Random Episode Ramblings #1: “Not What He Seems” (Gravity Falls)

A while back, a certain reader of mine requested at some point that I take a look at individual episodes of some shows. I considered the proposal and ultimately decided that it’d make another good series to write that would keep me going for a while…the only hard part being that I had to parse down to singular episodes I really liked. Most of the time, I usually am thinking about shows in their totality because I’m writing the graded reviews that are a major focus of this blog, and I also know other bloggers already do this kind of analysis…but I’m here to put the “AniB spin” on it. (I suppose I can grade episodes too!) So here’s the first episode I’ll talk about: “Not What He Seems,” from Gravity Falls.

There are any number of individual episodes worth talking about from Gravity Falls, the critically acclaimed Disney show that I talked about a while back, and it remains a personal favorite of mine, but I’ve decided to discuss a keynote episode of the show that brought together the best of its episodic and overarching storytelling blend, which in turn delivered on a great deal of buildup from the very first episode of the show (Tourist Trapped). It’s an episode that reveals in one explosive 22 and a half -minute package the truth about the journals, the culmination of a great deal of character development for Stan Pines, who I also wrote about in a character analysis piece, the actual purpose and reason the Mystery Shack exists (and it’s not just as a dumpy tourist trap), and finally, the explosive reveal of the mysterious “author of the journals,” in what is still an incredibly-well choreographed and animated moment.

 

It goes without saying that Not What He Seems is a Stan-centric episode, but beyond that, it’s how he ties into the entire current of mystery underpinning the entire show. While I talked at length about Stan’s role in another article, part of what makes this episode so memorable is the buildup to it. At the end of the prior episode- Northwest Mansion Mystery, Fiddleford McGucket’s fixed laptop shows a doomsday clock; since the finale of season 1 (Gideon Rises), the audience is aware of the massive portal underneath the Shack, and that the other journals were in the possession of Stan, who hid his double life working on said portal…until now.

The cold opening begins with Stan working in the basement again, apparently using toxic waste to fuel his endeavors. It also showcases another reason this episode stands out- the absolutely stellar animation. After the intro, the episode starts innocuously enough like so many other Gravity Falls episodes before it- as Stan decides to join in on some mischief with fireworks and then water balloons- and then, the facade is broken as the government shows up.

Watching Dipper and Mabel formulate an escape plan and then discover the uncomfortable truths about their “Grunkle Stan” before he had a chance to tell them is both genuinely uncomfortable and tense- a testament to the staff that such emotional sentiment was built up to this episode. In true Gravity Falls style though, there is still some unexpected moments of humor that work- and in this case, it’s delivered by Soos, whose well-meaning, albeit ham-handed attempts to protect the Shack and Mr. Pines bring just the right amount of levity to an episode where “serious” takes precendence over “humorous.”

The final 5 minutes of the episode however, is genuinely some of the best stuff you’ll ever see in animation, as the buildup come to a (literal) earth-shattering conclusion that brings many narrative threads to a head at a critical moment. Stan escapes from jail in a very cool scene (and Durland and Blubbs are playing pinata in the corner, haha), the twins have made their unsettling discoveries in Stan’s personal office (fake I.D.s’, newspaper clipping of his “death”, and a lot of doubt) and Soos shows up to protect the vending machine in the Shack’s gift shop, where after a brief reunion and struggle with Dipper and Mabel, the trio discovers the secret behind the door.

I’ll pause here for a moment to really take in the work on the drawing in these scenes. The creative team did an absolutely terrific job evoking “apocalypse,” from the reddened sky and sun, to the town literally tearing apart at the seams, and the portal itself, its massive energy surge threatening to warp the fabric of existence and send our characters into an unknown oblivion. It’s true that the writing made most of this episode and Gravity Falls on the whole, but Not What He Seems is taken to another level by the art itself- just look at this still panel:

“Grunkle Stan…I trust you.”

