2nd Top 10 Shows Listing

It’s the end of April, and 19 shows are on the board. Time for a refresher!

Well, I haven’t been writing that much lately, but with the end of April upon us, it seemed like a good time to update “the top 10.” This is strictly based on grades; note the top 5 are all so closely graded any of them really could be #1! All the reviews are linked to their shows here as well.

 

T1. Avatar: The Last Airbender (98%)

T1. Gravity Falls (98%)

T2. Cowboy Bebop (97%)

T2. Hunter x Hunter (97%)

T2. Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood (97%)

6. Young Justice* (93%)

7. The Legend of Korra (85%)

T8. Codename: Kids Next Door (84%)

T8. Phineas and Ferb (84%)

T8. Dragon Ball Z (84%)

Dropped out: Neon Genesis Evangelion (81%), Fanboy and Chum Chum (9%)

Just missed: Rurouni Kenshin (82%), Ben 10 (81%), Evangelion.

NOTE: “*” denotes a preliminary review.

Once again, 97% and 98% is splitting hairs. I’d say any of those shows have a legitimate claim for the top spot. (It also goes without saying they’re worth a watch!) For a refresher of what the first Top 10 looked like after only 10 reviews, click here.


Still not seeing a show you’re hoping to see here? Agree or disagree? Leave a comment!

First Top 10 for Animated Shows

Ten reviews, ten grades, first listing.

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

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

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

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


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

What’s In a Character: Zuko

The former crown prince of the Fire Nation is a very unique character.

Hello dear readers! Today’s piece about Zuko is the first in a series about certain characters I’ve thought were worth writing more at length about. Reviews are a fantastic format to write further at length about shows, but they do not do as much justice to complex, well developed characters; in many cases, shows feature extensive casts and unless you want to read reviews longer than the Great Wall of China, I can only really highlight the major members of a show.

Zuko in many ways is the most interesting character in one of the best Western shows in animated history, and almost certainly a top 5 deutragonist. As I noted in my Avatar: The Last Airbender review (read it if you haven’t!) he serves as a foil to Aang throughout his journey in the show; his path is inextricably intertwined with the Avatar’s, which manifests itself in unpredictable ways. As Zuko travels along his eventual path to becoming one of Aang’s most trusted allies and eventually taking up the mantle of Fire Lord himself, there is some extraordinary character development and intriguing decisions made in a journey that is truly all Zuko’s alone. Voiced by the excellent Dante Basco, the only right thing to do is ‘honor’ the head of the Fire Nation at length! (One final note: This review is about Zuko during Avatar: The Last Airbender. It’s not going to make reference to his much older self in The Legend of Korra, which essentially amounted to a cameo.)

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When Avatar: The Last Airbender began its run back in 2005, Zuko’s first appearance suggested he might be the typical villain you’d expect from a Nicktoon based on the network’s past performance and the unrealized brilliance that ATLA was yet to become. He was hunting the Avatar; Aang appeared conveniently from an iceberg, and perhaps the first thought one could have about Zuko was that he was a young Captain Ahab; doomed to sail the seas in pursuit of his white whale. Fortunately, that conclusion was both premature and rather short-lived. Once it quickly became clear in the first half dozen episodes of the show that it was a world-building, story driven narrative- a sharp departure from the Nickelodeon formula up to that time, and far more in line with anime counterparts from the East, Zuko’s character immediately became far more interesting. Traveling with his Uncle Iroh, the only person in the world (aside from his mother) who could truly claim that he loved him, the season 1 Zuko’s obsession with finding the Avatar formed a rivalry with the arrogant Admiral Zhao, a man who foolishly believed he could capture the moon spirit and destroy it, all in the name of personal hubris. The true purpose of Zhao’s role in the story though was to show what would happen to Zuko if he continued down that path of blindness; dragged into the Spirit World of that universe, Zhao was forever trapped, driven to insanity by his ambition (which is revealed fully in a cameo in the second season of The Legend of Korra.) It took Zuko taking off with Aang’s body into a frozen wilderness, nearly dying in the process, and personally seeing Zhao literally dragged into what can be construed as the depths of hell to start realizing that his task- his “mission,” which was to regain his “honor” by capturing the Avatar, was a convenient way for his father- the tyrannical Fire Lord Ozai- to dispose of him whilst simultaneously advancing his plans for world domination.

