Sunday, 24 December 2017

僕のヒーローアカデミア / Boku no Hero Academia / My Hero Academia seasons 1-2

It seems to be a pattern with me and Jump series - I try them out, don't get on with them at first, then return to them after a while and end up loving them. Or at least enjoying them quite a bit. It happened with One Piece, Bleach and in a way with good ole Dragonball.

So this is the new hit shounen action series. It's doing pretty well, with quite a lot of promotion, a third season and movie recently announced and a video game in the works too. 

I tried out the first few manga chapters months ago, but couldn't get over the weird art, especially of the true form of the #1 hero, and found the pacing very weird. That may have been down to poor-quality translation, though. But I eventually tried the anime, and found it to be a lot of fun. 

The show's world has a lot of echoes of Hunter x Hunter and One Punch Man (OPM itself being in many ways a tribute to HxH in any case), with a little Tiger and Bunny thrown into the mix, all of which could be said to be riffs based on a premise set up by X-Men. 

Boku no Hero Academia shows us a world where 80% of kids born have a 'quirk'. A mutant power, basically. This can be just about anything, from super strength to invisibility, with some very weird and inventive ones in the mix too. Our hero, little Midoriya Izuku, or 'Deku' as he gets called by the school bullies, is one of the 20% who are quirkless. This is a shame because he loves heroes and could be called a fanboy in the depth of his knowledge. The show actually uses the English word ‘Nerd’ for him, rather than ‘otaku’. A chance encounter with a prominent hero leads to him being bestowed great powers - so he enters a school for the gifted and through a series of exams similar to those in Naruto (even being interrupted by a more serious clash just like Naruto's) proves himself to his heroes and his former bully. 

There are a slew of anime just like this. A school for the gifted where the sweet-natured, unassuming one ends up the centre of attention and gains great power to use against real bad guys can be seen in, for example, Gakuen Alice, Soul Eater and Mahou Shoujotai Arusu. The basic idea is common in the west too, not only in X-Men but Monsters' High, Miss Peregrine's, The Incredibles et al. It's all basically riffing on superhero tropes and there will be thousands more iterations of the same thing in years to come. 

But while HeroAka treads familiar ground, it does it well. Midoriya is an extremely likeable protagonist, not only sweet and insecure (and adorable even if everyone keeps describing him as 'plain') but generous, hard-working and ambitious. It's interesting that at first he's given a power he can't really control and causes him great pain, because that opens up dynamics about self-preservation and sacrifice, though by the end of season 2 Midoriya has moved beyond that. 

The supporting cast is also great. The teachers remind me of Soul Eater's, unhinged and often goofy but awesome to see in action. There are lots of interesting fellow students, from major players with daddy issues or anger issues or abandonment issues to very enteratining ensemble characters like the frog girl or the bird-headed kid with a shadow beast living inside him. 

Compared with other strong Shounen series, the bad guys are currently a bit lacking. I like the main antagonist’s design a lot but much of his story arc so far has been about finding his true purpose, and a villain who lacks a clear purpose is not a very impressive one. There are other villains here, too, the charismatic and interesting Hero Killer who sadly pales beside One Punch Man’s treatment of a similar misguided philosophy, and All For One who so far is just a shadowy figure pulling the strings with a motive apparently rather like Orochimaru’s in Naruto. There’s a lot of potential for the main villain to become very interesting, but so far it’s only potential. Then again, HunterxHunter, Naruto and Soul Eater were slow in revealing their primary antagonists, and D. Gray-Man waited a very long time to add nuance to theirs so I can see him getting depth later. If mangaka Horikoshi Kouhei fails to deliver on that front, though, it will be a major letdown.

Nothing here is groundbreaking, but the best shounen series seldom are. We've had pirate stories and ninja stories and stories about Son Goku before, but the best Jump series make those familiar storytelling realms their own in quirky, inventive ways. The same can be said for Boku no Hero Academia, and it's hard not to root for lil' Midoriya-shounen, whether he's getting all determined, fighting down tears or reaching out to someone in need.

As for that weird character design that got me so hung up at the start, well, I guess in the anime it just about works. Just about. 

Friday, 22 December 2017

The Boss Baby

This happens quite a lot with movies I only watch on a plane - they don't look good enough to see on release but actually end up being really good. I honestly thought this looked terrible from trailers, especially with such an ugly baby, and basically only watched it because the main character Tim was adorable.

In fact this was a clever, sweet and well-made animation that probably deserves more recognition than it got...though I did see quite a few reaction images of the triplets online. 

One of the best factors here is that the premise gives a strong message to kids with new siblings - the whole premise stems from how 7-year-old Tim reacts to the new baby of his family getting more love from his parents. That jealousy is a good thing for kids in that position to get to discuss. 

There's a lot that surprised me here. Funny jokes and pop culture references to everything from Indiana Jones (brilliantly combined with Mouse Trap) to Glengarry Glen Ross. Poignant moments mostly marked by 'Blackbird' by the Beatles. Strong performances and fast-paced animation. There's a few adult jokes that raise a smile, like references to the things that can go on at work retreats, though in light of the recent scandals from Hollywood, I'm not sure having Alec Baldwin and a child actor have an exchange along the lines of 'Suck it!' 'I'm not gonna suck that, I don't know where it's been.' 'You want to find out where babies come from, don't you?' was probably not the best idea. And they almost cast Kevin Spacey in the movie too… 

Tim is one of the most adorable kids in CG - being younger than most of the kids in these films, he's adorable, needing his hand held on the plane and not knowing how to ride a bike. Ralph Bakshi’s grandson Miles gives a pretty adorable performance, too, playing younger than his age during recording. Perhaps the best element having such a young protagonist is that being so concerned with the imagination of a child, there are lots of sequences that experiment with changes of animation style or weird character designs, which really take advantage of the medium. 

I doubt that many people will give this film a chance, but that's a shame because it's much better than I'd anticipated. 

Wednesday, 20 December 2017

Despicable Me 3

I enjoy watching the Despicable Me movies, though not enough to actually watch them anywhere but planes. 

This one was another enjoyable diversion, though lacked the big heart and emotional pay-offs of the other films. Quite a lot happens at once - Gru is reunited with his brother, who's a good businessman but terrible villain - while also having a vendetta against a new supervillain with an entertaining 80s theme and the voice of Randy Marsh

The kids have their own stories - little Agnes is adorable looking for a unicorn while Margo gets accidentally engaged. There's also a new agency boss who seems like a bit of an offensive stereotype to me. Oh, and the minions quit and go on various episodic adventures. Everything comes together for a fun big climax with lots of action and lasers and screaming, and it's definitely enjoyable, but the other films felt like the offered something a bit different and unusual. This one felt like an old direct-to-TV sequel or special extended pilot to kick of a TV series. Still fun, but without offering anything new. 

