Review: Bleach

The highly popular shonen anime has its obvious strengths and flaws.

The Lowdown:

Show: Bleach

Studio (Network)/ Years aired: Studio Pierrot(Adult Swim-Toonami)/ 2004-2012

(Minor spoilers ahead. Not anything “big-picture.”)

AniB’s thoughts: Ah, another of the “big” shonen anime from the past 15 years- the tale of Ichigo Kurosaki and his friends as they’re plunged into the battles of Soul Reapers- the shinigami of this universe- and Hollows, corrupted souls who devour others and wreak havoc. Essentially, Bleach hit the jackpot in popularity when it first started its run back in 2004; this was the era of the long-format shonen franchise especially when it came to the West, and so three shows in particular defined this idea in the wake of Dragon Ball Z’s dub that made shonen relevant on a large scale in the West: Naruto, One Piece, and this show. While Bleach was key to the era, it also would come to close a chapter too- by the time the show finally came to an end in 2012 after an exhaustive 366 episode run- enough for every day in a leap year- the anime scene had greatly changed, and while one of this blog’s favorite shows- Hunter x Hunter– was techincally an ongoing shonen, the idea was largely exhausted, save for the continuation of already established franchises (the same two already mentioned- Naruto and One Piece), and in the past year and a half, the revival of Dragon Ball with Super coming into existence.

Bleach itself is an interesting show that shows both the good and bad effects of becoming massively popular. While there are generally interesting elements in the show- such as the dynamics between the world of living, the Soul Society (where the Soul Reapers and the souls of the departed reside), and Hueco Mundo- the Land of the Hollows- the pacing and fillers represent the side that prevents it from finding its true peak form. There is in fact, some really decent character development- and a few individuals in particular (especially Kisuke Urahara) have outstanding backstory and more depth than you’d imagine. The problem is getting there. The Hueco Mundo arc of the show, as an example, lasts for around 1/3 of the entire show (including fillers), has battles that often take the span of 5-10 episodes to complete- and contains lots of said battles and long staredowns. (In that regard, Bleach got DBZ syndrome.) In fact, doing a quick calculation of canon material vs. filler (meaning anime-original content/non-manga material here, even if well done), 191 episodes can be considered “canon” to watch the entirety of Bleach– a measly 52.1% of its run time, constituting a bare majority of its episode. Of course, hardly all the extra material is terrible- the first major filler arc (Bounts) is relatively entertaining, and others will point to the Zanpankto Tales arc as another example. Regardless of the quality however, the interruptions to the main storyline can be rather jarring and unwelcome- and while this is a result again of Bleach’s popularity and the need for the manga and anime to align, it also constitutes quite a bit more tediousness to what is already a very lengthy watch.

When Bleach gets going though, it’s got some very entertaining action sequences when they finally do get to the point (such as Ichigo and Byakuya Kuchiki’s fight in the picture for this article), and the payoffs are usually decent for very long buildups. I’ll also be the first to say that I very much like the character design in this show, as it tends to reflect both personality and pleasing aesthetics into one. The mechanics of zanpakto– the special weapons usually in the form of a katana Soul Reapers wield- is also very interesting, as are the distinctions between classes of Hollows as another example of universe-building. Overall, the plot stays straightforward despite all the detours; the usual shonen tropes and power-ups are very much present, and if you’ve got the guts for a very long watch, you ultimately might enjoy Bleach very much despite its predictability at times (and I did, all things considered.) And if you’ve already watched it…I’ll just say I love the way these guys say “Bankai…”

 


Animation Quality: Modern 2-D anime. Bleach is a very comfortable show to look at; it’s got a typical style for a shone anime, good colors, and unique enough character models. Some of the action sequences are also outstanding. However, it is not particularly groundbreaking in any one aspect. 3.75/5 points.

 
Characterization: As is typical for a show of this style, Bleach has a massive cast which it juggles; for the purpose of this analysis, this section will just canvas the main characters.

Ichigo Kurosaki is the main character; noted for his bright orange hair and straightforward personality, he becomes a Soul Reaper, or shingami one fateful night after meeting Rukia Kuchiki. Driven by a powerful despite to protect those he cares about and loves at all costs, Ichigo’s the consummate description of a shonen protagonist: timely powers, generally a badass, naturally gifted and very straightforward as a character, which isn’t to say he’s bad… just fit for the role he plays.

Rukia Kuchiki serves as the Soul Reaper who initially unlocked Ichigo’s shingami powers and set in motion the events of the show. Often showing a mock callous or serious side, she also cares deeply about her friends; she becomes great friends with Ichigo and his human allies (particularly Orihime) and has a special connection with another Soul Reaper, Renji Abarai…

Speaking of Renji, he’s a hot-headed impulsive Soul Reaper not at all unlike Ichigo personality-wise. Determined and stubborn, Renji is longtime friends with Rukia, is tough as nails, and has his own goals to reach, based on events in his past and through his life.

Speaking of Ichigo’s human pals, there are a few, but in this case it’s referring to the aforementioned Orihime, “Chad” (whose actual name is Yastoru Sato), and Uryu.

Orhime Inoue is a kind, gentle soul who experienced great loss at a young age (both her parents and her older brother are dead.) She greatly wishes to become strong, and acquires the mysterious power  “Shun Shun Rikka,” which in turn are 6 guardian pixie..things who allow her to “reject” any phenomenon or injury.

