Animation S

Saishuuheiki Kanojo The Last Love Song on this Little Planet
They are a couple of high school kids during time of war. He’s, frankly a bit of a jerk. She’s fawning and submissive. Then there’s a bombing attack on Sapporo. The bombers are destroyed by a fast moving super weapon. Afterwards it’s revealed that she is the weapon, a cyborg built by the military, and they have to deal with the consequences. The deprivations of war. Survivors and killers guilt. Absence and temptation. What happens when the weapon feels guilt for doing what it’s been ordered to do. The animation looks hand drawn but any shortcomings are more than made up by the subtle writing and voice work. A very good story with a simple message; in war all victories are pyrrhic.

Samurai Chambloo
I think of this as Ruroni Kenshen crossed with Cowboy Beebop. In medieval Japan, two brilliant swordsmen, one undisciplined, the other absolutely self controlled, travel around in the company of a girl looking for a samurai that smells like sunflowers. The difference is that the two samurai characters are not really good guys. When they are not causing trouble and pissing off the powers that be, they are killing other swordsman. Sometimes they are working for local gang leaders. Sometimes just wiping them out for the hell of it. Often they change sides in mid fight. If things get slow they try to kill each other. I like its very edgy dark humour and how the show is not afraid to go against the classic characters or break what is expected of animation. For example, in the second episode the girl gets kidnapped and is forced to work in a brothel. You won’t see that in Pokemon. The fight scene choreography is simply gorgeous.

Samurai Jack
Cleverly written and produced with a lot of style and class. This is the story of a man thrown into the future and of a world under the heel of an evil shape shifting sorcerer. It is is fascinating. They take a lot of chances and does some things just for the sake of pushing the artistic boundaries.

Sanjay’s Super Team
A short film playing with The Good Dinosaur. Sanjay is a kid in a Hindu family. His father wants to pray, but Sanjay wants to watch superhero cartoons. His father makes him turn off the TV and join in the prayers. At first Sanjay is resentful but he has an encounter that makes him join the two worlds. The end Sanjay is doodling again but this time his Super Team is the Hindu superheroes not the TV one. A well written story, exciting and touching.

Scrapped Princess
A crazy monk had a prophecy that a princess would destroy the world and now she’s on the run with her older brother and sister. A good premise that the writing could not pull off. Too bad.

Scooby Doo
There is an old joke that there was actually only one script. They just changed the names. Bad animation, poor voicing, non-existent writing. Overall it is painful to watch, and I do not. This applies to Scooby Doo, Scooby Doo Mysteries, Scooby Doo and the Mystery Machine, anything with Scrappy Doo (which amazingly enough made an already painfully bad series even worse) any of the Scooby Doo and the XXX movies which were just as bad but longer, or the recent Shaggy and Scooby Doo Get a Clue. Please will somebody give these guys a pension and send them to Ft. Lauderdale. The whole ScoobynDoo empire has to end.

Native Users with telekinetic powers battle it out with a quasi-military group sent by the government to control them. The battle takes place on The Lost Ground, a territory that was broken off from the mainland of Japan. Standard good/freedom/individual vs bad/tyranny/fascist plot. Very quickly it got predictable and I gave up on it.

Sealab 2021
Parody of the Sealab 2020 series from the early 1970s. The characters are now incompetent. There is no redeeming social value to this program. I guess that when you are going to parody something it helps if what you are parodying is good. Unfortunately, the original was just another HB time filler and as such there is not much material to build on. It’s just crass, predictable, and dull.

Seikimatsu Occult Gakuin
An angry girl, Maya, inherits her fathers high school of the occult. A young guy comes back from the future to prevent a supernatural event from happening at the school that wipes out civilization. There’s a shadowy group working behind the scenes at the school that appear to be trying to cause the event. Poor writing, paper thin characters, Maya is way too casually violent, the guy is too clueless, too many cliché anime bits, too much unnecessary ecce. I gave up after three episodes.

