I’m a Big Weeb, But I Don’t Like Anime

Anime has been a leading force in the influence of Japanese pop culture extending to the rest of the world. I’ve come across a lot of people who view the medium as their lifeblood. But me? I don’t get it. As someone who’s read Japanese comics, played Japanese videogames, listened to Japanese rock bands, and studied Japanese culture, I do not get anime at all. In this article, I’ll illustrate why.

Pick a Streaming Service and Pray

I feel like anime streaming has become a blessing and a curse. While it’s amazing that you can pay a negligible monthly rate to be able to watch hundreds of anime, some of which have simulcasting available, the actual execution is not the best.

The first reason is the anime industry itself. Anime is a quantity-over-quality world. And under the assumption that you are—in fact—sane, you will likely look at the lineup for the next anime season and look forward to one or two (or five on a great season) shows. Since the majority of the anime demographic is teenagers who have no jobs, let’s assume that you can only watch shows from one streaming service for your whole life. If this is the case, you’ll have to be lucky that your one streaming service will air that one show, because you’re not gonna watch the other 90% of crap.

It’s not a fun time. My worst luck was the Winter 2020 season. I was planning on watching five shows- a record for me- and ALL of them ended up on Funimation, while I had Crunchyroll. It wasn’t that big of a deal because I already read their source versions, and the adaptations were likely to be bunk anyway, but it was still sad to see that the one service I used didn’t get a single one of those shows. That’s what anime streaming is. If I know this community, only a small handful of shows get any traction, while thousands of other shows vanish into the ether. 

And the services themselves are debatable in quality. Crunchyroll is more-than-functionable (without bringing up the political upheaval they caused with a thirty second teaser trailer in 2018), while all I know about Funimation is the whole “Kick Vic” incident. I’ve even heard horror stories about how Netflix and Amazon explicitly disrespect anime culture. I don’t know if that’s true, but I do know that the former doesn’t stream shows until well after they air (well after they have been forgotten in the community), and the latter doesn’t even bother marketing them. A whole fandom died inside in spring (or was it summer?) of 2019, when the epic historical fiction manga, Vinland Saga, got its long awaited adaptation, from a great studio, and got licensed to Amazon. It could’ve been a cultural phenomenon, but no… it might as well have not existed, and Kimetsu no Yaiba blew up instead.

I have no idea why anime streamers are like this, versus manga publishers. Manga publishing has come a long way from when Viz and Tokyopop freakin’ mirrored the manga. I buy material from every major manga publisher in North America equally. They actually care about manga (and market them, too!), and have very high quality translations and whatnot. For argument’s sake, if Kodansha, Yen Press, and Seven Seas joined Viz in launching a subscription service of their whole catalogues, I’d subscribe to all of them in a heartbeat. The combined monthly rate would surely be less than the flat rates I pay, and I would actually use each of them all the time, as opposed to anime streamers, whom you’ll only have the time and sanity for a couple of shows per season.

Money Is VERY Much an Object

It’s no secret that anime is a BIT on the downgrade. Anime studios tend to have big budget issues, sometimes being forced to file for bankruptcy. Animators are notoriously underpaid at these jobs, to the point where being a straight-up salaryman is probably a better option. But money isn’t only affecting real people, it’s affecting the products.

For starters, the chances of an anime finishing are next to nil. A lot of anime, even successful ones with high incentives to continue, end without a follow-up, and my personal assumption is a lack of funding, even for successful ones. That’s just how in the red they are. Even when they do get new seasons, they tend to degrade in quality, like—most famously—One-Punch Man in its second season.

That lack of funding also makes anime artistically hideous. Most of them consist of flat textures and solid colors, with only one basic shader or highlight at a time (if you’re lucky, you’ll see a shader AND a highlight in the same shot). These studios take any semblance of artistic identity that their source material had and makes them all look exactly the same.

But what’s worse is the actual animation itself… or lack thereof. Most of the time, any given shot in an anime consists of just the mouth opening and closing at regular intervals. And sometimes, you’ll have a thirty+ second long shot of nothing moving at all. It’s also common to see flashbacks to something that happened earlier in the same episode. There are some moments of excellent animation, but they are exceedingly rare (although I heard that Mob Psycho 100’s second season is surprisingly consistent), and to me, not enough of a payoff. Also, pretty much every anime I’ve seen feels like they’re all directed by the same person.

A lot of people are used to these quirks, but I can’t stand it. And honestly, you can blame me for being a filthy normie on this one. I’ve grown up with Disney my whole life. Disney has an incredible eye for detail (at least when they actually TRY), and I’ve gained a habit of appreciating all of those details. Their characters emote and express themselves in ways that feel alive and give them substance. They have had multiple characters on-screen, all animated and emoting simultaneously. Thanks to my autistic logic, I’ve gained a habit of looking for those same details in animated mediums. And anime, naturally, completely lacks those details. Anime feels dead and empty without those subtle gestures of emotion. Even when something emotional happens, the eyes end up being the only things that animate. I don’t need these details in manga, since it’s a still-image medium and they have entirely different ways to convey moods than anime. But nope, when something’s animated, I need fluid animation and expressive faces or else I am not engaged. And for the record, I do know about Kyoto Animation, but all I’ve come across from them are sappy love stories that I have no interest in.

