Exposition X And X Narration X The X Anime

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the Anime Hunter X Hunter, the title of this blog post is reference to how the show titles all of their episodes. And also a reference to the two biggest parts of the show that might as well be characters. In terms of story, Hunter X Hunter is an adventure show about a young boy joining an elite group of dangerous people called “Hunters” in order to find his father who abandoned him when he was a baby. Gon, the abandoned hero, makes a few friends along the way and constantly impresses people with his superhuman strength and sense until he complete his exam, becomes a hunter, and is introduced to the world his father inhabits, a world filled with people far stronger than him which exists a step removed from the world he used to know. To be specific for those wanting to look up this anime, I’m reviewing the much longer series that premiered in 2011, rather than the earlier and shorter series. That’s the one my roommate introduced me to, the same roommate who introduce me to My Hero Academia, so I’m not entirely sure what to make of his taste in Anime anymore.

Now, to be entirely fair, he didn’t talk Hunter X Hunter up nearly as much as he talked up My Hero Academia. He admitted there are some serious issues with the later episodes and that it isn’t as strong as some of the other ones he’s recommended, but it has held a special place in his heart for a long time and it’s actually pretty fun to watch. It has frequently defied my expectation when it comes to the story and I’ve enjoyed watching a large number of the crazy characters in this show wind up being surprisingly sane. An assassin bonds with his son, a martial arts instructor acts to help a pair of young fighters who are in over their heads, and two incredibly strong children are actually children who play around and get up to trouble between being ridiculously overpowered. It’s very refreshing to see it stray away from a lot of the more frustrating adventure anime tropes and to create an insane world occupied by sane people.

If it weren’t for two things, I’d love this anime. As it is, they are making it difficult to enjoy the show at times. If it weren’t for the constant exposition, often delivered by going over events that just occurred multiple times, and the steadily increasing amount of narration, I’d definitely recommend this anime to everyone who doesn’t mind ridiculous fights, stupidly powerful characters, and a hero whose main weapon is a fishing pole with an apparently unbreakable line.

While the show is rather complex, introducing some really fun concepts like the Hunter organization, a plethora of unique animals who inhabit an incredible dangerous world, magical beasts of all kinds who live in the same step-removed world as the incredible strong people, and some rather complicated and open-ended powers called “Nen,” it gets really bogged down in the details. When Nen is introduced, they just go over it countless times. While initially peppered my roommate with questions about how Nen works and what it means, the Anime answered all of those questions and more. Multiple times. In one episode. There’s literally a point where we watch a fight, get one guy’s ability explained to us in exhaustive detail by his foe as a means of psychological warfare, see the end of the fight, get the other guy’s powers explained in excruciating detail as a flashback aside by a mysterious healer who came to fix him up, and then go over them again as the hero and his friend learn about Nen from the kind man who has taken them under his wing. I was so bored and the flashback felt like it took an entire episode. If this was the first time this had happened, where the show went over ground it had just covered, I’d forgive it, but this is becoming a theme.

In the same vein, the amount of narration is getting tiring. While there is a narratorial voice who sets up and concludes each episode, the show itself does a ton of narration through the characters. In writing, there’s this phrase, “show, don’t tell,” that’s supposed to help people keep in mind that they should show the characters acting rather than just narrate through a scene. This anime does both. It shows and then it tells like it didn’t show you just a minute ago. This is heavily tied to the exposition I mentioned since the worst of it, the flashback exposition, is handled by a character narrating whatever happened. There are much more natural ways to show what happened. Heck, if they’d just gone over the fight as the two young heroes learned from their teacher and explained it all that way, it still would have made sense and then it would have been explained in a place it made sense to talk about what happened. I’ll admit that I just watched this happen a couple of hours before writing this review, so I’m still a little frustrated and steamed with the show.

I’m still going to watch more of it, though. I’m willing to sit through some odious exposition and unnecessary narration in order to find out what happens next. While the characters motivations are fairly basic–finding a father, getting revenge for the death of your family, financing your education so you can become a doctor, and trying to find meaning outside of what you’ve always been told you’re meant to be–the show explores them in a rather novel way. Gon wants to find his father, but he’s not in a hurry and he is very much committed to living his own life even if that means setting aside his quest to find his father for a while. Leorio, the teenager who looks like an adult, is willing to risk his life and harm people in order to become a doctor who can afford to freely give out the medicine that would have saved his childhood friend’s life. The child assassin, Killua, will kill whoever he needs to in order to explore life as a normal kid with friends. Kurapika, the last surviving member of his clan, will sacrifice his own life if it means getting a shot at a member of the band of thieves called the “Phantom Troupe.” Of them all, Kurapika’s story is the most cliché and ordinary, but he’s an angry child trying to take out a group of the strongest people in the world and the show has already proven that it’s not afraid to let the stars get the crap kicked out of them so I have high hopes he’s not just going to “fighting spirit” his way to victory. Not that there’s anything wrong with it, but I’m a little bored of the trope. Just a personal preference thing, but it feels like it’s often used to let a character set up to be weaker than someone else win a fight they shouldn’t be able to.

