Cartoon Corner: Hilda Season 2 Review

Hilda and the Expanding World!

What’s the Story?

By now Hilda has gotten used to living in the walled city of Trolberg. She may still miss living out in the wild sometimes, but with her friends by her side she’s discovered that there’s more than enough adventures to be found within the walls. From krakens to immortal Vikings, the hidden library of the witches to the return of the Tide Mice, what more could a wild-at-heart girl ask for? Of course not everything is sunny in Trolberg, Hilda is keeping these little adventures a secret from her mum and that’s causing some tension at home. Then there’s the efforts of the Safety Patrol that generally do more harm than good around the city. Also, is it me, or are those trolls getting closer to the walls?

The Review

Hilda’s back! I really loved the first season of this cosy, utterly charming little show, as anyone who read my review of it will be able to tell you (you can read it for yourselves HERE). So, how does the second season stack up? Well, it’s more of the same and that’s exactly what I wanted! This series is like settling down with a warm cup of tea after coming in from a wintry day, possibly with a cucumber sandwich or two. It’s effortlessly captivating, from the superb visuals and animation to the heart-warming characters and inventive situations and creature designs. I could spend the rest of the my days running around the streets of Trolberg, going on adventures with Hilda and the gang, but before I turn this into another non-stop gush let’s talk about what this series does different to the first.

In my review of the first season I talked about how the story kept evolving, and that is true of this second season too, more so in fact. For starters a lot of the elements and characters of the first season return and are further explored and developed. Want to know what happened to those Tide Mice? Want to see more of the witch librarian and see more how magic works in this world? That’s all here and more. It really makes the world of the series feel like a living breathing place, actions have consequences and one adventure will have a knock-on effect on another down the line. It’s also nice that Frida and David get to meet characters that they didn’t run into last season, but the rest of the cast did.

That brings me to the biggest development this season, and the closest this series has gotten to an over-arching plot, Ahlberg. New head of the Safety Patrol, he’s keen to be seen as the hero of the town and his vanity and various schemes often cause problems throughout the season. From antagonising the local wildlife to interfering with forces that only make things worse, it’s almost as if Hilda has a recurring antagonist at last. I say almost because the majority of the time Ahlberg is treated as a joke and dismissed, a fearful idiot who just doesn’t know what he’s doing and never gets any real comeuppance. For those looking for his comeuppance I’m afraid you’ll have to wait a little longer. There’s no real resolution to the problems he’s causing by the season’s end and, since the Mountain King story hasn’t been adapted yet, I’m assuming all that’s going into season 3. (Having read the Mountain King comic though I can’t wait to see it animated!) The most we get for now is the deputy starting to see Ahlberg for the egomaniac he really is.

Ahlberg isn’t the only problem for Hilda this season though, there’s the continual rising tension between her and her mother. It’s typical kids show stuff really, kid goes out on these wild, fantastical adventures and doesn’t tell their parents what they’ve been up to, leading to arguments when they’re finally caught out. Where Hilda is different though it that it goes to great lengths to show both sides of the argument. Hilda’s mum is genuinely worried about Hilda, after all she knows about some of the stuff that’s out there and she knows how headstrong Hilda can be. Hilda on the other hand just wants to roam and enjoy herself, and in her head she’s not telling her mum about this stuff because she doesn’t want her to worry. Of course she doesn’t realise that by not telling her stuff she’s actually making her mum worry more. You can feel the love between these two and the moments where they get to show that, as well as going on little adventures together, are just magical.

There are also quiet a few tearjerker moments in this season, for me personally the ones that really got me where the time travel episode and the Twig episode. The Twig episode I was expecting to get to me and it did, but the time travel one managed to get me to care more about a couple of ancillary characters in twenty minutes than some shows have managed in twenty episodes.

On a final note, I can’t end this review without once more mentioning how good this show looks. The character designs are just perfect, simple and yet endlessly-endearing and really creative when it comes to the various creatures that pop up throughout the series. I really love the use of colour in this show’s visuals, especially when paired up with the changes in lighting or when anything is glowing. There’s a warmth that just oozes off of the screen and pretty much every episode has at least a dozen frames that I want to decorate my walls with. As I said in my previous review, this show is just beautiful in multiple senses of the word.

The Verdict

If you enjoyed the first season of Hilda, then you’re definitely going to enjoy this one too. It’s more of the same, but what else could you really ask for from this show? It’s sweet, it’s heart-warming and oh so very close to being perfect. The animation, character decision and sound design are all top notch and the world and characters continue to evolve in natural ways. Fair warning, the series does end on a cliffhanger and there’s clearly more to come so we’ve all got to await that elusive season 3, which I’m more than happy to wait for. The best things are worth the wait.

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: Amphibia Season 1 Review

Gotta ribbit ribbit, Jump on in it!

What’s the Story?

Anne is just a normal teen, hanging out with her friends Sasha and Marcy, until one day when said friends convince her to steal a weird box from a thrift shop. Now Anne finds herself in a strange world filled with talking amphibians and a whole host of dangers and grossness she is just not prepared for. Luckily she befriends a local family of frogs who take her in and support her as she looks for her human friends and, hopefully, a way home. Of course before that she’s got to survive one madcap adventure after another, because if the giant insects and mind-controlling mushrooms weren’t a giveaway, this place might just kill her!

The Review

Disney does isekai! I’m joking of course, though only just. This series does fit the basic definition of the anime genre, in so much that it’s about someone from our Earth transported to another world. It also amuses me that this is one of two ongoing Disney cartoons that have that same basic setup, since The Owl House is also about a teenage girl being transported to another place (but I’ve already talked about the first season of that HERE). That’s about as far as the anime influences go as the rest of this series is pretty much what I’ve come to expect from this current era of Disney cartoons. What do I mean by that? Well, Disney cartoons all have a fairly similar list of ingredients of late. We’ll have wacky characters, episodic adventures that sometimes build into a larger story arc, lessons of the week delivered with a dose of self-awareness and a little bit of a dark edge to the whole series.

It’s a formula that works, as each series that uses it proves, and like anything that can make Disney money they’re going to exploit the hell out of it! (Just on a side note, I don’t want to make every Disney cartoon sound like their all carbon copies of one another because they’re not. They share a formula, that’s all, but just because you’re following the same recipe doesn’t mean you’re going to bake the same cake. Every series creator has their own special ingredients to add, if you’ll allow me to continue the metaphor).

Enough about Disney cartoons in general though, let’s talk Amphibia. When I first signed over my soul for Disney+, Amphibia was one of the series I was looking forward to watching. It took a while for the first season to appear, but when it did I found it was…okay. I enjoyed it, don’t get me wrong, it just didn’t blow me away like I wanted it to. There’s potential with this series though, especially with the way it ended, but I’ll get into that in a little bit. This first season is very much about setting the tone, most of which is about Anne and the Plantar family getting into wacky hijinks, usually with Anne or one of the Plantars learning some sort of lesson along the way. The ongoing plot of Anne trying to find a way home or find her friends is pushed on to the back burner. We do get a couple of glimpses of Sasha, no sign of Marcy so far, and every time Anne tries to find out about the box that brought them to Amphibia she’ll get sidetracked by some sort of deadly danger.

For the most part it works. The episodic adventures are fun, whether it’s Anne getting the Plantars hooked on one of her trashy TV shows, Sprig getting everyone locked in a library because he’s bored or Hop Pop mind-controlling the kids for a moment’s peace, there’s a lot to enjoy. The characters are all fun, each flawed in their own way, but you can feel the bond growing between them. There’s also a nice sense of continuity between the adventures, when the Plantars lose their market stand in one episode it stays lost for several episodes before they find a way to get it back. When Hop Pop tells his sweetheart how he feels, she comes back later as his girlfriend and the same goes for Sprig’s love life.

