‘Cleopatra in Space,’ Volume 4

The Golden Lion (Cleopatra in Space, Book 4), written and illustrated by Mike Maihack. New York, NY: Scholastic, 2017. Full color. ISBN 978-0-5425-83871-9.

I previously discussed the first three volumes of Mike Maihack’s Cleopatra in Space, a space opera aimed at younger readers. Maihack originally began the series as a web comic. The web version stopped abruptly after bogging down, but Maihack rebooted the title as a series of graphic novels through Scholastic’s Graphix imprint. The web comic is not in continuity with the graphic novels, but Maihack suggests to parents that they could check it out anyway to get a good idea of the kind of material that’s likely to appear in the print version. Continue reading “‘Cleopatra in Space,’ Volume 4”

Movie Review: ‘My Little Pony: The Movie’

Possibly the best thing ever to come out of the My Little Pony franchise.

My Little Pony: The Movie. Directed by Jayson Thiessen. Written by Joe Ballarini, Meghan McCarthy, Rita Hsiao, and Michael Vogel. Lionsgate and Allspark Pictures, 2017. 99 minutes. Rated PG. CNS Rating is A-I, General Patronage.

As I expected, critics are panning it, and it might turn out that My Little Pony: The Movie will prove to be a financial mistake for Hasbro and Lionsgate.

That being said, I honestly don’t know what the complaints are about. I thought this was a great movie. My only (mild) criticisms are that none of the musical numbers are among the franchise’s catchiest, and some of the animation could be better, but aside from that, this is a fine, if not exactly stunning, children’s film. Looking at a few of the negative reviews, I get the distinct impression that the critics are turning up their noses not because it’s a bad movie per se, but simply because it’s My Little Pony.

However, in my humble opinion, this may be the best thing ever to come out of the franchise. I daresay this is the first time My Little Pony has come close to living up to its potential.

G4’s central cast, from left to right: Rainbow Dash, Fluttershy, Twilight Sparkle, Spike, Pinkie Pie, Rarity, and Applejack.

Continue reading “Movie Review: ‘My Little Pony: The Movie’”

Comic Book Review: ‘Cleopatra in Space’

“But why are they in space? There’s no reason for them to be in space!”

Cleopatra in Space, written and illustrated by Mike Maihack. 3 vols. New York: Scholastic, 2014-2016.

We have before us a highly entertaining space opera swashbuckler aimed at a younger audience but also suitable for adults.

Author and illustrator Mike Maihack has worked on several different comics projects, including the webcomic Cow and Buffalo. He also produced an earlier webcomic version of the present story under the more facetious title of Cleopatra in SPAAAACE, which he halted abruptly in order to reimagine Cleopatra’s tale as a series of graphic novels, published through Scholastic’s Graphix Imprint. The stories of the graphic novels and webcomic differ in some details and do not overlap.

The series currently stands at four volumes, the fourth having released recently this year. I am here discussing only the first three, which are all I’ve got my hands on so far.

Continue reading “Comic Book Review: ‘Cleopatra in Space’”

Now Starting ‘Glitter Force’

The year 2004 represents a sea change in the magical girl genre. In that year appeared two series that would give a new look and feel to mahou shoujo. One was Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha, a series aimed primarily at the neckbearded adult male crowd, and the other was Futari Wa Pretty Cure, aimed at young girls. Both would produce spin-offs. Pretty Cure became a cash cow franchise for Toei Animation, with an impressive total of fourteen series to date, the most recent of which, KiraKira☆Pretty Cure a la Mode, began in February of 2017 and is still ongoing as of this writing. There are also several movies, including crossovers that bring together cures from different series.

Both of these franchises are notable for introducing to the genre a heavier emphasis on physical combat. Both series also completed the process of all but eliminating the previously omnipresent romantic subplots in favor of a focus on feminine camaraderie. Continue reading “Now Starting ‘Glitter Force’”

Drawn Like My French Girls: ‘LoliRock’

They should have called it “Loli Auto-Tuned.”

LoliRock. Written by Madellaine Paxon et al. Directed by Jean-Louis Vandestoc. Marathon Media and Zodiak Kids, 2014-2016. Starring Kazumi Evans, Kelly Sheridan, and Vincent Tong. 52 episodes of 26 minutes (approx. 22.5 hours). Rated TV-Y.

Available on Netflix.

We now turn our attention to that other French magical girl cartoon, LoliRock. According to an earlier version of its Wikipedia entryLoliRock has the honor of being the first magical girl title from France, though this assertion was followed by the wisest and truest words to be found on Wikipedia, “citation needed.” One way or the other, we can can probably safely say that LoliRock is the first French magical girl show to get international attention. It made its appearance in France in October of 2014 and ran for two seasons. Its English dub now has a home on Netflix.