Feature Films are Great… Good Luck Seeing Them

Most of my complaints have been regarding TV anime; feature films are another story entirely. With less hours of content to produce, no deadline to produce it, and more money to produce it with, anime feature films are where all the talent in the industry has gone. Many anime enthusiasts know famous directors like Hayao Miyazaki of Studio Ghibli, and the more recent Makoto Shinkai, director of Your Name and Weathering With You

I’ve only seen a few anime movies: Spirited Away, Summer Wars, and The Tale of Princess Kaguya among others. They were all great (well, not so much Summer Wars because it was just a boring family drama disguised as The Matrix, but that’s an argument for another day), and they gave me a light of hope for the industry. I’d love to watch more movies and write about them.

The problem is that seeing them is a bit tricky. A lot of them are available on streaming, but not on anime streaming services. They’re all stretched thin across a lot of “normie” streaming services, from Netflix to HBOMax. As much as I complained about anime streaming before, these other apps are an entirely different rabbit hole. I’m not someone who likes Western shows, and it’s not worth paying for an amount of movies I can only count on my fingers. 

“Well, just buy them, you cheapo,” you say. I just looked on Amazon and GKids’, and one anime movie costs about $20 USD each. “That’s not so ba—” That’s for one movie. There are a lot of anime movies out there, and building a collection would easily inhibit my ability to cover the usual material I cover on this blog. As much as I want to see more anime movies, I’m not a movie guy, therefore anime movies are of low priority.

My one sole hope is in events like GKids’ Ghiblifest, or actual anime premieres themselves. I only need to pay $8 USD to watch them once, which is all I’d have time for anyway. But there’s still a drawback: the distribution. I was able to watch Kaguya in a theater that was a stone’s throw from my house. However, when Weathering With You came out, I was tempted to watch it because I was low on post material for January and I thought, “Eh… why not? I think the movie’ll be stupid, but I just don’t hate myself enough.” Regardless of whether or not I would’ve liked it, I was still butthurt that the closest theater for THAT was forty minutes away from my house, and since I would’ve seen the subbed version like a true weeb, I would’ve been up until midnight when I got back home! That’s a no-go for someone who had to be awake at five in the morning to be able to report to his full-time job that’s paying for his blogging career.

Man, if only there was a place to RENT movies. If I didn’t like it, I could just bring it back tomorrow, and no money will have been wasted. It could’ve been called “Movies That Are Expected to Make a Lot of Money in the Box Office” or something. Oh well, an idea so ridiculous couldn’t possibly exist!

Conclusion

Watching anime is tough. Really tough. Much tougher than reading manga. Anime is more affordable, but you get what you’re paying for: low-budget, cheaply made, overly-abundant crap. A haystack of BS that you need to scour in order to find the needle. Then when that anime season is over, you lather, rinse and repeat with the next season. To me, it’s a nightmare, and that’s why I bowed out of it. 

I must ask the following question, specifically to the veterans who’ve made anime their life, and have literal hundreds under their belt, to the point where they’ve self-taught themselves fluent Japanese just by watching them with subtitles: What is so appealing about anime? It can’t be just because it was the first medium you were exposed to, because I myself was actually converted from a TV junkie to a book junkie over the course of my life. I dunno, maybe it literally is just because of the aforementioned reason, or maybe I could stop speculating and just let you answer the question in the comments (I really want to know)!

Why It’s Okay for Disney to be Mainstream: A Rant

I’m not one to enjoy massively popular media, so you’d naturally think I’d despise the Walt Disney Company, at least in their current, mainstream-savvy form. Despite that, I ended up giving Frozen 2 and Onward overall positive scores, in complete disregard to how much I criticized them. Why is that? Get ready for a rant!

The main reason for my claim is that most of their movies- at least the good ones- have a lot more substance than most mainstream content. There are a lot of popular things I’ve consumed that basically go down a checklist of what people inherently love and don’t do anything remotely inventive. One manga example is Kimetsu no Yaiba, which barely gets the benefit of the doubt because the author ended it when it was at its peak (relatively speaking) instead of milking it.

Although their main demographic is children, Disney at least saw ahead and made sure that those same viewers would enjoy their movies in adulthood. This is something I learned five years ago, when I watched The Incredibles during a Movie Under the Stars event at Walt Disney World. As a kid, I had seen it so many times, I basically had the movie memorized. However, when I saw it at age nineteen that night, I saw it for the first time ever. As an adult, I was actually able to understand what makes it one of the best Pixar movies of all time, in ways that I couldn’t have comprehended as a kid. It was an amazing experience, and it stays across most core Disney movies (MOST of them; Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, you haven’t really aged well, narratively speaking…). 

One of the things that makes Disney movies enduring is that they have strong supporting characters besides the cliched main ones. I don’t really like Snow White or Ariel as much as some of my actual waifus, but the Seven Dwarves and Sebastian are timeless. There’s also characters like Olaf, the ultimate Disney husbando. And of course, there’s nothing like a good Disney villain. They have iconic personalities and exude intimidating auras thanks to their brilliant animators. The Evil Queen, Maleficent, Lady Trumain, Ursula… and also Hades and Yzma, who have gotten a billion times more popular in recent years; they are among the most memorable antagonists of all time (except Hans in Frozen). These days, most people are probably looking forward to them more than the good guys (who actually watched The Little Mermaid Live for any reason other than fangushing at Queen Latifa?).

