Cartoon Corner: The Batman: The Breakout Review

Blog The Breakout Review Title

“The Batman was the only roadblock to my freedom.” “What are we then?” “Speed bumps.”

Sorry this post is a bit late, life stuff.

Anyway, The Batman. I do feel sorry for this series, don’t get me wrong there are series that got a worse end of the stick than this one (I’m sorry Beware the Batman, we’ll get to you I promise). This series though had the unfortunate challenge of following Batman the animated series and from my gushing last week you can probably guess how tall an order that was. Not only did this series have to fight its way out of the shadow of a titan, but it was also hamstrung by needing to be more kid-friendly and the bane of all good cartoons, the need to sell toys! Yeah, this series never really had a chance.

Don’t get me wrong, the series had its moments, the clayface episodes had a pretty good character arc for Ethan and I actually think ‘The Laughing Bat’ is the best episode of the series with some really good lines and the Joker manages to be genuinely sinister a couple of times. I also like the fact that Batgirl got introduced before Robin because to me that makes more sense. There’s no way Batman would let a kid take part in his crusade on crime, I mean I get that he wants Dick to not feel so helpless and angry about the death of his parents, but there’s no way he’d take the risk willingly. If there were say a teenage sidekick before Robin though, one who was, let’s say, independent of the Batman. One who would be out fighting crime whether Batman allowed it or not, then maybe as Batman came to appreciate said sidekick and see that she could handle herself just fine under the right guidance, then maybe, just maybe, he could be persuaded that the Robin thing might work. That’s my mental head canon anyway.

That’s also exactly where Season Four of The Batman has us. Batgirl has been around for a season already and slowly won the trust of our dear Dark Knight and with the beginning of this season Robin makes his debut. The is also the season where I think The Batman finally finds its groove. Its no longer concerned about zigging where Batman the animated series (BTAS) zagged and doesn’t feel as hampered by the toy commercials (also there’s less of the villains with sudden kung fu, seriously the show had the penguin performing martial arts, that’s just sad).

Our episode begins at the end, well sort of. See Black Mask (lesser known villain, don’t worry about back story the show never bothers with one, just know he’s a guy in a creepy mask) has threatened to set off a sonic bomb unless the city pays up and, well, times almost up. Until the Batman arrives! He quickly takes down Black Mask and Batgirl and Robin take out the henchmen. The bomb is still out there though so while Batman goes to track it down, Batgirl and Robin are put on guard duty to keep an eye on Black Mask. They both grumble about this and learn one of the first rules of being a sidekick, there’s no credit for taking out the goons. To get their own back they make fun of Batman while running along the rooftops, following the police vans.

It’s one of the things that works really well with The Batman in seasons 4 and 5, the snappy banter between Batgirl and Robin. It’s something BTAS missed out on, with robin being made college age and the very limited appearances of Batgirl and then when Batgirl did become a regular member of the cast Robin had moved on to being Nightwing. Here we get to see them play off of one another and sure, they’ve been de-aged into kids and act more like a big sister and little brother, but it works for this series, though sometimes the lines can get a little too corny.

While the prepubescent duo are off practising their comedy skits, Batman has found the last known location of the sonic bomb, as well as Black Mask’s army of trained soldiers! It does make me wish that we got more the Black Mask in this show. He’s actually a competent and scary villain despite the fact that we know so little of the man beneath the mask, in fact that probably makes him a little scarier. Most of the villains in this show were there for their gimmick and nothing more, so much so that sometimes they even stole each other’s gimmicks for an episode (looking at you Joker). Outside of the likes of Clayface none of the villains really got much back story or development, not until the later seasons and even then it was only on occasion. Black Mask though, he’s cold and imposing and he has a private army to carry out his plans! When this dude threatens to blow up half of Gotham, you believe he’ll do it. Heck, the guy shoots his number one henchman because a couple of kids got in his way.

Anyway Batman is captured and that means Number One and the rest of Black Mask’s army are free to storm the police station and retrieve their boss. With all of the police officers gassed into unconsciousness, it’s up to Batgirl and Robin to save the day, and they actually do pretty well. It turns into a siege with Batgirl and Robin fighting to block off every attempt the henchman make to get inside, showing off some impressive acrobatics in the fights and some quick thinking. I also like the fact that we get to see the deeper friendship between Batgirl and Robin. When she sees that Robin is actually scared of the army their about to face down, she does her best to cheer him up and even takes a moment to admit that she herself is scared. It’s sweet, pity the henchmen then bust in and ruin the moment.

Meanwhile Batman escapes in a very Batman like manner, using voice recognition to get his utility belt, which has been removed, the shock the henchmen left to guard him. Again it’s another sign of this show finally coming together as the Batman finally starts acting like Batman. In the earlier seasons the ‘kid-friendly’ aspects of this show tried to make Batman more hip and happening in the way middle-aged advertising executives think is cool. It also led to the infamous Batman eating nachos thing that sent the Internet into meltdown a while back. Happily that sort of think is dropped in later season and we get the more brooding Dark Knight we all know and love.

With Batman free it’s a race to the climax, with Batgirl and Robin having a pretty awesome mid-air battle with Black Mask as he tries to escape on a helicopter and set of the sonic bomb. Of course Batman has already deactivated the bomb by the time Black Mask hits the button and Batgirl and Robin get to bring in the big bad. Now the only question left is who’s going to wash the Batmobile.

