Carmen Sandiego- Complete Season 1 Review

Carmen Sandiego is the latest rebooted animated series on Netflix which is based on an older property, in this case many edutainment video games and multiple prior animated series.

The Carmen Sandiego story is pretty simple; she is a master criminal who steals treasures from around the world. However, this series is a bit different from what has gone before in that this is a younger Carmen who has a new and exciting origin story that changes the context of her modus operandi. Carmen was abandoned as a baby in Argentina and was raised by the criminal masterminds at VILE (Villians International League of Evil) Academy in the Canaries. However, as she grew older Carmen realised that her surrogate parents were taking the riches of the world for themselves and thus depriving the world of culture and heritage. She philosophises, “I realised stealing isn't a game. It does harm people, especially when you're willing to steal lives," and so she decides to embark on many international heists, where she tries to retrieve and return the treasures that have been plundered by her former guardians.

The first two episodes are great at building the character of Carmen but after that the show turns into a caper of the week serial but with a light continuity that builds on the mystery of her parentage.

The show itself is beautifully animated with a stylish noir art style, reminiscent of Batman: The Animated Series or Samurai Jack.. At times, the film-noire tropes come into play as shadows and odd angles are key to the animation style.

There are many highlights from the show but one standout moment is the filmic almost balletic sequence in the Sydney Opera House, as Carmen battles a VILE operative in the rigging above the stage whilst Bizet's opera, Carmen, is performed below. The cinematography is stunning and elegantly done. Another thrilling moment involves a high speed super car chash through the streets of San Francisco, recalling that Steve McQueen classic, Bullitt.

The voice acting is good overall with lead voice actor, Gina Rodriguez, growing into the role and becoming more natural as the series progresses. Finn Wolfhard of Stanger Things plays Carmen's able remote assistant Player and plays his role well, however the two siblings, Zack and Ivy, from Boston over-egg the pudding and come across quite cheesy, almost Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins bad. However, this is a small blip in the over high quality voice acting.

Overall, Carmen Sandiego is a fun kids show with a smattering of educational facts thrown in for good measure. If you're looking for a way to teach your kids history, art and geography in a fun and non-edutainment way, then Netflix's Carmen Sandiego is the way to go.

LINK- Disenchantment- Complete Series 1 Review

LINK- Gravity Falls Complete Series Review

LINK- Scooby Doo: Mystery Incorporated Complete Series 1 Review

LINK- Scooby Doo: Mystery Incorporated Series 2 Review

LINK- Ms Marvel Can Change the World

LINK- Gravity Falls Complete Series Review

The Hollow- Complete Season 1 Review

The Hollow is a 10-part animated show with an intriguing central mystery. We are introduced to three teenagers, Adam, Kai and Mira, who wake up in a cell with amnesia. They work together to escape and figure out who they are, where they are and how to get back home.

The three main protagonists have a great dynamic; Adam is a strong leader with super strength, Kai can fix machines and Mira can talk to animals. With their abilities they try to survive in the harsh and mysterious worlds they seem to be inexplicably pushed around in, and as they do so they find the other powers they have.
The premise is très J. J. Abrams, but what separates this from ‘Lost’, apart from it sticking the landing--which is does, is that it does things I haven't seen other animated shows too. It is quite unique in the way it pushes animation boundaries. Once you're a few episodes in an overriding mythology comes through and so, predicting the ending may be possible but the finale is very original and a bit left field.

In terms of animation, there is an issue for me here. Whist I love the story and characterisation, the animation style left me a little cold. I like and character designs and world building but the Flash animation-style cycles look very dated. This is a shame as even shows with a poor animation legacy like Scooby Doo: Mystery Incorporated have remained true to their origins but updated it so it looked incredible in 2011, whilst this looks... like 1960s Hanna-Barbara, or gosh forbid, Filmation quality animation. But dodgy animation aside, the show is well worth a watch as the mystery will keep you guessing to the end. In fact, without spoiling the ending, the show could continue with different animation styles as the story lends itself to this quite easily. I look forward to seeing where the creators take this show next.