And of course, there’s the MUSIC. Disney has had master songwriters that don’t get talked about too often, but they’re real geniuses, writing songs that people still sing to this day. I don’t think the ENTIRE Disney discography is perfect, but a lot of it—especially the newer stuff—is really, really good. The other important factor is that ever since they had the brilliant Howard Ashman work for them, the songs also contribute to plot progression in a very Broadway-esque manner. I still listen to songs from Frozen casually (PS: ‘Let It Go’ deserves all the praise it got, fight me), and that’s just the tip of the iceberg (no pun intended). And just when you think they’ve run out of ideas, something like ‘Lost in the Woods’ from Frozen 2 comes up. I remember thinking, “Oh boy, a bad, melodramatic Krifstoff song shoehorned into an already shoehorned subplot”, at first. But when you hear that eighties guitar riff out of nowhere, it’s like, “What the crap?!” It’s safe to say that Disney would have not made it this far if they didn’t turbo-charge their films with amazing music! 

I also love the Walt Disney Company itself, more so than the movies. For starters, they are pretty much one of the few bastions of goodwill left in the world. I’m sorry, but that’s how it is. Most other companies are too selfish and/or corrupt to even try to do better for the world, and others have pretty much given up on even trying. They don’t just make movies, they help animals and the earth through the Disney Conservation Fund, the use of environmentally friendly buses, and massive solar panel farms. To accomplish so much, they need a LOT of funding. These people don’t just need movie budgets, but they need to be able to manufacture merch of literally ALL kinds, as well as paying the millions who are working at several theme parks AND cruise ships. So, yeah, some of their movies might be riskless cash grabs, but they kinda need it once or twice in a while. If it weren’t for their vision, I would probably accuse them of pandering just as easily as any crappy hack writer.

And as much as I hate to say it, I must acknowledge the value of being able to relate to the main protagonists. They’re generic to a fault, but they definitely had an impact on cultures around the world. Their arcs (and the narratives of the movies in general) are not marred by any sort of cultural barrier, making them lovable to anyone. I also can’t deny that they have saved a lot of young’uns from torment, especially in the case of Frozen. They also handle wish fulfilment themes in ways that are genuinely good, at least recently. Most of the time, the tropes say, “You’re special for no reason now go be a wizard Harry.” Disney merely says “You’re you,” which is a lot better. In fact, as much as I said I loved good Disney villains, they seem to be moving towards complete abandonment of main antagonists in the favor of developing their protagonists, which I’m interested to see moving forward. But you know what, if you only love Disney movies because of the relatability aspect, then I feel genuinely sorry for you; you’re missing out on some really well thought-out, detail-oriented media.

And seriously, they are detail-oriented, in a way that transcends OCD. It’s made readily apparent if you go to Epcot and look at the architecture. Everything is authentic and accurate right down to the last brick. That same attention applies to their movies. If you watch the behind-the-scenes of some of this stuff, you’ll see them have board meetings over a three-second shot. It sounds excessive, but they need to do it because they know that those details make or break the whole picture, even if it’s stuff that no casual viewer would even think to look at.

So, in conclusion, I’m willing to bet that most people really do just enjoy Disney movies because of their eye-catching visuals, and the audience’s innate desire to see “themselves” in the narrative. But from a professional standpoint, they’re decent movies, with great soundtracks, from a team that’s constantly moving forward. While I still don’t entirely enjoy the wish fulfillment themes that they perpetuate, they at least have substance, and that’s something that makes them stand out from the rabble.

