Anime Series Review: ‘My Hero Academia’, Season 1

Anime Series Review: ‘My Hero Academia’, Season 1

Dragon Ball and Naruto are among my favorite anime franchises of all time. Both of these shows are tried and true Shonen anime, with Dragon Ball in particular being not only one of the most influential anime of all time, but hugely instrumental in popularizing anime in the west.

But as much as I love these two anime, they aren’t really evocative of the shows that I enjoy today. They are high action battle anime, while most of what I consume now are shows like Yuki Yuna Is A Hero, Sakura Quest and Usagi Drop, all of which are fun and cutesy slice of life anime.

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Both the manga and anime for Naruto have been over for quite some time now, and while I love Boruto: Naruto Next Generations, it hasn’t quite evolved to be the Shonen anime that I’ve been missing. In comes My Hero Academia, a show that has done everything it could possibly do to remind me why I feel in love with shows like Naruto and Dragon Ball in the first place.

My Hero Academia isn’t a parody or deconstruction of typical Shonen tropes, rather, it plays everything completely straight. It isn’t ashamed of its Shonen roots, rather, it simultaneously embraces them and fixes problems that have historically plagued the genre.

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In the world of My Hero Academia, the act of being a super hero has become the world’s most popular profession. For generations, people have been born with genetic abnormalities known as Quirks, and these Quirks can manifest in a variety of ways.

At the center of My Hero Academia’s story is a young man named Izuku “Deku” Midoriya. Since childhood, Deku has longed to be a hero in the image of All Might, the world’s number one hero. But unfortunately, Deku was born without a Quirk.

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Deku’s first step to achieving his dream is being admitted to U. A. High,the most prestigious school for aspiring heroes. As a result of being Quirkless, his chances of passing the entrance exams are slim, and it doesn’t help that he has to deal with his childhood friend turned bully, Katsuki Bakugou, along the way.

Deku’s most defining traits are his passion and determination, and another aspect of his character that I find to be interesting are his combat skills. He has almost zero real combat experience, but he does have unparalleled observation skills.

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Ever since he decided to be a hero, Deku has written countless notebooks detailing the Quirks of the various people that he has encountered. These years of study have given him great skill when it comes to reading and deciphering Quirks, fighting styles and even openings for his own counterattacks.

One of the coolest things about My Hero Academia is the simplicity of its lore. Quirks are really easy to comprehend, and they are not limited by an arbitrary power supply like Ki or Chakra (I still love you, Naruto and Dragon Ball). Quirks function similarly to normal muscles. A person’s ability to use their Quirk is governed by their proficiency with said Quirk, as well as their own physical parameters, and overuse of a Quirk can actually damage the user.

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Because the show is so inventive with its Quirk diversity, the fight scenes are extremely cerebral in nature. In order to be an effective hero, the characters must learn how to make the best use of their Quirks in a number of different situations. As many people have said, My Hero Academia is very reminiscent of early Naruto, in which each ninja had clearly defined advantages and disadvantages against one another.

My Hero Academia also features its own cast of charming characters. Some of the standout ones are Deku’s friends Ochaco, a girl with the power to influence gravity, and Iida, a U.A. Class Representative who has boosters in his legs that allow him to run at incredible speeds. There are a number of other characters that don’t necessarily receive tons of screentime, but manage to be memorable if only for their unique Quirks (special mention to Kirishima). 

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So far, I’ve stated that My Hero Academia has a fantastic cast, awesome fights with interesting powers, a cool world and is unashamedly a Shonen anime to its core. But one more thing that I find to be one of the show’s strongest points is its pacing. My Hero Academia has an extremely brisk pace, but it never feels rushed. Mysteries and character arcs that you think won’t be resolved until much later on in the story, are usually at least touched upon shortly after being brought up.

This is one anime that makes use of every single episode that it has, and as a result, it feels much more satisfying to watch. Long running Shonen anime have conditioned me to expect long, drawn out fights, sympathetic villain backstories, and essentially being strung along for dozens and dozens of episodes. My Hero Academia eschews all of these problems, and does a great job of keeping things moving, but also giving time to the slower moments when necessary.

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My Hero Academia is the personal breath of fresh air that I needed in anime. I’ll never stop loving cutesy slice of life shows, nor will I ever not adore Naruto and Dragon Ball. But this show does so many things right, and has the good problem of making me watch four or five episodes, when I only planned on watching one. I had a great time with the show’s first season, and I’m greatly looking forward to the second season and beyond.

