Week 3: Fantasia

The origin of a famous mouse’s feature-length debut and much more.

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This week’s Disney movie watch is none other than Fantasia, a bold experiment that started initially as a way to promote a certain famous mouse.

The Lowdown:

Film: Fantasia

Studio/year released: Walt Disney Animation, 1940

AniB’s thoughts:

Ah, Fantasia. The third film from Walt Disney was both an ambitious undertaking and unfortunately, a financial flop- but to this day endures as one of the most iconic and noteworthy pieces of animation ever created. As the war in Europe was in full swing at this point (the German blitzkrieg overrunning France at this point in time), this was the primary cause of the financial woes for the film and the studio at the time, given the inability to screen the production overseas.

As for the movie itself, it was a groundbreaking achievement in the field of animation. Crafted as a meeting of classical music and the animated form, Fantasia was crafted to “picture the music…not the music fitting the picture,” according to Disney himself. Originally conceived as a way to get Mickey Mouse back in the spotlight (yes, at one point the mouse had flagging popularity and needed a popularity boost), the now-iconic sequence with the Sorcerer’s Apprentice evolved from an elaborate Silly Symphony into the centerpiece of an entire feature film. For the first time here, Mickey was redesigned with pupils in his eyes- to give him more expression- and this was clearly the most classic animated short in what amounted to the first feature-length animated anthology film.

The visualization of music that Walt Disney foresaw was some groundbreaking work, forged as a collaboration between Leopold Stokowski, the conductor of the Philadelphia Philharmonic, and the studio, was not only borne of a mutual desire, but the ballooning costs of the already ambitious Mickey Mouse-standalone piece. In turn, the idea for what would initially be called the “Concert Feature” came into being as a feature length film, with each animated segment being see to famous classical pieces, complete with a master of ceremonies in Deems Taylor, a famous music critic at the time.

From this writer’s perspective, Fantasia continues to hold its luster nearly 80 years later, as innovative and creative now as it was then. Water animation- a technique unveiled earlier in the year by Pinocchio, was on full display in a number of the shorts through this film, and extensive research was done for each segment, from the dances in Nutcracker Suite to the animal designs in Dance of the Hours. Each segment could probably be a whole essay in itself, but each embodies the idea Disney saw fit for the film- and is truly a unique sort of animated film even now.


Animation: Classical 2-D animation, with highly innovative techniques for the period. There was a real push to bring the music to life in animated form, and Fantasia succeeded at that; there was a mix of classical and abstract ideas together on the screen and the animation laid all out clearly; it worked in lockstep to drive each story with the music. This film is still a masterpiece in that regard. 5/5 points.

Characters: In contrast to the majority of films (not just animation), this category is difficult to evaluate for Fantasia largely because of how the movie is structured and the content of each segment. It’s more of classical music set against these sweeping set-piece ideas, and aside from Mickey Mouse himself in the one segment, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to evaluate characters in the traditional sense.

However, the ideas performed on screen, and the innovative marriage of a live orchestra doing this program set to all these worlds and ideas was truly something else from Walt Disney. In lieu of a traditional character evaluation, I must give credit to the sheer creative ambition that was executed on screen in bringing these ideas to life with cutting-edge animation of the day and the musical collaboration. 5/5 points.

Story: This is actually an anthology film- the first of its kind in animation. Each individual segment focuses on a different famous classical song (or two) and sets its action in a way that personifies the music. It’s much more of a thinking man’s kind of movie in that it’s not actually about something insofar as it is about creative ways in which music tells its story. Think about this example: people always are thinking about what music means, or what images it stirs up in their head, or what the message might be. This is a visual representation as done by Disney and that is creative to this day. Now that said, some segments are definitely stronger than others- though of the non- Sorcerer’s Apprentice ones A Night on Bald Mountain may be the most famous. 4.5/5 points.

Themes: This thematic evalution is what you make of it, and what you get out of the music, I suppose. There isn’t a lot of themes, per se to dig into aside from whatever the action on screen portrays, and while entertaining, I’m not sure there’s a lot to pull from dancing hippos or happy cupids. 2.5/5 points.

Don’t Insult the Viewer: Creative, masterfully animated and meticulously crafted, there’s no doubt of the care that went into this film. It’s got some minor pacing issues for the modern viewer probably, but overall it’s meant to be essentially a full concert program set to animation. 4.75/5 points.

Overall: 21.75/25 (87%): A visually stunning masterwork for its time, this film is quite unlike any other Disney production before or after, and perhaps embodied the spirit of Disney’s innovative nature better than any other film in the canon. While difficult to evaluate in its entirety, it is an essential piece of animation history and a key part of the Disney story.


Like what you see? Are you a Fantasia fan? Leave a comment!

 

Review: SSSS.Gridman

Trigger’s fall offering revives an old franchise.

Well, the first anime review of 2019 is here! I’m reviewing an show that just wrapped up around Christmastime- Trigger’s S.S.S.S. Gridman, the popular mecha offering of the fall anime season. Let’s get to it.

