What’s In a Character: Vanellope von Schweetz

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

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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!

Review: Death Note

A mid-2000’s classic finally gets a review.

The Lowdown:

Show: Death Note

Studio/years aired: Madhouse, 2006-2007

AniB’s thoughts: Well, this review was a long time coming: an iconic anime like Death Note was unlikely to just sit on the sidelines forever, and with the announcement from Netflix a few weeks ago at the time of this writing that yet another live-action Death Note film is happening, it seemed like high time to finally sit down and go over the show. Indeed, this review had been in the planning stages for a long while, and was actually one of the first series that I had sat down and written a grading skeleton for, even before the launch of AniB Productions, but I was happy to revisit Death Note and heavily revise my original thoughts up to what’s on your screen now.

Indeed, Death Note is a favorite that has continued to remain relevant and representative of the best of anime 12 years on from its debut. The tale of Light Yagami’s initially noble sort of intentions with the Death Note turning into justified mass murder, and the battle of wits he engages in with L, the world’s greatest detective, remains as engaging and high stakes as ever upon a rewatch, and the show’s overall impression has not dimmed despite its immense popularity and the scrutiny that comes with the territory.

There are plenty of elements that made this show a huge success on a number of levels, but from a narrative point of view, it is the tension that is created and upheld, culminating in the most satisfying of manners, that really stands out. This series finds a way to build up its big parts slowly, with detail and intricacy, and then- bam! Like a spider’s web, the strike is quick and decisive, but wholly enjoyable. It may be a simple observation, but from where I can see it, this simple concept is executed so well in this particular show that’d I’d be remiss not to mention it.

For the few who have not seen the show, it is an excellent choice for both beginning and experienced anime viewers. With a gripping narrative, excellent animation that still holds up (2006 wasn’t as recently as any of us probably remember), and a cast of characters that expertly hooks you in as they develop, it’s a textbook case of the best of what Eastern animation (and in general) has to offer. Conversely, for the many who have seen this show, it is definitely worth a watch over again, and at least as far as this piece is concerned, is definitively superior to Netflix’s live-action interpretation of this series, and rightfully so, given its status as the original manga adaptation of the series.


Animation Quality: Traditional 2-D anime, with computer shading and coloring. Death Note looks terrific, from the character designs to the different sets, and the animation often is effective at conveying the mood or themes of the show. This sort of attention to detail is especially apparent in the key scenes where narrative tension is at its peak. 5/5 points.

Characterization: The characters are amazing, really, but what else can you expect when all 37 episodes are character and plot development?

Light Yagami is one of the most interesting main characters in any series, serving as the standard-bearer of the protagonist-turned villain; it’s essentially left to the viewer to decide by the end if he’s the main protagonist or antagonist. A honors high school student, Light finds the Death Note one day by chance, and intrigued by the possibilities instead of being scared away, he imprints his idealistic vision of justice on the book’s effects, which gradually and then rapidly becomes more distorted and complex as he mires himself and his life completely to the ledger of the shinigami, engrossed in the “Kira” persona he creates for himself. Brilliant as he is ruthless, the iconic lead of Death Note always provides high drama.

Opposing Light is L, the world-famous detective. Unusual in tactics and mannerisms, he shows an astounding ability to think outside the box, and his ability to think multiple steps ahead is only matched by his worthy adversary. With a strong sweet tooth and an unwavering determination to figure out who’s behind the string of unexplainable deaths, the highest-stake games imaginable unfold between the two, with unexpected turns at every corner.

(SPOILERS, for the rare soul who hasn’t seen this:)

 

Near, a boy who was from the same orphanage L originated from (and which doubles as a training ground of potential successors) takes up that mantle in the second half of the show after the time skip. Near in several ways shares similar mannerisms and a similar appearance to L, though he has white hair instead of jet-black, and and an obsession with toys compared to his predecessor’s sweet tooth. All business, Near revives the pursuit of “Kira,” putting Light on the defensive with the one possibility he failed to account for, give he’d claimed L’s title for himself.

