Animation Talk- Best of Anime in 2015

Well another year has almost gone by meaning it’s once again time to talk about the highlights. As a whole this has been one of the strongest years for anime in recent memory and despite a few disappointments here and there, there’s been a lot of strong content to check out. So without any further ado, let’s jump in.

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This category goes to things that aren’t exactly show specific, but nevertheless wanted to point out. That includes theme songs, characters and stuff related to English dubs. Anyway let’s get started:

 

Best Anime Opening-Mazeru na Kiken by Kinniku Shojo Tai (Ushio & Tora)

 This was a pretty good year for anime openings for me as there was a good mix of great standalone songs, and made-for-series theme songs. With that. I had a pretty hard time deciding which I liked best but in the end I had to give it to Ushio & Tora’s . When I first started on the show, I came in expecting it to be a GAR-fest and the opening ended up delivering on that in spades as it’s 90 seconds of pure testostrone filled visuals and enough to even give Fist of the North Star’s opening a run for it’s money. It also works really well as a standalone song, mixing together heavy guitar rock and bits of japanese folktale music making for a theme song that makes for a really blood-pumping opener.

Honorable Mentions: Raise Your Flag by Man On A Mission (Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron Blooded Orphans), Ai no Prison by Kangoku Danshi (Prison School), Flyers by Bradio (Death Parade)

Best English Dub- Tokyo Ghoul

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This has been a pretty good year to be a fan of of English dubs as between the rise of Broadcast dubs, Sentai Filmworks getting some of their shows on Toonami and a surprisingly decent number of California-based dubs, there’s been plenty to go around. As with every year though there’s a handful of dubs that managed to rise above and beyond, this one being no exception as my two of my other favorites Blood Blockade Battlefront and Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure were pretty close in quality to this one. In the end though I had to give it up to Tokyo Ghoul as Mike McFarland once again demonstrates why he’s one of the best ADR Directors in the business.  The voice direction in the show carries his usual level of high quality and the voice work itself delivers on a variety of fantastic performances from Austin Tindle’s Kaneki fully capturing both personas of the character perfectly to Monica Rial’s surprisingly creepy Rize and of course J. Micheal Tatum’s delightfully hammy Tsukiyama. It also manages to nail things pretty well script wise too and enjoys a script that’s liberal enough to have a little bit of fun with itself but not so much that it ends up overriding the material of the series itself like a few other Funimation dubs this year. I’ve had my share of issues regarding Funi’s dubs this year but when it comes to this one, I’m willing to give credit where credit is due.

Honorable Mentions: Blood Blockade Battlefront, Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure, A Lull in the Sea

Available for streaming on Funimation

Best English Voice Actor- Erica Mendez

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Coming into this year I was already fairly impressed with her work on Magi: The Labyrinth of Magic as Aladdin and what I’d seen of her as Ryuko Matoi in Kill la Kill but I still wasn’t sure how much her performances were going to stick with me. Between then and the end of the year though, she’s managed to nab a lot more roles and all of them have proved to be pretty stellar. There’s been a lot of individual performances from actors that I’ve really enjoyed this year but she’s managed to deliver in everything I’ve heard her in this year (the one thing I haven’t being SAO II since you couldn’t get me to touch that series again with a 10-foot pole) and has proven to be pretty versatile as she’s handled a variety of different characters and played all of them effectively with my particular favorite probably being her work in A Lull in the Sea as Akari. Erica Mendez is quickly becoming a household name when it comes to California dubs and I’m looking forward to seeing more of her work in the coming year.

Honorable Mentions: Austin Tindle, Max Mitterman, Micah Solusod

Best Anime Character- Gouda Takeo (My Love Story!)

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Shojo has long been a genre dominated by predatory pretty boys (with more than a few putting the extra emphasis on predatory) as the romantic leads so a show instead opting to go with a giant manly-man (who’s usually a side character if they appear at all in this genre) and an extremely gentle hearted one at that is certainly quite unexpected. Especially when he’s made the actual protagonist  as opposed to our heroine Yamato. This could have just come off as a blatant attempt to subvert the usual genre tropes and nothing more, but Takeo proved that he’s a more than worthy lead. He’s a character with a heart as big as himself, and he’s the kind of clumsy and awkward guy that you can’t help but root for, despite the fact that he technically gets his happy ending pretty early into the show’s run. As a bit of a big guy myself it’s nice to see a protagonist that doesn’t have to adhere to the usual standards of attractiveness and he’s proof that what really matters is on the inside (I swear this is the only time I’ll be this sappy).

Honorable Mentions: Klaus von Reinhart (Blood Blockade Battlefront), Maria (Maria the Virgin Witch), Mumen Rider (One-Punch Man)

2015dos

This category is centered around genre stuff. Unlike the best series which we’ll get to afterwards, this for things that stood out really well as a genre piece moreso than as an overall series. That said there’s still plenty of good stuff to be found here, so let’s take a look:

Best Mecha Series- Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron Blooded-Orphans

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So similarly to last year it hasn’t exactly been the best one for mecha series(mainly because there were surprisingly few), and to be frank I can’t recall the last good one we’ve had in the last half-decade. As  such, it’s once again a Gundam series that rises to the mantle of carrying the genre for the year and this time it’s a serious one. Compared to a lot of the Geass-clones that have plagued the genre for the last few years, this show prides itself on having a lot of grit more than anything else (which is certainly a surprise given the writer is none other than the queen of melodrama herself Mari Okada) and carries it’s darker elements as being associated more with the overall setting of the show than any attempt to hamfist it in. It certainly does have it’s share of drama though as it centers itself around the theme of family and brotherhood while also being a pretty darn cool robot action spectacle with  plenty of great mecha fights to go around. This is my first “real” Gundam series (I’ve seen bits of Wing, G Gundam and SEED growing up but never watched any of them in full) and it’s certainly proving to be a great entry point.

Honorable Mention: Comet Lucifer

Available for streaming on Funimation, Daisuki

Best Romance Series- My Love Story

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So to be frank aside from a couple of other series there hasn’t been too much in the way of legitimate romance series this year (though the Kiyoshi X Hana “romance” in Prison School will always be dear to my heart) but dang it, it would feel weird not to bring up this show when it comes to genre stuff so there you go. For years entertainment media has convinced audiences that showcasing a healthy, stable relationship in full force would be boring since there’s no tension and has instead fed us melodrama and occasionally horrifically unstable relationships because that’s way more dramatic. However My Love Story proves that not only can a show about a happy couple be interesting, it’s downright infectiously charming. The chemistry between the two lead characters helps to sustain the show pretty well and while it doesn’t carry itself with too much drama, there’s just enough of it to keep things from getting too saccharine and it makes for a show that’s as genuine as it is sugary-sweet. In a world where the media actively veers from happy relationships, My Love Story is here to remind us that they’re happy for a reason

Honorable Mentions: Snow White with the Red Hair, Yurikuma Arashi

Available for streaming on Crunchyroll, Hulu

Best Comedy Series- Mr. Osomatsu

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It’s been another solid year for comedies and there’s been a few standouts but the best for me proved to be a darkhorse than I don’t think any of us saw coming. This series opened up at full throttle by parodying pretty much every big hit it could get it’s hand on before eventually introducing audiences to it’s own brand of comedy and I’ve been laughing ever since. Series director Yoichi Fujita (who’s also directed a little anime comedy you might have heard of called Gintama) clearly knows how to make people laugh, and the show brings that out in spades as it’s cast of loveable jerks never fails to make me crack a smile. Of course while it’s great for laughs it’s also proven to be surprisingly witty and it’s depiction of our NEET protagonists makes for some occasional social commentary. I certainly wasn’t expecting this series to be such a standout, but now I’m glad it’s here to grace us with it’s presence.

Honorable Mentions: Prison School, Gintama season 4, Cute High Earth Defense Club LOVE!

Available for streaming on Crunchyroll

Best Action Series- One-Punch Man

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Okay so I’m not being terribly original here, but you can at least give me some credit for putting it here instead of as best comedy. While OPM is two parts comedy and action, the anime adaption put a bit more focus towards the action side of things and in the biggest way possible. Director Shingo Natsume aka the other mind behind Space Dandy besides Watanabe managed to assemble a crack team of animators (so no it doesn’t have anything to do with the B-word and the animators themselves have said as much) to deliver on a glorious spectacle. The show features some of the best action animation highlights of the year and every episode has at least one impressive  sequence or two, with the finale in particular featuring what is hands down the best TV animated fight I’ve ever seen. Of course OPM is also a comedy and it does pretty well for itself in that area in addition to using it’s superhero ranking system as workplace commentary, but even if those elements don’t quite work for everyone it’s hard to deny that as an action piece it’s knocked out the rest of the competition this year with one solid punch.

Honorable Mentions: Ushio & Tora, Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure: Stardust Crusaders Egypt Arc, Blood Blockade Battlefront

Available for streaming on Hulu, Daisuki

Best Drama Series- My Teen Romantic Comedy Snafu TOO!

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So truth be told I got into this series while the second season was airing, but there’s a solid difference in quality between the two seasons so I don’t think I’m being too biased here. While I enjoyed the first season’s more cynical approach towards high school and teen relationships, I’m also glad the show was willing to acknowledge that point of view isn’t exactly sustainable when making the transition to adulthood and this season demonstrates that in full. Especially so in regards to the protagonist Hikki who’s cynicism, while effective in dealing with problems on a superficial level, ultimately serves to make himself unhappy and that as he grows closer to those around him, he inevitable has to start changing even if the prospect of getting hurt by others terrifies him. Of course he’s not the only one going through changes in this season as our two heroines and other various members of the supporting cast are also forced to take a deeper look at themselves and where they stand in regards to the relationships they’ve made. Sadly this season ends on a bit of a cliffhanger and it’s hard to say when we’ll get more, but this sequel made an already solid show really strong, and while some may feel the second season’s approach against cynicism is a betrayal of the first, it’s definitely where this series needed to be headed and I’m looking forward to getting more some day.

