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 an end, 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 the 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!

Saturday, 20 May 2017

The Land Before Time 2: The Great Valley Adventure

Less worthy than Fievel Goes West is this, the first of many, many sequels to The Land Before Time. It suffers many of the same problems - less sense of importance, less at stake and less sense of danger - but also has a much weaker central premise. 

That said, it establishes a fairly neat formula that would hold strong over many sequels and essentially does the same things that The Lion Guard would retread - rather more expertly - decades later. 

The plot follows the gang trying to be all grown up by foiling nasty egg thieves, for some reason given British accents by the actors behind Johnny Bravo and Pinky from Pinky and the Brain. They not only manage to foil these inept antagonists but end up hatching an egg. Not one of Ducky's siblings, as expected, but a Sharptooth! A baby tyrannosaurus. So begins a middle act about learning not to act with prejudice, even against a creature that will grow up to eat you without hesitation, and an inevitable third act about returning the baby to its vicious, voiceless parents. 

Almost none of the original cast sticks around, with only Cera of the main gang reprising her performance. I think this is before the tragic death of Judith Barsi, who played Ducky in the first movie, but her replacement does a decent job with the character's odd grammar. Littlefoot sounds older, but that works for a sequel and I didn't find fault with the main group. 

But the rest of the film is just too insubstantial. The egg thieves are bumbling idiots who pose little threat even to juvenile dinosaurs, and there's never any question of little Chomper’s fate, though I assume he'll be seen again in further sequels. In the original, poor Littlefoot is put through such a wide range of emotions it's very easy to empathise with him. In this sequel, there's just not enough to tug at the heart-strings or make us care about the current predicament. 

And that's what really gives the feel of a TV series as opposed to a movie. It's the sense of scale and significance. This movie would have been fine as three episodes of a TV show, but making a feature film demands rather more. At least Fievel Goes West tries to shake things up with a huge change of setting. This movie just continues from the first film with very little sense of peril or excitement, and the result, perhaps inevitably, is a film that just isn't very exciting. 

Friday, 19 May 2017

An American Tail: Fievel Goes West

An American Tail was one of Don Bluth's best, restrained by a simple but coherent narrative and centred on a very cute protagonist. So it makes sense that it got a sequel. 

However, as with other successful franchises he kicked off, the second theatrical American Tail movie - as with the TV series and direct-to-video follow-ups - had no involvement from Don Bluth. 
Fievel Goes West, while successful, has the feel of contemporary Disney sequels. Unlike Pixar's follow-ups, these tended to be rather cheaper and less impressive than their predecessors. So it is with Fievel Goes West - while it has elements on the premium side, like voice acting from John Cleese and the final performance from James Stewart, as well as some ambitious action sequences, overall everything is just shallower, less well-executed and less believable. 
The original has a simple set-up with plenty of grit and misery to balance the cuteness and light. The sequel is just a bit too silly to carry the torch. 

One significant positive is that Fievel's character developed in a believable way. He's grown up a little since the first movie, with more confidence and even headstrong selfishness. It works, and aligns well with his burgeoning interest in cowboys. 

Perhaps the most crucial problem is that the sequel lacks a sense of danger. A spider doesn't seem like it should be a threat to anyone, even a mouse. While Cleese's character is compelling and believable, his ultimate plan is too stupid for any situation beyond a Saturday morning cartoon. And in particular, Tiger's storyline is far-fetched, at times racially insensitive and ultimately doesn't bring enough gravitas to a final action scene - especially with little Fievel participating. 


Overall, Fievel Goes West is not a bad movie. It's perfectly watchable and better than other Bluth-movie sequels, especially the execrable Timmy to the Rescue. But it doesn't quite manage to escape that feeling that it's been thrown together by writers who don't care for the material and only want to retread familiar old story paths, takes the slapstick too far in a way the original didn't, and doesn't give enough reason to care about its characters. Not a worthy sequel, but not a dire one either. 

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

An American Tail

Don Bluth does well with mice. The Secret of NiMH was his breakthrough, and remains a very strong movie. But perhaps his biggest cultural hit was An American Tail – though I’d have to say there’s stiff competition from dinosaurs.

