Review: Devilman Crybaby

The Lowdown:

Show: Devilman Crybaby

Years aired: 2018

AniB’s Thoughts:

So over 4 (going on 5 at the time of this writing) months after its debut, the hype around this show has died down, thankfully enough. The premature declarations of “anime of the year!” eight days into January were amusing while they lasted, and I can confidently say that this show is hardly “show of the year material”, relative to the hype it generated and when pruned over by a discerning eye.

It has taken a long time to adequately gather my thoughts on this show, despite watching it relatively soon after its January debut amidst an uproar of hype that seemed more like a byproduct of Youtube personalities and other such entities. Delay after delay plagued this review, and while I knew something about this show hadn’t sat right with me, it wasn’t entirely clear how to voice that train of thought yet. However, a bit of background research certainly helped to make things a bit clearer on this series.

Devilman is a beloved classic franchise in Japan, created by Go Nagai back in the 70’s. He also conceived the famous Mazinger franchise for mecha fans, which boils down to “he created some pretty influential works.” The original Devilman anime is pure 70’s cheese, with bad production values, and winds up being far more comedic than anything dark with its dated character models, bad pacing and monster movie villains. However, it was a decent bit of fun to dig back into that time and see what the original inception of Devilman actually looked like, which brings us now to the present.

Even underneath the silliness of the first show, it was evident how dark the plotline actually was, and you could get a sense looking back that with more focused execution, something truly bone-chilling could in fact be conceived. To that end, I think the Netflix series succeeded- boiled down into a concise 10 episodes, there’s nary a wasted moment of impact- but in saying that, what did this series trade-off in order to be the descent into darkness we got?

The answer to that was a resounding “no!” What was presented instead was an overrated vile, disgusting show that despite the thematic brilliance that boiled beneath the surface, was such a depressingly sad slog of a spectacle that I was tempted to simply quit halfway through a 10 episode anime. It’s the “edgy” interpretation of Go Nagai’s original series back in the 70’s, and what I think this show lack specifically is much in the way of “fun.” Animation shouldn’t be a chore to watch through; it certainly can be complex and thought provoking, but this was an instance of a show where I pressed on mostly because of an obligation to complete the show, rather than any true enjoyment of the various events depicted on screen. This is the Titus Andronicus of anime, except with none of the endearing factors and all the bloodiness and explicitness you’d might expect a modern-day interpretation of a show with demons as a central focus might have- and unless you’re specifically in that niche who loves obscene, disturbing imagery and plenty of blood and guts, this isn’t your show.

For more specifics, I think Crybaby is symptomatic of the problems that exist in modern day re-interpretations that try to be too faithful. Don’t get me wrong: I love a well-adapted show from its original source material, but in the case of this specific show, the lack of restraint on modern-day producers in terms of how content is portrayed is a double-edged sword. It means the haminess of the 70’s show is largely voided, replaced instead by a constant, lingering dread of doom that only thickens as the show’s events spiral downwards. Thematically, it all makes sense, but in terms of a watching experience? It’s simply uncomfortable and downright unpleasant most times, which is putting it mildly.

The anime Youtubers and many other fans who raved about Devilman Crybaby are entitled to their opinion, but to me, this was the height of just the worst kind of letdown. It’s a show that’s just plain disturbing on every level, and although there are some ambitious ideas that exist in the fabric of the end production, it’s overwhelmed by a tidal wave of tragedy, disgust and death. Approach it at your own peril. (And no, no one under the age of 18 should see this show.)


Animation quality: Modern 2-D anime. Truthfully, the show has some stunning shots, but on the flip side, what exactly it’s used for is highly questionable at times. There’s a lot of disturbing imagery that I’d argue goes too far a lot of the time, and while some people might call me “old-fashioned” for such a view, I don’t need highly explicit imagery at every turn for an enjoyable experience. Therein lies the proverbial rub- while the imagery the show often employs is effective in instilling the sense of chaos and horror it seeks, it’s often repulsively unenjoyable in doing so. 3.75/5 points.

 

Characterization: The story centers around Akira Fudo, a kind young man who gets unexpectedly pulled into a darker world than he ever imagined during a highly explicit rave party gone wrong. As a result of his run-in with a powerful demon named Amon, Akira somehow is able to claim the evil specter’s powers and body as his own, and becomes the titular Devilman, sworn to protect mankind from other such beings. Unfortunately, Akira is not nearly as good at his job as he was in the 70’s original, and so tragedy after tragedy continues to unfold in his life…

Akira’s best friend in all the confounding events is Ryo Asuka, a mysterious young man who appears on the surface to be a highly ambitious prodigy of the rarest sort, but what exactly his ambitions are leading to is an entirely different question. There is a cruelness to his character that simply does not exist in Akira’s profile before or after his transformation into Devilman, and all of these unsettling aspects are careful foreshadowing to the true background of this unsettling young man.

While there are a host of other characters in the show with supporting roles, the last one worth mentioning here is Miki Makimura, the beautiful daughter of the host family Akira lives with. In this interpretation of the franchise, she’s a star athlete in track and field, and has a pure, kind heart, but in turn, also has a naive nature that sees her into deeper troubles than her or her kind, loving family deserve. I could say more about her, but it’d be massive spoilers (and for people who have seen the series, you know what happens with her endgame.)   3.5/5 points.

