I always have to specify when I’m reviewing an adaptation of something without consulting the source material… mainly so I don’t look like some normie who just watches movies without knowing where they come from. According to MyAnimeList, Pompo the Cinephile is an adaptation of a two-volume webmanga from several years ago. It sure-as-hell doesn’t seem available over in the West, and honestly, something that short could probably be adapted with most of its soul intact. Hopefully.
In Pompo the Cinephile, movie magic is made in Nyallywood. A classic underdog named Gene Fini works with the titular loli producer herself, Pompo, who specializes in skimpy B-movies. She’s young, but really talented, being the granddaughter of one of the most famous producers in the world. Anyway, despite the movie being named after her, it’s really about Gene’s spiritual journey through the world of film when given the opportunity to shoot a contemporary drama as its director.
Like in actual filmmaking, there’s a LOT to go over, i.e. the actual process of making a film. However…
We can’t talk about that yet! This is an ANIME feature film, so we need to discuss the visuals. As expected with the better budget and less time to fill, Pompo the Cinephile is gorgeous. The movie does all kinds of clever edits that fit with the filmmaking motif it conveys. Every minute of it is full of life and color.
Anyway, as I said before I was so rudely interrupted by myself, this movie REALLY shows how hard it is to make a movie. You have to book all kinds of things, arrange for flights to the filming location, make sets (or use CG if you’re Hollywood), get sponsors to fund the movie, and… a LOT of editing. Gene’s movie, Meister, ends up clocking in at ninety minutes, but there was SEVENTY-TWO HOURS of raw footage to go through! Is that… realistic?! For the sake of whatever Earth’s resources are used in filming, I hope that’s a gross exaggeration.
With Pompo the Cinephile itself also being ninety minutes, you can expect the story to be simple, approachable, and concise; none of that mundane stuff that boomers get dopamine over. It goes through the whole Murphy’s Law laundry list of hiccups, and they really end up getting down to the wire with this one. Furthermore, it has layers in that Meister has parallels to Gene’s life.
Oops, I talked about Gene’s character arc, which means it’s time to discuss the cast! Pompo is great, in case it wasn’t obvious enough. She’s short, spunky, and eccentric, and is basically the Roy Disney to Gene’s Walt… or something (you know what I mean). We’ve already talked about Gene, but there are more characters than just him and Pompo Natalie is a young girl who seems wholly inadequate to act, yet her existence inspires Pompo to write the screenplay for Meister. She learns the ups and downs of acting, and gets a little spiritual journey of her own. We also have a sad banker named Alan, who ends up compelled to invest in Meister, and learn what it means to run a bank. Wait… then wouldn’t that make HIM the Roy Disney to Gene’s Walt? Crap… my analogies suck.
There are plenty of supporting characters with a lot of charm, like the sleazy other director who works in the B-movies. We also have the famous actors, Mystia and Martin Braddock, the latter of which is the lead role in Meister. The cherry on top with all these characters is that there is NO ROMANCE on set whatsoever. That’s my kind of movie.
We all know how hard it is to make a film, but Pompo the Cinephile never fails to be light-hearted at its core. There’s plenty of good humor while still hitting us in the feels. It also gets pretty psychological and philosophical when the characters dissect what a “movie” really is. I, of course, humbly disagree—at least where live action is concerned—but they do a good job with the dialogue when viewed in a vacuum. What’s important is that it gives a shout-out to introverts by claiming that they are inherently more creative than people who fit in.
Speaking of humbly disagreeing, I feel like the movie would start some interesting debates. Walking out of it, I interpreted that—due to the nature of some later scenes—it was trying to endorse that notion that there is no cost too great for living your dreams. Not even cutting away all of your loved ones, and having disregard for your own life. It’s ironic coming from a place like Japan, where that self-sacrificial lifestyle is leading it to its demise. Maybe there was something I didn’t get; I’m not exactly good at this subtext thing.
Final Verdict: 9.5/10
Pompo the Cinephile was an excellent movie, even if it didn’t make me appreciate live action cinema any better than I already do (or lack thereof). It does just about everything right, and I’d daresay it was one of the best anime of 2021 (which sure holds water considering how little anime I watch anymore). Do you like anime? Do you like movies? Do you like anime movies? If yes, then watch this one.
Here we go again, time to see another Disney movie on opening day (well, I know this post isn’t coming out on opening day… but you know what I mean). I’m gonna admit that I was worried about this one. Lightyear ended up being one of my biggest disappointments with Pixar in YEARS, and while Turning Red was great, it wasn’t meant to be better than Lightyear. Strange World also has something that always, ALWAYS sets the Internet on fire, even though it’s pretty commonplace nowadays. That’s why I try to watch movies I care about on opening day… even though I would prefer them to be on Disney+ as well (at least that’s something they did right with Disenchanted).
In Strange World, the famous explorer Jaeger Clade is ready to make the discovery of a lifetime on the other side of the unconquerable mountain range that looms over his hometown of Avalonea. He drags his son Searcher (and some other people) on this journey. Searcher discovers a radioactive green corn, dubbed Pando, that has enough power to jumpstart Avalonea to a new age. Jaeger, sadly, doesn’t take kindly to this and abandons his son. Twenty-five years later, Searcher starts his own life as a farmer, but must take on the explorer mantle again when Pando mysteriously starts dying off.
