Exit the King

I just finished a run performing Exit the King by Eugene Ionesco. I was The Doctor. The last show was Saturday. I wish I could say it was the best one ever, but no. The play was hard. With most plays you settle in a groove, after a few shows it runs like clockwork. We fought with this one to the end. The words were just hard. We all struggled. Then last night combination of fatigue and stress meant that I flubbed a couple of lines. Annoying and noticeable but it is what it is. I wasn’t the only one. Everyone was a bit off. We all had trouble that night. But that’s the way it is with live theatre.

There were several memorable things about this play. First I was playing a bad guy. A Doctor, Executioner, and all around sadist.

This was a stretch for me, but there was a certain delicious fun in being the doctor. He was nasty, from the implication of being a sadist and killer to his casual reference to where he said

“The only children left in the schools are congenital retards, mongoloids, and hydro-cephalics with goiters”.

He was just a cruel person who never missed a chance to twist the knife. For example when a nearly hysterical Marie is begging Berenger to not die the Doctor quips:

“He will be a page in a book of ten thousand pages, that sits in a library of a million books. A library that is one among a million other libraries”.

A cruel, arrogant, sarcastic, mean bastard. But I have to admit playing him was on some level a lot of fun.

As I mentioned this was a hard play. Theatre of the Absurd is just strange. Apparently Exit the King is one of Ionesco’s more normal plays which makes me wonder at his more absurd works. All of us struggled with the lines. In a normal play the dialogue is based on conversations.

“Would you like some coffee?”
“Yes I would, thanks.”
“Yes that would be nice. Did I ever mention my family had a sugar beet farm?”
“Was that in Iowa.”
“No, in Minnesota”

That sort of thing. The conversation flows and even if you stumble, there’s a clear ad lib you can do to get back on track. In Exit the King though, the dialogue is a lot of one character or another pontificating with multi page monologues. If you get stuck, there’s nothing the other actors can do to bail you out. Then what vaguely normal conversation there it is spiced with the occasional statement dropped from orbit that seems to have nothing to do with the rest of the exchange. (The statement above about “he’ll be a book…” for example). It’s hard to learn, hard to remember, and hard to get right. There is very little of what we’d think of as normal conversation. I’m glad I was part of this seldom produced play, but I’m also glad it’s over.

The play is very dark. Death, dealing with death, the inevitability of death, how everyone will react to the Kings death is the focus. Now I’m a dark person. I like dark humour. This play was a comedy, the darkest comedy you can possibly imagine. I like that sort of thing. But, you know, after three months, I’m kinda tired of that. I want some happy, silly, fun in my next play. Maybe a light musical. The Music Man. Arsenic and Old Lace. Noises Off. Same Time Next Year. Something like that.

The play, like all productions had memorable moments. One happened toward the end of the run. Juliette, the maid, was walking across the stage. This night she didn’t step on the centre of the platform under the kings throne. For some reason she stepped on the edge, and the trim snapped off, tripping her. Those of us backstage heard a crash. We looked at each other thinking “That wasn’t normal”. But the actor saved it. She didn’t fall down. Almost, but she stayed on her feet. She even had the presence of mind to take the broken piece of the set off with her. Then there was the night early in the run, I think third or fourth show. There’s a spot where the King and Juliette are wrestling over the King’s sceptre. This night they got a little enthusiastic and it broke in half. We all heard the crack and pressed on with the dialogue. We covered it up, except for where the King ad libbed in a crushed voice “They broke my sceptre”. All of us fought to keep a straight face. For act two we used the sceptre we’d been using in rehearsal. The King then ad libbed “Kings always have a spare sceptre” at the start. Most memorable for me was toward the end of the play Queen Marie is begging the king to not die …If you forget me I can’t exist. I’m nothing…” She was able to summon an amazing degree of emotion into the scene. Her voice, her actions, she even cried. It was amazing. It gave me a great base to be the arrogant, dismissive, uncaring, bastard Doctor.

Then there was the time Queen Marguerite was walking through the Green Room when someone mentioned that something was caught to the train on her dress. She looked and started to giggle. Apparently as she walked through the room it had tripped one of the mouse traps in the corner and it had gotten a grip on her train. Soon we were all in hysterics. Robb, the Director, said that it was the funniest Green Room moment he’d ever seen. The best part though: We don’t know when it happened. She probably picked it up at intermission, but she might have gone through the whole first act with it clinging on. I would like to think one of us would have noticed it, but you never know. Then of course there was the running gag all through the show. You see to symbolize how the kingdom was decaying they had arranged for some of the set to fall down. The Stage Directions even said that walls should collapse. We didn’t go that far, just assorted trim pieces came off and fell to the ground, pipes breaking, and such. The trouble was that we had a chronic problem with one or two not falling when they were supposed to, or falling not when they were supposed to. We never really knew if the theatrical “punctuation mark” was going to work when it was supposed to. It was a wild ride.

