The Infallible Fish Reviews: Justice League: The New Frontier

Pioneers of the New Frontier.

What’s the Story?

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

The Review:

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

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

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

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

The Verdict:

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

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

Anime Corner: One Piece Film: Gold Review

Viva la Straw Hats!

What’s the Story?

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

The Review:

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

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

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

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

The Verdict:

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

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

Anime Corner: Lupin the 3rd: The First Review

First! Wait, can you do that when ‘First’ is literally in the title?!

What’s the Story?

Lupin the 3rd, gentleman thief extraordinaire, has put his mind to correcting a part of history, namely the Bresson Diary. It’s the one item that his grandfather failed to steal so many years ago and that simply can’t stand. They say that whoever manages to unlock the mechanical case that holds the diary will be led to a treasure beyond their wildest dreams and because of that Lupin isn’t the only one with plans to steal it. For starters there’s rookie thief Laetitia and for seconds we’ve got a group of Nazis. This caper will take Lupin across continents, from Paris to Mexico, have him facing off against gravity-defying traps and struggling to survive aerial combat. When all is said and done though, who will the first to reach the treasure?

The Review:

3D animation has come an awfully long way from the days of jerky movements and plastic textures, and there are times I have to remind myself of that. I’ll admit I’m a stan for 2D animation and I always will be, I grew up on Disney films and 90s anime, it’s just a part of who I am. The technology behind CG animation is continually evolving though, with each film I see the textures get a little more realistic, the lighting more natural and the motions more fluid, so much so that they put early CG films to shame. That brings me to this film, Lupin the 3rd: The First, which I can say, hand on heart, is one of the most gorgeous-looking films I have ever seen. I still remember seeing the teaser trailer and being impressed, then the clip of the car chase landed on Youtube and my jaw hit the floor. The perfectly timed speed of the action, the expressive characters, the lighting and texture of everything was just…I don’t like using the word perfect, but that’s exactly what it is. So, how does the rest of the movie stack up?

Well, it’s pretty much perfect too, at least in the animation department. Every action sequence, and there are a fair number of them, is fluid and perfectly paced with some gorgeous sweeping shots and the kind of madcap hijinks you expect from the Lupin franchise. It’s a thrill ride and when the film does slow down to give us a few character moments or just some time to breath, it perfectly captures the expressions of the characters. It’s the little things that impress me, the way Fujiko sticks out her tongue when she’s caught and trying to be cute. The way Laetitia sidles up to Lupin after she’s clearly started to fall for the roguish thief, right before being interrupted. The way Goemon protectively clutches his sword or how Jigen calmly puts out a cigarette before pulling some of the most badass marksmanship you’ll ever see on screen (seriously go watch that car chase clip on Youtube).

Okay, enough gushing about how this film looks, let’s talk about the actual story. I still consider myself kinda new to the franchise, having only seen Castle of Cagliostro, Part 4 and part 5 at the time of writing this review, but this feels like a fairly standard entry. Lupin is after some item that he tries to steal, only to have it stolen out from under him and the quest to get it back leads him on to a bigger adventure that ends with a doomsday machine and fighting Nazis. There’s various hijinks and capers along the way, all pulled off with the style and exuberant energy I’ve come to expect from this franchise, but there’s nothing really new here. I called all the ‘twists’ well before the film got to them and there’s no real character growth or exploration. I would have thought a bit more would have been made of Lupin trying to complete his Grandfather’s legacy, but outside of a few bits of dialogue and one sequence where he dons his hat and cane, it never really gets talked about.

Then again, I don’t think this film was ever truly trying to be deep or meaningful, it just wanted to be a fun ride and in that it succeeds with aplomb. Honestly this film reminds me a bit of the Indiana Jones franchise (maybe it’s the fact that Lupin is fighting Nazis this time, or it could be the sequence where he has to work out a series of traps to reach the treasure). It’s a well-made adventurous romp with plenty of action and comedy and no need to delve too deeply into the characters. You know who Indy is. You know who Lupin is. Sure we could have a deep character analysis on either one, or we could just watch them run around being themselves and punching Nazis. Either option is perfectly acceptable.

The Verdict:

In the end, Lupin the 3rd: The First is an adventure romp, full of action, comedy and a little bit of heart. The story is pretty straightforward and easy to guess where it’s going, but the downright gorgeous animation more than makes up for that. This film is a joy to watch from beginning to end and if you’re worried about being a newbie to the franchise, don’t. You can jump straight into this without any real context and you should have a blast. As much as I love 2D animation, if Lupin wants to make the jump to 3D then I more than support it with this level of quality. Here’s to many more Lupin adventures to come!

