Disney Animated Canon: ‘Tangled’

Disney Animated Canon: ‘Tangled’

The Walt Disney Animation company is currently enjoying a second renaissance of sorts that is known as the Disney Revival era, and the film that started it all is 2010’s Tangled, the 50th film in Disney’s Animated Canon. Tangled had somewhat of a tumultuous production cycle, and was even officially cancelled until John Lasseter decided to revive the project shortly after its cancellation.

Tangled is estimated to have spent about six years in production, and its roughly $260 million budget makes it the most expensive animated movie of all time. But the time, money and effort that went into Tangled was all worth it. Not only was the film a huge success at the box office, but it was Disney’s most critically acclaimed film in years.

Looking Outside.jpg

Tangled is the first film that sprang from Disney’s decision to focus strictly on computer animation, and it is their first film that I believe matched their sister studio, Pixar, in terms of sheer visual fidelity. I never felt that Disney’s previous attempts at computer animation stood up very well against the company’s contemporaries, with 2008’s Bolt being a notable exception (and a film I find to be a bit underappreciated).

One need only look at Rapunzel’s hair to realize that Tangled is pushing the boundaries for what can be done with animation. One of my favorite things about Disney and Pixar is the fact that they aren’t just interested in telling cool stories, but also challenging themselves with various feats of animation.

Outside.jpg

Rapunzel’s hair is 70 feet long, and animating all of that blonde was one of the most arduous parts of the film. To better learn how to manage so much hair, Disney actually brought in a woman named Kelly Ward. Ward has a PhD in hair, and instructed the team on the different ways that hair reacts to things like light. Disney is quite famous for this type of authenticity, as they did similar studies for the animal walk cycles in The Lion King, and the snow effects found in Frozen.

Rapunzel’s hair is gorgeous, but it isn’t just for show. Her hair’s length and color are an important part of the film’s narrative, and actually contain special rejuvenative properties. Rapunzel is also capable of manipulating her hair in a variety of ways, the most notable being her ability to use it as a rope, which makes for a deadly attack when paired with her patented frying pan.

Wake Up.jpg

Tangled’s narrative carries a tone that would not feel out of place amongst the films from the Disney Renaissance. It’s a modern, comedy styled rendition of a classic fairy tale, and it still packs the emotional punch that is to be expected from Disney. I really loved how well paced the story was, as the film spends just the right amount of time on pretty much every scene.

Tangled also has a fantastic cast. I’ll go more into detail on Rapunzel in a bit, but her companion, Flynn Rider, is one of the standout characters of the film. He’s a twist on the conventional Disney Prince archetype, as he’s somewhat of a mix between the brash and arrogance of Gaston, and the better qualities of someone like Prince Eric.

Mother Gothel 2.jpg

Tangled also gave us not only the best villain of the Revival era, but one of the best villains in the company’s history. Mother Gothel is deliciously evil, and she reminds me quite a bit of other Disney greats like Scar and Cruella De Vil. Her evil smirk alone is enough to qualify her for best Disney villain.

Before Moana came along, I always struggled to decide on a favorite Disney Princess. But whenever I would attempt to finally pick one, I always found myself to be more drawn to the ones that were full of life, and embodied personal dreams. I’ve always loved Ariel from The Little Mermaid. I greatly admired her dream of seeing the world beyond her home, and the way that Disney was able to capture this passion through animation.

Kingdom.jpg

I find Rapunzel to be the modern version of everything that made Ariel great. She has always longed to see what lies beyond the walls of her tower, and to get an up close view of the lanterns that fly every year on her birthday. Her eyes always have a certain shimmer to them, and this, in conjunction with her youthful appearance, makes her one of the more adorable Disney Princesses.

One of my favorite moments in the film is when Rapunzel takes her first steps outside her tower. She’s initially reluctant to let her feet touch the grass, but her pure delight at the new sensation, as well as the look on her face, made me feel genuinely happy.

Love.jpg

Seeing her dash through the fields and splash in the ponds (to the obvious delight of Mr. Rider) was a really special moment, and this excitement, and sometimes fear, is a constant throughout the entire film. All of this culminates in her boat ride with Flynn, in which she finally gets so see her birthday lanterns take flight.

Tangled is one of the most important films in Disney’s catalogue. It took the essence of what made Disney films special in the first place, and brought it back in a new and exciting way. This film paved the way for others such as Frozen, Moana and even Pixar’s Brave, and it absolutely earned all of the recognition that it received. (Side note: I’m really excited to see Tangled featured in Kingdom Hearts III!)

 

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.

Deku.jpg

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.