My favourite part though, well there were two. First the “Benny Hill Scene”. At one point the King Says “I won’t listen to you. He then runs offstage. Literally out the door with us in hot pursuit. We’re all screaming and yelling as we go. We looped around through backstage trying not to trip or step on each other’s trains in the dark, and through the other door back on stage. Then across, down the stairs, back up on the stage and resume our positions. The Guard then banged his halberd and the lights returned to normal. The king looked at the audience and proclaimed “What the fuck was that?”. It always brought down the house. Interestingly though they played Yakkity Sax during the chase, hence the Benny Hill name, none of us ever heard the music. We were so intent on completing the chase without tripping or otherwise hurting ourselves we just tuned it out. The other spot I loved was when Queen Marguerite accuses the Doctor of being a murderer. He replies

“Execution Majesty, not murder.” Normal
“I was just obeying orders.” Lower and a little darker.
“I was merely an instrument.” Even lower and darker.
“An Executor not an Executioner.” Borderline crazy.
“And everything I did I did Euthenassstically.” Truly psychotic, remembering what I did and enjoying it. Then I chuckled in a low evil laugh.
Looking over I saw the horrified queen, and realize that I had said too much. I pull myself together and finish in a normal voice, patronizing, condescending, trying to cover up.
“An-yway. I regret all that now…sorry.”
It was a blast to do.

And let’s not talk about the weather. Winter on Vancouver Island is rainy and dark. We’re used to that. This year though it was snowy. We almost never get snow, at least snow that sticks around more than a day or two. This year though it started snowing in December and stayed. We missed two of the five rehearsals we’d scheduled. In January it kept snowing on and off. We missed a rehearsal, and several more had one or two actors missing because they simply couldn’t get to the theatre. Even right up to the second to the last performance it snowed, turning the parking lot into a slushy swamp. Oddly enough as soon as the play wrapped up, the snow stopped. I’m not superstitious, but I started wondering about an Ionesco curse. Anyway the weather might have been part of the reason attendance was poor. Many shows had only 20 to 30 in the seats. No shows sold out. The top three were 130, 70 and 60 people in the 170 seat auditorium. Weather may have had something to do with it. However the subject matter may have had a lot to do with it as well. I talked to several people who said they enjoyed the play but if I or someone else they knew hadn’t been in it, they would have passed. The description didn’t entice.

But it’s over. After the show we hung out and got some photographs. Then we got out of our costumes and makeup and partied for a bit. They had put out a nice spread. Then came the Crew Show. I think it’s just an Nanaimo Theatre Group thing. The Assistant Director, Stage Manager, and the people in charge of Costumes, Makeup, Props and more all got together and did a ten minute parody of the show. I was surprised how truly funny it was. We enjoyed it a lot. Then we went back to partying. My favourite part, aside from Queen Marguerite not only wearing a unicorn head, not only drinking a beer through the unicorn head, that she has her own personal unicorn head that she keeps in her purse for this sort of occasion. No, for me the high point of the evening was later. during a discussion of movies. Someone commented

“Mahatma Ghandi. Why aren’t there more films about him. Sure there’s Ghandi, but other than that, nothing. Name one other film about Ghandi.”

To which I replied “Ghandi With the Wind?”

The double entendre’ just slayed everyone.

On the Sunday after the last show we took part in another Nanaimo Theatre Group tradition: Cleanup. They make the cast help with cleaning the dressing room, green room the stage area, theatre seating, booth, and tear down the set. I could really have passed on it though. I understand why they do it. It makes us be a bit more careful, and cleaner, in the dressing rooms. It builds esprit d’ corps. It saves on costs. But I do not like seeing the set come down. You see, it was more than a set. It was a place, a real location where I lived part of a life. Oh sure, there will be other sets, the stage will be used for other things. But it was real to me and it’s kinda sad to see it unceremoniously pulled down and cut up. It was too soon.

Finally when things were all done I was alone in the theatre looking at the empty stage. I started to sing. Quietly to myself, with a tear,

There are places I remember
All my life, though some have changed
Some forever not for better
Some have gone, and some remain
All these places have their moments
With people and friends, I still can recall
Some are dead and some are living
In my life, I’ve loved you all

Then I put on my coat, went out to the car, and drove home. No longer the sadistic Doctor to the dying Berenger in a nightmare kingdom running out of time. Just me, a guy who lives in Canada, who wanted pizza for lunch. There will be some time for mourning, but I’m already on the lookout for my next gig. The next life I can step into for a while.


This list will grow over time as we try more places. It is a “living document”. It’s also, at this point in no particular order. If I get enough I’ll alphabetize them.

