The Owl House (Season 1): A Distinctly American Isekai

I had actually started watching The Owl House on a whim around the time the first season came out on Disney+. I was so certain it would be two seasons that I didn’t think I needed to do a season-by-season review. But according to Wikipedia and IMDB, it’s actually going to be two and a half seasons? Well, regardless, the second season has been turning different enough to where I should review The Owl House season-by-season. So yeah, here’s my review of season one!

In The Owl House, a girl named Luz is very eccentric and creatively expresses herself all the time. Of course, we can’t have any of that in America, so her mom decided to ship her off to summer camp to make her more mainstream. Luz instead chases an owl into a suitcase portal, where she ends up in a fantasy realm called the Boiling Isles. With pretty much no hesitation, she decides to live here with a witch named Eda the Owl Lady and a chuunibyou demon named King in the titular Owl House. 

The Owl House is modern, childish, and very one-dimensional. But it’s not just those things; it’s mind-numbingly straightforward. They don’t even try to hide that it’s a pure escapist fantasy, what with the aforementioned summer camp literally being called “Reality Check Summer Camp”, and the first episode showing a prison called the Conformatorium. 

“Well, at least it’s not another Harry Potter clone,” you comment. Unfortunately, that’s not entirely true. The initial interest of having someone learn magic through a wanted criminal like Eda gets brushed aside about two-thirds into the first season. Luz discovers a long lost method to do magic, entirely by happenstance, and ends up enrolled in the local school, Hexside.

And it gets more cliché than that simply by being a children’s show. It goes through a lot of the motions, where a protagonist does something blatantly stupid and learns a lesson at the end. It’s just about as clear-cut as any kids’ show, and as a result, The Owl House ends up reinventing the wheel quite often. There is also zero subtlety, as it practically beats you over the head with teasers of things that will happen.

Fortunately, it more than makes up for spoon-feeding you “American values” with sheer entertainment. The show is whimsical, colorful, and builds on itself just about as organically as any good modern cartoon. And speaking of building, the show does have some decent worldbuilding. The Boiling Isles has a lot of creativity going into it, from some guy’s house being held up by a giant hand to school bells that scream bloody murder. It’s meant to look grotesque and terrifying to try and subvert the idea of it being an escapist fantasy realm, but that ends up falling to the wayside because of how charming the Boiling Isles end up becoming. The vibrant and appealing visuals help tie it all together. 

And speaking of charming, the cast—despite being very cliché—ends up being just that. Let’s start with the worst of the bunch first: the main protagonist, Luz (oh, everyone’s going to hate me for saying that, aren’t they?). She’s your typical isekai protagonist through and through. Luz is reckless, tomboyish, and overly easy to relate to. The show tries to make her not seem like a special snowflake, but based on what I discussed earlier, that doesn’t exactly happen.

Fortunately, everyone else is better. Imagine Grunkle Stan from Gravity Falls but ridiculously sexy and you get Best Mom Eda. She’s just about as snarky as Stan, plus she seriously embodies the American spirit. Her tragic backstory is the driving force of the narrative throughout season one, which involves her sister, Lilith (who is also quite sexy but not as fun). King is an adorable little sociopath who tries every angle to assert dominance over others, and it’s fun to see him have melodramatic speeches just from things like climbing to the top of the local playground.

Luz ends up making a few friends in Hexside. Willow starts off as the “my parents want me to do this even though I’m a lot better at something else” character, but that ends up being resolved in the first episode she’s introduced in, and seems like a relatable conflict created just to hook audiences into liking her (which ends up being such a non-issue to the point where we don’t even get to see her parents). But hey, she’s lovable enough on her own. There’s also Best Boy Augustus, who offers a lot of comic mischief without falling into a rut of the same joke over and over again. My least favorite of the Hexside kids is Amity Blight. She’s basically the tsundere, and that’s about it (and now the entire fandom REALLY hates me). On another note, Hexside’s principle is actually pretty great, but he doesn’t show up often enough.

Of course, I must dedicate an entire paragraph to the best character in the entire show: Hooty. He’s a literal door, and is basically a perfect person. 

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Verdict: 8/10

The Owl House is nothing new, but it’s fun, and at least tries harder to be interesting than Amphibia. And from what I’ve seen of season two at this point… yeah, it’s WAY more interesting than Amphibia. I recommend it if you want some Disney magic with a bit of edge.

Luca: Kaiju Plus Italian Food Equals Success!

By this point in human history, most of the United States will have been freed from the pandemic that definitely warranted EVERY SINGLE mandate taken against it. Theaters are open, but despite that, Pixar once again elected to squander the chance to actually profit off of one of their movies. Yep, their newest film, Luca, is included with a simple Disney+ subscription, just like with Soul. At least one good thing came from that whole incident!

In Luca, the titular sea monster (or as I would prefer to call it, Kaiju) boy is having a crap life herding fish-sheep with a dream to see the human world. Naturally, he’s forbidden to live said dream. Fortunately, all it takes is a chance encounter with a sassy teenage Kaiju named Alberto for him to completely disregard his parents and head there anyway.

The first interesting thing about this movie is the setting: Italy. This is, to my knowledge, Disney’s first movie to represent Italian culture, and as an Italian myself, it feels… underwhelming? From what I understand, kids of different heritages are supposed to feel some sort of solace in learning about where they came from. And before you tell me that my apathy is because Italians are White, allow me to tell you that Italians were just as much victims of racism in the early 1900s as any minority group. In any case, you can probably chalk up my lack of an existential and cultural awakening to my neuro-atypical brain. If you’re Italian (and not me), you’ll probably fan-gush your butt off at this setting.

What brings said setting to life is Pixar’s long-running expertise in visual presentation. Outside of a few dream sequences, the movie isn’t as abstract as Soul, but it still looks beautiful. It blurs the line between cartoon and realism thanks to its noodly characters contrasting against the extremely detailed environments. The devil is in the detail as usual, especially when it comes to those quintessentially Italian hand gestures.

Also expected from Pixar is Luca‘s very simple plot. The main conflict is that Luca and Alberto want to obtain a motorcycle to travel the world with, the problem being that they need cash. The best opportunity to get cash is to win the Porto Rosso Cup, and luckily enough, they meet a human girl named Giulia who wants to win the Cup as well. Of course, the whole Kaiju thing complicates matters.

For me, the movie’s biggest strength is in its cast of characters. Luca is kind of generic, but he develops some interesting relationships with Alberto and Giulia. Alberto is an interesting case. He has an assertive policy that inspires Luca to explore the human world, but he does it a bit to the Nth degree. This is shown throughout the movie, and is—in recent memory—one of the few organic buildups to that classic “Disney argument”. Giulia is that best friend type who’s proactive and ambitious; she’s not complex but it’s hard not to like her. I have a strange feeling that, given the month that this movie came out in, people will not be pleased at how Luca and Alberto’s relationship turns out in the end.

The parents—for once—manage to both have proper arcs and not die. Luca’s parents are dense as you can expect at first, but eventually have to acknowledge that their little Kaiju’s grown up. In the meantime, they eventually head to the surface to search for him and have some hilarious escapades. Luca’s grandma is much more likable, but she doesn’t get significant screentime. Fortunately, Giulia’s awesome dad makes up for that lack.

The weakest character ends up being the main antagonist (whose name I’m probably spelling wrong), Erkele. He’s the first Disney “villain” in like a decade, and he kind of shows that maybe they should stick with not having villains. He’s very expressive and funny, but he gets no real arc other than to be a jerk and impede the protagonists.

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Final Verdict: 9.25/10

Luca is a great Pixar movie as usual. I don’t quite think it’s as good as Soul, but it’s definitely easier to rewatch since—for the time being—everything from last year is kind of cursed. In any case, Luca is great, and I want to stay at Disney’s Riviera Resort now.

A VERY BELATED Review of Amphibia’s Second Season

To Season 1 Review


I hate streaming sometimes. I don’t know if the whole season is out on Hulu right now, but for some unholy reason, it definitely wasn’t back when the season two finale of Disney’s Amphibia (created by Matt Braly) aired. I had to wait for it to come out on Disney+ to watch it! In any case, with all the pieces in place, it’s time for the show to begin in earnest. Let’s FINALLY get to it! Oh, and uh, spoilers from last season.

When we last left our intrepid heroes, Anne had a brief but tumultuous reunion with her friend Sasha, who is now buddy-buddy with an army of power-hungry toads. They fought, Anne stood up for her beliefs, and ‘Lean on Me’ ensued. Now separated again in good old Naruto and Sasuke fashion, the only thing left to do is haul ass to Newtopia and find out what to do with the MacGuffin that got Anne to Amphibia in the first place.

Right off the bat, season two is a major improvement. Since the crew is on the move, there is a much wider variety of setpieces. From sketchy inns, to a desert, and… Grunkle Stan?! If that wasn’t an indication of how creative the show gets, then I don’t know what is. In any case, the real treat is Newtopia itself, the biggest and most beautiful setting yet. It’s so big, that a hotel is enough for an entire episode. It is a vibrant and culture-filled location, which sadly lasts a mere five episodes before they must go a’questing again.

