What’s In a Character: Vanellope von Schweetz

The spunky Sugar Rush racer revs up her engine for the spotlight.

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With the new year comes new character pieces! It has been quite a while since one of these appeared, but between reviewing both Wreck-It Ralph films and the brief highlight on Vanellope in my end-of-year character pick-5, I found myself extremely compelled to write about the little candy racer. So “why” Vanellope, aside from being “a real racer”? There’s plenty of reasons, and hopefully, you’ll find several sweet layers here, like the layers of a jawbreaker.

(Major SPOILERS for Wreck-It Ralph and Ralph Breaks the Internet.)

 

“I’m already a real racer. And I’m gonna win.”- Vanellope, when Ralph tells her she just has to cross the finish line in her first race to reset Sugar Rush

Part sweet little girl, part candy and part sharp-flavored adventure with a hint of Sarah Silverman, Vanellope is a handful, regardless of your own opinion on her. A crack racer and the unlikely best friend of 80’s arcade villain Wreck-It Ralph, her story is interesting precisely of how relationship dynamics form and emerge in her story, playing an integral part in her development as a character and an individual.

A large part of the reason Vanellope has so much to analyze is that she gets two movies’ worth of character development as opposed to just one. In turn, her story shifts from a plucky outcast to someone who comes of age in the hopes of gaining a bigger dream- but in the process, forced to make some tough decisions as well. At the center of these decisions is ultimately her relationship with Ralph- and how that is impacted, both through her actions and those of the wrecker, neither of which necessarily occur in a vacuum.

“You’re not from here, are you?”- Vanellope von Schweetz, upon first meeting Wreck-It Ralph

The first film sees Vanellope as she initially was- an individual hardened by the life she was forced to live under King Candy’s sugar-coated fist in Sugar Rush. Beyond just being an outcast, she was also a full-on criminal as decreed by the corrupt regime, and so regardless of what her initial disposition might have been like (we have no idea, her game has been plugged in 15 years by that point), she’s got a sharp tongue of sarcasm and wit no doubt honed from dealing with hostile individuals constantly. Therefore, her initial meeting with Ralph makes perfect sense- she had a) no perspective on the wrecker or why exactly a medal would be so important to him (she even asks what the big deal about the “crummy medal” is later in the film) and b) she had never encountered anyone vaguely kind to her, by virtue of being isolated in Sugar Rush for her whole existence, along with King Candy’s attempt to delete her code, which left her with her signature “glitch” and a stigma of ostracization.

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“C’mon, do we have a deal or not? My arm’s getting tired.”- Vanellope, when her and Ralph agree to work together for the first time

The duo bonds over the unlikely bond they wind up sharing in feeling socially outcast from the games they hail from- Vanellope, for reasons already outlined and Ralph due to his treatment as a “bad guy” even outside of game hours, where he’s really not a bad guy, per se. However, it takes some time for this partnership to actually develop into a meaningful relationship, given that it’s a agreement initially born of mutual interest, even moreso to Ralph, self-absorbed in his medal quest- but the language Vanellope uses to strike the deal (“what do you say, friend?”) suggests that while she also has a mutual goal (become a real racer with a real kart) she was more open to the idea towards actually wanting a relationship, given it was likely the first act of kindness she’d known- in this case, Ralph scaring off the other Sugar Rush racers who had destroyed her homemade cart.

While Vanellope’s tale is largely one featuring her relationship with Ralph, the first movie also see her in an interesting dynamic with King Candy- the treacherous ruler of the game who in turn is actually the old rogue racer Turbo alluded to throughout the film. The villain goes to extreme lengths to try and literally kill her, first by attempting to delete her code, and when that fails, turns her into a state criminal while also locking up the memories of everyone else in Sugar Rush to suppress both his own misdeed and Vanellope’s true identity as the princess of the game. While Candy is ultimately defeated by Ralph at the climax, his megalomaniac tendencies are brought into an even sharper light by the hard-luck but innocent Vanellope, and nowhere is this in sharper contrast when Turbo is finally revealed in the climax of the final race.

 

If it was really one and done for films with Wreck-It Ralph, Vanellope would have still been a fine character with a satisfying arc that occurred, but she, along with Ralph, got a chance at a sequel which allowed for an even more in-depth exploration of the relationship that had been built by the end of the original film. In this way, the little racer hit the jackpot: a followup movie which actually did exactly what you’d hope to see in a developing relationship dynamic, and the fact that said followup film was both quite good (here’s the review) and that Disney rarely does official sequels. Talk about luck.

“Do you ever think about how we’re just bits of code, 0’s and 1’s? What if there’s more out there?”- Vanellope, pondering greater possibilities to Ralph.

With a slight real-world time skip of 6 years (the exact frame between Wreck-It Ralph and Ralph Breaks the Internet), Vanellope and Ralph have developed a comfortable routine- one that is genuinely perfection on some level for the latter, but starting to get boring for the former. It’s true the duo greatly enjoyed each other’s company, but Vanellope had long since grown bored of the place where she’d once been imprisoned, and as the game’s best racer, she’d become the proverbial “big fish in a small pond.” Enter one broken steering wheel and the introduction of WiFi to Litwak’s Arcade, and the impetus for things to take off was in place.

It’s clear from the start the candy-haired racer is open to change in her life, from her excitement at going into the internet, to her eye-opening interest in Slaughter Race, and even her humorous foray into a room full of Disney princesses. It’s true that she set out to save her game with Ralph, but in the process, she’d found a bigger world, and like a young adult searching out careers and dreams, she wanted to take her racing talents to a bigger level and a platform that would keep her excited every day. Of course, with that realization came the difficult fact that her relationship with Ralph- who she virtually spent all of her time with- would have to change, and while Vanellope accepted this would have to happen quickly enough, the Fix-It Felix, Jr. bad guy had quite a few more struggles with it.

