Gargoyles is a 1994 animated series created by Disney and is the show that brought now legendary producer Greg Weissman to fame. I’ve seen bits and pieces of the show as a kid but I could never remember the details of it and after seeing the level of praise it has maintained over the years and finding out the whole series is available to watch on Youtube, I decided to do my first full on dive into the show.
The storyline kicks off in 994 AD, Scotland during the ages of myth and superstition. In those days humans lived alongside humanoid looking bat creatures called Gargoyles, who turn into stone by day and are ferocious warriors by night. The Gargoyles protected the people from outside threats but were eventually betrayed by them having most of their clan slaughterted and the survivors frozen in time by a magic spell. 1000 years later, genius billionaire David Xanatos breaks the spell and relocates the Gargoyles to Manhatten, New York where they soon find themselves in conflict with him and forced to adapt to a new era.
In many ways the show feels as though its a product of a different era itself. The show doesn’t shy away from showing serious violence when the time calls for it and it generally carries itself in a very sophisticated manner as the characters often act and speak in the way their roles should(though the show does embrace more typical action show dialog as time goes on) and it avoids dumbing itself down for its audience. The opening episodes of the series even feature some minor swearing and the relationship between lead Gargoyle, Goliath and the group’s human companion Elisa is played off very subtlety unlike in modern shows even including some japanese animation. It does remember who its target audience is however so it typically strays from getting too dark for its own good though disturbing things certainly happen from time to time.
Bleeding from a gunshot wound. You know. For the kiddies.
The show also encompasses several different genres over the course of its run as it functions as an urban fantasy, a gritty crime drama and a Shakespearean tragedy (the show actually borrows pretty heavily from Shakespeare as Weissman has admitted he’s a huge fan of his works). Despite this it maintains a tight continuity with almost every episode directly tying into another and though it gets slightly more episodic in its later half, it makes sure to never contradict itself and foreshadows its future events relatively well.
Its also largely supported by its cast of characters who come across as strong yet flawed and many of them undergo their own individual character arcs over the course of it’s run. The villains of the piece are also executed very strongly as the show general averts cliche villainy and gives each of the villains sympathetic or relatively understandable motivations for their actions. Even Xanatos who would normally be portrayed as a typical rich evil mastermind, actively learns from his mistakes, tries to be as pragmatic as possible with his plans and is slowly humanized more and more throughout the series to the point where you can almost question how evil he really was to begin with. The characters themselves are largely supported by top-notch voice acting from the voice cast (many of whom you may know from the original Star Trek) and the show delivers some pretty powerful performances in some of the more dramatic scenarios in the show.
Despite the shows many strengths however, it is flawed. Though the series maintains its continuity and it does feature some character development throughout it, the Avalon Journey arc quickly becomes a bit too episodic and dragged out to the point where it feels like it could have been half as long as it ultimately ended up being. Additionally the series lacks a complete conclusion due to the third season known as The Goliath Chronicles being considered non-canon by Weissman due to him having little influence in it though the season two finale is relatively satisfying.
Gargoyles is a product of an age gone by and though it has its flaws the show deserves to be acknowledged as a prized relic, demonstrating a level of storytelling and characterization that many shows today can learn from. It stands today as one of the greatest pillars of western animation and hopefully more shows will follow in it’s footsteps.
Available on Youtube
Psycho Pass is a 2012 series helmed by Production I.G. who has brought us series such as Ghost in the Shell and written by industry superstar Gen Urobuchi who brought us the masterpiece Madoka Magica. The show has pretty solid production values though the animation falters here and there and the soundtrack for the show is pretty memorable as are it’s two opening themes Abnormalize and Out of Control (the latter of which has surprisingly good english). I first saw the series simulcasted during it’s run in 2012 and thoroughly enjoyed the series. I’m happy to say that I enjoyed the series even more in my second viewing of it than in the initial run as seeing the whole picture allows for a bit more clarity on certain aspects of the story’s themes.
The storyline centers around a future where people are judged by a creation known as the Sybil System which can read people’s minds and determine if they have the mentality of a potential criminal or not. Once judged a potential criminal, a person becomes an outcast destined to either be imprisoned or executed. To track down actual criminals, the law enforcement of the series decides to use people who have been deemed as potential criminals to hunt them down and bring them to justice. The first half of the series slowly explores this world and its characters as we’re introduced to various cases with different motivations and each discussing certain themes about society at large and how those themes affect individuals. One particular case involving a criminal who killed people whose online avatars were famous and then assumed to take their online identities and flawlessly imitate them asks the question of whether or not the internet brings people closer together or further apart and this is just one of the many questions the series asks in its run.