Just because there’s more cohesion doesn’t mean that there aren’t Saturday morning cartoon hijinks. Like Avatar, their travels take them on random detours, each with a self-contained conflict, most of which have no bearing on the plot. Even in Newtopia, they manage to cleverly find an excuse to put in filler episodes; stuff like waiting for someone else to analyze the important MacGuffin for them. There is also an issue of episode chronology. Exactly one episode was aired last October, outside of the proper order, just for them to work in a Halloween special. And to rub salt in the wound, subsequent episode broadcasts were delayed until March of this year right after that episode (I’ll give you three guesses why). It’s kind of stupid that it’s the one time that Amphibia goes out of chronological order (at least as of now). 

The characters have improved greatly since last season… to a point. Anne does get some huge growth as things get intense throughout this season, but she’s the same smooth-brain that she usually is. In fact, the characters don’t just continue to make poor judgements; it gets so bad that they start to become self-aware of it. Hop Pop eventually has to face the consequences of his hiding the MacGuffin in the garden at home (watched over by the guy who grows tulips), which leads to great development on his part. Sprig and Polly remain relatively unchanged, with the former being about as much of an ignoramus as ever.

Let’s finally discuss the other teenage girls who ended up in Amphibia along with Anne. As you know, Sasha ends up with the toads, the arch nemeses of the frogs. She aids their captain, Grime, and hits it off with him. Sasha seems like an abusive friend, but it also feels like she genuinely likes Anne and is only pushing her because of weird friend morals (at least through her perspective). As a small aside, Grime ends up being quite the likeable guy, and his chemistry with Sasha is some of the best in the series.

The other friend is Marcy Wu. She’s a strange combination of complete ditz and galaxy-brained, and is immediately way more likeable than Sasha. Similar to Sasha, Marcy ends up netting a fancy military job in the Newtopian Army. Good thing their King isn’t sus, or else we’d have something to worry about! All three girls’ character arcs get the bulk of this growth in the form of three temples, conveniently catered to their strengths and weaknesses.

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Verdict: 8.65/10

Amphibia clearly reinvents the wheel in every way. But for some reason, I still find myself thoroughly enjoying the show. This season was a big step up, and at least leaves me very much anticipating the next (and final?) season. Of course, I won’t be watching ANY of that season until the whole thing airs!

New Pokémon Snap: The Dark Souls of Casual Gaming (Either that or I just suck at it)

I was a kid when the N64 came out. That puts my parents in their early twenties when the home videogame revolution occurred. Unfortunately, they were the only people who didn’t buy into it, which would cause me to miss those classic console generations and become a Gamecube kid. And while that can definitely be considered a badge of honor, it does pain me to say that I did miss a lot of great N64 games… such as Pokémon Snap. I watched several playthroughs of it on YouTube, and it looked super fun (albeit a bit on the short side). I wouldn’t get to experience that BS grading system that had nothing to do with actual rules of composition or being told that “I was close” until New Pokémon Snap came out on Nintendo Switch. I paid good money for this thing. Let’s hope it’s at least more than three hours long.

In New Pokémon Snap, you are transferred to the pun-tastic facility known as the Laboratory of Ecology and Nature Sciences (i.e. L.E.N.S.) to study Pokémon. Under the guide of Professor Mirror (not named after a tree for once), you take pictures of the critters for science. Oh, and some of them are shiny I guess.

People hated Gen 8 for how it looked (among other things), but New Pokémon Snap ends up being a big step above… Okay, that isn’t saying much. The characters look kind of plastic, but the game still has that pleasant, cartoony feel of the Pokémon world in general. The night time segments are where it excels in terms of visuals; gotta love stylized particle effects!

This is both a photography game, and a Pokémon game that isn’t Gen 5, so it goes without saying that there really isn’t a plot. The whole thing is following the old journal of some guy named Vince to discover the Illumina phenomenon. This glow makes Pokémon shiny, but sadly, it’s not the shiny that series veterans think of. In any case, that’s literally the whole story.

The characters are also as lacking as you can expect. This game is meant to be very serene and cut off from the criminal organizations, questionable ethics, min-maxxing, and awful law enforcement of the main games, so no one can be over-the-top. And as a result, they are as flat as anyone who isn’t Gladion, and also lack the great character design that Pokémon people tend to have. The only one who stands out is Todd, and that’s only under the assumption that he’s the original game’s protagonist. 

In terms of gameplay, New Pokémon Snap will feel very familiar to experienced players of the original. You move along on an automated path and take photos. You also have the help of returning tools such as the apples, and a Poké Flute equivalent that sounds way more annoying this time around.

Of course, it wouldn’t be a long-overdue sequel without some (i.e. a lot of) new features. First off, you can scan stuff now. This helps you find things as well as elicit reactions from nearby Pokémon. Pester Balls are replaced with Illumina Orbs. This can put Pokémon into an Illumina state, allowing for new behaviors. Also, hitting special flowers will trigger a widespread Illumina effect that often results in something ideal for your endeavors. The catch is that each region has its own variant, and you’ll have to earn them as you progress.

There’s also the research level. Courses, most of which are divided into day and night variants, have their own XP bars. Fill it up by discovering varied Pokémon behavior (and getting good scores), and upon levelling it up, the Pokémon on that course will change, allowing for even more variety. “It’s the gift that keeps on giving the whole year,” said Randy Quaid. Movie references aside, this mechanic really helps bring areas to life in a way that wasn’t possible in the original. 

The big thing that gives New Pokémon Snap its replay value is the way completing the Photodex works. Each photo of a Pokémon has a ranking system that ranges from bronze to platinum. As expected of a game where a machine judges art… yeah, good luck. However, there’s more than just getting a good photo of a Pokémon. As I said earlier with research level, Pokémon exhibit different behaviors. In fact, each Pokémon has FOUR states that it can be photographed in, each of which has its own ranking system. The completionist run requires every photograph of every Pokémon in every state with a platinum rating. Like I said, good luck.

Since machines aren’t sentient enough to have an eye for art, photo evaluation is the same “get the Pokémon in the center of the frame” BS as it always was. If you’re used to the ever-picky Professor Oak, then it’ll feel like second nature. However, Mirror doesn’t straight-up shit on you like Oak does. Whether or not that’s a disappointment is your prerogative. In any case, it’s also about as buggy as it was before; for every shot that should be awful, you get platinum, and a bronze for every shot that appears to more-than-adequately meet the game’s parameters (okay, to be honest, it’s not like that ALL the time but it’s noticeable).

When it comes to finding the four poses,  they’re mostly fun to figure out. These states can be triggered through your various tools, or by just having good reflexes. The problem with this system is the fact that you can only submit one photo of a Pokémon at a time. This sucks, since it’s more than likely you’ll have photos of Pokémon in more than one pose in a single run. This issue is most evident when in the special Illumina Pokémon stages. These are like Rainbow Cloud from the original; just you and a glowing Pokémon that you gotta go to town on. Although more Pokémon show up when replaying these stages, the bulk of their time is taken by the Illumina Pokémon. As such, it’s more than possible to get two, three, or possibly all four poses in a single run (and they’re generally not easy shots to get either). But because you can only do one at a time at the end… yeah. I can just imagine Professor Mirror saying, “Wow, you captured this one Pokémon in a wide variety of behaviors all at once!” as he heartlessly shreds all but one of those photos you poured your blood, sweat, and tears into. And to be logic police for a second, this system is not at all efficient to doing ecology research. 

At the very least, you won’t be thrown in like cold turkey when it comes to figuring out the different poses of Pokémon; characters often provide photo requests that clue you in on what to do. However, a lot of these requests SUCK, and can make the game a hellscape if you’re going for completion. They range from pretty intuitive to Famicom-levels of obtuse, and at the time of posting this, I sure as hell didn’t get them all! And even if you know what to do, execution ends up being the hard part. While you can retry a stage anytime, there are actually slight variations within a given stage that are completely random, even if you didn’t increase the Research Level (looking at you, Elsewhere Forest). As a result, many of your retries can end up being just for the opportunity to take that photo (on top of having to set everything up for said photo). Oh, and if you end up preemptively taking a photo for a request before it comes up, then you’ll have to take it again, and waste the chance to submit a new pose from that run. And if you DO complete the request, you gotta manually turn it in!

One issue I will acknowledge that puts this game beneath the original is how progression is done. With exactly one exception at the butt end of the game, it’s all tied to raising the research level, as opposed to being observant and solving a puzzle in a given stage with intuition and timing. You don’t have to do any of the BS to raise it up to adequate levels, but it nonetheless doesn’t feel as accomplishing.

Beyond that, this game is just plain brutal at times. While it’s arguable whether or not any challenge in New Pokémon Snap is as hard as getting the 10k Mew shot in the original, a lot of this stuff really piles up, and the cumulative difficulty surpasses that of the Mew fight. Oftentimes, you’ll have to make ridiculously precise throws, sometimes at moving targets from within your also-moving vehicle, in very short windows of time. There are also a number of occasions where you have to kite Pokémon with apples for obnoxiously long periods of time. The problem with this last example is that Pokémon aren’t as responsive to apples as before, making it a real pain to maintain their attention. And if you mess up once, they go back to their starting point.

