Because fans should be critical, too

Archive for October, 2013

The End is Nigh…

A few weeks ago, the total views on this blog surpassed the 100,000 mark. By normal Internet standards, this probably means very little, but who cares what the overall Internet thinks? As far as I’m concerned, I never expected this little project would get even a hundred views.

I never got the chance to celebrate this personal best because my mind has been elsewhere. And I don’t just mean the usual suspects (i.e. school, the occasional spell of depression). Lately, I’ve been thinking heavily about my future. I am ready to start moving on to bigger and (hopefully) better things. And one side effect of that will be to put this blog to rest.

When you think about it, I’ve essentially accomplished my original mission: review every single episode of Avatar: the Last Airbender to clarify my stance on the series. Certainly a more than a few reviews could use some rewriting—in fact, they’ll all be revised and edited for the sake of professionalism—but really, this blog could have finished after I wrote about the season finale.

The only thing that kept me writing on this blog was Book One of The Legend of Korra. That season was honestly a godsend: there were so many levels of wrong and insanity within it that I’m still finding new angles from which to criticize it (if the Korranalysis is anything to go by).

But here’s the rub: I also also went out of my way to buy both the DVD and the “Art of” book. Why would I want to own something I apparently hate so much? What’s going on here?

After seeing the Book Two premiere, I know the answer. It parallels something Roger Ebert said in his review of Stealing Harvard, in which he actually had something more positive to say about the infamous Freddy Got Fingered:

Seeing Tom Green reminded me, as how could it not, of his movie “Freddy Got Fingered” (2001), which was so poorly received by the film critics that it received only one lonely, apologetic positive review on the Tomatometer. I gave it–let’s see–zero stars. Bad movie, especially the scene where Green was whirling the newborn infant around his head by its umbilical cord.

But the thing is, I remember “Freddy Got Fingered” more than a year later. I refer to it sometimes. It is a milestone. And for all its sins, it was at least an ambitious movie, a go-for-broke attempt to accomplish something. It failed, but it has not left me convinced that Tom Green doesn’t have good work in him. Anyone with his nerve and total lack of taste is sooner or later going to make a movie worth seeing. “Stealing Harvard,” on the other hand, is a singularly unambitious product, content to paddle lazily in the shallows of sitcom formula. It has no edge, no hunger to be better than it is. It ambles pleasantly through its inanity, like a guest happy to be at a boring party. When you think of some of the weird stuff Jason Lee and Tom Green have been in over the years, you wonder what they did to amuse themselves during the filming.

Substitute Book One of Korra for Freddy Got Fingered, and Book Two for Stealing Harvard, and this is virtually how I feel. Book One, despite it’s many, many, many story problems, was an extremely well-made show with a singular vision. How many television animations can you say that about? Creators Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko are two very talented individuals who had a few too many bad ideas, and followed them through with supreme confidence. This confidence runs through every aspect of the show, making the good stuff fantastic, and the bad stuff excruciating. This duality of quality is where the criticism of Book One truly stems from. The criticisms wouldn’t have been nearly as sharp and aggressive had it been a run-of-the-mill cartoon.

And that’s what Book Two feels like: run-of-the-mill. It’s bad enough that the writing has not improved: not only did I not care about what was going on in the episodes, I could barely even follow the plot. So much of what we’re supposed to know and feel is communicated through dialogue, and not particularly pleasant dialogue either. Returning characters are shallow versions of their former selves, which means new characters are barely given a fighting chance to establish a single interesting dimension. (There are exceptions: Varrick and Eska are largely saved by their respective voice actors, John Michael Higgins and Aubrey Plaza, both of whom are brilliant comic actors.) Whatever worth while ideas are in this new chapter (like the notion that Aang’s favoritism towards Tenzin left his other two non-Airbending children very resentful) lose their potency when explored with such vague yet heavy-handed writing.

On top of all that, the animation is horrendous. The things that made Book One so visually exciting (the CGI, the three-dimesional “camera,” the attempt at actual animation acting) have disappeared with Studio Mir and former directors Joaquim Dos Santos and Ki-Hyun Ryu. What we have provided by Japan-based Studio Pierrot is basic anime quality. Even the animation in Avatar, limited as it was, had more vitality and expression than this (not to mention the narrative coherence to help the show rise above its technical limitations).

And that honestly sums up anything and everything I could say about Book Two. It doesn’t even feel like a series anymore. I feel like I’m watching someone drag a corpse on stage, but no matter how well they make it move, I’ll never be convinced that it’s alive (especially when it’s decomposing before my very eyes).

I’m done with this series, and I’m not going to pretend otherwise and write an entry week after week about how much I dislike it. At this point, obligation is driving these such entries rather than passion. And that’s just no fun. (Besides, isn’t it a little unhealthy to be so focused on a single show and/or work? It’s not like I’m trying to write the Avatar equivalent of Revolution in the Head.)

So exactly should I go from here?

Well, for starters, I would like to finally set up a blog devoted entirely to the art form of animation, especially since I’m currently attempting to hone whatever skills I have as an animator. The same principle would hold if I started that music album blog. (I might even base them on tumblr.)

But here’s the real deal: because of the general reception of the Korranalysis—I mean, it got me on a podcast—I’ve seriously been grappling with the decision to make more videos on other animation series and/or films. The video format certainly doesn’t allow as much nuance and intimacy as the essay format, but it has it’s own pleasures and advantages. Plus, it can get out to much more people.

But all these potential endeavors would basically mean the end of the Avatar blog. I’m perfectly OK with that. There is nothing new I write that I haven’t read before. Then again, I’ll always need to come back and revise something.

So consider this a pre-goodbye of sorts. I’ll make my final decision very soon.

P.S. The Korranalysis will be completed, so don’t worry about that!