Anime Corner: Otherside Picnic Review

It just raises too many questions. (Really? I’m quoting Batman Forever? This can’t be a good sign.)

What’s the Story?

Moments from death, Sorawo is saved by the mysterious Toriko. Somehow the two girls have found themselves in the strange and bizarre Otherside, where all manner of urban legends and folklore come to frightening life. Not that Sorawo or Toriko scare that easily, not when Toriko’s former mentor has vanished into this otherworldly wilderness and Sorawo finds herself drawn to Toriko for some reason. Even if the experience leaves them changed, Sorawo now able to see things as they truly are and Toriko with a translucent hand that can grapple with the Otherside, neither of them are giving up just yet. The question is, what’s going to happen first? Will Sorawo and Toriko admit their growing feelings for one another or will the Otherside drive them insane? My money’s on the later at this point.

The Review

I really wanted to love this series. You give me a series about folklore and urban legends and I’ll generally eat it up, admittedly I tend to lean more towards mythology and legends rather than creepypastas, but it’s all good in my book. Throw in a couple of likeable heroines with a cute burgeoning romance and, on paper, this series is right up my street. So why am I so disappointed in it? It’s hard to put my finger on exactly why this series hasn’t connected with me the way I wanted it to, but after some ruminating the best answer I come up with is that it has a split personality problem.

There are two distinct things that this show is trying to do in my opinion, tell fun, creepy horror stories in under twenty minutes, and also tell the growing love story of Sorawo and Toriko. Neither of these goals are mutually exclusive to the other, but the show just never finds the right way to blend them together. There are some moments that have some really creepy, effective atmosphere to them, and other moments where Sorawo and Toriko are super cute together. That’s the problem though, they’re just moments. Neither sticks around long enough to develop a proper vibe for the show and the rest of the time it’s weighed down by clunky dialogue and a shocking amount of vagueness and unanswered questions.

Let’s talk about writing horror for a minute, and I’ll preface all of this by pointing out that I’m not a horror writer, or that big of a horror fan. There are some horror stories I like (At the time of writing this I’m currently re-reading my way through my Hellboy collection), my tastes very much veer more towards the psychological and creepy, which is what this series appears to be aiming for. Part of the problem I’ll put down to the format, it’s really hard to tell an effective horror story in twenty plus minutes (not impossible, but you really have to know what you’re doing). Psychological horror takes time to build, you need to create a sense of dread and impending doom and when you’re doing episodic stories that’s really hard. How do you build that sense of dread when you also need to squeeze in the set up and resolution for this week’s adventure, introduce any new characters, cram in a romance subplot and maybe even explain what this week’s creepypasta is all about. It’s a lot and you need good writers to accomplish it, which this series sadly doesn’t have.

I mentioned explaining the creepypasta-of-the-week, and that is one of my continual frustrations I have with this show. It hardly ever explains what the week’s featured creepypasta is about, it’s origins, anything beyond just a brief summary of a couple of lines. As I said I’m interested in this stuff and I would like to know what they’re about other than some random monster and odd goings on. That’s just a me thing though. I get what the show is trying to do. It thinks by playing up the mystery and keeping things vague that will ramp up the horror. That’s how Lovecraftian horror works after all, beings far beyond our understanding or comprehension. Maybe with better writers it could have worked, but personally I have the opposite reaction. Because I don’t know what’s going on I don’t really see a need to care so instead I just sit back and let the random stream of events wash over me with no reaction whatsoever. I’m fairly certain that’s not the reaction the creators of this series were hoping for.

To finish off, let’s talk about the final nail in the coffin for this series and it does relate to its vagueness. The series, not content to keep the creepypastas vague, they also decided to throw in several mysteries that go precisely nowhere. What happened to the person Toriko is looking? Why does Sorawo look like her when she lets her hair grow out? What was with that time when Sorawo mind-controlled their friend just by looking at her? What exactly are the beings of the Otherside and just why are they so interested in our heroines? Heck if I know. Not to mention the fact that there’s never any resolution to that romance subplot. It does make the series feel entirely pointless and, however much I do actually like Sorawo and Toriko, those two alone aren’t enough to save this show.

The Verdict 

In the end, Otherside Picnic is anything but a picnic. It’s unfocussed and vague in all the ways that a horror series really shouldn’t be. It never quite decides whether it wants to focus on it’s horror-story-of-the-week or its romance subplot and both elements suffer for it. The leads are likeable enough, but an over abundance of unanswered questions and poorly explained creepypastas leave the story feeling hollow. This one definitely belongs on the Otherside, where the rest of us can forget all about it.

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: Sabikui Bisco Review

Well, Somebody Certainly Has a Taste for Mushrooms.

What’s the Story?

After an apocalyptic event, Japan has become a wasteland. The majority of it’s populace are infected with a strange disease that makes it appear as if rust is covering their skin. One doctor, Milo, is desperately searching for a cure for his infected sister. He’ll use any and every ingredient he can get his hands on, including illegal substances like mushrooms. That’s when wanted criminal, Akaboshi Bisco, enters the town, causing giant mushrooms to sprout wherever he fires his arrows. The last thing Milo is expecting is for said criminal to turn up at his clinic with someone who needs saving. Even less expected, is that once the chaos of their initial meeting is over, Milo finds himself travelling with Bisco, learning the ropes of what it means to be a Mushroom Keeper and on the hunt for the legendary Rust Eater mushroom.

