The Infallible Fish Reviews: Hilda and the Mountain King

Hilda and the Epic Conclusion!

What’s the Story?

Hilda’s always been wild-at-heart and thanks to that she’s gone on all manner of adventures, even after moving to Trolberg. Whether it’s dealing with Tide Mice, sorting out contracts with the organisation-obsessed elves or befriending the local Nisse, there’s always something new to explore and learn about. However, after a harrowing journey through the home of the trolls with her mum, Hilda was all set for a bit of peace and quiet for once. Unfortunately there’s no telling when an adventure will call and the next morning Hilda wakes up to find herself turned into a troll! Meanwhile Hilda’s mum has woken up to find her daughter replaced by a troll baby! Can Hilda use her wits and courage to find her way home and turn herself back into a human? Or perhaps there are even more pressing matters, why exactly are the trolls gathering outside Trolberg? And what does the Mountain King have planned for the humans behind the city’s walls?

The Review:

And here we are folks, the end of Hilda. At least, at the time of writing this, that’s what this looks to be. The Mountain King is the latest Hilda book to be published and as far as I know Netflix hasn’t announced a third season. I’ll admit this film leaves me feeling very bittersweet. On the one hand it’s great that we’ve got to the end of the story with such a wonderful adaptation that is both word for word what’s in the book, but also isn’t afraid to add new stuff. On the other hand though, this is the end and I’m not sure I’m ready for all this to be over. I fell in love with Hilda back in the first season (you can read my review of season 1 HERE and season 2 HERE). The show is so cozy and charming it’s been like a comfort blanket at times, just wrapping me up and letting me disappear into this pastel-coloured world where magic and adventure are around every corner.

If you haven’t seen the series but are thinking about watching this film then I’d really suggest you watch the series first. This film is a direct continuation, following on from the cliffhanger season 2 left us on. Also, that cozy atmosphere that I was talking about, don’t expect as much of that in this film. There are plenty of moments of levity and wonder, with some fun bits of exploration and additions to the lore, but this is the story of Hilda and her mum’s frantic attempts to get back to one another. I can’t really call that cozy and there are some hard moments, especially with Hilda’s mum where you can see her breaking down under the stress. It all adds to the epic feeling of the film and just a gentle reminder that this story is bigger than any the series has ever tried to tell. The whole town is literally on the line this time.

If I did have one criticism to make about this film, it’s that, as someone who’s read the books, it’s hard not to see all the additional scenes as filler. As I said in the opening paragraph a lot of this film is a word-for-word adaptation, they pretty much took the book and animated it. However there is a big difference between the books and the TV series, mostly in the fact that the series has a lot more characters that it’s introduced. As such the film needs to find something for those people to do so they get little subplots that thread through the story. They’re entertaining scenes certainly and it’s great to see what everyone is up to, but I also can’t escape the fact that they don’t really accomplish anything. Minor spoiler ahead, skip to the next paragraph if you want to avoid it, there’s a moment where Frida and David turn up to help Hilda’s mum, only for her to drop them back home the literal next scene. It’s like the film going ‘I know you want to be apart of this but that’s not the plot, bye!’

Moving back to positives though, let’s talk about subtext. The plot, as I mentioned, is about Hilda and her mum finding one another again, but on a deeper level the story is about something else. The core message of the Mountain King is to not judge by appearances and to try to communicate and understand one another, even when we’re scared. Especially when we’re scared. Trolls have always been a menacing presence in the series, even if Hilda and her friends have learnt not all trolls are bad, it’s still their first instinct to run from one. This isn’t helped by the fact that so little is known about trolls and why they do what they do. Throw in the Safety Patrol driving everyone into a paranoid frenzy and you’ve got a recipe for disaster. It feels like a very appropriate topic for the times as you see the townsfolk giving into misinformation and their own worst instincts. It’s a subject handled with a great deal of care and the film isn’t naive about it either, even by the ending it admits that not everything has been magically resolved, but it’s a start.

The Verdict:

In the end, Hilda and the Mountain King is the finale the series deserved. Everything that I love about the series is still here, the beautiful animation, great music and all the characters I’ve come to know and love. Yes, things are a bit more tense and serious, but the film never loses that sense of fun and wonder that I enjoy so much in this series. Add on some smartly written subtext and you’ve got a nearly perfect package. In fact my only real criticism is that some of the supporting characters feel unable to contribute to the story. That’s a nitpick though and I couldn’t be happier that we got to bring things to their proper conclusion. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to binge the series from the beginning.

Chris Joynson, aka the Infallible Fish, is a writer, blogger and lover of animation living in Sheffield. The blog updates every Friday or you can follow me on Twitter @ChrisGJoynson.

Cartoon Corner: DuckTales (2017) Review

Life is like a hurricane, here in Duckburg,

Race cares, lasers, aeroplanes, it’s a duck-blur!

Might solve a mystery or rewrite history!

DuckTales! Woo-oo!

What’s the Story?

When their Uncle Donald drops Huey, Dewey and Louie off at the home of the richest duck in the world, Scrooge McDuck, they have no idea how their lives are about to change. Whether its battling the wicked sorceress Magica De Spell, saving the world from an invasion of moon people or even taking on the schemes of the villainous F.O.W.L. organisation, there’s danger around every corner, but also a real adventure! Together the McDuck family are going to cross the globe, tracking down mystical treasures and uncovering lost secrets, even a few related directly to their family. What did happen to Huey, Dewey and Louie’s mother? Who are Webby’s parents? And, most importantly of all, why does Scrooge hate Santa Claus so much? All the answers and more are waiting for you, so grab on and let’s Dewey this!

