Anime Series Review: ‘Little Witch Academia’, Season 1, Part 1

Anime Series Review: ‘Little Witch Academia’, Season 1, Part 1

Note: This is a review of Little Witch Academia’s first 13 episodes, of which there are 25 in total. The show isn’t actually split into separate parts, but I’m watching the English dub on Netflix, and the streaming service decided to split the first 13 and the remaining 12 episodes into two seasons. At the time of this writing, the second season has not been released.

 

Little Witch Academia and Little Witch Academia: The Enchanted Parade were both widely well received by anime fans across the globe. As such, Trigger saw it fit to produce an entire tv series about Atsuko “Akko” Kagari’s adventures at Luna Nova Academy.

The original films aren’t required viewing for the show, as Little Witch Academia features a totally fresh start. In the same fashion as the first film, the series begins with Akko watching a magical performance by the famous witch idol Shiny Chariot. This event sparks her dream of becoming a witch that can show the world what makes magic special.

Kid Akko.png

From here, we are introduced to an older Akko as she prepares for her first day at Luna Nova. To her great surprise, Akko finds out that the only way to reach Luna Nova is by riding a broom along a special path, something that she is unable to do. She eventually runs into a girl named Lotte, and in an act of either kindness or pity, Lotte allows Akko to ride with her.

As a whole, Little Witch Academia’s first two episodes hit many of the same beats as the original film. In introduces us to our principal characters, establishes Akko’s journey and shows her finding Shiny Chariot’s Shiny Rod, and getting a taste of it’s power. Only this time, she uses it to fight a giant chicken instead of an ancient dragon.

Akko

The first part of this season in general is fairly episodic in nature. One episode features Lotte’s obsession with a young adult novel series called Nightfall, while another shows the girls participating in the annual broom race. But while the majority of these episodes don’t contribute to what is going to become the overarching plot, they do give us some fun and interesting character development.

For example, the aforementioned Nightfall episode shows Lotte meeting the author of the latest series of books. In a surprise twist, Lotte is given the opportunity to actually write the next Nightfall book, an offer which she declines. Lotte cites her reason as preferring to cheer on the people that do the amazing things that she herself can’t do, rather than try to be exactly like the people she idolizes. This serves as a nice lesson for Akko, who wants to be the exact image of Shiny Chariot.

Lotte.png

Outside of Lotte, much of the supporting cast from the films return for the series, along with some new faces. Sucy, Diana, Amanda and her crew are all back just as they were in their debuts, and the most interesting newcomer is a young man named Andrew. Andrew and Diana were childhood acquaintances, and he represents the view of the world outside Luna Nova Academy.

Andrew and his father see magic as an antiquated craft, feeling that modern technology has far surpassed what magic is really capable of. As he is further exposed to various magical feats, mainly through Akko, Andrew develops a sort of appreciation for magic, as well as a distaste for his father’s rigid views.

Akko and Amanda.png

As I watched Little Witch Academia, the one aspect that I felt would eventually get tiresome was Akko’s botched attempts at magic. While she has great passion for the pastime, she consistently fails at even the most basic spells. But much of this changes when she starts training under Professor Ursula. Ursula sees something special in Akko, so she decides to take her under her wing.

Akko’s improvement with magic is slow to be sure, but very steady. She may frequently doze off in class, but she’s serious about getting better at magic, and the latter half of the first 13 episodes do a great job at showing this, which leads quite nicely into episode 13 itself.

Ursula.jpg

This episode is thematically similar to The Enchanted Parade in that Akko and her friends are forced to participate in a historical Luna Nova event that Akko deems as bad for magic’s reputation. As such, she works tirelessly to turn the show into something special and entertaining.

Thus far, Akko has been almost hopeless when it comes to magic, and that made her performance with Lotte and Sucy all the more tense. Their performance featured Akko facing off against a giant monster as the main attraction, with Lotte and Sucy playing a supporting role.

Crazy Akko.jpg

I was impressed with how far Akko’s skill with magic had progressed, and I was always scared to see her slip up as she jumped and dived to avoid incoming attacks, and transformed into various animals to entertain the crowd. It’s rare that I ever feel like the main character might not succeed, but I found myself genuinely worried that she might not come out on top, so I was really rooting for her to win.

As a viewer, I also found myself just as mesmerized by Akko’s performance as the actual crowd in the show. When she’s fully in the moment, Akko is capable of putting on a truly captivating presentation, and may actually end up changing the opinions on stage magic of both the modern world, and that of jaded witches.

Diana.png

Episodes 12 and 13 also give us a small glimpse into what I assume is going to be the plot of the season’s second half. Professor Ursula, who is revealed to the viewer to be Shiny Chariot in disguise, is shown that the power of the Shiny Rod is once again needed to thwart whatever evil is coming. In order to activate the Rod’s true power, the current wielder needs to chant seven magic words, three of which Akko has already activated by the end of episode 13.

I have no idea where the plot is going to go from here, but I’m really excited to see how it’s going to play out. The first half of the season can be pretty episodic at times, but the show uses these episodes to develop the characters, flesh out the world and set up the real plot of Little Witch Academia, and I can’t wait to join Akko on the rest of her magical journey. Oh yeah, and the animation is still an absolute treat. 

Chariot.jpg

What Happened To The Traditionally Animated Feature?

What Happened To The Traditionally Animated Feature?

