The Return of Samurai Jack

After 13 years, the samurai wielding a magical sword is back.

He’s backSamurai Jack. Wa-cha!

13 years since Cartoon Network aired what everyone believed was the end of Samurai Jack, a 5th and final season of the beloved series will finally start airing on Saturday night (3/9/17, for posterity’s sake.) Much has been made of this triumphant return by plenty of people across the internet, and the trailers and teasers dropped by Adult Swim (where the series has shifted to for this relaunch) suggest not only the potential for a very fulfilling conclusion, but a far gritter, darker Jack than we’re used to. For once, darker might actually be better. Let me explain…

The original seasons of Samurai Jack were lauded for a variety of reasons, including its unique animation style, narrative and pacing, and that by Cartoon Network standards (even now), it was a rather dark show. However, the network still had certain restraints that handcuffed the show in certain ways: blood could not be visibly shed, language was toned down a bit, and so on. With the new season comes new ideas, and with the shift to Adult Swim, there’s new rules. Chiefly, a 50 year time skip has happened, and narratively speaking, I’d be miffed if this wasn’t the case. Considering the real-world wait for this final season was in fact over a decade, it seems like a nod to the fans of the original production that Jack has grown with us in age- but what exactly went down in the dystopia that is Aku’s world creates a whole new set of questions and intriguing possibilities. As a result, the conscious shift to an older audience really has the potential to unleash the old samurai in ways we’ve never seen before.

For the record, this isn’t just speculation. The sneak peak already showed off some of what we can expect, including the return of the beetle drones as a callback to Jack’s first major battle in the future all those years ago:

While the video alone draws most of the conclusions you’ll need to see, it’s evident that the traditional samurai, immaculately robed in white, has embraced a fusion of his past and present realities. (How he arrived there will probably be far more telling.) It’s nearly unfathomable to imagine Jack on a motorcycle back in the day, when he traveled everywhere on foot, or using modern high-tech weaponry. I suspect he took a page from his old pal the Scotsman on fusion of old and new combat styles…and who coincidentally will be showing up at some point.

There’s plenty more that can be said about Samurai Jack coming back into the lives of many with its first new episode in such a long time, but it also could serve to introduce Jack to a whole new generation that never really knew the original series. Such an idea is very exciting as a way of extolling the potential and unique medium animation offers to tell a story. As for me, I anxiously I await Greg Baldwin’s voice work as Aku, “the shapeshifting master of darkness,” as Mako’s work was iconic. Inevitably he and “the foolish samurai” will have their fated final showdown. Whether that is in the past where Jack is from, or the future where he has had most of his shared history with Aku, remains to be seen…

No matter what you think, the return of Samurai Jack is one of the decade’s more surprising stories in animation; an unexpected twist to a series long thought to be finished, and an ode to quality shows that attracted solid fanbases of many different kinds of people. It’s a ride I’m ready to take…gotta get back, back to the past, Samurai Jack! Wa-cha!


Like what you see? Eager to see Samurai Jack in action once more? Leave a comment!

Review/Rant: Breadwinners

Duck soup: A terribly misguided knockoff of Regular Show.

The Lowdown:

Show: Breadwinners

Network/years aired:  Nickelodeon, 2014- 2016

AniB’s thoughts: Once again, some balance is being brought to the reviews with the perfectly awful Nicktoon Breadwinners. Like Fanboy and Chum Chum (which I blasted in a previous review), this show has very little going for it. In fact, the picture I chose for this article sums up how the entire endeavor felt: That our main characters, Sway-Sway and Buhduece (seriously, that’s their names) both smile through abject stupidity that they are often at the heart of while being oblivious to the disaster around them!

Nick seems to have a weird obsession with buddy-buddy shows in the past decade, with the common denominator that they’re terrible. Fanboy and Chum Chum was one; this show is another, and for good measure, I’ll throw Sanjay and Craig on that pile to give everyone a sense of the turgid overflow of awfulness coming from the general direction of whoever green-lit these endeavors. The story behind this one is almost just as bad as the Adventure Time pass that Fanboy beat out; Breadwinners was chosen to be developed into a full-time production from an online short animation that frankly was average at best (and that’s being generous), and highly obnoxious at worst:

(Even without watching it, that screen freeze right there sums it up better than anything I can say.) As an online short, it was not anywhere close to a sure bet to be developed into a full-time series , and frankly, there wasn’t enough substance there to do so. In my mind, the first mistake that led Breadwinners to be a poor series was the fact that it was chosen at all- something that should have never happened. Unfortunately, it did, and so every other valid criticism falls squarely on its misguided Nickelodeon run.