Serial Experiments Lain
A little girl on the cusp of leaving childhood, very shy and thoughtful to the point of being withdrawn. She gets a new computer and discovers The Wired, (Internet) Strange things start happening around her. A friend commits suicide. People playing an online game start hallucinating it in real life. People think she is someone else, someone older. Who are the Knights? What do the signs “Fulfill the Prophecy” springing up all over mean? Then things get really strange. Who is Lain really. Does Lain really exist. Does anything? Just what is reality? Very interesting and a mind blowing end.

In a small isolated town people are dying. Soon it’s becoming clear that some of them are coming back to life as vampires that are killing the remaining people. A doctor and a temple priest are trying to figure out what’s going on and save the town. This could be a typical vampire/zombie story but this is much better. The writing is superb with twists and surprises. The animation is well done. The music is mostly good. Toward the end the subtext comes out. The war against the vampires expands to include anyone who’s under their control, then anyone thought to be ‘sympathizers’, then anyone that gives an answer the interrogators don’t like. Petty personal grievances are acted upon. Self protection becomes genocide. In the end are the villagers any better than the vampires? Who really are the mindless killers? A very significant work.

Shin Chin
Looks like a Chinese version of South Park. Inept parents, Smart mouthed, and foul mouthed kids. The kids are younger so in addition to the language, there is more scatological humour. Boorish and stupid.

Shinreigari: Ghost Hound
Three kids who experienced violence in the past discover the ability to move between this world and the Unseen World where the spirits reside. In the mean time the spirits are moving into this world. What is the mystery about one of the kids kidnapping, what is with this local country religion that suddenly seems to be gaining so much power, what is going on at the local bio-research company that is worth killing for. Lots more is going on and sinister forces are circling. Surprisingly good after a slow start. There is a good deal of back story developed and connections between the families that they didn’t know about.

Shrek (Movie)
Low humour. Body humour. Bathroom humour. Lots of “topical” references that look very dated now. Some amusing moments in this film of an Ogre trying to rescue the girl and save his home but overall it is forgettable. I did not even bother watching Shrek 2 and Shrek 3 and 4 were more about selling products than anything else.

Shingetsutan Tsukihime
Average animation at best. A story about vampires that, much like the ones in Twilight, don’t follow the established canon. Vampires in daylight, vampires that live for hundreds of years but don’t understand anything about human society, different kinds of vampires, it’s all a bit overly complex. I found myself saying things like “Oh this is going to be the one where he fights the bad guy and wins” and it did, or “I bet his sister knows more than she is letting on” and she did. A few interesting twists and turns but overall rather predictable.

The Simpsons
Idiot father, well meaning mother, brainy sister, bratty brother. Lots of hijinks and the kids seem to always win in the end. Good the first few years and the Halloween specials were a lot of fun. Early on it was full of social satire. Over time they evolved into gratuitous pop-culture references. The Simpsons went corporate and formulaic after about ten years and I do not bother with it any more.

Skull Man
A reporter and photographer investigate a series of murders by a spectral figure wearing a skull mask and cape in a city with secrets. Very good animation. Very good music. A well written and interesting story with twists and surprises. Unfortunately,13 episodes is not enough to really develop some of the themes. There were two wars mentioned that lead to the creation of monsters and cyborgs, both of which were hidden from the public and apparently isolated in Ootomo. The White Bell sect is related to the previous lines but how did it come to be such a big organization. The back story of the main characters is mentioned and they were all connected one way or another years before but there was much more there to explore. I liked the series and it almost, but not quite made it onto my best of page. If they’d taken a bit more time they could have had a storyline as rich as the animation.

A future where the earth has shattered and the chunks orbit around the core. Everything is surrounded by atmosphere and gravity is earth normal. The result is that people live on these floating islands and fly between them. The Sphere, an evil militaristic dictatorship run by Oslo is bent on dominating the world. Mahad and Lena are trying to free their mother from Sphere imprisonment, keep from getting captured themselves, and try to stop the Sphere. The writing is not bad, though the dialogue is a bit forced at times. The graphics are on the whole very good. The ships and islands, the landscapes and flying scenes are simply gorgeous, with a beautiful impressionistic feel. The effect is quite surreal. The characters, on the other hand are the product of CGI and Motion Capture, giving them a wooden appearance. They come across as very stiff and flat. The end is a bit of a disappointment. The finale is a one hour extended episode that has even more gorgeous graphics; subtle shadow and light effects to improve the, already impressive, landscape imaging. Unfortunately, the story was rather predictable and simplistic. Worst of all the writers bludgeon you with the message of the Family is Strength. I mean we got that already by the fourth or fifth episode.

