCTOR” gets a slight nod from me based on personal preference, but both it and “Shiny Ray” (OP 1) do a great job of representing the show.

While “Shiny Ray” captures the absolute wonder of the adventure you’re about to dive into and that of Akko Kagari, the lead, the pick here combines some wonderfully detailed visuals paired with a story that’s advanced further and a song that has some energy, tonal shifts, some intense drumming and a really nice power guitar riff going on there. You get the sort of excitement, tension and idea of what this world of magic is going to be throwing at our leads down the stretch, and it couldn’t be more appropriate, especially with context. This show definitely evoked some emotions, and the openings did have some part in that role.

3) departure! (Hunter x Hunter (2011), OP 1)

“So…do you want to be a Hunter?”

My personal favorite anime also just so happens to have an excellent opening, and in a more interesting twist, it’s the same song through the entire series. Indeed, while there are two different lyric sets, the longevity of “departure!” is impressive, along with being the right song to kick off an episode anywhere in the series.

If that wasn’t enough, the visuals change for each major arc of the show, keeping it refreshing. The visuals featured here are from the Hunter Exam, the first arc of the show- but half the fun is seeing them change as the show rolls on and the details stuffed into them. HxH fandom aside, this is a Swiss army knife of an OP for what it does in this series, beyond being just plain enjoyable.

2) Tank! (Cowboy Bebop, OP 1)

Ok…3…2…1… let’s jam! It doesn’t get much more classic than the theme song from Sunrise’s classic show. For the space noir that Cowboy Bebop is, nothing gets you more appropriately in the mood than this famous jazz song that has flair and life set against the ever-fitting visuals, with the “newspaper clippings”, shading, silhouettes and more.

There isn’t much to say that hasn’t already been said about this one in the years since Bebop burst onto the scene, but the advice from yours truly is to just sit back and enjoy this one anytime it plays.

And finally, the top pick…

1) Bye Bye Yesterday (Assassination Classroom, OP 4)

There was a great deal of debate and careful listening that went into deciding the top pick, and Bye Bye Yesterday captures everything wonderful in a fantastic opening. It tells a story unto itself, gives us a great song performed by the VA’s themselves, pairs it with incredibly thought-provoking visuals to add up to an emotionally charged and bittersweet final opening to what is an excellent show. However, the greater context pushes this one over the top:

You’ve been riding the highs and lows of that school-year with Class 3-E, and every opening of Assassination Classroom tells a part of that story, but this is the endcap- both the highest of highs, and the uncertainty of the future for all of the characters. The melancholy is even reflective in the lyrics, for instance- “Though we laughed and said goodbye/Though tears were in our eyes/Time passed before we even knew the reason why…” You ride that emotional rollercoaster to the end with those kids- and for a show that packs one hell of a punch at the end, this opening couldn’t be more appropriate or emotionally resonant. That’s why it’s my #1 on this list.

(All credit to “animethemes.moe” for their repository of opening videos. Credit also goes to respective studios of these shows (Lerche, Madhouse, Sunrise, Trigger, Kyoto Animation, and so on.)


Like what you see? Have a favorite opening you’d like to share? Leave a comment!

What’s In a Character: Kenshin Himura (guest piece by Onamerre)

The peaceful wandering warrior hides an unusual depth of character.

Hey! So the newest installment of the ever-popular “What’s in a Character” pieces is actually from my friend Onamerre, who’s contributed a few guests pieces in the past. For anyone who remembers, he was responsible for a terrific review of the show in question where this character hails from (Rurouni Kenshin). Take a trip from the last character piece at Luna Nova Academy to the early years of the Meiji Restoration in Japan, and discover a deep dive into the wandering swordsman. Onamerre, take it away!


No doubt longtime followers of AniB Productions know that Rurouni Kenshin is my all-time favorite anime, and with that my all-time favorite anime character is the titular protagonist, Kenshin Himura. So the answer long time questions of why on Earth am I so obsessive over this show and its protagonist, want to know further as I give a fair assessment of the character promoting his strengths and exploring his weaknesses.

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The reverse-blade sword. This rurouni is the real deal!

What makes Kenshin first and foremost one of the most interesting shonen manga/anime protagonists isn’t the fact that he was essentially raised to kill and became one of the most notorious assassins during the Tokugawa Civil War, but rather it’s primarily what he did after all the bloodshed ceased. Instead of taking up a high ranking military position within the new government (arguably a quick way to make a vast fortune), he took a personal vow to never kill again and lend his superhuman samurai slashing abilities to those in need, courtesy of his unique reverse blade sword. I get many people reading this right may recognize what I just said if they watched Digibro’s review of the same character, but I want you to know my take on this character as well.

Very early on in the series a high-ranking government official comes and visits Kenshin and offers him a high-ranking job within the Japanese government. I would like to take a minute and ask everyone reading this piece to reflect on what the scene is about. How many anime characters have the soul character motivation of becoming the best blank? The best ninja, the best hunter, the best fighter, the best pirate, the best bounty hunter, etc etc? Kenshin is literally handed the end goal of much of the previous and continuing anime protagonist goals on a silver platter, and concludes that this is not what he wanted to do for the rest of his life. Indeed, the peaceful warrior would rather live the rest of his life on a moment-to-moment basis and lend his sword to those in need. Where the real fun and drama comes in is what happens when he is pushed to the brink…

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Serious and somber Kenshin. It’s not easy to leave the ways of the manslayer.

Of course, Kenshin’s solemn vow is hardly an easy path. Early on in the series as well as at the beginning of the of legendary Kyoto Arc (which very well might be analyzed soon), there are moments when he is pushed to his emotional limit and almost reverts back to his old man-slaying ways. We see this when Kaoru is kidnapped early on in the series and puts her in a lethal trance that can only be ended if Kenshin takes the life of the kidnapper (“Deathmatch under the Moon! Protect the One You Love”, episode 7). This moment is the closest in the entire series where he was to reverting back to his old ways, save only by Kaoru’s amazing courage.

Another example takes place during the Kyoto Arc. A former opponent of Kenshin makes an appearance at the dojo he is staying at and immediately reverses his mentality back to during the revolution. For 20 minutes Kenshin and his opponent are locked in a death battle until it’s broken up by a government representative. What keeps the audience on their toes, holding the tension, is again the temptation- will Kenshin will go back to his manslaying ways during this confrontation? This struggle gives the audience a real hook to watch- if the now peace-loving optimist that is Kenshin will continue his path of redemption and peace, or revert back to his previously demented  life.

