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

Up
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

Tactics
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.

Tangled
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.

Texhnolyze
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.

The
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.

Tokko
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.

Trigun
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.

Tytania
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.

S-Cry-Ed
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.

Shiki
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.

Skyland
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.

Spheres
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.

Spliced
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.

Squidbillies
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.

Stellvia
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.
A kid in a tiny town on a tiny planet in a tiny parallel universe goes on adventures with three spirits, Garnet, Amethyst, and Pearl, each of whom have their own personalities. Apparently his mother, Rose Quartz, was a spirit as well and Steven is discovering his own powers. Odd adventures, occasional unpleasant songs, and a surprisingly dark subtext. At first I liked it. Over time I grew to like it a lot.

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.

Syrinx
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,

Animation R

Reboot
A bit of computer history. Set inside a computer, Mainframe. It was a very early series completely done in CGI. Over the run you can see how technology advancements improved the graphics. The premise is that inside the computer when the User loads and plays a game a cube of memory is marked off for the game. If the user wins everything inside is killed. It is the job of Bob and the other Guardians to enter the game and play. If they win the inhabitants of the cube are saved. Later the Guardians must fight malware from outside that wants to destroy Mainframe. A lot of geeky references, inside jokes and other 4th wall actions. It’s good, but the primitive CGI make it a little hard to stay with at first. Over time though it grows on you. I’ve begun to like it a lot. Note that seasons 1-3 are the best. Season 4 consists of two 90minute movies. The writing, especially in My Two Bobs is just not as good. Also they changed the graphics to make them more “realistic” but they just came across as uncannily weird.

Rental Magica
A kid inherits his fathers position running a magician for hire company. He knows little of magic and learns as he goes. The team is an eclectic mix of magical traditions and he learns how to control his own abilities as well. Average writing animation and sound. There are some surprising twists, and unexpected events. Overall it’s pleasant but nothing special. Average.

Requiem From the Darkness
A writer trying to collect ghost stories travels around Japan. He encounters a group of three characters; a dwarf shaman, a huge muscleman, and a beautiful women with mysterious powers. They form sort of a Karmic Mod Squad that dispensed justice and solves problems. The writer and the group get involved with one horrible Twilight Zone situation after another. Similar in style to Mushishi but much darker and more explicit. The writing is very good with real surprises and twists. The animation is gorgeous. The series does deal with issues such as murder, cannibalism, incest, and on and on in a very matter of fact way. This is without question an adult series.

Robot Chicken
Stop motion animation using toys and legos in satirical short vignettes. Obvious writing, crass just to be crass. Painfully strained attempts to be ‘topical’. Overall it is just exceedingly bad.

Robots (Movie)
A young robot in a world populated by robots goes to the big city to make his fortune. He discovers a lot of social inequity and has to unmask an evil plot to scrap all of the older robots. Robin William’s helps this movie a lot. Otherwise it would just be pedantic social commentary.

Ruby Gloom
Cute story about macabre little kids in an old house. It’s what you get when Goth teems grow up and become animators. The stories are simple and pleasant. A bit of a message to them which its sometimes off putting. Overall though, it’s nice.

Rurouni Kenshin
A samurai, Batosai, The Man slayer, gets tired of killing and gives it up. He wanders across Japan during the Meiji Era when feudalism is ending and a republic is getting established. He just wants to live a quiet life and takes up residence in a small struggling school where he teaches and generally helps out. Unfortunately, the corrupt and despicable keep intruding and Kenshin is called on to stop them and save the weak and innocent. As an interesting twist I do not think Kenshin ever kills anyone. He may knock them out but I do not believe he sheds any blood.

Ryan
A short film of a series of conversations with the Canadian Animator Ryan Larkin. Deeply Surreal. The characters emotional deformities, limitations and wounds are visible in their physical forms. The conversation covers creativity, Ryan’s friends, and what it is really like to be a professional artist. A very subtle and fascinating film. See also, Walking, Street Musique, and Syrinx.