Let’s stop talking about the problems with the game and discuss some nice positives. One big help is that it gives you a visual indication of what is considered the subject of your next shot. Plus, you can take pictures while not zoomed in, as well as throw items while zoomed in. Most notably, photos are put into individual folders during evaluation, making it a lot less messy when choosing what to show to Mirror.

And need I mention the phenomenal photo customization? Every photo registered in the Photodex—as well as ones saved in your album—can be edited in some way. You can give them funny captions that are a lot better than the in-game ones, for starters. There is also the ability to re-snap a photo taken with the ability to modify angle and color balance settings (although this is only available at the end of a given run). The fun part is plopping stickers and effects onto your photos to make them hilarious. You get more and more stickers as you accomplish stuff, and it’s actually worth trying to knock out requests since they have a lot of the better stickers.

Before getting to the final evaluation, I should point out that New Pokémon Snap does have a bit of a post-game. You unlock the challenge score system from the original’s post-game (assuming you even care about it), as well as the Burst Mode setting for your camera that allows you to capture photos at rapid speed. Most notably, you unlock a beautiful new stage… that would’ve been spoiled to you if you happened to look at the Nintendo eShop pics for this game. It also spawns some Legendary Pokémon in earlier stages, if you want even more headaches. 

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Final Verdict: 8.95/10

It has more depth, better replay value, a great photo customization system, and a wider variety of Pokémon. Yet… for some completely arbitrary reason, it completely lacks the heart, personality, charm, and [insert other esoteric thing here] that the N64 Pokémon Snap had. …Look, I’m kidding, okay?! I think New Pokémon Snap was well worth the wait, and has more than enough positive qualities to outclass its predecessor. Just… for the love of Arceus… attempt to 100% it at your own risk!

She-Ra and the Princesses of Power: An American Magical Girl Series (with a lot of shipping)

Despite me being a big weeb, I am more than willing to admit that cartoons are better than anime by a long shot, at least modern ones. However, a number of them tend to be a bit predictable. One day, due to the impulsive part of the brain that says “F*** it”, I decided to watch a Netflix show called She-Ra and the Princesses of Power, reviews of which said it had a lot of depth. However, I was hesitant because it’s a reboot. While I loved DuckTales 2017, I was able to appreciate it because I at least knew the characters from other Disney stuff. But with She-Ra… I never heard of the original 1980s cartoon to begin with. Oh well, here I am nonetheless!

So, uh, the main protagonist starts out being raised as an orphan in… the bad guy place? I feel like that would’ve been too complicated in the ‘80s… Also, the “bad guy” group is called the Horde, and their leader is named “Hordak”, as in, the Horde. Ack. Seriously? Anyhoo, said protagonist, named Adora, ends up sneaking out with her anthropomorphic feline friend—creatively named Catra—to some forest where she finds a sword. After being told esoteric nonsense, our Adora-ble friend turns over a new leaf as the swole Princess She-Ra. 

I should start by saying how awesome this show looks. The art is simple, but effective, with a wide variety of pleasing color palettes and anime-like particle effects. It looks a lot like an American graphic novel, which I normally don’t enjoy, but the animation helps bring life to something that would otherwise be lifeless. Similar to Avatar, the characters are very anatomically correct by cartoon standards. 

Like The Dragon Prince, She-Ra 2018 follows a linear narrative right out of the gate. The show wastes no time getting interesting, as Adora swiftly realizes that the Horde has been shoving propaganda down her throat. Also, in case you couldn’t tell from Catra wearing a lot of red, she becomes the Zuko of this series when she finds out about the whole She-Ra thing. And speaking of She-Ra herself, Adora has to get acclimated with the power starting out.

As with about 90% of all American media for kids/teens, She-Ra 2018 has a pretty explicit theme of identity (which I can assume is not part of the original). Adora tends to be torn between her old life with kitty friend, and her new life with the people who are clearly the good guys. Plus, a lot of the residents of this world (which I forgot to mention is called Etheria) clearly know She-Ra as some kind of public figure. This puts pressure on Adora that is (as much as I hate saying it) something relatable to anyone who’s grown up in a first-world country; we all got told that we have to fix the entire world at least once as kids. 

Despite my hearing that She-Ra 2018’s story had depth, it’s sadly not the case. Well, technically it does have depth to an extent. There is a lot to the story, yes, but it’s incredibly straightforward. Also, despite what they set up between Adora and Catra, there is still a clear good and evil side. Even though certain individuals within the horde get interesting character development, the Horde itself is just one-dimensionally evil for no reason. But you know what, a kids’ show is a kids’ show, and it’s not like I exactly enjoy those SUPER complicated stories in the first place. 

Although it does nothing new, She-Ra 2018 reinvents the wheel quite well. It eases you in, but doesn’t waste time with random antics like most cartoons early on, yet giving you enough time to like the characters before sh*t hits the fan. Fortunately, there is enough humor to go around, even during the trying times. The humor is pretty much the standard for modern cartoons: witty comments and an awareness of its own running themes.

However, there’s a weird issue with season two. While She-Ra 2018 doesn’t waste time with cartoon antics early on, it starts doing just that in the second season. While there are some important developments sprinkled throughout, the second season does have its share of self-contained issues that have the usual lack of proper context. Fortunately, it is the second-shortest season, but it’s still the weakest nonetheless.

As good as the story is, it wouldn’t be crap without its likeable cast. Adora definitely has issues to work through, what with realizing that the empire she’s been serving is bad and all. Fortunately, these are all legitimate insecurities which aren’t even remotely on the level of smooth-brain of most cartoon protagonists (but that doesn’t mean she isn’t smooth-brained, period). The friends that she ditches Catra for end up being incredible supports. One of them is a glimmering princess named Glimmer. She starts off as a pretty typical “nakama”-type, but ends up going in an interesting direction later. Unfortunately, she ends up having a fair number of smooth-brain moments, even if they aren’t as bad as other cartoon characters. Plus, the unspecified limit to her magic is a plot detriment that becomes redundant until a certain point.

The other friend is the only male lead: an archer—an archer—named Bow. Yes, an archer named Bow. I checked IMDB and, indeed, that’s how his name is spelt. Not Bo, Boh, nor Boe; but Bow. His favorite band is probably Unleash the Archers (*laughs while slow-clapping*). Like Sokka from Avatar, he offers most of the comic relief, but he’s also very physically and technologically capable.

Of course, the show isn’t called She-Ra and the Princesses of Power for nothing; i.e. there are other princesses. From the valleygirl Mermista, to the nerdy-ass Entrapta (the names of whom I’m probably spelling wrong), each princess is good at one thing, and they do that thing to the Nth degree. Also supporting the main heroes are the chuunibyou pirate Sea Hawk, and the sassy horse Swiftwind. 

In order to make the show good, however, you need antagonists that are equally as likeable as the protagonists. But despite how big the army is, there aren’t that many people important enough to have names. Fortunately, quality supersedes quantity here. Take Best Girl Scorpia, for example. She’s basically a ten-year-old trapped in a ridiculously swole body, and is almost always enjoyable to see. A bit higher up the ladder is Shadow Weaver, who is—sadly—your typical Saturday morning cartoon villain, who’s all like “I’m bad and stuff”. She does get character development, but it’s quite literally something you’ve seen before. At the TOP of that ladder is the aforementioned Hordak. He seems unremarkable at first, but it turns out that there are a lot of other sides to him.

Last and yes, definitely, absolutely not least is who I can only assume is everyone’s favorite character: Kitty-witty Catra. She’s like Zuko and Azula in one, busty cat body. As Adora’s childhood friend, she becomes very livid very fast when Adora is all “Hey, I like these other people instead”. But for Catra, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger… uh, wait, that phrase doesn’t work here. Basically, she uses that anger as fuel to become the biggest bi—wait, she’s a cat. She becomes the biggest, er… *asks Google what a female cat is* Molly (apparently) in the Horde. 

However, her character arc is way more complicated than that. In fact, I was legitimately impressed by Catra. As the series goes on, she battles very clashing emotions and insecurities. I’m willing to bet that she would’ve just been some twinkie who said brilliant one-liners such as “Hey Adora, cat got your tongue?” in the old show. But on the other side of the coin, she can just be written off as “an angsty emo kid” like Sasuke from Naruto. She-Ra 2018 needs a re-watch just so you can really take in exactly what causes Catra to go awry and when; you’ll need to understand how people work REALLY well in order to get why (and if it makes any sense).

If you couldn’t tell, the whole show revolves around a single love triangle: Adora, Glimmer, and Catra. Since the show’s done, there is at least an answer to that now, but I imagine that the fandom was very toxic while She-Ra 2018 was still airing. Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. Throughout the show, I felt like there was a massive multitude of potential ships, made evident through various context clues, such as Glimmer being jealous when Bow goes to a party with another girl. So no matter what happens, there will be at least five different reasons for you to unconditionally hate this show. Fortunately, they don’t drop the ball and have every ship either sunk or unaccounted for; there ARE clear winners, you just have to do the unthinkable and deal with it.

And for the record, this show is really good at not feeling like a reboot at all (which is a compliment). In DuckTales, I had a pretty good hunch of who was carried over. But in She-Ra 2018, everyone felt so modern that I have no idea if anyone was carried over at all. It could’ve been everyone, or even no one. I can only assume that everyone is carried over because of how uncreative their names are. 