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The beginning of the second season saw these fear confirmed, as his sadistic sister and crown princess of the Fire Nation- Azula- appeared. Fleeing with Iroh upon being labeled “prisoners,” it would be Zuko’s journey through the Earth Kingdom that would start to truly teach him what “honor” meant. Living off the land did not suit the young man used to royalty and (relatively) comfortable living, and ultimately he would be confronted by his own past. Zuko Alone is one of the best standalone episodes in the series, specifically showcasing the struggles Zuko had between his identity as Fire Nation prince and fugitive young man trying to forge his way forward. Another element that resolves itself for him in this season is the ‘Blue Spirit’ alias originally introduced in the first season. Essentially serving as a vigilante double, it was another expression of the young prince not necessarily being honest with himself, or the totality of his person. (After setting the Avatar’s flying bison Appa free from a Dai Li prison, he symbolically sets this Robin-hood esque personality free as well by dumping the mask in Lake Laogai.) This was reflected also by his rage-fueled firebending, which seemed much weaker than that of his uncle, Iroh- the former great Fire Nation general; or Azula, whose prodigious skills were hallmarked by rare blue-colored flames and a mastery of lightning generation. As Iroh would explain to his young nephew about the balance of the elements, so too Zuko would have to find such balance within…but it would not be quite yet. After finding a quasi-peaceful existence in Ba Sing Se, the capital of the Earth Kingdom, the gut-wrenching Season 2 finale saw Zuko make a decision to team up with Azula out of indecision in his heart that fueled the almost extinguished- but not quite- thirst of capturing the Avatar that had been full bore in Boy In the Iceberg. Not to be understated here was the capture of his beloved Uncle Iroh, who he had reunited with and had helped run a tea buisness with in the city. This betrayal, along with that of Katara, whom he’d finally connected with, loomed heavily on the young prince’s mind.

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Going back to the initial introductory thoughts of this piece and my Avatar: The Last Airbender review, Zuko’s path had continued to mirror Aang’s up to this point. While the young Avatar had suffered a critical injury in the battle of Ba Sing Se’s catacombs, Zuko had achieved redemption…or had he? Starting with Azula’s lie that he, Zuko, had “killed the Avatar,” doubt crept in from the word “go” on what his decisions had led him to. Season 1’s finale had him nearly die trying to do what was lied about in the wake of Season 2’s finale; and it was precisely the empty feeling of his “honor” upon being received back into the fold at home that Zuko’s journey would finally start turning on a true path of internal discovery. After rediscovering his family roots to his maternal grandfather- Avatar Roku, and feeling deep shame and guilt for Iroh’s capture, Zuko finally started to move on his own. Making his decision on the Day of Black Sun, the midseason finale, Zuko defied his father- the tyrannical Fire Lord Ozai, voiced by the always amazing Mark Hamill, and very symbolically flew off in a Fire Nation balloon, ready to forge a new path for himself- and unwittingly enough,his nation. After being received with less than enthusiastic responses from Team Avatar about his conversion (particularly Katara), he then proceeds for the next number of episodes to bond with his newfound allies in this newly formed life he chose to follow. His previously weak firebending would be replaced by an experience shared with Aang himself; the Dancing Dragon style, which was passed on from “the original firebenders, the dragons.” Zuko’s renewed bending signaled a shift in his motivations and determination; and on the other side, Aang would now be his pupil in firebending, as the young Avatar’s fear of the element had dissipated.

