Preliminary Review: Star vs. The Forces of Evil (post season 3)

The princess of Mewni’s tale takes on a lot more depth.

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The Lowdown:

Show: Star vs. The Forces of Evil

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

(NOTE: THIS REVIEW HAS SPOILERS. READ AT YOUR OWN RISK.)

AniB’s thoughts:

In a change from my usual reviewing style, I’m actually talking more about some specifics of this past season of Star vs. The Forces of Evil. For the first time here on AniB Productions, I’m looking at a second review of a show I already did (after season 2), and it would be some sense of folly to rehash thoughts that existed after the prior season’s events, most of which has changed drastically at this point. However, for reference, here’s a link to post Season 2’s thoughts if you’d like to see what I said back then.

 

Season 3, in a word, was wild. A huge season for a franchise that was building massive expectations after its second season wound up panning out well for the most part, with the interesting choice to open with a movie (‘The Battle for Mewni”) which resolved a variety of long-standing plot questions, but in turn opened up some major new ones- and the ending of the season, when the unexpected revival of a certain antagonist paved the way for some truly intriguing plot points moving forward.

One of the stronger moves the show made in order to increase its scope and storytelling was actually moving away from Echo Creek as the main locale to Mewni. The “Star as an exchange student” plotline had run its course, and as a princess-in-training, the logical next step would be for her to slowly get more engaged in the kingdom she’d be running day to day. It also allowed the writers a chance to work far more with the “magical” characters on cast, such as Tom, Kelly, and the Magical High Commission, and in turn, the Earth characters not named Marco didn’t make too many appearances, outside of an episode featuring Marco’s parents, some appearances by Janna, and the final breakup of Jackie Lynn with Marco that was both inevitable (and sort of wrote her out of the show as a key character, but season 2 was her big shining moment.)

The aspect that impressed me the most though (and became very noticeable this season) were the layered implications of changing events in all the aspects where Star’s life had touched up to that point- from the Diaz family, who unexpectedly were revealed to be having another son, to the underflowing current of monster society that was in the background of the entire season (and show, for that matter.) Star vs. The Forces of Evil has slowly, and rather subtly, transformed much like the Mewman princess’s character growth- it has come a long way from the early season 1 episodes of Ludo and his band of monsters showing up to try and steal Star’s wand- a goal and stakes that seem positively petty to  the current situation at the end of Season 3.

 

Star’s progression as a show has been incredibly encouraging from season to season, continually building on its plot points in new and often unexpected ways. A season that began with a somewhat inaccurately titled “Battle for Mewni” and a presumptive threat in waiting from Ludo changed more drastically than a chameleon on a bad day- the return and fall of Toffee, the unexpected entrance of Eclipsa into the show, though her kind and playful demeanor made plenty of viewers give pause to the “Eclipsa is definitely evil!” theory; and then the dramatic re-emergence of Miss Heinous, previously relegated to second-tier villainy, as an incredibly important and dangerous force in the Mewni puzzle: revealed to be the princess Meteora, Eclipsa’s flesh and blood; a bastard child in the eyes of the kingdom at the the time to all but her mother due to her unique mixed-race lineage as a monster and Mewman.

Fundamentally, Meteora’s role was symbolically important in the show’s narrative: here was a flesh and blood example that threw the “established truths” about the relations of the two major groups residing in the kingdom in a sort of chaos, and furthermore, there was actually serious questions of legitimacy to right of the throne. This topic in particular actually was a strongly reoccurring theme this season, not only with Star’s return to Mewni, but Ludo/Toffee’s brief hostile takeover of the kingdom (the crown by war and force), and then later, by the re-emergence of Eclipsa who never died and her daughter, who by the general rules of heredity that exist in royal lines (and Mewni’s is passed through the females, not the males,) Eclipsa is actually the rightful Queen and her daughter has a claim to the throne as well. In turn, there’s a strong argument both Moon and Star in turn have no right to the throne, which is a thematic twist of brilliance borne out of “our so-called heroes have actually done terrible things and the so-called bad guys are like they are because of such things.” This isn’t your simple little Disney show anymore when you think about it…

 

The entire royal tangle is part of what makes the emerging political game so intriguing in this show, especially with the end of season reveal that was Globgar- Eclipsa’s monster husband, who like her was encased in crystal. Needless to say, a royal rumble of sorts might just be about to emerge- and season 4 is shaping up to be something very promising indeed, for a show that has really shaped up into something special.


