Review: Codename: Kids Next Door

A quirky cartoon from the mid 2000’s is a fun meta-commentary on childhood.

The Lowdown:

Show: Codename: Kids Next Door

Network/Years aired: Cartoon Network, 2002-2008

AniB’s thoughts: You might have seen this review coming from a mile away if you read the Valentine’s Day special, but it’s exciting nonetheless to formally discuss a show that was certainly a great favorite of mine growing up. The 3rd last Cartoon Cartoon to be green-lit from a pilot- and also end its run on Cartoon Network, KND enjoyed a successful era on the network, exiting at a time (January 2008) where a great transition period was about to occur (not that anybody knew that yet.) The show, in two words to anyone unfamiliar, is creatively fun. At its most basic level, Codename: Kids Next Door sounds like what you’d expect: A spy organization featuring kid agents- and it is, but that’s just the beginning. There are giant tree houses, custom weaponry made from common household items and duct tape (which is referred to as 2×4 technology), which in turn, also have creative acronyms for code names (i.e. S.P.L.A.N.K.E.R.= Solid Pine Loaded Artillery Nicely Kicks Enemy Rear), and retrofitted vehicles that are engineered to fly. In most universes these kids would be credited as sheer geniuses, but the KND-verse is honestly a surreal version of our own- and so everything, from parody and references, to childhood fears embodied by the rogues’ gallery of wacky villains, is cranked up to 10- and by and large, it works! The sheer inventiveness and creativity was not only a credit to Tom Warburton, who headed up the show, but also necessary to really bring alive the very titular organization- the Kids Next Door- in all its zany, out of this world absurdness and the hilariously unorthodox problems and enemies facing them.

 

KND, in simplest terms, is a meta-commentary on childhood done right. It starts with a core 5- Sector V- that all embody different personalities, insecurities and aspects of growing up. From the work-obsessed, sharply focused Numbuh 1 (aka Nigel Uno) to his second in command, the cool, collected Numbuh 5 (Abby Lincoln) and right down the line, they are a varied group with unique quirks- but unequivocally embrace their childhoods in a way most adults might wish they had cherished theirs. For all the outrageous missions and crazy weaponry, the greatest enemy in KND is time itself- which has an undefeated record against an agency that normally decommissions its operatives at the tender age of 13- the gateway to adolescence. While the show is a highly episodic endeavor, there is a very loosely overarching narrative that binds this key element to the story, and it gives us in the end one of the more underrated poignant moments in animated history when (spoilers!) the team has their final goodbyes in the finale, Operation I.N.T.E.R.V.I.E.W.S. As a result, the show actually sends an interesting message about the fact that while childhood ends, nobody actually has to let go of being a child entirely. (Think about this idea for a second- all cartoons are made by adults, regardless of target audience, right?) Regardless, the entire notion plays at the imagination, supplemented by a group of characters that’s very likable.

There’s another key point that really stands out in Codename: Kids Next Door: it is one of the finest examples of diversity in a show. For a topic many liberal-leaning critics harp constantly about, it succeeds in KND for a few reasons; chief among these being that it was not a major goal or overtly intended theme of the show. It happened naturally. The Kids Next Door organization proper is a multi-ethnic, globe straddling enterprise that incorporates children from around the world; Sector V themselves are different in terms of ethnicity, and the best part about it is that none of them once seem to care about  their origins; they are simply friends and that is the end of it. But beyond that kind of diversity also lies an intellectual diversity that’s even more important- going back to different character types, goals, and ideas, the kids constantly show individual ways of thinking and solving problems, but an equal willingness to pull together and execute a plan if a goal required it. On screen, this is all accomplished in variously unusual ways, but if you accept that the show is a little convoluted in order to be fun, you’ll have a great time.

