Wednesday, 30 May 2018

Miraculous, les aventures de Ladybug et Chat Noir / Miraculous: Tales of Ladybug & Cat Noir / Miraculous Ladybug

What with celebrated movies like Persepolis and Les Triplettes de Belleville and weekly animation like Wakfu and the continuation of Les Mystérieuses Cités d'or, I’ve become quite a fan of French animation. Alongside the Belgians, they’ve always had a tradition of taking comics a little more seriously than Britain did, with the likes of Astérix having appeal to an older demographic way before that was fashionable worldwide. I absolutely love Wakfu and when I saw a lot of people raving about Ladybug, I thought I’d check it out.

It took a long time for me to get into. One big factor was that before it was on Netflix it was hard for me to find the French version with English subtitles, and while my French is decent enough to understand the basic gist, that’s not enough to enjoy the show. There are actually decent reasons to watch the show in other languages – by date of first airing, the Korean dub has priority; there’s quite a bit of focus on making it appeal to English audiences, including a lot of English on-screen text; and of course the creation, setting and lip-sync are centred on the French. Trying them all, it was instantly apparent that the French dub was the best-acted, matched the animation and of course made sense with the Parisian setting. So I had to make quite a bit of effort at that point to find it in French.

Moreover, at first I didn’t really get into the show. I had begun watching it in the American viewing order and they unfortunately kicked off the series with two of its weakest episodes, ‘Le Bulleur’ and ‘M. Pigeon’. I probably would have had an easier time getting into it if those particularly goofy episodes weren’t presented right from the off.

I also wasn’t that taken by the animation. This is a prevalent French style at the moment, as also seen in the recent adaptation of Le Petit Prince, in the Mystérieuses Cités sequel and in Un monstre à Paris, it’s CG animation done far cheaper than what you see from Pixar, and though individual frames tend to look great when you pause, it’s largely on the stiff, clunky, awkward-looking side in motion.

Yet I kept coming back to Ladybug, and finally binge-watched most of the first season and some of the second, and ultimately found myself fully won over by its charms. Actually, I can say quite specifically what made me go back and watch more, and it was a gif of Chat Noir looking stupidly cute talking about how black brings out the green in his eyes. The fact is what made me watch more of this than I otherwise would was the incredibly cute character designs, which are a very pleasant mixture of cool and goofy, which is a pretty tough balance to pull off. The attractiveness of the main cast is absolutely what got this show rolling and spread its influence far enough that some favourite Pixiv artists from Japan surprised me by drawing fanart of the characters.

In story terms, this is a very generic mix of classic American superhero clichés, with a healthy dash of magical girl anime, especially Shugo Chara. The kwami are little familiars very much like the shugo chara, and Adrien/Chat Noir is almost like a mash-up of the two boys from that show. The transformations of course bring to mind those of shows like Sailor Moon and the idea of people being manipulated by a magical force to turn evil was also done to way more goofy levels by Demashita! Powerpuff Girls Z. Yes, goofier than the pigeon fancier becoming a pigeon-based superhero. Thrown into this is the silly but often fun conceit that just putting on a little mask completely hides your identity so that even those close to you can’t possibly recognise you, and a luck-based superpower that basically functions like Batman’s infamous utility belt in the old days where it always held exactly what he needed to solve any problem.

A simple formula plays out over the course of the show – someone in Paris, usually happening to be in the immediate vicinity of our heroes (including every single one of their classmates) ends up in emotional distress. Sinister villain Le Papillon, who somehow is always ready to observe these events, sends out an ‘akuma’ butterfly to turn them into a supervillain, in hopes they can draw out superheroes Ladybug and Chat Noir and steal the artefacts that give them power. It never works. Towards the end, they try to get a little more creative with this, like having two separate villains as a kind of cause-and-effect, or having a villain who can summon and control the previous villains, but generally things are kept episodic. Interestingly, as a season finale (in France at least), the heroes’ origin stories are told, basically showing that normal teenager Marinette Dupain-Cheng and, well, relatively normal teenager Adrien Agreste are given their powers essentially as a reaction to the rise of Le Papillon.