Ralph’s genuine care for Vanellope as his friend devolves to a certain point where the original goal (the steering wheel) is in question whether it’s for Vanellope or his own self-interest. The wrecker is content in routine and happy in his own way. He can’t comprehend Vanellope finding a different dream or something bigger than what she knew, and resistance to that major change fuel Ralph’s childish and ultimately dangerous actions, or namely, his emotional insecurities, which become visually represented by the monstrous viral Ralph clones, and later, the King Kong Ralph homage.

“You really are a bad guy.”- Vanellope, after Ralph crushes her kart in Wreck-It Ralph

Ralph’s betrayals hurting Vanellope on a fundamental level in both films makes a lot of sense, not only from a realistic human perspective, but given the amount of faith and trust she put into the big guy for it to be betrayed. Between the crushing of the candy kart and the reveal that Ralph unleashed the dangerous virus upon Slaughter Race, both scenes are two of the most emotionally painful things between both films, and both times, Ralph acts out of a certain ignorance- but the intent differs. In Wreck-It Ralph, Ralph truly believes he’s done the right thing, and Vanellope’s pain comes from the one person she now saw as a hero (she gave her homemade medal right before, which really makes this hurt) betray her and destroy her dreams at the time. By contrast, the betrayal in Ralph Breaks the Internet is not caused in part from an outside party, like King Candy- but rather, Ralph’s own-self centeredness and insecurity over the idea of losing Vanellope. And in turn, the reaction is even more crushing, when the same medal that Ralph kept all those years is chucked into the abyss of the web, broken in two, symbolizing a permanent change in that relationship. In both instances, there is forgiveness- but again, the context differs as a contrite Ralph returns to help Vanellope after admitting his mistake with a fixed kart and a sincere apology in the first film, while the sequel instead sees Ralph accept change and in turn, allows Vanellope to do her own thing.

By the end of Ralph Breaks the Internet, Vanellope has transformed into someone who’s grown up a bit, even if her physical appearance hasn’t changed. Perhaps in a way that’s a metaphor for parent who always see their kids as they were, rather than how they look grown-up, and indeed, while she and Ralph are the best of friends, the relationship is more like that of an older brother and sister or even a father to a daughter at times. The long-distance relationship the duo maintains by the time the film ends hits hard after the emotional buildup and goodbye in this movie- while mirroring the ending of Wreck-It Ralph’s parting hug in Sugar Rush, this occasion is much more bittersweet. It’s the real human connection of change- and it’s inherently not easy to digest, even if it represents real growth in one’s own life or relationships. Furthermore, it represents something much more quiet and contemplative than anything else we’d actually seen from Vanellope and Ralph over the rest of the two films, with a maturity that is surprisingly complex.

The dynamic duo. Changed, but stronger for it.

Whatever her circumstances,  “the glitch” proved to have both a mental fortitude and conviction that served her well. There was something natural in a way about her leaving Sugar Rush by the end purely from a character perspective standpoint- here was a game she was once unable to leave at all, she grew to dominate its raceways to the point of boredom, and now she left it it for good, with a much bigger world out there to explore. Her friendship with Ralph, integral to her character, was both organic and beautifully executed, showcasing both a loving bond- but also one that was severely tested and continued to change with the characters. But Vanellope was also adorable, which didn’t hurt, but looks alone don’t win you an in-depth character piece, or a chance to pursue dreams, or even the ability to be an incredible race car driver. Make no mistake, the deuteragonist of Wreck-It Ralph and arguably the co-lead of Ralph Breaks the Internet is a remarkably developed character, with an arc that is worth watching and re-watching again.


Like what you see? Big fan of Wreck-It Ralph or Vanellope? Leave a comment!

 

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

A quick pick of some good characters .

Alright, so today’s a more informal post for the first time in a while. I’ve been banging out a lot of reviews, so with the year coming to a close and 2019 starting, it seemed like a fun idea to look back on 5 characters I really liked from things I watched this year. That could be movies or shows, East or West- but animated, as always. (Before anyone asks: Killua is an all-time favorite. There’s also a character piece I did. Check it out if you haven’t!) There was plenty to choose from, as it’s been an action-packed year of viewing, so here we go!


Vanellope von Schweetz (Wreck-It Ralph, Ralph Breaks the Internet):

Honestly, I could (and probably will) give the sweet little racer from Disney’s Wreck-It Ralph films the full “What’s in a Character” treatment at some point, especially with 2 full movies’ worth of excellent character development, but Vanellope re-entered the scope of my mind with the sequel. A superbly fun character (voiced by Sarah Silverman, of all people) with a terrific dynamic that she has with Ralph, the regent of Sugar Rush is a surprisingly complex character, bundled into an adorable bundle of messy hair, a signature green hoodie, and boundless energy.

Yukko Aioi (Nichijou):

Nichijou, while a 2011 release in real-time, came into my life in a big way in 2018. While the many charming, quirky characters on the cast might all warrant some kind of mention, Yukko’s brand of terrible luck, persistent attempts at humor and futile battle against schoolwork all while never giving up is something to behold. Silly as Nichijou can be, it has smart moments of some pretty deep and touching stuff, and while Yukko isn’t a genius, she is someone who can be a great friend- and it’s through her actions that the robot girl Nano Shinonome is able to find comfort in the transition to being a schoolgirl, and her surprisingly up and down relationship with Mio Naganohara is a great joy of humor to watch unfold.

Anti (SSSS.Gridman):

Beyond the anime public’s adoring gaze upon Rikka Takarada and Akane Shinjo, the breakout character of this cast was none other than this man- a one-time kaiju whose initial casting drew a strong resemblance to Viral from Gurren Lagann. As time went on though, Anti’s varying hardships, coupled with his persistence in his goals (which originally was a single-minded, and I do mean single-minded obsession to destroy Gridman) found him both a strangely sympathetic character and a likable one who also delivered some major hype in a show you’d expect to have plenty of it. By the end of Gridman, Viral has undergone a complete character arc and transformation- and that, perhaps more than anything else in the show, is why he’s on this list.