Chad immediately upon his first appearance is noted to be an abnormally strong, big guy for his age. Half Mexican and half Japanese, he develops powers similar to that of a Hollow, which physically manifests on his arm. He’s been friends with Ichigo from a young age and always vowed to have his back…

Finally, Uryu Ishida is a Quincy-  a human who exterminates Hollows with specialized spirit energy techniques manifested usually as bows and arrows. Because of Quincies having a long-held grudge against Soul Reapers (and perhaps rightfully so, just watch the show), Uryu initially starts off as Ichigo’s fierce rival, but quickly turns into a close friend and trusted ally.

The rest of the cast is just as diverse and interesting, if not even more so (the captains of the Gotei 13 and their lieutenants could fill a whole column themselves.) I’ll give special mention to Aizen here- he’s the big bad of the show. (Regardless of whether you watched Bleach or not yet, that doesn’t give away much- and if you have, you know.) 3.5/5 points.

 

 

Story quality: Massive overarching story structure for the main plot. The non-filler material is pretty entertaining, and Aizen makes for a great main villain. The major problem with Bleach’s story-telling is the massive amount of filler (which accounts for nearly half the episodes in the show’s 366 episode run); an agonizing tendency to take its sweet time getting to, and concluding climactic showdowns in the story, and certain major plot holes, that while resolved ultimately in the manga (as the Bleach anime ended prematurely) still exist here. (SPOILER: Also, there is a strong belief Bleach should have ended with Aizen’s defeat instead of doing a timeskip in the anime, but what’s done is done.) 3/5 points.

 

 

Themes: There’s a great deal of focus on the usual tropes: Getting stronger, protecting what you believe in, surpassing your limits, sacrifice… it’s not anything really that new, but Bleach does a relatively good job with these ideas. 3.25/5 points.

 

 

Don’t insult the viewer: Filler, filler, and more filler. Seriously,  the amount of non-canon material is irksome to no end, despite the relatively good quality of some of it. Bleach also inherited DBZ syndrome for some of its battles being drawn out; and the violence was intentionally toned down (whether or not that’s a good thing is probably a personal preference.) Some really catchy tracks repeat through the show- you’ll know them when they play. 4/5 points.

 
Total Score: 17.25/25 (70%). Bleach is a typical shonen anime with some interesting characters and a curious enough story, but mostly suffered from its own massive popularity, due to the obscene amount of filler and the tedious length of certain arcs. However, if you’re looking for a long watch show and like lots of sword fights and battles with a good cast and a decent story, Bleach is a good choice.

Review: Ben 10

It started when an alien device did what it did…(and spawned a franchise!)

EDITOR’S NOTE: This review encapsulates the original series that aired from 2005-2008. This is NOT about any of the successor shows spawned in the franchise, or the reboot of the same name that started in 2016. We’re going old school!…if you can call a show that’s the same age as Avatar: The Last Airbender that.

The Lowdown:

Show: Ben 10

Network/years aired: Cartoon Network/ 2005-2008

AniB’s thoughts: Long before Ben 10 became a ubiquitous household name type of franchise, this was the show spawned by Cartoon Network and Man of Action (the same people behind Teen Titans) that started it all. Yet another take on the classic “summer vacation” trope, the show follow the titular Ben Tennyson, his cousin Gwen and their grandpa Max on an RV road trip that ultimately delves straight into the realm of science fiction. I’ll be the first to admit that this show captured my imagination as a kid, between the alien transformations of Ben, the increasingly strange locales the show featured…and this super catchy theme song:

(It goes to about 1:05; this video also has slight variants.)

What’s notable is that the show almost beyond a doubt has the highest animation production values of any of the Ben 10 iterations. The Teen Titans inspiration is clearly there in terms of style, and while it’s clearly a Western show not veering into the realm of Japanese anime, the detail as well as the story arc progression certainly resemble it. The show came in the later years of “classic Cartoon Network,” a golden period that in these years had the really amazing “CN City” bumper campaign (seriously, check them out if you’ve never seen them) and was able to stand out thanks to a fairly unique premise, the quality of the animation, and the fact that it carved its own unique niche at a moment in time when Cartoon Network was loaded with good to great shows (and obviously some bad ones, but that’s true of any network over the years.)

Another distinct factor about Ben 10 was that Ben in fact, had access to only 10 aliens for much of the show. Whether it was the design team, the marketing team, or the writers, the franchise became known for pumping out a new set of transformations for Ben to take in each iteration of the universe, but as our lovely intro above makes clear, those original 10 were the stars and remained fairly static save one major change until later in the show’s run. What was established here however (and was smart, as well as logical from a writer’s point of view), was that each alien had a distinct personality and different strengths, which mixed with Ben’s own 10-year old attitudes and ways of doing things, and due to his inexperience, the Omnitrix (the watch-like device that allowed him to transform) sometimes would lock him into a different transformation that he did not want to use…and all his changes had a time limit, with a subsequent cool-down time. The last part was more a narrative failsafe to make certain problems have a more compelling way to be solved, and one episode actually teases this when Ben find a master code to get rid of the time limit, only to have to reset the watch by the end.