The decision to have Mabel make the final decision in such a key narrative moment was a crucial writing decision. Shown to be the “fun” sibling, with an insecurity towards growing up (and grown-up affairs), she is asked a hard question rooted in very real implications, a roaring rift gate potentially ready to unleash the apocalypse, and a difficult comparison: was Stan the “grunkle” she came to know over the course of the summer, or the strange man of double lives and false aliases her and her brother came to find? This line of questioning would be difficult for an adult, let alone a 12 year old girl…and she went with “trust” as an answer. Was it smart? In the long-run narrative, yes it worked out, but logically without further information it was not…but from a character-building perspective it was a perfect decision. Simply put, it showcased Mabel’s greatest strength- her ability to emphasize and give the benefit of the doubt to mostly anybody, was also her greatest strength, and that sometimes, the biggest decisions in our lives are not always as cut and dry as we want them to be, or pressing a giant red button, as Dipper would have been wont to do.

So “my brother, the author of the journals,” appeared. Ford’s official debut served as the conclusive finish to many questions in the show, and while his emergence from the portal is a massive turning point in Gravity Falls, it is secondary to everything else that happens in this amazing episode. The next episode in the show (A Tale of Two Stans) explained a great deal of backstory, but Not What He Seems served as a mid-season finale to end all mid-season finales. Alex Hirsch even described at one point that the episode was likely slated to originally serve as season 2’s endpoint, with a final season focusing on what the final 9 episodes did instead, but the result was still brilliant in setting the table for the sprint that was the end of Gravity Falls, but also as a stand-alone episode.

There’s probably plenty more I can say about Not What He Seems, or Gravity Falls as a whole, but it’s even better to go back and watch it again. And if you read this far and have never seen the show or this particular moment, do yourself a favor and watch it. It’s one of the best shows this decade, and in this author’s opinion, the best Western animated show of the same time period. Honestly, there’s more than one episode from the show that could make the cut for this column, but in the end, one of the most influential episodes in the show both as a standalone piece and pertaining to its role in the overarching story gets the nod as a stellar work of animation.


Like what you see? Want more Gravity Falls material, or episode reviews? Leave a comment!

 

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!

On Animation Channels and Decision-Making, Pt. 3: Disney Channel/XD

The House of Mouse’s TV animation has had some big successes.

Welcome to the 3rd part in a mini-series about  networks and their decision-making when it comes to animated shows! In part 2, Nickelodeon was discussed; the network’s unwillingness to part with its past and lack of quality depth has translated to a 2010’s with few major successes. Now it’s time to turn to another archrival who’s arguably coming on stronger than either Nickelodeon or Cartoon Network: Disney.

Just what is in the water at the house that Walt built these days for the animation units? Walt Disney Animation just won their 3rd Oscar in 4 years, and Disney Television animation (which are the people behind the network(s) in question today) are doing incredibly well with their fare on Disney X.D. Gravity Falls was a boon, setting rating records for its finale just over a year ago; Twilight of the Apprentice, the season 2 finale of Star Wars Rebels one-upped that, and another show that I just reviewed after its season finale- Star vs. The Forces of Evil– is renewed for a 3rd and 4th season. If all this is news to you, hopefully this look behind the scenes will illustrate the sort of path Disney X.D.’s charting at the moment.

A quick look back at the move into the decade for Disney reveals a network that had done modestly well in animation through the 2000’s, with shows like Kim Possible and American Dragon: Jake Long. At this time, the network still split its animated series between flagship station Disney Channel and the smaller Toon Disney; in 2009 the latter was shut down and re-branded as Disney X.D., a decision that would have some major impacts on the animated shows being produced. Speaking of shows, the story for the decade in question begins in 2008, when the network debuted what would both prove to be an anchor show and a transitional one as well- Phineas and Ferb. With the Great Recession hammering the industry- a common thread for all the networks discussed, the show’s strong-creator driven style, consistent quality, and universally strong appeal that performed well in spite of the financial climate meant it would not only be a majorly influential show for the company, but the industry on the whole. What Phineas and Ferb did was start laying the groundwork for a period of animation on TV not seen from the House of Mouse since the early 90’s- and with the potential to surpass it, if it hasn’t already. (Check out my review of Phineas and Ferb for more thoughts!)