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

 

Characterization: The show revolves around two main characters: the titular Star Butterfly, the free-spirited princess of a dimension known as Mewni, who is sent to Earth in an attempt for her to mature and grow as a young woman, and Marco Diaz, her host family’s son and best friend. Through three seasons however, the supporting cast has grown and played strong re-occurring roles in several episodes, particularly Star’s own family, who took on a much more prominent position in the show’s narrative starting with the end of season 2.

Star is a rebel princess through and through; and while she’s hardly a “by the book” type of individual, she possesses a great deal of natural talent in magic and a sense of freewheeling adventure. Her relationships she’s made on the show have continually developed, and as a result, become more complex- you could technically even say “multiversal.” None of the above has necessarily changed by the end of season 3, but Star has become (slowly) a more responsible individual, and one committed to the future of her kingdom in a way that simply wasn’t present when she first appeared in Season 1.  She’s shown extreme loyalty to her friends, a willingness to understand all sides of a story, and gained the full power of her Mewberty butterfly form as well. Star was truly outstanding in the past season.

Marco Diaz serves as Star’s best friend and exchange host on Earth in the first 2 seasons . Cautious and straightforward, Marco’s a good kid who is hopelessly naive about veiled references and hidden feelings- he’s a straight shooter. He’s also a red belt in karate after the events of season 2, and is inexperienced (as you’d expect from someone his age) about romance. In Season 3, Marco moves to Mewni and becomes Star’s squire, sworn to protect her from danger. While the “Starco” plotline makes some progress in certain episodes, it certainly wasn’t the biggest aspect of the season for me, though as for Marco as a person, his bravery and sense of loyalty might have never been stronger. However, he’s now actively dealing with the tensions of living in another dimension, meaning a visit or two back to Echo Creek wouldn’t be a bad thing for our young hero as his family awaits a new baby!

A much bigger role appears for Star’s family as mentioned in my thoughts above. Leading the way on that front is the increased involvement of Queen Moon, who from the end of season 2 takes on a whole new role that really elevates her from this stodgy queen figure to a ruler who bears the stresses of her kingdom usually with dignity, but also with a level of uncertainty and insecurity, considering her past and what she hopes to pass onto the future in Star. She’s less tolerant than her daughter though when it comes to dealing with threats, and this tendency in turn costs her dearly by the end of the season.

Something that actually bothered me this season was the role of River, Star’s father. He sometimes was portrayed to have extreme levels of incompetence to the point of stupidity, which I believed was at odds to his prior characterization in the first two seasons: a loving father, devoted king, and on the inside, a wild man with the heart of a lion and the occasional good advice. One thing did remain consistent though: A love of corn.

The supporting cast continues to be pretty zany, but it works in the frenetic style of the show. I’ll mention Ludo, the main “villain” of the show in season 1, who has gone through a very interesting little character arc of his own; Toffee, the actual main villain through “the Battle of Mewni”, and a variety of Star and Marco’s friends and acquaintances, which include Tom, the demon prince who wound up becoming Star’s official boyfriend again (and amazingly enough, great friends with Marco), Kelly, a girl who first appeared in Season 2’s “Goblin Dogs” and since then became more or less a part of the core “friend” group of the show, Janna, a troublemaking girl who becomes close with Star; Ponyhead, the wild princess who was Star’s first friend before coming to Earth, and Jackie, a friend of Star’s and longtime crush of Marco, though her future relevance is very much in question after the events of “Sophomore Slump.”  3.75/5 points.

 

Story quality: Episodic, with an underlying story that began to pick up much more strongly in the final 3rd of the first season. Since then, the show has developed an interesting plot about coming of age, dealing with relationships, and the pressures of royalty mixed in with its usual fun, wacky, and free-flowing style, meaning a solid balance of humor and seriousness. I wrote in my prior review “It’s an effective mix that I hope to see keep developing. So far, it’s a good start- not the level of season 1 Gravity Falls, but certainly worth a watch.” Since then, Star has really taken off on its own, and I’m impressed- it’s an enjoyable watch that stays unpredictable with plenty of twists that work. 4/5 points.

 

Themes: Initially, there’s this idea of mystery and magic mixed with the idea of growing up and friendship, which then becomes more complicated with time. At the end of season 3, there’s definitely a stronger development on the “growing up” aspect, but there’s also some royal lineage stuff that gets a history buff like your truly going, some latent questions about the truth of the Mewman kingdom and perhaps an undercurrent of “do we really understand and listen to all parts of our society?” Interesting developments continue to await. 3.75/5 points.