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

The Infallible Fish Reviews: Encanto

Welcome to the Family Madrigal!

What’s the Story?

Deep in the mountains of Colombia there lives a magical family, the Madrigals! Chased from their home generations ago this family was blessed with a magic candle that never goes out. Now, when they come of age, each generation of Madrigal children is granted their own special gift by that candle. One can make flowers bloom out of thin air, one is super strong, one can control the weather and another can hear a pin drop from a mile away. Everyone has a gift, well, except for Mirabel. She never got a gift and while she loves her family, it can be hard being the only one who isn’t special. When Mirabel sees cracks spreading through the walls she might have just found her chance to show everyone what she’s really capable of. Can she work out what’s threatening her family’s magic before it tears them all apart?

The Review:

I feel like I haven’t talked about a Disney film on this blog in a long while, the last film I reviewed was Frozen 2 all the way back in 2020. I have nothing against ‘Raya and the Last Dragon’ or any of the recent Pixar films, but I just didn’t have anything to say about them. They’re all just the usual standard I expect from Disney, great animation, good voice cast and a heartfelt story. Raya had some issues but nothing that would have taken up a 1,000 word review. I wasn’t planning on reviewing this film either, but having finished watching it a couple of hours ago its still sat in my head. It could be the songs, I am a sucker for a good musical and this is a damn good musical.

Let’s start there. All the songs are catchy and had me bopping along, plus they all advance the plot/explore the characters as musical songs should. Then there’s the added bonus that the songs are all perfectly spread out throughout the film so it doesn’t feel like the film forgot it was a musical halfway through (I’m looking at you Frozen). I guess this is what happens when you have someone like Lin-Manuel Miranda writing your music. The guy’s so talented it is legitimately frustrating.

Also, I just want to take a moment to talk about the staging in this film because a lot of this feels like a Broadway production. Time freezing around Mirabel as she wanders off and sings her ‘I Want’ song. The dynamic visuals of Luisa’s song showing off all her fears in their full hallucinatory glory. In fact dynamic is the key word for this film, there’s so much energy and movement that you feel like the characters are just a second away from grabbing you and pulling you right up alongside them in the scene. Each song feels like an event and I love the way we transition into, through and out of them.  I take my hat off to the animators and directors.

Enough about the music though, what about the actual characters? I have to say Mirabel has to be one of my favourite Disney leads in a few years. She’s completely adorable, full of energy and so easy to sympathise with. It’s not easy being the only ‘ordinary’ one in a family of super-talented people, not that I have any experience of that, I’m an only child, but the film makes you emphasise with Mirabel. I also like the fact that this doesn’t make Mirabel bitter, she loves her family, truly and deeply, she just wants to help out and know that she’s a part of things. I also give the film credit for showing that things aren’t exactly easy for her siblings either. Yes they have superpowers, but the pressure and expectations that puts on them isn’t exactly a walk in the park.

That’s what this film is about in the end, family and coming to understand one another. Across the film, Mirabel’s quest to find whatever it is that’s threatening the magic candle leads to her getting to know her family better and they get to know her. There’s no villain in this film, surprise or otherwise. There’s some antagonism sure and a few arguments, but what family doesn’t have those, and in the end everyone works through their issues and comes together. This film is also a good study of generational trauma and how the fears of one generation can get passed on down through the family. It’s not as good as say, Coco, but it’s a little extra seasoning to an already enjoyable story. There isn’t really much else to say other than if you haven’t already checked this film out then you need to. I’m happy to report that the Disney magic is alive and well.

The Verdict:

In the end, Encanto, is a tremendous amount of fun. Full of colour and energy it’s got some great songs and striking visuals matched with a really likeable cast. Mirabel might just be one of the most sympathetic Disney leads I’ve seen in a while and her journey to save her family and getting to know them along the way is full of laughs and tears. Throw in Disney’s top notch animation and there really is no other word for this film than magic, so if you’re in the mood to get your foot tapping then just find your door and walk on it. Welcome to Encanto!

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

The Infallible Fish Reviews: Hilda and the Mountain King

Hilda and the Epic Conclusion!

What’s the Story?

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

The Review:

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

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

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

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

The Verdict:

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

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

Anime Corner: My Hero Academia: World Heroes’ Mission Review

A real hero never gives up! Even when they’re bleeding out to the point of actually dying.