LINK- Disenchantment- Complete Series 1 Review

LINK- Gravity Falls Complete Series Review

LINK- Scooby Doo: Mystery Incorporated Complete Series 1 Review

LINK- Scooby Doo: Mystery Incorporated Complete Series 2 Review

LINK- Manga Exhibition at the British Museum

LINK: Japan: My Journey to the East

LINK- Battle Angel Alita: And So It Ends

LINK- The Moomins 80's Soundtrack Vinyl Review

LINK- The Mysterious Cities of Gold Retro Soundtrack Review

Enter the Anime- Review

Enter the Anime is an hour long documentary about the Japanese animation industry and the various counter-cultures it has spawned in the well-ordered and often rigidly structured country. What made this documentary an intriguing prospect was that the trailer stated that it would be presented by a self-proclaimed novice to the field, Director Alex Burunova. So, intrigued by the trailer I dived right in... but was it worth it?

Over the course of an hour, we journey with Burunova as she tries to discover the 'soul of anime' by talking with some of its key creators and people influenced by it. The entire documentary is shot in a kinetic style to suit who she is talking to and, at moments, is quite beautiful to look at but there is a major problem... the documentary only covers the anime on Netflix rather than the medium as a whole. The fact that most of the anime presented and discussed has only been released within the last 3 or so years means that, for an art form that spans over 70 years, the scope is somewhat limited.

With these limitations, we discover the following:

Adi Shankar, writer of the excellent Netflix Castlevania anime, was influenced by early 80s OVA's, which helped to inform the look of the Castlevania show, which is produced in the West but in the anime style.

The Director of Aggretsuko, Rarecho, believes that anime is art taken to its limits and that's why it has niches, sub-cultures and sub-cultures within subcultures. When there is the mundane people seek the unusual and different.

The 'three edgiest outlaws', Tetsuya Kinoshita, Yuji Higa (Producers of Kengan Ashura) and Seiji Kishi (Director of Kengan Ashura) discuss their love of hand crafted anime using CG and the time they met Arnold Schwarzenegger at the original Gold's Gym. They talk about using real martial artists to create the fight sequence and then the animators slow it down to animate the sequence.

Studio Toei Chairman Kozo Morishita tells us that as one of the longest running and well known anime houses, much of its catalogue is classic childhood fare, much like Disney is for many people here in the West. It has handled such properties as Dragonball Z, Slam Dunk and Saint Seiya. Morishita rather honestly states that Toei was created to raise the spirits of children after the loss of World War II.

This is all hardly groundbreaking stuff. The fact that the relationship between manga and anime isn't even looked at is a huge oversight in my opinion. The two art forms feed each other and are so intertwined, so to exclude one is to the detriment of the other.

Burunova also (briefly and only through one artist) explores the anime music scene and shows how the two are linked by chatting to Yoko Takahashi, singer of Evangelion's 'A Cruel Angel' s Thesis.' Takahashi makes an appearance and talks about her experience of Evangelion and the ardent fan base.

Kawaii (cute) culture is looked at and Rilakumma makes a giant headed appearance to discuss Japan's obsession with kawaii culture as a measure against 1960s stuffiness. In a similar way, Director Rarecho believes that Aggretsuko is a expression of female frustration in the workplace and sees the character as one of empowerment and a voice for many women in the workplace, which seems prescient in the time before #MeToo became a thing.

The rise of CG anime and the processes of its painstaking creation are discussed, but the general feeling is it makes the cost of the series more manageable and affordable in this online streaming world.

Overall, this is a disappointing documentary, one that will find it hard to reach the appropriate demographic. It is not comprehensive or detailed enough for your hardcore anime or Japanaphile (weeaboo) yet I think it will be too broad and meandering for a younger audience. In this day and age when anyone can be a content creator, I have found more interesting and informative videos on YouTube than this documentary provides. It is a shame as manga and anime has entered the zeitgeist in much of the world yet this documentary does a disservice with its Edge-Lord stylings and musings. Considering there is a huge exhibition at the British Museum currently and considering that Neon Genesis Evangelion, a landmark in anime is finally stream able after years out of circulation, reducing the medium to 'creators be cray cray, psycho, mad and other silly terms diminishes the artform.
Watch it if you must but not one I'd recommend to anyone. I've listed a few documentaries that I would recommend in the links below.