The start of the decade saw Disney with an established anchor show (Phineas and Ferb), and one of the earliest offerings was the mediocre Fish Hooks, which despite having a great deal of established and future talent on the staff, such as Tom Warburton (KND/Pepper Ann) and Maxwell Atoms (Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy) didn’t ever quite take off. However, the creative director of that show just so happened to jump up to his first show-running job in 2012…Alex Hirsch. And with him came Gravity Falls, the first and biggest in the wave of creator-driven series that have come to define Disney’s television animation in this decade. Interestingly, Gravity Falls started as a Disney Channel original series, but after the debut of its second season (Scary-oke), the series moved its home permanently to Disney X.D., a move that in turn has ignited the growth of what had been (and still is, relatively speaking) a niche network. And the hits kept coming: Dave Filoni, who headed up Star Wars: The Clone Wars launched the successful Star Wars Rebels after the acquisition of Lucasfilm by Disney, where it has become a key show; while 2015 finally said goodbye to Phineas and Ferb, another rose in its place- Daron Nefcy’s Star vs. The Forces of Evil, which apparently the friends of Mickey Mouse love, as it’s already been greenlit for another 2 seasons; and more recently Dan Povenmire and Jeff “Swampy” Marsh who were behind P&F have started another successful endeavor with Milo Murphy’s Law. Creator driven shows, with strong levels of engagement with their audiences, which in turn are quality shows, has been a winning formula.

Of course, there has been misses, like any studio. The bizzare Pickle and Peanut, headed up by Noah Z. Jones (the same guy behind Fish Hooks) might be chief among these in recent memory, and there’s been quite a few other shows that have been lost to the public eye, if they were ever there to begin with (Randy Cunningham: 9th Grade Ninja? Kick Buttowski?) Somehow, I doubt outside of their target audience and hardcore animation nerds that anyone really knows what these shows are, and while Disney has been doing a good job this decade, they’ll need to continue to build depth in order to sustain success. It’s a different problem, but a good one as opposed to some of their competition, and I’d argue one of Disney’s best attributes about their shows (which has been historically true) is that they never run too long. Phineas and Ferb was an exception; 2-3 years tends to be the historical trend, and the animation unit has never gotten too low as a result of consistently overturning their shows for each generation while maintaining a connection to past hits of yesteryear.

2017 continues to look intriguing. The rebooted DuckTales trailer (at the time of this writing) looks incredible, preserving the heart and feeling of the original while giving it a refreshing update and new flair, and the animation is gorgeously unique. Star vs. The Forces of Evili finished its promising second season at the end of February, and Star Wars Rebels continues its 3rd season with a very familiar face to fans of the old Expanded Universe serving as antagonist. The aforementioned Milo’s Murphy Law is off to a good start (and actually stars Weird Al Yankovic as the main character- go figure)  and Disney X.D. specifically has built a bigger viewership base the past few years and more than one show to rely on (and hey, they still do Gravity Falls and Phineas and Ferb re-runs!) There’s a strong path forward that has been forged; and if this era is looked back on as a golden age of animation in the West, Disney might have a lot to do with that.


Like what you see? Do you know I wrote a Gravity Falls review as well? 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!

A Valentine’s Day Special: The Day the Ships Sank

AniB’s take on the hysterical fandom obsessions of romance. (And yes, it’s like the Titanic.)

Happy Valentine’s Day everyone! Regardless of whether or not you have a meaningful stake in this holiday, I thought it only appropriate to release something related both to the occasion and animation at large. (You’ll figure it out very quickly.) Enjoy…

One of the most time-obsessive and overtly meaningless pursuits of animation fandoms is the discussion of potential romantic relationships, which is usually shortened to “shipping” and their fans as “shippers.” (In that case, I’m the party crasher.) While a good number of these discussions are fairly harmless banter, some delve into deeply disturbing territory, and other stretch the realm of incredulity. However, almost all share the common theme of being vastly overblown in relation to the actual characters, story and themes of the show in question, and rarely, if ever, do the shippers’ dreams come true, partially because most creators are wise enough to avoid needless pandering, and partially because more often than not, the ships don’t come close to fitting the story in any way.