Continue reading “Drawn Like My French Girls: ‘LoliRock’”

Something Eternal: The ‘Revolutionary Girl Utena’ Rewatch, Part 9

The bird is fighting its way out of the egg. The egg is the world. Whoever wishes to be born must destroy a world. The bird is flying to God. The god is named Abraxas.

—Herman Hesse, Demian

Revolutionary Girl Utena, episode 9: “The Castle Said to Hold Eternity.” Directed by Kunihiko Ikuhara. Character designs by Chiho Saito. Be-Papas, 1997 (Nozomi Entertainment, 2011). Approx. 24 minutes. Rated “16+.”

Watch for free here.

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In this episode, after two weeks of filler, we return to the main plot. The first story arc, known as the “Student Council Saga,” is drawing rapidly to its conclusion. In this episode, the basics of the show’s underlying mystery are laid before us, though that might not be obvious to someone who hasn’t already watched the whole show through.

Saionji returns. He’s still something of a joke character, but he plays an important role in this episode. We now learn that there’s more to Saionji’s obsession with Anthy than had at first been apparent.

Continue reading “Something Eternal: The ‘Revolutionary Girl Utena’ Rewatch, Part 9”

Drawn Like My French Girls: ‘Miraculous Ladybug’

Les filles magiques de la France sont les meilleures filles magiques, non?

Miraculous Ladybug (a.k.a. Miraculous: Tales of Ladybug and Cat Noir). Directed by Thomas Astruc. Written by Fred Lenoir, Matthieu Choquet, et al. Zagtoon, Method Animation, and Toei Animation, 2015-2016. 26 episodes of 22 minutes (approx. 9.5 hours). Rated TV-Y7.

Available on Netflix.

For over a decade, probably the most successful magical girl title from outside Japan has been the Italian cartoon Winx Club, a dungeon-punkish hot mess that’s like a cross between Harry Potter, Tinkerbell, and Sailor Moon. But within the last few years, France has gotten into the act with at least two strong contenders, LoliRock and Miraculous Ladybug. We’ll discuss the former some other time, but we’ll discuss the latter right now. A French magical girl cartoon rendered in CGI, Miraculous Ladybug is known in some countries (including the U.S.) under the more cumbersome title of Miraculous: Tales of Ladybug and Cat Noir.

Le City of ze Lights et les girls de majeeks, oh ho ho ho!

Continue reading “Drawn Like My French Girls: ‘Miraculous Ladybug’”

The Spicy Episode: The ‘Revolutionary Girl Utena’ Rewatch, Part 8

The bird is fighting its way out of the egg. The egg is the world. Whoever wishes to be born must destroy a world. The bird is flying to God. The god is named Abraxas.

—Herman Hesse, Demian

Revolutionary Girl Utena, episode 8: “Curried High Trip.” Directed by Kunihiko Ikuhara. Character designs by Chiho Saito. Be-Papas, 1997 (Nozomi Entertainment, 2011). Approx. 24 minutes. Rated “16+.”

Watch for free here.

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Seriously, anime? We just had one of the best episodes in the series, but with episode 8, “Curried High Trip,” we’re right back to … that’s right, another filler episode starring Nanami. That means two out of the last three episodes have been Nanami-focused filler.

Even worse, “Curried High Trip” is based on the Freaky Friday premise, which was already more than played out by the time this episode aired. Fortunately, the next episode will be a major plot-mover.

Revolutionary Girl Utena is famous for being dense, convoluted, and kinky. I knew all that before going in, but I was unaware before I sat down to watch it that it is also extremely goofy. This is one of the goofy episodes. The story of “Curried High Trip” appears entirely gratuitous, though it does at least highlight one possible angle of interpretation, and it also emphasizes an important plot detail.

Continue reading “The Spicy Episode: The ‘Revolutionary Girl Utena’ Rewatch, Part 8”

Did Not See That Coming: The ‘Revolutionary Girl Utena’ Rewatch, Part 7

The bird is fighting its way out of the egg. The egg is the world. Whoever wishes to be born must destroy a world. The bird is flying to God. The god is named Abraxas.

—Herman Hesse, Demian

Revolutionary Girl Utena, episode 7: “Unfulfilled Jury.” Directed by Kunihiko Ikuhara. Character designs by Chiho Saito. Be-Papas, 1997 (Nozomi Entertainment, 2011). Approx. 24 minutes. Rated “16+.”

Watch for free here.

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Actually, I’m kidding. I don’t think this show ever managed to do anything I didn’t see coming, but that’s mostly because I’d already watched a number of its successors by the time I saw it.

By the way, the image at the top of this post is official artwork. While I was searching for an eyecatch for this post, I happened to run into the blog Fairy Princess Witch, which features a group of girls who try to replicate the image. They don’t have the poses quite right, but it’s some dang fine cosplaying:

Juri, lean forward, and use your other hand. Shiori, grab her waist. Her waist, darn it.