 

Waifu Review: ‘Hyperdimension Neptunia: The Animation’

Waifu Review: ‘Hyperdimension Neptunia: The Animation’

I can’t really think of many other things I’ve wanted to love as much as Hyperdimension Neptunia. When I first stumbled upon the original Playstation 3 game in a GameStop, I knew I had to play it. A JRPG where you play as cute anime girls in a world based on the video game industry, that all sounded like it was made for me.

But as much as I tried to commit to it, Hyperdimension Neptunia’s gameplay never grabbed me. I’ve even looked at gameplay for the numerous sequels and spin-offs, and they all seem to have the same problem of the actual gameplay being the weakest part of the experience.

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So if everything about the game is awesome except for the part that you play, the natural solution is to just not make it a game, right? In comes Hyperdimension Neptunia: The Animation. Let me go ahead and get this out of the way, Hyperdimension Neptunia isn’t a great anime, I’m not even sure if I would say it’s a very good anime. However, it is an awesome Hyperdimension Neptunia anime, if that makes any sense.

The great characters, cool world and charming humor, all of that is here in spades, along with the series’ cute and colorful art style. The animation itself does leave a bit to be desired, but there weren’t any scenes that I thought looked outright bad. Funimation was in charge of the English dub, and I love how they went for really exaggerated and “video game-y” vocal performances.

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Hyperdimension Neptunia is set in the world of Gamindustri, a parody of the real world gaming industry where there are four Goddesses based on Sega, Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft. Our main character Neptune is the ruler of Planeptune, and is based on the scrapped Sega Neptune console.  Blanc, Noire and Vert are the Goddesses of the other three countries, respectively.

With the nature of Hyperdimension Neptunia being baked into gaming culture, most of the jokes and locales will be familiar, and at times predictable to anybody with an understanding of gaming history. There are tons of references to Sonic the Hedgehog, Super Mario and blast processing, and there’s even a pretty clever one about the infamous 2011 Playstation Network hack. One of my personal favorites is the fact that Noire and her little sister Uni have a pet bandicoot with blue shorts.

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As for the characters themselves, each character is likeable in their own unique way, and the anime captures most of the major tropes. Neptune is a plucky, self-absorbed girl with a personality that you’ll either love, or find annoying, Noire is a Tsundere with a secret love of cosplay, Blanc is the quiet but violent one, and Vert is the patented busty and affectionate one.

Every Goddess has great chemistry with not only their sisters (with the exception of Vert, who doesn’t have one), but also the entire extended cast, including an alternate dimension version of Neptune named Plutia. The only characters that I felt didn’t fit in very well were Compa and IF, which is odd because they were Neptune’s first companions in the original game.

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Speaking of which, the anime doesn’t adapt the games in the way that I expected. It skips the plot of the first game entirely, and instead adapts the second and third ones, and because the show is only 13 episodes, this can lead to some awkward pacing at times. Having said that, one thing that I think Hyperdimension Neptunia does really well is the story behind its final boss. I don’t wanna spoil it here, but I will say that I was genuinely surprised and impressed by the reveal.

Although the plot can be a bit all over the place at times, I wouldn’t say that the writing is awful. There are some legitimately good bits of foreshadowing and character development, and the overarching narrative does hold up pretty decently. I even found myself to be genuinely invested in the relationships between some of the girls.

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Hyperdimension Neptunia: The Animation is extremely faithful to its source material when it comes to fanservice. Every girl, their Goddess forms in particular, is super scantily clad, and most of them are very busty. As per usual, your mileage will vary when it comes to this type of stuff, but I kind of enjoyed the way they played around with it.

The show’s beach episode takes place in a location known as R18 island, and not only does it tie into the plot, but there’s a rather funny joke with the censor light bars. Another funny joke is the fact that Vert is quite proud of her large breasts, and is noticeably jealous when she comes across someone who is even more well endowed than she is.

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Hyperdimension Neptunia: The Animation is easily the best way that I’ve found to experience the world and characters of Hyperdimension Neptunia. There are way too many quality JRPGs out there for me to devote my time to the games, but I had a ton of fun with the anime.

I’ll reiterate, the anime isn’t great by typical anime standards, but it definitely qualifies as anime junk food. It was short and sweet, and I enjoyed the time that I spent with Neptune and her friends. Also, Plutia and Noire are in a tough competition for the best girl spot. 