Jack-Jack Parr (The Incredibles, Incredibles 2):

The youngest member of the Parr family had his big-screen coming out party this past year, where he transformed from a bit part in the original Incredibles film to a more active role, with a great deal of comedy and humor. From his backyard brawl with a raccoon to his unlikely heroics at the climax of Incredibles 2, Jack-Jack was about as humanly entertaining as you can make a baby character without him becoming annoying. No small feat there.

Kōhei Inuzuka (Sweetness and Lightning)

Father to the adorable Tsumugi in this sweet little slice of life anime, Kōhei struck me as interesting precisely because of his balancing act between being a good father (in the stead of his recently deceased wife) and his career as a teacher, which was handled with a lot of tact and care. While this show released back in 2016, it’s still worth going back to take a look (and here was my review of it.) This man’s selfless care, despite all the challenges he faces regularly, is a treat to watch, and a character archetype that seems far too scarce at time. Good dads (and parents) are never out of style!


So there’s my pick-5 for the past year. I hope everyone had a great 2018, and here’s a happy New Year as we get into 2019! I’m looking forward to another fantastic year here on AniB Productions, and to the excitement of my readers as they continue to grow. Feel free to leave a comment!

What’s In a Character: Daffy Duck

The many faces and roles of an iconic character.

Welcome back once again to the “What’s In a Character” series! After a good run of anime characters, the most recent of which was young Izuku Midoriya, it was high time the focus shifted back to the West for one of these pieces, and today it’s a classic character- the iconic crazy mallard of Looney Tunes, the one and only Daffy Duck. You may or may not recall my episode review of “Duck Amuck,” but Daffy himself is an important character for a number of reasons.

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“Hey, wise guy- who’s responsible for this?”- Daffy Duck

So “why” Daffy? Well, to start with, the character has always been likable in a hilarious way, even if I’ve preferred Bugs Bunny my whole life. Secondly, this bombastic bird actually serves more of an important “history of animation” type character pick, because he was actually the standard-bearer and archetype for a certain type of character, which is of course, “the lunatic protagonist.” Daffy also has served a shifting role from that initial unique characterization to one where he was often, if not always stuck in the shadow of Bugs Bunny, often on purpose, to greatly humorous effect- but in saying that, is consistently characterized in various ways, thrust into different situations as the various plots and demands of directors dictated.

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This Daffy looks contrite, but you can bet he’s about to turn the tables on Porky Pig once again.

Daffy’s earliest roles were highlighted by a characteristic “woo-hoo, woo-hoo!” laugh played up to extreme proportions and during those days, his opponent to match wits with was none other than Porky Pig. In this period, he took on a role that would be similar to Bugs Bunny in later shorts- namely that despite his madcap antics, he’d cleverly outwit Porky (or anyone else’s attempts) to stop whatever idea he had in mind. In a way, this always made Daffy different and unique- while he was the first sort of screwball character to take a leading protagonist role in animation, he was always very upfront about his tendencies, and this sort of passive-aggressiveness on imposing his will would cross over into different takes on the character, though Daffy’s greatest narrative “triumphs” in terms of carrying the day as the hero were during the period from 1937-1952.

Notably though, Daffy burst onto the scene at least 3 full years before Warner Bros.’ biggest animated star would, and so those formative iterations of the duck were a unique, quirky snapshot into the character as a leading character for the studio, right before a certain rival rabbit would permanently upstage the mantle as “face of the franchise”- though it would take around another decade before the two finally faced off in a big, famous “splashy” kind of way.

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“You’re despicable.”- Daffy’s famous catchphrase to Bugs Bunny

Daffy’s turn from the clever screwball into the vain ego-driven runner-up mostly originated in the 1950’s with the famous “hunting trilogy” series of shorts (better known to most people for the “Duck season! Rabbit season!” silliness). Here, Daffy attempts his usual clever tactics to throw Elmer Fudd off his trail and onto that of Bugs Bunny, who of course is the last rabbit you’d want to get into a war of tricks with. For the first of many times, Bugs proceeds to to one-up all of Daffy’s strategies in humorous fashion while also outwitting poor Elmer, long the patsy of both the duck and the rabbit.

Going forward, Daffy and Bugs’ relationship could best be described as a “friendly antagonism.” Daffy is always the second wheel, seeing Bugs as more of rival than the rabbit sees him as, due in part to Daffy’s ego getting in the way of his thinking. Bugs usually views Daffy with a mixture of pity and annoyance, but also a sort of friend- albeit one convenient to take the fall if the two are in the same figurative boat. This is especially evident in episodes where the two wind up traveling to the same far-away locale, only for the duck to get the worse end of the deal against whatever antagonist of the deal. Perhaps nowhere was this more famous than in 1957’s Ali Baba Bunny, where Daffy actually gets the the treasure of a sultan at the end of the short, only to enrage a genie he failed to take seriously (that greedy ego was talking!) and simultaneously, Bugs wisely bails while the duck meets his unfortunate fate, which leaves him shrunk to a tiny size, famously clutching a pearl screaming “It’s mine! All mine!

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“Ho! Ha ha! Guard, turn parry, dodge, spin, thrust-” -“Robin Hood” attempting to show off his bo staff skills before crushing his own beak

One of the more fun parts about Daffy was his ability to take on different personas and skills, despite the shifting perception of him from madcap protagonist to jilted second wheel behind his forever rival in Bugs Bunny. One episodes, he’d be a noir detective, partnered with Porky Pig (Rocket Squad, 1956); in another, he was the flamboyantly silly space adventurer Duck Dodgers, which helped spawn an early 2000’s spinoff of the same name, and yet another time, he was a parody of Robin Hood, trying and failing to be the fullest example of Sherwood Forest’s most infamous bandit. Daffy may have had some distinct eras as highlighted, but his versatility as a character simply stands out. Outside of Bugs Bunny and to a lesser extent, Porky Pig, no one appears in more different situations through the Merrie Melodies more often than Daffy, and this is especially notable when you consider the rest of the Looney Tunes cast, or even other characters from that time period. In turn, Daffy’s characterization, while consistent with whatever portrayal of the character that the directors wanted in a given short, did not affect his unpredictablity, or that innate ability to simply have everything go right- or very wrong for him. In this sense, the duck is also one of the purest expressions of cartoon making, or the animation process- a pure, unbridled blur in motion where everything about him is about the humor and the punchline, the entertainment and the show, and no higher purpose exists in his realm than to steal the show, be it good or bad.

