Anime Corner: Akame ga Kill

Blog Akame Ga Kill Review Title

Kill the really good anime series.

What’s the Story?

Tatsumi is a bright and idealistic young man, he heads out to the Capital so that he can make a living, and save his struggling village from poverty. His naive ideals are soon shattered though, when he discovers that the Capital is overflowing with corruption. He joins Night Raid, a group of assassins, who make it their mission to punish the wicked, and who one day hope to lead a revolution that will free the Capital, and the kingdom, of this darkness forever. Unfortunately the path towards this goal is not easy, and much blood shall be spilled along the way.

The Review

Just to start, I’d like to say I really enjoyed this series, but there is one aspect of it that I think will turn some people off, and that’s the body count. Seriously, the amount of people that die in this series is astronomical. If you’re not prepared to watch characters that you care about die on a near regular basis, I’d probably suggest trying a different anime. Normally I myself don’t like an overabundance of killing in what I watch, especially when its main characters that are getting the chop, but Akame ga Kill has found some kind of magic formula. With a lot of series like that, eventually characters dying becomes just another plot twist, you become numb to a character’s pain, and there’s always the argument of, if you know they’re just going to die, why should you bother investing in the first place? Akame ga Kill somehow manages to get around that and keep you invested. Most of the deaths are genuinely sad, as the characters have a last heartfelt moment before they pass on (I have no shame in attempting that this show has had me in tears on a couple of occasions).

I think what keeps it interesting, is the fact that people never die as you expect them to. There is always a twist, or things won’t go the way you expect. You’re constantly on the edge of your seat trying to guess who, how or even if someone’s going to die this time. You get especially nervous when a character starts discussing their back story, but by the halfway point of the series, most of the characters have so many death flags on them that any one of them could die at any moment.

It helps that the characters are all really fun too. They’re not exactly deep, but they all have distinct personalities and they’re extremely likeable. They all have just enough of a back story, and enough different shades to their personality for you to invest in them quickly and easily. The thing I like most about them though, is that the characters (outside of Tatsumi at the start) are under no illusions. They are not heroes. They are simply bad people killing worse people. I like that, because a lesser series would have passed these characters off as the pure and noble heroes for us all to cheer for, but instead it admits that this is a very morally grey area.

But the series doesn’t just let us invest in the heroes, it lets us get to know our villains too, and even feel sad when they die. The villains aren’t exactly deep either, but it’s shown that they can just be as goofy as our heroes, and in some cases just as caring. Most of them are twisted psychopaths, but likeable twisted psychopaths.

There are only two characters that I feel get the short end of the stick. There’s Run who hardly ever has any focus or development. His back story is pretty much thrown in during the second to last episode just to get it out there. I know why that is though, it’s because the arc that dealt with his story was cut from the anime so that they could hit their ending within 24 episodes. And yes, the anime has an original ending. It manages to stick pretty close to the manga throughout its run, just having to rearrange a few things, and the actual ending (though not the greatest) feels like a natural and logical conclusion for the most part. It fits with what came before, and I’ve seen far worse original endings. (Besides I tend to prefer having an actual ending, than being forced to go read the manga to find out what happens next.)

The other character that gets left out of the picture too often is an odd one. It’s our title character Akame. I don’t know if other people feel the same, but I had trouble investing in Akame. She’s a perfectly fine character, and I do like her, I just don’t feel for her like I do all the other characters. Maybe it’s that her back story, though a sad one, is only ever told to us. I never felt her carrying the weight of her previous life (not until towards the end of the series anyway). Or maybe it’s that when I first saw her I was expecting this stone cold badass, and instead I got this badass who’s warm and goofy, and likes to eat a lot of meat. The show never felt that interested in her either, giving a lot more focus to all of the other characters. Honestly I felt a lot more sympathy for Akame’s sister.

Something this series excels at is mixing its goofy shonen antics with the darker subject matter. You’d think it would be really jarring, and although it is shocking, it all feels apart of the same world and show. It never takes you out of the moment. I also have to praise this series for its fight scenes. The animation is generally of a really good quality, but it hits another level once the fighting starts. You can’t help but cheer and gasp as the fights get bigger and wilder. This is all backed by a fantastic soundtrack, and once certain tracks start, you know stuff is going to hit the fan, and it never disappoints in that regard.