Animation Q

Quiet Country Cafe
A girl runs a cafe in the middle of nowhere. When the cafe is severely damaged in a typhoon, she decided to see what the rest of the country is like. It is a very soft gentle story but there is nearly no thread. We learn that the girl is an android. She leaves a manuscript called For My Owner, but we never find out what it says or who he is. She runs into a pilot who is the only male android, and then he’s gone. Where did the androids come from? What happened to most of the people. Why is the country so shabby? There are all sorts of threads that are left hanging. It’s a great seed that never really sprouts. The animation is actually quite pretty though.

Animation P

Paranoia Agent
As dark and cynical a view of life as I have ever seen. This show is so surreal and twisted I wonder if Salvador Dali could have been reincarnated as a Japanese Menga writer. A fragile designer of stuffed animals, that thinks they come to life is attacked by a small person with a bent baseball bat, and gold roller blades. Then a series of attacks on other people follow. Also involved are the slimiest lawyer/journalist/whatever, character ever created, cops who think she faked the attack, an old homeless woman, a 6th grader who is the best at everything until he is accused, a teacher who has a split personality and lives a double life as a prostitute, an old homeless man. It became apparent that everyone is insane at some level and is somehow related at some level. The tone is set by the opening credits that show each of the characters laughing hysterically in the foreground while scenes of horror and destruction pass by in the background. Deep, Deep social commentary in this one.

ParaNorman
A weird kid is bullied at school and not understood by his family at home all because he says he can see ghosts. The thing is, he can. He finds out that he’s the only one who can save the town from a terrible curse, if someone would just believe him. An extremely well done film by the same team that did Coraline. A clear message about not fearing what you don’t understand, but they handled it in a subtle way, not pedantic or preachy at all. Exceedingly well done.

Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures
A cartoon made from Pac-Man? Really? I guess the studio must have COMPLETELY run out ideas. I mean if they end up not just basing a series on a video game, ALWAYS a terrible idea, but on one with no plot whatsoever. The term nauseatingly awful does not do this monstrosity justice.

The Penguins of Madagascar
Take the B squad of characters from a mildly amusing if uninspired movie and give them their own show. What you get is a silly, mediocrity that is mostly uninteresting. Somehow though after catching a few episodes I found I liked it.

The Phantom Tollbooth (Movie)
A classic film based on the classic book. It was also produced by Chuck Jones and his style comes through very clearly. A lazy little boy is drawn into a world where he needs to save Rhyme and Reason from chaos. The story is a rather heavy handed allegory, nowhere nearly as subtle as the book. The beginning and end are shot in live action and frankly the 1960s too clean plastic looking little boy feels out of place along side the good quality animation that makes up the majority of the film. The film is also a musical which was unnecessary and the songs are uninspired. It’s probably the only film that I think should be redone because it could be done so much better now. Meyazaki could make something fantastic out of the material. Don’t get the impression I dislike the film. It’s fun but could be so much better.

The Pink Panther/New Pink Panther Show
Three shorts. The first and third of the Pink Panther the middle one of a french police Inspector or the Ant and the Anteater. The Inspector is silly and mildly amusing as is the Ant and the Anteater. The Pink Panthers are still quite funny. It is all done with sight gags and great writing. (Ignore the few awful episodes where they gave PP a voice.) The animation is typical clumsy late ’70s stuff. Try to avoid the original opening credits which are embarrassingly bad. The Pink Panther Show was good. The New Pink Panther Show where they replaced the intro and the Inspector with The Ant and the Aardvark was better.

Piper
The short that came out with Finding Dory. A baby sandpiper ventures out of the nest and discovers the ocean. Funny and very cute.

The Pirates! Band of Misfits
A very silly story. Pirates, Charles Darwin, Queen Victoria, an intelligent chimp, and a dodo. Silly, ridiculous, and a lot of fun. It’s good to see that Aardman Studios can do just as good a job without relying on the Wallace and Grommet characters.

