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Looking For Quacks In The Pavement

Author: Karel Kerezman (page 1 of 364)

3WA 2017 #41: RWBY

There’s going to be some similarity between this post and its predecessor. They start with the same letter of the alphabet, there’s a lot of martial-arts-like fighting involved, and the reason you’ll probably give up on it after a while is because of a dude.

What is it?

RWBY is an ongoing computer-animated series from the creative minds over at Rooster Teeth, previously best known for their “machinima” output like Red Vs Blue. It first drew attention for its promotional character-specific music videos featuring the late Monty Oum’s deliriously over-the-top anime-style fight choreography. As of this writing RWBY is heading into its fifth season.

What kind of story is it?

On the surface, it’s a bunch of kids who are attending a training academy for overpowered wannabe-heroic types. Behind that, it’s a layer-cake of political shenanigans and evil plots and power plays that the kids stumble into. Things start out moderately messy and over the course of the seasons they really go to hell in a handbasket.

If I make a “Grimm-dark” joke here, is someone going to smack me?

Why do you like it?

Two elements of RWBY are nigh-irresistible to me: Superpowered heroines doing crazy stuff to save the world, and fun characters bouncing witticisms off one another. At its best, the show blends both of these to delightful effect.

Also, there’s some interesting worldbuilding going on. What and why are the “grimm”? Who’s really pulling whose strings? The writing, at least in the first few seasons, is strong enough at that level to keep me intrigued beyond the superficial “fun-train” aspects.

It helps to have delightfully wicked villains.

It doesn’t hurt that there’s a kick-ass soundtrack. I love almost all of the season theme songs, never mind the character pieces from the promotional videos. Jeff Williams and his daughter Casey Lee Williams are, I firmly believe, a significant factor in why RWBY gained as much popularity as it enjoys today.

What might one not like about it?

Especially early on, one can tell how this isn’t the product of a high-end animation-production shop with a huge budget. You have to forgive a lot. This isn’t The Incredibles by any stretch of imagination. It’s done with commodity software by a small team using local talent to the best effect they can.

One might also find themselves unable to handle the voice acting and/or writing. I… can’t really blame you. The cast has grown on me but I wholly understand why folks bail on the show after an episode or two.

And then, even if you really dig what’s going on and become attached to the core group of four superpowered girls, there comes a point where you realize something is… changing.

Jaune, pictured with the rest of Team JNPR, who are all much, much, cooler than him.

The guy who starts out as the whiny-but-well-meaning sidekick suddenly ends up as a central figure in a show which is named for four characters who aren’t him. And this is where I find myself thinking, “Am I going to stay with this? Will Season 5 be my last, or will they figure it out and refocus on the actual RWBY team members?” Time will tell, I suppose.

Other thoughts about it?

Just… search YouTube for “rwby food fight”. Even if you watch nothing else from this entire show, watch that.

Justice will be swift! Justice will be painful! It will be delicious!

Thank you for that, Monty Oum.

Where can I watch it?

I watch RWBY on Crunchyroll, though there are other options (like Rooster Teeth’s own site, and it was on Netflix for a while).

 

3WA 2017 #40: Ranma ½

Sometimes what you need is a fluffy bit of entertainment which is nestled gently in the center of the Venn diagram of “comedy,” “action,” and “romance.” A boy, a girl, some rivals, some martial arts… what could go wrong?

For starters, the boy’s not always a boy…

Pictured: Clearly a boy.

What is it?

Ranma ½ is, for our purposes, a long-running anime series based on a long-running manga series from back in the 1980s.

What kind of story is it?

You could say that it’s the story of two young people who are facing the prospect of an arranged marriage while also facing the fury of all the people who have strong opinions about who, or if, each of them should marry.

You could say that it’s the story of how adding “martial arts” to (nearly) every possible human activity exacts a costly material toll on a town’s infrastructure and inhabitants.

You could say that it’s the story of a bevy of young people and how they deal with their particular shape-changing curses.

Pictured: The same boy as before. Honest.

I mean, you could say a lot of things, including any of the above options, and it might apply to this show. There’s a lot going on here, most of it ridiculous.

Why do you like it?

At its best, Ranma ½  is a genuine delight. The fights are usually clever, the comedy generally lands punchlines well, and at least in the earlier stretches the “curse” element is imaginatively handled.

What might one not like about it?

There comes a point, and this point arrives at different episodes for different people, where “enough” becomes “too much.” A cast of a dozen becomes a cast of several dozens becomes a cast of nearly a hundred. It’s not like the show starts out owing any allegiance to sanity, sure. But you will probably get worn out eventually.

You can probably bail once this guy shows up. Ugh.

Let’s be clear: You should enjoy the show while you can. You should also feel no guilt whatsoever about bailing when you feel the exasperation setting in.

Other thoughts about it?

You expect in a show like this that the male lead is going to be the best, toughest, fighter to be found anywhere. What you might not expect is that his intended/arranged bride is among the stronger martial artists in the show. While trying to directly compare any two characters in this show is a waste of energy (remembering that the Rule of Funny and the Rule of Cool are a factor in any engagement), Akane Tendo is certainly no slouch.

