Author Archives: swanpride

My favourite Songs from Carole & Tuesday

Tomorrow is a special day in Germany. The first of Mai is usually a date for all kind of regional celebration. In any other year I might look for a nice party in order to “dance into the Mai”, preferable one which allows actual ballroom dancing.

But this won’t happen this year, so I decided the best way to celebrate the date is by acknowledging and discussing some music I really enjoy. Maybe you remember that I listed Carole & Tuesday in my last article about Animes worth watching? And that I mentioned how wholesome the whole story is? Well I have listened to the songs from the show a lot lately. And then I happened to stumble over this:

It kind of made me tear up. Hence I decided to use this day to share with you which my favourite songs of the show are, in no particular order. Other than “Mother”, naturally. I think it is kind of a given that the song the whole show is build around had the intended impact. But there are a number of songs in the show which I like just as much if not even more.

I think I will start with the songs not sung by Carole & Tuesday which particularly stuck with me. I can’t say that I disliked any of the musicians in the show. I had just as much fun with the dance music by Piotr, as with the Techno tunes of Ertegun, and I melted over Desmond’s soulful harmonies. I even enjoyed all the rap which turned up in the show, despite this not exactly being my genre. But strangely it was especially “Milky Way/Gravity Bounce” which spoke to me. Yes, those are technically two songs, but they are (intentionally) so similar, you could easily put them into one mix. Usually I am not into this kind of overly electronic music either, but there is something compelling about the songs and the way they are staged.

The same is true for Cybelle’s “La Ballade”. Everything about the performance is memorable, way more memorable than what most of the other musicians in the anime are doing. Maybe it also helps that I understand just enough French to get the gist of the song. I always had a thing for French Ballades, and this song summons up everything I love about them.

“Give you the world” might be sung by Carole & Tuesday at one point, but the song itself is originally by Flora. And her voice adds the necessary “soul” to it. There is so much longing in the text and the tune itself. The way the melody rises just to get pulled back just before reaching the expected high feels like someone trying to reach for something – or someone – but never quite getting there. In this song theme, text and tune are in complete harmony with each other, painting a flawless picture.

I naturally have my favourite under the various songs by Angela, too. The one which worked for me the best is “Light a Fire”, mostly because I enjoy the lyrics the most. All of Angela’s song are along the line of her wanting something, with a recurring theme of her breaking her chains and claiming a new life. But of all the various words she uses to describe this feeling, I like the notion of lighting a fire in the dark the best.

The Songs by Carole & Tuesday on the other hand tend to be about friendship, about the strength they find in each other. This has been established since “The Loneliest Girl”, the song which marks the first meeting and their first big success towards the end of the first season. It is an amazing song which captures the need of having someone in your life who can understand you perfectly.

Though if I had to pick a favourite from season one, my choice would be “Someday I’ll find my way home”. Partly this might because of the way the song is integrated in the story. There just is something touching about this first concert with a few lucky people experiencing it, and the message Tuesday sends to her brother without realising it. But the song itself also carries a promise not necessarily to come full circle, but to eventually find the fitting place in the world.

“Message in the Wind” from season 2 is a similar quiet but hopeful song. Every time I hear it, I picture a piece of parchment flying through the clouds, like the feather at the beginning of Forrest Gump, containing the secret hopes of the whole world. Yeah, I know, very cheesy, but that’s the association I have.

Another song which might partly work due to the way it was used in the show is “Army of Two”. The impromptu concert in what is basically a slum, with all the people gathering around, just enjoying the uplifting tunes of the song, combined with the colourful animation is one of the more memorable moments in the show. But I also enjoy the song in itself, how it expresses what I would call in German “Aufbruchstimmung”, the pure joy of entering a new phase in your life, of being about to experiencing an exciting adventure.

A particularly uplifting song is “Lay it all on me”. Granted, the reason why I like it so much might be related to the use of the church organ, one of my favourite instruments. Nothing gives you the feeling to rise up as much as a proper organ. This song is meant to be like a prayer and this is exactly the feeling it creates. But is the kind of prayer which allows your soul to fly high.

But the song I listened the most to recently is “After the Fire”. It was already a hot contender for my favourite before the whole crisis hit, but now it fills me with hope like nothing else does. The way it is telling me that there is an aftermath, that one day we will regrow what is lost, maybe even something built something better. I know this sounds a little bit overdramatic, especially coming from someone who is living in what is currently one of the safest countries possible. But to me it feels like the world is currently in a very precious balance, and I just need someone telling me that it will be all okay in the end. And maybe you need this, too. Hence I will leave you with the song. I hope you enjoy it just as much as I do.

Have a wonderful start into May, and stay safe.


Mulan: Taking a Different Approach

High time to acknowledge the original purpose of this blog and do some lyric analysis, by jumping on a topic, which should have been popular around this time, but isn’t because of Corona. But honestly, Mulan was pretty much on the top of my list for some lyrics discussion anyway, because between all the Disney Princess movies, its soundtrack might be the most unique. So, popular or not, you get my analysis.

I laid out in the past the formula which nearly all Disney musicals follow, with the typical song structure. Mulan, while looking on the surface like a typical Disney Princess movie, doesn’t follow this arrangement at all. There is no villain song, no love song, no side-kick song, even what could pass as an “I want” song isn’t really one upon closer look.

It is also notable that in Mulan, the score and the songs are not by the same artist. There have been cases where Disney changed composer during production and ended up keeping a song or two from the first one – see Jungle Book – but that one does the score and the other the songs isn’t really common. As a result, the soundtrack feels very different from Menken’s work, who reused the melody of his songs for the score. Usually the majority of a Disney score are reworked pieces from the songs plus a few purely instrumental pieces. In the case of Mulan, the score is nearly completely original, with just a hint towards the songs then and there. As a result, score and songs feel more disconnected to each other, but this might actually work to the advantage of the story, since it provides a clearer cut between the more serious and the more light-hearted moments of the movie. Not that the songs don’t have any serious themes to it. Far from it. But let’s dive into them a little bit, starting with “Honor to us all”:

Bather:
This is what you give me to work with?
Well, honey, I’ve seen worse
We’re gonna turn this sow’s ear
Into a silk purse

Well, we are off to a great start. Mulan has just arrived for her preparations, and not only is she peppered with insults, her mother is standing right beside her and doesn’t defend her at all, even though that Bather just called her daughter useless. The very point of the saying referenced here is that you can’t make a sow’s ear into a silk purse. The Bather is basically tooting her own abilities to do the impossible, implying that Mulan is an otherwise hopeless case. The insults are delivered with good cheer and might even be meant as encouragement, but they are still insults.
Btw, I will mostly skip the talking parts in the song and focus on the lyrics alone.

Bather:
We’ll have you washed and dried
Primped and polished till you glow with pride
Trust my recipe for instant bride
You’ll bring honor to us all

It can’t be overstate how much Mulan is treated like a thing instead of a person during the whole song, and the choice of words is underlining it.  “Primping and polishing” aren’t words one would usually use in context of a human. It is also no accident that the last word before “You’ll bring honor to us all” is “bride”. Honor is a central concept in the movie, it is basically the standard Mulan has to measure up to in order to be “worth” something. And this song makes it really clear that there is one and one way only for Mulan to attain that honor, by being a bride.

Hairdressers:
Wait and see
When we’re through
Boys will gladly go to war for you
With good fortune
And a great hairdo
You’ll bring honor to us all

And here the gender roles are clearly defined: It is Mulan’s job to sit around in be pretty, hopefully scoring a good match, and the boys are the ones supposed to fight. Note that all those gender roles are reinforced by women. There are only two men in a somewhat prominent role in this song, and they aren’t really involved in what is happening around them. Their role is mostly to show Mulan briefly breaking out of the role assigned to her by getting involved in their game, demonstrating her intelligence.

Villagers:
A girl can bring her family
Great honor in one way
By striking a good match
And this could be the day

What has been suggested beforehand is now reinforced by the whole village: the only way to honor for Mulan ist “striking a good match”.

Dressmakers:
Men want girls with good taste
Calm

Fa Li:
Obedient

Dressmakers:
Who work fast-paced

Fa Li:
With good breeding

Dressmakers:
And a tiny waist
You’ll bring honor to us all

So, do men want some sort of robot? Sorry, I am slightly salty here, but the song really runs through some of the highlights on toxic femininity. Notable is also, that those women take great care to accentuate Mulan’s “tiny waist”, but the matchmaker will later note that someone who is “skinny” isn’t “good to bear sons”. What is set here for Mulan is an impossible standard.

Villagers:
We all must serve our emperor
Who guards us from the Huns
A man by bearing arms
A girl by bearing sons

And again we have the villagers reinforcing the gender rules, but this time, they go even a step further.  First of all: The notion here is that the gender roles aren’t just about personal happiness, oh no. If you don’t adhere to it, you put the whole empire in risk! But most telling in the whole song are the last two lines: Note first that they don’t speak about “boy and girl” or “man and woman”, it uses the adult description for a male, but the child description for a female, thus suggesting the hierarchy between them. The male is the adult, the one who leads, the female is the child who has to follow. On top of this the sole purpose of the “girl” is to create even more “sons”. Not even “children”, no, “sons”. Her only worth is seen in being produce more of the other gender, it is completely connected to the existence of men, with no worth unrelated to said men. Note also how cleverly the meaning of the word “bearing” is changed here just by setting it into a different context – and the context being mostly gender.

Makeup Artist and Fa Li (In a round):
When we’re through, you can’t fail
Like a lotus blossom soft and pale
How could any fellow say “No sale”
You’ll bring honor to us all

And again we have all women involved, including Mulan’s mother, talking about her like she is a thing, a thing which literally needs to get “sold” to someone else.

Fa Li: There-you’re ready.
Grandma Fa: Not yet.
An apple for serenity…
A pendant for balance…

Beads of jade for beauty
You must proudly show it
Now, add a cricket just for luck
And even you can’t blow it

I included the talking part here because it connects seamless to the singing part. You know, I actually like Grandma Fa quite a bit, but in this scene, she is the epitome of well-meant toxicity. It is nice that she tries to encourage Mulan and gives here lucky charms, but what she is actually doing is saying “you aren’t good enough”. It’s nice that she wants to support Mulan, but she is also suggesting to Mulan that she needs all the luck she can get. Side note: Ironically the cricket does bring Mulan luck, just not the way it intended. Because blowing the whole thing might have been the luckiest thing which happens to Mulan in the whole movie.

Mulan:
Ancestors
Hear my plea
Help me not to make a fool of me
And to not uproot my family tree
Keep my father standing tall

Other than a passing remark about the temperature of the water, this is the first time Mulan is even given a voice in the song. And this voice is more concerned about everyone else – mainly her family and her father – than about her own fate. The image of “uprooting” the family tree is especially powerful here. Someone once said that traditions is just peer pressure by dead people. Exactly this notion is put here in one powerful picture, in which Mulan is supposed to put the “honour” of people who aren’t even alive anymore above her own desires.