What’s the Story?

When a cult of quirk-hating terrorists release a gas that causes people’s abilities to spiral dangerously out of control, the world’s heroes mobilise. The head of the cult is nowhere to be found though, and there’s bombs set to release more gas all around the world. If there’s any hope of saving this day they’re going to need every hero they can, including the students of U.A.. Unfortunately Deku’s been accused of mass murder and is on the run from the police. Can he, Todoroki and Bakugo figure what’s going on, track down the cult’s leader and save the whole hero society? It’s a tough ask, but if anyone can they can. Mission start!

The Review:

My Hero Academia’s third film! Okay, maybe having a third film released isn’t all that ground-breaking for a shonen series (especially when you compare it other series like One Piece and Dragon Ball and their vast catalogue of films). Still, having three films for a series that are all consistently good (spoiler warning for my thoughts on this film) is something that’s worth praising. You can read my reviews of the previous two movies HERE and HERE, but let’s focus on this film for now. I really had a good time with this movie, it’s funny, it’s endearing and incredibly dramatic when it wants to be, much like the show at it’s best. It’s also fairly kind to newcomers as well, obviously it helps if you’ve seen some the show or have read the manga, but the film’s central plot is fairly independent. I saw this film with a friend of mine who has never watched/read a single second of MHA and he followed what was happening perfectly fine, he just questioned who a lot of the characters were.

Let’s talk about that story for a second, because while this film captures the spirit of MHA, it also presents us with something entirely different from the series. Gone are the familiar settings of U.A. and most of Class 1-A are reduced to cameo appearances at best. In their place we have a more global event with a couple of new heroes (though there’s a lot less international heroes in this film that I thought there were going to be) and the stakes are some of the highest we’ve seen. Deku has to spend most of the film on the run from the police and when we hit the climax its down to Deku, Todoroki and Bakugo alone to save all of hero society. Also, I’ll just say this now, this film gets bloody in the final battles. The amount of times people get stabbed or shot, it’s a wonder they don’t all bleed out by the time the end credits roll. It’s a little ridiculous, but it certainly adds to how dire things feel in this film.

Not that this is all doom and gloom, there’s plenty of breath-taking action sequences peppered throughout to keep things lively. I have to take my hat off to whichever animators worked on the swooping camera work of the mid-air fights, of which there are several, there’s a real sense of frenzy and chaos without ever making things hard to follow for the audience, which is a true skill. Throw in some good humour at the start and a middle that slows down to properly develop the emotional beats and this film really has pitch perfect pacing.

Speaking of the emotional beats, let’s talk about Rody. When I think about it all the MHA films have really good film-only protagonists for Deku and co to hang out with, but I think Rody might just be my favourite. He’s a fully fleshed out character with a compelling back story and a clear character arc, he’s also effortlessly charming and quick-witted enough to give Deku a run for his money. Yes his arc is fairly obvious, of course the cynical character will have his heart melted by the pure ball of sunshine that is Deku, but seeing him struggle on despite the worst of things towards the end of the film is a real hero moment. Also he has a really…let’s say unique power and that damn bird of his had me tearing up by the end of the film.

That brings me to the villains of this film and, honestly, I’m kinda split on them. On the one hand they’re a really great concept for a group of villains, people who see quirks as a problem to be gotten rid of and willing to go to murderous lengths to achieve that. I’m honestly surprised a group like them hasn’t turned up in the series at any point, though of course I know the Quirk Doomsday Theory has been brought up by the series several times in the manga, and that idea in itself is a really meaty one. The basic idea is that as quirks combine down the generations and grow stronger they’re going to reach a point where they can no longer be controlled and the world will end. It’s a startling idea, one that the series hasn’t provided an answer to, outside of the fact that it’s just a theory and hasn’t been outright proven it will happen yet.

The problem with the villains is that, cool ideas aside, we never really get to know any of them. We only get the full details on what’s driving the main villain as he monologues about his past while he fights Deku…at the end of the film. That’s a bit too little, too late for my taste. There’s a wide variety of hench people working for said main villain and some of them have really fun and creative powers, but there’s no real depth to any of them. The only one I truly care about and wanted to get to know more was the archer lady and she doesn’t make it to the end of the film. Oh, did I mention this film has a hell of a body count? Well, it does start off with the villains gassing an entire city. I probably should have mentioned that earlier.

