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.

Gravity Falls Full Series Review

The coronavirus of 2020 ended up giving me an opportunity to do something that I didn’t think possible: binge-watch an entire television show. I was going to settle for Avatar: The Last Airbender, but it turned out Netflix didn’t have it (thanks for sucking at having any animated programs as always (oh, and for the record, it wasn’t on Hulu either)). So instead, I chose Disney’s Gravity Falls. From what I know, Gravity Falls has become a modern cult classic; almost unanimous critical acclaim, but ultimately getting overshadowed by Phineas and Ferb and other, more “accessible” Disney IPs (the damn show doesn’t even have Disney Parks merch!). In this review, I see whether or not I made a mistake watching Phineas and Ferb while it aired instead of this.

In Gravity Falls, a pair of twin siblings by the name of Dipper and Mabel Pines are sent to the titular town in scenic Oregon to live with their great uncle, Stanford (known otherwise as Grunkle Stan). They mainly laze around his gift shop of urban legend junk, until Dipper finds some weird book detailing all kinds of strange phenomena in the town. Of course, it’s inevitable that they get involved in said phenomena.

The show follows the typical, episodic formula of any American, Saturday morning cartoon, but with a sense of chronology more befitting of a TV anime. The plot of each episode tends to be stand-alone, but it also lays the groundwork for a bigger story in the process (like when Grunkle Stan enters some secret base at the end of episode 1). They also make nods to earlier episodes throughout the show, further giving it a sense of continuity. One example is a piece of graffiti on the water tower; it’s only brought up once, but its image remains throughout the entire series.

Despite them frequently getting attacked by monsters, ghosts, manly minotaurs, and an evil visual novel that predicted the existence of Doki Doki Literature Club, Gravity Falls maintains a sense of lightheartedness, and I’m thankful for that. Based on the praise I had heard of the show, I thought it was going to be an incredibly pretentious, pseudo-intellectual cartoon with weird symbolism placed just to evoke a sense of deepness when there isn’t any.

But that doesn’t mean there isn’t weird voodoo at all. First off, there are secret codes that appear in the end credits of each episode that apparently either foreshadow later stuff or bark nonsense. There was also a real-life scavenger hunt while the show was airing (or so I was told), but I can’t exactly do that now. I’m glad that this was all the show does in terms of secret hidden lore, instead of rubbing its “genius” in your face like Monogatari. Of course, that will probably not stop series’ fans from calling you (or me) a filthy casual for not “appreciating the genius hidden meeting that makes Gravity Falls transcend modern media and human comprehension” or whatever, but that’s a given with any fandom.

Gravity Falls also has a great sense of humor that’s just about on par with that of Phineas and Ferb. I actually found myself laughing pretty consistently throughout, which was a pleasant surprise. There are also some great humorous details, the most notable of which is the Mystery Shack that they live in. Grunkle Stan’s job is to scam people from within the rundown cottage. The S in “Shack” frequently falls off, which both gets across the fact that the building is old, as well as the fact that Stan is a “Mystery Hack”. I dunno, little things like that are just great to me. Just keep in mind that this show is early 2010s… and that some dialogue is not up to the standards of the new resurgence in feminism. Basically, there’s a lot of gender stereotyping in Gravity Falls. It’s just your usual “boys like punching sh**, girls like boys and shoes”, but hey, I don’t know what sets people off these days.

The characters are also surprisingly solid. Although Dipper only has his frequent sarcastic remarks to save him from being a generic adolescent male, Mabel is Best Girl for sure. Her ditziness and general weirdness make her incredibly entertaining. The issue with them is that they have some “eye-roll-worthy” flaws, such as Dipper’s love for Wendy, one of Stan’s employees, along with Mabel’s annoying ability to fall in love at first sight. There are also cases of sitcom-like melodrama that occur between them, and this is where Gravity Falls feels the most trope-ish (and for the record, such tween drama is the entire reason that the final arc of the series is even instigated in the first place).

Grunkle Stan is also a very entertaining fart with great character development late in the series (even if he single-handedly doubles the length of the final episode for similar drama reasons), along with his other employees, Soos and the aforementioned Wendy. They’re pretty typical “big brother” and “big sister” archetypes, but they’re still likeable and have a lot of memorable lines. 

But hey, Gravity Falls is a town, and that means it has townsfolk. There are a number of very memorable, minor characters who appear at a very consistent rate, and make the area feel more like an actual community instead of an implied community. All these characters have quirky personalities and very distinct character designs, making their company very enjoyable. It’s amazing how much they all, including Toby, warmed up to me.

Unfortunately, the weakest link is in the antagonists. Gravity Falls has two major antagonists, the first of which is lil’ ol’ Gideon. He’s a posh, pompadour-wearing boy who is the Plankton of Grunkle Stan’s Krabs (wait, I think I messed up that analogy… ah, you get what I mean). Underneath his cheruby face is a conniving little turd who seriously wants Stan wiped off the face of the Earth.

Introduced at the end of season 1 is Bill Cipher, an Illuminati symbol with arms and legs. He has some strange motives that don’t come into play until pretty late into the series, well after his introduction. Just by looking at him, I can tell that most of the series’ hidden lore lies within him. I bet that the symbols on his “Illuminati Wheel” can be found in specific frames throughout the entire series, and reveal some sort of secret that will change all of humankind (and not at all mean what it’s intended to mean in the actual story).

Overall, these two are pretty entertaining, but ultimately fall short of beating villains like Heinz Doofenshmirtz from Phineas and Ferb (wow, I just made every fan of Gravity Falls angry). Doof comes off as a mad scientist trope, but becomes the most lovable character in the whole series as you progress through the later seasons. Gideon and Bill are just one-dimensional villains that are basically there out of obligation. Sure, maybe the “hidden lore” gives us more context for Bill than what they tell us, but it also might not at the same time.

The last point to discuss, as always, is the visual presentation. As expected, even for a TV show, Gravity Falls looks incredible. The animation is fluid (even if there are glaring cases of CG), and the color palette makes everything in the show pop. It’s definitely a nice step up from the hyper-budgeted TV anime that I’m used to.

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Final Verdict: 9/10

It might not be quite as good as Phineas and Ferb (“Boo, you filthy casual!” you exclaim. Look, it’s only the musical numbers and the superior antagonist that makes Phineas and Ferb better, okay?), Gravity Falls is definitely a fantastic cartoon. I’m kind of glad I didn’t watch it while it was airing, or I wouldn’t have been able to appreciate it from an adult standpoint. Regardless of if there’s some hidden metaphorical message in it, it’s still fun to enjoy at face value. I highly recommend it to anyone who has Disney Plus (as it’s probably not worth trying to catch it on reruns).