The Verdict

Not exactly deep or thought-provoking, but a consistently fun ride, filled with likeable characters and some fight sequences that are worthy of legend. The darker aspects of the show, and the final body count, may be off-putting for some though.

fish stamp great

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

Anime Corner: Chaika the Coffin Princess – Avenging Battle Review

Blog Chaika Review Title

Chaika ended. Miss girl with broken speech. Sad now.

What’s the Story?

Following on from season 1, we continue the adventures of the mysterious Chaika, her hired-muscle Toru and Akari, and Frederica the dragoon. They’re travelling across the country, out to gather up the remains of Chaika’s deceased father, who happened to be a very bad man. He was an all powerful wizard, and an evil emperor who trapped the country in an endless war. Finally he was overthrown, his body cut into pieces, with a different part given to each of the heroes who defeated him. Now Chaika just wants to give her dad a funeral, but the thing is she’s not the only Chaika. There are a bunch of other Chaika’s gathering up the remains for different purposes, and after the ending of series one, there are serious questions about not just who, but exactly what is Chaika?

The Review

I have to admit, I do love Chaika, both the character and the series. Chaika at first appearance looks a little weak and helpless, but she has guts and determination when it counts. It also helps that she’s damn adorable, especially with her broken speech. It’s strange, I can remember watching the very first episode and really wishing Chaika would shut up, her speech pattern really grated on my nerves. I don’t know what happened, a couple episodes later and I found the way she talks to be really endearing. I think it’s that Chaika is more than just her outward appearance and the cutesy factor. You feel her pain as she struggles to figure who she is and what exactly is her purpose. The first couple of episodes for this second series did a really good job of showing that struggle, both for the main Chaika and a few of the others we’ve gotten to know.

Chaika isn’t the only good character, I like the rest of our main cast too. Toru and Akari are our badass warriors. Toru is a bit of the everyman, who’s both cool and put upon by the crazy people in his life. He’s gone from being the bored layabout, to a man with drive and purpose, most of that centred around Chaika. Akari is both hilarious, and a little creepy. Her constant attempts to foster a romance with Toru had me falling over with laughter (I just had to keep reminding myself that they’re not actually related by blood). Frederica is the odd one out I suppose. She’s both cute, and a monstrous badass, you know she can kick everyone’s behind in a matter of minutes, but that’s kind of the problem. Because she’s so powerful, the show had to continually come up with new ways to keep her out of the action. It just gets frustrating in the end. I can’t think of a time when she’s really been allowed to show off her true power.

To be fair though, none of these characters (outside of possibly Chaika) are especially deep, but they are fun and loveable. That brings me to the side-characters. I do wish Gillette and his squad got a bit more exploration and development, but then they’re supporting characters, and we’re on the clock here, so needs must I suppose.

This series feels like an old school adventure, travelling across a magical kingdom with a bunch of likeable weirdoes as they collect some magic items for whatever reason, and the reason was really good. The mystery surrounding Emperor Gaz and Chaika was an intriguing one. That being said, this series does have some flaws. First, in regards to that mystery while the build up is good, the actual answers aren’t all that interesting. Everything turns out kind of how you expect it to, with no huge surprises, which is a real shame. I just feel a little disappointed, this series was doing so well, I was hoping for something that would blow the plot open, and make me see it in an entirely new light, but we didn’t get that.

Also, season 2 shares a problem with season 1, and that’s that the tone can take some really jarring shifts. In season 1 the series suddenly went really dark in the last few episodes (especially concerning the fate of a bunch of young girls taken from a village), and this season we got the Black Chaika turning into a tentacle monster (She will be haunting my nightmares for a long time to come). I never really understood why it had to go so dark, most of the time the series bounces along nicely with goofy antics and some great action. Like I said, it’s just jarring how the story shifts gears so quickly.

And while I’m talking about the ending of Season2 (I’m trying to avoid spoilers, so just be warned that the next two paragraphs have a couple). Emperor Gaz, bit of a letdown wasn’t he. He’s built up to be this super powerful wizard, it took eight of the country’s best heroes to take him down before, he shoots down a flying castle with one bloody shot! His battle with Toru is pretty good, if a little short, and then he just gets blown away like he’s nothing. It kind of makes me wonder what the point was of him coming back in the first place. At least Chaika got to give her father his funeral, in a manner of speaking.

