Star Returns to Fight More Evil!

Star vs. the Forces of Evil is one of my favorite series, despite being a Western cartoon.  And great news–it’s kicking off its fourth season with a 2-hour special on Saturday, 15 July!  Just how good is this news?  Well, a certain somebody might even schedule a day off from work in order to watch in unfettered bliss. . . Don’t recognize the show’s name?  Again, this is a Western cartoon–although one admittedly inspired by anime–airing on Disney XD.  I had meant to review it before, but just never got around to it.  And I apologize for my tardiness, because this show deserves loud praise.

Star Butterfly is an adolescent princess (14 years old) from an alternate dimension called Mewni.  She is the product of two very different families, with her mother’s side representing cultured sophistication and her father leading hordes of howling barbarians.  Showcasing her heritage, Star manages to set fire to her own castle, prompting her family to send her to earth as an exchange student.  She is accompanied on this journey by Glossaryck, a magical being who lives inside Star’s spellbook and acts as her tutor and would-be mentor.  Glossaryck has actually been instructing her mother’s family in the magical arts for many generations, offering Star a living testament of loyalty.  (On earth, such famtrads would likely see Star called an hereditary witch.)  But, being young, Star prefers to eschew instruction in favor of learning things the hard way.

 

Star’s best friend and partner-in-crime (so to speak) is her classmate Marco Diaz.  In fact, she lives with Marco’s family.  He helps Star navigate and acclimatize to the local culture, and also accompanies her on inter-dimensional adventures.  He’s smart and quiet, and enjoys practicing karate (all three of which come in very handy when keeping Star’s company!).  And although Marco and Star both have crushes on other people, they are extremely close and supportive of each other.  Fact is, an excitable, wand-tossing magical exchange princess couldn’t have asked for a better host family–or a truer friend.

 As with Adventure Time and Steven Universe, Star vs. the Forces of Evil is a show for all ages.  Storylines operate on multiple levels and in doing so develop complex characters, situations, and [larger] story arcs.  Recurring characters help expand the series’ emotional depth while also forcing personal growth onto our two leads.  This show can go deep.  Meanwhile, the artwork is inspired(!), offering a warm simplicity that envelops the viewer.  So get ready for a hot mess of bright, noisy fun that beguiles with its carefree attitude (just check out the opening sequence)!  And note that Star is not your garden-variety magical girl: she is more because she’s less; she’s better because she’s worse.  This is one show that you need to try, anime or not.

Recognizing The Moment You Fall in Love

Welcome, all, again.  I’m running a little behind this week, due to a training workshop I attended–as the old saw goes, “Time is the only precious commodity.”  But I’m back, this time offering a brief review of The Moment You Fall in Love, the second HoneyWorks anime movie.  HoneyWorks, for those unfamiliar, is a Vocaloid unit comprised of two composers and an illustrator, as well as supporting musicians and illustration/video production folks.  Their previous movie was released last year (2016) and streamed on Crunchyroll under the title I’ve Always Liked You.  Additionally, they released their fourth album in February of this year, and were working on the development of a smartphone app game.

For Miku, love is war. . .

Now, as these anime features are inspired by song, it is important to recognize that Vocaloid expressiveness has come a long way in a relatively short time.  Early on, these synthesized voice banks simply did not emote well–and that’s probably being kind.  But magic was worked and tweaks were tweaked, and one day a song screamed revelation! at me: “Love is War,” as performed by Hatsune Miku.  Four minutes of pure emotional turmoil and angst bled out of my speakers, and I realized that I had just witnessed a sudden and irrevocable shift in the musical landscape.  These noisy little entities (and I am myself a firmly devoted fan of the Utauloid, Kasane Teto!) were here to stay, bolstered by oft-captivating visual representations.  Little wonder, then, to see the spirit and story of certain songs interpreted through the kindred medium of anime.

Good times, good times!

The Moment You Fall in Love is just over an hour’s worth of slice-of-life realism, weepy and frustrated and confused.  (And who doesn’t spend a large chunk of middle school and high school frustrated and confused?)  It follows the same basic group as the first movie, although emphasis is now placed upon the younger siblings.  Our primary protagonist is Hina Setoguchi, younger sister of Yu, who was one of the leads in the prior movie.  Hina has developed a crush on her senpai Koyuki Ayase, but just doesn’t know what to do about it.  At all.  Meanwhile, next-door neighbor and childhood friend Kotaro Enomoto is struggling to express his own budding realization of his love for Hina.  And that would be difficult enough to sort out, but there’s an entire high school’s worth of kids busy interacting, all learning the harsh truth that nothing else slows down just because you need some extra time.  Adolescence sees an upswell of emotion for which few are adequately prepared, and our little cast limp through their own individual misadventures of the heart while trying their best to support each other.