At its heart, Ben 10 is a unique show that does some unexpectedly original twists on ideas normally seen in comics. There’s a secret organization (and secrets in general), otherworldly villains, unexpected twists, and of course, the hero origin story. To a 10 year old boy watching, it really did excite me…and it’s still a solid show today, if drowned out by the successful spinoffs that succeeded it. You might just want to find out “what an alien device did what it did” and go on a summer vacation that once again, breaks the trope into new territory.


Animation Quality: Traditional 2-D animation, with computer shading, some rich detail and colors and some really creative design work. Ben 10 looked fantastic in the various locales and places it spanned; the characters themselves are aesthetically pleasing and it leads to a fine effect overall. 4.5/5 points.

 

 

Characterization: Being the original series, Ben is a bit of a jokester, looking for adventure (and occasionally trouble) and is in all respects, a fairly typical 10 year old personality wise. He’s got a good heart though, and a strong sense of justice. While he loves his newfound alien powers, he’s rather impulsive and can become arrogant from time to time, a trait that often gets him in trouble.

Gwen, Ben’s cousin, has a love-hate relationship with him, but it is developed through the series to show despite acrimonious appearances, they do really care for each other. Unbeknownst to her for most of the series, Gwen also possess certain “special abilities…” though I won’t say what they are!

Grandpa Max is an amicable old man with a deep, mysterious past that compromises quite a bit of the story. Highly fond of his niece and nephew, he’s determined to have a great summer with them in his beat-up old RV, but what that entails exactly is even more than he bargained for… (Fun fact: His voice actor, Paul Eiding, is also the Colonel in the Metal Gear Solid series of video games!)

Finally, Ben’s rogue gallery is pretty good, especially his archenemy from season 1, Vilgax, and Kevin Levin (who in the franchise, actually has a much bigger role, but serves as an enemy in this series.) 3.75/5 points.

Story quality: There’s a clear story and canon, but the episodes can stand alone as well as episodic events. To that end, they usually are quite humorous, action packed affairs. The backstory is decently solid, if not convoluted, but it’s all very pleasing when it comes together. 4/5 points.

 

 

Themes: There’s notions of family, sticking together and the like, plus heroic ideas of justice, but there’s also a fairly dark sci-fi element to the whole show. It’s gripping enough, but perhaps not next level compelling in terms of themes. 3.5/5 points.

 

 

Don’t insult the viewer: Ben 10 isn’t always the easiest thing to digest from time to time due to the sometime jarring shifts in location and objectives, but stays fairly clean and inoffensive. The theme song is addictively catchy as can be, and the overall product avoids talking down to its audience.  4.5/5 points.

 

 

Total Score: 20.25/25 (81%). Ben 10 was, and still is a highly successful endeavor that spawned an entire franchise with this extremely solid first entry. Packed with action, written with some memorable characters, and featuring a diverse cast of alien creatures, this sci-fi ‘toon stayed strong.


Like what you see? Are you a fan of the Ben 10 franchise? Leave a comment!

Review/Rant: Breadwinners

Duck soup: A terribly misguided knockoff of Regular Show.

The Lowdown:

Show: Breadwinners

Network/years aired:  Nickelodeon, 2014- 2016

AniB’s thoughts: Once again, some balance is being brought to the reviews with the perfectly awful Nicktoon Breadwinners. Like Fanboy and Chum Chum (which I blasted in a previous review), this show has very little going for it. In fact, the picture I chose for this article sums up how the entire endeavor felt: That our main characters, Sway-Sway and Buhduece (seriously, that’s their names) both smile through abject stupidity that they are often at the heart of while being oblivious to the disaster around them!

Nick seems to have a weird obsession with buddy-buddy shows in the past decade, with the common denominator that they’re terrible. Fanboy and Chum Chum was one; this show is another, and for good measure, I’ll throw Sanjay and Craig on that pile to give everyone a sense of the turgid overflow of awfulness coming from the general direction of whoever green-lit these endeavors. The story behind this one is almost just as bad as the Adventure Time pass that Fanboy beat out; Breadwinners was chosen to be developed into a full-time production from an online short animation that frankly was average at best (and that’s being generous), and highly obnoxious at worst:

(Even without watching it, that screen freeze right there sums it up better than anything I can say.) As an online short, it was not anywhere close to a sure bet to be developed into a full-time series , and frankly, there wasn’t enough substance there to do so. In my mind, the first mistake that led Breadwinners to be a poor series was the fact that it was chosen at all- something that should have never happened. Unfortunately, it did, and so every other valid criticism falls squarely on its misguided Nickelodeon run.

In a lot of ways, the same criticisms that applied to Fanboy apply here: Poor animation, underwhelming storytelling, non-existent themes, and in the case of this show, a very uncomfortable obsession with butts and flatulence. I get the whole dumb network trend of the past however many years that “young boys are our audience, they love this stuff, it’s so damn funny!…” but it’s really not. I don’t want anything related with the posterior to be vitally important in a plotline or a characterization, because it also tells me your show likely sucks ass (pun intended) and that the writers are pandering for cheap laughs from a narrow demographic who network executives might be surprised to learn, like shows that don’t play down to them. This sentiment makes all the more sense when you consider its direct competition over its run were shows like Gravity Falls and Phineas and Ferb from Disney XD, or Adventure Time and Steven Universe from Cartoon Network, using a few well-known examples. (And that’s just within the intended target demographic.) This show never had the potential to hook in a larger crowd with sophomoric humor, the usual sub-standard Flash animation, and writing that oftentimes left yours truly with his face in his hands. Fortunately, its misguided run came to a merciful end last year; both our TV sets and cartoon ducks everywhere are safe once again.