The Verdict:

In the end, My Hero Academia: World Heroes’ Mission is another solid entry in this series’ film catalogue. It maintains the spirit of the series while expanding the franchise out into new horizons, giving us new locations and characters and raising the stakes to a truly dire situation. The villains are the only real let down, having a great concept but none of them being fleshed out enough to make an impact. The action and the characters more than make up for this though and I thoroughly recommend seeing this if you can. Plus ultra!

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

The Infallible Fish Reviews: Hellboy Animated: Blood & Iron

Son of a….!

What’s the Story?

In 1939, a young Professor Broom (Bruttenholm) confronted and defeated Erzesbet Ondrushko, a vampire rumoured to bathe in the blood of young women to retain her beauty. Now, all signs point towards someone trying to bring her back. When the agents of the B.P.R.D. (Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defence) are invited to inspect a haunted house, Professor Broom brings along Hellboy, Liz Sherman and Abe Sapien just to be sure. The resurrection of a vengeful vampire is the least of their worries though, as dark forces have been watching the titular Hellboy and they are very disappointed by what they see. Having to contend with ghosts, werewolves, harpies and an ancient Goddess inhabiting an iron maiden, the agents are in for one rough night, and not everyone will live to see the dawn.

The Review

You know, each and every year I’m surprised to reach another anniversary post and yet I keep coming up with things I want to talk about, much like the subject of today’s review. It’s the 7th anniversary of this little blog of mine and, as is tradition around here, I’m going to spend it talking about a franchise/film that I have strong feelings for. Honestly I’ve been meaning to talk about this particular franchise for a while now, ever since I started this blog in fact, and since I spent the first half of this year rereading my collection of the graphic novels, now feels like the right time. I don’t know why I’m trying to treat this like a big reveal, you’ve all read the title and seen the artwork, today we’re talking about the world-renowned paranormal investigator, Hellboy.

I have vague recollections of seeing Hellboy comics and merchandise in different places when I was a kid, but it wasn’t until the first Guillermo Del Toro film that I properly took notice. I’ve been buying said comics on and off ever since and, if you have even the slightest interest in this franchise, I thoroughly recommend them. Not only is Mike Mignola’s art a masterclass in colour, shadows and composition, but the titular hero is just such a likeable and compelling character. Throw in all the legends, myths and folklore that Hellboy often finds himself combating and its almost as if this series was made for me. There is such a deep lore to the series and a starkly different feel than you get from the Del Toro films (though I do enjoy both of those films quite a lot).

On to the subject though, what is Hellboy Animated? The idea for an animated Hellboy series has been floating around for a long time, and really if Invinicible can get its own cartoon, why not Hellboy? Sadly such a series has yet to materialise, but with the relative success of the first Hellboy film there was enough interest to green light two animated features (A third film was in development, but much like the Del Toro films this franchise doesn’t seem to be able to reach that far). As such we got Sword of Storms and Blood and Iron, both with Ron Perlman, Selma Blair and Doug Jones returning to voice their respective characters. Blood and Iron even has the late great John Hurt returning to play Professor Broom. Sword of Storms is a decent film, it’s really just a collection of things that happen with Hellboy interacting with various yokai and creatures of Japanese mythology. Check it out if the mood takes you.

That brings me, finally, to today’s review. Blood and Iron is my favourite of the animated films and, in some respects, it’s my favourite Hellboy film. It is a direct-to-DVD film so it’s resources are limited, but you can feel there’s a great deal of passion behind this project. Not only from the voice talent, because, come on, Ron Perlman was born to play Hellboy, but the direction, even the use of colour, they’re pulling out all the stops they can. Add on to that the fact that, to me, this is the film that feels the most like the comics and is it any wonder I love it so much? This film is loosely based on the second Hellboy mini-series, ‘Wake the Devil’, it even climaxes with Hellboy squaring off against Hecate, Greek Goddess of Magic and Queen of the Witches. Some of Hecate’s dialogue is even pulled directly from the comic. The only things really missing are the revived Nazis, Rasputin’s ghost floating about the place and we’re facing off against a different vampire, but this is meant to be a stand alone film and that stuff would require some context so I can see why they cut it.

Direct pulls from the comics aside, what makes this film feel so much like the series is the way the characters interact. Hellboy is a much more subdued and mature character, he’s a working class joe who does his job with a sarcastic, dry wit. He has a lot of care and respect for his father, Professor Broom and Liz is back in the little sister role as opposed to being the love interest. One of my favourite scenes has to be the first briefing, where they’re all just sat around in armchairs bantering. Liz is trying to remember where they found this pastry place while on a mission, Hellboy is complaining about the quality of the donuts and the boss is wondering whether they should spring for a conference table. None of this Men-in-Black super secret organisation stuff, they’re government employees, working with hardly any budget and just trying to do the best they can.