There’s nothing special about the set-up or the storytelling, but what really works is the leaf taken from Shugo Chara’s book and making the show incredibly good shipping bait. It’s all about the relationships, and the cute set-up that Marinette is in love with Adrien (after, typically, a rocky start) and that Adrien is in love with Ladybug. While neither of course know that the other is the superhero they fight side-by-side with every time a new villain appears. Superficially Marinette and Adrien aren’t the most interesting characters. Marinette has the interest of being half-European and half-Chinese (like me!), but is largely an everywoman character whose main defining trait is that she’s a klutz who falls over a lot. Adrien is a super-attractive 13-year-old professional model who is an expert at fencing, languages, acting and video games which makes him pretty hard to identify with – though later we learn more about his painful past and that he’s largely so good at things because of an oppressive home life. But the role switch as superheroes is what works so well. Marinette as Ladybug becomes capable, confident and a natural leader. Chat Noir, meanwhile, is a total goofball, often the butt of jokes and constantly making terrible puns, as well as openly flirting with Ladybug and constantly getting rebuffed. It’s just so cute, and while at first I wasn’t convinced by the ship, it gets cuter and cuter and now it just seems perfect. There are various other minor characters it’s easy to ship, from canon pairings to two cute chalk-and-cheese best friends who could so easily be an adorable lesbian couple. I earnestly believe the romantic elements paired with super-attractive designs on the main duo are the key to why this show succeeded with a wider audience than I’m sure was initially anticipated. Sometimes the shipping moments are a bit overly ham-fisted, with Chat Noir constantly landing on top of Ladybug or the possibility of a relationship being constantly raised, but it’s cute enough that it doesn’t matter and it’s so sweet that the two don’t know that they’re actually in love with one another in different guises.

I’ve started the second season and they’re starting to play with the formula a bit, which is a good idea because it’s already in desperate need of innovation – though I resent them changing ‘Une ladybug!’ to ‘Miraculous!’ in the opening theme, which was almost as fun as the Wakfu opening to follow along with and taught me the term ‘porte-bonheur’. I also really liked how the show unveiled the identity of the villain neatly so that it was more and more obvious to the point that most people will have figured it out just before the show explicitly reveals it. I’m not too sure about the show turning more characters close to the main duo into superheroes, but we’ll see how things develop. The more they play with the concept, even if it’s in a goofy way, the better I think it goes. And yes, that includes all-singing evil Santa-themed Christmas specials.

Not wholly sure they should have a bunch of new superheroes in season 2, and I’m especially not so keen on Queen Bee because Chloé is amongst the most detestable characters ever created. But I’m happy to have more Alya if only because Fanny Bloc’s voice always makes me think of Yugo, even when she’s not acting as a boy.

Wednesday, 2 May 2018

アグレッシブ烈子/ Aggressive Retsuko / Aggretsuko : Netflix series

When I finished the 100 episodes of the original Japanese run, I had no idea the 10 episodes of the Netflix reboot were already out. I thought there would be a long wait before they found a new venue for their charming little shorts, and was very surprised when I saw the promos for the Netflix version, marketed at the west.

On the surface, this reboot is more of the same. The designs are the same, the voice cast is the same, even the animator/director, who also supplies the metal growls, is the same. The animation is a little different, slightly more crisp and careful but actually to my eye rather less fluid and a little cheaper-looking. But with the format change to full episodes rather than little skits and a more overarching story, there’s actually quite a lot that’s different.

Perhaps surprisingly given that there’s a lot more time to develop these things, Retsuko’s working life is much less complex. This is the biggest change I disliked: in the original show, Retsuko is a very normal, very identifiable cog in the wheel. She works too hard and is taken advantage of, but there’s a feeling that a lot of others in her huge company (and in Japan Inc.) are in the same boat. She even gets a kouhai, a junior worker who answers to her, though he’s a bit useless and brings his own problems. In this new series, she’s right at the bottom. The chihuahua kohai and the random seal pup she teaches to use spreadsheets have been cut. The hierarchy is much starker and it often seems like it’s only Retsuko who is picked on, overworked and forced into too much overtime. Her only Kohai now seems to be Tsunoda the gazelle, who has figured out how to get treated better than Retsuko does. For me, that actually makes her seem less universal and less likeable, because if she’s the exceptional case there should be a way for her to get back to the norm. If everyone’s in the same boat, it’s more hopeless but more understandable.