How Ranma can call this girl “not cute” is beyond me, though.

Where can I watch it?

This one isn’t at any of the usual expected places. Viz has Ranma ½ on tap for your viewing enjoyment, however.

3WA 2017 #39: Mai-HiME

This one’s been on the list all along. I waited until now to do its write-up not because it’s particularly bad or embarrassing, but because it’s a tough one to actually recommend. The criteria for the list, however, has always been “what has brought me joy?” And while this one can be a bit grim… I still adore the damned thing. For some reason(s).

Pictured: One key reason.

How’s that for an intro?

What is it?

Mai-HiME is a 26-episode anime series. It’s more than a decade old now, and while it spawned a manga spinoff and a sequel series even more absurd than the original, for the most part it’s a standalone story.

What kind of story is it?

The extremely brief elevator pitch could be, “Magical-Girl Show Meets Highlander.”

Look for the genuine HiME mark of authenticity. Accept no substitutes.

Mai and her brother Takumi arrive at a new school. Actually before they fully arrive, fantastical shenanigans take place and they’re plunged into a big mess of intrigue and danger. And love, or things which resemble love if you squint your eyes and tilt your head just right. And betrayal. And really weird people. And it all centers on one question: “Who is your most important person?”

Why do you like it?

This is a tough one. I love this show; I also don’t like some really big parts of it. Mai-HiME tries to do something a bit different with its genre blend and I think it mostly works, insofar as nobody should pretend that this is a high-gloss serious piece of profound fiction. When it’s fun, it’s super-fun.

Pictured: One of our leads, wearing one of her most frequent expressions.

I think what keeps it together for me is that there are some really great characters which keep me going through the periods of whining and the occasional backstabbing and the gut-wrenching losses. And in the end it all works out okay, albeit in a ridiculously improbable way. (Er, spoiler!) What I mean is, it’s not actually a grimdark show. It just… looks a lot like grimdark from time to time.

This one’s complicated. Sorry about that.

What might one not like about it?

In this case it pays not to beat around the bush.

  • Our heroine goes through stretches of being a whiny blubbery useless lump.
  • Our heroine’s romantic options include a guy who’s very, very unhealthy for her.
  • Another lead character ends up under the sway of someone who has some very, very unhealthy impulses.

Then there’s this jerk. He’s the kind you love to hate, though.

And that’s just the highlights. If the notion of watching a show which includes some ooky relationship scenarios gives you the creeps, this might be one to skip. I won’t blame you.

Other thoughts about it?

If you’re going to populate your show with a dozen or so super-powered characters then it pays to make them distinctive. Mai-HiME does that superbly. On top of which, they play with the magical-girl tropes just enough to make for some fun comedy bits for those viewers familiar with said tropes.

Watching along as the show aired was a wild ride. Without spoiling too much, suffice to say that viewers’ grasp of the show’s tone and stakes were inadequate to one particular twist a little ways into the plot. It’s a helluva thing. If you do decide to check Mai-HiME out, don’t spoil yourself if you can prevent it. (Yes, I know it’s over a decade old. I know.)

Where can I watch it?

If (for some reason) you’re intrigued by the above wandering thoughts… you’ll have to buy the shiny platters or find a friend who has them, I’m afraid. Funimation bought the rights but seems to have done nothing with them so far.

3WA 2017 #38: Chicken Run

Sometimes what you want is a great escape. Sometimes it doesn’t even need to be that great of an escape, but it helps if it’s inspired by The Great Escape

All it takes is one plucky clucker and a lot of luck.

What is it?

Chicken Run is a stop-motion film made by Aardman Animations (the same outfit did the earlier Creature Comforts) released in the year 2000.

What kind of story is it?

You have chickens. You have the means to make a bundle of money by switching over from selling eggs to selling chicken pot pies. But the chickens have other plans. Crafty plans.

I know, they don’t look like the crafty planning type, do they?

Plans which fail again and again and again, mind you. Until one day, a stranger lands in their midst. Literally.

Why do you like it?

This is a silly, fun, clever, gently ridiculous little adventure comedy romp. It doesn’t ask much (acceptance of cartoon physics and talking animals, mostly) and what it gives in return is a lot of laughs.

What might one not like about it?

It is, more or less, a kids movie. Talking animals and so forth. Don’t hold that against it.

It does, more or less, star Mel Gibson. Don’t hold that against it either, if possible.

An American Chicken In London. Er, maybe not.

Other thoughts about it?

In terms of quotable quotes, Chicken Run is good value for money.

“I don’t want to be a pie… I don’t like gravy.”

“We’ll either die free chickens, or die trying.” “Are those the only choices?”

“They’re chickens, you dolt! Apart from you, they’re the most stupid creatures on this planet!”

Mrs. Tweedy is a heck of a villain, gotta admit.

“I wasn’t on holiday, Babs. I was in solitary confinement.” “Oh, it’s nice to get a bit of time to yourself, isn’t it?”

Where can I watch it?

You can rent it from some of the usual streaming sources (Amazon, Hulu, Google Play) or buy a shiny platter version.