I’d recommend watching the show for the characters, the interesting world, and the plot, but make sure to keep the remote handy so you can skip forward a bit once the boring exposition and narration shows up. Also maybe don’t watch every episode because I’ve heard the narration gets terrible toward the end. I don’t know for sure yet, since I’ve only watched thirty-four episodes. If the show changes a bunch before I stop watching, I might do a second review. There’s certainly been enough show in the episodes I’ve seen so far to justify doing a second one once I’ve watched more. I barely touched on the Hunter organization, the crazy exam people need to take in order to become Hunters, and the insane people who run it in a surprisingly formal and normal–if deadly–way. Let me know if that sounds interesting to you. I always need more stuff to review.

With much Gravitas, I Must Admit I Fell for Gravity Falls

Like so many of my favorite TV shows, I heard about Gravity Falls from a friend of mine I met in college. She’s an artist (you can find her on Twitter or visit her website) who does some amazing art, so I recommend you check out the stuff she uploads when she gets the time during her incredible busy weeks. We met through shared creative writing classes and it feels like she’s been after me to watch Gravity Falls since then. For whatever reason, and I honestly don’t have even a crappy one, I didn’t watch the show until recently, when I saw it recommended to me in an email from Amazon. Apparently, it just came out on Blu-ray.

The first thing I noticed as I started watching the show was the unbelievably high quality of the animation. In the theme song, there’s a sequence where one of the characters waves his arms around in fright and the smoothness of that action took me by surprise. I quickly realized it was a Disney cartoon and I felt much less surprised. As I continued to watch it, though, my mild surprise turned to awe as I took in the incredible amount of detail that went into each episode and the series as a whole. The background is full of little details and there’s so much you’ll miss if you don’t pay attention. There’s foreshadowing, secrets to unlock, and always something new or exciting to see if your eyes happen to drift away from the central action. And that’s just the animation! There’s even more of all of that in the writing.

From the beginning, I was taken aback by the show as it subverted my expectations. Almost every time I expected something to happen beyond the triumph of the protagonists in the end, I was pleasantly surprised as the story twisted in a new direction. As the show drew me in, pulling me into the show so completely I completely set aside my expectations, I marveled at the hidden depths of the show. On the surface, the show is about a pair of twins, Dipper and Mabel Pines, who were sent to spend the summer with their great-uncle (or “Grunkle”) Stan who runs a tourist trap called the “Mystery Shack” near the town of Gravity Falls, Oregon. Dipper finds a mysterious journal, written by an unknown author, containing the secrets behind all of the weird stuff happening in this quaint little town. Their first episode includes an encounter with gnomes, their first explorations of the forest around their Uncle’s shop/home, and sets the stage for the rest of the show as them trying to deal with some supernatural situation that Grunkle Stan seems to know nothing about.

Unfortunately for me, the rest of the show was only two seasons. Fortunately, the creator intended it to only last two seasons, so there’s no rush to finish the plot in time nor is there any unsatisfying moments where some villain escapes or something unlikely happens so they can stretch another season out of the story. Everything is incredibly well paced and the plot does an excellent job of doling out twists so there’s a constant, steady progression of their quest to resolve the issues arising from Dipper’s constant meddling in the supernatural. Even better, there’s a constant stream of puzzles for the viewer to solve and little ciphers hidden throughout the episodes for the careful observer to discover that add an extra layer of depth to the show as a whole. They’re a lot easier to solve once you’ve watched the whole show, but they’re worth attempting the first time through since they provide a little commentary about the show as the episodes pass. This, more than anything else, shows just how meticulously planned the show was. No one just drops a code into their story without a good reason to do so. It’s too much worth, otherwise.

Now, to be entirely fair to Dipper, he’s mostly messing around with the supernatural in order to learn about the stuff he sees happening around him. Dipper often serves as the engine to push the plot forward and, given his obsessive and curious nature, is probably the most appealing character to all of the mystery and conspiracy buffs who got pulled into this show by all of the hidden messages. He’s friendly but shy and often requires a push in order to voice his thoughts or take action when there’s a threat. Thankfully, he has his sister for that. Mabel is bright, colorful, cheerful, and almost always the reason Dipper acts. Whether it’s because she needs his help, she’s been giving him a hard time about something, or because she’s cheering him on, she brings out the best in Dipper. At the same time, she can also challenge Dipper because she’s much sillier than he is. She has a tendency to act without thinking ahead but draws people to her side with her charisma and friendliness. As a team, they’re nearly unstoppable. Mabel is my favorite, though. I honestly don’t know how anyone could prefer anyone else given her sunny nature, the way she loves everyone so openly, and how she sees the best in everyone she encounters. Though, if someone picked Dipper instead, I’d understand given how frequently he sacrifices for his sister’s happiness and the determination shows when it comes to solving problems or saving his sister from some problem she inadvertently created.