If there is any real, substantial flaw with the show—minus its god-awful opening sequence, nakama-powered Deus ex Machinas, and abundance of fake deaths—I felt like Etheria itself was faulty. The setpieces are very pleasing to look at, but there’s no real sense of space in this show. As far as I’m concerned, the different kingdoms feel like they’re within a hop, skip, and a jump from each other. There’s also one character whose existence is implied early on but they never actually appear in the show. Furthermore, there’s no reason to care about anyplace. They make you give so many f***s about Bright Moon, but there is literally nothing there but the castle and its whopping six occupants. But you know what, it beats filler episodes where the cast stops at nondescript villages that never show up again to solve self-contained Saturday morning cartoon antics!

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Final Verdict: 8.7/10

She-Ra and the Princesses of Power ended up being a much better cartoon than I expected, even though I prefer The Dragon Prince (assuming its remaining seasons are just as good as the early ones). I’m especially glad that it wasn’t just ham-fisted P.C. Feminist propaganda; they actually put in the effort necessary to convey it through context. I can’t remotely imagine how the old She-Ra would’ve fared by comparison, let alone imagine what the plot would’ve been. I recommend She-Ra 2018 if you like magical girl shows but want a bit more class than what Sailor Moon offers.


P.S. with Spoilers

I thoroughly enjoyed this show, but I feel mixed about the ending. Sure, it’s good that they resolve everything cleanly and cohesively. However, the fact that the Adora and Catra ship actually got to sail felt like pandering. Their love is definitely not shoehorned in at the end; it’s readily apparent since the very first episode as long as you know how writing works. Look, I’m saying this without looking up other reviews of the show, but I feel like they ended Catra’s character arc that way just to pander to a fandom that would’ve otherwise berated them. If they planned it to be that way from the start, then cool. But man, though, it just so happens that the biggest ship actually sails? Since when does that ever happen?

DuckTales 2017: The Reboot I Have Zero Nostalgia For

PREFACE: I know I’m supposed to be on hiatus, but I ended up backed up with way too many posts. I finished THREE more Oz books in this time, plus I decided to review Amphibia by each individual season. I also have a several that have been ready to go for months, but never had the time to publish them. Since I deactivated my Twitter, and don’t even read posts on my Facebook outside of the bands I follow (thank goodness they have a Favorites system), I should have no worries about spoilers for the Attack on Titan finale coming out very soon, especially since the final season of the anime is getting a part two.


Before we begin (Hooray! Another preface!), I have a confession to make. I was a sheltered nineties kid. I never watched Spongebob Squarepants until I was well into middle school because it and other cartoons were too extreme for me (and, well, because I would’ve probably mimicked some of the dangerous cartoon stunts and killed myself). As a result, there were a LOT of popular shows from the late 20th Century through the turn of the 21st Century that I never watched, and would always feel a little disconnected whenever my favorite YouTubers would discuss them at length. I never got to see Dexter’s Laboratory, Powerpuff Girls, Wild Thornberrys, Hey Arnold… and even as a budding Disney fan, I never got to see DuckTales (I was only allowed to watch Mickey’s House of Mouse, among some of the stuff on Disney Jr. back when it was Playhouse Disney). But because I heard good things, I reluctantly dove into the 2017 reboot of DuckTales without any of the nostalgia and prior experience that I would’ve wanted to have going into it. Well, I suppose I can view it OBJECTIVELY then. Oh, by the way, since I know nothing about the old DuckTales or the other ‘90s Disney shows, I don’t know what’s new or old (also, I didn’t bother looking any of it up).

In DuckTales, Donald Duck is unemployed (not surprising). So, he dumps his three nephews onto his rich Uncle, Scrooge McDuck. The guy doesn’t give a rat’s arse about them… at least not until after they end up accompanying him to the lost city of Atlantis. After that, the boys go on all sorts of wild adventures with Scrooge (and plucky girl-duck, Webbey), where all kinds of hilarity ensues.

But it sure doesn’t feel that way sometimes. Similar to Gravity Falls, DuckTales has some semblance of an overarching narrative, but it’s disjointed in season one. Some early episodes end in unresolved cliffhangers, and made me do a double-take a couple of times. Fortunately, once season two starts, it’s practically a straight-up linear narrative, with episodes picking up from where the previous ones left off. Sometimes.

Unfortunately, the context of the thing is also not entirely clear. I figured that, as a reboot, it would have a number of nods and carry-overs from the original show for the sake of being faithful. However, the way everything is all reintroduced leads me to believe it’s a sequel. The villains clearly already know Scrooge, after all. At the same time, it could be a prequel, because it’s established as the first time in a decade that Donald speaks to Scrooge, plus it’s the first time that the triplets see Scrooge at all. Also, Daisy Duck is introduced in Season 3, and it is very apparent that they had never met her before. But then… how do you explain the lack of Webby and others in stuff like Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmas? OR MAYBE it’s in a different universe entirely?! Regardless, DuckTales definitely expects you to be acquainted with Donald Duck, his three nephews, and Scrooge McDuck at the very least. If you grew up with a TV, then you probably passed that part.

So, enough about structure… is the SHOW actually any good?! The answer is a resounding “Yes, Definitely, Absolutely!” (Oh wait, wrong show…). DuckTales has the same modern and clever sense of humor that Disney has consistently been able to nail since the start of the 2010s (knowing what audiences find funny is part of being as mainstream as Disney). There are also some great meta commentaries, like the first Darkwing Duck episode, which is a commentary on reboots of popular I.P.s (and a commentary on the show itself as a result). The show also sets out to answer some of the age-old questions surrounding the cast… such as the identity of the triplet’s mother, Della Duck. Additionally, I’m pretty sure that this is the first time in Disney history that they started making fun of Donald’s… er… accent. Unfortunately, there is some melodrama at various points in this series, but it’s a bit more justified than Gravity Falls, as it helps resolve flaws that these beloved characters have had for decades. It’s so weird seeing new developments for these characters who’ve been around for so long… and I love it (and they probably did half of this stuff in the old show).

As expected, DuckTales has a large ensemble of memorable characters. Scrooge is pretty much exactly the same as he always was: daft, yet a freaking bad-ass. Donald is also the same, which I’m not complaining about, because… well… he’s been my favorite out of the three O.G.s for twenty years. I know he can be a big S.O.B., but I dunno, I always loved the guy. Also, whenever he enters his berserker state, it’s a show of force that should place him on any Top Ten Most Powerful Anime Characters list. Like I said before, he gets amazing new character development thanks to the whole Della thing, but you also get inside Donald’s head on a much more intimate level than ever before, and possibly the most in Disney history.

Most surprisingly, the triplets are legitimately enjoyable… at times. Huey, Dewey, and Louie were once all little turds who always caused trouble, but now they’re little turds who always cause trouble while having defined personalities. Huey’s brainy, Dewey’s reckless, and Louie is… er… unchanged. They also must’ve entered puberty, because they actually sound like people instead of high-pitched Donalds. They get great character development that helps resolve their shortcomings, which is why I thought this was a sequel, because they’re definitely turds all the way through in older stuff. Unfortunately, due to the fact that this is a Saturday morning cartoon, it hardly feels like they really grow. Louie can learn to not be a greedy jerk in one episode, but then proceeds to keep being a greedy jerk in another episode. These characters need to have poor judgement, or else… Who can teach our kids important American values?!

In addition to the main ducks, we have some newcomers… I think (this is what happens when you don’t watch the old show!). One of them is Webbey (whose grandmother is swole as all heck, and may or may not be in a doujin with Donald). She is literally Mabel from Gravity Falls (down to having a grappling hook), so I have no complaints here. What I do have complaints about is a girl named Lena that she befriends early on. While I have no problem with her personality, the audience is shown that Lena is in cahoots with one of Scrooge’s old nemeses (who I presume is carried over from the old show?). This results in, yes, an American Dragon-type situation, and if you read my old review of Marissa Meyer’s Renegades, you’d know how I feel about that. (at least that whole arc concludes by the end of season 1). 

Fortunately, there’s always a silver lining, and that lining is Launchpad. He’s basically Soos from Gravity Falls, except even more brawn-over-brain. His dialogue and lovable idioticness is always entertaining. In addition, there’s Scrooge’s kind-of-evil mad scientist, Gyro Gearloose. Gyro has an intern named Fenton, who ends up becoming a tokusatsu hero named Gizmoduck. A ways into season 2, Della does return to the McDuck household. Other than being—pardon my French—a hot mom, she doesn’t have much experience at being a mom, and she has a lot of character development to go through. They also integrate some obscure characters, such as the aforementioned Darkwing Duck, as well as the Three Caballeros, to introduce them to a new generation (and me). 

Unlike Gravity Falls, DuckTales has some great antagonists (Oh snap). Flintheart Glomgold (who I assume is a carryover?) is basically the Scottish villain from Kim Possible combined with Drakken from Kim Possible, making him a fun guy with hilariously over-the-top plans—I mean—schemes. There’s also the Beagle Boys (who are all brothers from a single mother), and Mark Beaks, a living incarnation of social media and clickbait. Oh right, and there’s Magica de Spell, who is just Duck Maleficent.