If you’re looking for Gothic Horror, then look no further than this film. Erzsebet is a great antagonist, and while we don’t get to see much of her in the present day, outside of her horrific resurrected appearance, she more than makes up for it in the flashbacks. Peppered throughout this film are flashbacks to the first time that Professor Broom encountered Erzsebet and it really plays up that Hammer Horror vibe. Interestingly enough the flashbacks are played in reverse order, we start with Broom confronting and defeating Erzsebet and then back track to get to know the players in this tragedy a little better. Each one is perfectly placed to give us a new kernel of information and I do have to admire the writing and direction of them. It’s not a gory film, but there is plenty of death, blood and even a little torture so maybe keep the little kids away from this one.

Lastly, I want to talk about the use of colour in this film. Most of this film is saturated in different shades of blue, since the story plays out mostly at night and it adds to the mood of the film. It also helps our big red hero stand out even more. Green, however, is mostly used for anything that the film depicts as evil, Erzsebet wears a green dress, magic, Hecate and her servants are all coloured or surrounded by green. It helps to keep the film visually interesting. There’s even a scene where, as Hellboy’s fight with a werewolf is reaching its peak, the whole room suddenly becomes coloured red to show that intensity, before dying back down to blue once the fight is over. As I said before, the people working on this film really pulled out all the stops they could and they weren’t afraid to experiment or try things out, for which I can only commend this film. I do wish there were more Hellboy animated films, I have no doubt that I would have loved Shadow of the Claw as much as I did this one, but that will just have to be relegated to whatever dimension is lucky enough to hold all of the unmade Hellboy films. Maybe someday we’ll get that Hellboy animated series.

The Verdict

In the end, Hellboy Animated: Blood & Iron is exactly the kind of Hellboy film I want. It’s dark, gothic and has a clear understanding of the world and characters. You can feel the passion that all involved put into this film and it’s a crime that they weren’t allowed to make more. It is only a Direct-to-DVD film, so it’s budget does show in places, but the skill in the writing, direction and inventive use of colour more than make up for any weaknesses. If you like Hellboy, or even think you might like Hellboy, then check this out. There was a Blu ray release a little while ago. Oh, and read the comics too!

On a final note, I just want to thank everyone who’s managed to make it this far and for putting up with my long-winded, rambling reviews. I hope you enjoyed this as much as I did putting it together. And thank you to everyone who’s viewed, liked and commented on one of my posts in these past seven years, here’s to the next few!

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

The Infallible Fish Reviews: Batman: The Long Halloween Part Two

I believe in Harvey Dent.

What’s the Story?

Gotham City is changing. Carmine ‘The Roman’ Falcone’s family and illegal business operations have been devastated by a bizarre string of holiday-themed murders. While both the police and the Batman search for the killer, Carmine has been forced to new extremes to keep his grip on the city. He’s entered into dealings with the so-called ‘freaks’ of Gotham. Poison Ivy, Scarecrow and Mad Hatter each bring their own brand of insanity to the streets, but they won’t be the only ones. DA Harvey Dent is feeling the pressure, under suspicion for the Holiday killings and fighting a losing battle in the courts, the cracks are finally starting to show. What little justice there is in Gotham may, in the end, come at the other side of a coin flip, even if it costs everything…

The Review:

It’s time for judgement, and ironically (or appropriately depending on which way you look at it) I may need to flip a coin to reach a verdict here. If you want my thoughts on the first part of this adaptation, and the comic it’s adapting, then you can check out my review HERE, but let’s not beat around the bush and just jump straight into things (much like the film does). How does The Long Halloween Part 2 stand as a film in it’s own right? Honestly, it’s not good and it hurts me to say that. The voice cast is superb, perfect for each and every character, I’m quickly falling in love with this animation style and some of the character moments just shine with pure brilliance. The problem is, as great as all those elements are by themselves, when you try and fit them all together the film just doesn’t work. It’s an unwieldy beast of disjointed scenes and terrible pacing. If you do plan on watching this film, which I will still probably recommend, then please watch Part 1 and 2 together. It won’t fix all of the problems, but it might help.