 

Story quality: Devilman Crybaby is a tragedy- the kind that unfolds but consistently and calmly crushes any hopeful note that arises for the tide to turn. Heck, even the main antagonist finds themselves roped into this scope of tragedy and goes down with the proverbial burning ship. In that sense, the pacing is actually very good, but the delivery is so joyless on many occasions that one could hardly be faulted for wanting to quit on such a sordid tale. As it is, Crybaby’s brilliant moments are often counteracted by a sort of miasma that just comes from the repeated, worsening hard knocks. You need levity, in in the darkest of tales, and this show has too little of it. (Perhaps it should have taken a few hints in that regards from the OG series?)  3/5 points.

 

Themes: There’s a big, huge thematic expose of God and demons that exists in this show, but perhaps that was inevitable in something called Devilman. Seriously though, the thematic elements are thought provoking on some level, and you have to wonder if on some meta level, it was a criticism of today’s society and the dangers blatant immoraility could lead to, but far more likely is that it was just a more far more focused viewpoint on the implications of a show with shockingly huge stakes. 3.5/5 points.

 

Don’t insult the viewer: What can I say? NC-17 visuals in larges swaths of the show, moments that are literal acid trips, moments where it’s plain disturbing- well, you get the idea. There’s still a story underneath here though, and a pretty sweet remix of the original Devilman theme in the soundtrack as well, so it still counts as “redeeming values” here. 2/5 points.

Total Score: 16/25 (64%): A deeply disturbing horror show that takes the Devilman franchise in an edgier direction than it has ever seen, Crybaby suffered from both overenthusiastic hype and an often joyless presentation filled with extremes (from explicit imagery to just violence). That isn’t to say that the show didn’t do some things well, as was noted- but for as strong an emotional impact the show can have, I don’t like walking away from animation feeling repulsed. I suspect hard-core horror fans will eat this show up, but this is one re-interpretation that could have struck a far better balance in its levity and presentation.


Like what you see? Have some comments on this show? Leave ’em here!

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Review: Nichijou- My Ordinary Life

A delightful slice of life meets random unpredictability.

The Lowdown:

Show: Nichijou- My Ordinary Life

Years aired: 2011

AniB’s thoughts: After watching the slog that was Devilman Crybaby earlier in January (more on that in a future post), I needed an upbeat show, and this little gem delivered. Nichijou, in a simple way of putting it, is pure fun, but it’s also a great show in its own right. It stands out from the slice of life crowd with a superb grasp on how animation works on a fundamental level, channeling its ideas and concepts into a surreal sort of reality, but simultaneously captures its humor and charm just perfectly at the same time.

The single biggest aspect that makes Nichijou shine though, is that the animators behind the show clearly understood the root of the medium they were working in and used it to incredible effect. Not only is this show laugh out loud funny, but the slapstick and surreal individual moments are straight out of the animated school of humor piloted by the likes of Bugs Bunny and Mickey Mouse.

I could talk far more at length about why this show is good, but aside from the stellar usage of animation, it also checks the boxes in terms of characters and writing. The cast of the show is charming as can be and full of personality, and even the various supporting characters have active roles that make it feel like everyone is involved in the bigger picture for everyone else. Plenty of strange and in-explainable things happen, but each one is just another daily occurrence on its own, and so the idea of these totally abnormal happenings in ordinary life is indeed preserved.

Interestingly enough, Nichijou, despite its 2011 release, had release issues stemming from Bandai Entertainment’s cancellation of their plans to do so, and while Madhouse picked up the rights, it was only to certain markets (not North America.) As a result, the series’ licensing state-side did not come until nearly a year ago at the time of this writing (February 17, 2017). Despite its late entry legally into the States, it’s certainly held up the kind of promise you’d hope for, and upon watching it, has a sort of timeless quality.

If you want a taste of a great show, not just for its genre, but in general, Nichijou’s a solid pick and a charming one to boot. Just as it claims, there are some extraordinary things that occur in the everyday lives of those in the show, and I’m happy to report that this description is in fact rather accurate. On to grading:


 

Animation Quality: Traditional 2-D anime, computer shaded. Although Nichijou’s basisc style is simple and straightforward, the amount and variety of techiniques they use in the show to convey the humor, surreal-ness of certain situations, and the interactions of people is an absolute joy to watch. The show’s conceptual understanding of the medium is simply outstanding, and watching the fundamentals shine in this show is an absolute pleasure.  5/5 points.

 

 

Characterization: There are two main groups of characters that eventually overlap in the story arc of Nichijou: the trio of schoolgirls featuring Yuuko Aioi, Mio Naganohara, and Mai Minakami, and on the other end, a young girl known as Professor Shinonome, her robot caretaker, Nano (who looks like a high school girl) and the cat the duo adopt early on in the story, Mr. Sakamoto.

Yuuko is the de-facto lead character of the show, though no one really is the “main protagonist” in a traditional sense. She’s a kind, energetic girl, but also a bit of “an idiot,” as Mio often reminds her, and a slacker in her schoolwork, reflected by her perpetual habit of not doing her homework and less than stellar test grades. Despite her shortcomings though, she’s a good friend, loves to be a comedian and engage in adventurous new ideas and activities, and enjoys good food. She often finds herself in the center of the strange, amazing events that occur in the ordinary lives of the people around her…

Mio is also a nice girl and at first glance, the most “normal” of the trio, but underneath her surface lies a fiery temper and impatience for bad jokes, ruined food, and anyone or anything that dares to cross her comfort zone. She’s noted for the two wooden cubes she uses to keep her hair in short pigtails, and has a secret talent as a manga artist, a skill that causes her a great deal of embarrassment in front of her friends. Additionally, she harbors a deep crush on Sasahara (another supporting character in this show), which in turn has some deep psychological effects on her.