That’s not what has me really excited this series though, it’s good, certainly, but there’s a couple of things that could push this series into great in the future. My favourite character so far, despite her limited appearances, is Sasha. I’m just fascinated by the relationship she has with Anne and the level of nuance to it. I mean on the one hand, yeah, she is a bully basically coercing Anne into doing whatever she wants. She clearly thinks that she knows best and is a skilled manipulator, easily able to wrap anyone she wants around her little finger. On the other hand, she does seem to care for Anne, she defends her from bullies, and is willing to let Anne go at the end of the series to save her. All that being said, the moment when Anne stands up to Sasha is the first truly epic moment of the series and I’m hoping they’ll be plenty more as I go into season 2 and onwards.

The Verdict

In the end, Amphibia is a fun series and worth checking out, even if I suspect it’s best is yet to come. Season 1 feels very much like a tone setter, letting us get to know the characters and giving us a sense of the world before things get crazier down the line. The conclusion of the series shows a lot of potential, especially in the dynamic between Anne and Sasha, something that I hope will be explored more in future seasons (not to mention we still haven’t seen a hair of what happened to Marcy yet). Give it a chance and hop onboard for this trip to another world.

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 Owl House Review

“This is clearly not the PG fantasy world I always dreamed about.”

What’s the Story?

Luz is a self-assured teen just bursting with imagination and creativity, unfortunately that often gets her into trouble. Her latest stunt, a book report involving live snakes, is about to get her sent to summer camp to learn to curb her wild behaviour, that is until a tiny owl steals one of her fantasy books! Giving chase, Luz finds herself transported to a strange, and often grotesque, world, the Boiling Isles! There she is taken in by rogue witch Eda and her adorable demonic partner, King. This may not be the kind of fantasy adventure that Luz has always dreamed about, but it could be just the one she needs. Who needs summer camp when you can instead become an apprentice witch!

The Review

One last stop on the Disney train for this year (they’ll be more next year. Sorry, not sorry. The last couple of weeks have really put me in the mood and there’s a couple of shows that I should have talked about before. So look forward to them!) Anyway, let’s talk about The Owl House. I have been dying to watch this series ever since I saw the promotional images for it last year, it’s first season has finally dropped on Disney+ (part of the reason I even signed up to that service) and it is pretty much everything I wanted. Now I’m not going to claim it’s the ‘Greatest Thing Eva!’, it’s only a first season after all and it’s still got plenty of potential it can grow into, but at the same time I had a lot of fun with this show. I’ll admit I’m a sucker for the current tend of fantasy cartoons with an often hinted at mystery in the background and The Owl House handles all of those elements really well. I like the Boiling Isles as a setting, the series has a great colour palette and I love the grotesque-without-being-gross designs of the locations and inhabitants. What’s really hooked me in though is the humour and the characters.

I knew this series and I were going to get along with the very first joke, in which we see a typical fantasy witch confronting a snake monster and declaring that she’s a ‘warrior of peace’. Then she screams ‘Now eat this sucka!’, turns her staff into a bazooka and just blasts the monster. ‘My only weakness! Dying!’ I could quote the jokes of this series all day long and never get tired of it. That’s not to say the series is wall-to-wall jokes, some of my favourite moments are actually some of the more quieter, characterful ones, like when Luz admits to Amity that she’s not a witch, but she’s training hard to be one (that scene breaks my heart every time).

Let’s talk about the series’ two best girls for a second (Yes I’m a Lumity shipper, what of it?). Luz is energetic and impetuous, which often gets her into trouble even though she has the best of intentions. The series is very obvious with it’s themes of Individuality VS. Conformity and Luz is right in the middle of that. She has her own way of seeing and doing things and the series is very much on her side when it comes to her expressing herself as she wants to, as the show says “Us weirdos have to stick together”. Yet, at the same time, it’s not completely dismissive about joining in with the group either. There are benefits to being in a group, not least surrounding yourself with like-minded people. Eda may gripe about the series’ coven system that locks you into one way of magic, but it’s pointed out a couple of times that Luz has to make up her own mind. Conforming without compromising your individuality, that’s a more nuanced lesson that I’m glad this show is putting forward. Plus Luz is an adorable dork that I just can’t help but root for, watching her learn magic in her own way is a joy across the season.

Now let’s talk about Amity, who may just be the most well-developed character in this series. When we first meet her it looks like she’s going to be the typical school bully character, picking on a fellow classmate for being weaker at magic than her. Yet with each episode she appears in we learn a little bit more about her, and why she’s the way she is. From her overbearing parents to her tormenting siblings, Amity strives for perfection and doesn’t believe she can show any weakness. Yet each time she comes in contact with Luz, her character grows, adapting to this strange new person in her life and pretty soon Amity has evolved from the bully into a potential love interest. (On a side note, check out the song ‘Little Miss Perfect’ on the Write Out Loud youtube channel, it perfectly sums up Amity and has been embraced by us Lumity shippers as our national anthem.) I’m really looking forward to where the show is going to go next with her character and what more we’ll learn about her history.

As for the rest of the characters, Eda, King and Hooty probably take my third, fourth and fifth favourite spots, in that order. They’re all really fun and the banter that they share always brings a smile to my face. Before I wrap this up though, there’s one last aspect of this show that I really want to talk about, the animation. Disney always has quality animation, even when it’s stuck with a TV budget, but there are some spectacular moments throughout this series. The duels between Eda and Lilith and Luz and Amity’s dance magic combo in the Grom night episode being my particular highlights. The animation just flows so beautifully I couldn’t help but be carried away by it.

The Verdict

The Owl House is a good show and a great starting point with a lot of potential going forward. The characters are all funny and likeable, each in their own adorkable way, and they continue to grow and change across the season. There’s a strong theme of Individually vs. Conformity, with a more nuanced answer than I was initially expecting. If you’re after a fun fantasy adventure and don’t mind some grotesque character designs and setting, then I’d definitely recommend this. I can’t wait to see what season 2 has in store for us!

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: Tangled the Series/Rapunzel’s Tangled Adventure Review

Plus Est En Vous!

What’s the Story?

Freed from the tower and the clutches of her kidnapper/abusive parental figure, Mother Gothel, it looks like Rapunzel finally has her happily ever after. She’s reunited with her real parents, has the man that she loves, Eugene, in her life and the whole kingdom of Corona to welcome her home, what more could she possibly want? Whatever it is that’s missing it’s enough to convince her to take a late-night trip out beyond the walls with her new handmaiden, Cassandra, to where the Sundrop Flower once grew. Now there are indestructible black rocks growing out of the ground where the Sundrop fell, and when Rapunzel touches one they suddenly begin to grow. That’s not the only effect though as the magic inside Rapunzel is reawakened, giving her back her incredibly long golden hair and brand new magical abilities. Adventure is calling for Rapunzel, it will take her to the Dark Kingdom and back, test her closest friendships and even see her facing a near-immortal evil from Corona’s past. Nobody said being a princess was easy…

The Review

I love Disney, always have always will. Doesn’t mean I won’t make fun of them or call out the machinations of our corporate overlords, but when the business suits get put away and the creators and talent working behind the scenes can just do their thing, Disney produces some of the best in the business. That brings me to Tangled the Series (also known as Rapunzel’s Tangled Adventure from the second season onwards). I’ve talked about this show a couple of times before on this blog, which you can check out HERE and HERE, and I am very much in love. Is it the greatest cartoon that Disney has ever produced? No, that’s a three-way death match between Gargoyles, Gravity Falls and the latest DuckTales cartoon (potentially the Owl House, but we’ll talk more about that next week). That being said, Tangled the Series genuinely inspires me as anyone who’s ever visited the Disney folder on my Deviantart account will probably be able to tell. (In fact, to save you the trip I’ve put some of my favourite pieces throughout this post!)