The Review:

The Disney train has rolled once more into this blog and, honestly, I couldn’t be happier. Disney has really been on their A-game with their cartoons in recent years. Gravity Falls and Tangles the Series are two of my favourite cartoons ever (almost reaching the same league that I put Batman the animated series in, almost). Owl House (you can read my review of season 1 HERE) and Amphibia (season 1 review HERE) are both doing great things, though the news about the former ending so soon is a disappointment. We’re not here to talk about any of them though. No, we’re here to discuss what is, in my opinion, Disney’s absolute best cartoon they’ve produced so far.

I want you to understand just how strong that praise is coming from me and for that you need context. I can remember watching a couple of episodes of the original DuckTales cartoon when I was a kid, but I was never particularly beholden to the series. Disney movies had me glued to the screen, but when it came to cartoons? I was more of a Warner Bros guy. I have no nostalgia for DuckTales, Huey, Dewey and Louie were non-existent characters and Scrooge was fairly one note as far as I was concerned.

Now? Now I want to hug them and cherish them and go on crazy adventures with all of them. This show has worked it’s magic on me and across it’s three seasons it’s made we fall deeply, passionately in love with each and every one of it’s characters, and this show has a lot of characters! Whether it’s cheering at the reinvention of Darkwing Duck, my heart bursting at the reunion of the boys with their mum, Della, or even just watching the boys and Webby bonding, I have nothing but love for this show and I don’t know what I’m going to do with myself now it’s all over.

I mentioned reinvention and, really, that’s what this show is best at. Just take our primary characters for starters, Huey, Dewey and Louie, for the first time that I’m aware of, all have distinct and fun personalities. Dewey is the overly-eager young daredevil, always rushing into trouble with a desperate need for attention and approval. Huey is the nervous boy scout, always looking for the solution, planning forty steps ahead and panicking when things don’t go according to plan. Louie is our little conman, always able to talk his way out of situations, even if he’s as lazy and greedy as they come. Then there’s Webby who’s gone from the ‘girl’ to an awkward adventure-seeker, who spent much of her early life in isolation but makes up for it by being an absolute badass!

Then there’s that extensive cast that I mentioned and, while I may not have watched that many Disney cartoons in my youth I can recognise a cameo and a deep cut when I see one. From Rescue Rangers to TaleSpin, if there’s a Disney cartoon out there it’s got a mention in here somewhere (honestly I was expecting Gummy Bears and Gargoyles to get a mention by the end) and all the characters get smart and fun updates for the present day. I love this show’s version of Darkwing Duck and the journey that the character goes on across the seasons (from a cameo on a TV screen to a fully-fleshed out character with a new backstory!). You can feel the passion and the attention to detail that the creators of this show have poured into it.

Of course it’s not just classic characters getting a revamp, we actually have a fair few brand new characters that are added into the mythos, and all of them fit perfectly! This biggest and most important is one I’ve already mentioned, Huey, Dewey and Louie’s mum, and Donald’s sister, Della Duck! Yes, I’m as surprised as you are, a mother character in a Disney property who isn’t dead or magically vanished off screen before the first act begins! (Admittedly she is missing for the first season as the over-arching plot is about finding out what happened to her, but she makes her way back in season 2 and from then on she’s a part of the main cast!).

Della is a perfect example of what this show does so well, adding to the wider mythos of the show while also being her own unique character and smart and funny and just brilliant in every way. I could go on and on about this show, I haven’t even gotten into how this show perfectly balances episodic adventures and an over-arching plot, or some of the impressive blending of 2D and 3D animation, but this review is long enough already. Just watch this show guys, you won’t regret it.

The Verdict:

In the end, DuckTales (2017), is the best Disney cartoon to date as far as I’m concerned (sorry Gravity Falls and Tangled). It’s a beautifully crafted show with smart, funny writing, engaging characters and some really top-notch animated sequences. All the while it also pays homage to a legitimate classic (even if I don’t particularly care about it) while still going in its own direction and being additive rather than reductive. If you want to know how to reboot a franchise, heck if you just want to know how to write a stellar cartoon, then you need to check this show out. So what are you waiting for? Grab on to some DuckTales! Woo-oo!

Chris Joynson, aka the Infallible Fish, is a writer, blogger and lover of animation living in Sheffield. The blog updates every Friday or you can follow me on Twitter @ChrisGJoynson.

Anime Corner: Godzilla Singular Point Review

You’re a robot made by humans, but

Jet Jaguar, Jet Jaguar,

You did it, Jet Jaguar

Go, go to protect peace

We are all surprised at the courage you show

Godzilla and Jaguar punch, punch, punch

Don’t cry, let’s do our best!

What’s the Story?

Investigating strange going on in an abandoned mansion, Yun Arikawa and Haberu Katou find themselves on the path to solving a decades-old puzzle and possibly saving the world. Of course they’ll need help from the likes of young researcher, Mei Kamino, and a host of other characters, including their own pet robot, Jet Jaguar! While Mei travels the globe in search of answers, Yun, Haberu and Jet Jaguar are forced to contend with the numerous kaiju that are appearing across Japan, and soon the world. One kaiju in particular is the real problem though, according to myth he’s the God of Destruction and if one scientist’s peak into the future is any indication that’s exactly what he is. Godzilla is coming and he is the catastrophe that will end the world.