That said, it’s pretty astonishing to see the worldwide success of this franchise. The Minions seem to really appeal universally, and I see quite a lot of merchandise for them in Japan. This indifferent sequel became only the sixth animated movie to gross more than $1bn worldwide – with Minions being another. It’s in the top 25 highest-grossing films of all time. Pretty crazy, but testament to good marketing and the groundwork lain by a strong, well-made franchise. 

Friday, 24 November 2017

The Amazing World of Gumball season 3

Gumball is my go-to show to watch at the moment. It’s such exuberant, silly fun with such likeable central characters and such joy in the medium of animation. Not every episode is a hit but enough of them are that I’ll always have fun in any viewing session.

The season starts in a slightly sad way as the original voice actors pass the torch to the new kids. Replacing kid actors is generally necessary in these kinds of shows, though they seem to be letting Jeremy Shada keep voicing Finn long-term since he replaced his brother in Adventure Time. In fairness, by the time the voice work for Gumball season 3 started, the boys’ voices had changed a lot, even when they weren’t exaggerating it, and it was nice to even give them a send-off rather than just making the switch behind the scenes. I’m not generally that keen on meta-humour dominating a whole episode, and the season finale where the cast contemplate selling out for money didn’t work for me, but in this case it was sweet and worked well as a pretty original concept.

Otherwise, the season is mostly more of the same. The kids get into scrapes with various classmates and family members, struggle with allergies, try to watch scary movies without Anaïs, or think up an imaginary friend. The show does a great job of taking tried-and-tested concepts and subverting them, or sometimes affectionately pastiching them. The show also does the surprise anticlimactic ending even better than Adventure Time.

But this season doesn’t just coast along doing the same old things. There’s a fair bit of character development. Some background characters get more fleshed out, with Sarah and Alan getting episodes centred on them, and one episode is even centred on ‘extras’. There’s also quite an interesting side-story where uninteresting background characters disappear into ‘The Void’, with one not only being rescued from there but another becoming a much more major player when he manages to escape.

Most significant, though, is the development of Penny. Initially Gumball’s comedy crush, the two of them have genuinely gotten closer, culminating in Penny literally coming out of her peanut shell. It’s a very interesting development and it’s sweet how the couple are still so awkward and it doesn’t end up taking over Gumball’s entire life. Perhaps more interesting is the effect it has on Darwin. He’s initially very jealous and protective of his best friend being taken away from him, and his protestations of love for Gumball get pretty ardent. It walks a nice middle ground where potentially gay kids could see him as a perfectly normal boy with a gay crush (albeit on his adoptive brother, which is a bit weird), yet it’s also completely possible to see his devotion as a ‘bromance’. Religious groups can’t go crazy about it corrupting youth but at the same time it leans towards the normalisation of if not homosexuality, then dismantling the limits of what can be portrayed on kids’ TV in terms of appropriate expression for boys.

Which is not to claim Gumball is spearheading a cultural revolution. It’s just a nice background touch to a smart, entertaining and inventive TV cartoon. Which I will certainly continue to watch.  

Tuesday, 21 November 2017

思い出のマーニー/ Memories’ Marnie / When Marnie Was There

I’ve been slipping lately as a Ghibli completest. There are a few movies I haven’t gotten around to seeing in the last few years, and one of them was this, When Marnie Was There – the second movie from Yonebashi ‘Maro’ Hiromasa, who seems to be carving out a niche for himself adapting whimsical, gentle-paced English children’s books from a generation ago. With Arrietty and this movie, I thought that was simply what he was instructed to do by Miyazaki, given that those books are on his favourites list, but since Yonebashi and various others from Ghibli have fractured off to found Studio Ponoc, he seems to be continuing the trend even outside Miyazaki’s influence with Mary and the Witch’s Flower.

Yes, When Marnie Was There is an adaptation of a 1967 novel by Joan G. Robinson set in Norfolk. Honestly, though it won some awards and was previously adapted for Jackanory, I’d never heard of it and it seems to have been out of print until interest was revived by this adaptation. The sample chapters I’ve read show a rather unlikeable protagonist and lots of patronising and overdone renderings of the Norfolk dialect, but presumably the protagonist gets more likeable and the story itself is a sweet and well-crafted one.

This adaptation, transplanted to Hokkaido and its comfortable-looking temperate summers (definitely considering spending a lot of time there next year), is remarkably well-done and tasteful. It doesn’t have the bombast of Miyazaki’s most prominent films and won’t make anything like their cultural impact, but it’s a wistful and sweet story in the vein of Omoide Poroporo and thus makes it into my top five Ghibli films. Yonebashi seems to have managed to capture that middle ground between the supernatural fantasies of Miyazaki and the everyday dramas of Takahata, and the film benefits greatly from that.

Twelve-year-old Anna doesn’t fit in. She’s adopted and feels distant from her family, doesn’t make friends easily, sometimes says very rude things when she feels cornered, and as a girl apparently with some foreign blood – visible mostly in her eye colour- feels like an outsider in her native land. She’s also asthmatic, and the doctor thinks the air of the Hokkaido countryside will do her good, so she goes to stay with relatives by the sea.

In the new town, she’s drawn to a strange mansion down on the marshes. She meets a girl called Marnie who is free-spirited, looks like a French doll and is virtually held as a captive in her own home by her household staff.  Anna and Marnie become fast friends, to the point they profess their love for one another and it borders on the adorably homoerotic. Anna is in some ways girlish but with her short hair, usual choice of shorts and rather headstrong attitude has very appealing androgynous characteristics. Marnie is more classically girlish, usually wearing pretty dresses and loving to dance and twirl, but also gets down to some serious rowing when she needs to. They’re lovely characters, suit one another very well and their intimate friendship is a joy to see unfolding, even after the twists are revealed and we come to understand everything.

The film is understated and beautifully-done. Movements and expressions are rendered in a lovely way and the setting is striking, even if but for a windmill changed for a grain silo, this could very easily have still been Norfolk. With a Japanese matsuri. The two lead characters reminded me strangely of Shinku and Souseiseki from Rozen Maiden, which was sweet.

I think this will mature not as one of Ghibli’s most iconic films, but one of their more mature and understated. Certainly one I’ll enjoy rewatching in the future. 

Friday, 10 November 2017

The Amazing World of Gumball: Season 2

In the five years since I watched the first season of Gumball, it got a lot more popular. Clips from the show occasionally pop up on Facebook, going a little viral. It’s fully incorporated into Cartoon Network promotional material like its 25th anniversary clip. It’s won a number of awards and generally entered into public consciousness to a much greater degree. I’m pretty sure it will be remembered nostalgically in a decade just like Powerpuff Girls and Fairly Odd Parents are remembered today.