The second half of the show is more centralized in its themes as it specifically questions the concept of law and order in general through dealing with criminal mastermind Makishima(who also happens to be behind most of what happens in the first half as well). The characters are forced to choose between protecting the law itself and exacting justice and the show eventually questions whether or not the law is truly capable of protecting people. The ending to this conflict plays out surprisingly realistically and though its grounded in cynicism it also provides a slight nudge of hope that society may eventually get to the point where people can someday live up to the ideals that the law embodies.
The series is in many ways like its leading female character Akane. The good and evil of every concept it observes is looked at in great detail and it comes to understand how to accept them for what they are. Though the show doesn’t hesitate to show how evil the Sybil System is (and it’s true nature is quite disturbing) it also demonstrates that simply removing it won’t make society better and it’s existance is one that people have come to depend on. Similarly though Makishima’s views are mostly shown to be correct the show is also quick to note the evils behind his actions as well. It maintains a cynical yet neutral stance on things and its intent is more to open ones views on its subjects rather than directly challenge them.
The characters of the show help to lay out the show’s stance as we see Akane slowly change her viewpoint over the course of the series from an idealist to a well intentioned cynic. Some of the other cast members are also pretty strong as we have the male lead Kogami whose conflict between the law and his personal sense of justice drives the final confrontation along with Ginoza and Toyomi whose respective character arcs play off each other and ends up leading down a similar path. The main villain Makishima is also a bit of a show stealer as you can occasionally find yourself agreeing with his arguments even though he’s clearly a sociopath.
The show does have it’s issues though as two of the central characters in the series Yayoi and Shion don’t actually come across as being terribly important despite having an entire episode devoted to the former’s backstory and their largely left in the background. The series can also occasionally get a bit too over the top in terms of its graphic content and can sometimes seem as though it’s trying too hard.
Despite my initial skepticism over Zac Bolton directing it, Funimation’s english dub for the series delivers a series of solid and strong performances across the board. Long time veteran, Robert McCollum brings just the right amount of grit for Kogami and Kate Oxley successfully captures Akane’s progression from a naive rookie into a hardened detective. Newcomer, Alex Organ also delivers pretty strongly as Makishima and though he initially starts off a little rough around the edges compared to his seiyuu counterpart Takahiro Sakurai, he grows into the role very quickly and delivers a satisfying performance.
The release itself is also pretty nice. The box the set comes is good looking though not perfect material and some of the extras include the soundtrack CDs for the show and interviews with some of the creative staff behind the series at Sakura-Con which can provide a little bit of insight as to what their intentions for the series actually were.
Though the show isn’t quite perfect it juggles the themes it covers very well and it knows how to address thinking of them without directly challenging your view on them and it understands how to accept them for what they are. I highly recommend checking it out.
Available through RightStuf, Funimation.com, Amazon and Robert’s Anime Corner Store
Stealth Symphony is the 3rd of the 4 new series recently added to Weekly Shonen Jump in Japan and in many ways it was the most anticipated which is why Viz Media was so quick to add it to the English lineup of the magazine. With the story being helmed by Ryohgo Narita of Durarara and Baccano fame the manga has quite the pedigree to live up to and the first chapter generally succeeds in showing it’s potential.
The story kicks off when main character Jig travels to Jinbo-cho a city filled with elves, dwarves and other kinds of magical beings. His goal is to remove a curse he recieved when he got sick as a kid and was forced to recieve it in order to save his life. Since it apparently makes him a disaster magnet and he almost causes a big one on the beginning of the chapter he decides to get bodyguard protection so that he can prevent himself from hurting others with his powers. It’s around then that we’re introduced to the other main character Troma who is invisible save for a mask and becomes Jig’s bodyguard for the duration of the chapter. It’s soon revealed that Jig’s accident in the beginning of the chapter was no accident and that he’s being targeted which sets off a rather cruel plot twist that will likely be what drives the story from here on out.