Okay, let’s break this down a little bit because there is actually a lot I want to praise in this film, even if none of it is quite enough to save the whole thing. We’ll start with the voice cast who, again, the only word I have for them is perfect. In my Part One review I singled out Jensen Ackles and Naya Rivera, and while they’re still just as fantastic as they were in Part 1, this time I want to take my hat off to Josh Duhamel. His performance as Harvey Dent/Two-Face is outstanding, you really feel like he’s a man on the edge and then when he starts using his Two-Face voice, chills went down my spine. I also really love that little speech he gives at the end to Carmine about why he’s using his famous coin to decide what ‘justice’ is. It’s the character moments that make this film for me, there are some really great action sequences (like the Poison Ivy/Catwoman fight that starts the film off), but it’s the little conversations between people where this cast are firing on all cylinders.

Unfortunately, as great as the majority of the scenes are by themselves, it’s once you start stringing them one after the other that things come apart. In my previous review I mentioned that I was worried they were going to rush through elements of this story and that’s exactly what happened. The beginning of this film either blitzs through or just plain skips over several issues of the comic and, as sacrilegious as it feels to say, I think they should have just left it all out entirely. As much as I adore any time Poison Ivy gets on screen, or the brief Scarecrow nightmare sequence which is the best animated sequence in this film, they add little overall. There’s some minor plot beats that you need from their appearances, but I really think the time would have been better spent on showing Batman investigate the Holiday killings. Once we reach the halfway point it feels like this film forgets there’s even a serial killer on the loose, abandoning the little title cards it established for each killing in the last film and at the start of this one. There’s just too much stuff that it’s trying to do and it detracts from the moments that really needed the focus.

That brings me to the ending, and I need to talk about the comic one more time. I said in my previous review that The Long Halloween comic isn’t perfect, and it’s the ending where I feel it really falters. Honestly when I first read the comic it was the resolution to the big mystery that was my only disappointment with the story. Not with who the Holiday killer turned out to be, that made sense (and was a lot less convoluted than Hush’s mess of an ending), but I had to mull it over for a long time. The ending leaves a lot open to your interpretation and you have to really go back over things and work out the logistics on your own, the comic gives you no help in that regard, which I can argue both for and against. No, what bugs me is the lack of a cathartic ending, which I guess this is meant to be a grand tragedy and so it should be bitter sweet, but Batman never confronts the true Holiday killer. In this film though, that’s changed. Batman does indeed have a final conversation with the killer and, honestly, I’m not sure which is better. On the one hand, it makes things clearer and allows the killer to dig into their motives a little more, but it creates a giant plothole in that Batman just walks away from the killer with no real explanation as to why. Just a line would have done, there wasn’t enough evidence to convict them, he wanted to respect Harvey’s wishes, heck even a ‘I’ll be watching’ would have sufficed, but no.

The Verdict:

In the end, Batman: The Long Halloween Part 2 is a film that leaves me in two minds (again either ironically or appropriately depending on your point of view). It has some fantastic moments, a terrific voice cast that excels with every line delivered and a great look to it, but the parts are definitely stronger than the whole. All together this film feels disjointed, trying to give its attention to too many plot elements without putting its focus where it should be. It’s a shame as with the proper care and time I think this adaptation could have been one of the best in Batman’s history, but cutting it up as two movies probably wasn’t the way to go about it.

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

The Infallible Fish Reviews: Justice Society: World War II

We live in a society…a justice society.

What’s the Story?

Barry Allen, aka the Flash, is just trying to have a nice, normal picnic with his girlfriend in Metropolis, of course he’s a superhero and that doesn’t last long. One minute he’s teaming up with Superman and fighting Brainiac, the next he’s in World War 2, punching Nazis alongside heroes he’s never heard of. Those heroes would be Wonder Woman, the Flash (Jay Garrick), Hawkman, Black Canary and Hourman, the Justice Society of America, a secret team of super-powered beings sent by the US to combat the Nazis menace in Europe. Their current mission is to find someone who can decode a secret message that will tell them Hitler’s next big plan, while Barry tries to work out how he’s going to get home. Not everything is as it seems though and the Justice Society are in for a lot more than they bargained for. This is war after all and not everyone is going to make it out alive.

The Review:

And we’re back to the DC Universe animated movies! It feels like it’s been an age since I reviewed one of these films, even though I looked at Wonder Woman Bloodlines just last year (you can check out the review HERE). Part of that is down to my general lack of enthusiasm for these films lately. While I’ve enjoyed the majority of the ones I’ve seen, I have to admit that barring a few stand outs (like Death of Superman and Batman vs. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles), none of them really hold a candle to DC’s early output of animated films. That might just be changing though. The DC Universe animated movies have undergone a bit of a revamp, there’s a new animation style, a reboot of the universe and, going by this one, a level of care and attention that’s been missing from these films for a while now. Justice Society: World War II isn’t a film that’s going to change the world, and clearly someone was watching the first live action Wonder Woman movie before penning the script, but it’s a great, fun romp that shows a lot of promise for the future.

