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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Sward Art Online II
Takes place a year after the first one. The Kazuto is asked to investigate reports that a character called Death Gun is killing people in the real world by killing them inside Gun Gale Online. For something called Sward Art the show is almost totally about guns. They find a connection with the bad guys in the first series. Nicely done in many ways but I didn’t find it as interesting as the first one. It’s not badly done, but with all the real world gun violence going on ...

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,

© 2020 Douglas Aalseth Productions