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For all his virtues and toughness, Kenshin can be a bit of a goofball.

One final interesting take about this character is that Kenshin, despite the common trend of manga and anime protagonists being in their early to mid teens, is 28 years old at the start of the manga and possibly is around the age of 30 as of the newer Hokkaido Arc recently printed in Shonen Jump. Why this matters is there have been quite a number of years from once he started killing at a young age till the current present in which he had time to observe, learn, and reflect on all of his experiences. To borrow from a different fictional universe, one could easily make the claim that Kenshin is basically the samurai version of Obi-Wan Kenobi, in which the knowledge he knows in the ways of the sword is pretty much invaluable, all the while using his skills along with his heart and ungodly determination to make the world a better place.

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As of now I have not read into the series original finale arc that is known as the Jinchu arc, nor began the continuation with the Hokkaido Arc. But from what I’ve seen from the anime and bits and pieces of the original manga, it’s safe to say without a shadow of a doubt that Kenshin may just be one of the most interesting and unique protagonists ever put to page and screen. Thank you all for reading this to the end and putting up with my deep obsession with the show and the character. I’m Onamerre, and I’m outta here.


And that’s a wrap from Onamerre! Feel free to leave him feedback and comments, especially if you’re a fan of Rurouni Kenshin or the titular character.

What’s In a Character: Atsuko Kagari

A girl with big dreams and a shining sense of belief.

After quite a while, it’s finally the 10th “What’s In a Character” piece here on AniB Productions! From the one-time prince in exile (Zuko), to the assassin-turned Hunter (Killua Zoldyck) and even the iconic screwball of the Looney Tunes crew (Daffy Duck), it’s been a very entertaining ride to this point. And now we jump back into the enthralling world of Little Witch Academia at Luna Nova Academy to discover a girl with the dream to become a great witch like her idol, Shiny Chariot- the one and only fireball of energy and enthusiasm bundled into determination, Atsuko Kagari! Come see what a dazzling show she can put on- and hopefully, the end result is smiles.

WARNING: Major spoilers for Little Witch Academia.


As many of those who regularly read this blog may recall, Little Witch Academia was a watch that brought a lot of nostalgic feelings to yours truly in how it unfolded. At the center of a tremendously fun show though was its effusive and effective lead character- Atsuko “Akko” Kagari. So let’s jump into why exactly Akko’s such a special character!

 

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“Just you watch! I’m gonna become an amazing witch one day and make the whole world gasp in surprise!” Akko Kagari

Atsuko Kagari, or just “Akko” stood out to me for a variety of reasons at the center of Little Witch Academia, a fine show in it of itself. Between some excellent character development, countless important moments in which she squarely found herself in, and an adorableness that was far more endearing than annoying, it was hard to not notice the Japanese girl with a great dream. Indeed, an interesting conversation I had about Akko with someone on Reddit actually shed some more light into the origins and meaning of her name:

“The name Akko Kagari is chosen not only as a reference to protagonist of the first Magical Girl Cute Witch anime -Akko Kagami (of Himitsu no Akko-chan) but also an in-joke that a significant number of women who enter the animation industry happen to be named “Akko”. To the point that the creators consider it a shorthand/general term for young women in the animation industry.

Luna Nova is an animation academy sticking to the principles established by the “Nine Olde Witches” (which are a direct analogue to the Nine Old Men of Disney). To the extent of which Croix’s machinations conflict with the school itself is meant to evoke the battle between Traditional and Digital.”

(all credit to /u/Manbabarang)

Pretty interesting, right? Akko’s captivating not only because of what she represents in an industry sense, but because of her relentless and fearless determination in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds and situations. She isn’t a tremendously gifted individual, but she has a strength of will unmatched by all but a handful of characters in any show. This extends to her drive to meet her goals and see her dreams through, from the time she stayed up all night to learn transformation magic, to the extreme lengths Akko goes to try and pass her exams despite being significantly behind on the basics due to her lack of background in the subjects.

She’s also relentless is believing there’s a brighter future ahead- a dreamer with a force of will to stay believing in the impossible. It’s evidenced time and again in Little Witch Academia, from a stubborn refusal to simply follow the mundane tradition of the “sacrifices” at Luna Nova’s Sanhaim Festival (“What You Will”, episode 13), turning it into a show that ultimately freed a tortured soul from a “grief seed” with the power of the Shiny Rod, to her stubborn refusal to let Diana Cavendish leave the school over her family’s power struggle. In fact, it is this very quality that makes Akko uniquely qualified to wield the “world-altering” magic of the Grand Triskelion, whose simplicity confounded and confused the logical, realistic, yet passionless Croix Merides.

 

Akko and Diana about to save the world. It wasn’t always this way.

Another key aspect about Akko is her belief and trust in her friends. She’s usually not a loner when it comes to executing grand schemes or ideas, and indeed in the most pivotal moments of the show, she proves to acknowledge that nothing could be accomplished just by her own power alone- and in turn, her friends implicitly acknowledge the effect Akko’s had on them, particularly Diana Cavendish, whose opinion of the former had slowly changed over the course of Little Witch Academia from bemused contempt to irresistible curiosity upon Akko’s exploits at the Sanhaim Festival, and eventually a gratefulness and a real acknowledgement of her after the events that nearly drove her away from Luna Nova for good.

And speaking of Diana, it was she that helped pull Akko out of the closest thing to despair in the show after a certain moment (more on that later), and took point along with the main protagonist as the final fated duel unfolded in the show. In most respects, Diana proved to be the opposite side of the same coin- a Shiny Chariot lover, a deep believer in the power of magic, but with the weight of a family crest on her shoulders and the pressure and expectations of greatness (which she handled well, by and large). However, what started as disdain grew into admiration on both sides: Akko grew to understand the burden of the Cavendish name while Diana saw that regardless of the odds the former believed relentlessly in whatever she pursued, and often with a joy and excitement. Truthfully, more could be written about the heir of the Cavendish clan, but in the context of Akko, she’s the perfect compliment to the latter’s strengths and weaknesses, which culminates itself wonderfully.

