17 July 2017

V reviews: Spider-Man Homecoming

First off: beware, there are some minor spoilers in this review. I'll keep it to a minimum, but you've been warned ahead of time.

If you want to remain spoiler-free (as you should), go watch the movie. It's good! Best Spider-Man movie since Spider-Man 2.

V Reviews: Spider-Man Homecoming

Some thoughts prior to watching the movie

When Amazing Spider-Man 2 came around, the premiere in Belgium (and Europe in general) was more than a week ahead of the US. We warned everybody to stay the hell away from it. In response we now got the release a week AFTER the US. Eh, it could be worse. DC has punished us for the same thing (badmouthing BvS) by pushing Wonder Woman almost a month after the US release, way after the hype had passed. Still kind of annoyed by that (hence why I didn't bother writing a review for that).

If you want to know my sentiments about Spider-Man? I friggin' love the franchise. I grew up with Spider-Man TAS from the 90s (one of my favorite shows) and I've read many of the comics ever since. And any kind of interpretation of the character at least gets a chance from me. So if you want to know my favorite Spider-Men?

  1. Spider-Man TAS: Still the best to this day, even though it hasn't aged that well. The reason why this is nr 1 is because this series had multiple seasons to explore the most of the Spider-Man lore compared to any other series and did those things justice. Heck, even the animated Clone sage was better than its comic counterpart (though for obvious reasons).
  2. Spectacular Spider-Man: Great show. Cancelled WAY too soon to be replaced with one of the worst. If it had at least one more season and a proper ending, it certainly would've topped Spider-Man TAS.
  3. Reimy's Spider-Man Trilogy: 2 great movies, one bad one
  4. Spider-Man The New Animated Series: Better known as Spider-Man MTV. Kind of liked the re-invention in CG. Had good moments while it lasted. Silver Sable and Electro were the most memorable things here.
  5. Spider-Man Unlimited: A sequel of sorts to Spider-Man TAS that took place in a totally different planet. Kind of worked, but was way too weird for it to really catch on. Cancelled after one season.
  6. Spider-Man and his amazing friends: Boy this hasn't aged well. I kind of want to like this. This was supposed to be Human Torch, Iceman and Spider-Man. But since Iceman and Torch were too much alike, they changed her for the original female Firestar. Nice twist that gave this series something noteworthy compared to the next two entries.
  7. 80s Spider-Man: In the middle on this. Can't remember much of this, so I'll put it in the middle.
  8. 60s Spider-Man: Hard to criticize this, since the show is so old and I can't bear to ever watch this again. But it's been the source of tons of golden memes, so I can't really be mad at it.
  9. Ultimate Spider-Man: Boy, did I give this series a chance. And another one. And another one. After a certain certain episode where Spider-Man proved himself to be better than both Wolverine and Captain America I was so disgusted by it that I stopped watching it all together. This series is bad, should get cancelled and go burn itself in a junkyard. The one good thing this series has done is Deadpool. Deadpool is the best character of Ultimate Spider-Man. That's how bad this series is.
  10. Marc Webb's Amazing Spider-Man 1+2: The first was "bleh". It wasn't horrible, but it wasn't good either. I hated Garfield's impression of Peter Parker, but his Spider-Man character was decent and the chemistry with Gwen Stacy worked! But then came ASM2 and with it came the first movie i saw in theater and walked away from totally pissed. This movie sucked so bad.

What this movie gets right: Not re-hashing the origin story AGAIN!

You know what everybody complained about in Batman Vs Superman? Everybody hated on the YET-AGAIN origin story for Batman. We've seen it several times at this point. Most people know by now how Batman "began". So seeing it being done again just was another drip of oil being poured onto the lit fire

In Spider-Man Homecoming the writers stayed away from it. No spider-bite, no uncle Ben, no weirdly annoying subplot of Peter's parents that goes nowhere (looking at you, ASM2). Peter was introduced in Civil War and now his story starts from that point onward. No looking back at "how it all began". And that's good, because the movie already takes up more than 2 hours without that.

