Mulan Takes The Bechdel Test

Did I love Disney princesses? Of course I did. We all did. Don’t even try to lie. Everyone is an 8-year-old at some point in their lives.

It probably would have been a healthy obsession in my case—stopping after a few cute Halloween costumes, some fairly awkward conversations with animals, and an assortment of charming husbands—had it not been for Mulan.

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Image from http://vignette1.wikia.nocookie.net/

Fa Mulan.

Sigh…

I knew there was no going back from the moment I first watched it. I went from wearing plastic tiaras to whacking my brothers with sticks faster than you can say, “The Huns have invaded China.” Maybe it was the lucky cricket. Maybe it was the silly grandmother. It was probably Mushu. But I like to think that it was watching Mulan discover herself with a sword in hand, rather than in ballroom slippers.

Let’s fast-forward (a shamefully small amount of time) to the present.

Now that I am much older and think about things (before hitting them with sticks), I have long since come to the conclusion that I was merely drawn to a strong, empowered female character. Done. That was easy.

Events transpired, however.

I recently stumbled upon something called the Bechdel Test, which is an unofficial measure of female portrayal in films.

Here is a 20-second history to get you up to speed:

The Bechdel Test was invented by Alison Bechdel and came from a comic titled “The Rule” in her series Dykes to Watch Out For (pictured here).

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Image from http://dykestowatchoutfor.com

A movie must meet three very simple criteria in order to pass:

  1. It must have two female characters (with names)
  2. They must have a conversation with each other
  3. That conversation must be about something other than a man

It sounds laughably easy to pass, but it turns out that 69% of IMDB’s top films fail that simple little test.

I’ll admit I was doubtful. I read through page after page about it.

I bet you have a favourite movie, they said. Look it up, they said. YOU WILL BE SUPPRISED BY WHAT DOESN’T PASS, they said.

So I looked it up. I saw a little green check mark next to Mulan. Hah, thought I, and gave my laptop a smug little smile. I was confident in my superior judgement. I was about to move on when the words “although dubious” caught my eye.

Dubious? DUBIOUS?!

How could Mulan be dubious? She was the pinnacle of female kickassery, the definition of feisty and unafraid, a raw, unadulterated shock of battle tactics and brute force with some kooky chicken feeding methods to boot. What could possibly be lacking?

Well, it seems that the female conversation was very scant in Mulan. Yes, there was some chit-chat between female ancestors, but they were unnamed. Yes, there was some mother/daughter/grandmother musical numbers, but those all circled around getting ready for the matchmaker to find a good husband. And yes, the protagonist was FEMALE but get this: Mushu had more lines in the film than Mulan did.

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Image from https://metrouk2.files.wordpress.com

Here’s how the movie scraped by:

Fa Li: I should have prayed to the ancestors for luck.
Grandmother Fa: How lucky can they be? They’re dead. Besides, I’ve got all the luck we’ll need.
Fa Li: Grandma, no!
Grandmother Fa: Yep! This cricket’s a lucky one! 

How progressive for the dark ages of 1998.

So I re-watched Mulan and came to the conclusion that in terms of women’s representation, it’s far from perfect. But then again, so is the Bechdel Test.

Although there was an utter lack of meaningful, non-male-related conversations between women in the movie, it’s not a stretch to attribute some of that to the largely (and in this case logically) male cast. Not to mention that this test doesn’t take into account the historical context, in which Mulan shows considerable independence and strength of character compared to the rest of the female cast as well as her fellow warriors. So perhaps this test is superficial, but it’s not entirely wrong.

Re-watching Mulan, I realized it wasn’t the perfect embodiment of female power I once believed it to be. Mulan says very few noteworthy things over the course of the movie, and the speaking parts are all largely male. Mulan is fighting for the greater glory of China, but the victory of the movie is more about winning the Emperor’s and her father’s approval, and Li Shang’s admiration.

I’m sad to say that I could summarize Mulan by saying, “Girl pretends to be a man, girl successfully blends in and is a very good man, girl wins huge victory for China and is offered a place as a woman in a man’s world but rejects it to return to domesticity. Then girl gets boy.”

That being said, for me, this movie will always be full of important victories: the cross-dressing imperial army, a Disney princess in armour, the most flattering of compliments (“Um… you… fight good.”), and an unlikely girl showing up all the boys.