The Lowdown:

Show: S.S.S.S. Gridman

Studio/year released: Trigger, 2018:

AniB’s thoughts:

Color me surprised at what turned out to be a great little watch. Gridman was a pick that I started solely due to a friend’s suggestion in passing, and in turn I was treated to a show that while vividly strange on many levels, was also satisfying, with an interesting set of characters, some high stakes and a killer opening. Yes, you’ve probably heard about this show in passing if you’re a hardcore anime fan if for no other reason that it contained two of fall 2018’s most popular girls in Rikka Takarada and Akane Shinjo.

Gridman’s core premise at first seems simple, steeped in a mystery: a boy named Yuta Hibiki wakes up with apparent amnesia, only to find his way into Rikka’s home- a junk shop- where on the aptly named “Junk” computer, he recalls he’s the pilot of Gridman- a computerized mecha agent that when connected to Yuta via an “Access Code”, the duo materializes as the actual mecha GRIDMAN, who has the power to slay kaiju and all sorts of stuff you might expect from this sort of show.

The one behind these kaiju though, is none other than Akane Shinjo, with the backing of the mysterious Alexis Kerib- a shady-looking character if there ever was one. Akane’s role in this show is strange in hindsight, but the setting and premise of Gridman is anything but conventional, and so it works, although I don’t doubt Akane’s true purpose might leave you a bit incredulous at first.

To me, this was a show that was full of the unexpected; the pretense of normality set against something very abnormal and foreign all at the same time. There was a sense the veneer of reality could be shattered at any moment in Gridman, and indeed, this juxtaposition was front and center as everyday events existed in this strange world alongside the reality of kaiju battles (which initially, only team Gridman and Akane are aware of). I think the originality of this outing, along with some easter eggs and treats thrown in for the original Gridman fans from the 90’s anime, makes for a fun outing, and it’s certainly an easy enough show to pick up even if you’re not a big mecha fan or deeply into the lore of such series or the genre at large.


Animation: Modern 2-D anime. In this outing, Trigger pulled way back on the fanservice (though not entirely) while preserving their otherwise typically gorgeous animation, which popped. Additionally, there was a healthy amount of 3-D animation with the mech battles…and it worked quite well.  4.75/5 points.

Characterization: There’s a concise main cast, featuring the leads of the so-called “Team Gridman”- Yuta Hibiki, ​Rikka Takarada, and Shou Utsumi; their main opposition in Akane Shinjo, and supporting these four are Gridman himself, the rest of team Gridman- featuring a mysterious group of men and women that help out the mech in his battles, transforming into weapons support, and Anti- a mysterious boy with an undying vendetta against Gridman that is all consuming.

Anyone who followed this show with any consistency knew the growing popularity of the new Trigger girls in Rikka and Akane, and while this is an aspect that really matters not one iota to the actual show’s content, it was something worth noting in the general context of following the series as it rolled along. Akane played a very spoiler-specific role, but appears right away as a popular girl and a kaiju creator. Rikka on the other hand, initially finds an amnesiac Yuta and brings him to her home- the junk shop operated by her mother.

Yuta’s a pretty standard mecha protagonist. There’s not a lot to say about him, although more specific details would be tantamount to spoilers for those who haven’t seen Gridman.

Anti is an interesting character with a spoiler heavy-arc, but as noted, he appears mysteriously one day with a drive to destroy Gridman, and an appetite to match. His role shifts as the series moves on, and while his initial characterization is reminiscent of Viral from Gurren Lagann, he’s a bit unique as well. 4/5 points.

Story: Big, overarching plot that has mecha, sci-fi and some really meta sort of elements to it, Gridman is both complex and convuluted; a mecha show that is at once true to the genre and something else entirely at the same time. How one reacts to the bigger picture here may affect how one views the overall narrative of Gridman, but regardless, it packs plenty of unexpected twists, turns and some incredible action and hype within that package. 3.75/5 points.

Themes: There’s some existentialism hanging out in this watch, and I think a lot of what makes the show intriguing, aside from highlight-reel mech fights is the characters’ struggles with their emotions and their place in a world that seems at once familiar and yet foreign. “Identity”, therefore along with “sense of self” forms a major part of the thematic crux in this show, and the resolutions to these questions often hold the answers as well. 3.75/5 points.

Don’t Insult the Viewer: A frenetically paced environment with plenty of good twists and turns, Gridman is a solid watch, which also had a conscious decision to only play music at very key moments (and this was noticeable.) Trigger also notably held back on excessive fanservice here, which really worked out in hindsight.  4.75/5 points.

Overall: 21/25 (84%): A surprisingly thoughtful sort of anime, mixed with all the action and “hype” you might expect from an anime in this genre, Trigger delivered something that was reasonably good and not dripping in fanservice the whole time either. It’s worth checking out.


Like what you see? Did you watch Gridman this past fall? Leave a comment!

 

Week 2: Pinocchio

When you wish upon a star, sometimes you get a review.

Continuing on in the Walt Disney Animation canon, Pinocchio is yet another beloved film in the series, and a truly iconic film: it was another groundbreaking effort, and one that was fun to jump into again.

The Lowdown:

Film: Pinocchio

Studio/year released: Walt Disney Animation, 1940

AniB’s thoughts:

Another week, another Walt Disney-era classic, and in this case, quite possibly the most famous of the lot. The classic tale of Geppetto’s wooden puppet coming to life still is a vivid, intense movie, with a lot of animated gold spun into it, from ambitious new techniques used on screen, to the vivid, different settings brought to life with vigor.