In a lot of ways, the same criticisms that applied to Fanboy apply here: Poor animation, underwhelming storytelling, non-existent themes, and in the case of this show, a very uncomfortable obsession with butts and flatulence. I get the whole dumb network trend of the past however many years that “young boys are our audience, they love this stuff, it’s so damn funny!…” but it’s really not. I don’t want anything related with the posterior to be vitally important in a plotline or a characterization, because it also tells me your show likely sucks ass (pun intended) and that the writers are pandering for cheap laughs from a narrow demographic who network executives might be surprised to learn, like shows that don’t play down to them. This sentiment makes all the more sense when you consider its direct competition over its run were shows like Gravity Falls and Phineas and Ferb from Disney XD, or Adventure Time and Steven Universe from Cartoon Network, using a few well-known examples. (And that’s just within the intended target demographic.) This show never had the potential to hook in a larger crowd with sophomoric humor, the usual sub-standard Flash animation, and writing that oftentimes left yours truly with his face in his hands. Fortunately, its misguided run came to a merciful end last year; both our TV sets and cartoon ducks everywhere are safe once again.


 

Animation Quality: 2-D Flash animation mixed with what can only be described as clip art. If the characters of the show didn’t outright tell you, you’d be hard-pressed to tell they were ducks; and frankly, the main cast looks (and feels) like a poor man’s version of Regular Show’s cast. Visually conflicting, and cheaply produced, it’s not eye-bleeding, but not close to good either. 1/5 points.

 
Characterization: For those who care, the show follows the titular “breadwinners,” a pair of ducks named Sway-Sway and Buhdeuce, who deliver bread to various citizens of their world, and are obvious knock-offs in many respects, of Mordecai and Rigby from the aforementioned Regular Show, lacking the same sort of charm, development and supporting cast, while attempting to fill the void with more toilet humor and butts than any one show ever needs…

Sway-Sway is the taller one. He’s technically the main protagonist, and while marginally more competent than his partner, he’s still relatively dim-witted and reckless at his job, passion non-withstanding. (It turns out that he actually inherited the family buisness- why anyone though this was a good idea is beyond me.)

Buhdeuce is the short one. Enthusiastic as all-get out, the kid has an obsession and reliance on using his “booty.” (There is no context to make that sound good.) Even more reckless and foolish than Sway-Sway, no one will ever mistake him for one of the great deutragonists of animation…

The supporting cast is unremarkable. Not the worst crew ever, but still fairly poor. 1/5 points.

 
Story quality: Episodic in nature, no continuity or canon to speak of. Where do I start? From unoriginal plot lines to crude solutions to some problems, the plots are uneven, and more serious characters are shoved aside quickly as cheap gags. The show’s attempts at humor tend to be pitiful; as mentioned, the toilet humor is off-the charts bad and distracting.  And the pop-culture references and slang are not going to keep aging well. The dialogue is cringe-worthy, even for this style of show. It still maintains a basic story structure though, so it saves the grade form utter annihilation. 0.5/5 points.

 
Themes: Power of friendship? Honestly, aside from weak offerings and a crash course in how much flatulence two ducks (?) can make, this show offers next to nothing, except constantly boring, low expectations. There’s no character growth, and nothing to write home about whatsoever. 0/5 points.

 
Don’t insult the viewer: Butts, farts, and burps. Not my idea of appointment television. The music is meant to capture some of the 8/16-bit video game era style, but in this show, it doesn’t always come off as charming. At least the colors are nice… which is code for “this is wasting my time.” 1.5/5 points.

 

 

Total Score: 4/25 (15%): Another awful Nicktoon from the decade following 2005, Breadwinners was chosen off of a very average web video, which frankly didn’t have the depth to be a full time series. Lacking coherence and originality in most facets, Breadwinners is a misnomer for “losing.” It you really wish to watch a plot-of the day show, there are far better choices.

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!