But maybe I’ll make room for new heroes.

-Contributed by Katie Schmidt

Seven Anime That Require Your Viewership in 2017

I’m just going to say it: 2016 was a good year for anime. New titles like Re:Zero and Mob Psycho 100, and sequels such as Haikyuu and Assassination Classroom were everything that we could have asked for and more. Yes, there were a few disappointments (we’re looking at you, Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress), but 2017 offers restitution for every show that made you feel like you wasted your time putting it through the three-episode test. Big names like Attack on Titan and One Punch Man are putting out a second season, but there are other shows that deserve your attention too. They’re great. They’re fantastic. Trust me.

Welcome to the Ballroom – Premiere: July 2017

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Image from animenewsnetwork.com

Welcome to the Ballroom (Japanese title: Ballroom e Youkoso) promises to be a powerhouse of its own. The show will be based on Tomo Takeuchi’s manga of the same name and will be produced by Production I.G. Their involvement with the show is the most promising evidence of its quality. I.G has been responsible for some of the best sports anime shows in recent memory, such as Kuroko no Basuke and Haikyuu. The studio’s best work comes into play in scenes requiring fluidity and attention to detail, both of which will be put to the test in the intense dance competitions that Welcome to the Ballroom promises to offer.

Legend of the Galactic Heroes – Premiere: TBA 2017

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Image of the original Legend of the Galactic Heroes from animeblob.wordpress.com

Although advertised as a remake of the 1988 original space opera, the forthcoming Legend of the Galactic Heroes is supposedly a new take on Yoshiki Tanaka’s lauded story. Legend of the Galactic Heroes has the reputation of a cult classic in the anime community. Though I have not seen the original and cannot speak from personal experience, many have called the show the absolute zenith of Japanese storytelling. Others can’t bear the animation style of the late 1980s, which has continued to be the show’s greatest obstacle in reaching viewers. However, just as hope faded away, in swooped the hero of the hour: Production I.G. Their mastery of dynamic action sequences will surely spread the renowned tale to a larger audience.

Berserk – Premiered: April 7th, 2017

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Image from reddit.com/r/Berserk/

Have you ever found yourself playing a fantasy RPG with a severely overpowered character? Has their total badassery and inability to die made you ponder how awesome a show based around them could be? If so, you’re in luck! Berserk is a fantasy juggernaut that takes place in the war-torn country of Midland. It is based on Kentaro Miura’s original manga, which plays out more like a collection of Hieronymus Bosch’s best works than a manga series. The one downside of the show is that Miura’s incredible attention to detail is lost on the 3D animation and cel shading used in the show’s production. Nonetheless, Berserk‘s story and character roster are reasons enough to give this show a chance. The 2017 season will be the second of the most recent series, the first season of which came out last year. Although the latest series does not provide viewers with the earlier portions of the story, anime-film adaptations of the manga’s prologue arc are available in a trilogy titled Berserk Golden Age. These movies are: The Egg of the King, The Battle for Doldrey, and The Advent.

Gintama Season 4 – Premiered: January 9th, 2017

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Image from showprobe.wordpress.com

We are talking indestructible wooden swords that are made from alien trees and dispense soy sauce. We are talking some of the most out-of-the-box penial humour ever. We are talking Gintama. I know that I said I’d be talking about anime that weren’t big name sequels, but I’m breaking the rules, and for good reason too. Gintama simply does not get the love that it deserves, at least not from Western audiences. Furthermore, good shonen anime have been few and far between recently. Bleach has been discontinued, Naruto Shippuden has ended, and One Piece also threatens to end prematurely as it approaches the most recent source material. Though Attack on Titan season two and Boruto: Next Generation are within our sights, some of us just need more shonen sooner. Gintama is the answer.

Yami Shibai Season 4 – Premiered: January 16th, 2017

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Image from moesucks.com

Ever miss that creepy feeling of being watched just beyond your field of vision? Then Yami Shibai is the anime for you. However, calling Yami Shibai an anime the same way you might call Sword Art Online an anime is odd, as its production bears no resemblance to the glossy, computer-generated animation of today’s market. Yami Shibai is an anthology of Japan’s most spine-tingling folk-stories, and boy, does it tingle some spines. What this show offers is freshness, especially as Hollywood’s adventures into the horror genre have been lackluster and repetitive in recent years. So throw on the show, pop some popcorn, and break out the vacuum for the eventual jump-scare spillage.