 

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“Buster, it may come as a complete surprise to you, but this is an animated cartoon!”- Daffy Duck, breaking the 4th wall in “Duck Amuck”

Yes, Daffy is an icon now, but before he was a trailblazer in animation as far as characters go, and we’d be foolish to be remiss of that. He started his life out as a character type that had never been featured on the level he was before him, and he continued to remain popular even as his roles changed and  the years kept rolling onwards, due in no small part to being a character able to take on myriad roles. While this piece focuses largely on classic Looney Tunes animation from the golden age of the show, his cultural presence continued on unabated even as the Looney Tunes entered a more quiet period in the 70’s and 80’s and well into the 90’s and 2000’s, where more modern takes on the ‘toons began to emerge. In newer iterations, Daffy tends to be often paired up once again with Bugs Bunny, perhaps on friendlier terms than they ever truly had in the original visions of animation luminaries like Chuck Jones or Friz Freling. However, the definitive iterations of Daffy still stem from his golden years, be it the “change-up pitcher” of unbridled mischief, or the greedy glory hog doomed by his own impatience and ego, and like the best of Looney Tunes, old episodes featuring the macabre waterfowl find themselves still impactful decades and generations later. It’s not every day a older character gets the royal treatment in this column, but if anyone is well deserving, it would be a pioneering character with an lasting legacy, and for once, it can be said Daffy won! This mad duck can treasure this victory, because well, in his words:

It’s all his, folks!


Like what you see? Love the Looney Tunes or Daffy? Leave a comment!

10 Thoughts: Week of June 25th

AniB goes to the movies, watches some anime, and stumps for the hometown hockey team. (Beware of T-Rexes!)

In this week’s 10 Thoughts, AniB takes a look at the movies, the usual look at this past week’s My Hero Academia episode, and as usual, a few other musings.

 

1.One of the issues with going to see animated films at the cinema is that you never know what kind of previews you’ll be forced to sit through. As the general audience is expected to be younger, you usually get a grab-bag of animated fare with promise, some ghastly looking premises, and the occasionally amazing-looking film. In the end though, it’s mostly exciting just to get to the movie you came to see…

2. …so in that vein, The Teen Titans Go! preview looks every bit as awful as I suspected it would. Memo to Cartoon Network: it’s your #1 show because you guys pushed into roughly 95% of your available time-slots. It’s not hard to make something the de-facto top show when it’s the only game in town, and if I had access, I’d like to see the numbers of their rarely other-aired shows extrapolated over the same time, or rather, TTG’s number’s averaged together for every viewing at the same rate of something else. I bet things don’t add up, and this film isn’t going to move a lot of people at all outside the 7-12 boys demographic (and their parents.) Mark my words on that.

3. Since this is a movie-centric 10 Thoughts so far, Incredibles 2 is definitely the clubhouse leader when it comes to to the animation award at the Academies so far. Going back to what I said a week ago (at the time of this writing) in a prior column, I’d be willing to bet even now it’s the odds-on favorite regardless of what Wreck-It Ralph 2 does as a sequel later this year, unless it’s absolutely stunning in a way no one saw coming. (Before anyone references Spirited Away or Wallace and Gromit, a friendly reminder that those awards were in 2002 and 2005 respectively- and the rules got worse for foreign films aside from the long drought. So I’m not holding my breath.)

4. One last movie thought, non-animated: Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is definitely a popcorn-munching film, but from a purely critical standpoint, something about it doesn’t quite pack the same punch as the franchise’s revival song in Jurassic World. Maybe (spoilers!) it’s because weaponized dinos is such a silly premise with a fancy coat of paint over it that I can’t take it seriously. But then again, anything Jurassic Park or World related requires a suspension of disbelief, and from my experience, an IMAX screen if you’re actually living near a theater that has one. Something about dinosaurs on the biggest screen makes it that much better.

5. Alright, I’m sure you want some anime thoughts now to balance things out, and that begins with this past week’s My Hero Academia, which more or less capped off a big turning point for the series, without spoiling too much of anything. I’ll say this: Izuku’s mom is a really loving person who truly has her son’s best interests at heart, and that should be lauded.

 

6. Continuing on with Hero Academia , it was killing me not to include manga spoilers about Izuku Midoriya in this past week’s character piece.That said, he’s a really good example of a shonen protagonist done right, and has definitely become a favorite character of mine since I first picked up the series.

 

7. I’ve been reading the One Piece manga for a little while, on and off, which is absolutely terrific. However, it is somewhat of a daunting proposition even just covering the Shonen Jump publication from the start, so don’t expect me to talk about the anime (or it various filler arcs) on here, since it’s simply too darn long to actually pick up and watch to the current point. That said… the manga is truly wonderful. I recommend it if you haven’t touched the series.

 

8. On a non-shonen note, picked up the first five episodes of Welcome to the NHK. What a weird, darkly humorous show so far, which is just odd enough to be intriguing without being a total turn-off. Hard balance to achieve, definitely…and this is one I’d like to see through to the end in due time.

 

9.   I’m planning to review a show again this week, but what that is yet isn’t even clear to me at this point. I’ve got a few pretty good ideas of what to go over though, and it might just be a Western show. Also, did anyone notice I finally added a “Movie Reviews” tab to the main site’s page? I’ve got three of ’em now, so the time seemed right…and while the focus here is still going to be primarily on shows, I’m open to animated film suggestions as well.

10. Finally, in one other non-animated thought, the Buffalo Sabres (my hockey team!) finally drafted Rasmus Dahlin, the Swedish wunderkind defensemen, this past Friday with the top overall pick. While I doubt most, if any of my readers, have a vested interest heavily in sports, it’s a big thing for the city and the hopeful continued resurgence of a massive turnaround in the pro franchises’ fortune of Buffalo, coming on the heels of a Bills playoff berth this past January. So coming back around, I suppose my question for the week is “what sports team do you root for, if any; and if not, could you recommend a sports show or movie you might have liked?” (I suspect I might get some Draft Day and Hoosiers comments if I say nothing…or just sports anime. Either way, fine by me!)


