Anime Corner: Elegant Yokai Apartment Life Review

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I’m not sure Elegant is the right word.

What’s the Story?

Inaba is just about to start high school and decides it’s finally time to get out of his uncle’s house and move into a place of his own. Unfortunately the dorms he’s made arrangements to stay in suddenly burns down. Unwilling to go back to his uncle’s, Inaba searches for a place to live, but can’t afford anywhere, that is until a young boy points him towards an apartment building. The apartment appears ideal, true the building is quite old and a bit strange, but the rent is cheap and it’s not too far from the school. Of course there is a catch. The majority of the other residents are…well…monsters. Ghosts and other spirits straight out of folklore, but despite Inaba’s initial concern the spirits turn out to be really friendly and welcoming. At last Inaba feels at home and with the wealth of experience around him he might just be able to navigate high school and even adolescence.

The Review

It’s hard to know where to start with this series. Thinking back over the past twenty-six episodes it hasn’t done anything all that terrible, but at the same time nothing really stands out either. This series feels pretty middle of the road, though I suppose that could also be down to my own expectations. It’s not like I had any great idea of what I was going to get with this series (I tend to jump into shows blind and see what happens), but the anime led me to think it was one thing and then it wasn’t. To me it feels like this series couldn’t make up its mind. It starts off as a gentle, slice of life story about a guy who’s recently lost his parents and is trying to come to terms with that. The ghosts are there to help him open up and grow as a person. The thing is, that storyline ends about a quarter of the way through the series.

After that the series just tends to meander around the place, having Inaba interact with various strange spirits and events while also dealing with everyday life. As a slice of life it sort of works, it’s nice and calming and Inaba does deal with some interesting issues, most of which are themed around growing up without recycling the usual pat life lessons most shows tend to trot out. No, instead we’ve got Inaba learning that people have more sides to them than they show, sometimes kindness can be more harmful than anything else and other such lessons that make him a better person.

I do get the feeling that this series wanted to be more than a slice of life though, or maybe that was my expectations leading me down a different path again. See at one point in the series Inaba gets a magic book that lets him summon various spirits. At this point, as well as with Inaba’s training to better use magic, it had me thinking the series was going to become some sort of action fantasy. It doesn’t help that the series keeps setting up scenarios like this plot thread where there’s a teacher who is clearing having issues and then he gets up getting possessed by this malicious spirit. Perfect, so Inaba uses his magic to fight and exorcise the guy right? Wrong. Inaba doesn’t really do much, he uses magic a little, but most of the spirits at his disposal are really useless and it takes another character to save the teacher.

The series has an odd relationship with threat and resolution that I’m not really sure how I feel about it. On the one hand, I kind of like that Inaba can’t solve every problem. It’s a very mature approach and goes to show that not every problem has an easy, if any, resolution. On the other hand it does beg the question, what exactly is the point of Inaba outside of being our viewpoint character? It also means that some plot threads just feel completely unsatisfactory in how they end, which again is true to life. There’s a plot thread that runs through the later half of the series that keeps getting built up and up and up, only for another character to set in and take it off Inaba’s hands and I still don’t feel like that’s the right answer. The girl still has issues and hasn’t dealt with them properly. Damn this series frustrates me sometimes.

One of the other problems this series has it that it is so slow. Despite Inaba’s continual growth, it never really feels like much has happened. It isn’t until you reach the last episode and we get a look back at the very beginning that you realise just how much Inaba has changed, despite the fact the that he’s done nothing but eat with the ghosts and stand in paddling pools. I think it comes to down to the lack of any real conflict or threat to the series. Despite things that it builds up and even times when there’s a momentary problem, it never lasts or feels like it’s going to have any great affect on the apartment. Life at the apartment carries on no matter what, which I guess could be one of its messages.

The Verdict

In the end Elegant Yokai Apartment Life is an okay series, but doesn’t do much to stand out. It does talk about some interesting subjects and handles them in a mature and almost true to life way, but unfortunately that means many of the challenges and conflicts our characters face lack a satisfactory conclusion. The series is also slow and lacks any hard-hitting comedy or action to really keep your interest. If you’re after something to just have playing in the background, this is a gentle and very calm series, so if that’s what you’re after maybe give this a try.

