Review: SSSS.Gridman

Trigger’s fall offering revives an old franchise.

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

The Lowdown:

Show: S.S.S.S. Gridman

Studio/year released: Trigger, 2018:

AniB’s thoughts:

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

 

Happy New Year! 5 Characters I liked from things I watched in 2018

A quick pick of some good characters .

Alright, so today’s a more informal post for the first time in a while. I’ve been banging out a lot of reviews, so with the year coming to a close and 2019 starting, it seemed like a fun idea to look back on 5 characters I really liked from things I watched this year. That could be movies or shows, East or West- but animated, as always. (Before anyone asks: Killua is an all-time favorite. There’s also a character piece I did. Check it out if you haven’t!) There was plenty to choose from, as it’s been an action-packed year of viewing, so here we go!


Vanellope von Schweetz (Wreck-It Ralph, Ralph Breaks the Internet):

Honestly, I could (and probably will) give the sweet little racer from Disney’s Wreck-It Ralph films the full “What’s in a Character” treatment at some point, especially with 2 full movies’ worth of excellent character development, but Vanellope re-entered the scope of my mind with the sequel. A superbly fun character (voiced by Sarah Silverman, of all people) with a terrific dynamic that she has with Ralph, the regent of Sugar Rush is a surprisingly complex character, bundled into an adorable bundle of messy hair, a signature green hoodie, and boundless energy.

Yukko Aioi (Nichijou):

Nichijou, while a 2011 release in real-time, came into my life in a big way in 2018. While the many charming, quirky characters on the cast might all warrant some kind of mention, Yukko’s brand of terrible luck, persistent attempts at humor and futile battle against schoolwork all while never giving up is something to behold. Silly as Nichijou can be, it has smart moments of some pretty deep and touching stuff, and while Yukko isn’t a genius, she is someone who can be a great friend- and it’s through her actions that the robot girl Nano Shinonome is able to find comfort in the transition to being a schoolgirl, and her surprisingly up and down relationship with Mio Naganohara is a great joy of humor to watch unfold.

Anti (SSSS.Gridman):

Beyond the anime public’s adoring gaze upon Rikka Takarada and Akane Shinjo, the breakout character of this cast was none other than this man- a one-time kaiju whose initial casting drew a strong resemblance to Viral from Gurren Lagann. As time went on though, Anti’s varying hardships, coupled with his persistence in his goals (which originally was a single-minded, and I do mean single-minded obsession to destroy Gridman) found him both a strangely sympathetic character and a likable one who also delivered some major hype in a show you’d expect to have plenty of it. By the end of Gridman, Viral has undergone a complete character arc and transformation- and that, perhaps more than anything else in the show, is why he’s on this list.

Jack-Jack Parr (The Incredibles, Incredibles 2):

The youngest member of the Parr family had his big-screen coming out party this past year, where he transformed from a bit part in the original Incredibles film to a more active role, with a great deal of comedy and humor. From his backyard brawl with a raccoon to his unlikely heroics at the climax of Incredibles 2, Jack-Jack was about as humanly entertaining as you can make a baby character without him becoming annoying. No small feat there.

Kōhei Inuzuka (Sweetness and Lightning)

Father to the adorable Tsumugi in this sweet little slice of life anime, Kōhei struck me as interesting precisely because of his balancing act between being a good father (in the stead of his recently deceased wife) and his career as a teacher, which was handled with a lot of tact and care. While this show released back in 2016, it’s still worth going back to take a look (and here was my review of it.) This man’s selfless care, despite all the challenges he faces regularly, is a treat to watch, and a character archetype that seems far too scarce at time. Good dads (and parents) are never out of style!


So there’s my pick-5 for the past year. I hope everyone had a great 2018, and here’s a happy New Year as we get into 2019! I’m looking forward to another fantastic year here on AniB Productions, and to the excitement of my readers as they continue to grow. Feel free to leave a comment!

Day 14: A Huey Freeman Christmas (The Boondocks)

Day 14! We’re officially over halfway to Christmas Day, believe it or not. Today’s piece delves into one boy’s interpretation of that most holy of days in perhaps one of the more truly creative specials out there’s- that’s right, it’s time for Huey Freeman to bring The Boondocks’ special to life.