Actually I think that’s what’s thrown off this second season of Chaika, the pacing. The ending feels way too rushed. I’ve been checking down the back of the sofa to make sure I haven’t misplaced a few episodes. It feels like Chaika deserved at least one more episode to give the series the conclusion it deserved. And it’s not just the ending that was rushed. There are a couple of emotional beats that needed more time to breathe, if we wanted to give this ending its full impact, like the friendship between Chaika and Niva. We got the beginnings of their relationship, and we can see where it’s headed, but then we skip straight from those beginnings to the conclusion. We miss out all of the progression in the middle, and that hurts the finale. The same with Frederica’s constant pleas for Toru to become her Dragoon Cavalier. It took so long to get to the resolution of that subplot that in the end I didn’t cheer with joy, I just screamed ‘About bloody time!’. It’s a shame, but I do feel that Season 1 paced itself a lot better.

The Verdict

Despite a few flaws, such as pacing and a lack of depth to some characters, this is still an enjoyable series. An old fashioned fantasy romp that’s always fun, has a likeable cast and has some truly great animation (especially in the fight sequences).

fish stamp good

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

Introducing Anime Corner!

Anime_Corner_Logo

It’s a new year and so I’d like to announce a new section of the blog.

Ever since I did my first impressions of the Fall 2014 anime, I was planning on doing a kind of final impressions when those series came to an end. I’ve now decided that I’m going to create a subset within my blog to handle those reviews, thus welcome to the Anime Corner! I’m going to be doing reviews on most of the series I covered in my first impressions posts, but not all of them. I’m only reviewing series that I got all the way to the end of, so stuff like Terra Formars (which I dropped after two episodes) I won’t be reviewing as that’s not fair to the show. Who knows, maybe it got really good after I left (I doubt it, but you never know). I also won’t be reviewing the shows that are carrying on either (I’ll get to them when they end).

Every now and again I may drop in a review of anime from years gone by, this could be either a classic, a modern-day juggernaut, or maybe even something that is often overlooked. This won’t be a regular thing though, as I like to rewatch stuff before I write up my thoughts on a subject, and it takes me a lot more time to get through an entire anime, as opposed to one animated movie.

I’m going to try a different reviewing method with the Anime Corner as well, and that includes a scoring system. I’m not doing numbers though, as in all honestly, I’d just be plucking numbers out of thin air, and I have no idea what the difference between, say, a 7 and an 8 will be. I’m going to keep it simple and stick to a five-point scale. Here’s the breakdown of possible scores.

Unmissable – Stop whatever you’re doing, go watch this anime right now. This is the best of the best in my opinion, and you need to see this no matter what.

Great – Something truly wonderful. While you don’t have to drop everything to watch this, you should make sure it’s on your ‘to watch’ list for the future, otherwise you’ll be missing out.

Good- A couple of flaws, but a really enjoyable experience. Check this out if it sounds interesting to you.

Watchable – Fair to middling. It has good aspects, but some bad ones too. If it sounds like it might interest you, or you have nothing else to do. Give a couple of episodes a watch and see if you like it.

Avoid – Spare yourselves the torment, and go watch something else instead. Watching paint dry would be a better experience than this.

Anyway, that’s enough out of me for the moment. The first Anime Corner review will be posted soon.

The Infallible Fish Reviews: HTTYD: Gift of the Night Fury

Cursed into the form of a talking cartoon fish by a half-mad deity known only as the Writer, the Infallible Fish has no idea who he is, or where he comes from, all he does know is that he has a burning urge to watch some animated stuff.

                               Blog HTTYD Gift Review Title

How To Train Your Dragon is probably my favourite animated film of all time, which is odd, because it’s a DreamWorks film. Not that I have anything against DreamWorks, they make some really good films, but never anything on the same level as Disney and Pixar when they’re on their A-game. Despite that though, HTTYD found a magic formula that leaves me enjoying every minute of it, and its sequel. It has a funny, witty script. The animation is gorgeous, helped along by some jaw-dropping cinematography. The flying scenes are especially beautiful, and they capture the sensation of soaring through the air. I even enjoy just admiring the lighting on each scene. The soundtrack morphs between soft and sweet, to epic and grand effortlessly, seriously this is one of the best soundtracks to, well, anything. The characters are all likeable, with oodles of personality and believability. You feel each character’s joy and sorrow. The only tiny complaint I have with the first film is that we don’t get to see enough of the supporting cast. Most of the other students are reduced to basic character-traits. I like them, and they’re all funny, I just wish we got to know more about them.

