Because fans should be critical, too

Archive for December, 2013

Quick Thoughts on “Beginnings”

Seeing as these are the episodes everyone was so happy with, I feel rather obligated to share my thoughts on them right away.

  • My enjoyment of “Beginnings” was largely hindered by a single gut reaction I had throughout: I don’t like Wan.
  • However, I feel that it’s not entirely his fault. You see, these episodes are indeed the most interesting (and at times involving!) in the season thus far, but it’s in spite of the writing, which is just as rushed and plot heavy as it’s been the entire season. So while the events that occur are conceptually intriguing, they’re emotionally void because, as always, there’s no time to actually get to truly know the characters involved.
  • So the episodes want me to believe that Wan is a rebellious, mischievous, but genuinely “selfless” man. I say “selfless” because it was only possible to arrive to that conclusion based on what we’re told about his character. He certainly seems like a good guy, but the way the other characters talk about him,  I was apparently supposed to recognize him as this perfectly altruistic being. The script, however, makes that difficult because when he’s not talking about how he’s “different from other humans,” his actions say something completely different.
  • Here’s a perfect example: at one point, he finds a cougar-antelope (or whatever it is) caught in a net trap, and seems highly intent on eating it. He has a change of heart because…I honestly don’t know why he suddenly feels obligated to free this creature. Perhaps he realized he just didn’t have it in him to take a life, even for his own survival. Or maybe he felt dishonorable taking a prize he didn’t actually work for. Or maybe he simply wanted to get back at those hunters from earlier. That last one is admittedly a long shot because: 1) Wan felt sorry for the creature long before the hunters arrived, and 2) it’s not as if these hunters wronged him in the first place. They let him join their hunt on a faithful whim, and only ostracized him when he feigned being a coward. And why did he feign cowardice? To keep the Firebending given to him by the Lion Turtle and not have to return it.
  • This is my key problem with Wan. He comes across as an opportunistic asshole rather than the Good Samaritan the other characters and the writers want him to seem like. That opportunism even extends to those “charitable actions” of his. Isn’t a little odd that his displays of goodness are never without an audience? When he gives up his only piece of bread to a group of hungry animals–a moment so borderline cliche that it’s actually funny–it’s in front of his friends. When he frees the cougar-antelope(?), it’s specifically for the hunters to witness. And that fight with the hunters is seen by Wan’s new spirit friend, a tall lemur-esque figure that might have been voiced by Daxter if Daxter wasn’t busy being in a Coen Brothers film this year. Whether intentional or not, Wan seems to be in it for the attention and good reputation (“Look, I’m helping! Ain’t I so good?”) rather than because he’s a genuinely selfless person.
  • But perhaps that was the point? If so, then it all comes to a head when he separates the light and dark spirits in a naive attempt to resolve their conflict. Instead, he very nearly assures that the dark spirit–now growing in the absence of light–destroys the material world. Perhaps this was meant to be his true moment of growth, as he realizes that being a mediator of peace is more than image and requires actual thought and effort as opposed to simple tricks and nonsense. That would certainly make his final moments–in which he sadly admits his failure to bring about peace between humans and spirits–that much more poignant.
  • If my speculation is true, then what should be a compelling character is compromised by the writing’s refusal to commit to such a flawed humanity. It’s not as if the first Avatar had to be a good person. Wan’s resolve to stop the dark spirit from destroying the material world could have been initially motivated by personal reconciliation before peace for all. After all, the light spirit who becomes his ally mentions that (and I’m paraphrasing), “Humans only think of themselves.” Indeed we do, which makes our instances of selflessness that much more significant. By seemingly eliminating that human feature from Wan, his tale seizes to have any real dramatic interest. The reason he’s “different from other humans” is because he’s barely human at all.
  • Again, this was main obstacle to my enjoyment of the episodes–besides the typically graceless writing–and I have to admit, I was pleasantly surprised by everything else. First of all, the great animation of Book One was not only back, but put at the service of an interesting art style! The artistic choices used for Wan’s story may be my favorite in the series, even more so than the successful applications of CGI in the past.
  • That and the broadening exploration of the Avatar universe and mythology ultimately makes these two episodes the best and most remarkable in the season. I honestly didn’t think I’d care where the Avatar came from or why it mattered, but I was glad to be proven wrong. It truly adds a new perspective to Korra’s and Aang’s struggles with their inherited duty to the world.