Mysterious and mostly quiet, Mai’s a girl of few words but possesses a number of extraordinary talents and a fondness for carving Buddha statues. Her actions often speak louder than her often-mysterious words, but she’s still rather fond of her compatriots despite their drastically different personalities.

On the other end of the spectrum, the rather odd but charming trio of a girl professor, her robot and a talking cat are the other half of the main cast.

Nano is a robot caretaker, but she looks and acts like a generally responsible high school girl. She cares deeply for the professor, but often has random inventions installed inside her body without her knowledge from the former, which generally ensues in chaos. She’s also very conscious of the large wind-up screw on her back and repeatedly asks for its removal, but is denied as a running gag.

The Professor herself is a cute 8-year old girl in a oversized labcoat who despite her typical little girl tendencies and wanton love of snacks, is in fact a genius who already graduated from school. She’s a genius inventor, but in turn, many of her inventions often seem to have no practical usage and application, and most of the time, she prefers to play and snack around the house.

Finally, Sakamoto is a black cat who is found in the street by Nano early in the events of Nichijou. The professor invents a scarf so he can talk, in in turn, it reveals the voice of a 20 year old man who takes himself too seriously…and is ashamed when caught displaying his cat tendencies (like chasing his tail).

There’s a sizable supporting cast that also all gets a spotlight at various moments in Nichijou, but for the purposes of this review, it’s best to discover them all yourself, if you haven’t already. From Ms. Sakurai, the nervous schoolteacher, to the aformentioned Sasahara, who fancies himself a sort of nobleman as “the eldest son,” and so on, this delightfully quirky cast keeps the fast pace and style of Nichijou rolling along smoothly. 4.75/5 points.

 

 

Story quality: Nichijou does possess an overarching story, but in a unique twist, is often presented as a series of short daily stories and segments within the episode, often with a sort of randomness that is uncommon in anime. Usually at least one of these stories focuses on the schoolgirl trio and another on the Shinonome Laboratory group, but there’s also segments focused completely on side characters and some reoccurring meta bits, such as “Helvetica Standard” (try to figure out which character is reading this, actually). The sort of pacing is unique for an anime, but in a lot of ways, the humor is much more reminiscent of something like Looney Tunes with the usage of exaggeration in all contexts. While it is a funny show, some of the jokes might go over better if you’re familiar with anime and/or Japanese culture, but overall, it’s easy to grasp.  4/5 points.

 

 

Themes: Well…as its name suggests, this is about ordinary life, right? Yes and no. Mostly, Nichijou is random, goofy humor and some comic zaniness mixed in with its underflowing storyline, but if there was a more serious undertone, it’s about the many different interactions of people in both ordinary and extraordinary situations; the things observed and not spoken of, and vice versa, and perhaps the enjoyment of good friends, better company, and the twists and turns life offers. Mostly though, it’s best just to have fun with this one.  3.5/5 points.

 

 

Don’t insult the viewer: An engaging show that nails the fundamentals of animation all while avoiding fanservice and having a blast while doing it? That’s a solid show by any standard. Add in the super fun OP’s and some well-timed orchestral usage to augment the action like the old-time animated shows, and it’s downright impressive.  5/5 points.

 

 

Total Score: 22.25/25 (89%): A unique slice of life show, Nichijou packs plenty of laughs; it’s a constantly moving show that flows with the random zaniness and a memorable cast of characters with distinct personalities and moments to remember, and oozes charm. If you’re looking for a great change of pace or a terrific genre pick, or even something that’s just plain fun, this show is a must-watch.


Like what you see? Have thoughts on Nichijou? Leave a comment!

 

Review: Made in Abyss

A intriguing, albeit dark fantasy proves to be a unique descent in more ways than one.

That’s right: Behold, not one, but two new pieces for the new year! In addition to the brand-new Random Episode Rambling (Duck Amuck), the first review of the new year is a request from a reader in what proved to be a most entertaining winter watch at the end of 2017! For that person, and everyone else, I hope you sincerely enjoy this piece.

The Lowdown:

Show: Made in Abyss

Studio/years aired: Kinema Citrus, 2017

AniB’s thoughts: Much like the new year, there might not be a better way to begin talking about new beginnings than with a very recent adaptation of a show that had people buzzing in the anime community very recently: Made in Abyss. It’s such a new adaptation that only a 13 episode sub exists, and while I’m writing this review, it could in short order become a preliminary review based on the abundant evidence that in fact this show will get a second season.

As is the case with a great deal of anime, Made in Abyss is an adaptation of an ongoing manga, and while I can’t verify the quality of the source material, the anime itself is an incredibly bewitching world, in equal part fascinating, full of discovery and adventure in the truest sense of the word, set against unfathomable dangers and some bone-chilling implications and moments that don’t always seem possible given how adorable some of the lead characters look. (What can I say- don’t judge a book- or show- by its cover.)