When the show starts, the Pine twins are twelve and it shows. They have childish crushes and approach the world with the sort of wide-eyed wonder that most children have. Some of the older characters–mostly Grunkle Stan–use it to dismiss their adventures as nothing but wild imaginings, but we get to see them grow not just in character but credibility as their childish, open-minded nature is often what saves the day. Even better, we get to see them grow individually, using each other as foils as they slowly shift from whiny and self involved to confident and empathetic. It’s the best game of leap-frog I’ve ever seen. And not only do they grow and change, but you can see the impact they have on the people around them. They soften the hard edges of their Grunkle Stan, help Soos the repairman grow in confidence and capability, they redeem bullies and give everyone the chance to show their true self rather than the one-dimensional caricature they appear to be at first.

Honestly, I can’t recommend this show enough. There’s plenty of great humor in it from the little jokes we all love to some clever breaking of the fourth wall that reflects the community that sprang up around this show as it originally aired. They ride that line that Disney practically invented, of having a mixture of humor so the show appeals to both children and adults, so there’s something for everyone to enjoy. If you’ve got the money, I suggest buying the DVDs or Blu-ray of Gravity Falls, or at least watch it online in any number of places like Hulu or through a digital purveyor like Amazon.

Oh, just in case that wasn’t enough to convince you to check it out, Nathan Fillion makes a few appearances and it’s just amazing when he does. Watch it now.

This Superhero Anime is a Smash Hit

One of my roommates recommended that I watch My Hero Academia since I was looking for something to watch while I was on vacation. We both expected me to sit down and watch two to five episodes at a time, like I’d down with pretty much every other show I’ve watched, but that is not what happened. I got sucked into the show immediately, lost track of time, and watched the first whole season that afternoon and evening. The following day, I spent the entire day watching all but the last five episodes and I would have watched those if I didn’t have an event the next day that required I get up early. It was close. I almost decided to just stay up so I could watch the last few episodes even though it would have left me bleary and exhausted for the day of watery adventure.

My Hero Academia is, on the surface, your basic action anime that hits all the requirements: teenage male protagonist, male rival who is both a friend and enemy, the hero has a great power he can’t properly wield, he’s in training to be some kind of action hero, and there’s some vague threat looming in the background that slowly becomes more apparent as the series goes on. The protagonist even has the same personality markers as all the other male protagonists of similar anime: a heart of gold/unwavering belief in his peers, the drive to work harder than everyone else, a casual disregard for his own well-being when it comes to protecting people, and a hair color that stands out from his peers and elders (with exceptions for genetics). If all you do is look at the surface, it is simply a fill-in-the-blank action anime with a delightful superhero twist.

The minute you start to look beneath the surface, which is actually easy to do because the show does a masterful job of peeling back the layers for viewers of all ages, there is a startling amount of complexity to all of the characters. The protagonist, Izuku, is not only a hard worker, but he’s also very clever. His analytical abilities lead to more victories (and often less costly victories) than the use of his potentially overwhelming power. His inventiveness, when it comes to finding ways to make use of his rather unreliable powers and applying the powers of his teammates, is unmatched. If he seriously tries, he can usually find a way to make use of the “quirks” (the special powers that most people in the world develop before they’re four) of his peers to defeat whatever foe or obstacle he’s facing. Not only is he intelligent, he’s actually pretty in touch with his emotions and good at reading people, so he has a tendency to find ways to help the other conflicted teenagers he attends Super Hero High School with.

All of his classmates at U.A. High School are heroes in training as well, and a lot of them are still working on why they want to be heroes or what kind of hero they want to be. There’s a guy with engines in his calves, a woman who can turn things she touches weightless, a dude that sweats explosives from his hands, some guy with a tail, a woman who can create objects which pop out of her body (which is most of the cheesecake in the show, since her costume is revealing so as to not tear when she pops out a cannon), an invisible girl, and a guy whose whole body hardens into some kind of metallic-y stone substance, and so much more! The personalities of the cast are, for the most part, just as diverse as the powers. Sure, the explosives guy has anger issues, the invisible girl is constantly afraid of being overlooked, and the dude with engines in his legs is incredibly driven, but they’re also more than just that facet of their personality. Explosives guy wants to be the top-ranked hero and proves his drive despite appearing to be a villain-in-waiting. The invisible girl is a solid hero who wants to keep her friends safe and isn’t afraid to do whatever she needs to in order to succeed. The drive young man is also willing to learn, sharing a surprising depth of wisdom with his classmates and proving to be a capable leader in the few instances he isn’t overshadowed by the protagonist and his rival.

Even the teachers aren’t the rather shallow caricatures they appear to be. Each of them gets their time to show the various aspects of their characters, the wisdom and strength they’ve attained throughout their lives as heroes, and the strength of their conviction when it comes to their pupils. Even the hero who is passing his power onto the protagonist, All Might, shows a surprising depth of character considering his surface-level is just some big muscle-y dude who punches stuff really hard while shouting the names of states or cities in the US while smiling. It turns out he carefully crafted the image of himself as the ultimate hero, the “Symbol of Peace,” in order to discourage villains from attacking all the time and to give the non-hero populace someone to believe in, even going so far as to sacrifice his physical health in order to stay that symbol when he probably should have retired.