Finally, the villains of this show are all deliciously cheesy and fun. They’re legitimate threats in-universe, but include such cohorts as Gramma Stuffum (an obese old lady who creates sentient food that in turn tastes awful and makes its victims quite fat), Knightbrace (a candy shop owner-turned dental avenger at night, with aggressive teeth cleaning techniques), and Mr. Boss (a big, hunchbacked corporate type man who constantly has a cigar in his mouth and delegates other underlings and villains to do his bidding). However, the big bad of this show- Father- and his Delightful Children are a different story altogether; mostly, they are a contrast in styles to our heroes: anger replacing joy for the latter, and the child-like sense of curiosity and adventure sapped for a sort of obedient sadism in the latter (and they are quite tragic characters.) It’s very interesting what you observe when you pop the lid up on a childhood favorite- because there’s a lot more there than initially meets the eye.


 

Animation Quality: Traditional 2-D animation, with a distinct style focus on certain exaggerated features, i.e. large feet. Considering the show started in 2002, the level of detail on different sets is impressive, especially the tree houses and the various homemade inventions. As a result, it’s a show that really emphasizes some imaginative ideas, and executes them fairly well. Character models tend to stay simple, which usually works, but sometimes are a little grotesque in certain situations.  4/5 points.

 
Characterization: The show mainly has a core 5; that being the so- code numbered operatives Numbahs 1-5. All of them feature distinct personalities, and some surprisingly complex character development. They tend to stray outside their stereotype,to often hilarious results.

Nigel Uno (Numbah 1) is the leader of Sector V; he’s an agent’s agent, working tirelessly on behalf of the KND, a habit that has both seen him grow into one of the organization’s most elite agents, but also much to the annoyance of his squad members, who often wish he’d take a little more downtime. Overall though, he’s both liked and respected by his friends, isn’t immune to having a lot of fun and is noted for his bald head and trademark sunglasses.

Hoagie P. Gilligan, Jr., or “Numbah 2” is the team’s resident mechanic and vehicle specialist. A little on the rounder side, he sports a pair of old-time aviator googles at all times, loves chili dogs, and has an awful sense of humor- a fact that Numbah 5 in particular is not fond of. He also loves to monlogue situations as if he were a private detective, which occasionally is featured in Numbuh 2-centric episodes.

 

Kuki Sanban is “Numbah 3.” Usually sporting a bright smile and an aloof personality that can be only described as “airheaded,” Kuki loves all “girly crud,” as Numbah 4 would put it; in particular she has a massive collection of Rainbow Monkeys, the KND universe’s prized plush toy line. However, she’s much more cognizant than she lets on at times, and when angered, takes on an essentially demonic personality that is a complete 180 from her usual demeanor (and is terrifying!)

 

Wally Beetles, or “Numbah 4” is the resident tough guy. A short kid sporting a bowl cut and a distinctive orange hoodie, he’s sensitive about said height, and often tasked with the most dangerous missions for the team- because he’s also not “school-smart.” However, he does have some high “street smarts” and is the bad boy of the team, but he has a tendency to get himself into hilariously awful situations. (Every once in a while, he triumphs.) He also hates being associated with anything “girly-” especially Rainbow Monkeys and being caught crying.

 

Finally Abby Lincoln (Numbah 5) rounds out the main cast. Cool in both demeanor and style, the second in command of Sector V holds the most common sense on the team as its oldest member, and is arguably its most competent member aside from Numbah 1. She holds a deep loyalty to her friends and family, but her personal hobby is hunting for candy treasure- an endeavor that makes for some unlikely allies and enemies along the way.

 

The show features a large and varied rogues gallery, a good number of which parody well-known entities (i.e. Robin Food) and common childhood myths and fears. Some villains receive backstory, in particular Father, the KND’s archenemy. The Kids Next Door themselves have a memorable array of other agents outside the show’s main characters, all as quirky and colorful as the main cast.  The show’s characters follow a large, overarching canon. 4.5/5 points.

 
Story quality: The story itself follows a large canon usually rooted back to the mysterious roots of the KND organization at a global and galactic level, and the thematic elements I discussed in my thoughts,  but the majority of episodes are episodic. It is interesting to see how events do tie in, as sometimes seemingly minor events pop back up in later stories. The whole premise is fairly convoluted, but that’s part of the wackiness and fun of the show. 4.25/5 points.

