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

ballroom-visual.png
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

legendofthegalacticheroes2
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

berserk
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

gintama-shinyaku-benizakura-hen
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

yami-shibai-0201
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

code-geass-zero-wallpaper-3
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

black-clover-one-shot-anime-screenshot-01
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

“The Raven Cycle” Might Be Exactly What YA Lit’s Been Missing

TheRavenCycle

image source: readbreatherelax.com

Go to Chapters, and take a book from the nearest Young Adult bookshelf. Flip to any page that does not involve a dance, a love interest, a clique or a “queen bee”. The more you read, the more you may notice that today’s YA genre is inundated with books by authors who no longer remember what it was like to be a young adult.

Or, if they do, they do a terrible job of writing about it.

In these books, high school is reduced to trope-y cliques. Characters are slaves to the whims of their hormones, and often two-dimensional. Even speculative YA fiction often falls to these clichés.

However, there are a few books that break this teenage drama mould. In Maggie Stiefvater’s 4-part series The Raven Cycle, the high school-aged characters are written with their intended readership in mind. Not only are Stiefvter’s characters dimensional and captivating, but they deal with real issues, garner sympathy from the reader, and meddle in magical realms to boot. And that’s only a small part of what makes The Raven Cycle so incredible.

Blue Sargent, the non-psychic daughter of a clairvoyant mother, has been told for as long as she can remember that her kiss will kill her true love. But being a sensible person, she disbelieves the idea of true love at all and lives by the policy of avoiding all boys. In particular, she ignores the boys who attend Aglionby Academy, a private boys’ school near her home in rural Henrietta, Virginia.

It isn’t until she sees the soon-to-be-dead spirit of a boy named Gansey — and that very same Gansey shows up at her door for a psychic reading — that her world becomes tangled in the odd, magical world of the Raven Boys.

The series deals heavily with themes of identity — found through struggles in class differences, sexual orientation, and realizing how to discover one’s meaning. Gansey, a product of old Virginia money, desperately wants his over-privileged life to be worth something. This something, he believes, will be discovered as soon as he can find Glendower, an ancient Welsh king rumoured to be buried in the mountains of Virginia. Without the psychic abilities of her mother, Blue Sargent is driven to seek out her own future.

Adam Parrish, who accepts help from no one, just wants to find a bigger and better life outside the walls of the trailer home where he is abused by his father. Ronan Lynch, still reeling from the mysterious death of his beloved father, struggles to contain himself within the confines of academic, monolithic Aglionby Academy. United by unlikely bonds of friendship, this group embarks on the quest to find Glendower and, on the way, end up on individual paths toward their own destinies.

This sharp characterization is my favourite thing about the series. Stiefvater excels at writing characters who feel real, whose descriptions stick in the mind for all their uniqueness, whose backstories provide them with clear, urgent motivations, and whose struggles draw in the reader. Each character carries, in equal parts, both a sense of relatability and a touch of extraordinary magic — making them people who objectively could never exist in the real world, but who really feel like they could.

Just like Blue, I fell in love with the raven boys. Years after reading the first novel, I still can’t choose a favourite. More than anything else, I love the way this series portrays friendship as a bond that is sometimes thicker than blood. In finding your identity, you might just find your family.

Stiefvater’s gorgeous prose is another thing that makes this series so good. Just as the sentient trees in the magical forest of Cabeswater speak to our heroes in a language too The_Raven_King_Cover_Officialstrange and beautiful to be understood, Stiefvater’s writing seems, at times, to transcend the boundaries of what is real and what is magic. Her masterful control over language contributes further to the dimension she adds to her characters, and her own quirkiness and sense of humour always shines through.

After the release of book three, Blue Lily, Lily Blue, I waited a year and a half for the fourth and final installment of the series — The Raven King — to be delivered into my hands on April 26th of this year. I’m not quite sure yet if the finale lived up to everything Stiefvater promised it would be, but don’t let that discourage you from reading this series. The Raven Cycle is a jewel among the many thorns of the young adult speculative genre. If Blue Sargent’s clairvoyant mother could see my future, I’m certain she would find me constantly returning to the thrills and chills offered to me by the denizens of this series’ tiny Virginia town.

