Preliminary Review: Star vs. The Forces of Evil (post season 3)

The princess of Mewni’s tale takes on a lot more depth.

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The Lowdown:

Show: Star vs. The Forces of Evil

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

(NOTE: THIS REVIEW HAS SPOILERS. READ AT YOUR OWN RISK.)

AniB’s thoughts:

In a change from my usual reviewing style, I’m actually talking more about some specifics of this past season of Star vs. The Forces of Evil. For the first time here on AniB Productions, I’m looking at a second review of a show I already did (after season 2), and it would be some sense of folly to rehash thoughts that existed after the prior season’s events, most of which has changed drastically at this point. However, for reference, here’s a link to post Season 2’s thoughts if you’d like to see what I said back then.

 

Season 3, in a word, was wild. A huge season for a franchise that was building massive expectations after its second season wound up panning out well for the most part, with the interesting choice to open with a movie (‘The Battle for Mewni”) which resolved a variety of long-standing plot questions, but in turn opened up some major new ones- and the ending of the season, when the unexpected revival of a certain antagonist paved the way for some truly intriguing plot points moving forward.

One of the stronger moves the show made in order to increase its scope and storytelling was actually moving away from Echo Creek as the main locale to Mewni. The “Star as an exchange student” plotline had run its course, and as a princess-in-training, the logical next step would be for her to slowly get more engaged in the kingdom she’d be running day to day. It also allowed the writers a chance to work far more with the “magical” characters on cast, such as Tom, Kelly, and the Magical High Commission, and in turn, the Earth characters not named Marco didn’t make too many appearances, outside of an episode featuring Marco’s parents, some appearances by Janna, and the final breakup of Jackie Lynn with Marco that was both inevitable (and sort of wrote her out of the show as a key character, but season 2 was her big shining moment.)

The aspect that impressed me the most though (and became very noticeable this season) were the layered implications of changing events in all the aspects where Star’s life had touched up to that point- from the Diaz family, who unexpectedly were revealed to be having another son, to the underflowing current of monster society that was in the background of the entire season (and show, for that matter.) Star vs. The Forces of Evil has slowly, and rather subtly, transformed much like the Mewman princess’s character growth- it has come a long way from the early season 1 episodes of Ludo and his band of monsters showing up to try and steal Star’s wand- a goal and stakes that seem positively petty to  the current situation at the end of Season 3.

 

Star’s progression as a show has been incredibly encouraging from season to season, continually building on its plot points in new and often unexpected ways. A season that began with a somewhat inaccurately titled “Battle for Mewni” and a presumptive threat in waiting from Ludo changed more drastically than a chameleon on a bad day- the return and fall of Toffee, the unexpected entrance of Eclipsa into the show, though her kind and playful demeanor made plenty of viewers give pause to the “Eclipsa is definitely evil!” theory; and then the dramatic re-emergence of Miss Heinous, previously relegated to second-tier villainy, as an incredibly important and dangerous force in the Mewni puzzle: revealed to be the princess Meteora, Eclipsa’s flesh and blood; a bastard child in the eyes of the kingdom at the the time to all but her mother due to her unique mixed-race lineage as a monster and Mewman.

Fundamentally, Meteora’s role was symbolically important in the show’s narrative: here was a flesh and blood example that threw the “established truths” about the relations of the two major groups residing in the kingdom in a sort of chaos, and furthermore, there was actually serious questions of legitimacy to right of the throne. This topic in particular actually was a strongly reoccurring theme this season, not only with Star’s return to Mewni, but Ludo/Toffee’s brief hostile takeover of the kingdom (the crown by war and force), and then later, by the re-emergence of Eclipsa who never died and her daughter, who by the general rules of heredity that exist in royal lines (and Mewni’s is passed through the females, not the males,) Eclipsa is actually the rightful Queen and her daughter has a claim to the throne as well. In turn, there’s a strong argument both Moon and Star in turn have no right to the throne, which is a thematic twist of brilliance borne out of “our so-called heroes have actually done terrible things and the so-called bad guys are like they are because of such things.” This isn’t your simple little Disney show anymore when you think about it…

 

The entire royal tangle is part of what makes the emerging political game so intriguing in this show, especially with the end of season reveal that was Globgar- Eclipsa’s monster husband, who like her was encased in crystal. Needless to say, a royal rumble of sorts might just be about to emerge- and season 4 is shaping up to be something very promising indeed, for a show that has really shaped up into something special.


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

 

Characterization: The show revolves around two main characters: the titular Star Butterfly, the free-spirited princess of a dimension known as Mewni, who is sent to Earth in an attempt for her to mature and grow as a young woman, and Marco Diaz, her host family’s son and best friend. Through three seasons however, the supporting cast has grown and played strong re-occurring roles in several episodes, particularly Star’s own family, who took on a much more prominent position in the show’s narrative starting with the end of season 2.