The Review:

And so Kaiju-cember comes to a close with Godzilla Singular Point. At the time of writing this it’s the latest Godzilla anime project from Toho and what first caught my attention about this series was the trailer. I’ve mentioned before in this month that I’m fan of Showa era Godzilla so seeing Jet Jaguar after all these years really made my day (my VHS copy of Godzilla vs. Megalon is staring at me right now, calling out to be watched again). Throw is some quirky-looking anime characters and an animated Godzilla that actually looks like the Godzilla I know and love (even if the 3D animation isn’t the best) and my hopes were raised at last! So, did it manage it? Do I finally have a kaiju anime to gush about? Not exactly.

Don’t get me wrong, out of everything I’ve looked at this month this series is the closest I’ve gotten to finding something I can truly gush about, but there are still some serious issues here. Let’s start with the positives. Maybe I just want a kaiju series that appeals to my nostalgia, because all of my favourite moments in this show appeal directly to the long-term memory centres of my brain. Every time I heard a revamped classic theme or saw Jet Jaguar rolling into action against one of the smaller kaiju, I was suddenly a kid again staring up at my TV from the Living Room carpet. There’s nothing that’s a carbon copy of anything I remember from my childhood, they’re just old ideas presented in a new way and yet they still carry that weight of nostalgia. They’re also really fun action sequences and by far the times I was most engaged in what was happening, it’s classic monster movie stuff. Weak, frail humans struggling against the might of something primeval and almost entirely unstoppable, and yet still somehow making it through with their will and ingenuity. Also I want to applaud the choice of kaiju, avoiding any of the big names like Mothra or Ghidorah and instead going to lesser-used monsters like Anguirus and Kumonga.

Another area I have to praise this series for is the human characters. The non-kaiju characters are often the weakest part in a kaiju story for a lot of people, and yet they’re the characters we often spend the most amount of time with. We spend a lot of time with the humans in this series, some might say too much but I’ll come back to that in a minute, thankfully Singular Point makes the right choice of giving us interesting characters to follow. They may not be the most developed or depth-filled characters, but they’ve all got personality and foibles that make them at least fun to watch. Whether it’s Mei being a complete and utter klutz while at the same time always being the smartest person in the room, or Yun and Haberu’s overzealous geriatric boss, who’s an incredible engineer, I’d happily spend time with any of them.

That brings me to the negatives though and the first one is a dozy. This really should be called Jet Jaguar Singular Point, because the robot is the star of the show and the focus throughout. Godzilla does appear in the series, but we don’t really get a good look at him until about halfway through the series and even then he’s relegated to the background for the majority of this series’ runtime. Heck we don’t even get him in his final form until the last few episodes, and he’s little more than an obstacle that our human heroes and Jet Jaguar have to overcome. There’s no big showdown with him, every fight he has with other monsters and the military is over in a few minutes and the rest of the time he just stands there looking menacing. He’s the titular character for crying out loud, surely we can give him a bit more to do! Hopefully he’ll have a bigger roll in the second season that gets teased at the end.

There’s one last thing to talk about with this series and, honestly it’s this that put me off more than the series relegating Godzilla to a background character. I have no idea if the science presented in this series is in anyway accurate, if it is it’ll be some high-level quantum physics stuff, or if it’s just made up technobabble, either way it’s annoying. I typically don’t mind a series that wants to play around with some big ideas, in fact I encourage it, but you have to deliver it in the right way. Give me a good analogy or break the concept down into smaller ideas that I can wrap my head around. Don’t dumb it down, but present it in a way that doesn’t have my eyes glazing over and my brain switching off like a fuse has just blown. A good example of this is the scene on the plane with Mei, when she pierces a folded over rectangle of jelly with a toothpick to show how something interacting on a higher dimensional level can look to us. If more of the science was explained like this I’d have a lot more leeway for the series, but instead it chooses to give us these massive info-dumps, one after the other, all of which go over the top of my head and leave me disinterested for the majority of scenes, which I’m sure is not what the writers of this wanted.

The Verdict:

In the end, Godzilla Singular Point is a mixed bag (much like everything else I’ve reviewed this month). There are some definite highlights, the characters, both human and not, are all interesting and fun to be around. There’s a great sense of nostalgia to seeing the likes of Jet Jaguar and some of the lesser-used kaiju getting their time in the spotlight for the first time in a long while, but there are negatives too. Godzilla, out title character, is little more than a background decoration. Throw in the overbearing amount of big science/sci-fi ideas that are either poorly exampled or thrown at you with such speed that they’ll quickly overwhelm you and you get a disappointing final product. I did enjoy it, but I probably won’t watch it again unless that teased sequel comes rolling around. Maybe then they can find the right balance between big ideas and kaiju action.

Chris Joynson, aka the Infallible Fish, is a writer, blogger and lover of animation living in Sheffield. The blog updates every Friday or you can follow me on Twitter @ChrisGJoynson.

 

That’s it for this year, my thanks to everyone who’s liked, commented or even just viewed one of my posts in 2021. Here’s to the New Year, I hope it’s better for all of us and I’ll see you then for more anime reviews!

Failure to Launch!

Festive greetings! I hope everyone’s had a merry Christmas so far and are all set for the New Year ahead. For me it’s been fairly quiet, which has given me a chance to do some work on the blog and I’ve been writing reviews pretty much every day this week, with a few more still in the pipeline. Hopefully you’ll all enjoy those when I release them in 2022.

On to today’s business, it feels like forever since I’ve done a tag post so thanks to Yomu for including me in this fun little game. Games need rules though so let’s check those out first:

Rules

  1. Put the logo and rules in your post. – Done
  2. Thank whoever tagged you and link back to their post. – Done
  3. Link back to the original post. – Done
  4. List some brief excerpts where stories (anime, book, movie – anything is fine) failed to launch due to a missing call to action. As many as you want. Readers can then try and guess the story in the comments!
  5. Nominate 3 other blogs to continue the tag!