That being said, the plot is actually pretty standard. The protagonist wants to be a hero, gets a one-in-a-million chance to become a hero, constantly throws aside the rules in order to do the right thing, and continuously overcomes all the boundaries between him and his goal by trying harder. The big change comes in how the other people in the world react to that and the consequences he faces. It is illegal in his world for people who don’t have a hero license to use their quirk to hurt someone, and he almost goes to jail for doing just that. His super-powered attacks take an incredible toll on his body and, while there is a certain amount of  “Ta-da! You’re magically healed!” there’s also a point VERY early on where he learns that he will eventually suffer irreparable harm if he continues to damage his body and have it healed. Most of his cleverness goes into figuring out how to use his powers while minimizing their impact on his body. Unlike most similar protagonists, Izuku actually has the potential for serious consequences and, even when he tries to “technically follow” the rules, he almost gets in a huge amount of trouble. Even his mentor takes him to task for being reckless.

I would recommend watching My Hero Academia because it is a really fun action anime with depth of character and actual consequences for being a reckless moron (I’m looking at you, Naruto). Finally, you can watch something about a kid who just wants to be a hero and succeeds by trying hard without feeling the little bit of guilt you (or at least I) always feel when watching adults just let kids get away with some really dumb shit. It’s a responsible action anime!

Every Day is an Adventure

I remember, the first time I sat down to watch Adventure Time, remarking to my friends that I wasn’t drunk enough to watch this show after only the first episode. For those of my friends who are adults and trying to start the show, I usually recommend sitting down to it with a strong drink because while I adore the show, it starts off a little weirdly. It also continues weirdly, but it isn’t jarring once you’ve made the mental adjustments required to enjoy the show. They’re not strenuous, of course. It just takes a bit of time to adapt to the over-the-top action and characters before you start to see past the surface to the surprising depths of the story and character development arcs.

Like a lot of “children’s shows,” Adventure Time can be enjoyed on multiple levels. At the most basic, there are good lessons about how to be responsible, what it means to strong, how to deal with emotional problems, and how to treat people who are different from you, to name a few. These lessons are delivered through fairly straight-forward plots and the colorful fun of an action show with heart, making it an instant hit with most kids. For those looking for a bit more, there’s actually some complex emotional and interpersonal problems that happen through the various seasons that are resolved slowly. It can be difficult to watch if you want the sort of cleaner wrap-ups of most adult shows since, for example, some things are introduced in season 1 that aren’t addressed until season 5. Emotional development takes a long time, in terms of seasons and shows, but it happens at a rate that lets the adults watching the show appreciate what is going on beneath the surface but also lets the kids slowly see the changes happen in a way they’ll understand as they go through similar (if somewhat less fantastical) situations in their own lives.

For instance, a lot of the earlier episodes are non-sequiturs, with nothing to place them inside the show’s overarching timeline, but there are details that slowly fill in the world around the protagonists, Finn the Human and Jake the (magic) Dog. Finn’s sword is an easy indicator of when an episode takes place as he has a tendency to go through them a lot faster than you’d think. His behavior and age are much more subtle ones since they don’t mark most of his birthdays or give a number to his age that frequently. Instead, you can follow the show’s continuity using plot markers and shifts in character relationships. Old enemies become friends, allies reveal ulterior motives and become enemies, and background characters rise to sudden prominence before establishing a firm place in the long list of secondary characters.

The way information is revealed to the viewer can make it a difficult show to watch haphazardly. While understanding most episodes isn’t dependent on having watched all previous episodes, a lot of foreshadowing or important subtext can fall between the cracks in your understanding of the show. As information is slowly revealed, one small bite at a time (bites that increase in size as the show goes on as the first two seasons are particularly light on details), so much that you suspect is confirmed. If you pay attention to the background in almost any episode, you could reasonably draw the conclusion that Adventure Time occurs in a post-apocalyptic world. You could also conclude that humans are rare, magic has risen in the place of most of the sciences, and there’s an incredible danger present in the world that most people see as ordinary because of how screwed up the world became following whatever apocalyptic disaster befell it. Eventually, you get enough information to assemble a picture of the past on your own. Full reveals or complete pictures are super rare, but they become reference points for the show that help shore up the history you assemble as you watch it and you can usually tell where you are in the show’s timeline by references to these points.

My favorite part of the show is the way the writers use the same method of small hints and details mixed in with a few big reveals in the emotional development of the characters. Finn, as the primary protagonist, deals with the most as he grows. Jake, the secondary protagonist, has his share as well. Even a lot of the secondary characters (who occasionally have small arcs featuring them) have complex emotional journeys throughout the show. The best example of that is probably the Ice King, a certifiably insane wizard with ice powers given to him by a magic crown he wears. Not only does he feature in a lot of Finn’s emotional growth, he changes throughout the show from a pathetic villain to a tragic villain who can’t help himself, seeing as he’s been driven insane by the magic crown he wears. Some of the most powerful and emotional moments in the show come from his stories and the way people start to treat him as they grow to understand and somewhat accept him. There’s a whole list of other characters, some with their own special mini-seasons, that undergo growth and change, and each one gets their moment to shine, even the pesky whiny ones you want to just disappear.