Disney doesn’t cheap out (well, not always). The animation in DuckTales is fluid, vibrant, and appealing, with a neat, comic book aesthetic. The new designs aren’t as jarring to get used to as the thing that I refer to as “Modern Mouse” (unless you can’t handle Donald’s EDGY, BLACK sailor suit). The instances of CG are pretty obvious, but that’s probably my anime-watching PTSD talking.

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Final Verdict: 9.75/10

This version of DuckTales has been fantastic from start to finish. Of course, it’s not perfect, but it’s definitely my favorite Disney Channel program (sorry, Gravity Falls). I recommend it if you want to see classic Disney characters in a new, modern light.

Mickey, Donald, Goofy: The Three Musketeers is a Needle in a Haystack of Straight-to-DVD Cash-Grabs (Retrospective)

The early 2000s were not Disney’s best era. A lot of it was plagued by the notorious, straight-to-home-video sequels. Fine, I’ll admit that I loved them as a kid (my whole generation did probably), but nowadays, they are generally accepted as guilty pleasures at best. But among those sequels was something that I held near and dear to my heart. It was an adaptation of Alexandre Dumas’ novel, The Three Musketeers, with a slap of Mickey on it, simply titled Mickey, Donald, Goofy: The Three Musketeers. I NEVER hear this one brought up, AT ALL, making it one of the more remote and obscure projects to feature Mickey Mouse in Disney history. Nonetheless, I loved it as a kid. However, both my DVD player and the DVD broke around 2005-6, rendering me unable to watch the movie for all time. At least, that’s what I thought, until it plopped into Disney+’s catalogue completely unannounced. As of the writing of this post, I hadn’t watched it in FIFTEEN YEARS. It’s time to see if it’s an underrated gem or if it deserved to be discarded!

…Is what I would say if I didn’t have some concerns writing this post. Normally, a retrospective is written under the assumption that the person reading has seen the media and knows it well. That’s why I was able to spoil the crap out of March of the Wooden Soldiers when I covered it. But despite Mickey Three Musketeers being well-within the “Okay you can spoil it because everyone knows the story already” range, I’m pretty damn sure that next to NO ONE knows this story. As a result, I’m going to color any spoilery parts as white, leaving you to spoil yourself by highlighting them. Oh, and for the record, since I’m both a millennial and an uncultured swine, I never actually read the source novel, so I’m not going to be evaluating this movie from an adaptation standpoint.

Following an arbitrarily meta opening sequence, we enter a France of yesteryear and focus on three plebs named Mickey, Donald, and Goofy. After being saved at a young age by some local Musketeers, they slave away as janitors with hopes of being able to achieve glory as Musketeers themselves. Well, they get a good shot at it when Captain Pete plans to mousenap Princess Minne, that’s for sure.

The standout thing with Mickey Three Musketeers is that it’s very much an homage to the classic cartoons from the very beginning of Walt Disney’s career. This excited me because I always thought that the ones that starred Mickey, Donald, and Goofy as a team, such as Clock Cleaners and Moving Day, were the absolute best. Furthermore, this is the last piece of media featuring all three characters as major protagonists that I know of (and Kingdom Hearts doesn’t count because they’re accompanied by a bunch of anime turds in that). In any case, the humor and hijinks of the classic cartoons ring true throughout this movie, and they were a very welcome treat for me.

Another thing done old-school is the music. Much like cartoons of the past, background music didn’t just create mood, but sound effects as well. It had a lot of energy that most movie soundtracks lack these days. Unfortunately, in the case of the musical numbers, there is a drawback to doing the music old-school. I had no recollection that this movie had them, and for good reason; they are among the most forgettable in Disney history. They’re all arrangements of classical pieces; which are fitting for the period, but wholly unoriginal. The only one that I enjoyed was when Goofy—of all people—becomes a lady killer and seduces Clarabelle.

Since this is sort of an ode to the classics, you must keep in mind that there are no such things as stakes in Mickey Three Musketeers. I recalled this being like a Tolkienian epic when I was a kid, but through the wizened eyes of an adult, it was short, straightforward, and predictable. There’s even a part where Mickey almost drowns to death (the one scene I remembered distinctly after all these years), and I didn’t even bat an eye at it. Any sense of drama is resolved in mere minutes, typical of most mainstream Disney flicks sure, but still an important thing to mention nonetheless.

You’d think I don’t need to do any character passages, but for the sake of completion, I will anyway. These guys have been the United States’ best ambassadors for almost a hundred years, and there’s a good reason for that. Mickey is arguably the first ever Gary Sue (until you watch the last segment of Mickey’s Twice Upon a Christmas and realize that he’s just as capable of being a temperamental piece of sh** as Donald), but he’s pure-hearted and legitimately hard to not love. Best Boy Goofy is as perfectly derpy as always, nothing more to say there. My least favorite character, in the case of this movie, ended up being my boy Donald. For some reason, they give him a character arc where he starts off as a complete wuss. He’s a detriment to the plot, and he just magically changes into his regular self two-thirds into the film like nothing ever happened. I don’t know why they did that but I also don’t know why they made so many low-budget sequels to their classic films at the time.

Fortunately, good ol’ Pete shows why he is one of the most enduring Disney villains of all time (with his legacy ending on a poor note in Epic Mickey: Power of Two). He’s a perfect combination of being funny and pure evil, and—dammit—I miss the sumbi****! Appear in more things, Pete! Anyways, the most pleasant surprise was the aforementioned Clarabelle. She’s the sexy secretary who ends up getting reverse-Stockholm Syndrome for Goofy, and she was real fun for her brief amount of screentime in the movie.

Unfortunately, the other women suffer. Minnie (and—to an extent—Daisy) are breathing MacGuffins and nothing more. They offer no resistance to assault, which can trigger some… people who respect women as individuals. If they could criticize Hamilton for being historically accurate, then they can criticize this movie, too.

Last but not least, the visuals. It’s a straight-to-DVD, but it’s enough. The film isn’t gorgeous, but since it feels like a cartoon, it’s okay. Because of this, they were able to go hog-wild with all of the noodly limbs and such. The art is simple and bright, making it easy for the young’uns to comprehend.

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After All These Years: 8/10

Mickey, Donald, Goofy: The Three Musketeers is great, though it’s nothing compared to 21st Century cult classics, such as The Emperor’s New Groove. But you know what, it’s reminded me that Treasure Planet is on Disney+ and that I haven’t seen it in just about as many years as this. I might do a retrospective on that… by next year at the earliest (don’t expect it honestly). As far as this movie is concerned, I recommend it if you want some old-fashioned cartoon hijinks, and don’t have the priceless Walt Disney Treasures DVDs to experience it the vintage way.

Steven Universe Full Franchise Review (Main Series, Movie, and Future)

I have a confession to make. Steven Universe, which I only finished just recently, is the first Cartoon Network show I have ever watched. I never watched Dexter’s Lab, Powerpuff Girls, Pickle Rick… nothing! I didn’t even watch anime on Adult Swim. So, with that out of the way, let’s check out Steven Universe!

It seems that Steven Universe just throws you in, right from season one, episode one. Basically, the titular Steven is a half-human, half-gem-boy; a product of his late mother, Rose Quartz, and this fat old guy named Greg. He lives with three gem ladies- Garnet, Amethyst, and Pearl (AND STEVEN! Sorry… had to reference the opening)- and they protect the world from monsters and stuff.

If you couldn’t tell, Steven Universe is confusing. In my process of watching the show, I realized that the episodes seem famously difficult to watch in chronological order. The episodes weren’t just aired slightly out of order, but streaming services additionally have a number of massive continuity errors with the way they’re listed. Fortunately, the wiki has an episode list (in addition to a very comprehensive Reddit post) that you can use. Hulu is by far the best place to watch it, because it has the episodes listed individually, and not in two-episode sets, which avoids a bulk of the ordering issues.

But even if you watch it in the proper order (which I presume I did?), it really does throw you right into everything with no context, like I said before. Speaking of context, it’s almost as if the show expects you to figure out what’s going on THROUGH the context of what happens. I feel like that’s too much of an expectation for a cartoon, especially since 2010s cartoons have more involved narratives. But hey, the first few episodes do a good job at establishing a basic aspect of the premise, and how the series works in general.

Disregarding the confusion with the watching order, how good is Steven Universe anyway? Well, for starters, it is perhaps the slowest burn that I’ve seen in a cartoon. The first season more or less has all my problems with season one of Avatar: The Last Airbender; a lot of self-contained narratives, and not a lot of core narrative. The first episode set with a real sense of plot progression is episodes 25 and 26, but after that, it’s business as usual for a while.

One thing I noticed in Steven Universe was that I didn’t exactly find it funny. A lot of the humor, other than stuff from the gem ladies, is kind of flat. Apart from a couple of blips of cleverness, I didn’t exactly laugh all that much. But maybe… the show was not meant to be funny.