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

Anime Corner: WorldEnd: What do you do at the end of the world? Are you busy? Will you save us? Review

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Okay, Light Novel adaptations, we need to have a word about the word economy in your titles.

What’s the Story?

The world ended many centuries ago, the human race wiped by mysterious beasts that came out of nowhere. The beasts survive still, roaming the surface of the planet, but life goes on, various anthropomorphic species having escaped and evolved on several floating islands. They’re not entirely safe though as some of the beasts are able to make it up to the islands. The only weapons against the beasts are young girls, who are able to wield ancient swords once used by humans. Willem has just been made the caretaker of these girls. He’s the last surviving human and in the end the girls may take care of him as he much as he takes care of them.

The Review

This isn’t the series I was expecting. I mean it’s a light novel adaptation and one that’s supposed to be set around girls fighting monsters with magical swords (Gee. Haven’t seen that before), so the image I had in my head was one of lots of action and probably way too much fan service. It’s a fantasy series though, so I gave it a chance and I’m so glad I did. This series is much more interested in its characters and mythology than the fights and monsters. It plays out a bit like a slice of life mixed with a dark and tragic fantasy. This is a series about saving people and you don’t always need a magic sword for that.

We’ll start with the characters, first up is Willem. He’s a decent guy with a big heart and quick to help, though a lot of that masks a deep vein of depression, which is understandable. He’s the last human alive, everyone that he knew and loved is dead and gone and while we only get fleeting flashbacks to those people, you still feel the weight that Willem is carrying around. He’s not your typical main character and very easy to invest in emotionally, you want this guy to find some happiness and he may just do that. The Leprechauns, the girls with the magic swords, become a surrogate family for him, one that he tries to protect, just not as much as he would like.

See Willem was once a warrior and though he does have a few superpowers stored up he can’t use them without risking his already fragile life. Now while a lesser anime would have Willem save his power for some out of nowhere save at the crucial point to rescue the girls, WorldEnd is much better than that. No, we instead get to explore Willem’s frustration as he finds the boot is on the other foot, with him having to stay at home and worry while somebody else goes off to fight. That’s what this series does best, come at a familiar set up from a new, and far more emotional angle.

On the other side of the coin our female lead is Chtholly, and while she’s a badass fighter (though as I said the fights are never really the focus, they’re more background noise to the character drama) she’s more portrayed as an innocent and naïve young woman whose hoping for a little bit of happiness before she meets her inevitable end. (Have I mentioned there’s an air of depression about this series, just saying, take it as a warning. Happy Endings not guaranteed). Now while the whole “I must make myself good wife materiel for Williem” section of the plot does make me shake my head profusely, I kind of give it a pass because I like so much of the rest of the series, and Willem and Chtholly make a cute couple. She also has a bunch of other things to deal with, such as strange visions filled with nonsense rhythms and a red haired little girl, as well as losing her memory bit by bit. The series doesn’t shy away from exploring the emotions of these situates either, giving Chtholly plenty of opportunities to work through her feelings and probably one of my favourite scenes is a certain moonlit conversation with one of the other girls.

Speaking of the other girls, though a lot of them tend to fall into archetypes and common tropes, they never stop feeling like proper characters. The kids act like kids and the other girls all get their moments to shine, either in a fight or an emotional scene. Nephren, for me, definitely wins the award for most Badass Female this season. Throughout the series she’s been fairly cute and funny, always on the lookout for Willem and Chtholly, but for me her biggest moment is in the last couple of episodes. The relentless way she takes on wave after wave of never-ending enemies, pushing herself well beyond her limits, it’s the kind of stuff epic poems should be written about. I know this series isn’t about the action, but the final episode certainly gives us a host of epics moments accompanied by some gorgeous animation and the ever-beautiful soundtrack comes in in full force. This series is worth watching for the final episode alone (even if it is frustratingly open-ended).

Another strength this series has is its mythology. There’s clearly a great deal of work that has gone into the history and lots of little details that give you a better idea of the wider world out there. The series is pretty good with its mysteries too, even if at sometimes it can get distracted by its slice of life hijinks, but for the most part it does a good job of moving forward. It gives you hint after hint, slowly peeling back the veil to reveal what actually happened to the humans in the past and how that relates to the situation in the present. I won’t spoil it as that would take some of the fun out of it, but it has some interesting ideas on old concepts, which as I said, is what this anime is very good at.