Pinocchio, despite its legacy and fame in the animated canon, was initially a box-office flop- a fact that would hold true for quite a few films in the early years until Cinderella came along. A 1945 re-release saw greater success for the film though, and via constant re-screening and other related methods, Pinocchio continued to ingrain itself in the public’s conscience. It also was a big award winner back when it was released, and of course, it was where the timeless classic “When You Wish Upon a Star” originated from. To this day, Disney continues to use the piece as a de-facto sort of theme song- and can you blame them? Its lyrics basically embody the ideal creative ideas of the company…or at least, the general enthusiasm of generations of Mouseketeers.

From my point of view, it had been quite a while since I’d seen the movie, and by “a while” I mean probably close to 20 years. You tend to remember some of the more famous details- Pleasure Island, Jiminy Cricket’s role as Pinocchio’s “conscience,” and even Monstro the whale- but the how and why gets fuzzy. In turn, revisiting the film is almost like watching something completely new all over again, and that brings its own excitement. I was pleasantly thrilled by the smooth animation and the sort of mastery and love that was obviously put into this film, showcasing a glimpse again into the brilliance of Walt Disney the animator and producer- which carried over from watching Snow White previously.

One other surprising note I wanted to make was actually on the role of Jiminy Cricket in this film. Famous for being the voice of reason and conscience for Pinocchio (and within Disney-themed things), he’s actually shockingly inefficient and negligent at his job in plenty of ways, at least in this film. He’s still a good chap, but I suppose that’s what happens when a hobo cricket is given the role by a kind blue fairy. Still love the guy though- and he’s a fine narrator as well!


Animation: Classic, hand-drawn 2-D animation. As only the second full-length animated film in history (after Snow White), Pinocchio was ambitious, from portraying various locales and environments, be it Gepetto’s shop crammed full of clocks and other woodworks, to the deadly trap known as Pleasure Island, and even to the bottom of the sea. The film also was cutting edge, experimenting with water effects and even the illusion of 3-D movement within a 2-D picture, which added depth and dynamism to the picture. Even today, the movie looks great, and given that it was still yet another step up from Snow White, a groundbreaking film in its own right, it deserves some major plaudits. 5/5 points.

Characters: The first of Disney’s famous duos originated here- the puppet boy Pinocchio, brought to life by a wish, and Jiminy Cricket, a lucky down-on-his luck cricket who happened to be in the right place at the right time to become the boy’s conscience.

Pinocchio himself is the picture of naive innocence in this film, which is largely a number of trials which sees the good-natured puppet led astray by a variety of shady characters, from the ironically named “Honest” John, a crooked fox involved in black market trading, to Stromboli, a greasy, greedy puppeteer with little concern other than money and food. Despite a variety of hardships, Pinocchio does continue to try and reach his goal of being “a real boy” via certain virtues, and in the end, is successful during his bold rescue plan to save Gepetto from the belly of the whale Monstro, all while learning valuable lessons about life.

On the other hand, Jiminy is an “aw-shucks” kind of guy, and in a way, his often short-sighted and negligent behavior may have in some way embodied Cliff Edwards, his voice actor (and one-time famous singer) who was noted for having issues in his personal life. It is Jiminy who sings the rendition of “When You Wish Upon a Star” in this film, and this in turn may be Edwards’ most lasting memento.

Prior to Pinocchio coming to life, Geppetto lived quietly with his two pets, Figaro and Cleo. The duo, a cat and a goldfish, were the first “animal companions” in the Disney library, and served as faithful partners to their master through the film. Figaro in particular had an interesting history- Walt Disney himself took a liking to the kitten to the point that he became Minnie Mouse’s official cat outside of this film, and also made subsequent appearances in other Disney-related productions.

The film also has a variety of villain characters rather than just one fixed big bad, like the Queen from Snow White. This was likely in part to show the variety of temptations and sin that Pinocchio could stumble down, and was embodied in characters like “Honest” John and his cat cohort, Gideon, or Stromboli, the evil puppeteer.

(There’s also poor Lampwick, perhaps the most unfortunate soul in one of these Disney films with his fate. Yikes.) 4.75/5 points.

Story: Simple and straightforward, but with plenty of meat to it, Pinocchio is an adaptation of the children’s story “The Adventures of Pinocchio,” an 1893 story. The Disney version here has a lot of whimsy and color to it, pushing the naive puppet boy into wildly different and harrowing situations, with Jiminy Cricket in tow and a rightfully concerned Geppetto out in the hopes of finding his Pinocchio. Perhaps the most harrowing encounter (aside from the movie’s big climactic escape from Monstro) is Pleasure Island- a place with horrifying implications even today, between the transformation of boys into donkeys, and then said donkeys being shipped off for literal slave labor in salt mines (it does stay this explicitly in the film). It’s a remarkably ambitious sort of moral lesson for a kid like Pinocchio to learn- and one that both leaned towards innovation and a willingness to tell a much richer story as it saw fit. 4.5/5 points.

Themes: The joy of a wish and parenthood. The implications of having a conscience, and the difference between a well-informed one and a naive one. The startling implications of going down the easy path of temptation into harrowing, prickly situations. All these ideas are laid out clearly, but vividly and in an entertaining story even years later, and it still shines through today- the mark of a truly effective film. 4.25/5 points.