The big surprise is that Steven Universe has a bizarrely engaging core narrative. When the show actually tries to ramp it up, it’s a darn good time. There’s a lot of interesting stuff that they build up to when it comes to Rose Quartz’s backstory, as well as the lore of the gems themselves. The show also builds a more and more involved narrative over time. My biggest problem with it is that the gem world ends up being this super-dystopian society where there’s no free will, and they end up being all like “Wow, Earth and humans are so special and wonderful, my world sucks!” It bothered me as someone who doesn’t want to believe that humanity is unique in the cosmos, but in the end, it’s not that big of a deal.

Steven Universe also tackles one of the most relatable themes in human existence: identity. The most interesting mechanic of the gems is their ability to fuse with each other, creating new and powerful gems with their own fused personalities. In addition to that, Steven is technically his own mother, whose past ends up getting… rather tumultuous. Plus, there are multiple of the same gems that exist at one time. The show begs asking questions about “what is the self” and all that pretentious junk, but Steven Universe kind of just shows the fusion for what it is instead of waxing its own poetic. 

More than in any cartoon I’ve watched, I was seriously caught off guard by the characters. Steven starts off as your typical, overly-optimistic kid. But after a while, he ends up involved in some of the best and most emotional scenes in the series. However, he is kind of a Gary Sue. One running theme with the show is that he resolves a lot of conflicts verbally. While it does fit with the core themes of the story, as someone who had finished Kimetsu no Yaiba– with its overly righteous main protagonist that everyone, even his enemies, loves- I was a bit bothered by Steven when he’d wax sentimental mumbo jumbo.

Steven’s father, Greg, is also a great character who’s constantly had to live with the loss of Rose Quartz. The lead female human is a girl named Connie. She initially comes off as that “outcast girl who has the main character walk into her life and BOOM! all girls want to be her”, but her relationship with Steven is a lot cuter than that contrived romance. She ended up growing on me more than I thought she would. There are also a wide variety of other townsfolk, from Ronaldo the conspiracy theorist, to the enigmatic Onion, who all have memorable personalities.

But the real gems of the show are, well, the gems. Pearl seems cool and collected, but she has some serious O.C.D. Amethyst is the fun, rambunctious one who also happens to be an outlier of the trio. And Best Girl Garnet is very deadpan, but sometimes has some of the best one-liners. However, underneath their hard outer shells (pun intended) are some surprisingly well-fleshed out characters. They go through some serious issues, and unlike other cartoons, it actually felt engaging to, well, engage in their character arcs.

But they’re not the only gems. After season one, we see some new faces, such as Lapis Lazuli and Peridot. Lapis is kind of the tortured waifu who needs to be taught happiness by the main character, and is probably my least favorite gem. Peridot is a typical tsundere, but it’s funny to see her misinterpret aspects of human culture. There are many other gems, but. I won’t mention them because they don’t show up until over halfway through the story.

When it comes to visuals, Steven Universe is very appealing. The fights are well-animated, and everyone has memorable character design. The one complaint I have with this aspect is that people’s nostrils look kind of like slits instead of nostrils. But hey, a nitpick is a nitpick.

And speaking of nitpicks, I’m about to destroy my reputation in one fell swoop. Steven Universe has a good amount of musical numbers. And to be honest… I’m not a big fan of most of them. I know I just said something awful, but hey, I said “most”. There were a couple of songs that I liked, but I won’t name them, specifically because I don’t know what any of their names actually are (for the record, at least one of the songs I do like is the fan-favorite in the series).

But if you noticed the title of this post, you’d know that Steven Universe is not over, even if you finish the final episode of the main series. Set two years after the finale (and thanks goodness it is; Steven’s voice doesn’t sound whiny anymore), Steven Universe: The Movie initially comes off as cash-savvy filler, but has just as much plot relevance as the main story. Overall, it’s a fun movie that also has some of the better (and more abundant) musical numbers in the series. It can theoretically be skipped, but one of its characters appears late in Steven Universe Future, the concluding mini-series of the franchise.

Following the movie, Future attempts to bring final closure to Steven’s character arc, and teaches a number of additional life lessons. It tackles a lot of his emotional insecurities as his powers start becoming as unstable as his mental state. It starts off kind of hit-or-miss, but it ramps up to the highest emotional state in the entirety of the series. It’s kind of stupid that (at this time) the only way to watch Future all the way through is to buy it on Amazon Prime Video, but it’s well worth spending, provided that you sufficiently enjoyed the main series.

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Final Verdict (Average of all Media): 8.5/10

Normally, I cannot stand narratives that deal with timeless, “relatable” themes like growing up and identity. But Steven Universe tackles them in a thoughtful and honest way that isn’t merely just mooching off of people who want to see themselves in a fictional setting. I’ve grown to be able to respect Cartoon Network because of their willingness to air a show like Steven Universe. And if it weren’t for the end of COVID-19, I probably would’ve tried watching stuff like Rick and Morty. But alas, it was not meant to be; TV isn’t my primary calling after all. Anyways, I recommend Steven Universe to those who want a different cartoon, one that isn’t there just to numb your children with fart jokes.

The Legend of Korra Full Series Review

Before I get into this review, I must say that the fact that I watched Legend of Korra is super ironic. I specifically waited for Avatar to come out on Netflix so I didn’t have to pay Amazon to watch one show. Now, I ended up doing just that to watch one show, when I could’ve used it to watch two shows months ago. Sure, I could’ve watched the first half of Korra on CBS All-Access, but I just didn’t feel like relying on two services to watch a single show (let’s see how long it takes for them to announce Korra coming to Netflix).

While I didn’t think Avatar: The Last Airbender deserved to be lauded as one of the greatest fantasy epics of all time, I nonetheless thoroughly enjoyed it when I recently watched it (link to that review here). I enjoyed it enough to watch the sequel series, The Legend of Korra, the day after. But one difference in my experience was that I had some basic idea of what Avatar would be like. As for Korra, all I’ve seen is one screenshot- with no context- that looked like it was trying to reference Steins;Gate. The 2010s were the start of an ongoing point in time where cartoons became more naturally influenced by anime (perhaps thanks to Avatar), so I was really curious as to how this show would play out. Let’s see if it improves upon its predecessor or suffers from the timeless “sequel curse”.

In Legend of Korra, set seventy years after the original Avatar, Aang inevitably bites the dust. Replacing him is a new Avatar named Korra, who already knows three of the elements. When Korra follows Aang’s son, Ten Zin, to the futuristic Republic City, she gets more than she bargains for!

I went into Korra expecting it to be so anime, that it wouldn’t be a cartoon. But when I saw the updated version of Avatar’s classic opening, I was surprised by how familiar it felt instead. However, that doesn’t mean Korra is a repeat of the original Avatar. In fact, season one starts with her having to learn Airbending, the one element that has not been touched upon before. They also try some genuinely interesting new ideas, including telling the backstory of the entire Avatar world from the perspective of the first ever Avatar (which ends up retconning the whole lore of the animals being the first benders and stuff but I won’t discuss that at length).

To be brutally honest, Korra is definitely a lot more anime than Avatar ever was. First off, the plot is much more focused right away. While most episodes have self-contained narratives, each of them has a fluid connection to the overarching story. This means less filler, woohoo! 

The show is also more anime in terms of its visuals. While it still behaves like a Saturday morning cartoon, a lot of aspects- from the textures, to color palettes, to lighting effects, etc.- feel very distinctly anime. It also helps that they outsourced the show to some actual Asian studios (I know I always talk about visuals last but it just flowed better for me to put it here, okay?). But in the end, the facial expressions and mannerisms show that this is the same Avatar that we’ve always known; it’s just a more organic union of Eastern and Western animation.

But sometimes, it does lean too far into the anime territory. On paper, that’s not inherently bad. However, in Korra‘s case, it ends up falling for some battle shounen shortcomings. Specifically, there are times where the show abandons the well-choreographed fights based in real-world martial arts for pure visual spectacle. This has happened in stuff like Dragon Ball and Naruto before, much to many people’s dismay. I’m pretty tolerant of mindless spectacle (“Boo, you filthy casual!” you think), but that’s only the case if the show sets that as an expectation. It’s jarring to go from the kind of battles in Avatar to stuff that resembles a Godzilla film in Korra. Also, I’ve never cared much for spectacle in TV form; animation doesn’t move me like really good manga art does.

When it comes to worldbuilding, the world of Avatar has definitely changed. There’s a lot of modern technology and politics in the  world now (typical fantasy mumbo jumbo). Even the recaps are done through early 20th Century-style radio broadcasts. But despite this, a lot of familiar elements, from the White Lotus, to bison, to- well- the elements, are still present and accounted for. They even found a way to integrate the cabbage guy meme into Korra!

On the flipside, it could be argued that they tried too hard to make the world feel like that of the original series. While the visuals are still a better marriage of anime and cartoon, the writers seemed to not know if they wanted to make the show feel profoundly different or nostalgic. At times, the results make Korra come off as a fanfic, especially with the cabbage reference I mentioned earlier. There’s also a lot of contrived throwbacks, like having characters such as Ten Zin’s brother, Bumi- named after Aang’s old friend- who happens to have the exact same personality as the original Bumi, or having a minor character voiced by Zuko’s actor. The occasional flashback to future Aang’s past (wow, that sounded like an oxymoron), where you see characters like Sokka and Toph as adults felt really cringey, and made me ask, “Was this really made by the same team?” 