The Review:

I’ve talked about this quite a few times before, but for anyone new here one of the reasons I love anime as much as I do is just how bizarre it can be. I adore the wealth of different ideas that I’ve never come across anywhere else. Every time I think, ‘that’s it, nothing can surprise me now’, here comes anime to blow my mind. Take this series as a case in point. You’ve got a main character who fires arrows and wherever they hit a giant mushroom grows. There’s also a disease that makes it look like people are slowly rusting themselves to death. Animals like hippos, giant geckos and huge snails take the place of everyday vehicles, though how a snail gets inside a plane and makes it fly I have no idea. Clearly somebody, somewhere, was smoking something and, while I want to stay well away from whatever it was, I’m grateful for all those brain cells they sacrificed to make this (Remember kids, don’t do drugs. Unless they make you creative in which case go right ahead! Wait…that feels like a bad message to give out).

I don’t even know where to start with this series. I will admit the first couple of episodes are a little hard to get through. Apart from the bizarre aspects that make up this world, the first episode is told mostly out of order. Subsequent episodes are told in a progressively more linear fashion and, after the initial arc, the series is almost entirely straight-forward storytelling. I don’t really understand the logic behind this choice, as it really just makes it harder to get a handle on what’s going on at the start, which is something you really want to avoid in story-telling. If, however, you can get through that initial arc then you’re in for a wild, and enjoyable, ride. Sabikui Bisco is a series that likes to put the pedal to the metal and never let up, unless it really has to. It’s a bombastic roller coaster filled with big action, crazy set pieces and a moustache-twirling villain that you just love to see smacked in the face.

A lot the characters are fairly stock, the titular Bisco is the gruff, shouty type with a heart of gold. Milo is a lot more gentler and innocent, and a good counter-balance to Bisco in a lot of ways. Neither of them is the deepest characterisation, but they make up for that by being endlessly badass. Bisco is just a force of nature and, once Milo gets over his learning curve he too has some truly epic moments. The build up to the final episode sees Milo, bloodied and battered, facing down a giant death machine and he doesn’t flinch for a second. I was punching the air so hard I nearly pulled a muscle, It’s just that kind of show. The animation isn’t all that special, it’s good and does everything it needs to, but it’s hardly knocking the doors down. Yet, when the animation is mixed with the dialogue, characters and that rocking soundtrack it just all hits another level. Pumped I believe is the appropriate word for what this series makes me feel.

Lastly, on a world-building front, I was surprised by how much this series managed to cover in just twelve episodes. We go on a long journey, have some epic twists and build up a lot of lore all in a short span of time and, amazingly, none of it feels rushed. Every moment feels like the natural next point from where we’ve just been, while at the same being a completely different place to where I imagined this series going. There is a lot of very good story-telling going on here and I take my hat off to the writers, even if I still want to question them over those first couple of episodes.

The Verdict:

In the end, Sabikui Bisco is a wild ride. The series gets off to a bit of a rocky start with some strange story-telling choices, but if you can get past that there’s a lot of gold waiting for you. This is a colourful and bombastic series, filled with badass characters, crazy ideas and plot twists aplenty. There’s a lot of story and world-building packed into this series without it every feeling like things are being rushed. Everything just gets the right amount of time it needs to make the impression it needs and then we move on. Throw in a rocking soundtrack and this series is a lot of fun. So, if you’re in the mood for something a bit out there, grab your bow and come join in the adventure! Mushrooms are optional of course.

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: Slow Loop Review

Hooked on a feeling!

What’s the Story?

Hiyori has always been the quiet type, even more so since her father passed away. Now her mother is about to remarry and Hiyori can’t think of what to do except go out and fish, just like her and her dad used to do all the time. That’s when she meets Koharu, an energetic girl with boundless optimism and very little common sense. By a strange coincidence Koharu’s father is also just about to remarry, except that’s not a coincidence at all. Yep, Hiyori and Koharu are about to become sisters! Can Koharu work her magic and help bring Hiyori out of her shell? Only if Hiyori can get Koharu hooked on the joys of fishing and show her all the ropes (or should that be lines?)! Together they might just be exactly what one another was needing, filling in the gaps of each other’s grief with happy memories and new bonds.

The Review:

I feel like ‘Cute Girls Do Cute Things’ shows get a bad rap. I have no concrete proof for that, there’s always at least a couple of them each season so there’s definitely a fanbase (of which I count myself as a member). But, it doesn’t take much for my brain to come up with all the arguments against CGDCT shows. There’s no stakes or drama. There’s hardly any story to speak of and character development is minimal at best. Even the characters can be pretty archetypal, usually with an energetic optimist, a shy quiet one and a smart one mixed into the main cast somewhere. All of this holds true for a lot of the CGDCT shows I’ve seen, but that’s also kind of the point of them. I don’t know about other fans, but for me these series are my twenty plus minutes of chill out each week. It’s a little breather where I don’t have to worry about world-ending threats, heart-breaking drama or what the cliffhanger is going to be, it’s just a bit of sugary fun. And, in my opinion, Slow Loop might just be one of my favourite CGDCT shows I’ve seen so far.

What makes Slow Loop special for me, is that while it holds to a lot of the staples of the genre, it also has this emotional edge that wormed its way into my heart and really got me invested in these girls. I talked in the ‘What’s the Story?’ section about how Hiyori has recently lost her father, and I’ll add to that that Koharu’s mother has passed away as well. Now there’s certainly a really good drama there, two girls both mourning a lost parent and working out how to be a family, but this is a CGDCT show so that means no drama. As such Hiyori and Koharu get along pretty much from the start and everyone is very understanding and comforting to one another. I’d half expected the dead parents never to be mentioned again past the first episode, but Slow Loop is better than that. It saves those mentions for the moments when it can really hit you in the feels.