I actually watched a fair chunk of season 2 before I stopped for a few years. Back then it was hard to find anywhere to watch the show. But I absolutely loved the episode The Job, where the show’s penchant for mixing animation styles is taken to extremes. It’s a beautiful, fun episode with a whole lot of weirdness going on, and one of the most inventive episodes of a show animation-wise that can ever have aired on TV.

Broadly, though, the show continues in the same way as the first season. Short, exuberant 10-minute episodes cover things like Gumball feuding with Banana Joe over a chewed pen, going to see the simple life of a rather Amish-esque potato or getting embarrassed over a stupid video of Gumball going viral.

The Watterson parents get more fleshed out here. Richard becomes a little less irritating and more sympathetic, even doing stupid things like getting into petty quarrels with his neighbour or being too wet to kick out the partiers who take over his house. We also get an insight into how he became the way he is, with an appearance from his overbearing mother. As for Nicole, that tough-love competitive spirit of hers reaches extremes, first in how far she pushes Gumball in a paintball game, and later in her own refusal to lose, which develops into her being some incredibly strong beast more or less unbeatable in the established world.

Other characters get more exploration too. Hector becomes more than just some feet and shins. Carrie shows more of a dark side. Insane new girl Sarah gets her introduction, though only seems a little obsessive in this season – and brings with her a very amusing set of friends from another school who look and move like 70s cartoons. Another human introduced is Santa, played with aplomb by Brian Blessed, national treasure.

Then there’s Gumball and Darwin, who were pretty well-developed from the start. They remain two of the most joyful characters to watch in any cartoon – impulsive, selfish and fun-loving Gumball paired with cute, sweet-natured, caring Darwin. In one episode they explore their dynamic, Darwin wanting to take the lead instead of following as the straight guy, and it’s an interesting examination of their dynamic. They’re still totally adorable, and their relationship is still very often homoerotic and has no qualms subverting gender expectations – the boys are quite happy to dress up as girls for their fake TV show (adorably rendered in anime style by Mike Inel online), hyperventilate into one another’s mouths or comfort each other by hugging and stroking. It’s totally adorable.

And on that note, this season pushes more boundaries than ever before. What this show gets away with is considerably more surprising than Adventure Time’s ‘Get in his pants’ joke. Of course everything is only implied – double entendres like “Did you see what he did to that guy’s cherry”, or visual boundary-pushing like Gumball and the balloon boy Alan meeting in the boys’ bathroom and Gumball having to reinflate him by, well, blowing him up. And then coming out of the bathroom looking decidedly disturbed. It pushes at what’s permissible and that’s one of its strengths.

Of all the cartoons currently airing targeted at kids, it’s the one that appeals the most to me. As an animation fan, in terms of humour, in the cuteness of the characters, in the unpredictability of the episodes and in terms of subverting expectations. The last two episodes in particular poke fun at the ideas of a whole world being made of living things and how horrific that would be, and the idea of cartoons resetting after each episode without consequences.

Funny, easy to watch, cute, likeable and inventive, I’ll definitely carry on watching Gumball

Friday, 3 November 2017

君の名は/ Kimi no Na Wa / Your Name

After a longer time than expected, I got around to watching Kimi no Na Wa, Shinkai Makoto’s breakout masterpiece. And I have to say, I see why it succeeded where his other films were restricted to fandom and, to an extent, arthouse crowds. I’ve never been a great fan of his work, which while often artful and in his early days a remarkable achievement for what was basically an individual, never connected with me emotionally.

Yes, what Kimi no Na Wa at last manages, finally launching Shinkai into the leagues of Miyazaki, Takahata and Hosoda, is to have heart. The story is a strange one and the gets bogged down in a rather artificial drama in the final act, but what really matters is that the characters are likeable and compelling – plus the setting has interesting things to say about very different lifestyles in a changing Japan.

I was a bit confused by the title of this film. Why na and not namae? I’ve heard a variety of explanations from Japanese people – ‘It’s more formal and sounds more like a real title’; ‘It has the nuance of your full name, because they only knew given names’; ‘It feels uncomfortable to say “Kimi no Namae Wa?”’ (even though that’s the climactic line of dialogue in the actual script’; and maybe most convincingly, Shinkai just used the title of an old radio drama from 1952, adapted into a movie trilogy in 1953-4 that was a huge hit back in the day.

But this is not an adaptation of an older work. It’s an original story that on the surface is about a boy and a girl who swap bodies and live in each other’s shoes for a day. Not just one day, but over and over again. At first they think they’re dreaming, but begin to communicate with one another through phone journals and other messages, and eventually try to meet one another – though there is a lot that stands in the way of their coming together.

A lot of the drama is rather superficial, with a whole lot of made-up rules for this magical circumstance that it’s implied is connected to the power of a local god. But that’s okay, because the overall narrative is really just a vehicle for two things – the exploration of two characters, and their very different circumstances. She is set to inherit the temple and trains as a shrine maiden in a somewhat stifling small town where everyone knows one another and the girls at school sometimes pick on her for having to do embarrassing things like make sake the traditional chew-rice-and-spit-it-out way. He is a busy city boy living in a small apartment and working as a waiter in a restaurant, and despite his pretty face very inexperienced with women. Judging from his reaction to an excursion, he’s also craving more spiritual experiences.

It’s oddly cute to see Taki, the boy, with Mitsuha’s feminine mannerisms, very well-observed by the animators. Interesting that we’re introduced to him like that, too. Observing gender differences is far less important, however, than observing the social differences between the very different lives these two lead.

The film is also very beautiful. There’s some slightly jarring cel-shaded CG, but mostly this is a real visual treat. Glorious panning shots, intensely detailed backgrounds, masterfully-captured natural phenomena and even some explosions make for a feast for the eyes.

And while it’s somewhat on-the-fly and arbitrary, the film’s narrative makes for some great emotional highs and lows and builds to a good strong climax. Combined with really likeable characters and meaningful stakes, the result was good.

I see that a live-action remake is in the works. Honestly, I don’t see what it would add. In fact, I suspect it will lose the beauty and the carefully-observed physical comedy. A great step forward in Shinkai’s career.  

Wednesday, 4 October 2017

Rick and Morty, seasons 1-3

My introduction to Rick and Morty was the long, not particularly funny couch gag on The Simpsons. Nonetheless, the show has been a huge hit and is constantly being referenced online and seems to be on track to become this generation’s South Park – so I decided to give it a go.