-Contributed by Julia Bartel

Just Peace: Ambitious Politics in Doctor Who

Spec Doctor Who
Illustration by Stephanie Gao

Yes, in this post I will be discussing specific scenes. Yes, there will be spoilers.

Doctor Who is an awesome show; you don’t need me to tell you that. Full of action, sci-fi, and a dash of romance, it has captivated viewers over many generations. Even if you aren’t interested in any of these aspects of the show—which I honestly can’t imagine to be the case—Doctor Who also provides a different angle of interest. It is a clever show that uses elements from history and gestures towards real world political tensions with relevance and tact.

At the heart of the show lies the figure of the Doctor: a powerful, mostly benevolent, and ageless (no, really, the production team has messed up the details of his age frequently) Time Lord. The Doctor is arguably the most important symbol created by the franchise. He roams freely across the universe, engaging in conflict with various malevolent alien species and humans who seek to do harm to others.

One of the Doctor’s most formidable enemies is also one the show’s greatest political statements. The Daleks are aliens that see themselves as a superior race and seek to exterminate other species. They originated in the 60s, borne out of a decade where the tensions of World War II were still resonant and frightening. The characterization of the Daleks as having an ideology comparable to Nazism allows the viewers to breathe a sigh of relief when the Doctor destroys them to protect humanity. Confrontation between the Doctor and the Daleks also represents the destruction of one ideology at the hands of another. This political statement that has its roots in the Cold War, and the strong message that the United Kingdom wanted to send to potential aggressors.

Vigilantism often falls within the patch of grey between clearly defined categories of good and bad. Though the Doctor doles out justice without authorization, he mostly manages to lean closer to the good. Before the Doctor condemns the villainous groups, he listens to eyewitness accounts of the horrors committed and uses historical and factual evidence. He also attempts to rehabilitate the villains before using irreversible force, as seen in his actions in the season 4 finale, “Journey’s End”, where he attempts to engage the Daleks in dialogue before blowing up their spaceship.

The Doctor is representative of the reality of how politics can and often does play out. Even in our world, states with more power and resources engage in treaties of protection with states lacking in these things, similar to how the Doctor offers protection to alien or human societies and the universe as a whole. Before engaging in combat or war, the Doctor insists that every measure be taken to minimize causalities and engage in peaceful mediation. The aforementioned episode was written in 2008, a time of fierce combat in the Middle East, which the United Kingdom, through NATO, participated in.

Doctor Who is also highly political in its treatment of sex and race. It features Captain Jack, a multi-sexual character with varying interests, and Martha Jones, a black female character who challenges viewers to face Britain’s troubling racist past when the character journeys to the Victorian era and encounters an obvious lack of basic human respect, to say the least. Doctor Who brings issues of race and sexual identity to the forefront when it features these characters in important roles within the Doctor’s life and allows for positive discourse on their unique qualities through the Doctor’s unquestioned acceptance of them.

While watching the show, I’ve often been fascinated by the nature of this fictional world. It depicts a version of our world that is resilient, as it is constantly assailed by species beyond human understanding, and yet manages to maintain its dignity, hope, and the will to fight. In light of the recent attacks on societies by terrorist and extremist groups, these are qualities that we should adopt and remember as our own. While I’ve seen no evidence of the Doctor being present in our world, may the political ideals of justice and peace that he embodies live and thrive.

-Contributed by Molly Cong

Hannibal: What do you see?

Sight is the key to appreciating the design behind Bryan Fuller’s three seasons of Hannibal. Television is first and foremost a visual medium, and no show makes better use of it.

The first two seasons of Hannibal take place before the events described in the famous novels by Thomas Harris, with the third season leading into an incredible adaption of his first Hannibal novel, Red Dragon. What starts off as a killer-of-the-week cop drama slowly becomes a bloody, insane, near supernaturally charged love story between its two lead characters. Hugh Dancy stars as Will Graham, a man who can empathize perfectly with anybody and whose sense of self and reality is shaky at the best of times. Opposite Will is his psychiatrist, Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Mads Mikkelsen), who enjoys philosophizing about God, eroding Will’s conception of the world, and elaborately cooking, serving, and eating people (in meals that always make guilty viewers a bit hungry).