Dueling Near for the title of succesor is his rival Mello, a boy who has remarkably different and far more mafia-style tactics in his approach to finding “Kira.”

(SPOILERS END HERE)

 

 

L, and the office he holds as the prestigious ace detective of the international community serves as a worthy adversary through the show, perhaps even to the point where they are truly the protaganists given Light’s descent into the power the Death Note gives him. Indeed, the battle of wits between Light and L is something iconic to the show.

As for the rest of the cast, there are a few important characters in a fairly concise cast, starting with the shinigami, or “god of death,” Ryuk. Only able to be seen by wielders of a Death Note, Ryuk is fairly good natured despite his appearance and is mostly interested in breaking his boredom he was experiencing in the shinigami realm. Partnered with Light, he serves as a neutral, albeit interested observer in the grandiose plans of the current Death Note wielder, and for whatever reason, has a love of red apples.

Misa Amane, or “Misa Misa” is a famous model in the Death Note universe, but had come across a Death Note of her own. In love with Kira and his work, she finds a way to cross paths with Light; the latter finds her useful for his own ambitions, but she truly loves him despite it all.

Aside from these two, the only other character really worth mentioning is Light’s father, who is a respected and renowned police chief who in an ironic twist, is tasked to head up the force searching into Kira. He’s proud of the son he thinks he knows, though the tension hangs heavy in the air with the answer to his question so nearby…

All the characters receive excellent development and importance through the story. It’s even better in context, no doubt. 5/5 points.

Story quality: This is the rare breed of animated show that has no filler (Western or Eastern). It’s straight story and character development, and to that end, what a narrative it is. The pacing is perfect as a result, and the story itself has two distinct arcs of pre- and post-time skip. Richly layered, a fascinating battle of cat and mouse, traps and queries, a chess match to the death- it is not inaccurate to say the show has it all in terms of a rich plot. Add in the wonderfully developed characters, and occasional humor to balance out what’s a fairly serious show and it’s a great mix. 5/5 points.

Themes: Most obviously Death Note deals with the ideas of life and death; the idealistic notions of people, and the easily corruptible sense of justice people may have. It also points at the folly of arrogance, and plays up the idea that when you try to play God, it leads nowhere good. Aside from that, there’s heavy mystery elements, a fair bit of violence that makes sense in the context of the show, and some ideas about how secrets can tear people apart, with far-reaching consequences. 4.5/5 points.

Don’t insult the viewer: Death Note is wickedly smart, though I’d not recommend it to anyone under 15 due to the intensity of the show and the inability to grasp the most complex themes. It’s a classic of anime at this point, and a joy to watch whether you’re an experienced viewer or relatively new to the medium. 5/5 points.

Total Score: 24.5/25 (98%). A masterpiece of anime, Death Note stands tall as a titan of the genre, with brisk pacing, a gripping narrative, and brilliantly written characters. It holds a legacy that surely many anime will try to reach now and in the future.


Like what you see? Are you a big fan of Death Note? Leave a comment!

 

 

What’s In a Character: Daffy Duck

The many faces and roles of an iconic character.

Welcome back once again to the “What’s In a Character” series! After a good run of anime characters, the most recent of which was young Izuku Midoriya, it was high time the focus shifted back to the West for one of these pieces, and today it’s a classic character- the iconic crazy mallard of Looney Tunes, the one and only Daffy Duck. You may or may not recall my episode review of “Duck Amuck,” but Daffy himself is an important character for a number of reasons.