Below are my story excerpts. Have a guess in the comments at what you think they are, I’ll tell you now that half of them are anime series and half aren’t just to keep things interesting. I’ll include who I’m tagging at the bottom of the post. Have fun everyone!

Story 1:

A hard-working and handy student decides cleaning the dojo can wait until tomorrow and decides to go home for the evening. His life remains uneventful and his dreams of being a hero go unfulfilled.

Story 2:

After leaving the theatre early, a doctor, his wife and son decide to call their butler to pick them up rather than wander down a dark alley. They make it home safely and their son grows up to be a happy and well-adjusted young man, even though the city is only getting worse and worse.

Story 3:

A schoolgirl comes across a mysterious book in her dad’s basement library and doesn’t open it. She goes on to have a perfect and adorable life, but is yet to meet her one true love.

Story 4:

Astronauts discover a strange capsule on the moon. Showing a remarkable amount of genre-savvy they decide to leave well enough alone and don’t open it.

Story 5:

After a stressful day of work an office worker decides to have a few drinks before heading home on the train. Luckily she has enough self-control to stop herself getting too drunk and doesn’t miss her stop on the way home. She continues her lonely life.

Story 6: 

Two school teachers decide the odd behaviour of their new student is none of their business and don’t follow her home one night. A few weeks later the girl mysteriously disappears never to be seen again.

 

That’s it, hope you all have fun and bonus points to anyone that gets number 6.

 

I’ll be tagging:

alsmangablog – Also I promise I’ll get to your magical girl tag at some point, I’ve been having a bit of trouble getting the designs right.

Karandi

ospreyshire

See you all on Friday for the final post of Kaijucember! 

 

Chris Joynson, aka the Infallible Fish, is a writer, blogger and lover of animation living in Sheffield. The blog updates every Friday or you can follow me on Twitter @ChrisGJoynson.

 

 

Anime Corner: Godzilla: The Planet Eater Review

Who Ya Gonna Call?

What’s the Story?

After surviving the attack of the original Godzilla, Captain Haruo and the remnants of the landing party found their way to the long-forgotten Mechagodzilla. Over the centuries the nano-metal that made up Mechagodzilla had developed into a self-replicating city and with it’s power humanity and their allies hoped to finally take down the King of Monsters. They came so close, but a difference in philosophy between the humans and the Bilusaludo led Haruo to make a deadly choice. He could either defeat Godzilla once and for all, or try to protect the woman he loves. Haruo made his choice and now Godzilla sleeps, but a more dangerous threat is coming towards the Earth. As the survivors of the battle turn to the religion of the Exif in search of a miracle, Metphies begins to show his true colours. What can really challenge a God, except for another God.

The Review:

And so we come to the end of this trilogy of animated Godzilla films, and I have to say even with my lowered expectations they’ve been kinda disappointing. My opinions of the first two films can be summed up as ‘they’re okay, nothing terrible and there are some fun ideas, but nothing that really blew me away ’ (if you want more details you can read my review of ‘Planet of the Monsters’ HERE and ‘City on the Edge of Battle’ HERE). This final films takes on a more melancholy tone than its predecessors as it explores ideas of nihilism, the pain of living on after loss and mankind’s inevitable march towards its own destruction. So fun times all round. I joke, and while I don’t agree with everything that this film has to say on those subjects, they’re at least interesting ideas to chew on, which when I think about it sums up this trilogy pretty well.

There are several problems that plague this film throughout it’s hour and a half runtime, but let’s get the big one out of the way first, fan expectation. Godzilla is a long-running franchise and over the decades its films have built up certain expectations. When you think of Godzilla you imagine buildings crumbling, terrified people running through the streets, atomic breath and so on. When you hear particular names like Mechagodzilla or Ghidorah you get a clear picture in your head of what to expect. For the most part this trilogy has taken those concepts and done its best to subvert them in one way or another. Now there’s nothing wrong with subverting an old idea, in fact I always try to encourage it. Without new twists or perspectives those old ideas can soon become stale and boring, as much as our nostalgia would like to argue otherwise.

Now, admittedly, I did go off on a bit of a rant in my ‘City on the Edge of Battle’ review (HERE) about Mechagodzilla and I admit I have a particular fondness for that monster. That being said I think where a lot of the subversions in these films fall down is that they don’t offer an appealing enough alternative to the original idea. A technologically advance super city is not as appealing as a giant metal dinosaur, I’m sorry. That brings me to Ghidorah in this film. Again this is a completely new take on Monster Zero, but I think it’s interesting. The fact it’s from another universe and therefore interacts with our universe in such a strange way makes it an interesting adversary to square off against for the final battle, at least on paper. I also don’t mind the design, yes it’s three extra long noodle necks coming out of the sky, but they’re gold and have dragon-like heads so we’re at least in the same ballpark as the Ghidorah I know and love (okay, maybe we’re in the car park of the ballpark, but I’ll take what I can get).

Again though, we come back to what I was saying about expectations. Ghidorah and Godzilla had an epic rivalry across the films and some great battles and yet in this film it’s just…just so boring. I hesitate to even call it a fight, Ghidorah floats around for a bit and just bites Godzilla, that’s it. Godzilla can’t do anything ‘cause it can’t touch Ghidorah and eventually just gets lifted into the air. It doesn’t help that while this is going on Haruo is getting lectured at by Metphies on the dogma of his nihilistic death cult. Also, yes, of course the uber-religious guy turns out to be the big cackling villain at the end, I expected nothing less, now please stop bashing me over the head with the idea that you think religion is a bad thing. I’m getting a headache just remembering those scenes and I’m not even a religious person.