A few more things get omitted from this film, like the over-reliance on the spider-Sense and "swinging through the city to show off how good (or dated) our CG is". Yeah, the Reimy films didn't age well on that part.

What this movie gets right: Villains

Marvel villains suck in general. But there's two groups of villains in the Marvel universe that are as good as Batman's rogue gallery: The rogue gallery of the X-Men and especially Spider-Man. And while a lot of people were skeptical of seeing the Vulture (of all things) being adapted to the movie screen, I must say the adaption was AMAZING! Michael Keaton smashes EVERY OTHER incarnation of the Vulture out of the park and re-introduces him as a working man. A common man who went the villain route due to being forced there by "the big guys". And there's a plot twist in the story (I'm not going to spoil) that even cements him harder into the spider-lore and genuinely turned him into one of the best Marvel Cinematic Universe villains to date (which is not THAT hard, all things considered).

And next to the Vulture, we get a few more Spider-Man Villains in here, working as henchmen for the Vulture. And honestly, this is how that works best. I know people have complained about it, but let's be real. Shocker has always been a kind of a "lackey" for a greater villain, so seeing him work under Vulture makes sense. And Tinkerer was never that well known, so him being part of Vulture's crew made sense.

And then there's the setup for another villain that will (most likely) appear in the sequel. Most people caught the tattoo on the bad guy both times he appears and branded him as said villain. But I guess most of them never heard it when the Vulture's crew was talking about said villain's actual name (not going to spoil it) earlier in the movie. I guess I'm a little bit too much of a Spider-Nerd, so I caught it immediately and got my "oooooooh" moment there.

What this movie gets right: Re-introducing classic characters in a modern setting

Guess what. Queens of the 60s isn't the same Queens as it is today. Today's Queens is a melting pot of cultures and minorities. Asians, African-Americans, Northern Africans, Latino's, Italians and many other people make up the people of current-day New York. So it wouldn't make sense if every Spider-Character is Caucasian. And I kind of like it that both Peter and the Vulture are some of the few white people in a totally culturally mixed environment.

Is it pandering? Maybe. But New York is culturally very diverse. If this was the US outback, where >90% of the population is white, then an approach closer to the comics would've worked better. But again, this is New York. This multicultural approach works the best in this specific environment.

Also, Flash no longer being an archetype cliche bully works wonders. He's still an asshole, but he's no longer a 70s or 80s high school movie archetype of a bully. He's now being an obnoxious rich kid that goes to every club activity and after-school activity that Peter has as well, so he can't ignore this asshole.

Zendaya as the new MJ (not that much of a spoiler, it's everywhere on the internet) kinda works. It's still kind of iffy, mostly because she and Holland at this moment still have 0 chemistry. We'll see what a sequel brings.

What this movie gets right: A dorky Peter and a funny Spider-man

Tobey Maguire did a perfect job portraying Peter Parker as a dork, but felt kind of awkward when he donned the Spider-Man mantle. Andrew Garfield was way too cool to portray Peter. That never really worked. And his Spider-man was often more of a jerk than genuinely a funny guy. Tom Holland is both a dork as Peter, as well as an inexperienced, yet funny Spider-Man. And I love it. Depending on how Sony (mis)uses Tom Holland, this may end up being the best incarnation of the Spider-Man character to this date.

Time for some nit-picking!

Note: the following may sound a bit negative, but at best I'm just nitpicking at a good movie. Please take that into account.

What this movie doesn't get that right: MCU Connections

Before I start my complaint, first some kudo's. Marvel's writing team did their best to work in Spider-Man into the MCU and retconning "the kid" from Iron Man 2 as Spider-Man. But there's a few moments where I really frown my brows. How many years have passed since the Avengers movie? EIGHT? Really? That was never established before.