 

Anime Film Review: ‘Summer Wars’

Anime Film Review: ‘Summer Wars’

Half of Mamoru Hosoda’s Summer Wars is a family comedy/drama, while the other half is an interesting interpretation on the classic tale of artificial intelligence becoming dangerous. The previous three Hosoda films that I reviewed were primarily based in modern settings with fantasy elements, but Summer Wars is a bit more realistic, as it features an exaggerated version of modern social networking sites.

Almost everybody in the world of Summer Wars is connected to a social network known as Oz. In the real world, we have multiple sites for specific purposes such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, but Oz is a one stop shop for all things internet based, so much so that things like the keys to a water plant can be accessed through the program.

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This brings us to our lead character, Kenji. In addition to being a math prodigy, Kenji is also a part time moderator for Oz, along with his best friend Takashi. Kenji is invited by his classmate Natsuki to spend a few days with her family, to which Kenji reluctantly agrees. As it turns out, Natsuki wanted Kenji to pretend to be her fiance so that she could impress her ill grandmother, Sakae.

Kenji is unabashedly a dork, but that’s also what makes him likeable. He’s also an interesting case of the main character playing a largely supportive role in the general plot. He doesn’t participate in any of the fights or games, but his book smarts are instrumental in saving the day in the end.

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Natsuki has a huge family, so huge in fact that I can hardly remember all of their names. But names aside, the family’s interactions with each other make for some of the more heartwarming parts of the film. One scene in particular that stuck out to me is when Kenji expresses his gratitude towards Grandma Sakae for allowing him to spend time with her family.

He tells her that he was never able to enjoy those types of gatherings with his own family, a sentiment that I can personally relate to. Kenji’s bewilderment at the wildly different personalities that the family is composed of is something that I too have felt when being at other people’s family gatherings, and it was a really special moment seeing him accepted as one of their own.

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As for Natsuki herself, I found her to be somewhat of a mixed bag. She’s by no means a boring or uninteresting character, but I can’t really think of anything in particular that defines her. Her relationship with her estranged uncle definitely defines her character arc and development, but I wouldn’t say that it’s what ultimately makes her who she is.

This issue is largely compounded by the fact that she becomes a really important character during the film’s climax. While her participation wasn’t completely out of nowhere, I did find it to be largely unexpected. Having said that, this moment in particular was definitely her best one, and it was a really cool way to tie her to her family’s heritage.

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The most striking visual element of Summer Wars is definitely the design of Oz. The background is a very simple minimalistic white, but all of the different shops and custom avatars are made up of really bold and vibrant primary colors. Also, seeing the way that Love Machine, the film’s rogue a.i., morphs the network to their liking served for a nice contrast to Oz’s initial bright and cheerful aesthetic.

As is to be expected at this point, the film’s visuals as a whole are remarkable. Kenji and the res of the cast are all really expressive, while Oz is a nice blend of hand drawn and computer generated animation. Special mention to the handful of fights that take place in Oz, most notably between the characters King Kazma and Love Machine. Not only are these gorgeous to look at, but they are excellently choreographed.  

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Oz itself is a really interesting concept, one that is even more relevant in 2017 than it was during Summer Wars’ 2009 release year. We share so much of our personal information on the internet, and Oz is a shining example of that path’s end result. What if our entire lives existed in a social networking site? Furthermore, what if that site went offline, or even worse, became infected with a program that views the entire system as a game?

Something I noticed about Summer Wars was the fact that it was very subtle in its messaging. It never tries to preach to its audience about the dangers of technology, even when a hostile program is attempting to crash a satellite into a nuclear reactor. The message is so subtle in fact that I honestly don’t believe Hosoda was attempting to deliver it. I wouldn’t be surprised if he simply just thought that it would be an interesting theme for storytelling.

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I can’t as easily tie Summer Wars to an overall theme as I can with The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, Wolf Children and The Boy And The Beast, but I didn’t find its storytelling to be any less potent than its sibling films. Everything from Kenji meeting Natsuki’s family, to Love Machine’s attack on Oz is woven into the plot in a way that doesn’t feel at all forced or contrived.

Summer Wars has a style all its own, but it is still distinctly a Mamoru Hosoda film. Strong characters and fresh, engaging plots are what I believe to be the hallmarks of any work by Hosoda, and in this regard, Summer Wars does not disappoint.

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

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

Note: This is a review of Little Witch Academia’s first 13 episodes, of which there are 25 in total. The show’s original Japanese release was considered one season, 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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. 

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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

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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. 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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!

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