The art of animation has fascinated me for as long as I can remember. As a child, my love of animation was purely surface level, but my formative years were spent developing a deep appreciation for the animation process, the creative minds behind said process, and the history of the medium as a whole, and the most interesting facet of animation history to me is the decline of the traditionally animated feature.

Traditional, or 2d, animation is what made the Walt Disney Animation Company what it is today. The production house became what it is today with the help of projects like Steamboat Willie and the Silly Symphonies of the Golden Age of animation, all of which culminated in the 1937 release of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, the first feature length animated film. Disney’s history is rife with traditionally animated classics, so it should come as no surprise that they were the company most heavily affected by the industry wide shift to computer animated films.

The Disney Renaissance

The Lion King.jpg

The 1990’s saw Disney return to form in a way that hadn’t been seen in decades. The 1989 release of The Little Mermaid kicked off an era for the company that is known as the Disney Renaissance. In what is widely debated as being the most successful era for the company, the Renaissance era featured beloved classics such as Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King, Mulan and Aladdin.

Almost every film released during this time period was an absolute box office juggernaut, the only exception being 1990’s The Rescuers Down Under. Also of note is the fact that most of the films were Broadway-esque musicals, a theme that the company specifically sought to capture during development of The Little Mermaid.

Ballroom

The Renaissance era is also notable for having a few of its films be record breakers. Beauty and the Beast was the first ever animated film to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture. Aladdin was the highest grossing animated film of all time upon its release, but it was later surpassed by The Lion King, which is currently the highest grossing traditionally animated film, and fifth overall.

Disney was unstoppable during the Renaissance era. They once again became a dominant force in the field of animation, and created some of the most revered films in their entire catalogue. This makes the decade that would follow all the more interesting, as it is a period of stark contrast to the success that the company enjoyed during this time.

The Animation Industry: Post-Disney Renaissance

Surfing.jpg

During the latter half of the Disney Renaissance of the 1990’s, a fledgling animation studio began it’s rise to prominence. 1995 saw the release of the first computer animated feature length film, Pixar’s Toy Story. Released as a joint venture with Disney themselves, Toy Story took the world by storm, and was the start to not only a lifelong relationship with Disney, but to Pixar becoming a name in the animation industry that is synonymous with quality.

Subsequent Pixar releases such as A Bug’s Life and Toy Story 2 solidified the company’s place in animation, and all three of their 1990’s films grossed higher than their Disney counterparts released in the same year. Pixar’s runaway success sparked an interest in computer animation at Disney. They had been experimenting with the technique for quite sometime, and some of Pixar’s animation tools were actually used in Beauty and the Beast, but in 2000 they would release their first computer animated film, Dinosaur.

Toy Story.jpg

 

Dinosaur was a technical marvel by the standards of the time, and is still impressive in some ways today. And while the film was a success at the box office, it didn’t quite capture the hearts and imaginations of audiences like Pixar’s films did. Making matters even worse was the surge in popularity of the company DreamWorks. Previous efforts by the company such as Antz and The Prince of Egypt were critically acclaimed, but 2001’s Shrek was a success on an entirely different level.

Disney’s efforts during the Renaissance era went largely uncontested, but in the post-Renaissance world, they had two major rivals in Pixar and DreamWorks. While these company’s films were very stylistically different, they did share one commonality in that they were completely computer animated. This marked the start of computer animation being viewed as something for all ages to enjoy, while traditional animation was looked down upon as cheap content that is suitable for children to watch after school.

Treasure Planet

Not helping the situation was the fact that the quality of Disney’s films during this time had dropped off significantly. The post-Renaissance era has some undeniable classics in Lilo & Stitch, which I would argue is just as good as any of the Renaissance films, and The Emperor’s New Groove (and Bolt, which I find to be a little underrated). There’s even a few cult classics in Treasure Planet and Atlantis: The Lost Empire. But the rest of the films from this time are mixed at best.

Brother Bear is a decent film, but Home on the Range is arguably one of the company’s worst ones. Chicken Little and Meet The Robinsons were Disney’s attempts at computer animation following Dinosaur, and these films are also somewhat of a mixed bag. Both films have cute stories, but the animation failed to match the quality found in Disney’s contemporaries. In summation, Disney’s failures during this decade were the result of their own films dipping in quality, and the rise of new technology in the industry.

The Disney Revival

Princess Tiana.jpg

Disney’s 2009 film, The Princess & The Frog, is the subject of much debate in the animation community. Thematically, it set the precedent for the Disney films that would follow it, but its box office performance was much weaker than that of its successors. So the question often comes up, should this film be considered the one that started the current era in Disney animation history, the Disney Revival, or is it a transitional film that sits squarely at the end of the post-Renaissance era.

The Princess & The Frog is an important film for a number of reasons. For one, it was Disney’s first attempt at a classic princess fairy tale since the Renaissance years. Second, it is currently the company’s last attempt at a traditionally animated feature on a large scale. The company did release a new version of Winnie The Pooh in 2011, but this film was a much smaller project than The Princess & The Frog.

Rapunzel.jpg

In 2006, Disney officially acquired Pixar, and two of the company’s founders, Ed Catmull and John Lasseter, began overseeing both Disney and Pixar’s animated features. Disney had previously stated that Home on the Range would be their last traditionally animated film, but Catmull and Lasseter quickly revoked this decision, and decided to move forward with production of The Princess & The Frog. Many key writers and animators from the company’s history were brought back for the project, and the film was seen as a major relaunch for Disney’s theatrical releases.