Don’t Insult the Viewer: This is an intense film, especially for the youngest viewers if I had to guess. Pleasure Island in particular has some imagery you’d never get away with now in a film, such as Indian tobacco and drinking on screen by minors, but overall the film is superb and a great slice of animation history. 4.5/5 points.

Overall: 23/25 (92%): While Walt Disney was at the helm for quite a few of the early classics in the canon, Pinocchio staked its claim early on as one of the studio’s greatest films; revolutionary in its day, only betrayed by an initially bad box-office performance, and beloved by generations for its iconic characters and keynote song. When you wish upon a star…you might just get a classic film.


Like what you see? Big Pinocchio fan? Enjoying the Disney animation countdown? Leave a comment!

Week 1: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

Once again, a happy new year to everyone! I’m kicking off the year-long project to watch the entire Walt Disney Animation Studios film canon, and of course, it begins with the iconic Snow White, a film with more than a little historical significance, not only to the House of Mouse, but also cinema on the whole.

The Lowdown:

Film: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

Studio/year released: Walt Disney Animation, 1937

AniB’s thoughts: “Hi ho! Hi ho! It’s off the work we go!” Indeed, the dwarfs’ iconic mining song seems apt to describe the beginning of this journey, which goes back over 80 years now (at the time of this writing) and points to the first of several iconic Walt Disney-era films. There was a lot of firsts in fact, when it came to this film:

-the first feature length animated film; prior to this release Snow White was seen as “Disney’s folly” and something that couldn’t be done;

-the first American movie to feature a soundtrack for release with the picture; Bourne Co. Music Publishers actually owned the rights (and still does!) to the music in this film as Disney hadn’t conceived its own in-house studio yet and wouldn’t yet still for a number of years.

-the first Disney princess movie: Snow White established all the archetypes and hallmarks for these films in the animated canon moving forward, and aside from Snow herself, the ideal princess in a lot of ways, it also gave us the first in a line of deliciously fun and evil Disney villains- the Queen.

 

So what of the film itself? In my honest opinion, its fame and praise is warranted, even long after its peak in the limelight faded and animated films went from an almost unimaginable dream to commonplace fare in the modern era. The animation still pops, perfectly synced in with the lively orchestral score, and everything just feels fluid and impactful as it was form the time it was made. No, it’s not some technological marvel like today’s Disney flicks are, but it’s a timeless hand-drawn, professionally crafted work of art with a simple, unforgettable tale at its center, and the innovator for all the films that came after it in the canon order.


Animation: 2-D classic, hand-drawn animation. Both an innovative and unprecendented film at the time, the quality of the work here by Disney animators is still quite a treat despite the many, many years that have passed. Facial expressions are fluid, the actions on screen sync perfectly with the orchestral score, and Disney created a set of iconic character designs here, from the dwarfs to Snow White and her iconic dress, and even both of the Queen’s appearance- as royal ruler and haggard witch. 5/5 points.

Characters: Fairly straightforward cast, based off the Brothers Grimm story, but as far as advancing animation and its foray into the movies, this was a super important set of characters.

Snow White is the first in the line of Disney princesses- and in many ways, serves as both the ideal and archetype for this character in the canon. She’s “the fairest one of all,” has a beautiful singing voice, a kind countenance beloved by all, from charming princes to woodland animals and even the surly dwarfs, and practical skills, from cleaning to cooking and a warm sense of caregiving. She’s innovative in her simplicity, but also as a model that set the template in place.

Then there’s the dwarfs- Doc, Dopey, Sleepy, Sneezy, Bashful, Happy, and of course, Grumpy. Each one is a great literal interpretation of their names- and allowed the animators some liberty to craft a good deal of humor around those naming schemes and actions. The dwarfs are really the most “classic cartoon” characters in the film between their actions and roles- from their simple lives mining priceless gems in an unnamed mine, to Grumpy’s tough exterior melting at the undeniable kindness and charm of Snow White, and even to Dopey’s charming clumsiness, or Doc’s well-intentioned bumbling. The first major supporting characters in a Disney film, you could even argue these guys are collectively the “deteuragonist” role.

Of course, no Snow White review or analysis is complete without talking about the Queen- the first in a long line of iconic Disney villains. Vain and self-absorbed, this wicked ruler orders a huntsman to bring back Snow White’s heart in a box- and when that fails, she dons the dark magical disguise of a hag to deliver the iconic poisoned apple. The Queen set the tone for how Disney villains were to be by and large: truly awful people with megalomaniac tendencies and a lot of innovative scheming. Others would innovate more though, in the tradition of having charisma to go along with the rest of the recipe.

Finally, there’s the prince. He’s more or less a plot device for “true love’s first kiss” and the “happily ever after” sort of ending, but in this film, it works…because again, context matters. As a result, this cast gets a bit more credit for being innovative at the time. 4.75/5 points.

 

Story: Again, with the basis off the fairy tale it comes from, Snow White is a familiar story to most people- the fair princess, hated with a furious envy from the Queen, is set up to be killed by the huntsman, only to flee into the woods and find the dwarfs’ home after the former spares her. It’s a simple, timeless tale with simple, timeless morals, motivations…and in this film, it was executed as a very high level, which still shines forth today. It’s still impressive to watch the action unfold (and might I say the entire chase sequence with the dwarfs racing to rescue Snow White from the witch is still incredible?) Sometimes, a film can be innovative by being a masterpiece of technical work, and I think that was evident from Disney’s first film. 4.25/5 points.