 

Throughout it all, aside from the big reveal or big change moments, the show manages to keep an upbeat sense of humor and a positive look on even the most difficult situations. The characters rely on each other to get through their weak moments and humor is a constant aid as they try to cope with the world they actually live in as it pushes aside the world they want to live in. Even the most resilient characters are sometimes knocked down and we get to watch them struggle to their feet again. The entire show is a lesson in getting back up after failure until you succeed and learning to accept change and growth into your life gracefully.

I’ll admit the pacing can be weird early on and that it can be difficult to accept some of the asides the show makes as it slowly works its way through a difficult problem, but every episode has something important to say if you’re willing to look for it. A lot of these messages are repeated many times, but they’re usually important enough that it’s worth hearing them again. Plus, with how human they all act, even Jake the Dog and Princess Bubblegum (who is made of gum), it can be incredibly refreshing to see people struggle to deal with lessons they’ve already learned and taken for granted.

I recommend watching it. The seasons are pretty cheap on Amazon or Best Buy, but I wouldn’t recommend getting them on a streaming service as they are sometimes in weird orders and the season-by-season breakdown in the later seasons gets super wonky. It is way cheaper to get them on DVD or Blu-Ray than to buy them on Amazon or iTunes. If you want a show that will make you laugh so hard you cry and so sad you just have to laugh, that will take you on an incredibly complex emotional journey through the eyes of a wide range of very (mentally and emotionally, since “diverse” means very different things in our world than it’d mean in their world) different characters, and will leave you constantly wanting more, I cannot recommend Adventure Time strongly enough.

I’m Not Religious, but this Show is Miraculous.

I really love cartoons. More often than not, I feel like I get more out of cartoons than I do out of most TV shows. TV shows focus on drama and situational comedy, while cartoons are a little bit more free to explore a little bit of everything. Steven Universe is probably my all-time favorite show, edging out Adventure Time for the number 1 slot. Most non-animated shows I’ve watched don’t even make it into the single digits. I may not enjoy all cartoons, but I definitely enjoy more cartoons than live-action TV shows.

Which is why it didn’t take much suggestion from my girlfriend to get me to sit down and watch an episode of this French cartoon, Miraculous: Tales of Ladybug and Cat Noir. One episode was all it took and now I’m hooked. It may not have the wonderful music or thought-provoking themes of my two favorites, but it is one of the most charming and enjoyable cartoons I’ve ever watched. The lessons are simple, the plotting is straight forward, and the pacing is incredible for a show with very little continuity.

The place the cartoon shines is in the writing and the characters. Each person is their own kind of clever, everyone feels like a person you either know or would know if you didn’t spend all of your free time watching Netflix, and there are only a couple of characters you dislike. That being said, as you watch the show, even the villain seems to have something he wants that might redeem him if the show ever actually reveals it.

The protagonist, Ladybug, is a teenage girl who is granted super powers through a special item called a “miraculous” that she wears in the shape of earrings. When she uses the command phrase to empower them (there’s this little ladybug creature that follows her around and often acts as her conscience), she gets super strength, a neat outfit (with an amazing transformation sequence), a magical yoyo, and the ability to summon a lucky charm that, if used correctly, will also let her undo all the damage the villain has wrought throughout the episode.

Her opposite, Cat Noir, is a teenage boy who gets his super powers from a “miraculous” that takes the form of a ring he wears. He gains his powers using a different command phrase and his little familiar is a tiny cat-creature that is 75% snark and 25% desire for smelly cheese. This is just my opinion, and you can feel free to disagree, but I think his transformation sequence is better, though his powers aren’t as great. An extending staff replaces the yoyo, and the ability to destroy any one thing he touches replaces the lucky charm. His outfit is a little weirder, but his costume is cat themed and you can’t just slap polka dots on a body suit for a cat theme like you can with a ladybug theme.

Together, they have a wonderful dynamic. Cat Noir is confident, constantly spews terrible puns, has a huge crush on Ladybug, and seems at ease with his superhero powers from the start. Ladybug is less confident, but often the one to figure out the trick to the villain or who eventually perseveres. She is a lot less comfortable with her powers and most of her growth is her adjusting to being a hero and trying to overcome her rather innate clumsiness when she gets flustered. She has a crush on Cat Noir’s secret identity and has little patience for her fellow hero’s flirting at first, though it eventually develops into delightful banter between the two of them.

The support cast of best friends, classmates, parents, and associate people is diverse and wonderful. They’re all unique, avoid clichés, and you get the excellent juxtaposition of Ladybug’s ideal family life and Cat Noir’s less-than-ideal family. Cat Noir comes from a wealthy, broken family because his mother is missing and his father is worried something will happen to him and Ladybug comes from a warm, loving family of bakers and cooks who shower her with love and baked goods. Ladybug’s  father is super supportive, her mother teaches her well, and they both care for her greatly. Cat’s Noir’s family is essentially his bodyguard, his father’s assistant who sometimes plays the mother role, and his father who is often cold and very restrictive in what he allows his son to do. The show doesn’t pull its punches when it confronts complicated issues and it handles them well, given that its target audience is children.

