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Ramblings!

Okay, so, I’ve done a lot of reviews these past few months… And I mean a LOT of reviews, filling my schedule up all the way into November… So I figured it was time for a good old fashioned rant. This is not being planned out or structured, it hasn’t been in the planning stages for more than the last half hour or so, and I have no idea how long it will be. might be a few paragraphs. might be a few pages. All I know is that I’m currently watching Wanna Be the Strongest in the world right now, and only three episodes in, I’ve got a lot of things to get off my chest.

First off, a synopsis. Sakura is the lead singer of an Idol quintet. Her manager strikes an interpromotional deal with a women’s wrestling league named BWQ(Which is just about the ugliest acronym for a wrestling promotion that I’ve ever heard) and two of the idol’s girls are off to train. The other Idol makes light of wrestling, which pisses off someone whom I believe was the only dark skinned girl in the promotion, and when Sakura steps in to defend her, a match is set up between them. Sakura gets her ass kicked, she loses by fainting, and instead of crawling back into her hole like any smart person at this point, she decides to go pro and seek revenge.

Now, I’m going to pause there, because that’s just the first episode(out of the three I’ve seen so far… don’t worry, I’ll be watching the rest), and yet I’ve already got a few things to get off my chest. first of all, if you haven’t picked up on this yet, wrestling, in this universe, is apparently real. Yeah, I know, there are people reading this with smug looks on their faces like “Dur hur hur, wrestling’s totally fake in real life…” Like you’ve discovered some ancient secret or something. Believe me, you’d have to be pretty fucking stupid to think wrestling was real, and that’s coming for a fan. I’ve been watching for exactly fifteen years this month, and let me tell you, if you actually think it’s possible to drag someone to their feet after they’ve been knocked out, and throw them in such a way that they break into a voluntary run and turn around just in time to bounce off the ropes and come back, you should probably go have your head examined. Like, right now, before it’s too late.

But yeah, wrestling’s real here, the characters are explicitly fighting each other to win, and this brings up a shitload of implications. You would assume that this kind of real fighting, or ‘shoot wrestling,’ as it’s called in the business, would lead to constant injuries, just like it did in WWE’s horrible idea for a boxing charade, the Brawl for All tournament. There were legitimate concussions and broken bones in that thing, but lo and behold, the ladies of BWQ(I will never get used to that) never suffer even the slightest bruise, even when bashing each other over the head with weapons(Which totally happens). The main character loses to the Boston crab 50 times in a row, and they’re REALLY using it on her, and she hasn’t sustained one single leg injury. What is she Gumby?

Anyway, I’m getting ahead of myself. She trains to join BW… Fucking Q… And her training consists of Saitama style workouts, which she somehow aces, and taking 100 throws(and suplexes being called throws) in a row. That’s it, and she’s ready to debut. no running the ropes, no developing a style, no taking bumps… Just workout a lot, get stronger despite not gaining any muscle definition(Yeah, I know it’s an anime, but SERIOUSLY, show some kind of a fucking change in her body), and she gets thrown into the deep end, losing 50 matches in a row. Oh, but we only see one of the matches… For the rest, we just see her in the crab hold, we hear her pathetic cries of pain that are suspiciously disguised as sexual pleasure, we see generous shots of her tits heaving up and down, and then she says she gives up. She doesn’t tap out, because the people writing this shit didn’t even do THAT much research, she just gives up.

Keep in mind, despite her losing and crowds beginning to disperse over her, they never decide to hold her back or cut down on her in ring time. They never try anything new like sticking her in a tag team, they don’t give her a gimmick to make her more interesting… Oh, and trust me, they do gimmicks. There’s one character who dresses like a biker and has a possy of henchman, so don’t you DARE tell me they don’t have gimmicks. Oh speaking of her, remember how wrestling is real? not only do we see her blatantly beat her opponent over the head with a kendo stick, and smash some sort of steel looking box on her head, but we get to see her henchman blatantly interfere, to the point that they’re not just pulling clever tricks, they’re getting into the ring to contribute to her submission moves.

In pro wrestling, a pinfall is when you hold your opponents shoulder-blades down to the mat for a three-count(Yes, wrestling is fake, go get a fucking cookie to congratulate yourselves on that). In this match, the good girl wins with a pinfall, even though the evil girl had her shoulders down during a submission move, and that actually counts as a pinfall. Oh, wait, no it doesn’t. Anyway, episode three, Sakura’s having doubts about continuing this career… Which she damn well should have… The head trainer has a sparring match with her, where she won’t release the hold when Sakura gives up because… Get this… “It’s just you and me here. no ref… No audience… no rules.” I’m sorry, were there rules before?

I don’t think I’m going to review this title, I’m actually having a hard enough time just getting through it, but I wanted to talk about it all the same. The WWE is currently in one of the best eras of women’s wrestling it’s ever been in, now that they’re hiring actual talent and not just models who are willing to fall down a lot, but this stupid ass show is taking women’s wrestling back to the models era of 2008, only worse. I don’t know, I’m asexual, and maybe it would be different if I reacted to women holding each other in submission moves while the camera and the voice acting tried to make it as porny as possible the same way most guys do, I might not have such a gripe with it. I’m sorry, this shit isn’t sexy to me, it’s just weird and pathetic, and it’s an insult to a passion in my life that I hold almost as high in regard as anime.

It would be bad enough if they completely misrepresented wrestling, which they do. It would be bad enough if they treated their character like budget saving sex objects that they could animate for minutes on end just sitting in there in the crab move while the camera sexes them up and they moan and cry. What’s worse about it, so far, is that it’s being as lazy and uncreative as possible with a concept that offers endless possibilities. you set an anime in a wrestling ring, even if it’s stupid as hell and the wrestling is considered real, you have opportunities to create interesting characters, interesting in-ring styles, so many possible character designs… Rumble Roses was a shitty game, and look at how much imagination THAT thing had!

But no, it’s just bland, bland, bland. Everyone’s outfits are the same… Bikinis with various levels of coverage, but most so revealing that even the divas of the mid-2000s would call them slutty, aside from the one chick wearing a bodysuit. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to slut-shame anyone, or say there’s anything wrong with wearing revealing clothing, but if you’re performing in the ring, there’s a certain point where you’re just begging for a wardrobe malfunction. Anyway, we barely see any wrestling maneuvers outside of submission holds and suplexes that we can barely see due to how close the camera is. Even the nudity, which I’m pretty sure is the only thing keeping mot people watching, is the same every time. Every episode, a shower scene. Even Strike Witches liked to mix it up.

A few months ago on Facebook I gave Yuri on Ice grief for showing virtually the same skating routines over and over again with little to no variety, but at least we got to see the full routines. I actually quite loved the one kid’s rock and roll inspired routine. I just wish Strongest would show us one… Just one… Full length match. A good TV match can go anywhere from 12 minutes to 24 minutes, so they could devote an entire episode to one awesome match if they wanted to. They obviously don’t, though, because they’re obviously just using the concept of wrestling to deliver softcore porn. That actually really disappoints me.

I’m going to go finish the anime now… You know how I am, I’ll obviously have it long since finished by the time this post goes up. I’m going to hold onto the hope that it gets better, or at least a little more imaginative, but based on the things I’ve heard about it, I’m not holding my breath. In the meantime, what the hell am I watching?

Update: Okay, so, I finished the show, and it does get slightly better, but it also never stops getting dumber, so that kind of evens things out. They drop the episodic showers, they show people tapping out and getting pinned, wrestlers do start to suffer damage(which they no-sell as soon as the match is over), and there are a few lengthy matches. Sakura’s grudge match against her initial rival is okay, it’s not terrible, but it… along with the other handful of matches we get to see… Is still pretty fucking stupid. I didn’t mention this earlier, but the show had a nasty habit of having it’s wrestlers have to literally yell to the ref that they were pinning someone or grabbing the ropes, because while WWE may have refs that collapse on the spot if you so much as tap them, this show has refs that are too fucking stupid to recognize the tell-tale signs that they’re trained to spot.