Code Geass: Lelouch of the Resurrection – Premiere: TBA 2017

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Image from ukiyaseed.weebly.com

Who was asking for this? Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion had the perfect ending, which I will not be spoiling for those who haven’t seen Code Geass and most likely live in a cave somewhere. Many have considered the two-season series as one of the greatest anime of all time and an effective gateway show into the vast medium. Although it does not currently have a concrete release date, Code Geass: Lelouch of the Resurrection has been promised as a 2017 release. Sunrise Incorporated will be returning to produce another (hopefully great) season of this classic.

Black Clover – Premiered: May 2nd, 2017

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Image from snapthirty.com

If last year’s Boku no Hero Academia and Shokugeki no Soma: Ni no Sara weren’t enough to whet your appetite, then Black Clover is an event to look forward to. With the stampede of incoming sequels and the hype surrounding Boruto: Next Generation, Black Clover simply isn’t receiving the recognition that an original shonen deserves. The story follows Asta, a boy born into a fantastical world of magic lacking any form of magical power. He chases his dreams of being the Wizard King nonetheless, and if that isn’t the premise for a great shonen saga then I don’t know what is. The potential of this anime is heightened by Studio Pierrot’s involvement, the animation giant that brought us crowd favourites like Naruto, Bleach, and Tokyo Ghoul.

-Contributed by Giordano Labrecque

“You Have Disturbed the Dirt!” Archaeological Issues in Disney’s Atlantis: The Lost Empire

 

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Illustration by Michael Baptista

It’s unlikely that anyone would immediately think of Disney’s Atlantis: The Lost Empire when asked to come up with an archaeology-related media piece. This science fiction, fantasy, and steampunk epic from 2001 centers on an expedition to discover the lost city of Atlantis. Through underwater exploration and spelunking through caverns and ruins, those on the expedition discover that the city exists deep beneath the Earth, and is kept alive by the magical Atlantean Crystal—although the monarchy has since purged the inhabitants of any memories of their heritage.

The historical inspiration for the expedition to Atlantis hearkens back to the early twentieth century “heroic” age of larger-than-life explorers as well as to the callous and patronizing attitudes they held towards local cultures (Francis Younghusband, Roy Chapman Andrews, and Sven Hedin are just a few examples). The overall design of Atlantis strongly recalls actual civilizations that lived, or still live, in the ruins of their fallen ancestors (Dark Age Rome, anyone?). These opposing settings—of an industrial world on the rise and a magical world on the decline—lay the groundwork for the very premise of modern archaeology: that we can use the scientific method to rescue a relatively idyllic past that is at risk of being swept away by modernity forever.

While most of the expedition consists of mercenaries, not archaeologists (though Milo Thatch, a linguist and cartographer, is descended from an old school, pith helmet-wearing explorer), this film does revolve around archaeological themes. This includes the plundering of the past and the effects on the site’s present inhabitants, cultural imperialism, how the past can be forgotten, and what this historical heritage means for the civilization’s inheritors. Indeed, much of the film’s second act explores how divorced the Atlanteans have become from their history and culture, and the efforts of Princess Kida to relearn and revive their history (by interpreting historic murals, Lovecraft-style).

In methodology, the film’s expedition is probably among the worst offenders of violating real-world archaeological professionalism, next to Indiana Jones and his Nazi foes. With glory and gold as the expedition’s primary objectives, the members of the expedition showed little to no interest in, if not wanton disregard for, the historical significance of their surroundings. They preferred a survival-oriented pragmatic approach to whatever they found. Case in point, in one scene, with the expedition blocked by a stories-high column towering over a crevasse, Milo could only marvel at the engineering, saying: “It must have taken hundreds—no, thousands of years to carve this thing.” Then, to his utter dismay, the demolitions expert dynamites the column, converting it into a bridge over the crevasse—all with a shrug and retort: “Hey, look, I made a bridge. It only took me like, what? Ten seconds? Eleven, tops.” It’s a hilarious gag for sure, but nowhere else during the exploration half of the movie does anyone bring up the ramifications of what they’re doing to the past, and that silence is deafening.