Themes: From “jealousy never leads to anywhere but doom” with the Queen to Snow’s waiting for “love’s true kiss,” this is a simple thematic exercise, with a lot of ideals built into Snow’s character herself, while the Queen is set up as the antithesis in every imaginable way. There’s also some stuff about compassion and caring from the dwarfs as they develop a bit in the narrative, and it’s just an enjoyable set of clear thematic aims without pretense or pomp, and easy to digest. 3.5/5 points.

Don’t Insult the Viewer: The old witch might frighten some of the youngest viewers still to this day, as well as Snow’s escape into the forest scene, but overall, this is a family-friendly experience with straightforward writing and characters. The score also includes some classics, such as the dwarfs’ mining song and “Someday My Prince Will Come,” the first princess “theme song,” if you will. All around, a classic experience. 5/5 points.

Overall: 22.5/25 (90%): Walt Disney’s first feature-length film still holds up over the annals of time as a true testament to excellence and innovation in cinema. For the modern viewer, it may feel a bit simple, but it still proves to be an entertaining watch with superb technical execution and the establishment of key archetypes and building blocks for Disney films as they moved forward. A true classic.


Like what you see? Excited for all the Disney films that will be covered? Love Snow White? Leave a comment!

Day 12: Review/Rant: School Days

A polarizing show leads to a far less than enjoyable watch.

Day 12! We’re halfway to Christmas Eve already, and as we reach the halfway point of this calendar between today and tomorrow, it wouldn’t be complete without at least one-old fashioned critic’s assault. That’s right- today’s a juicy breakdown of a highly controversial anime, one that yours truly is happy to dig into (despite putting it off for a long, long time.)

The Lowdown:

Show: School Days

Studio/years aired: TNK, 2007

AniB’s thoughts: “Another day, another adaptation.” Or at least that’s what I’d like to say, except when the show in question is an utter trainwreck and I steeled myself to watch it on a critic’s honor mixed with morbid curiosity. This is unequivocally a bad watch, but the “why” of it is slightly more nuanced, like layers of a rotten onion that’s been left out in the sun, reminding everyone why it stinks so much. Unfortunately, it’s time to delve into the morass and figure out just what went wrong here.

Before really tearing into the details though, a little background as usual is helpful. First off, School Days never received a stateside dub- and it’s just as well, not only for content reasons but also for critical reasons. And as with any truly bad show, there’s always some interesting stories associated with it- in the case of this one, its infamously violent ending that caused the show’s final episode to be removed off the air for several networks in Japan. This caused the footage to be replaced rather infamously on at least one station with stock imagery, including a Norwegian ferry spawning the “nice boat” meme on the internet, and while this is a fun little piece of trivia, it only begins to scratch the surface of the “why”.

So here’s the heart of it: When I graded out the show, it got points for having the bare bones of a plot that linked together cohesively and achieved its (poorly conceived) goals, but between the cast I wanted to strangle, the janky, awkward transitions into more and more ridiculously stupid situations caused by quite possibly the worst protagonist in anime, Makoto, and the fact that it was an utterly banal experience devoid of much enjoyment.

Among numerous flaws, a major issue lies in where the plot wants to go. It initially wants to be a high school romance…but doesn’t do that well, devolving into a bad harem anime…but also does that terribly, and then after enduring 11 episodes of mind-numbingly bad writing and poor character decisions, that final episode I mentioned goes for a shock twist slasher ending that makes utterly no sense. Maybe it was supposed to be relieving, but I was under the impression I’d wasted hours of my life watching something so that you, the readers, didn’t have to. If this was the proverbial coal in your Christmas stocking for a show, this one is it! Do yourselves a favor and check out almost any other show you can roll on a roulette wheel. It’s likely to have better odds of being good than this unfortunate production.


Animation Quality: Average 2-D anime for its release year (2007); it’s not outstanding in this department, but “adequate” would be a better term. Sadly, this is the best part of this wretched show, which is damning praise considering how remarkably average said animation is. It’s also used in some painfully cringy scenes through this show to just unfortunate effect, and yes, there’s some fanservice in there that’s utterly forced. 2/5 points.

Characters: This may be the least engaging, least sympathetic cast I’ve ever had to cover, which is saying something considering “gems” like Fanboy and Chum Chum are part of that listing.

Makoto Iko is the lead character; a freshman in high school whose natural interest in girls at his age becomes more and more perverted due to both the actions of others and his own misdeeds. He winds up becoming the center of a badly conceived harem and unable to fix his passions and poor decision making, he’s a truly awful character who garners little sympathy with little development. Was this intentional? Probably, but he’s so poor for a lead that following his moves becomes dreadfully difficult after not too many episodes…and this isn’t a long show!

