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.

Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba Full Series Review

This was honestly a very tough review to write. I got into Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba (published in English by Viz) months before the anime- that freaking anime- aired. At that time, it had a pretty niche fanbase, like any anime-less manga would in the West. But my whole perspective of it changed when the anime launched- especially the viral nineteenth episode- and made the franchise mainstream overnight. Kimetsu no Yaiba has become one of Jump’s bestselling manga in recent years, even overtaking One Piece as the #1 bestseller of 2019. It has now become the embodiment of everything I hate about mainstream culture and marketing, similar to how I feel about BABYMETAL (which I’ll cover in a future post). I was going to give it a relatively high-ish score at first, but how much will my contrarian-ness affect the score now?

So, Kimetsu no Yaiba’s premise is as simple and unoriginal as it gets. In Taisho Era rural Japan, Tanjiro Kamado lives a happy life with his mother and siblings. But of course, he comes home one day to find his whole family dead (easy emotional hook, check), i.e. slaughtered by a demon. Only his sister, Nezuko, has survived, but she’s become a demon herself (cute girl who needs to be protecc, check). He then goes on a journey to become the #1 Demon Slayer (lofty goal, check) and kill the guy who orchestrated it all.

If you couldn’t tell, Kimetsu no Yaiba is mainstream to the Nth degree, following each shounen trope with little to no deviation. Fortunately, the mangaka at least seemed pretty aware of this, and chose to breeze through a lot of training and entrance exams to get to the real demon-whooping that readers actually want. After Tanjiro joins the Demon Slayers, he basically goes out with Nezuko (who is conveniently small enough to carry in a box) and fights whatever demon is terrorizing whatever area. The only saving grace of the narrative is its fast pacing.

The characters aren’t much better. Tanjiro is your typical, wish fulfilment protagonist. He runs on plot armor, and is inexplicably loved by everyone, even the demons that he cuts down; every single one of them goes through their “tragic backstory” to make you sympathize with them at the last second before Tanjiro kills them, and then they thank him for being a good person in their final breath. His sister, Nezuko, is marketing incarnate. She basically exists to be cute (which works, as I have seen on the message boards when the anime aired). Sure, she can actually hold her own in combat, but her cuteness is definitely a higher priority and a big factor to the franchise’s success.

There are a couple of saving graces, however. Joining Tanjiro are Zenitsu and Inosuke. Zenitsu can be annoying, given that he’s a big fat wuss who exists to provide comic mischief, but when he falls asleep like Bodkin from Wizards of Once, he becomes a super powerful bad-ass. Inosuke is a buff chuunibyou who wears a cool boar mask. These two aren’t the best characters in the world, but they’re enough to make Kimetsu no Yaiba more enjoyable.

Given the traditional battle shounen structure, Kimestu no Yaiba is full of throwaway antagonists who rarely last more than an arc. But among them is the actual main antagonist, Muzan Kibutsuji. He is a legitimately intimidating villain who has a very suave aura about him. He might be an a-hole to his minions, but he’s at least dressed fabulously.

Sadly, that’s pretty much it for the cast. What remains to be discussed are the many other Demon Slayer people that Tanjiro looks up to. I always forget who they are almost immediately after every reading session of the manga, so that really speaks of how unremarkable they are. The only one I remember is Giyuu, but that’s just because he’s the first one encountered, and his name is funny.

In the end, the one thing I can appreciate about Kimetsu no Yaiba is the fact that it ends startlingly quickly; clocking in at 205 chapters despite its insane popularity. Out of everything in the manga, the best thing that could’ve happened was for it to end, so that the mangaka didn’t have to worry about shoehorning in unremarkable antagonists just to pad it out for ten more years (like DBZ and Naruto).

The art is, uh, an effort. I’m not gonna crap on the art like everyone did when the anime came out. Sure, it’s not as “clean and crisp” as the anime, but it has a unique charm to it. Also, the fights are more than visually appealing enough. But like what critics said about the anime, the great art can only go so far to offset such a cookie-cutter narrative.

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Final Verdict: 6.75/10

Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba is a fairly enjoyable manga that managed to end on the best possible note. Is its popularity undeserved? Hell yes. Is it the worst thing ever? Not quite. Like I said in the beginning, I’m being extra harsh on the manga because the anime was insanely successful due to the inherent appeal of Tanjiro’s simple and idealized personality, Nezuko’s cuteness, the visual spectacle, and the presence of famed composer Yuki Kajiura. Raw, human emotion, not perturbed by critical thinking, is imperative in order to enjoy Kimetsu no Yaiba; enough to have your heart melt from the backstories of people that you know for five seconds. By now, it should be obvious if this manga’s your cup of tea, so decide accordingly.

Jigokuraku First Impressions (Chapters 1-40)

Artwork from Viz site

You’ve gotta love edgelords sometimes. There’s a little charm in their hackneyed “to kill or not to kill” monologues. Oh, and gore too. And out-of-left-field comic mischief. Jigokuraku: Hell’s Paradise, simulpub in English on Viz’s digital Jump subscription, has got all of that to spare!

In a dark period of Japan’s past (sorry, I’m not weeb enough to tell what era it is just by looking at it), the edgy ninja known as Gabimaru the Hollow is pending execution. However, nothing they try will actually kill him! So, the shogunate recruits him, among other criminals, to journey to a strange island and recover the elixir of life. He is accompanied by swordswoman Sagiri Amaemon, who must watch over him, and immediately decapitate him if he steps out of line. But since this is a battle shounen, she’ll probably never do that to him.