 

One of many misadventures Akko led the way on with her friends. You can just tell Sucy knows this is a bad idea.

Lotte Jansson and Sucy Manbavaran were the main social barometers against which Akko’s intial character development took place. At first they were annoyed with her- not an uncommon experience. Sucy messed around with her, while Lotte was too kind to refuse the hitchhiking attempt from the energetic Japanese girl. Despite the awkward beginnings, the duo can’t help but become her friends between the first episode’s harrowing experience in the Forest of Arcturus and the coincidence that saw the trio as roommates at Luna Nova. It would be subsequent events that would solidify just how important these bonds were. From the unforgettable time Akko jumps unabashedly into Sucy’s head to rescue the latter from a potion gone awry (“”Akko’s Adventure in Sucyworld / Sleeping Sucy”, episode 8), to her determined effort to rescue her friends and Lotte’s family from a rare disease in a visit to Finland (“Pohjola’s Ordeal / The Trial in Pohjola”, episode 16), it was hard not to note the progression there, all while Akko learned important lessons, from patience (sorta) to listening to what others were thinking. (Of course, Akko is also a class-A certified goofball, but it’s hard not to love her as she attempts everything with full vigor!)

Akko also impacted several of the secondary characters in the show, such as the memorable episode she helps Constanze prepare for the Wild Hunt after much persistence, and the subsequent battle with the battleship the duo created (“Stanship Take Off! / The Stanship of the Great Air Battle”, episode 18). Another key moment revolved around Amanda and Akko’s adventure at Appleton Academy, in search of the Holy Grail. (Naturally, this went awry when Croix’s magic interfered with proceedings.) Regardless of the outcomes of these moments, Akko managed to share character-bonding time with almost everyone along the way- a fact that not only contributed to the depth of her character, but proved pivotal as the show reached its climax and the final showdown. It was there Akko in turned needed the help of all her friends- and in a way that made sense (not the tired “power of friendship!” trope) each one of them would play a small but important role in helping Akko and Diana defeat the final boss.

 

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This moment was made possible by Akko’s hat.

Akko’s relationship effects also had a wide-reaching effect on Andrew Hanbridge, the son of an important government official. Entrusted with the mantle of expectations and of a certain prestige, the boy’s own views on the world didn’t start to really take shape until he met the bright-eyed little witch by chance on a an official visit to Luna Nova. (“The Fountain / The Fountain of Polaris”, episode 6). One memorable misadventure later, Akko- and a seed of doubt about his own held point of view- was entrenched. The boy’s disbelief in “magic” is actually a metaphor about the power of believing things will always be the way the way they are, while “magic” itself could be seen as a belief in that something better could be created through a strong enough belief and the vision to see it through- which is something Akko wound up instilling in Andrew, along with a healthy thought to become more than just his father’s imprint in opinion and action. The young man continued to be intrigued by his unlikely encounters with the protagonist, but became friends with her, drawn no doubt by her iron-clad will and fearlessness in the pursuit of what was right and her dreams despite seemingly insurmountable odds. Nowhere was this more felt when Andrew was the lone voice in the war room of the government to acknowledge- and support- Akko and Diana’s attempt to stop the rogue Noir Rod.

 

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“Believing in yourself…that is your magic!”- Shiny Chariot’s famous words, imbibed by a young Atsuko Kagari

The relationship and role of Chariot du Noir, or rather, Ursula Callistis with her greatest admirer/ oblivious student is a key part of Akko’s character arc and one that any self-respecting piece about her cannot go without. Chariot serves in a most interesting duality to Akko: her inspiration and also the reason it’s so hard for her to succeed in the world of magic; at once the witch Akko most admires and simultaneously has no idea for the majority of the show is right under her nose. Indeed, when Professor Woodward tests Akko and she unlocks the 3rd form of the Shiny Rod in “Blue Moon” (episode 11), it’s notable that Akko refuses to be just like her idol if it means giving up her memories, friends and everything else dear to her. Indeed, in stark contrast Chariot makes a Faustian bargain of sorts with Croix to enhance her magic show at the cost of robbing people’s latent magical energy- and in this way, a sharp divide is drawn between Akko’s earnest and honest pursuit of her dreams, against someone who trod the same path but compromised it looking for a specific result, without considering the consequences. And for Chariot, those consequences went beyond the Shiny Rod’s abandonment of her- it tied directly into her failings to protect Akko from Croix’s machinations and subsequent flight loss from the Wagandea pollen (“Discipline / Wagandea”, episode 21). Later yet came the painful revelation of Chariot’s true identity to Akko and the reality of her magic shows. Despite the dagger revelation, Akko’s depth of character showed up as after this point, she expressed a strong interest in continuing to learn from Chariot not as her admirer, but as the teacher she’d grown to know and trust.

 

As is amply evidenced, Akko’s a great character precisely because of her relatability and her flaws. As a human, she embodies the persistence and hope we all harbor in pursuit of our goals and dreams- our “magic,” so to speak. Furthermore, she’s willing to work hard to get where she wants to be, and has inspired and worked with other individuals she never knew at first in her journey, starting with the fated encounter with Sucy in the first episode. Which leads to one final important question…

So what about the Shiny Rod? Why would a magical object of great importance choose Akko? The many reasons outlined, along with the people she affected sufficiently answers that question. It is the power of belief and hope, mixed with an uncompromising commitment to see it through, along with an understanding of being flawed, and human that made Akko the worthy wielder of the powerful magical artifact. She was, in a word, able to change the world because she harbored no ill ambitions, but rather just the joy of her “magic”- the lessons she learned, the people she met, and the words she learned the true meaning of.

For all the analysis, Atsuko Kagari is just a plain fun character, and well worth the time of exploring further. The star of a wonderful, whimsical ride in Little Witch Academia, she’s the series’ heartbeat and also the backbone of some pretty great comedy as well. A complete character, it never becomes tiring to jump back into Akko’s quest to become a great witch, one “who will make people smile,” and the vigor in which she pursues that quest. This little witch in academia is truly worthy of “What’s in a Character” as she delivers on a very human and enthralling experience in her home series. Now, all she has to do is get better at riding brooms to really take off… tia freyre!