All in all The Batman isn’t a bad series. It doesn’t have the pathos or the drama of BTAS and there are many, many times when it’s hampered by the more ‘kid-friendly’ aspects forced on it and the need to sell toys, but there are moments when it gets to shine. It can do imposing and smart villains like Black Mask, or more tragic ones like Clayface. It has things that BTAS never managed, such as us getting more of a glimpse at a Batgirl and Robin dynamic that was fun and cute and even a much better interpretation of Hugo Strange. It can also sometimes get the characters and the emotions spot on, such as the scene I mentioned before with Batgirl cheering up Robin. It’s not the greatest, sometimes it’s not even good, but if you’re wanting to check it out, either go for the Clayface episodes, ‘The Laughing Bat’ or just start at season 4 and watch from there.

Tune in next week and be prepared to face the Hammers of Justice! Are you Brave and Bold enough?

Chris Joynson, aka the Infallible Fish, is a writer, blogger and lover of animation living in Sheffield. The blog updates every Friday (usually).  

 

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Cartoon Corner: Batman the animated series: Feat of Clay part 1 + 2 Review

Blog Feat of Clay Review Title

“You know what I’d have given for a death scene like this?”

Okay it’s December again and that means I get to indulge myself with a theme for the whole month! Be afraid, be very afraid…actually don’t. This month in order to celebrate the fact that the I can finally buy all four seasons of Batman the animated series over here in the UK (Yes, before I could only every get copies of season 1 and 2 without buying an import from overseas and yes I have silently fumed about this for most of my time on this earth, but it’s here now. I’m happy. Hee hee.)

Anyway, getting off topic. For the month of December I’m going to be reviewing episodes from across the Dark Knight’s various animated outings, starting here with BTAS (Batman the animated series) and then moving on to the likes of The Batman and Batman Beyond among other series. Now I am doing these reviews a little differently to how I normally do things, instead of looking at a series as a whole I’m going to review individual episodes (or possibly two parters like today). I’m going to pick an episode that I feel sums up the series as a whole, that brings me to today’s feature, Feat of Clay from season 1 of BTAS.

Now I’ve got to admit there are so many episodes of BTAS that I adore, this show is ingrained in my childhood and myself (so expect lots of gushing). Not only was this show my introduction to Batman, but it introduced me to superheroes, art deco, heck, I list Bruce Timm as one of the major influences on my own art style. This show is a part of me and there are countless episodes that show the maturity of theme and subject, the clever writing, that mouth-watering animation and voice talent that is nothing less than iconic, but when it comes down to it, these two episodes are the ones for me. You want a quintessential Batman story? Let’s get started.

We start with a mysterious meeting in the dead of the Gotham night, Bruce Wayne having called Lucius Fox to a disused building for a private pow wow. Turns out that Lucius has uncovered evidence that local businessman Roland Daggett is up to no good, but what’s this? Bruce Wayne wants to destroy the evidence and has brought some armed goons to ‘fire’ Mr. Fox! Sorry, I couldn’t resist the pun, though really Mr. Fox, you went somewhere at night in Gotham, you should have been expecting this. I guess he’s just lucky he didn’t come across any kill clowns on his way. Anyway, one of the goons tries to shoot Lucius and misses every time and yet can shoot a sign off of the wires it’s hanging from? I might suggest the guy is just messing with Lucius, but I suspect it’s more the censors messing with the show. This is a kids show and therefore nobody knows how to use a gun, unless its against something inanimate or has no chance of doing any harm.

Anyway, Batman hears the gunshots. Hey wait a minute here! You know, I don’t think that guy trying to kill Lucius is actually Bruce Wayne. Well Batman drops in and takes out the goons and what I like about the fight is that while it shows Batman is a competent fighter, he’s not the man-god he’s sometimes written as. Sure he can take out the goons easily enough, but he’s not untouchable.

Set up over we go to a film studio, where a film’s leading man is having a diva fit. It looks like the usual stuff at first, screaming and shouting at the underlings, throwing things around, stuff you’d expect. Until the guy turns around and reveals he has a face that would make Deadpool shudder. This is Matt Hagen, and another thing this show does oh so well. It humanises its villain, oh you still get monsters, the likes of Roland Daggett, Rupert Thorne and the Joker (notice none of these guys have powers and only one is a flamboyant villain), but when it comes to the guys that in a lesser show would come of as colourful characters and nothing, the show instead asks why? What drives these people? What led them down their dark path and made them think villainy was the way to get what they want? It’s something I’m immensely grateful to the show for, when I’m writing my own stories I often work out why a character does what they do, no matter how minor they are and I think that adds a level of depth to any character.

In the case of Matt, he was once a famous actor, the man of a million faces, but then he had a horrible accident that left him disfigured. Then Roland Daggett came along and offered him an experimental face cream and will let him mould his face like putty, giving him his looks back, but at a cost. Not only does the stuff leave Matt in constant pain, but it doesn’t last forever and Matt is forced to do dirty jobs for Roland if he wants his next fix. You can’t help but feel sorry for Matt, it’s a tragic story and he’s clearly a victim of his vanity and his addiction, but at the same time he’s not the nicest guy. His temper and his willingness to do whatever it takes to get what he wants shows just how easily he’ll fall and boy will he fall. Matt decides he’s had enough of Daggett’s handouts and instead is going to break in and take as much of the face cream as he can. Daggett’s goons aren’t stupid though and even though he pretends to be Bruce Wayne, they know its Matt. Also while the censors won’t let them shoot anybody, they’re perfectly fine with having a guy held down while untested chemicals are poured down his throat (great job Mr.Censor!)

Batman meanwhile gets to do some detective work, something that sometimes gets forgotten about with all the crazy villains and wonderful toys. He slowly gathers evidence, first identifying one of the goons who attacked Lucius and then interrogating people until he finds  out about Matt Hagan’s name and his links to Daggett. Also, while I won’t spoil them here, I do love Batman’s interrogating of the two goons, they’re brilliant scenes, whether it’s how over the top Batman goes with Bell to the sheer terror he induces in Germs with nothing more than a beaker and his fist. They both need watching.