Hannibal sees in Will the potential for a companion. He believes that Will can understand him and can share his fun of elaborately killing people. Hannibal thinks there is nobody else in the world who can see him like Will can. In effect, he falls in love. (The internet’s couple name for them, “murder husbands”, even finds its way into a line in the third season.)

The horror is apparent, but how does Hannibal fall into the realm of speculative fiction? Well, in several ways. First of all, the show itself exists in a heightened reality, one where Hannibal Lecter is an almost ineffable devil-like figure, capable of performing horrifying feats or tricks while wearing a three-piece suit. He can dash across fields, disappear without a trace, and kill countless people in increasingly elaborate ways, all in time for dinner. The show often has little time for real world logic, sacrificing what’s possible off screen for what’s beautiful on screen.

But within the logic of Hannibal, there is Will. And within Will blossoms the magical realism that places Hannibal into the realm of speculative fiction.

            “See?” is a code word in Hannibal. What Will sees is more important than the real world. Through the eyes of killers and lunatics, as well as through his own subconscious, Will sees a world far more magical (and horrifying) than our own.

What Will sees is often more important to the plot than what is real. His hallucinations (or “Willucinations” as I stubbornly call them) make up a huge part of the show. They manifest as a way to show the viewers Will’s mental or emotional states, but often Will’s visions cut to the truth of what is going on around him, like haunting specters revealing the secrets of the plot.

Throughout the first season, Will isn’t aware that Hannibal is the ultimate monster he is chasing, thinking that the man is only his tall friend who likes to cook. But Will’s subconscious knows better.

With increasing alarm, Will is haunted by visions of a stag covered in raven feathers, a replica of a small statue in Hannibal’s office. The Raven Stag follows Will, nudging him closer towards the truth, pushing him along.

Once Will discovers what Hannibal is, we are given glimpses of how Will now sees him. Will sees a Wendigo, a great, antlered black creature that eats human flesh. But still the Raven Stag haunts him, becoming a symbol not only of Hannibal but also of Will’s relationship with him. The Raven Stag bursts into flames in times of transformation, forcing Will to continue on with his question of whether to catch, kill, or embrace the cannibal.

Behind Will’s eyes, scenes of murder spring to life, time reverses, objects transform, and corpses revive. In his visions, the Wendigo becomes the Hindu god Shiva and warns Will of bloody rebirth, the Raven Stag dies to signal to Will that something bad is coming his way, and water wells up around him in bed to warn him that he is drowning in Hannibal’s influence. Whatever design Will’s madness takes, it always points Will towards the truth, to help to him understand.

Apart from Will, the only character who is explained with magic is season three’s Red Dragon himself, Francis Dolarhyde (played to terrifying effect by The Hobbit alum Richard Armitage). In Dolarhyde, we see the battle between the man and the monster within him by the shadow of wings on his back and the slither of a tail moving behind him. We know in one particular scene that Dolarhyde is beating himself up, but what we are shown, and what we understand, is that Dolarhyde is fighting the dragon. We know what is real, but we see what is true.

That is the point of magical realism in Hannibal: to help us to understand. Why tell us what’s happening or how characters feel when it’s possible to show us? Why tell us that Hannibal is the devil of Dante’s hell, when you can show his face blend with that of a painting depicting Satan in The Inferno? Why tell us that Hannibal and Will are becoming more alike when you can show us their faces and bodies melding and mirroring one another through the glass of Hannibal’s cell? We are not told; we are shown. We accept what we see, and we understand it. “Who among us doesn’t want understanding and acceptance?” Hannibal asks. And that is what the show asks of its audience: to be seen and understood.

The magic of Hannibal distorts reality so that we are forced to see these horrible acts of violence and murder as Hannibal sees them and as he wants Will to see them. Some of the displays of blood on Hannibal are uncomfortably, and undeniably, like art.

As Will admits in the very last line of the series, what we see on Hannibal is “Beautiful”.

It’s not real, but what’s real is not important. What’s important is that we see art and beauty and magic in the dark and the horrifying. We see, and we understand.