This show is proof that it doesn’t matter what your idea is, what matters is how you do it. I have no idea how this series got the initial green light. You want to make a series following on from Tangled? A film that pretty succinctly wrapped up its plot, has no dangling plot threads left over and even has a short to give us all the wedding scene we wanted. Also you want to set the series in-between the film and said short so we know for certain nothing is going to happen to any of the characters that appear in the short, because they have to be there. What are you supposed to do with that? If it was me I’d have thrown my hands up in defeat at the first script writing session, but luckily I wasn’t on staff for this series because they did have a plan. Not only that, they pulled out literally all the stops, bringing back Mandy Moore and Zachary Levi to voice their characters again and putting Alan frickin’ Menken on music. Tangled the Series is what happens when you take an idea and pour as much talent and passion into it as possible.

Let’s talk about the animation, which is another highlight of this series for me. I’ll admit it took me a few minutes to get used to it, but now I’m fully onboard. Disney’s been trying out this style in some of their shorts for several years now, it’s this weird mix of 2D and 3D where I’m not sure if it’s 3D models textured in such a way that they look 2D, or if it’s 2D characters somehow ported into a 3D space, or a mix of the two. Whatever it is it really works, even on a meagre TV budget. There are certainly some shots where you can tell that something is off, but then there are other times when the animation is free to dive into these big sweeping shots that just take your breath away. Add on the utterly gorgeous backgrounds and the storybook look to everything and it’s like you’ve stepped into a Mary Blair sketchbook. (FYI, Mary Blair was an artist/animator who worked for Disney back in the early days, think Sleeping Beauty and you’ll get the look I’m talking about. Also, check out her concept art because it’s all gorgeous). When I’m in love with a series’ art style I often say I want to take each frame of animation and hang them up on my wall, well, for this series I want to cover every wall of my house with frames from this show. I love it and, honestly, I’m praying that Disney will try this style with a big budget film some day.

What about the story though? It’s all well and good bringing in all these talented people and making everything look really, really pretty, but it’ll all fall flat without some substance behind it. Thankfully I love the story of this series as much as I do the artwork. What took me by surprise the most was the attention to character detail. Admittedly I was just expecting this series to be silly princess hijinks in the capital, which is how the series starts, but there’re little bits that show just how much the creators get these characters. Rapunzel’s reaction to returning to the tower for the first time, her dad waking up in the middle of the night, terrified that he’ll lose his daughter again and the things that fear makes him do… all of it is spot on.  Rapunzel is by far the most interesting Disney princess to me, she’s spent her whole life trapped in a tower, she knows nothing of the outside world and is probably the most child-like princess in the Disney canon. She’s never had to make difficult choices, she’s never had responsibility, but now she does and we follow her as she struggles along that journey. Honestly it’s been a joy to watch her grow up as she’s tackled everything from friends betraying her to ancient evils and shocking revelations about those around her.

That’s something else I have to give this series credit for. It effortlessly adds and expands on the mythos of the film, turning it from a fairy tale story about a flower with healing properties into a grand adventurous epic. I mean I never expected ancient wizards, goat-headed demons and alchemists’ robots to turn up in a Disney princess story, but somehow it all works. The only real complaint I have about the story is the amount of filler episodes it has. Tangled the Series works very much on the tent pole format, where there are several episodes in each season that progress the series’ arc and need to be seen, but all the ones in-between just tend to maintain the status quo and keep things chugging along. The tent pole episodes themselves are all fantastic, and I love them, but the filler are a bit more hit and miss. Don’t get me wrong, some of the filler episodes are my favourites in the series, but others are very much just padding. Fun padding, but also obviously padding. It’ll probably be less of a problem on a binge watch, but watching it week to week it can wear you out waiting for the story to get properly going again. It’s not a major problem though and I do enjoy if not outright adore 99.9% of this series.

On a final note, I can’t leave this review without mentioning the music of the series. As I mentioned earlier they got Alan Menken back and I am so glad that they did. The songs of this series, in my opinion, are actually better than the movie’s. Nothing against Tangled’s songs, I do have a great deal of fun with them, but nine times out of ten, the ones in this series pack so much more of a punch. From the sheer joy of songs like ‘Wind in My Hair’ and ‘The View from Up Here’, to the heartbreak of ‘Waiting in the Wings’, the Broadway power of ‘Nothing Left to Lose’ and the epicness of ‘Ready As I’ll Ever Be’. These songs are scattered throughout the series, mostly in tent pole episodes and the majority of them knock it out of the park, especially the villain songs (though personally I think of them as ‘antagonist songs’, but I can’t talk about that without spoilers so I won’t). Just go listen to them, you won’t be disappointed, though some songs may come with spoilers so be warned.

The Verdict

All in all, Tangled the Series/Rapunzel’s Tangled Adventure is a fantastic series and a true testament of what you can do when you put talent and passion into your idea. Combing a clear understanding of the characters with a dramatic storyline, expanding mythology, breath-taking art style and some toe-tapping songs, it’s been a joy to watch. I’m still sad that this series has ended now after three brilliant seasons, but I’m also incredibly grateful that I’ve gotten to go on this journey with these characters in the first place. It’s not perfect, but this is the series that cemented Rapunzel as my favourite Disney princess, potentially my favourite Disney character period. Check it out, maybe you’ll have had as much fun as I did.

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.

There’s one last stop for the Disney train this year as we take a look at one of Disney’s latest productions, Next Week…

Take a trip to the Boiling Isles!

Cartoon Corner: She-Ra and the Princesses of Power Review

Blog She Ra and the Princesses of Power Review Title

Ooh. Are we messing with Adora?

What’s the Story?

Raised by the Horde since she was a baby, Adora has been taught to fear the evil princesses of Etheria and to serve her lord, Hordak. However, when she sneaks out with her best friend Catra and comes across a magical sword in the woods (it happens), she discovers that she has an even greater destiny. Realising that it’s actually the Horde that are evil, Adora joins the princesses and their rebellion, putting her at odds with Catra, who remains with the Horde. Transforming into the mighty She-Ra, Adora battles to free her home and protect her new friends, but not everything is as it seems. There is more to Etheria than first meets the eye, just what was the plan of the First Ones and what did they do to this planet? Why did the previous She-Ra, Mara, turn against them and what is Hordak searching for out in deep space? The answers will test Adora and her friends to their limits and bring them into conflict with a near immortal evil.

The Review

It’s true what they say, you don’t know what you’re missing until it’s gone. I’ve enjoyed watching every season of She-Ra (you can check out my review of the first season HERE), and the show has gone from strength to strength with each new season. I’ve laughed, cheered and even cried a little bit as I’ve followed this show and it’s characters, but I guess I’m only just now realising how much I’m going to miss this show. I’m writing this review about a week after watching the very last episode, which is unusual for me. Normally I start a review the moment I finish watching something to make sure all my thoughts are fresh in my mind, but in this case I wasn’t planning on reviewing She-Ra again. I’d said most of what I wanted to in my first review and far better reviewers than me have gone on to breakdown the themes and developments in later seasons. Yet, as I sit here listening to the ‘Drunk Adora’ video for the millionth time, I just can’t get this final season out of my head so let’s talk about it.