 
Themes: There’s definitely a clever play on childhood nostalgia and imagination in this show, and it’s evident through everything, from the 2×4 weapons to the unimaginably crazy, massive tree houses. Other than that, standard stuff, friendship, commitment, and a whole lot of secrets exist in the shadows… This show actually has some interesting undertones, especially the inevitability of growing up, which is something anybody can relate to.  4/5 points.

 
Don’t insult the viewer: KND has its weird moments (and when they happen, you’ll know), but is really a very cool show at heart with good to great humor and a cast that doesn’t take itself too seriously. It also has some very good instrumental tracks that emphasize the action on-screen; and the theme song is clean and embodies the show; it’s a little bit of James Bond in there.  4.25/5 points.

 

 

Total Score: 21/25 (84%). Codename: Kids Next Door was an excellent show with minor flaws; however the sheer inventiveness of the idea and its well done execution led to a highly popular series that ran for 6 seasons and two TV movies. It was consistently one of Cartoon Network’s better shows from its inception to its conclusion. Kids Next Door- battle stations!


Like this review? Wished you could be a KND agent back in the day? Leave a comment!

A daily schedule!

A quick update- which regards the release of articles here at AniB Productions:

I can potentially release a new piece every single day. However, I will always be sure to have a review once a week, and usually a character piece as well. There are also plans to continue unannounced pieces outside those formats on a daily basis- such as the Valentine’s Day themed reflection.  As always, feedback is the best way for me to know what might interest anybody as readers, and serves as a great way to form ideas and further interesting discussions. I’m looking forward to building off what’s been a tremendous start here on the blog,

Sincerely,

Christian, aka “AniB”

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!

Review: Neon Genesis Evangelion

A titan of mecha anime is a complex watch.

The Lowdown:

Show: Neon Genesis Evangelion

Studio(Network)/Years aired: Gainax (Cartoon Network-Toonami), 1995-1996

(SOME SPOILERS AHEAD. Skip to the grading section if you wish to avoid.)

AniB’s thoughts: Love it or hate it, Neon Genesis Evangelion (usually just referred to as Evangelion) is a staple of mecha anime; a well known series that served as inspiration for others that came after it, including Gainax’s other mega hit Gurren Lagann. Loaded with Christian symbolism (i.e. The Magi are NERV’s supercomputers, and the attacking group is the Angels), it is a frenetically paced, emotionally heavy show which now has some even stranger connotations (as the year 2016 already passed now), so it’s a sort of alternate reality to our own. There’s definitely some inspiration from Blade Runner here as well- the mysterious origins of Rei Ayanami is almost certaintly inspired by the replicants from that movie, and the whole idea of what does it really mean to be human? floats around not only from Rei, but also Shinji’s variability of moods, Asuka’s eventual breakdown, and the mysterious goals that SEELE, another organization who usually hands orders down to NERV, has with the Eva program itself.

There’s little doubt that for a first time viewer Evangelion can be a very difficult show to watch, simply because it is overwhelming at times…and even for repeat viewers it can be still be quite the challenge. However, “difficult” does not always translate to better. One  of the major sticking points in this show is the protaganist himself- Shinji. A shy boy with little in the way of spine (unless he convinces himself to do something- then he’s alright) and an inferiority complex that makes Eeyore look positively upbeat, Shinji certaintly turns out to be a character with great depth… but I’m not sure his inability to cope with things for roughly half the show goes over well with everyone. I understand it’s part and parcel with his character- and that as the lead character, he contrasts sharply with everyone else on the cast, particularly Asuka, but I do think I was palpably frustrated at times with his unwillingness to snap out of depressive funks. I understand that Shinji’s the Third Child, fighting Angels in a giant mech in a battle to save the world, but he sure takes a lot of convincing to get from Point A to Point B most  of the time…