She-Ra Season 3 Airing This Friday

She-Ra and the Princesses of Power on Netflix is a modern reimagining of the classic ’80s Filmation series. She-Ra is a part of the He-Man universe and so holds a place in many fans’ hearts, and as expected this led to many debates about the redesign of the characters. Some arguments seemed to be reasonable, like some complaining about the more cartoony super deformed art style, or the redesign of She-Ra herself, but some seemed purposely argumentative and toxic like why was there a wider LGBTQ and minority ethnic representation on the show and why She-Ra herself was less 'feminine'.

I personally thought that She-Ra and the Princesses of Power Season 1 was an excellent 13 part animated series with a lot of heart. I knew that it would not please all fans of the 80s show but as a father 2 young daughters I liked the strong female lead, the characterisation of the entire cast and the well told Heroes Journey tale.

I thought that the second series continued well from where the last series ended with She-Ra still being trained by Lighthope and making slow progress. The Princess Alliance was holding strong against the continuous daily onslaught of Horde robots. At only 7 episodes the second series was light on storyline but it really focused on the characters and the world of Etherea. Along the way it tackles some heavy topics like toxic friendships, ageism and bureaucracy through the lens of animation.

So, it is with bated breath that my daughter and I have been waiting for the third series to drop and with the trailer dropping this week, it seems like the wait isn’t going to be so long! I am ecstatic and super excited to see where writer Noelle Stevenson et al. take us next.

The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance Trailer Drops

I watched The Dark Crystal in my early teen years and found it a bit creepy and disconcerting. I haven’t revisited it since but with the new trailer of the series dropping I might just do that. I always loved the art style by Brian Froud and the show seems to combine CGI practical puppetry effects. Maybe it’s just me but I feel that CGI works best when worked alongside practical real-world effects. I’ll revisit the original movie soon in preparation for this promising series.

The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt- Complete Show Review

After 51 episodes, spread over 4 seasons, shared over 4 years, The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt has come to an end. The Netflix exclusive comedy series had some serious pedigree, as well as show creators Tina Fey and Robert Carlock we had an impressive writing team who had credits on Friends, SNL, 30 Rock amongst much more, so expectation were sky high. So how was it and is it worth a binge watch?

The story revolves around Kimmy Schmidt and four other women, who are kept in an underground bunker for 15 years by a charismatic doomsday cult leader. Finally freed by the feds the 'Indiana Mole Women' adapt to life in the real world. Kimmy, who was only 14 when she was kidnapped, decides to go to New York and make it there, all whilst trying to keep her past traumas a secret. Over the course of the seasons she meets the self-centred but effervescent wannabe-actor Titus Andromodon, and a tough as old boots, from the streets landlady, Lillian Kaushtupper. The series revolves around the relationships and social dynamics between this odd family, whilst centring on Kimmy adapting to the tough world whilst remaining true to herself.

This sounds really bleak, like something you'd see on Dispatches, Panorama or something similarly po-faced with a gritty grey filter on Channel 4, but it is in the fact one of the funniest, warmest shows ever written with some of the best one liners and characterisations you'll ever see.

I love the enthusiasm of the ensemble cast, Ellie Kempers portrayal of Kimmy, a woman suffering from PTSD, is wonderfully offbeat and nuanced, she has a lot of naivete but has a wide eyed optimism that only really exists in children, before the world crushes it. Titus Andromodon, played wonderfully by Tituss Burgess, could come off as a one note flamboyant gay stereotype but through flashbacks we see his journey and start to understand his selfish behaviour. We see him as a flawed but likeable character who develops empathy and grows through the seasons. Lillian Kaushtupper, the formidable landlady given such a strong personality and Bostonian accent, is played by Carol Kane. Her dalliance with murder, arson, drug running and the free love movement of the 70s gives her a unique perspective on what is happening in her neighbourhood. Divorcee Socialite Jacqueline White, played by Jane Krakowski, is given the biggest character arc. She turns from a money grabbing rich socialite to a Lacota Sioux woman who is proud of her heritage and builds up her own career as a talent agent. She has some of the best one liners in the show and her comedic timing is formidable.

We are living in the darkest timeline and things can seem impossibly bad but through perseverance, optimism and a little humanity we can achieve and live our best life;  this is what The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt shows us. Even though Kimmy is strange, damaged and flawed she's human; she keeps of trying and sees the best in all situations. Like Jessica Day from New Girl, Leslie Knope from Parks and Recreation or Eleanor Shelstrop from The Good Place, she's trying to develop and be a better person and that's all any one of us can hope to do.