 

Animation Quality: 2-D Flash animation mixed with what can only be described as clip art. If the characters of the show didn’t outright tell you, you’d be hard-pressed to tell they were ducks; and frankly, the main cast looks (and feels) like a poor man’s version of Regular Show’s cast. Visually conflicting, and cheaply produced, it’s not eye-bleeding, but not close to good either. 1/5 points.

 
Characterization: For those who care, the show follows the titular “breadwinners,” a pair of ducks named Sway-Sway and Buhdeuce, who deliver bread to various citizens of their world, and are obvious knock-offs in many respects, of Mordecai and Rigby from the aforementioned Regular Show, lacking the same sort of charm, development and supporting cast, while attempting to fill the void with more toilet humor and butts than any one show ever needs…

Sway-Sway is the taller one. He’s technically the main protagonist, and while marginally more competent than his partner, he’s still relatively dim-witted and reckless at his job, passion non-withstanding. (It turns out that he actually inherited the family buisness- why anyone though this was a good idea is beyond me.)

Buhdeuce is the short one. Enthusiastic as all-get out, the kid has an obsession and reliance on using his “booty.” (There is no context to make that sound good.) Even more reckless and foolish than Sway-Sway, no one will ever mistake him for one of the great deutragonists of animation…

The supporting cast is unremarkable. Not the worst crew ever, but still fairly poor. 1/5 points.

 
Story quality: Episodic in nature, no continuity or canon to speak of. Where do I start? From unoriginal plot lines to crude solutions to some problems, the plots are uneven, and more serious characters are shoved aside quickly as cheap gags. The show’s attempts at humor tend to be pitiful; as mentioned, the toilet humor is off-the charts bad and distracting.  And the pop-culture references and slang are not going to keep aging well. The dialogue is cringe-worthy, even for this style of show. It still maintains a basic story structure though, so it saves the grade form utter annihilation. 0.5/5 points.

 
Themes: Power of friendship? Honestly, aside from weak offerings and a crash course in how much flatulence two ducks (?) can make, this show offers next to nothing, except constantly boring, low expectations. There’s no character growth, and nothing to write home about whatsoever. 0/5 points.

 
Don’t insult the viewer: Butts, farts, and burps. Not my idea of appointment television. The music is meant to capture some of the 8/16-bit video game era style, but in this show, it doesn’t always come off as charming. At least the colors are nice… which is code for “this is wasting my time.” 1.5/5 points.

 

 

Total Score: 4/25 (15%): Another awful Nicktoon from the decade following 2005, Breadwinners was chosen off of a very average web video, which frankly didn’t have the depth to be a full time series. Lacking coherence and originality in most facets, Breadwinners is a misnomer for “losing.” It you really wish to watch a plot-of the day show, there are far better choices.

Review: Hunter × Hunter (2011)

A dynamic anime that cannot be described simply as “shonen,” but rather, as an experience.

The Lowdown:

Show: Hunter x  Hunter (pronounced simply as “Hunter Hunter”)

Studio (Network)/ Years aired: Madhouse (Adult Swim-Toonami), 2011-2014;  USA 2016-

EDITOR’S NOTE:  This review encompasses the 2011 reboot of the Hunter x Hunter series, and is considered the definitive version of the anime. This review is also unaffiliated with the 1999 series, or its subsequent OVAs, despite covering all of the same material, and then some.

(Some SPOILERS ahead. Nothing too big, but I mention some arc names and certain characters. Skip ahead to the grading section if need be.)

AniB’s thoughts: If you’ve been reading the comment sections of different articles on this blog, or popped over to the Twitter feed, you might have figured out a Hunter x Hunter review was coming at some point. And I’ll be the first to say that I was beyond excited to write about this fantastic, fantastic show. It’s certainly in the top 3 anime I’ve watched and unequivocally the best shonen for a variety of reasons, and I say this not only because I absolutely love this show and franchise, but because it merits the praise, wholeheartedly and without conditions. It starts with the absolutely fantastic characters, stretches to a story that flips skillfully to different genres and even narrative styles in a way that flows cohesively; preserves the original vision of Yoshihiro Togashi, the manga writer and creator of HxH, and does it with aplomb and essentially no filler despite 148 episodes of action-packed, narratively exciting goodness.