All Might.jpg

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.

Bakugou.jpg

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.

Hero Too.jpg

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.

Ochaco.png

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). 

Iida.png

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.

Deku and Ochaco.png

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.

 

Game Review: ‘Steven Universe: Attack The Light’

Game Review: ‘Steven Universe: Attack The Light’

Steven Universe: Attack The Light is a fun little role playing game that pays homage to not only its famed source material, but to critically acclaimed games of the past, namely, the Paper Mario and Mario & Luigi franchises. Attack The Light is available on iOS and Android devices, and has a level of polish that is on par with that of console games.

When it comes to overall presentation and aesthetic, Attack The Light is extremely faithful to its source material. It features a colorful and simple art style that goes along nicely with its platform of choice, the original voice actors from the cartoon, and plenty of references for for fans to pick up on.

Beat it up

Many of these references come in the form of humorous bits of dialogue, pieces of lore that pertain to the history of the Crystal Gems, and even famous Steven Universe items like Together Breakfast and Cookie Cats. Attack The Light also has a small, but cute story, and it was actually supervised by writers attached to the show.

Attack The Light is a turn based RPG in the vein of the early Paper Mario games. Players must be timely with their screen taps in order to maximize their damage output, while also minimizing the damage dealt to them. This makes for a much more engaging combat system, as you can’t divert your attention during enemy turns.

Punch.jpg

Player take control of Steven and the three Crystal Gems: Garnet, Amethyst and Pearl (and Steven!). Garnet has the greatest damage output, and eventually gains access to a very potent spread move. Amethyst focuses on spread moves and single target attack debuffs, while Pearl is somewhere in between. Steven takes on a supportive role, meaning he can boost the Gems’ stats, heal them and even equip them with his special Bubble Shield.

Rather than a traditional turn based system, where each character gets on move per turn, Attack The Light gives Steven and the Gems a shared pool of Star Points to use, with every ability expending a variable amount of points.The characters’ most basic abilities use about one to three points, but many of the more powerful ones such as Garnet’s Rocket Punch and Pearl’s Fireball can cost upwards of six.

Map.png

The team starts with five Star Points, and Steven has access to various forms of Star Fruit that can increase their point total. In addition, all of your points don’t have to be spent in one turn, so any that you hold on to will carry over to your next turn, for a maximum of nine. The point system is a great way to give the player plenty of choices during battle, but it is also very easy to abuse.

Star Fruits are so common that you never really run out of them, meaning you can fire off powerful attacks while also running maintenance on your party’s stats. This makes Attack The Light a rather easy game, but players looking for a greater challenge can turn on Diamond Mode, which increases enemy damage, and limits your defensive options.

Smash.jpg

Attack The Light lacks a proper armor and equipment system, instead allowing each Gem to equip up to two badges. These badges, which can be found in the field, give the Gems a variety of passive abilities like health recovery, increased defense and resistance to status ailments.

The game also has a structure that is totally befitting of a mobile game. Instead of having one large overworld, Attack The Light has a world map that would be right at home in a Mario platformer. There are a handful or worlds, each containing about six levels packed with enemies to fight, treasure to find and secret areas to explore. These levels take about 10-15 minutes to complete, making Attack The Light a very easy game to pick up and play.

Orange.png

Steven Universe: Attack The Light is a great example of a game understanding its platform. A more standard RPG would have been a bit tiring to play on a smartphone, but Attack The Light was short and sweet enough to keep me entertained for the handful of hours I spent with it.

It was deep enough to hold my interest, but not so much that I ever felt overwhelmed. I’d recommend it to any fan of the show, or anybody looking for a more traditional gaming experience on their mobile device.

 

Disney Animated Canon: ‘Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs’

Disney Animated Canon: ‘Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs’

The historical facts found in this piece were pulled from personal knowledge, as well as the various bonus features that can be found in the Walt Disney Signature Collection release of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

The Walt Disney Animation company is the house that was built by a mouse. The foundation for everything that the company represents today was established by the Mickey Mouse shorts from the Golden Age of animation, starting with 1928’s Steamboat Willie.

But in order for any structure to remain stable and prosperous for decade after decade, a few renovations need to be made here and there. Mickey Mouse may be the foundation, but 1937’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs forever altered the course of not only Disney, but the entirety of the animation industry.

Walt.jpg

Walt Disney was inspired to make Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs after witnessing a silent film based on the fairy tale during his childhood. After returning home from a trip to Europe in 1935, Walt began assembling the team that would ultimately create the world’s first piece of feature length animation.