That brings me to today’s review, the HTTYD Christmas special, Gift of the Night Fury. It’s a short film, lasting a measly 22 minutes, and while I wish there was more, I’m more than happy with what I got. The story is this, it’s Christmas (It’s never called that, but it’s the season in all but name), and as our favourite Vikings prepare to celebrate the holiday with their new dragon friends for the first time, disaster strikes. Suddenly all of the dragons leave with no sign of coming back, and Astrid’s attempts to cheer everyone up (“Let’s create new traditions, you know, to bury the sadness.”) only lead to one calamity after another. It’s up to Hiccup to find out where the dragons have gone, and save Christmas!

Firstly, just let me say, this is a really funny, and really heart-warming tale. It has just the right amount of sweetness to give you that warm feeling without being so sugary that you almost overdose. There are also some really good jokes and lines throughout this episode. My favourite has to be Astrid’s reaction when her little plan with the dragon eggs goes awry (“The eggs explode!”). I also like that we get to see more of our supporting cast. They’re given a good chunk of the story, and while it’s not like we any deep character moments, we do get to see more of their personalities, and how they play off of one another. Astrid definitely gets the best deal out of this short film, as we get to see more of her goofy side, as opposed to the her warrior side that was on display in the first film.

Hiccup has his moments too, showing more of his ingenuity, and how the village has come to respect him (everyone immediately rushes to Hiccup once the dragons disappear). The moments between Hiccup and Toothless are really sweet and lovable too, showing the deep bond that has developed between them. This entire short film feels like a natural and logical continuation of the first film, and I think bridges the two films perfectly.

The aspect I love most about this special though is that it’s not overloaded with Christmas. It’s a genuinely good story, with Christmas as a backdrop. Yes there’s snow, and a tree, and presents and lights, but none of that is shoved into your face. I’ve seen all of that stuff in every other Christmas special, and I’m tired of it. Most series don’t get the idea that those parts are nice, but they’re not the point of Christmas. It’s a time of giving, of good will to all, of spending time with those you love. Gift of the Night Fury gets that, the focus is on the characters and the bond between them. I will happily cosy up on the sofa, in front of a warm fire, and watch this every Christmas. That’s what makes this special, well, special. In fact, I think I’m going to go and watch it again right now.

Thanks for reading everyone, now go be with those you love. Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you all.

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

My Top 5 Disney’s Hercules Episodes

As Christmas is a time of sharing, I’ve decided to do my first Top (insert number here) list. (To be honest I just need to talk about something good, well something better than I expected, after last week’s train wreck of a film.) But before I go into that, this cartoon series is based off of the Disney Hercules film, so I suppose I should do a quick little review of that.

The film is fine. Well on to the cartoon then.

Ok, ok, for a bit more detail. It’s a fun little film, it’s energetic, it’s funny and moves along nicely enough. Yes its nothing like the Greek myth it’s based upon, but this is Disney, their adaptations are about as loyal to the source material as a cat is to its owner. The characters don’t really have much depth to them. Hercules is sweet and a little charming, but that’s it. Meg is a Lois Lane impersonation. Phil is, well, Danny DeVito. Hades is probably the best character, he’s a great laugh and a real joy to watch. He makes the film for me. The songs are pretty good too, they’re not classics, but they’re fun and bounce along nicely. I also like the design of the characters, especially for the Gods (which we really don’t get to see enough of, another flaw with the film), it’s really creative and a decent break from Disney’s usual house style. Though I can see how it can sometimes hinder the film though. The film is just a little too Las Vegas, it’s Aladdin on acid, it just gets a little too much in my opinion. I do enjoy the film, and I have re-watched it a couple of times, but it kind of sits in the middle of the Disney table, it’s not great, but it’s not bad either. Now on to the cartoon.

The cartoon is set in Hercules’ early years, where he goes to school while training to one day become a true hero and rejoin his father on Mount Olympus. Now most of this show is exactly what you’d expect from Disney, your typical corny high school drama with an obvious moral-of-the-day. Most of it is kind of meh.

I will give them credit for actually trying to adapt a couple of myths, and throw in a few references, so it feels like the creators have at least flicked through a book on Greek myths (as opposed to the film, which just doodled dirty pictures in the back). Though the cartoon does take the same approach to continuity as the film did to its source material, i.e. ignoring it completely (explain to me how Hades spends most episodes trying to kill Hercules, when he’s not even meant to know he’s alive until he’s grown up?).