Aside from the obvious superhero tropes (no one knows their secret identities and there’s the constant risk of one of the hero duo figuring out the other’s secret identity because they wind up trying to protect them before they transform), the only negative aspect of the show is that it is a French cartoon and, as a result, I cannot seem to remember anyone’s names. They’re not even all French names but I literally cannot remember any of them aside from their hero names. This is a personal failing of mine rather than of the show, but it is frustrating nevertheless because I just can’t seem to make them stick… I think Ladybug’s real name begins with an “m”? Don’t quote me on that. All rants aside, the lack of synchronization between the mouths and the words using in the dubbed version of the cartoon is barely noticeable. It is excellently done and even the kind of shiny computer animation doesn’t detract from the excellence of the cartoon aside from a few of the trickier perspective or movement shots that any form of animation without a budget larger than the GDP of any small European country would struggle to portray.

Since all of the “negatives” are personal preference things and just me being picky, I really feel I should recommend you watch this show. The themes are basic enough for most kids and the violence that’s there is rather tame, so feel free to show it to your kids, young siblings, or tiny cousins as well. It’s really just a lot of fun to watch and I suggest adding it to your Netflix queue.

My Second Favorite Cop Show

While my friend and I were watching Pysch a couple of weeks ago, we got to talking about our mutual love for comedy, cop shows, and comedic cop shows. While we both obviously rated Psych as our favorite, we were both surprised to learn that our second favorite cop show was Castle. Me, because I want to be Richard Castle (a rich, eccentric millionaire writer with a nice apartment and the fortitude to not only write books but help the police solve crimes every week while pretending he’s doing research) and him because he’s like a broke, slightly funnier, and much less involved in crime solving version of Richard Castle. The distinction is probably the smallest one I’ll ever make, but we argued about it for half an hour, so it is clearly important to both of us.

It was interesting to see that we were basically in agreement on pretty much every point of the show. The only difference was our experiences with it. He watched it as it came out on TV and I purchased the DVDs. I’ve also made it further into the series he has, but that’s mostly because I had the DVDs and could watch on demand. Both of us eventually stopped before the end because the series started falling into that hole that long-running shows sometimes fall into, where more and more incredible things have to happen in order to keep the show new and relevant. He has no plans to continue watching it but I own the DVDs for every season and plan to get around to it at some point. We both enjoyed the earlier seasons more, when it was mostly protagonists flirting, hints at larger plot arcs, and the standard human stuff that goes on in everyday life.

 

The characters are great and Nathan Fillion is excellent in this show. I’ll admit that I’m a little biased because I’m a bit of a fan of his, but I think his style of acting fits the series very well, able to go from light-hearted comedic relief to intensely serious as the situation calls, all before wrapping it up with a touching little moment at the end with Castle’s mother, daughter, or his current love interest. In a single episode. The writing of the individual episodes manages it well, too. Despite the wide variety of emotions at play in a lot of the episodes, there is never a moment were it feels rushed or unduly chaotic. As I said, the writing runs into problems as the show goes on, but they do remarkably well for something that obviously hadn’t planned on running for as long as it did.

The extended cast is a lot of fun. Richard Castle’s mother and daughter provide excellent contrasts, allowing him to be the more serious one at times with his mother and the more playful one with his daughter. The three of them do an excellent job playing off of each other as they interchangeably help each other, give each other advice, and rein each other in. The other characters, mostly people from the police side of the show, help keep the show balanced by providing the main drama for each episode without completely losing touch with the more emotional side of the show.

The other protagonist, Detective Beckett, does an amazing job of calling Castle on his bullshit, keeping the police focused on their jobs rather than on Castle’s antics, and upstaging Castle almost every time he thinks he’s come out ahead. Unlike a lot of cop shows where the outsider protagonist constantly almost shames the police, Beckett proves herself easily Castle’s equal and much more likely his superior when it comes to investigation. There are a lot of times where he mostly just follows her around to flirt, make jokes, and accidentally stumble into a tense situation (or firefight) that she rescues him from. It is a refreshing change of pace when the damsel in distress is the male protagonist. He rescues her a couple of times, but it is mostly him tagging along and leaning on her. Beckett provides most of the plot arcs for the show and Castle’s are often just an accessory to hers. I enjoy the dynamic a little more than Psych’s where Shawn is constantly stealing the spotlight and setting up the story arcs. It feels a lot more realistic in Castle.

Eventually, though, the show loses the thread of its earlier seasons and starts trying to top itself, despite the fact that they more or less resolve the long-running character arcs and stories by season 5. They could have wrapped everything up neatly at that point, but they kept it going and things started to get a little messy. The plots started to get kind of convoluted, the season arcs felt like they were made simply to keep the show going, and the characters started throwing controversy into their personal lives just to give themselves plots for the season.