Honestly, the friend I was watching it with and I almost gave up after three episodes. It didn’t click. The show introduces its main characters, obviously riffing on Doc and Marty from Back to the Future, which was indeed the show’s starting point. However, going in its own direction, the show has Rick and Morty as grandfather and grandson, with Rick an alcoholic sociopath and Morty an overly naïve adolescent. Both are voiced by co-creator Justin Roiland, who I know from voicing the annoying but amusing Earl of Lemongrab in Adventure Time, and his performances take some getting used to. Morty stutters and whines, while Rick’s speech is punctuated by annoying burps.

The first episode seems to try way too hard. The humour is very adolescent, and the audience is expected to laugh at things like Morty having to shove things up his rectum and blowing up aliens in explosions of gore that probably seem edgy to kids who have never seen the likes of Superjail – with Rick having much in common with The Warden.

The Lawnmower Man with dogs subplot in the second episode amused me and made me think the show had potential – though I’d already seen the most amusing part as a clip online without knowing what show it was from – but the lazy gross-out humour of the third episode set inside a body made it seem like the show had very little to offer. But after a few friends strongly urged me to keep going, I persevered.

Now, after all the available episodes, I can say I’m a bit of an unusual case. Rick and Morty is one of those Marmite shows – either adored or reviled. People seem to think it’s either the best show ever created or utterly worthless stoner-bait liked only by the very sheeple the show likes to admonish to make itself look cleverer. But for me, I think it’s pretty good. It has some great moments and some utter dud episodes. Some of the ideas are thought-provoking, some unoriginal, and some half-baked. Sometimes we’re just supposed to laugh at butts farting green clouds. Again.

The show really gets interesting when Rick’s solution to a problem gone completely out of hand is simply to slip into another dimension and take the places of a Rick and Morty who happened to die just them. There are after all infinite universes, so if you can cross between them, why not? But this doesn’t just get left there, it becomes continuity and takes a psychological toll on Morty – and raises the question of whether Rick has done it multiple times before.

This is where the show gets interesting. Of course, like most multiple-universe sci-fi it really doesn’t begin to broach the real conception of infinity. The show indicates there are a bunch of remarkable versions of the characters from other universes, like a doofus Rick or a lizard Morty or even two Mortys who dress like the characters from Gravity Falls (in one of many references to that show, because the creator is buddies with Roiland). But of course, in infinite realities there are infinite versions of each of these, plus infinite that are not like them, with infinite universes being created in infinite fractions of time from each and every moment, so having just ‘a whole bunch including some quirky unique ones’ doesn’t really cut it – even if most of the show’s best episodes are based on taking this idea further to have, for example, an evil Rick and an Evil Morty, a ‘Citadel of Ricks’ who decided to get together and in some cases exploit the rest, and even jaded corrupt police officer Mortys showing around good-hearted rookie Ricks.

Perhaps the heart and soul of the show is trying to discover whether or not Rick has a heart and soul. He’s decidedly an antihero, perhaps one of the most reprehensible characters ever created, willing to create whole universes to power his car battery and destroy them too, drunkenly devising Saw-like games to slaughter people he doesn’t like, watching Morty writhe in pain with two broken legs with little to no interest, and subjecting his family to endless mind games and manipulations. Yet it’s very compelling for the viewer to speculate that it’s all a façade for a deeper pain and yearning, a wish to be accepted and for others to help him with his inner pain – which was at the centre of the season 2 cliffhanger and remains interesting even after he illustrates how getting caught was part of his plan. Witness one version sacrificing himself to save Morty, or a flashback about his love for his wife and daughter that it turns out he fabricates, or the close friend who reveals that his exuberant random catchphrase is actually a cry for help. He even tries to zap out his brains!

For some reason, it tends to be the show’s most uninteresting and unfunny moments that take off as the most popular, simply because they’re big, obvious moments. Rick sending Morty on a dangerous mission to get him a drug that makes him do a silly dance, or spontaneously coming up with a song called ‘Get Schwifty’, or turning himself into a pickle. These seem aimed at just making stoners laugh at how random and zany the show is, but I can’t say I find them funny at all.

I’ve seen a lot of this humour before, too. Marvin from The Hitchhiker’s Guide has a lot in common with a machine shocked that its purpose is to pass butter, perhaps with a dash of the toaster from Red Dwarf – which also has the ideas of hallucinating a whole life only to see a ‘Game Over’ screen and an alternate universe version of a cool character with a bowl cut and buck teeth. In fact, most of Rick and Morty’s humour aims to be edgy and boundary-pushing, but it’s actually all mostly very safe, on ground previously trodden by the South Parks and Family Guys of the world. Attempts to be edgy by joking about sex robots and cuckoldry and of course that ultimate edgelord button, people having traumatic memories of childhood sexual abuse, are sub-4chan attempts to shock, and the one and only time I was surprised the show ‘went there’ was when it showed drunk Rick rants about Israel – which was genuinely surprising and funny, with the point being that the most feared and respected man in the universe feels awkward and babbles excuses when it comes to the tension there. Though the most recent episode glibly suggests peace was attained there by getting high. Typical.

There’s also some episodes that are total duds. Using interdimensional cable as an excuse to just have the actors ad-lib only results in ‘You had to be there’ style moments, and those episodes were probably the show’s worst. At least the montage of memories in season 3 brings with it the interesting moral question of how many of Morty’s memories have been altered by Rick – including, endearingly, any time that Rick messes up and gets embarrassed in front of Morty.

For all the faults I found with the show, though, what I really liked was how it put its characters through cheesy sci-fi situations but actually allowed that to have a deeper impact. Morty is changed by the knowledge that there are myriad other universes and he’s expendable. Summer has the harrowing experience of a machine taking ‘keep Summer safe’ to horrifying extremes. Beth has to wonder if she’s only a clone who believes herself to be the real Beth. Jerry is the show’s punching bag but has the curious experience of being put in a position to help assassinate Rick. These people are altered by what they go through, even if it turns them into much worse people ready to commit murder almost as easily as Rick is. When Rick and Morty shines is when it raises interesting questions about existence and purpose in a multiverse where you are one of countless identical versions of yourself, if you even exist at all and can trust your beliefs.

I’ll watch all there is of Rick and Morty, but honestly I would call it hit-and-miss at best, occasionally deep and inspired, but far too often formulaic and unoriginal. I’d call it above average, but not by much. 

Saturday, 30 September 2017

Chii’s Sweet Adventure /こねこのチー ポンポンらー大冒険 / Kitten Chii’s Full-Belly Grand Adventure

I thought that little kitten Chii’s animated adventures had come to an end after the end of Chii’s New Address and the single OVA that followed it. But a few years on, the show has been revived, this time as a CG adventure from a studio called Marza Animation Planet - perhaps best known for animating the Vocaloids for the Hatsune Miku live parties.