Hunter x Hunter succeeds better than any other shonen out there chiefly because of its characters and story. Gon is a shonen protagonist in the traditional sense, and this is evident especially during the first arc of the show (the Hunter Exam) where the possibilities of the world begin to be revealed and a great deal of foundational character building takes place. It is after this point that the show begins to shift rapidly, from the high-stakes training ground that is Heavens Arena, to Yorknew City, and later into the insanity that is the Chimera Ant arc, and what all these disparate locales share in common is a sort of real-worldliness that doesn’t exist usually in shonen. What I mean by saying this is that while Gon and other Hunters in the show gain a special power called nen, it has specializations and drawbacks; and ultimately, the characters are still human- highly skilled, but never able to outright overpower an obstacle- and in the rare cases they do, there are terrible, real consequences that follow. In terms of narrative direction, the arcs are not at all shonen. Yorknew City, for one, has an action-thriller feel, with hints of noir thrown in. Not what you’d expect from this type of show normally…

However, the real hook, the part of HxH that gets you into the show and keeps you enthralled right through to the end and beyond, is the characters. There are four main characters in the show- the aforementioned Gon, Killua Zoldyck, Kurapika, and Leorio. While I’ll go into more detail individually in the grading section on these characters, it is Gon and Killua’s unshakable, organic, natural, and absolutely well developed friendship that takes the cake in the show as a backbone to everything else. It gives a more relevant framing to Gon’s ultimate goal, is key in developing Killua’s own character arc (which might I add, is uniquely fantastic), and is severely tested by various challenges through the show which in turn shows the growth of said characters. Mind you, an entire novel could be written on the characters of Hunter x Hunter alone (from Hisoka and his eccentrically unique, but strangely delightful character, to the arc involving the Chimera Ant King, Meruem.)

In a decade defined so far by weak performances from anime studios across the board, and a disturbing influx of fanservice being substituted in for actual quality, Hunter x Hunter was a standout show from its debut in 2011 through the end of its initial Japanese run in 2014. The dub, at the time of this writing, is in the middle of its English run on Toonami, and is worth checking out (Keith Silverstein as Hisoka in particular is outstanding.) However, if you do watch this show, or have watched it, you’ll probably (or already have) binged the entire thing; in that case, there is quality sub work available. Finally, some new to the series ask about the ’99 anime of the same name. While that can be a separate review on this site, it is advisable to watch the 2011 first due to the more extensive nature of the story (it goes a lot further than the original adaptation of HxH did) and the dearth of filler. Hunter x Hunter ’99 is fine on its own merits, but doesn’t necessarily graze the heights this reboot does; it’s got an older animation style (which is good, but different), and only gets about 3/4th of the way through the Yorknew City arc; after which point a series of Japanese-only OVAs finish said arc and add Greed Island. (It’s about the equivalent of 75 episodes in this version.) Regardless of your preference, Hunter x Hunter is a show nobody should miss out on; it’s an experience, and not just another show.


Animation Quality: Modern 2-D animation, with computer shading and a diverse color palette. The detail of Hunter x Hunter is amazing; the animation itself contains the tonal shifts and mood of the show at any given moment, and the character models are both memorable and pleasing (for the most part). Accentuating the action and tension throughout, the style really does lend itself to bringing the show alive, even more so than its predecessor from ’99, and quite impressively for any animated show at all. 5/5 points.

 
Characterization: Undoubtedly the strongest point of Hunter x Hunter, the show revolves around four main characters, with other characters coming prominently into the story in different arcs.

The main protagonist of the series is Gon Freecss, a simple, but talented 12 year old boy who sets out on a journey to become a Hunter (which in this universe is a highly sought after and difficult to obtain title) in hopes of finding his father, the mysterious Ging Freecss, a top-class Hunter in his own right. Along the way Gon meets and befriends many individuals, growing  in both experience and strength, as well as a person. In particular, he becomes best friends with Killua Zoldyck, another boy of the same age who takes the Hunter Exam with him.

Killua is the second youngest in a feared family of assassins, and technically the heir of the family business; through the show he serves as the deuteragonist, trying to find his own path, struggling to become his own individual, and and to follow what his heart tells him against his twisted family’s ambitions. He also works to find a resolution to the two sides at war within him- the kindhearted boy with unyielding loyalty to those he truly cares about, and the merciless assassin who can kill without so much as a second thought… The boys share one of the best developed friendships in animation, which forms a major plot and character development point in the show…

Gon and Killua also befriend Kurapika and Leorio during the first arc of the show. Kurapika is the last of a tribe known as the Kurta, who seeks vengeance and justice against the Phantom Troupe, a powerful gang of outlaws with prodigious abilities, who wiped out his people. In particular, Kurapika seeks to recover the special eyes of his people, which turn a brilliant shade of red when excited or enraged, and are highly valued on the black market… His dark quest ultimately shades his decisions through Hunter x Hunter; however as aside from his goals, Kurapika cares deeply about his friends, is smart and usually cautious, and willing to usually lend a hand to them.

Leorio is a young man who wishes to become a skilled doctor, but initially cannot pay the high fees for medical school. Never one to shy away from his opinions, Leorio is in many ways the kindest heart of the four main characters, always sticking his neck out for what he cares about as a loyal and committed friends despite his brashness at times.

The supporting cast of the show is also very strong, which often changes from arc to arc, leading to a diverse cast of characters encountered by the foursome (though Gon and Killua in particular.) Of that rotating cast, it’s led by characters such as Hisoka, the psychopathic “magician” who lives for the thrill of battle and strong opponents; Illumi Zoldyck, one of Killua’s older brothers who is a rather cruel person in many ways, and a fearsome assassin; and Chairman Netero, the mysterious head of the Hunter Association whose leadership style is very unique… There are plenty of other names worth mentioning here, but it’s best to experience the show and discover them for yourself…not unlike a Hunter themselves. 5/5 points.