The Princess & The Frog was a critical darling, and although it did recoup its budget, it failed to meet the box office expectations that Disney had set for it. This was seen as the final nail in the coffin for traditional animation in a theatrical sense, and Disney hasn’t released one in a major way since then.

Elsa.jpg

Box office failure aside, The Princess & The Frog was successful in at least one aspect. It showed that Disney was committed to going back to what made critics and audiences fall in love with them in the first place, the classic fairy tale. I stated before that thematically, the film set a standard for subsequent ones to follow, leading to the 2010 release of Tangled.

Both critically and financially, Tangled was a rousing success. It was the first Disney computer animated film that I personally felt lived up the standards set by Pixar, and was also noteworthy for featuring an art style that blended in elements of traditional animation, allowing the film to stand out in the crowd. The characters and environments in Tangled really do look like they were hand drawn first, and then translated to the computer.

Big Hero 6.jpg

Tangled showed that the house of mouse hadn’t lost its magic, and the other films of the Revival era further proved this point. Wreck-It Ralph was a huge success, but 2013’s  Frozen was an absolute titan of a film. With over one billion dollars in revenue, Frozen is the highest grossing animated film of all time, and one of the highest grossing overall. Tons and tons of Frozen merchandise can be seen on store shelves and in Disney parks to this day, and the soundtrack in particular was a cultural phenomenon.

Frozen has thus far been followed by Big Hero 6, Zootopia and Moana, with Zootopia also bringing in over one billion dollars. But the Revival era films aren’t just insanely profitable, they are considered to be some of the best films that Disney has made in years, which is why the Revival era is oftentimes referred to as the 2nd Disney Renaissance.

Moana

What impresses me the most about these films is the fact that not only are there many more competitors in the field of animation, but each of them is putting out some of the best work they’ve ever done. DreamWorks continues to be successful with Shrek sequels, Kung Fu Panda and How to Train Your Dragon, while Pixar has released classic films such as Toy Story 3, Up and Inside Out, which I consider to be one of the best animated films of all time.

Disney’s old friend Blue Sky is still around, but there are also new players like Illumination Entertainment with the Despicable Me franchise, featuring the over one billion dollar grossing Minions film, as well as Warner Animation Group with The Lego Movie and Lego Batman. Disney has never had to perform in a field this skilled or diverse before, but it is truly commendable that they have been able to not only keep pace with their contemporaries, but outperform them time and time again.

The Future Of Traditional Animation

Paperman and Woman.jpg

In a time where every major animation company is utilizing computer generated animation, what is the state of traditional animation? While the style is alive and well on television, there hasn’t been a traditionally animated theatrical film since 2011, at least in a mainstream fashion. Is traditional animation still looked at as something for children, are have we finally gotten to a time where 2d and 3d animation can profitably coexist? To answer these questions, we need to take a trip just a little ways across the ocean.

In many ways, Japan is keeping the traditionally animated feature alive. Films based on popular anime such as Dragon Ball, Naruto and One Piece still perform incredibly well at Japanese box offices, while original works from Mamoru Hosoda and Studio Ghibli (whose films are published by Disney overseas) make waves worldwide.

Your Name..jpg

2016’s Your Name. has been the most recent success for traditional animation, and is easily the best thing to happen to the medium in the last decade. Not only was it incredibly popular in its native country of Japan, but its national release made it the highest grossing anime film of all time, as well as one of the top ten highest grossing traditionally animated films, with the majority of the other nine being works by Disney.

Speaking of Disney, some of their recent projects show that they haven’t entirely given up on traditional animation. I stated before that Tangled featured elements of the style, but after production wrapped on that film, Disney began work on an animated short known as Paperman, a hybrid of traditional and computer generated animation.

Paperman's Letter.jpg

Paperman was Disney’s first use of a new, experimental technology known as Meander. The purpose of Meander was to more accurately represent the artist’s emotions by being able to more organically create lines and curves. This technology would be used again in the 2014 short, Feast.

Disney has stated that the Meander technology isn’t yet advanced enough to produce a feature length film, but both myself and many other animation fans would absolutely love to see one sometime in the future. It’s been a few years since we’ve seen Meander in action, but I’m confident that they are still working hard on it, as well as thinking about its future applications.

A Traditional Renaissance

Peanuts.jpg

With the success of films like Your Name., in conjunction with Disney’s continued development of the Meander technology, I feel pretty strongly that we will see a resurgence of traditionally animated features in the coming decade. Whether we get them in the form of genuine 2d films like the aforementioned Your Name., hybrid films like Paperman or even computer generated films that are evocative of traditional ones like The Peanuts Movie, I’m extremely hopeful about the future of the medium.

Be it an enthusiastic college graduate, or John Lasseter himself, there’s no doubt in my mind that someone at one of the major production houses is thinking about bringing back the traditionally animated feature. I can only dream about what a modern take on the style by Disney would look like, and I genuinely believe that there is room for both traditional and computer generated animation to both thrive and be enjoyed.

Anime Film Review: ‘The Boy And The Beast’

Anime Film Review: ‘The Boy And The Beast’

In 2015, esteemed anime director Mamoru Hosoda released The Boy And The Beast. The Boy And The Beast centers around a nine year old boy named Ren, also known as Kyuta. After the recent passing of his mother, and with his father nowhere to be found, Ren is left in the care of his maternal grandparents. Ren, confused about his father’s whereabouts and struggling to cope with his mother’s death, decides to run away from home.