-Contributed by Ben Ghan

The Flash Season One: “Run, Barry, Run!”

“Life is locomotion… If you’re not moving, you’re not living.”

So begins the famous motto of the comic book hero the Flash, and when adopting the story of Barry Allen for the small screen, it’s clear that this motto was taken to heart. With apparently no fear that it will run out of stories, The Flash ran through its first season at breakneck speed.

When Barry Allen was a little boy in Central City, he saw his mother, Nora (Michelle Harrison), be murdered in a yellow ball of light, and his father Henry (John Wesley Shipp) was charged with her murder. Barry goes to live with his parent’s friend, police detective Joe West (the amazing Jesse L. Martin), and Joe’s daughter Iris West (Candice Patton).

Fifteen years later, a bunch of scientists at a place called S.T.A.R. Labs blow up something called a particle accelerator, Barry gets struck by lightning, and bam: super speed. Barry is then taken under the wing of the mysterious wheelchair-bound scientist Harrison Wells (the hugely fun Tom Cavanagh), who trains Barry to use his speed. Barry is also assisted by Cisco Ramon (Carlos Valdes) and Caitlin Snow (Danielle Panabaker), researchers at S.T.A.R. Labs. Barry is up and running as a superhero with his own costume and symbol and is fighting supervillains (who were also empowered by the particle accelerator explosion) by the end of the pilot, and the whole city is calling him ‘the Flash’ only a few episodes later.

On an emotional level, The Flash is strongest when it explores Barry’s relationships with his three father figures, Joe, Wells, and his real, imprisoned father. All these actors have amazing chemistry with each other, and Barry’s relationship with his three father figures tugs at viewers’ heart strings. Another huge part of the joy of this show is its smiles. Barry likes being the Flash. He loves it! He dashes across the city with a big smile on his face, and we find ourselves smiling with him.

However, The Flash isn’t perfect by any means. I would argue that this show doesn’t do a great job with its female characters, starting but not ending with Barry’s mother dying in the pilot.

The show explores Barry’s love for Iris West. In comic book land, the two are star-crossed lovers, but the show does little to support that. Iris is under the impression that Barry is her best friend, and treats him as such, but all the while Barry mopes behind her back.

This, combined with Barry practically being adopted by the West family as a kid, makes Barry’s secret crush a little… icky. It would help if Iris was given other stuff to do, but she really isn’t. Iris is also the last person on the show to find out that Barry is the Flash—literally everyone else knows before her.

Caitlin Snow, however, is given plenty to do, and is a strong character—certainly the strongest female character on the show—but her ark is still heavily tied to her fiancé Ronnie Raymond, the hero Firestorm. All in all, it’s not enough, and if the problem is still around next year, I’m going to be seriously angry.

The first season’s other weakness was its need for a ‘freak of the week’. Many episodes would introduce a villain, give them no development, have them be beaten, and then lock them up, never to be seen again, by the end of the episode. Most of the villains didn’t even seem that threatening. You’d be amazed by how many villains can be beaten by running around them in a circle, though admittedly I loved when the show just solved its problems with the Flash running in a circle and Dr. Wells shouting, “Run, Barry, run!”

But when the show did its villains well, it did them well. The Flash has a famous gallery of rogues. Wentworth Miller gave a standout performance as Captain Cold this season with so much cheesy goodness that I would cheer whenever he came on screen. This is a character who holds a gun that shoots ice and makes just as many ice puns as Schwarzenegger in Batman & Robin, but somehow manages to still be amazingly fun and genuinely threatening.

But it was in episode twenty-one, “Grodd Lives”, when Flash faced off against a giant telepathic gorilla villain that I realized that the true genius of this show is that it is blatantly unashamed of being based on a comic book.

This works so much so that when the season finale, “Fast Enough”, rolled around, there was nothing that could take me out of it. As I looked back on the whole season, I realized this was always true, and that the show’s roots in the comic book medium stretch beyond its use of time travel, super speed, or cold guns.