Halfway through the movie, it’s revealed that the expedition’s true purpose was to steal the Crystal and potentially sell it to one of the belligerent powers on the surface. Given that this Crystal sustains the Atlanteans’ lives, this is quite literally a metaphor for how the plundering of historical artifacts leads to cultural (and other forms of) death of local civilizations. Looking at real world issues, we can ask: does the removal of the Elgin Marbles critically damage Greek heritage? Even more recently, in light of ISIS’s destruction of cultural heritage in Syria and Iraq, some argue that what the militants are doing amounts to cultural genocide, depriving their targets of a tangible historical memory and leaving them on the verge of extinction as a distinct people. That the Crystal is being stolen and a nation is faced with annihilation relates to ISIS exploiting the black market of blood antiquities (in fact, blowing up ruins helps spike prices), investing that profit into slaughter. In hindsight, the parallels between these issues and Atlantis are frightening.

The expedition’s plan to auction the Crystal—likely as a superweapon given the WWI context of the story—also echoes ethical issues of archaeology: what is revealed from the past could be harnessed for personal, ahistorical, and possibly destructive means. Of course, we have yet to unearth a doomsday device in any ancient ruins, but Atlantis suggests that current interpretations of the past, as well as future-oriented use of it, are not value-neutral. The past can sustain a nation, figuratively and literally, but it can also be used to destroy it. One needs to look no further than the Nazi Ahnenerbe’s efforts to associate archaeological discoveries with justifications for German expansion into Eastern Europe, with cataclysmic results.

However, the expedition plunders not out of malice, but out of greed and indifference towards others. As Vinny, the demolitions expert, revealingly puts it, the expedition team “[did] a lot of things we’re not proud of. Robbing graves, eh, plundering tombs, double parking. But, nobody got hurt. Well, maybe somebody got hurt, but nobody we knew.” Perhaps this quote puts their actions in a new light: they were unaware that their plans were unleashing genocide on the Atlanteans.

Of course, none of this was running through my mind when I watched it, and ISIS didn’t exist back then. When Atlantis first came out, it shaped my interest in pulpy adventure and steampunk for years. Artistically, I think the movie is quite decent, with lavish animation (designed by Mike Mignola, no less!) and a brilliant visual and thematic juxtaposition of steampunk and fantasy. And yet, the plot’s basically a rehash of the Pocahontas legend, and there are enough plot holes to keep any adventurer-archaeologist curious (for instance, just how did Atlanteans learn to speak modern English?). Whatever. The world building and design were enough to fire up my imagination.

But for all of Atlantis’s faults, I believe it is at least an interesting introduction for younger audiences to the appeal of the past and ethical issues arising from that. Disney didn’t make this movie to appeal to archaeologists, or to seriously explore archaeological issues. Nevertheless, I recommend it to anyone who would like to experience the excitement of adventure and of finding the past, and as a case study for ethical issues in adventurism. After watching you should read up on real early twentieth century explorers and some of the kookier, obsolete historical theories of the time, to further enhance your experience of the movie. Then you can connect the themes with current events. Perhaps this will give Atlantis: The Lost Empire a second life.

 

-Contributed by Benson Cheung

 

 

Lilo & Stitch: it only gets better

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Illustration by Bethany Pile

Check out Part One of this two-part blog series here!

Before we delve back into the serious stuff, let’s take a moment to admire the unique and colourful animation style of Lilo & Stitch. For the first time in decades, the directors chose to return to watercolour backgrounds as opposed to the typical solid colour of most of Disney’s current filmography. Watercolours were used to create a more storybook look as well as to recall the aesthetics of Disney’s Dumbo.

The animation style also differed from the standard Disney fare, being more reminiscent of director Chris Sanders’ personal drawing style, which is often described by his fellow animators as seeming to melt, as if the images were dripping. This effect gives us the chunky and gorgeous curves we see on all the characters (I’m looking at you, Nani).