After stumbling through an alleyway, Ren finds himself in a strange place known as Jutengai, the Beast Kingdom. Jutengai exists parallel to the human world, but it’s something of a well kept secret (though events that happen in one world can potentially resonate through the other).

Face to face.jpg

Jutengai is one of the things that I loved the most about The Boy And The Beast, as I find it to be the perfect example of allowing the medium of animation to do the storytelling. It is a fully realized world, complete with it’s own history, culture, religion and customs, and it manages to be this without very much expository dialogue.

To further this point, The Boy And The Beast also trusts its viewers to piece bits of the lore and the world together. A few of Jutengai’s beastly inhabitants can expand their bodies in order to increase their strength and speed, a not a single character ever says anything to explain this. Most films or shows would’ve used at least a few sentences to talk about this ability, but this film simply allows us to believe that this is a skill that a handful of well trained beasts can achieve.

Journey.jpg

As is standard for Hosoda films, The Boy And The Beast is a visual treat. Characters are expressive and pack tons of personality as always, but the locales in Jutengai are absolutely goregous. This also extends to the film’s fight scenes, which are all beautifully framed and choreographed. I especially loved the weight that each attack carried, and the contrast that was drawn the first time we saw a young Ren throw a punch or swing a sword.

As is evidenced by the film’s cover art, swordplay is a huge part of the culture of Jutengai, and one thing that I found really cool was the twist that The Boy And The Beast put on traditional sword fighting. The current Lord of Jutengai has dictated that swords are never to be unsheathed, making the weapon more of a blunt object as opposed to something with a cutting edge, forcing combatants to more carefully consider their attacks.

Observation.jpg

As a quick aside to the animation quality, the only thing that I found to be below standard in the film were the cgi crowds that were present during a few scenes. I understand why 2d films use cgi for moments like this, but their stilted cheering and clapping animations really stood out to me in a major way. But other than the crowds, the film is a very impressive traditionally animated film.

Jutengai has a very unique leadership role that is dictated by bouts of strength. Our titular beast is a bear like creature named Kumatetsu, and he is set to compete for the position of Lord of Jutengai against his elder, Iozen. Kumatetsu is who initially goads Ren into coming to Jutengai, as he wants to take him under his wing as an apprentice. Ren is entirely against the idea at first, but after noticing that he and Kumatetsu are similar in a few key ways, he decides to stay in Jutengai to become stronger under his master’s tutelage.

Kids.jpg

Ren’s personal story arc is what carries the film, and a key component to this is his relationship with Kumatetsu. Kumatetsu gained his strength almost entirely on his own, so he lacks the teaching skills to nurture Ren (he’s also a lazy slob). To compensate for this, Ren chooses to observe Kumatetsu’s every move, realizing that this will be much more effective than waiting on Kumatetsu to learn how to teach him.

This results in Ren not only becoming stronger and faster at a rapid pace, but also becoming someone that can aid Kumatetsu in his quest for Lordship. One thing that I’ve waited to mention is the fact that Kumatetsu only decided to take on an apprentice after being advised to do so. This was done in hopes that an apprentice could help Kumatetsu become more well rounded, especially in areas that don’t involve brute strength.

Lunch.jpeg

The best example of this is his sparring match with Iozen that happens early on in the film. While Kumatetsu gets a bad start, the tide of battle eventually swings in his favor. But just as he is about to wrap things up, the entire crowd begins to root for Iozen, with only Ren cheering for Kumatetsu. This support gives Iozen the power to make a comeback against Kumatetsu, leaving the beast beaten and embarrassed.

This feeds into one of the film’s major thematic elements, gaining strength and support from those closest to you. Not only does Ren do it for Kumatetsu in both of his fights against Iozen, but the reverse also happens during the film’s climax. Another theme of the film is that of identity issues, and this one is shared by Ren and another human boy named Ichirohiko. 

Cooking.jpg

 

At a certain point in the film, Ren, now a strong and confident young man, finds himself back in the human world after being absent for nearly 10 years. He eventually makes his way to a local library, but seeing as he never had a formal education past elementary school, his reading skills are still that of a child’s. This is where he meets a girl roughly his age named Kaede. Fascinated with Ren’s background and desire to learn, Kaede agrees to teach him as much as she can.

The introduction of Kaede represents a very noticeable tone shift in The Boy And The Beast. It goes from an adventure set in fantasy land with human like beasts and an ancient aesthetic, to one set in modern Shibuya that deals with a young man struggling to find his place in the world. This tone shift perfectly encapsulates Ren’s character as a whole.

Ren and Kaede.jpg

 

Is he a man, or is he a beast? He spent his adolescent years in Jutengai, but his true home and nature is tied to the human world. This is something that Ren deals with for most of the film’s latter half, and it all culminates in his final clash against Ichirohiko.

One fact about humans that is brought up early in the film is that each one of them carries a dormant darkness in their hearts (this gave me some serious Kingdom Hearts vibes). If a human allows their darkness to control them, they will lose themselves entirely. Ichirohiko is the son of Iozen, and it is eventually revealed that Iozen found him all alone as an infant during a trip to the human world.

Darkness.jpg

Story wise, Ichirohiko’s character arc is the only thing that I have somewhat mixed feelings on. As a child, he was a pleasant boy who actually saved Ren from a pack of bullies, but his teenage self is brooding and reserved, and he harbors a great hatred for our hero. What makes this so jarring is that the shift isn’t gradual or organic in any way.