The influence of comic books can be seen when a 1930s comic book Flash helmet pops out of a wormhole in time and space. It can also be seen when Harrison Wells reveals he’s from one hundred and thirty years in the future and that his real name is Eobard Thawne, dawning a yellow flash costume with glowing red eyes. What? Harrison Wells is playing the Reverse Flash?reverse flash

Yup.

He actually calls himself the Reverse Flash?

Yup.

And that’s barely a spoiler because we as the audience know this by episode nine—because when it comes to the Flash, nothing ever slows down. So when the Flash races into a black hole for the last shot of the season, it’s just as enjoyable as it was way back at the beginning of the year. This is a show that is based on a comic book, and loves itself for being based on a comic book, and that’s why I love it.

This show never slows down, and even though it never says the words, the Flash’s life really is locomotion. So you can’t help but mouth the words along with the characters on screen almost every week as the Flash shoots off in a blur of surprisingly good CGI yellow lightning:

“Run, Barry, Run!”

-Contributed by Ben Ghan

Remembering the Mighty Monty Oum: A Review of RWBY

RWBYSpec2
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

How to Make a Land: The Magic of Literature in Lev Grossman’s The Magician’s Land

Illustration by Ariana Youm
Illustration by Ariana Youm

 

This review contains spoilers.

With The Magician’s Land, Lev Grossman has completed one of the most sophisticated fantasy series of recent times. Written carefully and glowing with subtle beauty, The Magicians trilogy depicts the hopes and malaise of a self-conscious, self-critical, and sometimes self-destructive group of young adults trying to find their place in the world.

The trilogy is clearly inspired by Harry Potter and The Chronicles of Narnia, and echoes Brideshead Revisited and The Catcher in the Rye. Allusions to Shakespeare and Dungeons and Dragons permeate the novels indiscriminately, and Grossman has even made a helpful starting list of some of the allusions in the first book. In many ways, The Magicians trilogy is a love letter to literature—it is both a paean for fantasy and the wonders of reading as well as a dirge to the loss of childhood dreams and the escape of make-believe.

The first novel, The Magicians, opens with Quentin, a socially inhibited high school senior, being accepted into Brakebills College for Magical Pedagogy, a secret university dedicated to the study of magic. Though Quentin is initially thrilled at the prospect of studying magic, the allure soon wears off. Learning magic is a rigorous, arduous, and tedious task that resembles the real world university experience of stressful exams and trying to absorb swaths of information in short periods of time. (Though most of us don’t have to learn Arabic, Aramaic, Old High Dutch, and Old Church Slavonic in just a few weeks.)

Quentin has been obsessed with the Fillory and Further book series (a simulacrum of The Chronicles of Narnia) since his childhood, and when he and his friends discover that Fillory is real, they believe that lasting happiness is finally within their reach. But their expedition to Fillory is a disaster, filled with tragedy and loss. One of the key themes of the first novel is the constant, crushing, and bitter disillusionment and disappointment that one faces in the ‘real world’.

Many readers will find that the biggest obstacle to enjoying these novels is the characters, particularly Quentin. Readers will almost certainly (and rightly) cringe at Quentin’s rabid entitlement and his abysmal treatment of women for much of the first two novels.

But there is another factor at play here: Quentin has depression, and I cannot help but think that a large part of the negative reaction towards him is based not in aversion to his sexism and narcissism, but to a lack of understanding of and stigma surrounding mental illness.

Readers will often bemoan how despite being given the opportunity to learn magic, something most of us can only dream of, Quentin spends most of his time avoiding serious study of magic, and instead chases instant gratification.

This is arguably the most achingly and powerfully realistic aspect of the series. Quentin’s depression is not magically solved when he discovers magic; it doesn’t go away with the flick of a wand. He struggles with it, and it is often difficult, but it is a part of who he is. These novels candidly tackle what it means to live with mental illness, a subject that is often ignored in speculative fiction.

Returning to the subject of Quentin’s sexism, it is important to understand that this is not an accidental aspect of the narrative, but is part of Quentin’s larger trajectory of growth. The Magicians trilogy operates as an extended bildungsroman in which Quentin learns to take responsibility for himself and his actions.