First, before we get into the final season let’s overview all the others. I’ve already given my thoughts on the first season, but for those who don’t want read the whole thing the basics are that it’s a good set up. It introduces the characters and there are some good gags, but by far the best aspect of this season is the electric chemistry of Adora and Catra as former friends, now bitter enemies. Season 2 is more of the same, there is a really funny episode where the princesses each give their plans for raiding a Horde base and each one takes on a new animation style. This is also the season were I really started to fall for Scorpia and she is one of the best characters in the whole series, I will accept no arguments on this (then again the Horde characters are often my favourite in this show). Also Glimmer gets some impressive uses of her teleporting power in fights, which I wasn’t expecting.

Season 3 is where this show really starts to up its game though. We get a deeper look into the lore and back story of Etheria, learn a bit about the previous She-Ra, Mara, and get our first hints that the First Ones weren’t all that great. Also the Entrapta and Hordak ship begins to sail in this season and I am all for that, they have some great scenes together. Also one of my very favourite scenes comes in the season finale when Adora decks Catra, which was a necessary character moment for the both of them, more on this in a bit. Season 4 I won’t go into much detail, but this was my favourite season, it ups the stakes considerably, takes the character arcs into some dark, though necessary, places and ends with things being as bad as they could possibly be, but still with some hope.

Looking back over the series, it’s pretty clear that outside of all the goofy jokes and flashy princess powers, this is a show about abuse and the domino effect of passing that abuse on to others. Hordak sought the admiration and attention of Horde Prime and when he didn’t get it he took it out on Shadow Weaver. Shadow Weaver wanted to impress Horde Prime and when she didn’t, she took it out on Catra. Catra then takes out her frustration and anger on Adora and, when she’s not around, Scorpia. It’s one toxic relationship after another until someone just finally says ‘no’ and walks away. That’s what Adora does in the very first season, she leaves the abusive Horde and finds friends and a place that accepts her and let her be her.

Of course Adora is still damaged inside and I’m kinda ashamed it took me as long as it did to recognise that Adora has a self-sacrificing streak a mile wide. She takes responsibility and blame for every little thing, even when it has nothing to do with her. She will give everything of herself to fix someone else’s mistake or protect them or even just to get their approval, cutting herself off from the love and friends that she needs to properly heal. Slight spoilers, that’s why one of my favourite moments comes in the third season. Catra is putting the blame for everything on Adora until she finally stands up for herself, saying, ‘You made your choice, now live with it!’ and proceeds to punch Catra square in the face. I cheered so hard at that moment, because it was Adora taking the first step to sorting herself out.

Catra on the other hand is more the self-destructive type. She’s so terrified of being abandoned that she will push people away from her and if they don’t immediately leave then she will keep pushing and pushing until they do. Everyone always leaves her because she makes them leave and it takes for things to truly spiral out of control for her to even to begin to recognise this about herself. And after all the hurt she’s caused, the people she’s almost killed and the friendships she’s broken, can she ever really be truly redeemed? Well, that brings us to season 5 doesn’t it?

Season 5 is by far the best season of She-Ra, it brings a natural conclusion to every character’s arc, whether it’s affirming ships like Sea Hawk and Mermista (I got oddly emotional about these two in the last couple of episodes, you’ll have to watch the show to see why) or having former enemies like Entrapta face up to the people their actions have hurt in previous seasons. Also, slight side note, Spinnerella and Netossa may just be my favourite characters this season, next to Wrong Hordak of course. I mean they’ve been in previous season, but they were little more than background characters as far as I was concerned. This season they really come to the forefront and while Spinnerella gets to show how much of a devastating badass she can be, Netossa gets a truly heart-wrenching arc. She really grew on me and I wish she was in more of the earlier seasons looking back.

All that being said though, the biggest arc of season 5 has to be Catra’s redemption and I am so thankful to say that it is expertly handled. A lot of redemption arcs don’t pay off until the very end of a season, with the former villain doing one heroic act and then suddenly all is good and everyone’s friends! That doesn’t happen here. Catra’s heroic act comes in episode 3 of 13 and the rest of the season is spent with Catra apologising to people she’s hurt and trying to stop herself falling back into old patterns of behaviour. It was a joy to watch and really well handled and preformed, because redemption is not just a one and done thing. People can change, but when you’ve acted a certain way for so long, it’s hard to change your behaviour. You have to constantly catch yourself and try to be better, which Catra does. It’s great to see and, yeah, last spoiler (though I’ve already put this in the title card), seeing her open up about her feelings to Adora and Adora sharing those feelings was a heart-melting moment for me. Also points for a full on screen kiss and not just leaving it hinted at or until the very last scene, looking at you Korra.

The Verdict

All in all, She-Ra and the Princesses of Power is a great show. The first two seasons are nowhere near as good as it gets and while I hate being that guy, just bare with it until the third season at least to get to the good stuff. It has a wealth of great and fascinating characters, all of whom are fun in their own ways, from the mechanical madness of Entrapta to the adorable dumbass Adora and the ‘catty’ behaviour of Catra (sorry, couldn’t resist that one). Chances are you’ll find at least one person to love in this series. The story continues to escalate with each season and the final fifth one manages to tie up all the arcs in a satisfying way. Definitely worth giving it a go.

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

Cartoon Corner: She-Ra and the Princesses of Power (Season 1) Review

Blog Shera Review Title

Hey Adora

What’s the Story?

Adora is a loyal soldier of the Horde, until one day when she sneaks out with her best friend Catra. After having visions of a magical sword, Adora runs into one of the evil princesses that she’s spent her life training to fight. It’s then that Adora learns the princesses aren’t so evil after all, though Princess Glimmer is hostile towards her at first, but Adora discovers it’s the Horde that is evil and after witnessing the destruction they bring she decides she has to stop them. With the help of the Sword of Protection, Adora transforms into the mighty She-Ra and together with her friends and the other princesses she will fight to return balance to the world, even if it means going up against her former best friend, Catra.

The Review

Okay I’ll admit this straight out of the gate, I have no real interest in She-Ra. The cartoon was before my time and much like the original He-Man, I have way too many other shows to watch before I even consider going back and watching both of those shows. I have seen the terrible live action He-Man movie and that rebooted He-Man cartoon (from the early 2000s?) was okay from what I remember, but that is the extent of my knowledge of this universe. I am coming into this series completely blind as a new viewer, waiting to be won over. It’s mostly Noelle Stevenson’s name attached to this series that is the reason this show has been bumped up my watch list, because I really love her Nimona comic (seriously, it’s smart, funny and pretty heart-breaking and I will recommend it to anyone who hasn’t read it).

Now that that is out of the way, let’s get down to season one, how is it? It’s okay. I enjoyed watching the series, but at the same time it’s hardly the most revolutionary of cartoons. It’s trying to be a fusion of Avatar: The Last Airbender and Steven Universe and never quite manages to be as good as either of those shows, yet. I say yet because this is just a first season and like a lot of first seasons the show is very much finding its footing. It doesn’t help that the majority of the first half of this series, outside of the opening, is very much a princess of the week setup, introducing characters and one and done problems so that we can get a handle on everyone’s personalities and powers, which is what it needs to do. It’s necessary groundwork for what’s to come, but it’s all pretty much predictable at the same time. Stories of friends finding themselves on different sides of a war and people suddenly finding they have magical powers and a destiny have all been done before and the story pretty much plays out as you’d expect. We catch glimpses of the wider world, but aside of some nice backgrounds (and I do love the scenery in this series, but I’ll come back to that) we don’t learn all that much about this place until the end of the series.