Reportedly, Lilo & Stitch was also influenced by another one of our Spec faves: Hayao Miyazaki, who, according to director Dean Deblois, “creates genuine relationships in the realm of fantasy”. This inspiration is apparent in the complexity of the characters’ relationships to one another. Fun fact: Kiki’s Coffee Hut is named in loving tribute to Miyazaki’s film Kiki’s Delivery Service.

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Nuanced Morality

The wonderful thing about this movie is the lack of “black and white” morality that is so predominant in films for kids. Too often, children’s media is excused for having poorly written, one-dimensional characters—something that is thoroughly criticized in most other genres. In mainstream film today, we demand well-written and complex female, queer, and ethnically diverse characters. Yet somehow we constantly excuse simplistic “good and evil” morality in films just because they are “made for kids”. Fiction is important because it allows us to see things that are not necessarily our personal reality, and to thereby gain empathy and understanding. The overwhelmingly reasonable characters and complex motivations and conflicts in Lilo & Stitch allow for a broader and more engaging experience.

Representation of Minorities

Although mainstream Hollywood seems to still be dragging its heels with good LGBTQ+ representation, films like The Danish Girl and About Ray, which premiered in this year’s Toronto International Film Festival, signal hope for the future. Unfortunately, the casting of cisgender actors in these defining roles is a blatant indication that we must keep pushing forward. With luck, we can move toward a future where characters are not defined by their gender identity or sexual orientation—or are turned into a farce—but are seen as people first, their sexuality and gender a small part of who they are.

Considering the state of modern media today, it seems amazing that Disney included such an ambiguous and gender-fluid character as Pleakley over a decade ago and in a children’s film. Clearly identified with masculine pronouns and voiced by a male actor, Pleakley resists gender constrictions by dressing in traditionally feminine attire when on Earth. While his choice of disguises could be chalked up to a misguided understanding of Earth (which Pleakley clearly has), he is further shown to enjoy his wigs and make-up, and remains in them throughout the film. It’s not even a point of contention in the movie; no one at any point has a problem with the way Pleakley chooses to dress and behave. While I’m not saying that Lilo & Stitch is the best portrayal of casual LGBTQ+ visibility that I have ever seen (the only gender-fluid character is not from our planet, after all), Pleakley is nonetheless a positive presence in the film. It certainly doesn’t hurt to be reminded that one’s decisions about one’s body don’t have to involve everyone around them.

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The respectful and beautiful way that the film portrays Hawaii also deserves a mention here. While Lilo & Stitch is set on the island of Kauai, it doesn’t exploit stereotypes in order to tell its story. There are examples of beautiful Hawaiian language songs, although they are not the only music that we encounter (Elvis makes numerous welcome and hilarious appearances throughout the film). The traditional-sounding songs serve to set the stage, but do not dominate the story as a whole.

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Similar is the treatment of traditional Hawaiian activities such as hula dancing and surfing, which are present but do not detract from the point of the story. What I mean to say is: Lilo does not have to win a hula competition to earn enough money for the surfing team; these activities are used to build on the characters, not the other way around.

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Furthermore, for the most part, the Hawaiian characters are played by Hawaiian actors. Tia Carrere (Nani) and Jason Scott Lee (David) are Hawaiian-born and Hawaiian-raised, respectively. For a film that doesn’t visibly show its actors, it is impressive that the casting directors took the care to cast actors with a relationship to the islands. The actors even helped to rewrite some of their dialogue using correct Hawaiian colloquialisms. The natural traces of an accent in their voices lend a realistic feel to the atmosphere of the film that is subtle but extremely effective.

Positive Romantic Relationships

On the subject of David Kawena, everyone take a good long look, because he demonstrates what you should be looking for in a partner. First and foremost a good friend to Nani and Lilo, David doesn’t try to hide his romantic interest in Nani, but neither does he resent her for being too busy to date him. Instead, he finds productive ways to be a positive force in her life, such as by cheering up the sisters when they are feeling down, or by helping Nani to find a job when she is at her most desperate. He seems to truly care about Nani, as a person and as a friend first. Theirs is a truly good example of a mature and sincere relationship, and anyone waffling about in the murky swamps of romance should take note.

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What my gushing boils down to is: don’t waste your time indecisively flipping through Netflix. Do yourself a favour—watch this film and drown in a torrent of happy-sad tears with extreme satisfaction.