Before I talk about anything else in the show though, Made in Abyss is visually stunning. It’s not just good-looking in the way most anime are, but breathes life into this multilayered world of “the Abyss,” a giant chasm which hides another world within it, ringed by a giant city ringing its entrance at the top. The ability to convey a wide variety of unique environments in rich detail, while capturing the respective mood of each place, is something worthy of mentioning, before even delving into the characters or the universe in which the adaptation exists. Furthermore, the fact that the animation proves to be key in enhancing the storytelling that it does shows a talented use of the medium in which Made in Abyss exists, and helps augment a series of well-paced, impactful moments.

Finally, the character design ranges from downright charming (seriously, look at the picture for this piece!) with an influence from chibi characters the world over, to foreboding and even downright terrifying…as you’d expect in an excellent fantasy adventure. The Abyss itself is a multi-tiered ecosystem of life, with fantastic beasts living within its many levels, continually evoking the sense of simultaneous adventure and danger that lurks around every corner… and those who explore it, the cave raiders. Among their ranks, which correspond to different colored whistles worn around the neck, the most legendary and feared of such explorers are the White Whistles- an elite fraternity that numbers in the single digits, and who alone are allowed to plumb the Abyss’s darkest depths, for the chasm of wonder hides a terrible secret only known as the so called “Curse of the Abyss…”

More than anything, I think Made in Abyss took me to a certain place of just enjoying a show for the fact that it was enjoyable. It definitely is a dark fantasy as you delve further into it (literally), and has plenty of serious ideas and questions that it probes along the journey that you follow along on as a viewer, but just entering this unknown world and seeing it with the same fresh eyes as Riko- the young cave raider who the story follows- is something that harkens back to experiencing something like Tolkien’s Middle Earth for the first time, or tucking into an adventure that you just know will be exhilarating, come hell or high water. And perhaps that’s why this anime is a perfect pick to start a new year of reviews (at the time of this writing): for a whole new adventure awaits, and like a descent to the bottom of the legendary chasm there’s no turning back.

On to grading:


 

Animation Quality: Absolutely stunning 2-D animation with a smattering of 3-D thrown in. Made in Abyss, as I mentioned above, is absolutely gorgeous, and its animation, far from just looking stunning, uses the medium to its fullest in its ability to impact storytelling, from warm moments to tragic ones. 5/5 points.

Characterization:
Made in Abyss’s story mostly follows that of Riko, a young cave raider who wishes to follow in the footsteps of her mother, the legendary White Whistle Lyza the Annihilator, by exploring the deepest depths of the Abyss, the massive mysterious chasm of which the show centers around. After a series of events early in the show, including meeting Reg and receiving a mysterious letter from the deepest reaches of the Abyss, Riko decides to embark on the perilous, suicidal journey to the unknown bottom of the Abyss in the hopes of finding her mother- and so the journey unfolds from there.

Accompanying her is Reg, a strange boy who is said to be an Aubade- a true sacred treasure of the deep, and while he is seen as a robot, he has decidedly human features that make him truly an enigma. Reg is kind, but rather shy and has several unique feature including extendable metal arms and a powerful weapon embedded in his artificial hands that even he is unaware of its true origins or power source…Looking to find more answers about his mysterious past, he agrees to travel and protect Riko on her journey.

The supporting cast is varied for a (currently) short show, with different characters that play an important role at each level of the Abyss, from the massive town of Orth ringing the pit on down. Normally I’d detail the supporting cast slightly more, but in this case it’s probably better to experience them for yourself (and to avoid heavy spoilers!) 4.25/5 points.

 

Story quality: Simple premise, amazing execution. As is typical of anime, the overarching story plot is present and the main thrust of that plot- Riko’s drive to find her mother- is deceptively simple. However, the setting and the character themselves bridge the “how?” question in incredibly unique ways, augmented by the settings and the experiences of other characters imparted as the journey unfolds. One last note: This show shows how a flashback sequence should be done. Without spoiling anything, people who’ve watched this show or read the manga will know what I’m referring to. 4.5/5 points.

 

Themes: What drives people to do crazy things? Furthermore, what does humanity’s never-ending quest to see the unknown lead to? For this genre of show, there’s this deep and often unnerving look at the human mind as much as there is a look at the depths of the Abyss, and in turn, there’s real stakes, solids twists and emotional impact that rings true. I’m curious where another season will continue to develop this category. 4/5 points.

Don’t insult the viewer: Alright, alright…so there’s highly disturbing sequences that I do caution the faint of heart about, and I wouldn’t recommend this show to anyone under…16 in good conscience, largely because of how intense parts of Made in Abyss can get, but it’s a tightly packed narrative the whole way with plenty of excellent sequences, some fitting music, a nice OP and ending, and intelligent writing. Can’t really go wrong with that!  4.75/5 points.

Total Score: 22.5/25 (90%). A vibrant fantasy world packed with adventure and danger around every corner has proven to be an exhilarating, emotional trip thus far, albeit for a slightly older audience than you’d expect such cute main characters to be starring in. There’s likely to be a season 2 as I mentioned, but the 13 current episodes are a must watch, though I will warn that the final few episodes are something to brace for.

An AniB Christmas Review Special: Coco

First off: A very Merry Christmas to all my readers on this blog! It’s been a wonderful first year of writing and what better way to mark the joy of the season with something I haven’t attempted yet – a movie review! The season is definitely about a variety of wonderful things, starting with the birth of Christ, but it’s also strongly about family, and Pixar’s latest outing- Coco- is an excellent example of this time-treasured theme done beautifully. Also, for those who still may have not seen it, don’t worry: This is a spoiler-free review!