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.

~~~~~

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.

When Anime Puts Its Best Foot Forward – Children of the Sea Movie Review

A couple years ago, before I even started this blog, I read one of my favorite manga of all time: Children of the Sea. It was a short, beautiful story with a simple message that really puts things in perspective (which is the vaguest way for me to describe it without spoiling you). It felt like a dream come true for it to get a feature film adaptation from Studio 4°C. Everything seemed to check out. “Oh boy!” I exclaimed. “Something legitimately unique and powerful that isn’t just mindless visual spectacle is actually going to get its well-deserved publicity!” However, karma seems to dictate that no truly creative and excellent media can ever get that publicity, for COVID-19 was at its peak panic levels during the month of the movie’s US theatrical premiere. And as such, the movie got downgraded to a straight-to-home-video release, as if it were a bad Disney sequel. 

Because of this, I was concerned, to the point where I had to make a whole new paragraph for the following statement. The straight-to-home-video release made me consider an alarming possibility: Children of the Sea flopped. I don’t know why, but GKids didn’t exactly promote it, like, at all (for example, it was released on Netflix but I haven’t seen them Tweet about it and I was on them like a hawk leading up to this release). I’ve been worried about it not being well-received. Children of the Sea is incredibly abstract, and gets very cosmic very quickly. The fact that a hyperbole-hating guy like myself just used the word “cosmic” shows that this movie is a real trip. Anyway, this preamble has gone on for too long. My copy of the Blu-Ray is here, so let’s just watch the darn movie and stop postulating already!

In Children of the Sea, a girl named Ruka is living a typical life as an outcast among her peers and as a victim of divorce. She visits her dad’s aquarium, which acquires some unusual new specimens: Umi and Sora, two children who were found literally at the bottom of the ocean. Ruka acquaints herself with them, and when fish around the world begin to vanish, the boys are the only ones who can help her figure out why.

Like I said before, the story goes places. It’s so much of a trip that there’s not even a real antagonist nor actual stakes. The first half is basically a slice-of-life with some supernatural intrigue, while the second half is just… art. I’ll get to that last aspect in a bit.

I’m someone who’s consumed a lot of media that I’ve believed is pseudo-intellectual, and at first glance, Children of the Sea has every ingredient to fall into that same category. It has many shots that are framed with absolute beauty for the sake of beauty, as well as a lot of very esoteric dialogue to make them come off as smart, with a dash of real-world science thrown in. But unlike pseudo-intellectual works such as The Fault in Our Stars, Rascal Does Not Dream, and Monogatari, Children of the Sea has a clear-cut tangible meaning (which I choose not to disclose in this review). In fact, you could criticize its writing for being too ham-fisted if anything (but in its defense, this message is difficult enough to get across as it is so they kind of need to ham-fist it). Most of the hard science, which includes marine biology and astrophysics, is… true enough.  Regardless of scientific accuracy, the messages that are conveyed via these factoids are what matter the most, as opposed to something like Rascal Does Not Dream where it’s like “Teenager issues? Have a quantum physics textbook!” just to force symbolism onto you.

“But a social commentary is still a social commentary,” you say, “and you don’t like social commentaries!” Normally, that would be true. From my perspective, most social commentaries are about human things that are already common knowledge by now. Children of the Sea’s message is something on a grander scope that- sadly- ends up going largely unacknowledged. Not to sound pretentious, but I think it’s something legitimately important for everyone to know.

Despite how straightforward the movie seemed, your mileage may vary. It’s not just the fact that I read the manga, but I’ve also been awakened to the same message through different means (Spoilers: through an old mini-series starring Neil DeGrasse Tyson, and it’s not Cosmos!). So of course the movie would make sense if I already had an understanding of what it was going to say! The anime is no-doubt the more difficult version to experience first. In the manga, you have the ability to stop and take everything in, whenever you want, while the anime moves whether you want it to or not. Sure, you can pause it, but anime Blu-Rays have a problem with making subtitles disappear for a few seconds after you pause them (which would be a non-issue if you watch the dub, you normie). 

Anyways, let’s drastically change the topic and discuss… the differences between the manga and anime (that I remember)! While most of what they cut is trivial, some removed content can mar the movie experience a bit. They completely get rid of the backstory between these two scientists, Jim and Anglade, which gives context to their relationship with each other. But more detrimental is that specific cut content makes a certain scene regarding Ruka’s mother come from way out of left field. In any case, the cuts do help the pacing a lot. I’d rather have a fantastically done movie with some bits missing than a crappy TV anime with all the content.

Let’s move on to the characters, who are by far the weakest aspect of Children of the Sea. Ruka definitely comes off as a YA protagonist; crappy life, gets swept away by two handsome boys, and is arbitrarily chosen to fulfill some great purpose for no reason. Honestly, I can’t really justify her character arc. I have one thing to say, but I can’t say it without spoiling the central themes of the film. So, spoilers: Having someone like Ruka be chosen is a glimmer of hope that any human can regain its innate connection with nature.

Umi and Sora are a bit more likeable… to a point. They also have YA tropes; Umi is the fun, lovable kid, and Sora is the sexy bad boy. They say a lot of esoteric things, and it’s only because of my understanding of the movie’s message that I don’t want to bop them upside the head. Next up are Jim and Anglade, the scientists I mentioned earlier. Due to the cut content, their character arcs got beaten down more than anyone’s. Fortunately, they aren’t that integral to the plot to begin with, even in the manga, so it’s fine. Beyond them, we have Ruka’s parents… who are typical divorcees.