Most of the cast is shaken up a bit. Fenneko has become a closer friend for Retsuko with impressive powers of deduction, though she’s introduced as pretty two-faced. Tsunoda gets some scenes where her cold, calculating inner self gets made clearer. Washimi and Gori are no longer regular coworkers who are a little glamorous but will hang around in your house way too long when you want them to go home, but instead are very senior workers who are a great transformative influence on Retsuko, encouraging her to take risks and embrace her true self. The pig boss is now no longer one of several roughly equal authority figures but the absolute unquestioned section manager with only the CEO to answer to – the Buffalo boss character who has a creepy crush on Retsuko barely appears as a random yes-man. The Meerkat is similarly altered to a total yes-man rather than just another annoying co-worker. That said, the pig boss has a bit of an interesting development here, essentially embodying the old guard in Japanese offices, mostly a deeply offensive chauvinist until he’s brought into line, then finally and grudgingly offering Retsuko some profound life lessons. Other characters have their roles greatly reduced or cut altogether, like the annoying Hippo co-worker Kabae, the spacey axolotl and the highfalutin cat. On the other hand, another cat, an old childhood friend, appears to give Retsuko a dream of something different from her regular job in a little character arc that really gets the audience on her side.

The biggest and most positive change, though, is to Haida-kun the hyena. He was barely relevant in the original series, doing things like arranging office parties and fixing Retsuko’s stuff (at length), but here he is a close friend to Retsuko who has a crush on her. His character arc is so sweet, having a crush on her, watching her get interested in the spaced-out Resasuke (given a character of sorts here but mostly being portrayed as totally unable to understand others’ feelings), going through some bad times but eventually working things out. He’s not a complicated character but he actually becomes the real heart of the show and by far its biggest point of improvement.

It’s also quite nice that here, Retsuko’s singing remains literal. Not an inner expression only Retsuko can take part in (with Fenneko occasionally on guitar). Now, each time she lets loose it really happens, usually in the karaoke bar or the office toilets, but sometimes in places like the office drinking party. It’s quite nice to have it more grounded.

There’s a lot that people who only watch this version will miss, including most of the funniest and sweetest moments. It’s a pity not to have the times Retsuko starts getting angry but realises she shouldn’t, or funny gags based on the actual nature of the animals like when they complain about Washimi not making a silly face only for her to say she doesn’t have the facial muscles for it. On the other hand, there’s also a lot here you don’t get in the shorts. I would absolutely recommend anyone who enjoys one watch the other, and I know I binge-watched both versions almost all at once, and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. So if there’s more Retsuko to come, sign me up!

Oh, and I just want to say that the ‘Protein’ kangaroo reminds me of the bra skit from The World of Golden Eggs, and that always makes me giggle.  

Tuesday, 1 May 2018

Short notes – みなみけ 夏やすみ / Minami-ke: Natsuyasumi / Minami-ke Summer Holiday

Usually if an OVA comes out, I wait until a new season airs before writing anything about it. But this looks like it might actually be the last time we see the loveable cast of Minami-Ke in animated form. And sadly, it’s just a typical piece of fluff with the usual beach episode clichés. A group of the girls go to the beach and splash water at each other, except the quirky ones who give us some light character-based comedy. A couple of the girls have collected beetles, still an enduringly popular activity for kids in Japan, and of course they manage to get loose, causing not mayhem but some light tension between siblings. Over the short run-time of the episode, just about the whole cast is visited briefly, allowing for some nice pleasant scenes reminding us of their personalities before we finish on possibly the most perfect, ridiculous character to conclude an entire series with.

Chiaki gets the most screen time, struggling to complete an athletic task set as part of her summer homework. It’s a light, fun, cute thing to watch, her doing her best and failing a lot, but not exactly thrilling.