Human adversaries taken care of, it’s now time for our headline act, Clayface! See the chemicals Matt overdosed on had a rather unusual affect on him, some might even say downright comic booky! Now Matt’s whole body has soaked in the properties of Daggett’s face cream and he can shape his body into anything he likes, even clothes! He can’t keep it up though, it’s like tensing a muscle and eventually his concentration breaks and he reverts back to his now monstrous form. His acting career gone Matt settles on the one thing he has left, revenge! He makes a show of Daggett live on TV, showing the whole world exactly what Daggett’s new face cream can do and honestly it couldn’t happen to a nicer guy.

Also the animation on Clayface is amazing, the way he morphs between shapes it so fluid and yet solid at the same time. Combined with the sound design you really get the sense that he’s there. Just watching him you can feel the gooey texture of his body and weight of every hit he throws. Back to the story though Batman shows up to save the day, but doesn’t really have anything in his utility belt for living clay (yet), but he does have a plan and that brings me to the last thing this episode highlights about the Dark Knight, his compassion. Despite the tragedy he’s suffered and the darkness he often finds himself mired in, despite even the crankiness that will set in in later years, Batman does what he does because he wants to help people. Here he tries to make Clayface remember his better nature by showing him all of his most famous roles. Unfortunately Clayface hasn’t quite got a handle on his powers yet and starts shape shifting between all the different characters he’s played until he smashes his hands into the TV screens to make it stop and electrocutes himself. Clayface dies. Or does he?

Turns out electricity has no effect on Clayface and his death may have just been another scene. Matt was a famous actor for more than his looks. The final scene of this two-parter is one of my favourites in the whole series and has stuck with me for years. We see Matt’s co-worker lamenting the death of his friend and walking away. He passes an ordinary young woman who starts laughing hysterically, her eyes turning yellow and her laugh slowing turning into Clayface’s. Eep. Seriously, that scene scared the stuffing out of me as a kid and I still admire it as a brilliant piece of directing, voice acting and animation.

For me, if you’re looking to write a Batman story, this is where you come to see the very essence of a Batman story. Human monsters and monstrous humans. Batman as both a detective and a compassionate hero, relying on his quick wits and quicker fists to get him out of trouble while always having a back-up plan. That’s what Batman the animated series is to me, it’s quintessential Batman, it is the blueprint by which I judge all other Batman stories and while it wasn’t always perfect, when it got it right it so got it right.

See you next week for a more… ‘child-friendly’ look at the Batman. Oh boy.

Chris Joynson, aka the Infallible Fish, is a writer, blogger and lover of animation living in Sheffield. The blog updates every Friday.  

Anime Corner: Little Witch Academia Review

Blog Little Witch Academia Review Title

I always suspected football would be the cause of the next world war.

What’s the Story?

When Akko was little she went to a magic show by the famous witch Shiny Chariot. Amazed by what she saw Akko decided then and there that she wanted to be a witch just like Chariot, there’s only one real problem, she’s not very good with magic. Still, she manages to get into Luna Nova, the same school that Chariot went to, only to learn that most of the witch community don’t take kindly to magic being turned into a theatre performance and are often rooted too firmly in traditions and old ways of thinking to accept anything new. Still, Akko isn’t going to give up because believing in herself is her magic (and she will repeat that until it is drilled firmly into your skull, you have been warned).

The Review

Dear Netflix, please stop holding the anime we are eagerly awaiting hostage, or else. That’s all I’m saying on the matter, moving on.

Yes, it took us a while to be able to legitimately watch the full season of Little Witch Academia, but it was so worth the wait. Studio Trigger is one of my favourite animation studios that are around at the minute. I really like their art style and they know how to do breath-taking action and bright, vibrant visuals. In fact, I may have to rewatch a couple of shows to check, but I’m pretty sure this is one of the best animated shows they’ve done. The action scenes are amazing, the speed and ferocity with which they move is astounding. I mean seeing Chariot battle her way through that army of stone statues, or Akko and Diana dodging missiles high in the sky, or that time that ship turned into a giant robot, amazing (also I’m not going to give context to those scenes, they’re awesome and you’ll just have to watch the show to see them in all their glory).

Okay, visuals aside, this is great a show. A lot of the time it takes a very much ‘situation of the week’ approach to story telling, with each episode having Akko and the girls dealing with another magical mishap (usually caused by Akko) and possibly learn something at the end. It does allow the show to get wild and creative, with one episode where Akko has to take a trip inside her friend’s head and the next dealing with a runaway zombie, and plays up all those ideas for all the fun it can. That’s the word to best describe this series ‘Fun’. Much like Akko it sees the joy and wonder in magic and wants nothing more than to show that off to the audience.

That’s not to say the show can’t get serious, several of the action scenes are really intense and there are several emotional conversations. Akko’s determination, however many jokes they make about how persistent she is and how indomitable she appears at times, there are moments when you really feel the weight on her. Everyone keeps telling her that she can’t do anything and should basically just give up, even her friends don’t see the point in why she struggles so much. It gets to her and yet she stands back up and tries again, and that’s why I think she’s such an admirable character. Other characters have their own struggles too, I’m not even going to go into Chariot’s sordid history because, Jesus, that actually gets pretty dark (Saying that I would love a spinoff series exploring those years in Chariot’s past).

Also, despite the set up being pretty simple and this ‘situation of the week’ approach, this series is actually pretty good at subtle world building. You’ll see a poster mention something and then a couple of episodes later we’ll get a story about that thing, or someone will make a passing remark about something and a few episodes later we’re looking into that. It’s a smart way to expand the world and prepare the audience for something that’s coming without it either just randomly appearing or taking long strings of explanatory dialogue. It goes a lot further than I was expecting the series to. Heck, when they mentioned magic was slowly fading throughout the world along with the decline of witch’s popularity, I expected that to just be some background bit of info for the world, but it actually becomes a major point later on. Well done.