The Place Promised in our Early Days (Movie)
Children in an alternate post-war divided Japan. Two boys and a girl grow up against a backdrop of war and intrigue. In the north is an impossibly tall thin tower that seems to rise beyond the sky and the three of them dream of flying there. As they grow up the boys are drawn into plots and plans related to the tower and the girl falls into a coma and her dreams are somehow linked to the tower and the power it has. In the end after coming into conflict and danger they do come together again and succeed in flying to the tower in the airplane they started building as children. Beautifully animated and mostly well written, however the end is weak and incongruous. It just kind of ends. For that reason alone I can not rate it as highly as I had hoped.

Planetarian: The Reverie of a Little Planet
After being away from Anime for a couple of years I started with this one. It reminded me of why I love Anime. A post apocalyptic world. All that’s left are a few survivors, and autonomous hunter/killer robots. I don’t think the robots were the enemy. People did this to themselves. There’s just nobody left to turn them off. The man is a Junker, he scuttles around trying to find working technology to sell, without getting killed by the robots. He explores an old department store and finds a Planetarium on the top floor. What’s more the Planetarium has an attendant robot that’s still functioning. The robot knows nothing about the war, just that she is supposed to do an 11:00 show every day, and nobody has shown up for 30 years to see it. He decides to repair the planetarium projector, and see the show. Animation is great. They know what a planetarium looks like inside and out, (I used to work in Planetariums so I know). The writing is wonderful. It brings out the wonder of both seeing and doing a Planetarium show. The story arc is satisfying, though five episodes is a bit short. It’s as much a post apocalyptic story as it is a story of longing for a time of peace and joy and wonder and hope. Achingly beautiful.

Planetes
A quite well written show both from an understanding of Physics (there is no sound in space, the atmosphere is not ha hard wall etc.) and in developing realistic characters. Tanabe is assigned to “Half Section” the part of the company that collects debris from orbit to prevent collisions. She learns her job, deals with relationships and assorted characters. In addition to her co workers she runs into terrorists, space-porn producers, people on there way up, and down in the company, petty criminals, a bunch of ninja-wannabes, law enforcement people, and the spoiled son of the chairman. She meets Hachimachi, the EVA specialist in the Debris Section. The story is really of their developing relationship. She is light and convinced that love and kindness is the answer to everything. He is dark, aloof, cynical, arrogant, and tries to act like people are unimportant, only space matters. The story is well written and well animated. You come to understand the characters, even the minor ones, and their motivations. There were real surprises and episode cliff-hangers that leave you on the edge of your seat. The end is slightly hackneyed but it’s OK, I really was happy to see a happy ending for these characters.

Planet Sheen
I had low expectations on this one. Take Jimmy Neutron, a moderately amusing show, pull the most stupid and annoying character, Sheen, out and put him on a planet far away. Make him the star with a intelligent monkey and a slug that looks like Carl from the original series as sidekicks and a yodelling blue girl as a love interest. It could have been awful but much to my surprise it was as good as the first series. Oh sure Sheen is just as stupid and there are the occasional UltraLord references but somehow they make it work. Oh it is silly in a Spongebob kind of way but it’s not bad.

Pom Poko (Movie)
Racoons (or an animal native to Japan that looks like a racoon) discover that their forest home is being destroyed by a housing development. They try to fight back, but at heart they are lazy, easily distracted, somewhat silly animals and so they fail. This is the weakness of the film. If you have a lovable loser as your hero, you ultimately have to have him win or he ends up just pathetic. By the end of Pom Poko the survivors lose everything and end up adapting to city life. There is not a happy ending. Also the writing is average at best so the surprises and plot twists aren`t. Pom Poko has a strong environmental message, to the point of being pedantic in places. The story is really an obvious allegory about Japan in WWII, not surprising from the director of Grave of the Fireflies. After an initial success, the racoons lose every battle. One group even tries a banzai/kamikaze sort of attack. They accomplish nothing and are wiped out. Others chose death over surrender. Though amusing in spots, overall the humans are bad, the racoons are inept, and the film is just kind of depressing.