My favourite characters get very little to do. Touma gets to be girly for a change with the others at the beach, and has a funny little bit where she gives her beetle the same name as her brother, but there’s little more to it than that. Poor Mako-chan shows up to play and quickly gets turned away. The comedy based around these two characters defying gender norms was the reason I really enjoyed the show, but we didn’t get any of that.

Still, nice to check in with these characters again, and a little sad to think it might be the last time.

Monday, 23 April 2018

サンリオ男子 / Sanrio Danshi / Sanrio Boys

I recently wrote in my Aggressive Retsuko review about how since coming to Japan I’ve learned a lot more about Sanrio and their cutesy mascots. I’ve also been watching a lot of sillier, cuter and trashier anime lately, so when I heard there was going to be an anime about boys who love Sanrio mascots, I thought it would be hilarious to watch.

I have to say, Sanrio Danshi was totally different from my expectations. I thought we’d get lots of silly, cutesy fun, the Sanrio characters maybe acting as the cutesy sidekicks in some kind of magical girl scenario, and a tone not far from Gakuen Babysitters. Instead, I got a BL scenario without the BL, a whole lot of angst and deep-rooted psychological problems, and then a very forced and unconvincing final drama for the characters to overcome. It was a whole lot more grounded in reality than I thought it would be, and commensurately less fun to watch, though certainly it had its cute parts.

Basically, it centres on a teenaged boy called Kouta who loves Pompompurin, the dog-flan hybrid thing. Only he’s in denial because he has deep regrets over cruel things he said to a beloved family member before she died. When he discovers two popular boys in the school love My Melody and Hello Kitty, his repressed emotions lead to an outburst, but after confronting all his angst and accepting his true self, he becomes friends with them. They are later joined by two more boys, who stepped right out of BL. Little Twin Stars fan Ryou is a cute, shy, sometimes acerbic blonde boy who was raised in England and likes to watch student council president Seiichiro practice archery. Seiichiro is a huge hulking manly teenager who everyone thinks is perfect, and who likes Cinnamoroll. When Ryou’s insecurity makes him lash out of the other Sanrio boys for being girly, the two help each other to a resolution – after various teary misunderstandings – and soon become very close. These two are just like the characters from terrible BL anime Okane ga Nai, only a little less horribly drawn.

Most of the series is about these characters confronting their issues. Some are quite interesting, like coming to terms with the death of a family member, or feeling like an outsider who everyone treats like a doll, or having a sister who is basically emotionally abusing you. Others, like being more selfless on the football team, are less gripping. It comes together nicely when the five members finally become friends and go to Puroland together, having a magical time. They decide to put on a play about noblemen from different Sanrio-based kingdoms fighting, basically Meine Liebe with sillier names, which of course everyone will think is magnificent even if it’s incredibly awful. On top of this, some awful subplot about the everyman character getting whiny and violent because he resents being an everyman while everyone else is ‘kira-kira’ (shining brightly) really doesn’t work.

The usual lazy Pierrot animation is at play here, and the show looks dated and pretty ugly. I was surprised the Sanrio characters literally stay characters and don’t have any deeper significance or role than a weird mutual interest that causes these characters to come together, at first in hostility (repeated for two separate main characters) and later in mutual understanding.

I did like the adorable androgyny of Ryo and the cute straightforward character Kouta has before he has his meltdown, and at the beginning this was a fun, harmless show. But it needed to do more than regurgitate otome game cliché scenarios (down to having a weird first-person scene with the ‘viewer’ before each commercial break) if it wanted to hold the interest. By the end, it was a bit of a chore to watch, even if you like similar cute-boys-doing-cute-things properties. Still, with a manga, game and characters in the franchise not yet introduced (who love Keropii and Batsumaru), perhaps we haven’t seen the last of the Sanrio Danshi.  