Mulan and Girls:
Scarier than the undertaker
We are meeting our matchmaker

Sure, because at least the undertaker won’t bury you alive. The song is literally saying that for those girls the notion of a bad match is worse than the notion of dying.

Villagers:
Destiny
Guard our girls
And our future as it fast unfurls
Please look kindly on these cultured pearls
Each a perfect porcelain doll

The villagers in this part are, btw, again mostly females. Who again sing about their own daughters in a way as if they are things. They aren’t just pearls, they are “cultured pearls”, meaning they have been carefully grown to be a certain way, to be like a doll.

Girls and Villagers:
Please bring honor to us
Please bring honor to us
Please bring honor to us
Please bring honor to us
Please bring honor to us all

And the song ends on reinforcing the whole “honor” idea again. Which is the main purpose of the song. It is all about establishing which kind of social pressure is on Mulan, which gender role she is supposed to fulfil. If this song were meant to be taken seriously, it would qualify as one of the most sexist song of all time, but the way it is staged managed to demonstrate that the ideals which are praised in it are not something one should encourage.

But, as I pointed out, Mulan doesn’t really have much of a voice in the song. In fact, while we already know a lot about Mulan at this point – that she is clumsy, caring, smart and has trouble to fulfil the role planned for her – at no point the movie has really delved into her feelings. That’s the role of the next song, “Reflection”.

 

Look at me
I will never pass for a perfect bride
Or a perfect daughter
Can it be
I’m not meant to play this part?
Now I see
That if I were truly to be myself
I would break my family’s heart

What could pass as a simple phrase at the beginning of the song, can also be read as a desperate plea for anyone to truly see Mulan as the person she is. A person, who is unable to perform the standard of the perfect bride or perfect daughter which was set for her. Who doubts if she can play this part, but who is also unable to “be herself” because she doesn’t want to hurt her family.

Who is that girl I see
Staring straight
Back at me?
Why is my reflection someone I don’t know?

I wrote earlier that Reflection isn’t really an “I want” song, and this is why. It has roughly the same function of one in that it allows the audience to delve into the mind of the protagonist in order to build an emotional connection, but usually an “I want” song is about some sort of dream a character has. Mulan doesn’t really have a dream at this point, she can’t have one, because she doesn’t really know herself. She does know that she doesn’t fit into the expectations put onto her, but she lost herself in those expectations.  The notion of staring into her face is also playing into the notion of bringing “honor” since only a honourable person is able to look someone else straight into the eyes, while an ashamed person will hide the face the same way Mulan does when she encounters her father earlier. It is never spelled out in the movie, but Mulan has “lost her face” and is now looking for a way out of her situation.

Somehow I cannot hide
Who I am
Though I’ve tried
When will my reflection show
Who I am inside?
When will my reflection show
Who I am inside?

What the song still does is to set some sort of goal for the character, the desire to discover herself and show her true self to the world. But it is less an “That’s what I want” claim and more a “I don’t really know what I want, but I really would like to discover it” song. It is also establishing a visual theme for the movie, since there are multiple scenes later on during which Mulan looks into her own reflection.

There is a longer version of the song which goes even a step further, in which Mulan declares her desire to be free from the expectations of her family and to be proud or herself, but I think the decision to go with the shorter version was the right one, especially considering what was planned animation wise for it. Leaving it as a somewhat short but through and through reflecting piece creates a great contrast with the other songs, who are all to a degree used to bridge time. The time Mulan needs to become a “proper women”, the time she needs to become a soldier, the time she needs to reach her first battle field. “Reflection” does the opposite, it holds the time, allows Mulan a moment to, well reflect, before events push her on another path.

There is a second moment of “reflection” later on, shortly before Mulan decides to take action and turn herself into a soldier. This moment is perfectly underlined with a memorable score.  Usually I don’t specifically talk about scores, but this particularly piece is truly a stand-out one. And it marks the moment when Mulan moves from her reflective phase towards action.

And her action is, after failing to act as a women, to act like a man. Which eventually leads to this glorious song:

 

Shang: Let’s get down to business to defeat the Huns
Did they send me daughters when I asked for sons?
You’re the saddest bunch
I ever met
But you can bet before we’re through
Mister, I’ll make a man out of you

Honestly, you could call this “Toxic masculinity: The Song”. If it were sung in a serious manner it would be yet another candidate for the most insulting song of all. This mostly works because yes, Mulan is indeed a daughter and not a son. But at this point, she isn’t really that much less experienced as a soldier than anyone else in the line-up. So ironically, when Shang basically screams into her face that he would make a man out of her, he is both completely wrong and completely right. Wrong in that Mulan will never be a man, but right in that Mulan has the ability to take over the role of a man with the right training – just like all women do.

Tranquil as a forest
But on fire within
Once you find your center
You are sure to win
You’re a spineless, pale pathetic lot
And you haven’t got a clue
Somehow I’ll make a man out of you

Ironically the virtues which are held up here aren’t that different from the ones Mulan was supposed to reach as women: Be quiet, be graceful, act swift. But now it is no longer about serving tea, it is about fighting. And the implication is that if you don’t have those abilities, you are less than a man.

Chien Po: I’m never gonna catch my breath
Yao: Say goodbye to those who knew me
Ling: Boy, was I fool in school for cutting gym
Mushu: [spoken] This guy’s got ’em scared to death
Mulan: Hope he doesn’t see right through me
Chien Po: Now I really wish that I knew how to swim

This sequence is mostly a fast rundown of abilities Mulan is supposed to learn. It is notable, though, that while she sometimes fails because or her inexperience and lack of previous training, a lot of her mistakes are simply the result of sabotage. And that other solidier initially fail in certain tasks, too. Mulan just has more to catch up on.

Chorus: (Be a man)
Shang: We must be swift as the coursing river
Chorus: (Be a man)
Shang: With all the force of a great typhoon
Chorus: (Be a man)
Shang: With all the strength of a raging fire
Mysterious as the dark side of the moon

And here we see how the “manly” virtues differ from the ones for women after all. Women were compared with “dolls”, with passive things, but men, they are supposed to be a force of nature.

Time is racing toward us
Till the Huns arrive
Heed my every order
And you might survive

I think it is worth to pay attention what is actually said here: the soldiers Shang is training “might” survive if they obey him. As much as the song is espousing the virtues of “being a man”, it stops short of glorifying war.

You’re unsuited for the rage of war
So pack up, go home
You’re through
How could I make a man out of you?

And this is the big turning point of the movie. Mulan has tried to act like the stereotypical woman and failed. She tried to act like the stereotypical man and failed. But she is not ready to give up, just yet.

Chorus: (Be a man)
Shang: We must be swift as the coursing river
Chorus: (Be a man)
Shang: With all the force of a great typhoon
Chorus: (Be a man)
Shang and Chorus: With all the strength of a raging fire
Mysterious as the dark side of the moon

Note how the same words which previously were sung during Mulan’s failures are now sung during her big success. Ironically, though, she doesn’t use any of the assets listed. What she is using to reach the arrow in order to proof herself is her mind. By literally connecting strength and discipline, she turns a disadvantage into an advantage.

Chorus: (Be a man)
Shang: We must be swift as the coursing river
Chorus: (Be a man)
Shang: With all the force of a great typhoon
Chorus: (Be a man)
Shang and Chorus: With all the strength of a raging fire
Mysterious as the dark side of the moon

But she also manages to acquire the skills she is supposed to have. She only needed a little bit more time to develop them. By the end of the song, she can easily keep up with the other soldiers, but Mulan has very much come into her own.

“Make a man out of you” has a second purpose, though, it is a typical training montage song (arguably the training song, second only to the Rocky theme), designed to summon up a longer time span as effectively as possible. The last song has a similar purpose, this time to make the march to the battlefield more entertaining to the audience.

Army: For a long time, we’ve been marching off to battle
Yao: In our thund’ring herd,
We feel a lot like cattle
Army: Like the pounding beat,
Our aching feet aren’t easy to ignore
Ling: Hey, think of instead
A girl worth fighting for

Mulan: Huh?
Ling: That’s what I said: a girl worth fighting for

 

It is again noticeable how the songs undercut any notion that war is heroic. The soldiers don’t just “feel like cattle”, in a way they are cattle, raised so that they can be send out fight. But above all the purpose of this song is to contrast with “Honor to us all”, where we learned the kind of expectations put on women by other women (and society in general). Now we learn what kind of expectations males actually have.

 

I want her paler than the moon
With eyes that shine like stars
Yao: My girl will marvel at my strength, adore my battle scars
Chien Po: I couldn’t care less what she’ll wear or what she looks like
It all depends on what she cooks like
Beef, pork, chicken…
Mmm…

So, to summon this up, Ling wants beauty, Yao wants adoration, Chien Po wants a cook. Which in itself isn’t a problem, except that this is all they want. They are reducing another person to one singular trait and fantasising about a relationship, in which their desires are the only thing which counts.

Yao: Bet the local girls thought you were quite the charmer
Ling: And I’ll bet the ladies love a man in armor
Army: You can guess what we have missed the most since we went off to war
Ling: What do we want?
Army: A girl worth fighting for

This is basically a nicer version of locker room talk. The “girl worth fighting for” is above all some sort of trophy, something to brag over. It is also notable that while in “Honor to us all” the woman is peppered with a long list of what she should be like, the rules for the man are way more lack. Being impressive due to an uniform or being a charmer is listed, but more in a “well, that should impress them” way, not as some sort of  standard which has to be fulfilled.

Yao: My girl will think I have no faults
Chien Po: That I’m a major find
Mulan: Uh… How ’bout a girl who’s got a brain
Who always speaks her mind?
Yao, Ling, and Chien Po: Nah!
Ling: My manly ways and turn of phrase are sure to thrill her
Yao: He thinks he’s such a lady killer

This might be the part of the song which is the most clear about Yao, Chien Po and Ling not really wanting a partner, and not just because they dismiss Mulan’s idea of a girl who is smart and honest about her thoughts. They want someone who adores them unquestionable, who would never criticise them.

Chi-Fu: I have a girl back home who’s unlike any other
Yao: Yeah, the only girl who’d love him is his mother
Army: But when we come home in victory they’ll line up at the door
Ling: What do we want?
Army: A girl worth fighting for

Ling: Wish that I had
All: A girl worth fighting for
A girl worth fighting-

 

At this point the music suddenly stops. There are no other songs from this point onward save for a very brief reprise of “Be A Man”, sung from the off as commentary when the soldiers dress up as women, and the end-credit song “True to your heart”. Which I won’t discuss here, mostly because I don’t see the point. It is just another pop song Disney threw in to sell a single and frankly, it might be the worst one of them. Not because the song itself is that bad, I certainly wouldn’t mind it if it were playing just during the end credits. But it doesn’t. It barges into the last scene, ruining what is otherwise a perfectly thoughtful wrap up.