Another good part of the cartoon is that we get to see more of those great designs for the Gods. It’s great to see all the creativity and imagination that went into them, seeing as how we only got glimpses of them in the film. Though, while it’s good to see the gods, it’s less so with our supporting cast. The worst offenders are the token girl, Cassandra, who gets visions when the plot demands it, and generally likes to be sarcastic and sulk around. Then there’s Icarus. If anyone deserved to fly too close to the sun and burst into flames, it’s this annoying little gremlin. He starts off as your typical annoying sidekick, making lame jokes with a voice dedicated to gradually grate on your nerves like sand paper. It doesn’t help that he’s obsessed with Cassandra, and constantly pursues her no matter how repulsive she finds him (I’m with her there). This isn’t funny, it’s creepy, and I suggest Cassandra gets herself a good restraining order (or failing that a strong can of mace).

So the show has good and bad qualities that leave it hanging somewhere around the fair to middling mark. Now I didn’t grow up with this show, I only went into it to check a couple of episodes I’d heard about, and a handful of episodes really impressed me. Now let’s finally get to the point and list my Top 5 episodes. Just to clarify this is my Top 5, and therefore this is entirely opinion-based, feel free to disagree and maybe make your own list. If you haven’t seen any episodes of Hercules, give these ones a look and see what you think.

  1. Hercules and the Yearbook

Now this is a clipshow (put those pitchforks down, we don’t need to burn this one.) Basically this episode is set after the film (it’s a little late to try and create continuity now), we see Hercules and Meg living happily ever after. This is the first reason I like this episode, the characters aren’t the greatest, but it’s so rare that we get to see life after the happy ending that I’ll gladly take this. Meg stumbles across Herc’s high school yearbook, but Herc is embarrassed and tries to hide it. I do like the message (and the song) at the end of the episode, about how even though you may mess up and be awkward in school, those experiences will shape you into who you are. Also I care a lot more about the couple’s relationship after this episode, they have great chemistry together and it’s sweet to watch them play off of one another.

  1. Hercules and the Gorgon

Now this is kind of a simple episode, but it’s one of the first ones I saw, and I have to say I like it mostly because I really like Medusa. She’s funny, she has a lot of charm, and her torment is a tragic one. I’m sure you all know the story of Medusa. Snakes for hair, and one look and you turn to stone. Turns out a life of loneliness isn’t much fun, so she beseeches the gods to make her look normal. Honestly the scene between her, Hades and Aphrodite is hilarious. I also have to mention that Aphrodite is brilliant every time she shows up in this cartoon, though it is creepy how Hades keeps hitting on her. Yes the moral is obvious, but I like the jokes (ok, the jokes featuring Medusa, Hades and Aphrodite are funny). My only complaint about this episode is that Medusa doesn’t show up again in the series, have I mentioned that I really like her?

This is a simple story, but a fun one.

  1. Hercules and the Song of Circe

In this episode Cassandra finally gives Icarus the boot (about time!), but by some divine prank, he gets a new girlfriend in the beautiful sorceress Circe (I only ask that you turn out to be evil and turn him into a pig or something). Wait a minute, Circe’s voice? It sounds familiar. Oh. My. God! It’s Idina Menzel. Idina Fricking Menzel! And she’s singing! (Thus proving that Idina can make any song sound great.) My ears are having an orgasm, is that physically possibly?

Also, this episode has my favourite joke with the narrator (who we learn is called Bob). Basically it’s the Muse’s line “Bobby? Are you ok? I’ve never seen you like this? In fact, I’ve never seen you at all”, it’s silly, but it tickles me. On with the story though, Circe is of course evil, and more importantly comes to her senses after five minutes. She dumps Icarus and turns him into a platypus. Herc also gets turned into a lemur, which is pretty funny. I especially like how he misses the tail afterwards. Of course Cassandra has to realise her mistake and go to save them. Well I suppose we have to count that as a happy ending.

  1. Hercules and the Dream Date

Now this may sound a touch insensitive and cruel to a dedicated team of TV animators, but who let the real animators do this episode? The animation for most episodes is pretty standard, nothing flashy or special, but this episode? It’s bloody gorgeous. The motion is so fluid, and the shape-shifting especially exquisite.

But what’s the story? Well there’s a big dance coming up and Hercules needs a date, trouble is he’s useless with women and no one will go with him, so he decides to make a date out of clay (a natural conclusion). This is based on an actual myth again, so kudos guys. Now Aphrodite steals the show again. I love the scene where she asks Herc what personality he’d like his dream date to have, to which he replies that he just wants her to be crazy about him. “Digging deep, huh?” Yeah, this goes about as well as can be expected, and Hercules ends up dating a crazy woman who attacks any other woman near Herc. I especially like the terminator references in this episode. Yeah Herc is a bit of a jerk, and the moral is obvious, but this is a really fun episode, and the fights aren’t too bad either.