Those familar with Narita’s works will immediately recognize that the one thing that stands out as being different here is that the protagonist of the story is clearly defined where as Baccano and Durarara functioned off more of an ensemble cast (though there’s still plenty of time for it to go down that route later on) and the first chapter is devoted to his story though it also helps us to dive into one of the other main characters as well. Jig comes across as pretty likeable so far and though his motivations are a bit cliche at first the ending to the chapter suggests his development may go in an atypical direction for a Jump protagonist. The other lead character Troma is the that seems to have the most potential for something cool between the two though since his invisibility is played with in a pretty unique way since he feels as hollow on the inside as he does on the outside so it’ll be interesting to see where his character is eventually taken.
The artwork for the series is also pretty fantastic as artist Amano Youchi delivers on his speciality in that area and the designs look very detailed for a weekly series though it feels a bit similar to Takeshi Obata’s (Death Note) artwork so hopefully it evolves a bit. The setting also looks as though it could lead to some pretty cool setups as the concept of a city filled with magical beings and dragon artifacts could make for some interesting world building.
Overall the series is off to a strong start and though it feels a bit different than Narita’s usual style it has the potential to live up to his other works and could be the kind of series Jump needs right now.
Available through Viz’s Weekly Shonen Jump Digital Magazine
Review- My Bride is a Mermaid: Laughing Under the Sea
My Bride is A Mermaid is a 26 episode series animated by Gonzo and AIC. The production values of the show are pretty standard though the opening song “Romantic Summer” is fairly catchy. It’s helmed by Seiji Kishi who’s been more recently known for his work on video game adaptions such as Persona 4: The Animation and Devil Survivor 2: The Animation, but before he worked on those he was best known for directing comedies and it definently shows here.
The premise of the show kicks off when main character Nagasumi goes to the sea for vacation and ends up getting his life saved by a mermaid named Sun when he almost drowns. However because he saw Sun in her mermaid form he’s forced into marrying her or else he’ll be killed by mermaid law. Did we mention she happens to belong to a mermaid yakuza family?
This is where the insanity begins. Despite initially having appearance of a magical girlfriend show the show quickly makes it apparent that it’s a pure comedy and it functions by being as off the wall as possible. Nagasumi is constantly forced to avoid the crazy antics of his yakuza father-in-law who’s out to prevent him from marrying his precious daughter and must dodge everything from miniature assassins to weird looking fish men. The series constantly escalates in its absurdity and constantly throws out parodies and increasingly bizarre situations in an effort get some laughs. The series isn’t afraid to occasionally laugh at itself though alongside the audience as makes a note to be self aware every now and then as it plays with typical harem clichés.
The hilarity of the series is supported largely by its cast of quirky characters. Nagasumi initially comes across as a typical harem lead but quickly demonstrates that he can be as weird as the rest of the cast members and just as much of a ham. Female lead Sun generally stays a bit more true to the magical girlfriend archetype but the show plays it straight enough to make her as funny as the rest of the cast when it matters. The harem side of the characters include pop idol Lunar who has a two-faced personality and is Sun’s self proclaimed rivalval, childhood friend Mawari who wants to enforce discipline but largely fails at it and Akeno a strange swordswoman who generally isn’t as funny as the rest of the cast due to generally being stoic but occasionally breaks character to acknowledge the weridness of a situation. On the other side of the cast spectrum lies Sun’s crazy yakuza family and it’s associates which include a doll sized assassin with a water machine gun and a blatant homage of the Terminator.
“I’ll be back”
Though the series is largely out for laughs there is some occasional drama which is where some of the problems with the series lie. Though the series can occasionally be heartwarming with some of its more serious moments (and occasionally touching even when it’s joking around) it sometimes struggles with developing its characters. This is especially true of the mini-arc in episodes 12 and 13 where Lunar’s character arc comes to a head and inferiority complex towards Sun results in her confessing her love to Nagasumi only for the show to later act as though the confession never happened and to seem as though she learned nothing from the experience. Additionally though the other girls are occasionally given the spotlight they don’t progress very much either and the finale (which the last few minutes of must be seen to be believed) is kicked off by a situation that feels pretty forced and features Nagasumi acting extremely out of character in the beginning in order to achieve the desired result.
Kenshiro would be proud
Of course though it has some problems its comedy generally makes up for it as it chugs along at lightspeed and rarely leaves you time to dwell on its flaws. The series may not be particularly deep but at the end of the day it’s out to make you laugh and will stop at nothing to make that happen. If you’re looking for a good comedy series this is definitely worthwhile.
Available on Hulu, Netlix and Funimation.com