 Iozen later informs us that he never told his son the truth about his origins, leading to the boy questioning his true identity when his body never developed as a normal beast’s should, and the darkness in his heart slowly taking control. While I’m glad that his personality change was explained, I think it would have been better if a similar scene was foreshadowed earlier in the film, so that there would be some precedence for these events.

Illusion.jpg

Outside of Kaede, The Boy And The Beast also features two other supporting characters from Jutengai: Kumatetsu’s monkey companion, Tatara, and a pig monk named Hyakushubo. Tatara, while intially indifferent to Ren, comes to love him like a son, while Hyakushubo serves as sort of a parental guide for both Ren and Kumatetsu. They are both great additions to the cast, and have great chemistry with the film’s two leads.

Much like The Girl Who Leapt Through Time and Wolf Children, The Boy And The Beast is a realistic and relatable story with heavy fantasy elements. While I do think there is a noticeable stumble in regards to story execution, the overall theming is just as poignant as that of its predecessors. Adapting to life changes, coping with the loss of a loved one, and using the support of others to gain strength are things that I feel anybody can relate to. The Boy And The Beast is a fantastic film, and I’m sure it will be remembered as another timeless Mamoru Hosoda classic.

Disney Animated Canon: ‘Moana’

Disney Animated Canon: ‘Moana’

Disney’s Moana is the latest in a long string of successes that the house built by a mouse has had since 2010’s Tangled (although I would argue The Princess & The Frog). Films like Wreck-It Ralph, Frozen and Big Hero 6 are all amazing, but I found Moana to easily be not only the best film of Disney’s Revival era, but one that stands shoulder to shoulder with some of the best animated films of all time.

I know that seems like a bold and almost presumptuous statement, but Moana has all the makings that I find contribute to a master class animated film. Countless Disney productions have had stunning visuals, catchy tunes and lovable characters, and while Moana doesn’t really do anything new or groundbreaking, it just proves that stories don’t need to constantly innovate in order to be great.

Baby Moana.png

Pixar’s The Good Dinosaur is a film that gets a pretty bad rap in my opinion. I’ll concede that’s it’s story isn’t amazing, but The Good Dinosaur is a technical marvel. As a huge fan of animation, seeing how realistically Pixar was able to render that film’s foliage and sweeping landscapes blew me away, and Moana may even surpass it in this regard.

Moana’s opening scenes depict life on a tropical island, complete with plenty of flowers, trees, beach sand and of course, water. I can definitely say that I’ve never seen computer generated water like this before, and I genuinely believe that if I didn’t already know I was watching an animated film, I’d think it was real water.

Family.jpg

But the water isn’t just impressive because it looks realistic, rather, it’s the way Disney handled the animation. The ocean is an actual character in the story of Moana, and it was really cool seeing how it would bend and shape itself for different situations. My favorite part was the way it shaped itself around an infant Moana like a makeshift aquarium.

One thing that I loved about Moana that I don’t usually find is the case with Disney films, was the action. Whether it was death defying feats of naval navigation, or a titanic fight against a giant lava monster, Moana featured a ton of dynamic shots and action scenes. Moana’s outfit was even designed with the action in mind, as her dress was specifically made to not get in her way as she runs and jumps.

Duo.jpg

Music is another important half of Moana’s Polynesian aesthetic, and in typical Disney fashion, they attempted to be as authentic as possible. Disney brought in musicians and singers from various Polynesian regions, as well as musicians from Broadway to give the score a tinge of pop music.

The composition team noted that island music is very “percussive and vocally heavy”, so they made sure that this was not only true of the film’s score, but of the film’s story as well. Moana frequently depicts the islanders playing traditional drums, and Maui, one of the film’s leads, even has his own special dance that involves him using his large chest as a drum, accompanied by a heavy vocal chant.

Pua.jpg

Moana also has some of the best vocal tracks I’ve ever heard in a Disney movie. My absolute favorite is Maui’s song, “You’re Welcome”, but I also enjoy others such as Moana’s “How Far I’ll Go” and “Shiny”, sung by Jemaine Clement of Flight of the Conchords fame.

Let’s talk about the story. At its core, Moana is the story of a young girl that wants to see the world beyond her island. Ever since she was an infant, Moana has been deeply infatuated with the ocean and what lies beyond her home, but the ocean tides are a dangerous place, so her people have long forbid travel across them. As such, Moana has made frequent attempts to set sail for adventure, only to be stopped by her father, the island’s reigning chief.

I am Moana.jpg

But when an ancient island prophecy comes to pass, Moana is chosen as the one that will save her people. She is tasked with finding the demigod Maui, and making him assist her in purging the darkness from the islands.

Along the way, Moana learns a bit about her people’s history. One of the story’s central characters is Moana’s grandmother, Tala. Her stories and passion for the ocean connect Moana to her their true heritage, that of voyagers. With this knowledge in hand, Moana sets course to find Maui.

hook.jpg

I’ll get straight to the point by saying Maui is an amazing character. He’s voiced by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, and Maui was literally made to be played by him. He’s incredibly full of himself, but it makes him pretty charming overall. However, beneath the muscles and bravado, Maui has a surprising amount of depth and vulnerability. His parents discarded him when he was an infant, and as such, he grew up seeking the love and affection of others, no matter what he had to do.

It’s a bit early to tell, but Moana may end up being one of my favorite Disney heroines, and there are multiple reasons for this. Firstly, I adore the energy that she exudes. I can feel the passion she has for everything she does, and conversely, the moments where she was upset or downtrodden really resonated with me.