So, Strange World is a lot for a Disney movie. I can almost guarantee that kids will have no idea what’s going on until they’re eighteen. On the flipside, this is perhaps the most catered to adults that a Disney animated feature has ever been. As strange as the world in Strange World is, the real strange world is the strange world of family relationships. The entire plot revolves around Searcher, his son Ethan, and Jaeger, who is of course still alive in the titular strange world beneath the mountains.
Before continuing on, I might as well fan-gush over this strange world. Who needs Avatar, which just looks exactly like Earth but plants glow sometimes, when you have the surrealistic wonders put forth by Disney visionaries? The movie explodes with beautiful colors, odd creatures, and epic landscape shots. Too bad Avatar‘s going to eat this movie nonetheless…
Anyway, complaints about Hollywood being jury-rigged against animation aside, the story of the Clades is the heart of the movie. When the three generations of Clade meet for the first time, the drama goes through the roof. Ethan thinks Jaeger is cool, Searcher doesn’t like Jaeger, Searcher doesn’t want Ethan to be like Jaeger (and holds Ethan back in the process of protecting him from his grandpa), and Ethan just wants to be… Ethan. To be blunt, if you’re a seasoned veteran of fiction, Disney movies, and life in general, then you already know all three men’s character arcs from start to finish. Fortunately, this age-old theme is still relevant, as there are certainly plenty of Dead Poet Society-esque parents out there who need a wake-up call. Also, Strange World executes on it really well, not getting too manufactured in favor of shock value while managing to hit home all the same.
Oh, right, there is still the whole dying green corn thing… Well, that debacle ends up having a legitimately clever twist. I won’t spoil what it is, but it’s definitely not human machinations this time. The idea of humans not being a vile plague is always a novelty these days.
Based on how aggressively I talked about the three Clade men up to this point, it sure sounds like they’re the only real characters. Well, they’re the most fleshed out, that’s for sure. Jaeger might be a jerk, but he has some funny moments of being a real grandpa. Searcher is a classic dad character, wanting to protect Ethan and his home. Ethan is just a cool kid caught between a rock (Searcher) and a hard place (Jaeger).
Everyone else is still quite likable, regardless of screentime. This includes that one guy with glasses whose name I don’t know at all; he’s funny. However, he’s not the comic relief supporting character; that would go to Splat, a native of the strange world. Splat is your usual mute, marketable character, who speaks in its own sign language and is very bouncy all the time. Ethan’s mom, Meridian, is perhaps the best. She can do anything and everything, all while being a mom.
Final Verdict: 9.25/10
Strange World has got to be one of the most intricate movies that Disney has put out (even though that’s not saying much). It deals with family… er… family… and… Actually, the entire thing is just one big commentary on families. Wow, good job contradicting yourself. Anyway, my love for it is NOT a contradiction, and I suggest you round up your father and/or son and watch this with them!
Full transparency: Pixar’s Turning Red was the studio’s first movie since Toy Story 4 that I did NOT want to see. I know that they generally undersell their masterpieces in the trailer, but Turning Red didn’t even LOOK like a Pixar movie. The idea, the character design, the inclusion of at least one famous popstar in the music… It looked like Blue Sky Studios, or any of the non-Disney studios whose movies tend to ONLY appeal to kids. However, with the war going on, there is a chance this could be Pixar’s last movie ever made, on account of the possibility that we’re all going to be vaporized in a nuclear explosion. Also, these movies—regardless of quality—are important to support the Disney industries that I truly care about (that and the fact that I do not use Disney+ often enough). Let’s see if Turning Red describes what my face looks like after watching it!
In Turning Red, Meilin Lee enjoys a quaint life in Toronto, Canada. Unfortunately, she has the classic case of overbearing parent. Oh, and the classic case of turning into a red panda during heightened states of duress.
So… despite all my build up to a negative review, I ended up having my words eaten pretty thoroughly. Right off the bat, Turning Red has a lot of personality, from anime-like flourish, to watching Mei’s dad cook dinner. It also has the level of humor expected from Pixar; whether that’s a good or bad thing is up to your discretion.
Of course, the actual plot is more straightforward than a Saturday morning cartoon. When I said that the idea wasn’t interesting, I meant it. Turning Red is a classic story of a girl with an overbearing parent who inevitably learns to accept herself for who she is. The main “MacGuffin” is a K-Pop concert that Mei wants to attend without her mom’s permission (I know that band is multinational, but I don’t care; boy band=K-Pop).
I don’t want to sound pretentious here, but I have to mention something that I’m pretty damn sure EVERY review of the movie will be incredibly hoity-toity about: Pixar acknowledges periods. This is the first time in the studio’s history, and it has absolutely no bearing on the quality of the movie to me. Maybe my opinion would be different if I was an actual woman, but I digress. Of course these days, when people have to constantly vomit their humanity to the world, this minor thing that comes up twice in whole movie is way more important than any of the other content.