Throughout the show there’s these quiet moments where the series just takes a breath and Hiyori will wistfully talk about her father, or Koharu will think of her mother. It’s also pretty clear that these girls are still dealing with the emotional scars of what they’ve been through. Koharu in particular has some self-worth issues about not being a burden to others that come to light later on. It’s not just the girls either, at one point there’s a conversation about how Hiyori’s mother was struggling and we have a whole cast of side characters, some of whom have their own little emotional breakthrough across the series. Again, I don’t want to oversell this, there is no drama and no stakes whatsoever in this series, but these moments feel so honest and heartfelt that I can’t help but root for all of these girls.

Throw in the fact that this series is just really good at being a CGDCT show and you’re on to a winner here. Our cast may be made up of a set of familiar archetypes, but they all have terrific chemistry and they all sell their roles flawlessly. The animation is pretty standard and simple, but there are some really lovely bits of scenery put on display, I could almost feel the chill of some of those early mornings. That brings me to the fishing aspects of the show and it finds a good balance between showing, what I’m presuming are, the joys of fishing and handing out informative facts. Honestly, depending on your thoughts about whether fishing counts as a sporting activity or not, this count qualify for the Sports! Genre (though there’s no real competition, just certain characters’ drive to catch fish).

The Verdict:

In the end, Slow Loop is a great example of the ‘Cute Girls Do Cute Things’ genre done right. It ticks all the boxes of the genre, no drama and stakes, archetypal characters and just generally being a warm ball of fuzz to sink into (which, again, if that’s what you’re looking for, like me, this is perfect). Yet, at the same time, it manages to dig a little deeper into its characters than you expect. While there’s no drama to really speak of, that doesn’t mean its characters can’t have open and frank conversations and its those moments that really got me invested in this series. There’s also plenty of fishing and fishing facts for those that care that, but for me it’s the characters that made this show. Now if you’ll excuse me there’s a couple of fictional characters I want to go hug right now.

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: Sasaki and Miyano Review

Let’s Only Think About Love!

What’s the Story?

Miyano is a fan of the Boys’ Love genre, so much so that he’s always fantasying about the other boys in his all-boys school getting together as couples. That’s when he meets Sasaki, a tall and laid back senior with a bit of a reputation for getting into trouble. Sasaki says he wants to get to know Miyano better and before he knows it Sasaki is always hanging around and borrowing manga from his collection. With all of his fantasying could Miyano finally have found himself in a real-life Boys’ Love romance? But how does he really feel about Sasaki? He’s never been attracted to another boy before and he was interested in a girl in middle school. But that doesn’t explain the flutter in his heart when Sasaki is around.

The Review:

Well, I definitely appear to have a type when it comes to the Boys’ Love genre. Mostly it comes down to how much I enjoyed Given (check out my review HERE). So, when I saw another series with a black-haired and a red-haired protagonist couple I was sold immediately. How does the show stack up? It’s…okay. I’ll admit I’m not much of a romance fan, or at least I’m not all that interested when a series is just purely focussed on romance. I prefer my romance mixed in with other genres, but as a standard romance goes this works perfectly well. It’s sweet. Sasaki and Miyano make a cute couple, they have clear chemistry and common interests and are supportive of one another. Sasaki can be a little possessive and overprotective, but what I like about the big lug is that he recognises that about himself and he constantly catches himself to make sure he doesn’t cross a line. He’s also endlessly patient with Miyano who isn’t even sure if he likes other boys in that way. Basically Sasaki is my favourite character in this series, but let’s talk about the rest of the show.

If you’re not a romance fan, or interested in the main couple as I was, then I can easily imagine this series being frustrating for a lot of people. It’s definitely a slow burn, there’s a lot of agonising over feelings and what things mean, especially on Miyano’s part, but no real action until the final episode. Honestly there are very little real obstacles to Miyano and Sasaki’s relationship, everyone is very supportive and accepting of the two. There are couple of brief discussions about some of the issues a same sex couple might face, but no real examples that the main pair have to deal with personally. It’s just a very sweet, wholesome and laid back experience, with a couple of funny characters and a lot of cuteness.

Miyano is definitely the main obstacle to this relationship. He’s an overthinker and questions himself endlessly about what he’s feeling. In any other romance I’d be pulling my hair out over stuff like that, and it’s generally the reason I don’t watch a lot of pure romance series. Here though I’m okay with it because this is the first time that Miyano has found himself attracted to someone of the same sex. That is a big deal and requires a lot of questioning and self-examination, which I think this series handles really well. There’s a clear and natural progression of Miyano coming to understand his feelings and I appreciate the effort put into that. On the whole it feels like a lot of thought and care was put into this series, even if they could have squeezed a heck of a lot more drama out of this situation.

On the animation front, there’s nothing really all that special about this series, but there’s nothing bad either. The animation just does exactly what it needs to do to convey each scene. As I’ve said this is a fairly wholesome and laidback series so there’s lots of long pauses and panning shots just to add to the mood of the piece. There’s no real action so the animators never really get a chance to properly flex, outside of sticking more and more sparkly bits into scenes (which I take it are a staple of the genre). There are some good reaction shots and well-timed gags. I don’t really know what else to say about this series. It’s not overly flashy, but then it’s not trying to be. It’s just a quiet, sweet little romance between two guys.