Now, to go back to Akko for a minute. On paper she has to be one of the most annoying characters possible (well, at least I thought that before I saw Asta from Black Clover). I mean Akko is impatient, brash, clumsy, insensitive, stubborn beyond belief, unable to keep her nose out of other people’s business and will not listen to a single word said to her. A lot of the time she could learn so much just by sitting down and studying for a bit, but no, within five seconds she’s decided that’s too boring and is off to chase some magical artefact that will get her what she wants. Of course she hasn’t listened to the warning about said magical artefact either. Ugh. Apply yourself girl; apply yourself! Saying that, though she can be infuriating sometimes and, yes, she is one of those main characters that believes they can do anything if they just believe hard enough (I’m getting Asta flashbacks again). I do like Akko though, a lot. Mostly this is due to a similar approach to the subtle world building and the fact that they do give Akko moments were she doubts herself. The other part of it is that Akko actually develops. Yes she’s not very good with magic, but she practices like you wouldn’t believe. Sure she could stand to sit down and read a book some more, but everyone learns in different ways and Akko’s way is to bash her head against something until it sinks in. Unlike a lot of these annoying heroes who get things just by believing in them, Akko actually puts the effort in when it counts. You feel her pain and her struggle as she fights against a world that keeps telling her to give her and you root for her to prove all those Nay Sayers wrong (it’s the underdog syndrome). Akko is someone to be admired, if not someone to be copied.

The Verdict

Little Witch Academia is a fun little show. Sure it’s not going to win any awards for originally, but it’s got it where it counts. It’s got some amazing visuals, thrilling action and tense drama as well as a cast of characters I’ve come to love over the past twenty-five episodes and two OVAs. It’s got just enough differences and smarts to make it stand out and actually goes into more depth with the world and characters than I was expecting. More than anything else though, this show makes me smile. I can’t think of a better recommendation than that.

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Chris Joynson, aka the Infallible Fish, is a writer, blogger and lover of animation living in Sheffield. The blog updates every Friday.  

Anime Corner: A Silent Voice The Movie Review

Blog Silent Voice Review Title

One word, Beautiful.

What’s the Story?

Shoya is a bully, his main target being Shoko, a new girl at school who has a hearing impairment. The rest of the class laugh along with Shoya’s tricks and the teachers are too lazy to do anything to stop him, that is until Shoya takes it too far. Suddenly Shoya finds himself as the ostracised one and as we catch up with him years later we find a very different person to the boisterous young lad he once was. Now Shoya is anxious, unable to look people in the eye and seriously contemplating suicide. When he meets Shoko again, he tries to make amends and help her to like herself again, and maybe, just maybe, he can like himself again too.

The Review

Beautiful. That is the only way to describe this film, from its animation, to its characters to its messages; this is a beautiful film. Now I know everywhere that I go for anime recommendations has been saying how good this film is and while I’m tempted to just nodded my head and copy in a link to the DVD on amazon, this film has so many discussion topics so let’s talk about it.

The first topic this film brings up is probably the most obvious and the one that gets talked about the most, bullying. I think one of the things that makes this film so special is because it’s so real, it’s like they put a camera in a classroom and observed how bullying actually occurs. I’m a 90s kid and if you watch media from the 90s you’d get the impression that bullying is a couple of bigger kids singling out the weaker members of the herd and throwing out some lame put downs and stealing their lunch money (obviously this is pure fiction). More often than not bullying is a group thing. Sure Shoya is the most vocal and out in the open bully (and this in no way takes the blame off of him, because as a kid Shoya is horrible), but he’s egged on by his class. He hears the other kids complaining and takes that as his permission to do what he wants and everyone keeps laughing along with him so it must be okay, right? It doesn’t help that Mr. lazy the teacher’s attitude is to just sit back and let it happen as long as it doesn’t ‘cause any fuss for him (I seriously want to smack that teacher).

No one actually steps in and puts a stop to this and instead it just keeps escalating and escalating. It’s a frank and honest look at bullying and the consequences of it, especially years down the line when we get to see how the characters that took part in all the bullying showing how they’ve mentally rewritten their memories, such as one girl continually claiming she never took part and crying over the accusation, when back then she was laughing along with the rest of them. Then we have another girl who says words to the effect of “It’s not like it was that bad anyway”, showing just how little she understands what her bullying has done to people.

The bullying portion of the film shows off two aspects that I just love about this film. One is the subtly of the presentation even if sometimes I think it’s being a little too subtle. Then again this film is trying to condense seven volumes of content into a two hour film, so a lot is going to get left out, but it still tries to slip in little things (multiple viewings are best for this film, I’ve watched it twice in two days and I saw so much more on the second viewing). The best example I have of this is when Shoko is first introducing herself to the class and reveals that she’s deaf. As we watch Shoya’s reaction we get a cut away to the space invaders-like game he’s been playing and message that the final boss has arrived. That’s so brilliant in how it encapsulates Shoya’s view on Shoko, not only is she some alien invader here to disrupt this little life, but this is also just a game to him.

For the second thing I love about this film, it’s the writing. Again we go back to that idea that this is real, the characters are so well written I feel like I could bump into them on the street. Every word, every sentence, feels genuine to me, it gets how people talk and act, and this is true for every one of the characters. The kids act and sound like kids (horrible, horrible kids), the same for the adults and teenagers. I believe in these people and that’s what makes some of this film so affecting. Like I said I watched this film twice in two days and I cried both times.