 Honorable Mentions: Noragami Aragoto, Death Parade, Maria the Virgin Witch

Available for streaming on Crunchyroll

 

2015tres

 

And now we’ve finally arrived at the best series for the year. You may notice that I have two series listed here instead of one, but that’s because I’ve picked the best based on two sub-categories: best adaption and best original work. While both adaptions and original projects both carry the intent to pick up an audience, they’re generally trying to accomplish different things as an adaption has to be a good piece of entertainment while maintaining the strengths of it’s source material where as an original work needs to stand completely on it’s own two feet and draw in a crowd on it’s own merits. As such I feel it’s only appropriate to bring up which two series did the best at tackling those things so without any further ado, here they are:

Best Series (Adaption)- Blood Blockade Battlefront 

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I liked both of Yasuhiro Nightow’s previous works Trigun and Gungrave, and Rie Matsumoto’s direction for Kyusogiga helped to make that series my favorite of the year it came out so when I saw this series was going to involve those two minds melding together I was pretty excited. That said I wasn’t expecting it to nearly as much of a standout as it ultimately ended up being one of the year’s strongest success both in terms of quality and financially since it’s finally given BONES their first genuine hit in a long time. The show’s loose storytelling could have proved to be overwhelming in the wrong hands, but even at it’s most dense it’s never too difficult to follow and it’s really east to get caught up in the show’s ficitional version of New York as it provides a mismash of everything from aliens to the supernatural. Although while the series generally functions in an episodic manner and especially so for the manga going by what I’ve heard of it, Rie Matsumoto also managed to inject some of her own themes through the Black/White storyline that persists through most of the show and it’s really effective. In blends into the source material pretty well and not only does it manage to avoid feeling out of place, it helps to enhance several of the show’s other elements as well in regards to Leo’s coming of age story and finding his own sense of self-worth. I know people sometimes have the tendency to look down on adaptions that feel like more of the director’s product than the original author’s but there’s something to be said for ones that manage to insert the director’s ideas without negating what makes the source material great and this series stands as proof that it can be done right. While I can’t say I’m exactly foaming at the mouth for another season, I certainly wouldn’t mind one, and even if we don’t this is a perfectly solid piece on it’s own.

Honorable Mentions: One-Punch Man, Noragami Aragoto, Maria the Virgin Witch

Available for streaming on Funimation, Hulu

Best Series (Original Work)- Yurikuma Arashi

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2015 was a solid year of highs for anime as we got a pretty good plethora of good content, and so much of it that I can actually name no less than 14 shows I really enjoyed. That said while there’s been a lot heavy hitters this time around, in the end there’s just no beating an Ikuhara show for me. This series continues director Kunihiko Ikuhara’s bizarre mix of sexual themes and over the top visual symbolism found in both Revolutionary Girl Utena and Penguindrum to create yet another interesting piece of art. Though where Utena and to a much lesser extent Penguindrum briefly explored lesbian relationships, this one is all about gay prejudice in society, the value of true love over sexual desire and of course loads and loads of bears. As with pretty much anything Ikuhara related it’s an acquired taste, but if you dig his sense of style then you’ll be happy to know it’s all over the place here and delivered in his strangest fashion yet. Given the show’s subject matter, I briefly considered putting it as my top romance series of the year but sadly the show doesn’t have as much time as Ikuhara’s other two series to devote to characterization and while our three heroines are certainly likable, there was definitely plenty of room for them to be fleshed out better. As such I’d probably have to say that among Ikuhara’s three masterpieces this one’s the weakest, but calling something a weak masterpiece is hardly an insult, and what it does do well, it does extremely well. Ikuhara’s done it once again as the overall package here is more than enough to make this show an easy pick for my favorite among this year’s original works (and in general), and also strong enough to stand as one of my favorite anime yet.

Honorable Mentions: Death Parade, Yatterman Night, Gatchaman Crowds Insight

Available for streaming on Funimation, Hulu

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And that’s 2015 for me in a nutshell. All in all this was a much stronger year than I was expecting as there’s been a lot of things I’ve liked and surprisingly few things I was disappointed by (Gangsta‘s probably the only anime adaption that failed to meet my expectations this time). With 2016 on the horizon there’s looking to be quite a few big adaptations and anticipated sequels coming out of the woodwork, with more than a few I’m really excited for. With any luck, it’ll be just as good of a year if not better than this one and even if it doesn’t I can at least say that this was a tough year to beat.

 

Animation Talk/Recommendations-10 Best Samurai Jack Episodes

So if you’ve been on the inter-webs recently you’ve likely noticed that everyone’s in a hubbub over a little show called Samurai Jack being brought back from the dead for a new season in 2016. The show has been held up throughout the years as a beloved classic, and having reviewed the show a year ago, I can confirm that it’s stood the test of time fairly well. So if you need a refresher on what made the series so great or haven’t seen it and are curious to see what all the excitement’s about, here’s a list of my 10 favorite episodes from the show in honor of it’s revival.

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10) The Birth of Evil

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Every story needs a beginning, but in this case we’re going to the beginning-beginning. This is the episode that finally explained Aku’s origins as well as the origins of Jack’s legendary sword (which oddly enough despite being forged by several gods, none of them were Japanese ones) and it’s the only episode where our titular hero is nowhere to be found, with the story instead being told through the perspective of his late father. Given this was told as a two-parter it’s one of the show’s more cinematic pieces and it’s chockful of the show’s usual brand of action and direction, making for a really nice prequel and one that answered a couple of burning questions.

9) Jack and the Scotsman

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Samurai Jack is a show with little to no continuity so it’s nice to get a recurring character besides our hero and villain, and the Scotsman proved to be a welcome addition to the series. Out of all the episodes he’s featured in though, his first appearance is definitely his strongest. In addition to being another solid action piece for the show, it’s really fun to see his brash personality play off of Jack’s more reserved persona, making for some good comedy and one of the better uses of the “handcuffed together” scenario (and as I type this my mind is now filled with horrifying images of the slash fics this may have inspired) as the two are forced to work together in order to fight off the various bounty hunters after their heads. With Jack being something of a lone wolf half the time, it was nice to see him find at least one ally in the future, and their team-up here proved the two most dangerous men on the planet are even more dangerous together (darn, I did it again!)

8) Jack Remembers the Past

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The series carries with it, many different moods and stories, but this is one of the few that’s genuinely about our hero himself. Given Jack’s story started off with him being sent off to train against Aku, there wasn’t really anytime to see his childhood before that so this serves as a window into what his life was like before disaster struck. More importantly though, it serves as a reminder that Jack is pretty much alone, as there’s still no way for him to actual return to his home and his look back on bygone days helps to make this one of the show’s more quiet entries and proof that dialogue isn’t always necessary to strike an emotional cord.

 

7) Jack and the Blind Archers

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Speaking of silence, it’s pretty much impossible to do a list like this without this episode being in there somewhere. This early entry in the show’s run features Jack being pitted against a trio of mystic archers in order to gain access to a wish granting well that could return him back to the past (bet you can’t guess what DOESN’T happen!). What really makes this one stand out is that it was one of the first episodes in the series to prove how well direction could carry a mood even without much dialogue, something practically unheard of for western animation at the time (and in some ways is still the case unfortunately). The silent samurai movie nature of it, makes for a really cinematic action piece and while the ending twist isn’t too surprising it caps off the tension of the episode pretty well  and if you need an example of how well the show can handle that kind of style, look no further than this.

6) Jack and the Lava Monster

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Like the previous episode, this one is another action centric entry but this one has some actual story  to it giving it an extra punch. In this one Jack encounters a monster that’s actually the spirit of a Norse warrior who tried to resist against Aku’s hostile takeover of his homeland, only to be cursed by the demon. Now he’s stuck in this body and unable to ascend to Valhalla with the rest of his brethren unless he can die a warrior’s death at Jack’s hands. This makes for a pretty tragic tale in addition to the usual epic fight scene with the combination making it a standout among the show’s earlier entries. It also makes for one of the show’s darkest when you consider this was an episode of a children’s cartoon where the main character was effectively helping a guy to commit suicide. Nighty, night kids!

5) The Premiere

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It wouldn’t be fair to do one of these without mentioning the episode that started it all.  The premiere is a great introduction into Samurai Jack’s world, displaying everything from how epic, to how downright weird the series can get as we see the beginnings of Jack’s fight against Aku and his first encounter with the distant future he now finds himself trapped in (the latter of which involves talking dogs). All of the show’s sense of direction, fight choreography and killer soundtrack can be found full force here, making for a perfect segway into getting people interested in the show. One of the things that stands out the most about it though is the climatic battle between Jack and Aku’s robot army which features what still holds up as one of the most cleverly constructed middle fingers to violence censorship ever conceived.

4) The Good The Bad and the Beautiful

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So this one isn’t as widely remembered as some of the others but it’s pretty solid. This episode is a western spoof featuring Jack on the run from a pair of bounty hunters…who also happen to be divorced and spend just as much time stabbing each other in the back as they do trying to kill Jack. If the premiere is everything great about the show in movie form, then this one is everything fun about it distilled into 22 minutes of pure entertainment. It’s funny, action packed, and clever, making for a great testament to the kind of material you can generally expect from the show when it’s just out to have a good time. 

3) Jack v.s. Aku

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Despite what the title of the episode implies, this one is almost entirely comedy and as far as that goes, it’s the show’s best effort. In a surprising moment of self-awareness, Aku realizes just how repetitive the battles between him and Jack have become so he offers to settle things in a mano-a-mano fight to the finish. Of course Aku being the slippery devil that he is, tries to cheat his way through the battle with Jack trying to counter all his plans, making for a hilarious “I know, you know, that I know” setup (Light Yagami would be proud).  It’s always nice to see a show have the balls to make fun of itself, and this episode succeeds at that in spades.

2) The Tale of X-9

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Have you ever wondered what it’s like to be a robot mook? The answer’s probably no, but too bad because Samurai Jack shows it to you anyway, and the result makes for one of the show’s strongest entries. We follow the titular X-9 who used to be one of Aku’s elite robot enforcers until he decided to settle down and live the quiet life with his pet Lulu (sweet thing). That is until Aku calls him for one last job in trying to get rid of Jack and holds Lulu hostage to ensure he goes through with it. Since X-9’s name doesn’t happen to be Samurai Jack though, his fate is sealed the moment he encounters our hero and it makes for a pretty sad ending. I’m a fan of noir spoofs (mainly because noir is impossible for me to take seriously) and this delivers on all fronts, so the next time you encounter a robot mook in a game, you might wanna think about who he could be leaving behind before you slaughter him. You monsters.