The Verdict:

In the end, Sasaki and Miyano is a sweet little romance. If that’s what you’re looking for then this will be perfect for you. Likewise if you get yourself invested in the main characters relationship you’ll have some fun here. If, however, you’re not in either of those camps then I feel like there isn’t much this show has to offer. It’s a slow burn with the bulk of the series dedicated to Miyano coming to terms with how he feels about Sasaki. There’s no drama or action outside of that self-examination and all of the supporting cast are just, well, supportive, with no real obstacles in the way. If you’re after something a bit spicier or with a bit of flash then you’re best off looking elsewhere. For me this was a bit of fun, I’m not sure how well I’ll remember in a few months time, but I had a good time while watching it and a show doesn’t really need to do more than that. See you next time!

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: Orient Review

“It’s like the sword’s going inside me!” – Still one of my favourite out of context quotes from an anime.

What’s the Story?

150 years ago the demonic Kishin descended on humanity. Only powerful swordsmen known as Bushi stood against them, but even their skill wasn’t enough to vanquish these monsters. Now, while there are still roaming bands of Bushi who oppose the Kishin out there, the majority of humanity actually worships these demons. Bushi on the other hand are feared and despised, forced to walk around with their katanas chained to themselves. Despite this, Musashi and Kojiro have talked about forming their own Bushi band ever since they were kids, but as graduation day approaches it’s time for a decision. Despite all his big talk and bigger dreams, Musashi has never actually stood up for the Bushi in public. Meanwhile Kojiro is the known descendant of a Bushi and is ostracised by the community. How far will Musashi go to prove he really means what they’ve talked about all this time? And can an ordinary human really stand up to monsters like the Kishin?

The Review:

I’m always going to be more lenient with shonen series, even when they haven’t really earned that right from me. I can’t help it, I just really like this genre. Even when a shonen series isn’t particularly good I can sit and watch one for hours on end and not get bored. It’s popcorn entertainment for me and, let’s be honest here, I may have aged out of the target demographic a while back, but there’s always going to be a part of my brain that’s fifteen years old. So, how does the newest shonen stack up against the rest? Well, for that I need to talk a little about just how lenient I am with shonen series.

I take it you’ve all heard of the ‘three episode rule’, right? The unofficial length of time that most anime fans give to a series to see whether it’s actually for them or not? Well, most of the time I stick to that rule, but when it comes to shonen series I abide by the ‘six arc rule’, let’s be frank here, no shonen series gives you their very best in the opening couple of arcs. There’s background to lay out, characters to introduction and some series setting up to do before a shonen series can really show you what it’s made of. Don’t believe me? One Piece, my favourite shonen, makes you wait until you get to ‘Arlong Park’ before it starts giving you even a glimpse of how emotional and epic it’s going to be. My Hero Academia doesn’t start firing on all cylinders in my opinion until you get to the ‘U.A. Sports Festival’. Bleach – ‘Soul Society’. Naruto – ‘Chunin Exams’. I can go on and on like this all day, but you get the idea. Orient, with the twelve episodes that make up this first season, I feel is on the cusp of showing what it’s really made of.

I know my bias is showing entirely here, because with any other type of series I’d be complaining about this show spinning it’s wheels for far too long. It’s not that this is a bad series, it’s just not anything spectacular either. The animation is serviceable at best, the characters are mostly fine and, in truth, it was the rocking music score and the weird creature designs that kept me around through the first six or so episodes. Then you get to episode 7 and the third arc of this series and that’s where the potential started to show itself. We got introduced to an ominous antagonist with a unique ability, learnt a bunch about how this world works and even got a few tantalising mysteries for later. We also dug deep into what made our main protagonist tick. The main character with a tragic back story is nothing new for any series, but there’s something about this one that felt genuinely heartbreaking for me. Just seeing Musashi so broken and ground down into nothing. I started rooting for the guy there and then.

I can’t in good conscience recommend this series. In this day and age, with our overwhelming glut of entertainment options, asking someone to sit through twelve episodes on the promise that good things might come later feels like too much. That being said, when this series returns in the summer I’m probably going to check it out. I’m rooting for Musashi now and all the possible plot threads hinted at in the final episode was enough to get my attention. It could just be more wheel-spinning and lacklustre animation, but it could also be the start of a new favourite. We’ll see.

The Verdict:

In the end, Orient is a series with a lot of promise, even if that promise has only been hinted at so far. The animation is serviceable, but nothing spectacular. The characters are all fine, except for our main protagonist whose tragic back story is really heartbreaking, once the show finally decides to get to the point of exploring it. There is a lot of wheel-spinning in these first twelve episodes, but they’ve set up a really intriguing world that is ripe for exploration. With all the pieces now in place though this could become something truly great, or maybe it’ll just be more of the same in its next season. Whether you want to invest the time to find out is entirely up to you, I can’t really recommend it, but I’m going to be sticking around for the next season at least. See you then.

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: The Cuphead Show! Season 1 Review

Do not mess with a Cuphead, ‘nuff said!

What’s the Story?