Of course, no Akko piece would be complete without Chariot’s Theme:

There’s something just so exciting every time I hear this leimotif. No wonder Akko looked up to Chariot!


Like what you see? Do you love Little Witch Academia or Akko? Leave a comment?

Review: Little Witch Academia

“Believing is your magic!”- what a charming outing.

So, I haven’t been writing a lot lately for various reasons, but I have continued to view some new and different fare, and one of those picks just so happened to be another Trigger show- the whimsical Little Witch Academia.

The Lowdown:

Show: Little Witch Academia

Studio/years aired: Trigger, 2017

AniB’s thoughts:

Every once in a while, a watch I choose on a whim turns out to blow past whatever modest expectations I may have had- and the first anime to do that this year for me was Little Witch Academia, a joyous adventure behind the optimistic, headstrong and outgoing Atsuko “Akko” Kagari in pursuing her dreams at Luna Nova, the witches’ academy. Before I delve into the specifics though, it is always a pleasure as a purveyor of animation- or any medium really- to find something that gets you plenty excited that you didn’t expect- and while I had heard in passing good things about this show, it was a blind watch, which in the end couldn’t have been more fun.

LWA revived something nostalgic in how it impacted me. It wasn’t just one specific aspect, but from Akko’s cheerful smile in the face of impossible odds against many odd challenges laid before her, to the sweeping score that evoked at least some memories of John Williams’ work on the Harry Potter films, and even to the clean animation and grand adventure, this show was a heartwarming (and completely original!) adaptation. While there are some flaws, this show probably is the most “complete” work from Trigger- with an undeniable charm and appeal all its own.

This anime was the studio’s big production of 2017- and it shows with a grand scale of adventure, animation that both pops and yet has that unmistakable “softness” (as I’ll describe it) that the studios’ character designs tend to have, along with a rich depth of detail. More importantly though, Little Witch Academia is a grand culmination of the young studio’s considerable experience since starting from Kill la Kill, and the whole package seems to come together here in an indescribably pleasant way, combining a wondrous sense of adventure with a pinch of Harry Potter, a dash of humor, and a generous helping of some really enjoyable character dynamics. I could probably expound a lot further on certain details of this show, but for now, my general thoughts will suffice. Onwards to grading!


Animation: Modern 2-D animation, computer animated. Trigger continued its high quality animation here- and despite featuring a heavily female-dominated cast, was actually devoid of fanservice in most respects. Perhaps that’s a bit shocking from the studio that is inevitably thought of from Kill la Kill, but it’s true. The character models themselves are pleasant and varied, and the locales are also varied and pop, full of life. With a theming that demands this vibrant idea of a magical world brought to life, it absolutely delivers, with some terrific action sequences throughout the show. 5/5 points.

Characters: Little Witch Academia follows the story of Atsuko “Akko” Kagari- a Japanese girl with a wish to become a great witch like her idol, Shiny Chariot. Filled with a strong impulsive optimism about magic and how it inspired her, Akko seeks to fulfill her dreams, which become intertwined with the Shiny Rod- a powerful magical item she finds in a legendary forest- that once belonged to Chariot and is said to contain the “powers of the stars” themselves. Matching Akko’s stubborn will and determination to do anything she sets her mind to is a rash impulsiveness, but also a kind heart- and along the way, friends who keep her going.

Of those friends, two are the first people Akko meets on her journey and eventually dorms with- Sucy Manbavaran and Lotte Jansson. The former is colloquially referred to as the “Mushroom Queen” due to her affinity for the fungi and talent/interest for making highly effective and dangerous potions; while she’s got a wicked sense of dry humor and generally is introverted, preferring not to be bothered, what starts as a grudging annoyance becomes a close friendship with Akko, as well as Lotte.

The latter is a plain, nice girl of Finnish origin. While the level-headed one of the trio most times, Lotte becomes far more animated over her favorite book series, “Nightfall” and is quick to defend her friends in times of need.

Outside of these three, Diana Cavendish is also a key player. The star student of Luna Nova, Diana comes from a royal lineage of witches, and while she seems perfect, there may be more going on there than meets the eye…Viewed by Akko as a rival, Diana’s magical ability is outstanding, and she has the study habits and mind to match.

Serving as Akko’s mentor at Luna Nova, Ursula Callistis is the kind new astronomy professor, who is looking out for the girl’s well-being along with helping her to catch up on many magical skills she lacked the background in. Despite seeming clumsy at times, Ursula appears to be very smart and talented, and knows about Akko’s Shiny Rod and what it is capable of…

There is also the trio of Amanda O’Neill and her roommates Jasminka and Constanze; the former is a classic rebel with a penchant for wild broom riding. Meanwhile, Jasminka is good natured and always seems to be eating something, while Constanze might be one of the most underrated characters in the series- a German girl of very few words who mixes magic with engineering to make some truly spectacular gadgets through the series.

Finally…what of Akko’s beloved Shiny Chariot? You’d have to watch to find out…and if you have, you’d know what happened. There is a multitude of other supporting characters and at least one other major player who serves as an antagonist, and overall the way the cast comes together and develops, through both individual character moments and via the plot, is truly a lot of fun. 4.25/5 points.

 

Story: While the show was split up into two seasons for international release, the entire production is 25 episodes.On some level, this tale is one of two halves: the first focusing mostly on Akko’s integration into and adventures at Luna Nova, while the second delves more into the actual mystery behind the Shiny Rod. Overall, it’s good- but narratively the show seems to find its focus more as it goes along. There are definitely standout standalone episodes as well- such as one featuring the inner world of Sucy’s thoughts- and overall, it’s a solid overarching plot with both a fair share of serious and silly elements. 4/5 points.

 

Themes: At first glance, the message seems simple, but it’s driven home very clearly: the real “magic” within all of us is metaphorical- summed up by Chariot’s catchphrase that Akko takes to heart and beyond- “believing is your magic!” More specifically though, there’s a strong point about working hard to achieve your dreams; the power of having good people behind you on the journey, and to always find a way- because hope is powerful and essential, beyond mere logic.  4/5 points.

 

Don’t Insult the Viewer: A solid narrative, backed by a very likable cast, a lack of fanservice and a killer score? Sign me up. It’s no hyperbole that the OST for Little Witch Academia is outstanding- and it sets the tone well for any situation, backed by a genuinely fun romp of a narrative. 5/5 points.