 

1) Jack and the Spartans 

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This is another one of the show’s most looked back upon episodes and for good reason. This one features Jack teaming up with a small army of Spartans in order to help defend what remains of their domain, and while at first glance it seems like an obvious homage to the movie 300, it actually aired well before that and is instead a tribute to an earlier film called The 300 Spartans as well as the novel that inspired it. As such, the episode is shot in a deliberately cinematic fashion, ramping up the show’s usual mix of direction, action and storytelling considerably. It’s an episode that stands at the pinnacle of the show’s sense of style, and shows just what it’s capable of accomplishing in a mere 22 minutes when all of it’s elements are in perfect harmony. It also helps that this episode has nothing to do with Aku, making for a great standalone piece, and one I’d highly recommend if you haven’t seen the show before, but are curious as to why it’s so highly regarded. The show has a lot of greats, but this is by far one of it’s most brilliant.

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And there you have it. Samurai Jack is a show with a lot of style, and these episodes are prime examples of said style at it’s best. As we look onward to the new season, it’s hard to say what else the show will end up accomplishing, but I’m certainly looking forward to finding out.

 

 

Your Brain on Toons- Death Note: Live Action TV Series V.S. Manga

So needless to say, I’m a pretty big Death Note fan. The manga was one of the first I ever really got into during middle school and its ability to deliver increasingly complex schemes appealed to me. Over the years though, there have been various retellings and side-stories about it, with everything from an anime, two-live action movies and multiple novels. The live-action series that just recently wrapped up its run is the latest incarnation, and while it’s narrative-wise pretty similar to the original series, thematically it’s quite different. So much so in fact, that I thought just doing a straight up review wouldn’t be enough so instead I thought it would be better to do a more direct comparison between it and the manga storyline.

Drama v.s. Thriller

Alright so let’s make this clear right off the bat: this version isn’t really a thriller like the original was. It certainly portrays the appearance of one and manages to be genuinely suspenseful every now and then (though it’s internal logic isn’t quite as polished as the original’s), but for the most part that’s not its real objective. In fact, it’s typically at its weakest whenever it’s playing the manga material straight, both because most viewers likely already know the end result, and because it doesn’t mesh too well with what this adaption’s trying to do.

Instead (in case the title Death Note: Drama didn’t didn’t make it obvious enough) this version goes more for well…straight-up drama. Particularly in that it’s much more interested in the moral implications of Light’s self-proclaimed crusade than anything else. In a lot of ways, I actually prefer this angle. The original manga story could be genuinely dramatic at times and occasionally insightful, but for the most part it was never seriously aspiring to be anything more than a well-written thriller. There’s nothing really wrong with that of course, but the amount of things that can be done with a more dramatic version of the story are pretty boundless, so it’s nice to see a version that seriously attempts to take on that. Now let’s get to the other obvious difference here: character portrayals. Though since Light’s is obviously the most significant, I’ll save talking about him for last.

Father and Son

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One of the most immediate notable differences in this version as compared to the manga is its usage of Light’s father, Soichiro. In the manga, Soichiro more or less existed as a convenient way to realistically tie Light to the police department and thus make it  easier for him to play them from within. Due to that, the relationship between him and Light was never really touched on much, and whenever it did come up, he, much as any parent would, steadfastly believed in his son’s innocence throughout the entire story. Thanks to that, he was one of the few characters to die somewhat happily, as he remained blissfully unaware of the truth even in his final moments. The version of Soichiro in the drama however, isn’t quite so fortunate.

In this version, the two have a much more…complicated relationship to say the least. Growing up, Light admired his dad for his police work and wanted to be like him, but at the same time resents him for not being there when his mother passed away, causing a strain between them. Thus when this incarnation of Light becomes Kira, not only does Soichiro harbor more serious doubts about his son’s innocence, but he feels that he might have been responsible for Light’s transformation in the first place. Partially because he literally is (we’ll get into that later) and also because Light feels his brand of “justice” isn’t so different from Soichiro’s. This ultimately ends in tragedy as once he knows the truth for certain, Soichiro is unable to live with the guilt of causing his son to become a monster, and tries to use his death as a means to convince Light to turn away from the path he’s headed down. Though unfortunately for him, not only does he fail, but he actually ends up driving Light even further over the edge. The new take on this relationship is one of the strongest highlights of this adaption and it plays really well towards it’s more tragic perspective.

The Minions of Evil

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Light’s relationship with his followers is also fairly different here, though it’s not quite as significant a change as you might expect. Like with a lot of things from the manga, Misa and Mikami’s backstories more or less just existed to give them a reasonable excuse to follow Light and didn’t really serve much to their characterization beyond that. It’s not a whole lot different here, but the connection at least feels a bit more personal.

This is especially so in Misa’s case as Light is much more directly involved in her path to becoming the second Kira in this version. Mikami less so, but by having him interact face-to-face with Light as opposed to their relationship in the manga where they only met at the end, his insane sense of loyalty feels a bit more believable and it’s partially thanks to it that his part in Light’s downfall is less of the deciding factor for it. On the downside though, this version of Misa is somehow even dumber than her manga counterpart if you can believe it, and it’s weird because this take on the story doesn’t really seem to carry anything similar to the authors’ transparent spite towards women otherwise (the other major female character is actually quite proactive in the last few episodes). Maybe they felt people would complain if she was too different? I don’t know, but this is one aspect where I definitely feel the drama could have done better differentiating itself.

L’s Successor(s)

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Going back to big changes, another of the larger ones is in the characterization of Near and Mello. Well saying Near AND Mello isn’t exactly being accurate in this instance since they’re one in the same here. Quite literally so in fact as Mello is nothing more than Near’s split personality in this version, with the most you ever see of his original character design being Near’s actual puppet (the meta-jokes you could make here are endless). In the original story they were introduced as last minute stand-ins for L after his death, (though exactly how last minute is rather debatable since I’ve never really believed that whole thing you hear in forums about the editors pushing those characters on the authors) which was something that was met with a lot of…backlash to say the least.

Thankfully this incarnation avoids that issue by introducing them right off the bat weaving them into L’s endgame relatively quickly. The core basics of their personalities remain the same with Near being calm and rational v.s. Mello being impulsive and brash, though by combining them into one entity, it makes their actions a bit harder to predict, and most notably so during the show’s final gambit. Sadly though, for as much as it’s built up the show never really does too much with the split personality thing aside from suspense, but what it does do well is the one thing the manga couldn’t: giving Near an actual relationship with L. It makes his investment in avenging L’s death feel way more genuine because we actually get to see first hand how much he respects him and thus his defeat of Light feels a lot more satisfying as far as his character’s concerned, even if it’s more L’s victory than his

The Two Faces of L

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Speaking of L, it’s time to start digging into our two poster boys for this franchise (well three if you count Ryuk). When I first came into this adaption, I was pretty intrigued about the interpretation of L it decided to take. In the manga, L generally comes off as something of an enigma. He’s very good at analyzing people on a rational level, but it’s difficult to ever get a read on how he ever truly feels about anything because he keeps up almost as much of a facade about them as Light does. Even his supposed “friendship” with Light was as much a deception on his part as it was on the latter as he was always scheming to have him exposed  and thus made for an interesting parallel between the two.

In comparison, this version is a lot more flamboyant and brutally honest about his thoughts, which ironically enough, actually makes him seem more villainous. He’s much more openly manipulative of others than his manga counterpart, and a better planner to the point where he ends up being the actual mastermind of the show (I don’t think manga-L would have literally had things worked out from beyond the grave). However it’s that same bluntness that makes his relationship with Light more interesting since there actually is some genuine sentiment behind that friendship proposal.

While he still pretty clearly suspects Light and tries to apprehend him, he also really wants to believe that Light is as good a guy as he seems to be. It makes both their final scene together and the actual final scene of the series particularly poignant, as he carried that wish right through to the end in spite of its unlikelihood and the fact that it literally destroys him. Unfortunately while I like the idea, I can’t say the execution behind this perspective is as smooth as I’d have liked, as making L’s less noble traits more transparent also means that its a little harder to feel like he means it when he says he respects Light, even if the narrative is seriously pointing things that way. In truth, I’d almost have an easier time believing manga-L on it since he was a lot better about giving off that image even when you knew he was lying through his teeth. Can certainly give this a few points for trying though since it mostly does the job, and if nothing else, L trolling from beyond the grave at least makes for some good entertainment.

The Tragedy of Light Yagami

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At last we arrive at our protagonist, and to no one’s surprise, his changes are definitely the biggest attraction of this adaption. You see, for years I’ve heard the argument that “Light Yagami is a tragic character” as a way to somehow sympathize with his madness and frankly its always been  a load of baloney to me. While there’s no disputing he was corrupted by the Death Note, Light never really came off as anything more than an unrepentant monster in the original story. From the moment we first meet the guy, he’s something of a sociopath, and what little good intentions he started out gave way to his ego and insatiable desire for godhood almost immediately. As such, by the time we get to Light’s downfall at the end of the manga, it’s extremely satisfying because we’ve spent so much time seeing what monstrous lengths he’ll go to in order to ensure his reign and it’s so downright karmic that any ambiguity as to if you should be rooting for him to meet a horrible end or not is pretty much non-existent. The Light of this story however, may in fact be the best attempt at making that tragedy argument actually work.

Unlike the manga where he’s Kira almost right off the bat, we spend quite a bit of time with Light in the live-action series before he begins his mission. His actual start in this version is also notably different as he doesn’t just test the notebook on a couple of people before deciding to go right off the deep end and start a worldwide crusade. Instead he’s put in a few situations where he actually has to use the notebook to save people, and most notably his father. Thanks to that, despite his initial turmoil over the moral implications of becoming a murderer, he has a much more steadfast belief in his cause than his manga counterpart and that’s fueled further the more he continues doing it. To be honest, this more “heroic” portrayal of his character had me as worried as it did intrigued at first, since I was afraid this version might back out of actually condemning Light for his crimes in favor of a more traditional anti-hero angle. Thankfully though, it turns out to be quite the opposite.

While his start is different, it doesn’t take too long for live-action Light to “evolve”  into his original characterization, and when he does it makes for a much starker contrast between who he started out as v.s. what he eventually became (though admittedly not as smoothly a transition as I would have liked). When we revisit Light’s “normal” persona in this version’s Yotsuba arc, there actually is a notable difference in personality between that and his Kira one (as opposed to the manga where aside from not being overtly sexist and openly willing to act on mass murder, he was pretty much the same) and it makes his return to the Kira persona all the more horrifying because the Death Note’s corruption of his soul is much clearer.