  • ABC Family Restaurant. (Nanaimo) We really like the place. Just normal home cooking at good prices. Nothing fancy. A couple of friends of mine don’t go there because “it’s the same stuff I could make at home”. True but you don’t. If I feel like a turkey dinner or a plate of really good French Toast, or a dynamite milkshake this is where I go.
  • A&W (Nanaimo and elsewhere) While the chain has essentially collapsed in the US and the few left are really lousy, the same is not true in Canada. Up here they are doing well. The quality is good. Service is good. Love the burgers, fries and onion rings. The only problem is the milk shakes which are mediocre. Otherwise we like them a lot.
  • Boston Market (Nanaimo and Elsewhere) Sports Bar. Decent food and prices. Comfortable. Nice pizza.
  • Dairy Queen (Nanaimo and elsewhere) What you’d expect from a DQ. Good food, fast food ambiance. Their ice cream is great if a bit spendy. That’s not their fault, dairy is expensive all over Canada. Recommend the Blizzards, shakes, and Peanut Buster Parfaits.
  • Dinghy Dock Pub (Nanaimo, Protection Island actually) You have to take a water taxi/ferry to get to this little place making it a bit awkward. It is however good enough to have survived despite the inconvenience. It’s wonderful. The food is great. In the summer you can sit on the patio and watch the boats in the harbour. The bar is great. We don’t go as often as we’d like to, but we’ll be back.
  • The Doghouse (Duncan) Nice little diner. Known for their pie. Our friends favourite place. We’ll stop there if we’re in the area but don’t make a special trip just to go there.
  • The Keg (Nanaimo) Good if not memorable food that’s a bit on the expensive side for what you get. Dark inside. A bit hard to get to. There’s better places so we don’t plan on going back.
  • Lefty’s (Qualicum Beach) Nice. Good food at decent prices. Nice little small town diner. There’s another one in Parksville as well but we haven’t been there yet.
  • Lantzville Pub (Lantzville) Bright ambiance. Great view. Good prices. Good pub food. We go there a lot.
  • McDonalds (Nanaimo and elsewhere) No. Just no.
  • Mekong Delta (Parksville) Our new favourite asian place. It’s run by a relative of the person who runs Saigon Kitchen. It feels more like the old Saigon Kitchen. The portions and prices are good. The quality is very good. Plus they have a few unique dishes.
  • Milano’s (Nanaimo) Quite good food. Good service. Light and airy. Great Pizza. Their Fish Tacos use halibut, where most use cod or salmon. We go back often.
  • Original Joe’s (Nanaimo) Decent food if not spectacular. Sports bar ambiance. The service is terrible so we tend not to go there.
  • Ricky’s. (Nanaimo) We went there and found it quite sub par for ambiance, service, and food. The place changed hands and the new owners remodelled it and updated the menu. Amazingly enough it’s worse. We do NOT go there.
  • Saigon Kitchen. (Nanaimo) Formerly our favourite asian place. The food was terrific and the prices were very fair. In the last year the prices are creeping up and the quality has slipped. The dishes are still well made, but they’re using cheaper fillers. The prawn plate used to have a pile of them, now it has three or four plus rice and noodles. The sizzling hot pans used to be about 50% veggies/50% meat. Now they are about 80%/20%. Overall it’s just not as nice.
  • Simon-Holt (Nanaimo) Very good food. Very good service. We frequent it regularly. It’s a bar/restaurant with very nice ambiance, and a surprisingly broad menu. They even have a band in occasionally. The only drawback is the name. Simon-Holt sounds like a textbook publisher. But once we realized that it was really a restaurant  it quickly became one of our favourite places.
  • Tim Horton’s (Nanaimo and elsewhere) Decent pastries. Good sandwiches. Nicer than the usual fast food places. Often some even have decent seats and a fireplace. Tim’s coffee is apparently a big deal up here. I don’t like coffee so I can’t comment on that. Overall we hit Tim’s a lot.
  • White Spot (Nanaimo and elsewhere) A chain that made it’s name by being inoffensive. The food is OK if a bit on the bland side. Ambiance is pleasant enough. They also do the food service on BC Ferries so we do eat there occasionally. However it’s not our first choice.
  • Comedy Lesson 1: Brevity is the Soul of Wit

    Lets take a joke I heard today and dissect it:

  • Stanley died in a fire and his body was burned badly. The morgue needed someone to identify the body, so they sent for his two best deer hunting friends, Cooter and Gomer. The three men had always hunted and fished together and were long time members of a hunting camp.

    Cooter arrived first, and when the mortician pulled back the sheet, Cooter said, “Yup, his face is burned up pretty bad. You better roll him over.” The mortician rolled him over and Cooter said, “Nope, ain’t Stanley .”

    The mortician thought this was rather strange, So he brought Gomer in to confirm the identity of the body. Gomer looked at the body and said, “Yup, he’s pretty well burnt up. Roll him over.” The mortician rolled him over and Gomer said, “No, it ain’t Stanley.”