 

Total: 22.25/25 (89%): This show is quite possibly Trigger’s best effort yet- beautifully animated, vibrant and full of life with a likable lead and cast, no fanservice in sight and a great score, along with a strong underlying set of themes. There’s not much to dislike here- and it’s an easy pickup for anyone looking for a fun watch. Check it out if you haven’t!


Like what you see? Big fan of Little Witch Academia or Trigger? Leave a comment!

 

What’s In a Character: Vanellope von Schweetz

The spunky Sugar Rush racer revs up her engine for the spotlight.

With the new year comes new character pieces! It has been quite a while since one of these appeared, but between reviewing both Wreck-It Ralph films and the brief highlight on Vanellope in my end-of-year character pick-5, I found myself extremely compelled to write about the little candy racer. So “why” Vanellope, aside from being “a real racer”? There’s plenty of reasons, and hopefully, you’ll find several sweet layers here, like the layers of a jawbreaker.

(Major SPOILERS for Wreck-It Ralph and Ralph Breaks the Internet.)

 

“I’m already a real racer. And I’m gonna win.”- Vanellope, when Ralph tells her she just has to cross the finish line in her first race to reset Sugar Rush

Part sweet little girl, part candy and part sharp-flavored adventure with a hint of Sarah Silverman, Vanellope is a handful, regardless of your own opinion on her. A crack racer and the unlikely best friend of 80’s arcade villain Wreck-It Ralph, her story is interesting precisely of how relationship dynamics form and emerge in her story, playing an integral part in her development as a character and an individual.

A large part of the reason Vanellope has so much to analyze is that she gets two movies’ worth of character development as opposed to just one. In turn, her story shifts from a plucky outcast to someone who comes of age in the hopes of gaining a bigger dream- but in the process, forced to make some tough decisions as well. At the center of these decisions is ultimately her relationship with Ralph- and how that is impacted, both through her actions and those of the wrecker, neither of which necessarily occur in a vacuum.

“You’re not from here, are you?”- Vanellope von Schweetz, upon first meeting Wreck-It Ralph

The first film sees Vanellope as she initially was- an individual hardened by the life she was forced to live under King Candy’s sugar-coated fist in Sugar Rush. Beyond just being an outcast, she was also a full-on criminal as decreed by the corrupt regime, and so regardless of what her initial disposition might have been like (we have no idea, her game has been plugged in 15 years by that point), she’s got a sharp tongue of sarcasm and wit no doubt honed from dealing with hostile individuals constantly. Therefore, her initial meeting with Ralph makes perfect sense- she had a) no perspective on the wrecker or why exactly a medal would be so important to him (she even asks what the big deal about the “crummy medal” is later in the film) and b) she had never encountered anyone vaguely kind to her, by virtue of being isolated in Sugar Rush for her whole existence, along with King Candy’s attempt to delete her code, which left her with her signature “glitch” and a stigma of ostracization.

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“C’mon, do we have a deal or not? My arm’s getting tired.”- Vanellope, when her and Ralph agree to work together for the first time

The duo bonds over the unlikely bond they wind up sharing in feeling socially outcast from the games they hail from- Vanellope, for reasons already outlined and Ralph due to his treatment as a “bad guy” even outside of game hours, where he’s really not a bad guy, per se. However, it takes some time for this partnership to actually develop into a meaningful relationship, given that it’s a agreement initially born of mutual interest, even moreso to Ralph, self-absorbed in his medal quest- but the language Vanellope uses to strike the deal (“what do you say, friend?”) suggests that while she also has a mutual goal (become a real racer with a real kart) she was more open to the idea towards actually wanting a relationship, given it was likely the first act of kindness she’d known- in this case, Ralph scaring off the other Sugar Rush racers who had destroyed her homemade cart.

While Vanellope’s tale is largely one featuring her relationship with Ralph, the first movie also see her in an interesting dynamic with King Candy- the treacherous ruler of the game who in turn is actually the old rogue racer Turbo alluded to throughout the film. The villain goes to extreme lengths to try and literally kill her, first by attempting to delete her code, and when that fails, turns her into a state criminal while also locking up the memories of everyone else in Sugar Rush to suppress both his own misdeed and Vanellope’s true identity as the princess of the game. While Candy is ultimately defeated by Ralph at the climax, his megalomaniac tendencies are brought into an even sharper light by the hard-luck but innocent Vanellope, and nowhere is this in sharper contrast when Turbo is finally revealed in the climax of the final race.

 

If it was really one and done for films with Wreck-It Ralph, Vanellope would have still been a fine character with a satisfying arc that occurred, but she, along with Ralph, got a chance at a sequel which allowed for an even more in-depth exploration of the relationship that had been built by the end of the original film. In this way, the little racer hit the jackpot: a followup movie which actually did exactly what you’d hope to see in a developing relationship dynamic, and the fact that said followup film was both quite good (here’s the review) and that Disney rarely does official sequels. Talk about luck.

“Do you ever think about how we’re just bits of code, 0’s and 1’s? What if there’s more out there?”- Vanellope, pondering greater possibilities to Ralph.

With a slight real-world time skip of 6 years (the exact frame between Wreck-It Ralph and Ralph Breaks the Internet), Vanellope and Ralph have developed a comfortable routine- one that is genuinely perfection on some level for the latter, but starting to get boring for the former. It’s true the duo greatly enjoyed each other’s company, but Vanellope had long since grown bored of the place where she’d once been imprisoned, and as the game’s best racer, she’d become the proverbial “big fish in a small pond.” Enter one broken steering wheel and the introduction of WiFi to Litwak’s Arcade, and the impetus for things to take off was in place.

It’s clear from the start the candy-haired racer is open to change in her life, from her excitement at going into the internet, to her eye-opening interest in Slaughter Race, and even her humorous foray into a room full of Disney princesses. It’s true that she set out to save her game with Ralph, but in the process, she’d found a bigger world, and like a young adult searching out careers and dreams, she wanted to take her racing talents to a bigger level and a platform that would keep her excited every day. Of course, with that realization came the difficult fact that her relationship with Ralph- who she virtually spent all of her time with- would have to change, and while Vanellope accepted this would have to happen quickly enough, the Fix-It Felix, Jr. bad guy had quite a few more struggles with it.