Through this oddball cast, we've been given characters we can get behind, like the cast of Brooklyn 99, Community or even Bob's Burgers. The show isn't all just fluffy stuff, it covers the #MeToo movement, PTSD, social media and the issue with privacy and toxic masculinity. It promotes tolerance, equality and respect, all whilst delivering killer lines and an engaging story arc that keeps you invested.

If you are looking for a show with heart, characters you can root for, a stunning minute to joke ratio and a story arc that matters check out The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, one of the smartest dumb shows available.

Hilda- Comic Series Review

The Hilda graphic novel books by Luke Pearson are stories about a young blue-haired girl named Hilda. She lives in the mountains, surrounded by fantastical mythical creatures, with her mother and Twigg, her pet deerfox. Hilda is an adventurer and explorer who wants to understand her world and over the course of 5 books (so far as of early 2019) has lots of fun and exciting adventures. With each event Hilda learns something, often something profound for someone so small like what it is to be lonely, how easy it is to be unkind to animals, why rituals are important to many and how we can make the world a better place by working together.

There are 5 Hilda books so far.

In the first book, Hilda and the Troll, we find out about Hilda's world. Her passion for exploring, understanding the world and art lead to a grand adventure in which she realises that her prejudices led her to treat a creature in an unethical way. She learns from her mistake and grows as a person and that is what these stories are about... having flaws, learning from mistakes and growing to be a better person.

In Hilda and the Midnight Giant, the second book, Hilda helps a lost mountain giant find his friend after many millenia alone. Hilda meets the hidden smallfolk on her way and discovers that the invisible hidden folk have been disturbed by the presence of her and her mother in the mountains. The ending for this book is particularly profound and beautiful and is all about the effect we have on the world without even realising. Heady stuff indeed for a 'kids' comic. The weirdness and slight tinge of unease reminds me of Over The Garden Wall or even Frankenweenie.

The books look like the cartoon series from Netflix from book 4 onwards.

The books look like the cartoon series from Netflix from book 4 onwards.

After the events of book 2, Hilda and her mother leave their cabin and move to the city of Trollberg. Hilda then adapts to life in an urban setting, meeting new people and the complexities that brings. She begins to understand the beauty that can exist in the city and develops friendships through the Sparrow Scouts group she joins and it is here that the main thrust of the graphic novels is pushed forward with each novel being an amazing and whimsical adventure. There are elves, stone giants, a Thunderbird and even a hell hound thrown in the mix... it all ends up making sense as the world is a tapestry of stories and characters, all building towards a cohesive whole. The final book released in mid 2018, Hilda and the Stone Forest, ends on a real cliffhanger and fans of the series have been waiting many years for the continuation. The next book, Hilda and the Mountain King, is slated for release in late 2019 and I can't wait.

The 5 books are amazing and show Pearson’s evolution over the 5 years since the creation of the character. The first 3 books have wonderful if stylishly sketchy art but from book 4 onwards it is more cartoon like and more akin to the wonderful Netflix show. The colour palette is beautiful at conveying the mood and the panel organisation more fluent as the book series progresses.

The first 3 Hilda books have a sketchy art style… it’s beautifully stylised!

By book 4 the art style is more akin to a cartoon.

I must also mention how inclusive the series is, with a multicultural cast represented especially in Trollberg, the main town. The fact that Hilda herself is a girl is also a plus as it is rare for many comics to have positive young female role models. My 4 year old daughter looks up to Hilda but she is represented well and isn't perfect, being cheeky and selfish as kids (and adults) are wont to be. Hilda is a brilliant series and should be treasured by fans of the comic medium.

LINK- Comics in the Classroom

LINK- What Comics Have Taught Me

She-Ra and the Princesses of Power- Episode 1 Review

She-Ra and the Princesses of Power is a reboot of the 1985 series. The series is a modern reimagining of the character and world of Etheria, which is a good thing. He-Man and She-Ra are fondly remembered, however if you revisit both cartoons in this modern age you realise just how bad He-Man really is and how much better She-Ra was.