The Verdict

WorldEnd (Not writing out the full title again) is a surprising little gem, less concerned with fights and more interested in its characters and mythology (and not a trace of fanservice baring a couple of scenes!). The series is a heartfelt and often heart-breaking story, filled with epic moments both emotional, and towards the end, action-packed. I can’t promise a happy ending for all involved and while it’s not perfect, it is a good story. So go watch it, I’ll get the tissues.

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

Anime Corner: Magical Girl Raising Project Review

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Blood and guts, ‘cause that’s what we want from our magical girl shows.

What’s the Story?

Magical Girl Raising Project is a popular game that everyone seems to be playing, though there’s a rumour floating about on the Internet that some of the players actually get the chance to become real magical girls. Middle schooler Koyuki is one of these lucky girls and as someone who has been a fan of magical girls since she was little, this is a dream come true. At least, it is at first, but then Fav, the administrator in charge of the game, decides they need to cut the magical girl population in half. Let the bloodbath begin!

The Review

Urgh. That’s it, that’s the review of the series. Urgh. I can’t think of a better way to sum my feelings towards this show, I mean it started out really good, okay that’s a lie, it started out decent and then quickly buried itself and just kept digging (roughly about the time that they started getting killed off). Maybe this is my fault, maybe I expected too much. I admit that I’ve been searching for another darker-toned magical girl series ever since Madoka Magica (I need my fix dammit it!). I mean I don’t expect to find a series to match the near masterpiece of Madoka, but I’ve had a void in my life ever since I watched that show and I haven’t found anything to fill it since. I’d hoped Magical Girl Raising Project could be the show I needed, but in the end I’m just sat here feeling dejected and little bit annoyed.

I think this series’ main failing is that it just doesn’t get how to do darkness. I mean there are times when violent deaths and a bit of gore can work in a story, maybe you want to shake up the story or shock your audience, personally I prefer it if that kind of thing is left to a minimum as that means it has a bigger impact and doesn’t lose quite so much meaning. I’m not going to pretend that there isn’t a market for stories about bloody death matches, I’ve enjoyed a few myself, but those series don’t just rely on violent murder after violent murder to draw me in. There are interesting characters, an enthralling plot and an examination of the dark aspects of human nature, or at least one of those things. This series though, it’s just death and blood. Each episode is pretty much there to set up the murder of one or more of the girls and an interesting series that does not make.

It would maybe help if I cared at all about any of these girls, but the series never really gives you much of a chance to. For one I think there’s just too many characters, there’s sixteen girls and twelve episodes, that means we have to lose more than one girl an episode, how do to you expect to give the audience enough time to care when they haven’t even a full twenty five minutes to get to know them? A lot of the time the closest we get to knowing the characters is the flashback sequences they normally parade in front of you right before that character gets the axe. Don’t get me wrong, some of these back stories are harrowing and I feel sympathy for what these girls have been through, but there’s no connection and they’re gone before there was even a point to care for them. We hardly ever get to see the girls in their civilian identities, so we never really get to see them as themselves, only the magical girls they’ve imagined for themselves.

This really ticks me off when we have some really interesting characters I was just dying to have explored. I mean there was La Pucelle, the only guy to become a magical girl, he was just begging to be explored. Has he ever wanted to be a girl? We know he’s a massive magical girl fan, but when he fantasised about being one was he a magical boy or a magical girl, that is some meaty character exploration right there, use it! Then we have Swim Swim the psycho serial murderer who happens to be a little girl, I really want to know what her deal is, I think it’s fairly obvious that something is wrong with her. She’s so restrained and emotionless all of the time, following Ruler’s rules like they’re some kind of gospel. Has she always thought like that? Did something happen to her? You’re fond of flashbacks anime; show us!

And do not get me started on Snow White! What the hell is the point of her character? She does nothing throughout the whole of the series, she is entirely pointless and she’s the main character! I suppose I have to give a couple of points for not going the route I was expecting, I was predicting she was either going to go crazy and kill everyone or she’d be the true magical girl she always wanted to be and find a way to end this bloodbath. None of that happened. Everyone else just died while she sat around and moped. I couldn’t quite figure out how she could do anything, I mean her power is to hear people in trouble and that’s it, but the one thing I’ll give this series is that in its latter half it had some pretty interesting battles with bizarre powers, like a girl who can swim through solid objects and another that can make holes just by touching something (that was a particularly nasty death). So how was Snow White going to fight with her power? Answer? She doesn’t! I had to laugh with the last episode, with Snow White training and learning how to fight, bearing in mind at this point that the actual fighting is over and so is the damned series! Urgh.