 

Don’t insult the viewer: The show’s bursting with a good sense of fun and energy while staying rather clean. The theme song and outro are both very catchy, and there’s something infectiously enjoyable about watching this show, which is hard to describe. As of season 3, a new outro was introduced and the opening recieved fresh graphics more in line with the show’s current events. 5/5 points.

Total Score: 20.75/25 (83%). A third season that unfolded with big-time expectations mostly delivered, setting up another intriguing season that may or may not be the last. Watching the development of this show has been rewarding, and it’s an entertaining watch that’s definitely worth picking up (and that’s for anyone who read this despite the spoiler warning!) For everyone else, three seasons are in the book. What comes next will once again determine how the show is viewed as a whole.


Like what you see? Big Star vs. fan? Leave a comment!

Random Episode Ramblings #2: “Duck Amuck” (Looney Tunes)

Happy New Year everyone! I hope all my readers had a great end of 2017, and I’m wishing everyone the best in 2018. And to start things off, we’re going back to a classic short that’s instantly recognizable to anyone who’s seen it… Also, it’ll answer the following question:

“Where’s the Western animated fare lately?”

Well, fret not. The second (and also long-awaited) episode review is a an absolute classic from one of the greatest animators in the history of the medium- Chuck Jones, and in turn, one of the more iconic outings for Daffy Duck, everyone’s favorite hard-luck egotistical mallard. The Looney Tunes are definitely something I’ve wanted to discuss for a while in writing, and rightfully so- the influence of this show and its characters in the history of animation cannot be understated.

Looney Tunes of course, is iconic in animation, and  for good reason. It was a pivotal show in writing the rules to the medium and featured some legendary talent that worked on it, along with unforgettable characters, especially Bugs Bunny and the aforementioned star of this episode- Daffy Duck, who in turn had an interesting history leading up to the creation of Duck Amuck.

While certainly worth an entire “What’s In a Character” piece, Daffy briefly had been the biggest star for Warner Bros. in the late 30’s and early 40’s, usurping the lead role in the common pairing he’d have with Porky Pig. He was the archetype of the lunatic-type character, giving audiences something very different in a protagonist, and on top of that had a fair bit of talent and wit. However, the latter decade quickly saw the meteoric rise of Bugs Bunny as the new main star of the Looney Tunes cast, and so Daffy in turn would find his role transformed into the eternal second fiddle and archival of Warner’s main star, bitterly hoping to be the main hero again but rarely succeeding, in large part thanks to an outsized hubris and always to plenty of laughs.

Duck Amuck therefore, was an interesting exercise in animation. Daffy had been well established and become widely known in the years since his introduction by the public; how would he fare though shoved into completely different contexts that both dug at the fundamental aspects of the form itself, and still generated a fair bit of humor? In turn, this episode delivered something that was simultaneously a deconstruction of cartoons, along with an all-time memorable Daffy episode.

“Scenery? Where’s the scenery?”

The short first starts off with Daffy armed and ready for what he assumes is a Three Musketeers parody, complete with the title cards to match, the swashbuckling hat and rapier. Unfortunately for him, no sooner does he begin his actions than does the scenery disappear, confusing the duck as he begins a episode-long argument with an unseen animator, who in turn makes it a very one sided debate…

The episode then continues to put Daffy through the paces of a variety of animated questions, all done in a fluid sequence of gags, orchestral hits and bits, and Daffy’s one sided dialogue. What, for example, happens when you take away his voice briefly? How about when he doesn’t even look like a duck anymore, save his voice? All in all, this episode proves to both be quintessential Looney Tunes but also unlike anything else in the show’s long run- where a literally unseen hand constantly and silently breaks the fourth wall. (Who the narrator is though, is a gag in it of itself. The answer might present itself quite clearly to long-times fans.)

“All right, wise guy. Who’s responsible for this?”

From my own point of view, Duck Amuck is not only brilliant, but required watching for those who want to understand the animated medium boiled down to its very nuts and bolts…all while making for a highly entertaining segment that indeed is very Daffy Duck despite it being nothing like any of his other outings. The pacing and flow of the short is superb, and the transitions (as well as those unseen questions) happen in rapid sequence, which in turn actually causes Daffy consternation, annoyance, and final outright anger at the mysterious source of his misfortune through the show.