As much as we can argue about Korra’s worldbuilding, there’s still the story itself to get into. With no Fire Nation, who’s there to fight? Well, in Korra, it just so happens that everything changed when the Equalists attacked. The Equalists are muggles, led by a masked man named Aman, who wants to do away with benders for good. Yes, this is the same “rich vs poor” theme that’s been in 999/1000 fantasy narratives, but it’s been a timeless theme for a reason (that reason being that it’s an overly-obvious parallel to our own society, and social commentaries are always “smart”). But that’s just season one. 

Another battle shounen trope Korra pulls is the “well that was a pretty satisfying conclusion to end on, but hang on this series is actually pretty popular, so I guess I gotta just keep it going somehow” that’s prevalent in many manga of the genre. I suppose that contradicts what I said about there being more focus, but that statement more so applies to the individual arcs themselves. This is due to circumstances around Korra’s development. The show was put through production hell, to the point where Nick ended up airing the final season online instead of TV. They did the show in this arc-based structure because if they didn’t, the show could’ve gotten axxed without warning, with cliffhanger endings unresolved.

This immediately makes Korra‘s narrative inferior to Avatar’s for one reason: lack of anticipation. The finale of Avatar was exciting because the show built things up over the course of its three seasons. But due to the episodic structure, Korra couldn’t do that. None of the final battles felt particularly exciting to me, even if they excelled in the visual department. Fortunately, the show somehow manages to maintain a consistent theme: balance. Like Ten Zin says in the intro, “Only the Avatar can master all four elements, and bring balance to the world.” It was pretty cut-and-dry what Aang had to do to restore balance, which was to get rid of Zuko’s bad dad. But in Korra, it’s not as clear. Every antagonist’s motive revolves around bringing the world into a new era that they genuinely think will be good (well, maybe not as much in the case of the season two villain…), and the show tries to make the villains more complex than Ouzai. There are two issues with this. One, like with the Equalists Arc I mentioned earlier, these narratives aren’t particularly original. And two, like in many battle shounen, the villains’ sound arguments are rebutted by the typical “No, that’s wrong!” of the nakama-powered protagonist, which doesn’t exactly leave stuff open to interpretation. But hey, kudos to them for working with what little they had.

They do go off the rails in the final season (which, by the way, has a recap episode almost identical to its counterpart to The Ember Island Players episode of Avatar). Despite the season being titled “Balance”, a lot of it tackles PTSD, in addition to a conflict formed by perhaps the most unsubstantiated antagonist in the entire Avatar universe. Seriously… this antagonist was a random guard in season three who didn’t even have a name, and that’s assuming they weren’t a random shoehorn. But like any shounen manga that loses its way, I found the final season to be an utter slog, which culminates in a theatrical, but unsatisfactory finale that felt empty due to the aforementioned lack of proper buildup.

In addition to the narrative, the cast shows more immediate issues than the previous Avatar. Korra starts off as a muscular Katara (which would be a more apt analogy if Katara wasn’t still alive as a gram-gram); a brash, overly tomboyish girl who thinks entirely with her stomach. Furthermore, she acquired a classic reverse harem in Bolin and Mako. Bolin is the cute, down-to-earth, funny guy (basically a Sokka clone but with less character development). Meanwhile, Mako is a dream boat that Korra likes, yet he friend-zones her for a Twinkie from the city.

Said Twinkie is a broad named Asami Sato. She’s a typical empowered, gorgeous, and idealized woman. There is NOTHING wrong with her, whatsoever, at least in terms of her personality. While she is very plot relevant, she happens to cause an annoying shipping war that governs much of seasons one and two. I would believe that her main purpose in Korra was specifically to trigger said shipping war… except her REAL purpose is not evident until the end of the series (and no, it didn’t make me like her any more as a character).

“Now, now,” you say, “don’t jump to conclusions. You yourself said in your own Avatar review that the characters started out lackluster, but became a lot better in later seasons. These same issues with the cast of Korra are no doubt minor kinks that they need to work out.” I was perfectly aware of that possibility, so I was willing to give Korra the benefit of the doubt. However, the cast doesn’t exactly work through their shortcomings. While Korra’s shipping war with Asami does conclude by the end of season two, she remains a brash, reckless drama queen to the bitter end. They tried to give her character development in season four, but they waited too long to do it, and thus it felt crammed in at the last minute to me. And while we learn more things about Mako and Bolin, they remain very unentertaining characters (and the latter is still a Sokka clone).

Another issue is that I never felt a sense of growth in terms of power. The original Avatar always made sure we saw some good training every so often. But in Korra, it feels like she just gets new powers thrown in her lap without her having to work for it. It’s typical plot armor, and I definitely acknowledge that Aang had some on him as well. In Avatar, the plot armor was from something that was established ahead of time, like Katara’s special water. But in Korra, there are some cases of random BS magic, and it’s definitely a step backwards from Avatar.

Fortunately, there is a silver lining. One of Japan’s rules is to respect your elders, and this shows in some of the older folk. Ten Zin comes off as a rigid sensei who screams “Don’t do this reckless thing!” while the main protagonist proceeds to do it anyway, and to an extent, he is. But he’s a great family man and has a surprising sense of humor who also learns some lessons of his own. We also have a hot grandma named Lin Beifong. Yes, she’s Toph’s daughter, and she packs the same sass and power as her mom. There’s also the aforementioned Bumi, whose eccentric personality- inspired by his namesake- makes him a chuunibyou; very anime. And while not technically elderly, an eccentric entrepreneur by the name of Varrick proves to be quite the wild card… and ended up being my favorite character in the series.

Final Verdict: ??/10

Writing everything in this review up until now was easy; after all, I’m merely just listing the pros and cons of the topic like I always do. But never in my not-even-one year of blogging have I ever had such a hard time giving the final score. My feelings about The Legend of Korra were divided well after the final episode’s credits rolled, even when taking the circumstances into consideration.

Recall how I kept saying that certain aspects of the show didn’t stack up to Avatar; some of the fights went for spectacle over choreography, there was no long buildup, there wasn’t as much character development, etc. One of the biggest arguments when critiquing a sequel is how to properly compare it to its predecessor. After all, some shows, like Steins Gate 0, explicitly went for entirely different vibes than the original, but because it wasn’t exactly like the original, it got burnt by some critics (for the record, criticizing a sequel for retcons is an exception). I was essentially doing the same to Korra. Is that really fair? If Korra wasn’t the sequel to Avatar, I’d view it as a typical shounen anime, complete with all the genre’s shortcomings. But because its predecessor had character development and great fights, I criticized Korra despite it being, ironically, more within my ballpark than Avatar.

Sequel or not, there are some elements of Korra that are bad in any context, and ones that Avatar did not have. First off, the shipping was awful. Even when the Korra-Asami-Mako thing was resolved, more ships took its place. Bolin has ships with SEVERAL women throughout the course of the series, as well as one of Ten Zin’s daughters. The one thing that they have in common is that they’re constructed too hastily; for the most part, characters are pretty much dating within the same episode or the following episode after they meet. Sure, this is another consequence of the production issues, but bad romance is bad romance.

There’s also the fact that I’m an adult man who’s been spoiled by a lot of the really good content I’ve seen over the years (and by watching it in 2020), and have not touched modern cartoons, a medium with entirely different standards than what I’ve been used to. Apparently, a lot of the appeal of Korra was that it did a lot of controversial stuff (at least according to an old article in Vanity Fair published the day after the finale aired). A lot of Korra felt typical to me, but apparently, cartoons sucked at that time; after all, a lot of the other influential cartoons of the decade, like Gravity Falls and Steven Universe, had only just begun. However, I don’t factor a show doing something for the first time in a given medium into the final score; I rate based on entertainment value alone. It’s the same issue I had with Chainsaw Man: the medium it’s sold on versus the medium that it behaves as. What I mean is as follows: my thing with Chainsaw Man was that it was super-gorey, with layered characters, and one scene where its main protagonist is straight-up offered free sexual intercourse. All of these are typical of seinen manga, which are targeted toward older teens, but because the manga is in Weekly Shounen Jump, a magazine for preteens, it felt a lot wilder as a result. In Korra’s case, a lot of tropes typical of anime, JRPGs, and even some children’s novels, are included in a cartoon. Should it be given a higher score just because cartoons in particular wouldn’t normally have content like that? Anyways, this post has gone on long enough. After much deliberation, I decided to give this show a…

Final Verdict: 7/10

Regardless of it being a sequel, The Legend of Korra had a lot of flaws that cannot go unpunished. And the reason why I don’t give it the benefit of the doubt as much as my favorite shounen manga is that Korra is a TV show. In a manga, a lot of shounen tropes are trivialized by the sheer fact that manga are books. If an arc is boring, I can speed through it. But in a TV show, I cannot. This applies to anime too, and why I watch them so infrequently. But in the end, Korra did enough good to earn a slightly-above-average score. I recommend it to battle shounen fans as well as fans of Avatar.