I feel like I encounter that a lot in TV shows these days. If a show does well for a few seasons, the network decides to milk it for all its worth. Scrubs Season 8 would have been great if they had just basically started the show over, letting all the old characters go except for a few who wanted to stick around and making it the start of something new instead of an attempt to continue something that almost everyone had left. The worst offender in my book is How I Met Your Mother. They had a nice, tight little plot that they wound up extending when they were given more seasons. That was fine, but continuing to extend it forever got very frustrating, since they wound up dancing around potentially ending the show at the end of the current season for a couple (or more) years.

Ultimately, if you’re looking for a fun cop show that’s good for a watch, check out Castle. You’ll enjoy it, have a good time, and chances are good that you’ll like it well enough to watch all of it. I’m just really bad at finishing things if I wind up stopping them. I suggest taking your time and trying to be consistent rather than binging it like I did.

My Favorite Cop Show

One of the first shows I ever watched on streaming Netflix was Psych. I’d just gotten my own account, since I had gone to college and my parents didn’t approve of me wanting to use their account to watch TV shows from HBO that involved the occasional bit of nudity and tons of murder (Dexter), so I got my own account. Around the same time, I became friends with a fellow English Major who works mostly on comics and she started what would eventually become a pattern of recommending TV shows I’d love by insisting that I watch Psych.

I did and I loved it. The casual humor that each character engages in feels so incredibly human and you can really see the bonds between the characters as they grow and change over the course of the show. The action is fairly low-key, always play third-fiddle to the mystery nature of the show and the comedy that keeps the whole things from getting too serious until the third season. There is danger involved in some of the episodes, but the plucky cheerfulness of the protagonist, Shawn Spencer, keeps it light until he admits that he needs to stop goofing around to focus on a case.

Shawn isn’t your typical detective, to be fair. He pretends to be a psychic detective in order to avoid getting in trouble with the police for always calling in spot-on tips for cases he sees on the news. In reality, he is using an extreme attention to detail, what appears to be a photographic memory, and amazing deductive reasoning skills to solve cases that are troubling even the head detective of the local (Santa Barbara) police force, Carlton Lassiter (which is probably my favorite name ever). Shawn shows up on the scene, makes a few while claims based on what he’s observed, and gets hired to help Lassiter and his partner solve a disappearance.

Shawn, excited for the new opportunity to goof around and get paid for the crazy antics he claims are his psychic powers manifesting, brings in his best friend, Burton Guster, who is a rather ordinary pharmaceutical sales representative. Gus, as he’s called whenever Shawn isn’t introducing him to someone new, is pragmatic, realistic, sensible, and cautious. He is the opposite of Shawn and keeps him grounded whenever he gets too caught up in his antics to focus on what is going on. Despite their clear personality conflicts, you can easily see how close the two friends are because Gus not only puts up with Shawn’s games, but leans into them with an ease that can only result from experience. Gus never misses a beat and is always ready to back up whatever hair-brained scheme Shawn is trying to pull as long it won’t get either of them killed, break too many laws, or result in Gus losing his job.

The two of them eventually open their own psychic detective agency, with Shawn doing most of the detecting and Gus managing the business side of things, even if he only does it reluctantly at first because Shawn forged his signature on a lease for their rental space. Throughout the series, Gus keeps their business running and Shawn grounded, while Shawn gets them cases and keeps their lives from stagnating or ever being boring. They make an excellent pair and the chemistry between the actors is amazing. Unlike most other characters who had to struggle through an awkward introductory phase before you could really feel their comfort around each other, Shawn and Gus felt like best friends from the very beginning, with all of the petty arguments, unconditional support, and touching moments of true friendship you’d expect of people who have been close friends for over two decades.

Unlike a lot of TV shows I’ve watched that were produced during the same period, the characters in Psych never stop feeling like people. Even my second favorite Cop Show, Castle, starts to lose that as the seasons go on and the characters just seem to be able to endlessly go on despite everything that happens. Gus gets pissed at Shawn and his behavior changes for a while. Shawn and Juliet, the detective junior partner to Lassiter, have a complicated relationship as they flirt with each other, that changes based on their development and other relationships. The chief of the police goes from being a grumpy woman attempting to do her best at her job and find a way to turn it from an interim position into a full one to being a warm but still very cross woman who won’t take any shit from her subordinates or contractors. Even Shawn’s dad goes from being an angry father with unreasonably high expectations of his son to being an important part of Shawn’s support network who just wants to make sure his son is doing well.

Now, even though it isn’t available on Netflix anymore, I recommend watching it. Buy the seasons or watch it on Amazon’s streaming service. I recommend buying it if you’ve got the money, since there are some weird audio/video sync issues with the Amazon episodes I’ve been watching that have taken almost an entire season to get used to (or have mostly vanished. It is hard to tell, sometimes). The eight seasons are worth your time and you will be laughing your way through way more episodes than you planned.

 

Steven Universe is the Best

Where do I even begin.

