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

A quick pick of some good characters .

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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 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!

 

An AniB Christmas Review Special: Coco

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

The Lowdown:

Movie: Coco

Studio/year: Pixar, 2017

AniB’s thoughts:

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Hunter x Hunter’s Chimera Ant arc is finally getting an English dub

It’s about time- A brief history of HxH’s longest arc.

A few months back, I wrote excitedly about the fact that Greed Island for the first time was receiving an English dub, despite existing in some anime form since at least the early 2000’s. However, this might be even bigger…

An arc considered by many serious fans of the Hunter x Hunter manga and anime to be one of the finest not only in the show, but also across the genre, is finally on the verge of being dubbed. Very early Sunday morning will mark the beginning of the longest arc in the series airing in English on Toonami in the United States, and for those who haven’t seen it- buckle up, you’re in for a ride.

As with the Greed Island piece, here’s a brief history of the Chimera Ant arc:

2003: As the original HxH anime continued on with its set of Greed Island OVAs’, Yoshirio Togashi released the beginning of the arc in the manga on October 8th- which coupled with the frequent hiatuses of the series, would result in it lasting until April 2012- nearly 9 years!

2011: The Hunter x Hunter reboot (and the series mostly talked about) begins. At this point, the Chimera Ant arc is not complete yet in the manga, let alone the anime.

2013: Roughly a year after the manga finished the arc, the anime begins its version of it, marking the first new animated Hunter x Hunter story part since Greed Island’s OVAs finished in 2004. The arc would run into early summer of 2014.

2017: With the conclusion of Greed Island’s first ever English dub, the Chimera Ants will finally be heard in English on the Sunday of this writing (12/10/17 for posterity.)


As it stands, it’s rather difficult to talk too much at length about this very long and detailed arc without major spoilers for those watching for the first time, but the places in which the story goes during the next 60 episodes crosses the ranges of human emotions and psychology in ways shonen anime rarely, if ever does. It will be interesting to hear the VA choices for several characters, including the duo in the picture for this article, and with the shift in the story, it should really test the abilities of the dub actors to capture the same depth and intensity as the original VA’s.

Overall, there’s a lot to be excited about- and in many ways, it’s like an early Christmas present. Here’s hoping for both long-time fans and newcomers alike the English experience of the Chimera Ants is unforgettable.

Finally, here’s the very nice ending theme of the arc, but in 8-bits:

(I’ll leave the full version for the newcomers to discover. Credit to Studio Megaane for the track.)


Like what you see? Any more thoughts on Hunter x Hunter? Leave a comment!

An end of September update-

Hello dear readers,

As you no doubt have noticed, I’ve been absent from writing new posts in the month of September. This is largely because I’ve begun a new program at school, and needed the time to adjust and get integrated in a new semester’s worth of coursework. The other reason however, is that I have not had the time to truly write the quality of material that I strive to always post on this blog, out of respect to you- the readers, and to my own standards. That said, I’m looking to return in October with some new material, including some seasonally-themed work, so look forward to that!

Sincerely,

Christian, aka “AniB”

 

So, an update…

Hey everyone!

My apologies for the slow period…but I’ve been juggling school-related stuff and a writing competition at the same time, so it accounts for the lack of new material in the past 2 and a half weeks. I assure you- I’ve been watching some shows, drafting some new material and have some interesting ideas- so I’ll be trying to get that out sooner rather than later! Until then, please continue to enjoy the existing articles and reviews, and know I’m investing in continuing to make this the best animation blog on the internet!

Sincerely,

Christian, aka “AniB”

Oscars 2017: Best Animated Picture?

Well, here we are again at the granddaddy of movie award shows. As someone who is involved in the writing of the field of animation, I figured it’d be best to offer a few words up on the Oscars and the only category that matters to yours truly: Animated Film.

Generally, I only care about results when it comes to award shows, much the same way as when I watch shows. I don’t follow the Oscars for their over-bloated pageantry, self-aggrandizing celebrities who pat each other on the back and give meaningless compliments to other influential people they know, or to watch people on the Internet have meltdowns over “x amount” of diversity or lack thereof. I’m just interested in the movies themselves, the people who put the work into said films, and the statistics behind it. So, here’s a list of the past 10 winners, with studios, to give a recent historical representation of this category (and note, the year is when the movies came out, not the award ceremony date, which is always the following year.)

2016: ?

2015: Inside Out (Pixar)

2014: Big Hero 6 (Walt Disney Animation Studios)

2013: Frozen (Walt Disney Animation Studios)

2012: Brave (Pixar)

2011: Rango (Paramount Pictures)

2010: Toy Story 3 (Pixar)

2009: Up (Pixar)

2008: WALL-E (Pixar)

2007: Ratatouille (Pixar)

2006: Happy Feet (Warner Bros.)


So going back a decade, Pixar has unsurprisingly dominated the category, taking 6 out of the past 10 awards- but only twice in the past 5 years. With Finding Dory locked out of the category this year, it’s guaranteed another studio will win it. And it may very well be Walt Disney Studios, who won two out of the last 3 times and managed to get two cracks at the award this year with Zootopia and Moana, which both made the grade. As for the outliers on this list, Rango was a surprise in a very weak year (2011) and Happy Feet was much the same, beating out the underwhelming (by Pixar standards, anyways) Cars and Monster House when the category only had 3 entrants in that year.

Historically, this category does not bode well for foreign film nominations, despite the uptick in such films for the category this decade. Only two times a non-American studio has taken home the prize- Aardman Animations in 2005 with Wallace and Gromit, and Studio Ghibli with the classic Spirited Away in 2002. Since 2001, that means only 12.5% of the time this award went to a veritable outsider; comparatively, Pixar has won 8 out of the 17 times the category has been an award- an astonishing 47% success rate, which is unreal for one studio. It honestly would be refreshing to see The Red Turtle or My Life as a Zucchini break through, but I’m not holding my breath.

The Academy also loves nominating stop-motion films if they get one, with the addendum that they almost never win. In fact, the aforementioned Wallace and Gromit is the lone example; while 5 out of the past 8 years including this one (Kubo and the Two Strings) have a nominee, including 3 movies of this variety in 2012, exactly zero have won. That could very well change, but it’s a little dubious for Studio Laika as it stands.

If you haven’t heard, or have been living under a rock the past 5 years, the House of Mouse has re-found its lost magic and has to be considered the favorite to bring home the award, with a 40% shot between its two nominees. I’ve believed for a while now that Zootopia, with its themes and message (not to mention, it actually pulled the “anthropomorphic animal” film off and was totally refreshing with it) will probably win the award, especially given recent history for the studio as well. At any rate, whether you love the Oscars or not, or are just here to read about more animation, it’s a strong category this year with 5 very worthy entries, which have had compelling cases made by plenty of other people. If you’re ever unsure what to think though, take my word for it: go out and watch the films yourself! There is no substitution for actual experience, and only then can you really form an original opinion. May the best movie win, and here’s hoping 2017 proves to be equally compelling!


Like what you see? Surprised I wrote about movies for a change? Leave a comment!