Thursday, 19 April 2018

アグレッシブ烈子/ Aggressive Retsuko / Aggretsuko (season 1 / Ousama no Brunch run)

Sanrio have branched out from the cuteness they’re known for recently. Everyone knows Hello Kitty, and plenty of people recognise the other characters like My Melody, Keropi and the Little Twin Stars. Admittedly, before I came to Japan I only had a vague idea of these characters, but after visiting Puroland and watching most of the Sanrio Danshi anime, I have a pretty clear picture of who is Kiki and who is Lala, which cat is a British schoolgirl and which is a real cat, and even what the hell Patty and Jimmy are supposed to be (preferably forgotten).

Lately, they’ve come to understand their core fanbase are growing up and made characters to suit that. Part of that is embracing a growing affection for ugly-cute, best illustrated by the monstrous success of Gudetama, the egg-blob who is 50% butt and can’t be doing with life. Even if you protest Gudetama isn’t ugly cute, it’s just cute, the fact is if you present a seven-year-old with a Cinnamoroll and a Gudetama and ask which is cute and which is just weird, you know which they’ll pick.

And that brings us to Aggretsuko, or Aggressive Retsuko, with the ‘Retsu’ in her name meaning ‘rage’. The first, regular form of Retsuko is typically cute and babyish, a lovely little red panda character. But then she loses it, the similarities between a red panda’s facial markings and a death metal singer’s face paint highlighted, and you see the meaning of the character. Retsuko is aimed firmly at young working women who can identify with her, outwardly unassuming and cute (got to have an element of flattery there), but with deep, simmering rage burning inside.

This two-sided element is popular in Japan. It probably derives mostly from Detroit Metal City, even if that can’t be called the origin of the concept of an unassuming, friendly person who expresses their inner rage through screaming death metal vocals. The idea also went viral in Van Houten hot chocolate adverts that were shared around the world but basically ripped off the concept of the Retsuko anime, transplanting it from the office to the life of a housewife.

This is the modern Sanrio fan: a woman in her 20s or 30s stuck in a dull office job, having to do overtime, suffering constant annoyance from her coworkers, worried about her love life and future, and suppressing inner fury in a shining example of true Japanese honne-and-tatemae style. In the beginning, there’s a general diegetic idea that Retsuko’s rage-filled death metal rants are in the karaoke booth after work, but it soon gets repackaged as an internal fantasy sequence that, other than in some fourth-wall-breaking moments, the other characters cannot see. But the format of each sub-2-minute episode is roughly the same: Retsuko encounters some annoyance, usually at the hands of her coworkers, and flies into a rage about it, with a cacophony of guitars and blastbeats to back her. Most of these are funny because they are very identifiable - people pushing their problems onto you, work putting you in Catch-22 situations (a long lecture from the boss about working too much overtime followed by them piling work on you guaranteed to make you have to stay late, or someone not showing up to when you've arranged to meet, but keeping on telling you they'll be there soon so you can't go and do something while you wait. In fact, some of the best episodes revolve around subverting the expectations set up in the vast majority of these shorts - perhaps by giving Retsuko a little bit of happiness, or having her make an assumption about her friend misusing a gift only to discover she was mistaken and then feeling penitent about getting suspicious. 

The animal cast is generally chosen to match the character types portrayed. So a fat, sweaty, annoying coworker is a pig, and a somewhat overly masculine friend is a gorilla. A yappy little dog makes for a good hapless office junior, and a pretty gazelle is that annoying younger worker who acts so childish to get her way then takes advantage of others' kindness. Some are a little more unexpected, like an axolotl as the somewhat airheaded, open-mouthed office gossip, or for some reason the suave fox being called Mr. Wolf (in Japanese). Generally, the animal cast is instantly identifiable as certain character types, and largely we're conditioned through decades of anthropomorphism to equate certain animals with certain personalities, so there's very little explanation needed. 

The manner in which the show aired was a little unusual. It was part of popular Saturday morning variety show Ousama no Brunch, or King's Brunch. That means its audience is much broader and more universal than most anime. That fits with the intended appeal - not just anime fans, and certainly not kids, but with regular working people who can identify with Retsuko's struggles. Of course, some of her concerns are pretty gendered, and yes, she gets ranted at by her superiors who expect her to quit as soon as she gets married (the junior worker leaping to her defense by saying she's not like that and will definitely never get married almost more hurtful than the initial accusation), and some of the quirks are very Japanese, but largely anybody who's ever had to work in an office environment will understand what Retsuko is going through. 