This is my only gripe regarding the soundtrack of Mulan, though. I appreciate how the various songs thematically tie together. I think that just cutting the music off once the soldiers reach the battle field is a smart choice which underlines the seriousness of the situation. And I really love “Reflection” for its thoughtful summary of familiar feelings and “Be a Man” just for being such a bad-ass song.

In the usual Disney Musical structure which Menken codified for Disney, the songs tend to be character-driven. But in Mulan, they are theme driven, shining a light on gender roles which still impact our society. Hence they have a special place in my heart.

So, I hope you enjoyed this. I am not sure what if anything I will be doing next, because ironically I am currently more busy than ever. But I will still continue working on my blogs as much as possible. Stay save, you all.

 

 


Top Eight Animes to watch again and again and again

This is an article I was working on for some time. I didn’t intend to release it before encountering at least ten candidates for the list but, well, I think a lot of us are currently stuck at home and maybe searching for some distraction. Hence I have decided to wrap this already overlong article up and post it now. I hope you enjoy.

I admit, as much as I like animation, anime is not really my forte. Partly this is simply due to time constrains. Even with Western Animation I usually have to draw the line at trying to see every theatrically released movie which exist, it would be impossible to add all the TV-shows too. Plus, anime is such a broad field, one has to be very dedicated to even just watch everything which belong to one single genre.

But it is also a matter of preference. There are certain anime tropes and genres (like mecha) I am not really into. A lot of those anime which regularly make it on the top of the list of the best anime of all time, I didn’t really care for, or I watched them exactly once and then never again, not because I disliked them, but because I never had the drive to do the journey through the narrative a second time.

And yet, once in a while I stumble over an anime which just clicks, for one reason or another. So I thought it might be a good idea to share some of those shows I appreciate the most. To be clear here: I am not claiming that those are the best anime out there, nor are they the most influential. They are just the ones I happened to stumble over at one point and personally ended up liking the most.

But first, here the rules for this list:

  1. Only genuine anime qualifies, TV shows which were created in anime-style by Western Studios don’t. So, sorry Castlevania, you are great, but not for this list.
  2. I excluded any TV show, which is based on a western book. Don’t get me wrong, you can watch the Japanese version of Treasure Island, Heidi or Litte Women and have a really good time with it, but what I was looking for were shows which are part of the whole manga/anime circle. Because they provide something “new” so to speak.
  3. It had to be a show which was good enough that I ended up watching it at least three times, without the desire to skip multiple episodes. That stipulation certainly lead to a LOT of shows falling off the list by default, but I feel a truly good story should stay interesting even if you already know how it will end. This had the side effect, though, that none of the “high-concept” anime made it. They are just not something I would rewatch.

Also, I simply listed the ones which made the cut in alphabetical order. I didn’t want to rank them because, well, somehow I ended up picking anime which belong into completely different genres. They aren’t really comparable on any level. What I did do, though, is a lot of comparing to other anime from the various genres which didn’t make the list. To all the fans of those anime: Don’t be offended, if I mention an anime it means that watched a decent chunk of it at one point, it just wasn’t good enough (or too depressing) to warrant a rewatch on my part. For other people those animes might play more into their preferences than they did for me.


Akatsuki no Yona – Yona of the Dawn

No anime had such a hard path to get on this list than this one. The first hurdle was to get me to watch it at all. I am honest, this one didn’t look appealing to me. It kind of looked like Robin Hood but with a princess and mythological dragons. Which it is, but it is a great take on the concept. The second hurdle were the first episodes, which didn’t really convince me. The third hurdle was the fact that this anime stopped after one season pretty much at the point at which the manga started to get really interesting. Watching it is a little bit like just being allowed to eat the appetizer of an high end menu.

But in a way, this is even more of a reason to give it more exposure. I really want to get more of this story in animated form (and yes, I read the manga, so I know exactly what we are missing out on if there is never another season).

I have a hard time to figure out what works so well about this story. After all, I am kind of tired of chosen one stories and I really, really have started to question stories which push the notion of “good nobility”, or watching noble families fighting each other with zero regard for the people involved in their wars. But then I guess this is part of what works about this story, a lot of it is about how the decisions of those in power affect the normal people, and what can be done about it. It is also unusual in that most characters aren’t completely evil, their motivations tend to be understandable.

But I guess what I like the most about the story is that it is less predictable, than I thought. I thought that in a story about an usurper killing the king, said usurper would be the villain, but that is not the case. I thought that romance would play a big role in a story like this, but it is more a side plot. I thought that the focus would be on getting the princess back on the throne, but instead the focus is on the fate of the country. I thought that the dragon warriors would be uber-powerful and while they kind of are, they are also blessed with sucks. I thought that the focus would be on hiding and fighting, but it is more on good vs bad governance. I thought that the story would fast become boring and repetitive, but if anything, the more details are added to the world, the more interesting it gets. I thought that it would be a very simple story, but there is actually a lot of strategy in it.

I am a sucker for anime which involve battle plans and political strategizing, I just rarely bother to watch them multiple times. Partly because they get less interesting once one knows how the strategizing ends, partly because they tend to be on the depressing side. There is nothing depressive about Akatsuki no Yona though. And I can’t express enough how much I hope that there will one day be a second season. And a third. And a fourth.


Assassination Classroom

If there is something I appreciate about anime, then the ability to take completely off the wall ideas and make them work somehow. Assassination Classroom is one of those off-the-wall ideas. Honestly, what the hell did the writers smoke when they came up with a setting in which pupils are supposed to kill their alien-like teacher? The whole thing is so strange that it is easy to overlook what the show actually is about: The development of the pupils, and how their teacher influence them.

I might be wrong here, I am not Japanese after all, but I get the impression that the show is also meant to be a criticism of the Japanese school system, which very focussed on competition. Though it is not the competition aspect itself the show criticises. It is mostly emphasising the need for teachers who recognize the individual strength of their pupils and helping them to reach their full potential, not through pressure, but through encouragement.

Which is exactly what I like so much about the show. One would think that the crazy assassination attempts would be the most interesting part, but what got me hooked were more the school events, the lessons which are taught and the personal arcs of the various students. If there is something which bothers me about the show is that it gets distracted from exploring the various pupils on a deeper level a little bit too often. Also, the whole reveal of what is really going on with the “alien teacher” wasn’t really my cup of tea. The show requires a lot of suspension of disbelief as it is, but it still stretches it a little bit too far in the end for my taste. Also, the notion of killing is treated a little bit too causally at times. Other than that, it’s an enjoyable watch from start to finish.


Carole & Tuesday

I love music anime. Weather it is classical or contemporary music, I don’t care, there is just something really great about watching a combination of music and anime. But for me, Carole & Tuesday stands out between all of them.

See, most music related anime aren’t really about the music at all, instead the music tends to be the backdrop for a romance, or a tortured genius story, or about the struggle of live. Carole & Tuesday tells the story of two talented musicians, but they are not portrayed as overly special, all the other musicians who turn up are just as talented in their own right. There are some hints of romance, but they are never on the forefront of the story, they are more happening in the background as part of life. And while the dark sides of the music business are thematised, it never goes grim and gritty over it. And frankly, I don’t think that the various plot points really matter all that much, what matters are the songs. What they mean to the various artists, how they impact the listeners and how they influence each other.

The quality of the songs is also top notch, and they cover a wide variety in genres. Unlike all the other shows I picked for the list, this one started as an anime and only now gets a manga adaptation. It makes completely sense why. The songs are basically 80% of what makes it work. There is so much told not just through what is sung, but also how it is sung. There are more songs in three episodes of Carole & Tuesday than there are in the entire run of other music based anime, songs, which cover a lot of different genres and show the beauty in all of them. I am actually tempted to do a favourites list with them.

In addition, this whole show is just so unbelievable wholesome. Maybe a little bit too wholesome, because while it hints at some of the darker aspects of the music business as well as the downsides of technological progress, the edges are always softened. Or, to put it differently: There is no way that anyone could star in a talent show without having to sign some iron clad contract beforehand, or that said talent show wouldn’t mercilessly exploit tragic pasts and sensational stories, or that a reporter wouldn’t publicise and sensationalise any information he would be able to get about a politician. But in a way, I don’t really mind the wholesomeness. Maybe it’s because I watched an anime, which had apparently decided to depress the audience as much as possible, before giving Carole & Tuesday a try, but having a show which actually believes in humanity was a nice change. And a message I simply needed that very moment.

The anime isn’t perfect by a long shot, as much as it shines in terms of music and animation, as much as I like the different angle it takes on a story like this, there is no denying that it is sometimes on the shallow side, narratively speaking. Plot points are set up and then smoothed over way too easily, and when the finale curtain falls, there are still a number of question unanswered. Most likely intentionally so. Because I have the feeling, that is isn’t really about the various subplots at all. At the end of the day, Carole & Tuesday is just about celebrating music and the power it has. All kind of music, weather it is created by two young talented musicians who speak from their heart, or by an AI. Music which speaks to people, which gives them hope when they are down, which is sometimes an outcry and sometimes a question to the world. And which can give us hope in the darkest of times.


Detective Conan/Case Closed

Easily the longest running anime of this list, and one of the longest running anime in general. I am not kidding here, the anime is currently moving towards the thousand episodes mark, which it should reach at one point next year. I am talking proper 24 minute long episodes with an ongoing story, not five minute shorts or an anthology series. The franchise also includes OVAs, specials, games and yearly movie releases. In short, the anime is crazy successful and yet, it rarely turns up on any “best anime” list, unless it is one specifically about the mystery genre. In this area it is often considered the unrivalled king, though.

I have a complicated relationship with mystery. While I enjoy a good riddle very much, most mystery stories don’t really capture my interest. This is partly, because I usually peg who the Täter is early on, even if I haven’t figured out the details of the case. Hell, I often know who will be murdered by whom before the murder actually happens, too. There is just something about the way those kind of stories are set up which make them extremely predictable, especially when they are done in the whodunit-format. I also have a deep dislike for getting strung along for some overreaching mystery for multiple seasons, mostly because I often get the impression that the writers themselves have no idea what they are actually setting up with all the clues they insert. It’s not fun to work on a riddle if the solution can change arbitrarily.

Detective Conan not only has a case of the week structure, it also has an overreaching plot which has strung the audience along for nearly three decades by now. It is basically everything I hate about mystery show in one neat package amped up to eleven, and yet I can’t stop watching and yes, I also re-watched older episodes, as crazy as this sounds. So, why does this show work for me even though by all rights it shouldn’t?