Avatar: The Last Airbender Full Series Review (Yes, this was my first time watching the show)

My whole life, I’ve lived with the baseless impression that Western culture- specifically that of the United States- looks upon Japanese culture with disdain. Part of this is from the factual translation and- in some cases- censorship issues that plagued Japanese media when it first came overseas (for example, the One Piece dub that shall not be named). For these reasons, I completely ignored Nickelodeon’s fantasy epic, Avatar: The Last Airbender, despite it being lauded for the past fifteen years- by devout anime fans- as a true bridge between Eastern and Western animation. Well, it’s on Netflix now. I have no more excuses.

The only thing I knew about this show going into it was its simple premise. Four nations, each of which control the elements of Water, Earth, Air, and Fire, have existed together just fine. Then- to quote the show’s intro- everything changed when the Fire Nation attacked. The only one who could save the world was the Avatar, but he apparently disappeared because that ALWAYS happens in these kinds of fantasy series. Then everything changed when the Fire Nation- I mean- when two Water Tribe siblings, Katara and Sokka, found a balding boy named Aang, and his- giant pet platypus?- inside of a block of ice. Spoiler alert, he’s the last Airbender, and he embarks on a quest to become the Avatar and beat up the prepubescent prince of the Fire Nation, Zuko (among others). It’s pretty simple, tbh. I don’t know why they need to remind you in every single episode.

I guess it was a precaution for any kids who came into Avatar mid-season, but since it follows anime traditions, it has to be watched in chronological order (I get that newer cartoons have similar continuity, but I’m pretty sure that no other cartoon at THIS point in time had a continuous story). Wow, that was all one sentence. Anyhoo, the thing that’s impressive right off the bat is the fact that a large number of kids were able to put up with Avatar as it aired. It takes two episodes for any real action to occur, and for a kid, that’s like a year. I definitely would’ve turned away if I had seen the pilot episode on launch date. But at the same time, DBZ and Naruto were also airing, so relatively speaking, Avatar had to have felt like a rollercoaster ride.

Enough rambling! Since Aang needs to know all four elements to actually BE the Avatar, he’s gotta go to the other locations and learn them all! As such, the show is neatly split into a single “book” (season) for each remaining element to learn. The basic structure of Avatar is to go from Point A to Point B, train in Point B until he learns the element, fight something, and move onto the next one. Simple, right?

No, actually, it’s not. Appa Airlines (patent pending) is not a very efficient transportation service. And as such, the crew needs to make a number of stops along the way. This results in some episodes being less-than plot relevant. I can imagine that this was done with the intention of meeting viewers halfway, by marrying both the episodic and continuous narrative story structure of Saturday morning cartoons and anime, respectively. Look, I get that something like this had never been done before, but the execution still results in a very unfocused narrative. Sure, some of these stops are worthwhile, either for actual plot relevance, or giving us insight on one or more of the characters. But much of the time, it’s a series of self-contained, uninteresting plots.

Like any fantasy epic, Avatar doesn’t fire on all cylinders right away. My expectations for the show were shot by the end of season one. I’d even say that season one was straight-up bad overall. Fortunately, once season two starts, the show gets significantly more involved, with almost every episode having legitimate plot relevance.

The key word here is “almost”. While the story does follow a more coherent narrative after season one, there are still blips of those Saturday morning cartoon trappings. Due to how much more infrequent the filler gets, it stands out way more when it actually decides to rear its ugly head. These episodes can contain cute interactions, but break the pacing of the plot, especially when they occur immediately following a super intense episode with a cliffhanger (btw, who was the GENIUS who decided to put one of these episodes IMMEDIATELY before the FINAL ARC?! (but for the record, it was actually a pretty great episode)). But you know what, I’ll take even the worst episode of this series over the entire seasons’ worth of filler from the long-running anime that had been airing at the time. 

I must say that the show’s worldbuilding surprised me a little. While I didn’t really care much about the lore, they do some cool, clever stuff with the elements. It’s simple enough for kids to understand, but flexible enough so that it doesn’t become repetitive. If there’s any problem I have with the world of Avatar, it’s the fact that the evil Fire Nation is likely to be based off of Japan (maybe my baseless impressions were right after all…).

My biggest concern going into Avatar was if I’d laugh at the comedic bits. After all, it’s been a decade and a half; our sense of humor has changed a lot, especially compared to the 2010s cartoons I’ve seen lately. Overall, I found the humor to be kind of hit-or-miss. While I acknowledged a lot of the humor as funny, I didn’t laugh out loud anywhere near as often as, say, Gravity Falls.

Another concern was that the cast wouldn’t be so great. I figured that it would take a while to get me warmed up to most of the characters, but I was afraid it wouldn’t be enough. While most of the cast did end up growing on me, the attempt wasn’t exactly as successful as with Gravity Falls or DuckTales.

I’ll admit that they did a good job making Aang conform to shounen protagonist tropes; he’s very aloof, and tends to let his body move ahead of his brain. Furthermore, the show consistently reminds you that he’s just a kid, and that he’s been forced to do something much bigger than what his bald head can comprehend. Conversely, the Western aspect of the show makes him fall for some of the sitcom-like tropes of cartoons, such as the classic “hears negative things from his peers, leaves the room, said peers immediately say a positive flipside to those negative statements, but since he didn’t hear that particular part, he does something stupid”.

The Water Siblings are worse. Sokka is the better of the two, since he brings the bulk of Avatar’s humor to the table, and is ironically the most rational of the group. But the biggest issue with him is how they handle his character arc. Everyone has their own shortcomings to work through, but Sokka’s issues feel the most arbitrary. The first big moment in his arc rides entirely on a ship that was intentionally built to sink, and it’s pretty uninteresting during the brief time that it stays afloat. I’m sure that Sokka must’ve felt like a pitiable, tragic hero to the ten-year-olds who all related to him back when the show aired, but once you get to my age- and more modern times- the telltale signs of a NOTP are too obvious to ignore. Fortunately, it becomes a non-issue by season three.

And Katara… I don’t know what they were trying to do with her. I feel like they wanted to make her into a tsundere, but had a hard time because they weren’t allowed to use ecchi in their relationship. I appreciate that she has multiple sides- from being an absolute b**** to a complete waifu- but overall, I didn’t really enjoy her company for some reason, making her my least favorite character overall.

If I was spoiled by anything in Avatar, it was the addition of a loli to the main troupe. I gotta say I’m impressed that they hit that particular anime nail on the head, since it’s more so a niche community trope than something prevalent in the mainstream battle shounen anime at the time. Anyways, said loli- introduced in season two- is named Toph, and she’s a real wild card. With sassy one-liners and the perfect height, Toph is easily the best of the main protagonists… at least after the others work out the major kinks with her at the start of their relationship.

Then there’s Zuko. Hoo boy. First off, I reaaaaaaally didn’t like how his voice actor portrayed him; I used the word prepubescent to describe him for a reason. As a result, I may be biased in my criticism of the boy. He beats your face in with his one-dimensional irritability. But me, I put up with Bakugo… so, I had a feeling that I’d eventually like him better over time. And that feeling was correct. By season two, there’s a lot of big turning points in his character arc that show he’s much more emotionally distraught than what it looks like at first glance.

Abrasiveness seems to run in the Fire Nation’s royal family. Introduced in season two is Zuko’s sister, Azula. She’s rude, but unlike Zuko, who’s misunderstood, she’s fully aware of it, and enjoys it. Azula also has help in Aang hunting with her buddies, Mei and Tai Li. These two have fun spats with each other, but other than a certain scene late in the series, they aren’t too remarkable.

I saved the best character for last. Out of all the characters, I grew attached to Zuko’s uncle, Iroh, faster than just about anyone else. Most of my favorite scenes in the series are, tbh, interactions between him and Zuko. He supplies some of the best humor, but he’s also great when it comes to being serious.

If there was one thing they got right when it came to anime, it was the following mindset: spend money when it counts. Similar to anime, a lot of the animation in Avatar is kind of lacking. But when actual fights are happening, it looks excellent. Battles are incredibly well choreographed, especially for a kids show, and they pretty much always use the environment in some way. I can imagine that parents got angry over this show when it was airing, and I probably would’ve killed myself pretending to be a bender if I had watched Avatar as a kid. The hand-painted backgrounds also have a weirdly nostalgic look to them. The biggest issue with the art style is that although the character design is memorable, it is a bit bland. They could’ve done a lot more combining cartoon and anime styles; in fact, a lot of manga out at the time- such as One Piece– did a great job in that regard. Oh well, it’s just a nitpick anyway. Overall, the show still looks great, even when watching it in 480p and 4:3 aspect ratio.

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Final Verdict: 8.5/10

It’s predictable. It’s corny. Its sense of humor is dated as all heck, and it spews sappy lessons of friendship just as about as often as any battle shounen series. But despite this, I thoroughly enjoyed watching Avatar: The Last Airbender for the first time (even if I must respectfully disagree with anyone who calls it one of the greatest fantasy epics of all time; One Piece is still higher up there). I must also give the team appreciation for creating what was perhaps the most loving marriage of cartoon and anime at the time. It must’ve been mind-blowing for kids watching this while it aired, since I’m pretty sure it was the first cartoon of its kind. As much as I don’t like saying America is better at something that originated in another country (what is this, Beat Bobby Flay?), I must concede that Avatar is among the better “anime” I’ve seen. I recommend it if you like battle shounen anime, and/or youthful, silly fantasy with a number of wholesome life lessons.