The Verdict:

In the end, Godzilla: The Planet Eater is definitely the weakest in this trilogy of animated films. There are some interesting ideas to chew on and, again, I like the world this trilogy has built up, but the characters all remain fairly one-note and the more melancholy tone can make this a much more depressing watch. The lack of action or any real spectacle is also a big detriment to this film, as well as the way it tries to subvert expectations without any real substantive alternative to replace it. I thought going in with lower expectations would improve this film and it’s predecessors, but as it stands I can see why they got all the negative reaction they did. If you’re a kaiju or Godzilla fan in any way, skip these films.

Chris Joynson, aka the Infallible Fish, is a writer, blogger and lover of animation living in Sheffield. The blog updates every Friday or you can follow me on Twitter @ChrisGJoynson.

Anime Corner: Godzilla: City on the Edge of Battle Review

The Terror of Mechagodzilla…I guess.

What’s the Story?

After defeating Godzilla, Captain Haruo and the last remnants of humanity thought they’d finally secured themselves a future. That was when the one, true Godzilla rose from the ground and brought devastation down on the humans and their allies. Some survived, thanks to the help of a mysterious indigenous species, potentially humanity’s descendants, but what does that change? They may have defeated one Godzilla, but is there any real hope of taking down the true King of Monsters? During the last days of humanity’s time on Earth a project was under way to create a monster capable of taking down Godzilla, but the project was destroyed before it could be completed, or was it? Finding the remains of ‘Mechagodzilla’, humanity and its allies may have found its last hope, or is this just another nightmare?

The Review:

The more I think about this trilogy of Godzilla films, the more I come to realise that they’re really best watched one immediately after the other. I’m watching them only days apart as I write these reviews, but when I imagine having to wait months and months between each film, it’s little wonder they got such a negative reaction at their release. I know I’d have a lot more ire for this film if I’d spent all that time waiting to see this. Not that this film is terrible, in fact I think it’s an improvement over the first film in a lot of regards, even if I’ve just as much to pick apart, but there’s something I need to get out of the way first.

For all the times that it is mentioned in this film, Mechagodzilla never once appears. Yes, I know, the living metal city is technically Mechagodzilla, but I don’t care how many time the script says it or tries to justify it, that is not Mechagodzilla. When you say Mechagodzilla to me I get a very specific image in my mind, a giant mechanical dinosaur very much like a mechanical Godzilla (hence it’s name!). If that’s not what you’re going to give me in your movie then don’t try and sell it to me as that! I’m usually fine with re-imaginings or an author’s new interpretation on an old idea, but there comes a point where you change an idea so much it ceases to be that original idea. Then it’s just something entirely new with a familiar name slapped on it to make it more palatable and that irks me. If you’re going to come up with something new then just call it something new! Don’t trade on my nostalgia.

Okay, rant over. Putting my frustrations about Mechagodzilla to one side, I do think think this film is an improvement over ‘Planet of Monsters’, even if only slightly. The middle act of a story is often the hardest to get right, it’s the point where the story decompresses to give everyone, characters and audience alive, a chance to breath and mull things over. That’s really what helps this film, I said in my last review (HERE) that this trilogy should have been a series and this film just confirms that for me. Without the immediate drive of plotting to take down Godzilla, the characters are allowed a chance to explore the world around them and even develop in some cases. Haruo goes from a walking ball of pent up anger to a real leader, feeling the weigh of his responsibilities and the lives he’s lost, as well as beginning to question himself. The ending of the film is a very clear choice between the anger he’s carried around for so long, and his other obligations and feelings. If I cared about the character more this would probably be a dramatic highlight.

That’s the real problem this film faces. Even though it’s now developing some of its characters and spending more time to fill out the details of its world, everything is still fairly one note. Take our alien allies for instance. The Exif still have an air of mystery about them, but for the most part they’re just offering up vague religious speeches about the nature of species, monsters and pre-destination. I need something a bit more substantive before I can fully invest in them, though I still don’t trust Metphies.

Then there’s the Bilusaludo, who admittedly offer an interesting philosophy in opposition to the Exif and humans. Originally I thought they were just generic technologically-advanced warriors, but in this film we discover that they hold technology to such a high regard that they’re all for abandoning their weak bodies and becoming one with their machines. I applaud the film for having an alien species think so differently to the human counterparts, but the film never spends any time exploring this, heck we don’t even learn about it until just before the final battle of the film. Is it too much to ask to have two characters sit down and talk about this stuff, maybe explain how the Bilusaludo came to this viewpoint. Then again it falls into the typical sci-fi trap of giving an alien species one unique thing and only one unique things. There’s no dissenters among the Bilusaludo? No rival philosophy or opposing factions? Because we humans clearly only have one way of thinking about the nature of life, right? Again, I really do enjoy this world and the concepts its bringing into play, I just wish it devoted more time to exploring those concepts.

The Verdict:

In the end, Godzilla: City on the Edge of Battle is an improvement over Planet of the Monsters, even if it’s still yet to blow me away. There’s more time devoted to exploring this future Earth and the characters we were introduced to in the first film. There are some great ideas here and some impressive action, though I’m still not the biggest fan of the animation. Haruo grows from being just a walking ball of rage to a believable leader, and we do learn some more about our alien allies, but it’s not enough to make this film truly great. Here’s hoping the final film can stick the landing.

Chris Joynson, aka the Infallible Fish, is a writer, blogger and lover of animation living in Sheffield. The blog updates every Friday or you can follow me on Twitter @ChrisGJoynson.