-Contributed by Amy Wang

OHANA Means Quality Film-Making

The recent addition of Lilo & Stitch to (Canadian) Netflix answers the call of a generation.

As we enter the latter half of the 2010s, our cultural shift toward a celebration of the strange and alternative has exploded exponentially thanks to the age of the internet. The social outcasts, the quiet intellectuals, and the eccentrics suddenly find themselves idolized as ideals for our generation. The marginalized now find themselves more and more a part of the accepted mainstream as the demand for media to represent alternative lifestyles, minorities, and realistic characters grows.

Recently, animated films have risen to the occasion in this respect, responding to our collective desire to see more than just the typical boy-girl love story. For instance, the Frozen craze has shown us that people are tired of the Disney princess formula, and the movie has been widely celebrated as the quintessential depiction of sisterly love above romantic relationships.

What people seem to have forgotten, however, is that Disney already produced the perfect film for our generation’s needs over a decade ago. Thankfully, the benevolent overlords over at Netflix have decreed a second coming of Lilo & Stitch, which is just what we need.

We remember the adorable alien and that catchy “Hawaiian Roller Coaster Ride” song, but it’s really the characters and the weird, special bond they form that have us hastily wiping away tears because WE’RE ADULTS DAMNIT and a children’s film shouldn’t be making us feel so much. So, here for your reading pleasure, a definitive post detailing how the return of Lilo & Stitch is the answer to what we’ve been yearning for in our modern media.

Preach Love Not (Necessarily) Romance 

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If we can praise any film for its depiction of non-romantic love, Nani and Lilo’s sisterly bond is high up on the list of excellent portrayals. While the sisters in Frozen show their love for each other through sacrifice, their entire relationship is based on their isolation from each other, and they don’t share much screen time. The bond between Nani and Lilo is shown subtly: through their intimate knowledge of the other’s habits and the similarities in their behaviour. The sisters’ struggle is to stay together, through the good times and the bad. They have fun together, annoy each other, fight, and make up; and although the relationship is dysfunctional in many ways, it’s made clear through the small tender moments that they truly care for one another.

In fact, the overarching theme of the film is the importance of family, and how finding a place where you are loved and accepted can mold you into the best version of yourself. Both Lilo and Stitch are outcasts yearning to feel wanted, and they are able to find belonging by opening their hearts to one another.

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Well-Rounded Female Characters

Nani deserves all the praise in the world for being both a sister and a mother, while dealing with all of the eccentricities of her strange yet lovable sibling. Though she has her limits, she is consistently shown to be understanding, and truly does her best to make ends meet. She rejects romantic relationships in order to dedicate herself to her family, but this is not the be-all-end-all of decisions in the film. This affirmation that romantic relationships are not the primary goal of female existence is a small detail that highlights the much larger positive message of this movie. Even better is the fact that it’s not made out to be a major conflict. Nani simply states that she is too busy to date (we’ll talk about how fantastic David is in an upcoming installment).

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Lilo is basically cooler than you’ll ever be. She has a non-conformative view of beauty and body types, fantastic taste in music, and she embraces the strange and the unusual with open arms. Although she is rejected by her peers, Lilo unabashedly retains her unique outlook on life, and doesn’t stop trying to be accepted for who she is. Her perseverance and optimism is incredibly admirable and we should all aspire to be just as outspoken and imaginative–the world would be a much better place for it.

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In the vein of fantastic female characters, the Grand Council-WOMAN of the Galactic Federation definitely deserves a mention. She’s imposing and tough but also fair, and she recognizes her own errors. She also seems to have a sense of humour. Young (and young at heart) girls always deserve more female role models to admire, and if a lady can hold the highest political position in the galaxy, a female president doesn’t seem so impossible, now does it?

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Check out Part Two of this blog post here!

Remembering the Mighty Monty Oum: A Review of RWBY

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Illustration by Yamandú Sztainbok

 

This review contains spoilers.

On February 1, 2015, the world lost a great animator, director, and creative genius. Monty Oum suffered a severe allergic reaction during a routine check-up, causing him to become comatose before passing away. The lead animator for hit series Red vs. Blue, Oum quickly gained a large fan base in the Rooster Teeth community and decided to create his own series. RWBY is the product of his grand imagination and extravagant animating skills. Hyped up with various character trailers and critiques applauding its amazing animation and soundtrack, RWBY launched with a bang, filling the auditoriums during its premiere screening.