This modern take of She-Ra is written by Noelle Stevenson, author of The Lumberjanes and Nimona, both of which I love. She has a habit of creating plucky and interesting characters and so it is with this series.

Raised as an orphan, Adora/ She-Ra is a strong and willing fighter for the Horde, battling against the insurgent Princesses and looking to rule over Etheria in the name of Hordak. However, after retrieving the Sword of Protection from the Forbidden Forest her latent powers are revealed and her secret origins flash before her eyes.

As a first episode, 'The Sword part 1' has me invested. The characterisation of Stevenson's cast is excellent and the interplay between them is wonderful. There are some wonderful one-liners, ''Are you brain-damaged? Please don't be brain-damaged. Shadow Weaver will kill me.''

I am looking forward to seeing if this series lives up to its promise and will be providing a full series review soon but in the meantime, check out the first episode as it is a well done modern interpretation of a classic cartoon.

Hilda- Complete Series 1 Review

Hilda is a graphic comic series and now Netflix animated show about a young adventure loving girl. The 13 part animate series is adapted from the multi award winning and highly acclaimed graphic novel series by Luke Pearson.

Protagonist Hilda lives with her mother in a cabin near the woods and mountains, away from people and it is in this landscape that Hilda goes on her first few adventures.
The first two episodes are a delight, reminiscent of Tove Jansson's Moomins, in that fantastical adventures are had and magical creatures such as the woodsman, stone trolls and giants are met against the backdrop of the wilds. The weirdness and slight tinge of unease reminds me of Over The Garden Wall, with episode 2 being especially melancholic and touching.

After the events of episode 2, Hilda and her mother leave their cabin and move to the city of Trolberg. Hilda then adapts to life in an urban setting, meeting new people and the complexities that brings. She begins to understand the beauty that can exist in the city and develops friendships through the Sparrow Scouts group she joins and it is here that the main thrust of the series is pushed forward with each episode being an amazing and whimsical adventure. There are elves, stone giants, a Thunderbird and even a nightmare inducing teen thrown into the mix and it all ends up making sense as the world is a tapestry of story and character with its world building logic.

The stories are often simple standalone adventure tales but there are elements of continuity as each episode has repercussions for all that follows. The episodes often have a lot of heart and are touching, something I've been seeing a lot more of in 'children's animation' over the past few years.

The animation is stunning and the colour palette beautiful at conveying the mood. The fully realised characters are beautifully animated and even though they may look quite basic, have warmth and depth.
The voice acting is superb, especially the voice actress of Hilda, Bella Ramsey.

The soundtrack is also really something, all synthy and atmospheric, it has elements of the 80s but is definitely its own thing. The title track by one of my favourite singers, Grimes, is a triumph and interspersed throughout the series' moments of wonder are individual tracks that create whimsy and joy. The standout for my daughter and I was when Hilda was riding of the water spirit in the Lost Clan episode. And that is what this series is about, a programme for adults and children alike. My daughter is nearly 4 years old and loved the episodes I showed her but some of the episodes I didn't let her watch as I knew for prior watching that they would scare her.

I binged the series over the course of an evening and a day and loved it. It reminds me of Gravity Falls and Scooby Doo: Mystery Incorporated and that is very high praise indeed as those two series are some of the best animated shows I've ever seen. If you get a chance watch Hilda, you won’t be disappointed.

LINK- Disenchantment- Complete Series 1 Review

LINK- Gravity Falls Complete Series Review

LINK- Scooby Doo: Mystery Incorporated Complete Series 1 Review

LINK- Scooby Doo: Mystery Incorporated Series 2 Review

Disenchantment- 1st Episode Review

After nearly 30 years of The Simpsons and nearly 20 years of Futurama, Matt Groening and his alumni, Josh Weinstein and Bill Oakley, have created a new animated series. Disenchantment is the tale of Princess Tiabeanie 'Bean', the hard drinking and burping princess of Dreamland, a medieval fantasy land straight from tales of yore. She is fated to be married to a Prince of whatever land her father sees as the most politically advantageous. However, Bean is a driven woman and her fate is linked to Elfo, an elf who escapes his magical land of pure maniacal happiness and Luci, a demon with a dark and mysterious past. 