Another one I haven’t viewed for many years, as a child much of the significance of this movie went over my head. I didn’t have a clear idea of the imagery immigrants to the States expected in the late 19th century, let alone understand a thing about Russian Jews. To a child, those nuances probably don’t matter so much. But they’re very interesting as an adult.
An American Tail does absolutely everything better than All Dogs Go to Heaven. The animation is much better, with Fievel (or Feivel, sometimes) actually being very cute, and rotoscoped/xerographed elements looking impressive without getting too jarring. The story is compelling and each episode adds to the story. The music is fantastic, especially ‘Somewhere Out There’, and whereas All Dogs Go to Heaven tries to incorporate different musical elements through patronising stereotypes, An American Tail actually pays tribute to different immigrant cultures (though some Irish people might see cause for complaint) and spices up musical numbers with traditional musical styles. It even has a message of not judging based on race despite the mice-versus-cats set-up, with Tiger being quite unlike the rest.

Where An American Tail succeeds is in its multiple narratives. There’s Fievel looking for his parents, the secret plan he sets in motion, a very simple love story on the side, and the tragicomic conceit of the family always missing seeing their son while Fievel’s sister Tanya never gives up hope. Indeed, perhaps the film’s greatest appeal is its contrasts between sadness and hope.

Bluth is also allowed to be playful. Monstrous waves are very much in his style, and he adds in many fun touches like distorting glasses and an inventive sequence with the water sloshing about in a boat.
Maybe I could have done without the final Statue of Liberty sequence, but this is in every way a strong family film and deserves to be remembered every bit as fondly as Disney’s classics.


I very much enjoyed going back to this little story – and even if Bluth is not involved, I’ll be sure to watch Fievel Goes West at some point. 

All Dogs Go to Heaven

I had very few memories of All Dogs Go to Heaven, even though I do remember it being very popular upon release – on the same day as The Little Mermaid. I’d seen it once before, but my memories of it were mixed up with Lady and the Tramp, another dog-centric animation I’ve not rewatched since childhood.

Well, I’m going through Don Bluth movies at the moment – slowly – and next on the list was All Dogs Go to Heaven, his follow-up to the smash hit The Land Before Time. Don Bluth’s weakness tends to be story execution, which is why it works so well when he’s teamed up with another director – like Spielberg. But he famously disliked having to give up control, and was clearly enjoying his freedom with this movie, introducing themes of gambling, decadence and seedy underworld dealings to a family flick. Unfortunately, a lack of strong theming or likeable characters drag the whole thing down.

The film centres on Charlie, a rakish German Shepherd voiced with aplomb by Burt Reynolds who sadly fails horribly as a central character on account of being incredibly hard to like. He’s got the typical character arc of being selfish, irresponsible and manipulative, only to find his heart of gold when push comes to shove, but that happens only in the very final act, leaving way too much of the film centred on his being an unlikeable boor. Fun interactions with Dom Deluise’s Itchy character and even an amusing first trip to the Pearly Gates don’t save the character, his design is bizarrely ugly and unmemorable, and Reynolds’ singing voice is atrocious.

So it falls to the little girl who can talk to animals, Anne-Marie, to be the emotional centre of the film. Adorable as her voice actress Judith Barsi was as Ducky in The Land Before Time and deeply saddening though the poor little girl’s story was in real life, unfortunately Anne-Marie just isn’t interesting. She’s like a pint-sized Snow White, but with even less personality. Her characterisation is bland and her animation is that weird, creepy coquettish-baby thing Disney used to do a long time ago but thankfully gave up well before the 80s.

On the other hand, the animation is the film’s saving grace. It’s often beautiful, inventive and much more experimental that what Disney were putting out at that point. There’s some very impressive work with cars, scenes of Hell and various races. It still looks impressive, though Bluth’s habit of rotoscoping humans often looks jarring here.

The story veers wildly here and there, and the performances, heavily ad-libbed, often confuse. Killer is particularly incomprehensible, and I’m fairly sure his laser gun was written as a regular gun but changed to appease censors.

The music is perhaps the worst of any animated movie I’ve seen, with most of the songs lacking any melody or hook and being delivered with way too many distractions from the on-screen action. ‘You Can’t Keep a Good Dog Down’ and ‘Let’s Make Music Together’ are the saving graces of the soundtrack, though the bubble effect put on Ken Page’s voice was a terrible addition, and his cameo role only made me want to go and watch The Nightmare Before Christmas instead.


Don Bluth was capable of great things, and this movie is well-remembered, but unfortunately it’s not even close to his best, and probably won’t hold up well in years to come. 

Sunday, 2 April 2017

Moana

Disney squeezed two films into 2016. Zootopia was a satisfying twisty mystery with a broad and often hilarious animal cast, while Moana offered a very focused ocean quest story with a far smaller roster.