    The mortician asked, “How can you tell?”

    Gomer said, “Well, Stanley had two ass-holes.”

    “What! He had two ass-holes?” asked the mortician.

    “Yup, we never seen ‘em, but everybody used to say, there’s Stanley with them two ass-holes.”

  • Here is an opportunity to learn one of the most important lessens about comedy. Keep It Short. Nothing kills a joke more effectively than talking it to death. I believe it was Henny Youngman who said any joke can be made better by cutting it, either shorter or completely. At the very least over long jokes blunt the punch line and risk telegraphing it before you can wrap it up. It’s called a punch line for a reason; it has to hit before the recipient sees it coming.

    So how could this joke be tightened up. How about this:

  • The coroner thought the body from the burned house was Stanley’s but he needed positive identification so he brought in two of his friends. They couldn’t tell who it was so they asked the coroner to turn the body over. immediately both of them said “Nope that’s not Stanley”

    “How can you be sure?”

    “Whenever we were out we’d hear people saying ‘There goes Stanley with the two assholes.’ This guy only has one.”

  • See how much tighter the joke is? From seventeen lines to seven. It cuts all the unnecessary chaff out and gets to the critical bits. It doesn’t telegraph the punch line four lines before the end. Remember, you are telling jokes, not writing a novel or a screenplay. You don’t need to paint a textured scene. The audience’s mind will do that. Just the set up and then the punch line. Before you tell a joke, examine it, dissect it, if there is anything that doesn’t have to be in there cut it out.

    Remember: Brevity is the soul of wit

  • (Said by Polonius in “Hamlet” by William Shakespeare)
  • Animation 1, 2, 3, ., /, &, $

    12 Oz Mouse
    Drawings that look literally like they were done by a preschooler. Stories that have little or no plot. It seems like sometimes the voice over talent has nothing to go on and they are just trying to fill long gaps in the dialogue. Trying to be edgy the creators forgot about any vestige of quality. Forgettable if you are lucky.

    SIX TEENage friends (get it?) that hang around and work at a mall. Three girls and three guys, all sixteen years old dealing with peer pressure, lousy jobs, dating, and other teenage crises. The title is about as subtle as the rest of the writing. Not that it’s unpleasant. It’s just not very good. The characters are fairly thin and the plots are not too deep either.

    The 7D
    A retelling of the seven dwarves stories. Boilerplate and flat.

    A war between people using intelligent machines becomes a war between people and intelligent machines, and people are wiped out. The earth is ruined, and the remaining war machines wander around killing anything they find. A doll, number 9, awakes amid the rubble. He discovers others of his kind, gets them to stop hiding, and leads them to fight back against the machines. Well done, inspiring, with a deep meaning, message, and subtexts. Emotionally draining. It’s likely to be too intense for kids though.

    .Hack// Legend.
    Similar premise to .Hack// Sign but not nearly as good as the first series.

    .Hack// Liminality
    People are falling into comas while playing The Game. A former executive with The CC Corporation that runs The World tries to figure out what is going on. The story takes place entirely in the real world. Mediocre animation. Average writing. What made the original .Hack// Sign interesting was that they were trying to solve a similar puzzle from within the game. This is the same except that by staying on the outside it loses it’s cleverness. From the outside it isn’t that interesting or compelling. Large parts were just characters talking interminably trying to sound noir. The end was vague, unclear, and unsatisfying. The series was a companion to a series of video games which are no longer available. That explains a lot.

    From 2010; after Legend, Liminality, and Roots. Something is wrong in the World. Players are getting hurt for real. Players cannot log out. The World is being manipulated. Similar in design and feel to the original .Hack//Sign this short series moves fast and has a clear plot. It is short too, only three episodes. I believe it may have been intended to be a one hour movie. The animation is superb, movie grade CGI and flat animation. The music is gorgeous. The voiceover talent excellent. After a number of decidedly sub par offerings I had about given up on the .Hack// series. This redeems it. I hope it is a foretaste of what’s to come.

    I am so annoyed with this one I could just spit. The story is as good as the original .Hack/Sign. The plot development is slow to the point of being frustrating at times, just like the first but as it wraps up it builds to a good finale. I was expecting to rate it just as highly as the first. Then I got to the end, or rather the lack of an end. The story does not finish, rather the plot line is left open and the `end` is in a video game you cannot get any longer. It felt like a bad practical joke. As one reviewer said `All that and in the end I just spent a month watching a commercial for the video game`.

    At first this looks like a kiddie anime along the lines of Pokimon. It is set in an online Everquest like environment called The World. You discover that one of the characters is in trouble. Something has gone wrong with the environment and the user cannot log out. Because it is a virtual environment, the rest of the characters cannot figure out where the user is in the real world. They have to debug the system and resolve the hacking incident, which is what they discover the ultimate cause to be, from inside The World. You have the odd situation of sysadmins discussing server routing and protocol conflicts while dressed in full armour and battling with system bugs in the form of monsters. It is all very surreal.