Lastly, another big failing for the series is just how it’s plotted out. A lot of the time it does just feels as if the whole point of this series was to kill a bunch of girls. I mean a lot of the explaining for stuff that I would regard as a major reveal is just delivered in the most boring and inept way. Want the girls to learn that they actually die if they stop being a magical girl? Have Fav just tell them. Want an explanation as to why this game became a bloodbath? Have Fav just sit down and explain it, again! I get the feeling that they want Fav to be a Kyubey-like bad guy, they wanted him to look cute but be this manipulative demonspawn that you just love to hate (and fantasise about beating with a shovel, god I hate Kyubey), but he’s just boring and lazy, only there as a construct to spout off exposition and make comments in bad taste.

The Verdict

In the end, if you’re into watching magical girls being maimed, murdered and probably something else being with m (I’m so annoyed with this series I don’t even want to waste the effort looking for the right words), then I’m sure you’ll enjoy this. For me though, it was terribly written, there were too many characters and the few goods ones didn’t get anywhere near the development they deserved. The one thing I will give this series is that in the later half is does have some interesting battles and use of powers, if only they could have ended up in a better series.

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

Anime Corner: 91 Days Review

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Everybody’s dead Avilio. Everybody’s dead.

What’s the Story?

Avilio’s happy life was shattered when a mafia feud cost him the lives of his parents and younger brother. Seven years later he receives a mysterious letter giving him the names of those responsible for the slaughter. Avilio returns to the town of Lawless during prohibition to exact his revenge and he starts by convincing his childhood friend to sell his homemade alcohol to the mafia and befriending the Don’s son. It will only take 91 days for Avilio to complete his revenge, but vengeance can be a bloody business so the only real question is, will anyone be left alive by the end of it?

The Review

I haven’t seen that many gangster animes and if you’re a fan of the genre then I highly recommend this one. There are plenty of stories about gangsters blowing holes in one another and people seeking bloody vengeance out there and I don’t think this series brings anything particularly new to the table, but its told with such confidence and style that it is still definitely worth your time. I have to admit I sometimes have a weird back and forth with gangster stories, especially gangster stories set around prohibition, they are inherently bloody and violent (and this series is no different, the bounty count has to be knocking on three digits by the end). It’s not something that I particularly need to see. I can put up with it as long as it doesn’t go too gory or be gory for gore’s sake. Yet at the same the ones set in prohibition times are by historical necessity set around the 1920s, which stylistically is one of my favourite periods. I love the architecture and dress sense of that era (I partly blame Batman the animated series for this by influencing me at such a young age), so for me it’s great just to sit back and soak in the surroundings.

It’s also a great help that this anime is so gorgeously animated. Colour wise it sticks to a lot of browns and darker shades giving this whole series a very shady feel that perfectly suits the seedy world this show is putting on display. What really works is how the animation captures motion, it’s all the little details, the hesitation as a finger inches closer to the trigger or the way a throat moves as it gulps down some Lawless Heaven. I want to marry this animation sometimes. I also have to give credit to the directors, there are some really beautiful and well constructed shots throughout this anime and its always interesting to watch whether its two character going on a buddy-buddy road trip or an all guns blazing shootout in the streets.

The story as well is also really well written and just because it’s using the standard elements, it doesn’t mean it’s predictable. There are some great twists and deaths along the way that I really didn’t see coming and even when I did they still played out in spectacular fashion. I lot of the tension comes from just having Avilio and Nero sat in the same room together, you know at some point this whole revenge scheme is going to lead up to Avilio trying to kill Nero and you’re just waiting for the gun to go off. Avilio is a really smart guy though, sometimes a little too smart, always one step ahead of everyone else and manipulating all those around him into doing exactly what he wants. There are only a couple of times when he actually trips up and those are when the series is at its most tense because if Mr. Calm and Collected is in trouble then I really have no idea what’s going to happen next.