Zuko would also take part in the daring rescue at the Boiling Rock prison facility, where he found a valuable friend in Sokka while rescuing his father Hakoda, and love interest, Suki- a fierce warrior in her own right. It would be at the Boiling Rock where the shift in personalities between brother and sister would become evident- as Zuko continued to be more at peace, forging the path of destiny, Princess Azula, who had been the picture of unnaturally composed in her 2nd season tour de force finally began to snap mentally, ordering the arrest of her two best friends and most trusted “henchpeople” up to that point- Mai and Ty Lee. As the heroes escaped, her descent into madness began; a story point that would resolve itself in the climatic final battle between the two. But first I must mention that our man of the hour makes up with Katara in The Southern Raiders,  a rather selfless act by the prince to help settle a personal vendetta of Katara’s own. That leads us to the part you’ve probably all been waiting for: The final Agni Kai.

Just watch the video above. No amount of exposition or description can really adequately describe the buildup to this moment. Understand this though: far from just being one of the best battles in the entire series, everything is set up to contrast Zuko’s journey against Azula’s destructive rampage. Warm orange flames meet cold blue ones. Zuko’s not alone like he was in season 2- this time, he sticks with Katara. Most importantly, his calm, confident demeanor stands out sharply against the obvious psychosis of the unhinged Azula here. Ultimately, Katara wins the fight and saves him after his selfless decision to protect her, but compare this version of the prince to the one from the start of the show. That’s character development. (Oh, and his foil? Aang mastered all the elements, beat the Fire Lord and saved the world. Not a bad redemption for a coward and an outcast.)


Like this analysis? Have an opinion? Chime in. Oh, and one more thing:

You knew it was coming. HONOR! HONOR! HONOR!


All rights to the Nostalgia Critic and Viacom for the contents of these videos.

Review: The Legend of Korra

The successor series to Avatar: The Last Airbender is a unique show in its own right.

The Lowdown:

Show: The Legend of Korra

Network and years aired: Nickelodeon, 2012-2014

AniB’s thoughts: I did not know initially what to expect from the sequel series of Avatar: The Last Airbender, aside from the fact that it had a very high bar to reach, perhaps unfairly so. It is my opinion that while Korra did not quite reach the same heights as its predecessor, it was a unique show in its own right, and executed some very interesting, cool ideas all on its own (The mini-arc from Season 2 with Wan, anybody?). That’s well and good, but I also need to acknowledge the elephant in the room for any fans in the room (and that there’s MAJOR SPOILERS for newcomers, so skip ahead to the grading section if need be), that being the romance and shipping in this show, because it’s obvious if I’m writing a Legend of Korra review, you’ll want to hear my thoughts on the show’s endgame. My opinion has been the same from the first time I watched the finale: It sucked.

Let me clarify my statement further: My issue with the endgame between Korra and Asami Sato has everything to do with the writing of the show. As a critic, I cared very little about the warring factions of Korra fans over shipping, and much more about the same elements I’m always analyzing in a show- and the issue here lay in both character and story development. Simply put, “Korrasami” is a crappy bit of writing that left Mako without a truly definitive conclusion (which I believe was the original endgame, but changed at some point) and did not have nearly enough of a buildup or real foreshadowing, which led me to  think either of the following three conclusions: that a) The writers (Bryan Konietzko and Michael Dante DiMartino) decided to give a big middle finger to Nickelodeon, considering the network had treated what had easily been its best rated, most popular show during its run quite badly, to the point that a late season 4 episode had its budget slashed, and was forced to be a clip-show; b) The chorus of shippers who wanted this specific conclusion was so loud and vocal the writers unfortunately caved in to please/placate such fans, or c) a combination of both. For anyone arguing that “Korrasami” was a long awaited thing, let me illustrate a couple points: First, The Legend of Korra was meant to initially be a 1-season show. At some point, this endgame was devised, and I believe it was quite late (again, my speculation), but it was not the original intentions of the writers, if Season 1’s finale was anything to go by. Next, a pen pal relationship and a wink and a blush between two women hardly constitutes that they’re about to be romantically involved. It can just as easily denote a strong friendship- a unique bond between women that is both empathetic and understanding. From my perspective, this would have been a far more logical conclusion to make from a character development standpoint, except for the nagging belief that the vocal segment of the fandom who wanted the endgame we got would get their wishes, development be damned! Finally, the last issue lies with the character of Asami Sato herself. While a major character in the first and second seasons, her role (mostly) dwindled in the final two seasons, aside from bankrolling a fancy blimp, giving the occasional baddie a shock from her electric glove, and being a real estate developer. Asami, therefore, did not have enough weight as a character to really justify the specific ending we received! That in turn also leads back to my conclusion that everything involving “Korrasami” was a late decision based on the factors I laid out, but as they say, the rest is history. The franchise is now saddled with that decision come hell or high water, and frankly, it’s probably best they run with it now that it’s been made. I still think it was a bad choice from a writing perspective, and I’ll leave it at that. Now…some people probably want to hear about everything outside the final 2 minutes of a 4 season series, so we’ll get into that now!