Ralph’s genuine care for Vanellope as his friend devolves to a certain point where the original goal (the steering wheel) is in question whether it’s for Vanellope or his own self-interest. The wrecker is content in routine and happy in his own way. He can’t comprehend Vanellope finding a different dream or something bigger than what she knew, and resistance to that major change fuel Ralph’s childish and ultimately dangerous actions, or namely, his emotional insecurities, which become visually represented by the monstrous viral Ralph clones, and later, the King Kong Ralph homage.

“You really are a bad guy.”- Vanellope, after Ralph crushes her kart in Wreck-It Ralph

Ralph’s betrayals hurting Vanellope on a fundamental level in both films makes a lot of sense, not only from a realistic human perspective, but given the amount of faith and trust she put into the big guy for it to be betrayed. Between the crushing of the candy kart and the reveal that Ralph unleashed the dangerous virus upon Slaughter Race, both scenes are two of the most emotionally painful things between both films, and both times, Ralph acts out of a certain ignorance- but the intent differs. In Wreck-It Ralph, Ralph truly believes he’s done the right thing, and Vanellope’s pain comes from the one person she now saw as a hero (she gave her homemade medal right before, which really makes this hurt) betray her and destroy her dreams at the time. By contrast, the betrayal in Ralph Breaks the Internet is not caused in part from an outside party, like King Candy- but rather, Ralph’s own-self centeredness and insecurity over the idea of losing Vanellope. And in turn, the reaction is even more crushing, when the same medal that Ralph kept all those years is chucked into the abyss of the web, broken in two, symbolizing a permanent change in that relationship. In both instances, there is forgiveness- but again, the context differs as a contrite Ralph returns to help Vanellope after admitting his mistake with a fixed kart and a sincere apology in the first film, while the sequel instead sees Ralph accept change and in turn, allows Vanellope to do her own thing.

By the end of Ralph Breaks the Internet, Vanellope has transformed into someone who’s grown up a bit, even if her physical appearance hasn’t changed. Perhaps in a way that’s a metaphor for parent who always see their kids as they were, rather than how they look grown-up, and indeed, while she and Ralph are the best of friends, the relationship is more like that of an older brother and sister or even a father to a daughter at times. The long-distance relationship the duo maintains by the time the film ends hits hard after the emotional buildup and goodbye in this movie- while mirroring the ending of Wreck-It Ralph’s parting hug in Sugar Rush, this occasion is much more bittersweet. It’s the real human connection of change- and it’s inherently not easy to digest, even if it represents real growth in one’s own life or relationships. Furthermore, it represents something much more quiet and contemplative than anything else we’d actually seen from Vanellope and Ralph over the rest of the two films, with a maturity that is surprisingly complex.

The dynamic duo. Changed, but stronger for it.

Whatever her circumstances,  “the glitch” proved to have both a mental fortitude and conviction that served her well. There was something natural in a way about her leaving Sugar Rush by the end purely from a character perspective standpoint- here was a game she was once unable to leave at all, she grew to dominate its raceways to the point of boredom, and now she left it it for good, with a much bigger world out there to explore. Her friendship with Ralph, integral to her character, was both organic and beautifully executed, showcasing both a loving bond- but also one that was severely tested and continued to change with the characters. But Vanellope was also adorable, which didn’t hurt, but looks alone don’t win you an in-depth character piece, or a chance to pursue dreams, or even the ability to be an incredible race car driver. Make no mistake, the deuteragonist of Wreck-It Ralph and arguably the co-lead of Ralph Breaks the Internet is a remarkably developed character, with an arc that is worth watching and re-watching again.


Like what you see? Big fan of Wreck-It Ralph or Vanellope? Leave a comment!

 

Happy New Year! 5 Characters I liked from things I watched in 2018

A quick pick of some good characters .

Alright, so today’s a more informal post for the first time in a while. I’ve been banging out a lot of reviews, so with the year coming to a close and 2019 starting, it seemed like a fun idea to look back on 5 characters I really liked from things I watched this year. That could be movies or shows, East or West- but animated, as always. (Before anyone asks: Killua is an all-time favorite. There’s also a character piece I did. Check it out if you haven’t!) There was plenty to choose from, as it’s been an action-packed year of viewing, so here we go!


Vanellope von Schweetz (Wreck-It Ralph, Ralph Breaks the Internet):

Honestly, I could (and probably will) give the sweet little racer from Disney’s Wreck-It Ralph films the full “What’s in a Character” treatment at some point, especially with 2 full movies’ worth of excellent character development, but Vanellope re-entered the scope of my mind with the sequel. A superbly fun character (voiced by Sarah Silverman, of all people) with a terrific dynamic that she has with Ralph, the regent of Sugar Rush is a surprisingly complex character, bundled into an adorable bundle of messy hair, a signature green hoodie, and boundless energy.

Yukko Aioi (Nichijou):

Nichijou, while a 2011 release in real-time, came into my life in a big way in 2018. While the many charming, quirky characters on the cast might all warrant some kind of mention, Yukko’s brand of terrible luck, persistent attempts at humor and futile battle against schoolwork all while never giving up is something to behold. Silly as Nichijou can be, it has smart moments of some pretty deep and touching stuff, and while Yukko isn’t a genius, she is someone who can be a great friend- and it’s through her actions that the robot girl Nano Shinonome is able to find comfort in the transition to being a schoolgirl, and her surprisingly up and down relationship with Mio Naganohara is a great joy of humor to watch unfold.

Anti (SSSS.Gridman):

Beyond the anime public’s adoring gaze upon Rikka Takarada and Akane Shinjo, the breakout character of this cast was none other than this man- a one-time kaiju whose initial casting drew a strong resemblance to Viral from Gurren Lagann. As time went on though, Anti’s varying hardships, coupled with his persistence in his goals (which originally was a single-minded, and I do mean single-minded obsession to destroy Gridman) found him both a strangely sympathetic character and a likable one who also delivered some major hype in a show you’d expect to have plenty of it. By the end of Gridman, Viral has undergone a complete character arc and transformation- and that, perhaps more than anything else in the show, is why he’s on this list.