The Lowdown:

Movie: Coco

Studio/year: Pixar, 2017

AniB’s thoughts:

“But, but AniB,” some might ask, “this movie is about the Day of the Dead! Dios de las Muertos! Not Christmas!”  Not to worry; despite the overarching subject material of the movie, Coco is a great Christmas movie, but more importantly; it’s a great movie, no add-ons necessary. Over a month after its release into theaters, it was definitively worth the wait to see Pixar’s latest gem of a film- one that once again is likely to be popular on the awards circuit for 2018 and the company’s strongest outing since Inside Out two years prior at the time of this writing (2015).

Coco is a special film, without a doubt. The story follows the tale of young Miguel Rivera, an aspiring musician in a family of shoemakers for several generations. In turn, the family trade had spawned from the indomitable matriarch Mama Imelda Rivera, who (as it’s explained in the opening sequence), started the business after the untimely departure of her husband in pursuit of his musical career at the expense of their baby child (who that is, I’ll leave up to those who haven’t seen the film to find that out.) As a result, the Rivera family enforces a brutal ban on music, despite Miguel’s love of it, and his secret idolization of Mexico’s greatest, late musical legend- Ernesto de la Cruz. From there, the story’s events unfold on Dios De La Muertos– a tradition the Rivera family, like most in Mexico, hold quite dear to their hearts. From there, quite the adventure unfolds…

An inevitable comparison was made by people to Fox Animation’s Book of Life from 2014; after all, the lead characters in both tales (Miguel and Manolo) are aspiring musicians both looking to follow their dream instead of the family trades of shoemaking and bull-fighting respectively, all wrapped in a festive, enrapturing world of Mexico’s Day of the Dead. However, Coco proves to have a deeper emotional resonance than the latter movie, and is overall the superior film, particularly in its attention to detail, the depth of its characters and the impressive world and story building that occur simultaneously. There’s some impressive eye-candy that makes full use of the medium through the movie’s sequences, including one involving Mexican papels (colorful hanging papers) in the very first part of the film, and the vibrant world of the dead (which was broken down in detail in a neat little segment by Pixar folks pre-movie, including Lee Unkrich.)

Most importantly though, this film reminded me yet again why I love animation, because so often as the folks at Pixar seem to do, they give wide-ranging audiences a glimpse into what animation can be, rather than the childish notions many still hold about it. Coco holds the basic tenets of animation that go back to Steamboat Willie and Co., with plenty of exaggeration, humor and personality, but it also goes about it in a genuinely human way that builds a cohesive story, excellent characterization, and emotional stakes that all too often, animated movies from other studios and outfits (particularly in the West) seem to forget. Prior to the film’s beginning, it was a stark contrast with some of the coming attractions that you tend to see when you peruse animated fare; there was fart jokes, a gnome movie that looked both unsavory and unlikely to change people’s conceptions of what animation can be (and featured one of the garden dwellers in a mankini, which was just awful); a pair of features from Laika and Aardman Animations that have some promise, but conceptually seem hard to get a great pulse on, and then the crown jewel of said previews: the widely-seen Incredibles 2 trailer (which I might add, the original is my personal favorite film of all time.) My viewing of Coco also avoided the widely complained about Frozen short that aired before the movie in its first two to three weeks of release; needless to say, I was quite relieved. Anyways, here’s my attempt on a grading basis for my first official animated movie review:


Animation Quality: 3-D animation. Being Pixar, this category is always superb quality and the best in the business for 3-D. The level of detail and craftsmanship in every shot, along with the detailed a vibrant character models breath life into an enrapturing world steeped in the culture of Mexico and the mythos of the Day of the Dead, all while creating a unique experience that also enhances the strong story backbone and the excellent soundtrack. 5/5 points.

Characterization: As mentioned, Miguel Rivera is the lead character; he’s a 12 year old boy who despite being stuck in a family who hates music for a very specific reason, aspires to not only be a musician, but chase his dreams like his idol, Ernesto de la Cruz. He’s a boy with big dreams, but increasingly finds his love for his family at a crossroads with his deeply held-musical convictions, a situation that finds itself at a head as the Day of the Dead comes…

The Rivera clan themselves are a great extended family that stretches several generations, including a number of dead relatives who are remembered religiously, with the exception of Mama Imelda’s wandering musician husband. Just who could that man be?…

Speaking of questions, you might be wondering: Just who is Coco? The titular character of the movie is someone very important to Miguel and pivotal in an unforeseen way; for the sake of not spoiling events, this character is very surprising how they factor into the film. (Those who have seen the film- you know.)

Finally, Miguel has a de-facto sort of pet, a hairless street dog named Dante. Eternally happy with a big sloppy pink tongue hanging out of his mouth and always hungry, Dante is a loyal companion, though a bit slow on the uptake.

The emotional stakes and character development in such a contained amount of time is very satisfying and well-done. Much of this focuses on Miguel, and [spoiler], another certain someone he meets in his travels who’s down on his luck, but it’s wonderful to watch and experience first-hand. 5/5 points.