Anime Corner: Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters Review

Persecution of the Masses.

What’s the Story?

One day creatures rose from beneath the surface of the Earth to terrorise humanity. Out of all of these only one inspired true dread and drove humanity to the very edge of extinction, the monster they came to call Godzilla. Even with the aide of two arriving alien species it wasn’t enough to halt Godzilla’s destructive path, forcing what was left of the human race to flee into space. Now, over two decades later, humanity once more faces a grave nightmare. Food rations are running out and with no potential habitable planets to claim as their own, they may just have to return to their abandoned former home. For Haruo this is perfect. He lost everything to Godzilla and blames the creature alone for humanity’s current pitiable state. He’s spent the past two years planning and might just have something that can bring down the King of Monsters, but when has killing Godzilla ever been easy?

The Review:

In 2017 I was excited to hear that we were getting an animated trilogy of Godzilla films. To me it just made sense, as much as I love the majority of the live-action films, regardless of whether it’s a guy in a rubber suit or not, I can’t help but imagine all that animation could accomplish for the giant atomic-breathed reptile. I mean I can’t be the only one who fondly remembers the cartoon series based on the 1998 film (the film itself has no right to call itself Godzilla in any shape or form, but the cartoon was good). Then the reviews started coming in and they were not good for this film or its sequels and, I know, take other people’s opinions with a pinch of salt. I should have watched the film and made up my own mind, but between the never-ending glut of seasonal shows to keep up with and everything else I try to do in my free time, this film just got pushed further and further down the list. Now though I’ve finally given myself the kick up the butt I needed and sat down and watched the film. So what did I think?

Honestly, I kinda enjoyed it. It’s flawed certainly and very obviously the start of a trilogy so the ending foregoes any sort of real conclusion and instead gives way to set up for the sequel, which can be annoying. I get what put so many people off about this film, but what fascinates me is the world it builds up around itself. I’m a sucker for sci-fi on my best day, so you give me spaceships, mecha and giant monsters and you pretty much have me sold from the start. I like the way it takes concepts we’ve seen in previous Godzilla films and meshes them together in a unique way. Take the alien allies for instances, there are plenty of Godzilla films where aliens show up claiming to be friends, only to then reveal ulterior motives and be swatted away once they try to take on Godzilla himself. This time the aliens are actually here to help, at least that’s how it appears for the majority of movie one, I have my doubts about one of them. They give Earth more advanced technology to combat Godzilla and then help built spaceships when it’s clear there’s no way to win. I could have watched an entire movie about that and been happy.

That’s not the film we got though and I admit I might just be more enamoured with the concepts the film is presenting than the actual meat of the story. Take humanity’s time in space, the talk of rations running out and the older generation volunteering for a desperate mission paint a really dark picture and I wish we got to explore that more, but it’s mostly glossed over. Even the talk about the council forcing those older members on to the mission is quickly brushed aside once we get back to Earth. Maybe this story would have been better served as a series, giving more room to develop these characters and the settings, paint a really vivid picture. As it is the film is mostly technical jargon and action scenes that, while the animation is fit for purpose, it doesn’t wow me (that being said I really don’t like the texture they put on Godzilla, it’s just not very pleasing to look at).

That brings me to what was probably the nail in the coffin for this film for a lot of people, and that’s the main character of Haruo. I get what they were trying to do with the character, his anger is perfectly understandable and seeing it focussed on Godzilla also makes a lot of sense. Heck, one of the main characters of King of the Monsters (my favourite of the recent Godzilla films) was passionately anti-Godzilla. The thing is though is that character went on an arc, Haruo doesn’t. This is the first third of a trilogy so I expect him to change at some point, but so far it’s just unpleasant to spend so much time with someone who’s just angry all the time. It’s not as if any of the other characters get any sort of development, they barely get introduced to us. Imagine Eren from Attack on Titan, but instead of constantly having his ideals challenged and his ego knocked down a peg, Haruo gets built up and he is the one true saviour of us all. I could put up with him for one film, but I have no idea what my reaction is going to be like for the sequel, I guess we’ll see.

The Verdict:

In the end, Godzilla: Planet of Monsters, is a film that is enjoyable but nothing more. It has a lot of flaws, some of them stemming from the fact that this is the start of a trilogy and there’s some missing resolution. Even putting that aside the film has some pretty glaring flaws, like the unpleasant main character, the lack of development for, well, anyone in the cast and a fairly straightforward story that ignores some meaty potential. There are some great ideas in this script and I wish they got more time to be explored, but I guess we’ll see how the sequels handle things now that the set ups out of the way.

Chris Joynson, aka the Infallible Fish, is a writer, blogger and lover of animation living in Sheffield. The blog updates every Friday or you can follow me on Twitter @ChrisGJoynson.

Cartoon Corner: Pacific Rim: The Black Review

Mecha. Check. Kaiju. Check. Let them fight.

What’s the Story?

Five years ago Taylor and Hayley barely escaped a Kaiju attack with their parents and a small group of others, taking shelter in a secluded basin. Their parents, Jaeger pilots, then left to try and find help and send it back for them. They never returned. After Hayley discovers a training Jaeger, she and her brother are forced to flee again when their safe haven is destroyed by a Kaiju. Now the brother and sister must step out into the wasteland that remains of Australia, something the locals affectionately call ‘The Black’. Gathering a ragtag team around them, including a mysterious boy found in a lab and a trained killer suffering from an identity crisis, they hope to somehow reach Sydney and maybe even find their parents somewhere along the way. There are many dangers in the Black though, and Kaiju are not the only threat they’ll face. Humans can be just as destructive and what of the Sisters and their Kaiju Messiah?