This was a good watch.  At just over 60 minutes, it was long enough to draw its audience into the story without overtaxing viewers’ interest.  The characters, while often exaggerated, feel true and believable; it’s easy to empathize with them, whether singly or en mass.  The artwork is consistently good and occasionally great, while frequent song insertions lend mood and create atmosphere.  In all, this proved a relaxing and quietly enjoyable way to pass a short space of time.  And I already know that I’ll be back to watch it again.

 

Breaking Down Twin Angel Break

Welcome, all, again.  Our subject of discussion this time will be Twin Angel Break, the latest incarnation of the Twin Angel franchise.  Past incarnations include: a 2011 anime series entitled Twin Angel: Twinkle Paradise; a two-episode original video anime from 2008; another two-episode original video anime from 2015; and several different manga series.  Interestingly enough, this current anime series almost seems to be two separate shows, with the first composed of episodes 1-6 and the second beginning with episode 7.  And while new characters shoulder the responsibilities of the Twin Angels (with guidance from a highly suspect hedgehog), the past is never far away.  Indeed, returning fans of the franchise need not fear being overlooked or left behind; they just need to catch up.

But before we dive into our discussion, let’s briefly revisit a promise that I made my readers–I said that if I reviewed a show, that meant that I liked it.  Such remains true.  But let me also say that when I made that promise, I did not realize just how elastic the term like might become, nor how much I might occasionally need to stretch or contract it.  Writing this blog is helping me discover and explore unexpected flexibility in my tastes, and sometimes even I’m surprised.  Like now, with this schizo little show[s].

Bad guys as disposable as Kirk’s crewmen on the original Enterprise. . .what, you expected the derriere shot?

Episodes 1-6 comprise what I must consider a spoof of the magical girl genre in general; it’s certainly a comedy.  From magical compacts much too awkward in size and shape to carry easily upon the person, to fight scenes so jerky that you swear you still see pencil marks, this first show achieves humor through caricature.  We’re given our two requisite contrasting leads, the bubbly but flat-chested airhead and her serious, bodaciously endowed foil.  But caricature, remember?  These gals don’t just get dressed in the usual one-piece-at-a-time from nude, no!  One must vigorously shake her derriere to extend the layered short skirt of her costume, while her partner must bend all the way over and fling up her own posterior in order to effect the tails of her outfit’s top.  Complete fluff.  Of course, so are most of the bad guys–and the entire first two episodes.  All disposable.  You could start with episode 3 and encounter the same uneasy protagonists, still standoffish and uncoordinated.  I’d even go so far as to say that this entire half of the series could be condensed into a single episode, #4.  That’s the one that will allow you to gauge your interest, showcasing the series’ humor at its broadest and best.  And as a spoof, the show works brilliantly!  (I just can’t imagine it working as anything else.)

Then episode 7 arrives and somebody suddenly flips the script!  Humor, while still present, fades into an unstructured background noise.  Instead, serious themes now dominate, such as: friendship; loyalty; duty; trust; betrayal; compassion; remorse; and even, despair.  And perhaps the most amazing thing of all about this change in direction and mood is the complete artlessness with which it is enacted.  The fact that it’s done so sincerely only adds to the discomfiture and shock, rather like witnessing a young child interrupt a meal with her family to suddenly ask where babies come from.  Everyone else at the table experiences a jolting what just happened, here?! moment.  Only inquisitive she is unaffected by the fact that she just tossed a live grenade into the proceedings.  Frankly, I have to wonder if this wasn’t done purposefully just to give the series itself its own magical transformation sequence–that, dear readers, would be a spoof indeed!  From happy-go-lucky anybody to serious, dedicated hero mode. . .were they really that clever, or just that clueless?  Either way, you’ve got your second show of this series.  And so far, it’s been pretty good, too.  But where does that leave us?

Begging for more, mostly.  But let’s step back from the series itself for a moment to celebrate the creative genius so evident in the closing!  Friend and fellow anime enthusiast/reviewer edsamac stated within his recent article about Wataru Uekusa [https://animananime.com/2017/05/26/wataru-uekusa-the-existential-crisis-and-anime/#more-15480], that: I remember a time when watching the opening and ending themes of a television anime show was a necessity. Along with this was the nagging realization that the animation quality of these minute-and-a-half segments far surpassed the quality and inventiveness of all of the main content of the show combined.  So true!  I repeat my own advice from reviewing Flip Flappers: if you watch no other part of this series, watch the closing.  That brief sequence more than covers the price of admission!

To be perfectly honest, I like this series.  And I’m still not really sure why.  It’s weird and wired, kind of out-there for my usual viewing.  It’s hilarious, until it’s not; nor is it serious, until it is.  (Anybody else here remember Fairy Musketeers?)  It’s your mom telling you how proud she is of you for telling the truth, even while she whips you for accidentally breaking her vase.  Mixed-up and messed-up, matching together just like that things that don’t necessarily sound agreeable or even compatible.  Sort of a happy serendipity of the peanut-butter-and-jelly variety.  But it works, so stop trying to figure it all out.  Instead, just sit back and enjoy.