I suppose the most tragic part of this whole series is that, if it weren’t for the twisted joke fate was playing on all of the characters, I could see Avilio and Nero being really good friends. They have a great deal of chemistry and you believe the friendship that develops between them, if it weren’t for the fact that Nero was apart of the group of men that killed Avilio’s family, or Avilio’s blind obsession with revenge, then these two could go far together. It’s not even worth it in the end, Avilio’s revenge doesn’t bring him any kind of piece of mind or a reason to live, all the death and destruction he brings about and it accomplishes nothing except said death and destruction, in fact Avilio has considerably less after his revenge than before he started it.

You care for all of these characters even though most of them are murdering psychopaths; they feel like ordinary people, people you could laugh or cry with. You get what drives most of them, even if you can tell that it’s not going to end well for them and it is sad to see the majority of them go. Spoiler alert, but I was really upset when Fango went, I mean he really had to go, the man was two sacks of crazy inside a suitcase full of crazy and had it coming to him, but he was just so much fun to watch. Maybe some people would think he’s a little too over the top with his lunacy, but every scene with him in it was a joy because you just never knew what he was going to do.

The Verdict

91 days is stylish, smart and beautiful. As a story of the mafia and revenge, it doesn’t really bring anything startlingly new to the table, but the characters are all relatable and interesting in their own ways and the story itself is so well written and enjoyable that that doesn’t really matter in the end. I recommend this to everyone, not just fans of gangster shows, it’s a great series, just be prepared for a high body count and a tragic end.

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

 

Anime Corner: Orange Review

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Post via black holes. Well, that’s a new one.

What’s the Story?

One day high school student Naho gets a very strange letter. It claims to be from herself ten years in the future and lists all of the events that are going to happen over the next year. They tell her that she will fall in love with a new transfer student called Kakeru and that he will die come the winter. At first Naho doesn’t believe it, until the events in the letter start to come true. Can Naho change the future, erase her regrets and save Kakeru?

The Review

Don’t let the time-travelling letter fool you the fantasy element of this series is really just an excuse for the story to take place (I’m not calling it a science-fiction element because again, postal service by black holes, I prefer my science soft but that is non-corporeal right there). Instead at first glance this is a story about a teenage romance with a little twist and a lot of heartache. The story is a very slow burn, it takes a realistic approach to dialogue and emotions, a lot of the time it’s just characters chatting away about nothing really as normal people tend to do. This can sometimes mean that it takes a little while to get going, especially when our two romantic leads are so awkward and nervous about admitting their feelings for one another, sometimes you just want to smack their heads together and tell him to get on with it.

I know I said the whole letter thing was an excuse, but it does help the story a great deal. It adds a level of tension to those earlier scenes were things are taking there time to get going, because you know this is all going to go wrong at some point down the line. You need it in those earlier episodes until you’ve built up a bond with all of the characters. It also adds to the frustration as you know unless Naho pulls her finger out there’s trouble ahead, but she’s so meek and doubting of herself that she can’t do anything. It takes a letter from the future and her friends to get her to take a step, even if it’s only an agonisingly small one.

This series isn’t just about a couple of kids getting together though; it does tackle some fairly heavy issues such as depression and suicide. There are several scenes with Kakeru that are tough to watch, a lot of them revolving around how Kakeru blames himself for his mother’s death and beats himself up over the fact that his last words to her weren’t the nicest things, they weren’t terrible, but he regrets them. So much of this series is about regret, mostly regret of actions not taken or apologises ungiven, every character is carrying a regret around with them and these letters are their future selves way of trying to erase them. Kakeru’s regrets are the deepest though; driving him to hate himself and even begin to believe that he’s life isn’t worth living. You just want to see the guy be happy and forgive himself, but he keeps getting pulled back into that dark place no matter what his friends do, now I’ve never had suicidal thoughts (morbid certainly, but not suicidal) but to me that is what I imagine it’s like for people going through stuff like that.

Orange knows where to hit you where it counts, in the feels. It’s frustrating, it’s agonising and quite often tear-inducing and at other times so heart-warming you’re likely to melt. You feel for Kakeru and you’re constantly cheering on the others to save him and screaming whenever something gets in the way, especially when it’s the characters themselves tripping themselves up. Seriously, Naho, girl, I will shake you until you find your courage and tell Kakeru how you feel (and it is such a relief when she finally does).