There’s a little more variety, too, and I do mean little. Some high-flying action gets worked in, but it does little to add any sense to the matches, which jump from move to move with almost nothing in the way of logical progression. Then of course we have the final story arc, where Sakura’s old BFF from the idol group becomes a wrestler to fight her and drag her back kicking and screaming into the idol group, even though Idols have short careers and pro wrestling would be a nice longer term plan to follow it up. I’m not gonna lie, this reveal was spoiled for me, but I already suspected it before I was told. They eventually settle on a resolution that’s almost… almost… As stupid as what happened in the second season Oreimo OVAs.

Am I going to review this? No, I don’t think it deserves to be dignified. It’s not one of the worst anime I’ve ever seen, but it’s sure as hell one of the stupidest, and if I tried thinking critically about it, I’d probably give myself an aneurysm. So there, a rant is all you’re going to get.

But hey, there’s going to be a pretty cool review next week, and after that, we start up Horror month! Hope you’re looking forward to it!

 

Sakura: I’ve been training so hard… Why didn’t I win? There’s got to be a reason.

Me: You know, I have a theory about that… I’m working on some sort of connection between your loss and the fact that your opponent was using a weapon and had lackeys interfering on her behalf. I think I may be on to something.

Sakura: I need a finishing move!

Me: Brilliant!

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There are a lot of die-hard Adult Swim fans out there, and I am actually ashamed to say that I’m not one of them. This is partially because I’ve never really watched it all that much. Sad, I know. From it’s inception to 2004, I was in high school, and I really didn’t get a chance to watch late night TV. Even when I did, and what a rare occasion that was, I didn’t really care for Adult Swim. I checked it out a few times, but even back then, the programming I was able to glimpse didn’t interest me. I seem to recall one of my major criticisms of the block being “Why is it called ADULT Swim when all of it’s content is rated TV14? nothing especially adult about that, is there? Venture bros looked stupid. Aqua Teen Hunger force looked boring. Space Ghost and Harvey Birdman were okay, but wore out their welcome really fast.

Then, starting in 2004, I got a job. I was working the night shift, from 10 PM to 7 AM, and that left very little time to get back into the programming block. I had an hour or two to kill before my shift, and I had two nights off a week, so I wound up having a lot of time on my hands to surf the internet and watch late night TV, right up until I got rid of my TV service in 2012. So from 2005 to 2012, I did have some limited access to Adult Swim, and there were a few shows I kinda liked. I found moderate amusement in Moral Orel, I loved Boondocks, and while it wasn’t really my thing, I had a huge amount of respect for Metalocalypse. I also enjoyed the occasional anime, but for the most part, the original programming on that block never stopped feeling like immature schlock meant to appeal to teenagers who thought they were breaking some imaginary law by watching something with the Adult label on it.

And before I get into the main topic for this post, I feel I should make my opinion on Robot Chicken was on, but I’d just get bored inbetween the few good jokes. I tried watching it on DVD, but I wound up turning it off and leaving the disk by the wayside after life five episode known. I tried to like it. I really did. It took the AMV Hell structure and retooled it to involve more accessible jokes based around stop-motion characters. I tried watching it when it s. It’s a great show in small doses, like when you’re just trying to watch some funny clips on youtube… Come to think of it, that’s probably the best way to watch it… And by doing this, I’ve come across a bunch of clips I still enjoy to this day, even though I’d rather not sit down and watch a full episode.

But that’s Robot Chicken. We’re here today to talk about what is by far my favorite non-anime show from the history of the Adult Swim programming block, and that show is Gary the Rat.

Oh wait, that was a Spike TV show? Okay, then my favorite is Titan Maximum!

Titan Maximum was a 2009 cartoon created to be the spiritual sequel to Robot Chicken, which felt about 70 years old at the time. Titan, on the other hand,. was something fresh and new… An american take on giant robot anime, and while it was very much written for an american audience, that’s not the only thing that set it apart from the anime it was inspired by. We’ll get to that later, but for starters, I don’t remember how I watched it. I definitely remember the advertisements on Cartoon Network, and how it looked pretty cool, but I can’t remember if I made the effort to see each episode when it aired, or if I caught what I could and watched the rest on Youtube. Either way, I did keep up with it, and I was fairly hooked on it.

Out of the things about titan Maximum that separate it from other giant robot shows, the first one you may notice is it’s not an origin story. This isn’t about the formation of the team, the rising of a group of heroes, the coming together of the group… It takes place after the story of Titan Maximum is already finished, and we’re essentially watching the part 2 of a part 1 that never happened. Much like Watchmen, and there may have been a little inspiration in that regard, Titan Maximum takes place after the dissolution and retirement of the team, and they’re brought together to fight off an old member of the team who feels he has more to offer the human race as a villain than as a hero. Yeah, I’ll be honest, I’m just now… When writing this… realizing how much like Watchmen this is. Thankfully the similarities stop there, because the show wouldn’t be nearly as funny otherwise.

Anyway, the group’s been disbanded, one member died in a tragic accident(a possible reference to Sven from Voltron), and the team went into retirement and on their merry way. Palmer, the leader of the team and overtly cocky asshole, has been living off of his celebrity status and enjoying a hedonistic lifestyle. Sasha, the sexy socialite of the group, has attempted to find a new direction in life, making a name for herself as a musical artist. Jodi, the sweetheart girl next door, is working as a martial arts instructor. Gibbs, the overlooked and underappreciated second in command, has made plans to conquer and rule the solar system, and the first part of that plan is to unleash a giant monster on Titan, the home satellite of the team. In order to save as many people as they can, Palmer, Sasha and Jodi have come out of retirement, and with the help of Palmer’s hero-worshipping little brother willy and a stone-faced fucking monkey, they manage to save the day, setting off a chain of events that will bring the world a brand new Titan Force 5!

And if my character descriptions didn’t tip you off, that’s the second thing you might notice about this show… The cast is not even close to what you’d expect for this sort of story. The most obvious of all is Palmer, who should be the most boring character of the group… The virtuous and good-hearted boyscout leader. TM kicks this trope to the curb with a leader who earned his position purely through skill, and not through force of personality. He’s kind of like a prototypical Sterling Archer, and had the show survived past season 1, we may have seen more development in that direction. His little brother is also a big departure from the norm, as the little kid of the group is normally the heart and soul of the group, but while he may be idealistic and courageous, Willie is also green as hell and constantly getting shit on by the rest of the team. Again, who knows where more development could have taken him?

It’s difficult to talk about Sasha without launching into a debate that’s far more weighted and socially relevant than this show justifiably deserves   I wanna try to avoid calling her a slut, because I don’t think that’s fair… She’s an adult, adults can have as much sex as they want, get over it… But that is clearly the direction they wanted to take the character, especially with the way she’s portrayed as the yang to the yin of Jodi’s archetypal ‘good girl’ role. This dichotomy is played out really hard between the two characters, even though a lot of the jokes between them feel forced. They do have a few brief moments of bonding when they happen to be on the same page, and Sasha actually winds up defending Jodi after a wayward sexual misadventure leads to disastrous results… Although it’s clear she was defending the act itself, and not Jodi as a person, or even less her feelings.

There is more depth to these characters than meets the eye, but aside from a few glimpses at it through Sasha’s interactions with her father and Jodi’s interactions with Gibbs, most of it can only really be gleamed from their character bios on the Titan Maximum wiki. I have no idea where this site got it’s information, or even whether or not any of it’s real, but it does offer a better understanding of who the characters are and why they do the things they do, information we probably would have caught onto naturally if the powers that be had allowed it. Strangely, that also includes the monkey. The villain, Gibbs, is probably the most interesting character in the bunch, as he’s a sort of Dr. Doom type villain… someone who thinks that his iron-clad rule is not only justified, but in the best interest of the human race, and he’s no slouch, either. His plans get a bit convoluted, and as the ending of season 1 would suggest, he’s not fucking around at all. He is dead serious in both his methods and his cause, and he pursues both with nothing but pure, delicious evil.