The overreaching mystery plot most works, I think, because there is never a pretence that the audience can solve it. When clues are given, it is always pretty clear that they will come together eventually, and it is kind of fun to guess in which direction the story will go, but it is just that, guesswork, the same kind of guesswork one would do for any other TV show. The mystery isn’t really there to keep the audience interested, it is there to have an excuse to amp up the suspense once a while, to have an enemy for the main character to fight.

The cases of the week work because the focus is not really on the question how it was done. They do work as functioning riddle – even if the solution sometimes hinges on overcomplicated constructions – but this is never more important than the people involved, and the question, why the murder (it’s usually a murder) happened in the first place. The answers are often fairly tragic, especially when someone murdered out of desperation, or because of a misunderstanding. And the show does pathos really, really well.

What it also does well is their main character. You know this stories in which the arrogant genius has to eat a piece of humble pie, learns his lesson and then returns triumphantly? This show is that, except that the hero is still stuck with his “punishment” of having been turned into a little boy. There is something fascinating about watching a child acting more mature than most of the adults surrounding him, and how everyone reacts to him.

At the end, though, I guess the show simply works because it is the perfect mix of suspense, humour, drama and a little bit action. It’s a little bit odd to go back to the early episodes, because they feature the very rough animation style of the 1990s instead of the polished one the show uses today, but it is nevertheless always worth a rewatch for me. Well…maybe minus some of the Filler episodes (Episodes which are not based on the Manga, but added to stretch the run-time of the anime). Those are hit and miss.


The Disastrous Life of Saiki K.

Japanese Humor is in general difficult to translate, because it often relies heavily on word plays or knowledge about a specific cultural context. In addition, I am not really a fan of the over-the-top humour anime tends to favour, I prefer situational humour. I would therefore be a lie to claim that The Disastrous Life of Saiki K. made me laugh all that much, but it made me chuckle quite a bit. Enough that I can even overlook it being a flash anime. Granted, the meta humour is hit and miss for me. The comments of the show on anime tropes are mostly boiling down to just pointing out “that is a thing which exist in anime”. But the observations are so spot on, they often work for me nevertheless.

There are also some jokes which I don’t care for at all, because they rely on either body shaming or making light of deeply troubling behaviour. But what I appreciate about this anime is the creativity of the set-up and how it is used. It is interesting to have a character who has nearly all the power in the world and yet his main goal is to just blend in. It is funny to still see him dealing with the various downsides of those powers, like never being able to watch a movie unspoiled and being forced to constantly moderate his strength. The powers might be supernatural, but the struggles themselves are still very human and relatable.

This is also the only anime on the list with an English dub I would truly recommend, mostly because of the performance of Saiki’s voice actor. I somehow dig it whenever he sighs “What a pain!”. I can relate.


Haikyuu!

I am pretty sure that at this point there is some anime for every sport which is just halfway popular in Japan and I have watched my fair share of them. I never bothered with any of them a second time, though, not once. Nevertheless I am currently at my fifth watch of Haikyuu!, knowing it won’t be my last. So, what makes this one work so well for me?

Well, for starters, the sport itself. As a general rule, team sports in which different players have different roles and interact with each other work the best on a narrative level. Sorry Free!-Fans, but no matter how much someone tries, swimming and every other sport which is just about going higher, further, faster will always be difficult to dramatize, because there will always be only two possible outcomes: the character is fast enough or isn’t. There is little opportunity to built tension, little room for variation. But with a team sport, you can explore how the players support and push each other, how their abilities can be mashed together to different kind of attacks, how the game play can change depending on the opponent. And Haikyuu! take full advantage of this.

But the anime also does a really good job of pulling the audience in. I am not a fan of Volleyball. Not at all. I hated it when I had to play it in school. It is nevertheless not my first Volleyball-based anime, I watched Attack No. 1 (in Germany known as Mila Superstar) back in the day. And yet, this is the first time I actually understood the rules of the game, why other people are so fascinated by this sport, and how much tactic truly plays into it. Haikyuu! takes its time to explain the positions, the rules, the tactics in a way that even people who know nothing about Volleyball at all can keep up. And, what might be the most important, you can feel the passion the writer had for the sport. It also helps that unlike most sport Animes, Haikyuu! is fairly grounded. Yes, it has its moves which are slightly exaggerated, but it never feels like it ventures into outright impossible or stupidly over-the-top. Again, take Attack No. 1, which had an early plot point in which the main character learned to receive a ball while doing a somersault in the air. Now, I get the notion that doing it on the ground as a last ditch attempt to reach the ball and be back on your feet as fast as possible makes sense, but routinely receiving a ball flying through the air – well, I don’t need to be a volleyball expert to know that this would be just a waste of energy and inferior to a controlled receive from a stable position. Haikyuu! has some improbable moves, but they never feel impossible, and they always look like a true advantage if you can pull them off. In addition, while Haikyuu! features some players who are labelled as “talented”, they never reach the level of basically being Superheroes, like the characters in a certain basketball anime. They have talent, yes, but they also have to work hard on their abilities, and there will always be someone able to challenge them one way or another.

And they are all memorable characters. Sure, there are some characters who are more in the background (the main team has twelve players, ten of which are fleshed out at one point in the story, four get their own major arc). While there is a main character, the true star of the show is the team as a whole. In addition there are also supporters and opponents, which are explored to a different degree (meaning: Some characters play a big role, others are just hushing around in the background), with a few selected ones having their own mini-arcs. All this provides a very rich world as well as additional narrative opportunities.

Interestingly, the opposing team isn’t necessarily cast in the role of the antagonist. A number of characters are even on friendly terms and train with each other outside of the competitions. The antagonists which do turn up are usually driven by more personal motivations than “just” wanting to win a game: Anger over conflicts from the past, fear of the superior talent of another player, the clash of opposing character traits, just to mention a few of the simpler ones. Often they are just as relatable as the main characters, which has lead to a lot of them becoming fan favourites over time.

Praiseworthy is also the structure. Which matches are won and which are lost tend to be fairly predictable in any sports anime. After all, the story would be over way too early if the team is knocked out in the first round. Often the training matches are at least in this regard the more suspenseful ones, because while there is nothing directly at stake, the outcome is more difficult to parse. But Haikyuu! has three very effective tricks to keep things interesting, no matter what kind of match is played.

One is a change of perspective. Especially in matches in which it is obvious, that our main characters have to win, there is often a switch to the loosing team. Seeing the main characters from a different perspective is interesting in its own right, but it also allows for narrative opportunities. How does someone feel who is playing against a much stronger team? What kind of lessons can be learned? Those are stories which can’t really be done with the main characters all that often, because narrative convenience demands that they have to be at least reasonable successful, but they are well worth exploring.

The second trick are a number of mini-arcs which play into the games, moments, which showcase character development. This can be a character succeeding (or failing) to use a new skillset, this can be realisations during the game, this can be flashbacks to flesh out motivations. It is not just about the question if a team will win, it is also about personal stakes. And those personal stakes can lead to exactly the same attack (or defence) having an entirely different meaning depending on the context. Which in turn ensures that they won’t become boring over time.

And the third tick is the the addition of game discussions by third parties. Those are usually done by the audience, and have two purposes: for one, they allow to show something other than just the players and two, they basically keep the audience in the loop regarding the different tactics used. In games which cover multiple episodes, there is often chain of the teams adjusting their strategy to each other. The comments help the audience to keep track of who is doing what and why.

And on top of this, the anime also excels on a technical level. From the score to the the animation, there is little to complain about (as long as you avoid the English dub). The visual story-telling in Haikyuu! is top notch.  I can’t emphasis enough how difficult expressive mimic in animation is, especially in anime, which tend work with only a few face lines. But in Haikyuu! not only does every character look differently, they also move differently, which allows to convey a lot regarding their personalities without the need to use any words at all. One moves fast and energetic, the next stiff and unapproachable, the next aloof, the next somewhat nervous, and if you know the show, you most likely know exactly which characters I am describing. In addition, the game scenes are also very dynamic. Every anime has budget restrains, there is always a need to decide in which scenes the animation can be kept more simple and when it should go all out. Haikyuu! is mostly on point in this regard. And pretty much regarding everything else, too.


Kakegurui

Honestly, I have a hard time to categorize Kakegurui. On the surface it is either a gambling or a school anime, since it is about an elite school in which gambling is a way of life. But in reality, the school setting is just an excuse to get all characters permanently at the same place and the gambling seems to serve more as an analogy of life itself. Some of the games played barely even qualify as “gambling” because they aren’t really about bluffing or luck anymore. But they always have some sort of philosophical point to make. So maybe the best way to describe Kakegurui is as “psycho-sociological macabre”.

The macabre element comes in due to the way the characters are drawn. When they gamble, perspective and close-up details make them look monstrous. Otherwise they fall into the “sexy school girl” trope. Yeah, maybe I should mention that the anime is “ecci”, meaning there are a lot of upskirt shots of the mostly female characters, and a lot of sexual tension between them. I always have split feelings towards this kind of anime, but  the upside is, that even though the show’s “sex appeal” is clearly meant for a male audience, it ends up featuring  lot of female characters with interesting personalities.

Describing them would spoil too much, though, so I’ll leave this with the assurance that even if you know how it will end, watching the matches again is still enjoyable. Which is always a good sign for this kind of anime.


Shokugeki No Soma/Food Wars

Speaking of an anime which stays interesting even if you know the outcome of the battle, Shokugeki is another one of those. I am usually not into battle Animes at all, but whoever  got the idea of combining this concept with cooking struck gold. Now, the first two seasons are better than the later ones, partly because it had better recipes, but also because I like the concept of tests and students challenging each other better than some evil organisation which has to be fought off.

Granted, some of the recipes don’t really convince. In one episode the notion to use self-made herb butter in combination with fish is treated like a big revelation. But then, maybe it would be in Japan, who knows. All in all, there are a number of interesting dishes introduced in this one, and a lot of knowledge about food and the various challenges of leading a restaurant.

This is also yet another anime which features a collection of compelling characters. Nearly each cook has his or her distinctive style and the fitting personality to go with it. Seeing how they challenge but also learn from each other is the main reason why this anime is always worth a rewatch. Even though it always makes one hungry to do so.


And that is my little list. To conclude it, here are two anime which I seriously considered for it, but which don’t quite made the cut. The first one is Black Butler, a revenge anime aber a young lord who has made a pact with a demon. Now, the thing with Black Butler is that as an adaptation is is just confusing. The first season is largely manga based, but with a completely contrived finale tacked on. The second is completely original. The third basically ignores the end of season one and the complete second season in oder to continue the story the same way the manga did, without any explanation. When I first watched the anime, I didn’t know any of this, and yet I immediately noticed the drop in quality in the anime-only part. Maybe you still get something out of it, though I have to warn you: This story is kind of sadistic with a strong cynical streak in it.