And while the cameo's from Iron Man, Happy Hogan and Pepper are limited to the bare minimum, some things still feel forced in. It's like Spider-Man's tech suit itself. This movie often feels like it is in "baby mode", with training wheels attached to it. And while this franchise needs it (considering the last three movies), it feels like pandering.

Though as a side-note: the tech suit with its many easter eggs was fun to watch as a total Spider-Nerd. I giggled at all the little details I recognized. But I doubt many people recognized the many easter eggs as well.

What this movie doesn't get right: Avoiding movie tropes, only to fall right back into it

Oh, this movie tries so hard at avoiding any movie trope. It's like they did research on Honest Trailers and CinemaSins and made a checklist of things to avoid or to better explain. And while they did their best, they can't avoid falling right into it. Perfect example? Minor "bad guy" Aaron Davis gets caught by Spider-Man and tells him who his real target is. And when Peter is running away, he yells "Wait, I haven't even told you where he is!", which is a great answer to the movie trope of heroes popping up out of nowhere where the villain is.

And that WOULD have been a really good sneer at countless movies that use this common trope... if they didn't fell into that same trope about an hour later into the movie (*facepalms*). Yeah, in the finale Peter suddenly pops up out of nowhere without the use of trackers. And that's sad, considering the movie takes so many attempts to specifically avoid this movie trope, having an explanation ready for every other random appearance.

What this movie doesn't get right: Visual effects

Thank god, this doesn't happen all the time. But there really are a few moments where the visuals just fail. Most notably is the first encounter between Vulture and Spider-Man. It's unwatchable, plain and simple. The shaky cam and the horrible angles ensure you can't make anything of the scene except: "Peter got picked up and dropped". All the rest from that scene? Unwatchable. Luckily the encounters after that have a better choreography.

Another weak point is the sometimes bad CG-ing of Spider-Man swinging around. Once again, doesn't happen in the entire movie. But the moments where the CG team drops the ball, it really shows. But then again, it's an issue that has occurred in EVERY Spider-Man movie, so I assume it's just very difficult to do.

Lastly, the homage to the debris lifting scene from the Ditko days was kind of undercut by the poor filming choices. It's not bad per sé... It just could've been done better.

So how does it compare to the other Spider-Man movies?

Hold on before you fire shots. I liked the movie. My "what this movie doesn't get right" parts are only to highlight a few of the weaker points in an otherwise GOOD movie. Think of it as constructive feedback for a sequel.

And it is constructive feedback, bacause this IS the Best Spider-Man movie ever since Spider-Man 2. I'd honestly give this an 8,5/10. And I need to rewatch that one in order to give a proper judgment. But at the moment, this may be the second best of all Spider-Man movies. And a noteworthy 4th place in my earlier top list of all Spider-Man related shows/movies. Let's hope Sony keeps it up in the future...

A sad future

Sadly enough, this isn't only a Marvel property. It's also a Sony property. And Sony has a horrible sleight of hand when handling their franchises. As long as people like Amy Pascel, Avi Arad and Tom Rothman are attached to the Spider-Man brand, it will continue to fail if not properly managed by Marvel. And all of them have already shown signs of future failure. The "Glass Ceiling" movie that was canned suddenly got back on track. So did the Venom movie and the Sinister Six movie. And let me tell you right now: Unless a miracle occurs all three of those movies are going to suck big time or disappoint fans in a big way. I honestly thought the Spider-franchise was saved when Sony and Marvel joined hands. But I couldn't have been more wrong. Sony just cannot learn from their mistakes... (*sigh*). I can only hope I'm wrong here.

Ending on a positive note

But let's end on a positive note here. Let's just ignore all corporate shenanigans and focus solely on this movie. Spider-Man Homecoming IS a good movie and IS worth your time.

Until next time, V out.

PS: I'll edit this a few times for pictures. It's kind of a long block of text right now.