Perhaps more interesting yet is still the fact that it’s an animated short that is about the medium itself, beyond Daffy as a front-man. The duck is self-aware that he’s in “an animated cartoon,” and loudly complains about the incompetence of the unseen artist who in turn is the animator himself- which means Duck Amuck in turn is an episode that’s also about the creativity and sorts of zany things animators can in fact do- with the template simply being “this is Daffy Duck in a Looney Tunes short. Go wild! And remember to make it funny!”

Duck Amuck’s simple brilliance continues to shine well over 60 years from its debut. In that sense, Daffy’s character survived intact in this short the final test for all animation- the passage of time- and the presentation and unmistakable presence of this classic ‘toon has succeeded with flying colors in that key regard. In fact, Duck Amuck found itself selected for preservation in the National Film Registry in the US Library of Congress- a rare honor for an animated cartoon- and only one of three episodes helmed by Jones that has that distinction. High praise, indeed.


Happy New Year! (The Bills made the playoffs!) Like what you see? Love the Looney Tunes or Daffy Duck? Leave a comment!

Review: Wander Over Yonder

Take a wild wacky trip across the galaxy.

The Lowdown:

Show: Wander Over Yonder

Network/years aired: Disney Channel/XD, 2013- 2016

AniB’s thoughts: The most recent and perhaps underrated work of Craig McCracken’s career is this show- the delightfully offbeat slice of life Wander Over Yonder. Borrowing notes from classic cartoons of yesteryear and a good sense of adventure, Wander managed to carve itself out as a sort of cult hit on Disney X.D., in the midst of more celebrated works airing at the same time, namely Gravity Falls and Phineas and Ferb, and in turn, was an understated cartoon, quietly bowing out in a summer finale in 2016.

Despite its reputation as a severely overlooked show, Wander featured some legitimate vocal talent on its cast, led by Jack McBrayer as Wander, (whose other well known voice acting role was as Wreck-It Ralph’s titular game companion, Fix-It Felix in the movie of the former’s same name.) A strange “wandering hippie man” as McCracken describes him, Wander is endlessly upbeat and looking to make friends wherever he goes and however improbable the situation… and there’s something very warm about his entire concept that just works, beyond the orange fur… He is accompanied everywhere by his inseparable pal, Sylvia, who prefers to to let her fists do the talking while concealing a gentler side as well.

There was also an actual character arc in the show for main baddie-turned likable incompetent Lord Hater, who despite his odd love-hate relationship with Wander (his antithesis) stayed deep down committed to his goal of being the “the #1 villain and baddest in the universe!” Accompanying him was also one of the better animated sidekicks in a while, the single-eyed Commander Peepers, voiced by none other than Tom Kenny, as the general of Hater’s “Watchdog” Army- a group of similarly single-eyed little men with unwavering devotion, a fair amount of cowardice, a surprising number of luxuries, and perhaps most notably, woefully underutilized by their big boss- who delegated all the hard day to day details to Peepers.

 

The show’s second and final season also saw the introduction of a brand-new and very competent villain as well (who I mention about in the character grading section), and the continued zany adventures of Wander and Sylvia, as well as Hater and his minions. Both seasons feature a lot of different planets and locales, and in many ways, it’s a more modern take on the old “space age” tales of classic cartoons the show riffs off of. Instead of shiny aluminum towers, Planet X’s and little green men though, Wander creates an immensely diverse place that we all get a glimpse into, while wondering aloud if the myriad of characters in the show are missing it all as well as it passes by. There’s a lot of heart and some deeper questions sometimes lurking in the fabric of this fun production, even among goofy inane pursuits ranging from Hater’s terrible sense of romance to Wander’s seemingly inhuman ability to drop *everything* at the cry of help. Needless to say, it’s a show that’s easily accessible and truly far more than just a footnote from its time period on Disney X.D.

 


 

Animation Quality: Traditional 2-D animation, with computer shading. Wander’s animation is gorgeously classic, a wonderful rich palette with varied worlds, characters and backgrounds all done in a simple, hand-drawn style. It works very well, and in some ways is remincient of the various locales in Samurai Jack, despite the different style of show and eras. There’s a lot of charm and color, along with some neat animation techniques which really make the show come alive. 4.5/5 points.