Somali and the Forest Spirit
Golems protect and care for the forest. One day a Golem discovers a four or five year old girl. She is alone and starts calling the Golem Father. They are travelling to find other humans. This is the story of their travels, interactions with other creatures. We also learn the history of humans in this world, how they treated others and how they were treated. Beautiful animation, brilliant writing, excellent voiceover work. An exquisitely beautiful story that surprises you at every turn. A lot of deep philosophical messaging in this. Racism, intolerance, and greed are shown in all their ugliness as well as redemption. Definitely going on my best of list.

South Park
Fourth Graders with fowl mouths living in a town in Colorado. Strange things happen and the kids fix it. They try to use this as a vehicle for social commentary and satire. First couple of seasons were not too bad. The sh*t show was a far deeper than many people gave it credit for. The later seasons got to be more a vehicle for potty humour and kids doing inappropriate things than serious satire.

Film Board of Canada. Beautiful abstract short with music by JS Bach and Glen Gould and abstract water-colours about moving spheres. Mesmerizing and meditative.

Spice and Wolf (Ookami to Koushinryou)
Amusing but not great. This is clearly set in Europe, not Japan. Craft Lawrence, a travelling merchant hooks up with Horo a Wolf Spirit. He agrees to take her back to her homeland in the north. Along the way they get involved with lots of dealings and actual criminality. There are two big companies in town that are competing and the two of them are caught in the middle. Unfortunately the company names are so similar it’s sometimes difficult to which one is doing what. It’s also the story of their growing relationship. The animation is average. The writing is not bad. I just had some trouble getting into the characters. Lawrence seems to drift from shrewd trader to clueless novice. Horo is at times, a wise spirit, glutton, or spoiled child. Also there are gaps in the action where Lawrence stops to explain his dealings to Horo. If you’ve ever seen the cartoons “By Word of Mouse” or “Heir Conditioned” or “Yankee Dood It”, where they tried to use cartoons to teach economic theory you understand how boring this can be. At some points I just wanted to yell ‘I get it already’ at the screen. Just not interesting enough to bother with Spice and Wolf II.

Spirited Away (Movie)
(Miyazaki) A little girl and her family move to a new town and on the way stumble into a Spirit Bath House (we would call it a spa). She has to survive, make friends, and rescue her parents who have been turned into pigs. In the process she grows up from a whiny child to a confident adult. The description of this fairy tale does not do it justice. It is stunningly beautiful, moving, and deep. Not just the best animated film I have seen. I think it is the best film of any kind I have ever seen.

Strange creatures live on an island. They are the result of horrific genetic experiments. Some are recognizable: a gorilla with a pony head, a rhino with two legs, a cat head on 8 tentacles, and some are so mixed up that it’s hard to tell what they were. They live, and play, and generally do amusing things. It’s not high art but it is fun, even if it does rely on slapstick and bodily functions humour a lot of the time. The transitions are done with panache, the whole show has a fun tongue in cheek style. While it started out rather silly, over time the inner subversion came out. It’s actually quite well written and very enjoyable. I get the same feeling from Spliced as I did from Dave the Barbarian.

Spongebob Squarepants
A sponge who is an idiot. His friend the starfish that is even dumber. His neighbour the octopus is arrogant and pompous. His boss is a miserly crab. His friend is a squirrel in the diving suit. The list goes on and on of the strange inhabitants of Bikini Bottom. The whole effect is completely stupid, utterly moronic, and without anything to interest anyone over age 9. Inexplicably, it is fun to watch. Look for anachronisms. For example, why are their are waves on the beach when Bikini Bottom is under water. How do they light fires. It’s surprisingly fun.