Star is a rebel princess through and through; and while she’s hardly a “by the book” type of individual, she possesses a great deal of natural talent in magic and a sense of freewheeling adventure. Her relationships she’s made on the show have continually developed, and as a result, become more complex- you could technically even say “multiversal.” None of the above has necessarily changed by the end of season 3, but Star has become (slowly) a more responsible individual, and one committed to the future of her kingdom in a way that simply wasn’t present when she first appeared in Season 1.  She’s shown extreme loyalty to her friends, a willingness to understand all sides of a story, and gained the full power of her Mewberty butterfly form as well. Star was truly outstanding in the past season.

Marco Diaz serves as Star’s best friend and exchange host on Earth in the first 2 seasons . Cautious and straightforward, Marco’s a good kid who is hopelessly naive about veiled references and hidden feelings- he’s a straight shooter. He’s also a red belt in karate after the events of season 2, and is inexperienced (as you’d expect from someone his age) about romance. In Season 3, Marco moves to Mewni and becomes Star’s squire, sworn to protect her from danger. While the “Starco” plotline makes some progress in certain episodes, it certainly wasn’t the biggest aspect of the season for me, though as for Marco as a person, his bravery and sense of loyalty might have never been stronger. However, he’s now actively dealing with the tensions of living in another dimension, meaning a visit or two back to Echo Creek wouldn’t be a bad thing for our young hero as his family awaits a new baby!

A much bigger role appears for Star’s family as mentioned in my thoughts above. Leading the way on that front is the increased involvement of Queen Moon, who from the end of season 2 takes on a whole new role that really elevates her from this stodgy queen figure to a ruler who bears the stresses of her kingdom usually with dignity, but also with a level of uncertainty and insecurity, considering her past and what she hopes to pass onto the future in Star. She’s less tolerant than her daughter though when it comes to dealing with threats, and this tendency in turn costs her dearly by the end of the season.

Something that actually bothered me this season was the role of River, Star’s father. He sometimes was portrayed to have extreme levels of incompetence to the point of stupidity, which I believed was at odds to his prior characterization in the first two seasons: a loving father, devoted king, and on the inside, a wild man with the heart of a lion and the occasional good advice. One thing did remain consistent though: A love of corn.

The supporting cast continues to be pretty zany, but it works in the frenetic style of the show. I’ll mention Ludo, the main “villain” of the show in season 1, who has gone through a very interesting little character arc of his own; Toffee, the actual main villain through “the Battle of Mewni”, and a variety of Star and Marco’s friends and acquaintances, which include Tom, the demon prince who wound up becoming Star’s official boyfriend again (and amazingly enough, great friends with Marco), Kelly, a girl who first appeared in Season 2’s “Goblin Dogs” and since then became more or less a part of the core “friend” group of the show, Janna, a troublemaking girl who becomes close with Star; Ponyhead, the wild princess who was Star’s first friend before coming to Earth, and Jackie, a friend of Star’s and longtime crush of Marco, though her future relevance is very much in question after the events of “Sophomore Slump.”  3.75/5 points.

 

Story quality: Episodic, with an underlying story that began to pick up much more strongly in the final 3rd of the first season. Since then, the show has developed an interesting plot about coming of age, dealing with relationships, and the pressures of royalty mixed in with its usual fun, wacky, and free-flowing style, meaning a solid balance of humor and seriousness. I wrote in my prior review “It’s an effective mix that I hope to see keep developing. So far, it’s a good start- not the level of season 1 Gravity Falls, but certainly worth a watch.” Since then, Star has really taken off on its own, and I’m impressed- it’s an enjoyable watch that stays unpredictable with plenty of twists that work. 4/5 points.

 

Themes: Initially, there’s this idea of mystery and magic mixed with the idea of growing up and friendship, which then becomes more complicated with time. At the end of season 3, there’s definitely a stronger development on the “growing up” aspect, but there’s also some royal lineage stuff that gets a history buff like your truly going, some latent questions about the truth of the Mewman kingdom and perhaps an undercurrent of “do we really understand and listen to all parts of our society?” Interesting developments continue to await. 3.75/5 points.

 

Don’t insult the viewer: The show’s bursting with a good sense of fun and energy while staying rather clean. The theme song and outro are both very catchy, and there’s something infectiously enjoyable about watching this show, which is hard to describe. As of season 3, a new outro was introduced and the opening recieved fresh graphics more in line with the show’s current events. 5/5 points.

Total Score: 20.75/25 (83%). A third season that unfolded with big-time expectations mostly delivered, setting up another intriguing season that may or may not be the last. Watching the development of this show has been rewarding, and it’s an entertaining watch that’s definitely worth picking up (and that’s for anyone who read this despite the spoiler warning!) For everyone else, three seasons are in the book. What comes next will once again determine how the show is viewed as a whole.


Like what you see? Big Star vs. fan? Leave a comment!

10 Thoughts: May 28th Edition

There’s always something new to talk about.