Each episode spans around ten minutes (with two volumes out so far) filled with action-packed fight scenes and intense plots. Monty’s animation style features design elements of Japanese anime mixed with Western animation, creating a unique combination that stunned audiences. The flawless visuals and excellent presentation have rightfully given this series the reputation of being one of the best North American-based anime in recent years .

The series follows the adventures of Ruby Rose, a young, energetic girl who wields a sniper-scythe (yes, it is a scythe that can shoot people). Ruby enrolls in Beacon Academy to become one of the Huntsmen and fight against evil monsters known as the Grimm. The story focuses primarily on her interactions with the other main characters, but also incorporates the stories of supporting characters in order to progress the storyline. There is no such thing as a filler episode as there is always some movement in the plot that flows perfectly with each episode’s mini-story.

Ruby is faced with problems ranging from teenage drama with schoolmates to battles with expert assassins. Monty is able to balance effectively a slice of life style premise with an action/adventure storyline. He also presents endless opportunities for development by keeping an open end to the adventure as the story branches off into various missions while continuing Ruby’s original goal of becoming a Huntress.

Image from i.imgr.com
Image from i.imgr.com

The weapons. The end.

Seriously though, the weapon list in this show borders on insanity: a sniper rifle combined with a scythe, a spear that can transform into a sword, brass knuckle gloves that shoot out bullets? These are ideas we all had as children but were too ridiculous to even be considered to be possible in real life. But Monty made it happen. His fantastical designs are the type of creativity no one knew they needed.

Combined with his animating genius, the minute-long fight scenes seem to last a lifetime as hordes of monsters are slain in matters of seconds. Pausing at each frame, you can see the immaculate animation. Lines are clean and colours are vibrant. Anatomy and proportions stay correct and movement is natural. Everything about this show’s visuals is perfect. Considering the small size of the animation team, the amount of detail that went into each scene is jaw-dropping.

The amount of detail used for each character is often overlooked. The main characters’ names correspond with their colour palettes (e.g., r for Ruby and Rose, which are red), and the supporting characters’ names allude to historic and mythical beings while also relating to their personalities (e.g., Sun Wukong is a half-human half-monkey character in the series and was based off of Sun Wukong, the Monkey King in Journey to the West).

The pairings are also well-thought-out. Ruby’s childish persona contrasts with the serious demeanour of her partner, Weiss Schnee. However, their true natures are shown through conversations that reveal their childhoods, providing reasons for their actions and outward attitude. A great example is how everyone thinks that the queen of combat, Pyrrha Nikos, is noble and free of worries at first, but then one episode focuses on her inner loneliness and disconnect from the rest of the world.

This series is relatable to the audience in this regard: every character has empowering traits that people exhibit, but they also have realistic flaws that make them more human. The attention given to the characters really paid off, resulting in heroes who wield impossible weapons but are also down-to-earth and familiar to the audience.

The music and character songs feature the voice actors of the show and are excellently composed. I’m sure  every RWBY fan went through a phase where they listened to the soundtrack on replay for a few weeks. (Or months.) The upbeat and battle-themed songs were not only catchy but also strongly connected to the corresponding characters and story. Listening to each song at face value was just as good as analyzing the meanings of their lyrics. The voice acting in this series was of great quality as well. The actors were able to capture the personality of each character and display it properly with each line. The best part was that Monty himself voiced one of the characters, Lie Ren, showcasing his vast arsenal of talents.

Image from youtube.com
Image from youtube.com

A downside to this series is the fact that its production team is so small (relative to other anime and animation franchises). The simple lack of manpower limits the animators’ resources, meaning that there isn’t enough time or a large enough budget to perfect the series. The only characters that were really individuated were the main characters. Unimportant background or side characters were mere silhouettes in the first volume, and only a few that interacted with main characters or monsters were generically drawn (e.g., with a white shirt and one-colour pants). The bustling city of Vale seemed very empty with only a handful of walking silhouettes. This was also a reason for the short length of each episode. There were simply not enough team members to be able to produce longer episodes at the rate at which they released the episodes.