Actually talking about the end of the series, what has me hopeful for this series is that it does pick up towards the end. As the one-and-done princess stories finish we move on to a more serialised story with each episode bleeding directly into the next as things begin to completely fall apart for our heroes and I did very much enjoy that final battle, though that could partly be down to the epic She-Ra/Catra slugfest during the battle (is it wrong that I love this series most when they’re fighting?) The whole Adora/Catra dynamic is my favourite part of this series and it is brilliantly played. You can see that these two want to be friends again, but there’s just so much between them that they just can’t reach one another, whether its their pride or their obliviousness that’s stopping them from just taking that last step towards one another. Episode 11 is by far the best episode of this entire season purely because of this dynamic and I’d recommend just watching that episode if nothing else as it sees Adora and Catra trapped together and it really digs into their relationship. It starts off with the show’s typical goofy humour, but that quickly gets pushed aside to get to the raw beating heart of the characters and the voice acting, the direction and the animation all take it up a notch.

Going back to the show’s humour for a second, I can see why this show might annoy purists. Like I said, I haven’t seen the original She-Ra cartoon, but it is an eighties cartoon and this show’s sense of humour is very current. Think Steven Universe, there’s a lot of serious things being talked about and then that being undercut by someone saying or doing something weird. In fact there’s a lot of characters being and acting weird, which is fine for me as I like that kind of humour, but I totally understand that it’s not everyone’s sense of humour.

As for the animation I like all the character designs and as I said before, this series has some beautiful locations. I love how this show uses colour, from the bright and hopeful to the dark and dinghy, it really knows how to set atmosphere in a scene and it’s always go to look at. The soundtrack has some pretty good tracks as well that I wouldn’t mind listening to by themselves.

The Verdict

In the end She-Ra and the Princesses of Power is a good start. There’s a lot of potential here and I like the majority of the characters, my favourite aspect so far is the dynamic between Adora and her best frenemy Catra. The story does take a little while to lay its groundwork and only really gets going past the midway point of the series, but if it carries on the course it’s on it could be a really fun and exciting ride. I’m looking forward to more of this show.

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

Cartoon Corner: Hilda Review

Blog Hilda Review Title

Just North of Normal

What’s the Story?

Hilda lives out in the wilderness with her mother and her deer fox Twig. She loves nothing more than to go out exploring and sketching, encountering everything from trolls to forest giants along the way. However when elves threaten to evict her, Hilda is determined to do everything she can to keep her home, but it may not be enough. Still the city isn’t that bad and it even has its own weird and wonderful adventures to offer, for anyone who’s willing to take them on.

The Review

I’m annoyed with myself. It took me way too long to get around to watching this show and after finishing all thirteen episodes I just want to scream. Entire months went by without me knowing about the existence of this show and that surely has to be a crime. This series is beautiful, by so many definitions of the word, start to finish and I adore it so much. I’ve heard a lot of people compare this series to Gravity Falls and while I don’t feel that’s wholly accurate, I can see where they’re coming from. Kids with quick wits dealing with the strange and bizarre things going on around town, often meeting a quirky creature along the way, also the location is kind of similar in look, if you squint really hard. Hilda is a very smart and fun and funny character as well, but that’s kind of where the Gravity Falls comparisons end to my mind. Hilda isn’t really like anything else, it’s more interested in doing its own thing.

For one there’s no over-arcing story to this series, yet at the same time the story is constantly evolving. There’s go grand conclusion to head towards or mystery to solve, it’s just the days in the life of a kind-hearted and brave young girl as she tries to adapt to what life throws at her. It gives this series a very gentle atmosphere that just carries you along, oh there’s certainly moments of drama and excitement, like the nightmare sequence with the marra or the storm spirits attack on the weather station, but every episode leaves you with a warm glow by the end of it (well maybe not the weather station one, but then that one hangs off a pretty particular cliff by the end).

The two things I love most about this series is that, one, there are always consequences and, two, it never quite goes in the direction you’re expecting. Now I’m going to talk about the ending of the second episode here to illustrate my point so if you haven’t seen that yet either skip to the next paragraph or go watch the episodes (you won’t regret it). Those that have seen the episode will know that Hilda has spent the past two episode trying to find a way to live peacefully with the elves, while also helping two giants find one another. It ends with Hilda rescuing the king of the elves and being declared a friend of the elves. Problem solved you think and clearly the next episode will begin some new problem to deal with, except the giants Hilda was helping earlier step on her house. In a beautifully illustrated moment we have Hilda’s mum comment that the giant hasn’t even noticed, while she herself is standing on an elf house. It’s at that moment that Hilda realises she’s going to have to move, as she was told earlier ‘the world’s just gotten too small’. It’s an incredibly mature moment and way more than I was expecting, as well as completely catapulting the series in a new direction.

Speaking of this series never doing what you expect, one aspect that I have to mention is Hilda’s mum. Again, in any other series she would be just the mum, she’d be someone that Hilda would have to get around or hide all the fantastical things from, and while on occasion that can be the case, a lot of the times it’s not. Hilda’s mum, and pretty much every one else in the series, knows there’s trolls and the like out there and Hilda’s mum will often get involved in the adventures herself. Hilda’s mum is a source of comfort and trust and Hilda often gets farther by confiding in her than hiding things from her (which is actually a remarkably rare thing in fiction, normally it’s the worst thing ever when a parent finds out what’s going on, which isn’t really a good lesson for kids).

That brings me to the animation and, to put it simply, I love it. I love the colours, all the soft autumnal shades mixed in with the bright and eye-catching. I could take any single frame of this animation and it would make a perfect poster for my wall. This may also be the most seamlessly blended 3D animation I have ever seen, so much of this series looks like a living, breathing comic, then a character turns their head or there’s a swooping camera shot and you realise, that has to be 3D. Again, it looks like the comics this series are based on (which I’m now in the process of collecting) have just come to life and are moving around on their own. Also a shout out to the soundtrack, which is equally beautiful and I’ve been listening to it on loop for the past few hours.

The Verdict

In the end Hilda is a cartoon that everyone should watch at least once. Aside from some utterly beautiful animation, the story is mature and fun, constantly evolving and going in directions that you’re not expecting. The characters are all great and a lot of fun to be around, especially all the weird and wonderful creatures that Hilda meets across her adventures (also it’s nice to see some lesser known bits of folklore for Hilda to deal with). Do yourself a favour, find some time and watch this series, you won’t regret it.

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

Cartoon Corner: Marvel’s Spider-Man (2017): The Hobgoblin Part 1 + 2 Review

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Science!

And so Spider-Month (and a half) comes to an end with the latest incarnation of Spider-Man in animated form. I really wish I could end this month a high note, but if I’m honest this series has been a mixed bag for me. At this point I’ve watched the whole of first season and while I certainly enjoyed the later half of the season a lot more than I did the first half, the series still feels like its trying to find its feet in a lot of areas. I do like the voice cast and the animation steadily improves as the series goes on, the main problem with this series comes down to execution, but I’ll get into that more as I go through the review.