Jack-Jack Parr (The Incredibles, Incredibles 2):

The youngest member of the Parr family had his big-screen coming out party this past year, where he transformed from a bit part in the original Incredibles film to a more active role, with a great deal of comedy and humor. From his backyard brawl with a raccoon to his unlikely heroics at the climax of Incredibles 2, Jack-Jack was about as humanly entertaining as you can make a baby character without him becoming annoying. No small feat there.

Kōhei Inuzuka (Sweetness and Lightning)

Father to the adorable Tsumugi in this sweet little slice of life anime, Kōhei struck me as interesting precisely because of his balancing act between being a good father (in the stead of his recently deceased wife) and his career as a teacher, which was handled with a lot of tact and care. While this show released back in 2016, it’s still worth going back to take a look (and here was my review of it.) This man’s selfless care, despite all the challenges he faces regularly, is a treat to watch, and a character archetype that seems far too scarce at time. Good dads (and parents) are never out of style!


So there’s my pick-5 for the past year. I hope everyone had a great 2018, and here’s a happy New Year as we get into 2019! I’m looking forward to another fantastic year here on AniB Productions, and to the excitement of my readers as they continue to grow. Feel free to leave a comment!

Day 13: Mickey’s Christmas Carol

A timeless tale told with classic Mickey Mouse.

Day 13! Unfortunately for me today, I’m experiencing some technical difficulties that threw a wrench into whatever plans I had for you- the readers, tonight. In lieu of that, let’s briefly discuss an appropriately themed Mickey Mouse featurette.

The Lowdown:

Series: Mickey Mouse films

Episode/Short film: Mickey’s Christmas Carol

Studio/year released: Walt Disney Productions, 1983

AniB’s thoughts:

As I sit here, forced to use another computer with my own laptop suddenly shelved, I was reminded forcefully of A Christmas Carol, the timeless Charles Dickens novel and his incorrigible old miser, Ebeneezer Scrooge. Of course, this being an animation blog, there was some famous adaptations of this tale, but I’m partial to this particular telling of the story, which has some interesting facts to go with it.

This short film was the first Mickey Mouse theatrical release in 30 years at the time- as the iconic mouse had not starred in a film since 1953. Despite that, it much more prominently featured Scrooge McDuck in the role of you guessed it- Scrooge, playing the parsimonious money-lender in the most natural of fits. Curiously, this was the first time Alan Young voiced Scrooge, a role he’d become more famous for in 1989’s DuckTales and one that he’d hold to his death. Conversely, this was the last time Clarence Nash voiced Donald Duck- and as the last original voice actor from the early era of classic Mickey shorts, it was a bit of the changing of the guard, in hindsight.

So what of the content itself? This film emulates Dickens’ classic tale using classic Disney characters in the casting roles, with Mickey himself as the hard-working and underpaid Bob Crachit, Scrooge’s right hand man. Through the film, Scrooge’s miserly habits are played up, and he is confronted by the famous ghosts in the story- first his late partner Bob Marley (who Goofy plays), who sends a warning to the duck to change his ways, and in turn he is followed by the three other ghosts of  past, present and future. The past one is none other than Jiminy Cricket- a good choice given his role as “moral compass and guidance” in Pinocchio; the ghost of Christmas present is Willie the Giant- who appeared way back in 1947’s Fun and Fancy Free; and the ghost of Christmas future is an obvious choice given the context. (Spoilers: it’s Pete.)

I think the biggest shortcoming here is that while it’s billed as a Mickey Mouse film, he’s really much more of a supporting character in this while the story focuses on Scrooge- much like the actual Christmas Carol. That said, it’s a whimsical take on a classic novel, and a good adaptation from an often overlooked era in Disney’s history- the early 80’s. I had this short on VHS growing up- so there’s some nostalgia there for me personally, but it’s truly a pleasant watch for this time of year, and features both some old-school animation and talented voice acting, which makes it stand out a bit more now than it may have at the time.


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

Preliminary Review: My Hero Academia (post-season 3)

The latest season of the popular anime continues to progress the story.

The Lowdown:

Show: My Hero Academia (Boku no Hero Academia)

Studio/years aired: Bones, 2016-

(SPOILERS INCOMING. If you want a spoiler-free My Hero Academia Review, check out Season 2’s right here. Grading contains some minor spoilers, unlike my thoughts.)

AniB’s thoughts:

As you’ve no doubt noticed, school once again has unfortunately caused me to cut back on how much I write here for AniB Productions, but I was both excited (and determined!) to bring you the post-season review of My Hero Academia, which incredibly enough as a series now has almost more episodes total than Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood. (That had 64; Hero Academia is now up to 62 and a 4th season was confirmed.)

So the the golden question is if Season 3 continued the momentum of the first two. To start with, this past season continues to be faithful to the manga, bookending the opening arcs of the show with All Might’s final battle against the ultimate evil- All For One; and with his forced retirement opening up a resurgent villain presence in the world that had slowly been built up from season 1 with the events at the USJ at the time to now, where Tomura Shigaraki is biding his time as his organization grows stronger.

While summary is nice, this season showcased a good deal of character development in addition to its shifting plot lines. Midoriya, who I wrote about at about the halfway point of the season, continues his path towards becoming All Might’s successor, ultimately developing his own unique combat style while taking to heart the consequences of his previous recklessness and the damage it caused to his body, especially his arms. His rivalry with Katsuki Bakugo is also revisited- and in turn, displaying the ever-shifting dynamic as the former’s steady gains forces his long-time childhood specter to properly acknowledge him.

It’s actually quite difficult on some level to believe that My Hero Academia is now 3 seasons into its run, but yet, here we are- and overall, to answer the main question, with a wink and a nod to the show’s famous catchphrase- it’s been pretty “plus ultra” so far. While minor complaints have cropped up over the show’s run, from extended flashbacks in certain important scenes to some more vocal parties complaining about under-utilization of the side students in Class 1-A, the fact remains that the next big thing in shonen has delivered in spades, both upon the promise it’s shown so far and the strong leads of the show- which, in any event, are more important than a side cast any day of the week. That isn’t to say the complaint in that department isn’t valid- it very much is- but it seems more a byproduct of an increasingly vocal and growing fanbase that comes with the popularity territory Hero Academia has staked out.