  1. Hercules and the Arabian Night

Now this is the episode that caught my interest. This is the one where Hercules meets Aladdin. Our two heroes work well off of each other, but for me the best scenes are between Hades and Jafar, who meet up and plot to pit our plucky heroes against one another. Hades and Jafar are just fantastic together, every scene just has me laughing all the way to the underworld. This episode doesn’t disappoint, so I’m not going to talk about it anymore, just go and watch it already.

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

The Infallible Fish Reviews: The Nuttiest Nutcracker

Cursed into the form of a talking cartoon fish by a half-mad deity known only as the Writer, the Infallible Fish has no idea who he is, or where he comes from, all he does know is that he has a burning urge to watch some animated stuff.

Blog Nuttiest Nutcracker Review Title

It’s Christmas. It’s Christmas! Bring out the mistletoe and wine. Let the snow start to fall, and the presents begin to gather underneath the tree. Isn’t it just the most wonderful time of year?

Truly wonderful. (Spoken in sarcastic tone with an eyeroll for good measure.)

What’s the matter Fish? Where’s your Christmas spirit?

At bottom of a bottle. Don’t get me wrong, I love Christmas, and I have the festive spirit in spades, but sometimes… this season just depresses me.

How can Christmas be depressing?

It’s not Christmas, its how people use Christmas. This time of year consumes everything, especially the TV. Christmas specials litter the airwaves. Some of these are great, creative and fun. Others reuse the same old lazy plot threads that have been done a million times, like the grumpy guts, who sees the error of his ways and finally embraces the spirit of Christmas.

Sounds like someone I know.

Imagination? Creativity? Effort? Who needs those things? It’s Christmas, pile on the sugar and shove it down the audience’s throats until they vomit. They have no soul, they’re purely there to make money, and hypnotise the kids for a bit, and I hate that. It’s so insulting to the intelligence of kids. I know they’re only harmless fun, but should we really be showing kids that it’s ok to only do half a job? To settle for decent when you could go for excellent? Doesn’t sound like much of a Christmas message to me.

Oh come on Fish, you old Scrooge, Christmas specials and movies aren’t that bad.

Not all of them, no, some are really good, but some I will gladly pour brandy on to and set them on fire.

Name me one Christmas film that’s that bad.

I’m so glad you said that. Allow me to you introduce to ‘The Nuttiest Nutcracker’.

This is the classic story of the Nutcracker, as told by talking vegetables. Yes, you read that right, talking vegetables. Because if there’s just one thing that the Nutcracker was lacking, that could have made it exceptional, its food puns. And you can clearly see that these food creatures are so integral to the plot, I mean we have such deep characters as Cowboy Nut, Jamaican Nut (what no Brazilians? Now you’re just being lazy), we have…hold on a second, I just need to rub my eyes. Nope, I’m still seeing a broccoli in a tutu for no apparent reason.

Ok, let’s move away from that before my medication wears off. Ok, how about the human characters? Let’s see. Oh God my eyes! What kind of dead-eyed soulless monstrosity is this? Ok, ok, I should probably say this now, but the animation of this film is astoundingly bad. Now this is an old film, so I suppose that can be forgiven, but this really does look like some college student threw this together with his knockoff copy of 3D Studio Max. The characters and backgrounds have only one texture setting, plastic. The actual animation (if it can be called that) lacks any kind of weight or energy. All the characters look like blobs of plastic floating around the screen.

Back to the characters. Our lead female is the young Marie (young being the only identifier we have for her age, she looks like a teenage, but acts like a spoilt five year old). She’s an annoying little brat who can’t decide between whining about her favourite toy being broken, or her parents not being there for Christmas. If I were the parents, I’d stay out of the film for as long as possible. Our lead male is the Nutcracker, I’d talk about his personality, but he doesn’t have one. He’s just your bog-standard prince, there to be daring and charming.