Ponyo (Movie)
A young boy finds what he thinks is a goldfish and adopts it, naming her Ponyo. It’s actually the daughter of a man who maintains the balance of the sea and A powerful sea goddess. The story revolves around her fathers attempts to recover his daughter and her desire to remain in the human world. The artwork and story are for a younger audience, more Totoro than Mononoke but it is very enjoyable for adults. The artwork is beautiful and the script is tight and very satisfying as is the voice work. A couple of things. The ‘Devonian’ fish and other ancient creatures that appear are real creatures from the Devonian. The Palaeontologist in me loved the attention to detail. Also, Lisa, Sosuke’s mother is the worst driver ever. We got a lot of amusement from watching her careening around the landscape. A very good film.

Porco Rosso (Movie)
(Miyazaki). A reclusive pig of a bounty hunter (not figuratively, the characters head was actually turned into that of a pig for some reason that was never made clear) flies around the Adriatic dodging the Italian Secret Police and Air Force and emotional entanglements while feeling the pull of duty. Interesting in that there is none of the Japanese mythology and culture apparent in Miyazakis other films and there are no children either. Enjoyable in a different way than his other films. One reviewer said that if they did a live action version someone like Humphrey Bogart would have played the title character. Quite possible but let us all prey to whatever god you may believe in that they never try to make a live action version of any of Miyazakis films. Ughhh, what a thought.

The Prince of Tennis
The life and times of a kid who plays tennis really well. Nicely animated. Decently written. Fairly well developed characters. I just found it uninteresting. Maybe if I had any interest in tennis whatsoever.

Princess Mononoke (Movie)
(Miyazaki) A young man, Ashitaka, is poisoned by a demon (and a truly terrifying one at that) and has to travel to the wilderness to find a cure before the creeping evil infection kills him. He stumbles into a battle between development, a town based on iron mining, and the denizens of the forest, both natural and supernatural. One of the forest dwellers is Mononoke, a human child raised by wolves and now battling to destroy the human invaders. High energy, quite violent and possibly too intense for very little kids. It is a vast story involving two sides but also sub conflicts between the townspeople and other people who want to invade and take over their town, as well as fights between the wolf clan, boars, apes, and such on the nature side. No one is completely right and no one is completely wrong. Interestingly, Ashitaka is not immediately drawn to the nature side, even though Mononoke saved his life after he was shot by the townspeople. He can see some good coming from the settlement (the women were all rescued from brothels and the machine shop is run by lepers). He can also see the side of preserving nature. He is struggling to keep both sides from destroying each other and so each side accuses him of being a spy for the other. Almost geopolitical in scope and there is no mistaking the environmental message.

Animation O

The Oblongs
Probably the most cynical animated program ever created. The hill people are rich, beautiful and uncaring. The valley people are literally mutants from the toxic waste and other things that the hill people flush downhill. The thing is that the valley people are not angry and consumed with revenge. They live happy lives even though Dad has no arms or legs, Mom is bald and is drunk most of the time, his twin brothers share two legs and three butt cheeks, his friends include a morbid Goth, and a cone shaped little girl similar to a frog. The show is unbelievably cynical and a not so subtle indictment of the right wing corporate agenda for America. The first season was fantastic. The second season was one too many.

One Piece
Monkey D Loofy a really nice, kind, thin gawky kid in a straw hat wants to become the King of the Pirates, as unlikely as that might seem. To do this he has to find One Piece, the treasure left by the former Pirate King. He gained the ability to stretch his arms and legs like rubber and that is the one ace he has to defeat the enemies he runs across. Two items. The theme song is a blast. One Piece Rap is really fun and clearly states everything you need to know. Secondly the writers must not get enough to eat. Food plays a huge part in the story, with whole episodes taking place in restaurants, and involving cooks. Overall this is a fun show even if the animation sometimes gives the impression of being for a much younger audience.