The same can be said about with my second honorable mention: Death Parade. This show is about the souls of recently died people being tested to see if they deserve a second shot in live or should be pushed into oblivion. How rewatchable it is, I can’t say for sure at this point, because I discovered it fairly recently. But at this point I would say that I would watch around half the episodes again eventually, because they provide a lot food for thought, but I might also skip one or two. In any case, though, of all the high-concept anime, this was the one which came the closest to getting on my list. Hence I felt it was worth a mention.


I hope you found something which might interest you. And maybe you could drop your own recommendations in the comment section. Some people might be desperate for the distraction at this point.

Stay safe, all of you.

 

 

 


Marvel Musings: The Future Options of the MCU

It is the end of the era for the MCU. Far From Home concluded the Infinity arc. And naturally there are already people calling doom and gloom on the MCU. But despite all the claims of “comic book fatigue” the MCU is still in full swing. Hell, the audience is currently so into Comic book movies, Venom and Aquaman blew all box office expectations right out of the water.

And by now the MCU has laid out some of its plans for the next years. Which makes it an odd timing to do an article about the future of the MCU, but, well it is pretty much always an odd timing for this. No matter when one writes an article like this, there always seems to be some news which just dropped or is right behind the next corner. So I’ll start with some random observations regarding the announcements, continue with some speculations what Marvel might be aiming at narratively and finally finish with some sort of personal wish-list.

1. The Announcements

Well, the MCU has laid out its slate for the next three years and there were little surprises in it. Sure, nobody expected that Natalie Portman would be back,  but overall, those were mostly projects which were already rumoured. Still, by having at least some definite idea in which direction the MCU will move, there are some conclusions to be made. And there was at least one news, which didn’t please the fans at all.

1.1. Spider-man no more?

That was the “shocker” between all the news which dropped in the last weeks. But it is not one I intend to discuss at the moment because I am personally convinced that the last word about this hasn’t been spoken yet. I am sure that the MCU will manage to with or without Spider-Man, I am equally sure that it would be a win-win for everyone if they would work even closer with Sony than beforehand and I am deeply sad about the notion to lose Tom Holland in the role. In any case, I am still in a “wait and see” mode. I am not in the mood to jump the gun and make a list of predictions about something which might be old news next month, no matter how much Sony currently insist that the deal is over.

1.2. What wasn’t mentioned

Before I get into what was announced, I have to point out that what wasn’t mentioned was maybe just as interesting. I.e I was kind of surprised that they didn’t announce a Captain Marvel sequel but then, I am pretty sure that one is in planning and they don’t see a reason to put themselves on the clock. Announcing projects for the next two to three years might be smarter than bragging about what one plans to do five years in advance.  I was not surprised by the lack of date for GotG Zun3 (I have no idea if they will call it that, but until there is an official title, I will use that one), because the project was thrown out of whack and they now have to figure out a new schedule for it. The lack of Ant-man related announcement worries me, though. Ant-man is currently the lowest grossing franchise the MCU has, but I would still be sad if they just end it without a proper conclusion. I would really like to explore how the years of the snap affect the man who wanted nothing more than be there for his daughter, but ended up missing most of her childhood.

1.2.1. The Fantastic Four

To be fair, I didn’t really expect any announcement related to the Fox-properties just yet. There is no need to rush it. But if Marvel had mentioned something, I would have thought that it would be The Fantastic Four. After all, they keep saying that they want to go cosmic, and The Fantastic Four is a very cosmic property. So I keep expecting an announcement which is somehow Fantastic Four related within the next year or so.

1.2.2. The X-men

Again, I didn’t really expect anything X-men related just yet, but I am also not sure if there will be anything related to them anytime soon. The X-men are an oddity in that the last X-men movies didn’t really do all that well, but there is still a high demand for the characters turning up in the MCU, at least from comic book reading fans. Thing is, I don’t think that they would be a good fit into the current time-line of the MCU. Due to the fact that the continuity in the MCU is way tighter than in regular comic books, it would be nearly impossible to sell the general audience the notion that the same world which has the Avengers is also hunting mutants with giant robots. The only way to include the X-men into the current MCU would be if you toned down the whole “mutants are second class citizen idea”, but then you run into the problem that the very centre of X-men lore is lost. I honestly think that they would better off in their own time-line and universe. I mean, it is not like this would preclude Marvel from doing a dimension hopping cross-over event town the line, and it would allow the X-men way more freedom to be what they are meant to be.

1.3. The role of the Disney Plus shows

Let’s be honest here, the announcements for Disney Plus are currently just as if not more exciting than the movie announcements. Which somewhat worries me. Disney is currently pulling all the stops in order to get as many people as possible subscribed as fast as possible, hence it looks as if they put a decent budget into all of those shows. But what will happen when the first “boom” of subscribers stops? Eventually they will have every MCU fan who would and can afford the service on board. Since people are less likely to jump ship once they have a subscription, will Disney eventually do less Marvel shows (just enough to keep people interested) or cut the budgets? Hard to tell now.

The is also the fate of the “other” Marvel TV shows to consider. They are left kind of in the lurch. But then, most of them are ending anyway or have already been cancelled. What is left is only Runaways and maybe Cloak and Dagger. And they seem to exist in their own little universe anyway. But there is also a Ghost Rider show announced (which I can’t wait to see) and I am also hoping that Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. might morph into a new show. I am certainly not ready to say completely good-bye to those characters.

Meanwhile though, it looks like Marvel intends the Disney Plus shows to be tighter connected to the MCU than the previous Marvel shows, with characters not just going from the movies to the streaming shows, but their action there also impacting the movies. It will be interesting to see if that works, but I am positively salivating about the possibilities. In this format, they can basically mix and match characters at will. We already had this in some degree in Phase three, when Ironman guest starred in Homecoming and Hulk paired up with Thor in Ragnarok, but I expect to see more of it. We already know that Scarlet Witch will play a role in the Doctor Strange movie. There are also persistence rumours that Namor will turn up in the next Black Panther movie. I believe this when I see it, since fan wishes have created rumours before, but it is certainly possible that Marvel will use established franchises to introduce new characters.

A lot about the role of the streaming show will depend on how successful Disney Plus is, and how many people end up watching them. It is difficult to tell, because Netflix tends to be stingy with numbers, but the convenience of being able to watch a movie on a flexible schedule at home seems to lead to a bigger audience. It is entire possible that in a few years we will perceive the cinematic movies as something we watch in addition to the Marvel streaming shows instead of the other way around. Though there is a danger that the audience will feel overwhelmed eventually. On the other hand, the trick of the MCU was always that you don’t really have to watch everything which is a part of it. But once you start, there is always the feeling that you have to seek out all of it, and streaming makes this process very convenient. Having the complete MCU at one place will help to keep people in the loop and interested.

2. But what next?

What the MCU needs, though, is something new to work forward to. In phase one it was the notion of a big crossover event. Then it was the threat of Thanos. Now for the first time we are largely without a clear direction. There are certainly a few options Marvel could pick, but I have picked the three I consider the most likely.

2.1. The Kree/Skrull War

Considering how much importance they assigned to Captain Marvel going forward, all this talk about the MCU going cosmic and the teases we got in Far from Home, I think it is save to predict that we’ll get something involving the Kree and the Skrull in the future. And regarding this particular conflict, there are a lot of comic book stories which involved either the Kree, the Skrull or both to draw from. Having heroes we know involved in this conflict could be a good way to raise the stakes without the need to destroy a city on earth every other movie. And the option are endless, including having fractions within those two groups going up against each other. Or a secret invasion.

2.2. The Young Avengers

Is it just me or is there an effort to work towards some sort of “next generation” set-up? Spider-man aside, they have aged up Cassie enough that she could become Stature or Stinger any time, the Hawkeye series seems to be about him training his replacement and there is a Ms Marvel series in the making, too. Then there is WandaVision which could potentially be used to set up Wiccan and Speed as characters. I can also think of a way or two to explain the presence of Hulkling in the MCU, with a few tweaks to his backstory, naturally. In short, there are now a lot of options to introduce young characters and a cross-over event with them could cause an excitement similar to the excitement about the first Avenger movie. Provided, naturally, Marvel manages to make them just as popular from the get go.

2.3. Thunderbolts

For those who don’t know, the Thunderbolts are a team of villains who under the leadership of Zemo decided to act like heroes for a while for their own gains, but then some of them started to like being heroes and switched sides for real. There is actually little reason to think that Marvel will go there outside of them using Zemo again in Falcon and the Winter Soldier. While the survival rate of Marvel villains has been slightly improved, it would be difficult to put a team of them together. Still, I would be very surprised if the idea isn’t at least thrown around in Marvel’s writer’s room. There have been multiple hints that the world is looking for a new version of The Avengers in Far From Home, so this would be the perfect moment to present a version of an Avenger team which has gone (or always was) bad, thus mixing ideas from the Thunderbolts with ideas from the Dark Avengers.

3. My not so small wish list

Honestly, I am pretty much open for whatever comes next in the MCU. In general, I hope that there will be new genres, which are explored, and new characters introduced. Those which are constantly talked about by the fandom will most likely turn up sooner than later. My own wish list is a little bit more obscure.

2.1. A Silver Surfer Origin Movie

The Silver Surfer in itself is not THAT obscure, but my specific wish is. I don’t want him to be introduced as a side character, I want to see specifically him starring in his own origin story, simply because he has one of the most tragic origin story out there. Usually those are about a flawed character raising to heroism. But his story is about an already heroic character managing to rescue his planet but also paying a high price due to being perverted into a tool of destruction, dooming multiple planets in order to rescue one. This is a movie which has to happen. If for no other reason than that it would make any clash between him and the heroes we know and love so much more suspenseful.

3.2. Amadeus Cho

Between all the young heroes which are currently waiting in the woodwork, there has been no mention of Amadeus Cho so far. But he is a character I really want to see. No his Hulk version, no, I want the overly smart team who manages to fight with his mind alone. I just like the idea of a character who doesn’t have specific powers or weapons but still manages to stand shoulder to shoulder with some of the most powerful people in the world because he knows how to use the abilities her does have to full advantage.

3.3. A Silverclaw movie

Now, this is a character really nobody is talking about. But they should. Because there is so much potential in the character.  For one, her powerset is completely different from what we have seen so far, and could create some cool visuals and unusual battle scenes. Two,  her backstory is a little bit more unusual than most. I certainly wouldn’t mind a movie about someone reclaiming their cultural heritage. And three, she does represent a minority which is currently nearly invisible in the MCU, and I am always for more diversity. Not in order to fulfil some sort of invisible checklist, but because it makes things more interesting in my book. Different perspectives open up new story options which in turn helps the MCU to stay fresh.