Cute, relatable, easy to understand, sometimes very clever but mostly carried by its central amusing idea, Aggressive Retsuko is compulsive watching and quick and easy to watch, very much like 4-koma directly put on screen. Well worth the time, and even if it's no longer going to air as part of Ousama no Brunch, I'm keen to keep on watching! 

Friday, 13 April 2018

魔法使いの嫁 / Mahoutsukai no Yome / The Mage’s Bride / The Ancient Magus’ Bride

Apart from watching much less anime these days than I used to, I also tend to watch trash. Trash is relaxing, enjoyable and brainless. If it’s not trash, it’s mostly light shounen fare that’s only slightly above trash, or sequels to series I began ages ago. Beyond that, well, what have I watched recently and finished? There are a couple of shows I haven’t quite finished yet, but discounting those, probably nothing since Boku dakega Inai Machi, over a year ago.

So this show was if anything a pleasant contrast to the rest of my anime fare. And very enjoyable it was too: a supernatural story with a slow pace, strong characters, a British setting and some really iconic visuals. It put me in mind of several strong series – Natsume Yuujincho, for the whimsical feeling and the supernatural influence on everyday life, only the introverted main character who attracts supernatural beings and slowly opens up thanks to getting close to them is female rather than male, and the mythology is British rather than Japanese. Kuroshitsuji for the British setting and strong but dark deuteragonist, only with less abrasive humour and without that unpleasant taste in the mouth recent manga chapters of that series have left me with. And Fullmetal Alchemist, for the physical presence of the deuteragonist, snappy but tasteful humorous style changes and strong supporting cast. Pretty impressive company to be in.

Mahoutsukai no Yome follows a young Japanese woman called Chise has a difficult and traumatic childhood, compounded by terrifying experiences with supernatural beings (expanded in the rather slow OVA prelude episodes), as she sells herself into slavery and is bought by Elias, a strange combination of fairy and human who appears like a huge man wearing the skull of a wolf with the horns of a ram. A pretty fantastic design. Elias buys Chise for two reasons – because he wants to understand humanity better, and because she is a sleigh beggy, which in this world is not a little fairy from the Isle of Man, but a kind of human spiritual conduit, able to draw magic from all around it and from within.

The show has a rather charming approach to British folklore and culture that occasionally shows fantastic research and precision (I used to feed ducks at that exact spot in Regent’s Park!) and sometimes just makes up its own systems or seems to take vaguely British images and throw them together in what seems right to a Japanese sensibility (was that…fish and chips served as a side dish to a proper meal in an upper middle-class household?!). The episode titles are taken from what seems to be a very dated book of British idioms (I doubt anyone has said ‘What is bred in the bone will not [come] out of the flesh’ in a hundred years, especially when we have ‘The apple never falls far from the tree’).

But uneven as it may be, it’s always a thrill to see England represented in anime, whether it’s K-On girls running around Camden or aerial battles between dolls in Rozen Maiden, or even the first arc of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure. They don’t have to get every detail right, and it’s always enjoyable to see things like Anteros at Piccadilly Circus made the location of an exciting climactic showdown. There’s some fun mythological elements, too – Shakespeare seems to have been heavily referenced, for we not only get Titania and Oberon as king and queen of the fairies, but a helpful little spirit called Ariel. Otherwise, we have a cute Selkie – though not as cute as the one in Song of the Sea – and of course some mighty dragons who are unless they lose control somewhat less fearsome than the ones in Arthurian or Christian mythology.