Ookami Kakushi
A little town where all seems normal but there is a hidden creepy secret nobody wants to talk about, just like a bunch of other series. This time it’s a rehash of the wolf-man legend. IT’s a worn out premise used a thousand times, but this version does add one twist: homophobia. One character expresses his the supernatural insanity by being a gay pedophile. The series is just so much uninspired, boilerplate writing with massive plot holes, off the shelf music, and average animation. Then they ran out of story after eleven episodes. Twelve was just filler, that made no sense. A mediocre, somewhat amateurish work.

Outlaw Star
A small time operator ends up with an advanced spaceship and is suddenly on the run from gangsters who want it, while he figures out what is going on, how the ship works, and solves the mystery that came along with the ship. Produced in 1997-98 so despite the series mid 80’s production values it is derivative. The show can’t seem to decide if it is a supernatural sword and sorcery story or a sci-fi space ship story. Not that it matters as the creators don’t know how to write believable characters for either kind of story. I finally bailed on this series because it was just too badly written. The characters are shrill and annoying, even the use of gunfire for scene transitions is annoying. I just gave up before half way through. It’s too bad, the premise is good.

Animation N

Najika Dengeki Sakusen
Combine the original Charlie’s Angels with bad T&A spy shows from the ’70s and ‘spice’ it up with way too many shots of women’s underwear and you have the gist of this show. She even has “Charlie” who gives her her missions. The bad people are either overly nasty Dr. Evil types or lesbians or ‘humerittes, gynoid robots. Even the background music feels like it’s lifted from a bad ‘70s action show. There’s a plot about her getting an assistant but it’s just a rather obvious, and unsuccessful, device to try to keep this from being just episodic ecce about girls in underwear with guns. Unless you are really into cartoon panties and painfully bad writing don’t bother.

Naruto
A whiney kid joins a Ninja School. He is very immature and frankly annoying a lot of the time. They not only learn classic fighting skills but a lot of magical abilities. He and his fellow students battle a lot of powerful creatures and demons. The series had some promise but finally it deteriorated into a series of fights with little plot between. I have come to call this tendency Naruto Disease; when the writers stop trying and just have the characters fight without any plot. Too many promising shows do this. It’s a sign of lazy writers.

Napoleon Dynamite
This isn’t a fair review. They started with the premise from a movie of the same name, that I hated. Then they rendered it with the same writing, humour, and style as King of the Hill, which I hated. I can’t recommend this series.

Natsume Yuujinchou/Zoku Natsume Yuujinchou
(Natsume’s Book of Friends and Natsume’s Book of Friends 2) A teenager named Natsume inherited two things from his grandmother. A book of calligraphy and the ability to see Youkai, spirits. The ability made him a bit of a loner and he learned to hide it from others who could not see all the creatures around them. He discovers his grandmother collected the names of dozens of Youkai in the book to control them. He decides to return the names and free the spirits. In the process he learns a lot about his grandmother and himself. He also discovers others who can see and deal with Youkai and starts to make some friends. A gentle story that reminds me of Mushi-shi. More about problem solving and helping than fighting. Very good animation and writing.

Nausicaa: In The Valley of the Winds (Movie)
(Miyazaki) A post apocalyptic world of isolated cities and a toxic forest filled with poisonous trees , plants that can kill you with their spore,s and giant insects. This was all caused 1000 years earlier in something called the seven days of fire by armies of giant warriors. In this world the Princess struggles to save her home in the Valley if the Wind from the forest, insects, and military conquest by her neighbours who are trying to resurrect the last giant warrior and take over the world. Not as good animation as Spirited Away and the action is more melodramatic and violent. The environmental/peace message is a bit heavy handed in places but overall this is a good film.

Night Head Genesis
Kids with psychic powers in a world like ours but filled with very nasty people. Not sure if it was the premise or the writing or what but I just didn’t like it.

The Nightmare Before Christmas (Movie)
(Burton)The inhabitants of Halloween-town decide to do Christmas for Santa. They do not really get the whole Christmas concept though and make a huge mess of it. Wonderful musical with great songs and a good love story. I pull this out every November because it is my favorite Xmas movie.