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“Hey, wise guy- who’s responsible for this?”- Daffy Duck

So “why” Daffy? Well, to start with, the character has always been likable in a hilarious way, even if I’ve preferred Bugs Bunny my whole life. Secondly, this bombastic bird actually serves more of an important “history of animation” type character pick, because he was actually the standard-bearer and archetype for a certain type of character, which is of course, “the lunatic protagonist.” Daffy also has served a shifting role from that initial unique characterization to one where he was often, if not always stuck in the shadow of Bugs Bunny, often on purpose, to greatly humorous effect- but in saying that, is consistently characterized in various ways, thrust into different situations as the various plots and demands of directors dictated.

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This Daffy looks contrite, but you can bet he’s about to turn the tables on Porky Pig once again.

Daffy’s earliest roles were highlighted by a characteristic “woo-hoo, woo-hoo!” laugh played up to extreme proportions and during those days, his opponent to match wits with was none other than Porky Pig. In this period, he took on a role that would be similar to Bugs Bunny in later shorts- namely that despite his madcap antics, he’d cleverly outwit Porky (or anyone else’s attempts) to stop whatever idea he had in mind. In a way, this always made Daffy different and unique- while he was the first sort of screwball character to take a leading protagonist role in animation, he was always very upfront about his tendencies, and this sort of passive-aggressiveness on imposing his will would cross over into different takes on the character, though Daffy’s greatest narrative “triumphs” in terms of carrying the day as the hero were during the period from 1937-1952.

Notably though, Daffy burst onto the scene at least 3 full years before Warner Bros.’ biggest animated star would, and so those formative iterations of the duck were a unique, quirky snapshot into the character as a leading character for the studio, right before a certain rival rabbit would permanently upstage the mantle as “face of the franchise”- though it would take around another decade before the two finally faced off in a big, famous “splashy” kind of way.

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“You’re despicable.”- Daffy’s famous catchphrase to Bugs Bunny

Daffy’s turn from the clever screwball into the vain ego-driven runner-up mostly originated in the 1950’s with the famous “hunting trilogy” series of shorts (better known to most people for the “Duck season! Rabbit season!” silliness). Here, Daffy attempts his usual clever tactics to throw Elmer Fudd off his trail and onto that of Bugs Bunny, who of course is the last rabbit you’d want to get into a war of tricks with. For the first of many times, Bugs proceeds to to one-up all of Daffy’s strategies in humorous fashion while also outwitting poor Elmer, long the patsy of both the duck and the rabbit.

Going forward, Daffy and Bugs’ relationship could best be described as a “friendly antagonism.” Daffy is always the second wheel, seeing Bugs as more of rival than the rabbit sees him as, due in part to Daffy’s ego getting in the way of his thinking. Bugs usually views Daffy with a mixture of pity and annoyance, but also a sort of friend- albeit one convenient to take the fall if the two are in the same figurative boat. This is especially evident in episodes where the two wind up traveling to the same far-away locale, only for the duck to get the worse end of the deal against whatever antagonist of the deal. Perhaps nowhere was this more famous than in 1957’s Ali Baba Bunny, where Daffy actually gets the the treasure of a sultan at the end of the short, only to enrage a genie he failed to take seriously (that greedy ego was talking!) and simultaneously, Bugs wisely bails while the duck meets his unfortunate fate, which leaves him shrunk to a tiny size, famously clutching a pearl screaming “It’s mine! All mine!

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“Ho! Ha ha! Guard, turn parry, dodge, spin, thrust-” -“Robin Hood” attempting to show off his bo staff skills before crushing his own beak