3.4. Exploring the Savage Land

Honestly, why isn’t Savage Land already a franchise? This is a comic book property which features freaking dinosaurs. Considering how well Jurassic World did one would think that Marvel would take it into consideration at the very least. The only explanation I have for no movement on this front so far is that the rights might have been in the grey area between Marvel and Fox, but that is just a suspicion on my part. Hutch Parker once stated that both Marvel and Fox could have made a Savage Land movie, but I take throwaway statements like this with a grain of salt. In any case, while Ka-Zar and Shanna aren’t the most compelling of characters, and there are some potential minefields in using either of them, the world itself is practically made for a big screen adventure. Just the opportunity to throw together a bunch of prehistoric creatures without having to worry about the question if they actually existed around the same time would be a lot of visual fun.

3.5. Dazzler

Yes, I know, I said that I expect Marvel to wait with the X-men. But then, I don’t think that Dazzler necessarily needs to be a mutant. To me she fits better into the world of the Avengers than the world of the X-men anyway, considering how openly she uses her power from the get go. And that is part of the reason why I really want to see a movie featuring her: Usually we get to see characters who want to use their newfound abilities for good. It would be kind of refreshing to see a character who uses it for her career, without having any ambitions to be an actual heroine. Plus, she is the perfect character for a musical which isn’t crack.

And this was my obligatory “thoughts about the MCU” article. Maybe it is time to talk about something else for a while. I love the MCU, but it is not the only franchise out there. So, which one of my series should I continue? More By the Book? More Double Takes of Disney movies? Maybe something more lyrics related? Or something completely different? I am open for wishes and suggestions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Disney Tarot: The World

And we have reached the last card of the Major Arcana. If someone has done the math, the princess and prince left from the line-up are Ariel and Eric. And yes, they are both in the card:

21-The-World

The World is one of those cards which were originally full of religious symbolism. It features a naked women which hovers above the earth, seemingly moving forward but looking back, holding a staff in each hand, surrounded by a green wreath, and in each corner a different creature. In the older decks those are usually a tetramorph, featuring the symbols of the four Evangelists: A human head, a lion, an ox and an eagle. Never decks tend to avoid the Christian symbolism and choose to explain those figures as astrological symbols (the Leo, the Taurus, the Aquarius and the Scorpio) for the four elements, and the wreath is sometimes replaced with an ouroboros.

I have decided to lean into the idea with the four elements. So, Fabius naturally stands for water, Scuttle for the air, Max for earth and Eric for fire (of desire). The background also reflects this, showing the sea (water), rocks (earth), the sky (air) and the yellow light of a rising sun (fire). I was first unsure about using Ariel in her mermaid form, but then felt that her being on land, but still having her fish tail is a good way to show her direction of travel. That’s what the card ist standing for: travel, completion and accomplishment. It is also seen as a sign of growing maturity. Considering that I see The Little Mermaid as the story of an immature teenager making the transition to adulthood, Ariel is in my eyes the perfect symbol for a card which also represents the falling away of boundaries

Especially if you consider the reverse meaning, which warns of taking short-cuts and possible delays. One could say that in Ariel’s story, Ursula stands for the short cut to “standing on your own feet” and Triton for the delay of allowing her to grow up.

Speaking of Ursula, I have also a card featuring her in my Minor Arcana. Alas, since nobody answered last weeks requests for input, I won’t post it just now. If someone expresses interest after all I might eventually. So I hope at least some had fun with the cards I designed and my thoughts regarding them. For now I am taking a break of tarot.

 


Disney Tarot: Transformation

Judgement is another card I renamed because I wanted to take out the religious element of it. The original one is very much inspired by the notion of Christian Resurrection. I went for Transformation in the place of Judgement, because it is pretty much the core meaning of the card, but it is also an element which often turns up in Disney Princess movies in order to usher in a big change. And the most famous of transformations is certainly this one:

20-Transformation

No dead people being resurrected in this one, at least not literally. One could argue though that the prince was dead inside until it experienced being a Beast, eventually developing empathy for other beings. Since it is a whole journey it was important for me to include both of his transformations into the card, showing how he comes full circle. It is both an end and a beginning.

The card is meant to tell a story of transition, but unlike The Death or The Tower, it isn’t a sudden or even unwanted change. This one is a slow change towards an intended outcome, a change, which will set your life on a new path going forward. Upright it stands for judgement, change, decisions, success, rebirth and an inner calling. Sometimes it can mean absolution. In reverse is symbolises self-doubt, the need for inner critic and a warning, not to ignore a call.

In a way, it is a very fitting card to have as the second to last of Tarot. There is is only one card left, and everyone who has paid attention should be able to guess which Princess/Prince pair will symbolize The World, which will conclude the Major Arkana. Now I am wondering: Is there an interest in the Minor Arkana, too? I have done a complete deck, but writing those articles takes time, too. Hence I would really like some feedback if should continue those kind of articles, or if I should perhaps bundle them or if I shouldn’t bother at all. I would be very thankful for any kind of answer.

 

 

 


Movie Criticism and the Question of Objectivity

So I guess, the newest trend on the internet is to talk about the question if movie criticism has become too nitpicky and if plot-holes matter. Or at least this was a big topic when I started the article, but I needed some time to put together all aspects of it. Though this time around, I don’t really want to repeat the whole discussion and the points made – I am sure if you really care, you’ll find the relevant information quite easily – but I nevertheless want to weight in. Mostly because I feel that currently the discussion isn’t particular precise. I think that the video which set off the avalanche was pointing towards a trend we should be aware of and which is worth examining, but the way it argued the point was unfortunate to say the least. Which resulted in most response videos not really addressing the point itself but instead arguing against the style of argumentation.

Basically, while the discussion about the music in the MCU spawned a number of videos with competing ideas, each of them bringing a new thought to the table, this one mostly consists of people criticizing each others line or argumentation and taking cheap pod shots at each other. I intend on focussing on the original question: Do plot-holes matter and is there something wrong with the way internet culture consumes movies? And in order to do this properly let’s start with the basics: What kind of movie criticism actually exist?

1. Reviews

This is the most basic of movie criticism and serves a very specific purpose: Helping the audience to decide if a movie is worth their time and money. To be perfectly clear here, though: I am not saying that this is what every audience member is using reviews for. I am actually pretty sure that a considerable part of the audience is like me in that they make their decision based on trailers and themes and only look at reviews because they are either on the fence about a particular movie or because they respect the opinion of the reviewer and want to know what he or she thinks.

But none of this changes the original purpose of the review. And, to be frank, especially in the YouTube sphere, the quality of reviews is questionable. Nowadays a lot of reviews are basically a flashy version of a forum post. You basically have someone just blurting out his or her opinion out. This can be helpful if you already know that your own taste roughly matches up with the opinion of said reviewer, but in my eyes, a really good reviewer should strife for objectivity.

1.1. The Question of Objectivity

Oh, I said the bad word: objectivity. There is this school of thought that movie criticism is completely subjective because we all perceive movies differently. But if this is true, well, why are we even bothering discussing movies? If every movie is completely subjective and everything goes, then the implication is that it is not a craft which requires talent. Or, to put it differently, certainly you can describe the scribble of a three year old as art, but it still doesn’t display the skill and/or creativity of a Picasso. We are perfectly able to articulate the difference between those two, just like we are able to judge the difference between a Shakespeare sonnet and the typical rhymes someone might cobble together for a birthday.

So yes, I think there is objectivity in movie criticism. It is based on centuries of experience in what works and what doesn’t. Yes, centuries, because while film itself might be barely a century old, narration, music and picture composition, which are all part of film, have been around since the beginning of humanity. I would even go so far to say that there is a measurement for it, we just haven’t defined it yet. After all, painters were composing their pictures following the golden ratio long before its existence was even discovered, and there is an undeniable connection between music and mathematic. So when we enjoy a movie, there might actually be a complicated algorithm working in the background.

In addition, we already know that we react to certain colours, music, aso in a certain manner. If we do so because we were trained to react that way by the media we consume or if we create media based on some basic instinct which has been embedded in us since the beginning of humanity is a little bit like the chicken and egg question. The important factor here is that there are certain expectations to watching movies and that it makes a difference if they are deliberately subverted or if a director has trouble to craft a coherent story. Hence we are able to say “yeah, this movie was really well made, but I personally didn’t care for it” or “well, I know that movies isn’t really that good, but it is a guilty pleasure of mine”. If movies were completely subjective, we wouldn’t be able to make such a judgement.

There are people who argue that all those standards for movies are made up und personal enjoyment is the only metric which matters regarding the quality of a movie, rendering the very concept of a “guilty pleasure” as nothing more as the acknowledgement that one goes against the grain. I disagree. There are quite a few movies which I enjoy which do not have the stamp of approval of the majority, and which I wouldn’t call a guilty pleasure at all. Because I think that the elements I enjoy in those movies are genuinely good enough that they outweigh its flaws. There are other movies I don’t like at all, but can acknowledge as good, either because they are simply “not for me”, or because I can understand that what I consider as a deal breaker doesn’t bother other people. And I have my guilty pleasures, movies I largely enjoy because of their flaws and not despite of them. That doesn’t make them suddenly good movies, though.

I don’t believe that movies are completely subjective. Nor do I think, that you can remove the bias completely from a review. Some people are drawn more to characters, others prefer strong themes, others are simply more forgiving because they like an actor or director or because they went into the cinema with really low expectations. But I still think that a good review should start with the question “what kind of movie was the director attempted to make?” and end with “which kind of audience (if any) might like this movie?”. For example a very common complain about MCU movies is that an entry isn’t completely stand alone. Well, that is the point, people who watch the MCU want to experience an overreaching universe. Criticizing that a particular set-up wasn’t particularly well handled – god knows that there have been a lot of complains about Thor’s hot tub vision machine in Age of Ultron, and rightly so – is helpful, complaining that those set-ups are part of the MCU at all is not. On the same token, someone who starts his review with “this is just another chick flick” has already lost me, and not just because I really don’t see why movies which target the female audience are often treated with so much scorn, but also because even the so called chick flicks vary greatly in quality. Academy award wining and one of the highest grossing movies of all time Titanic can be considered a chick flick. Which brings me to another point.