Nine
See 9

No e in
Every once in a while after slogging through mediocre Anime for months you run across a gem. Such is No e In. The story is of a little girl who gets drawn into a web of intrigue when people come back from a apocalyptic future (one of many possible futures) in the belief that she is the key to saving themselves. The writing is breathtaking with twists and characters coming through and doing the last thing you would have expected of them. The underlying message, is deeply meaningful: You do have a choice, your future is not dictated, life is affirmed by people recognizing each other and even after someone is gone, as long as someone remembers them they do exist. It is handled with delicacy and subtlety. The animation is a mix of movie quality CGI and wonderful character drawings. At times I really suspected that some of No e in was done with old style hand drawings. It is that good. It is often listed as Noein but it really is three words.

NOIR
This is a story about bad people. Two professional assassins with connections to the mob and a shadowy group called the Soldats. The body count per episode is staggering, henchmen do not last long here. Also nobody ever runs out of ammunition. The action is mostly bloodless, and their are numerous flashbacks, but this is noir as the title suggests, not a splatter flick. They do go to great lengths to slowly expose the back story of the principle characters. Overall the writing and animation is good, however the message seems to be that Men Kill, Women Kill, Children Kill, Love Kills, Hate Kills, Religion Kills, Companies Kill, Governments Kill, all with impunity. Everyone is covered in the blood of innocents except that no one is really innocent. The name of the show is Noir which means darkness. This show starts in twilight and ends in the pit of the blackest despair. It is really too cynical even for me.

Animation M

Macross Frontier
Singing is the core of this anime but it can’t decide if it wants to be a giant robot story, love triangle story, political story, space story, or a music story. Yoko Kanno is the primary composer so as you might expect the music is wonderful, the best part of the series. The space battles are spectacular. The political intrigue is not bad. The trouble is the parts that don’t fit together very well. Also music is played up for being too important. Ranka Lee starts singing and it hypnotizes the bug-like Vjara. Ranka Lee starts singing and an insurrection stops because all they really wanted was a j-pop performance. The overriding point seems to be that j-pop music will change the universe, which is ludicrous. The plot simply doesn’t hold together as well as it should. Many parts don’t make sense. The finale feels incomplete and confusing with untied threads all over the place. For much of the last episode I wasn’t sure what was going on. A big disappointment.

Madagascar (Movie)
A lion, hippo, zebra and giraffe who only have known life in the New York zoo get shipped “home” to Kenya. On the way they get washed overboard and end up in Madagascar. The trouble is they have no idea how to be animals, they are city creatures. A quite amusing film. It suffers from “topicality” disease, that is the writers get so busy making references, many quite amusing, that it starts to distract from the flow of the film and in a couple of years the references look dated.

Madlax
A girl who is a talented agent and assassin and another, a forgetful orphan with lots of money are connected by a country in the throws of a 12 year civil war that is being perpetuated by all sorts of outside groups, Anfan, a shadowy mafia/quasi religious underworld group, a corporation that puts profit above ethics or peoples lives, and the mysterious deaths of everyone that tries to solve the puzzle of an ancient book written in an indecipherable language belonging to the orphan, people who’s lives and memories vanish, and around it all the ghosts of the children killed in the war. In this universe women are the good guys and all the bad guys are men. Men keep the war going and it’s mostly men that die. Decent visuals. Nice music. Engrossing writing. A class act.

The Magic Projector (Movie)
In the early part of the last century a boy and his sister go to see the first movie show in Canada. A sweet short film of magic and love.

Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magika
Young girls are recruited to fight against witches. Nice classic and mixed media animation with good music and voice-work. The writing is well done with many surprising twists. The story is an allegory of the cost of going to war. In the end those that fight for ‘good’ become indistinguishable from the ‘bad’ players. All are destroyed. All are damned. All are lost. The only cure is not to play. Reject those that spin tales of why it’s the right thing to do. They are looking to their own reasons and benefits, not yours. It’s not so naive as to suggest that there will never be bad things, but fighting against the real bad guys is different from fighting for someone that profits from the battle.