There’s also the matter of Evangelion’s ending- Episodes 25 and 26- and the two versions that exist: the original ending in the TV series that I’m talking about here, and The End of Evangelion movie that revises that ending with quite a bit more action (but an equally confusing end.)  First off, I’ll discuss End of Evangelion here, but note my grade below is crafted with only the episodes from the anime series’ original run, so I’m using the original 2 episodes in my analysis. There is a similar thread between both endings- that being the intense psychological resolution of Shinji’s mind- which, true to form is agonizingly slow, considering the kid is still traumatized over destroying the 17th Angel, and truly believes that his self-worth is at an all-time low; that nobody cares about him. For the live action bits- which appear in both endings (the show and the movie), it is my belief that it was an attempt to show a certain “reality of perception”; either way, you’ll probably have to watch said endings (both, mind you) a few times to even begin an attempt at grasping the entirety of what the message was. In both cases, Shinji “resolves” his dilemma, though in End of Evangelion it’s much clearer; the actual real-world result is Shinji maintaining his individual body and spirit (along with Asuka, mysteriously enough), surrounded by the surreal post-apocalyptic landscape in the aftermath of the events that took place, and Lillith’s (the giant white being who absorbed Rei) death, perhaps symbolizing hope can always be found- and that perhaps the two children were the new “Adam and Eve.” As for the ending that’s being graded here, it’s been discussed before that they were on a tight budget and schedule to release said episodes; the end result is something that’s very psychological in nature, but not necessarily satisfying.

Do I believe Evangelion’s slightly overrated for what it is? Yes I do. But I also enjoy some of the ideas it explores,  the rich symbolism steeped in Christian ideas, and a cast on the whole whose interactions are rarely wasted, constantly giving us glimpses into the true personalities of each individual. Regardless of what you think of the show, it’s certainly unique. And if you haven’t seen Evangelion over 20 years after its release…well, brace yourself, because it’s very much its own show. (And that theme song (“A Cruel Angel’s Thesis”) is quite famous – I suspect you’ll be listening to it quite a bit…and it’s been memed quite a lot as well.) With that, on to the grading!


Animation Quality: Traditional 2-D anime. Hand drawn in the classic style, Evangelion’s animation is fluid and detailed; and the battle scenes are impactful. There are some interesting techniques used to convey some more psychologically interesting aspects of the show, and overall, the style has aged decently. The animation also conveys the raw, visceral emotion in the show quite well with the narrative, and it works to great effect. 4.25/5 points.

 

 

Characterization: The show features one of anime’s more well-known protagonists, Shinji Ikari, a young teenager who is the pilot of Evangelion Unit 01, or Eva, for short. Suffering from intense withdrawal and psychological dependence on himself, Shinji’s isolation and exploration of self-worth forms a major part of the show’s emotional core.

Additionally, there are the other pilots of the Evas; Rei Ayanami, a mysterious child whose clouded origins are tied in with her perception of self, and Asuka Langley Soryu, an implusive, loudmouthed prodigy from Germany who in fact, hides her true emotional state tenuously under her public personality. Asuka in particular has strong feelings for Shinji, but with her own inner struggles, these often come out as verbal abuse (and her personality is a complete 180 from the latter.) She also represses painful memories deep within herself- after a particuarly tramautic battle (SPOILERS), she spends the end of the series in a mostly catatonic state.

Misato is the caretaker of Shinji and later Asuka; she balances her true motivation and backstory against her duties as a NERV officer and the carefree person she is outside of her job. Skilled with a gun and with some impressive driving skills, she often is the one who has to get Shinji going when he’s apprehensive or down about something (which is pretty often.)

Gendo Ikari is Shinji’s father; a cold man and the director of NERV, his only goal in life is to achieve the ends of NERV as he sees fit (and he has a very specific goal in mind), and the destruction of the Angels. Gendo will do anything to see his aims through, and as such, his relationship with Shinji is distant and cruel at best.

The rest of the cast is a good supporting role; while the characters of the show have deep emotions and issues, it can become a little overwhelming with the amount of melancholia and hidden insecurities exhibited. The cast is at their best in interactions with each other, as it reveals their core personalities very clearly. 4/5 points.