The audio and visuals make Children of the Sea complete. The music is absolutely enchanting, and perfectly sells the atmosphere of the movie. But as great as Joe Hisaishi is, he didn’t write the end credits theme: Spirits of the Sea. This little ditty was by the singer Kenshi Yonezu. I’ll discuss Yonezu… in the future, but for now, lemme tell you that Spirits of the Sea is a wonderful, beautiful ballad that really conveys Children of the Sea’s magic. I got to listen to it when he released the single, at the time of the movie’s Japanese premiere, and it is how I discovered Yonezu in the first place. I highly recommend listening to it casually, but also listen to it during the credits; a post-credits scene follows afterward.

And- Holy crap!- the art. A lot of TV anime these days might look… eh, but at least the movies have maintained a high standard for quality. In fact, Children of the Sea is the most beautiful anime I’ve ever seen. They were faithful to the original manga’s linework-heavy artstyle, while also adding their own flourish to it. Studio 4°C also had the manga’s sense of composition; each shot is full of little details, yet it’s easy to identify the main subject at any given time. The animation, use of CG, and particle effects were also top dollar. After reading the manga, I had asked myself, “How the crap are they going to handle the climax?” Well, I’ll just tell you… they did a good job on that end.

Final Verdict: 10/10

I knew that the best case scenario with Children of the Sea was it would become my favorite anime of all time. And guess what: it’s my favorite anime of all time. The stars aligned with this one. Amazing source material, adapted by a studio that really cared. It’s practically perfect in every way. But boy… Children of the Sea got Shrekked hardcore. The COVID-19 pandemic killed its one shot at publicity in a U.S. premiere (outside of Chicago at least), and it made me real salty. This was a rare chance for something obscure, adapted by a talented team, to be unleashed upon the world, and it was all for naught!

This is one of the few pieces of media that I recommend you try regardless of your tastes. I might be sounding pretentious, but understanding the message that it conveys is very eye-opening. I’ve read a lot of books where the blurbs say “This completely changed how I view the universe!” and it ended up being two boring teenagers falling in love. Children of the Sea is not that; it is genuine, brutally honest, and poignant.

Millennium Actress Movie Review

I stated in my Tokyo Godfathers review that it was the “best anime movie I’ve seen since Ghost in the Shell“. As such, it was a no-brainer that would watch another Satoshi Kon flick, Millennium Actress, on Kanopy, from a completely different license holder than GKids. Going into it, I was aware that Tokyo Godfathers was a black sheep in Kon’s career, and that this movie was going to be much darker and stranger than I could possibly expect.

In Millennium Actress, two documentarians, Genya Tachibana and Kyouji Ida, are given the opportunity to interview retired actress Chiyoko Fujiwara. The old bird gladly divulges her life story to them, and those two end up along for quite a ride.

And I mean that literally. The movie seems straightforward at first glance, and that’s because it is. Minor spoilers: it doesn’t take long before the men interviewing her are literally IN Chiyoko’s flashbacks along with her past self.

Just when you thought things couldn’t get more meta, here’s a real hum-dinger. The bulk of Chiyoko’s story isn’t just told through flashbacks, but additionally through assorted scenes in her movies. These are seamlessly integrated into the actual plot, which is quite impressive (also, it’s convenient that all of her movies had similar premises). In these sequences, Tachibana ends up inexplicably planted into each given movie as an extra, further adding to the meta aspect.

Unfortunately, the biggest issue with Millennium Actress is Chiyoko’s story itself. The main conflict of the movie involves Chiyoko trying her butt off to find a tall, dark, and handsome guy she met for five minutes when she was, like, twelve. It’s so annoying when a female character gets her heart set aflutter by these idealized bozos. Sure, she was young and dumb, but the guy looks like he’s at least fifteen years older than her, which is kinda weird. Look, I don’t hem and haw over these intentionally controversial old-on-young people romances, like the Monica and Richard thing from Friends, but at least they GOT TO KNOW EACH OTHER FIRST.

This doesn’t help her as a character either. While it’s always fun [for Westerners] to watch someone descend into madness, her issues seem cringey and annoying. At least characters like Citizen Kane had REAL issues, his case being his own mother selling him to the freaking BANK, or Mildred Pierce, whose case I won’t mention because it’s a spoiler. Overall, Chiyoko comes off as a whiny brat throughout the film.

Fortunately, the two reporters are better. They have great chemistry with each other, and add a lot of humor to the movie that very much reminds me of Tokyo Godfathers. Also, they sort of represent the audience in some way. Tachibana comes off as the self-proclaimed intellectual who is totally into whatever the movie throws at him, and Ida acts like the trend-savvy, filthy casual who wouldn’t know REAL art even if it placed his head into its bosom. The fact that I’m not waxing poetic about Kon’s “Schrodinger’s Cat, quantum-reality-warping transcendentalist genius” or whatever means that I’m CLEARLY more like Ida in this case.

When it comes to visuals, despite being only a year or two before Tokyo Godfathers, Millennium Actress looks much more aged. But even then, it still looks better than pretty much every TV anime these days. It also seems that Kon’s movies have a signature face style, similar to that of Ghibli. I hope that I don’t get sick of it if I choose to watch any more Kon movies.

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Final Verdict: 8.85/10