While I certainly liked Moana, admired the decision to explore a culture Disney hasn’t touched before, and had much to celebrate technically, I can’t call it a classic – and nor do I think it will endure. In fact, having just read that directors Clements and Musker (helmsmen of Little Mermaid, Aladdin and Hercules, amongst others) wanted to adapt Terry Pratchett’s Mort but came up against rights acquisition issues, I have to admit wishing they were able to do that instead.

The progressive nature of Moana has been trumpeted enough it almost feels like criticising the piece is tantamount to being racially insensitive, but in general it’s the Polynesian elements that really shine through here. Moana herself is a superb character, likeable, believable, shaped by her background but with plenty of her own personality, too – and not just because of her little pithy comments, either. I loved seeing the animated tattoos, the supernatural manifestations of natural forces and the mythological evils. The evocation of the wonders seen by seafaring tribes was great, and there was some superb music, too – even if my favourite was the rather Bowie-ish ‘Shiny’ number that was decidedly non-Polynesian.

For me, the problem was firmly with Maui, a figure central to Polynesian mythology and a secondary character with more screentime than many Disney protagonists. He absolutely needed to be strange, formidable, a little otherworldly but most importantly, extremely likeable. And for all The Rock’s best efforts and for all the tattoos helped, he just wasn’t likeable. He was slow-witted, self-absorbed, violent, reckless and didn’t really grow or learn even as he warmed to Moana. He was oafish and occasionally murderous, and for all the Moana herself was the real hero of the piece, he was the one with the superpowers, he was the one who drove the plot and he was the one who gained the most from the events of the story – if anything, he was a big patriarchal power symbol around which vaguely feminist themes had to twist themselves. And he was no Genie or even a Wreck-It Ralph, a character it’s fun to see through the whole movie even with their flaws. He was just not interesting or compelling at all.

So with only Moana herself and a very straightforward quest to carry the film, it felt very light in the plot department. Certainly not a bad film, but nowhere near the best of these directors’ output, or that of recent Disney releases. 

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

King of the Hill: season 6

While it continues to be strong, season 6 shows Kingof the Hill just starting to run out of ideas. Some held in reserve are at last dealt with, like a Boomhauer episode fleshing him out to finally give him another dimension, and Dale deciding Joseph isn’t his biological son – though of course assumes he’s half-alien.

Strong new characters include Dale’s father, who forces the gang to contemplate homosexuality – which they do in typically childish but thankfully non-vicious fashion – and a silly turn for Alan Rickman as a king at a renaissance faire. The Rickman episode is about as absurd as King of the Hill should ever get, still being in the realms of the feasible, where going to Japan to discover Hank has a half-brother, Luanne being suckered into joining a cult, Bill stealing an army tank for a drunken rampage and Hank being honoured as the token white guy in an Asian golfing country club all go a bit too far. Peggy, previously the believably self-centred yet insecure centre of the funniest episodes, has some episodes where her self-regard goes a bit ridiculous. I can accept her accidentally taking home a Mexican child, but pretending to be a nun or taking Hank to a nudist colony was just bizarre.

Some episodes stretched too far at the end, like Hank extinguishing the Olympic torch in front of news cameras but them accepting it being relit by a cigarette on Bobby’s testimony, or Peggy falling for a scam but putting together a double-bluff at the end that goes perfectly.

Bobby and Connie are probably the most believable and relatable part of the series at this stage. I still want to watch more, but the show is losing its natural edge. I hope the next season is a bit more down-to-earth, but it will need some fresh ideas. 

Saturday, 4 March 2017

ユーリ!!! on ICE / Yuri!!! on Ice


Perhaps last year’s biggest anime, there was no getting away from Yuri!!! on Ice hype, especially if you have a predilection for this kind of homoerotic, overly passionate sports anime, as I do – for whatever reason. As moé fizzles out and straight male anime fans begin to tire of idol shows, this style of female-targeted anime only grows in prominence.

Certainly, homoerotic sports and games shows are nothing new. Prince of Tennis had many of the same tropes, and the underlying passionate rivalry is what made me love Hikaru no Go so much. Haikyuu!! is incredibly popular just now, and with a long list of basketball, soccer, cycling and imaginary card game-based manga and anime provide more and more fodder for the ladies of Ikebukuro Animate. Arguably, Free! brought the subgenre more to the fore, mixing atypically good art with homosexual overtones. So the path was clear for an anime like Yuri!!! on Ice.

The choice of figure skating was no surprise. Japan has for a few years now been giving a lot of attention to Hanyuu Yuzuru, a slim, pretty-faced young figure skater who won gold in Sochi. He won hearts with his optimistic attitude and love of Winnie the Pooh, and has since gone down the usual ‘talent’ road with photo books and acting appearances. While it would be a bit much to say he’s single-handedly responsible for the current prominence of figure skating over here, he’s certainly a central figure. Thus the choice of skating for last season’s homoerotic sports anime came as no surprise.