I don’t recall where I heard this, but there was apparently an interesting story regarding the voice acting, which was originally going to see the three main male characters being cast to type. Breckin Meyer was supposed to play Gibbs, Dan Milano to play Palmer, and Seth Green to play yet another child role, Willie. They changed things up at the last minute, and the result was spectacular… Dan Milano wound up playing Willie, and putting forth a very enthusiastic and earnest Willie, Seth Green laying a Gibbs that is absolutely dripping with venom, and Breckin Meyer playing up the jock confidence of Palmer, and it couldn’t have turned out better that way. As much as I loved Rachel Leigh Cook when she was still focused on live action projects, she has proven herself to be a great voice actor, and Eden Espinosa, a stage/voice actress who also did a lot fo work on robot Chicken, is hilarious as Sasha. Some of her rants leave me laughing so hard I can’t breathe.

What you might have noticed from that list of names is that all five of them have a history of appearing in the cast of Robot chicken, and for the most part, that trend also extends to the supporting cast. Billy Dee Williams, of Empire Strikes Back fame, who often reprised that character in Robot Chicken, plays Admiral bitchface, which is the characters actual christian name, and from what I hear, some of his deliveries needed multiple takes because they were too loud and over-charged for the recording equipment. Kurtwood Smith plays a General on the Elderly community of Mercury, and Adrienne Palicki, an actual relevant TV actress, plays Clare, Gibbs’s little girl sidekick, a cute pink Assassin with a giant diamond sword-sword. Clare happens to feature in one of the more beautifully shot scenes, a moment when a team of soldiers are infiltrating Biggs’s latest hideout, and she cheerfully kills them all.

Actually, when I try to tell people how awesome this series is, that’s usually the first scene I show them. Being related to robot chicken, Titan Maximum was an extremely low budget stop motion animation, and what they were able to accomplish is pretty impressive. There are stories about the set designers using potted plants and googly eyes to create futuristic architecture… Which sounds a lot more interesting than the bland white everything-rounded architecture that exists in most futuristic media these days… And they even managed to win an Emmy for costume design. Somehow. The action is well choreographed, full of both intense and comedic fight scenes… Need I remind you this is stop-motion… And for the most part, characters move and interact like real people. I wouldn’t put it up against higher budget projects like Coraline or Kubo and the Two Strings, because I don’t think the comparison would wind up being a favorable one, but it’s still really good looking for what it is and who created it. There are times I honestly forget I’m watching puppets.

Honestly, the worst thing about it is probably the comedy. That’s not to say it’s not funny… There are moments in it that still crack me the hell up eight years later… But it’s not what I’d call a good ratio. There are a ton of awful jokes in the first episode alone, and they’re the kind that makes it hard to decide whether the writers were trying too hard or not enough at all. A lot of Sasha’s jokes about Jodi feel forced and awkward, and several jokes feel like they were better on paper than in practice, like the Jester Corps. Here’s the thing, though… Bad jokes that are short are one thing, as you can just move on to another joke before the pain can really set in, but things get even worse when a bad joke goes on for too long, and this happens a lot, even with out of place character backstories that provide no laughs, information, development or purpose. The good jokes do make up for these, but yeah, only about a third of them are even good.

The series had great ratings, it was outperforming several other shows that the Adult Swim block was airing at the time, and for the first year, DVD sales were also doing really well. It wasn’t a smash hit, it wasn’t breaking any surprising ground or converting entire demographics towards it, but for a first season, it was doing fine, and it was creating some decent buzz around where it could go in the future, so you can imagine how fans of the show felt as the season ended, and then the months just crept on and on without any notice of a second season being greenlit. Considering the final episode leaving off on a massive cliffhanger, it had to get picked up, but years later, the only real news we had was a Cartoon Network blurb saying “We’ll let you know.” There’s really no solid information about why the series never continued, but I was able to find a few people saying that Seth Green pulled the plug on it himself so he could focus on the bigger money-maker, Robot Chicken, which has unsurprisingly gone the same path as Family Guy.

I know I’m not the only person who wants Titan Maximum to continue, and according to the DVD features, there’s at least six or seven seasons worth of material that never got explored. Will Willie ever come of age as a hero? Hey, maybe it was going to go the Gurren Lagann route, with Palmer dying, and Willie taking his place after a time skip. Maybe we’d find out what was in Sasha’s glove compartment. Maybe they’ll find a way to bring back spud, like Rick and Morty did with Phoenix Person. Maybe we could learn more about Gibbs’s mysterious connections with non-human aliens. All I know is, I really want to see where these characters go on their journeys, and what the full extent of Gibbs’s plan is. Sadly, the only thing we’re ever going to get out of it is the first season DVD, a whole bunch of empty promises, and a forgotten show that could have flourished if the right people both within and without had believed in it. There probably won’t ever be a proper continuation, but you can bet that I’ll watch it if there is.  

Hey… You ever wonder why we’re here?

Well, I don’t because I happen to know that we’re here to talk about Rooster Teeth, the online production company that’s been putting out entertainment media for almost fifteen years now. It started off with some scripted shenanigans in Halo, utilizing a letterboxing effect and a fledgling technique called machinima, and has since expanded into a small media empire so successful that retail chains have been clamoring to carry their merchandise(which a few of them, like hot topic and select FYEs now do). There’s been a lot of outside influence on their storytelling and general writing styles, and as such, they’ve carried a lot of video game and pop culture references in their more popular titles, but what I find vastly more interesting is their penchant for anime references, which largely began with the hiring of the late Monty Oum. Today, we’re going to run through the ones that I’m personally aware of. Cuddle up next to your alien son, slather on some elbow grease, and quit monkeying about as we take a look at the anime references in Rooster Teeth!

While there are a lot of titles under their belt, we’re going to be sticking mostly to RWBY, since Red Vs. Blue is mostly full of video game references, and X-Ray and Vav is too awful for me to watch more than one episode. RWBY, on the other hand, is clearly designed to be as much like an anime as possible, so it makes sense that it would borrow heavily from the medium. It even has it’s own Chibi spin-off, which, to it’s credit, was funny about one tenth of the time.

Starting off with the concept and plot of the series, it really feels like a mix of Naruto and Soul Eater. The series features dozens of unique teenage characters cohabiting at a school that’s going to teach them how to grow up to be warriors, and like Soul Eater, it’s extremely vague on what the students are actually learning. The student/weapon dynamic is heavily emphasized, although in RWBY the weapons can’t turn into people, which is going to make Ruby vs. Maka into one hell of an unfair fight if it ever happens, and the students are basically learning how to use their individual skills to battle and destroy demonic creatures. This is all very similar to Soul Eater, but then the Naruto elements come in… The students are paired up in groups, they’re forced to complete a mission in a dangerous forest early on, and a major plot point revolves around a fighting tournament that gets sabotaged by foreign competitors, causing irreparable damage to the school, including the death of the principal/Hokage, and one character from the main group runs away afterwards, splitting up the team and breaking up a popular same-sex fan pairing(Sasuke/Naruto, Blake/Yang.)

So yeah, it’s Soul Eater meets Naruto, and that even extends to the main character, who’s based on Maka Albarn. She’s a spunky, socially awkward scythe-weilder, although their personalities are way different. Weiss isn’t visually based on any existing characters that I know of, although her personality type is reminiscent of the age old Tsundere archetype, and Blake is a catgirl, because whenever Americans try their hand at creating anime, there has to be a cat girl. Yang’s influence is a little more on the nose, as her ability to absorb damage and grow stronger from it is taken directly from Dragonball, and hell, even her theme song makes mention of her being a Super saiyan. Ruby’s dog Zwei, introduced in volume two, is such an obvious reference to Cowboy Bebop that in addition to being the same breed as the best dog in anime history, he even follows the same naming convention. Ein is German for 1, and Zwei is German for 2, a fact that’s clearly not lost on Rooster Teeth. I’m also reasonably sure Boarbatusks are based on Pokemon’s Donphan, and Yugioh and Samurai Champloo also get a couple of amusing nods.