 
Characterization: While mostly covered in the thoughts section, the show rotates around the titular Wander, a sort of wandering “hippie” who crosses the galaxy looking to help people, have fun, and promote peace; his ride and best friend Sylvia, a “zbornak” who is a tough as she is loyal, and their “frienenemies,” so to speak- Lord Hater, the self-proclaimed villainous “Greatest in the Galaxy”, his second in command Commander Peepers, and a army of one-eyed henchmen known as the Watchdogs.

(SLIGHT SPOILERS:)

As of the second and final season, Lord Dominator, a ruthless conqueror bent on destroying the galaxy, takes over the main antagonist role. Unlike Hater, she outright seeks to destroy planets in an unstoppable march that she revels in. Dominator’s personal lack of friends may have more than a little to do with her ambitions, but she’s also quite powerful herself and genuinely enjoys being evil, so there’s that.

(END SPOILERS)

Truthfully, the entire show’s cast is exaggerated and funny in their traits, but the DNA of classic Looney Tunes and Hanna-Barbera run deep through its veins, and their hijinks correspond to that sort of humor, which is well-written. For this style of show, it’s very good. 3.75/5 points.

 

 
Story quality: Episodic, with continuity. Wander at its core has the DNA of classic Western cartoons in its storytelling, and each episode is naturally its own adventure. However, there is continuity in the show; past people and place reappear, adventures are referenced that already happened, and character development, along with a loosely long-term narrative exists. There’s no arcs, so to speak, but it’s a lot of fun to watch; it’s a show that’s smart without ever taking itself too seriously, knowing its own tropes. Indeed, the conclusion of the show is both a fitting end to the wacky people and places of the show while still giving a sense that the adventure never ends… 4/5 points.

 

 
Themes: There’s a lot of nice themes wedged into episodes about friendship, love, and ultimately many other valuable life lessons. It’s a very sweet show that finely balances these ideas on its trademark humor and zaniness. However, if you’re looking for a very densely packed thematic show, you’re in the wrong place. 3.25/5 points.

 
Don’t insult the viewer: “Fun” is the best descriptor to describe Wander. Smart, classic, and something all its own, it’s a cool ride. It also uses references and tropes quite well. 5/5 points.

 

 

Total Score: 20.5/25 (82%). Craig McCracken’s show is a entertaining blend of slapstick humor, frantic storytelling, and hints of past efforts such as Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends. It is one of the better efforts at the episodic format in recent years, and is worth a watch. (You’ll also find yourself whistling that theme song all day long!)


Like what you see? Have something to say about Wander Over Yonder? Leave a comment!

Review: Ed, Edd, n Eddy

One of the longest-running Cartoon Cartoons embodied the precociousness of youth.

The Lowdown:

Show: Ed, Ed n Eddy

Network/years aired: Cartoon Network, 1999-2009

The Lowdown: Memorial Day has passed, and June has arrived- meaning summer’s unofficially arrived for many people. To that end, perhaps no show embodied the idea of creative childhood summers better than Danny Antonucci’s Ed, Edd n Eddy, one of the first Cartoon Cartoons, and also the longest running one, sticking around in production for a full decade. In many ways, the show marked the beginning of one era and the end of another, serving as a pillar for Cartoon Network in its so-called “golden era” that occurred in almost exactly the same time frame the show existed.

To be sure, Ed, Edd n Eddy is quite different from other later cartoons that take place mostly or completely in the season. It’s not a Gravity Falls with a deep mystery element and overarching story, nor does it try to be, and while a show like Phineas and Ferb focuses on inventiveness and references, it’s almost certainly a successor in some ways to the Eds. The show, quite simply, is classic slice of life scenarios chock to the brim with slapstick, clearly defined personalities, and quite a bit of humor that really clicks once you’re over the age of 18. More specifically, the Eds are your neighborhood outcasts always looking to try a score a quick buck and social “cred” en route to jawbreakers- the hard candies are bloated to massive proportions in the show- and for the most part, fail miserably, often to some combination of disaster, abject humiliation, injury, or bad luck. Most remarkably despite all that, the Eds keep plugging away, one day (or episode) at a time.