Sunset.jpg

Moana’s goal is somewhat similar to another Disney Princess, namely, Ariel of The Little Mermaid. Both girls had dreams of visiting the outside world, but certain circumstances kept them from doing so. And as soon as an opportunity to leave presents itself, the girls take them without much hesitation. The main difference here is the execution.

We get to see Moana’s dream develop from a time before she could barely even walk, and this all culminates in her embarking on a journey to save her islands from rotting away, and the look on her face as she finally sets sail was an absolute treat.

Moana and Grandma.jpg

We live in a time where female representation is extremely relevant, and while I personally prefer to look at characters beyond their gender, I’d be foolish to ignore that Moana is an amazing female role model. She’s the type of girl that I hope my future daughters will take after.

Moana has typical traits like bravery, independence and resourcefulness, but it’s the way that the film portrays these elements of her character that makes her shine. Does she ask her muscular male companion to rescue her pet chicken from a group of coconut pirates? No, she grabs an oar and proceed to do the job herself. When this same companion is cornered by a giant crab with a penchant for gold, does she cower on the sidelines? No, she makes use of her quick thinking abilities, and gets both herself and Maui out of harm’s way.

crab.jpg

 

This theme of independence in Moana is consistent throughout the entire film. It even manifests in smaller ways, such as wanting to learn how to navigate the ocean, instead of having to rely on somebody else. By the end of the film, Moana was a strong, island wayfinder, and she was able to lead her people on a new journey of discovery.

I’m not knowledgeable enough on Polynesian culture to know how accurately Moana portrays it, but I was definitely enthralled by how well they at least appeared to capture it. Maui is actually a real character from ancient Polynesian stories, and the film’s various outfits were created after studying various forms of clothing and jewelry across multiple islands.

Moana vo.jpg

The attention to culture even extended to Moana’s voice cast. All of the principal characters, as well as the majority of the supporting cast was voiced by somebody of Polynesian descent. Moana herself was voiced by  Auli’i Cravalho, a young girl who was roughly the same age as her character during the film’s production.

As is standard practice for Disney, the production house sponsored research trips to tropical locales such as Fiji and Samoa in order for the animation team to have realistic points of reference. Special mention was also paid to the various tattoos that adorn the islander’s bodies, particularly Maui. He did not have his tattoos done as a part of the island’s tradition, rather, his are earned as the result of accomplishing different feats. As a fun little bonus, Maui’s tattoos are the only form of traditional 2d animation in the film, and also the source of it’s funniest jokes.

Moana is an absolute masterpiece. In a time where Disney is making some of the most well-received films in their entire history, Moana stood out to me as being above even these other amazing stories. I enjoyed every second of my time with Moana, and I truly believe it is right up there with the best animated films of all time.

te fiti.png

 

Film Review: ‘Spider-Man Homecoming’

Film Review: ‘Spider-Man Homecoming’

Spider-Man: Homecoming is a both a refreshing entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and a fantastic proper introduction for Spidey after an awesome debut in 2016’s Captain America: Civil War. I won’t bore you with the details of Spider-Man’s film history, nor how this deal between Marvel and Sony came to be, as all of that is very well documented on the internet. I’d just like to focus on the film itself.

Right off the bat, Homecoming establishes its connection to the events of the MCU as a whole. Vulture, the film’s primary antagonist, created his wingsuit and numerous other weapons from the scraps of the alien ships that were left after the battle in the first Avengers film. Fast forward eight years later, and we see Peter Parker recapping the events that led to his joining Iron Man’s team in Civil War.

Vulture.jpg

With the exception of the film’s ending and a few jokes, this is really the only time that events from the other films are referenced. Homecoming somehow manages to tell a personal, self-contained story about Spider-Man, while also tying it back into to the overarching narrative of the MCU. All of this is to say that the stakes are a bit lower this time around, which isn’t a bad thing.

While I think that Marvel has yet to make a bad, or even mediocre MCU film, I can see how people could get a bit exhausted or overwhelmed with how much continuity has been in the recent films. 2018 will see the release of Avengers: Infinity War, a film set to feature a team up between virtually every hero that exists in the MCU. I personally love all of this lore and world building, but it’s nice to see things take a step back and focus on the little guys.

tom holland.jpg

And focusing on the little guys is precisely what Homecoming does. The Vulture (played by Michael Keaton) isn’t trying to conquer the world or collect all of the Infinity Stones, he’s just a normal guy that got put out of his job. So to make ends meet, he runs a black market selling high powered alien weaponry. This and a few other factors make him a relatable villain, and it almost makes you hope that he wins out in the end.

But that honor is saved for our heroes Peter Parker and Spider-Man, and I’m in love with Tom Holland’s portrayal of both characters. Regardless of whether he’s suited up or not, Holland brings so much charisma and energy to the screen. His awkward high school interactions were endearing, and his cocky antics as the web slinger were really funny.

ned.jpg

His failures as Spider-Man, while hilarious, also made him that much more relatable. Not only has he not been Spider-Man for very long, but he’s also a 15 year old high schooler. In addition to juggling Spanish quizzes and teenage romance, he also has to deal with fighting crime on a daily basis. This is something previous Spider-Man films have touched on to varying degrees, but Homecoming really makes a point to focus on the dual life aspect of the hero.