A few of my favorite examples occur in volume 3. Right off the bat, Ruby visits the grave of her mother, which is situated at the edge of a cliff. While this isn’t an absurdly common occurrence in anime, there are plenty of examples of anime characters being buried at the edge of a cliff, with two quick examples being Battle Athletes Victory and Akame Ga Kill. Towards the end of the volume, there’s a pretty intricate reference to Neon Genesis Evangelion thrown into the mix. After Ruby fails to save her friend Pyrrha’s life, and happens upon the scene at the last possible minute, she goes presumably berserk, losing control of herself and blacking out, only to wake up in bed a few days later wondering what she did. The only way this particular scene could be any clearer about it’s origins is if she woke up saying “An unfamiliar ceiling…” But if you’re looking for an even bigger Evangelion reference, look no further than Red vs. blue, or more specifically, the Project Freelancer storyline, which ripped it off pretty much wholesale.

Now, I know what you’re thinking… It’s a story arc about spartan warriors fighting for a super secret organization that wants to steal artifacts and create artificial intelligence for them to weird. What could that have to do with Evas battling Angels? Well, just take a look at the who’s guy running the operation. Director Leonard Church is an older man with a cold heart who’s motivated by the possibility of being reunited with his deceased lover. He treats his subordinates like commodities, ranking them by ability and putting them through the risk of
emotional and mental torture by pairing them up with artificially created humanoid beings. He creates a soldier from his wife, whether it’s a literal clone or a robot controlled by an AI, and one of his soldiers is his own child, who joined to gain his approval, and is now competing with their own mother, who is just as clueless about what she is as their pseudo-child. Oh, and did I mention that Church is operating against orders from higher up, and has them constantly breathing down his neck about the ethics of his actions, as well as who’s benefit it’s serving?

This plot synopsis is so close to Evangelion that I’m honestly starting to get a bit of a stalker vibe from it, and I’m sorry, this isn’t just a reference anymore. References are meant to be noticed and appreciated. This Evangelion connection, along with the Soul Eater/Naruto plot of RWBY, the cliff thing and the Evangelion ending of volume 3, aren’t references. They’re rip-offs. They’re ideas that were straight up stolen from other works and put to use by Rooster Teeth. But is that a bad thing? It’s hard not to think about once you’ve started noticing it, but still, you could argue that most of these thefts made the product better, so do the ends justify the means?

Oscar Wilde once said that Talent Borrows and Genius Steals, but that doesn’t always feel like the case. There are plenty of anime titles that stole ideas from other anime, and wound up feeling all the worse for it. Take Sword Art Online, for example. I alluded to this in my review of the series, but for a refresher, Kirito is a lone, wandering mercenary who’s earned the name The black Swordsman for being generally superior to everyone he fights, and he fights alone because of a traumatic experience from his past. He loses a fight against a faction leader and winds up joining that faction, has to win the second fight to earn his freedom, and oh yeah, that leader turns out to be a massive villain. At different points, he falls in love with a female rival, obtains a fairy companion, and is pinned down in great pain while he’s forced to watch his love interest get sexually assaulted in front of him. The timeline’s a bit skewed, but he’s basically a scrawny version of Guts from Berserk, which brings about an inevitable and not too kind comparison between the two shows.

A lot of Harem anime not only recycle character archetypes, but sometimes steal entire characters wholesale from other anime. Taking the bafflingly popular Haganai for example, the main character is a nice guy with a mean face that’s garnered him a bad reputation(Toradora), and he unintentionally inspires a socially awkward girl he forgot he knew in the past to start her own club to meet weird people(Haruhi Suzumiya) which is joined by a scientist who’s lost all sexual inhibitions(Tenchi), a popular blonde girl who’s perfection is a hard-earned front for her true personality(Kare Kano), an offensive transgender stereotype(Don’t get me started), a loli little sister who cosplays(can they be more transparent?) and an even younger loli who dresses like a nun(How’s it going, Index?), and the whole thing just reeks of laziness. That’s still better than Maken-Ki, which stole two characters from Lover Hina just to reverse their ages and give them weird powers.

Guilty Crown… Oh boy, have I been waiting to talk about this turkey… Is very much an imagining of what would happen if CC had given a Geass power to Shinji Ikari instead of Lelouche, and yeah, it’s basically a marriage of Code Geass and Evangelion, with just a sprinkling of Eureka Seven on a few of it’s elements/characters, most notably it’s cringey love triangle sub-plot. I won’t go into just how much of it’s premise is ripped directly from Geass… Check out Glass Reflection’s review of the series for the main break down… But I was floored by how many events from the story seemed like they were taken from Evangelion for no reason other than to advance the plot. Spineless main character gets pushed around as a member of a rebellious organization? Check. Comes home one day to find a female member has abruptly moved in with him? Check. Even Gendo and Fuyuki’s backstory gets ripped off at one point, and the phenomenon of people getting turned into orange goo in the End of Eva movie is replaced by rock candy here! It’s like a middle schooler tried to combine these titles, but had no idea how to fit them together!

Now, having said all that, you might think I consider stealing from anime to be a cardinal sin, but on the contrary, there have been some great examples of shows putting their thefts to good use. Just over a year ago, I praised the 2013 iteration of Rozen Maiden for stealing ideas from Chobits, adding a new level of depth and maturity to what was previously a silly fantasy show about dolls fighting each other. Yuki Yuna is a Hero stole a bunch of ideas and plot points from Madoka Magika, and while the series as a whole was dumber than a box of dildos, it still wound up being incredibly likeable and fun to watch, with characters I actually cared about. I talked about how much Panty and Stocking stole from Excel Saga in my review a few years ago, and while it’s not one of my favorite anime, I do have to give it credit for how unique, and hell, even artistic it was. Bleach stole a lot from Yuyu Hakusho, even more than most shonen action series already do, and for the first few seasons, I actually wound up liking it better than Yuyu.

And if you want another example of a series that stole it’s central plot from Evangelion, I’ll point you in the direction of one of the most popular and well known anime to come out since Naruto, Attack on Titan. In this title, giant humanoid creatures are appearing out of nowhere with little explanation, and with the apparent intent of ending humanity, which is already on the brink of extinction. We get pushed right to the edge, and are battling for survival, with our only hope for defense being a series of underaged warriors who’ve been specifically trained to deal with the threat. The main character watched his mother die before the current timeline, his father is connected to the threat in a confusing and mysterious way, and when he goes giant to battle said creatures, he does so while he’s located in the back of his own giant’s neck. Get it? The dummy plug? The neck is a weak spot? How have people not noticed this?! And there’s also Battle Athlete’s victory. In my review of Gunbuster, I talked about how BAV stole the concept of it’s first episode and expanded it into a full story arc, that realized the full potential and unreached depths of the themes that Gunbuster had been taking for granted.

So why are some anime rip-offs bad, but others good? What’s the difference between all of these titles? Well, for one thing, when it comes to the bad examples, the things that are stolen are a lot more blatant. Outside of the things he stole from Guts, Kirito doesn’t have much going for him aside from being a chick magnet. The scenes that Guilty Crown stole aren’t camouflaged at all, they were just copied and pasted with the names and details changed. The harem titles I mentioned, as well as most of the ones I didn’t mention, feel like what was stolen was just lazily taken so that they could fill in holes in the product without putting too much work into it. Actually, that’s what all the examples feel like… They didn’t do anything interesting or thoughtful to the ideas or themes they took, they just threw them in so they could avoid having to write out characters and scenarios for themselves. It’s like getting writers block, and just taking something that they didn’t think of out of desperation… Or just taking archetypes and characters that are popular and successful in order to leech off of the previous incarnations.

In the examples that I gave of positive rip-offs, the exact opposite is true. Panty and Stocking, Yuki Yuna, Bleach, Attack on Titan and Battle Athletes Victory weren’t blatant about what they took… Okay, maybe BAV gave away a few too many clues… But they didn’t do it for lazy purposes. They took the most basic of templates from the previous series, and used them as the foundations that they’d build upon and branch out from, forming their own identities and paths from there. As a matter of fact, the latter two actually kind of improved on the shows they stole from! It’s kind of like Family Guy; Yeah, they ripped off the Simpsons, but they took what they stole in such a different direction that you can hardly call them the same product. BTW, that’s pretty much the only good thing you can say about Family Guy these days. In any case, while Rozen Maiden Zuruckspulen didn’t steal an entire template like the others I mentioned, it did manage to use the ideas it took from Chobits respectfully, and with well defined purpose.