1.3. The Danger of Elitism

I think the worst mistake a reviewer (or any movie fan for that matter) can make is to dismiss certain genres or type of movies off-hand. I guess the most common form of elitism is the idea, that certain movies are beneath serious criticism, sometimes because of the genre – romcoms, horror and action movies often get this treatment – sometimes because of the intended audience. And then there is naturally this ongoing claim that franchise movies somehow hinder the production of original movies, the implication here being that they lack creativity. In reality, one can create a movie which isn’t based on anything and it still can end up feeling tired and generic. At the same time a franchise movie can offer something interesting, maybe even ground-breaking. A number of famous movies are based on pre-existing properties anyway. That doesn’t make them in any way less creative since the transition for the big screen it an act of creativity in itself. Which is why a good reviewer should always be open-minded check his or her own bias. It can’t be completely removed from the equation, but it should always be treated like a bug, not a feature.

1.4 The Movie Discussion

While I just said that reviews usually have the purpose to inform the audience about a movie, a lot of creators have recognized by now that a lot of people prefer to use them to, well, feeding into their confirmation bias. Sorry, I know that I am stepping on some toes with this claim. But why else should you watch a so called spoiler-review? Most do it to figure out if their favourite reviewer agrees with them or not.

Now, not to be completely unfair, if you watch a group of people discussing a movie, there might be a good idea or two coming up in the interaction. But that is extremely dependent on the participants. Most of the time, you get a good idea what the taste of the people discussing the movie is like, but not what the actual movie is like. Or, to put it differently, not everyone is Siskel and Ebert, and finding a pairing like this is very rare indeed.

I suspect the success of those discussion rounds is based more on the listener getting some sort of fan-interaction by proxy. Meaning: If you don’t have someone with whom you can discuss your most beloved franchise, you can at the very least listening to other people doing it and leaving your own comments. And maybe you end up arguing with someone else in the comment section.

2. Nitpick-Humor

But what seems to be more common on the net is what I would call Nitpick-Humor. Those are youtuber or blogger which go through a movie and then make fun of real or perceived flaws. Originally, those weren’t really meant to have anything to do with movie criticism at all. They were meant to be entertainment. The Nostalgia Critic for example used to only tackled movies which already had a colourful reputation, to word it politely. But over time, the entertainment aspect bleed into reviews and more and more serious review bleed into entertainment offers. At this point the lines are so blurred, it is often hard to tell in which entry a specific category falls. Sometimes it is both. Sometimes it is neither because the creator of the video above all cares about neither about entertainment nor about serious reviews, but about how many people can be conned into watching his product.

2.1 Clickbait

Let’s talk about the elephant in the room: Cinemasins. Count me in as one of those people who hate Cinemasins. But I don’t feel that way because they decided to make nit-picky videos about movie, I feel that way because they are lazy about it. And I am not just talking about they dinging movies for so called “sins” which could be cleared up spending five seconds to look the information up – I noticed that they are especially bad in physics, animals and just general knowledge of literature and culture. But what really enrages me is that they often complain about details which are actually clarified in the movies themselves. I could actually wrote a whole article about why Cinemasins is awful as well as a problem, but instead I’ll just link you to a video which already explained all my issues in detail, with the necessary sources to underline the point.

If you want to see a better version of Cinemasins, I recommend Cinemawins to you.  Not because it has a positive outlook on movies, but because the points those videos bring up are based on actual knowledge about movie-making and story-telling.  It’s still not good movie criticism, though, because it is too one sided. But at least it adds ideas to the discussion which might be worth discussing. Cinemasins is just muddying the waters with lazy clickbait.

To reiterate: I have no problem whatsoever with videos which point out plot-holes, and I have no problem with them doing it in a joking manner. I do have a problem with videos which are basically the entertainment version of fake news, making a false claim about a movie so convincingly, that it becomes an accepted fact.

Even channels  who are more honest players might slip up in this regard. For example, I really dislike the How it should have ended video for Captain America The First Avenger, because it is built on two big jokes, both of which pointing to a non-existent flaw. One is based on a lack of knowledge by complaining about the bombs having the names of the city where they are supposed to explode written in English on them. Well, they don’t. New York and Boston just happen to be the German words for New York City and Boston. This joke is especially annoying because this movie is actually pretty good about labelling everything in Red Scull’s base in correct German, unlike most movies and TV shows I have seen. Meaning: the creators of the movie paid a lot of attention to detail and yet a huge number of people think that they were lazy about exactly this aspect, because some video creator on YouTube didn’t do proper research. (All this said, you could still make a point about the ridiculousness of writing the name of the destination on the bombs in the first place).

The other big joke is questioning the logic of Cap forcing down the plane, even though the movie itself clearly states the reason: He is currently over an area where nobody lives and knows that this won’t be the case for much longer, so he has to act immediately. If there are still bombs on the plane is irrelevant (though for the record, there are still some left), just a plan crashing into a city would kill a lot of people. That Cap has control over the plane is likewise irrelevant, because he is not a pilot. There is no way that he would be able to land safely without risking anyone else’s life. Plus, if there is anything the movie has established than that Cap’s first instinct is always to sacrifice himself. That is who the character is, and making a joke about what is one of the most heart-breaking scenes in the whole MCU is kind of like being the guy who sits behind you in the cinema during Titanic saying loudly “isn’t it tragic” with a fake sob while Jack is dying (and yes, this happened to me).

And don’t get me wrong here, I am not saying that we should turn off our brains while watching movies. I actually think that a truly good movie should stimulate our brain and challenge our perception of the world. But…

2.2 Do those plot holes actually matter?

Well…yes and no. Yes, they do matter. Even something as simple as a small mistake in the background like a chair suddenly standing in a slightly different position matters. It’s an imperfection in the movie, period. The question is how much those kind of mistakes impact the overall quality of the movie. I think everyone will agree that the chair doesn’t make a difference if for no other reason that most people wouldn’t even notice upon first viewing. This isn’t even really a plot hole (though it technically does break the narrative), more a goof.

Some would say that a plot-hole does matter when it takes you out of the movie upon first viewing, but even that isn’t truly correct either. If you go into a movie with a cynical mind-set, like the guy who ruined my second viewing of Titanic for me, you take yourself out of the movie on details you would gladly overlook in a different movie, and which a viewer with a less cynical approach wouldn’t notice.

My perspective is that plot-holes do matter when they interrupt the flow of a story and feel like lazy writing instead of an artistic choice. And yes, I know, that there is still an element of subjectivity in this definition,  but hear me out. Citizen Kane is widely considered one of the best if not the best movie of all time. It is also entirely build around a plot hole, because it should be impossible for anyone to look for the meaning of the last word of a dying man, when said man passed away utterly alone. And yet it doesn’t feel like a huge deal, because this is a choice made for dramatic effect which underlines the message of the movie itself.

Compare this with Batman coming back into the city in The Dark Knight Rises. Yes, Batman suddenly turning up in a dramatic fashion is very, well, Batman. But the moments gets widely criticised because it isn’t just one plot hole, it is a triple plot hole. It is a plot hole on the “this doesn’t work in real life” level, because if someone is stranded somewhere at the end of the world with no money and no help, we want to know how said person made his way back. We don’t need to necessarily see it, but we need some sort of logical explanation. It is a plot hole on the “this goes against everything the movie established” level, because the narrative goes out of its way to show multiple times that Gotham City is under look-down. Batman just turning up in it with no explanation whatsoever fells therefore like cheating. And it is a plot hole on the thematic level because after a whole movie underlining how broken Batman is, having him suddenly healed because of willpower feels like a cop-out.

In the end it boils down to lazy writing vs an artistic decision. What is what, well, there is still room for argument there, but it is important to keep in mind that not every plot hole is automatically an unforgivable flaw. And not everything which the internet has labelled as a plot hole actually is one either. The weakness of the Death Star is not a plot hole because it isn’t unbelievable at all that the prototype of a new weapon might have a weakness in construction. There are real live examples of something like this happening. The seize of the door in Titanic is not a plot hole either, because the movie establishes that when Jack and Rose try to get both on the door, it keeps moving out of balance – and remember, they don’t really have any time for experiments, the water is freezing cold, every second they spend longer in the water trying to balance out the door can make the difference between life and death. So the movie establishes that it doesn’t work, and it is really a nit-pick if the set-designers seized the door right or not.

Creating a movie or any story for that matter is to a large part about editing. What you leave out is just as important as what you put in. And sometimes additional explanations just don’t serve a movie well. That is why conveniences are the bread and butter of movie making. Even if it is something as simple as finding a free parking spot directly in front of the house you want to visit in the middle of New York City. Because having the characters first search of a parking spot and then having to pay for it would be just a waste of precious runtime.

In general, tropes are not bad. It can be fun to be aware of them (it can also ruin your movie experience) but at the end of the day it is always about how they are utilized. And to judge this, well, that is the job of a proper analysis.

3. The Movie Analysis

But to be honest, I don’t think that either reviews or nit-pick humour is the place where meaningful movie criticism happens. That is because neither of them are really suited for it. Reviews don’t really add much to the discussion because they are too current. Some movies need some time to truly sink in and it is just impossible to measure the impact a movie and if it will truly endure the the test of time ahead of time. Which is why the academy got if wrong more often than not when it comes to awarding the best movie of a year, especially in terms of staying power.

Nit-pick humour is pretty much useless because it puts the entertainment value over the actual analysis, and it lacks the desire to put the observations made into a broader context. Without context, though, it is impossible to truly judge anything movie related.

Movie Analysis that’s what people like Lindsey Ellis (after her Nostalgia Chick days), Kyle, Every Frame a Painting, Folding Ideas and others like them offer. Well-structured video essays which are underpinned with a lot of knowledge and are built around a specific idea. That doesn’t mean that those ideas are always necessarily agreeable to the whole audience – remember I myself published a long article about a video of Every Frame a Painting I strongly disagree with – but they provide a solid argued point of view on a movie which can then become part of a larger discourse.

Don’t think that I look in any way down on the kind of discussion friends have after watching a movie together. Those are important part of the experience. But they are not the best setting to truly dig deeper into the structural aspects of a movie. Exchanging opinions is one thing, going into a deeper analysis is something else. Or, to put it differently: The general audience is able to voice IF they like a movie or not, but it is the job of the movie discourse to figure out WHY a movie or specific scenes resonate with an audience. Finding ways to eloquently explain why a movie deserves praise is hard once you get past the surface level, even if you have some basic knowledge about film. I often enough have been stuck with truly explaining why something resonates with me only to stumble over someone who was able to put the finger on exactly what made a particular scene work.

As a general rule it is easier to explain why something doesn’t work, though even then I feel that sometimes it is easy to put the blame at the wrong place. For example, the reason why Superman killing Zod at the end of Man of Steel doesn’t work is not because he is Superman. This would be the easy conclusion. It is because the built-up to the scene is badly executed (to explain that would be an essay in and of itself) and the fall-out is non-existent.