The result of an experimental web series has proven to be more than the Internet could handle. Monty Oum’s animation child has grown to its third volume with a proposed video game and DVD release of the series in the works. Hopefully, the series will continue to grow as a monument of Monty’s greatness and will reach the hearts of viewers around the world.

 -contributed by Elizabeth Lau

Fantastic Love in The World of Makoto Shinkai

Although Hayao Miyazaki’s Studio Ghibli has long been representative of the quality of the Japanese animation film industry, a rising star has been making waves around the world. Makoto Shinkai has been hailed as the “new Miyazaki”, with the depth of his cinematography garnering critical acclaim and millions of fans worldwide. Besides his dogged work ethic and stunning animation, Shinkai is known for his focus on the theme of love. His two films, Voices of a Distant Star and The Place Promised in Our Early Days, share the theme of long-distance love in a cosmic setting.

In his first major work, the short film Voices of a Distant Star (2002), Shinkai explores love through a relationship that literally transcends space and time. The two main characters, middle-school student Nagamine Mikako and her friend Noboru, share a bond verging on romantic love in a world plagued by an intergalactic war between humanity and an alien force known as the Tarsians.

 

Image from beneaththetangles.files.wordpress.com
Image from beneaththetangles.files.wordpress.com

When Mikako decides to join the UN Space Army to serve as a Tracer pilot for the spaceship Lysithea, she grapples with the pain of losing Noboru in the depths of time and space. While the fleet has FTL (Faster-Than-Light) travel, its vessels lack FTL communications and so it takes an increasingly long amount of time for Mikako’s messages to reach Noboru as she travels farther from Earth. Time also moves slower the farther Mikako gets from Earth. Mikako is still physically seventeen years old by the time Noboru turns twenty-eight.

Shinkai scripted, drew, animated, and produced the entire movie by himself, and the quality of his work shows in the complex emotions that the film brings to life despite its short length. Shinkai brings viewers a thoughtfully-created and captivating universe with relatable and well-developed characters and a simple, bittersweet romance that tugs at the heartstrings. Shinkai’s use of mournful piano music in the film was a fitting addition that highlighted the complex pain and grief experienced by separated lovers.

Shinkai’s other work, his first feature-length film, The Place Promised in Our Early Days (2004), is also set in the midst of a looming war between northern Japan, occupied by the Soviet Union, and southern Japan, controlled by the United States.

Image from wallpoper.com
Image from wallpoper.com

The film makes use of sci-fi elements such as parallel universes and futuristic transportation and architecture (e.g., gyrocopter planes and the Hokkaido Tower). Despite these sci-fi elements, the film maintains a sense of reality through its depiction of Fujisawa Hiroki and Sawatari Sayuri’s love for each other.

Sayuri and Hiroki, middle-school students living in Aomori on the northern end of southern Japan, find themselves unwillingly entangled in the war. Sayuri is induced into a coma in order to become a human link for the Hokkaido Tower, a project created by the Soviet Union that replaces the matter around the tower within a two kilometre radius with matter from other universes.

In Sayuri’s mind, she is in an unpopulated parallel universe where she is all alone. The only thing tying her to reality is her unconditional love for Hiroki, whom she was forced to leave behind after she was hospitalized. The film defines love as a source of hope for oneself and as the hope to be reunited with one’s lover. In the case of Hiroki and Sayuri, the two are fighting to be reunited with each other—Hiroki fights to get Sayuri out of the hospital and Sayuri fights to find her way out of her parallel universe.

Although the plot of The Place Promised in Our Early Days is not as coherent or linear as the plot of Voices of a Distant Star, its characters are likeable and earnest, and their relationships with one another are well-developed and realistic. The Place Promised in Our Early Days is a touching work of art that succeeds in connecting emotionally with the audience despite its many fantastical elements.

Although the theme of distant love can be seen within all of his films, Shinkai’s use of sci-fi as a major element within these two particular works adds a refreshing vitality to his stories. They intensify the love that is lost or strained between his characters and allow viewers to immerse themselves within his created universes. He gives viewers the space to empathize with the pain of being a star-crossed lover while ultimately reminding us that the time spent with our loved ones is precious and transient.

-contributed by Diandra Ismiranti