Review: Hunter × Hunter (2011)

A dynamic anime that cannot be described simply as “shonen,” but rather, as an experience.

The Lowdown:

Show: Hunter x  Hunter (pronounced simply as “Hunter Hunter”)

Studio (Network)/ Years aired: Madhouse (Adult Swim-Toonami), 2011-2014;  USA 2016-

EDITOR’S NOTE:  This review encompasses the 2011 reboot of the Hunter x Hunter series, and is considered the definitive version of the anime. This review is also unaffiliated with the 1999 series, or its subsequent OVAs, despite covering all of the same material, and then some.

(Some SPOILERS ahead. Nothing too big, but I mention some arc names and certain characters. Skip ahead to the grading section if need be.)

AniB’s thoughts: If you’ve been reading the comment sections of different articles on this blog, or popped over to the Twitter feed, you might have figured out a Hunter x Hunter review was coming at some point. And I’ll be the first to say that I was beyond excited to write about this fantastic, fantastic show. It’s certainly in the top 3 anime I’ve watched and unequivocally the best shonen for a variety of reasons, and I say this not only because I absolutely love this show and franchise, but because it merits the praise, wholeheartedly and without conditions. It starts with the absolutely fantastic characters, stretches to a story that flips skillfully to different genres and even narrative styles in a way that flows cohesively; preserves the original vision of Yoshihiro Togashi, the manga writer and creator of HxH, and does it with aplomb and essentially no filler despite 148 episodes of action-packed, narratively exciting goodness.

Hunter x Hunter succeeds better than any other shonen out there chiefly because of its characters and story. Gon is a shonen protagonist in the traditional sense, and this is evident especially during the first arc of the show (the Hunter Exam) where the possibilities of the world begin to be revealed and a great deal of foundational character building takes place. It is after this point that the show begins to shift rapidly, from the high-stakes training ground that is Heavens Arena, to Yorknew City, and later into the insanity that is the Chimera Ant arc, and what all these disparate locales share in common is a sort of real-worldliness that doesn’t exist usually in shonen. What I mean by saying this is that while Gon and other Hunters in the show gain a special power called nen, it has specializations and drawbacks; and ultimately, the characters are still human- highly skilled, but never able to outright overpower an obstacle- and in the rare cases they do, there are terrible, real consequences that follow. In terms of narrative direction, the arcs are not at all shonen. Yorknew City, for one, has an action-thriller feel, with hints of noir thrown in. Not what you’d expect from this type of show normally…

However, the real hook, the part of HxH that gets you into the show and keeps you enthralled right through to the end and beyond, is the characters. There are four main characters in the show- the aforementioned Gon, Killua Zoldyck, Kurapika, and Leorio. While I’ll go into more detail individually in the grading section on these characters, it is Gon and Killua’s unshakable, organic, natural, and absolutely well developed friendship that takes the cake in the show as a backbone to everything else. It gives a more relevant framing to Gon’s ultimate goal, is key in developing Killua’s own character arc (which might I add, is uniquely fantastic), and is severely tested by various challenges through the show which in turn shows the growth of said characters. Mind you, an entire novel could be written on the characters of Hunter x Hunter alone (from Hisoka and his eccentrically unique, but strangely delightful character, to the arc involving the Chimera Ant King, Meruem.)

In a decade defined so far by weak performances from anime studios across the board, and a disturbing influx of fanservice being substituted in for actual quality, Hunter x Hunter was a standout show from its debut in 2011 through the end of its initial Japanese run in 2014. The dub, at the time of this writing, is in the middle of its English run on Toonami, and is worth checking out (Keith Silverstein as Hisoka in particular is outstanding.) However, if you do watch this show, or have watched it, you’ll probably (or already have) binged the entire thing; in that case, there is quality sub work available. Finally, some new to the series ask about the ’99 anime of the same name. While that can be a separate review on this site, it is advisable to watch the 2011 first due to the more extensive nature of the story (it goes a lot further than the original adaptation of HxH did) and the dearth of filler. Hunter x Hunter ’99 is fine on its own merits, but doesn’t necessarily graze the heights this reboot does; it’s got an older animation style (which is good, but different), and only gets about 3/4th of the way through the Yorknew City arc; after which point a series of Japanese-only OVAs finish said arc and add Greed Island. (It’s about the equivalent of 75 episodes in this version.) Regardless of your preference, Hunter x Hunter is a show nobody should miss out on; it’s an experience, and not just another show.


