It’s been a while since I did a round up of different animated things I’ve watched recently, so here's my thought on some of my recent consumption:
STAR TREK: LOWER DECKS
Starting off on a high note. This is a GREAT series. The first couple of episodes were shaky here and there, but it quickly found it’s footing and rolled into this very clever comedy series that also fits pretty neatly into established ST continuity. I started out hating Mariner, the main female character, who despite some Mary Sue-esque trappings grew into a complex and very interesting character. Boimler, her hapless foil, kinda-maybe love interest, and the butt of a disproportionate amount of jokes on the show, also grew to be likable and interesting by the final episode. My only real complaint is the show definitely needs more episodes. Ten was not enough.
(On a side note here, Lower Decks’ sister show, Star Trek: Discovery, which I finally watched in the last few months, is more than a little mediocre. The ideas and characters are mostly fine, but the writing, especially the dialog, is gawd awful. Like, Anakin-whining-about-sand awful. But its most wretched sin has to be its main character, Michael Burnham, who is an honest-to-Roddenberry for-real Mary Sue escaped from someone’s tenth-grade fan fiction and somehow ended up the lead on a major scifi show. Just an awfully written character all around. And why is she always whispering?)
THE FAMILIAR OF ZERO
This was one of the prototypes for modern Isekai anime, a show that ran four seasons between 2006 and 2012, based on a series of light novels. In a fantasy world, Louise, the worst student at a Harry-Potter-esque school for magic, tries a spell to summon a familiar, and ends up with a very confused teen-age boy from modern-day Japan. What ensues is an echi harem comedy mixed with a bunch of light fantasy adventure.
The individual episodes are a mixed bag, ranging from pretty darn good to meh, but over all it’s an enjoyable romp of a show. Louise is an uber-tsundere, and Saito is unremarkable but a likable enough male lead. They do have amusing enough interplay as they inadvertently go around saving kingdoms and whatnot. It’s an echi anime aimed at teenagers, so there’s an abundance of oops-I’m-naked moments and booby jokes, a little too much imho but it didn’t kill my overall enjoyment of the show. I did also really like the neat through-line of Earth technology occasionally showing up in the fantasy world as feared magic weapons that usually end up saving the day in Saito’s hands.
One thing I really have to give this series credit for is that it 100% stuck its landing despite the rocky road to get there. The very last three episodes pop and crackle along skillfully with building tension, twists, and serious emotional moments. And when Saito swoops in at the last moment to save Louise from certain doom, despite the huge stretch of logic to get him there, you’re cheering anyway because the moment is so darn COOL.
A good show to watch if you just want turn your brain off for some light romcom fantasy adventure.
THE OWL HOUSE
Now onto an American Isekai TV series, done by Disney. Fourteen-year-old Luz stumbles through a magic door into the fantasy world of The Boiling Isles, a land in another dimension apparently carved from the body of a fallen titan. There, she’s taken under the wing of an outlaw witch named Eda and tries to become a witch herself.
A lot less naughty than THE FAMILIAR OF ZERO (though Eda is kind of hot), but IMHO is a lot funnier and a lot more imaginative. Not to knock the anime, which was enjoyable in its own right, but this is a show by the top animation studio in the world firing on all cylinders. Every episode pops with genuinely laugh-out-loud comedy and throwaway fantasy ideas lesser studios could make entire series out of. The focus here is on the funny, but there’s also a bunch of intriguing plots and good characters to be found, especially a budding teen-age romance in the latter half of the first season that is so innocently adorable it’s hard to describe. Only one season is out now, but others are in the works, and I can'’ wait to see more.
I started this essay with a high note, and am now ending with an even higher one.
Cartoon Saloon is an Irish animation studio that never put out a bad film yet. In fact, all four of its feature films are must-watches for any animation or fantasy fan, and its most recent is it’s best yet.
In the year 1650, an Irish settlement occupied by the English (there is a long sordid history between Ireland and England during that period, btw, which is good reading on its own but also gives the film some added dimension if you know the history) is having trouble with wolves in the surrounding wilderness. But these aren’t just ordinary wolves. Among them are Wolfwalkers, magical folk who can manifest wolf bodies when they sleep. An English girl, Robyn, the daughter of a huntsman, has an encounter with one that alters the course of her life and the lives of all those around her.
This is a hands-down masterpiece. I really liked Pixar’s SOUL, but this film was just a few slivers better and truly deserved the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature this year.
In some ways it was difficult to watch for me, as I got so invested emotionally in the characters that it cranked up the intensity of some scenes to the point it was almost unbearable. But of course, that just made the catharsis that came with the films’ resolutions all the more satisfying. Plus WOLFWALKERS also featured that unique visual style Cartoon Saloon has used in its other features, which work very well to convey both its dark fair-tale like quality and verisimilitude of its 17th century setting. Seize any chance you have to watch this one, you won’t regret it.