Animation Quality: Highly detailed 2-D animation with heavy influences in anime. Korra took cues from its predecessor (Avatar: The Last Airbender) and polished them even further, resulting in stunning action sequences and a compelling re-entry into a transitional version of the Avatar world. There are many gorgeous moments worth mentioning, but a special shoutout goes to the season 3 finale, which the animation was perfectly choreographed with the music and storytelling.  5/5 points.

Characterization: The characters are well developed for the most part; the Avatar’s (Korra) journey through the four seasons provides an overarching plot that is generally cohesive and intended as a foil to the original Avatar, Aang in terms of progression. (What I mean by that is that Korra’s journey is often an inner one; Aang conversely had to master the 4 elements and physically become the Avatar he was meant to be; he had a strong spiritual connection to start.)

Korra herself is a headstrong, tough young woman who is initially all too eager to show off the world her prowess as the young Avatar. Coming from the Southern Water Tribe, and living in the giant shadow of her predecessor Aang, she quickly finds that carving out her own legacy is not nearly as easy or straightforward as punching an Equalist goon in the face, and each season progressively delves deeper into Korra’s spiritual connection as the Avatar and her inner demons. (It’s a very Eastern aesthetic, but works well here). With her friends and family though, she continues to move forward.

Mako and Bolin are brothers living in Republic City, the new megaopolis that Avatar Aang founded. (Slight spoilers) Born to a Fire Nation mother and Earth Kingdom father, Mako is a talented firebender and Bolin is an earthbender. The brothers enjoy playing the sport of pro-bending profesisonally(you’ll see if you haven’t watched the show) and become the first friends and then valuable allies through the series to Korra. Bolin also has a fire ferret named Pabu that accompanies him and serves as the inspiration for the team name in pro-bending they have; Mako has an interesting arc that involves romance, police work, and plenty of resourcefulness.

Asami Sato, aside from the diatribe above, is a talented inventor who takes over her father’s buisness for certain reasons (which are very clear in the show). She is the financial muscle of Team Avatar, and often has good advice for her friends. Her signature weapon is an electric glove made intially for the Equalists (the first antagonist group of the series), which combined with her decent prowess in hand to hand combat, is formidable.

While there’s a great deal of other characters worth mentioning (such as deus ex Jinora), the last one I’ll flesh out here is Tenzin. Master airbender and youngest son of Aang, he is a bit of an uptight traditionalist, but cares deeply for his family and friends, and is as brave and resourceful as you’d expect the son of Aang to be.

The supporting cast is also well developed in general; my nitpick was always with Asami Sato, who often felt like a spare tire through the latter half of the series. The romances were a little sloppy; the best in the show from this writer’s opinion was (spoiler!) was Varrick and Zhu Li.  4/5 points.