3WA 2017 #37: Kanon (2006)

Those of us who grew up with Hollywood fare are familiar with, and even possibly tired of, the retreads and reboots of various story properties. There isn’t as much of that in the anime world but there’s one very notable example. It’s the visual novel so nice they animated it twice…

What is it?

Kanon, the 2006 version, is a 24 episode anime based on a visual novel (if you’re wondering: a sort of choose-your-own-adventure computer game). There was a shorter anime made four years prior which, depending on who you ask, is barely remembered or viewed with indifference or held in contempt.

What kind of story is it?

Boy meets girls. Boy moves out of town. Boy forgets girls. Boy moves back to town. Boy meets girls again, only to discover various mystical and/or tragic circumstances for each of them. Boy is perfectly willing to be a total dork if it makes them laugh, though, so he’s got that going for him. Boy has his own mystery to solve as well.

Yes, her backpack features angel wings as a detail. Yes, that’s plot-relevant.

Let’s be clear: While there’s a lot of comedy woven into the show, there’s a reason it’s often referred to as the “sad girls in snow” series.

Why do you like it?

As has been noted time and again here, if you give me the right group of characters I’ll follow you anywhere. In this case you have a male lead who might be somewhat of a blank slate but is a marvelous deadpan snarker. He interacts with a varied selection of lively and interesting (to varying degrees) girls. What more could you want?

Oh right: You could want the show to look fantastic. Luckily, Kanon is a visual feast. The Kyoto Animation company was making a name for themselves in the arena of high-production-values animated television in the mid-2000s and they knocked it out of the park with this one. There’s no question that this show was crafted with caring attention to detail.

Do I have a type? Yes. Yes, I have a type.

What might one not like about it?

How do you feel about crying? If you’re severely averse to having your heart put through the ringer, well, I guess you should watch something else. I think the story earns and supports the emotional gut-punches you receive (and balances it all with humor and thoughtfulness) but your mileage may certainly vary.

It’s a girl. She’s in snow. It’s difficult to tell if she’s sad. Good enough.

Also, if you can relate to this rant, you may have difficulties with a recurring musical theme here. Kyoto Animation decided to work riffs on Pachelbel’s Canon in D into the plot because of the names being alike. Yup.

Other thoughts about it?

Kanon is utterly relentless about its melodrama. Yes, it’s heavy-handed when it turns serious. Yes, it goes for the gut-punch time and again. Sometimes that’s the kind of show you want. If nothing else, it’ll help clear out your tear ducts.

Which isn’t to say you won’t get your fill of cute girls being cute, mind you.

Where can I watch it?

As of this writing, Kanon is still in Funimation’s streaming library.

3WA 2017 #36: Animaniacs

The heyday of the television variety show was already long past when an animation studio decided to try their hand at it in the mid 1990s. Thank goodness they did, though.

What is it?

Animaniacs is a Saturday-morning-type cartoon series which ran for not quite 100 episodes, and then a movie.

What kind of story is it?

It isn’t. It really, really isn’t. This is straight-up sketch comedy, marrying classic variety-show stylings to something not entirely unlike Monty Python’s Flying Circus, but entirely in animated form. We meet a dizzying (and sometimes ditzy) array of characters and laugh at them. Sometimes with them as well, but mostly at them.

Sure, it had a Wheel of Morality, but don’t worry. You weren’t expected to learn anything.

Why do you like it?

Animaniacs tried to have something for everyone: Slapstick cartoon violence, high-level wordplay, musical numbers, surrealistic romps, and so forth. Not all of it worked but much of it worked superbly well.

Slappy Squirrel, in a rare moment’s break from performing cartoon violence upon other characters.

It was also a masterclass in making kids’ cartoons work for the adults in the room. It got away with the “fingerprints” gag, for Pete’s sake! Obviously, the creators were a subversive force to be reckoned with.

What might one not like about it?

Many, many, many ideas made their way into the show. Not all of them work… characters like the Hip Hippos, among others.

Bernadette Peters sang her heart out for the Rita And Runt sketches, but… no. Just no.

The variety show template has the potential for misfires baked right into the concept. Also, it’s still a kids show. Your tolerance for such things is a factor I cannot judge on your behalf.

Other thoughts about it?

Yes! So many! Such as!

  • Some of my favorite bits are essentially running interstitial gags, such as “Good Idea, Bad Idea.”
  • Obviously, were it not for Animaniacs we’d not have Pinky and the Brain, and that would’ve been a loss for modern culture too great to calculate, even for Brain.

“What shall we do tonight, Brain?” “Try to break out into a spinoff show!”

  • At least one person on the creative staff was a big Marx Brothers fan, and I appreciate the heck out of that.
  • “United States, Canada, Mexico, Panama, Haiti, Jamaica, Peru…” If I haven’t just earwormed you, then you need to go watch the show.
  • Before there were Marvel Cinematic Universe “credit cookies” segments, there were gag credits in Animaniacs. “If You’d Like A Transcript Of Today’s Program- Start Typing!”

I could go on, but won’t. I could, though.

Where can I watch it?

As of this writing Animaniacs is available on Netflix. Barring that, you can pay to stream it on Amazon, or buy the DVD boxed sets.

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