One of the more fun parts about Daffy was his ability to take on different personas and skills, despite the shifting perception of him from madcap protagonist to jilted second wheel behind his forever rival in Bugs Bunny. One episodes, he’d be a noir detective, partnered with Porky Pig (Rocket Squad, 1956); in another, he was the flamboyantly silly space adventurer Duck Dodgers, which helped spawn an early 2000’s spinoff of the same name, and yet another time, he was a parody of Robin Hood, trying and failing to be the fullest example of Sherwood Forest’s most infamous bandit. Daffy may have had some distinct eras as highlighted, but his versatility as a character simply stands out. Outside of Bugs Bunny and to a lesser extent, Porky Pig, no one appears in more different situations through the Merrie Melodies more often than Daffy, and this is especially notable when you consider the rest of the Looney Tunes cast, or even other characters from that time period. In turn, Daffy’s characterization, while consistent with whatever portrayal of the character that the directors wanted in a given short, did not affect his unpredictablity, or that innate ability to simply have everything go right- or very wrong for him. In this sense, the duck is also one of the purest expressions of cartoon making, or the animation process- a pure, unbridled blur in motion where everything about him is about the humor and the punchline, the entertainment and the show, and no higher purpose exists in his realm than to steal the show, be it good or bad.

 

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“Buster, it may come as a complete surprise to you, but this is an animated cartoon!”- Daffy Duck, breaking the 4th wall in “Duck Amuck”

Yes, Daffy is an icon now, but before he was a trailblazer in animation as far as characters go, and we’d be foolish to be remiss of that. He started his life out as a character type that had never been featured on the level he was before him, and he continued to remain popular even as his roles changed and  the years kept rolling onwards, due in no small part to being a character able to take on myriad roles. While this piece focuses largely on classic Looney Tunes animation from the golden age of the show, his cultural presence continued on unabated even as the Looney Tunes entered a more quiet period in the 70’s and 80’s and well into the 90’s and 2000’s, where more modern takes on the ‘toons began to emerge. In newer iterations, Daffy tends to be often paired up once again with Bugs Bunny, perhaps on friendlier terms than they ever truly had in the original visions of animation luminaries like Chuck Jones or Friz Freling. However, the definitive iterations of Daffy still stem from his golden years, be it the “change-up pitcher” of unbridled mischief, or the greedy glory hog doomed by his own impatience and ego, and like the best of Looney Tunes, old episodes featuring the macabre waterfowl find themselves still impactful decades and generations later. It’s not every day a older character gets the royal treatment in this column, but if anyone is well deserving, it would be a pioneering character with an lasting legacy, and for once, it can be said Daffy won! This mad duck can treasure this victory, because well, in his words:

It’s all his, folks!


Like what you see? Love the Looney Tunes or Daffy? Leave a comment!

Today, AniB muses on blogging!

Some thoughts on the blogging experience so far.

Another off the cuff post…how unusual for me. Today though, I guess I’m going to do an introspective blog post, which is really unusual outside of the 10 Thoughts columns I’ve started doing regularly on Mondays. However, this is more about just blogging itself, which is honestly something I haven’t sat down and talked about at all in all my time doing writing on here. It’s been a hodgepodge of animation analysis, reviews, character pieces, the odd musing here and there, and hiatuses- but never actually about just the thought process and ideas of the writing that I’m doing at a given moment. So I figured I’d pull back the Wizard of Oz’s curtain a bit here, figuratively speaking, and speak candidly on where I’m at.

Dorothy and friends found an odd little man behind a curtain. The only thing you’ll find here are unfinished drafts, though.

Sometimes, I’m plumb out of ideas at a given moment. That doesn’t mean that I don’t have show reviews waiting to be done, or other ideas that won’t be written about, but occasionally, the current moment just doesn’t bear something I’d just love to write about at that particular time. Other people really thrive on this type of piece I’m doing now- the off the cuff, informal “stream of consciousness” type post which can make for some fairly entertaining reading, but considering my own goals for this place, I tend to gravitate towards hard analysis more often than not. To that, I hope people a) like such pieces as I keep going forward, and b) makes me curious if they want more of the informal type posts, especially as the focus here is as my tagline says- “exploring the world of animation with a fresh, fun, critical approach.” I’d also be curious if anyone would like to maybe collaborate on something at some point, but so far, it’s been mostly solo riding here, with a piece or two from a friend of mine who’s also invested in the success of this place.

Jet does his best impersonation of “The Thinker.”