Before we get to that though, first let’s talk about that new animation style. I have to admit that when I first saw the trailers for this film it took me a while to get used to the new look. I’ve never watched Archer, but that’s exactly what this style reminds me of, the strong outlines combined with the characters designs really give this film a unique look (not counting the previous Superman movie which also uses this style, but I haven’t watched that film, yet). The film looks good throughout, though when it comes to the action sequences that ramps up to spectacular. The action, of which there is a lot, is fast, fluid and full of impact, leading to one heart-pumping sequence after another, especially towards the end of the movie when all the stops get pulled out. Black Canary gets some particularly gorgeous sequences showing off her powers.

Speaking of the characters, let’s talk about them. Part of what surprised me most about this film being released is that there’s some obscure heroes in this roster. The Justice Society isn’t a superhero team that’s made it’s way into popular consciousness yet, despite getting a couple of appearances on TV (They had a two-parter in Smallville and are a big part of the current Stargirl show). I mean, yeah, there’s Wonder Woman, Flash and Superman to draw people in, but, be honest, how many of you have actually heard of Hourman before?

The film does a good job of introducing all of its characters and giving them a few moments in the spotlight, even if it never goes that in depth with any of them. You might not understand the whole of Hawkman’s deal, but through the writing and the terrific voice acting you’ll get a sense of his personality and what he’s like. Which is all you need for this one film. It’s the little quiet moments I love the most, whether it’s Jay and Hourman acknowledging the fact that it’s usually them that has something go wrong with their powers, or Black Canary worrying about how our Flash (Barry) has no idea who they are when he’s meant to be from the future. It humanises all the characters and that makes me care when they dive into the next action sequence.

As for the story, it’s a fun action romp as I said. Most of it is an excuse to get to the next action sequence and, as I mentioned before, there’s a lot of parallels to the first live action Wonder Woman movie. Maybe it’s just me, but seeing Wonder Woman in a World War, jumping around a village while fighting German soldiers, some plot specific things later on and the fact that Stana Katic is clearly doing a Gal Gadot impression, it just rings a lot of bells for me. Putting that to one side though, there’s a lot of fun elements to this film and a fair few surprise appearances by characters I was not expecting to see (Fair warning, if you buy the physical DVD or Blu ray, don’t look at the back cover as that will give one of the surprises away).

There’s also a twist I didn’t see coming and, while I don’t think it was strictly necessary, it’s a fun wrinkle in the adventure. The last thing I’ll say is that, while this is a standalone film and you can easily watch it independent of anything else, there’s also a real sense of laying the groundwork for something here. I mean outside of planting the idea in Barry’s head about some sort of Justice Club for Superheroes, there’s a few plot points that could, and I think will, come back in a later films. It’s got me excited about these films again and if they want to take the approach of standalone films that gradually build towards something than I am all for it!

The Verdict:

In the end, Justice Society: World War II, is a great deal of fun. It’s not going to the change the world or break any moulds, but it’s an exhilarating thrill ride, with a fair number of surprising twists and spotlighting a few characters that could really use it. Plus you get to see Wonder Woman and the Flash punching Nazis and who doesn’t love stuff like that? There is a lot of action in this film, all of it great, but the film also takes the time to give us quieter moments between the characters to humanise them and let us get to know them. This could really be the start of something wonderful and I am all for it. If you haven’t checked this out then make sure you do!

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

Anime Corner: Patlabor: The Movie Review

Police with mechs, do I really need to say anything else?

What’s the Story?

In the near future, of 1999, a new technology has revolutionised construction, the Labor. These mechanical giants allow for building on a scale previously unheard of, such as the Babylon project which hopes to reclaim land from Tokyo Bay for the ever crowded city. Of course with every new technology there are those that would use it for ill and so the police set up the Special Vehicle Section 2 who, with their Patlabors (Patrol Labors), fight these new cases of crime.

The suicide of a leading Labor programmer leads the officers of SVU division 2 into a potentially devastating case. Something is driving Labors crazy, setting them loose to rampage across the city, but what is the cause? What’s more with a typhoon due to hit Japan the potential for disaster is at an all time high. Is this all the mad revenge of a twisted man, or a final warning before things go too far?