While I didn’t enjoy it as much as Tokyo Godfathers, Millennium Actress was still a great movie, and proof that this Kon guy knew what he was doing. However, when you take away the whole “warping between past, present, and movie scenes” thing, it amounts to little more than a bog-standard tragic love story. This brings up the question of what’s more important in storytelling: The story or the telling? I’m a bit of a weird combination of both, but you’ll need to lean a lot toward the latter in order to enjoy Millennium Actress.

Welcome to the Space Show Movie Review

Hopefully G-Kids will add more anime movies to Kanopy, because the ones I’ve watched have been fifty-fifty. Patema Inverted ended up being an E.T. ripoff on the most superficial, empty level. But conversely, Welcome to the Space Show– today’s topic- ended up being an E.T. ripoff with just the right amount of whimsy to become something with its own identity.

In Welcome to the Space Show, five kids- Natsuki, Amane, Noriko, Kiyoshi, and Koji- go out to search for their missing rabbit when they find an injured dog instead. Of course, this dog is actually a space dog named Pochi. As a reward for saving him, Pochi takes the kids to a massive alien city on the moon. 

To briefly touch on the art style, Space Show has a lot of abstract and bizarre setpieces and scenes. This is where I would normally assume that there’s some pretentious pseudo-symbolism. However, based on the sheer off-the-deep-endness of the movie, that really isn’t the case. The basic theme of Space Show is just weird for the sake of weird, and it doesn’t care if you’re confused.

And it does get confusing. Although there is enough  foreshadowing to have continuity, the way everything all comes together results in a massive “WTF?!” at the end. As expected, the climax is about as absurd and over-the-top as it gets. Saying that they fight a giant cyborg dragon above an autonomous salaryman planet during a livestream being broadcast to the entire universe isn’t even a spoiler, just because describing the plot of Space Show is impossible no matter how hard you try. I could be a critic, and say, “Oh, visual spectacle is technically impressive, but it doesn’t justify the mindless [insert smart-sounding word here] BS”, but I won’t.

It’s because of the main characters that the mindless BS is justified. While these kids aren’t particularly interesting, they are definitely kids at heart. Normally, I’d dislike any “human” protagonists, because of my fierce antisocialness, but kids are an exception. Children, when not tainted by the many adults who seek to manipulate them, are the most pure, innocent, and lovable by far. The other characters aren’t that interesting outside of their designs, and the relationship between Pochi and certain other individuals isn’t entirely clear (i.e. it’s interpretive).

Of course, I can only justify so much. The movie does have some of those eye-roll-worthy tropes that tend to be in a lot of family friendly movies. First off, Kiyoshi has a whole plot line with his dead dad that means absolutely nothing. Plus, there’s the typical “let’s be dejected for fifteen minutes and abruptly bounce back after we say some sappy junk as if we weren’t even drowning in despair in the first place.” It’s kind of something you can’t avoid in these movies, so you’ll just have to deal with it.

Finally, the visuals. Space Show is stunning in every sense of the word. It’s abstract and colorful, with tons of beautiful landscape shots with a myriad of bizarre vistas. The aliens are all kinds of weird shapes (and there are a LOT of kissy lips attached to things). The animation is smooth like water, and all the characters are super expressive. It holds up really well for a decade old movie. Just be wary of anthropomorphic stuff if you’re against furries.

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Final Verdict: 9.15/10

Welcome to the Space Show is a great anime movie, and a great showcase of that childlike wonder that seven billion too many of us lose with age. Seeing it makes me wonder how A-1 Pictures became the mainstream-catering studio that they are generally known as today. I get that anime being by the same studio doesn’t really mean it’s the EXACT same team, but as far as I know, they haven’t made anything as bizarre as this at all in recent years. Well, regardless of the history of A-1 Pictures, Space Show is a fun film, and I recommend it to fans of E.T. and those who want something wiggety-whack.

Fantasia Movie Review

I believe that a true classic is something that can still feel fresh and unique to anyone who experiences it, regardless of how many years it’s been since it was first released. And Walt Disney’s 1940 film, Fantasia, is one such classic (yes, I know about 2000, but we don’t talk about that era of sequels). Here’s a surprise: this is a review, and not a retrospective, because this is being written as of the first time I’ve ever seen it in my life, eighty years after its release.

If there’s anything I knew about Fantasia going into it, it’s its premise (wow, take a shot for every time I say “it” in this review). In Fantasia, a live-action man, named Deems Taylor, walks you through some very unconventional visual interpretations of various famous classical music pieces (conducted by Leopold Stokowski). Since it’s structured this way, I’m basically going to discuss my thoughts on each segment per paragraph. As this movie is eighty years old, I believe I have the right to write spoilers without warning (I also had to write down what the songs were because I know nothing about classical music). 

But first, I must discuss the one thing that all the sections have in common: they’re effing GORGEOUS. The visuals in Fantasia were, historically, beyond anything that Walt Disney had ever created at the time, and they still hold up today. These people had no computers, no nothing. Somehow, they managed to create all kinds of beautiful particle effects by themselves, and I honestly have no idea how. I recognized some instances of the multiplane camera, but the ingenuity of most of the film is beyond me. Holy crap.

The movie opens with Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, which is a Bach song (and I was too dumb to write down the composers of any of the other songs besides this one. Oops). It starts by showing the silhouettes of the live action orchestra bathed in various colored backdrops before gradually fading into abstract shapes that vaguely resemble instruments floating in a bright void. This is a great showcase of how easily the human mind can bring itself out of reality, and perfectly sets the tone for what’s to follow.