Being a great writer, let alone a critic, is often a difficult and far more subjective sort of analysis than I’d like to admit. I’m obsessed with adding an objective lens to something in my work, but also acknowledge that despite having a unique grading system, my opinions are still that- opinions, though I try to make sure they’re solid (and hopefully good) ones at that. The review system I put in place was always intended to be the backbone on which everything else grew out from on this site, and it’s been really interesting to look back on what is now 36 show reviews and 3 movie reviews at the time of this writing (and I have a lot of shows just waiting in the wings for a more detailed treatment, trust me.) Sometimes, the highly variable amount of views I get on these can be really exciting or a bit disappointing (and I’m still waiting for a post to finally get 10 likes, the most I’ve ever gotten is 9, RIP), but at this point the most important aspect is that a consistent quality is maintained, regardless of whether a piece has racked up over 1,500 views, or less than 25, and that you, the readers, enjoy the content. Regardless of what I do on here, the audience is always the most important aspect of how my approach is continually shaped, because the sort of feedback I get can also help me structure how I’d like to approach my content now and in the future. There’s only one thing that’s worse than being a bad writer, and that’s being boring. (If you really like bad and boring writing, you probably like reading tax forms.)

Nagisa is here to assassinate “boring.” This also is an excuse to use an image in those sweet 3-E uniforms.

I picked up doing character analysis writing first as a good idea to expand my content, but was later surprised at the general popularity of these types of pieces as I went forward. They’re intense, but fun to write- you have to encapsulate a character perfectly in a concise sort of manner, and it requires quite a bit of time actually watching that character in action from a given show in order to write a good one. I think back often to the first one I did on Zuko from Avatar: The Last Airbender in the first months of my time blogging on here, and it remains ironically popular with daily hits despite the fact that it was probably my worst one (and I figured out analyzing in chronological order of events wasn’t necessarily the best way to go- you guys can correct me if I’m wrong, but you probably like going through different attributes tied into certain moments.) It was also my goal with those going forward to always choose a) characters that actually merited being written about (so they had to have a pretty good reason for a big spread), b) characters I wanted to read about (so if I was reading my own blog, what sort of characters would I really want reading material on?) and c) characters you guys want to see, if the demand rises. This was definitely the case with at least one of the characters I covered. Overall, all three of these general criteria I set for myself are equally relevant, but what really matters is if people enjoyed what they read, and if they leave a nice and/or thoughtful comment. Which leads me to my other major point…

Deku’s mumble storms are me when I’ve got an idea rolling along.

Discourse and dialogue is a big goal of mine. Animation is a medium that needs a wider legitimacy among the masses, because it is a serious form that can tell amazing stories in a very unique way. Sitting down to write about then requires keeping this sort of goal in mind, among many other aspects that are considered, because while I know people who love anime or Western animation, or Pixar animation, or something from Bones will obviously be the core audience of what I do, I’m always thinking about the random stranger who stumbles upon this place. The hope is that they can be transported on a new journey to somewhere they never quite imagined existed, in the best of ways, and perhaps discover something that piques their interest. And for the staunch animation fan, I hope the writing I do sparks dialogue, inspires your own thoughts and writing, if you are in fact a blogger as well, and makes you think a little bit more about the medium as you carry along enjoying it. For everyone involved though, it’s always the best when someone discovers a show they never explored because of a review, or maybe gained a greater appreciation of some aspect of something they didn’t think about, or even if they disagree and eloquently tell me as much. It’s all part of the writing process, but also the realm of animation discourse that needs to happen, and it’s very exciting.

So that’s a little look into how this endeavor of blogging is going for me! It’s been a lot of fun, quite a bit of work, but always worthwhile. I’m always keeping in mind a bigger picture, but I’m enjoying every little step of the journey as it unfolds, and it’s thanks to readers like yourselves! Here’s to a lot more great things to come,

-AniB


Like what you see? Have a thought you’d like to say? Leave a comment!