Our villain is Reginald the Rat King, sorry, Mouse King. He’s ok (probably the only bearable character in this film). He’s crazy, egotistical and a big baby when he doesn’t get what he wants. It’s too bad that he’s completely pathetic, and isn’t threatening for even a second. He wants to steal the star from the top of the Christmas tree, as this will ruin Christmas because…just because. You see dear sweet Reginald never got any presents when he was a little rodent, so now he’s naturally turned evil (I see we’re going deep with the motivations of our tormented villain). And then he starts singing. Yes, because who really came here to listen to the Nutcracker Suite? (I know you keep trying to do segments of the film to the music, but stop pretending that you’re cultured, you’re just insulting a great piece of music.) Instead let’s sing songs about cheese puns (‘cause he’s a rat, get it!), and about believing in the power of Christmas. (Just believing, no actual effort required. It’s not like even Disney has learned that’s a bad lesson for kids.)

Things get even weirder as the film transports itself from Marie’s house to a sugar-filled candy land with very little explanation (because logical plot progression is something other films have). Marie is captured (gee a princess being kidnapped, how original), and it’s up to the Nutcracker and his band of pun-spewing vegetables to save her. Wait a minute, are those mice flying around on lumps of cheese? I’m not hallucinating right? This isn’t all some kind of bad fever dream. Actually, let this be a fever dream, then I can actually stop reviewing this fermented pile of vegetable extract.

Anyway, they fight the Rat King, they rescue Marie, but oh no! The Christmas star is lost in a molten river of, well I think it’s supposed to be cheese, but it looks more like excrement to me. Marie is the first person to be nice to the Rat King, and now he’s good, revealing that he saved the Christmas star. (Joy, oh joy. This is truly a wonderful occasion. Can you not see me bounding about with how excited I am?)

They group finally make it to the Sugar Plum Fairy’s castle (through the power of belief! I’m resisting the urge to make a Naruto reference here). Now the Sugar Plum Fairy is the most annoying character in this molten cheese river of a movie. She keeps dropping in to dump exposition, then hijacks the end credits to complain about not getting enough respect. (I swear to God women, if you don’t let the movie end I’m going to flambé you.) Now this is her big moment, the group have brought her the Christmas star so that she can put it atop the tree, and what does she do? Nothing. ABSOLUTELY NOTHING! She tells Marie to believe, for the Christmas star has magical powers that no one understands. Marie throws the star into the air, and everything is fixed. (Obviously the star held the power of plot convenience.) Marie wakes up to find her parents have arrived, and the Nutcracker is now a handsome young prince (who her parents have never met before, yet still let into their house?) Oh what do I care, this nightmare is finally over.

Now I don’t like to hate things, I always try to find something good in everything I watch, but there is just nothing here. Maybe the filmmakers here had good intentions; perhaps they genuinely believed this would be a good film. If that’s true I commend them on the strength of their delusions, but this is not a good movie in any sense.

This film is pandering nonsense designed purely to keep kids entertained with the most basic plot and moral imaginable. It’s like dangling shiny keys in front of their face for an hour, actually I think that would be preferable, rather than subjecting them to this mess. There is no heart to this film, no soul, or passion. It’s cheap and nasty, pumped out in time for Christmas, just so some poor sap can actually buy it. Christmas is a wonderful time, full of joy, and cheer, a time of giving to others. It’s a shame none of that sentiment made it into this film. If you want a film to keep the kids quiet for an hour or more, stick on Frozen or something. Don’t let people think that we should put up with this kind of lazy nonsense. Kids are smarter than they look, and they deserve better than this.

Well I certainly feel cheery after that.

I’m sorry, but this film is just abusing Christmas, and the Nutcracker, for its own corporate purposes, and I will not stand for that. Pass me the brandy.

Need a match?

No I’ve got one.

Want to roast some chestnuts?

Do people actually do that?

I guess so. I’ll go get some. We’ve got to start filling you with holiday cheer. After this we can sing carols, and we need to put up a tree, and coat the house in enough lights so that it can be seen from space. Oh there’s just too much to do, I’ll have to make a list. Stay here. Oh the weather outside is frightful, but the fire is so delightful…

Oh bah humbug.

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

Are We Too Quick To Hate?

 

Love and hate are two of the strongest emotions we, as humans, can have. And in this age of the internet, when everyone can freely voice their opinions, I hear a lot of hate for many different things. Whether it be story arcs, characters or even entire series, people always appear very quick to hate something.