 
I find shipping on its best days to be oddly humorous, and on its worst a foul stench and commentary on the mental state of people watching a given show. However, I’ve never been able to truly understand the gobs of time and creativity that goes into fueling ultimately useless and futile fantasies 98% of the time… Here’s my take. Romance has a place in telling a story and thematically. However, love comes in many different forms aside from romance, and a good number of stories simply don’t have a focus on or really express a need for romantic love as a heavy thematic element. One of my favorite examples is in Gravity Falls. The main protagonist, Dipper Pines, and his twin sister, Mabel, are both 12 through the course of the series. Series creator Alex Hirsch, understanding the trope well, poked fun at the idea of shipping through the show, such as with Mabel’s brief and disastrous friendship with Gideon, or the dangers of being a pickup artist in Roadside Attraction; noted placidly that “12 year olds shouldn’t be in those kinds of conversations anyways,” and that while romantic love did crop up in the show, it was usually for briefly poignant or comedic effect, such as Stan’s brief crush on Lazy Susan. But above all else, the show emphasized other types of love in its storytelling: of friendships, of family, and most notably, one of the greatest sibling bonds in not only animation but TV history. Dipper and Mabel, in short, are awesome in no small part because of their truly loving bond and how real that bond is through the show… which is also why it’s disgusting when shippers fail to appreciate the writing here and suggest incest. Ugh…

 
While Hirsch understood the fact that shipping exists and refused to pander to its existence, instead satirizing it, there are some shows that do mildly indulge it if the story sets up well, and also for potentially humorous effect. Incidentally these instances also do not bother me as they keep a greater eye on the overarching elements and narratives of a given show without sacrificing anything, and potentially even enhancing a narrative. One of the best uses of addressing a ship in this manner was the humorously lamp-shaded romantic feelings between Numbuhs 3 (Kuki Sanban) and 4 (Wally Beetles) in Codename: Kids Next Door. While Kuki tends to act oblivious in the show, it’s shown subtly from time to time that she’s far less aloof than she normally portrays, and Wally is rather heavy handed in his attempts to tell her his feelings. The near misses finally add up to a darkly humorous “first kiss” in the Operation: Z.E.R.O. movie, and an explicit confirmation of the couple in the series finale, I.N.T.E.R.V.I.E.W.S. Here, the couple works well; from a narrative standpoint it’s set up in a believable and silly fashion; it acknowledges fan expectations that were feasible, and it’s a result that made sense without detracting from the major narrative of KND itself- its story about the team, the organization, and its meta-commentary on childhood, one where puppy love could in fact work.

 
For as well as the examples noted work however, there are always cases where shipping can be dangerously influential, and not to the benefit of the work at hand. For this, I reference an otherwise solid show, The Legend of Korra. While the show was visually stunning and the story usually compelling, Korra had narrative weaknesses, and chief among these was the stunted growth of a love triangle that originated in Season 1 of the show. Initially Korra was to be a one-off short series, and the triangle would have worked reasonably well in that arrangement- Korra stays with Mako, winning out over Asami Sato in what proved to be a decent B-plot aside from the Equalists, but unsurprisingly, the return to the Avatar world proved widely successfully and three more seasons were green-lit. The unfortunate side effect of this decision, while still the correct choice, was the painfully obvious lack of ideas for Asami’s character beyond her finite role as the chief investor and bank of the new Team Avatar, and that Korra, who had already received a sort of endgame love interest after the first season, would have to now find a way to extend a plot that really was supposed to be finished. By the time of the final season, the writers needed an end to Asami’s story beyond an obvious Hiroshi Sato redemption arc, and at roughly the same time, the ”Korrasami” ship had become rampant within swaths of the Korra fandom. What happened next was a throughly sloppy bit of writing (which I discussed in my review for the show), designed to simultaneously placate loud fans, solve the Asami problem, and was easy to shove under the pretext of being “progressive.” It also left Mako hanging out in the cold in a very unsatisfying end to an interesting character, and in many ways, cheapened what should have otherwise been a very memorable finale for The Legend of Korra.

