Review: Made in Abyss

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

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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!

Review: Puella Magi Madoka Magica

A magical experience that defies stereotypes.

The Lowdown:

Show: Puella Magi Madoka Magica (often shortened to PMMM or just Madoka)

Studio(s)/years aired: Shaft/Aniplex, 2011

AniB’s thoughts: Well, well, well… some of you have patiently waited for this review for a while (shout-out to S.G.), and frankly, it’s a pleasure to have written it. Simply put, Madoka is a terrific show, defying the cringy stereotypes of the magical girl genre while delivering an highly favorable impact in only 12 episodes.

To be honest, it was hard to know what one should expect given that it was a blind watch and the genre has never been my usual choice to watch in animation, but experience took over and all the aspects that exists in any good to great animated show- gripping characters, stellar animation quality, and a very interesting story with progression- were all in place, along with some very thought-provoking thematic elements that created an unexpected depth in the storytelling.

It’s also worth adding that it was very pleasing to see a dearth of fanservice in this type of show. The genre lends itself to the stereotype, but instead, the show focused its efforts on its core experience that it delivered- and at the heart of it are some terrific characters. Madoka’s a likable, personable main character, but it is Homura- the mysterious magical girl with the power of time manipulation, and the strange creature known as Kyubey that truly steal the show. Both have very interesting motivations that drive them, and Homura in particular received an outstanding character arc.

It’s evident that Madoka Magica is the magical girl show for people who don’t normally watch these types of shows, simply because it is a great piece of work. It’s true the cast is mostly cute girls, but the themes they grapple with and the decisions they find themselves making in this world are all too real, with a gravity and dramatic tension that is nicely balanced. Based on my viewing, it’s safe to say Madoka is definitely one of the better anime from the East this decade and probably the best of its kind out there.

Now, onto grading:


Animation Quality: Modern 2-D anime, hand drawn but computer-shaded. Madoka pops off the screen, as good anime all tend to do- but its visuals also helps sell the complex and rich narrative it provides as well, along with its intriguing cast and thought-proving themes. Action sequences in particular are unique, using several different styles to indicate the chaos of witches in the show as an example. The animation does a wonderful job drawing the viewer into a compelling world. 5/5 points.

 

Characterization: The show focuses on the titular lead character, Madoka Kaname, and her role to play in the mysterious dealings of Kyubey, a strange alien being responsible for the creation of magical girls. Appearing as a small white, cat-like creature with red eyes and long ears adorned with hoop rings, Kyubey’s appearance and voice only add to the strangeness of this creature…and whose ulterior motives become more evident with the passage of time.

 

Madoka herself is a kind young junior-high girl who despite her musings about magical girls and their activities, is reluctant to become one due to the consequences of how Kyubey creates them- namely through a special, eternally binding contract. However, she is thrust inevitably into the middle of a looming crisis involving a super-powerful witch’s arrival, and the cruel consequences for all parties involved in this mysterious world.

 

Her best friend from school, Sayaka Miki, also finds herself intimately intertwined in the web of intrigue, but is is lured in by the promise of a unbounded wish as part of the magical girl contract with Kyubey. She cares deeply for a friend who suffered a crippling hand injury in an accident, and so Sayaka’s sense of justice is both pure and idealistic.

 

However, the most mysterious magical girl is Homura Akemi, a seemingly cold individual uninterested in the usual rules of being one, and with the highly unusual ability to manipulate time. What her purpose and goals are are shrouded in mystery through the show, but slowly reveal themselves.

There are other magical girls as well, one of which is a bit of a spoiler for those who haven’t seen this show, but the other is Mami Tomoe- who introduces both Madoka and Sayaka to the duties and responsibilities of the role, should they accept Kyubey’s contract.

Madoka is definitely a show that excels with its small cast and does a terrific job developing them in the concise, tight narrative that exists. It’s a treat to watch the development that takes place, and how well the show ties its cast into the overarching plot seamlessly. 4.75/5 points.