Concept wise, the series has a lot of good ideas. We are back to following Peter early on in his Spider-Man career, while he’s still in high school. Thankfully this time we have a brand new setting in Horizon High, a hi-tech science school where only the best and brightest get to attend. Peter manages to get in, just as his best friend Harry Osborn is kicked out. Harry’s dad, Norman, sets up the Osborn Academy as a rival to Horizon High and a place to mould Harry into what Norman wants in a son. The conflict is set and it puts a reasonable strain on Peter and Harry’s friendship. Also there’s the fact that Norman believes Spider-Man to be apart of the Jackal’s spider army. How best to sum up the Jackal for those not familiar with him? He’s a crazy person who’s into clones. He also likes to make Spider-Man’s life a misery and in this continuity is the guy who developed the spider that gave Peter his powers. Now the Jackal subplot does built into probably my favourite arc of this series, the Spider Island arc. I loved the comic and while the episodes are a very loose adaptation it’s still a fun and exciting story with the tension ratcheting up and up until its just Spider-Man and a handful of friends versus an entire city of mutated spider-people. I would be covering that arc here, but its five parts long and while my reviews have a tendency to go on for a bit, I can’t justified making a review that long, not with everything I want to talk about, so instead we’re going for the two-part finale to the series.

Now before I get into the episode it does require a couple of spoilers for the Spider Island arc, so if you’re interested go watch that now and then come back. Done that? Good, here we go. So in the aftermath of Spider Island, Harry knows that Peter is Spider-Man and is reasonably upset about the fact his best friend has been lying to him. Also Norman Osborn is suffering from the ill effects of the first test they used to try and cure people of the virus that was turning them into spider monsters. Also in order to save the city and spread the final cure across New York, it meant letting a bomb go off that destroyed the Osborn Academy, another thing Harry is mad about.

The two-parter starts with Peter trying to talk to Harry, but he doesn’t want to listen. Before they can continue an explosion goes off downtown and Peter has to rush off to save the day. At the site of the explosion he finds Doctor Octopus kidnapping Max Model (science guy, head and founder of Horizon High). This does bring me to one of the issues with this series, some of its plot points are, well, lacking. Doc Ock is a great example of this, the series gave him a four part arc chronicling his rise and fall, from getting his metal arms fused to his back, to trying to be a hero, to getting blamed for creating a hundred-foot lizard, to joining Osborn Academy and then turning to villainy at the end. All the beats are there and on paper it makes logical sense, but it lacks the impact it should have. It’s not helped by the fact that the last episode of the arc is focused on Peter, Harry and another character, Gwen Stacy, trying to track down Jackal’s lab and Doc Ock doesn’t turn up until the last five minutes. It’s just BOOM, he’s a villain now, moving on. This series has a habit of just throwing in villains almost at random and while sometimes it tries to give them pathos and a back story, the focus is always somewhere else so the villains tend to just get glossed over. It’s a real shame as Spider-Man has one of the best rogue’s galleries there is (after Batman’s of course).

Anyway back to the fight, Doc Ock has several other villains that have turned up throughout the series under his mind control. This includes Rhino (third appearance this month and a half, he’s doing well), Vulture, Spider-Slayer and Steel Spider. Doc Ock gets away and in the process of chasing him Spider-Man takes down Vulture, Steel Spider and Rhino one after the other, though the taking these villain on one after the other is exhausting. Also I’d like to point out that the action is pretty good in all of these fights, its fast and fluid and shows how far the series has progressed since some awkward animated moments at the start of the series. While all this is going on though Harry has been trying to find a cure to help his dad and as his dad grows weaker decides to start testing things on himself (which can only end well).

Spider-Man finally catches up with Doc Ock, who reveals that kidnapping Max was only the bait. What he really wanted was to wear Spider-Man down to make it easy to plant a mind control chip on the webhead. Now Doctor Octopus has his own Sinister Six and sets out to take over New York. Meanwhile Harry has cured his dad, who, after seeing the Sinister Six on the news, begs Harry to put on the Hobgoblin armour and take out Spider-Man once and for wall. Hobgoblin fights Spider-Man, but after learning about the mind control he manages to get through to Peter and they free the other members of the Sinister Six from Ock. Harry gets injured in the fight and the villains get away, but Harry does admit it was good for him and Peter to work together.

Our second part begins with Spider-Man and Hobgoblin working together to take down Rhino. They’re already taken out the majority of the Sinister Six and there’s only Doc Ock left, though Peter is worried that Harry blacked out halfway through the fight with Rhino. Harry goes home to sleep, but when Doc Ock attacks Horizon High Hobgoblin takes the villain down easily, before turning on Spider-Man. Thanks to the intervention of Miles Morales (the other Spider-Man, you can go see Into the Spiderverse if you want to learn more about him). This brings me to one of the other problems with this series, though it runs in a similar vein to the poor execution of the villains. While I like seeing Miles, Gwen and even Anya in the series and taking up their respective Spider-personas to fight crime, I don’t really see the point of them in this season. Miles in particular feels like a waste. He hardly ever gets the focus and often is just there to be a second pair of hands. You could take him out of this series entirely and it would make very little difference to the plot and that’s a bad sign. I also don’t think it works with this being a young Spider-Man, so much of this series is about Spider-Man learning the ropes, he’s still new to this and screws up on a regular basis, so why exactly is he mentoring someone else when he’s still working this out himself? It does make me feel like maybe Miles getting permanent spider powers should have been saved for season 2, that way Peter is more settled in his role as Spider-Man and there’s more room to give Miles some focus and development.

Back to the episode, Harry wakes up from a blackout to find himself in his Hobgoblin gear. He has no idea what he’s done, but his father questions if all those serums he tested on himself have had an adverse effect. Later Hobgoblin attacks Spider-Man again, dropping a bridge on to him, which Spider-Man has to lift off to save a bus full of people. It’s a well done scene and then just to prove my point about Miles, he turns up, says he put a tracer on Hobgoblin and then is promptly shooed away so that Peter can have a final climatic showdown with the Hobgoblin (complete waste of a character). Anyway Peter tracks down Hobgoblin and the final battle begins! It’s a pretty epic battle, but Peter is confused when Hobgoblin mentions finding out who is behind the Spider-Man mask, even more so when Harry stumbles into the fight. Turns out its Norman in the Hobgoblin costume (which makes this the second series where Norman has framed his son for being a costumed maniac.) This is the best part of these episodes and if there’s one thing this series got absolutely right, it’s Harry and Norman Osborn.

Norman is characterised slightly differently than in other series, oh sure he’s still a raging egomaniac who’s after power and control and isn’t afraid to manipulate and backstab everyone around him, including his own son. Yet in this series gives you glimpses of a good man, however brief. He’s complimentary and supportive of his son and though the argument can be made that these are just manipulating tactics, you also feel that they are in some part sincere. Norman wants his son to be a hero, it’s just that his power-mad ego means that it must be an Osborn who is the hero of New York and everyone else must either get inline or burn. If he didn’t need so much control he could be a force for good in New York.

Harry on the other hand is conflicted. He’s been on a real roller coaster ride, torn between his anger and his friendship. On the one hand he admires his father so much and hates Spider-Man in equal measure, but on the other hand Spider-Man is Peter, his best friend, the one who’s always been there for him. It’s a really well acted and emotional scene when Norman urges Harry to end Spider-Man and you can see how the decision is tearing him apart. However Harry finally stands up to his father and saves Spider-Man.