Kakeru isn’t the only guy I feel sorry for though, my heart goes out to Suwa too. He is in love with Naho just as much as Kakeru and in the alternate future ten years from now the guy is even married to her and they have a kid, but by trying to save Kakeru he’s preventing that from ever happening. Sure the way time travel works in this show is that the present we are watching is creating an offshoot reality to the one that sent the letters, so when you think about both are running concurrently, which means there’s one where Naho is married to Suwa and one where she’s with Kakeru both existing at the same time. It’s a bit of a cheat, but still Suwa is willing to let go of the girl he loves and watch her potentially married someone else, just to get rid of his own regret. It also kind of speaks to just how affected these people have been by Kakeru’s death, I mean ten years on and all of them are still so haunted by it that they’re willing to risk erasing their timeline (because they’re not sure how time travel works). Now that’s friendship, also a deep-rooted obsession, but hey no one’s perfect.

The only area where this anime really trips up is in the animation and that’s only ever so slightly. It’s not that the animation is bad, it does its job perfectly fine, I believe in the characters and the setting, but there are no real moments where it pulls out all the stops to awe me. It’s a very quiet and slow anime and the animation reflects that, though there are a few moments that feel a little cheap, like the shots of crowds and the classroom to save on anything really detailed while people are just talking. Or the weird framing of the scene where Kakeru kisses Naho on the cheek (I had to watch that a couple of times to work out what even happened). I’m not the biggest fan of the art style either, again not bad, but there’s just something about the way the faces are drawn, especially the eyes and mouths that just feels off to me.

The Verdict

In the end Orange is a really emotional story, it’s not about love or time-travelling letters, but instead it’s about regrets and being saved from them. The characters all feel genuine and likeable, even if sometimes they can be really frustrating. But it’s only that way because this anime makes you care about them and their goals. This can be really tragic at times and tackle some heavy themes, but in the end it’s a truly unbreakable friendship that pulls everyone through. Get your handkerchiefs ready if you’re going to watch this one.

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

Introducing Scooby-Doocember!

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I love Scooby-Doo. I can’t not love it, the franchise is too ingrained in my childhood, I can still remember sitting on the carpet watching reruns of the original series on Cartoon Network (and for someone with as bad a memory as mine, that’s a minor miracle). Yeah I know my memory is caked in nostalgia, but it was a great series and I will have a reasonable discussion with anyone who thinks otherwise. Yes it was formulaic and so cheap that a shoestring budget would have been an improvement, but despite that it had a creepy atmosphere, some great designs and memorable characters. I think the fact that Scooby-Doo is still going today with dozens of different interpretations and series under its belt (some good, some not so much), is just a testament to how great the franchise is and it has more than earned its continued place in popular culture.

Over the past few months I’ve been on a nostalgia binge with the franchise, going through some of my old favourites and finally getting around to trying out some of the more modern interpretations and since last year I treated December as my theme month to tackle the DC Universe, this December I’m giving it over to Scooby-Doo.

Starting next week, be prepared for some genuine horror and the best animation the franchise has ever seen with my favourite film, Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island! This time the monsters are real!

Then I’m trying out something new with another film, Scooby-Doo! Music of the Vampire, which is a Scooby-Doo musical. Yes, they went there. Is it any good? Well, I suppose we’ll find out.

Third we’re taking a look at what happens when Scooby-Doo gets an overarching plot and actual character development! Yes, blasphemy I know, but we’ll see if it works in Scooby-Doo Mystery Incorporated!

And finally, we’re going back to the beginning with my Top 5 episodes of the original classic, Scooby-Doo Where Are You!

Hope you enjoy it; I know I will. Now where did I put those Scooby Snacks?

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: Kung Fu Panda

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Skadoosh!

Wow. Kung Fu Panda, being really relevant with this one, how old is this film now? About 8 years old? Yeah I’m kind of indulging myself with this review (which isn’t really any different from every other review I put up on this blog, the whole thing is here because I have a need to splurge my thoughts and feelings and I lack someone to splurge them at).

Anyway, my relationship with Kung Fu Panda is a little weird and really the reason I want to talk about it today is because I want to discuss how an opinion of a film can change over time and how that can make a film better, or worse, than the version you carry around in your head. When I first saw Kung Fu Panda in the cinema, I liked it, it didn’t blow me away, but I enjoyed the action and the visuals. Then a few years went by and I started noticing some online critics saying how good the film was (Nostalgia Critic and Unshaved Mouse to name two), and my reaction was, ‘the film with Jack Black as a panda? Really?’