    Animation X Y Z

    Xiolin Showdown
    Omi is an apprentice monk. He and three other apprentices have to capture Shen Gong Wu, powerful and ancient talisman, before Evil Jack Spicer and his robots can capture them. Along with Omi are Clay who is a Texan, Kimiko who is supposed to be Japanese but she comes off as more of a California valley girl, and Raimundo who is Brazilian. The characters all are positively soggy with tired stereotypes and at first I found this rather off-putting. Overall the writing is decent and the show is watch-able once you get past the setup. Not high art, though.

    Allegory of intolerance and McCarthyism. Well written that explores the history contradictions, and deep wishes of the characters. Not just how but why they have the powers, what they do with them, and their desires. Quite good.

    The Xs
    A family of spies trying to maintain an incognito “normal” life. The trouble is that they are really bad at it. I thought it would be a rip-off of The Incredibles but it is actually quite different and quite amusing.

    Xxxholic Kai
    A kid has a sister who is into spooky magic things. His best friend is a taciturn loner that inherited his grandfathers shrine complete with library of spells and magical lore. He’s hopelessly in love with this girl in his class. All in all a decent, if not inspired setting for a story. The trouble is that Watanuki is obnoxious. Flying off the handle at the slightest provocation. His scenes seem to fill with tired ‘anime’ symbolism without warning. Most everyone else is just going about forwarding the plot, which at it’s core is not a bad story. Kai though is just a mess. If this were live action Kai would be played by the young actor that keeps tripping over the scenery when he’s not over-emoting. But when he’s in the spirit world he’s clear sighted and decisive. Unfortunately he doesn’t spend nearly enough time in the spirit world. A very unbalanced mix.

    Zatch Bell
    A super smart High School kid receives a Mimoto, a little brother/doll/robot thing. With it and a book of spells he has to battle other guys and their Mimotos. Suffers from Naruto Disease. Uninteresting and repetitious.

    Zombie Loan
    A school girl meets up with two guys. They died but were rescued and now have to pay back their benefactor, working off the debt by killing zombies. She ends up in debt to the Zombie Loan office too and uses her ability to tell who is a zombie to help the other two. Not a bad series. 11 episodes plus 2 OVA so it’s moves quickly. Decent writing and animation. Enjoyable but average.

    Z/X Ignition
    Based on a collectible card game and video game. The physics does not make any sense, nor the writing. You can go the other way, make a series into a good video game but it’s nearly impossible to go from a game to a good movie or series.

    Animation W

    By Ryan Larkin. A man is walking. People see him. Others are walking. The film explores the abstract form if the human form in motion. Interesting. Beautiful in it’s own way. See also Ryan, Street Musique, and Syrinx.

    Wallace and Grommet: Curse of the Were Rabbit (Movie)
    For the uninitiated Wallace is a half crazy inventor and Grommet is his dog, except that Grommet is smarter, has more common sense, and is more talented in most everything. In this adventure the two of them are running a humane pest control service. This means that they capture rabbits from their customers gardens and take them away. Then something huge and sinister arrives and they have to take care of it. Of course all of this is done with more of their wild inventions. Lots of slapstick humor, obscure references, and improbable situations. The characters are wonderful. A couple of interesting notes. The same actress played Lady Tottington in Weir Rabbit and the Corpse Bride in the film of the same name. Lastly the animator that did this film also did Chicken Run and a series of Wallace and Grommet shorts. All of them are very enjoyable.

    A very well done story about impossible love. The robots are delightful One called it to Buster Keaton meets Sigorny Weaver and that’s not far off. There’s a good deal of subtext, people getting lazy and fat, trashing the earth, corporate greed and conspicuous consumption are bad, etc. Right wing morons tried to make a big deal about that but it only showed that they were in fact morons. The film itself is beautifully done, exciting, touching, and a heck of a lot of fun. The robots are far better than those in the film Robots, more realistic in graphic design and behaviour.

    Wander Over Yonder
    Not sure where this one is supposed to be set. Yonder, a smallish vaguely humanoid bowling pin shaped creature with a big floppy hat, and his friend, a horse, have adventures. He is unflappably cheerful and optimistic. His friend is more aware of the dangers and is seriously sarcastic at times. Nothing is the way you’d expect. Yonder always wins and the powerful look like idiots. Silly at first glance, it actually has a lot of satire and commentary.

    Whatever Happened to Robot Jones
    Educational cartoon for the Junior High crowd. A robot trying to fit in an a normal Jr. High. OK, Junior High was a time in our lives when we all felt like a misfit. Like they passed a bunch of new rules and we were Robot Jones trying to navigate our way through without making too many embarrassing mistakes. Fine, but the show is very simplistic and the message of each episode is painfully obvious. I really think I saw this or something very much like it years ago. I could swear that they just pulled out a bunch of old films made in the 80s and are passing them off as new stuff set in the 80s. The animation even looks like the original Schoolhouse Rock short films. Of course it was not good even then and age has not helped.