There is a theory that you do not need fine art if the writing is good. The cartoons of Callihan are the best example. I can also point to several shows that were graphically impressive but were just bad. The film Antz for example. Squidbillies is about squids living among people in some remote hick town in the mountains of northern Georgia. It has almost unintelligible graphics. It also has forgettable, painfully obvious writing. Crass for the sake of crassness. Unfunny, uninteresting, witless dialogue. The plot, such as it is has little to keep you interested. The situations are stupid, the characters are unsympathetic and the interactions are uninteresting.

Squirrel Boy
A throwback to an older style of animation. A family lives with their talking screw up of a pet squirrel. Lots of slapstick and silly comedy. OK but the humour is juvenile enough that I do not catch it much. It has the same problem that Fosters has. The main character (Rodney the squirrel in this case) is just really annoying.

A kid wakes up with amnesia and tries to figure out what is going on. Lots of anime tropes, giant robots, fights, monsters, school life, misfits, a bit of female empowerment handled clumsily, its just a mish mash. The stories were kinda’ predictable. Oh it is five minutes from the end of the episode, there’s about to be a fight. The fight starts, Gridman is winning, surprise move and he’s about to lose, but he manages to win after all. The end tries to have some deep meaning which is fine. But it’s handled like some educational after school special. Overall I was not impressed with this mediocre series.

Star Trek The Animated Series
The overall stories are challenging, in many ways more on a level with the original series than a kids show. They used the power of animation to produce interesting situations and aliens they couldn’t do with TV production techniques available at the time. However, the series is crippled by one thing: Funimation. The Funimation animation is awful, on a par with He-Man, done by Funimation a few years later. It’s a fairly good series if you can overlook the clumsy production values.

Steam Boy (Movie)
A young boy named Ray Steam in Victorian England is a mechanical genius just like his father and grandfather. One day a package arrives. As they open the package the bad guys come in and try to steal it. The boy takes off with the device from the package with the bad guys in pursuit. The rest of the story is Ray trying to keep the device from the package, recover it from the bad guys when they get it, and above all try to figure out who, if anyone is actually good. Along the way he meets the most obnoxious, ethically vacuous girl ever animated. She almost sees the evil of the bad guys several times only to not get it. The film would be better if she had been smarter. A bit heavy handed on the message. Overall not a bad film though. Exciting and spectacular, the mechanical design of all the equipment is great, while also keeping the Victorian feel of the story.

Stein’s Gate
A small group of kids start experimenting with building a time machine. They succeed and draw the attention of SERN, who in the future also comes up with a time machine and uses it to rule a distopian world. Suddenly they are struggling to survive SERN agents trying to take them out, and fix the future. The lead guy Okarin is frankly an annoying poser/jerk at the beginning but as the series goes on he matures a lot. The story gains a good deal of depth and character development. Each of the changes they make to the timeline has unforeseen consequences, and then undoing the changes leaves Okarin and his group with horrible moral dilemmas. They make a few mistakes in chrono-physics and there were a few plot twists that they telegraphed episodes before, but overall it’s not bad.

A kid leaves home to attend an academy for special students run by a slightly mysterious bearded man. While there the kid and friends have to deal with social issues, self confidence, and a huge threat that could destroy the world. Sounds like Harry Potter doesn’t it? In this case the kid is a girl named Shima, the school is Stellvia an academy in space for talented students, and the threat is the shock-wave from a nearby Supernova that could literally destroy the earth. Overall the writing is superb. The characters have a great dal of depth. I found myself caring about what would happen to them, not just what would happen in the story. The animation is average or maybe a bit better than average, but that’s OK. Even if the ending is a little predictable, there are enough twists, turns, and surprises along the way to make for a very entertaining series. A sequel was planned but, apparently there were clashes and it has been shelved permanently. Pity, there were a few questions left unanswered at the end of the first series that I was hoping would be answered.

Steven Universe.
Steven is half Gem and half Human. He’s discovering what that means while living with the last three Crystal Gems, Garnet, Amethyst, and Pearl. Discovering who he is and what the universe is all about, while fending off Gem Home World. The story is delightful. My only quibble would be that some of the episodes about the people living in Beach City are lousy. I just couldn’t bring myself to care about them too much. I found myself skipping those for ones where Steven is travelling around, discovering his abilities, doing things with Connie, and interacting with the Gems and the Crystal Gems. Good character development and great music. In fact music is an integral part of the series.