So far, it’s pretty fun. The beginning makes you think it’s going to be a battle royale, but they got bigger fish to fry. And by fish, I mean the giant mutant Bosatsu that live on the island. Basically, imagine if Shou Tucker from Fullmetal Alchemist was Buddhist. The island has a very surreal and creepy, yet whimsical feeling to it, and it makes me curious as to what it has to offer. There are also some powerful, human-looking foes that are super swole and can freely genderswap any time that they want. 

The characters, for the most part, are decent enough. Gabimaru is pretty nonchalant, edgy, and fun. Sagiri starts off as a whiny, “character who gets crapped on for being a woman because it’s historically accurate”-type, but she becomes much more resourceful at ten-odd chapters in. One of my favorite characters is probably the sexy female ninja Yuzuriha. Although she looks powerful, she’s very aloof and doesn’t even seem to take the mission seriously. But she’s still fun to see. I also like Gantetsusai, who is a tall, powerful swordsman that ends up being the “frenemy” of the group, and of Gabimaru in particular.

Sadly, I can’t figure out if these characters are based on actual people from history. The only thing I could recognize were two brothers whose dad was one of the 47 Ronin. Hopefully I’ll be a big enough history buff to be able to say something authoritative during the full review of the series, once it ends.

The art in Jigokuraku is great. It’s very rough and sketchy, with vivid details and great action shots. Word of warning, there is complete female frontal nudity, as well as gore, so stay away if you hate that stuff.

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Current Verdict: 8.25/10

Jigokuraku is a fun, enjoyable, and somewhat addicting historical fiction manga. I recommend it to any fans of battle shounen and edgy stuff.

Descending Stories Full Series Review

I think it’s safe to say that there are only two ways that a Westerner would be exposed to the Japanese performing art known as rakugo. One way is the Ace Attorney case that had rakugo and notoriously expected you to know real life information about Japanese cuisine in order to be able to solve the case. The other way is to read Descending Stories: Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju– published in English by Kodansha Comics- or watch its anime adaptation (okay, so technically there are three ways but the latter two both involve the same thing). Because of the Ace Attorney case, I was left very confused as to what this rakugo thing is. So, I basically read this manga all the way through as a form of research.

And here’s a small warning: DON’T read this manga for research! Descending Stories jumps right into the rakugo theme expecting you to already have a basic idea of what it is. Although you can at least figure out some terms thanks to footnotes and context clues, it doesn’t really serve any purpose as to what the appeal of rakugo is. If you want that, you’re going to have to read the bonus sections where the author literally documents different areas of rakugo. From context, rakugo itself seems to be an event where you watch a man kneel down and tell a story out of a pre-written selection while also doing the voices and mannerisms of all the characters. I didn’t actually do any research on rakugo so that I could dive into this manga fresh and from the perspective of an average Joe who wouldn’t know about it themselves.

Descending Stories is a slice-of-life manga, with rakugo as a narrative theme, more than anything else. The main character, Yotaro, is an ex-convict who has finally served his time in jail. Upon release, he seeks out Yakumo, a rakugo-ist(?) who performed at his prison, because Yotaro was inspired by him. When he finds the man, he’s turned down from becoming a rakugo apprentice, but is allowed to freeload and figure out how to rakugo on his own. Oh, and also, the whole overarching narrative revolves around Yakumo’s friend, the late, great Sukeroku (late, as in dead). This is a manga about coping with loss.

Similar to Ascendance of a Bookworm, I have a hard time discussing the characters because they are just normal people. While Yotaro is the main character, technically, half of the manga is actually focused on Yakumo and Sukeroku’s backstory. Keep in mind that depending on their rakugo status, their names will change like that guy in the Secret Show. It’s not that hard to get used to because the recap at the beginning of volumes 2 and onward tell you who’s who every time.

I think the art is the weakest aspect in the manga. Although it’s got a distinct, humble style, every character looks like they’re making duck-lip expressions, which clashes with the theme of loss, and basically any scene that’s meant to be taken seriously. At the very least, the panel flow is perfectly fine, and has some strong double-page spreads.

Geez… I… I’m gonna be honest, I don’t know what else to say about Descending Stories. My preferred genres are battle shounen and isekai, yes, but I’ve been more than capable of enjoying the more “cultured” manga. Heck, Naoki Urasawa- the mangaka of 20th Century Boys and Monster– is one of my favorite mangaka of all time! Plus, there’s Kasane and ACT-AGE that I love too, and don’t even get me started on the masterpiece that is Space Brothers. I’m more than certain that Descending Stories is a great manga. My beef with it is probably the art, which I find really important for the actual conveyance of the story. If Urasawa did the art for this, I might like it more.

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Final Verdict: 8.5/10

I gave Descending stories a lot of benefit of the doubt. I can see the makings of a great drama manga here, but I just couldn’t get into it like the drama manga I previously mentioned. It also didn’t help me appreciate rakugo itself, which is unusual because I find that manga are the only time that I appreciate a real-world things that I normally find boring. If you want something with more “culture” than those “mindless” battle shounens, Descending Stories has culture to spare!