MAR; Marche Awakens Romance
A kid dreams of a magical sward and sorcery realm. One day he is drawn into the world, called MAR. He has to battle evil worriers, the `chess pieces` who are bent on destroying MAR. Along the way he meets up with others, battles the bad guys and they collect ARMs, magical talisman that increase their strength. The battles seem to be the focus of the show. At first I thought it was similar to One Piece, but there is an increasing focus on the battles over the story. Naruto Disease.

Megas XLR
A not too bright motor head and video game player in New Jersey named Coop finds and “fixes up” a huge battle robot. He is now the only one who can drive Megas so it is up to him, his moron friends, along with Keva, the agent sent from the future to retrieve Megas, to fight to save the world from the Glorft and deal with various other space baddies. Sounds dumb and it is but the humour is savagely cynical and ironic. Watch for tiny details like the names on the buttons and such that are some of the shows best jokes. Think of this as the Anti-Big O.

Metalcolypse
Comedy is a tricky thing. The show Metalocalypse is a good example. There are so many places Metalocolypse could have gone wrong. It is about the ultimate Death Metal band, Dethklok. Each of the members of the band is a stereotypical emaciated, moody, antisocial, metal rock musician type. They are big, really big, the 12th biggest economy on the planet. They are so big and influential that the powers that be (a creepy group of military, political, and religious types that meet in secret) plot to destroy Dethklok but never succeed. The members of Dethklok live the ultimate death metal life, killing, mayhem, gore, skulls, black and red decor. Even their cell phones have spikes on them. But they never answer for what happens. When I visited the Metalocolypse web site they had a body counter that was up over 72,000 fatalities. They have to deal with the both the results of their fame and power, as well as more mundane things like when their parents come to visit or when they have the annual Dethklok company staff meeting. The show is so far over the top that it revels in its total absurdity. If the writers ever were to back off from the ragged edge it would not be funny. The animation is rather stiff but the writing is great.

Mnemosyne: Mnemosyne No Musume-tachi
OK I made a mistake. I didn’t listen to the little voice. The one in my head that said ‘I don’t think so’ when I first thought it looked interesting. The one that started ringing alarm bells when I read the Wikipedia article. I went ahead and watched the first episode anyway. Rin is an investigator in modern/near future. She is also immortal. I was hoping it would be a female James Bond sort of story, but it isn’t. It’s a very sexual, very violent work full of gratuitous naked bodies and sadomasochistic torture. Blood spills everywhere. This isn’t a story where violence has no consequences. It’s one that revels in the consequences, it lingers on every drip and spatter of the consequences. The story started with her looking for a lost cat, progressed into her trying to figure out the identity of this kid is and why mobsters are trying to kidnap him. The next thing I know it turns into torture-porn with Rin tied naked to a frame getting knitting needles jammed into her. I bailed after the first episode. This isn’t what I signed on for AT ALL.

Mononoke
A mysterious medicine seller travels Japan eliminating Mononoke, evil spirits. The artwork is almost decadent, lush images, every inch filled with colour and movement. The paintings on the walls are reproductions of famous masterpieces, I even think I saw a Picasso. The visuals are also quite surreal, it reminded me of Yellow Submarine in spots. Fantastic creatures, fish with legs, a carp with spider eyes playing a Biwa. There’s one part where the principles in a crowd are people and everyone else are mannequins. Birds and insects will move in the pictures on the wall, forced and extended perspective adds to the nightmare quality. The writing is very black horror. Psychological mind game horror stories with surprise and often ambiguous endings. Most interestingly the artwork and story is performed like a play. Change scenes are marked with doors closing across the ‘stage’ and then opening to show the new act in a new scene. Actors change by donning and changing masks. The story that takes place onboard a ship especially looks like it was done with moving scenery pieces and painted backdrops. This only adds to the surreal ambiance. A masterpiece.

Monsters Incorporated (Movie)
(Pixar) Closet monsters scare children to harvest the power of screams which is used to run their world. A child accidentally comes through the closet into the Monster realm and the two monsters have to get it back home. Clever design, nice enough story if rather violent at times. An exciting chase scene. The emotional connection between the child and the monsters is actually quite touching.