The show picks up more or less where Chii’s New Address leaves off, even re-animating the events of the OVA, where little Chii meets another kitten, the hilarious Kocchi – who is an interesting example of the male tsundere. Unlike naïve, hapless Chii he thinks he’s big and tough and even calls himself ‘ore-sama’, and yet he’s still a clumsy little kitten too, making him the perfect foil for Chii and a great addition to this cast.

Other than this addition, plus Chii being reunited with her siblings Ann and Terry (without knowing they’re related), it’s largely more of the same. Chii gets up to mischief at home and outdoors, be it by messing with the computers at home, chasing frogs and birds or getting lost out in the town after being chased by a dog. Some other enjoyable episodes happen when big local tomcat Kuroi-no tries to teach Chii to be a cat, which she’s pretty hopeless at.

Things are episodic and cute, every episode ends with a game of ‘acchi-muite-hoi’ with Chii and the production is all very slick and professional. There’s a nice song by Perfume to open the episodes, with interesting mixed media effects, superb voice acting and even some fun musical numbers.

Of course, the visual change will be divisive. CG is no longer a novelty and generally isn’t very welcome, lacking a lot of the charm of hand-drawn animation. It took me a while to get used to this, and the humans certainly never escape looking like an uncanny mixture of stop motion and video game characters, especially poor little Yohei whose dot-eyes don’t transition well. But Chii herself actually makes the transition very well and looks very sweet in this style, to the extent that going back to watch the animated version, it all looked a bit too rough around the edges. By the end I had adjusted to the style and very much enjoyed it – though could have done without the two recap episodes with creepy live-action episodes where a huge kigurumi Chii lumbers around the animation offices and goes to the Japan Expo in Paris.

Tuesday, 26 September 2017

The Lego Batman Movie

I was looking forward to this. The LegoMovie was an unexpected joy, there’s more potential to mix franchises here than anywhere else, and word of mouth was good. But honestly, I don't think this matched up to its predecessor. It lacked the exuberance and anything-goes freewheeling nature of that film, and had more one-note humour. Still, for casual and hardcore fans alike, there was a lot to enjoy here. 

Riffing on the Batman of the first movie, all self-referential boasting, claims of being awesome and deep emotional repression, there were a whole lot of great points here. Having a full roster of Batman villains - and then one-upping them with the big bads of numerous other franchises - was a whole lot of fun. A small scene with the Justice League gave some laughs too. The big action setpieces were great to look at and often very inventive. And the strange thing about comedy is that the more overt, exaggerated and silly you make a character's hang-ups, problems and angst, the more directly you can switch gears to actual pathos and touching character moments. Making the film essentially about how Batman's bravado is all a front for his yearning for family and companionship makes that very easy to do - especially when you pair him with a Joker longing for acceptance, where the joke is that the protagonist-antagonist relationship has a lot of parallels with a romantic relationship. 

So all in all I wanted to enjoy it. I got most of the jokes and references and it often raised a smile. Because it's a comedy it doesn't really matter that loose ends aren't really tied up, like why the Joker didn't have to go back with the rest of the baddies. I loved the little touches like Bane sounding like the movie version and Robin's costume origin. It was also nice to have Barbara Gordon written so strong and capable. 

But in all honesty, it wasn't what I'd hoped it would be. Everything was superficial by design, so I ended up not connecting with anyone on the cast - which wasn't the case with the Lego Movie. There was no way to prevent Gotham getting totally torn apart so it felt like there wasn't much more at stake after that, nor that the characters particularly cared about any of the carnage in any case. And while the Lego Batman character was great as a side-note to a wider story, he wasn't really that fun as a protagonist. 

Not bad by any measure, but just not that fun either. 

Tuesday, 19 September 2017

Wakfu: season 3

After waiting years for season 3 of Wakfu, tided over by the OVAs, Aux trésors de Kerubim and the Dofus movie, I was extremely excited for these too-brief 13 episodes. Especially because making Ankama animations is expensive and if the season isn’t a big enough success, it may be the last we ever see of Yugo and co. So it was with great eagerness that I dove into the World of Twelve once again. And ultimately, I have to confess that I’m a little disappointed.

The set-up was very promising – after the previous seasons and OVAs dealt with the threats of the Eliacube, the mysterious Eliotropes and perhaps the biggest worldly threat, Ogrest. In this season, I thought we would be turning to the final, most powerful beings – the twelve gods. And while they were broached and were central to the plot, they were in no way the season’s antagonists or a tangible presence.

The other major strands to be taken care of were centred on Yugo’s interpersonal relationships. First, his shattered bonds with his brother Adamaï, teased as the season’s antagonist after growing up to look very much like Frieza. Second, his feelings for Amalia. The former actually led to a pretty roundabout and unsatisfying character arc where it seemed unlikely Adamaï should have gone down the path he chose or done the things he did to his former allies. The latter was stirred and broiled this season and provided some of the best emotive moments, but of course could not be resolved.

But ultimately all of this took a backseat to a very disappointing overarching story. The antagonist was intriguing at first but was soon revealed to be rather uninteresting with a lame plan and borrowed power. Rather worse, his plan revolved around that most tired and uninteresting of anime tropes, the floor-by-floor tournament in a big tower. Not only was his motive unconvincing – with none of what he planned for in the tower actually unfolding and it all eventually just falling apart on him – it meant most of these precious final episodes were spent on things like talking to a little girl about animals or playing a weird physical pinball game with a creepy pantie fetishist. After the Dofus movie kicked up the storytelling excitement so much I had high hopes for this season, but ended up let down to the end.

There also seemed to be a real lack of attention to detail. There’s a lot we just aren’t told. What happened to Chibi? Why were there some demigods we didn’t even get an introduction for? Who was going to replace Xelor, Hareboug? And did Harebourg and Coqueline’s animals share the fate of the pocket dimension? What happened in the Sadida kingdom after Amalia left it? Will Rubilax consider his contract filled and seek freedom, even if he of course is just a big tsundere and likes being around Pinpin? Couple all this with an unsatisfying cliffhanger ending, some obvious recycled animation that highlighted a stretched budget and way too much focus on Iop fights that really didn’t bring anything new to the adventure and there was a lot of disappointment.

Which isn’t to say it was all bad. Every episode was in some way a joy to watch and I still love Wakfu in general and was excited right until the end, even if I feel a little let down overall. If there’s more, I will absolutely be watching it. It was nice to see Yugo just a little grown up, having grown out of his weird bulgy forearms. And the kids, Elely and Flopin, were a joy – Flopin was adorably soft and caring while Elely was her father’s daughter, strong, bold and always upbeat. And even if only a little, it was nice to finally have some Ruel backstory and development.