 
Story quality: The story was an overarching canon about Korra mixed with smaller sub arcs in the different season. These generally flowed together well, and were perfect for character development. Notably, Korra went with seasonal antagonists rather than an overarching one like ATLA and the Fire Nation; these were generally good although Unalaq was rather stereotypical for a villain character. As I talked about at length, Korra’s romantic life was rather clunky. 4.25/5 points.

Themes: Korra dealt with a large theme of change and growth (the Avatar world was constantly growing and is at a pivotal point in its history when Korra takes place.) It also dealt with relationships and ideologies. The final 2 minutes of the show is thoroughly controversial (writing aside), and to say otherwise is to beat down the potential fans who may not agree with how it was handled. (Personally, this is simply an acknowledgement of different moral codes, not anything else.) 3.5/5 points

Don’t insult the viewer: The show was darker and somewhat edgier in tone than ATLA, and for the most part it worked, except for the romantic bits. Frankly, that’s not enough to dock more than a half point.  Specially mention also goes to the terrific score through the show again, which really helped set the tone and atmosphere for so many key moments. 4.5/5 points.

Total Score: 21.25/25 (85%). The successor to Avatar: The Last Airbender was visually stunning and for the most part hit the right notes, but had a few major, mostly minor flaws that kept it from perfection. It’s still an excellent show, and as some places have mentioned, has a lot of strong female characters, which is nice. Overall, Korra rates out favorably in the end.


Like what you see? Have something to say? Feel free to comment- nothing is better than healthy, constructive discussion!

Review: Avatar: The Last Airbender

A classic of Western animation holds up well years later.

The Lowdown:

Show: Avatar: The Last Airbender

Network and years aired: Nickelodeon, 2005-2008

AniB’s thoughts: Avatar: The Last Airbender is definitely still one of my favorite shows to this day, encompassing the best of Western animation with a heavy influence from Japanese anime as well, in both design and storytelling. The story of the young Avatar, Aang- who emerges from a 100-year hibernation in an iceberg to save the world- is richly detailed, full of humor, but also focused and serious in a way that few shows intended for younger audiences ever are. ATLA set a new bar for Western animation- no longer would just a bare-bones, cheaply animated Flash show do to satisfy regular cartoon watchers (they had become all too ubiquitous in the early 2000’s), but as had been true from the beginnings of the medium, quality won out. It would be amiss not to further note the excellent cast of characters around the titular Avatar, led by VA Dante Basco’s deeply flawed, but very compelling prince-in exile, Zuko, Mae Whitman’s compassionate Katara; her smart wiscracking brother Sokka, and of course, the “Blind Bandit”- the tough talking earthbending prodigy Toph Beifong. I remember seeing the 4-part finale of this show back in 2008 (Sozin’s Comet) and being utterly spellbound by the place ATLA had built its story up too. Whether you’re looking to revisit an amazing show that has doubtless been talked about over and over again by others, or to discover a new experience you have never taken, this review is for wherever you might fall on that path. (Oh, and forget about the awful M.Night Shyamalan film from 2010. Everyone considers it the black sheep of the franchise and a horrific non-canon representation, so purge it from your mind if that’s your only experience of Avatar.)

Animation Quality: 2-D animation with heavy influence from Japanese anime. Also uses occasional 3-D (i.e. season 2, episode 10-The Drill). The animation is gorgeous and pops off the screen in a style that brings the Avatar world and its characters to life. Even more impressive are the action sequences, with a particular mention to the Sozin’s Comet arc. The animation started off good (Boy in the Iceberg) and got progressively better to the SC arc. But most importantly, it was critical in telling the story itself. When you see the end of the season 2 finale as an example, it’s evident how powerful an expose it can be.  5/5 points.