Probably the most interesting element of Western mythology is the use of the Cartaphilius character. Thankfully the term is never used, but this is the Wandering Jew, who was cursed by Christ never to die in response to jeers on the way to Golgotha. I don’t know whether the mangaka changed this to ‘The Wandering Sorcerer’ for politically correct reasons or simply thought the audience wouldn’t understand if the term was left unchanged, but either way he generally goes by the names Cartaphilius or Joseph, two names that have been given to the legendary figure over the years. The show creates a new an interesting backstory for the character, implying there was an original cursed figure and that Joseph was an (adorable) innocent whose body and identity were essentially stolen while the memories and suffering remained, but he is the primary antagonist, is capable of extreme cruelty and yet still evokes sympathy. An intriguing and compelling enemy, I wonder if we’ll see more of him in the future and whether he’ll be properly punished for what he’ll do. The characters may forget his crimes, but there was one scene where the voice-over, delivered by a very sweet-sounding seiyuu, was pretty devastating to hear. One of the darkest moments in anime I’ve seen since Bokurano, and rather surprising from what was a generally pretty safe and harmless anime – excepting where Cartaphilius was concerned.  

Well-made, well-acted, pleasant to look at, intriguing conceptually and occasionally emotionally resonant, I really enjoyed this show and want to see more. I believe it was quite a hit, and certainly the visual impression Elias makes will stick with most people, so hopefully we’ll see a fair bit more.

Monday, 9 April 2018

Bee and Puppycat: Season 1

The episodes of Bee and Puppycat trickled out between the end of the kickstarter in late 2014 and the season finale at the end of 2016. I had decided to wait for a full season to watch before seeing if the show lived up to the promise of its pilot, but 2017 was a kind of busy year and I guess it just wasn’t a priority, so I only just got around to watching the short, uneven 10-episode season.

While a lot of what was promised for the show was developed a teeny tiny amount in the last episode – in unexpected ways – I’m a little disappointed by Bee and Puppycat. Though Adventure Time staffer Natasha Allegri is still the driving force here, a lot of the spark of the original is gone, and in story, character and visual terms it just isn’t as fun as the pilot promised it would be. Plus I’m a little disappointed that instead of Puppycat being the one with the surprisingly dark past and hidden power (as hinted at in his song from the pilot), that role has instead fallen to Bee, who I felt was much more interesting as an everywoman figure.

Some of the new additions to the series are great. I absolutely love Cardamon, the little tot who’s taken it on himself to become the landlord since his mother is no longer capable, and whose final scene is the saddest and most emotionally believable in these ten episodes. The idea of a Pretty Patrick cooking show is fun, especially that Puppycat loves it and ‘Pretty Patrick’ is the only English he speaks. I really enjoyed the weirdness of some of the worlds our main duo visit, especially when they’re morally ambivalent, and many of these new characters – especially Cardamon and Moully – have the most wonderfully natural vocal performances. Especially since Cardamon’s voice actor is a child.

Other characters fall pretty flat, like the oh so random wrestling club member. 

While there’s still plenty of time for more to happen, I was a little disappointed by the direction the main characters went. Puppycat could still certainly become much more interesting in future seasons, but we had no hints of him perhaps having a dark past and saving the day with mouth lasers. Instead he remains just a grumpy, cute sort of a mascot character and there’s more of an emphasis on him being put into embarrassing situations. I’d like a balance between him being a silly pudgy cat-thing and being a hidden badass. They also did far less weird things with Oliver this time, so he mostly sounds like he’s just speaking an alien tongue rather than making lots of bizarre inhuman sounds.
Deckard, while a nice character and very well-acted, didn’t really get to do anything much. His dilemma over staying around to be with Bee and to go off to chase his dream is drawn out a bit too much, even over the course of such a short season. I want him to hurry up and talk it through with the others to reach a sensible decision.

And then there’s Bee. Not only did the animation style of the show get a lot more generic and Steven Universe-y, with Bee in particular looking very different from the pilot both in appearance and dress sense, she got markedly less interesting even as hints at a very strange past culminated in a big cliffhanger. She’s still a very strong character, natural and flawed while still very likeable, but as the series progresses she seems less empathetic to others, less rebellious and less pro-active. I want to see more of the everyday side of Bee, more of her trying to fit into the world rather than solving problems with interdimensional temp jobs.

The show still has a lot of potential and I’m keen to see more if it really does get made. But I feel like an opportunity for something really great was missed here.