While I miss Wakfu being a simple story of adventurers on a quest, moving it to more serious and ambitious territory was absolutely a good move. But the moment the show took everything to a tower in a pocket universe, with a vague plot about suicide bombing a dimension we know next to nothing about, there was a severe lack of emotional stakes and pretending Tristepin was going to die for the fiftieth time wasn’t going to cut it. It’s also telling that some of the most moving moments we saw were just visions inside the characters’ heads – especially inside Yugo’s, where he’s tormented by old antagonists who always were more interesting than him.

I really do want to see what happens to Yugo and the rest. I want to see Elely and Flopin and the new baby reach their potential. I’d like to see them clash with the gods and challenge them to be less complacent. I’d like to know what can become of Yugo and Amalia. I’m still hugely invested emotionally in this world and enjoy the episodes. It’s just that I had very high hopes and I feel a little let down. Not because I feel my expectations were unrealistically high. Just that I hoped Ankama would be able to at least move me as much as they did with the Dofus movie with characters that I care about more. But that wasn’t going to happen floor-by-floor in a tower in a pocket dimension. 

Wednesday, 2 August 2017

The Lion Guard

I’m happy the The Lion Guard is on our screens.

As a lifelong fan of The Lion King, I received the news of this series with mixed emotions. I was happy the property was getting more attention and that I would see a continuation of a favourite story, but of course the premise made me pause. So it’s a mid-quel during The Lion King 2 about Kiara’s little brother…who just never gets mentioned at all by his family or friends after that movie’s time skip? And plays a prominent role in Pride Lands politics with his group of friends, many of them belonging to species never seen in the movies, yet we have to accept all of them just vanish?

Well, to enjoy the show you simply have to accept that aspect of it. And I very quickly did, because I found myself liking the show in almost every way very quickly indeed.

A big part of that is that it’s very nostalgic. Not just because it’s obviously based on The Lion King and the animators have made great pains to emulate the style of the movie in modern vector animation – particularly successfully when it came to the lions’ facial animations, which are amazingly faithful to the cel-animated high-budget original movie. But more because of the premise and the writing, which evoke many other shows and properties of the past. With a fantastic voice cast where every actor not only evokes his or her animal but has a mellifluous voice that it’s a pleasure to listen to, I was reminded of Little Bear. The idea of young animals from different backgrounds coming together to solve the problems of nature reminded me of The Land Before Time and its sequels. The brisk writing, humour and musical numbers that were sometimes inspired and sometimes generic pap echoes the early My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. And while it’s not really a positive, the all-purpose overpowering deus ex machina of ‘The Roar’ put me in mind of the Sword of Omens in Thundercats and its ability to fix just about any problem at the end of the episode.

There were jarring elements here. Fuli the Cheetah somehow doesn’t fit the aesthetic, looking much more like vector animation than the rest of the cast. The show starts out obliquely mindful of the fact that while they prize the Circle of Life, these lions and cheetahs tear apart and eat the zebras and gazelles they live alongside, it soon descends into a herbivore-good, predator-bad pattern that conveniently leaves out how the lions actually eat. Despite this natural division, there’s obviously a bit of care taken about racial insensitivity here, too, for while the hyena bad guys still mostly sound like street gang members, there’s also some good hyenas (who sound different) to show it’s not because of their race that they’re evil – which is a pretty good message to include, but gets conveyed in a rather cumbersome way. And it was also strange and hilarious at first to hear Brick from The Middle as Ono.

Hyenas aside, I rather like the message of diversity that The Lion Guard brings, which is less simplistic than it may at first appear. The premise is very inclusive – young Kion, Simba and Nala’s cute mohawked son, is gifted with the supernatural Roar of the Elders, a roar which seems to channel the forces of nature and the magic of generations of ancestors and sends nasty hyenas flying off Team Rocket style. Scar once possessed this roar, but lost it because he misused its power – and for some reason never mentioned it in any of his appearances. It’s traditional for the lion who can use the roar to assemble the Lion Guard, the members of the pride who are the best there is at what they do – the Guard must comprise the fiercest, the strongest, the bravest, the fastest and the keenest of sight. 

Progressive Kion doesn’t stick only to lions, but assembles his Guard from throughout the pridelands – a keen-sighted egret, a swift cheetah, a bulky hippo, a fearless honey badger and then Kion at the centre of it all. Why I like this is that it celebrates diversity but also differences in cultures – each member has their own strength, their own way of living and their own knowledge, different from the others. They are diverse and fundamentally different from one another – they don’t have to mash together to all be the best at everything, or convince themselves they are all the same.

The Lion Guard become a kind of police force and community support. They keep the denizens of the Outlands at bay and help mitigate the effects of natural disasters. Some original cast members make their appearances, Ernie Sabella ever happy to reprise his Pumbaa role and James Earl Jones returning as Mufasa’s  readily-accessible ghost for the pilot double-episode (a sound-alike taking up the reins later on). Jason Marsden, Andy Dick and Lacey Chabert reprise their roles from The Lion King 2 in a highlight episode, and Cam Clarke returns not as Simba but as a background vulture.
Some of the episodes are inventive and original, like when Reirei the jackal teaches the Guard about manipulation and two-facedness, or when aardwolves are mistaken for hyenas and their absence ruins the local ecosystem. Others are a bit tired, like when a boastful celebrity eagle turns out not to be what his legend suggests he is, or when two annoying gorillas have to be escorted back to their homeland. A stronger season finale also would have been a good idea.

But I have to say, I think The Lion Guard is the best show for young kids currently airing that I know of. In terms of production quality, writing, world-building and acting, it’s ahead of the rest. Season two has just begun, and I hope the show can actually develop, as it could potentially stagnate quickly, but so far I rather like what I’ve seen!

Wednesday, 26 July 2017

夏目友人帳 陸 / Natsume Yuujincho Roku / Natsume’s Book of Friends Six

Natsume Yuujinchou continues to be a slightly-under-the-radar success story in Japan. I see toy Nyanko-senseis all over the place, but I have to say even there, I’m not sure if they know the character or just bought what they thought was a cute generic cat. Certainly there are a lot of fans watching this anime, going to the themed cafes and buying the figurines, but it simply doesn’t feel like a big anime, in the way that Yuri on Ice or Attack on Titan do.

Yet it’s continued into a sixth season now, sadly only 11 episodes but going strong. No cute fox-boy episode this time, but a lot of new development for Natsume himself, then interesting twists at the end where Natsume finally shares the secret of his book of friends with another human, plus starts to think about his grandfather.