I know my main question was whether Rooster Teeth stole too much, but I don’t really think that’s the issue. It doesn’t matter how much you steal, or even WHAT you steal… What matters is what you do with it. Between the titles I mentioned earlier, what side of the coin does Rooster Teeth fall on? In my opinion, it falls into the second slot. Even in it’s worst season, RWBY’s use of Naruto and Soul Eater in it’s plot was one of it’s greatest aspects, especially since it managed to tie together a flowing narrative out of two very different shows. Ruby is nothing like Maka, Weiss’s tsundere beginning lead to some great development, Blake being a catgirl is a huge part of her personality and arc, and when you really look at Yang’s powers, they don’t really work in the same way Saiyan powers work. Putting a damper on things, however, is the dog, who could have been written out of the series entirely, and feels like he was only added in for the sake of being a reference, and to ‘casually’ remind the viewer that the writers do, in fact, watch and enjoy anime. Seriously, Zwei sucks.

The opening scene of volume 3, with Ruby visiting her mother’s cliff-grave, is quite possibly the best moment in the series. In addition to providing a nice, emotionally satisfying tribute to the recently departed Monty Oum, it gives Ruby a sense of vulnerability and relatability that she’d been sorely missing up until then, which makes her displays of courage and strength in the latter half of the volume feel so, so much more emotionally resonant. She feels more like a main character by the end of the volume, especially after she survives her little Evangelion climax moment, which just makes you want to learn more about her as a character. And yes, the Evangelion plot that Red vs. Blue stole was a HUGE improvement over Evangelion, and not just because Tex and Carolina are way more awesome than Rei and Shinji. It also elevated the series to brand new heights in terms of plot and enriching the lore at the same time.

So in conclusion, Oscar Wilde was right, but… Just not all the time. It’s entirely possible for an unoriginal anime to feel like a cheap imitation, but at the same time, it’s also possible for the anime in question to ultimately surpass the material that it’s ideas came from, or for it to just reimagine, subvert or deconstruct those ideas and breathe new life into them. Harkening back to Red vs. Blue, remember it’s opening joke? “You ever wonder why we’re here?” That was stolen from the Monty Python movie The Meaning of Life, and yet Red vs. Blue ironically gave it a meaning and life of it’s own. That’s because Rooster Teeth, for it’s many failings, has always been really good at this.

Well, for the most part.

Screw that dog.  

Hey guys, Naru here, and like many of you, I just finished watching the newly released trailer for the next DC Uiverse animated movie, The Judas Contract. As you may remember, when I talked about Teen Titans last year, I had a lot to say about The Judas Contract and the way the original series handled the Terra storyline, and while I don’t take any of it back, I do feel that there was a lot that I left unsaid, both in regards to the series, the storyline, and even about Teen Titans Go, weirdly enough. As it happens, I also had a spot for the month of february that was still vacant, and while I was thinking about filling it with something from my stockpile of material, the trailer for Judas gave me a much better idea… Instead, I should take advantage of this opportunity by going into my further thoughts on these subjects. This won’t be a structured review, and I really have no plan in mind for any of it, so let’s get crackin’ and see what happens.

I was fairly young when Teen Titans came out, and I had little to no history of reading comic books, so at the time, I had no idea Terra was anything but an original character made up for the cartoon. I liked her design, and thought she was kind of cute in the “Pretty blonde girl with a troubled family life” kind of way, you know, the kind of character one of the Fanning girls would be typecast as. I thought her powers were kind of cool, and I liked the idea that they were adding a new character to the series, but even then, the teenage Naru cringed over how lame and badly written the episode was. That’s not to say it was unsalvageable, and it certainly held enough iconic status to keep it interesting, but if Betrayal hadn’t made my Top Ten Worst episodes list, this one would have slid into the number 10 slot, if for no other reason than the opening segment alone, where Terra encounters the titans after kiting a giant scorpion, and Slade just randomly appears on the scene to speak to literally nobody.

I didn’t initially hate Terra. Even now, she’s never really inspired that much ire from me. I just really hated, both then and moreso now, how hipster her character was. She was written to be the early 2000’s cool girl, the mysterious chick who blows in out of nowhere, crashes on your coach, enjoys your company but never makes any long term connections, and then just leaves. I remember even then thinking “How the hell does she keep herself fed?” And while you could theorize that she sleeps around for sustenance, that would make more sense in the comic than in the cartoon. She’s with the titans too briefly to really build a relationship that makes their offer to bring her in as a team member believable, as she wasn’t the first hero friend they’d made, and the offer never really came up before. Also, how come they had a training course that seemed specifically designed for her powers? I know it wasn’t, but if they brought Aqualad in, and his first challenge was a water course, I’d like to see him try a few more challenges first.

And we all know what happens from there… Slade knows Terra in some way that’s never really explained, Slade’s defeated, and some silly misunderstanding sends her straight into his arms. I really don’t get that. If you’ve got the choice between fighting for good and fighting for evil, I could see the appeal of either side, but your choice of sides should have more influencing it than just “He talked about me behind my back!” Yeah, I got approached by The Jedi, and they seemed really cool, but one of them made a snide comment, so Execute Order 66 on their asses! Kill them all, except ironically for the one who made the comment, I’ll spare that dude, he seemed on the level! And then she runs away, not noticing that Slade’s got some kind of camera flying right alongside her. I mean, how else does his monitor have her at that angle? Whatever. It’s not the worst episode, but combine all of those issues with the show’s weird pseudo-anime sight gags, and it came pretty close to being one of them.

This would be followed by Titan Rising and Betrayal, which I’ve talked about at length, as they were respectively among my favorite and least favorite episodes. After them, we’d get the finale, where Slade and Terra’s plans went into motion, and aside from a few hiccups here and there, I thought those episodes were okay. They had a lot of ground to make up for after that piece of shit Betrayal episode, but I think they did a fine job of it. I don’t remember being too sad when Terra got frozen, although I could be wrong since it’s been over ten years since I first saw the episode, but considering they couldn’t kill anybody in a kids show, it wasn’t the worst way to take her out. Having said that, my lack of an emotional connection to Terra wasn’t the only reason that the final episode Things Change didn’t really bother me. Actually, if there was ever an episode that I wish I’d talked about at some point in my last two Teen Titans posts, it’s that one. I still don’t really love or hate the episode, but it feels like kind of an important one, or at least too important to be left undiscussed.

People get so passionate on both sides about this episode, with some claiming that it cheapens one of the most emotionally intense moment of the series for no good reason(a complaint that I would argue holds more truth with Red Star), and others claiming that logic aside, it’s the right kind of respectfully nostalgic note to hit for a beloved show that was about to end. I personally hated how Terra’s status was never confirmed or explained, and that bringing her back without making any effort to explain how was just plain lazy. That is, I DID think that, up until I read a fan theory on the episode. It stated that, much like the series itself, Terra was brought back in an incomplete way thanks to the Trigon saga. The theory goes on to state that when Trigon’s power turned the people of the world to stone, and Raven’s power turned everyone back, she may have unknowingly did so to Terra, to. Terra, like the rest of the world, was revived from stone, the difference being that she’d been petrified for so long that she’d lost her memories as a result. Actually kind of makes sense, doesn’t it?

And yet, if I’m being completely honest with you guys… With 100 percent brutal sincerity, no filters, no consideration for anyone else’s feelings… I liked Terra better in Teen Titans Go. Now, that’s not an endorsement of Go… I’d never try to tell you to watch that cesspool of shit… No, you know what? This has to be said. Teen Titans Go was a good idea. Conceptually, there was nothing wrong with it. The original cartoon was great, and it can never be replicated or undone, but if you’re going to reboot it for modern times, it could never have happened in the 2010s. I’m not sure it would have been allowed to exist in today’s market, the way Cartoon Network’s going. On the other hand, a chibi style comedy show with the original voice actors reprising their roles was a great idea. The execution was bad, because the people writing it clearly don’t give a shit and can’t take criticism, and throw out the most insulting excuses to avoid putting forth any effort, but it could have been awesome. It didn’t have to suck.