The Review

Pacific Rim was a great movie. Then the sequel was a critical and financial disaster. To say I was relieved when I heard they were making an animated series is an understatement of kaiju-sized proportions. Pacific Rim is a franchise that deserves to carry on, plus its mecha and kaiju all in one perfect package, what’s not to love? So, how does the series stack up? It’s a good start. There’s only seven episodes up on Netflix at the time of writing this so the series feels more like an animated movie when watching it all in one go. Each episode comes with consequences that are felt throughout the series, even if part of that is purely just sowing seeds for the next season.

Before we move on to the more plot and character specifics, let’s talk about how this show looks. Overall it’s good, there are some really nice shots and the action often has the appropriate sense of weight and impact, something that’s really important when you’ve got such giant combatants throwing down. Of course the series isn’t wall-to-wall action, you’ll find some sort of action sequence in each episode, but they don’t always involve the Jaegers or the Kaiju. While I wouldn’t mind a continual stream of mecha-on-monster action, doing things this way does bring some variety to the series and demonstrates the variety of obstacles the characters have to face. On the design front, the Jaegers and Kaiju all fall in line with the principles set out by the previous films. I would like to see a bit more variety in the designs, we tend to get the same three or four Kaiju across the series and the Jaegers don’t look that different either outside of their colour schemes. This is only season 1 though, and only seven episodes at that, so I’m willing to give them a pass on this, for now.

Let’s talk about the characters. As our leads, Taylor and Hayley are perfectly serviceable. They’re both young so I’ll forgive some of their more idiotic decisions, but that does bring in those consequences I was talking about earlier, which are a great benefit to the characters. After the first episode I was worried that Hayley’s guilt over getting everyone in their community killed was going to fade away, but it’s clearly still there. Her continual insistence on protecting Boy, and I wish they’d just a pick a name for the kid already, is partly out of that guilt and she brings it up when talking to the series’ best character, Mei. Taylor has his own consequences to deal with, not only the after-effects of that time he tried to pilot by himself, but to all of his decisions. They’re the protagonists so we know nothing truly terrible is going to happen to them, but the consequences make sure that we know they won’t necessarily get out unscathed.

Speaking of consequences, this series has one heck of a body count. It’s never gory, everything happens off-screen but there are several times were the characters end up with blood splattering across their faces. I mean they kill off the whole community at the start of the series, which I certainly wasn’t expecting. A few maybe, to hammer home the danger, but all of them? Not to mention the fact that there was one death later on that really made my jaw hit the floor. I did not see it coming and it adds to the sense of danger our characters are facing. Taylor and Hayley will certainly survive, but the same can’t be said for everyone else and the cast isn’t that big yet so it’s more than just fodder that’s biting the dust. The series also isn’t afraid to add to the mythology of the franchise and all of that bundles together to make this a really exciting series. I have no idea where it’s going, but I’m more than happy to enjoy the ride.

The Verdict

In the end, Pacific Rim: The Black is a great start to an animated series in this franchise. There’s plenty of Jaeger-on-Kaiju action without making that the only course this series has to serve. Actions have consequences and there’s a surprising body count to this series that creates a sense of danger around the few characters that do survive. The series isn’t afraid to lay down seeds for later season and add to the mythology of the franchise either. I’m looking forward to season 2, whenever Netflix decides to drop it on us. See you in the drift.

Chris Joynson, aka the Infallible Fish, is a writer, blogger and lover of animation living in Sheffield. The blog updates every Friday or you can follow me on Twitter @ChrisGJoynson.

Introducing Kaiju-cember!

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! That’s right, ladies, gentlemen and everyone in between, it’s December and as regular followers of this blog should know that means one thing and one thing only, a theme month! I’ve talked about a lot of franchises that I love in Decembers past, Doctor Who, Batman, One Piece, Spider-Man, Scooby-Doo and so on, but this time things are going to be a little different. That’s right, in honour of Godzilla vs. Kong releasing earlier this year (I enjoyed the film a lot, but King of the Monsters is still my favourite) I’m putting on a monster of a month. Instead of just a franchise I’m going to look at a whole genre, welcome to Kaiju-cember!

I find it hard to pin down why it is I instinctively love kaiju as much as I do, maybe it’s just the vicarious thrill of seeing a eighty foot monster stomping around the place. Not that kaiju are all about spectacle, if done correctly they can become a really poignant allegory, like in the original Godzilla all those decades ago. Speaking of the big G, that’s really where my love of the kaiju genre begins. Not the very original film, as I only saw that for the first time fairly recently (it’s a classic for a reason and everyone should watch it at least once). No, my first Godzilla film was ‘The Return of Godzilla’, which I still own to this day on VHS (for all the kids out there, VHS were these magical storage devices that we had before streaming was a thing. You’d buy, or rent, a film on this little box and put it in another machine to watch it on your TV. Think like a DVD, but it’s recorded on tape rather than a disc. Weird I know).

A lot of my younger days were spent trying to procure most of the Showa era Godzilla films on tape (a couple of which I still own) and watching them again and again. As such, it should be no surprise to anyone that the majority of this month is dedicated to the atomic-breathed reptile, but I’ve thrown in a more recent franchise as well as the token representative of other kaiju.

So, here’s what this month is going to look like:

3rd – Pacific Rim: The Black

10th – Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters

17th – Godzilla: City on the Edge of Battle

24th – Godzilla: The Planet Eater

31st – Godzilla Singular Point

See you on Friday for the first review!