Peter definitely doesn’t have a five year plan, and the film’s early moments show us a Peter that is completely ambivalent to anything that doesn’t have to do with joining the Avengers. This makes his journey and character development all the more interesting, and I loved the way that his growth over the course of the story was handled.

zendaya.png

Homecoming’s supporting cast is also great stuff. Robert Downey Jr. is still amazing as Tony Stark, and this film made me realize just how far he’s come since 2008’s Iron Man. He’s still a snarky, rich playboy, but he’s also become a genuine mentor/father figure for Peter. He also doesn’t overstay his welcome in the film, regardless of what the trailers and commercials would have you believe.

The rest of Homecoming’s cast definitely exemplifies that “refreshing” point I mentioned earlier. Familiar faces like Harry Osborn, Gwen Stacy and Mary Jane are nowhere to be seen this time around. Zendaya’s character is technically called MJ, but this is more of a homage than her being an adaptation of the character. Flash Thompson is still around, but instead of being a physically imposing  jock, he’s a snobby rich kid that’s jealous of Peter’s intelligence.

Ferry.jpg

Homecoming gives Peter a best friend in the form of a young man named Ned. Ned is Peter’s guy in the chair, a technical genius who’s so skilled that he was able to disarm the limiter technology that Stark had coded into the Spider-Man suit. While his actions do sometimes put Peter in uncomfortable situations, he’s overall a really good friend.

Speaking of the suit, that’s another thing that I found really cool in Homecoming. In addition to have a version of Iron Man’s Jarvis, the suit is also packed full of useful tech such as taser webs, web grenades, spider drones, wing gliders and even a mode for instant kill (you don’t wanna use instant kill).

Car ride.jpg

Marvel and Sony really nailed Spider-Man: Homecoming. I’ll always have love for the previous two franchises, and I know I’m jumping the gun a bit by saying this, but Homecoming is probably the best Spider-Man film we’ve ever gotten.

In fact, it may be one of the best MCU films overall. I’m looking forward to watching this cast and story grow, and I really hope that Tom Holland’s character is given time and room to develop.

Anime Series Review: ‘Eromanga Sensei’

Anime Series Review: ‘Eromanga Sensei’

The world is filled with dozens and dozens of amazing anime series. Cowboy Bebop, Death Note, Dragon Ball, One Piece no matter what type of story you may be interested in, there’s at least a handful of anime that would satisfy you. But 2017 has blessed us with what I consider to be the most masterfully crafted anime of all time, and that show is none other than Eromanga Sensei.

That’s it, that’s the review. Go watch the show right now. I mean, it’s got something for everybody. Comedy, romance, beach episodes, light novels, heck, the show even has a tournament arc. How has that aspect alone not convinced you to watch it yet? Well, I guess I’ll just have to go into a bit more detail.

sagiri.jpg

Eromanga Sensei is the age old tale of a young light novel author named Masamune Izumi. He’s found decent success at such a young age because of his intricate writing style, and the fact that his novels feature fascinating art drawn by the titular Eromanga Sensei. Nobody knows Eromanga Sensei’s true identity, but after a compromising situation, Masamune discovers that the famous lewd illustrator is actually his shut-in step sister, Sagiri.

Sagiri is cool and totes kawaii and everything, and her perverted tendencies make her all the more enjoyable to watch, but she’s far from being the best girl (though she does deserve endless head pats).  However, that doesn’t make her any more appealing to our dude Masamune. He’s practically head over heels for her, but he’s also kind of a baka, while at the same time being way smarter than most harem protagonists.

masa

Masamune is probably the best thing about the show. He has a clearly defined goal, and is always taking steps towards reaching that goal. He’d honestly probably reach that goal a whole lot faster if he wasn’t having to deal with Sagiri’s difficult personality.

But things take a turn for the better when we met Megumi, a kawaii and trendy girl that is the same age as Sagiri. She’s the second straw that broke Masamune’s back, as she made him realize that modern middle school girls are unusually… savvy.

best girl.jpg

The next girl is Muramasa Senju, one of the most popular light novel authors in the world, and another girl that is the same age as Sagiri. Most people seem to believe that she is the best girl, and those people are definitely bakas. Everytime I see someone say this, I can only respond with “n-nani?”

No, no, the true best girl is the world renowned Elf Yamada. She’s a tried and true tsundere, so she already gets bonus points from me for that. Elf has personality in spades. She’s funny, charming, charismatic, majorly kawaii, and she’s even got some sweet skills on the piano. Come on, how could you not love the abundance of energy that pours out of her everytime she’s on screen?

elf and muramasa.jpg

The only downside to this show that the world obviously didn’t deserve is the fact that the best girl doesn’t win. But not all heroes wear capes, and sometimes, they even wear pink frilly dresses and colorful bows.

Eromanga Sensei is a masterpiece and you should watch it. If you don’t you’re definitely a perverted, ecchi, hentai, baka baka baka!

sagiri and megumi.jpg

Anime Film Review: ‘Yugioh: The Dark Side Of Dimensions’

Anime Film Review: ‘Yugioh: The Dark Side Of Dimensions’

In celebration of its 20th anniversary, the Yugioh franchise saw the release of Yugioh: The Dark Side of Dimensions. Dark Side of Dimensions takes place sometime after the ending of the original Yugioh series, but it’s worth noting that it is a sequel to the manga storyline as opposed to the anime, meaning that there are a few key differences.