In the Inkwell Isles, trouble is never far behind where that loveable rascal Cuphead and his long-suffering brother Mugman happen to be. When they come across a carnival in the middle of the forest the two cups decide to ditch their chores and have some fun, not realising that the carnival is a front by the Devil to collect souls! All it takes is one distracted throw and now Cuphead is in debt to Old Scratch, but the Devil isn’t his only problem. Whether its sneaking onto Ribby and Croaks’ party boat, outsmarting dastardly vegetables like the Root Pack or surviving a night in a ghost-filled cemetery it’s just one misadventure after another with these two. Can Cuphead keep hold of his soul? After all, there’s only so many times you can roll the dice before they come up snake eyes.

The Review:

One of these days I’m going to learn not to put my expectations on a show before I even watch a single episode. Admittedly I’m coming at the Cuphead franchise from a weird direction so let’s get some context in place first. Obviously this series is based on the popular game, which I’ve never played and know very little about. I gave up on gaming a while ago, even though Cuphead sounds like a game I might actually like. I enjoy the aesthetic of the character designs and the clear callbacks to the early days of US animation, but its the songs that I enjoy the most. Or to be more specific it’s the songs about the game that I enjoy. Caleb Hyles has done some terrific covers of Cuphead songs and the Cuphead Rap by JT Music is a favourite of mine, I’d recommend listening to all of them in a heartbeat. However, because those are the sole source of my knowledge about Cuphead I’ve built up this weird image of the franchise in my mind. Now I have no idea how accurate this new Netflix series is to the game, but it certainly doesn’t match the picture I have in my head. It made it hard to get into this series at the start, but even after I did finally get over that discrepancy there’s still some issues that I want to talk about.

Now I don’t want to make it sound like this is a bad show. It’s well animated, there’s a good voice cast and a real sense of nostalgia in the way it calls back to classic cartoons. The animation nerd in me went a little giddy seeing some of the classic reaction shots, music cues and even the way the credits show up in the title cards. For a few seconds each episode I was a kid again, watching endless repeats of cartoons from decades past and loving it. The individual episodes of this series are fun, following Cuphead and Mugman as they go on one misadventure after another with a relatively simple over-arching plot in the background, namely the Devil trying to collect Cuphead’s soul through various schemes. As I said, it’s fun, but therein lies the problem. This series is just fun and nothing more. There’s something missing, some spark, some pizazz that I kept waiting for and yet it never came.  

The more I think about it, the more I’m coming to conclusion that this show emulates those classic cartoons a little too well. There’s no real consequences to actions or development of the characters. After each episode, no matter how the previous one ended, Cuphead will still be the same impetuous troublemaker that he was in the last episode and the whole Devil plotline is mainly played for laughs. There’s no threat, no danger, no real reason to care about what’s going to happen. This season ends on a pretty big cliffhanger and, outside of wondering what one character’s deal is, I’d be fine never seeing the conclusion to the story. I still get a kick out of watching classic Bugs Bunny cartoons, but that’s partly nostalgia and partly because I’ve built a connection with Bugs over the decades. I don’t have that same connection with Cuphead and the show never gives me an adequate reason to form one. I think it just expects me to care without putting in the actual effort to make me care.

One last thing I want to talk about is the music, or rather the songs. There are songs throughout this season, but as I sit here writing this I’m struggling to remember even a single one. This is a problem that is hammered home by the fact that I’ve also just recently finished watching ‘The Ghost and Molly McGee’ where each and every song was a toe-tapping hit as far as I’m concerned. I’m still humming the majority of them and, as I pointed out in my earlier paragraph there are already some really good songs about Cuphead out there, so why aren’t the show’s songs up to that same standard at least? It’s another missed opportunity and another way the show fails to make me care.

The Verdict:

In the end, I’m sad to say that The Cuphead Show! Is a disappointment. It’s well animated, there’s a good voice cast and some fun stories with a lot of nostalgic flair, but I feel like it’s trading a little too hard on it’s nostalgia. It expects you to care just because this show is tied to a popular game and it’s emulating classic cartoons, but it’s not doing anything truly memorable or ground-breaking. It’s missing that emotional connection to really get me invested in the plight of the titular character, most of the time it doesn’t feel like he has any plight at all. When the Devil hunting you for your soul is treated with the same glib one-liners as a gang of vegetables taking over your garden you know something is amiss. If you’re a fan of classic cartoons or the Cuphead character then this is a fine way to spend a few hours, just don’t expect to remember any of it in a week’s time. That’s all folks.

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: The Ghost and Molly McGee Season 1 Review

Sweet Baby Corn! It’s time to Enhappify!

What’s the Story?

Scratch is one cantankerous old ghost and, honestly, he wouldn’t have it any other way. His town is miserable so, even if the ghost council wants to, they can never send him to the Flow of Failed Phantoms. What does it matter if all the other ghosts shun him and he eats mainly out of trash cans? The only way things could possible go wrong for him is if some super excitable and worryingly exuberant tween girl happened to move into his house. But even then, Scratch has a full proof plan, he’ll just curse the girl so that he will forever follow her around until she leaves his house for good! It’s not as if this girl, Molly, will interpret the whole ‘follow her wherever she goes’ thing as meaning that Scratch is her new best friend, right? Wait…uh huh. Oh dear. Sorry Scratch, you’ve really only yourself to blame for this one.

The Review:

And once more the Disney train comes a rolling into this station. For however much we fear our corporate overlords I can’t deny they have an eternal grip on my soul, or in other words… like a parasitic worm, they live in my heart! (Sorry for the rather disturbing analogy but this show’s songs are alarmingly catchy and several lines like that are currently stuck in my head). Disney has been on it’s A-game with cartoons in recent years, from Gravity Falls to the Duck Tales reboot they have knocked it out of the park again and again. Admittedly a very noticeable pattern has emerged with these Disney shows, usually focussing on a cast that includes an energetic, if slightly odd, middle school girl, some sort of over-arching mystery and a dark sense of humour. Does ‘The Ghost and Molly McGee’ follow this same pattern? Mostly, I’ll get into the differences in the next paragraph, but the far more important question is, is this another win for Disney? In my humble opinion, absolutely yes.