As time goes on, Light abandons his morality more and more in order to achieve his goals, eventually culminating in him causing his father’s death, despite his initial motivation being to prevent that in first place. While manga-Light reached the point of no return extremely early on in the story, for him in this version, this is the point where any sense of heroism he might have had is completely thrown out the window, and it makes his eventual fate(which coincidentally is even more brutal in this adaption) actually somewhat sad, because we get a much stronger sense of just how far he’s fallen. In this story, Light doesn’t start as a monster, he becomes one(which Ryuk is kind enough to highlight in case anyone somehow misses the message), and that for me makes a much stronger argument of the tragedy angle while also making it fairly clear that it was, in fact, the primary goal of this version all along.

Final Thoughts

So which version works better overall? Well it’s kind of hard to compare a tightly scripted thriller, to a solid, if relatively flawed, tragedy so it partially depends on how forgiving you’re willing to be about said flaws for the latter. Especially since while it certainly takes several opportunities to address some of the manga’s occasional leaps in logic (sorry Light, no FBI agents dumb enough to give you a real ID this time) it also makes a few of it’s own that are hard to ignore and doesn’t quite have the genuine level of camp the original does to give them an easier pass. Still, if you’re willing to overlook that in favor of getting a more emotionally insightful story then it’s certainly worth a look. I’m not sure how much I can outright recommend this version on it’s own since I’m too intimately familiar with the manga not to have some sense of bias towards it, but at the very least this makes for an interesting companion piece to the original story, and one that offers a take I think the franchise ultimately needed.

Review: Transformers Prime- Another Transformation

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Synopsis: For countless millennia, a war has been waged among a race of robotic lifeforms and their separate factions, the Autobots and Decepticons. The battle between the two sides led to the destruction of their home world Cybertron, and leaving them scattered throughout the cosmos. Eventualy the leader of the Autobots, Optimus Prime and his team made their way to Earth, but so has the leader of the Deceptions, Megatron along with his own forces. Now together with three human allies, the Autobots continue their battle against the Decepticons on Earth, and seeking a way to eventually restore their lost homeworld

The Review

So I wouldn’t exactly count myself among the biggest fans of the Transformers franchise, but I’ve generally enjoyed the incarnations of it I’ve seen. Of course having seen some of the 80’s series, the Unicron anime trilogy, Transformers Animated and *sigh* the Bayformers movies there’s only so much of the same story you can really take without hoping they can put enough of a new spin on things to make it fresh. As such when this series first came out, I wasn’t too interested in checking this out despite the level of praise it was getting since I was kind of burned out on the franchise by that point. Though now it’s been a couple of years and I’ve managed to avoid enough new Transformers stuff to be able to give this one a fairer shake. So does it actually do enough to really stand out from the other various incarnations of the story? Well the answer is both yes and no.

As I assume anyone reading this is over the age of 8 and at least has a basic idea of how the Transformers franchise works, I’ll spare going over the direct narrative details and jump straight to discussing the version of the plot in question. The fact that the basic premise of the franchise is an ongoing war is something that it’s never gotten much millage out of outside of anything directly taking place on Cybertron but this series manages to work it quite well.  There’s a bigger emphasis on how much the battle between the Autobots and Decepticons has turned into a never-ending conflict and one that’s been costly for both sides as they spend just as much time fighting over resources (specifically their “lifeblood” Energon that allows them to function) as they do trying to wipe each other out.

What’s particularly of note though, is that compared to other versions, the Autobots here kind of feel like actual war veterans, having each suffered through some form of loss, and carrying some kind of baggage. Most notably with this show’s version of Arcee suffering through PTSD in regardless to losing people close to her, and it plays a pretty big role in regards to her character arc and how she treats others. It helps to create some interesting paralells between them and their human companions, Jack, Miko and Raph who all kind of help to build off their respective robot counterparts, Arcee, Bulkhead and Bumblebee as they work through each other’s flaws. It works it better in regards to Jack and Arcee than the others since they don’t develop quite as much but it’s one of the stronger uses of the dynamic I’ve seen from the franchise.

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Even the Deceptions here are a bit more complex than usual here. Megatron is still well…Megatron but this particularly incarnation feels a bit less generic evil overlord, and gets to be a lot more pragmatic. Starscream on the other hand, is a much less effective schemer than in previous versions but in exchange gets a whole character arc devoted to whether he should just accept his fate as Megatron’s lackey. As always there’s usually quite a bit of civil war going on within their ranks and it manages to keep things interesting as Megatron has to spend just as much time keeping his subordinates in check as he does worrying about the Autobots. Something of which he actually manages to become savvy to, the further the show goes along.

It’s also very notable that compared to the other versions, this one is perhaps the most effective at making the Cybertronians feel more like living creatures and less like well…robots in regards to vunerability. When they “bleed” Energon, it really looks like their actually bleeding and when some of the characters die, the show can get pretty brutal how violent said deaths are. In fact it’s probably one of the most effective uses of robot gore I’ve seen in animation since Samurai Jack, and in a lot of ways it’s even stronger in this show since it’s less a means to get around censorship and more of way to hammer in the severity of what’s happening.

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As such, the biggest flaw of this version ultimately comes down to that it’s still generally the same story. It manages to maintain a tight Gargoyles style sense of continuity in regards to the storyline and similar writing to match as it gets pretty deep into Transformers mythos as the show goes along, but the sense of scale never changes too much from beginning to end. It’s not too crippling but for a 65 episode show it can feel a bit draggy and all the more so when it’s still occasionally subject to the usual action show cliches in regards to silliness. Also while this version does do more to make Optimus Prime a bit more interesting than in other continuities, his standardized heroic traits still come off as kind of boring and his development is kind of lacking compared to the other Autobots. Thankfully though, the tighter narrative is ultimately what proves to be it’s saving grace as even the slowest episodes usually end up tying into the larger story at play and it does manage to have a complete ending with a movie epilogue to wrap things up (well aside from the weirdly ambiguous fate of one of the villains but it’s not a major hangup) which is something I can certainly appreciate give how much actual endings are a rarity when it comes to action shows from the west.

Presentation

The show is animated by Japanese 3DCG veteran studio Polygon Pictures who’s best known for stuff like Star Wars: The Clone Wars, Tron: Uprising and if you want to get into anime examples, Knights of Sidonia. 3DCG still isn’t something people have a lot of tolerance for, but at this point Polygon’s more or less figured out how to best work the craft and it shows. Some of the fight scenes can look absolutely stunning and the show can make good use of cinematography from time to time to really capture the feel of some of the more horrific scenes in the series. The limited scale of the series’s narrative also puts a limit on how diverse some of the backgrounds can be but as the show explores more of Cybertron and Earth, the visuals manage to take a bit of a step up. As far as the character designs go though, the human characters look pretty basic for 3DCG standards, but the Transformer designs on the other hand are a bit more varied than they’ve been in some of the other incarnations and look appropriately cool. The CG’s not the greatest thing, but it never puts too much of a strain on the show’s capabilities and when it gets to go all out, it can lead to some nice results.

Final Thoughts

So how much would I recommend Prime as a whole? Well if you’re as burned out on the franchise as I used to be then I imagine this series probably won’t do too much to change your mind since it’s differences generally don’t lie in the basic story. But if you’re interested in checking out a somewhat darker and grounded spin on said story, then this one may be right up your alley. It’s not the biggest transformation the franchise has ever pulled, but it’s one that helped to remind me part of what drew people to it in the first place.

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Overall: 7.9/10

Available for streaming on Netflix

Animation Talk- My Top 10 English Anime Voice Actresses

Well I finally found some time to spare for this, so here’s the list of my favorite english anime voice actresses to match my previous voice actor list. Unsurprisingly this list was a lot harder to pin down compared to my male VA’s list and I briefly considered including some Honorable Mentions because of it, but then I realized I’d have to go back and do that for the male list and that’s a bit too much extra work. Like with the previous list, I kept the choices centered around anime because it would be an almost completely different list if I were just going with english voice actresses in general. Enjoy ^_^

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10) Luci Christian 

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 Notable Roles: Nami (One Piece), Nagisa Furukawa (Clannad), Mitsukuni “Honey” Haninozuka (Ouran High School Host Club), Makina Hoshimura (Corpse Princess)

Luci Christian has been around for quite a while now and is one of the most prominent voice actresses for both Funimation and Sentai Filmworks, though she’s mostly with the latter these days. Her main forte is largely in doing hot-blooded young boys or girls, but her vocal range extends wide enough to voice teenagers, adults and even more soft-spoken characters on occasion. She’s maintained a pretty solid track record all across the board and her performances almost always manage to deliver on getting a lot out of the characters she’s played. It’s easy to see why she’s been around so long, and I’m always eager to hear her in a new role.

9) Mary Elizabeth McGlynn

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 Notable Roles: Major Mototo Kusanagi (Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex), Kurenai Yuhi (Naruto), Cornelia vi Britannia (Code Geass), Julia (Cowboy Bebop)

So these days, Mary Elizabeth McGlynn is more behind the scenes doing ADR work than actual voice acting, and is pretty well regarded in that area, but her skills behind the mic are also still pretty legendary. She has a very distinct “lady of war” voice that’s become somewhat iconic and her role as Motoko in Ghost in the Shell is still extremely definitive in that area and hasn’t quite yet been matched in the level of presence it carries. Of course while that role and that character type are what she’s best known for, she can play other types of roles quite well, and has a fairly solid vocal range. While her voice work isn’t quite as common as it used to be, it’s still pretty unmistakable and when it comes to ladies in charge for anime, it’s hard to do better.

8) Brina Palencia

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 Notable Roles: Touka Kirishima (Tokyo Ghoul), Tony Tony Chopper (One Piece), Lyuze (Casshern Sins), Juvia (Fairy Tail)

Brina Palencia is one of Funimation’s more prominent VA’s these days and for good reason. She’s done a wide variety of roles, from young boys, to psychotic villains and even the occasional talking animal, with all of them carrying a strong level of emotional intensity. However she does her best work with really dramatic characters and does an effective job at playing them for all their worth without veering into outright silliness (though she can certainly handle that when it’s appopriate). Lately she’s been doing a lot of cross-region work as well so I’m looking forward to hearing her in dubs outside of Funimation, and seeing a lot more of her work.