Kotonoha Katsura and Sekai Saionji are your two main girls. One is Makoto’s first romantic interest, who is initially reserved, well endowed and from a rich family-but after events happen, she snaps mentally, trying to possess Makoto. It’s always the quiet ones who lose it the hardest…

Sekai on the other hand is Makoto’s classmate who spurns on the initial relationship between Makoto and Kotonoha, but later develops her own feeling for the boy, leading to a confusing and depressing arc for an initially energetic girl. By the end, she’s also gone off the deep end in her affections with who else- Makoto. In the end, nobody’s really happy, everyone goes insane, and then with the aformentioned infamous ending in my thoughts, everyone winds up dead or insane. Yay.

The supporting cast for this show is both unmemorable and doesn’t really do anything to raise the merits of this unfortunate lead trio. 0.5/5 points.

Story: Gets a bare minimum of a half-point for having a narrative that actually goes from point A to point B. I don’t have much more to say about it other than I’ve seen episodic shows with more interesting episode to episode plot-lines than this overarching story…and those had nothing to do with each other! Jumping from bad romance to bad harem to bad slasher at the end, it’s a depressing slog filled with unlikable characters, poor decisions and utterly surreal outcomes. Then again…it’s based on a VN that plays out like this, but I doubt even the game is as poorly executed as this show’s plot! Just eye-opening in the worst of ways. 0.5/5 points.

Themes: A trail of mentally broken girls and an obliviously malicious main character is not a good look for any show, especially one begging to have some scrap of positive momentum in it. There’s no levity and no thematic brilliance here in this clunker of a script. 0/5 points.

Don’t Insult the Viewer: Brutal writing combined with a terrible cast and an impossibly inane story is quite insulting, to quote this category. Unremarkable music does nothing to save this score, or this show, and perhaps the biggest affront is being “bad, boring and a waste of time.” That’s exactly what School Days accomplished. 0/5 points.

Overall: 3/25 (12%): “It’s a show”- that’s the best I can say here. What a disaster on every level. From vapid storytelling to a downright unlikable cast, and a show that seems unable to make up its mind what it wants to be- and then executes none of it well, it’s a forgettable, frustrating and poor outing of a show. The best part is when it’s over, frankly.


Like what you see? Do you agree or disagree with this piping-hot criticism? Leave a comment!

Day 11: Review: Adventure Time

The review of a modern-day titan.

Day 11! So for today’s calendar pick, I wanted to finally dig into an important show review that I’ve wanted to do since it wrapped up earlier this year- and that is Adventure Time. This show was the flagship of Cartoon Network’s for the majority of the 2010’s and is both popular and influential. Let’s get into it.

The Lowdown:

Show: Adventure Time

Studio/network/years aired: Cartoon Network, 2010-2018

AniB’s thoughts: Well, it’s the end of an era. This show, perhaps the most iconic piece of Western animation in the past 10 years is finally, officially completed and admittedly, it’s a bit surreal to consider this the case. Yours truly was still in high school when the ball got rolling on this series, and now to see it over really feels like the final guard of that early 2010’s era of animation is finished as the final portion of the decade plays out.

On the topic of evaluating the show itself, Adventure Time is certainly unique. It evolved from a simple plot-of the day adventure-action show in its first season to a full-blown post-dystopian fantasy with elements of science fiction, mystery, comedy, surrealism and a whole slew of other things as the show immersed itself in a large, deep cast of characters and an expansive world, not only in Ooo itself, but beyond and across time as well. I think at a certain point it became rather difficult to just pick up the series due to the enormity it grew to, but it was also interesting to watch it grow and evolve to its natural conclusion by the end of it all, between finding a point at which it finally felt ready to stop, between the resolution of series-long plot threads and the sense that while it had once defined a network, now it was being pushed out by the wave of cartoons it had helped influence.

It would be impossible to cover all the plot threads, character arcs, overall elements and moving parts and everything else that happened in the show in one review, but it would be accurate to say the show lived up to its simple title: “Adventure Time.” Seriously, you never quite knew what to expect episode to episode, and this sort of originality, combined with ever increasing plot and character complexity as the seasons wore on kept the formula fresh- a difficult feat for any show over multiple seasons. Towards the end of its run, it suffered from the same wonky release schedule Cartoon Network shows had become by and large shoehorned into in the latter half of the decade, thanks in no small part to monopolized scheduling around a certain show, but it maintained its momentum to the end, capping it all with an excellent finale, which I’m sure fans of the show found satisfying and rich in details.

As for anyone ever curious about this series, it’s not a bad time to jump in if you want a long watch. This show is not without its flaws, meanderings, weird episodes, bad episodes and pacing issues here and there, but overall, there’s a reason it became so influential. Finally…can you believe Nickelodeon passed on the pilot of this show for the all-time terrible Fanboy and Chum Chum? I can’t either, but as they say, hindsight is 20/20 (and I’ve got an older rant of the latter on this site as well.) So grab your friends, go to some very distant lands, and see what’s in store with Jake the Dog and Finn the Human…


Animation: 2-D modern animation. This is the show that launched the “CalArts” style you might hear people complain about on the internet, or at least in animation circles, but as the cliche goes, “success breeds copycats.” And in the case of this show, the style works for what it’s doing, though some may find it far too stylized, and that is okay too. Overall, it does a good job enhancing what the story wanted to tell and in a creative way that mostly enhanced it, which is nice. There’s a wide variety of colors here, and the show even experimented with some different styles during some episodes. 4.5/5 points.