 
I’m likely not going to change the minds of many who are already into complex relationship building, but in my brief experience with the world of animation and its many fans, shipping is unavoidable even if one ignores it on the whole. However, the true reason is that not once have I seen a treatise or article addressing the topic outside of petty flame wars on the internet or shippers themselves ogling over a new potential relationship, or conversely, beyond non-shippers shouting “I don’t like it!” and not backing it up. As you can see, I’m not really a fan of the ships, but I can’t stop people either. If anything, I hope it was an interesting look into the thoughts of the various effects of shipping, which has been dealt with in various manners.


Like what you see? Unaware of the actual history of the Titanic? Have something to say? Leave a comment!

What’s In a Character: Stan Pines

He’s obviously not what he seems.

Once again, a character piece appears! This time, we’ll be looking at the summer guardian of Dipper and Mabel Pines, con-man extraordinaire and boss of the Mystery Shack, Stan Pines. When watching Gravity Falls, this character in particular stuck out as unique for a number of reasons: He was an older character in a show marketed to a younger audience that received extraordinary character development; evolved beyond the typical two-bit huckster that most other shows might have kept him as, and he was funny as hell. In a show that is really well crafted in every sense of the word, Stan managed to be a big part of that success- the other main character that kept the show rolling along with the Pines twins themselves- and a perfect balancer that proved to be tremendously important. (Oh, and this piece has massive spoilers. If you haven’t taken a trip into the woods yet, I’d suggest either reading my review, or better yet, watching this show. Like now.)

Tying in with my thoughts from the Gravity Falls review, it is almost impossible to guess how interesting Dipper and Mabel’s “Grunkle” Stan would be from the first episode, or how key he would be in the events that unfolded in the show. Aside from the title cards, which notably names Stan along with the twins as main characters, he is quickly shown off as a greedy proprietor of a tourist trap- the Mystery Shack; irresponsible at best with children (his own niece and nephew are put to work as essentially unpaid employees), and a cheapskate to boot- charging exorbitant fees for homemade works of “mystery” such as the “Jackalope” and “Sascrotch,” a fact that is played up all too often between gullible customers and the fact that the town of Gravity Falls, in fact, has real mysteries and phenomena.  Instead, the show goes for the slow drip of information when it comes to Stan, starting with that same first episode (Tourist Trapped), throwing in the intriguing, but mysteriously out of place moment where he quickly punches a code on a inauspicious vending machine, revealing a secret passage…

The irony of Stan’s stage name, “Mr. Mystery,” is that it doubles as a description for who he actually is. Underneath his smiling visage to tourists lay a man with a weighty past, a present that was actually spent selflessly in pursuit of a very specific goal, and most surprisingly, a family man with a heart of gold…unless you mess with them. (Then you’re getting a brass knuckle to the face.) Without trying to summarize too much, here’s the reasons why Stan Pines deserves a character piece to call his own.

He’s old fashioned

Huh? This is a real reason, AniB? Yes, but it’s probably not in the way you think. Stan is his own man. He wear his underclothes around the house without a care in the world, loves his old TV and comfy armchair, and drives a car straight out of the 1960’s like he’s a racecar driver. He also clearly doesn’t care what other people think of him, as long as he gets some attention (and maybe makes a buck.) But really, this section is just a primer.

The real reason… insane character development

The season 2 episode Not What He Seems is universally acclaimed by fans and even critics as one of the show’s best episodes (in a sea of good ones), not the least of which had to do with Stan’s role. (In fact, it has everything to do with him.) As it turns out, he’d been undertaking a dangerous, risky project in the hopes of bringing his brother- Stanford “Ford” Pines, the author of the journals- back home. The Mystery Shack is revealed to be a front in order for Stan to gather the money and the time he needed for equipment to fix the massive underground inter-dimensional portal in the basement of the building; a secret that is revealed initially in Season 1’s finale (Gideon Rises) but comes to a head in this episode, where in the face of a doomsday scenario (a 30 year old portal rending space and time itself), the Pines twins and trusted handyman Soos Ramirez make the discovery. Prior to the last 5 minutes of the episode, Stan had been slowly bonding with the twins over the summer- a prime example of Gravity Falls’ careful development. Starting with a mostly disasterous fishing trip in episode 2 of the show (Legend of the Gobblewonker), he had among other things, gotten over a fear of heights (and ladders) with Mabel (Fight Fighters), helped Dipper prove to Wendy that her then-boyfriend Robbie used a mind-control CD (Boyz Crazy), did his best to protect and help the twins defeat Gideon and save the Mystery Shack (Gideon Rises), participated in a mini-golf outing-turned war (The Golf War) as the getaway car of sorts, and in the episode at hand, shot fireworks off the roof with his niece and nephew mere minutes before government agents apprehended him. While this compilation is not every example, Stan had indeed gone from the absentminded shyster from when the twins first arrived in Gravity Falls, to a loving uncle who they knew as a person…but not in terms of history.