7) Michelle Ruff

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 Notable Roles: Rukia Kuchiki (Bleach), Fujiko Mine (Lupin the 3rd franchise), Euphemia li Britannia (Code Geass), Luna (Sailor Moon)

On the note of extremely prominent VA’s there’s Michelle Ruff, bs whose work is also pretty common these days though largely centered around the California dubbing scene. She’s been around since some of the earliest days of California dubs and has managed covered a wide variety of roles, including little girls teenagers and sultry adults. Her performances are pretty much always solid and when she gets the chance to really emote, she can bring out some really fantastic work. While the frequency of her voice work is such that it almost feels a bit over-saturated at times, it’s also easy to see why she’s managed to stick around so long and you can pretty much always expect something good from her.

6) Stephanie Sheh

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 Notable Roles: Usagi Tsukino/Sailor Moon (Sailor Moon), Hinata Hyuga (Naruto), Kriem (Tiger & Bunny), Eureka (Eureka Seven)

Stephanie Sheh’s another voice actress whose work is nearly impossible to escape when it comes to California dubs, but it’s generally good work so there’s hardly much to complain about. While in her earlier days she was known more for playing extremely reserved or shy characters, lately she’s been cast on the exact opposite end, playing more energetic and loud characters including the iconic Sailor Moon herself. Beyond those two main typecasts, she’s maintained a pretty decent variety of characters and gives very natural sounding performances for just about all of them though she can be hammy when the situation calls for it. Her work is extremely consistent and it’s helped in making her one of the most iconic VA’s in the industry.

5) Wendee Lee

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Notable Roles: Faye Valentine (Cowboy Bebop), Haruhi Suzumiya (Haruhi Suzumiya), Yoruichi Shihoin (Bleach),  Yahiko Myojin (Rurouni Kenshin)

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As you’ve no doubt surmised, I’m not being terribly original at this point, but dang it does it really matter at this point? There used to be something of an ongoing joke that Wendee Lee’s work was so common she actively taking away roles from other starving actors, and she once even held a spot as being the most prolific anime voice actress of all time and having the largest amount of roles. Since then that spot’s been taken by Monica Rial, but Wendee Lee’s work is still pretty frequent and justly so. She’s handled a variety of character types over the years and all of them well performed. While I think her voice works somewhat better to me for older characters than teenagers and she’ll almost always be Faye Valentine in my heart, she can handle both with relative ease, and with an equal amount of mileage in terms of their strengths. Her level of consistency has helped make her into something of an icon for the industry, and like some of the others on this list, her frequent use speaks well to her level of talent.

4) Kari Wahlgren

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Notable Roles: Haruko Haruhara (FLCL), Karina Lyle/Blue Rose (Tiger & Bunny), Celty Strulston (Durarara), Saber (Fate/Zero)

So moving away from extreme household names to regular household names, there’s Kari Wahlgren. Like the others on this list she’s been around for a long time and has handled a wide variety of roles from crazy nutcases to sultry temptresses, though I think she does the best with the former considering that her work with characters like Haruko is what helped propel her to stardom in anime. Of course she can handle more grounded characters pretty well too, though the thing that really sets her apart is how distinct her voice is. Sometimes anime girl voices have the tendency to sort of blend together after a while, but Kari Wahlgren’s always easily recognizable and stands out from the crowd. She also has the acting skills to match and while she’s more involved with western animation these days, she still pops up in anime from time to time and it’s always a delight to hear her.

3) Laura Bailey

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 Notable Roles: Kid Trunks (Dragonball Z), Maka Albarn (Soul Eater), Lust (Fullmetal Alchemist & Brotherhood), Amber (Darker Than Black), Dieter (Monster)

Well it was pretty much impossible to get through this list without her name coming up at some point, though it’s not too hard to get why. Laura Bailey’s been in voice acting since the days of the old Funimation DBZ dub and used to be one of Funimation’s most prominent VA’s before moving to California and blowing up even further in notoriety there. She’s one of the few voice actresses with an an all-encompassing vocal range and can handle female characters of every age and archetype(along with little more than a few little boys too), playing all of them pretty believably. Her performances are almost always phenominal and she’s created more than her fair share of iconic roles over the years. While she’s largely involved in video games these days and seems to have mostly left the anime side of things, she still has a couple of ongoing roles, and I’m still hoping we’ll be able to hear her again in something new in the future.

2) Colleen Clinkenbeard

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 Notable Roles:  Monkey D. Luffy (One Piece), Erza Scarlet (Fairy Tail), Riza Hawkeye (Fullmetal Alchemist & Brotherhood), Son Gohan (Dragonball Z Kai)

Veering back towards super prolific VA’s (this is the last time I promise), where would this list be without Colleen Clinkenbeard? Though she hasn’t been around quite as long as some of the other names on this list, she’s held the fort as one of Funimation’s most notable veterans and especially so when it comes to actresses. Her work is quite frequent at this point and for every 10 Funimation dubs, the odds are pretty good she was at least in 7 of them and whatever ones she wasn’t in she was working on behind the scenes. Though as always that’s not really a complain and it just speaks to how reliable her work is. Her main forte is in older characters and young boys such as Gohan or Luffy, though she can certainly do teenagers well enough, and she consistently delivers on great performances for each of them. Also similarly to Kari Wahlgren she also possesses one of the most distinct voices in the industry and her work is always very recognizable and impactful. It may be impossible to escape from her work these days, but it’s always good enough that it’s hardly an issue.

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 Veronica Taylor

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 Notable Roles: Ash Ketchum (Pokemon 4Kids dub), Amelia Wil Tesla Saillune (Slayers franchise), Iron Maiden Jeanne (Shaman King), Setsuna Meioh/Sailor Pluto (Sailor Moon)

 https://youtu.be/ZoSNiCe2QUs?t=957

Well this shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise to anyone who saw my reaction on Twitter to her popping up in Sailor Moon but I have a lot of love for Veronica Taylor’s work. She was around during the earlier days of the NY voice acting scene, and has endured as being simultaneously one of the overrated and underrated VA’s in the industry. To this day she’s still recognized by her eternally iconic role as the original voice of Ash Ketchum back in the yesteryears of the 4Kids dub(with her replacement Sarah Natochenny’s Ash still sounding pretty underwhelming to date), and while that still holds up as a pretty solid performance it doesn’t quite speak well to her level of talent. Like Laura Bailey she also has a pretty all-encompassing vocal range and has voiced a variety of female character archetypes and young boys all extremely well, with the quality of her work even shining though some of the mediocre direction that often plagued 4Kids dubs.

Though while she’s mostly known for her work over there, she’s done quite a few regular anime roles as well and maintained a place as one of the go-to regulars for NY anime dubs. Just as notably, her vocal range is distinct enough that a lot of her characters can come off as pretty unrecognizable from one another, and she’s managed to hold up multiple roles in the same show/dub with almost zero issue and all of them sounding very natural and well-performed. For a while it seemed as though she had mostly disappeared with the NY voice acting scene at large but now that she’s doing work in California, I’m hoping we’ll get to hear a lot more from her again, and I’m pretty excited at the prospect.

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So that’s the female side of my list, though I’m kind of annoyed I couldn’t find better clips for some of them. Next up will be a list of male and female JP VA’s which I imagine will probably be easier in that respect, but harder to choose from. Should be interesting…whenever I manage to get around to that.

Review: The Tatami Galaxy- 4.5 Squares of Life

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Synopsis: A young college student is trying to get a fresh start and live out a so called “rose colored school-life” by having the best college experience possible. However his attempts to build a solid social life are constantly thwarted and he’s found that he’s wasted the last two years of his life on nonsense and wishes he could do it all over again. His wish is somehow granted and he’s given the opportunity to restart his college life over and over again in attempt to finally get it right, but will he ever actually succeed?

The Review

So this show has something of a rather infamous reputation at this point. Mainly in that I’ve seen nothing but almost unanimous praise about it, and yet the streaming numbers for it were apparently so ridiculous poor that it’s never seen the light of day for a physical release here in the U.S. and Funimation themselves have outright said not to hold your breath on that one. As a result, I’ve mostly attempted to steer clear of the show since I didn’t want to experience the agony of pining over something I can’t have and having now sat through the whole thing I can confirm that instinct was pretty much on the money. Though I ultimately don’t have too much regret over the decision as the show proved to be worth it.

Right off the bat it’s not particularly hard to see why this show would be a turn off to most audiences. The first episode doesn’t really do a good job of explaining what the heck it’s actually about, the main character talks so fast it’s hard to keep up with the subtitles, and the artstyle of the show certainly isn’t what most anime fans are used to seeing to say the least. However there’s a method to the show’s madness that doesn’t quite become clear until the second episode, and if you can make it through the first episode’s barriers unscathed, there’s a pretty immediate payoff.

The basic story of the show centers around an unnamed protagonist who just wants to live out a happy “rose colored” college experience and build a successful social life. That doesn’t quite end up going as planned and he ends up spending the next two years getting wrapped up in what he feels is a disaster, wishing he could do it over. Somehow he’s granted that wish and so forms the various episodes and situations the show has to offer. The different timelines the protagonist finds himself in are all loosely connected, but a couple of things generally remain constant: he always finds himself becoming friends with a guy named Ozu who he feels constantly drags him through the muck, thus ruining his life, and he’s always acquainted with a freshman named Akashi who’s clearly interested in him, but he never has the courage to ask out.

Each of the show’s scenarios get crazier and more fun with each passing episode, and with each one a cast of recurring characters slowly begins to form ,with all of them having some sort of bizarre influence in the protagonist’s life. In all of these stories, the protagonist seems eternally doomed to fail, but while he believes that circumstances out of his control (mostly Ozu’s very existence) are to blame for his constant failures, it becomes apparent pretty quickly that the biggest obstacle to the protagonist finding happiness is the protagonist himself. While in pursuit of his dream life, he always fails to take advantage of what he has right now, and always finds an excuse to back out of taking an actual step forward. Even in the one scenario where he actually does (sort of) gain power and influence, he’s still left unsatisfied in the end because he’s lost out on what really matters.

It all comes to a head during a conversation with one of the other characters who tells him quite frankly that the so called “rose colored” college life he dreams of obtaining simply does not exist. The best thing he can do for himself is to just accept his life as it is, and take advantage of what he has right now. Even Ozu, who the protagonist thought was as much of a loser as he was, was actually out living it up pretty well, and it drives home just how much the protagonist has wasted his life seeking something he can’t have.