 
Story quality: Overarching story structure broken down into connected arcs, of which there are 7 in this show. Each one seems to embody a different aspect of storytelling, and are dynamic in expanding the world of Hunter x Hunter, bringing it to life in interesting ways. The way in which each character’s goals and development are brought into the overarching structure is well done, and it gives you the sense of a world full of people hunting (no pun intended) for their own goals… which ultimately draws back to the show’s motif. 4.75/5 points.

 
Themes:  Supposedly simple themes of friendship and family exist prominently in Hunter x Hunter, with a great deal devoted to character relationships and dynamics. The show also deals with far more complicated issues as well. Questions arise over one’s life goals and path, the meaning of existence, and the complicated entanglements of what being a Hunter actually means to each individual. Personalities clash, goals cross, and the show develops all these questions in fulfilling ways. All of these dynamics are worth considering, and as a bonus, it plays well with some usual anime tropes, never overusing them… 4.5/5 points.

 
Don’t insult the viewer: Hunter x Hunter is a unusual shonen anime in many respects, but it’s also largely the reason it’s an excellent show. Shifting tone and even genre to an extent from arc to arc, HxH’s writing, adapted from the manga, is wonderfully engaging and keeps you on your toes in anticipation. Add in a music score which fits nicely and has some fairly cool leitmotifs, and you’ve got yourself a very fun experience. 5/5 points.

 

 

Total Score: 24.25/25 (97%). A exceptional shonen anime with great depth, storytelling and compelling characters, this iteration of Hunter x Hunter improves strongly on the ’99 version, with a further expanded story adapted from the manga, successfully creating a compelling experience despite its longer length (148 episodes.) Also praiseworthy is the strong friendship of Gon and Killua, which is simply outstanding. Definitely recommend this show, especially if you’re looking for a longer watch.


Like what you see? Did you know irrespective of criticism, HxH’s my favorite anime? Leave a comment!

Preliminary Review: Star vs. The Forces of Evil (post season 2)

The Lowdown:

Show: Star vs. The Forces of Evil

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

(SPOILERS AHEAD. Read at your own risk.)

AniB’s thoughts: Okay. Stop. We had enough manufactured drama at the Oscars. Take a deep, deep breath and remember to breathe out too. Don’t worry, I’m here to do the mental processing for actual people in the fandom, and as for everyone else reading this column, just know that the people who watch this show are really into it.  Well, welcome to the only Star vs. review on the inter-webs that won’t be tripping over itself in fandom shipping wars. (For everyone unfamiliar with me, I wrote a treatise on the subject on Valentine’s Day this year.) However, because of the story and character context of the show, I suppose such a discussion is unavoidable, but first, let me talk about the finale and the other non-romantically involved key points, which have my interest fully:

Toffee is back, Glossaryck’s gone missing, and Queen Moon herself is aware of the danger now that’s been brewing the entire season. This plot line has become very, very interesting, and with the “mic drop” that was the final minute of Starcrushed, the third season promises to go in a very different, complicated direction…and intertwined in that is Star’s relationship with Marco, where she finally came clean…and promptly left for what I’d presume was Mewni.

On the topic of “Starco” as the shippers call it, it’s been handled in a way so far that’s actually heightened the narrative tension as a part of the plot and not necessarily as an extraneous element. It appears Jackie and Oskar were both plot devices to set up this “destined bond” that was foreshadowed as far back as the Blood Moon Ball, and while it’s incomplete at the moment, it sets up one hell of a plot line for season 3, specifically for Marco, who’s been left on Earth…presumably with the dimensional scissors he won from Hekapoo. (Seriously, they’re too good of a episode prize to be a one-off gag.)

Season 2 on the whole represented a big step forward in the development of Star vs. The Forces of Evil. Building off of momentum gained in the lat half of season 1, the show’s growth was always going to hinge on the overarching plot of Star’s wand, her growing powers, and how the titular “forces of evil” would play into her destiny. Of course, this spilled over into the realm of young love…because of course it did. It’s maybe a little sappy how they went about it, but the emotion is there and there was actual buildup to what became a critical moment mirroring the finale of the 1st season (in this case, Toffee’s triumphant return and Star leaving Marco and Earth in general), and so, it was well done on the whole…especially that cold ending. (Something tells Daron Nefcy got some inspiration from the credits of Dipper and Mabel vs. The Future.)

What can we expect from a season 3? Probably more of the same in terms of humor, with the addendum that the show can continue to grow in new and unexpected directions courtesy of how its narrative is structured and the way that season 2 concluded. I’ve had a great deal of fun so far with SVTFOE, and I don’t want that to change. “Fun” and “high energy” are two of the hallmarks of the show so far, and it is so important that it does not lose sight of these aspects. It’s great that the writers decided to add even more gravity and seriousness to the end of the season in particular, but keeping a balance that works is key. Another Disney X.D. show- Gravity Falls– was able to find and maintain that balance very well; I’m keen to see what Star does, especially now with the titular character’s personal relationship entangled with her unfolding destiny as the heir apparent to the Mewni throne.


 

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.

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.”

Marco Diaz serves as Star’s best friend and host on Earth (as Star’s an “exchange student”). 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.