Like what you see? Any thoughts on the question of the week, or any other suggestions about things you’d like me to write about? Leave a comment!

What’s In A Character: Izuku Midoriya

All Might’s chosen successor and the future ‘Symbol of Peace.’ Who is My Hero Academia’s leading man?

To keep the ball rolling on this series, and perhaps inspired in part by the previous two entries in the series that addressed characters who also were students, we now jump from Class 3-E and Nagisa to a class expected to be the elites of hero society- U.A. Academy’s Class 1-A, considered the best and brightest in Japan, with the burden of expectation that they can become the next great generation of society’s protectors. And who better to talk about then the main focus of the entire series in Izuku Midoriya, hero name “Deku”?

(SPOILERS for the My Hero Academia anime follow. This will not cover events that are still manga-only.)

In an unusual twist for the “What’s In a Character” series, Deku’s a character that is still very much a work in progress as his series is ongoing. However, there has been enough material about him at this point to start writing something compelling about his character, especially in the context of his very important role: that of the shonen protagonist.

 

Izuku Midoriya is compelling in both his earnestness and plainness. Nothing about him screams “leading hero” immediately, but everything about him does yell back “likable!” His younger self is simply precious (Little Deku!) and his current incarnation is simply pleasant, with expressive eyes, messy dark hair and freckles that seem to complement his aesthetic in a pleasant manner. Matched with his appropriately kind manner, he feels like a comfortable old friend you’d root for and you get the sense you’ve seen this type of kid before in some other show, but maybe not cast as the main hero. And yet, it comes together splendidly not only because Midoriya proves to be a natural rooting interest, he’s also genuinely interesting beyond his looks. (Sorry, Kirito.)

“Stay out of my way, Deku! I’m going to be the #1 hero, so you better give up now!”- Katsuki Bakugo

In that vein, Midoriya’s contrasting appearance is notable with that of Katsuki Bakugo, his childhood “friend” turned archrival. There are several thematic subversions that can be observed between the two, starting with the color of their hair. Traditionally, blonds are seen in fiction as “chosen ones” or “prince charmings” or something of that nature. Bakugou certainly believes he’s the latter, but he’s also no gentleman. Deku’s dark hair suggests a fairly unremarkable character with no particularly interesting fate. Furthermore, to reinforce this thematic idea is that All Might himself has blond hair- and is a realized version of that great promise and potential fulfilled. In fact, the show makes it very clear from the start that Midoriya’s desire is not enough to overcome the obvious disadvantage of being Quirkless, or simply lacking the talent to match how motivated he might be.

A curious note to the Midoriya-Bakugo dynamic is actually the perception of the two from their classmates in junior high versus how they’re viewed at U.A. Midoriya, for the first time in his life, finds himself quite popular among his U.A. classmates for both his earnest, kind nature, incredible resolve and detailed planning (though his mumble storms with the latter tend to backfire a bit for people.) Bakugo on the other hand, after being the king of the hill in high school, finds a similar position at UA with his talent, but not nearly the same kind of admiration at first due to his abrasive nature and generally angry tendencies. However, both Midoriya and Bakugo gain respect from their fellow classmates as the events of the story unfold, and the rivalry continues to bloom, with the explosive power of two rising heroes very much on two sides of the same coin, with two very different approaches yielding them results.

Perhaps this simultaneous difference and similarity in approaches was never fully on display than when the rivals were forced to work together in passing their first semester practical exam, where they approached the difficult task of having to hand-cuff or escape through a designated gate from All Might (“Katsuki Bakugo: Origin,” season 2, episode 23). Forced into a situation where their clashing philosophies and individual strategies did nothing but put them at a disadvantage, it was here that both young men put everything on the line- even their rivalry for a brief moment- and came together to achieve a goal against the very man they aspired to be like in their own ways.

Finally, it is interesting to note that Bakugo was the one to inspire the hero name of “Deku.” Literally playing off the meaning of “do/can’t do” in Japanese, he uses the nickname as a way of taunting Midoriya, reminding him that he won’t amount to anything. However, when the latter meets Ochaco Uraraka, she actually tells him that “Deku” was a great name, giving off the vibe “of a hero that can do anything!” And so, with a renewed outlook, Midoriya embraced the name, something which truly infuriated his rival considering the original intent.

“I AM HERE!”- All Might

Of course, no self-respecting Deku piece would be complete without some discussion about his relationship with the “Symbol of Peace” himself- All Might. The chance encounter in which Deku was saved from the slime villain in season 1, episode 1 turned into an emotional ride in just two short episodes as the mighty hero was revealed to have a surprising and crippling weakness (Superman, he is not), and the fanboy with nothing more than dreams stepped up and inspired him in the most unlikely of ways. Part of what makes this dynamic so interesting is that Midoriya isn’t from some special bloodline, crazy backstory or mythical family ties- he’s just an ordinary kid who with luck and circumstance, combined with unlikely action, won the lottery to begin the unlikeliest of underdog stories just as society’s greatest success story was about to hit his twilight (All Might.) The fact that All Might then followed it up by making Deku train through “10 months of hell” reinforced that even receiving the gift of “One For All” was an obstacle in itself, not to be taken lightly. As the world’s #1 then transitioned to be a U.A. teacher, it was obvious that while he wished for Deku to grow into his role, he also needed to be more engaged in training his successor than he already was- a fact that was exposed by retired hero Gran Torino during Midoriya’s internship when he was the first to help Deku’s power be controlled properly. This breakthrough was juxtaposed against All Might’s professional duties as a hero and more importantly, an educator who had to give focus to all the promising kids under his tutelage, suggesting the underlying strain that came with being the so-called “Symbol of Peace.”