Animation Quality: Quoting from last year’s season 2 review: “As you might expect from Bones (the people who did Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, the quality of the hand drawn, computer shaded 2-D is on point. Vibrant and faithful to its source material, the fight sequences are beautifully crafted; a wide ranging and immersive color palette brings the world of heroes and villains to life, and it’s all done in a tasteful way that completely enhances the effects of the show at every turn.” Since my views on this haven’t changed this past season, and continued to be justified between a presumably high budget and some amazingly faithful scenes done well.  5/5 points.

 

Characterization: Carrying over from season 2, BnHA’s extensive cast continues to be led Izuku Midoriya, but features several prominent developments for major characters.

Best known as “Deku” (his chosen hero name) from both fans of the show and the actual cast alike, Izuku’s dream of becoming the world’s number one hero is initially a pipe dream for him in a world where 80% of the population possesses superpowers, (or “Quirks”, as they’re referred to in-universe) and he has none. His life changed though with a chance encounter with the current #1 hero and his idol, All Might- where he is bestowed the powerful “One For All” quirk. Driven by relentless determination and a kind heart, Izuku’s got a lot of crazy in him- jumping into situations with little regard for himself- but he’s also committed to the suddenly steep and difficult journey that piece by piece, unfolds before him. Izuku continues to take major strides in both his training and character development, as this season introduces a seismic shift in the hero-villain dynamic of the show, along with several major events for Class 1-A on their paths to becoming heroes.

Deku’s archrival from childhood continues to be the brash and ill-tempered Katsuki Bakugo (spelled “Bakugou” in the manga). True to his personality, his Quirk allows his sweat to have nitroglycerin-esque properties, which in turn allows him to create localized explosions from the palms of his hands. A prodigy in terms of skill, his persistently foul moods mask to many his brilliance or his undying resolve to also be the top hero. As BnHA unfolds, Bakugo begins to resent Deku more and more, which leads to the beginnings and development of said rivalry properly. After season 2’s practical exam saw the duo win a dysfunctional but ultimately triumphant victory over All Might, the last season came to a head at the end with a proper duel of wills and skills.

For both Midoriya and Bakugo, All Might serves as their inspiration to be the next great hero- and as a major character in the show. Previously, he juggled multiple roles as Midoriya’s mentor, his still-extant run as the #1 hero, and a brand-new teaching position at U.A. Academy- but after a titantic battle with the ultimate evil- All For One- he burns out the final “embers” of the Quirk he passed onto Midoriya. Effectively retired, he fully entrusts himself to Deku’s hero training.

Previously as a hero, he’s the stereotype of a Silver Age comic book hero on the outside, wielding the awesome power of One For All- but hides his true form as a skinny man with disheveled hair and baggy clothes from all but a few. Despite the huge difference in strength and appearance, All Might is the same on the inside as a steadfast protector of the people and takes seriously his role as the “Symbol of Peace,” so much so that he’s unable to pace himself in his hero work…which eventually does lead to the end of his era.

It would take a while to highlight every last important character on the cast beside these three, but there are a few more worth mentioning in brief due to having larger supporting roles:

Tomura Shigaraki’s role continued to expand from his initial plans and failures at the climax of season 1; by the end of this season it’s clear he’s juxtaposed as the anti-Midoriya- All For One’s chosen successor- and has built himself a truly lethal little squad of villains, who wreak havoc on U.A.’s secret training camp in the first half of the season.

Ochaco Uraraka is the first person Deku meets at the U.A. Entrance exams, and after said sequence of events, they become quick friends. Noted for her ability to manipulate the gravity of objects with her fingertips, she’s bright, kind and hard working…but also has a crush on Deku, which is low-key but quite obvious. The latter point becomes a side character plot for her more prominently in the past season, but she also shows growth in her training.

Gaining a great deal of relevance originally in Season 2, Shoto Todoroki is the son of Endeavor- a man he despises- and another prodigy with a powerful Quirk that allows him manipulation of both ice and fire. Todoroki continues to be a standout in Class 1-A through his performances, though things don’t quite as expected when the time comes for hero licensing exams…As was true before, his level of control and personal path to walk pose their own issues for him.

The rest of Class 1-A continues to receive varying levels of attention, from more in the case of homeroom teacher Shoto Aizawa and students like Tsuyu Asui and Eijiro Kirishima, to far less as in the case of Koji Koda- a student mostly noted for his control of animals and very small amount of speech. While some see the class as being underdeveloped, it’s far more preferable to have great leads and a slightly lesser supporting cast than the opposite. (Of course, the best example of a class who receives even development is Assassination Classroom’s Class 3-E; you can read about that series here!)

It’s a bit of a shame that this section can’t cover every last one of these characters in the show, but it’s a solid cast that translates the incredible design work of the manga well and in turn, the animation itself does wonders in bringing them to life through 3 seasons. 4/5 points.

Story: This season’s Hero Academia plot saw some big moves from the League of Villains after biding their time in season 2, and a U.A. Academy in flux- from the student who via forced trials are demanded to grow stronger in the crucible of a rapidly changing world, to a school facing increasing questions about its perception and viability- a double edged sword that came with prestige. Sure, some of it is typical shonen-stuff, but it’s well executed, there’s only one (admittedly fun) filler episode neat the end of season, and the pacing is quite good. Good work all around. 4.5/5 points.

 

Themes: As the openings of this season stresses, a big idea of Hero Academia is one’s ideals. Who can back up their convictions? How about when they are pitted in a classic struggle of good versus evil? Or what about when such distinctions aren’t quite as clear in a given moment. The idea of justice is severely tested, as are society’s faith in the heroes they believe, and it created a panorama of tension that served as Season 3’s backdrop quite effectively. 3.75/5 points.

 

Don’t Insult the Viewer: Hero Academia definitely takes some darker turns this season, but it remains an easily accessible anime for both older and newer viewers alike. The soundtrack continues to be stellar, and in terms of intangibles, it remains a fun ride. 4.75/5 points.

Overall: 21.75/25 (88%): My Hero Academia’s past season continues to expand faithfully upon the manga and delivers on some vast promise, while continuing to develop its core characters and remain a delightful balance of fun and serious. The “next big thing in shonen” is the big thing now, and with season 4 already confirmed, it’s a good time to pick it up if you haven’t already.


Like what you see? Big fan of My Hero Academia? Leave a comment!