Mabel, do you really think I’m a bad guy?

If you want to really talk about Stan, two words sum it up: Complicated relationships. His past was tumultuous; growing up in the fictional town of Glass Shard Beach, New Jersey, he had a twin brother in Ford, but little else: He wasn’t a genius like his brother, had a reputation as a slacker, and his only ambition seemed to be to sail the world with said brother. After an incident that cost Ford his dream college, Stan (fairly or unfairly) was blamed for everything and thrown out of his childhood home. (While all this can be seen in A Tale of Two Stans, it’s important for context here.) Suddenly, an element you almost never see in a show on a channel generally reserved for a younger audience came into play: An older character with estrangement issues. A rift had grown between he and his brother, and it was physically symbolized by the eventual, short lived reunion that resulted in Ford’s  disappearance into the portal. In that sense, the journals Stan sought to gather, and the portal itself collectively represented Ford- and the deep, deep gap that had developed between the original Pines twins, literally stretching space and time (30 long years). When Ford came back through the portal and gave Stan a square one on the jaw, it was deserved- they had a lot of issues and it was obvious upon thinking about their relationship for this piece and in general, it was absolutely necessary that something dramatic would be the only way to resolve such a gap. It also was a tension that was not lost on the older viewers of Gravity Falls; and that resolution both for the brothers, and Stan’s way of making up for secrets was in the finale: Weirdmageddon.

You’re a real wiseguy, but you made one fatal mistake- Ya messed with my family!

Weirdmageddon is as it sounds- the mad apocalypse of Bill Cipher, the deviously evil mind demon, and while a great deal of events happen here, it is Stan’s role in the final act of this arc (and the show) that proves to be both satisfying and an answer to all the questions created to this point. Up to the point in which Stan volunteers to have his memories erased in order to facilitate the defeat of Bill, Ford and the twins had been playing hero(or attempting to). Since the figurative rift of his relationship with Ford had widened since A Tale of Two Stans,  it was only fitting when the literal rift of space-time was opened in Dipper and Mabel vs. The Future that Stan’s resolution would come. In this case, selfless sacrifice to defeat an indescribable evil was the choice- and it brought out the best of the character in spite of his flaws- his sense of humor, ability to “punch things,” his love for family, and of course, the fact that all Stan ever wanted to do was redeem himself in the eyes of the world- or at least the people he cared about. Some fans gripe about the idea that Stan regained his memories too quickly (or they didn’t want it to happen at all), but reflecting on it, it would have been a poor levity of the balance that Gravity Falls struck as a show between funny and lighthearted; serious and dark. The choice to do so also allowed a complete arc between Stan and Ford- the latter recognized his hubris to an extent and finally appreciated the things his brother had been trying to do, and the former proved to Dipper and Mabel who he was, definitively once and for all, and connected again with Ford. Ultimately, without memory restoration, Stan’s first goal in life wouldn’t have become a reality- a chance to sail the world with Ford on the Stan O’War II. Whether it was punching zombies, making “Stan-cakes,” or seeing the twins off at the end of the show, “Grunkle” and “brother” are really the best descriptors for Stan- a real man with faults and strengths and a fun character all too often absent for his character type in animation.


Like what you see? Comment about it! Oh, and one more thing:

Her aim is getting better! (Get it? If you don’t…well, you will…eventually.)

Review: Gravity Falls

An ambitious mystery show that broke from the Disney mold is sure to be remembered as a classic.