One of the ways the trilogy reflects Quentin’s self-obsession giving way to maturity is that the narrative expands to encompass more point of view characters. In the first novel, Quentin’s perspective is inescapable. The second novel sees the inclusion of the point of view of Julia, a friend from Quentin’s high school who does not get accepted into Brakebills and instead becomes a self-taught magician. The third novel is populated with the perspectives of Alice, Janet, Elliot, and Plum.

This widening of vision also allows the reader to see not just how Quentin has matured, but also how his friends have come into their own as well. Eliot goes from being a self-hating gay man who drowns his internalized homophobia with alcohol to the High King of Fillory, a responsible and loyal sovereign dedicated to protecting the magical world. Janet, famed and feared for her acerbic tongue and caustic wit, becomes possibly the coolest character in the series from just one chapter that explores her single-handed annexation of a desert state. At the end of the first novel, Alice, a magician prodigy and Quentin’s girlfriend, transforms herself into a niffin, a demon made of blue fire, in order to save her friends from Martin Chatwin. Her sacrifice is heroic and tragic, and her subsequent disappearance affects Quentin deeply.

In the third novel, Quentin manages to undo the spell that had turned Alice into a niffin. Though Quentin believes he has saved Alice and finally done the right thing, Alice is livid. She had enjoyed being a niffin because for once in her life she did not have to be meek or kind, she did not have to coddle Quentin, and she did not have to sacrifice herself for those around her. Instead, she could be selfish and independent, and had the unquestionable sense that she was right about everything all the time.

In other words, she was acting like Quentin had throughout much of the books, and like many men in patriarchal culture.

It is only in the third book, when Quentin has matured, that he is able to have healthy relationships with women. He teams up with Plum, a talented magician and one of his former students, during a heist to steal the suitcase of Rupert Chatwin. Their relationship is based in mutual respect and trust. Plum is the first woman Quentin treats as his equal. Perhaps more importantly for Quentin’s social development, their relationship is completely platonic, and neither assumes or expects there to be a romantic or sexual dimension to their relationship.

The positive treatment and portrayal of Plum is especially welcome in comparison to the tragedy that plagues the other women characters in the series. Alice and Julia, the two most important women characters in the trilogy, are dehumanized. Alice becomes a demon made of pure magic; Julia becomes part god after being the victim of a brutal and sickening ceremony. Even Janet, though she retains her physical humanity, only reaches her full power after she has discarded her emotionality.

And this is why Quentin’s success in reversing Alice’s niffin state is so crucial to the narrative structure of the series. It symbolizes that Quentin has finally overcome his sexism, and that for the first time he is able to see Alice as fully human, as someone whose life does not revolve around him. It is only then that the possibility that they may have a successful, happy, and truly loving relationship opens up.

At the end of the third book, Quentin and Alice make a land—that is to say, they make a new world or dimension (hence the title of the third novel, The Magician’s Land). The spell they use to do so requires a plant that is the incarnation of the wonder children feel when they discover a new world in a book.

Quentin and Alice decide to remain in their new world and explore it together. Their adventure begins with the appearance of the Cozy Horse, a figure from Fillory, whom they decide to follow and see where it leads them.

The trilogy thus ends on a powerfully poignant metaphor, one that stands for both life in general and for the writing process. Just as Quentin realizes that he must move on from Fillory in order to have a good life, so too must we move on from our childhood and adolescent fixations. Eventually, we must create our own worlds and lives. This process begins as a seed—as a distant intimation of who we could one day become and what we might be capable of doing. If we’re lucky, through care and effort, this vision will bloom into reality.

The appearance of the Cozy Horse represents how our imaginations are captured by certain ideas or motifs, and how we then repeat them in our own creations, as Virgil did with Homer, as Michael Cunningham did with Virginia Woolf, and as Lev Grossman did with C. S. Lewis. We take the ideas of our predecessors that strike our souls, and use them as the foundation to build new artworks for a new age.

And so the cycle continues, for The Magicians trilogy will undoubtedly have planted a seed in the minds of many young writers, and they too will be writing back to it when they create their own land, fondly remembering the trilogy that took an uncompromising and honest view of the fantasy genre.

 -contributed by Alex De Pompa