See, this isn’t just a film about bullying, there is so much more to it than that. For me, this is a film about being a social outcast. Both Shoko and Shoya are ostracised because they’ve gone outside the social norm (even though Shoko can’t exactly help that). I really like the way the film demonstrates Shoya’s anxiety with crosses over everyone’s faces because he can’t bring himself to look them in the eye. It also goes to some pretty dark places as Shoya contemplates suicide, and he’s not the only one. Shoya may hate himself for what he’s done, but the heart-rending thing for me was when I learned Shoko hates herself too. That’s why she never fights back (well, outside of once), it’s why she’s always smiling and apologising. Shoko sees herself as a burden and puts herself as blame for everything that happens (though it doesn’t help when certain characters say the exact same thing to her face). Shoya needs to learn to live with himself, but so does Shoko.

My only gripe with the film is that while rushed isn’t the right word, you do get a sense that the plot is constantly being pulled along to fit everything. Again, trying to squeeze seven volumes of content into a two hour film. Every thing makes sense, but there are several scenes that I can’t help but feel would work better with a bit more room to breath in. This probably would have worked better as a TV show, but then I often think longer form story telling is better. It in no way detracts from how great a film this is and it’s actually just a really good excuse to check out the manga.

The Verdict

A Silent Voice is a beautiful film in so many meanings of the word. It’s a tale of bullying, but deals with more than that, looking at anxiety, suicide and being a social outcast. The writing is some of the best I’ve had the pleasure to see, all of the characters feeling real and well rounded. I’m sure there was more time to get to know them in the manga, but the film gives you a perfectly good encapsulation of who they are. All of this wrapped up in a package with some utterly astounding animation and sound design. Go watch this film.

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Chris Joynson, aka the Infallible Fish, is a writer, blogger and lover of animation living in Sheffield. The blog updates every Friday (though obviously I’m late this week).  

First Impressions Autumn 2017 part 2

And we’re back! Yay. (Please let there be good shows. Please let there be good shows).

Dies Irae

Okay, I have no idea what’s going on in this anime. Episode 0 was one of the biggest messes I’ve had the privilege to see in animation. There’s this bunch of nazis, one of whom is bored with life, and a psychic dude. There’s some weird people getting in a fight for some reason. Then they have superpowered blonde nazi guy now want to destroy the world. Flash forward to modern day Japan and the super nazis are high school students? Are they immortal? Do they get reincarnated? Time Travel? I don’t know. We’ve got a main character who’s afraid of knifes and may or may not have butchered his family when he was little. He keeps having dreaming about this weird girl who sings cheery songs about blood and then he gets his head chopped off. And there’s this girl who’s his friend and also has a tunnel going into this apartment…I’m lost.

Because we didn’t get enough death and violence last week, now we have a woman happily singing about blood. I watch some weird stuff, you know. Saying that, I don’t actually mind this series. I mean it’s a mess and a bad show, but after stuff like King’s Game my bar is set really low at the minute. I do think Episode 0 should be skipped, it makes no sense and will only confuse you. The episodes after that are kind of generic set up and pretty slow-paced, which does give the feeling that the series is already spinning its wheels and we still don’t know that much about what’s going on. The characters aren’t horrible and action we have had is decent. The songs for the opening and closing are epic, the opening especially gives me 90s anime vibes, which is fun. If there were more goods shows this season I’d probably drop this, but as it stands I’m going to stick around, if only to find out what’s going on.

Black Clover

In a world where magic is valued above all else it kind of sucks when you have no magic whatsoever. That’s the situation facing by Asta, a young orphan who dreams of becoming the Wizard King, the most powerful and respected of all magic users. Despite his lack of magic he trains every day (and screams every other sentence), but it’s just not enough. Until the day when the villagers are given their grimoires (books that enhance a person’s magic), when Asta summons a mysterious black grimoire that can nullify other people’s magic and summon a really big sword. Is this enough for him to obtain the title of Wizard King? Or is it one dream too far for a boy with nothing.

I realise this anime has been anticipated by some, and while I’ve heard of the series before, I literally know nothing about it. So far it’s not bad. It’s your typical shonen stuff, nothing that breaks the mould too far with every cliche from the underdog who suddenly discovers he has a hidden power to an all powerful rival. The series takes its time to get going, spending the majority of episode 2 on a flashback (though I do appreciate it fleshing out the relationship between Asta and Yuno). It’s just I’m waiting for this series to impress me and it’s taking it’s sweet time getting to any thing that will grab me. Another thing that’s putting me off is the voice actor for Asta. He tends to shout every other line and that combined with an already hyperactive and kind of annoying character is grating pretty quickly. I’m hoping he’ll mellow out in time. That seems to be the thing with this series, how much time am I willing to give it? A little more is the only answer I have right now.

Urahara

Aliens out to steal our culture! Magical Girls! Food falling from the sky! A talking fried shrimp? I’m sorry. I appear to have taken some hard drugs. No, my mistake, this show is just insane. Three high school girls plan on opening their own store, indulging in all things fashion, food and all together cute. But then! Aliens invade, intending on stealing anything of cultural significance for themselves. With the help of a mysterious girl and a talking fired shrimp (seriously what?) they gain the magical powers necessary to defend their home!

Okay, I just want to say again, this show is weird, not the weirdest I’ve ever seen, but it’s up there. It’s such a random collection of elements all loosely strung together. Saying that the narrative is actually pretty simple, with the girls slowly learning about their powers and their situation while facing a monster of the week. I do like that things that happened last week have a knock on effect the following week and the situation isn’t just resolved immediately, but the enemies they fight could stand to be a bit more interesting. All the series tends to have a very relaxed pace that makes it doubly hard to find any level of threat in proceedings. It does look pretty with lots of pastel colours and soft lines, though I’m mostly watching it to see what it’s going to throw at us next so we’ll see where it goes.