 

Story quality: Overarching plotline. Madoka’s story is quite difficult to boil down into a few words, let alone without spoilers, but overall, it’s a tale about the choices people make and their implications, just what exactly does it mean when one says “the greater good”, and the sacrifice involved with it, and a tale about true friendship and even love (in a non-romantic sort of way). It’s a terrific character-driven plot that has intrigue, action, and is hardly what you’d think a show featuring “magical girls” would look and feel like, especially given the narrative weight. 4.5/5 points.

 

Themes: Like the story, there is much to unpack in the thematic elements of this show. The consequences of all choices, and the idea that there is no such thing as a “free wish” is key, as is the idea that “the decisions you make seal your fate.” Also key is the idea of “what is selflessness vs unselfishness?” and “What is the cost of doing something that can be portrayed as altruistic? What does sacrifice truly mean?” Much is asked in this show, and these answers are given in surprisingly thorough detail for a 13 episode anime. 4.5/5 points.

 

Don’t insult the viewer: In an anime where the temptation is to have loads of fanservice, this really isn’t an issue here at all, and the show gains much for it. Tightly choreographed, briskly paced with action and dramatic tension throughout, it’s a gripping little watch. 5/5 points.

 

 

Total Score: 23.75/25 (95%). A case of where expectation pleasantly did not meet reality, Madoka Magica is a heavily thought-provoking watch with a lot more weight to its narrative and cast than one would officially be led to believe. It’s worth a look, even for those not into the magical girl genre as an all-around excellent show.


Like what you see? Enjoy Madoka? Leave a comment!

 

Preliminary Review: Attack on Titan (Shingeki no Kyojin) (post season 2)

The long anticipated second season of the show proved to be action packed and a solid continuation of the series.

The Lowdown:

Show: Attack on Titan (Shingeki no Kyojin)

Studio (NA network)/ years aired: Wit Studio (Adult Swim/Toonami), 2013-

(NOTE: SPOILERS abound ahead, so skip to the grading if you want to avoid them.)

AniB’s analysis: Well, that went fast, didn’t it? After years of anticipation and waiting, the 12 episode second season of Attack on Titan ripped by in a flash, but the frenetic pace and non-stop action gave us an overall worthy continuation and adaptation in the series. I suspect season 3 will feel like the second half of a whole in regards to the current season that just concluded, but the anime still covered a great deal of ground, from the debut of the Beast Titan, to the low-key reveals of Bertoldt and Reiner as the Colossal and Armored Titans respectively, and even the slowly dawning revelations of a Titan’s origins.

It’s hard to find an exact starting point in discussing this frenetically-paced season. A good point to was the leading role Ymir emerged to take in the season, along with the increasingly interesting role of Christa, who in fact was disbarred royalty- her true identity being that of Historia, a bastard child of a royal lineage; the back-room mechanizations of the “priests” inside Wall Rose, and of course Ymir’s tragic, strange and unique backstory. The idea of Titan shifters, first brought to life in Eren and then Annie Leonhart in the form of the Female Titan, took a dominant role here- and Ymir introduced a small 5m form as opposed to the huge Shifters that existed elsewhere in the series. Her backstory was and is tragic- and in turn, her decision-making became much clearer in light of her own past and the future she saw ahead for herself.

Of course, the other huge dynamics at play were the aforementioned reveals of Reiner and Berthold as the Armored and Colossal Titans, respectively, and their own motivations for why they launched the fatal attack at the beginning of the series. This question of what drives them and their actions is pivotal in Season 2, where there’s a certain struggle for identity between the Scouts they’d become in the fight for humanity, or their actual purpose as infiltrators, meant to find “the Founding Titan” (who in fact is revealed to be Eren.) Needless to say, it brings another dynamic to the show…and between them and Ymir, there’s a lot of flashbacks to their training days in the military.