 

Characterization: We’d be here all day if I went through every last character in this show, what they do, their plot threads and how they are important. The later seasons do a lot of this, devoting entire episodes to side characters you’d never think twice about, even giving them mini-character arcs and in general, broadening the scope of this vast world they created. But as for the leads:

Finn the Human is an energetic, heroic boy who lives in a tree fort with his best friend, a magical talking dog named Jake. They go on adventures together, protect princesses, find cool treasures and have lots of fun- and while I’m simplifying this description a lot, this is essentially what they do. Finn’s story in particular is a unique sort of coming of age, as he grows a few years older during the course of the show, learns a great deal about who he is, his background, goes on many strange, death defying adventures, and in the end, is always true to being a hero.

Jake the Dog as mentioned is Finn’s best friend. He’s much more laid back and absentminded for the most part than his buddy, but has magical stretching powers which allow him to form different shapes and contort his body mass and muscles to radically different sizes and shapes, though this has limits. He’s got a variety of oddball interests and talents, such as playing the viola, and loves to make great sandwiches. He too has an interesting past which is revealed in bits and pieces during the course of the series.

The most common person Finn and Jake help out is Princess Bubblegum, the ruler of the Candy Kingdom. As her name describes, she actually is a sentient girl made of bubblegum, but full of surprises and a long history. She balances her rule with a passion and deep knowledge of science and technology, which she uses in everything from enhancing her candy citizen’s lives to defense of said domain. There’s a whole lot more I could say about her, but again…spoilers.

Finally of your “main cast” there’s Marceline, a vampire girl.  Originally a human, Marcy’s lived for over 1000 years, and has a generally easygoing, prankster nature. She loves to jam out on her axe guitar and is a talented musician. Additionally, her vampire powers make her a formidable fighter, but like all such beings, she has a fatal weakness to sunlight. After initially getting off on the wrong foot with Finn and Jake, the trio become good friends, and she also has a strong relationship revealed over time with Princess Bubblegum…

There are countless other individuals of varying importance that could be mentioned and probably should be mentioned, but the last one for this review is the Ice King. A deluded old warlock driven mad by his magical cursed crown, this frosty regent has a desperate need for attention and a want for princesses (at least early on). Sporting eclectic interests like playing the drums and writing fanfiction, the king’s role is not so much an antagonist as it is something else entirely…and his story arc is quite unbelievable.  4.5/5 points.

 

Story: Episodic and overarching plot elements intersect in this long-running series. This show’s narrative is more event and character based with several long running plot threads tying together disparate arcs, but while a complex and intricate world is created in Adventure Time, sometimes it’s difficult to keep everything straight, especially as the seasons go on. They kept it fresh though! 3.75/5 points.

 

Themes: There’s a lot packed into the gills of this show. Most of your basic sorts of themes appear (friendship, love, overcoming fears, etc.) but there’s also some deeper stuff just hiding in this show that is terrific for something airing on a kid’s network. Mostly, this is entertainment, and it can be very trippy entertainment, but there’s nuggets of some complex material especially as the seasons wear on and to the end. 3.75/5 points.

 

Don’t Insult the Viewer: This show knew its audience, and got slightly more mature along with it. Mostly smart writing, a few questionable sorts of things happen here and there, and it might have a bit of a curve to properly engage in this show now given its length. All in all, not bad intagibles. 4.5/5 points.

 

Overall: 21/25 (84%): With an entire large body of work to evaluate, Adventure Time holds up fairly well with scrutiny and is a very good show despite some flaws and the glare of fame’s spotlight on it. With its conclusion, it may make for a nice long watch, but either way, its influence cannot be denied as it pertains to animation.


Like what you see? Thoughts on Adventure Time? Leave a comment!

 

Day 9: Review: Lupin the III, Part IV: Italian Adventure

The wild Italian adventure of the classic thief and his friends.

Day 9! In practical terms, it’s the second Sunday of Advent, and in AniB terms, we’re over 35% into this calendar countdown. Once again, today’s pick veers slightly off the Christmas path in favor of a recent iteration of a classic anime/manga series from Japan- it’s none other than Lupin the 3rd, or Lupin III, or any other variant of that name you can come up with.

The Lowdown:

Show: Lupin the III, Part IV: Italian Adventure

Studio/years aired: TMS Entertainment, 2015-2016 (JP)

AniB’s thoughts:

In Italy, there is a rich tradition and connection to the ideas of Christmas. This is probably in no small part due to the location of the Vatican and the heavily majority Roman Catholic population, but also because of numerous saints, popes and iconic churches from over the centuries. However, today’s review is about a very different sort of Italian adventure- that of the master thief Arsene Lupin III and his quest for the greatest treasures of the historical peninsular boot.

Lupin III is actually a famous, older Japanese manga that has had several iterations in anime over the years, and this was until this past year (2018) the most recent foray, until Part 5 came into being. Fortunately for viewers unaware of Lupin’s existence prior to this show, it does not require any sort of background knowledge of prior events or previous tales in the franchise to thoroughly enjoy and follow, which is quite nice- as heavy lore can often bog down long-running or expansive series when it comes to new participants.