For many kids growing up in the early-mid 2000’s, the Eds were probably a constant in your cartoon repertoire. There was some personal involvement in watching Antonucci’s fictional Cul-de-Sac as the Eds navigated life and attempted scams. For an episodic cartoon, there was an unusual attachment to the characters the more one watched- and certainly, most people had their favorites- Double D certainly stood out as the brains of the trio; there was the fear of the Kankers busting out of nowhere in any given episode, and quite a few people probably also wished Ed didn’t have the brattiest sister on Earth in Sarah. The show may have resonated strongly among the demographic precisely because it was an exaggerated version of many a peer group- and the creativity of childhood unbridled in a show with reckless abandon, and so it can be said Ed, Edd n Eddy beyond any other descriptor, is fun.

While the show primarily is set in summer, the 5th season took it in a different direction, bringing the Eds and their peers to school and into fall and winter- a fact sometimes lost in the classic episodes of the first four seasons. However, the best part was that Ed, Edd, n Eddy went out with a bang and at precisely the right moment to avoid seasonal rot in 2009’s Ed, Edd, n Eddy’s Big Picture Show– a movie that largely brought the Eds back to their roots while giving the series a fitting wrap-up. I wouldn’t quite call the series a classic, but it was very influential, and has quite a few individual episodes that are conceptually brilliant (and very funny). It’s a bit of a nostalgia trip to go back and watch the show now, but its trademark style still shines through.


Animation Quality: An old-school 2-D cel shading, which was uncommon at the point the show debuted and virtually unheard of in 2009. Danny Antonucci specifically wanted this style of animation in order to evoke a certain style and feel- and to that end, it successfully captures the old-time feeling of cartoons past, even if it isn’t perfect…but plenty good enough to bring the world of the Cul-de-Sac to life. 4/5 points.

 
Characterization: Episodic show, focused mainly on the three titular characters, all of whom fit a certain type of individual. Of the titular characters, Ed’s the nice, if not completely dumb, grunt; Edd, better known as “Double D” is the smart, nerdy one, and Eddy’s a straight con man.

Ed, while a simple and foolish kid mostly, is very kind, ridiculously strong and loves life. He’s got no sense of personal hygiene, loves monster movies, chickens and buttered toast, and most of all, hanging out with his best pals. Spouting usually nonsensical phrases and laughter, Ed every once in a while has a moment of enlightenment; it’s always entertaining when that happens.

Edd, better known as “Double D,” is the brains of the trio. Diametrically opposed to Ed in terms of cleanliness and knowledge, Edd’s a neat freak and the inventor behind the construction of the trio’s scams. He’s physically weak, but makes up for it in social adeptness, manners, and a kind disposition to please everyone…which comes back to bite him often in this show. He also wears a black sock cap; a running gag is no one has seen what’s under the cap save for the other Eds (and so it’s left to speculation.)

Eddy is the self-proclaimed leader of the Eds and the driver of the scams the trio perform through the show. He’s short in stature, but his greed for money and jawbreakers often dominate his personality. (SPOILERS: In reality, Eddy harbors an inferiority complex. He’s stuck in the shadow of his big brother and desperately wants to be liked by everyone…but is instead the object of derision from the other kids for much of the show.) Despite his flaws, Eddy is fond of his friends, and the Eds are an inseparable trio, despite their wildly different personalities and goals.

The rest of the cast of characters are entertaining enough, though as an episodic show  get varying amounts development for as long as the show aired. This consists of the other Cul-de-Sac kids that appear in every episode, and the Kankers, who are deliciously fun, if not ridiculously over the top, as the villains of the show.  3.5/5 points.

 
Story quality: Episodic, with some canon here and there, mainly pertaining to the Eds’ themselves, such as Double D’s hat and Eddy’s brother. Each episode is usually well paced and takes a page out of the slapstick book of humor, albeit more unsettling than the classics and not anywhere close to “adult fare.” Most episodes usually follow a formula, and so it’s good, not great. Entertaining is the best descriptor. 3.25/5 points.

 
Themes: This show is virtually void of most deeply engrossing themes…except it explores certain aspects of childhood and growing up quite well. There’s a shared brotherhood in the struggle for acceptance between the Eds, and perhaps a bit of a running meta-commentary on life. (Man, I’m not sure who’d want to live in that neighborhood.) There’s nothing super-objectionable though. 2.75/5 points.

 
Don’t insult the viewer: Ed, Edd, n Eddy is pretty funny, though it can be crude at points, and certain scenes can be unsettling…but that’s probably what Danny Antonucci was going for. The soundtrack also matches the fast-paced mayhem of the show well, and certain motifs are given to characters if you listen closely. 4.25/5 points.