 

They get into a variety of strange antics; the supporting cast is pretty zany, but it works in the frenetic style of the show. I’ll mention Star’s parents- who play an  important background role, Ludo, the main “villain” of the show; Toffee, the actual main villain, and a variety of Star and Marco’s friends and acquaintances, which include 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 he is very timid about this fact for most of the season…) 3.5/5 points.

 

Story quality: Episodic, with an underlying story that begins to come on much more strongly in the final 3rd of the first season. So far, the show has shown itself to be a fun, wacky, and humorous show, mixed with some modicums of seriousness and drama. 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. 3.75/5 points.

 

Themes: There’s this idea of mystery and magic mixed with the idea of growing up and friendship, which then becomes more complicated with time. It’s adequately done, and while I believed it would be intriguing to see where it went this past season, it exceeded my expectations, opening up the potential for a very compelling  season 3. As a result more serious themes have been set in motion. 3.5/5 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.  5/5 points.

 

Total Score: 20/25 (80%). With an explosive final sequence of episodes, Star vs. The Forces of Evil finishes off its second season with both answers and questions as to where it goes next; a bittersweet cliffhanger that really could become something special. The show will receive an further updated review when Season 3 airs in its entirety… definitely worth the watch so far!


Like what you see? Dying to say something about “Starco?” Leave a comment!

First Top 10 for Animated Shows

Ten reviews, ten grades, first listing.

Here at AniB Productions, I’ll be keeping track of all the graded reviews I’ve published so far and every so often give an updated version of this list. Here’s the initial top 10:

  1. Gravity Falls (98%)
  2. Avatar: The Last Airbender (98%)
  3. Cowboy Bebop (97%)
  4. Young Justice* (93%)
  5. The Legend of Korra (85%)
  6. Codename: Kids Next Door (84%)
  7. Dragon Ball Z (84%)
  8. Phineas and Ferb (84%)
  9. Neon Genesis Evangelion (81%)
  10. Fanboy and Chum Chum (9%)

(NOTE: “*” denotes a preliminary review, or a show that is still in progress.)

I’ll just note that technically Gravity Falls and ATLA are tied for first…but among that top 3, it’s splitting hairs.


Have a show you wish to appear on this list? Agree or disagree? Leave a comment!

Preliminary Review: Young Justice

A surprising turn of events resulted in season 3.

EDITOR’S NOTE: If you took the time to read the stickied post on the blog’s front page (https://anibproductions.wordpress.com/2017/01/27/creating-the-magic-how-i-do-reviews/), there’s a mention at the bottom about what a preliminary review is. Essentially, these are seasonal reviews for shows still not yet completed (so I’m grading the total body of work up to that point in time); I can do multiple preliminary reviews for shows if they have several seasons, and grades, as well as perceptions, change accordingly. In the case of this show, Young Justice, I thought for a number of years that anything I’d write formally on the show would constitute an air of finality, because the show was infamously canned by Cartoon Network in 2013 for some very dumb reasons (which I touched on in the Cartoon Network decisions piece and will do so again here), but after a strong crowd-sourced and fan-fueled push since then, Netflix swooped in to save the series, and so a 3rd season, which probably will wrap up this enigmatically fun, albeit serious take on DC’s younger heroes, is now in production. And so, there is no better show to introduce the preliminary review; one that will no longer be doomed to steep in unrealized regrets and unfinished plot holes.

The Lowdown:

Show: Young Justice

Networks/ years aired: Cartoon Network (Netflix), 2011-2013; 2017-

AniB’s take: An enormous mistake was rectified with the announcement of this show’s 3rd season, which will air on Netflix, and while this in a vacuum might not mean much, it is in fact a massive victory for quality animation. Young Justice initially was a tragic story; an extremely well-made show with a compelling story and a fresh, true-to-the DC original character development, it was promptly shuttered after its second season (also titled as Young Justice: Invasion), a baffling reversal for a show that had gained quite the following and generated good ratings. The answer for this unfortunate turn of events was later said to be linked to toy sales and network executives’ unwavering penchant for the coveted 7-13 year old boy demographic- the holy grail of target audiences for a kid’s network. Young Justice had in fact attracted too much diversity in its large following- quite the irony- and from my perspective at least, this was a baffling reason to let a quality show go. If you get a different audience than you initially expected, but it’s big, and the show is good, run with it. A good business should be flexible, always looking for an opportunity to grow, and in this case, Cartoon Network was inflexible. There was also another reason Young Justice might have gotten the axe…because the network was planning to release a “light comedy version of Teen Titans.” That’s another review…

As for the show itself, the first two seasons went from “remarkably promising” to “totally compelling.” Young Justice made an entire side of the DC universe accessible to viewers not steeped in the comics’ ethos, and made sure to establish plenty of individuals that tend to be niche in the comics (think Black Canary, or Aqualad, one of the leads, as an example), while emphasizing certain well known faces and downplaying others (Lex Luthor? He’s definitely a player. As for the Joker, he barely registers.) It managed to balance a large cast while not overshadowing its leads with the most well-known of characters, such as Batman, and the result is a cohesive universe that never feels hijacked into something it’s not. There’s complex relationship-building, including some romance that doesn’t feel forced, and it’s actually a very fun dynamic to watch adolescents growing into young adults navigate typical social anxieties related to their age with more typical superhero duties and problems.