Let’s get into those differences though, starting with my check list. Energetic, slightly odd middle school girl as a main character? Check. Dark sense of humour? Also check, I’ll refer you back to those song lyrics about the parasitic worm (plus an alarming amount of things die in this series, mostly animals but we do see one old guy die on screen. At least until Scratch grabs his ghost and shoves it back into his body). That just leaves the over-arching mystery and that’s where the checks stop. There is a single plot thread that could become over-arching, but so far it’s only really been important in two episodes and there’s no mystery to it. Outside of that this is very much a slice-of-life style series with each episode consisting of following Molly and Scratch on two different misadventures.

This is a very fun and charming show. Not only is it wittily written, but it has a host of lovable characters to fill up each episode. Molly’s exuberance is infectious and Scratch is a big softie at heart, as much as he tries to hide it. Then of course there’s the turtle-obsessed Libby, Molly’s mad family and all the ghosts and the townsfolk. It’s not a laugh-a-minute, but you won’t have to wait long before the show has you smiling again. Part of that I want to put down to the animation. This is a very expressive show and it isn’t afraid to exaggerate or make things look a little, well, ugly in order to make a joke really land. In a way this series reminds me of a lot of cartoons from the late 90s/early 2000s. There’s something a bit ‘Ren and Stimpy’-like about the way Molly’s face scrunches up from time to time. Throw in some top notch vocal performances and you have the recipe for well-produced comedy that can suck you right into its world.

Talking about those vocal performances though, that brings me to the songs. Each and every episode features at least one song and all of them are some of the catchiest tunes I’ve heard in a while. My hat goes to the performers and the writers that managed to cover a wide array of styles with some odd-yet-killer lyrics. My three personal favourites are ‘Abraham Lincoln’, which gives Hamilton a run for its money, ‘Just Give’ which feels like the Disney theme song in how it demands your money and ‘Awesome Best Friends Day’, which while short perfectly sums up Molly’s personality. There’s also the opening theme which is what got me interested in this show in the first place.

The Verdict:

In the end, The Ghost and Molly McGee is a another winner for Disney’s vast cartoon library. I’m a little sad that they’re stepping away from the more mystery-focused adventure series and back towards slice-of-life comedies, but I have to admit this is a top notch comedy. With catchy songs, witty dialogue and a great cast of characters backed up by some truly expressive animation I really don’t have a single complaint with this show so far, I’ve loved it from beginning to end. However you want to describe this series it certainly can’t be as any sort of a curse. Sign me up for forever with this show!

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.

The Infallible Fish Reviews: Justice League: The New Frontier

Pioneers of the New Frontier.

What’s the Story?

World War 2 has been won, the Nazis menace is defeated and many would claim that all is right again with the world, but is it? Paranoia and mistrust have taken root in America, so much so that not even the costumed ‘superheroes’ can combat it. The Justice Society of America have been forced into retirement, mystery men of all calibres are hunted by the government and both Superman and Wonder Woman are trusted only because they signed a piece of paper. When a threat from the dawn of history begins to stir, spreading its psychic influence across the globe, what heroes will step forward to take the challenge and protect the world? A new era is upon us, a ‘New Frontier’ for those willing and brave enough to explore it.

The Review:

I talked last year about Batman: The Long Halloween (you can read my review of the film adaptation HERE), one of my favourite comics of all time. Now I want to talk about another one, and we’re sticking with DC because I make no apologises about being a die hard DC fanboy. DC: The New Frontier by Darwyn Cooke is nothing less than a masterpiece in my opinion. Not only was Mr. Cooke a supremely-talented artist with a breath-taking mastery of sequential art, but he’s also an excellent storyteller. What starts out as a seemingly random set of occurrences and character pieces turns into a neatly woven tapestry with a rousing crescendo. It is both a tribute to the Silver Age of DC comics and an exploration of 50s America, unafraid to shine a light on the social and political issues of the day (most of which are still very relevant today). If I could recommend only one comic for you to go out and read, it would be DC: The New Frontier.

That brings me to the animated adaptation of the book and I’m sorry to say the movie isn’t even in the same league as the comic. I feel really bad writing that because this film is trying so hard, as hard as it possibly can but it’s just not enough to get it over the mountain it’s trying to climb. I’ve had an odd experience re-watching this film, I first saw it years ago before I’d ever even read the comic and I remember coming away liking it but not exactly blown away. Then I read the comic I was well and truly atomised by how good it was. Now, coming back to this film all these years later it’s like I’m watching it with double vision. One part of me can see all the stuff I liked before, while the other is looking into another dimension where all the missing pieces are located that this story needs to be truly fantastic.

I think it’s the runtime that kills this film the most. DC: The New Frontier is roughly 400 pages long and Justice League: The New Frontier is approximately 72 minutes. I think you can see the problem, that’s not a lot of time and there’s an almost overwhelming amount of story to fit into it. Wisely the film chooses to cut out a few subplots and characters, while shifting things around and streamlining events to try and keep things cohesive. Yet it’s hard to escape the feeling that some scenes are on fast forward and others are missing their true dramatic weight. The opening scenes where Hal Jordan is shot down and ends up fighting for his life in a trench is well done, but it’s missing the true harrowing feeling you get in the comic and that’s because the detail is gone. We don’t know Hal at this point, his history of refusing to kill anyone is referenced in one line of dialogue and that’s just not enough to get the point across.