Story quality: As expected of a movie, Coco is a wonderfully engaging story, but as is Pixar’s hallmark, avoids the pitfall of cheap, low-brow humor in favor of a tightly paced narrative that also doubles as a musical with the excellent score that was composed (more on that in a bit). The story itself has a wonderful ethnic flair, and seamlessly transitions from part to part in the film for a cohesive well-crafted story. Most importantly though, the emotional core of this film, which I keep coming back to, is absolutely stunning, and must be seen for itself. 5/5 points.

Themes: Mi famila, mi familia, mi familia! Yes, family is one of the most time-worn themes out there, but this film nails that aspect beautifully by sculpting the film’s actual story around just how deeply that tie can run. It never gets old to see family done right in a film, and the specific way in which this idea is achieved is truly unique. Aside from that, there’s a undertow about while it’s worth following your dreams, and perhaps “seizing the moment!” as Ernesto de la Cruz puts it, it’s also fair to question one’s morality in how far they will go to achieve such a vision… A solid, solid execution of both these major ideas rest in Coco though, and that’s extremely satisfying. 4.25/5 points.

Don’t insult the viewer: Coco’s a masterpiece. Truly, this is a beautiful movie for all the reasons I already listed, but one other truly outstanding aspect remains to be discussed: the score, composed by Michael Giancchino. This film is Pixar’s best when it comes to music, taking heavy influence from sister studio Disney in crafting an authentic Mexican flaired bevy of songs, which are both beautiful and catchy. (Also, what’s a movie set in Mexico without guitars and mariachi? The answer: a sad film.) 5/5 points.

Total: 24.25/25 (97%). Coco is a triumph of animated film yet again from the folks at Pixar, with deeply cohesive storytelling that bears a true emotional core. This film is definitely for everyone- but in the kind of way that will deeply resonate at the heartstrings in any age. It’s definitely a must watch.


Merry Christmas! Like what you see? Chat about Coco in the comments!

Review: Mob Psycho 100

As quirky as its name sounds.

The Lowdown:

Show: Mob Psycho 100

Studio/ years aired: Bones, 2016

AniB’s thoughts: It’s been a while since my last review, but I’m following up one Bones production (My Hero Academia) with another one in Mob Psycho 100. Despite coming from the same production studio, they are markedly different shows, and this one in particular can be be described as “quirky.”

Mob’s a show that certain audiences will eat right up, and another subset will find it off-putting. Its characteristic animation style is somewhat befitting in a world of “espers”- powerful psychics that possess extraordinary abilities at the highest levels- and if Mob’s face looks somewhat familiar to fans of One Punch Man, it’s from the same creator.

This anime was another watch that I was completely unsure of what I’d find on the other side, but it proved to have a unique aesthetic that was fitting for what it wanted to do as a show. Its characteristic spontaneity and “weirdness,” per se, is somewhat charming in a way, but can be off-putting as well. However, the most impressive part about Mob Psycho 100 is how surprisingly grounded in reality the titular protagonist’s main goal is (find a purpose in life beyond just his extraordinary powers) and the unpredictable resolutions to the many problems and scenarios that crop in this show.

Overall, I might have expected a bit more from Mob, but it was still a compelling little experience and most importantly, was unique without being pretentious. At the present time, there’s a sense that a season 2 will come along, provided by the unresolved plot points in development upon the season 1 finale, along with some talk that there will in fact be a continuation. For all intensive purposes, this review could wind up being merely a preliminary take on the series, but for now, it will just focus on the 12 episodes that exist without judging on speculation.


 

Animation Quality: 2-D animation. Mob features a unique style with characters that have generally expressive, simple eyes and varying levels of definition, from very simple designs like Mob himself to that of the Body Improvement Club (a club at his school) that have incredibly well defined musculature, as an example. The range and style of different techniques is worth noting, and does a good job helping to set the mood, while conveying the story. Finally, fight scenes pack a punch and properly convey the power each combatant in ways that are both eye-catching and easy enough to follow.  4/5 points.

 

Characterization:  The titular protagonist, Mob (whose actual name is Shigeyo Kagayama) is an unremarkable looking boy noted for his bowl-cut hair and simple appearance. However, he does possess extraordinarily strong psychic abilities, and within that, also has a “mode” of sorts that can activate under extreme duress, which reflects his usually repressed emotions. Despite Mob being a prodigy, he prefers to look for a purpose in life without relying on said abilities; he treats people kindly and without any sort of ego, and is the protegee/ assistant of Reigen, his “master” (who’s more like a life mentor).

 

Speaking of which, Reigen Arataka is the self-proclaimed “Greatest Psychic” in the world; in reality, he’s a smart con-man who runs a small-time spiritual consulting business, and his assistant is Mob, who helps him with *real* supernatural issues and other smaller tasks, such as paperwork. Despite his inflated ego, Reigen has sound life advice for Mob through the show and is shown to be a quick thinker on his feet and a master debater.

 

Mob’s younger brother is Ritsu, who initially is all the things Mob is not- popular, an honors student and a member of the school council. However, he desperately wishes to have psychic powers awakened above all else, and aside from caring about his big brother, it is the one thing he wishes to gain, even to his own detriment…

 

Teruki Hanazawa, best known as “Teru” in the show, appears as the shadow boss of Black Vinegar Middle School (yes, there’s turf wars.) A powerful Esper himself, Teru winds up challenging Mob in an ill-conceived battle… Popular, charming and smart, Teru’s world changes after his encounter with the titular hero.