As someone who similarly wasted a good percentage of early part of their college life in the same pointless pursuit, this hit pretty close to home for me, and it’s a message that captures that particular stage in life well, as it’s definitely something we tend to go through at some point whether it be in college specifically or somewhere around that age.  Of course it takes a couple of episodes of the protagonist choosing to isolate himself if he can’t have what he wants (along with simultaneously explaining the Groundhog Day plot the audience has already mostly figured out by this point) to finally realize this, but it eventually gets through to him and it makes for a satisfying conclusion.

The show was hemmed by Maasaki Yusa, who has since gone on to be known for last year’s Ping-Pong: The Animation as well as the Food Chain episode of Adventure Time, and it shows. All of his works carry a very unique art style, that looks almost cartoon scribble levels of crude, while allowing for a solid amount of fluidity in regards to animation and taking advantage of the art through the weirdest ways imaginable. That holds pretty true here and it really helps to make a lot of the show’s comedic moments work a lot better, while also making for a really neat contrast with some of the show’s real world backgrounds to give it a really interesting sense of flavor, though it can certainly be a turn off for the uninitiated. Michiru Oshima’s soundtrack for the show however isn’t nearly as distinct though the opening  “Koinu to Ame no Bīto” by the now legendary J-Rock band, Kung Fu Generation is pretty catchy.

It’s not hard to see why The Tatami Galaxy got the amount of praise it did when it aired. The show takes advantage of it’s weird premise to make for some pretty entertaining material, and the overall theme of the show is one that speaks well to both younger and older audiences in regards to living life to the fullest with what you have. It’s also perfectly capped off at a relatively short 11 episode count which is just the right amount of time it takes for this kind of show to work before the repetition of it really starts to set in. If you can get past the somewhat incomprehensible on it’s own first episode, and the weird art style, this show’s a really winner and one that definitely deserves a lot more appreciation than what it’s gotten thus far. So I guess you can now count me among those who’ll wait until the end of time for this show to ever get released here, and will complain ever day it isn’t. You win this round Tatami Galaxy. You win.

Overall: 9/10

 

Animation Talk- My Top 10 Male English Anime Voice Actors

Well this is another one of those things I said I’d get around to and there’s been enough changes from the last time I ever mentioned it online, so here it is: My list of favorite male english voice actors in anime. I’m keeping it strictly anime voice actors because well…if I just went english male VA’s in general and included people primarily in western animated stuff this would a veeeeeeerrrrryyy different list. I’ll get to my list of top female VA’s a later date but for now this is it. I tried to include performance samples for whatever I could find so any of these don’t have one I apologize in advance. Anyway, enjoy ^_^

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10) Robert McCollum

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Notable Roles: Shinobu Sensui (YuYu Hakusho), Jellal (Fairy Tail), Shinya Kogami (Psycho-Pass), Ginti (Death Parade)

Robert McCollum has done voice work for Funimation since the days of yore and yet isn’t one of their larger name VA’s which is kind of a shame because his work is pretty great. He has a pretty cool voice and does good work in snarky and anti-heroish roles like Kogami  or Kurusu in Future Diary though his best area of expertise is in villains. His portrayal of Sensui in particular carries a cold calculation and insanity while still feeling somewhat sympathetic and it’s what helped to make the character one of the most memorable anime villains of all time. Robert McCollum’s repertoire is solid and as far as villain voice actors go, he’s one of my favorites.

9) Josh Grelle

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Notable Roles: Kenichi Shirahama (Kenichi: The Mightiest Disciple), Armin Arlet (Attack on Titan), Nobuchika Ginoza (Psycho-Pass), Femt the Lord of Depravity (Blood Blockade Battlefront)

Well Josh Grelle actually IS one of Funimation’s more celebrated VA’s so there’s not much I can say about him that hasn’t been said already but he does great work. While he’s primarily known for doing shonen hero-ish voices, he has a pretty impressive vocal range and his roles extend from teenagers, adults, cross-dressers and even occasionally villains, bringing an impressive amount of character to each of them. He’s also one of a handful of primarily Funimation centered VA’s that sometimes goes further down Texas to do work at Sentai Filmworks as well, and his work has started to become pretty common. Certainly not anything to complain about though,  as he’s more than earned his current popularity and is definitely one of Funimation’s finest

 

8) Patrick Seitz

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Notable Roles: Wolfgang Grimmer (Monster), Ira Gamagoori (Kill la Kill), Dio Brando (Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure), Sweet JP (Redline)

Patrick Seitz is one of the ultimate chameleons of anime. Odds are pretty good that if you’ve listened to a California-based or Funimation dub anytime in the last 5 or 6 years, Patrick Seitz was either in it, or somehow involved in it working behind the scenes as a script writer or director(sadly not so much the latter which is a shame since he’s a pretty good one). Yet somehow despite the insane amount of stuff he’s been in, he blends into shows so perfectly that you hardly ever hear complaints about how over used he is. It just lends to how impressive his work is as he’s played an incredibly wide range of character archetypes from nice guys to manly men, to depraved villains with a shonen hero role probably being the kind of role he hasn’t done (and I wouldn’t be terribly surprised if he actually could pull it off). Exactly how standout his performances are tend to vary on the relevance of whatever character he’s playing to the show itself but when he brings his A-game his work is phenomenal and he stands as one of the most prominent VA’s in the biz

 

7) Eric Vale

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Notable Roles: Casshern (Casshern Sins), Solf J. Kimblee (Fullmetal Alchemist), Director Tamaki (Deadman Wonderland), Trunks (Dragonball Z)

https://youtu.be/BfAeJ7p0QPM?t=75

Much like with Patrick Seitz above, Eric Vale is also a chameleon of sorts when it comes to anime roles and has been doing work for Funimation since the days of the old Dragonball Z dub. He’s done a great variety of work across the board including heroes, villains, introverts, dads, psychopaths and the occasional corrupt businessman, with one of my personal favorites being his Desert Punk just because how comically underhanded it is. A lot of his performances carrying a certain level of humanity to them that comes across as very natural sounding, but he can certainly cross the line into full blown ham when he needs to and his extremely level of versatility makes my favorite among Funimation’s talent pool

 

6) Liam O’ Brien

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Notable Roles:  Garra of the Desert (Naruto), Kenzo Tenma (Monster), Lunatic (Tiger & Bunny), Nephrite (Sailor Moon)

Liam O Brien’s something of a veteran among the California talent pool and has done a variety of works over the years, with a lot of them carrying a certain level of humanity to them much like with Eric Vale’s roles though his performances tend to resonate a bit more. While he’s done a lot of different roles including pacifists, anti-heroes and even little boys at one point (yes that was him as the main character in Duel Masters) like with Robert McCollum he utterly excells at doing villains, bringing equal amounts of ham and depth to each of them, playing them up for all their worth. His expertise in those roles makes him my favorite in that particular area, but he’s pretty good at doing everything else and almost never fails to deliver.

 

5) Johnny Yong Bosch

3307587-jyb31Notable Roles: Lelouch vi Britannia (Code Geass), Ichigo Kurosaki (Bleach), Izaya Orihara (Durarara), Vash the Stampede (Trigun)

Eh well…no one’s ever really accused me of being original when it comes to these things (usually the opposite) but darn it do I really need to be?  Johnny Yong Bosch’s work pretty much speaks for itself as he’s one of the most well known voice actors in the industry and certainly one of the most popular. His main forte is generally shonen hero-ish roles, which he does really well, though his roles certainly branch out beyond that including anti-heroes, little boys and most recently quite a number of villainous roles. The performances he brings usually range from super solid to outstanding and there’s usually a pretty good level of intensity to each of them. It’s easy to see why he’s made such a big name for himself over the years and it’ll likely stay that way for quite a ways to come.

 

4) Yuri Lowenthal

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Notable Roles:  Sasuke Uchiha (Naruto), Barnaby Brooks Jr. (Tiger & Bunny), Pip Bonaparte (Hellsing Ultimate), Suzaku Kururugi (Code Geass)

On the note of VA’s who generally specialize in shonen hero-ish roles, here’s Yuri Lowenthal (whose characters incidentally happen to either be best bros, mortal enemies or some combination of the two whenever he and JYB are in the same show). While he’s certainly played his share of varied roles over the years from bros, to suave playboys, even including deeply voiced villains like Victor from Buso Renkin (though to be honest I think we’d all rather forget about that one) his expertise is by and large in young hero roles. His work in that area ranges from the classical archetypal hero to brooding angsty teens and rival characters, playing all of them with a strong level of emotional intensity (and sometimes reaching for that even where it’s barely need). For a long time he was more or less the definitive VA for the California talent pool in that regard until the niche was filled by Bryce Papenbrook and while he’s generally more prominent in western animation these days, he still pops up in anime from time to time, and his roles are typically a stand out.

 

3) Crispin Freeman

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Notable Roles: Alucard (Hellsing), Itachi Uchiha (Naruto), Kyon (Haruhi Suzumiya), Jeremiah Gottwald (Code Geass)

Yet again I’m not terribly original but it’s another case where I really couldn’t care less about that. Like JYB, Crispin Freeman’s one of the most celebrated actors when it comes to anime in english, and it’s not hard to grasp why as he boasts one of the most impossibly cool sounding voices ever, and brings the performances to match. Though he’s garnered his massive reputation courtesy of his Alucard baritone, he actually has a pretty solid vocal range and can handle a variety of roles from smooth sounding adults, gruff middle aged men, young teens and then back to the infamous super baritone that made him iconic. There’s a certain degree of power to his voice that really stands out and it makes all of his roles that much more memorable, and it’s partially thanks to it that he’s endured as one of the best VA’s out there.

 

2) Ben Diskin

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Notable Roles: Joseph Joestar (Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure), Misaki Yata (K: The Animation), Sai (Naruto), Takaharu Fukuroda (Kill la Kill)

Ben Diskin is a very interesting case as far as anime voice actors go as he was largely more involved in western animation before branching out into anime whereas it’s usually the opposite case with California based voice actors. Perhaps it’s because of this that he’s gone largely unnoticed by the fandom at large until recent years and it’s really a shame as he’s proven to be one of the most impressive VA’s out there. He boasts an incredibly level of vocal range and is one of the few anime VA’s who I’m convinced could voice multiple roles in a show with none the wiser as he can do everything from little boys, to angsty teens and gruff baritoned characters with each of them sounding distinctly different from one another.  More impressively he’s really great at playing all of these varying roles to their absolute fullest and when he gets to go full on ham, he can deliver on completely show stealing performances and sounds like he’s having a great time doing it. Again it’s sort of a shame that he went somewhat underrated for so long so I’m hoping that having finally gotten a lead role in something as large as Jojo’s, he’ll be getting a lot more attention in the future.