The show remains episodic, of course, as it always has been. Natsume and his supernatural friends help out more interesting youkai, from a funny old fellow who leaves flower patterns on rocks and has lost his apprentice to an interesting crow-boy who fell in love with a human but left her without closure – only for her to trick him in a fun reversal of the usual folklore stories.

The art has settled now – it doesn’t have its own clear style, but it always looks pleasant. Something that wasn’t guaranteed in the first couple of seasons. Natsume is pretty and likeable and oddly touchy-feely with his friends and mentors in this season – perhaps aimed at the female fanbase.

There was very little real development except in the final double-episodes here, but Natsume is getting inexorably drawn into the world of the exorcists – and I want to know what happens when he can no longer escape their pull. 

Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Kubo and the Two Strings

After doing well with the playful moods of movies like Paranorman and The Boxtrolls, this time Laika have aimed for epic. Though they don't eschew humour, they aim for a serious fantasy tone by telling the story of one-eyed Kubo, child of a great samurai and a celestial spirit, but enemy to the rest of his family.

I really respect this change of direction and Laika in a serious mode has long been something I've wanted to see. I was a bit dubious about the fantasy-Japan setting, a little overdone just now, but it allowed for some beautiful locations and mythologically-inspired setpieces.

Kubo succeeds with its characterisation and its action sequences. The characters have multiple layers and often memories they themselves have forgotten, so their development is interesting. Plus this is Laika's foremost triumph, visually. Outsize monsters, magical effects, fights with swords, bows and sickles and amazingly fluid paper-folding effects add up to a feast for the eyes.

A couple of negative points for me would be in character design. I understand the link between kabuto beetles and samurai kabuto, but Beetle could have looked a fair bit less goofy. And Kubo himself had a design that looked nice as a concept drawing and in the traditional animation during the credits, but in the actual movie looked rather unattractive - I'm quite sure the movie would have had wider appeal with a better design for the protagonist. 

Plus, incredible though the achievement is here, the more polished and smooth stop-motion looks, the closer it gets to looking like CG. If they are indistinguishable, one starts to wonder what the point of stop-motion is. 

Not that we're at that point yet, and this movie pushed more boundaries than ever. But for all that it had the right ingredients and an intriguing cast of characters, I wanted to love them and there was just not enough humanity in them for that. Still, I am very eager indeed that Laika continue down this path and make more serious epic animations with their own unique tone to them.

Monday, 24 July 2017

この世界の片隅に / Kono Sekai no Katasumi ni / In This Corner of the World

This beautiful, reverent, affectionate and historically accurate Japanese movie almost slipped me by – not as connected as I once was to news from the world of anime, I heard about it only because it was on the plane during my trip back to England. And I’m very glad I caught it, because it was superb.

Crowdfunded, helmed by a director I’ve never heard of (though I’ve seen other works he’s been affiliated with) and produced by Studio Mappa who thus far are mostly known for the far less serious Yuri on Ice, this is perhaps an unlikely hit, but it hits all the right notes. It treads similar ground to Grave of the Fireflies and will of course be compared with it in just about every review, but has a far less focused and relentless tone, instead giving a far lighter touch and a whimsical method of building up its characters that actually reminded me of French filmmaking.

Based on a manga, this film tells the story of Suzu, a simple and rather childlike young woman who comes from a small community on the outskirts of Hiroshima. In the years before the war, she gets married to a young man she met only once before and doesn’t remember, then goes to live in nearby Kure, a naval port.

There, she contends with being a bit hapless in a new community away from her family. Her new husband has a sick mother, a big house and a domineering older sister to contend with, and her attempts to please them and do her best are very endearing – though she’s scatterbrained and has a habit of tilting her head when she forgets things.

Of course, eventually the war comes and brings with it at first inconvenience, and later tragedy. Naive Suzu retains her gentle nature through personal injury, large-scale tragedy and the unfamiliar aspects of life in a military town, like when she’s tempted by an extramarital affair or when she first encounters prostitutes.

The things she must endure are pretty horrific, but her reaction is believable – neither breakdown nor numbness, but a mixture of sorrow, guilt at not being able to do more to help others, and of course retaining her underlying personality really give this piece a believable and deeply likeable centre. The things she has to endure are terrible, as one would expect from a wartime drama, but there’s a rare subtlety in how they affect her, here.

The film is also beautiful. Suzu’s talent is for art – one of the funniest moments in the film comes when the military police suspect her of espionage and her feelings are hurt when everyone else finds the very idea hilarious – and sometimes that gets reflected by the artistic choices of the movie. The images of rabbits in the surf and the silly stories of childhood coming to life provide beauty or levity that enhance the artistry of this film.

Of course, it’s a heavy movie, but the point is to focus on war’s affect on ordinary people. Suzu knows nothing of Hitler or Manchukuo, is a product of her society with next to nothing to gain from Japan’s military role in the war, and is far more concerned with living as well as she possibly can. This isn’t a grand political statement, it’s an effort to capture the reality of a time and place that was to be shattered by the Bomb.

Delicate, nuanced and well-researched, it’s a must-see for anyone looking for art-house anime.  

Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Adventure Time – season 8

After realising season 7 had ended some time ago, I binge-watched the rest of season 8. I have to say, it brought with it a lot of what I had hoped for in the last season. 

Yes, there were some strange throwaway episodes, like diving after a sea lard and finding a strange new world, or the return of James Baxter the horse (though I did like how he got his name). But most of the season was dominated by two much longer, more intriguing plotlines - the development of the elemental guardian plotline that reaches fruition in season 9, but more importantly, Susan Strong providing Finn with a link to find the rest of the humans - and his mother. 

This plotline leads to the final lengthy arc of this season, with its own unique introduction and a bleak portrayal of the future of humanity. Once again, we see the idea of humanity preferring life in virtual reality and getting trapped inside. But Finn's mother and the rest of the humans are part of a different society, perhaps one that works a little too well. 

Finn gets some fine emotional moments and development, and it had already been a strong season for him as we got more exploration of the idea of alternate Finns being trapped in his swords. Finding his mother and of course ending up confronting problems she'd caused before eventually having to return home provided some great emotional highs and lows. Plus Susan became a fully-fledged character too, with her own past to confront, and had a cathartic reunion in the end. 

Now that both Finn's parents are well-established and he's growing up, there aren't so many loose ends left to tie. I think the next season bring Princess Bubblegum's darkness and the loose ends that remain in Simon's stories to a head, and then I feel like we might finally come to the end of this brightly-coloured, often rather dark cartoon that from its beginning has been squarely targeted at stoners and adults. I hope it draws to a natural close before too much longer. There's no point stringing it out until it gets stale, and while this season has been very satisfying indeed, I don't think there's that much more remaining in plot terms to bring out these kind of heavy hits in future. 