Episode 7 is, hands down, one of the best episodes in Revolutionary Girl Utena. The first two episodes were very tight, but episode 3 was blah, and after that the show dinked around for a while. With episode 7, “Unfulfilled Jury,” it gets its game face back on. In addition to being one of the best paced and plotted episodes, it has one of the best sword duels. It also begins in earnest the use of bizarre and symbolic imagery that will become the show’s hallmark. Continue reading “Did Not See That Coming: The ‘Revolutionary Girl Utena’ Rewatch, Part 7”

Nanami Takes Over: The ‘Revolutionary Girl Utena’ Rewatch, Part 6

Meanwhile, in an unrelated subplot …

The bird is fighting its way out of the egg. The egg is the world. Whoever wishes to be born must destroy a world. The bird is flying to God. The god is named Abraxas.

—Herman Hesse, Demian

Revolutionary Girl Utena, episode 6: “Take Care, Miss Nanami!” Directed by Kunihiko Ikuhara. Character designs by Chiho Saito. Be-Papas, 1997 (Nozomi Entertainment, 2011). Approx. 24 minutes. Rated “16+.”

Watch for free here.

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A reader helpfully points out that Nozomi Entertainment has uploaded Revolutionary Girl Utena to YouTube. When I first started this series of essays, I named some places you can acquire the show, but I didn’t think to check YouTube. I tend to forget that not all videos there are pirated.

#NotAllYouTubeVideos.

Anyway, I am continuing to watch the series from my enormously expensive collector’s edition DVD set, which is as luxurious and decadent as the anime it contains. But if you’d like to watch along with me without investing so much cash, you can now see the dub, free and legal, online. I’ll be posting the link to the YouTube video under the episode credits from now on.

Now with more images from Utena: Texts from Last Night.

This same reader makes an interesting comment:

On principle I object to stories that use symbolism as an excuse for ridiculous, poor, or perverse writing. If a story cannot stand up as an independent narrative it has no business obfuscating its shortcomings with allegories and parables. Art naturally embodies some aspect of reality. Every piece symbolizes something. Better that your symbols should be simple rather than convoluted.

Intricate meta-narratives can become great rewards for those who are apt to analyzing them, but the primary plot ought not to suffer for their sake. I shouldn’t need an essay to understand your unpainted canvas, and I should not need a documentary-length series of videos to understand what happened during End of Evangelion.

I’ve only seen up to episode eleven of Revolutionary Girl Utena, but those episodes do hold up as a narrative, despite some remarkable plot contrivances. I’m afraid to finish the series, unfortunately, since I suspect the train will drift off the rails as the series nears its end.

His opinion is similar to mine. I’m typically unimpressed with stories that use opacity to create the illusion of depth.

Some years ago, I loaned my set of Neon Genesis Evangelion to a friend who happened to be studying feng shui. She later contacted me excitedly to tell me that one of the characters in the show had objects on her desk arranged in such a way as to represent, symbolically, the characters’ interpersonal relationships. This is something I, and probably a lot of viewers, never would have picked up on, and that’s fine. I certainly don’t mind storytellers throwing in some esoterica like that. It can lend a story a certain richness even if it goes over most people’s heads.

But that is no excuse for failing to present a coherent narrative. Evangelion is rich with imaginative imagery, but it never gets down to the business of explaining basic elements of its plot, such as what Lilith is, or what the Lance of Longinus is, or what the hell is going on. Partly, it suffered because the creators didn’t husband their meager resources, choosing to blow their wad on boob jiggle in the early episodes so they had to subject us to torturous still frames in the later ones, like that infamous minutes-long elevator ride, or that nightstand. (Sweet Madoka, the nightstand! If I never again hear a dialogue about creative places to insert pills, I can die a happy man.) But even more than that, Evangelion suffered because director Hideaki Anno gave up on storytelling and turned the show into his personal psychotherapy session.

I stated in the beginning that Revolutionary Girl Utena out-Evangelions Evangelion, partly because it handles Evangelion‘s themes and postmodern techniques much more competently, but also because it accomplishes something Evangelion flubbed: It has a coherent plot with a beginning, middle, and end. That’s not to say that some parts aren’t opaque or that there aren’t unresolved plot threads, or that the show isn’t decidedly undisciplined. It’s definitely not perfect. But it has an intelligible storyline, and it manages to conserve its puny budget enough that it resorts to relatively few painful animation shortcuts.

Evangelion attempted something it couldn’t quite pull off. Building on that, Utena successfully pulls it off, albeit in haphazard fashion. I might also add that Princess Tutu, usually considered Utena’s spiritual successor, uses the same techniques, but employs them in a much more disciplined manner and entirely avoids the pitfalls of its predecessors. Continue reading “Nanami Takes Over: The ‘Revolutionary Girl Utena’ Rewatch, Part 6”