 

number1

 Steve Blum

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Notable Roles: Spike Spiegal (Cowboy Bebop), Mugen (Samurai Champloo), Orochimaru (Naruto), Guilmon (Digimon Tamers)

Welp we all knew this was coming and I don’t think it should really come off as that much of a surprise to anyone so rather than talk again about my unoriginal choices I’ll just get down to it. Steve Blum is one of if perhaps not the most celebrated english voice actor in anime, and to the point where even some of the most die hard sub elitists out there have respect for the man’s work. Though his claim to fame in anime will likely always and forever be Spike from Cowboy Bebop, his vocal range extends far, far beyond that as he’s done young heroes, deep voiced villains, dads, a creepy pedophile snake man and even an adorable little dinosaur…thing, with each of them having a high level of distinction from each other much like with Ben Diskin above. Though of course the default voice he’s commonly associated with it also carries an impossibly natural sounding level of cool to it, and helped somewhat in making him the icon he is today. One of the best things about his work though is that while I can more or less pick a favorite role from the other VAs on this list, Steve Blum has done so many incredibly sounding performances that picking just one is borderline impossible for me and even his legendary Spike Spiegal is well matched by a lot of his other roles. Call him overrated if you want, but Steve Blum’s become the voice acting icon he is for a darn good reason, and his work continues to stand the test of time.

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And there you have it, my current list of favorite male anime voice actors. Though as always I wouldn’t be surprised to see it look pretty differently within the next couple of years as that’s the nature of things when it comes to that and there’s plenty of promising newer talent on the horizon. Now hopefully I can get around to doing my female VA list before the week is up though I have a feeling it’ll be harder finding worthwhile clips for that one…

Review: Inside Out- That’s Life

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Synopsis: 11 year old Riley is a girl with a peaceful little life, and she’s defined by her core emotions of Sadness, Anger, Disgust and Fear, though mostly Joy. However when she has to move to a new city, her life starts to hit some roadblocks and her emotions of Joy and Sadness end up getting separated from the center of her brain alongside the core memories that make up Riley’s personality. Now Joy and Sadness must make their way back to the center of Riley’s life and restore her personality before her life completely falls apart.

The Review

So it’s no secret that Pixar’s gone through something of a rough patch for the last few years. A lot of their recent films have lost the magic that made the studio so legendary with Brave being fairly generic, Monster’s University mostly passable (though I do have something of a fondness for it) and of course Cars sequels/spinoffs up the wazoo. Needless to say the expectations surrounding this film were fairly low, but not only has it beaten them to prove itself as the best thing they’ve done in years, it’s also one of their greatest works yet.

The film both figuratively and literally takes us inside the mind of an 11-year old girl named Riley. Her life has been a fairly happy one, and one mostly defined by the emotion of Joy, who serves as the movie’s protagonist. Alongside the other core emotions of Anger, Disgust, Fear and of course Sadness, she helps in keeping Riley’s personality on track, literally going out of her way to keep sadness to a minimum by trying to keep said emotion out of her life as much as possible. After all, no one wants to be sad right?

However things in Riley’s life take an unexpected turn when she moves from her home in Minnesota to San Francisco and has to try and adjust. While the other emotions all appropriately have a negative reaction to the situation, Joy still believes she can put a brighter spin on things and tries to keep a positive outlook. It doesn’t take long for things to get worse and Joy and Sadness end up getting accidentally launched out of the core of Riley’s mind alongside the core memories that make up who she is.

As the two attempt to make the journey back alongside Riley’s old imaginary friend, in order to restore those key memories, things in Riley’s life gradually begin to fall apart piece by piece as the key parts of her life up till now become unsustainable. To make matters worse in the absence of Joy who’s been the defining emotion of Riley’s life up until now, the others keep making worse and worse decisions for her until they eventually decide that she should run away from home since that’s where all her happy memories lied and should be the best way to restore them. During their journey, Joy and Sadness begin to slowly bond with each other, and Joy starts to think that maybe sadness isn’t such a bad emotion after all, but as the situation worsens she abandons her since she still feels joy is all Riley really needs in her life.

When things get to their lowest point though, it’s at that moment she takes the time to realize that Sadness is indeed a necessary emotion and that it has it’s importance in Riley’s life too. Joy goes back to reunite with her and it all leads into the moment that defines the film’s core message. To resolve the whole situation, rather than Joy being what convinces Riley not to go through with running away it ends up Sadness because it’s something she’ll ultimately come to regret. This leads to Riley reconciling with her parents in an emotional breakdown, and a moment that’s defined as equally sad and happy in Riley’s memories becoming a new core memory that helps to define who she is.

At it’s core, the film understands that we aren’t just defined by our happy experiences in life. We experience sadness, frustration, disgust and various other emotions as we encounter situations throughout life. However all of these emotions define who we are and it’s important to recognize the sad times in life just as often as the happy ones because they’re what ultimately make us stronger. The ending is equally strong in that respect as while it ends on a somewhat upbeat note, it also suggests Riley will have another experience just like that one before too long because well…that’s life and you never really stop encountering those kinds of problems. It’s what you take away from the experiences that really matter.

The film’s thematic merits are strong but it also works really well as a solid piece of entertainment. The world of Riley’s mind is fun and imaginative, making it pretty neat to explore as Joy and Sadness traverse it’s various parts. In addition the movie’s humor hits just the right cord of silly enough to make kids laugh, while not overtly dumb enough to turn off adults, and a lot of the jokes are really clever and witty. Also have to give a small thumbs up for the film NOT featuring an antagonist, in an extremely rare feat for a kids’ movie. It briefly tempts it as the imaginary friend initially seems like he could be one, but the movie decides to trust that Riley’s situation is conflict enough on it’s own, and it makes the film much more close to home and personal. This movie has all the makings of a modern classic and is definitely a strong contender for one of the best, if not the best film(s) of the year. Welcome back Pixar, now please don’t go away again.

Overall: 10/10

Your Brain on Toons- Steven Universe: It Takes Two To Fuse

Well I never did get around to making a season 1 review of this show so instead I decided to do a lengthy write-up/essay about it in a new segment called “Your Brain on Toons” where I’ll be doing these kinds of analytical writings. Though I imagine this isn’t something I’ll be doing very often since there aren’t too many shows I could see myself doing this for, and the fact that  this was honestly almost soul-crushingly difficult to write. Anyway, enjoy

*SPOILER WARNING*

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I said this before when I talked about the show on my recommendations list, but Steven Universe is a show with a strong emotional core. It knows how to consistently deliver on heartwarming moments (or severely traumatizing ones) and is very much sincere in that respect in a way a lot of other shows aren’t. Though lately I’ve noticed that in addition to all that, it also excels in one very specific area pertaining to it. Specifically in having a very deep understanding of relationships.

Fusing Together

One of the most interesting aspects of the show for me has been in regards to how it treats the concept of fusion. Generally when you think of “fusion” in most fictional media (or just ya know, anime) you’d imagine two characters merging together to become someone stronger ala Dragonball Z with Goten and Trunks becoming Gotenks. While that aspect of it certainly exists in this show, it’s much more interested in looking at it as a metaphor for stability in relationships. Of course the word “relationship” doesn’t pertain only sexual or romantic ones, though that certainly is a big part to fusion here as it’s…pretty hard to ignore what some of those dances are going for. Rather it extends to relationships of varying degrees and each one requiring a certain degree of balance. For the sake of consistency though, we’ll largely just stick to the romantic aspect.

Yeeeep…

 Stronger As One

Given the whole “fusion as a relationship” metaphor, it’s fitting that the most stable relationship in the show is in fact a fusion. While we haven’t seen much of Ruby and Sapphire themselves yet (and most likely won’t going forward, given that speaks for itself), it’s easy to see the strength of their relationship within Garnet. She takes pride in being the literal product of a healthy relationship, and honors it by choosing to stay fused as much as possible. As such, she offers some pretty sound advise in that area, and encourages some of the other characters to seek out those kinds of relationships. Most notably in her reaction to Steven and Connie fusing for the first time (not in THAT way you sickos)  in the episode “Alone Together”  as she understands the significance in it being representative of a deep level of affection.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0q-RSGsTI-0

Garnet’s relationship literally speaks for itself

 Though much as Garnet is an ideal in regards to most relationships, as a solid level of stability can be difficult to achieve, it’s also not one that glosses over the amount of effort involved. Garnet herself states in the episode “Love Letters” when turning down a guy trying to hit on her, since she’s not interested (and is also ya know, literally made of lesbians) , that the concept of love at first sight isn’t something that really exists. A real relationship is a process and one that requires a lot of communication in order to work since you well…have to actually get to know and understand the other person involved. While the show seemingly betrays this notion in the episode “Story For Steven” where we see Greg giving up his current life to be with Rose just from being attracted to her, it’s ultimately reinforced in a later episode “We Need To Talk”. While attraction at first sight is very much a real thing, the two realize that it’s not much to build a relationship on and that they really rushed into things. It isn’t until they decide to actually talk about their differences (which in this case are pretty extreme given how literally different they are) and attempt to better understand each other that the relationship really takes off and becomes something more meaningful. The strongest relationships we have in life are forged of those kinds of honest attempts at communication, and SU really gets that.