Somewhere along the line my opinion of Kung Fu Panda shifted a little, I can only really put it down to my memory of the film fading a little. I could vaguely recall some of the cool action scenes and that great soundtrack, but then there was Jack Black performance and the jokes that were smile-inducing but nothing much more, the same going for the story. I did watch Kung Fu Panda 2 and love it, mostly because it amped up all the good stuff I enjoyed in the original, the action, the visuals and the Eastern philosophy, as well as expanding upon the characters.

Finally though, I got round to rewatching the original and I think I like it more than when I first saw it, which really weirds me out. There’s so much stuff that I’d forgotten, the film still has issues, but it’s a lot better than what the copy I’ve been carrying around inside my old noggin.

I’m pretty sure there’s no one left out there at the moment who needs convincing to see the film or who can’t guess at the story, but I’ll go over it anyway just in case. What’s the story? Po is a massive kung fu fan (both figuratively and literally), he loves the Furious Five, some of the best martial artists in all of China and daydreams of being an awesome kung fu master and joining their ranks. Unfortunately Po is an overweight panda running a noodle shop with this dad and has about as much chance of mastering kung fu as he does climbing a set of stairs with any breath left at all. Destiny (or rather the Universe’s twisted sense of humour) is on his side though as Po is accidentally picked to become the Dragon Warrior, a legendary hero. The trouble is no one believes he can do it, the Furious Five hate him and his teacher is determined to train him so hard that he quits. When the most feared kung fu warrior breaks out of prison though, the training becomes serious and Po has to really become the Dragon Warrior before the Big Bad arrives.

You can pretty much work out exactly what’s going to happen from the off, Po is a bit naive and an idiot, but through perseverance and a few training montages he will learn his own worth and that is ok the way he is, and this loveable fool shall become the greatest of heroes. He shall have the obligatory moment of doubt scene, but shall also gradually earn the respect of his fellow kung fu students and defeat the Big Bad. It’s kind of generic, but that doesn’t really bother me anymore, it’s simple and that’s all this story needs. There are some nice little twists in there, the back story of Shifu, Tai Lung and Tigress is really great and surprisingly dramatic and emotional for a film called Kung Fu Panda. You feel Shifu’s pain and regret at what has happened to the student he thought of as a son, you feel Tai Lung’s rage at his rejection after being pushed so hard and you feel Tigress’ sorrow at never getting the love she wanted. You could have made a movie out of just these three and I’d have been happy.

I do like all of the characters in the film; they all feel genuine and likeable. Sometimes they can jerks, but you get why and you understand their point of view (always the mark of good characters). They’re also all really well performed, the actors do a great job of filling them with feelings and a sense of wholeness. That does bring me to Jack Black’s performance. It’s honestly a lot better than I remember, not that I ever thought it was bad, but whenever I heard Po speak I could see Jack Black stood in a recording booth. It stopped me from totally investing in the character and I don’t think it’s anything that Jack Black did. I just recognise his voice so easily and Po is very similar to that slacker stereotype that Mr. Black used to play a lot. Watching it back though there are a handful of moments where the emotions feel really genuine and I can forget that it’s Jack Black speaking into a mic and really believe in this panda.

Where Kung Fu Panda excels though is in the animation department. For one, the martial arts are fantastic in this films and lead to some exhilarating action sequences. This film is at its best when it’s moving, it’s fast, it’s powerful and it’s fluid. You can tell a lot of effort and time went into getting the moves just right and it is so worth it. Also there are just some jaw-dropping visuals, even eight years down the line, there’s a palpable sense of atmosphere to so many of these locations and it really knows how to use colours at their most effective.

In the end, I don’t think Kung Fu Panda is a perfect film, but it’s certainly higher in my estimations than it was before. The story may be simple and the jokes don’t make me laugh out loud, but the characters feel genuine and likeable and the fantastic action and visuals alone are worth the price of admission. I don’t know if there’s anyone out there who hasn’t seen Kung Fu Panda yet, but check it out. I suppose this review is just my way of apologising, you’re more awesome than I thought panda.

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