There have been several Teen Titans Go segments that I liked, although I’m mostly referring to self-contained bite-size Youtube clips, and not to entire episodes. But if there have been any episodes that I was able to enjoy from start to finish, it was the Terra episodes. Well, okay, the double dating one wasn’t very good, but I’d still rather watch that over Betrayal. I’ve said before that while a Judas contract adaptation doesn’t have to be faithful, your best bet is to either write her as 100 percent hero or 100 percent villain. You can TRY to write a deep and complex arc for her character, but look at how the original cartoon fucked THAT up. I loved Titan Rising for just pretending to write her as a straight up hero, and to take things one step farther, Teen Titans Go writes her as a full villain, going all the way in with it. And here’s the best part; Since the Toddler Titans are fucking idiots, she doesn’t even have to be that threatening about it! Her character was consistent, her motives were clear, and she just over-all made sense. The connections to Slade were removed from her, but considering the tone she struck in this rendition, that’s probably for the best. She was just a mercenary who wanted to sell the Titans secrets, then she wanted revenge on them for banishing her to the dimension where they threw away their garbage. It was funny, and it worked.

So where does that leave the upcoming movie? Well, the Justice League vs. Teen Titans movie was awesome, so I have high hopes. That movie did what Batman vs. Superman failed to do… It managed to tie in a Justice League side story with one of the most intimidating and high profile villains of the main characters’ lineup, and it all gelled together with mixed to positive results. But then again, they also did The Killing joke, so it’s fair to say that Filler is not their forte. And with the lineup that the first Teen Titans movie from the DC animated Universe has set us up with, there’s gonna have to be some filler in this puppy. Now of course, that might not be the case… The Judas Contract was quite a bit longer than the Killing Joke comic, and as long as they go into Deathstroke’s backstory, they really shouldn’t be hurting for content. And more good news, it looks like he’s in it! Part of the job’s already done! But it’s the lack of Wondergirl, Kid Flash and the original robin that I find disconcerting.

See, here’s the most important thing about The Judas Contract… Timing. It happened at the perfect time. When Terra was introduced to the team, Kid flash was on his way out, Robin was transitioning to Nightwing, and Wondergirl was engaged to be married. It was a time of great change, and a major turning point for the status quo, which made her intro feel all the more natural. It’s at times like that when you WANT new characters to enter the story and fill in for the old ones. That’s why her betrayal felt like such an intense slap in the face to both readers and the cast alike. That’s not to say their removal from the story would hurt it’s over-all flow, or cut off any serious amount of screen time, but it will probably take some of the impact off of Terra’s turn. then again, since everyone who knows anything about the Titans KNOWS how treacherous she is, I doubt her betrayal is going to be a surprise for any fans anyway. Of course, it’s hard to tell what they’re going to do with her, because she’s barely in the trailer.

From what I can tell, it looks like they aged her up a bit, which could mean that they’re going ahead with making her Deathstroke’s lover girl, and they want to avoid all the ephebophilic ickines, and I’m okay with that. They might cover for the element of change that set up Terra’s character arc by having the otherwise inexplicably older Starfire and Cyborg try to move on from the team. The only Hang-up I’m having is that it feels too early. Say what you will about the new team, but we haven’t had enough time with them for Terra’s threat to really mean something to us. But then again, they pulled off Trigon, so I guess we’ll see how it goes. Either way, it’s going to be different, and different doesn’t necessarily mean bad. It’s a matter of execution, not accuracy. I liked what they did with the last movie, and for the love of God, I even liked what Teen Titans Go did with her character. If you can’t make an adaptation the same, for whatever reason, you shouldn’t force it, and you should find a new way to present the material that will work. And while they’re at it, they should make an adaptation of Hush already! I’ve waited too damn long for it!

Before we begin, here’s a trade secret:  I like to have my work done far in advance, sometimes weeks, sometimes months.  As far as this post goes, this paragraph is the only part that wasn’t written in December.  I’m writing it day of, which is normally when I’d edit my posts.  No, I’m adding this section in to acknowledge that I finally caught up with RWBY yesterday, and spoiler alert, Qrow tells a story that conflicts with what I wrote here.  It’s some story about two Gods, one in control of day and the other in control of night, and the one in control of night gets jealous, and MY LITTLE PONY RIP-OFF.  How does this figure into my theory?  I don’t freaking know, but it’s probably a heavily metaphorical story that isn’t meant to be taken literally, so whatever.  I’m not changing my theory for anything.

Here we go!

Perhaps the most amazing thing about me having a RWBY fan theory is the fact that I’ve become enough of a fan to have a theory. And this isn’t something new, either… Way back in my review of the first season, when I still thought it was steaming garbage, I did mention that something seemed fishy about the intro. They mentioned that humanity was born into a cold, uncaring world, and the race called Grimm wanted us dead for no other reason than the fact that we existed. I said, and this was years ago, mind you, that there had to be more to the situation than we were being told, and it was incredibly likely that we weren’t just an innocent party at the whims of a beast bent on driving us to extinction. We did something to deserve it. We had to have. It was the only explanation that made sense. I mean, otherwise, wouldn’t they want to keep us a live as a long-term food source? The evolutionary drive to eat when hungry is what drives the survival of all Earth’s creatures, way moreso than murderous rage.

Today, a few years later, I’ve come up with a theory that explains not only that, but several other details that have bugged me for a while. Of course, you’ll have to take this theory with a grain of salt, as it’s mostly just me firing from the hip and imagining a scenario that adds logic and reason to a series that’s based around neither, and since RWBY hasn’t really specified a lot about it’s past outside of it’s folk lore, I didn’t have much to work with. Having said all that, let’s start by going through my theorized history of Remnant.

In the not-too-distant future, Mankind realizes that a large meteor covered in strange material is heading for Earth. Hoping to guarantee the survival of the species, we take our brightest minds, including our scientists, our medical researchers, our historians, etc. The meteor hits, and we come back down to the ground a few centuries later, looking to repopulate the landscape. We quickly notice that the strange material on the meteor was a sort of dust containing magical reality-altering properties, such as the fact that the moon, which it collided with on the way to Earth, somehow hasn’t collapsed back in on itself via the force of gravity, and still exists in a field of floating shards. As far as life goes, only limited sea life has survived, so we set out to terraform and colonize what livable land is left.

We attempt to use cloning technology to turn our ancient animal DNA samples into living creatures, but we get nowhere, until a brilliant scientist has an idea; She theorizes that with the magical properties of the meteor’s dust, the process can be pulled off successfully! With the help of her assistant, she attempts to clone these animals while infusing their DNA with dust, but in doing so, she accidentily creates The Grimm. They bear the appearance of classic Earth fauna, with one distinct difference… A deep, seething hatred for their human creators. After it’s been decided that the hundreds of Grimm species are to be terminated, the scientist exposes herself to raw dust in protest, becoming a human/Grimm hybrid herself… She releases them into the wild, where mankind’s attempts to recreate native plantlife has actually flourished, and becomes the queen of her own creations: Salem. Her assistant, Ozpin, would work to uncover a way to filter dust so it can be used with much safer results.

For example, the dust gives Oz immortal life, with the power to move his soul into new bodies upon his death. This power would keep him alive long enough to try and recreate the animal kingdom again, this time using voluntary human subjects in the mix. In doing so, he creates Faunus, a race of animal-human hybrids that are treated with respect and curiosity at first, but before long are ostracized from humanity by sentiments of racism and ownership. They eventually rebel, forming their own coalition and eventually their own societies. Over the next few centuries, the history of pre-meteor Earth continues to be taught, humans and Grimm both expand to colonize the livable land, and the origins of Faunus and Grimm become lost in time, a legend and eventually a myth remembered only by Ozpin and Salem, the only survivors of the humans who came down to Earth so long ago. Over time, Dust use would become more sophisticated. People would learn strange powers from it, that would eventually get absorbed into their very DNA and to their descendants.

Now, that sounded kind of cool, didn’t it? Screw you, I liked it. But yeah, here’s the evidence I have to support my theory.

1: In the first episode of season 2, Ruby makes direct references to Lincoln, Nixon and King Jr, which would only be possible if the people of Remnant were aware of American political history. This points to our universes being directly connected.