 

 

Story quality: The story of Evangelion is surprisingly simple: 15 years into a post-apocalyptic world, humanity’s last hope is the organization called NERV and their Evangelion project- a series of fighting robots bio-engineered to work only with child pilots- to prevent doomsday from entities only known as Angels, which have unknown origins and incredible powers. It works well enough, but the show is ultimately more focused on the characters and their struggles, using the story as a framing device (and an excuse for giant robot fights. No complaints there.) 3.25/5 points.

 

 

Themes: Evangelion is a deep journey into the human minds and motivations of its cast, and what the circumstances of their lives actually mean to them. It’s also a standard-bearer of the typical post-apocalyptic trends such as loss, and destruction, and generally weird decision making… At any rate, the character analysis itself can be either the most engaging or daunting aspect for a viewer, but it is Evangelion’s defining trait. 4.25/5 points.

 

 

Don’t insult the viewer: Intensely psychological, Evangelion is not the best for an easy watch. There are also plenty of brief moments of nudity and innuendo, but most of this makes sense or is played for a quick laugh (and the humor is well-appreciated in this style of show.) There’s also plenty of strongly visceral scenes involving “blood” and the Eva units themselves. 4.5/5 points.

 

 

Total Score: 20.25/25 (81%). A staple of the mecha anime genre, Neon Genesis Evangelion is a curious show and an veritable spectacle. Not particularly recommended for people under the age of 15, it’s an intense watch that covers a broad spectrum of emotions and can be a difficult to view show for some of the reasons outlined above.


Like this review? Want to ask whether Asuka or Rei is best girl (because I don’t care?) Write a comment!

The Mystery Blogger Award: A surprising honor!

First off, thank you to S.G. of Rhyme and Reason, a terrific blog where he combines poetry with very original, thoughtful ideas on movies, for the nomination. Check him out if you haven’t: https://sgliput.wordpress.com/2017/02/07/the-mystery-blogger-award-courtesy-of-drew/

So as it turns out, this award nomination was a pleasant surprise; totally unexpected because I’ve only been blogging here for a little over 2 weeks, but it’s been great so far hearing feedback and commentary, and a joy writing for something I believe can continue to grow. As for the award, it was created by Okoto Enigma, and also has some rules that I’ve got to follow in order to be eligible:

1.  Put the award logo/image on your blog.

2.  List the rules.

3.  Thank whoever nominated you and provide a link to their blog.

4.  Mention the creator of the award and provide a link as well.

5.  Tell your readers 3 things about yourself.

6.  You have to nominate 10 – 20 people.

7.  Notify your nominees by commenting on their blog.

8.  Ask your nominees any 5 questions of your choice; with one weird or funny question (specify)

9.  Share a link to your best post(s)

 

Well, as you can see, 1-4 is checked off the list already. So… three things about myself:

  1. I obviously love animation, and in turn, analyzing and looking at the details. This blog is a launching point for what I hope will become an ambitious multimedia platform where animation can continue to “be explored in a unique, fresh way” as my tagline goes here. As for favorite animated shows and movies… In the West, the show is probably Gravity Falls (barely), and the East…you’ll find out in an upcoming post! (Hint: check my Twitter feed.) As for the movie, it’s The Incredibles. Absolutely amazing film to this day for a variety of reasons; I suspect I’ll write about it one of these days!
  2. Being a sports fan is a way of life in Buffalo, NY, and so I’m a dyed in the wool Bills and Sabres fan. A few quick points for the uninitiated: We have the best football tailgates, the most passionate fans, and a long history of heartbreak. And unlike most American cities, this town is crazy passionate about its hockey. (The Music City “miracle?” That was a forward pass. And Brett Hull’s foot was in the crease.)
  3. I have a slew of other interests including history, politics, golfing, fishing, biking, trivia…so you could say I’m always interested in learning new skills and interests and meeting new people!