 

 

“This is a Quirk passed on from generation to generation. Are you prepared to carry on ‘The Symbol of Peace?'”- Toshinori Yagi, to an overwhelmed Midoriya

One For All as a Quirk in My Hero Academia isn’t just an incredible power, but also a narrative framing device for all of Midoriya’s actions once he earns the right to hold that flame. The old saying “with great power comes great responsibility” rings truer and truer as Midoriya continues to slowly get stronger, eventually gaining a small level of control over his amazingly powerful Quirk- while All Might grows weaker, highlighting that Deku’s control of his power is actually on a clock- a race against time only intensified by the emergent League of Villains and an anti-Deku figure- Tomura Shigaraki, whose relationship to the mysterious All For One is a bizarre inverse of Midoriya’s chance All Might encounter. For Deku and Tomura, both have been given a path to change the world- but whose path will shape the future is now an increasingly tenuous question as the series continues on. Indeed, everything comes to a head when All Might and All For One engage in their long-foreshadowed rematch, and it is at this moment that both sides officially pass the torch on to their fated successors- as All Might fights and wins with the dying embers of his Quirk, and All For One’s defeat leads to his arrest by the authorities, moving both men out of the picture as events move forward.

 

Deku’s steady but slow growth in learning to control his Quirk occurs at a believable pace within the framework of the story. In a well-done twist, he first has to train his body to receive One For All, but upon gaining it from All Might, he’s able to tap all that power-but incurs a serious cost on himself. After literally breaking himself on a number of occasions, he gradually begins to learn how to control the powerful Quirk he was gifted after the aforementioned training internship with Gran Torino. While it’s my intention to not dive into manga spoilers for the anime-only viewers, Deku’s power continues to develop concurrently with his own self-discovery of his own style. What Midoriya comes to realize is that while striving to be the #1 hero is is goal, he’ll have to be his own man in doing so- and making One For All his own Quirk, rather than mere imitation of his mentor and idol proves to be an extension of that important lesson.

 

“Come at me with everything you’ve got!”- Izuku Midoriya, issuing a challenge to Shoto Todoroki at the U.A. Sports Festival

 

Undeniable yet still is Midoriya’s effect on those around him not named All Might or Bakugou. He manages to start making a skeptical Aizawa a believer in his power with a simple ball toss test (“What I Can Do For Now”, season 1, Episode 5), is the first to draw out Todoroki’s fire side during the U.A. Sports Festival (and in turn, trigger a healing process for that boy; “Shoto Todoroki: Origin”, season 2, episode 10), and even shows the so-called “Hero Killer” Stain enough resolve and conviction that the villain, despite being recently beat by Deku, Todoroki and Tenya Iida, has enough tenacity to save his enemy’s life when he is snatched by a Noumu. (“Climax,” season 2, episode 17). It is also Midoriya’s example that inspires a small group of his fellow classmates in the daring rescue attempt of Bakugou after the League of Villain’s successful infiltration of the summer camp, and prior to that, he becomes an embittered young boy’s (Kota) hero in a life-risking battle versus the villain Muscular (“My Hero,” season 3, episode 4.) It is examples like these that in individuals ways, show just why Midoriya was given One For All, as he’s shown a profound ability beyond merely powerful punches and kicks to change hearts and minds, backed by his own conviction in his ideals.

While Midoriya’s story isn’t yet finished, the fundamentals of his character shine through even as important plot points and scenarios shift in the narrative flow of My Hero Academia. There is little doubt that even as Midoriya continues to grow gradually into the massive shoes of his idol and successor, his underdog path, coupled with his conncious choice of hero name (“Deku”) and his vow to “keep a smile on my face, just like All Might,” will serve him well and keep a consistency to the character that has already been established in the series. He might not have the completed story of his rise from hero otaku to top hero, but with a well-crafted fundamental build as a compelling protagonist, the ride continues to promise a lot of enjoyable moments and steady growth as the series continues on with more depth. On a final note though:

Little Deku is already the best. Truly adorable.


Like what you see? Big fan of My Hero Academia or Deku? Leave a comment!

What’s In a Character: Nagisa Shiota

Unassuming danger, and a boy who looks to follow Korosensei. But down which path?

Well, I kept everyone waiting yet again. After the Christmas treat that was Nonon’s character piece, it took a while again to really put together one of these special character pieces for the “What’s in a Character?” series. Today’s entry takes a pretty dramatic turn away from one crazy school in Kill la Kill to Kunugigaoka Junior High’s Class 3-E. Yup, we’re taking a trip to the Assassination Classroom once more (here’s the review on the show), and who better to guide that journey than the main character and narrator of that series, student #11, Nagisa Shiota? There’s a lot more to that wispy frame and flowing blue hair than meets the eyes, and his talent for both reading people, and more unnervingly, assassination, is undeniable. Get ready to come face to face with one of Korosensei’s well-trained pupils, in both military training and in life.

WARNING: Major spoilers for Assassination Classroom follow.


Initially speaking, the obvious character choice to talk about from this series is Koro-sensei- the one of a kind Mach-20 octopus man and crack teacher. In fact, it’s entirely conceivable that he could still be talked about in another character piece, but for today, the spotlight instead shines on the actual main protagonist and narrator of the show- Nagisa.

So what’s unique about this kid? Quite a lot actually.

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By virtue of being in Class 3-E, Nagisa was looking to overcome the odds along with the rest of his class. From the start of the series, it is shown that he’s an extremely perceptive individual, but at the time also lacks the sort of confidence in himself you’d hope for. Quite a few details are omitted and then brought to light as time went on: an unlikely prior friendship with Karma Akabane, the bad boy genius of 3-E; an almost abusive mother who projected her fantasies of wanting a girl onto Nagisa, reflected in his long blue hair that he usually kept tied up in those “floofs,” and his own dreams being suppressed in turn by said mother, which means Nagisa as a person blossomed in his one year as a 3-E student.