2: Throughout the series, I can’t remember seeing any live animals aside from Grimm, and crows that we know people can turn into. However, Grimm are obviously based on Earth animals.

3: There’s a swordfish and chickens on the table in the food fight scenes, but they’re likely fake, as the chickens are tough enough to be used as boxing gloves, and the swordfish is as stiff as a board and hasn’t been cooked, prepared or eaten, meaning that it’s likely a decorative centerpiece.

4: The other exception is Ruby’s dog Zwei, but since he’s able to freely shapeshift and survive a lengthy trip in a tube without food and water, it’s unlikely that he’s a natural pooch. He’s more likely a biological weapon, engineered to look like a dog.

5: The natural evolution of Faunus makes no sense. There’s no Darwinian advantage to people developing normal human bodies, complemented by random animal parts. This is especially true for horns and antlers, which if used at all, would likely break the user’s neck.

6: At the very least, there’s evidence of man controlling the ecosystem and plantlife. This comes in the from of The Forest of Forever Fall, whose name implies that it’s a wooded area that experiences autumn all year long. This could not possibly have happened naturally, as it implies the trees are constantly growing new leaves just to immediately drop them to the forest floor. Likely, this ecosystem is artificially sustained to keep tree sap, and thus maple syrup, in season all year long.

7: You could site the Grimm’s beef with mankind as a result of Salem mind-controlling them, but if that were the case, the mammoth ones wouldn’t be so docile.

When I was a child, Halloween was one of my favorite holidays of the year.  The anticipation I felt as October sluggishly passed me by could only be surpassed by the days leading up to Christmas.  My brother and I would wear fun costumes every year, which my mother and grandmother would spend weeks making for us.  We’d be Ninja Turtles, Power Rangers, Hulk and Macho Man, and once, even cheap-ass ghosts, just because we wanted to.  We would go out onto our street, and several neighboring streets, with our parents right by our side the entire way, going from door to door to ask for whatever goodies those doors had waiting behind them.  Then we’d go home, way past our bed times, throw out any candy that didn’t have air-tight packages, and go to bed with smiles on our faces.

It’s different nowadays.  People take their kids out early in the afternoon, and get home before six.  And that’s if they even Trick-or-Treat at all.  Some people actually invented Trunk-or-Treating, which is by all accounts a shameful bastardization of what’s supposed to be a fun and adventurous tradition.  For those of you who haven’t heard of it, a group of parents who all know and trust each other take their kids to a parking lot in the middle of the day, in costume, and have them Trick-or-Treat out of the trunks of their cars.  They’ve boiled Halloween down to it’s basest elements:  Candy and costumes.  It’s safe, it’s contained, it’s completely sterile, and they do it out of fear.  Fear of the psychotic villain lurking behind every stranger’s door.  The kind that’ll inject poison or drugs into candy just to get his jollies off.  And by fear, of course, I mean paranoia.  Because this kind of person doesn’t exist outside of bad movies.

In the…  I don’t know, maybe ten years that I consciously trick-or-treated, I was never poisoned.  There were no razor blades.  You know why?  Because that kind of threat doesn’t actually exist.  Going back historically, there have only been a handful of instances of tampered Halloween treats.  There were metal shavings in Pokemon Lollipops, and that got traced back to the manufacturer in China.  There was the man who put rat poison in his son’s pixie stick so he could kill him and collect the insurance money, and then poisoned the neighboring kids solely so he could cover up the crime.  Unsuccessfully, of course.  There was the little boy who found his uncle’s stash of heroin, ate some, and died, so the parents sprinkled heroin on his candy to try and cover up his Uncle’s guilt.  There have been a few other cases, but almost none of them were proven to be legitimately random acts of evil.

By the way, the whole razor blade thing is also a myth, in addition to being flat-out impossible.  I guess you could bake one into a brownie, but if you were to try and stick one into an apple or a candy bar, chances are your intended victim would notice that his treat sports a suspicious looking entrance wound.  So there’s no razor blade danger from Trick-or-Treating.  Bake sales, on the other hand…

So people, don’t buy into this baseless millennial paranoia.  Take your kids out Trick-or-Treating next week, and let them have the fun time that you remember having as a kid.  Keep them out past their bed times.  Let them interact and mingle with other costumed kids that they haven’t met yet.  Let them go to strangers’ houses, and of course, stay with them and keep an eye on them the entire time.  An activity like this can easily be safe and structured without being isolated.  And if it makes you feel better, check their candy afterwards.

Don’t let this time-honored tradition be destroyed and bastardized by paranoia.

Your children, like you before them, deserve better than that.

Also, I’m sorry this was such a short post, but it felt like something I needed to say, and I didn’t want to lose anybody’s attention.  I had a review scheduled for this slot, but don’t worry, I’ve moved it to November, so you can enjoy it then.

Happy Halloween!

Hello, and welcome to the Fullmetal Narcissist anime blog! It’s October now… I mean, this is literally the first of October… And it’s time once again to delve into the horror genre, where everything is spooky, festive, and fake. I’d normally open a month like this with a review, but this time around, I felt like I had a much better note to begin on. Specifically, there’s a question that’s been bothering me for about four years now… Are the Hotel Transylvania movies any good?

I originally saw the first one while it was still in theaters. It looked really lame from the trailers, and it didn’t have a very impressive Rotten Tomatoes score, but I had heard from a few trusted sources that despite all that, it was actually a very funny, beautifully animated, even heart-felt movie. I went to check it out, because I was kind of loose about going to the theater back in 2012, and I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed it. I laughed constantly, I connected with a few of the characters and their dilemmas, and I left the theater in a generally good mood… And yet I didn’t feel that the low critical scores were wrong. I personally believe that every critic should learn how to separate their personal taste from their professional taste, and I was definitely feeling this movie as a sort of guilty pleasure.

Fast forward three years, the sequel hit theaters, and I didn’t go, because the first movie was no longer fresh in my mind, and I just wasn’t really feeling it. Yet, the movie DID come out on DVD, and I rented it from Redbox, surprisingly enjoying it as well, even as my feelings for it became a bit complicated. I knew it was a step up in terms of story and plot, which is a good thing for a sequel to do, but there were so many little problems gnawing away at me that I couldn’t believe it actually had a better rotten tomatoes score than it’s predecessor… I couldn’t help but feel that it deserved more of a 26 percent, and keep in mind, that’s for a movie I LIKED. What’s the deal with these weird feelings? Why should I feel so conflicted over a pair of movies that sport such simple ideas and concepts? To answer that question once and for all, I’ve decided to rewatch both movies, and decide once and for all what I think of them. And hey, since this is the season of spooking, you should watch them too. I mean, I am going into heavy spoilers, so yeah, if you haven’t seen them, stop reading for a few hours and check them out before coming back.

To start, let’s take a look at what I like the most about these movies. But before that, I’m going to have to apologize to a few people… Christopher Lee, Bela Lugosi, Gary Oldman, Jouji Nakata, Crispin Freeman, and Gerard ButHAH! Yeah right. Fuck Gerard Butler. I need to apologize to everyone else because Adam Sandler… Yes, THE Adam Sandler, the one who made Jack and Jill, I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry, Pixels, and the Ridiculous 6, is my favorite Dracula actor. Now, to be fair, I’ve always known Adam Sandler to be more talented than people give him credit for. He has great acting skills as well as lyrical talent and a superb singing voice. When he’s given total control of a project, which happens far too often, he takes the easiest way out, making for dumb, rushed films where he only casts his friends so they can get a paid vacation together. When he’s forced to work under other people, and he actually tries, that’s when magic can finally start to happen.