So… S.G. asked me a few questions, which I’ll answer here as well:

What film(s) do you love that others seem to ignore or not even know about?

-Hmm… tricky question. I guess For Greater Glory: Viva Christo Rey! counts; it’s a film from 2012 that is a drama of an overshadowed conflict in 1920’s Mexico when the government cracked down on Catholic churches, clergymen and the faithful. Andy Garcia stars in it. As for animation itself…Wreck-It Ralph. Yes, it’s a well known movie, but Disney fanatics seem to overlook it (especially with Frozen hogging all the attention a year later), and it’s arguably one of, if not the best movies dealing with video games as a main subject material.

If you had to eat one food (or kind of food) for the rest of your life, what would it be?

I actually have had this conversation with my sister quite often, and the truth is, I’m not sure- but steaks, chocolate chip cookies, and perhaps a certain kind of sub I like might make the grade. (Hopefully, the calories do not.)

If technology allowed us to live in an ideal virtual Matrix-world, would you choose that over reality?

No, because life’s imperfections keep things interesting, and allow us to keep learning, working through suffering and shortcomings to become wiser, stronger people. It could get rather boring to be in an “ideal world” like that…and where’s the fun in that?

What one film do you think is vastly overrated?

Christopher Nolan’s Memento (2000). It might be partially because I had to watch it for an English project a few years back, but I never got into the flow of the movie, and felt rather uncomfortable the whole time about Guy Pearce’s character. Sure, it’s thought provoking and worth a conversation about…but it’s overrated for what it is. I’ll leave it at that. I’ll also additionally add an animated movie: The Lego Movie (2014). It was a very pleasant surprise in February, a month traditionally reserved for studio long-shots and B-rate films, and quite humorous, but when everyone cried about its award snub at the Oscars two years ago, I wasn’t perturbed- because Big Hero 6 and How To Train Your Dragon 2 were better films (and the former won the award.)

 

For a fun question, you have three paradox-free wishes that won’t come back to bite you (says a genie). What would they be?

I’ve also thought about this question before:

  1. That the Bills and Sabres both become winning franchises, and collect lots of championships;
  2. That an asteroid won’t hit the Earth (seriously, it’s a childhood fear)
  3. That the world comes to think more carefully about its morality, and that a Christian sense of altruism imbibes people’s spirits in a practical way.

Trust me, there’s a longer list of things I could wish for, but paradoxes kind of throw a wrench in that plan…

As for bloggers I nominate, here’s the list:

David: David Snape & Friends (https://davidsnape.me/). Really unique project he’s got on his site!

Rachel: Reviewing All 56 Disney Animated Films and More! (https://54disneyreviews.com/): She’s written some great work on Disney and other animated fare.

“The Dood” https://doodleyourdreamsblog.wordpress.com/ :Brand new blogger there; I’m curious to see what kind of content they’ll produce!

S.G.: Rhyme and Reason (https://sgliput.wordpress.com/): Yes, I know you nominated me and have already been nominated…but here’s returning the favor- I’ve really enjoyed your comments!

“Discoveringsooz”: https://discoveringsooz.wordpress.com/. Big thanks for being my first ever like on the blog!

Drew: Drew’s Movie Reviews: (https://drewreviewmovies.wordpress.com/2017/02/10/movie-quote-of-the-week-21017/): He’s another fantastic writer of movie material, and has some very unique work.

Here’s 5 questions for everyone nominated:

  1. What is your favorite animated show and why? (if you can, perhaps from West and East!) As an addendum: Would you like me to write a review of that show(s) if I haven’t already?
  2. If you’re a sports fan, who do you root for, and do you have any unique stories about being a fan of your team(s) of choice?
  3. What’s your most overrated animated movie or show?
  4. What would be one live-action show or movie you’d highly recommend to anyone?
  5. What was your motive to start writing a blog?