3.1 The Discourse

So, where is this discourse happening? In the past, mostly in universities, sometimes TV shows. Nowadays it is happening on the internet, accessible for everyone. And that is a great thing, because it opens up the participation in said discourse to everyone. That doesn’t mean, though, that everyone choses to participate on the same level or that every participant is a honest player.  There are youtubers which aren’t really motivated by their love of movies, but by a desire to create controversy, or to push their political agenda.

To be frank, you have to wade through a lot of toxicity in order to find a good discourse on the internet, and the more high-profile a movie is, the more questionable content there is. Sorting through all this can be exhausting. In fact, there is so much content regarding movie discussion out there that we have now started to comment on the movie discussion itself. And not in a constructive manner. Especially the Star Wars fandom has become a battleground of people tearing each others videos apart just because they disagree on The Last Jedi. And don’t get me wrong here: A video which is dishonestly argued deserves to get torn apart – for example one which is misrepresenting a movie by argue based on selected scene while skipping scenes which disproof the point which one is trying to make. But this is about more than arguing about the merit of a franchise, this is about people really wanting to sink a franchise. To which I just have to say: Why do you care? There are a lot of franchises out there I don’t care for at all. There are also franchises I fell out of love with. The logical reaction to a bad experience is to walk away.  Badgering other fans to agree with you or attacking the cast and crew isn’t helpful at all. It is just a movie. No matter what happens, whatever made you fall in love with a franchise in the first place will still be there. Just as I am happy that Disney only made one Pirates of Caribbean movie (and I stick to that story), you can be happy that Star Wars is just a trilogy, if you are really that dissatisfied with what came after.

3.2 The Meta Level

At this point, the fandom discourse has become so prominent, there are a number of channels out there which are no longer really about discussing a movie, instead they are talking about the discussion surrounding a movie. Justsomerandomguy does it with Marvel vs DC controversy. Hishe and Honest Trailer tend to integrate fandom memes into their jokes. On a more serious note, Renegade Cut has explored fandom tribalism in a miniseries about the DCEU. And I am currently exploring the effect internet culture has on the way we perceive movies and the movie industry in general (yes, I will get to that point, too).

We have now reached a level at which commenting on other channels has become a subscriber draw on its own. So everything which I have listed above regarding the different kind movie discussions exists again as a commentary on said different movie discussions. The upside of this trend is that, intentional or not, it calls out the various fandoms. It can be a great tool for self-reflection. But there is also a risk that feedback loop is created, or that falsehoods are repeated so often that they become accepted facts.

For example: Every time someone praises Ironman 3, their first step is to defend the Mandarin twist, as if this is the main problem with the movie. Yes, the Mandarin twists gets a lot of attention, but a lot of people who criticise the movie as a whole say that they twist in itself is one of the ideas they like in it. Don’t get me wrong, there are people who are all about not getting the Mandarin they wanted, but they are just one group of critics, and I suspect not even a particularly big one. Consequently, focussing your defence on the merits of the twist alone doesn’t really make a good case for Ironman 3. Pointing out which aspects of the movie work on the other hand is.

We all live in some sort of bubble, one way or another. How we perceive the world or the fandom is largely dependent on what kind of people we interact with. And often the ones who scream the loudest are actually just a minority. Which is why it is often important to take a step back and reconsider before jumping on an issue. And it is equally important to approach a movie with a readiness to discard a thesis we had in mind. It’s not about proving what we already think about a movie, it is about testing if what we think about a movie is actually matching up to reality.

And it is about questioning our own parameters. I said above that there is objectivity in movie criticism. Well, there is also no rule which elements are making a good movie. Creating a movie is like creating a good meal. There are rules how you have to prepare the ingrediencies you intent to use, there is no rule how to combine them. It is all about finding the right balance between the different tastes.  Hence the question is not if a movie has a memorable villain, the question is if there should be a villain at all and if there is a villain, if said villain serves the story. The question is not of the main character has a great character development – in fact, some of the most famous characters out there are static characters – the question is how well the characters fit into the story.  A joke which works in one movie can be completely out of place in another one. Every element in a movie needs to be discussed in the context of that movie alone (and sometimes the franchise it belongs to). And that includes plot holes.

 

4. Back to the beginning

So, is there something “wrong” about the way we consume movies? Before I answer the question (or at least take a honest stab at it), I think I should explain why the question is even important in the first place. After all, who cares how someone else consumes movies?

Frankly, I don’t. I do care about the fact, though, that the internet discourse is now influencing the way movies are being made. As Lindsey Ellis rightly pointed out, the Beauty and the Beast remake is a big exercise in answering meaningless gripes with the original movie.

 

And that is just one example. The Star Wars Anthology movies seem to be mostly about answering questions nobody ever wanted an answer to, like how Han Solo got his name. Rogue One is entirely about answering the aforementioned question about why the Death Star had such a glaring weakness. A little less obvious is a current trend of movies to overexplain details.

And I also care about how the discourse can contort a movie in the mind of the audience, especially if there are dishonest players in the conversation who for one reason or another really want a movie to fail. Currently the whole discourse surrounding Captain Marvel is pretty much a prime example of everything wrong with movie criticism on the internet. You have people using a deleted scene to make a point about the movie’s main character (for the record, the only discussion which should ever involve a deleted scene is answering the question if the deletion was a good or a bad decision), you have long videos about so called plot holes which falsely claim that Captain Marvel somehow broke the time-line (in reality the movie slots surprisingly well into the timeline of the MCU), and you have a general unwillingness to engage with the themes of the movie. The so called controversy isn’t about Captain Marvel at all, it is about pushing a narrative, and sadly this narrative will impact how some people see the movie.

So should we stop talking about plot holes? My answer is an emphatic: No. We shouldn’t stop talking about them, as long as they are genuine plot holes and not something which can be cleared up just by paying attention to the movie. But we might want to reconsider how much importance we assign to them.

In general we need to stop treating movies like they have to adhere to some sort of fool proof recipe. A lot of people – and that includes some reviewers – seem to have an extremely narrow view of how a movie should look like. Movies which are more allegorical seem to often get right over their head. And sometimes themes are missed exactly because of prior expectations.

We should also be a little bit more careful regarding the various channels related to movies we consume. There is nothing wrong with enjoying some entertaining takes on a movie or to laugh about overdone tropes or even our own over-investment in certain movies. But we need to judge criticism on the merit of the argument instead of it its entertainment value. And we need to get away from the idea that logic has to be the overriding feature of a movie, or that a plot hole is automatically a black mark against a narrative, and not a neutral feature. We need to get away from the notion that overly long videos in which someone goes through a movie step by step and nitpicks every second of it is in any way meaningful criticism.

A plot hole is not a measuring stick for the quality of a movie. It is just a feature of one. And more often than not the least important one.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Disney Tarot: The Sun

The Sun was another card where the pick for a fitting image was fairly easy. After all, there is exactly one princess, whose powers came from the sun, and who comes from a kingdom which uses the sun as a symbol. The design I came up with looked like this:

19-The-Sun

Usually the card features a child riding on a white horse but, well, there isn’t a single moment in Tangled in which Rapunzel is actually riding Maximus, never mind doing it as a child. So I needed to be a little bit creative. To symbolize the child-aspect of the card I put child Rapunzel into the sun (for which I naturally picked the symbol of Corona as drawn by Rapunzel herself). And then I picked a scene which shows the close connection between Rapunzel and Maximus, while also expressing the joy which is inherent in this particular card.

The Sun is an inherently positive card, standing for success, abundance and vitality. It suggests that personal goals are well within someone’s reach, if said someone is ready to put some effort into realising them.  In reverse it points to the inner child, but also warns of being overly optimistic about something. In a way, this is also Rapunzel’s biggest strength and biggest flaw at the same time, her optimism wins her a lot of friends, but it also leaves her often vulnerable.

In a way her journey is similar to what is presented in the card, the development from childlike innocence to a better understanding of the world which surrounds her. It is a journey we all take, though usually not within three days.

 

 


Disney Tarot: The Moon

Well, we are back to one of the trickier cards. Picking the right motive to represent The Moon was fairly easy though. I pretty fast settled on this one:

18-The-Moon

I laid the ghostly figure of the Genie over the moon because in the original card the moon has a face. There are usually no humans in the card, instead it features a wolf and a domesticated dog howling at the moon as well as a crayfish peaking out of the water. There are also two large pillars shown, which are here represented by the huge trees.

I don’t mean to be insulting, but I felt that a thief and a princess are a good replacement for the wolf and hound, the human which is bound by nothing vs the one which has been domesticated, so to speak. They are representing the tamed and the wild aspect of the mind. The main reason I wanted those two on the card though, is its meaning.  The Moon indicates that something in the life of the reader is not what it seems. That doesn’t necessarily mean an outright deception along the lines Aladdin commits, it also can be about some sort of misunderstanding or a truth one refuses to admit to oneself.

Usually the moon on the card is frowning. The expression of the Genie is more fluid. Technically he is smiling, but you can also read his face as either angry or worried, depending on which part of it you focus. I felt that this was a good fit for the ambiguity of a card which on the one hand warns of deception, especially the deception of oneself, but on the other hand advocates for a spiritual approach to cut through said deception by using intuition as a weapon.

In reverse The Moon stands for repressed emotion and inner confusion. This aspect is hinted in the card due to the reflection of the characters in the water, hinting at the need to reflect on oneself. If the card turns up in reverse, the reflection is on the top, showing how the emotional side needs to be attended to in order to move on in life. Even if it won’t be on a flying carpet.

 

 

 


Disney Tarot: The Star

Well, following one of the most chaotic cards of Tarot follows what might be the most serene one. The Star also happens to represent a symbol, which is very prominent in Disney movies, and important for exactly one Disney Princess.

17-The-Star

Usually this card shows a naked woman kneeling at the edge of a small pool, pouring water out of two containers she holds in each of her hands. She has one foot firmly on the ground, representing her practical abilities and common sense, the other in the water, representing her intuition. Above her head is one large star and seven smaller stars, representing the chakras. At least, that’s what the card looks like in more modern decks. In older ones a woman (sometimes man) is simply looking at or gesturing towards a star in the sky.

My version of the card is closer to those older designs. Though I guess I still managed to capture the pull between the practical and the spiritual, with Tiana being a really down to earth character, working hard to realise her dream (represented through the picture in her hand), but still pulling her hope from the star.

That’s what the card is standing for: hope, faith, purpose, renewal and spirituality in general. Consequently it stands for a lack of faith, despair and some sort of disconnect in reverse. But in this position, it can also simply stand for trusting in your own abilities.

I’ll be honest here: Initially I feared that Tiana wouldn’t be a good fit for The Star, exactly because of her not particularly spiritual character, but in a way, she is perfect exactly because she is so down to earth. After all her story is also about hope, and about her finding her spiritual balance.