In the case of Lupin III’s Italian adventure, it’s a delightful blend of high-stakes missions and chases, unusual twists, some heavy influence from the James Bond franchise, and a number of competing character arcs that all come to a head in an unforeseen way. Through it all, Lupin has trusted right hand Jigen – master marksman- at his side, and is also joined at time by Goemon Ishikawa III, a master swordsman trained in the way of the samurai (and he gets some crazy feats with his blade), as well as Fujiko Mine- Lupin’s on and off again romantic interest and one of his closest associates. That said, Fujiko’s a woman who does things on her own terms, and she’s not afraid to play dirty to get what she wants in terms of the treasure, making her more of a friendly allied party with her own self-interests to Lupin’s usual capers. Of course, no great thief has made it without a worthy adversary- and that role is held by Inspector Zenigata, an Interpol agent whose life’s work is to pursue and capture Lupin, something he carries out with unabated zeal and a surprising amount of humanity.

For me, Lupin III being introduced through this show was a satisfying experience, and the arc itself is a fun adventure, combining both elements of stand-alone episodic pieces and a larger overarching story, narrative and character development. It’s a delightfully refreshing watch as well compared to a great number of other modern anime that exist; it’s not about schools, cute girls, generic shonen battles (though there are some terrific fights), or any of that (which is still great, don’t get me wrong); it’s got a style all its own, and it has fun doing it. And I think most people over the age of 13 would probably have a lot of fun with Lupin’s adventures as I did, and The Italian Adventure is a terrific show to enjoy and perhaps launch into the franchise.


Animation: Modern 2-D anime. That said, Lupin’s got some style that feels almost a bit like Western comics or animation for the most part, but quality, and in a way it just evokes that thriller feeling throughout the show, which is terrific. The colors pop, the character models are distinct and attractive, and the aniamtion here makes a difference in bringing the style of the series to life. 4.75/5 points.

 

Characters:

I did cover in brief most of the main cast in my thoughts, but for a bit more detail:

Arsene Lupin III is the descendant of the famed Arsene Lupin of literary fame; like his forefather he’s a master thief who can and will steal any treasure that strikes his fancy. He’s so good that various police and law enforcement agencies the world over have not only failed to stop him, but even trace him for the most part…except Inspector Zenigata. Lupin’s got a keen intellect, a weakness for women, a surprisingly affable nature, and is a pretty good shot himself, despite having Jigen around.

Speaking of which, Daisuke Jigen dresses like a mafia hitman and has the style of one too- he’s a cool customer with a gun, his signature fedora draped over his eyes. Lupin’s main partner in crime, he’s a reliable hand with some more common sense than his friend (though they’re all slightly crazy), has a liking for a smoke and a good drink, and is reliable on big missions.

Goemon as mentioned in my thoughts is a master swordsman. A man of few words who follows his own code, he is a frequent ally of Lupin’s main team and provides some terrifyingly strong combat support to missions. He also brings a bit of traditional Japanese flair to a decidedly non-Japanese anime, which is interesting in itself.

Then there’s Fujiko Mine. In the Italian Adventure, she’s the independent, beautiful and self-interested on and off member of Lupin’s gang, preferring big treasure, the good life, and some excellent scoops of information in the process. (She’s also got a motorcycle, which is pretty darn cool.)

Finally, the usual main cast is rounded out by Inspector Zenigata, a man with a zealous conviction to bring Lupin to justice and the eyebrows to match. Called “Pops” affectionately by his archenemy, this Interpol agent relentlessly pursues the master thief to the ends of the earth, without ever slowing up. Despite this, he’s shown to be a good man with a lot of heart, and some surprising skills, such as cooking.

This arc of Lupin III also has other key characters introduced that are new to this iteration of the franchise, in particular Rebecca Rossellini, a rich young Italian woman who is also quite famous from her modeling, acting and business endeavors in-universe- but who is actually interested in the thrill of the heist; and Nyx, a mysterious special agent who no doubt has inspiration from a certain MI6 agent who’s famous the world over…. The character development is good, the cast is small but adequate and it gets the job done. 4.5/5 points.

Story: Both episodic and overarching in nature, Part IV chronicles Lupin’s unusual adventures and endeavors mostly in Italy, which gets him dragged into a much bigger secret than any one treasure or heist…and it’s pretty crazy. Overall, the story works, even if it does have some flaws, but most will be no doubt entertained, without spoiling anything. 4/5 points.

Themes: This show isn’t really a moral compass for anything so much as it is for pure entertainment. You could argue there’s some stuff in here about what true love actually is vs just the business of convenience,  or how one can fulfill one’s life purpose, but this might be the weakest part of the show on some level. It’s odd, considering how engaging the overall product is. 2/5 points.

Don’t Insult The Viewer: Lupin III will probably be best enjoyed by a slightly older audience, but in saying that, it is extremely accessible to pick up and enjoy, with a unique aesthetic that evokes all sorts of thoughts from high-speed police chases to the sort of mental hijinks you find in a great mystery, and even the elements of science fiction and spy flicks come in. Truly a fun watch. 5/5 points.

 

Overall: 20.25/25 (81%): For fans of old-school heists and hijinks, creative capers and plenty of action, humor, mystery and trickery, Lupin III is a great series to pick up, and this part is a nice starting point and a fun show. Lupin has a way of stealing hearts and treasure, you know….


Like what you see? Want to talk about Lupin III? Leave a comment!