The Review:

Patlabor is one of those franchises where I wish I could get hold of more of the content. As it stands I’ve managed to get my hands on the first two movies and the early days OVA series. I know there’s a TV series out there somewhere, but I’ve yet to track down a copy in the UK and this is an older series to begin with so my hopes have been steadily dwindling on that front. It’s kinda infuriating because Patlabor has such an amazingly simple concept, what if we had a mecha series where said mechs weren’t just weapons of war, but used as they potentially could be in real life (you know, if we had that kind of technology). The Labors of Patlabor are primarily used for construction, obviously the ones we follow are the ones used by the police and there are some military ones hanging around, but that’s not what the bulk of Labors were made for. There’s a depth and a realism to the world that this franchise creates that I just adore, not that the series is always serious, sometimes its just plain goofy and I love that side of it too (seriously check out the early days OVA series, the Godzilla parody is worth it alone, but there are some really great episodes in that series, especially the last three).

Enough talk about the franchise as a whole though, let’s get on to the subject of today’s review, the first movie. Honestly out of what I have seen of the Patlabor franchise this film is my favourite. It’s got an interesting plot, some gorgeously animated sequences and on the whole it’s just a lot of fun. My only real gripe with it is that it’s probably not the best place to start with Patlabor. I mean this film was the first thing I saw of the franchise, but I appreciate it a lot better after having watched the early days OVA series (which I’ll just plug again, go see it!). You see the film doesn’t really spend a lot of time introducing you to its characters or delving too deeply into who they all are. The characters are just there, doing what they do. Noah fusses over her Labor, which she calls Alphonse. Asuma takes the lead on the investigation, while also blowing his lid at several points and being a jerk to Noah on occasion. Ota is as gun crazy as ever. Then there’s Captain Goto, the puppet master, always one step ahead and manipulating everyone to do what he wants. Goto’s my favourite character.

The focus for this film is more on it’s plot and themes. It’s quite a ponderous film, but then it was directed by Mamoru Oshii, yes that one, so that should give you some idea of what you’re in for. There are several long, almost silent shots of Tokyo as well as scenes of characters quietly philosophising and yet the film never once lost my attention. Between some of the more gorgeous shots and animation sequences, as well as some fun character interactions, it’s hard not to be engaged with this film, but I also enjoy the ideas it’s playing around with. The central question of which is how much progress is too much? And in our rush to get the next new, shiny thing, are we leaving something important behind? You could apply that to this film itself, this is ‘old-school’ 80s cell animation after all. No matter where you stand on the debate between older anime and more modern productions, you have to admit that cell animation has a certain quality to it that is missing from anything since the 2000s. Not to rag on digital animation techniques, for me the majority of what we get today is better looking, but it’s also nice to take a break from the clean, bright colours and appreciate something a bit more textured every once in a while. Plus there’s all those great old school mechanical designs to look at.

Back to the film though, it’s not entirely all talk and philosophy. There’s plenty of great mecha-on-mecha action, but all of that action is grouped at either the start or the climax of the film. The rest is about the mystery of rampaging labors and police work. Asuma gets the lions’ share of things to do, which makes sense since he has a personal connection involved in this case and his job is supposed to be about strategy and directing the others so it makes sense for him to puzzle things out. Goto gets some great moments manipulating Asuma into working on the case in the first place and Noah gets a couple of moments, including a pretty badass one towards the end. Everyone else is pretty much relegated to the background unfortunately, but again characters aren’t really the focus here. The mystery itself is well-paced and always engaging, with the threat escalating as Division 2 realise the full scope of the problem. As I said, out of the OVA series and the two films I’ve seen, this is my favourite and one I keep coming back to. It’s also my favourite Mamoru Oshii work, you know just to get all the Ghost in the Shell fans angry at me.

The Verdict:

In the end, while I don’t think Patlabor: The Movie is the best gateway into this franchise, it’s certainly the best of the franchise (out of what I’ve seen). A smart, atmospheric mystery paired with fun characters, gorgeously designed mecha and some top notch animation. If you feel like taking a step back in time to watch an older anime film, then I thoroughly recommend this. Also if you want to check out some of Mamoru Oshii’s work before Ghost in the Shell or watch a mecha story where the protagonists aren’t sullen teenagers forced to fight in a war (not that those aren’t great in their own right) then check this out!

Also if you want some more mecha action, make sure to check out Mechanical Anime Reviews this month for Mecha March!

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.