Next, we have the Nutcracker Suite, entirely bereft of nutcrackers. This one is a showcase of nature… or something. It starts off with a bunch of fairies creating various natural phenomena, and by the way… FULL FRONTAL NUDITY WARNING! “Dude, you’re overreacting,” you say, “they’re just fairies.” Well, congratulations on being open-minded. Yeah, sure, I doubt anyone reading this will have not already seen Fantasia, but I can’t take any chances here. Anyways, this sequence goes through the different seasons of nature. Due to the nature of the whole thing, they employ a lot of different colors and particle effects, making this one of the most beautiful and whimsical parts of the film.

Of course, not even I could’ve avoided not having already seen the most iconic part of Fantasia: the Sorcerer’s Apprentice section. This is the famous debut of what is considered to this day to be the de facto form of Mickey Mouse. We all know what happens: Mickey takes Yen Sid’s hat, uses it, floods the place, and gets spanked in the end. There are a couple of small logical issues, like the fact that Yen Sid was dumb enough to not take his hat to his room, or the fact that the fountain that Mickey was supposed to take the water from somehow contained enough water to fill the entire cave. But hey, it’s magic. Due to the fact that it has an actual narrative, and Mickey Mouse, this is definitely the most accessible segment of the movie, and probably the part that you all fast-forwarded to when you were a kid. Oh, also, epilepsy warning apparently; there are some instances of flashing light effects, and I’m pretty sure that counts as an epilepsy warning, right?

After this is the Rite of Spring, a classical piece originally intended to showcase primitive human life. Of course, Walt Disney took a step ahead- or back, rather- and used it to showcase the origin of life on Earth. In this, you get to see life begin from single-celled organisms to the dinosaurs to the dinosaurs’ mass extinction. This one is brutal to watch. There’s no gore, but it very much shows creatures getting eaten alive left and right. Also, the slow death of the dinosaurs by dehydration is brutally honest and a stark contrast from the Nagito-levels of hope-loving that we understand Disney to be in recent years. If I was a kid, I would be traumatized by this.

According to my notes, the next one is called the Pastoral Symphony, set in Ancient Greece. It’s a fun section that shows various creatures frolicking until Zeus literally rains on their parade (he gets a lot softer once he’s a dad, apparently). Although… based on what I understand about today’s culture, this one is also very controversial. First off, we have these cute centaur girls, who reek of FULL FRONTAL NUDITY. But it doesn’t stop there; they also doll themselves up in order to sell their bodies to male centaurs, which I’m pretty sure is a case of sexism as well. And depending on how old they are… there could also be an instance of minors drinking (thanks Dionysus). But otherwise, this section is very fun and colorful.

The semifinal segment is the Dance of the Hours. It’s a pretty on-the-nose depiction (at least, according to what the live action guy said), where dancers that represent daylight get attacked by dancers represent nighttime. Of course, the dancers this time are animals. They picked the perfect animals to do ballet dancing because you’re not expected to think that hippos and stuff would be good at ballet. Overall, the animation is very fluid and bouncy, but it’s also the least abstract of the sections. There are also more antics in this part than any other part of the movie. Due to how silly it is, this is no doubt the second most accessible section of the movie.

The final section of the movie is a two parter, the first of which is Night on Bald Mountain. This is the other part of Fantasia that I knew about beforehand, where Chernabog makes some ghost people pop up. This part is SCARY if you’re a kid, as it has jumpscares and assorted terrifying imagery. The lighting effects on Chernabog make him hands down one of the scariest Disney villains ever drawn, and the effects on the ghosts are fantastic. Fortunately, the guy spends his time tormenting his own minions (most of which are nude) as opposed to any “living” humans, but it’s still very dark for Disney. But hey, before long, Ave Maria kicks in and shuts Chernabog up real good. After this, the remainder of the movie is a very long procession of nuns before the movie abruptly ends at a gorgeous landscape shot (well, it’s about as landscape as you can get in a 4:3 ratio). This is probably because I’m not a religious person, but Ave Maria was perhaps my least favorite part of the movie, and most likely a part that I would’ve fallen asleep during as a kid.

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Final Verdict: 8.65/10

Man, I really miss this form of Disney. The vast majority of Fantasia would likely alienate people who are more used to the straightforwardness of most Disney films. It’s very experimental and ballsy when compared to the embodiment of mainstream that Disney has become in recent years (well, the live-action Mulan movie is probably their ballsiest project in a long time, but you get what I mean). 

I enjoyed it, but due to its two-hour length, I doubt I’d watch it again. But as far as recommendations go (assuming that you haven’t watched it)… I can’t easily recommend it. Fantasia doesn’t just have a lot of controversial and dark imagery, but it’s entirely devoid of dialogue and an actual defined plot (outside of Sorcerer’s Apprentice), and I can’t imagine any kid who wouldn’t fall asleep within minutes of starting the film. I can only recommend it to adults with a very open-minded palette of tastes, or to diehard Disney fans who want to know everything about the company’s history.

March of the Wooden Soldiers Retrospective

Promotional artwork for the movie (on IMDB)

Holiday movie traditions have been a thing since television. But over the years, I’ve come to question the quality of some of these “classics.” On this Thanksgiving Day, let’s take a modern look at a Laurel and Hardy favorite: March of the Wooden Soldiers (or Babes in Toyland, originally), a Thanksgiving tradition on the East Coast that started since 1963, when WPIX11 would broadcast this film every year since then. There will be spoilers.