The Lowdown:

Show: Gravity Falls

Network and years aired: Disney Channel/XD, 2012-2016

AniB’s thoughts: I suspect the people who wind up reading this review will have one of a few reactions: a) This show was incredible- I only wished it reached a larger audience; b) “Yeah, I heard about it at some point, but haven’t really watched it,” or c) What the heck is Gravity Falls? Well, I’ll do my best to accommodate all these points of view, because while Gravity Falls reached notoriety among its viewers and fans, by virtue of being a Disney .XD show in its 2nd and final season, it most likely did not reach the entire audience it could have. That isn’t to say that it’s an obscure show- because it’s not- but more so because it was a show that deserved more exposure than it got, especially considering its brilliant, final 6 months airing the remainder of its new episodes, which wrapped up with the conclusion of the Weirdmageddon arc nearly a year ago on February 15th, 2016. This show, without a doubt, is probably the best Western animated show of the decade, and it came from a director- Alex Hirsch- who was writing it in his debut as a show-runner. Blending dynamic, interesting and funny characters, a very fresh take on the “summer vacation trope,” quite a bit of inspiration from The X-Files and The Simpsons, and a unique blend of episodic and overarching storytelling styles, all wrapped in a neat 40 episode packages, you get Gravity Falls. And honestly, that description doesn’t really do it justice.

“But AniB,” you might ask, “best Western show of the decade? Are you sure?” Absolutely. Of course there’s stiff competition for that particular title in my head, and while I’ll mention the following shows, this isn’t their review: Adventure Time is probably the best representative show of the decade, debuting in 2010 and still going strong, but not the best overall; some will claim Steven Universe, but that series is not completed yet and lacks certain facets the very best shows have (but its emotional storytelling? Brilliant.) What of Rick and Morty, the Adult Swim phenomenon? Overrated by a vocal crowd. You can love your shows and your memes, but don’t confuse them with overall quality. And while I do enjoy The Legend of Korra (of which I already wrote a review about), Gravity Falls is a tier above it- but to be fair, they are hard to compare shows simply because in terms of style and substance they are very different. What makes Gravity Falls unique is that it’s not only all the aspects I’ve already described, but at the heart of the show lies one of the best sibling relationships ever seen on a TV screen- that of Dipper and Mabel Pines. It’s not a forced sort of relationship, where one sibling is pushy and the other is meek, or the trap where writers create tension between the two for the sake of having it, but it’s wonderfully organic; two different kids who are undeniably close at the end of the day- and mostly, “human” is the best word. As it turns out, the twins were inspired by Hirsch and his sister; a personal connection to a show, combined with a vision to end it on one’s own terms as a creator usually yields great results.

Gravity Falls is for me a personal favorite that I happened to come upon halfway through its run, but even divorced from that affection as a critic, it’s a show that was clearly designed to entertain anyone– as it targets both an older and younger audience adeptly. The logic that “the secret to writing a show that’s entertaining for kids is to write for adults” holds true here; the twins’ “Grunkle” Stan is a con-man with a complicated past; there are references to everything from Mad Max to the boy band craze of the early 2000’s; crazy creatures straight out of mythology appear in unorthodox ways, and the satire and symbolism in the show is not only obvious, but hilariously well done. And the show has its darker elements too- led by the major antagonist of the show, the fast-talking mind demon with truly outsized ambitions- the chaotic Bill Cipher. Whatever the case, Gravity Falls has something for everyone as a show, and as the show’s finale notes, “see you next summer…” because you almost certainly will be back. Take a trip in the woods if you haven’t, and you might just find a gem.


Animation Quality: Traditional 2-D animation, painstakingly done with care. Simplistic style of characters is very worn and familiar in feeling, reminiscent of The Simpsons (one of the show’s inspirations) and earlier cartoons. Background sets are varied, highly detailed and well thought out, hiding Easter eggs in the episodes. (The show runners actually hid keys in every episode to solve ciphers embedded in the credits of the show; this was a truly impressive detail and tied in the mystery element of the show on a whole new level for fans.) For this style of show,  the attention to detail, the animation style, and the way it builds the universe- it’s all very highly appealing. 5/5 points.

Characterization: Featuring a rich, diverse and dynamic cast, Gravity Falls lays claim to some of the most funny, likable and heartfelt characters from any show. With excellent development, the main cast is very endearing in distinct ways.