Sandler shared cowriting duties with Robert Smigel, the mind behind a whole line of SNL animated skits and the ever-popular Triumph the Insult Comic Dog, and he’s probably the reason this movie is as funny as it is. The directorial duties were handled by Genndy Tartakovsky, an animation heavyweight who’s so beloved and respected that his work inspired two separate anime… Powerpuff Girls Z and Panty and Stocking. With these two names attached to the project, even Adam Sandler couldn’t fuck it up. I’ve heard some critics complain that Sandler’s Dracula is yet another generic Sandler character… A misunderstood loser with no real flaws who learns his lesson far too quickly. I can’t help but disagree in this case. In this movie, Dracula is portrayed as a retired monster, now living as a family man with a deep fear of the outside world and a delusion of responsibility to keep his only child safe and protected by any means necessary. He does bad things… VERY bad things, really… But it’s hard to hate him for any of it because, according to his own experiences, he has good reasons to act the way he does.

And he does have noticeable flaws. He’s selfish and set in his ways to the point of near delusion. He will ignore an entire room full of unhappy people if things are going his way, and while those moments may have been played for laughs, he is absorbed in the reality he’s constructed for his daughter, and can’t handle the idea of it ending. Even when he gets over his fears and allows his daughter to choose her own life, he’s still threatened by change, and the possibility that she’ll leave the vampire life behind… And him with it. Aside from being a vampire, this is the most human portrayal of Dracula that I’ve ever seen, and relatable as all hell to anyone who’s ever had a kid or made the effort to understand their own parents. His fear about his grandchild turning out to be a human mirrors this perfectly, because every parent and grandparent alike has expectations about how their legacy will play out, and anxiety about it not going the way they want. How many parents out there freak out at the possibility of their kids turning out gay, or the wrong political party? In the world of this movie, human vs. vampire is the perfect metaphor for these fears in the development of an impressionable child.

Not only is he a great character in his own right, but by painting him as an older, retired version of the popular character, these movies were able to paint his fellow monsters and long time friends in the same way, which helped them all to act as adequate support for his character, as well as carrying distinct personalities and jokes of their own. The cast of Grown-Ups CAN be funny with the right writing, apparently, although swapping out Rob Schneider for Steve Buscemi probably helped. Out of Frankenstein, The Wolfman, The Invisible Man, and The Mummy, none of these characters are there for token reasons… None of them are wasted, with the possible exception of The Blob in the sequel. The script takes advantage of every possible joke it can, with these monsters, with random monsters sprinkled throughout the film, and especially with Dracula and the long history of vampire lore. I can’t stress this enough… There’s a fart joke in here that’s funny enough to earn TWO genuine laughs, as it utilizes these characters so perfectly.

Of course, for all the great character writing, there are going to be a few exceptions. Unfortunately, they concern the second and third most important characters in the story, Mavis and Jonathan. I don’t want to say they’re unlikeable… Well, maybe Jonathan about half the time… But there’s just so little character TO them. They’re more plot devices than people. Mavis is a girl who’s been cooped up all her life and wants a taste of the outside world. Jonathan’s a free spirited transient who just happened upon the hotel by accident. Beyond those descriptions, there is nothing you can say about them that doesn’t have something to do with Dracula and what they are to him. The most interesting thing you can say about Jonathan is that he’s the combination of Olaf from Frozen and the three main characters of Quack Pack. He’s Robin Williams, being the perfect guy to shake up the establishment and make everyone’s lives better by being obnoxiously hip and bringing about the most obvious changes. I guess a great relationship between the two could help to save them, but I’m sorry, that whole Zing thing is just the lazy ‘love at first sight’ trope with a bullshit gimmick attached to it, which is supposed to cover up the fact that Mavis would have fallen for ANY laid back human that wandered into the hotel by accident.

Mavis does get more character under her in the sequel, although she also gets painted as WAY more gullible, too. We get to see her out of her element, which sets her up for some outstanding jokes that are completely independent of her father… She’s given her own arc, she’s given her own issue, even if Jonathan’s been reduced to just being along for the ride. Hey, he’s less annoying, so I’ll take it. The problem is that while Mavis’s role may have been beefed up, there’s another character who gets an even worse treatment… Vlad, Dracula’s father. Now, right off the bat(hahah), he creates a problem in terms of continuity… In the first movie, racism against human was perfectly explained. Dracula was afraid of them for killing his wife, and everyone else feared them by listening to his accounts. But in the sequel, we have no idea what caused Vlad’s racism, and he claims to have raised Drac to hate humans. The death of his wife is barely mentioned, when it was a strong plot point of the first movie. In addition, his gargoyle henchman feel like cheaply tacked-on villains, and he overcomes his prejudices way too fast just because his kid and granddaughter stood up to him once each. Bull. Shit.

This brings up two more important points… First of all, on the subject of continuity errors, there are a ton of them in the second movie. Remember when Murray the mummy was introduced in movie 1, riding a wave of sand into the hotel? Well, in this one, he’s suddenly too old to produce much sand without doing a dance that goes on for way too long to be funny and breaking his back and only producing a tiny pile. Remember when Wayne ate an entire flock of sheep? Well now, he thinks the idea of eating one little deer is too much trouble. Remember how vampires didn’t show in mirrors in the first movie, and are then shown to not show up in pictures right in the beginning of the second movie? Not only do they facetime each other throughout the second movie, Mavis is even captured on a convenience store security camera! That’s so lazy that it not only disregards the first movie, but the beginning of it’s OWN movie as well! And let’s not forget Dracula’s glare suddenly working now, after being blocked by contacts in the first movie. I could go on and on about this, but let’s get to the second point…

These movies do not know how to end. That’s probably my biggest problem with both of them. They promise some pretty deep commentary on the trials of parenting, but these themes are executed terribly. The plot is easily the weakest element of the first movie, and while I don’t know how I would have had Dracula overcome his fear of humans, even I can tell that the whole Monster Fest scene was fucking stupid. On top of which, Mavis’s desire to leave the castle and see the world was dropped and replaced with emo boy drama, and the resolution… Which would have better involved her traveling the world and meeting new people… ends with her marrying the first boy she ‘fell in love at first sight’ with. Talk about one step forward, two steps back. But hey, now that she has a boy toy who wants to stay at the cool castle, Dracula doesn’t have to let her go! Oh, and the second movie was even worse. By having the kid turn out to be a vampire, you’re taking a message about accepting your children for who they are and ending it with “Don’t worry, as long as you’re accepting, your dreams for them will come true. Accepting the possibility of a gay kid is the best way to get a straight kid.”

Actually, I’m pretty sure the only reason the kid turned out to be a vampire was so nobody would move away from the hotel, and then the third movie could still be called Hotel Transylvania. It was all in the interest of preserving the status quo. Honestly, I felt really proud of Drac when he realized he was wrong and caught Dennis from falling, but nope, he’s still a vampire. I don’t know about you, but I was hoping for something more bold… If, after Mavis stood up to Vlad, the old fogie had brought up the important element of vampire romances that Hotel Transylvania had spent two movies avoiding… Mortality. Johnathan will grow old and die, while Mavis and Dennis wouldn’t. If there was any tangible reason for Vlad to oppose their union, that would be it. And then Dennis would turn out to be human, so at Mavis’s request, Vlad would use his ancient magic to turn her human. Hell, after she left, Drac could have demanded the same treatment, moved to California with his daughter, and left the hotel in the hands of his friends. Wouldn’t it be awesome to see Dracula and Mavis, as humans, freaking out over the wonders of the human world together? Trying all the Slushy flavors together? But hey, who cares about consequences and hard decision when we have big dance numbers, because Shrek did it?

So, are these good movies? No, not really. Are they ANY good? Yeah, I think there’s some good in them. If nothing else, the only people who won’t enjoy them are the people who have expectations of them… People like me, who see hints of depth and thoughtfulness, are going to be disappointed with the over-all product. People who are just looking for comedy and outstanding animation will find it in spades, especially with the lightning fast, energetic pace of the first movie. The second movie is a lot more heavy on plot, which makes it’s failure all the more catastrophic, but it’s easy to set aside nit picking and laugh your ass off at the first movie, especially around this particular time of year. The humor is effective for both adults and children, and it does so without ever really being inappropriate, which alone makes it worthy of being praised. Opinions on the sequel may vary, although it does contain some harmful messages… Such as “Draculas are never ‘just friends…’ But I can highly and enthusiastically recommend watching the original Hotel Transylvania, either with your kids, your friends or yourself, as a special Halloween treat. Just, you know, go in with reasonable expectations.

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