The original Yugioh ended with the Ceremonial Duel between Yugi and Atem, the spirit of the pharaoh that was sealed inside the Millenium Puzzle. Yugi emerged victorious in the duel, and Atem was able to finally transcend to the afterlife. Fast forward to the present day, and Yugi and his friends are living relatively normal lives.

tea.jpg

The gang is in the last stages of their senior year of high school, and an early scene in the film features each character talking about their plans post-graduation. I really enjoyed this moment because it is one of the rare instances of the series not being entirely revolved around duel monsters. While Joey’s dream is to actually become a professional duelist, Yugi wants to create games of his own, which is really cool when you remember that the manga initially featured games outside of duel monsters.

Duel Monsters isn’t my favorite Yugioh series (that honor goes to Yugioh GX), but I’d be lying if it wasn’t really nostalgic seeing the whole cast back together. After all, Duel Monsters is what sparked my interest and love for Yugioh, and every character looks, sounds and behaves exactly as I remember them.

group.png

Speaking of looks, Dark Side of Dimensions is a really gorgeous film. Yugioh has such a sharp, striking art style, and Dark Side of Dimensions does a great job of bringing it to life. One interesting thing that I noticed is that I was more impressed by the animation on the human characters, than the ones on the actual monsters. The monsters genuinely do look great, but I really liked the shading and expressiveness of Yugi and his friends.

Dark Side of Dimensions may be pretty and nostalgic, but it obviously needs a story to truly shine. I wouldn’t say that the film’s plot is outright bad, but the execution leaves plenty to be desired. At its core, Dark Side of Dimensions is all about Kaiba’s desire to settle his score with Atem, someone who has handed him many defeats over the years.

atem.png

Ever since Atem left the world of the living, Kaiba has invested millions and millions of dollars in finding ways to bring him back for one last duel. One of his greatest inventions is a machine that can tap into his memories, producing a near perfect replica of the pharaoh, crazy hair, mannerisms and all.

But this hologram proves to be unsatisfactory for Kaiba, as he knows that it won’t ever truly be the real deal. So he sends his brother Mokuba to Egypt, along with a number of Kaiba Corp. employees, in order to recover the pieces of the Millennium Puzzle.

aigami.png

On the other side of the plot is a group of Egyptians that wield a power known as the Prana (Plana in the English dub). This group was initially shepherded by Shadi, and he told the children that they would be blessed with the Prana the moment the pharaoh leaves the realm of the living. But should he ever return, they will lose this power. Naturally, this puts the group at odds with Kaiba.

The group is currently led by a young man named Diva. Diva has decided that one method of insuring the pharaoh does not return is by eliminating Yugi, his vessel. To do so, Diva used the Prana to place himself as a student in Yugi’s class named Aigami, in order to monitor him. 

cubic.png

The Prana can, apparently, can be used for all sorts of situations, but the film, or at least the English dub, never really was clear on the power’s limits. For example, we see Diva use it to teleport halfway across the globe in an instant, summon dark creatures, and banish people to alternate dimensions. I’m also not entirely sure what the Prana has to do with Atem, as none of the wielders of the Prana are given much background.

Prana powers aside, the story as a whole is not very strong. It introduces a number of characters and bits of lore, but never really fleshes them out. Also, I don’t like the fact that the entire plot’s foundation is built on Kaiba’s one-sided rivalry with Atem. It makes Kaiba look like an obsessive psychopath, as he has done nothing but think about dueling Atem since he left.

yugi.jpg

Earlier I mentioned that Kaiba has spent the time since the Ceremonial Duel developing all manner of different technology, and one of his more impressive inventions is his new Duel Disk. It is powered by the user’s mind, and allows them to duel using a virtual deck of cards. As someone who is a huge fan of the different types of Duel Disks that have been used throughout the series, I really liked the latest model. It seems to be a hybrid between the Solid Vision ones used in Yugioh Arc-V, and the new virtual ones in Yugioh VRAINS.

In a series all about the card game, you would expect the handful of duels in Dark Side of Dimensions to be the highlight of the film. For me, this was actually the complete opposite, and I found myself to be the most bored when a duel was happening onscreen. On top of the actual duel scripting being bad, the characters never really announced the effects of their cards (again, at least in the English dub).

duel.jpg

Making things worse are the new Dimension Duels that the film introduces. Dimension Duels allow players to summon high level monsters without tributes, instead requiring the duelist to channel their spirit into them (basically meaning that they summon a monster, and proceed to scream like a Dragon Ball Z character).

These duels only added to the film’s overall confusion and ambiguity. For all of its high and lows, Arc-V always had really entertaining duels, so it was extra disappointing seeing duels so poorly put together.

food.jpg

But the most disappointing aspect of Dark Side of Dimensions for me was Yugi Muto himself. I’ve always dreamed of a post-Ceremonial Duel story where we really get to see Yugi come into his own as a character. For pretty much the entirety of the original manga and anime, Yugi is in the shadow of the pharaoh, and I was really hoping that this film would do capitalize on really fleshing him out. But no, the final boss of the film still ends up being defeated by Atem, negating anything cool that they could’ve done with Yugi.

I really wanted to love Dark Side of Dimensions, but by the end of the film I knew that I was just finishing it out of some self-imposed obligation. In introduces a bunch of genuinely cool ideas and concepts, but never goes anywhere with them. In fact, I almost feel like this story would’ve been better suited for a short manga series, as opposed to a feature length film. If you’re a huge fan of Yugioh, you’ll find some enjoyment in seeing all of the original cast again, but otherwise, I’d stay away from this one.

friends.jpg