Steven Universe:The Movie
All the characters are there. All the powers. Lots of songs. But somehow it feels off. The trouble is I suspect that they didn’t let the story flow. They took the good things from the series and made a story around those things. The show was about Steven growing up, so now he’s 16. But he’s lost a lot of the cuteness he had before. In the series the music was the strongest element, so in the movie they have a lot of songs. Seems like every couple of minutes somebody was breaking into song, to the point it detracts from the story, and none of them are really memorable. I suspect the writing team was stretched too thin to produce something on a level with It’s Over, Isn’t It or Here Comes A Thought. The same with the writing. The story is okay, but not as tight as the episodes. If the series was a solid A, the movie is a B. Not bad, enjoyable, but somehow…

Steven Universe: Future 
Intended to be the Epilogue for the show, but it just feels sad. Connie has been written out. His dad is almost never there. All his friends are getting on with their lives. They introduce some interesting concepts, but don’t follow up on them. Steven really doesn’t have a purpose. Rather then resolving this, the end doesn’t wrap anything up. It felt like the end to the Sopranos. The series just ends. If the series was an A, and the Movie was a B, Future was a C to C-. Steven Universe is a fantastically written and thought out story arc, with wonderful concepts and music. The Movie and Future really don’t add anything.

Storm Hawks
I was very surprised at this one. A small group of teenagers that call themselves the Storm Hawks. They use their crystal powered flying motorcycles to travel from place to place and battle the Cylonians. And other bad guys. It looked like yet another variation on a tired old theme. This time though the writing had some wit and cleverness. The animation is very good. The flying scenes are often breathtaking. Overall, this is a surprisingly entertaining and amusing show.

Straight Jacket
An alternate universe where magic is just like electricity, or chemistry, or nuclear; an energy that society uses for it’s own purposes. Like many that we do use the pollution from magic’s use harms people, especially children. Those that use it too much turn into horrible monsters bent on killing and destruction. Enter the Tactical Sorcerers. They wear an armoured skintight battle suit that keeps them from becoming deformed despite the vast magical powers they weald to protect the city. Straight Jacket refers to the suits, but also to the moral dilemmas they face. Kill to stop the killing. Pollute to stop the effects of pollution. The moral decay in some is palpable. The protagonist is a cynical, tired, unlicensed Tactical Sorcerer. He is accompanied by the half human-half demon daughter of the monsters he killed on one of his first jobs. The story is an interesting allegory of the real world where we do use powers that pollute and kill us, where greed does make us into monsters. It used the familiar ‘Dirty Harry’ model of a rogue cop that the police have to rely on to get the job done. Fun, but 90 minutes isn’t really long enough to delve into the characters backgrounds and motivations.

Street Musique
Ryan Larkin used the music of street musicians, who appear at the beginning and end of the film, to inspire a journey exploring movement. The artwork varies from the Psychedelic to Impressionistic. LSD inspired surreal line drawings cross into beautiful abstract pastel drawings that cross into exquisite water-colour landscapes. The film is full of fun music and beautiful and thought provoking images. As with Walking, it is beautiful in its own way. See also Ryan, Walking, and Syrinx.

Sword Art Online
So close. This series is almost Best List worthy, almost. At heart it is a very well written and produced series about people trapped in an on-line world. At first glance it follows the pattern of the ./Hack series, just much better written. You really care about the characters. There are surprising plot twists. It’s not just a stereotypical one battle after another story arc. This continues to episode 14 when they escape. However, the series has 11 more episodes. For the second part of the series they add new characters, a new world, and a new, positively nauseating villain. The trouble is that the writing is just not as crisp, not as well done as the first 14. The characters make questionable ethical choices. There are plot weaknesses that weren’t allowed in the first part. I don’t want to reveal any spoilers but there’s even one rather disturbing sub plot involving a forbidden relationship. As with a number of other series, they just couldn’t hold it together till the end.

By Ryan Larkin . A beautiful charcoal animated film of the classic myth of Syrinx and Pan. The animation at times looks like sand painting the way the images melt into each other. It is quite striking. See also Ryan, Walking, and Street Musique,