Indeed, the main problem here is that nothing was a surprise. There was a sense that this was a groundbreaking show in some way – for example, there was some fuss over a moment that was maybe-or-maybe-not a kiss. And then the main pairing exchanged rings that could have been a platonic symbol or could echo engagement. They bathed together, lived together and often drove one another to tears. And I guess there were a lot of people in the audience thinking boundaries were being pushed for a mainstream anime. After all, Free! never went this far. But for me, I kept thinking of No.6 and how much more realistically and respectfully it portrayed a gay relationship in an relatively mainstream Noitamina anime.

Not that the anime needed to be groundbreaking to be enjoyable. With good characters, compelling pacing and interesting relationships, it could have been great fun. The problem was that for me, I didn’t connect with any of the characters, find them realistic or likeable. The main character, Yuri, struck me as self-pitying, judgemental, unkind and ungrateful, which was bad since he was meant to be the heart and soul of the piece. His enigmatic mentor and love interest, Victor, did what he was meant to do, being an impetuous, compelling, often bizarre selfish genius type – he was what he was meant to be, but that doesn’t mean I like that kind of character type. Then there was the other Yuri, young Russian Yuri Plisetsky, who is a skinny, feminine, totally beautiful 15-year-old Russian boy. His appearance is cute but his personality is harsh and cruel, and though his tsundere side occasionally makes him more sympathetic, he was still a totally unlikeable brat. Most of the other characters are the kind of total oddballs that often populate sports anime, though mostly a little too exaggerated for the overall tone.

The only characters I actually liked were Phichit from Thailand, who strove to please others and whose main fault was just being dull, and Kenjirou, a chirpy younger skater who idolises Yuri, does the cutest skate of the series and then gets relegated to the cheering division for the remaining episodes.

In technical terms, the anime had some nice fluid skating animation, but often looked scrappy or made bizarre decisions in terms of camera distortion, especially when it came to Swiss Christophe’s ‘sex appeal’ skates. I can’t say I felt strongly impressed by the skating animation, and it often looked awkwardly rotoscoped.


Certainly the show was light and often funny, and some of the cross-cultural observation was insightful, and I’ll probably watch a continuation if and when it appears, but overall I have to say I felt Yuri!!! on Ice was mediocre even in the fujoshi-bait world of homoerotic sports anime. 

Saturday, 18 February 2017

夏目友人帳 伍 / Natsume Yuujincho Go

Quietly, without causing many ripples and certainly without grabbing the attention of the Western anime scene, Natsume Yuujincho has become one of the most important and successful animes of the decade. Last time I was in Animate, Ikebukuro, the café was themed for the show. I probably see Nyanko-sensei charms hanging from young people’s bags more than the mascots of any other show – though it’s possible some were bought without actually knowing the character, just as a cute cat. But the anime keeps getting renewed, almost to the point of being a long-runner. The fifth season ended a few weeks back, and the sixth is already announced for April. It’s also one of the very few shouji titles where there are plenty of figurines available – usually it’s only the extremely homoerotic shows like Free! and Kuroshitsuji that get figures.

I have no complaints. I really enjoy this show. It was more of the same, with a few more kernels of information about the wider society of exorcists and a bit of backstory for Natsume’s adoptive parents, and some kind of season finale rather than a slow ‘Natsume gets sick and the ayakashi contemplate how ephemeral human life is’ episode would have been nice. I was also a little sad the whole season went by without an episode with the Little Fox, the show’s most adorable character, but Natsume himself had plenty of adorable moments.

Perhaps the cutest episode centred on a little girl youkai searching for a man who was kind to her fifty years earlier, another iteration of the show’s recurring theme of time seeming different for beings who exist for millennia. There are also several funny and memorable youkai this time, from a funny babyish giant bird to little rabbit-type spirits and a funny stubborn mushroom with big dreams. One nice episode focuses on a youkai trying to blend into normal human society, though of course it’s never quite possible.

The pace remains slow and the show always subtly celebrates a traditional, unhurried, community-based Japanese lifestyle, which really helps give a feeling of softness and warmth to everything. Natsume himself is certainly a feeble and unthreatening protagonist, but it’s hard to dislike him. If anything, he makes people want to look after him.


Slow, soft, enjoyable but sometimes hilarious, Natsume Yuujincho is a show I’ll watch as long as they keep making it.