The discovery of Nagisa’s latent natural talent at assassination and the subsequent question of what his future holds forms a major aspect of his character arc. His talent is foreshadowed immediately in “Assassination Time” (episode 1), with the “suicide” tactic Terasaka cooks up for him; again in “Assembly Time” (episode 5) when the class is required to attend a school assembly and Nagisa’s mere look terrifies two would-be bullies, and it becomes readily apparent to everyone else in “Talent Time” (episode 13), when Nagisa turns the tables on Takaoka, displaying the unnerving ability to turn a combat veteran’s hardened experience again him, along with full use of his unassuming and normally non-threatening appearance to its full advantage. The dynamic only continues to intensify during the class’s vacation to the resort island, when Nagisa once again defeats Takaoka in a rematch coordinated by the rogue mercenary as a means of revenge (and unintentionally good training for the class.)

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Takaoka should have quit while he was ahead. This is one battle he won’t win.

Since I brought it up, I’d be amiss not to talk at least briefly about his long-standing friendship with Karma. It’s revealed immediately that the two are on friendly terms the moment Karma steps into 3-E, surprising the other students, and while they are in fact friends, there was also a fierce rivalry that boiled beneath the surface of the two boys’ relationship. Even more intriguing was the contrast in combat styles: Nagisa was an assassin in the purest sense of the word, always looking for an opening and a quick takedown, while Karma was a brawler with a bag of dirty tricks, his fist backing up his mouth and his mind as a threat. Nagisa always felt in the shadow of his friend, but the dynamic in 3-E shifted as he grew through the year, especially in his skills with assassination, and eventually, everything came to a head in one of the best fights of the series:

I suppose if you want to make a lasting point, you settle it like men.

There was also  the relationship with Kaede Kayano that boiled over in the same season. For what it’s worth, it might be one of the better shipping fakeouts in anime, largely because everything prior to Kayano’s tentacled reveal can be questioned as whether it was genuine or not, given her role as a professional actress. What was not in question was that Nagisa regarded her as a friend and potential romantic interest. The specific way in which he helped stop her rampage was also a pretty unexpected callback to the technique Irina Jelevic used on him back in “Grown-up Time” (episode 4) and in an ironic twist, the skill Nagisa had carefully accumulated over time probably saved a life that day instead of taking one.

In turn, Nagisa’s aptitude in taking what he’d learned and practically applying it to situations served him incredibly well in another way aside from the assassin arts- as a teacher. In a heartfelt episode (“Before and After Time,” episode 28) , after the class accidentally breaks an elderly principal’s leg, Koro-sensei bans them from studying for the midterms…and in exchange, 3-E is tasked to repair the run-down school of the principal in question. It is here that Nagisa mentors a young girl beat down mentally by past acts of bullying in her life, and helps her back to a place of confidence as the school is completely renovated and repaired. In subsequent episodes, it is shown that Nagisa continued to help her out even after the class’s commitment to the school was paid off in full. It also provided an alternate glimpse into what Nagisa could become- someone dedicated to the forming and teaching of young minds, which presented an interesting conundrum: would he take after the Korosensei that was the “God of Death” from his previous life, or become like Korosensei the teacher, blessed with immense talent in certain ways but sworn to use it for the good of others?

 

 

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Much has been made of Nagisa’s androgynous appearance, and I believe this was a conscious character design choice with storyline implications that were surprisingly well-played out, gradually and steadily. To start with, Nagisa is not lazily homosexual as this stereotype might perpetuate; it’s reinforced subtly and obviously that he’s very much a straight boy outside of his appearance, and while his frame and hair allows him to easily crossdress, the two episodes in which he does, both times out of necessity (and actually forced by Karma and Rio Nakamura in the latter moment), there is clearly discomfort in having to do so, going beyond simply being uncomfortable in the opposite sex’s clothes, which I don’t doubt would be off-putting for plenty of people (and a turn on for others, but I digress.) Instead, it actually plays a very important part in the deeper inner conflict of Nagisa’s life with his mother and her delusional dreams of wanting a girl, despite the fact that she has been gifted a fairly kind and perceptive young man for a son. Nagisa’s appearance also has the patently useful side effect of making for great disguise when it comes to being an assassin, but I suspect the protagonist probably favored the high-tech P.E. uniforms supplied to them by the government around the midway point of the show. Further to the point though, Nagisa’s appearance also suggests the personal inner conflict of what his future holds. Will it hold his mom’s demands? Will it hold the quiet and sordid life of a master assassin? What will it be? In that sense, Nagisa’s appearance is that of a book yet to be written; one that will resolve itself with a resoundingly definitive answer.

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“Is it okay if I become an assassin?”- Nagisa Shiota, to Koro-sensei during career counseling  

Before we get there however, there was the influence of the greatest teacher anyone could ask for, and his role in his pupil’s life. Yes, Koro-sensei provided personalized guidance to every last one of his students, but it was with Nagisa alone that one of his class might try and take after his profession- but which one? As was said earlier, Nagisa showed natural aptitude and a rare skillset that made him an ideal assassin…but he also showed a talent for touching the hearts of people who seemed closed off or in need, from  the young girl at the at the old schoolhouse the class repaired, to a raging Kayano in her darkest moments. As with everything else, Koro-sensei let Nagisa discover the answers for himself as time proceeded. A duality existed between master and pupil: the ability to flip a switch the moment life and death was on the line, but a kind and almost disarming ease when not in the heat of battle, not only characterized by Nagisa’s distinctively non-threatening appearance most times, but also Koro-sensei’s ability to win over an entire class of people aiming to kill him in an entire year through superb teaching, heartfelt life lessons, and just enough unpredictability to keep everyone guessing.