The Lowdown:

Show: The Boondocks

Episode: “A Huey Freeman Christmas”

Studio/year released: Adult Swim, 2005

AniB’s thoughts:

The Boondocks is a show I’ve been meaning to talk about and review on here for a while, but the opportunity never quite presented itself. While a more formal review will still come along at some point, this biting, irreverent, yet very funny show did have a famous Christmas special of its own- and that of course is the topic of the piece at hand- the time Huey Freeman, the main protagonist pictured on the right in this post’s picture- was tabbed to produce his school’s Christmas play.

Featuring the usual Boondocks style of humor and pacing, this special was actually just another episode in season 1. As far as the premise goes, Huey manages to get fully creative control over his class’s play after being initially reluctant when offered by his teacher, and despite having grand sweeping visions of how to produce and perform it, there’s two things that stick in the craw of the powers that be, namely a) the phasing out of students for professional actors in a school play and b) Huey’s creative choice to have a black baby Jesus. The former is something the boy manages to achieve, albeit with some later regret, a full scale PTA protest and boycott, and a lot of string pulling (seriously, just how does he manage to get a bunch of A-listers for such a play?), while the latter proves to be such a radically different vision from what society normally views that it actually compromises the wide public release and attention our protagonist attempts to get for the production at one point. Along the way, both Huey and those involved raise questions about what the season really means, often obfuscated by consumerism, greed and the delicate pull between people and giving what they can, vs pouring everything into something because of the belief you have it (like Huey and his play). In the end, the boy moves on, with a somewhat narssistic attitude about not “looking to the past”- a great irony considering the holy and centuries old origin of what Christmas is.

The B-plot involves a rather humorous, albeit violent handling of Riley Freeman’s anger at Santa Claus for never delivering new rims from years ago, culminating in an assault of a mall Santa and the young man threatening him. This plot blends into  neighbor girl Jazmine’s belief in Santa Claus, culminating in Huey’s younger, ruder and more naive brother returning again to attack the stand in Santa- Uncle Ruckus (a recurring character in the show who in true Ruckus fashion, is working yet another odd job.) Again, while dark comedy, this part of the episode also shines light on the effects of consumerism, the mythos of Santa Claus vs the commercial reality people have put in front of them…and of course an excellent excuse for more of the irreverent humor The Boondocks is known for.

As always, this episode is the best of this series in a nutshell- a biting sociopolitical commentary that manages to be both thought provoking and quite humorous. It’s a mature kind of humor, but the kind that might just give you a big laugh at this time of year, provided you’re old enough. There’s a bluntness and crudeness to it that also won’t fit everyone, but it feels real, in a word- perhaps not the characters, but some explorations of how people treat traditions and differences culturally, around this holiday season. Heck, it even takes its own stab at the belief of a child in Santa Claus’s existence, which is an oddly pure belief based on something generally beyond logic and reason called faith. There is an evocatively interesting heart beating beneath it all, and as Huey’s play opens to marvelous, albeit limited audiences and reviews, there’s this moment of both a vision realized and a reality that won, all at once. It’s really something in its own unique way.

As for me, this was both a thought provoking watch in addition to a funny one. It was very fresh and original to what you might expect from this kind of episode, but it worked marvelously well, with all its unexpected twists and turns, complemented by the bluntest of humor and the truly unusual spins on common seasonal themes. Fans of the series probably remember this fondly, but for those out there looking for something that’s both smart and a fair bit stronger in terms of content than the usual Christmas special suspects, try this one out. It’s the chocolate liquer shot in the middle of the milk chocolate candy bowl for the season; see if you want to take the drink or

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Like what you see? Big fan of The Boondocks or this episode? Leave a comment!

Day 12: Review/Rant: School Days

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

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

The Lowdown:

Show: School Days

Studio/years aired: TNK, 2007

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Day 11: Review: Adventure Time

The review of a modern-day titan.

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

The Lowdown:

Show: Adventure Time

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

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

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

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

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


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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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


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

 

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

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

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

The Lowdown:

Show: Lupin the III, Part IV: Italian Adventure

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

AniB’s thoughts:

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

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

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

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


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

 

Characters:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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


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

Day 7: Holiday Hi-Jynx (Pokemon)

Pokemon’s first and most infamous Christmas special.