 

 

Total Score: 17.75/25 (71%). Ed, Ed n Eddy was certainly an quantified success by ratings and seasons, but it is at its heart, an above-average cartoon with some notable flaws. Overrated slightly? Most definitely. Downright terrible? Not at all. “Above-average” seems to be a fair descriptor, and careful analysis seems to agree, as it does some things very well and preserves the sense of fun it always had some number of years later.


Like what you see? Was Ed, Edd n Eddy a favorite of yours? Leave a comment!

Review: The Huckleberry Hound Show

The blue hound with a Southern drawl proved influential- but how does he hold up today?

The Lowdown:

Show: The Huckleberry Hound Show

Studio/ years aired:  (Hanna-Barbera), 1958-1962

AniB’s thoughts: Oh yeah, I’m going old-school here. In sharp contrast to samurais, a classroom of amateur assassins doubling as junior high students, or if you want to go back further, a pair of twins in a town full of mystery, it’s all the way back to circa 1958 with one of William Hanna and Joseph Barbera’s classic cartoons: Huckleberry Hound.

Classic cartoon aficionados will recognize this distinctively even-keeled blue hound with the signature Southern drawl and a love for the tune “My Darling Clementine,” and while he’s acknowledged as a timeless character, Huckleberry himself is really straightforward. He either gets outwitted or outwits his adversary of the day, with a trademark dry commentary and a personality that never gets too high or too low. And Huckleberry Hound actually brings me to a conversation I’ve been wanting to have for a while: How should we view classic cartoon characters?

Characters like Huckleberry Hound are archetypes of later shows- the bedrock in which slapstick humor of certain varieties and the bare-bone plot structure of the “slice of life” show came from. It’s fair to say that Huck’s a classic character instantly from the Hanna-Barbera library, but at the risk of probably offending some purists, he hasn’t aged that impressively. The Looney Tunes (the original run of shows, right up through 1969), for instance, still retain their charm quite well over 50 years later, and there’s a sort of classic nostalgia that can’t be replicated, such as the Wile.E. Coyote- Roadrunner chase sequences. Huckleberry Hound on the other hand, has some variety, but Huck’s heavy handed attempts to solve the plot of the day seem to fall somewhat flat, especially with a rogues gallery that’s more generic than anything, and animation that even for the period, seems somewhat lazy at times. The classics are the classics, but there’s nothing wrong in pointing out a flaw or , especially if other shows of the period did it better. However, the show did pioneer one aspect of animation better than almost any other show: breaking the 4th wall. Huckleberry was known to often turn and talk to the audience about his plans, and while other shows certainly did this sort of tactic, it was the bread and butter of the blue hound. Additionally, the show was credited with helping Hanna-Barbera grow into becoming a household name (along with Yogi Bear), and actually won an Emmy in 1960 for children’s programming, while simultaneously helping animation’s push into made-for TV series, and so, Huck’s influence is not to be unappreciated.

The Huckleberry Hound Show was quite successful in its own day, and like most successful Hanna-Barbera characters, Huck re-appeared in a number of spin-offs down the line, especially in the 1970’s (where the company got really successful, but lazy, as the major game in town in Western animation…and it all had to be watered down “for kids.”) The show aired re-runs for a long time on Boomerang, Cartoon Network’s sister channel, after the acquisition of Hanna-Barbera properties by Time Warner, but it may not now, given Boomerang’s propensity to air other classic properties. It’s worth appreciating for what it was (a period piece with some influence) and to add breadth to your animation viewing palette, but I suspect most experienced viewers will either find it to be too simple, or delighted for the same reason.


1. Animation Quality: Traditional 2-D animation, hand painted backgrounds and drawings. Everything was drawn frame-by frame, and so, a lot of classic techniques are on display, such as the static backgrounds that are scrolled along to give the illusion of motion. It’s pretty standard for the late ’50’s- early 60’s, and so, it grades out average as well. 2.5/5 points.