Finally, there’s the return and continuation of the Eren-Mikasa-Armin dynamic, with the latter 2 sworn to protect Eren, and the full circle completion of the events of 5 years ago in one sense, as Hannes gets involved as well. We also get to see Sasha’s (the potato girl’s) backstory and she gets a really neat episode where she rescues a single child from a Titan with nothing but her bare fists and a lot of running; and one other highly important point occurs- the mysterious origin of Titans begins to become devastatingly clear, with highly dramatic implications.

Season 3 promises to be one of high tension with plenty of story points moving forward, from Titan origins, to the continued role of the Beast Titan, and perhaps even the mysterious motives of the priests inside the walls. Finally… Dedicate Your Heart is one amazing opening song. SASAGEYO!


Animation Quality: Traditional 2-D anime, with computer cel shading. Attack On Titan, as you might expect, looks gorgeous… which also makes the various scenes of violence and destruction much more impressive. Character models are nice, and the whole show’s atmosphere is set up largely in part because of the animation, which captures all the little details like sunlight glimmering off Scouts’ capes, or the detailed features of city carnage. 5/5 points.
Characterization: The show’s main three characters are Eren Jaeger, an impulsive, hotly determined young man with the mysterious ability to transform into a Titan, and his two running mates, Mikasa and Armin. Eren himself is best described as passionate, where he throws himself fully into whatever he does and never gives up in a seemingly hopeless situation. He’s not the most talented individual, but his resolve and drive turns him into a top cadet out of his military training class, and in some ways, makes him ideal in possessing his Titan form.

The former (Mikasa) is a girl who was fostered by Eren’s family at a young age and later serves as his protector with few words and highly impressive combat skills. She usually is all buisness in dealing with Titans and other people, but has a warm side to those who she is close to. She is considered a prodigy as a Soldier and finished at the top of the cadets in her training class.

The latter (Armin) is a kind-hearted, but somewhat unsure kid who is also a master tactician and genius. His confidence grows as the first season wears on, and continues into the next season, where he is determined to protect Eren.

The show also features many other important characters, which are worth noting in addition to the ones highlighted in my thoughts: Ervin Smith, the formidable captain of the Scouts, and his right hand man, the skilled Captain Levi, the scientist Scout Zoe Lange, and several fellow trainees of Eren’s training cadet group (who have been shown to play huge roles). Overall, the cast is varied and well done, and recieved more time with development in season 2, which was very good. 4.5/5 points.

 

Story quality: There’s a heavy story-based plot structure with over-arcing elements, which makes sense, not only from a storytelling perspective, but also a director-based one (Tetsuro Araki also did the adaptation of Death Note, another heavily story-based anime.) There are no fillers, and the action stays constant through the series so far, with occasional pauses for more emotional moments and flashbacks. It’s well done so far, but still needs more time to mature into the final result, something that remains true after 2 seasons. 4.5/5 points.

 

Themes: Probably the most interesting part of the show so far is its deep and intimate exploration of emotions, morality, and practicality. The characters range in their philosophies, some of which are very difficult to grasp as an audience, such as Capt. Ervin Smith’s belief that sacrifice is not a personal affair, but a necessary one for the greater good of winning a war… It’s dark, and resonant, perhaps too dark at several points, but undeniably complex. 4/5 points.

 
Don’t insult the viewer: There’s a ton of blood and guts, but the writing is excellent, and the narrative throughout the two seasons assures Titan is not just a mindless, gory mess. There’s emotional gravitas and some really solid character development, which means while there’s a lot of death and destruction, it usually has the proper emotional heft to it. Titan’s also got some amazing openings and solid endings, which is always a big plus. 4.75/5 points.

 

Total Score: 22.75/25 (91%). A dark, chilling action thriller epic, Attack on Titan is a grimly gripping narrative of humanity, morality, and other such implications. It is an experience that should only be for 17 years and older, but for those of age, and willing constitution, the spectacle is immensely gripping and the emotional impact deep. The show will probably air a 3rd season sometime in 2018.


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