Code: Realize – Guardian of Rebirth

Cardia cannot touch anyone or anything without it melting due to a toxin her body produces (I don’t think this series understands how toxins work). Isolated for most of her life and feared as a monster Cardia hasn’t had a good life. Then the British Army turns up to take her away. Luckily she’s rescued by a gentleman thief, a mister…Lupin (oh yeah, we’re going there). Joining up with a group of good looking young men, Lupin and Cardia plan to take down a mysterious organisation known as Twligiht, who, with Cardia’s father, are planning a terrorist attack.

I had my doubts about this series going into it, but it’s not all that bad. Not great, but it could be a heck of a lot worse. With the design of the male characters and the fact that there was only one girl, I was fearing this would turn into a reverse harem, but so far it’s only pursuing one relationship between Cardia and Lupin, well as much as it’s possible to have a relationship with a girl that can’t be touched. I do much prefer a focussed relationship to one that is constantly trying to keep other possibilities open. Another fact that pleasantly surprised me was that Cardia is slowly becoming more proactive, joining in the missions and learning. With how passive and quiet she is at the beginning, I feared she’d be like that for the whole series. Also we get to play guess the historical figure and some nice steampunk designs.

Ancient Magus’ Bride

So far Chise’s life has been, in a word, horrible. Able to see things that no one else can and with no one to explain just what it is she is, she has been passed from family member to member, friendless and unloved. It’s no wonder that she seriously considers suicide, though then she’s convinced to sell herself in slavery. You see Chise is a very rare creature, one loved by spirits and magical beings, in fact they will do anything for her, even if those gifts have been more of a curse throughout her life. She’s bought by a powerful mage, Elias, but he’s not after a slave. No he wants an apprentice, and quiet possibly a bride. Has Chise finally found a place were she’s welcomed and loved?

Thank God. I mean really, if it wasn’t for this, Zodiac War and Food Wars this season I think I’d go mad. I do have to say though, this is the weirdest start to a romance I’ve come across. First bought, then told you’re going to marry someone. Just sayin’ it’s kind of creepy. Elias is a very fun character though and clearly has genuine feelings for Chise, even if I think he’s got a lot to learn about humans (such as how it’s not a good idea to bathe someone you’ve just met, especially a young girl. You’ll get on to a list with that kind of behaviour). This anime is warm and sweet, with a little bit of something for everyone. I like how magic is both something wonderful and extremely dangerous at the same time. The biggest draw for me though is that this series is friggin’ beautiful. The colours, the textures, the way everything flows so naturally, but more than anything it’s heart. Breath taking is the only word suitable for this series.

Evil or Live

A new illness is spreading throughout the younger generation, “Internet Addiction”. But fear not dear young mind, for the government has set up a rehabilitation camps to help you. There you will enjoy panoramic views of barbed wire fences, daily beatings and the chance to become an abuser yourself! Technology is forbidden so do remember to report any individuals you suspect to your nearest guard or appointed discipline officers. Strip searches are mandatory (especially for the girls).

Right, well, I now want to kill everyone in this place. That was the point, right?

Haoliners Animation League doesn’t have a good track record with anime, for me at least. I’ve checked out several of their shows, all with interesting premises and really poor execution. Outside of the odd decision to show all the episodes in wide screen, this is a fairly decent looking show, I even like the intercut live action stuff from the first episode that gave it an independent grungy vibe. I wouldn’t want it with every show, but it’s a nice change for just one show. However this is where my praise ends and we descend into familiar territory, terrible writing and horrible characters. I don’t like a single character in this show, they’re either nasty or whiney and there’s no one I’m rooting for.  As for the writing I know this has an R rating, but this show feels like it was written by horny teenagers in their idea of what an R rated show would be. I do have to recommend episode two though for a moment of such hilarity, yet I don’t know if it’s intentional or not. It has to be seen to be believed.

Chris Joynson, aka the Infallible Fish, is a writer, blogger and lover of animation living in Sheffield. The blog updates every Friday.  

First Impressions Autumn 2017 part 1

And we’re here once again. Another new season of anime has begun, so what treats are on offer to us this time around? Or perhaps there are a couple of tricks in the bag? Mwahahahahaha! (Sorry, I think I’ve been at the Halloween candy a bit too much this year.)

Food Wars! The Third Plate

And we’re back for a third season! Soma is a budding chef, out to learn from all types of cooking and one day make better food than even his father. He attends the prestigious Totsuki Academy that produces the world’s best chefs, but this time he may have bitten off more than he can chew. Soma has set his sights on the Elite Ten, the most skill and influential students at the school. Soma always manages to rise to the challenge though, so what culinary tricks will he pull off to save the day this time?

I never realised how much I’d been missing Food Wars until I realised it was coming back (in fact after watching the first episode I went back and watched the majority of season 2 all over again). You can check out my review of the first season here, as things stand it’s pretty much the same show, same fun characters, same great animation and so on. The one slight bug I have is that series leads off of an OVA that I’ve clearly missed. I still get what’s going on, but this arc does feel like it’s come out of nowhere and therefore a little rushed. Maybe I’d feel different if I watched the OVA, as it stands I’ll just have to track it down and see. Aside from that I’m enjoying the series as always and looking forward to where it’s going now that we finally get the meet the Elite Ten that have been talked about for the past two seasons now.

Sengoku Night Blood

Yuzuki is just an ordinary Japanese high school student, until she’s enveloped by a mysterious light and transported to a strange land (cough Escaflowne cough). There she finds a strange alternate history, where people carrying the name of important figures from Japan’s history battle it out to unify the land, but things are about to get even weirder. These characters Yuzuki finds around her aren’t exactly human, in fact the ones that have taken her in are actually vampires! Also it turns that Yuzuki’s blood has a strange effect on the vampires and other fantastical creatures, allowing them to ‘awaken’ or something. Oh Gods, this is going to be one of those vampire stories isn’t it?