The cast of Turning Red is as Pixar as you can expect. We already discussed Mei, but the real stars are her friends: Miriam, Priya, and Abby. Packing quirky personalities of their own, their chemistry with Mei is priceless. The mom is, more-or-less, the antagonist of the movie. If you’ve seen her type of character trope before, then you can probably guess how her arc resolves. However, the real MVP is the dad. He has one scene with Mei, and he basically tells her what’s important in life. If he had done it sooner, then a large portion of the conflict of the movie would have never had to transpire. Classic Saturday morning cartoon tropes.
If there is anything negative that I can actually say (other than the generic idea), it’s the setting. Canada is a really lovely place (at least according to its pavilion in EPCOT), but it’s really easy to forget that Turning Red is set in Canada at all. If it rained even one time, I would’ve assumed it was in Seattle. In fact, the movie frequently shows the Canadian flag on T-shirts and stuff, as if they knew you’d forget. In all honesty, I’m just salty that they didn’t set it in Quebec, where the beautiful French architecture is.
Final Verdict: 8.75/10
Turning Red was way the heck better than I thought it would be. It’s a fun and cute movie to tide us over until Lightyear comes out. It’s no masterpiece like Soul, but it at least has some soul.
I’m not one of those vocal people who thinks things like “2020 is the year of suffering” because of the media’s scare tactics regarding COVID-19, and their ability to withhold anything legitimately positive. Despite me knowing the actual facts about COVID, it was hard on me as well. Even as someone who’s not active on social media, I am around a number of people who are, and they happen to only focus on one side of the story. So yeah, I’ve broken into tears at least once a week all year. Overly long preface aside, Pixar decided to give us a Christmas present: Soul. I didn’t know what it was about, but I had to see it.
Mild spoilers in this paragraph, if you have no idea what the movie is about. In Soul, a man named Joe Gardner dreams of playing jazz with the big boys—wait, wrong movie—some lady named Dorthea Williams. He manages to land a gig, but dies on the way over to the venue. Now that he’s in purgatory, he’s gotta find a way back into his body. And his only ticket is in a literal wayward soul named Twenty-Two, who wants nothing to do with life.
Boy, this movie is sure… something else. First off, it’s definitely a twist for Disney to have a movie about one of its many, many, MANY deceased characters instead of someone who’s, well, alive. It’s kind of hilarious, actually. In any case, Pixar’s interpretation of the afterworld is more than just a world of never ending happiness where the sun shines both day and night; it’s that usual Pixar sense of imagination. Also, this movie shows just how much more lenient we’ve become with cursing in front of kids. They say the words “hell” and “crap”, which were more than enough to earn you a trip to the former back when I was a kid. Well, Disney was also the first to depict a clergyman and humanity itself in villainous roles in animated media, so… yeah.
Soul has your usual Pixar magic in terms of the storytelling. It knows how to bounce between being hilarious and emotional without feeling inorganic. This one knows how to hammer in the feels, but it gets bizarrely terrifying at times. It’s not outright horror; think along the lines of one of those psychological indie games like Arise: A Simple Story.
Like any Disney or Pixar movie, Soul is definitely not new in terms of social commentary. Not to spoil it, but the takeaway is definitely something you’ve seen before, unless you’re literally the target demographic of the movie and have never seen it before. Once again, it’s something that anyone can relate to. Unfortunately, due to the fact that we HAVE to go to work and pay our bills, Soul‘s message will probably be forgotten as easily as the other times the message has been communicated.
The characters are some of the better in Pixar’s filmography. Joe Gardner is an interesting case, not just because he dies, but because he’s the oldest lead protagonist I’ve seen in a Disney animated feature. Given the nature of the movie, his journey is a bit more spiritual than most Disney flicks; definitely keeping up the trend of abandoning the tired “good vs. evil” themes of their past. As you can expect, his father is dead. Big surprise for Disney. But honestly, I feel like this is the first time a Disney parent’s death actually meant something to the plot since Bambi. That’s something at least.
Other than Joe, we have the aforementioned Twenty-Two, who’s the sarcastic and rambunctious type. She and Joe end up learning the same life lesson through each other. Running purgatory is/are a bizarre being named Jerry, along with what serves as the main antagonist: Terry. They’re pretty deadpan, but have some of the better lines in the movie.
I shouldn’t even bother discussing visuals because Pixar pretty much always nails it. Soul is simply stunning, as good at looking both photorealistic and undeniably cartoony as any Pixar film. The movie does, at least, showcase some of the most abstract and experimental visuals I’ve seen in their entire career. Soul honestly feels like a Pixar short but as a feature film instead. I’d say that they did a great job considering COVID separated the whole team, but this movie was probably in post production since 2018.
Final Verdict: 9.5/10
Soul is one of the best Pixar movies I’ve ever seen. Everything about it is impeccably executed, and is definitely what the doctor ordered for this year. I recommend Soul if you want a straight-up great movie, especially if you’re a Disney fan.
And P.S.: Disney, can you please do the whole “release movies on Disney+ the same day they would’ve come out in theatres” more often, maybe forever?
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!
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)!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 Welcometo 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.
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.