Animation Quality: Modern 2-D animation, with computer shading and a diverse color palette. The detail of Hunter x Hunter is amazing; the animation itself contains the tonal shifts and mood of the show at any given moment, and the character models are both memorable and pleasing (for the most part). Accentuating the action and tension throughout, the style really does lend itself to bringing the show alive, even more so than its predecessor from ’99, and quite impressively for any animated show at all. 5/5 points.

 
Characterization: Undoubtedly the strongest point of Hunter x Hunter, the show revolves around four main characters, with other characters coming prominently into the story in different arcs.

The main protagonist of the series is Gon Freecss, a simple, but talented 12 year old boy who sets out on a journey to become a Hunter (which in this universe is a highly sought after and difficult to obtain title) in hopes of finding his father, the mysterious Ging Freecss, a top-class Hunter in his own right. Along the way Gon meets and befriends many individuals, growing  in both experience and strength, as well as a person. In particular, he becomes best friends with Killua Zoldyck, another boy of the same age who takes the Hunter Exam with him.

Killua is the second youngest in a feared family of assassins, and technically the heir of the family business; through the show he serves as the deuteragonist, trying to find his own path, struggling to become his own individual, and and to follow what his heart tells him against his twisted family’s ambitions. He also works to find a resolution to the two sides at war within him- the kindhearted boy with unyielding loyalty to those he truly cares about, and the merciless assassin who can kill without so much as a second thought… The boys share one of the best developed friendships in animation, which forms a major plot and character development point in the show…

Gon and Killua also befriend Kurapika and Leorio during the first arc of the show. Kurapika is the last of a tribe known as the Kurta, who seeks vengeance and justice against the Phantom Troupe, a powerful gang of outlaws with prodigious abilities, who wiped out his people. In particular, Kurapika seeks to recover the special eyes of his people, which turn a brilliant shade of red when excited or enraged, and are highly valued on the black market… His dark quest ultimately shades his decisions through Hunter x Hunter; however as aside from his goals, Kurapika cares deeply about his friends, is smart and usually cautious, and willing to usually lend a hand to them.

Leorio is a young man who wishes to become a skilled doctor, but initially cannot pay the high fees for medical school. Never one to shy away from his opinions, Leorio is in many ways the kindest heart of the four main characters, always sticking his neck out for what he cares about as a loyal and committed friends despite his brashness at times.

The supporting cast of the show is also very strong, which often changes from arc to arc, leading to a diverse cast of characters encountered by the foursome (though Gon and Killua in particular.) Of that rotating cast, it’s led by characters such as Hisoka, the psychopathic “magician” who lives for the thrill of battle and strong opponents; Illumi Zoldyck, one of Killua’s older brothers who is a rather cruel person in many ways, and a fearsome assassin; and Chairman Netero, the mysterious head of the Hunter Association whose leadership style is very unique… There are plenty of other names worth mentioning here, but it’s best to experience the show and discover them for yourself…not unlike a Hunter themselves. 5/5 points.

 
Story quality: Overarching story structure broken down into connected arcs, of which there are 7 in this show. Each one seems to embody a different aspect of storytelling, and are dynamic in expanding the world of Hunter x Hunter, bringing it to life in interesting ways. The way in which each character’s goals and development are brought into the overarching structure is well done, and it gives you the sense of a world full of people hunting (no pun intended) for their own goals… which ultimately draws back to the show’s motif. 4.75/5 points.

 
Themes:  Supposedly simple themes of friendship and family exist prominently in Hunter x Hunter, with a great deal devoted to character relationships and dynamics. The show also deals with far more complicated issues as well. Questions arise over one’s life goals and path, the meaning of existence, and the complicated entanglements of what being a Hunter actually means to each individual. Personalities clash, goals cross, and the show develops all these questions in fulfilling ways. All of these dynamics are worth considering, and as a bonus, it plays well with some usual anime tropes, never overusing them… 4.5/5 points.

 
Don’t insult the viewer: Hunter x Hunter is a unusual shonen anime in many respects, but it’s also largely the reason it’s an excellent show. Shifting tone and even genre to an extent from arc to arc, HxH’s writing, adapted from the manga, is wonderfully engaging and keeps you on your toes in anticipation. Add in a music score which fits nicely and has some fairly cool leitmotifs, and you’ve got yourself a very fun experience. 5/5 points.