Credit where credit is due, I haven’t seen samurai vampires before, so there’s that in this series’ favour. Unfortunately there isn’t much else for me. This series seems to be not much more than a collection of plots and ideas I’ve seen elsewhere and honestly done better by those shows. We’ve got the set up straight out of Escaflowne, we’ve got representations of these Japanese historical figures for the umpteenth time and then we come to the real problem, Yuzuki. I don’t wish to invoke the name Twilight here, but honestly that’s all I’m seeing. We’ve got this blank, personality void where our main heroine should be, whose sole purpose, so far, is to be charming and endearing so that all the male characters fall for her one by one. If you’re into self-insert characters then enjoy yourself, but personally I like my characters to have an actual character. I’m out on this one.

Juni Taisen: Zodiac War

Every twelve years twelve of the greatest warriors are gathered for a battle to the death, the prize? Whatever the winner’s desire is, well, that and the antidote to the poison they just swallowed. Each of these strangely dressed warriors has a particular skill or ability that makes them deadly in their own right, but when it comes down to it, just who will survive?

Well this is dark. Okay I know a bloody battle to the death is dark already, but damn this starts off in a dark place and looks to only get darker. I like the fact that there’s no main character as it means no one is safe, well unless we start getting their back story, that’s kind of a big death flag so far. The animation is good, the action is good, in fact the only thing I could see as a double-edged sword is the lack of main character. There’s no one to latch on to or root for and as soon as we learn someone’s back story they die. It makes it hard to invest, but so far the action is enough to keep me going for now.

Konohana Kitan

Yuzu is a fox girl and the newest employee at Konohatei, a hotspring hotel that will cater to any passing traveller or guest and treat them like kings. Yuzu has a lot to learn, this being her time out in the big wide world, but with her big heart and overflowing charm she’ll do the best she can. She might even teacher the other employees a thing or two.

Cute, that’s the best word to describe this series. I feel like I’ve been watching a lot of dark, violent and in some cases downright horrible (we’ll get to those in a bit) anime this season, so it’s nice to have something that’s just light and fluffy. There’s no overarching plot or high drama, just short, sweet little stories to wash away your ills. It’s not entirely my thing, but on some days it’s been just the thing I’ve needed.

King’s Game

A class of high school students (because of course it’s high school students, it always is) receive a text in the middle of the night, saying that they are now apart of the King’s Game and must do everything that the King says within 24 hours, or else there will be punishment. At first the students laugh it off, even though one of the students claims to have gone through this before and says it’s very real. Of course no believes him. Then people start dying, rather graphically.

You know the avoid image I give to really bad anime, that graphic of my cartoon avatar wielding an axe? Yeah, that image is exactly how I feel about this show. It is trash of the highest order and I don’t know what frustrates me more, the terrible writing or the fact that this is a decent idea. Very dark yes, but it could lead to some intense drama and clever strategies as the class try to outwit this mysterious King. We don’t get that. No, we get a bunch of screaming idiots who want to do nothing but beat up the main character, twice! Instead of getting us invested in its already large cast (read fodder), the show instead spends most of its time in a flashback with another large cast of characters we barely get to know. Which story do you want to tell? The first King’s Game, or this current one? Pick one and stick to it writers! Then, dear lord, we get a character who is one minute nice and friendly, the next a raving psychopath! And nobody calls her out on this! Now characters like this can be fun and interesting, if we’re given some build up or an explanation, but nope. This character does a 180 in zero seconds flat! Writing, who needs to bother, am I right? The deaths are clearly there just for shock and gore value and don’t even get me started on the treatment of women in this show. I’ve only watched 3 episodes and I feel genuinely sick. In fact, scrap the axe, get me a bottomless pit and some matches, this abomination is going to burn.

Let’s hope the next anime is something nice. Let’s leave the death and destruction behind for a bit. What is next? Oh beggar. Next time, what was a highly anticipated anime, a new way of getting your mail order bride and…immortal super nazis?

Chris Joynson, aka the Infallible Fish, is a writer, blogger and lover of animation living in Sheffield. The blog updates every Friday.  

The Infallible Fish: How to Train your Dragon 2 Review

blog How to Train Your Dragon 2 review title

The Dancin’ and the Dreamin’

Three Years. Going to be honest, when I started writing this blog I never thought I’d make it this far, but there continue to be animated projects that surprise and delight me (and give me things to talk about). So to celebrate we’re tackling another film from a franchise I adore, except this time we’re dipping into the western side of animation. It’s sequel time! So strap into your saddle and please keep your arms and legs within your dragon’s wingspan at all times, ‘cause we’re going dragon riding!

First a bit of background, How to Train your Dragon is my favourite non-Disney animated film (you can see my other favourites right here). Okay so the story is hardly revolutionary, Hiccup, our main character wasn’t like the other Vikings of Berk, he wanted to be, but just didn’t have it in him, causing a rift between him and his father. That is until one day Hiccup manages to bring down a dragon, but he can’t kill it and instead starts to study it and learns that maybe dragons aren’t the vicious bloodthirsty animals everyone thinks they. Can Hiccup convince his father and the other Vikings that they’re wrong, or are their differences too great? Of course he does, this is clearly a mix of plots 5 and 6 for all children’s films, hiding the pet combined with the parent that just doesn’t understand his kid.