Dipper Pines, the main (c0-)protagonist and one of two twins, is an intelligent 12 year old boy who becomes engrossed in the mysteries of the titular town and grows to learn a lot about his abilities and shortcomings as a person. Dipper, as you might expect, has strengths and weaknesses that contrast with his sister; while he has a nose for mystery, discovery, reading and the like, he is physically weak (though improves through the course of the show), quite introverted in certain social situations, and often seems all too eager to grow up, forgetting sometimes to enjoy his childhood (and each day, for that matter.) He also cares extremely deeply for his family; he has innate courage that comes out when most needed.

Mabel, his sister, is a ham, preferring to keep a bright outlook on life while quietly fearing the prospect of growing up (in contrast to her brother). She is all things “fun and random,” preferring social activities with her friends in Gravity Falls (Grenda and Candy), such as listening to pop music and having slumber parties. Most distinctive about her is her one-of a kind sweater collection, which she constantly knits off screen. (She wears upwards of 100 distinct sweaters over the course of the series- can you count them all?) As I highlighted in my thoughts,  the two twins share a sincere, sweet bond that is one of the best portrayals of siblings in any show.

Their great-uncle, or “Grunkle” Stan, is one of the most well-rounded older characters developed in animation. Billed initially as a shyster of a tourist trap (The Mystery Shack), Stan’s motivations and character turn out to be far deeper than simply turning a profit. (MAJOR SPOILERS, turn away if you must): Stan’s real motives are to fix a 30-year old rift gate (that rends time and space) in order to rescue his long lost brother, who in turn he must also mend his relationship with. Despite his questionable habits and disposition that most would see as “grouchy” and “cheap” from afar, he’s got a heart of gold for family (and brass knuckles for anyone who messes with them!).

As for Stan’s employees, Soos, the Mystery Shack’s handyman, is fleshed out as a sweet, naive man-child, with plenty of warmth and a helpful hand, despite serving as comic relief most times, and Wendy, the Shack’s other employee is the most believably cool teenager in a long time on an animated show. The only daughter in a family full of sons that are lumberjacks, she’s a classic sort of “cool” without really forcing it.

A quick mention here to Bill Cipher, the “dream demon” and triangular-shaped  main antagonist, who in turn is a brilliant portrayal of a chaotically evil villain, containing a blend of dark humor and truly threatening qualities. I’ll also mention Gideon, the strange Southern-accented faux psychic who serves as the 1st season’s main threat. The rest of the cast is also intriguing and generally very funny, including the mysterious author of the journals. 5/5 points.

Story quality: The show has an impressive story arc, but also is episodic, with most episodes able to stand on their own. The finale lived up to massive hype, completing everything in most satisfying fashion. Even the supposedly “filler” episodes advance the plot, whether through subtle clues or through focused character development, so there’s no real filler in the traditional description. There’s impressive detail to hidden codes, genuinely funny moments abound, and very clever satire exists throughout the series. More serious scenes are treated with painstaking detail and add balance to the lighter parts of Gravity Falls. 5/5 points.

Themes: Definitely focuses on mystery and the wonders of unexplained phenomena. However, the show also focuses on friendship, growing up, familial bonds and brother/sisterhood. Uses certain symbolism related to secret societies and the like to set the tone in a very savvy form of satire- the more you mess with this stuff, the worse things become! (It’s also a subtle criticism of  messing with such groups and supernatural forces). Indeed, all these ideas come to a head in the satisfying final arc. 4.5/5 points.

Don’t insult the viewer: Gravity Falls is an incredibly smart show, balancing the kid audience on one hand and the older audience on the other with great characters, storytelling, and very smooth animation. The level of painstaking detail and the great score add to the show’s charm as well. And how can I not mention the incredibly catchy theme song? (And it even has a special variation…) 5/5 points.

Total Score: 24.5/25 (98%). The first show run by creator Alex Hirsch turned into arguably the greatest animated show of the 2010’s and one of the better animated shows of all time. With a blend of memorable characters, superb writing and animation that brought out the best of the medium and a widely universal appeal, Gravity Falls showed the power of Western animation at its finest.


Like what you see? Wish to express an opinion? Feel free to comment!