 

Finally, there’s Dimple. Initially a power evil spirit controlling a certain group, he was defeated and reduced by Mob down to a weak little remnant. He sticks around, hoping initially to get back his power but winds up helping Mob and his allies as the story progresses.

 

The rest of the supporting cast includes a number of recurring characters with varying amounts of importance in a given episodes, and are often over the top hammy mixed in with more serious sides, demeanor and goals, depending on the cast member or situation. It fits the show’s unusual dynamics rather well; and while the side cast doesn’t get a lot of depth, the main characters are dynamic and receive some interesting developments as they proceed further into the show. It’s an all around solid effort. 4/5 points.

 

 

Story quality: Following the standard story arc progression of most anime, Mob also has a pseudo-episodic quality, with the daily misadventures of Mob and others on the main cast (and also occasionally the supporting cast) proving to be both self-contained stories and parts of a bigger plot that comes together in an impressive final stretch of episodes to end the season.  It’s definitely convoluted, but this show by and large makes it work. 3.75/5 points.

 

 

Themes: In some ways, perhaps the most impressive aspect of Mob Psycho 100 was its exploration of purpose and philosophies of living in the context of the show. Often times, the show would do something undeniably impressive to point out the different gifts and talents of people, never bringing one aspect up as superior to another, and among the main cast, a great deal of searching and understanding occurred through experience, trials and learning that “the grass isn’t always greener” on the the other side. 4/5 points.

 

 

Don’t insult the viewer: Mob’s got a few unnerving scenes, but overall provided a uniquely strange ride that also proved surprisingly hard to stop watching, which is a solid quality to possess in a show. The OP fits the strangeness of the show well, though whether it fits someone’s tastes is variable.  4.75/5 points.

 

 

Total Score: 20.5/25 (82%). As wild as you’d imagine a show featuring a powerful psychic boy would be, Mob Psycho 100 is an often strange but enjoyable journey through its protagonist’s attempts to lead a happy and fulfilling life, complicated by a never resting world of evil spirits, crazy psychics and unseen magic. It’s worth a watch.


Like what you see? Have you watched Mob Psycho 100? Leave a comment!

Preliminary Review: My Hero Academia (Boku no Hero Academia), post season 2

The Lowdown:

Show: My Hero Academia (also often referred to as Boku no Hero Academia)

Studio/years aired: Bones, 2016- present

AniB’s thoughts: First off, happy October to everyone! As with any new beginnings, something had to end, and so the last day of September also saw the conclusion of My Hero Academia’s second season- an action packed season that stretched all the way from April.  It also has been a while since I’ve done one of these pieces, and so perhaps there’s no better way to return than by covering my personal favorite pick of the various anime that I covered over the course of the past summer; one in which I even gave in my initial thoughts on a while ago. With the official conclusion of this cour, it’s now time for the full review process to commence, and I couldn’t be happier to note that the show has continued to impress since those first impressions.

With two seasons of brisk, vibrant material to pick through, as well as a (now) full knowledge of the source manga’s full run, it’s safe to say BnHA is in fact, an incredibly faithful translation of the source material. While I noted this key point in my preliminary thoughts on the show, it mostly works to the benefit of the production (though there have been some complaints about how accurate the flashbacks are too). It’s also safe to say that it’s quickly developed into one of the better shonen productions around, mostly striking a critical balance between storytelling and heated action sequences in just the right fashion.

(SOME SPOILERS HERE: SKIP TO GRADING IF YOU WISH TO AVOID.)

After Season 1’s rousing finale featuring top hero All Might in a no-holds barred fight against the incredibly powerful mutant Noumu, Season 2’s was a much more subtle but no less tense event featuring the ever growing audacity and newfound conviction of Tomura Shigaraki (the major antagonist), and his mentor, the hidden All For One, as a looming threat not just growing but beginning to thrive in the shadows. Along the way, fans were treated to an action packed follow-up that built off the end of the first season, from U.A.’s world famous Sports Festival, to the saga of the so called “hero killer”- Stain.

Something that stands out for My Hero Academia in particular is how wonderfully the aesthetic of the super-powered world it exists in pops, from the snappy designs of the extensive cast, to the wide and varied color palette used that does everything from painting U.A. Academy as bright and clean, to the dingy hideout in which Shigaraki carries out his sinister (and still developing) plans. It was in all likelihood an enormously difficult task to truly keep the feeling of the manga run ingrained in here, and while this preliminary review is specifically focused on the show and its merits, it’s hard not to admire how well the cast came to life in full motion and color.

As for the second season in particular, it brought a good deal of major story lines and arcs to the forefront, along with vibrant new additions to the cast, which had varying roles, and along with the growth in the story came progression for the characters, both in their own paths and powers (5% One For All hype!) but also in the growing sense of unease, which persisted as a constant undercurrent through the season, and sometimes, right out in the open, which was the case with Stain. All this primes Season 3 for another big tonal shift when it comes, and, if the manga is anything to go by, the anime-only viewers are potentially in for a real treat.

Two solid seasons with plenty of standout moments and a few, but not major flaws is always a real positive, and I’m looking forward to how the anime progresses (mostly expecting a continued manga-centric path, but being excellent in its own right.) The bar has been set high; simply put the show has gone beyond thus far, but let’s see if it’s truly… PLUS…ULTRA!!!