 

 

Total Score: 24.25/25 (97%). A exceptional shonen anime with great depth, storytelling and compelling characters, this iteration of Hunter x Hunter improves strongly on the ’99 version, with a further expanded story adapted from the manga, successfully creating a compelling experience despite its longer length (148 episodes.) Also praiseworthy is the strong friendship of Gon and Killua, which is simply outstanding. Definitely recommend this show, especially if you’re looking for a longer watch.


Like what you see? Did you know irrespective of criticism, HxH’s my favorite anime? Leave a comment!

A Post-Oscars word…

A quick thought on the aftermath of the awards and the upcoming year in animated movies.

I’m going to keep this short and sweet…

Zootopia won as predicted (you can check out my pre-Oscars analysis for proof), Piper ran away with the best short animated film to give Pixar a victory in a year where their big film (Finding Dory) didn’t make the main stage, and by now, I think everyone’s heard of the Best Picture gaffe involving La La Land and Moonlight… The Academy Awards have come and gone again, and I’m hopeful this upcoming year will continue to produce great animation.

The first early contender appears to be The Lego Batman Movie, which replicated the early February success of its predecessor The Lego Movie from 2014, and of course, interesting offers are on the table from Pixar with Coco next holiday season and Cars 3, which if anything, looks to be a far gritter chapter to the franchise based on the previews; Disney has the year off with the sequel to 2012’s Wreck-It Ralph coming in spring of 2018; and there’s also legitimately terrifying prospects with everything from a Captain Underpants movie, to The Nut Job 2, committing the age-old sin of a sequel following up a verified dud, and Boss Baby which comes out this month, sounding frankly like an awful premise for a movie (and besides, wasn’t this idea already done in a season 1 episode of Codename: Kids Next Door?) I’ll also be looking to keep a closer eye on foreign animation; it’s long overdue to win another Academy Award, and it’s almost an assurance at least one of these films will continue to make the category each year.

I’ll probably follow up my thoughts on the animation Oscars race at different points throughout the year; consider this post both a goodbye to the past year in movie animation officially, and a hello to all the new and exciting work on the silver screen in 2017!


Like what you see? Are the Oscars your cup of tea or not? Leave a comment!

Preliminary Review: Star vs. The Forces of Evil (post season 2)

The Lowdown:

Show: Star vs. The Forces of Evil

Network/years aired: Disney X.D./ 2015-

(SPOILERS AHEAD. Read at your own risk.)

AniB’s thoughts: Okay. Stop. We had enough manufactured drama at the Oscars. Take a deep, deep breath and remember to breathe out too. Don’t worry, I’m here to do the mental processing for actual people in the fandom, and as for everyone else reading this column, just know that the people who watch this show are really into it.  Well, welcome to the only Star vs. review on the inter-webs that won’t be tripping over itself in fandom shipping wars. (For everyone unfamiliar with me, I wrote a treatise on the subject on Valentine’s Day this year.) However, because of the story and character context of the show, I suppose such a discussion is unavoidable, but first, let me talk about the finale and the other non-romantically involved key points, which have my interest fully:

Toffee is back, Glossaryck’s gone missing, and Queen Moon herself is aware of the danger now that’s been brewing the entire season. This plot line has become very, very interesting, and with the “mic drop” that was the final minute of Starcrushed, the third season promises to go in a very different, complicated direction…and intertwined in that is Star’s relationship with Marco, where she finally came clean…and promptly left for what I’d presume was Mewni.

On the topic of “Starco” as the shippers call it, it’s been handled in a way so far that’s actually heightened the narrative tension as a part of the plot and not necessarily as an extraneous element. It appears Jackie and Oskar were both plot devices to set up this “destined bond” that was foreshadowed as far back as the Blood Moon Ball, and while it’s incomplete at the moment, it sets up one hell of a plot line for season 3, specifically for Marco, who’s been left on Earth…presumably with the dimensional scissors he won from Hekapoo. (Seriously, they’re too good of a episode prize to be a one-off gag.)