A Really Bad Match

Of course for every positive there’s a negative and so while SU knows the importance of healthy relationships, it also has a very clear understanding of unhealthy relationships. In regards to how that’s portrayed in fusion, this is best scene in ones like Malachite (Lapis + Jasper), being indicative of relationships that are about desperation or dominance over the other person. Neither of these can hold themselves together for very long and it’s displayed pretty well by the actual fusion itself and Lapis’s struggle to maintain control over it. Though obviously those aren’t the only kinds of unhealthy relationships that exist between people, as even genuine affection can become unbalanced when taken to certain extremes. While the exact extent to which Rose ever returned her feelings is , currently ambiguous, and it’s probably for the best it stays that way, Pearl’s feelings towards her aren’t(which to be honest, I’m sort of surprised hasn’t gotten a lot more attention, given how much people on the internet lost their minds over Korra’s ending) and intensely so. Although rather than any sense of balance, her sense of devotion has been shown to be much more obsessive than romantic, leading her towards self-destructive behavior in order to convey it. With the source of that obsession now gone, however, she instead projects that same desire on to Rose’s son, Steven.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DLS3bKLbFds

Slipped up a bit there, Pearl

Similarly to Garnet, she takes pride in having that kind of relationship, and is very much wiling to push others towards it, as can be seen in the episode “Sworn to the Sword” with how she convinces Connie to utterly devote herself to Steven’s existence. The unhealthiness of it is of course, acknowledged, and it’s largely portrayed as her greatest character flaw. Though at the same time, the show also understands the importance of not outright denying those feelings, as doing so would mean denying any sense of sincerity in them, and it’s a lot smarter than that. Instead the solution here seems to be Pearl gradually coming to acknowledge Steven for who he is (though not in any kind of romantic sense because…duh) rather than just Rose’s extension as well as finding her own sense of self-worth, but it’s a process that will obviously take some time before it fully develops.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XFKQEkwaSME

“I think you’re pretty great”

 

To Fuse or Not to Fuse

Having touched on both stability and instability in relationships, there’s one other important aspect that the show also covers: that relationships should generally be a choice. How much say a person has in choosing to begin a relationship bears a lot of significance in how well it’s maintained, and forced relationships are ones that typically end in disaster for those involved. In terms of fusion, this is most clearly displayed with the abomination from the episode “Keeping It Together” that’s composed of several shattered gems being forcibly merged together into a monstrosity. Garnet’s reaction to seeing it is appropriately a disturbed one as she has the best understanding of a strong relationship out of the cast, and doesn’t even feel it should be acknowledged as a fusion. Real relationships, even unhealthy ones, come from willing attempts at connection, or at the very least, a genuine desire to be with the other person. When that element is taken out of the equation, it’s not really a relationship and it’s something I’m glad the show presented as it’s an important element in driving home the whole theme of fusion.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OGfELR6Ts-o

Yeah, this really is just downright wrong

In Conclusion

So these are some of the various ways in which Steven Universe takes a look at relationships. Truth be told though, I only really scratched the surface here as there are various other platonic and familial relationships that it approaches very well. While that’s not particularly groundbreaking for fiction, the extent to which it’s portrayed here really stands out among a lot of other media, and especially for a kid’s show. It’s just one of the many components that fuse together to make SU such a compelling little show, and one that continues to excel.

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My Top 27 Western Animated Shows (#27-20)

Well I said I’d get around to it so here it is. I’m obviously more of an anime fan than I am a cartoon guy, but I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for western animated stuff, and especially good western animated stuff. I don’t know if I’d bother comparing any of these to anime (outside of the obvious) since that kind of comparison takes away from the shows themselves, but these are some series that I feel have stood the test of time or have a pretty good chance at doing so. As for the criteria,  it’s generally the same as my top anime list though entertainment value factors a bit more in here than story for some. Without further ado, let’s get started.

WARNING: There may be some spoilers about some of the shows on this list

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27) Teen Titans

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Synopsis: Within Jump City, five super powered teens, Robin, Cyborg, Raven, Starfire and Beast Boy form a group known as the Teen Titans. Together they defend the city from a variety of threats while also learning how to deal with each other.

Why I Like It: This show was a bit of an anomaly when it first came out as it never managed to fit into the DC Animated Universe (DCAU for short) despite the heavy prominence of those series at the time. Instead this superheroics with a weird anime-esque paint and comedy to match. The result was something that oddly clicked as despite it’s initial struggles with what kind of tone it wanted, it grew into a solid little series as it expanded on it’s characters and the story arcs gradually improved (and in some instances got much darker) as time went on.  Sadly kids are probably now more familar with it’s spinoff series, Teen Titans GO (which I don’t hate as much as everyone else, but has gradually lost it’s initial charm for me) but this show was unique as far as superhero stuff goes and still holds up as being a lot of fun

26) Static Shock

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Synopsis: After getting caught up in the middle of a gang-war and affected by a strange gas, Virgil Hawkins finds himself blessed with the power to control electricity. With his newfound abilities he adopts the identity of Static and decides to clear the streets of other affected superhumans called Bang Babies

Why I Like It: Growing up, I was (and still am)a big fan of superhero stuff, but as a black kid it was kind of disappointing never seeing any black heroes on TV aside from the Jon Stewart version of Green Lantern in Justice League. So needless to say a superhero show about a black kid like myself appealed to me and it helped that it was a pretty good show in it’s own right. It did a solid job of weaving together the classic hero tale with inner city issues, and while later seasons favored the former over the later it still managed to hold it’s ground throughout. To this day there hasn’t been another notable example of a solo black superhero show on TV and while I’d like to see that change sometime in the future if this is the sole example, it’s not so bad.

25) Megas XLR

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Synopsis: In the distant future , Earth is fighting a losing war with an alien race known as “the Glorft”. In order to save the planet, the human resistance steals a prototype giant robot from the Glorft  renaming it MEGAS . The idea is to use a time-traveling device called a time drive to send MEGAS and its pilot, Kiva, back in time to defeat the Glorift. Before the plan can be executed, however, an attack by the Glorft sends the now-crippled MEGAS all the way back to the 1930s. It stays in a  New Jersey junkyard until it ends up in the hands of a slacker mechanic, Coop, and his slacker best friend, Jamie, around the year 2004. Kiva goes back in time to retrieve MEGAS, and when she finds she is unable to pilot it because of Coop’s modifications, she grudgingly decides to train Coop, who is now the only person who can pilot it. However, the Glorft have followed her through time and, much to Kiva’s chagrin, it is now up to Coop to defend Earth from the Glorft and other various threats.

Why I Like It:  Genre parodies are a dime-a-dozen these days but an entire western show parodying japanese mecha is certainly something you don’t see every day and it helps that it’s actually pretty fun. It rips on various mecha series (never lasted long enough to get around to Evangelion but I can always imagine what that would have been like) but it also holds a lot of love for the genre as well.  Every moment that isn’t spent making fun of robot anime is spent showing why giant robots are awesome and that makes for a pretty awesome show unto itself in my book.

24) Danny Phantom

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Synopsis: So rather than sit here and explain this myself I’ll just let the theme song do that for you. Alright? Let’s move on

Why I Like It: Again I’m a fan of superhero stuff, and I also liked Fairly Odd Parents growing up so a superhero show by the same creator seemed interesting enough and for the most part delivered. Despite being much more of a comedy than an action piece the show does a pretty good job of portraying the old Spiderman superhero tale as Danny gradually matures alongside his powers and also displays a fairly interesting universe on it’s own. Sadly the show took a bit of step down thanks to a change in writers for the third season, but it ends on a pretty strong note and still makes for some good laughs and decent storytelling.

23) Xiaolin Showdown

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Synopsis:  Set in a world where martial arts battles and Eastern magic are commonplace, the series follows four young warriors in training that battle the forces of evil. They do this by protecting Shen Gong Wu (ancient artifacts that have great magical powers) from villains that would use them to conquer the world.

Why I Like It: Similar to Megas XLR being a parody of mecha anime this show is one to battle shonen and kung-fu movies. However more so than it’s saving grace being that it has a lot of love for what it’s parodying (which it does but that’s besides the point) what really makes the show work is branding together it’s comedy with solid character writing as the main characters (one in particular) grow quite a bit over the course of the series. The “sequel” Xiaolin Chronicles doesn’t really manage to capture the magic of the it’s predecessor (partially because it couldn’t decide if it actually wanted to be a sequel or not) but the original still has some magic to it.

22) The Legend of Korra

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Synopsis: 70 years after Avatar Aang defeated Fire Lord Ozai and restored balance to the world, the new Avatar, Korra travels to Republic City in order to find her place in the world. There she discovers a movement against benders, and begins the path towards carving her own legend as the Avatar.

Why I Like It: Speaking of sequels that don’t quite live up to their predecessors, this would be one of them. Though to be somewhat fair it comes off the heels of one of the greatest animated action dramas ever made so it had some big shoes to fill. That said while it doesn’t quite reach the heights of the original, it does manage to do some interesting stuff as it further expands on it’s universe and each season covers a variety of heavy themes (some more successfully than others). It also serves as one of the few male oriented action toons to feature a female lead (even if she isn’t written as well as most of the girls in the show that preceded her), and ended on a pretty famous/infamous note regarding her sexuality. While the latter will is what it’ll likely be remembered for it’s still a fairly good show on it’s own merits.

21) Star Wars Rebels

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Synopsis: Ezra Bridger is an orphan growing up on the streets of the planet Lothal. One day he encounters a man named Kanan and his crew of rebel mercenaries who fight against the tyranny of The Empire. Initially apathetic to their cause, Ezra soon finds himself involved with them and becomes a member of their crew while also training to under Kanan as an apprentice in order to one day become a Jedi

Why I Like It: So I never really managed to get into The Clone Wars series despite it being more popular both due to it’s first season being a bit of a turn-off, and my increasing frustration with the back and forth nature of Star Wars canon at the time. What sold me on this one though, was the involvement of Greg Weissman who’s made some of the best stuff here in the states, and he sure doesn’t disappoint with this one. While not as dark as the later seasons of Clone Wars it manages to get into some dark territory for it’s intended audience and manages to make each of the members of the rebels crew interesting characters with their own various backstories and motivations. As there’s only one season of it out so far, there’s plenty of room for it to go downhill but it’s off to a much better start than Clone Wars was for me and I think it might have the potential to become something really great.

20) Fairly Odd Parents (season 1-5)

From left: Cosmo, Timmy and Wanda © Nickelodeon

Synopsis: Again rather than waste time explaining it I’ll just let the theme song do the job

Why I Like It: Fairly Odd Parents is one of two Nick animated comedies to survive for an extended period of time (the other one I’m not a big fan of despite it’s huge pop-culture success, but I digress) and for good reason. It’s a pretty good comedy in it’s prime with plenty of good parodies, fun slapstick and pop-culture jokes that generally flies over the heads of the kids watching it. More than that though it’s also a pretty warm-hearted little show as Timmy learns various life lessons through his wishes and how to make the most of his miserable little life. Unfortunately the show hit it’s prime around the 5th season and later ones proceeded to descend into making the show a lot more mean-spirited, exaggerating the characters to the point of ridiculousness and constantly contradicting what little continuity the show managed to maintain. While the show as it is today is but a shell of it’s former self, those earlier seasons are still pretty fun to look back on and are quality entertainment for the most part.

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Next- #19-11