Monsters vs Aliens (Movie)
On her wedding day a women is hit by a meteor. The strange energy turns her into a giant with super strength. She is picked up by the military and moved to a facility where other ‘monsters’ are kept. She is trying to adapt to this when all of them are called upon to save the earth from an alien invasion. A fun story. A little heavy on the message, but it is Disney after all. Not a great film but amusing.

Moretsu Uchuu Kaizoku
(aka Bodacious Space Pirates and Miniskirt Space Pirates) One thing Anime can do well is to take an absurd premise and make a good story out of it. That’s the case with Moretsu Uchuu Kaizoku. A High School girl discovers that her father was captain of the Bentenmaru a space pirate ship. He has passed away and as the captaincy is hereditary she is the new captain. From the concept of space pirates to the crew following this utterly inexperienced little girl’s orders to her being really good at it, the premise is just silly. That said the writing makes up for it. There’s intrigue, and humour, and strong characters, and plausible situations. The physics is reasonable and there are no obvious contradictions or anachronisms. The stories are a bit simplistic but the show just works and I enjoyed it a lot.

Mucha Lucha
Somewhere along the line one of the Suits discovered that the fastest growing part of America are people of Hispanic heritage. To make a show to answer this need for a more “cultural” program, they put every Mexican stereotype they could think of on top of this otherwise forgettable show about kids as heroes. The result is nauseatingly racist and offensive.

Mushi-shi
Mushi are not animals or plants or even bacteria. They are a more fundamental form of life that only some people can see. Ginko is a Mushi Master (Mushishi) who travels Japan helping people with Mushi related problems. This is a superb series that shows a very different side of Anime. The animation is lush and beautiful. The writing is deep, subtle, and exquisite. Mushishi is calm in pace but with subtle, beautiful underlying themes. No monsters, robots, ninja, criminals, or violence, Mushishi is a series of wonderful and thought provoking stories. It is deep and I found myself returning over and over to particular situations that raised fascinating ethical questions. I found myself mulling them over and discovering deeper meanings. I simply love this series.

My Life as a Teenage Robot
A robot tries to fit in in Junior High School with humans, and save the world when needed, and deal with her ‘mother’ who keeps treating her as a creation not a person. It’s Robot Jones 40 years later, but the show is significantly better. The writing is reasonably clever and the stories have the occasional interesting twist and amusing reference. Not high art but amusing.

My Life Me
A 13 year old manga artist survives school friends etc. Not really a subject I find interesting but not badly done. Drawn in anime style and they seem to they rely on standard anime visual cliches a bit too much. It’s not bad though.

My Neighbors the Yamadas (Movie)
I liked this film WAY more than I expected to. Unlike many of Studio Ghibli productions it has no deep plot, no serious undertones, no meanings or messages. The artwork is flat, just lines and washes in a very schematic, Sunday comics style. At first it seemed just low budget but after a few minutes I realized that it fits the rest of the film. My Neighbors the Yamada`s is just a character study of an odd Japanese family. Everyone in the family pulls together when needed despite their scraps and arguments. They will say little digs at each other, sometimes maliciously, sometimes without meaning to. They make mistakes, they run into stupid problems, they are caring at times, surprisingly indifferent at times, they screw up, sometimes they just don`t feel like working hard. The film is a series of short stories connected by a voiceover of the title of each section and a classic Haiku at the end. I do wonder about the Motorcycle section about 2/3 of the way through. The artistic and writing style changes. It just feels out of place with the rest of the film. Overall though, My Neighbors the Yamadas is a really nice film that leaves you feeling good.

My Neighbor Totoro (Movie)
(Miyazaki)Two girls and their father move to the country and discover the changes of the seasons and magical creatures. “You can only see them when they want you to”. Delightfully simple, it avoids the routine clichés. I found myself expecting a standard, painfully obvious twist and was always pleasantly surprised. For all its simplicity though it is very enjoyable and moving.