It’s a great story that a beloved show got a chance to make a return that was rather justified. The cliffhanger at the end of season 2 now will find a resolution, and there is no doubt in my mind the show will pick up right where it left off, with innovative storytelling, worldbuilding, and a continuation of the outstanding character arcs that have become a hallmark of the show. I’ll be the first to note a letdown, but I doubt it will happen. If you haven’t watched the show, now is a great time to do so; that way, you can be caught up when Season 3 finally releases.


Animation Quality: Traditional 2-D animation, digitally animated. Like most DC shows, Young Justice has impressive animation in a variety of very different locations. The character designs are very pleasing, and the backgrounds are stunning. Notably, the action sequences, which there are quite a lot of, are all extremely fluid and very enjoyable. Masterful work. 5/5 points.

 
Characterization: The show balances a relatively large cast over time; for our purposes, the main cast through the two season are Robin/Nightwing, Kid Flash, Superboy, Miss Martian, Aqualad, and Artemis, all of whom form the initial Young Justice squad in the show.

Dick Grayson, true to his comic book origins, starts as Robin in season 1, and after a timeskip, is Nightwing. Well equipped (in more ways than one), a martial arts master and detective, as one might expect of Batman’s one-time protege, he’s the de facto fill-in leader for the squad (as an early storyline actually designates Aqualad as the team’s leader.) He’s also got great acrobatic skills, virtue of his origins as a Flying Grayson, a backstory preserved in this show. As for the “Robin” moniker and identity, it’s passed onto Tim Drake in the second season, who is mentored by Grayson.

Wally West is Kid Flash. He’s best friends with Grayson, is a fast talker and is looking for a girlfriend at first (initially Miss Martian), but (spoilers!) eventually falls for Artemis. He’s always looking to help people in need and loves collecting souvenirs from missions. In the second season, he takes a “retirement” from the team, though that doesn’t prove to be completely binding…

Aqualad, known also by his Atlantian name, Kaldur’ahm (pronounced “Kal-durr-ahn”), is the former right hand of Aquaman and the son of supervillain Black Manta. Wise and calm most of the time, he’s a skilled warrior and the leader of the Young Justice team; in season 2, he’s revealed to also be highly skilled at covert operations.

Superboy, or Conner Kent, starts off as a genetic experiment of the Genomorphs (a group of alien scientists, to keep it simple) and is a physical hybrid of Superman and Lex Luthor. Somewhat anti-social and veiled about his feelings, he grows a great deal as a person while learning better ways to use his powers and immense strength through the first two seasons. He also becomes romantically involved with Miss Martian for a time (which becomes some complicated buisness indeed…)

Miss Martian in fact is a white Martian who is brought to Earth by the Martian Manhunter. Her telepathic and mental powers are formidable; the Manhunter even said they could surpass his own. As a shapeshifter, she models her appearance and personality to a large extent after an old TV sitcom “Hello Megan!” and actually has a bio-ship that transports the team to missions.

Finally Artemis (her name is the same as her actual identity) is the late addition to the team. A skilled archer who works with Green Arrow after the disappearance of his ex-protege Speedy, she’s actual in fact (spoiler!) the younger sister of villainess Cheshire and daughter of Sportsmaster. Initially quite at odds with Wally West, she falls for him, and in the second season, takes on a covert mission and identity as “Tigress,” (which actually shifts to be her main hero outfit.)

The other young heroes could probably be defined more as “significant supporting characters.” An excellent move the show does is push the main DC heroes (i.e. Batman, Superman) into the background, so while they’re there, they neither usurp the focus from the Young Justice heroes, or act as deus ex machinas. Finally, despite the two seasons being immensely enjoyable in terms of character development, the show’s characters were not fully realized, as it was clear a 3rd season would have resolved some issues still. This was unfortunate. 4.5/5 points.

 
Story quality: Seasons 1 and 2 could be considered two distinct arcs within a larger overarching story. Ultimately, what starts as a simple request from three sidekicks to be more than just sidekick turns into an elite covert ops team who gets entangled in the master plan of a mysterious entity only known as “The Light” and their operatives. Season 1 deals more explicitly with this; Season 2 has The Light in the backdrop as the Reach become the main antagonist for the the arc. Season 3 is likely going to resolve everything, and what we received so far has been engaging and very satisfying. 4.5/5 points.

 

 
Themes: The show deals with a broad spectrum of issues with relationships, friends and family, and even romance on a fairly mature level. It also deals with blurring certain lines between good and evil, and a complex view into a variety of different perspectives. It’s also a superhero show which never got to finish what it started. 4/5 points.

 

 
Don’t insult the viewer: High flying, action packed, and full of emotion, the only insulting thing initially had been the show getting canceled as it continued to build up its plot. However, now there is nothing holding this grade back. 5/5 points.

 

Total Score: 23.25/25 (93%). Young Justice is a gem of a show, focusing on a number of lesser-known DC heroes, mixing in intelligent storytelling with a compelling backdrop, and some outstanding action sequences. It speaks to the quality of the show when it was able to garner a high grade in spite of its layoff and current incompletion; the 3rd season is much anticipated not only for fan excitement, but to really cap this review off. I’d suggest checking it out if you haven’t already.


Like what you see? Know lots about the DC universe? Leave a comment!