So, the premise (even though we should all know it already). In the fantasy world known as Toyland (that was built right in front of the gates of hell. Great location, guys), the local tax collector, Silas Barnaby, is more than willing to evict the Old Lady who Lives in a Shoe from, well, her shoe, unless she sells her daughter, Little Bo Peep, to him. Well, not if Stannie Dum and Ollie- Ah, screw it, we never call these two by their character names. They will always be Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, and they set out to stop Barnaby!

The movie starts out with Mother Goose singing the most cynical opening ever about how adults lose all semblance of childhood without exception as a big book opens up and introduces the cast of characters. The little video-pictures give a good visual clue of what each person is like, but it gets undermined by captions like “Barnaby’s the meanest man in town, just so you know, in case you were too stupid to tell from the fact that he’s an old hunchback creepozoid.”

Man, this movie was sure state-of-the-art for the time period. I’m sure the kids these days are watching this and being all like, “Wow, the CG was really bad back then!” Well, guess what, movies back then were filmed on “sets,” which means, a physically existing site, where they- yes- had to BUILT all of this crap. I always admired when people actually had to make magic with science back then, instead of just doing it on a fancy machine. I’ll never understand the appeal of those films that are done entirely with a green screen.

Watching this movie again really shows how unremarkable most of the actors are. Key Word: MOST. Similar to Hocus Pocus, we put up with all this crap (like that cringe-inducing Tom-Tom and Bo Peep subplot) just to see the actors that were on the poster, with this case being the irreplaceable Laurel and Hardy. Any scene that doesn’t have these two in it is really boring, but unlike Hocus Pocus, these guys are actually in most of the movie. It’s really amazing how well their humor holds up, with scenes like Laurel’s amazing pee-wee skills, to him dropping a rock on Barnaby and telling him to look out, and- of course- “So far, so good.” “It wasn’t so far!” “Goodnight Ollie.” “Goodnight Stannie- OOohhhhhhh…”

Out of the actors besides Laurel and Hardy, Barnaby’s actor really takes the cake. People were still coming out of the Silent Era, and this guy’s expressive mannerisms help make Barnaby a real conniving mo-fo. Well, okay, maybe there are better antagonists in more modern works, but he’s still a fun character (Side Note: The real bad guy is that stupid toymaker. Screw that guy).

Speaking of other actors, I wanna bring up the cat and the mouse. Screw the bogeyman; THESE are the stuff of horrors. The fur on the cat is just not fluffy enough, plus- GAH!- he still has his human eyes. Wh-why?! The less scary of the two is the monkey-mouse. This is perhaps the first instance of riding on someone else’s success that I personally have experienced in cinema. It was 1934, and Mickey Mouse was just starting his world conquest (with Snow White three years away from following suit). So, the most logical move for competitor M.G.M. was to take a monkey, dress it up as Mickey Mouse, and pander to the kiddies. Since the costume sucked, the creature looked just derivative enough from Mickey so that it wouldn’t violate whatever copyright laws existed at the time, but still looked enough like Mickey so that the kids would think it really was him. On a side note, the Three Little Pigs also look really creepy. The bogeymen that we were all scared of still look scary in a way, but nowadays it’s more of a “It’s scary that a design team actually gave the okay on such bad-looking costumes.”

Let’s also discuss the background music next. I think truly good background music had sort of died, with John Williams and the peeps at Disney seeming to be among the few who actually know how to make it work. The whole “sound” thing was still new, and at this point in time, music had to convey everything, and March of the Wooden Soldiers is no exception. I’m sure you still have an earworm playing Laurel and Hardy’s “doo-doo-doo-doo-DOO-doo-DOO,” or Barnaby’s “duuuuuuuuuh-DUH, duuuuuuuuuh-DUH, duh, duh-duh-duh-duhduhduhduh.” It’s such a good example of show-don’t-tell, but that’s also undermined by the captions in the picture book in beginning.

I’ve discussed a lot of the positives, but since the analytical process has skyrocketed to such heights in recent years, it’s impossible to not notice some issues in March of the Wooden Soldiers. It is a lot of small suspension of disbelief stuff, but it stacks. Why is the King such a dictator and an idiot? Why is the toymaker an ass? Why are there TAXES in such a peaceful kingdom? Why does attempted larceny result in ducking and banishment to Bogeyland, but kidnapping and murder- a far worse crime- result in just the banishment? And WHY IS BOGEYLAND RIGHT NEXT TO TOYLAND?! If it’s symbolism of the adult world (“Once you cross its borders, you will never return”), then- geewillickers!- this is such a dark movie! Other issues also include Tom-Tom and Bo Peep. Uuuuugh… I’m pretty sure nobody liked their chemistry, and it still sucks today (but hey, it’s still a better love story than Twilight). And why oh WHY did Tom-Tom think that falling asleep in that hellhole was a good idea (yeah, I know the sandmen did it but he started serenading Peep way before then)?!

But in all honesty, the movie’s biggest flaw is probably its age. The movie is still great and all, but the evolution of cinema and entertainment in general has transcended March of the Wooden Soldiers. I also don’t enjoy movies as much anymore; I’d rather read manga or play videogames. Also, the climax of the film isn’t really as cathartic to watch anymore, in comparison to something like an epic One Piece moment. It’s still a good scene, though, and it’s at least foreshadowed properly. The only real flaw is that it makes no sense that it showed the first soldier only being able to walk forward, while the others are perfectly autonomous golems that can easily fight off an army of hairy old men.

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After All These Years: 7.5/10

March of the Wooden Soldiers is still a good movie, but it’s not an indisputable masterpiece. Heck, I don’t even think it’s the best Laurel and Hardy movie (that one’s called Way Out West). It doesn’t hit like a cannon full of darts anymore, but out of all Thanksgiving traditions, March of the Wooden Soldiers still beats that parade in New York by light-years (especially if you’ve seen a Disney parade, like me).