One of the most prominent outpourings of hatred in my memory was against Ultimate Spider-man as it replaced Spectacular Spider-man. Now Ultimate Spider-man appeared to be damned pretty much as soon as it was announced. I do get the sentiment, I loved Spectacular Spider-man, I think I’d rate it as one of my favourite cartoons. I love the way Spectacular mixes the different origins into one cohesive whole, cherry-picking the best bits of the mythos. The drawing style may be an acquired taste, and a touch simple, but it leaves the animation budget free to create some really great moments as Spidey swings through the city. And seeing all of that taken away after only two seasons to be replaced by something else, I admit I was hurt.

Ultimate Spider-man had to be fantastic to win over the older members of its audience, and it just isn’t. I haven’t watched many of the recent episodes, but I gave the whole first season a try. From what I saw I think its main problem is that it failed to capture the spirit of Peter Parker. It just didn’t feel like Spider-man, what with the backing of S.H.I.E.L.D., a team of teen heroes and fourth wall breaking jokes. That’s not Spider-man’s style of humour. And it all feels too, lucky I suppose is the word I’m looking for. That’s not Spider-man at all. He’s always meant to be down on his luck, struggling against the reality of his situation, but always pushing through as it’s the selfless and responsible thing to do. The show just feels like some executives saw Batman Brave and the Bold, and said, ‘Hey! We can do that.’ ‘Yeah, and Spider-man is Marvel’s flagship character, so let’s make the show about him.’

I don’t like Ultimate Spider-man, but I don’t hate it either. I can see that the people behind it are trying to make a decent show, and I know some kids like it. So I’ve resigned myself to not watching it. It’s not for me, I’ll wait for the next Spider-man cartoon in a couple of years.

In fact I don’t hate that many things. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of things that drive me into a boiling rage, but I don’t hate them. I always try to find the good parts, even if that’s just one tiny little bright spot. I also like to think that I’ll give something a passing grade, if it can convince that it tried. Even if it’s technically bad, I will enjoy it if I can see that the people working on the project put some effort in. It’s harder to try and fail, then never to start at all.

A prime example of this is the Percy Jackson movies. Now I’m a big fan of the books, but I don’t hate on the films just because their pale imitations of the source material (though that is a part of it admittedly). I accept that film is a different medium, and changes will have to be made to accommodate that difference. I understand that, and I sometimes appreciate the changes that are made. I actually prefer the ending of the first film, to the ending of the book. It makes more sense, and it’s more dramatic, for Percy to have a fight with that character especially before the main plot has been resolved. And to give the film credit, the beginning isn’t that bad either. It chugs along nicely. I can see why purists would be upset by the changes to Grover and Annabeth, but to be honest Grover practically carries the film, and Annabeth is still a badass (even if she does have the wrong colour hair).

The problem with the first film is the middle, because with this film, the spot of bad is so anger-inducing in me that I can only hate this film. It’s so lazy and boring. There’s a perfectly good plot in the book, but no, that’s not going to work in a film. No, we can’t have logical progress in a story. No, we’re going to use a stupid map to tell our characters exactly where to go. (Wow, that’s never been done before has it!) It’s so pointless and so mind-bogglingly lazy, that to me it just screams ‘we don’t give a damn, just give us your money so we can make a sequel’. It’s not in the spirit of the book; it’s not in the spirit of decent story telling! There is no care, or attention, and it’s just annoying.

Now the second Percy Jackson film, Sea of Monsters, I actually like. I like it a lot more than I should. I recognise it as a bad film, but it actually tries, and I am so grateful for that I give it a free pass. It captures the spirit of the book, there’s more characters there (acting as they should most of the time), there’s more modern day technology tied to the mythological stuff, the plot flows nicely with no lazy plot devices. My only major gripe is what the hell happened to Annabeth in between films? It’s like she dyed her hair blonde and changed from being to the daughter of the Wisdom Goddess, to the daughter who keeps falling on her behind. I don’t understand that.

I suppose what I’m trying to say is its fine if you hate something, I just feel that we don’t always have to jump straight to hate. Hate is a powerful emotion and sometimes it can consume us and block out all the good that is there. I try to find the good in something, or see how other people might appreciate it. Even though I hate the first Percy Jackson film, that hate is tempered by the acknowledgement of its few good aspects. And I believe that’s a much better way to look at this world. And I did give the film a chance, I went in with tempered expectations, it’s unfortunate for the film that it was even worse than those expectations. You have to give something a chance, if you go into something wanting to not like it, you could miss out on something great. Sure a lot of the time the gamble won’t pay off, and you’ll probably not like it. There’s always a slim chance though, that you may find something that surprises you, something that you can love. That’s what I think anyway.

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