Finally, a link to my best blog post… I have written quite a few reviews at this point and some character pieces as well, but the link here is the heart and core of what I write about and do: The review system. https://anibproductions.wordpress.com/2017/01/27/creating-the-magic-how-i-do-reviews/

Well, that’s about it! The criteria has been met; I’m thankful once more to S.G. for the nomination, and it will be fascinating to see the answers to the questions I posed to nominees! Stay tuned to this blog and the Twitter link I’ve put up: I constantly update with new material and comments are highly appreciated and constructive!

Keep reading, writing, and thinking critically,

Christian, a.k.a. “AniB”

Review/Rant: Fanboy and Chum Chum

Dumb and dumber: The tale of a bad Nicktoon.

The Lowdown:

Show: Fanboy and Chum Chum

Network/Years aired: Nickelodeon, 2009-2014

AniB’s thoughts: Ugh. Ugh. Ugh. Let me preface my thoughts by saying that Fanboy and Chum Chum brings some levity to the reviews here, which have been loaded initially with some of the best shows both East and West have to offer (including fellow Nicktoons Avatar: The Last Airbender and successor piece The Legend of Korra), and it was about time to show off an example of what not to do in a show. Enter the highly forgettable entry that is the subject of this review column, and prepare yourself, because it ain’t pretty.

I really do make an effort to be as unbiased and objective as possible with every show that’s reviewed. Unfortunately, even with that fair ideal in place and a grading system that can also be described as such, Fanboy and Chum Chum is a mess of a show in almost every possible aspect. Where do I even start? Bad CGI, bad script-writing, bad music, and horrible characterization makes for an explosion of awfulness that in some ways, can only be explained as a byproduct of the era in which this show was hatched. 2009 was admittedly smack dab in the middle of the worst mini-era of animation in at least the past 30 years, and while Nickelodeon was struggling as a network like everyone else, it did itself no favors with its pick of shows, and of that inglorious bunch (which included “gems” like The Mighty B! and T.U.F.F. Puppy), Fanboy and Chum Chum might unequivocally be the worst. What makes this assertion even more accurate is that Nick execs had a choice of  shows to greenlight from pilots; they picked this heaping pile of garbage up instead of another little show you might have heard of- Adventure Time– that went on to became a massive success on rival Cartoon Network en route to becoming the very representation of a new wave of Western animation in the 2010’s. But enough about a show I’d rather talk about- we’re here for the choice Nick made instead.

This show really does one thing well: showcasing to aspiring show-runners mistakes they should avoid making, and this unfortunate reality has a two-fold crisis in Fanboy and Chum Chum: The animation style, and the inability to write anything resembling cohesiveness. Shows have distinct animated styles, but different character designs also have natural proclivities to what they’d look best in. Gravity Falls, for instance works perfectly in 2-D; while Star Wars: The Clone Wars was very good in 3-D (and is an example of versatility in styles.) Fanboy and Chum Chum has the unfortunate distinction of having 2-D designs cast in a 3-D world. The end result is incredibly unnatural, jarring character models (which you can see clearly in the picture for this piece) which would have been at home in the 2-D style exaggerated character designs like these have been in forever, but for some reason, from the word go (which included the pilot), the creators decided 3-D was a good idea. (It wasn’t.) Add in janky colors that are almost too bright, and the low-budget CGI production that is also evident, and it’s a disaster of equal proportions. While this aspect alone sapped a great deal of any promise from the show, it still might have had a chance if the writing was there…except it wasn’t.

