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.