Marvel’s Spider-Man (2017) is a decent series, though it has its problems. Plot points and characters feel rushed or just included for the sake of it, which honestly knowing some of the characters involved feels like such a waste. However there are times when it gets its right, the relationship between Peter and Harry is the highlight of this series and it uses their often fractured friendship to its fullest potential. If there were more storylines like theirs woven through this series it would be one of the greats. Even without that though there’s enough to keep me entertained and watching for the near future.

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

Cartoon Corner: Spider-Man: The New Animated Series: Mind Games Part 1 +2 Review

blog spiderman mind games review title

Spider-Man No More!

I don’t know if this series is obscure, but I never really see people talking about it, which is a shame because I actually think it’s pretty good. If I were to rank the Spider-Man cartoons, this one would probably come in as third for me. Originally developed for MTV, this cartoon was more aimed at teens than previous cartoons, hence the stories mostly revolving around Peter’s college life and the fact that we get actual guns and a couple of deaths (The violence is never graphic, but in one episode a guy does get electrocuted to death, so yeah the gloves are very much off with this series).

There are two things that I think hold back this series, one it’s pretty short-lived, only lasting thirteen episodes and the other is the animation. This show was animated using CGI and cel-shading, which might work nowadays, but back in the early 2000s the only other place you’d find graphics like this is on a Playstation 1. There are some good bits of direction, with some nice angles and shots and on occasion a good use of colour. Then again we also get plenty of fast zooms and slow-mo shots, just so you know this was made in the early 2000s. My favourite part about this series though is the writing and the characters. I really like the cast they got for Peter (yes it’s Neil Patrick Harris), MJ and Harry, they all have great chemistry together, though that’s helped when they have some great dialogue between them.

On to the episode though, we open part one with an armoured vehicle moving two prisoners, the Gaines Twins, a pair of psychics whose parents were experimented on by the KGB. The Gaines Twins manage to get free and use their psychic powers to get their guard to shoot the driver (I mentioned this show has a body count, didn’t I?). Of course Spider-Man turns up and though he struggles against the Twins’ mental onslaught he manages to overcome them and send them packing back off to jail. With the villains of the week neatly tied up, Peter goes about his usual routine. As Spider-Man he flirts with MJ and does probably the stupidest thing he’s ever done, which is push MJ off of a roof. Of course he catches her, but anyone who knows anything about Spider-Man mythos or Gwen Stacy (or even anyone who saw Amazing Spider-Man 2) will know how monumentally bad an idea that was. Anyway, after risking the life of one he loves Peter heads to college were he flirts with Indy, a character created for this series who’s a reporter for the local TV station.

Of course we can’t have things going too well for are misunderstood webslinger and there’s news of a villain breakout. Spider-Man takes the bad guy on, though a part of the building’s sign does get blown off, injuring Harry whose on the street below. Things get worse as Spider-Man learns that Kraven the hunter is back in New York and he’s teamed up with another villain, who had an appearance earlier in the series, Silver Sable (yes I know Silver Sable isn’t really a villain, but she is in this show’s continuity). Spider-Man manages to take out Sable, but Kraven gets away, leaving the webhead worried that the hunter will go after the people he cares about in order to get his revenge. Of course Spider-Man goes straight for MJ and, as they talk, he comes to a decision. Peter unmasks to MJ, which is when Kraven shows up, killing MJ with a poisoned dart. MJ dies in Peter’s arms and at her graveside a strange man talks Peter into taking his anger out on Kraven.

It’s at this point that I should mention this episode has had a disjointed feel to it. There had been numerous scenes that have ended, well, oddly, either ending too soon or the next scene having so little connection that it feels like a different episode. We’ve also kept going back to the image of Spider-Man on his knees from when he was fighting the Psychic Twins and you may have just guessed what’s going on here. Yes the whole episode has been a dream, the Twins were never beaten and have been invading Peter’s mind, building his worst nightmare in an effort to drive him into such a rage that he’ll kill Kraven for them. It works too, Peter swinging off to, as he put it ‘tear Kraven apart with his bare hands’. Did I mention this cartoon was darker than a lot of the other Spider-Man cartoons? Well it’s only going to get darker from here.

The second episode begins with Spider-Man taking on Kraven. There’s no joking, no quips, just a ruthless silence as Spider-Man lays into Kraven. Things hit alarming when Spider-Man makes a noose out of his webs and starts hanging Kraven! Of course it’s at this point that Spider-Man begins to notice some inconsistencies. He sees the sign that got blown up in part 1 through the window and its completely intact, also earlier Kraven mentioned that he hadn’t seen Spider-Man in a while. Peter lets go of Kraven and starts to put two and two together. He manages to track down the Gaines Twins with some help from Indy and while the Twins have MJ hostage, Spider-Man keeps them on the phone long enough that he can sneak up on them.

The fight makes it up to the rooftop where Spider-Man grabs the Gaines sister by the neck, but because of her psychic blast he lets go and she falls off of the roof. Spider-Man turns around and…both the Gaines Twins are stood behind him. They’ve messed with his mind again and it was actually Indy who fell off the roof. Indy is in a coma and hospitalised, Harry ranting about how Spider-Man should just go away and even MJ has lost faith. Peter isn’t feeling too good about the superhero half of his life, but he has one last thing to do, stop the Gaines Twins, which he does (Okay the sister drives a petrol tanker in a high voltage box and blows the whole warehouse sky high, but same thing). The Twins out of commission Peter decides that there’s no point to Spider-Man and he doesn’t want to hurt anyone else. As such he puts his costume in a case and throws it into the river.

Admittedly this is a heavy couple of episodes and for the recently teenage me that first saw this episode it was both mind-blowing and shocking, to think that superhero lives weren’t always happy or at the very least get a happy ending. Still, next season the first episode would no doubt be about Peter realising that Spider-Man had to carry on and he’d get his suit back. Except there was no second season, this show was cancelled, meaning this two-parter is the last story of the series. It’s a pretty depressing note to end on and making me regret that wish I had about Spider-Man getting a conclusion to his story. However, that’s also kind of why I like this series, I mean I definitely need other versions of Spider-Man’s story in my life, but as one of many, I like what this series does. It tackles things from a more mature angle, it’s not afraid to put Peter and Spider-Man through the ringer and it doesn’t have its hands tied by usual ‘you can’t do that in a kids’ show’ censorship. This cartoon won’t change anybodies world and a lot of the stories are pretty standard Spider-Man fare, but they’re well told (they just need better animation). Anyone who’s curious should definitely check this series out, it’s worth it. For the final week of Spider-Month (and a half) we’re taking a look at the most recent version of the webhead’s adventures, get ready.

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

Cartoon Corner: Ultimate Spider-Man: The Symbiote Saga Part 1 + 2 + 3 Review

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“Midtown Marauders Rule!”

Oh Ultimate Spider-Man, I don’t want to say the series was doomed from the start (mostly because I think it did pretty well for itself considering how it started), but this series was never going to have it easy. I mentioned in my review of the Spectacular Spider-Man episode that that series was cancelled after Sony made a deal with Disney and Marvel. That meant Marvel could make its own animated Spider-Man show, which is good, but whatever they made would have to follow and, more worryingly, replace Spectacular Spider-Man (a show I’ll remind you I referred to as quintessential Spider-Man). People were ready to hate this show before it even aired and after watching the first season I was in complete agreement with them. Ultimate Spider-Man has many problems, but by far the biggest crime it has is that it doesn’t feel like a Spider-Man show.