Another day, another Christmas special!  Today’s pick is from the first season of the Pokemon anime, an era that many people may remember fondly, and after receiving a request, it’s coming front and center. Here’s what happens when the first generation of Pokemon meets Christmas Eve: Holiday Hi-Jynx.

(The first few days of the countdown can be accessed via these links: 1 2 3 4 5 6)

The Lowdown:

Special: Holiday Hi-Jynx

Show: Pokemon

Year released: 1998

AniB’s thoughts: Crazy as it is, I’ve never actually discussed the Pokemon anime on this blog yet. It likely was the first anime for quite a few people around 20-25 years old, and in turn, it can evoke a lot of pleasant childhood memories from the franchise’s early days, be it the trading card game rush that was all the craze in elementary schools, or some of the earliest games that released for the franchise in Pokemon Blue, Red and the special Pikachu-themed one, Yellow.

Indeed, the anime is still running today, which is no small feat. It’s often panned for being extremely formulaic, but admittedly some of this is being a victim of its own success, as Pokemon is an incredibly valuable franchise, and as long as that holds true, the show will go on. And like any successful long-running shonen series, it has specials and movies- including the first of a few Christmas-themed episodes in its history, the infamous Holiday Hi-Jynx, which got banned stateside, technically.

So what was so wild and crazy that led to them pulling this episode from the air, and how did I still see it? Well, for the former, it was an accusation that Jynx (the Pokemon in the title picture) perpetuated negative stereotypes about African-Americans- a charge that frankly didn’t cross my mind when watching this episode. And for the latter, it turns out the episode still found its way around due to video and DVD releases, meaning that it certainly wasn’t as “forbidden” as they made it seem. The rest of the episode itself…isn’t really ban-worthy whatsoever. Here’s what happens, for anyone wondering what the mystery of this episode was:

It’s a Christmas special, obviously. Like most Pokemon episodes, particularly in early seasons, it involves a Team Rocket plot that just so happens to cross with the holiday and of course, the main heroes are involved. The other major plot thread is about a Jynx who got separated from Santa while polishing his boot (no, I’m not making this up), and after a wayward journey sees it in a pitched battle against Ash Ketchum and his friends, they wind up helping it, setting off a relatively quick journey to the North Pole (which looks far sunnier and bright than you’d imagine). In the meantime, Team Rocket pursues them in a Gyarados-themed pedal-power submarine, all to enact the always original scheme of stealing all of Santa’s gifts. Hijinks ensue, the plot unfolds like most standard episodes of this show (i.e. TR’s plot intially succeeds only to go belly up and they get blasted off again), and the heroes are given gifts in the true spirit of Christmas.

This really isn’t a classic holiday episode or anything, but it is the most noteworthy one from Pokemon due to its notoriety and status as one of the rare “banned” episodes. The most startling thing about this might be that Lapras (a large swimming Pokemon that looks like a Nessie)  can telepathically talk to people, or that Santa Claus very casually exists in the Poke-verse, moreso than Jynx’s supposedly offensive appearance, which seems rather tame to pull the the entire episode compared to something like Electric Soldier Porygon, which actually caused epileptic seizures due to a certain scene.

Overall, it was an enjoyable little watch that I think Pokemon fans in particular might find nostalgic. There’s a sense than if this was the following generation, the Pokemon Delibird and Stantler might have put in appearances, but with only the original 151 to pick from at the the time, they got creative (i.e. Rapidash, a horse Pokemon as a “reindeer,” and the Jynx themselves as “elves.”) This version of the North Pole is probably one of the more simplistic layouts I’ve seen between various interpretations of the place, and this iteration of Santa is kindly and affable, though a bit generic. You can find this episode online rather easily, though official sources might not list it. And finally, what of the Jynx controversy? It actually triggered the future move to recolor all of the black areas in its design to purple, not only for any future anime appearances, but also in the games. Censorship or not though, this is a curious little slice of Pokemon history and another way to feel a sillier spirit of the season.


Like what you see? Big fan of Pokemon? Know the history behind this episode? Leave a comment!