Gosh, I sure wish I could’ve been more positive about these episodes (especially on Christmas Day), but I can only be honest about these things. But as not to end on so down a note, here’s a bit of trivia: P.J. Byrne, the voice of Bolin, has a bit part in Martin Scorsese’s new film The Wolf of Wall Street, which just came out  today, and is, by most accounts, another Scorsese masterpiece. After suffering through Book Two’s largely unfunny shtick, it’s nice to know that Byrne’s natural comedic gifts are being well-utilized, if only for a minute in a three-hour running time.

Happy holidays, all of you!


What’s Going On (And What May Go On)

(Warning: This is a very rambling post.)

The last four months have been interesting to say the least. I don’t wish to go in detail to what happened so much as what I found along the way.

First things first: no, I haven’t watched the rest of Book Two of The Legend of Korra since I stopped watching after episode four. Now that I have at least three weeks of free time, you can bet that I’ll make time for those last episodes, and I want to thank all of you who encouraged me to give Korra another chance and even sent links to the episodes. Unfortunately, I know how it all ends–Korra loses contact with all her past lives–but I’m still going to finish viewing it all myself.

Now I must address the Korranalysis: I still wish to get it finished, but Book Two’s lackluster start was a severe blow to my motivation. I’ve alluded to this in my last post, that the problem was that Book Two’s mediocrity made me re-evaluate my harsh thoughts on Book One, and, if anything, made Book One look that much better. Had I simply skipped Book Two altogether–as was the initial plan–the Korranalysis would have been finished by now. Of course, circumstances (read: a chance to be on a podcast) got in the way, and suddenly the drive was gone. My interest in Korra faded away, and I’ve since been absorbed in school, financial instability, and, most importantly, my own artistic endeavors, namely those involving animation and music. (At some point, I’ll be making a Youtube channel for both my animations and my music projects.)

This shift in focus has made me question my value as someone who can pass reliable critical judgment on something, as my thoughts on animation especially have become increasingly subjective and theoretical. It’s not as if I’ve been entirely objective during the entire run of this blog, but I always aimed to be as fair and as honest as possible, whether in regards to the show’s merits and values, or my feelings about them. The problem is that I feel as if I’m less qualified to make such judgments calls if I want to contribute my own bits to the art gallery. I’d still love to share my thoughts on other shows and such, but they’ll likely be shared under less rigid pretenses (that is, without a systematic rating system).

For example, I’ve recently purchased FLCL and the first season of Teen Titans, and would absolutely love to write something and/or make a video about them. It would be interesting to see how FLCL holds up a decade divorced of the circumstances in which I first saw it–that is, in my high school’s anime club between sprinkles of Yu-Gi-Oh! The Abridged Series and AMV Hell. And I consider Teen Titans a good show, but its visuals–especially that dated anime mimicry–can be a pain of the eyes. All in all, there’s enough going on between these two shows to warrant some sort of evaluation.

So what about Avatar and Korra? Well, there’s still work to be done there. I need to edit and/or rewrite all the Avatar reviews (and get the screenshots back), and  if I can finish the Korranalysis before March 1st (the day the first video was released), I’d be a very happy man. At the moment, though, I’ll refrain from any promises and just wait and see what happens next. This will definitely be a busy next few months.

Before I take off, as proof that I wasn’t entirely dead since my last post, here’s the first demo from my music project, Ricci Musique. Have a happy holidays, you faithful readers!