    Whisper of the Heart (Movie)
    (Miyazaki). Very gentle look at a girl named Shizuku growing up. She starts as a disorganized 14 year old with some talent for writing, she does lyrics for her Jr. High School graduation but does not think they are very good. Through the film she discovers a wider world, a boy that makes violins, he goes to Italy, and she tests herself by writing a novel in the 2 months he is away. At the end she looks the same but there is a focus, a confidence that she did not have at the beginning. A slow and pretty film. Nice but not moving. Being a writer I liked Miyazakis handling of her coming to grips with the dream of being a writer and how when a story starts to flow it is not like you are creating as much as recording a story that is unfolding on its own. Very nicely handled. The only (fairly petty) complaint is that for the theme song and the song Shizuku is rewriting the lyrics for they chose Take Me Home, Country Roads. The 1972 Olivia Newton-John version used for the opening credits under scenes of people walking around Tokyo seemed completely out of place, to the point of being jarring and surreal. Her rewritten lyrics were actually an improvement over the original, and the scene where they are all singing and playing the song together is great. It was done in the style of a medieval madrigal and was quite nice. But in the end it still is the twangy song that John Denver made popular and just seems out of place. The Cat Came Back is technically a sequel to Whisper of the Heart but the two effectively take place in different universes. The Baron and the white cat with the dark ear are back in the later film but Whisper of the Heart is a much more realistic style of film with no magic.

    Witch Hunter Robin
    A secret organization exists to locate and capture witches. Paradoxically people with the same ability to use “the craft” who work for the organization are “hunters” not “witches”. Witches are considered evil and there is an unmistakable slam toward organized religion. As the series goes on we learn more about witch persecution and Robin, who has a very powerful ability to control and project fire, has more and more doubts about the morality of what she is doing. Finally Robin becomes too powerful and the organization turns on her and declares her to be a witch. It has a great ending. To tell any more would be to give away the intrigue.

    Wolfs Rain
    Interesting story of a post apocalyptic world where wolves have learned to look like people in order to hide from us while they search for their mythical Eden. Unfortunately, there is an underlying homoeroticism about the relationships in the pack that I found a little bit uncomfortable for a show about kids and young adults.

    Wolverine and the X-Men
    As the original was about intolerance in general and Mcarthyism in particular, this version is an allegory of right wing hate mongering. The characters have the same internal conflicts that made them interesting in the original series and the writing is still tight. Some of the characters seem weaker than the original, Storm, and Rogue for example. Gambit, my favourite character from the original is also not in this one at all. But overall it is quite good.

    The World of Quest
    A prince, a hero, and other typical characters on a quest battle monsters and an evil bad guy and his muscle bound sidekick. Could have been very typical and uninteresting except that it is a parody of the genre. Everything is filled with digs and jokes at the form and the classic set pieces. They have a living map called Way that gives directions in such a garbled Way that she seldom helps them to find their Way. The hero is exceedingly cynical and has the catch phrase; I hate ______, where in inserts whatever they have encountered no matter how unlikely he is to ever have run into it before. The prince is just a kid with no particular talents or skills. The show is nicely done and because they do it with tongue firmly planted in cheek quite amusing.

    Animation V

    Venture Brothers
    A parody of the adventure family (Johnny Quest etc.) cartoons. Two brothers who are utterly inept and craven, their father Dr. Venture who is self centred and sarcastic, along with their bodyguard Brock who is over the top tough, travel the world looking for treasures, artifacts and such and running into strange bad guys. Fairly clumsy and obvious. Whenever the story lags you can count on them to liven things up with an obvious homosexual reference. No subtlety. Little cleverness.

    Voices From a Distant Star (Movie)
    A couple of middle school kids are close friends. The boy goes on to high school and the girl gets picked to pilot a mech in an interstellar war. She keeps in contact with her friend via text messages. The trouble is that the war gets farther and farther from Earth. First the messages are a few minutes delayed. Then a few hours. Then a year, then over eight years as the UN Army chases the enemy. We do not really know who the enemy is and why they attacked Mars is never explained. It is not important. The violence and ruthlessness of the war is a backdrop for the real story. The girl who fights and the guy who stays home try to keep in touch but it gets harder and harder. Her loneliness and isolation is palpable. What is more, as she gets farther from Earth she knows that the two of them are getting out of synch. She even mention this in one message saying `This is from the 15 year old Makako to the 24 year old Noboru`. The story is sad but achingly beautiful.