A lot of the political situation is shoved off screen as well, the government’s war on superheroes is reduced to the opening credits and a couple of lines from bystanders in a bar. We never see Wonder Woman getting pushed off stage because she was about to say some things the higher ups didn’t want her to say and John Henry’s fight against white supremacists is cut down to a news bulletin. The comic is so rich and detailed and that’s what makes it as great as it is. I get why the film had to cut some of this stuff, but it still hurts me to see this story reduced like this because when the movie gets stuff right it really gets it right. There are scenes lifted directly out of the comic, lines of dialogue that are word-for-word and all rendered in gorgeous animation. It’s those moments when everything just clicks together that makes this movie shine, but it could have been so much more with just a little more time.

The Verdict:

In the end, Justice League: The New Frontier is a good film that stands on the verge of being truly great. The animation is fantastic and the voice cast are giving it their all, but the film is hampered by trying to squeeze so much story into such a short runtime. There are moments that are lifted directly out of the comic and they are fantastic, and yet the film isn’t afraid to make tweaks and move things around to better serve it’s adaptation. It tries the very best it can to make the most of what it has, but unfortunately that’s just not enough when the original source material is so much more rich and detailed. It’s a shame, but this film can’t quite rise to the challenge asked of it.

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: One Piece Film: Gold Review

Viva la Straw Hats!

What’s the Story?

While out traversing the ocean of the New World, the Straw Hat pirates come across a grand sight. Gran Tesoro, a ship as big as an island, covered in gold and pulled by two giant turtles, this is the self-proclaimed ‘entertainment city’ where anyone can win big in one of its many casinos. Of course big wins also mean big losses and for those unfortunate enough to be duped in the streets of Gran Tesoro a grim fate awaits. When the Straw Hats first arrive they’re given the royal treatment, but pretty soon they’re in masses of debt and Zoro is captured, due to be executed the following day! Can the Straw Hats pull off a daring heist and get back everything they’ve lost? Or is this golden opportunity really just more fool’s gold? With the Navy closing in and CP0 on the scene, things are looking dire and this may be one gamble the Straw Hats can’t win, not that that is going to stop them trying!

The Review:

It’s an exciting time to be a One Piece fan right now. At the time of writing this the Wano arc is hitting an absolute fever pitch with some revelations that have turned the whole series on its head (and I love that after decades of reading this series it can still blow my mind like that). Then there’s the trailer for the next film, One Piece Film: Red, which just dropped with some very juicy reveals that have me bouncing up and down with excitement. On top of that we have episode 1015, which sets a whole new standard for anime (seriously you should all check it out, it has some of the best animated sequences I have ever seen). So, Allow me to indulge myself as I look back at a One Piece movie that I haven’t really talked about before (partly because the DVD has only just been released in the UK, which is a whole rant I could go off on about how poor anime distribution is over here, but I’ll save that for another time).

Anyway, ever since One Piece Film: Strong World, the series’ creator Eiichiro Oda has been a lot more involved in the films and you can feel the palpable difference between more recent films and what came before. In these films there’s a much stronger connection to the wider world of One Piece. There are references to past adventures, cameos hidden all over the place and a sense that key players in the world politics have a stake in the film’s events (even if the films are still largely filler). That can be a bit of a detriment to these more recent films, for a long-term fan like me it’s a lot of fun, but there are several scenes and characters I imagine will be completely lost on newer viewers. Don’t start your One Piece experience here is what I’m saying, but if you must just ignore that stuff and focus on the core story because that you can enjoy without any real context.

At it’s heart, this is a heist film. That’s another thing I really enjoy about all the more recent One Piece films, each one tries to do something a little different. Now the Straw Hats aren’t exactly known for their stellar planning and strategising, let’s face it any plan that involves Monley D. Luffy will quickly go off the rails, but it’s fun to see them all prepping a con like this. It also allows several of the other Straw Hats to get the spotlight for a change. Normally in these films’ limited runtime it’s just Luffy, Zoro and Sanji that get all the coolest moments, with Nami doing some dramatic heavy-lifting if the film needs an emotional core and there isn’t a kid character around (though there’s pretty much always a kid around somewhere). Here, while Nami does get the emotional scenes of the film, she’s also leading the con since she has a background in robbing from pirates. Franky gets paired up with Luffy for a large chunk of the runtime and those two really need to spend more time together in the series because I do enjoy their dynamic. Usopp, the legend that he is, even gets to take down one of the bad guy’s lieutenants and Robin assists Sanji in taking out another one. It feels like a genuine team effort for once and not just the ‘Monster Trio’ hogging all the action.

That brings me to the film’s villain and, honestly, I think he could have been the greatest villain the films have had, if only he wasn’t confined to a film’s runtime. His backstory is tragic with a capital T, the kind that One Piece excels at. When you know it you see how this young, idealistic man got twisted into this greedy, sadistic, broken human being who is hurting so badly and the only thing he knows how to do is hurt others to make them feel like he does. It’s fantastic and plays into so many of the larger themes of One Piece, but so much of that backstory is presented in a ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ montage that it robs the scene of the emotional devastation this villain needs. I don’t know how I’d change it, maybe cut out one of the earlier sequences like the race at the beginning and just give us a whole flashback sequence to really let all the information sink in. It’s a shame, because with a change like that this film really could have been pure gold.