2. Characterization: Essentially, the entire section falls on how strong of a character one thinks Huckleberry Hound is.

Huckleberry is an erstwhile individual who usually serves in a variety of professions which change depending on the episode and setting, from a cattle rancher to a policeman (on several occasions) to even a knight in medieval times. Typically, he’ll be pitted against the episode “antagonist(s)” who is/are the cause of the conflict, and slapstick comedy ensues when Huck attempts to resolve said issue. He’s relatively cut and dry outside of the characteristics mentioned in my thoughts. Still, those characteristics, from the Southern drawl to the 4th wall breaking, gave him a distinct personality and made him a classic cartoon character; unfortunately, the rest can’t be said of the rotating generic cast. 3.25/5 points

3. Story quality: Episodic shorts with plenty of cutaway gags. Huckleberry Hound was a typical work in story structure for the period, and wasn’t terrible, but a bit simple, given Western cartoons’ propensity to target kids exclusively in shows at the time. 2.5/5 points.

4. Themes: Thematically, the show is very simple, largely in part because the story and characters are simple too. Essentially, it’s the classic “good guy” wins (mostly, or sort of) and the “bad guy” (or antagonist figure, most, if not all of Huck’s opponents could be described as mischievous or flat characters, rather than truly “evil”) either gets his just desserts or “loses.” This would be docked more for being rather cliche and shallow if the show aired 40 years later, but considering the period and target audience, it’s very difficult to fault too heavily weakness in this area. 2/5 points.

5. Don’t insult the viewer: Huckleberry Hound is a clean show, has classic slapstick humor, and is simple fun, if nothing else. It doesn’t have a snazzy soundtrack or a crazy premise, but it’s got a decent main character and a nostalgia factor. 5/5 points.

Total Score: 15.25/25 (61%). The score may seem somewhat low for a “classic show,” but The Huckleberry Hound Show is a mixed package of a period piece that’s quite dated in some respects, and still retains some charm and innovation in others. There are other cartoons from the period that did plenty of the things it did better, such as the aforementioned Looney Tunes, but it’s worth a look if you love retro shows, classic characters, or a further look into the history of animation.


Like what you see? Love any classic or retro cartoons from pre-1980? Leave a comment!

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

“Grunkle Stan…I trust you.”

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

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

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


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

 

Review: Samurai Jack

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

The Lowdown:

Show: Samurai Jack

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Animation Quality: A unique 2-D animation, mask free (so no outlines). Season 5 featured a refreshed, upgraded version of the original style, which took the show to another level aesthetically. Samurai Jack is a dazzling array of environments, characters, and circumstances. It features fluid action sequences, and most importantly, is able to successfully convey the story with its settings and animation. They did a marvelous job- both during the original run, and through the final season.  4.75/5 points.
Characterization: Jack himself is a wonderfully simple but complex protagonist, who is continually developed as a character in every episode during the original seasons as the stoic samurai. In the 5th season, he is forced to confront despair and fading hope head on, and so the darkness he fights is not only Aku’s, but that of his own heart. Unparalleled in combat and trained to the peak of human perfection, his goal is to return to his home in the past and defeat Aku.

 

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

 

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

 

The rest of the show features a quirky, interesting group of characters, with the occasionally recurring one (the Scotsman comes to mind). As the show is primarily focused on Jack’s development, it does this very well, often letting the animation action convey Jack’s personality with an economy of spoken words.  The writers also are successful at making side characters episodically interesting. 4.5/5 points.
Story quality: Beautifully scripted, epically varied in its narration, and ever focused on Jack’s character development and the situations he’s put in, it’s perfect in the first 4 seasons. With the shift in tone and format the 5th season brought, a tightly scripted narrative arc told hold over 10 episodes and while the pacing feels arguably rushed to an extent at the end, the ending is still mostly fitting and remarkable.  4.5/5 points.
Themes: A classic story of good and evil, but done with the sort of complexity developed through Jack (and Aku) that really grabs one’s attention. There’s a focus on the test of one’s limits, and the belief in overcoming the odds for a good end. Everything the show explores, it tends to do well at thematically. “Hope” especially is focused on as a theme…and the struggle to keep that flame alive really becomes prevalent as time goes on in the narrative.  4.5/5 points.
Don’t insult the viewer: A gorgeous show, Samurai Jack is a stellar achievement in animation and writing. It was wonderful to see it come back and receive a proper conclusion after many years, and it was well-worth the long wait. 5/5 points.
Total Score: 23.25/25 (93%). Genndy Tarkovsky’s masterpiece, Samurai Jack is a triumph of Western animation and perhaps the finest of the old Cartoon Cartoons lineup on Cartoon Network. Masterfully inspired by many different animated styles and themes before it, the story of a lone samurai in his quest to defeat the ultimate evil continued to age gracefully up into its revival season, and then finished the tale with a satisfying conclusion.


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