Monday, 10 July 2017

Adventure Time – season 7

The last few seasons of Adventure Time have seen very sporadic release schedules. Sometimes there’s a slew of episodes all coming out in a month and sometimes there’s nothing for weeks and weeks. It’s not clear where seasons begin and end most of the time, and I was under the impression that season 7 ended with the episodes ‘Preboot’ and ‘Reboot’, mostly because they took five months to come out after the previous episodes – but now I find out that’s midway through season 8 and I should have done my season 7 impressions in the March of 2016. Oh well.

Season 7 was actually the time that the show lost me somewhat, with season 8 episodes only recently having piqued my interest again. This season’s major events include Princess Bubblegum getting deposed by the cowardly King of Ooo, a lengthy exploration of Marceline’s past and where she got her different powers, and a real visit to the surreal parallel dimension Farmworld. There are also more hints to Simon’s past, with Betty at large in the present day.

But honestly, it’s partly the unpredictable release schedule, partly the feeling that the show’s major ideas are now played out and partly a few dud episodes like trying to figure out underwater political intrigues with blowfish and porpoises. There wasn’t much badly wrong here, but a lot of momentum felt sapped by the longer storylines, which unlike those of season 8 didn’t really feel like they advanced the plot of characters very much, especially Marceline. Princess Bubblegum got a little more depth, though.

In fact, the problem with this season was that unlike the seasons surrounding it, with major arcs largely focused on Finn, there’s not enough contrast between light and shade. Marceline is all darkness, Bubblegum only treading between bright pink and grey. What defines the current Adventure Time, a very long way out from its quirky initial pilot, is that it can contrast its silliness with surprising depth and ambition. I can see that this season brought to the fore some of the cleverer elements thought up for secondary characters, but they really pale beside Finn or the Ice King’s stories. And that leaves this season a little sub-par. But certainly, it remains fun to watch.  

Monday, 3 July 2017

King of the Hill: seasons 7&8

This show began to lose its way a little by taking a show with the central premise of being believable and down-to-earth and introducing whacky and far-fetched scenarios, and that really showed in season 7.

The season had too much that was too far-fetched. Bobby got fooled into making drugs. Dale leads the gang in hunting Chuck Mangione through a megastore at night. A pork magnate tries to transform Luanne into a woman from an advertising illustration, and himself into a pig. Instead of small-town foibles and recognisable characters, the show starts dealing with people who think they’re wizards, sexy female pest exterminators, stereotyped bikers and vision quests. I guess dancing with dogs just about passes as familiar ground for middle-class America, but it’s a weird story.

There’s one great episode, though, finally filling in a pretty big gap in a show about Texas, which sees Hank embarrassed when his dog Ladybird appears to be racist. It raises some pretty important questions about this setting, previously left at ‘Are you Chinese or are you Japanese?’, so it was good to see development at last.

That aside, Season 7 mostly left me with the feeling that the show was in decline, I have to say. However, King of the Hill got back on track somewhat in the eighth season. 

Yes, there are still some parts that go a little over-the-top, like Luanne protesting from the mouth of a giant mechanical mascot, a TV star coming to stay or Hank finding himself having to decide whether or not to let part of the town flood in a downpour of rain, but the vast majority of these episodes are believable scenarios about everyday problems – like Bobby wanting to get out of showering after sports or Hank getting a bad back.

The character of Peggy is going a little too strange at this point. She was originally a very subtle character, a little too full of herself yet very slow to read between the lines, but in episodes about her getting a chance to be an artist or taking pictures of a Flat Stanley doll, she crosses the line to being outright delusional and probably psychotic. She provided the highlights of several past seasons, but now she’s just a little too much. I suppose it’s an example of Flanderisation.

There are extremely big-name guest stars in this season. Brad Pitt has a lot of fun as Boomhauer’s brother in a performance that may as well have just been Mike Judge speaking in a slightly different register. Lindsey Lohan, early in her career, plays a love interest for Bobby. And then there’s Johnny Depp hamming it up as a conceited yoga instructor. None of them get in the way of the episode or draw undue attention, and it’s pretty likely only very big fans would recognise any of them before the credits. Ben Stiller also has a role as an annoying guy who thinks he’s far funnier than he is…meta humour, there, perhaps?

Some very memorable episodes worked out well here, like Hank hiring a big rig to play at being truckers for a while, or Bill managing to be popular by pretending to be gay – which sounds like it would be offensive but of course only highlights the ridiculousness of exaggerated perceptions of minorities.
At this stage there is a slight feeling of the show being played out. I’m not sure what the remaining 5 seasons will bring to the premise. But I’m still willing to find out, and the show remains a fun, now comfortingly familiar, piece of TV.  

Monday, 19 June 2017

進撃の巨人 2期/ Shingeki no Kyoujin season 2 / The Advancing Giants season 2 / Attack on Titan Season 2

Season 2 of Shingeki no Kyoujin was woefully short, especially as it didn’t feel like it was that far above the rest of the crowd in terms of production budget or ambitiousness. There were some nicely-animated sequences, many of them strange things like Christa deciding to do battle, but there were some decidedly clunky parts as well, especially when it came to CG.

But if it feels woefully short, that means it’s enjoyable, and this second season certainly was. Absolutely one of the most prominent anime around just now, its popularity is backed by an intriguing setting and several layers of mystery.

This season brought us a lot of revelations – why Ymir is dotes so much on Christa, the identity of the most iconic abnormal titans (revealed in a brilliantly anticlimactic way), how the mindless titans are made and the true extent of Eren’s powers. Interestingly most of the season revolved around a plotline where Eren is a particularly grumpy damsel in distress. There are also new mysteries, like how the wall was made and by whom now that new details have been revealed, the identity of the beast titan and perhaps more about the smiling titan too. Then there’s the long-standing mystery of what Eren’s father did, and why.

Of course I want more. Much more, and quickly. But I’ll also wait patiently. I read a few manga chapters in advance but spoiled only the cliffhangers from that point, not any of the larger mysteries, and I intend to enjoy them animated first. I can make a few predictions based on what we’ve learned so far, but I can stress that these are not spoilers, only my guesses. Still, if you don’t want to read my speculation or haven’t finished this season, please look away now!

-       I think the beast titan is either Eren’s father or someone else very close to him
-       Since we’ve seen people can turn into titans, I think that more of the main cast will get titan powers later, especially Mikasa, Armin and Levi
-       Everything has been engineered by people, who probably live in a separate society ruled by the beast titan, and there’s going to be a huge battle against them
-       This season’s antagonists are probably going to be fodder for the big bads of the next arcs

It will be interesting to see if any of these are true or if I’m way off. Either way, it will be fun!