Character writing 101 was left on the doorstep of Fanboy and Chum Chum. As anyone worth their salt as a critic, an animation fan, or a purveyor of entertainment in general will tell you, characters are the hook into your narrative. They flow with the story you’re trying to tell, and as a baseline, the main cast should have some dynamism and your main protagonists need to be easily likeable.  This show failed miserably at this most basic of tasks- the titular characters are two of the most annoying tone-deaf, brain dead individuals ever conceived in an animated show, regardless of target audience, and it is so bad that anyone who actually continues to wade into the sludge of this show’s depths will only find themselves rooting for Kyle- the middle guy in the article picture- a wizard (don’t ask) who is incessantly pestered by our supposed “heroes” in such a way that I at least found myself rooting for his schemes to destroy the little bastards. The main goal of Fanboy and Chum Chum as individuals is- get this- to get a special kind of Slurpee they particularly love, to goof off and (un?)intentionally annoy people, begging the question what the actual gripping concept of having these two wack jobs dressed up as knock-off superheroes in the first place was, or even more generally, what was goal of the show? To be honest, I’d write a better script for this abomination in two seconds: A Codename: Kids Next Door hybrid meets Teen Titans, cast in tasteful 2-D, give our main men actual brains (which they remove in the show we actually got, to “comedic effect” at times), and overhaul the entire cast, colors, music and everything else- wait, scratch that. I just said to scrap this show essentially- which should have happened in the first place! Anyways, here’s the gory details in all their graded glory:

 


Animation Quality: 3-D CGI, and not very high budget at that. A quote I read somewhere online a while back summed it up best: “This is what Ren and Stimpy would look like if it was in 3-D.” It’s fairly stark for a show released in 2009 that ran into 2014, and the character designs don’t really do it any favors. On the plus side, the color palette is bright. That’s about it though. 1/5 points.

 
Characterization: The major problem with this show is its titular characters. For the viewer, they are incredibly annoying “protagonists” and they seem to revel in their awkward stupidity. As I highlighted in my thoughts, when your show has unlikable main characters by any stretch, you’ve got serious problems.

Fanboy and Chum Chum are the two leads. While separate characters, they essentially are two sides of the same coin, meaning “not very bright, impulsive as hell, and likely to get diabetes at some point.” Fanboy’s the skinny one in mostly green, and Chum Chum’s the fat, short guy in orange. (Apparently, wearing underwear on the outside of your clothes emulates heroes’ spandex, but it’s not very becoming here.) They engage in random acts of..randomness (think involving a giant wad of chewed gum FB and CC are hiding in their school desks (which is disgusting, not funny, especially when they talk to it like a young child), which then, upon bringing it back to their hideout/home in the town’s water tower, it turns into a sentient monster who’s equally as thick as his new friends.) What?

 

The supporting cast is very weak and stereotypical; Kyle’s probably the best of the bunch (largely because he’s aware of just how stupid FB and CC are.), but unfortunately, he’s the punching bag- a inferior Squidward clone. As mentioned, the character designs simply look ugly in 3-D. They would have worked much better in 2-D, as most atypical designs do. 0.25/5 points.

 
Story quality: Episodic. Terribly contrived plots- I don’t think I was very amused at any point watching, and frankly, the show didn’t do anything spectacular to really warrant praise. The lack of character development, the consistently annoying premises, and the unfortunate truth that I wound up rooting for the “antagonist” in just about every episode sums it up. There’s a lot more nasty things that could be said, but simply, the episodes are dull exercises in futility. 0/5 points.

 
Themes: The power of friendship? Seriously, the show doesn’t even try to wedge something of nutritive value in. Thematically, the show’s a waste of time when your main characters are more interested in obsessions over sentient pieces of gum (for one strange example), a conspicuous lack of attention or basic listening to other people, and the fact that they don’t even try to work the superhero angle in. (They would be the lamest superheroes ever, but it’d be a start…) 0/5 points.

 
Don’t insult the viewer: This show is catering to kids, and not in a good way. It’s a brain dead show with generally unfunny attempts at humor, an unlikable set of main characters, basic CGI, and a slew of other problems. It also has an awful music track, simply adding to the misery of what was an unpleasant experience. 1/5 points.

 

 

Total Score: 2.25/25 (9%). Fanboy and Chum Chum is a truly awful cartoon with little sense of pacing, character, story, or really anything of worth. Its most significant achievement was somehow surviving for 5 years on Nickelodeon (how it did is still a mystery to yours truly). It’s not vulgar, but it lacks any intelligent writing and nothing particularly stands out. It is, in a word, awful. Avoid this at all costs- there are far better pieces of animation to consume.


Like this review? Actually enjoy this show? Or here to parrot the same convictions? 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.)