Animation Quality: As you might expect from Bones (the people who did Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, the quality of the hand drawn, computer shaded 2-D is on point. Vibrant and faithful to its source material, the fight sequences are beautifully crafted; a wide ranging and immersive color palette brings the world of heroes and villains to life, and it’s all done in a tasteful way that completely enhances the effects of the show at every turn. 5/5 points.

Characterization: BnHA has an extensive cast, but a few core players worth mentioning here specifically, led by the main character of the series, Izuku Midoriya.

Best known as “Deku” (his chosen hero name) from both fans of the show and the actual cast alike, Izuku’s dream of becoming the world’s number one hero is a pipe dream for him in a world where 80% of the population possesses superpowers, (or “Quirks”, as they’re referred to in-universe) and he has none. His life changes though with a chance encounter with the current #1 hero and his idol, All Might- where he is bestowed the powerful “One For All” quirk. Driven by relentless determination and a kind heart, Izuku’s got a lot of crazy in him- jumping into situations with little regard for himself- but he’s also committed to the suddenly steep and difficult journey that piece by piece, unfolds before him.

Speaking of which, All Might serves as a major character in the show, juggling multiple roles as Midoriya’s mentor, his still-extant run as the #1 hero, and a brand-new teaching position at U.A. Academy- the premiere school for training future heroes in the BnHA canon. As a hero, he’s the stereotype of a Silver Age comic book hero on the outside, wielding the awesome power of One For All- but hides his true form as a skinny man with disheveled hair and baggy clothes from all but a few. Despite the huge difference in strength and appearance, All Might is the same on the inside as a steadfast protector of the people and takes seriously his role as the “Symbol of Peace,” so much so that he’s unable to pace himself in his hero work…

Deku’s archrival from childhood is the brash and ill-tempered Katsuki Bakugo (spelled “Bakugou” in the manga). True to his personality, his Quirk allows his sweat to have nitroglycerin-esque properties, which in turn allows him to create localized explosions from the palms of his hands. A prodigy in terms of skill, his persistently foul moods mask to many his brilliance or his undying resolve to also be the top hero. As BnHA unfolds, Bakugo begins to resent Deku more and more, which leads to the beginnings and development of said rivalry on a grand scale.

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

Ochaco Uraraka is the first person Deku meets at the U.A. Entrance exams, and after said sequence of events, they become quick friends. Noted for her ability to manipulate the gravity of objects with her fingertips, she’s bright, kind and hard working…but also has a crush on Deku, which is low-key but quite obvious.

There’s also Tenya Iida, who despite his uptight nature, becomes close to Deku and Uraraka as well. The younger brother of the hero Ingenium, Iida looks up to his sibling and has a stringent, strict sense of honor and decorum…but there’s more to his character than meets the eye, as he has an ability that grants him great speed produced from the jets in his calves…

Gaining a great deal of relevance in Season 2 is Shoto Todoroki, the son of a very famous hero (no spoilers on that!) and another prodigy with a powerful Quirk that allows him manipulation of both ice and fire. Since he’s a walking spoiler for parts of season 2 (for those who have not seen the show) I’ll note that his resourcefulness and power are very impressive, though his level of control and personal path to walk pose their own issues for him.

Finally, I’ll mention Shigaraki again. I talked about him in my thoughts, but know he’s the major threat moving forward.

It’s a bit of a shame that this section can’t cover every last one of these characters in the show, but it’s a solid cast that translates the incredible design work of the manga well and in turn, the animation itself does wonders in bringing them to life thus far. 4.25/5 points.

Story quality: As you may have guessed from the character section, My Hero Academia’s tale is following Izuku Midoriya’s tale of “how he became the the #1 hero.” However, it’s never quite as simple as getting from point “A” to point “B” in a good to great series, and so it’s the vibrant mix of character development and different subplots converging at key moments that really makes the show’s story. It’s got a good flow and pacing for the most part; there have been gripes from some about the show’s usage of flashbacks, particularly in key moments, but this slight drawback hardly outweighs what otherwise is an enjoyable ride as heroes and villains alike gather their strength on the collision course known as “destiny.” 4/5 points.

Themes: Perhaps the most impressive themes of the series are the comprehensive exploration of “just what does it mean to be a true hero?” and the ever-well received (and in this case, well executed) message of one’s ability to always aim higher and break past their limits in a worthwhile pursuit to be great at one’s goals. There’s plenty of other more typical themes in there, from the friendship and rivalries aspect that’s typical in shonen, but the in-depth look and partial subversion of the hero genre is really very, very interesting thus far. 4/5 points.

Don’t insult the viewer: Clean-cut with just the right amount of rawness around the edges for a superhero shonen show, My Hero Academia’s an easily engrossing watch. There is some minimal fanservice, but hardly enough to warrant a deduction in the intagibles of the show (I’m looking at you, Mineta). A special note for the OST of this series, which has been fantastic up to this point and fits the essence of this world and its characters perfectly. 5/5 points.

Total Score: 22.25/25 (89%). A joy to watch unfold, My Hero Academia captures both a great sense of fun and storytelling within its immersive world; with a Season 3 coming at an undisclosed time (as of this writing) it’s a rock-solid start for a show that figures to stay on the forefront of conversations.

 

Review: Wander Over Yonder

Take a wild wacky trip across the galaxy.

The Lowdown:

Show: Wander Over Yonder

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

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

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

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

 

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

 


 

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

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

(SLIGHT SPOILERS:)

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

(END SPOILERS)

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

 

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


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