Season 2 on the whole represented a big step forward in the development of Star vs. The Forces of Evil. Building off of momentum gained in the lat half of season 1, the show’s growth was always going to hinge on the overarching plot of Star’s wand, her growing powers, and how the titular “forces of evil” would play into her destiny. Of course, this spilled over into the realm of young love…because of course it did. It’s maybe a little sappy how they went about it, but the emotion is there and there was actual buildup to what became a critical moment mirroring the finale of the 1st season (in this case, Toffee’s triumphant return and Star leaving Marco and Earth in general), and so, it was well done on the whole…especially that cold ending. (Something tells Daron Nefcy got some inspiration from the credits of Dipper and Mabel vs. The Future.)

What can we expect from a season 3? Probably more of the same in terms of humor, with the addendum that the show can continue to grow in new and unexpected directions courtesy of how its narrative is structured and the way that season 2 concluded. I’ve had a great deal of fun so far with SVTFOE, and I don’t want that to change. “Fun” and “high energy” are two of the hallmarks of the show so far, and it is so important that it does not lose sight of these aspects. It’s great that the writers decided to add even more gravity and seriousness to the end of the season in particular, but keeping a balance that works is key. Another Disney X.D. show- Gravity Falls– was able to find and maintain that balance very well; I’m keen to see what Star does, especially now with the titular character’s personal relationship entangled with her unfolding destiny as the heir apparent to the Mewni throne.


 

Animation Quality: Traditional 2-D animation, with some anime influence. It’s a unique art style that has roots in the magical girl-type show, with a bright and vibrant color palette. It’s rather clean for the many different monsters and locales on display, and comes off nicely. 4.25/5 points.

 

Characterization: The show revolves around two main characters: the titular Star Butterfly, the free-spirited princess of a dimension known as Mewni, who is sent to Earth in an attempt for her to mature and grow as a young woman, and Marco Diaz, her host family’s son and best friend.

Star is a rebel princess through and through; and while she’s hardly a “by the book” type of individual, she possesses a great deal of natural talent in magic and a sense of freewheeling adventure. Her relationships she’s made on the show have continually developed, and as a result, become more complex- you could technically even say “multiversal.”

Marco Diaz serves as Star’s best friend and host on Earth (as Star’s an “exchange student”). Cautious and straightforward, Marco’s a good kid who is hopelessly naive about veiled references and hidden feelings- he’s a straight shooter. He’s also a red belt in karate after the events of season 2, and is inexperienced (as you’d expect from someone his age) about romance.

 

They get into a variety of strange antics; the supporting cast is pretty zany, but it works in the frenetic style of the show. I’ll mention Star’s parents- who play an  important background role, Ludo, the main “villain” of the show; Toffee, the actual main villain, and a variety of Star and Marco’s friends and acquaintances, which include Janna, a troublemaking girl who becomes close with Star; Ponyhead, the wild princess who was Star’s first friend before coming to Earth, and Jackie, a friend of Star’s and longtime crush of Marco (though he is very timid about this fact for most of the season…) 3.5/5 points.

 

Story quality: Episodic, with an underlying story that begins to come on much more strongly in the final 3rd of the first season. So far, the show has shown itself to be a fun, wacky, and humorous show, mixed with some modicums of seriousness and drama. It’s an effective mix that I hope to see keep developing. So far, it’s a good start- not the level of season 1 Gravity Falls, but certainly worth a watch. 3.75/5 points.

 

Themes: There’s this idea of mystery and magic mixed with the idea of growing up and friendship, which then becomes more complicated with time. It’s adequately done, and while I believed it would be intriguing to see where it went this past season, it exceeded my expectations, opening up the potential for a very compelling  season 3. As a result more serious themes have been set in motion. 3.5/5 points.

 

Don’t insult the viewer: The show’s bursting with a good sense of fun and energy while staying rather clean. The theme song and outro are both very catchy, and there’s something infectiously enjoyable about watching this show, which is hard to describe.  5/5 points.

 

Total Score: 20/25 (80%). With an explosive final sequence of episodes, Star vs. The Forces of Evil finishes off its second season with both answers and questions as to where it goes next; a bittersweet cliffhanger that really could become something special. The show will receive an further updated review when Season 3 airs in its entirety… definitely worth the watch so far!


Like what you see? Dying to say something about “Starco?” Leave a comment!

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!