A lot of this series’ problems come from its core concepts. In the series, or the first season at least, Spider-Man is recruited into S.H.I.E.L.D., the Marvel Universe’s super secret spy and peacekeeping organisation. He’s put together with a team of other young heroes and then goes about doing what Spider-Man does, saving people and making his own personal life hell. Now the problem with this concept manifests itself in a lot of different ways. For one we don’t get to see much of Peter’s home life. Spider-Man is an everyman hero, part of the fun of watching him and a great deal of our investment comes from seeing Peter struggle with his dual life and how being a superhero impacts on that. This series forgets all about that and instead gives its attention to whatever other hero or villain is making a cameo this week. It strips Spider-Man of some of his uniqueness, heck you could put any hero you want into the lead role here and it wouldn’t make a blind bit of difference.

Even the novelty of seeing Spider-Man on a team is wasted as his teammates hardly ever make an impact on events. They’re just there, they might occasionally make a joke or have a spotlight moment, but we never really learn much about them other than surface-level stuff. So much of this show is flash instead of substance and that is so infuriating. Also it’s another step away from Spider-Man’s everyman appeal when he’s suddenly a super spy with all this backup and technology at his disposal. Don’t even get me started on the fourth wall breaking gags, which during the first season were near constant and drove a number of people crazy. That’s not Spider-Man style of humour and it never has been (now if you wanted to make a Deadpool cartoon, sure, that would work). All of these problems build on top of one another until you have a show where you question if the people behind it have ever even seen anything Spider-Man related before.

However, I have gone back to the series since and, well, while the series was never really good (well, not by the standards of the shows I’ve already covered), but it did get decent, which brings me to today’s episodes. This three-parter comes from towards the end of the series as a whole and in the one constant of the Spider-Man cartoons, it’s apart of a long ongoing plot. Our first episode begins with Peter on the phone to MJ, his best friend, over the various seasons Peter has been promoted to a S.H.I.E.L.D. instructor and so he isn’t at Midtown High anymore. MJ misses him, oh and Harry Osborn, his other best friend, is still in a coma after an incident with Anti-Venom. Okay, explanation time. Anti-Venom is one of Venom’s offspring, it’s a symbiote with similar powers to Venom, plus the added power that it’s toxic to symbiotes. End explanation. Anyway Peter hangs up and heads inside the S.H.I.E.L.D. base to find Agent Venom. Explanation time again (why do I get the feeling I’ve made a mistake and I’m going to be stuck explaining stuff for half this review?), basically Flash Thompson, Peter’s old school bully, bonded with the Venom symbiote, but instead of going all vengeful and crazy, he’s found a way to control it and use it for good. End explanation.

This is actually something that I appreciate about Ultimate Spider-Man, the later seasons at least. Because this series is more recent and isn’t covering the standard Spider-Man in high school stuff, it gives the series the chance to use some of the newer continuity for Spider-Man. That means we get more recent additions like Anti-Venom and Agent Venom turning up and while neither character gets the same amount of depth they have in the comics I at least get to see them on screen, which is something. Back to the episode though Agent Venom has finished recovering from a battle in an earlier episode and is eager to get back to action, which means he goes out swinging around the town. Spider-Man follows and as is the law of superheroes, two minutes after that they get attacked by a super-villain. This time it’s Michael Morbius, who in this continuity is a hydra scientist and he manages to steal a bit of Venom’s suit.

Morbius is developing a brand new symbiote with the help of Doctor Octopus, well I say help, he’s actually got the good Doctor as a hostage. Anyway Agent Venom can track the part of himself that Morbius stole, though Flash is having a bit of trouble controlling the symbiote, and then a fight breaks out. If you’re going to watch this series you need to be prepared for this, lots and lots of fight scenes. Since the show isn’t interested in developing or even exploring its characters in any significant way we’re left with fight scene after fight scene, which sometimes can be very entertaining, other times it drags on into tedium. Back to the episode, Doc Ock infects Morbius with a serum and turns him into a vampire monster and Morbius infects Doc Ock with the new symbiote, the Carnage symbiote. Morbius escapes and Spider-Man manages to get Carnage off of Ock, but the Carnage symbiote reveals that it can operate by itself. Then there’s more fighting and more fighting and for a change, more fighting. Eventually Flash gets the symbiote under control and together with Spider-Man they blow Carnage to bits. Unfortunately that’s exactly what Carnage wanted as now the symbiote has spread over half of New York and started taking over the general public.

Part 2 of this arc is probably my favourite. It has a level of scale that almost makes up for the lack of personal stakes, almost. Half of New York have been turned into Carnages and that includes some of the heroes, like Hulk. It’s one of the small advantages of Ultimate Spider-Man, because pretty much every major Marvel hero makes a guest appearance at some point it can easily call on those heroes when its having an event. That means we get Captain America, Iron Fist (teen edition), Cloak and Dagger turning up to help Spider-Man and Venom take on all the Carnages. Things take a turn for the worse though when Harry wakes up, as Anti-Venom. This is both good and bad. On the good side Anti-Venom can strip away the Carnage symbiotes and resort people to normal. On the bad side, he’s kind of obsessed with Venom and wants to strip Flash of his symbiote. It becomes a race across New York as Spider-Man and the other heroes try to lure Anti-Venom to the heart of the Carnage symbiote while fighting off the army of Carnages and keeping Venom as far away from Anti-Venom as possible. The heroes fall one by one, even Venom being knocked unconscious, until it’s just Spider-Man and Anti-Venom, but they do make it to the heart of Carnage. Anti-Venom wants to purge the heart of Carnage, but its too much for him and may mean his host dying if he goes through with it. Spider-Man unmasks in an attempt to get through to Harry, this should be a big emotional moment, but unfortunately it’s undercut by the fact that these versions of the characters have very little depth and I don’t care much for either one. However, when Harry agrees to sacrifice himself with Anti-Venom to stop Carnage, that does manage to drag up some emotion thanks to some good voice acting. Of course Harry survives, though Anti-Venom is gone and now Harry knows that both Peter and Flash are superheroes.

Part 3 of the story continues with the people of New York free of Carnage, but the symbiote itself is still around and making its way towards Midtown High, where MJ went earlier to use the emergency broadcast equipment. Harry goes and gets a suit of armour so that he, Peter and Flash can take on Carnage, which has covered the school. There are two things I want to mention here, firstly a pretty funny extended Stan Lee cameo where he’s fighting off the Carnage symbiote with a mop and second the transformed school just keeps giving me Evolution vibes. Maybe it’s the red goo everywhere, or that we keep getting different critter versions of Carnage showing up, like the little spider versions or the wasp forms. Back to the story though, in a move that could have been awesome, Carnage has taken over MJ and transformed her into the Carnage Queen. Also Morbius returns and takes control of Carnage Queen. After another extended fight Spider-Man frees Carnage Queen of Morbius’ control and they manage to defeat the living vampire. Then Harry, Flash and Peter all unmask to get through to MJ and get her to break free of the Carnage Queen. Again, should have been really emotional, but the show has never given me a proper reason to care for these characters, so it isn’t.

In the end Ultimate Spider-Man has some pretty cool concepts, especially in the later seasons where it tones down the fourth wall jokes and instead focuses on involving bits of the Spider-mythos that had yet to make it to the screen. Unfortunately the show is never interested in developing or exploring its characters beyond the most shallow of tried and tested tropes. The only reason I’m interested at all in any of these characters is because I’ve cared about them in other, better shows. All that leaves the show is it’s action and some fun ideas, which makes this a decent mindless-action cartoon to waste a bit of time on, but a poor Spider-Man cartoon. Next Time we’re going into three dimensions with some New Animated adventures!

See you in the new year!

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