I’ve watched the series all the way through four times since this summer. First time through was in “streaming” order, the default order available on Amazon’s video streaming service (you’ve gotta buy the “seasons,” but they’re worth it). The second time was in the correct order, based on continuity. The third time was with my roommates. The fourth time was because I was impatient, unable to calmly wait for new episodes to come out. Every time I watched it, I felt like there was more to unpack. After four times, I can definitely say there’s more to this show than I can comfortably cover in a blog post, so I’m going to apologize up front for what a mess this might be.

I love the music. I first became familiar with Rebecca Sugar (the show’s creator) through her work on Adventure Time and, when I found out she was the person behind the song from the “Stakes” mini-series, “Everything Stays,” I bought all of Steven Universe from amazon and started watching it as soon as I’d stopped crying. Music is such an integral part of this show, that I’m not sure any review or discussion of the show can even half-assedly cover the show without going into it. The theme song is catchy and the scenes appearing on the screen throughout it are heart-warming and colorful. In the very first episode, the protagonist, a young human child (Steven), unabashedly signs the commercial jingle for his favorite ice cream treat. The episode ends with a portion of a bright, yet rather sad song whose entirety we do not get until the second season (or until you went ahead and bought the soundtrack or looked it up on Spotify). The second episode begins and ends the same way, but we discover that Steven’s love of music came from his father who was in a band before he met Steven’s mother.

Throughout the entire series, music comes in at critical junctures, giving us a window into the interior lives of the characters or communicating something they’ve been struggling to verbalize. We see one of the Crystal Gems named Amethyst–an alien race that are nigh-immortal but came to Earth long ago–sing a song with Steven about leaving home because they don’t feel like they belong. We eventually see Garnet sing a song about the strength of working together. Pearl sings several songs, many of them focusing on relaying information or expressing an emotion she’s been hiding for a long time following the passing of Steven’s Mother (who gave up her corporeal form in order to give birth to Steven). Steven sings songs for every possible reason from communication to encouragement to the simple joy of singing with someone. Steven’s dad, Greg (my personal favorite character and someone I aspire to be), sings songs to his son whenever he tells him about the past. Music touches every part of this show and really captures the heart and soul of the characters. Everyone I know who has gotten into this show has subsequently looked up the music on their own. I am not joking when I say I got Spotify just to have access to the album everywhere I wanted to listen to it. I also literally just bought it right before writing this sentence because I realized I couldn’t listen to it in the car because I’m super frugal when it comes to using cellular data. There’s so much amazing music, but I can’t really go into specifics without risking spoilers because it is so tied to each episode. The music alone is reason enough to check the show out.

The characters are so incredibly real and Steven redeems every character from a show you watched growing up whose power was hokey sentimentalism. He is sentimental, kind, incredibly sweet, unbelievably caring, and one of the most emotionally mature characters I’ve ever seen in a TV show, at least at the end. He still messes up, of course, but watching him grow throughout the series is incredibly rewarding and good inspiration for learning to work through your own problems. I won’t share any of the other characters’ growth because watching them change over the course of the series is a huge part of the show. Just as they grow in strength, they develop emotionally. The plot is just as much about emotional growth and learning to deal with your emotional troubles as it is about Steven Universe learning to become a Crystal Gem and what happens between the Crystal Gems and their estranged homeworld.

The supporting characters don’t feel like supporting characters because they’re just as three-dimensional and vibrant as the main characters. They even manage to make a pink lion with no speaking lines a fully fledged character with a detailed emotional life. The world is full and unique to the story. There’s a wonderful number of references to things that match our world despite there being a huge number of things that also separate it from our world. The stories are touching and deal with real conflict, and not just the violent kind. Sure, there are monsters they beat down, but the more difficult conflicts for Steven to handle are people who refuse his help due to their own pride or the people he wants to rescue but cannot. The most heart-wrenching episodes include an episode where the conflict Steven faces is when he has to decide to not save someone in order to take care of himself. Every villain has their reasons and even the worst of them eventually earns a measure of sympathy. You eventually get a sense that there’s something bigger going on, something beyond the characters you’ve seen. That there’s someone else out there who made the decisions that eventually created the bitter hatred and sadness you see playing out in these episodes.

As much as I love the show, I feel I should caution you. Since the show hasn’t finished yet, and the recent episode releases have been rather inconsistent and random, don’t dive right into it if you’re struggling with some unresolved emotional burdens or something big and sad has gone on. While this show can be incredibly cathartic, there are a lot of emotional issues that haven’t been resolved yet and basically leave you feeling sad and somewhat mournful. The tone is melancholic and, despite the fact that many of the sad moments end happily, not all of them have been resolved yet. Still, though, I suggest watching it. Definitely cautiously, and definitely a bit more slowly, but the catharsis and the wonderful feelings you get from watching something amazingly well made are worth it.

There’s so much more I want to say, but I think I’ve said everything that’s important. Watch this show. Take the time to make sure you’re watching it in order (which has been much easier now that you can buy actual DVDs of Season 1 and it is Season 1 that is out of order on all streaming services) and don’t watch more than a few episodes in a sitting. Let the show digest a bit between sittings and you’ll enjoy it even more.