Dear readers,

Since the first 10 Thoughts wound up being so successful, I decided to bring it back for another round, but also the question in my head if people would like this to be a weekly column going forward. It’s been a good bit of fun to do, and in turn, I hope the new reviews this past week were up to people’s expectations. They were enjoyable to put together, and definitely featured some thought-provoking shows. Moving on then:

1. As promised, I finally sat down and went through the final half of Star vs the Forces of Evil’s 3rd season…and it did not disappoint. Without spoiling anything for anyone who might have not picked up the show and still wish to watch it sometime, family dynamics are an incredibly tricky aspect of life to manage, and perhaps doubly so when you’re a bunch of magical royals in a dimension where sometimes corn is more important than common sense for the people. A satisfying conclusion to the season, no doubt, and I’ll look to get a review out this week.

 

2. At the pace things are going, My Hero Academia’s midseason finale is setting up to be something huge. While I’m aware of how these events will probably all unfold, thanks to the manga, watching it get executed in animated form right now is a treat. Also, very happy they brought back simul-dubbing for this season. Both the dub and sub are pretty good, but for whatever reason, the English voice-over was behind by a few weeks when they aired season 2B, and not having the option to choose when the episodes first aired in Japan was a bummer.

 

3. Appreciative of the feedback received on the Devilman Crybaby review. While it’s only generated a handful of hits, it has in turn generated some really interesting conversation, which feels only right given that it’s a very polarizing kind of show with its content and context. I’ll say this- irregardless of what anyone thinks of the show, anytime a healthy discussion can be ignited from it is a pretty amazing aspect to consider. Animation’s definitely all about having a sense of fun and wonder- but it’s also a serious medium deserving of the same sort of discussion and attention live-action shows and movies receive- and in turn, that’s remained a constant point in my mind as I’ve continued to watch shows and movies.

 

 

4. Speaking of things worth talking about, I’d recommend Assassination Classroom to everyone, especially as the school year wraps for many and graduation season is in full swing. I wrote a review about the show roughly a year ago, and it might be one of the few productions I re-watch, simply because it’s so wonderfully fun, serious and unexpected in the best sorts of ways. I’ve always enjoyed simple premises in theory becoming far more than you’d imagine, and this series embodies that.

 

5. I’ve often wondered the reasoning behind why characters in shows/movies can be more or less popular among fanbases. For me, a well developed individual with a great storyline and a pleasing aesthetic to boot is ideal, but I’m wondering what any of your favorite characters might be and why. Leave a response in the comments! (And if you can’t tell already, make a great response and I might just be persuaded to turn that into something for the “What’s In a Character” series.)

 

6. Great themes are part and parcel with great shows. An undercurrent of politicization is not, unless it’s a clever parody or more rarely, actually insightful commentary.

 

7. Another show I’ve fallen far behind on is Cartoon Network’s popular Steven Universe. I was up to date with the series about a year ago, and since then…nothing, though apparently several huge events happened in that show. Despite a reputation that paints it as having a toxic fandom, it’s a solid show which someday, I’ll probably sit down and write about on here.

 

8. Not that anyone’s claiming that I have recency bias towards shows, but the last anime I watched was Martian Successor Nadesico, from the mid 1990’s. The plan is to bring a review of that show along soon, but as for quick thoughts, it’s definitely got the main hallmarks of 90’s anime: space adventures and giant mechs, with a shady organization pulling the strings to boot. It also has a super catchy opening, “You Get to Burning.” More than anything though, I’d definitely recommend to try out shows from different eras- it’ll give you a better appreciation of where the medium came from and how it has progressed along over time…and well, these shows are still pretty darn entertaining.

 

9. In turn about older shows, I’m always open to hear suggestions on pre-2000’s series I should undertake. I’ve seen some of the big ones in anime and in the West, but anything from Astro Boy to The Smurfs is fair game, so comments on that are also very much appreciated.

 

 

10. Finally, on a completely unrelated note that has nothing to do with animation, the Washington Capitals are playing the expansion Vegas Golden Knights for the Stanley Cup, which is an extremely cool story for a variety of reasons. The city of Las Vegas rallied around their first Big 4 sports team after the mass shooting last year, and in turn, the Golden Knights have turned in the finest expansion season to date of any professional team, blowing away the prevailing experience that these new teams are generally terrible. Some will blame an expansion draft that gave Vegas more favorable conditions than in the past, but it was really always more about having a GM who picked the right players (George McPhee), a coach who got the most out of them (Gerard Gallant) and well, the players themselves, who believed when no one else did. And on the other side, you have the hard-luck Capitals, who return to the Finals for the first time since ’98, when they where swept by Detroit. The difference is that it’s the first Cup appearance for superstar Alexander Ovechkin, and to date, the defining moment of a legacy dogged by comparisons to Penguins superstar Sidney Crosby, he of the 3 Stanley Cups. This series promises to be fun, so if all you non-sports/hockey fans out there want to see why we root for things the way we do, this is a great opportunity. (Finally, for the record, I’m a Buffalo Sabres fan. We’re getting Rasmus Dahlin!)


Like what you see? Comments are much appreciated, especially for points 5 and 9. Don’t forget, free speech is the hallmark of an open republic. And this column is pretty darn fun to write.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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