    Animation U

    A very surprising film. Enjoyable but very grown up. The first 20 minutes or so follow the life of a kid as he meets the girl next door. They grow up, dream of adventures, and get married. We see them have a life together, have setbacks, and lose a child. Finally they grow old, she passes away and he is left alone. The start is really quite sad. He decides to fulfill her dream of going to South America. He attaches thousands of balloons to his home and sails away from his old life, and a very evil developer that wanted to cheat him out of his house. Accidentally a local kid ends up going with him. They make it to South America and encounter a talking dog, a strange giant bird and the old man’s childhood hero. His hero it turns out has become an obsessive, murderous, nutcase that will do anything to kill the giant bird. What happens is exciting but not childish. The nutcase ends up getting killed in a rather gruesome fashion. The man is a total asshole at times, though in the end he makes a heart wrenching sacrifice to do the right thing. The big message of the film is the corrupting power of obsession. Overall Up is sweet, sad, exciting, funny, and dramatic. However if you are looking for something for little kids, this is too dark.

    Animation T

    The adventures of a writer and monster hunter and his human and monster friends. Decent animation but sloppy writing. Tactics includes brothels, strip party games, and violence. The hero is a manipulative jackass and there is a strong romantic subtext between him and a daemon. The heroes rival is a complete jerk that does not believe in demons or monsters even when they are standing right in front of him. There is a group of bad guys that are out to kill one of the demons in this little group, oddly enough by restoring his memories and returning him to full strength. On the other hand several of the characters are young children, and cute cartoony creatures. Some of the situations and reactions are Pokemon grade stupid. The production team simply does not know if they want to make the next Pokemon or Samurai Champloo. Early on they just have a series of disconnected adventures. Toward the end it becomes a violent psychological thriller. One of the children, Suzu is around 10 years old, initially acts like she is 4 and near the end is delivering monologues like she is 20. The dissonance makes the show a bit of a slog to get through.

    Team Galaxy
    A high school for future Space Marshals. In the same style as Totally Spies. Similar absurd premise. Similar artwork. Similar paper thin characters. Similar sub-average writing. The characters are not quite as vacuous as the three principles in Totally Spies but the show is.

    A good workmanlike Disney princess adventure. Pretty, with some decent if not memorable songs. A fairly boilerplate story with villains, and a princess, and a comic side kick, and a message. Don’t get me wrong it’s not bad, it’s not even mediocre, it’s actually fairly enjoyable. Overall I’d say it’s pleasant enough.

    Teen Titans
    Teen super heroes who fight villains and live in a giant T in the middle of the bay that nobody seams to notice. Raven and Starfire are the two females and they are by far the most interesting characters. Raven is the ultimate Goth. She uses dark magic to do good but there are things in her past that she fights desperately to keep secret. She has to be continually reminded that she has friends and does not have to battle them alone. Starfire is as light as Raven is dark. She is filled with joy most of the time and even when angry it is an anger based in a deep morality of life. She has the ability to shoot bolts of energy from her hands and later after she goes through puberty from her eyes. She is royalty on her planet but is extremely naive about Earth and its customs. Both Raven and Starfire can fly. Robin has all the Batman gadgets and martial arts but how did he end up on his own? Cyborg is three quarters machine but how did he get that way? Beastboy is able to change shape into any animal but he is mostly there for comic relief. Some of the episodes are a lot of fun. The one where Starefire went through puberty and the several where Raven deals with her father. The one where a villain steals all of their souls but accidentally switches Raven and Starfire and they have learn to use each others power. There were also several episodes that were just awful. The show is a sometimes hit and more often miss.

    Teen Titans-Go
    A complete reboot of the story. The characters are the same but the animation is flatter and more ‘cartoony’ than the earlier series. The stories are more for humour and deal with interpersonal relationships more than defeating criminals. It’s fun and silly and in some ways as enjoyable as the first series. I like it.

    A gritty city buried in the earth, ruled by the Orgono and the Union. A fighter that had his left leg and right arm cut off, and a leader of the Organo who is trying to hold off a gang war with the Union are the principles. Tying them together is Texhnolyze, a technology used to make superior artificial limbs. It’s only available to the elite who flaunt their power and degrade the masses. Who is the little red haired girl that watches the events unfold. Who is the traveler? Very slow to build. The stories intertwine but remain distinct. Very well written. Quite violent with adult themes. The end is quite thought provoking. I thought it was actually quite good.

    Production Note: All titles that begin with The are filed under the first word after The. The Cat Returns is filed under Cat, The Emperor’s New School is under Emperor’s, The X’s is under X’s, and so fourth.

    Time Squad
    Time police that search out anachronisms and deviations from history and go around and fix them. Tudrussell is a knuckle dragging muscle guy, Larry3000 is utterly effete, and Otto is the only one with brains. This would have made a good movie but there is not enough material for more than a season.