 

“Goodbye…Korosensei.” – Nagisa Shiota, upon being given the final task of Class 3-E

The final resolution to follow Koro-sensei’s footsteps not as an assassin, but as a teacher, is a triumphant validation of the former “God of Death’s” duty fulfilled: a natural prodigy raised in a year long environment of both assassination and school instead chose the “classroom” part of “Assassination Classroom.” It is also the validation of Nagisa’s wishes and dreams, signaling his independence of decision making from his reluctant but now understanding mother, and it also in the grandest of traditions, the figurative passing of the torch, as Nagisa alone carries the academic flame of 3-E into the future. As we find out though, our little blue-haired assassin still kept those skills, and put them to very good use in his first ever teaching assignment. (Truth be told, he probably remembered the punks from the Kyoto trip in the first season, but those punks were now his students. And trust me, he was ready:)

Through tragedy, flowers blossom upon the fertile soil of the next generation. Be it Korosensei’s sense of duty to his fallen lover, or a student looking to follow the master’s footsteps, that too is part of the life lessons to be learned in Assassination Classroom. But this is about Nagisa at the end of the day, and he’s got a wonderfully complex character that comes together nicely over the course of the show, with heartfelt emotional highs and lows, and an underdog mentality to beat the odds, whether that be the open defiance of Kunugigaoka Junior High’s caste system, the takedown of a professional mercenary on a helipad, the drive to help his friends, from Karma and Kayano to his other classmates, or the important gain in self-confidence that finally allowed him to confront his mother and her repressive wishes for his life. Nagisa represents what it means to be constantly learning, even as we grow older, and the ability to find our way forward in life provided we trust in others, some good guidance, be it from God, family, or a giant octopus man, and ultimately, the reality that making tough decisions in life can be painfully transformative in ways we’d never imagine. But most of all, Nagisa Shiota is one heck of a character with a unique aesthetic and plenty of reasons to root for him. “What’s In a Character” is quite the promotion from E-Class for this young man, but he deserves every bit of it.

 


Like what you see? Fan of Assassination Classroom or Nagisa? Leave a comment!

Random Episode Ramblings #2: “Duck Amuck” (Looney Tunes)

Happy New Year everyone! I hope all my readers had a great end of 2017, and I’m wishing everyone the best in 2018. And to start things off, we’re going back to a classic short that’s instantly recognizable to anyone who’s seen it… Also, it’ll answer the following question:

“Where’s the Western animated fare lately?”

Well, fret not. The second (and also long-awaited) episode review is a an absolute classic from one of the greatest animators in the history of the medium- Chuck Jones, and in turn, one of the more iconic outings for Daffy Duck, everyone’s favorite hard-luck egotistical mallard. The Looney Tunes are definitely something I’ve wanted to discuss for a while in writing, and rightfully so- the influence of this show and its characters in the history of animation cannot be understated.

Looney Tunes of course, is iconic in animation, and  for good reason. It was a pivotal show in writing the rules to the medium and featured some legendary talent that worked on it, along with unforgettable characters, especially Bugs Bunny and the aforementioned star of this episode- Daffy Duck, who in turn had an interesting history leading up to the creation of Duck Amuck.

While certainly worth an entire “What’s In a Character” piece, Daffy briefly had been the biggest star for Warner Bros. in the late 30’s and early 40’s, usurping the lead role in the common pairing he’d have with Porky Pig. He was the archetype of the lunatic-type character, giving audiences something very different in a protagonist, and on top of that had a fair bit of talent and wit. However, the latter decade quickly saw the meteoric rise of Bugs Bunny as the new main star of the Looney Tunes cast, and so Daffy in turn would find his role transformed into the eternal second fiddle and archival of Warner’s main star, bitterly hoping to be the main hero again but rarely succeeding, in large part thanks to an outsized hubris and always to plenty of laughs.

Duck Amuck therefore, was an interesting exercise in animation. Daffy had been well established and become widely known in the years since his introduction by the public; how would he fare though shoved into completely different contexts that both dug at the fundamental aspects of the form itself, and still generated a fair bit of humor? In turn, this episode delivered something that was simultaneously a deconstruction of cartoons, along with an all-time memorable Daffy episode.

“Scenery? Where’s the scenery?”

The short first starts off with Daffy armed and ready for what he assumes is a Three Musketeers parody, complete with the title cards to match, the swashbuckling hat and rapier. Unfortunately for him, no sooner does he begin his actions than does the scenery disappear, confusing the duck as he begins a episode-long argument with an unseen animator, who in turn makes it a very one sided debate…

The episode then continues to put Daffy through the paces of a variety of animated questions, all done in a fluid sequence of gags, orchestral hits and bits, and Daffy’s one sided dialogue. What, for example, happens when you take away his voice briefly? How about when he doesn’t even look like a duck anymore, save his voice? All in all, this episode proves to both be quintessential Looney Tunes but also unlike anything else in the show’s long run- where a literally unseen hand constantly and silently breaks the fourth wall. (Who the narrator is though, is a gag in it of itself. The answer might present itself quite clearly to long-times fans.)

“All right, wise guy. Who’s responsible for this?”

From my own point of view, Duck Amuck is not only brilliant, but required watching for those who want to understand the animated medium boiled down to its very nuts and bolts…all while making for a highly entertaining segment that indeed is very Daffy Duck despite it being nothing like any of his other outings. The pacing and flow of the short is superb, and the transitions (as well as those unseen questions) happen in rapid sequence, which in turn actually causes Daffy consternation, annoyance, and final outright anger at the mysterious source of his misfortune through the show.

Perhaps more interesting yet is still the fact that it’s an animated short that is about the medium itself, beyond Daffy as a front-man. The duck is self-aware that he’s in “an animated cartoon,” and loudly complains about the incompetence of the unseen artist who in turn is the animator himself- which means Duck Amuck in turn is an episode that’s also about the creativity and sorts of zany things animators can in fact do- with the template simply being “this is Daffy Duck in a Looney Tunes short. Go wild! And remember to make it funny!”

Duck Amuck’s simple brilliance continues to shine well over 60 years from its debut. In that sense, Daffy’s character survived intact in this short the final test for all animation- the passage of time- and the presentation and unmistakable presence of this classic ‘toon has succeeded with flying colors in that key regard. In fact, Duck Amuck found itself selected for preservation in the National Film Registry in the US Library of Congress- a rare honor for an animated cartoon- and only one of three episodes helmed by Jones that has that distinction. High praise, indeed.


Happy New Year! (The Bills made the playoffs!) Like what you see? Love the Looney Tunes or Daffy Duck? Leave a comment!