The adventuresome trio. ©Netflix, Matt Groening

The adventuresome trio. ©Netflix, Matt Groening

This trio end up together and the scene is set for an emotional roller-coaster for Bean as she battles her good and bad sides with the literal manifestations by her side. The first episodes ends on a literal cliff hanger and the scene is set for an animated series with a real story arc. 

In a crowded animation market with the meta Rick and Morty, darkly philosophical Bojack Horseman, gently family-centric Bob's Burgers and those stalwarts South Park, Family Guy and of course, the grandaddy, the Simpsons, how does this new show fit in? Well, first off this show is definitely more mature and aimed at the teen and adult market. There are a few adult jokes in there, for example in the beginning there is a hanging scene and the phrase, "For once I won't go all the way," are said.
As for the art style, it is very Simpson-ish but with a less garish colour palette. In places the show is quite beautiful with lots of carefully lit scenes, lent pizzazz with flashy computerised transitioning shots. The humour is tres Simpsons, and as such the ebb and flow of the jokes are all present and correct. 

The story is there and with the potential to world build with interesting characters, such as the extremely humble puritan farmer and wife, the old fairy who does 'tricks' and the arrogant but persistent Prince in pursuit of the Princess, the series could really take off. 

For a first episode Disenchantment is off to a decent start. There is a long way to go before it becomes the hits of its predecessors but there is promise. I'm hoping to complete the rest of the series over the next couple of days and so will put up a whole series review later this week but if you haven't seen it, check it out. All 10 episodes have been put up for binge watching.

Castlevania The Animated Series- Series Review (No Spoilers)

What is Castlevania, the animated series? A miserable pile of garbage or worth a watch?
When Netflix announced that it would be helping to produce an animated series on the classic Konami series of yore I was excited and then... trepidation hit. After all, how well have many Japanese and video game adaptations fared in the past? Not very well if you look at previous form: any one for any of the heinous Uwe Boll adaptations, the anemic American version of Death Note or the underwhelming Ghost in the Shell movie attest to that? So to say I was worried would be a fair assessment but after seeing the Castlevania trailer and hearing that it would be written by comic legend Warren Ellis (of The Authority and Transmetropolitan fame) my interest and hopes were piqued and raised. So how is the series?

Well, for the uninitiated Castlevania follows the adventures of the Belmont family and their multi generational battle against Dracula. When you get down to it the story is simple: the fight between good and evil. However within the first few minutes of the episodes there are shades of grey as the reasons for Dracula's hatred of the church are revealed. He becomes a more sympathetic villain than he is usually represented as in many other media. His hatred of the church and specifically the clergy forms the story arc of this series as the question of science versus religion is brought up.

There have been numerous games which have played with the official time line and lore so there is not a consistent story overall and so prior knowledge is not required to enjoy the show, but for fans of the games it contains elements from Castlevania III

The writing really is on point and even  though it is episodic, flows well, which you would expect from a renown comic writer such as Ellis. His sardonic wit comes through, especially near the end of episode 1, where Trevor Belmont hears the locals discuss their close parentage and beastiality. It seems almost Tarantino-esque as two locals discuss the misadventures of a fellow villager who has laid with his goats and sheep. I have faint echoes of Spider Jerusalem or Kev in my ears as I recall the scene as it is hilariously funny yet incredibly dark too.

The animation are art style are both exemplary and you can see that no expense has been spared. The design of the show is beautiful and there were moments in the show where  I paused to take in the true beauty of what was being represented. The art style recalls the best of go thick horror and reminded me of my youth watching Vampire Hunter D and Ninja Scroll. This animation is definitely meant for adults and the high level of blood, gore and dismemberment attests to the fact. The fight sequences are well animated and high octane without being as hyperstylised as Dragon Ball Z or many other anime or manga.

Special mention should be made of the voice actors, who are of a high caliber and contain some bona-fide Hollywood stars, which lend the whole series some gravitas and seriousness. 
Castlevania is a great animated show, recalling the best of anime whilst avoiding a lot of the tropes and fan service (read: panty shots of the female characters) which has blighted the medium over the last two decades. The story is intriguing and builds to a crescendo for the second series and based on what was shown here it should be a humdinger.
Fans of the video games should definitely check it out but also anyone interested in a quick bingeable animation show would be foolhardy to miss this.