    Centuries ago a group of Alchemists created a box of 108 pieces. The box was a gate to the underworld. Now the gateway is open again and Phantoms are coming through. Phantoms are a cross between zombies and vampires and they hunt humans. A police team is assigned the duty of investigating a series of gruesome unexplained murders. They run into a group of people, Tokko, who kill the phantoms with swords. It turns out that the members of Tokko are the only ones that can actually hurt the Phantoms. Their job is to hunt them down. There is some political intrigue, but not much. The story is only 13 episodes long so there is not enough time to add depth to the characters. The animation is average at best. There are plot holes and inconsistencies that trip it up throughout. Worst of all it is wrapped up very abruptly and they do everything but set up a billboard saying This Is Just Chapter One. Then no more in the series were made. It had possibilities but in the end was rather unsatisfying.

    Tokyo: Magnitude 8
    A 12-13 year old girl and her 7-8 year old brother are out at a museum when Tokyo is hit with a massive earthquake. The city is destroyed. They have to make their way back to the mainland and then home across town amidst debris, collapsing buildings, and aftershocks. The animations is excellent quality 2D. The writing is superb. Believable characters you care about, and situations that feel real. They are helped by some nice people and some are jerks. The kids talk like kids. They see some terrible things that kids that age shouldn’t see yet, but that’s the way it is. They experience all the terrors and unexpected joys of anyone who goes through a disaster such as this. No magic, no robots, no bad guys, no typical ‘Anime” cliches. A very good series.

    Tom Goes to the Mayor
    Bad animation, pointless stories, overall too mediocre to even dislike intensely.

    Total Drama Island/Total Drama Action/Total Drama World Tour
    I’ve mentioned before that I intensely dislike the whole Survivor genre. Animating it doesn’t help. This one is somewhat better in that they play up how the people who go on those kind of programs are attention craving losers. But it’s still forgettable drek.

    Totally Spies
    Faced with the threat of Kim Possible on Disney Channel, Cartoon Network tried to create their own teenage female spy show. Unfortunately they created the most sexist stereotyped vacuous female characters ever. I have only been able stomach a few minutes at a time.

    Toy Story (Movie)
    (Pixar) The secret life of toys. An amusing adventure story. The toys look good, suitably wooden or plastic, unfortunately the few human characters look plastic as well. The story is fairly simplistic. Both this and the sequel are amusing if not high art. OK if it is playing on a long flight otherwise there is better stuff out there. Mostly the film is a historical artifact now. I read somewhere that it was the first movie to be totally CGI. Characters, scenes, backgrounds, everything was done on the computer in 3D.

    I just can not get into this story. Vash the Destroyer has a horrific reputation that he does not deserve. He is just a klutz that ends up in the wrong place at the wrong time and gets blamed for everything. He keeps running into very bad people and gangs that try to get him for the reward on his head and they do the damage he gets blamed for. He is also being followed by two women who work for an insurance company. It just seems overly violent and somewhat pointless.

    Trinity Blood
    In a post apocalyptic world, people kill animals, vampires kill people, and crusnik kill vampires. Politically the world is divided up into the church, lead by the catholic hierarchy out of the Vatican, and the empire of vampires in the east. Father Abel Nightroad is a crusnik that poses as a Catholic priest to defend humans against the vampires. He appears as somewhat naive and clumsy but when needed he can weald terrible power. This is a dark show, both figuratively and graphically. The colors are richer than most TV animation. The writing is often moody and there are times when you really have to pay attention to catch the subtle hints or you will have trouble following the action. There is also a fair amount of depth to the characters. Some of the Vatican hierarchy have agendas of their own and are not completely good guys. I like how women occupy high positions in the church. Some of the bad guys have a sympathetic side. The Crusnic for example, who are vicious killers, if you are a vampire, are victims of horrible human experimentation. The artwork is brooding and luscious. A quality job all the way around.

    Tripping the Rift
    The greedy captain of a small space ship, his sex slave, lame-o relative, and robot fop. Thin characters. Thin plot. Poor development. Basically this is an excuse for the animators to draw 3D nerd fantasy women. Mildly amusing for a few episodes then like most soft core porn it got boring.

    T.U.F.F. Puppy
    A cartoon version of Get Smart with animals. The principals are an utterly inept dog and his skilled sidekick. a cat. The bad guys are animals as well. Fairly good, if rather juvenile.

    A sweeping story of interstellar empire and insurrection, full of palace intrigue, and chance changes of fortune, and lucky breaks, and brilliant strategy. The animation and voice work is average at best, but the writing is ambitious…and I didn’t care for it. Maybe it’s the War and Peace problem, too many characters, scenes, and locals. After four or five episodes I started losing track of who was who and which side they were on. More importantly, I didn’t care any more. Maybe I’m just not a fan of palace intrigue. I like stories about people. This is a story about a galactic empire threatened with revolution. Or maybe it’s just because it might not have been terribly well done.

    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 a long time ago 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.

    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.

    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.

    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,