But why did Walt even want to make feature length animation? When word spread about the project, the film was infamously derided as “Disney’s Folly”, and certain critics even believed that the bright colors that accompany long form animation would cause eye strain for the viewers.

Animals

Making matters worse was the film’s ever increasing budget. Walt initially projected the film to cost $250,000 to make, and this number quickly became $400,000. From here, the budget continue to grow until Roy Disney, Walt’s brother, told him that he would have to present the film (in an unfinished state, mind you) to the banks in order to garner further investment.

But against all odds, Walt and his team pushed through. One reason for Walt’s fervor was his belief that feature length animation was the future of the medium, and instrumental to its longevity. Before Snow White, animation came largely in the form of theatrical shorts that were focused on comedy and gags, and while there are plenty of laughs to be had in Snow White, Disney specifically aimed for a higher level of storytelling with this project.

Queen.png

 

“With every laugh, there must be a tear”. This famous quote by Walt perfectly encapsulates the tone and theming of Snow White. The film is funny, charming and whimsical, but also has its moments of profound sadness. The ending is especially poignant, as the viewer is forced to see the normally cheerful Dwarfs in tears over the loss of their friend.

Just as memorable as the tears that followed the end of the film’s story, was the music. When discussing the film’s soundtrack, Walt stated that music would be the thing that stayed with the audience long after their initial viewing. In addition, it was crucial that each song tied into the narrative in some way, even if it’s something as simple as Snow White and her animal companions singing Whistle While You Work as they clean the Dwarf’s cottage.

Concept Art.jpg

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs featured a number of key animators whose efforts were a large part in crafting the film’s distinct visual style. Albert Hurter and Gustaf Tenggren inspired the team with their European artist sensibilities, while famous Disney artist Fred Moore debuted what we recognize as Disney’s aesthetic. But my favorite tidbit about the film’s animation is the fact that Arthur “Art” Babbitt, the creator of Goofy, was charged with animating the Evil Queen, a stark contrast to say the least.

Snow White is one of the best examples I’ve seen of a team that took advantage of every scene in the film. Not a single frame of animation is wasted. Snow White’s hand motions as she scrubs the cobblestones have meaning, Dopey’s hitch step that was given to him by animator Frank Thomas has meaning, even the Queen’s exaggerated arm motions have meaning. Every shot in Snow White looked like it received an equal amount of attention, and the film has aged incredibly well as a result.

Apple.jpg

I’ve said quite a bit about this film without talking about the titular characters, but they are what actually sell the film. Snow White is the first Disney Princess, and as such, she is the standard to which all subsequent Princesses must be held to. Famous Art Director Michael Giaimo stated that it is difficult for a film to not be evocative of the time in which it was made. This means Snow White, as a female, can be a bit more reactive as opposed to proactive at times.

But having said that, I never felt that it made her any less endearing as a character. She is a great representation of some of the most basic, but important human qualities. She is kind, loving and generous, but she’s also not afraid to give Grumpy a playful ribbing every now and again. You can genuinely see bits and pieces of Snow White in every other Disney Princess.

Dwarfs

 

The Dwarfs themselves are all amazing and unique characters, and they are the source of most of the film’s gags. One would think that having seven different characters of similar physical stature (short with beards) would make each Dwarf less distinct as an individual. But somehow, the team was able to really flesh out each of their personalities.

Each Dwarf has a name that gives somewhat of a surface level idea of who they should be. These names manifest mostly in the form of adjectives, giving us Dwarfs named Sleepy, Bashful and Happy. Some people may find the Dwarfs to be rather one note as a result, but I found myself recalling specific moments focusing on each of them after the film ended.

Prince.jpg

The legacy of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs cannot be understated. Symbols like the poisoned apple, the Magic Mirror and Snow White’s fair visage have become permanently ingrained in our culture, and the film gave us the Walt Disney company whose creations take residence in the memories of every child..

The film’s production is the most important story in all of animation history. It is impossible to predict what the future of the medium would have been had it not evolved past the animated short, and the fruits of Disney’s labor were so sweet that the film was immediately regarded as a classic. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs paved the way for all of the stories that are etched into my heart, and for animation to be as prosperous as it is to this day.

 

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.

Godesses.jpg

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.

Neptune, Noire and Vert.jpg

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.

Noire.jpg

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.

Neptune, Nepgear and Peashy.jpg

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.

R18 Island.jpg

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.

Cast.jpg

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.

Kenji.jpg

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.

Grandma.png

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.

Natsuki.jpg

 

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.

Oz.jpg

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.  

Love Machine.jpg

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.

Kiss.jpg

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.

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