Chris Joynson, aka the Infallible Fish, is a writer, blogger and lover of animation living in Sheffield. The blog updates every Friday or you can follow me on Twitter @ChrisGJoynson.

Anime Corner: Digimon Adventure: (2020) Review

Going Digital…Again!

What’s the Story?

Bizarre occurrences have been happening all across Tokyo, computer systems suddenly going haywire and acting as if they’ve got minds of their own! When Taichi’s mother and little sister become caught on a runaway train it’s the first gambit in an epic adventure that Taichi and his this friends are never likely to forget. Transported to a strange new world, this ‘Digital World’, the chosen human children and their Digimon partners must overcome a reviving evil. If they fail, both the Digital World and ours will be reduced to nothing.

The Review:

This is not going to be the review I wanted to write for this series. I very much wanted to love this reboot version of the original Digimon Adventure, I want to love every series in the Digimon franchise. True, when I was a kid I was a die hard Pokemon fan and, yes, I was one of those naive fools who thought Digimon was the lesser cousin to the Juggernaut that was Pokemon. Yet as I’ve gotten older the more my interest in Pokeman has faded and my appreciation for Digimon has only grown, heck I dedicated the 5th anniversary year of this blog to reviewing the first three Digimon series, the movie and the Tri films (which you can find HERE). The chance to see the original characters again, but with more modern animation and all the lore that’s been added into the series since it’s inception, just take my money now. And, at first, I was really enjoying this new version of Digmion Adventure. It took things in a very different direction, with a clear focus on the lore and adventure aspect of the series, it felt like an epic quest, which I was totally down for. Unfortunately that didn’t last.

Adventure: 2020 has some pretty big problems as far as I’m concerned, but I can’t quite work out whether those problems are born from the series itself, or my own personal biases. I’ve tried to keep 2020 and the original Adventure separate in my head, they are doing very different things as I mentioned, but there were several points I caught myself thinking, ‘I preferred how that was done in the original’ or ‘I wish they’d included that from the original’. I guess we’ll see how much I bring up the original in this review, but starting from this point I’m going to try to talk about just 2020. So let’s begin with some positives, what did I actually like about Adventure: 2020. Well, as I said the first half of this series is pretty solid. It’s an epic quest that slowly gathers together the characters we all know and love and puts them on a grand journey to save this strange land known as the ‘Digital World’. There’s a clear goal from the offset and it adds some real drive to the episodes. Plus it’s great to see the action and digivolution (yes I’m still calling it digivolution, I’ve been calling it that for nearly three decades now, it’s hard to rewire those parts of my brain) sequences done with an actual budget. True, Agumon and Gabumon get the much flashier sequences, but then don’t they always?

Unfortunately, once we hit the halfway mark of the series, I’d say roughly around the fight with Devimon, things start to falter. The thing with an epic quest and having set goals is, once you reach those that’s kind of the end of the story. There’s so much drive and build up towards the fight with Devimon that once he’s finally defeated it feels like the series has hit it’s climax. Of course then we’ve got to deal with the force behind Devimon, but all the momentum suddenly vanishes from the series. Instead of a clear progressing story, the series feels like its just meandering around, slipping into more episodic content while we all just drum our fingers waiting for the final boss fight. It kinda kills the series for me and then once that evil Digimon is dealt with it it’s revealed there’s an even greater force behind them that we have to deal and arrrgh when is this going to end! This series is too long and I put the fault squarely on the pacing of the second half. There’s no flow to the episodes and it misses opportunity after opportunity to use it’s time effectively and develop these characters.

That’s Adventure: 2020 biggest crime in my book, it’s lacklustre treatment of the characters. To a point I get it, this is a much more plot-driven series that other Digimon series, we’re dealing with lore and story progression more than anything else, but when that starts to meander the deficiencies in the characters really start to show. I barely feel like I know any of these characters and when they do get character-focussed episodes it’s to deal with surface level problems. Izzy/Koshiro is my best example, though I need to bring up the original series to demonstrate what I’m talking about. In the original Adventure series we explored how Izzy’s constant questioning and searching for answers was related to his identity issues after finding out he’s adopted. In 2020? He spends an episode learning to rely on his computer less. Do you see the difference there? One is actual character exploration and develop, one’s an issue for a Saturday morning cartoon. Maybe that’s all Adventure: 2020 was trying to be, a nice breezy kids show, but I expect better from Digimon.

It doesn’t help that Taichi gets so much of the spotlight in this series, even episodes that should naturally be about another Chosen One getting their next digivolution, nope, here comes Taichi riding in to save the day. He even gets an alternate Mega digivolution for Agumon long before most of the other characters have even achieved their first Mega digivolution! What is going on here?! I seriously got to the point in later episodes where I wanted to punch Taichi every time he showed up just to get him off screen and give a chance to the other characters for once. I was honestly surprised that the final battle didn’t just turn into Taichi saving everyone, but everyone got something to do at least. I will end this on a positive note by saying that the final episode of the series was suitably epic with some great animated sequences and an orchestral score that really sold the grandeur of everything. It’s a solid ending, it’s just a shame it took so long to get there.

The Verdict:

In the end, Digimon Adventure: 2020 is a disappointment. It starts off well, but the plot begins to meander with constantly shifting end bosses and seriously underdeveloped characters. It doesn’t help that so much time is dedicated to Taichi despite the fact that it never truly explores his character. It is nice to see alternate digivolutions and better quality animation for some sequences, though there’s a noticeable dip as the series goes on. Maybe if you’re not as beholden to the original as I clearly am you can get more enjoyment out of this series, here’s hoping. Until the next trip to the Digital World.

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