That being said, what makes How to Train your Dragon one of my favourites is the fact that while story may be cliché, it tells it in a believable way. The film takes time to let it’s characters have emotions, you see them learn and develop, it’s tiny little moments, like when Hiccup questions why Toothless didn’t immediately kill him, or when Stoic stumbles after having to disown Hiccup. The performances and little bits of character animation bring these people to life, they make it real and make you invest. That’s what made the original so great, well, that and the astounding flying animation, the gorgeous lighting, those textures, that soundtrack and let’s not forget a really smart and funny script. Sorry, I’m gushing, where was I? Right, first film, amazing, still holds up. Go watch it.

Wait, I was meant to be reviewing the second film wasn’t I? Guess I got carried away there. So, second film, did it live up to original? My answer from back when I first saw it would be no, no it doesn’t, which is why this review has been in the works for so long. There was everyone praising how great this film was, saying it was better than the first and there I was, scratching my head and wondering what everyone else was drinking. My feelings have mellowed somewhat with subsequent re-watchings, so let’s get to it.

From a visual stand point, the sequel definitely blows the original out of the water. The flying scenes are just as amazing as before, with incredibly frantic and wondrous flights through some breath-taking locales. The textures are even more realistic, the vibrancy of the colours, I’d send a poet to describe this film but I don’t want to be held responsible for cleaning up the mess after their minds are blown. The characters are as expressive as before and are matched by some great voice acting (as before).

As for the story, it does what every good sequel should. It evolves the characters and expands the world. This film picks up five whole years after the first film and our leads have actually grown up (what’s this? Aging in an animated franchise? Surely everyone is a child forever! Looking at you Pokémon). Also I love the fact that Astrid and Hiccup are allowed to be in a stable and loving relationship, poking fun at one another, comforting one another and generally just having one another’s backs. There’s no need for random romantic conflicts and love triangles as a lesser film would be tempted to throw in. Also I find it funny how the rest of the boys are fighting over Ruffnut (well she is pretty much the only other appropriately aged girl in the cast).

Things have changed on Berk, now the Vikings live in peace with dragons, homing them and racing them to crowds of applauding people. Hiccup is off exploring the other islands, expanding the map of their worlds and trying out his new flying squirrel suit, looking for his place in the world. Stoic thinks Hiccup should be the new chief and is willing to step down, but Hiccup isn’t so sure. Of course the Vikings of Berk aren’t the only ones training dragons (no, they’re the only ones doing it nicely). See it turns out there are other Vikings out there trapping dragons for a fearsome madman known as Drago Bludvist (with a name like that he can only be good), who has plans to build a dragon army and take over the world (of course!)

Can Hiccup convince Drago that there’s a better way to treat dragons and that peace is better than war. Personally I’m with Stoic and the great line “Men who kill without reason cannot be reasoned with”. Oh also Hiccup’s mother turns up. What? If the trailer can spoil it so can I (that was a god-awful trailer this film had, it pretty much gave you the summary of every major plot point).

Now the story, I really like. As I said it develops the characters, expands the world and it’s not as predictable as the first film. It’s also a much bigger story, whereas the first film saved most of it’s awesome action for the ending, this film spreads it out. There are hundreds, if not thousands, more dragons. We get two dragon armies squaring up to one another and an entire fleet of dragon hunters to face off against. I also kind of like Drago as the anti-Hiccup, he’s smart and resourceful, he even has a missing limb, but whereas Hiccup sees the good that dragons can do and believes in peace and harmony, Drago only sees the fear and the power that dragons can ‘cause. Drago is a big intimating, threatening person; it’s just a same that’s all he really has. I mean there’s just so much going on in the film that he hardly gets any screen time and it takes more than a cool design to make a good villain. I wish we got more time with Drago to explore his philosophy and the similarities and differences between him and Hiccup. On paper he should be a fantastic villain and there are hints of that, we just never get to see any more than that, hints at something great.

Now on to my issues with the film, they mostly come in at the end so that’s probably why I had such a bad reaction to it at first, this was the last impressions I was left with. First off, and we’re going into spoilers here, the death of Stoic. I don’t think that was necessary, certainly not in this film. I have no idea why they felt the need to kill Stoic off, the stakes where high enough as it was with Toothless being controlled by Drago and then being ridden by Drago. You didn’t need to kill Hiccup’s dad. The only narrative reason I can see is that it’s a way to push Hiccup into being the village chief and there are other ways you could have done that. It’s not needed and it bugged me. What makes it harder is that it was a really well done scene.

Next one, Toothless’ magic powers. Now I’m not talking about him overcoming the Alpha, I’m perfectly fine with that, no, I’m talking about the spines that pop out of his back and that glowy thing he did at the end. In the first film we saw Hiccup learning about the dragons, slowly experimenting and discovering things. These brand new powers just pop right the heck out of nowhere and that bugs me.

Lastly, the final battle, it just lacks the epic. Sure seeing Toothless and all the other dragons getting the Alpha to back down is great, but not ten minutes before we had an epic battle between two dragon armies, then a gap to mourn Stoic and we’re back to Berk for the showdown. It’s the gap and the reduction in scale for the final confrontation that just robs it of some of its punch. Now if they’d had the showdown during that dragon battle, then it would have been the stuff of epics, but no, we had to make Hiccup the chief in between. And of course there was no other possible way to do that!

Okay, in retrospect my issues are minor gripes at most. They don’t wreck the movie, in fact this is still a fantastic film. Do I like it as much as the first? No. The first film has so many scenes that I love and lines that I can quote, this doesn’t have as much, but it doesn’t stop it being an excellent film and a great sequel. So it didn’t do things every way I wanted, that’s okay. I still have hope for the third film when that comes out…eventually.

Thank you everyone once again for sticking around to read through my ramblings about a subject I love. There’s still plenty of films and series I want to talk about and more of them coming out all the time. So until next time, you never know I might just make it to my fourth anniversary.

Chris Joynson, aka the Infallible Fish, is a writer, blogger and lover of animation living in Sheffield. The blog updates every Friday.