The Verdict:

In the end, One Piece Film: Gold is a lot of fun. It’s not the friendliest to One Piece newbies, with a multitude of cameos and references, but if you know this crew then it will be a delight. It’s great to see the cast go on a different kind of adventure, this one primarily being a heist, with so many of the other crew members getting the spotlight. Heck, this film gets bonus point just for having other Straw Hats fight the bad guy’s lieutenants that aren’t just the ‘Monster Trio’. The villain, while great, could have been so much more if the film dedicated more time to his origins and the tragedy there. That could have taken this film to another level, but as it stands this is another fun adventure with the Straw Hat pirates, filled with heart, spectacle and a whole lot of laughs.

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: Sakugan Review

Pierce the Heavens With Your Drill or Something!

What’s the Story?

Memempu has spent her whole life underground, living in one of the many human colonies, yet there’s a place that she’s always dreamed of. A place with stars in the sky. She’s convinced it’s real and one way or another she’s going to find it, even if that means crossing the dangerous ‘Labyrinth’ all by herself. This, naturally, makes her father Gagumber very nervous and no matter how hard he tries he just can’t stop her. So Gagumber comes to a decision. If he can’t stop his daughter going off on a suicidal quest, then he’ll just have to go with her and protect her. So begins this father/daughter duo’s journey into the unknown. On the way they’ll meet lots of new people, visit lots of new places and maybe they’ll even learn a thing or two along the way, like how to communicate with one another!

The Review:

This is not going to be a positive review guys, just to give you fair warning. I can see why people would like this series and have fun with it (at the time of writing this the series has 4.5 stars on Crunchyroll. I don’t normally pay attention to that sort of thing but it certainly sounds good). For me though, there are two glaring problems with this series that bury whatever enthusiasm I can garner towards it and I’m going to spend the next thousand words or so trying to explain why they bugged me so much. If you don’t want to know about any of that and just want to keep this show pristine in your mind then walk away now. I’m honestly jealous that you could enjoy this show when I couldn’t, but let’s get down to business.

The first thing I’ll talk about is the direction of the series, not the directing mind you, that’s fine. No, what I want to talk about is the plot and where it decides to go. It took me a while to work out what was bugging me, but eventually I pinned it down to the fact that the end of the series feels a million miles away from where it all started. Now that can be a good thing, it shows that things have progressed, characters are in new places and the setting has evolved, except it hasn’t. The characters are, for the most part, as they were at the start and we’re still going from one colony-of-the-week to another. We have some new information by the end, but I can’t escape this feeling that where the series ended up is not where it intended to be.

This is normally the part where I’d question whether my problems are the result of my own expectations. Did I think this show was something else entirely at the start? Yes, I did, but only because the show led me up that garden path. When the series starts we’ve got attacking kaiju monsters and there’s a lot of talk about exploring the Labyrinth and how dangerous it is. After the opening two-parter and one episode in the Labyrinth though, the series decides to switch gears to a colony-of-the-week format. There are a few more episodes set out in the Labyrinth but none of them feel very important or explore their surroundings all that well. Instead the focus is on retreading character conflict, again and again. It wouldn’t be so bad if the colonies where more interesting, but they’re all generally set around a single idea and there just isn’t enough time to explore that before we leave for the next one. I came here for some exploration damn it, and some mecha-on-kaiju action and I don’t get either! Heck, we barely even see any monsters past the first three episodes!

That brings me to this series’ other major problem, the characters. Here’s an issue for any fiction writers out there, one I’ve come across myself on several occasions, what do you do when your main character is kinda unpleasant to be around? A lot of the time good story-telling requires you to have a character with an arc, and for an arc you need flaws for your character to improve on. The trick is to find the right balance between having those flaws and also having enough redeeming qualities that your audience wants to stick around and watch that character’s journey.

I get both Memempu and Gagumber. Memempu is incredibly smart, too smart for her own good because she’s at exactly the wrong age. She’s old enough to recognise that she knows a lot of things, but not old enough to realise that knowing a lot doesn’t mean she knows everything. She doesn’t consider other people’s feelings or ways of thinking because she doesn’t think she has to. Gagumber on the other hand is just worried about this kid and doesn’t know how to talk to her. There’s also some clear trauma that he’s gone through and never properly processed because Gagumber does not know how to express himself at all. The problem is that because of their overly stubborn personalities they continually butt heads and end up just screaming at one another. Now I put up with that for a little while, I recognise the journey that they’re going to go on, over the course of their quest they’re suppose to come to understand one another and learn how to talk to each other. The trouble is it takes so long for them to make any progress on their arcs, almost the entirety of the series’ twelve episode run, that it stops being fun long before we get to the good stuff. Their continual arguing just grated after a while and whether this series gets a season 2 or not (the last episode is called ‘To Be Continued’) I’m not going to stick around for it.

The Verdict:

In the end, Sakugan is a crushing disappointment. What starts off as a promising journey to explore mysteries places and fight monsters quickly turns into a by the numbers place-of-the-week series. It doesn’t help that we spend the majority of the series with a main characters arguing with one another, which quickly became grating for me. If you enjoyed this series, then power to you and I really am I jealous that you clicked with this series when I didn’t. For me the flaws were just too much for me to get invested. I won’t be coming back for more if there is another season.

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.