 
Characterization: There’s a core 5 that I mentioned in my thoughts (Aang, Zuko, Katara, Sokka, and Toph), with Toph joining mid- 2nd season. Aang is young, impressionable and eager to learn, but carries the (literal) weight of the world on his shoulders- the role of Avatar means that one can “bend,” or manipulate all 4 elements (water, fire, earth and air), but also must serve as the protector, or balancer of Earth. (“The Last Airbender” itself has a dark, dark connotation, which becomes readily evident as soon as the first 5 minutes of the show.)

Zuko is one of the greatest deuteragonists  in all of animation. A prince in exile from his country, the all-powerful (and fiercely antagonistic Fire Nation), he serves as the foil to Aang- searching for his own light and path, unaware of the intertwined destinies the two share aside from an initial goal to capture said Avatar and “restore his honor.” A skilled firebender, Zuko also wields broadswords capably and is quite a tough fighter despite his inner turmoil.

Katara and Sokka are brother and sister. The former is the last waterbender of the formerly great Southern Water Tribe, (which, as you’ll see very quickly in the show has been reduced to a few huts during the 100 years of war by the Fire Nation.) Equally emapthetic and fierce, Katara sees herself as a protective force, particularly to Aang, and has a maternal-esque instinct about her. Her waterbending skills rapidly improve as the show goes on. Sokka is her brother- a technological and tactical genius, but lacking bending skills, or much fighting ability at first, but containing the heart of a warrior and a very good aim with his trusty boomerang. While often in each other’s hair, figuratively speaking, the siblings do get along most of the time, and their strength complement each other well as they accompany Aang on his journey.

Finally, there’s Toph. A master earthbender and tough as nails, Toph masquerades initially as the helpless blind daughter of the Beifong family- Earth Kingdom royalty. While very reluctant at first (an understatement to be honest), Toph consents to be Aang’s earthbending teacher and travels with Team Avatar. Quite popular among fans, Toph’s character is superbly unique, with a likable charm that’s all her own.

All of the characters are varied and different, have different goals and weaknesses, and are believable for their age. Zuko’s Uncle Iroh provides a well-developed older voice to balance the younger cast (I’m not going to say more- truly a fantastic figure as well). Character voicing is well cast, development through the show is superb, and special mention goes to the development and performance of Azula, the psychotic Fire Nation princess (another character I will discuss further in time, but a bit of a MAJOR spoiler here) 5/5 points.

 

 
Story quality: As a show focused on an overarching canon, Avatar was superb. It did not have many fillers, and the ones it did have were interesting. Most episodes advanced the plot and character development, and the dramatic sequences were well-constructed and not contrived in the least. Season finales progressively got better and did not disappoint on massive expectations. The “flow,” or pacing of the show also never felt rushed, but also not lagging either. Episodes also hit a consistent quality of “good to great” with some real standout moments.  5/5 points.

 

 
Themes: Coming of age, finding one’s path, forging friendships, facing adversity. There’s more than this, but Avatar at its core is a good show with a good moral compass and deals with ideas that both kids and adults can appreciate. The love sequences (yes, there is a romance element) are perhaps a tad awkward, bringing this down a half point. 4.5/5 points.

 

 
Don’t insult the viewer: Avatar: The Last Airbender does the exact opposite: It is a masterwork in weaving together a cohesive story and world where a viewer can get invested and immersed. It is not insulting or unintelligent in any particular way, and the comic sequences are well played with a sense of humor (and Sokka). Extra credit goes as well to a particularly diverse and catchy score: the finale in particular has some incredible music.  5/5 points.

Total Score: 24.5/25 (98%): Avatar: The Last Airbender set a blazing trail in Western animation, namely by taking key notes from its Japanese counterparts and not being afraid to tell a real story anyone could relate to. It was not a kid’s show, or an adult show: It was a show anybody could appreciate, both for its fascinating world and relatable characters. At the end of the day, it is a timeless classic that will endure.


Like this review? Hate it? Let me know in the comments. The best feedback is the thoughts I actually get to hear and read- feel free to also chime in on what other sorts of content you’d like to see, or shows to be reviewed!