10 July 2017

Why nobody talks about Atom the Beginning

Spring season of anime is over. I should be writing more about it. But I've been trying to find a way to write about anime, rather than just giving the synopsis and characters; especially in the case where there's not much to talk about the backstory (*scratches head* - Let's call that a work in progress).

Today I'm talking about Atom the Beginning, and why it doesn't work as intended. The short answer: Filler. Yeah, filler! And if that seem strange for a 1-season anime, that's because IT IS!

But let's start from the beginning about...

Why nobody talks about Atom the Beginning

What IS Atom the Beginning?

Atom the Beginning is a monthly manga created by Tetsuro Kasahara that works both as a re-imagining of, as well as a prequel to the legendary Tetsuwan Atom, better known in the west as Astro Boy. And if you don't know who Astro Boy or Atom is, then shame on you as an anime fan! It is thé creation from the godfather of manga and anime: Osamu Tezuka. Astro Boy is to Japan what characters like Mickey Mouse and Bugs Bunny are to America.

And while Astro Boy has been remade several times ever since its first appearance in the early 60s, this is the first of a set of "re-imaginings" that actually reaches the screen (with Urasawa's Pluto following somewhere in the following year).

Atom the Beginning tells the story of the two scientists (Umatarō Tenma and Hiroshi Ochanomizu) that were behind the creation of Atom (or its code name A1011 if you catch the inside reference) and tells us how these two originally met in university and how their first creations went. And more specifically, it tells the story of the prototype that predates Atom, codenamed A106 (A-Ten-Six). And yes, that is as intriguing as it sounds. Both Tenma and Ochanomizu (neither of them is "doctor" yet, but still a univ student) are shown to care about each other and their creations, even if their personalities often clash with each other. The over-caring Ochanomizu can't always agree with the often erratic Tenma.

And if you know anything about Atom-lore, you know that this is an interesting premise for an Atom-prequel and "what-if" story. And similar to other "Atom" spin-offs, this as well got input from Makoto Tezuka, the daughter of Osamu Tezuka (and also from Masami Yuki for some reason). And from what I've read from the 10 chapters that have been fan-translated, it IS a good manga.

But if that is true, what went wrong with the anime?

Amazon Anime Strike, late air date and lack of promotion

First, let's talk about a few factors that may have been an influence on why not that many people talk about the series in general.

The anime series is exclusive to Amazon's Anime Strike, where anime goes to die. It's a bad joke that bears repeating. anime exclusive to Amazon will reach a smaller audience because of exclusivity to America and a high combined monthly subscription fee (though that may change in the future).

Then there's the air date for the first episode, which was the fourth week of April (if you include the first weekend). That may seem trivial to you, but when the seasonal anime watchers (the trend setters of the community) are trying to pick their series for the new season, it's the series that start airing in the first week of the new season that will receive a larger coverage. It's a marketing strategy, really. The later on in the season you start your series, the less coverage and buzz you will receive. And in a season where you're competing with Attack on Titan, My Hero Academia and Eromanga sensei you will need all the buzz that is thrown in your direction.

Thank Gigguk for hyping the TOURNAMENT ARC!

And then there is the minimal amount of promotion. Heck, I wouldn't have noticed the series if people from the anime community weren't pointing to this series as the one where the internet sensation Bahi JD is working on the opening and end credits. And since Westerners (Bahi is Austrian) working in the anime scene is REALLY RARE, that generated a lot of buzz. But that was buzz from the community... not from the marketing department of the series. From that side we got two promo video's, but that was about it.

So it's safe to say that this series was flying under the radar for a lot of people. But it still could've been a "hidden gem" to promote... but then something else happened that prevented even that from happening.

Codeword: Filler

The comments on the first episodes haven't been nice. I could spill all the bile I can gather from MAL forums and Reddit. But in short: the story takes way too long to set up its premise. It's too slow and thus too boring.

And yes, I can agree with that sentiment. By the time the interesting part of the story starts (the robo-wrestling tournament), we're already at episode 8/12 while this is chapter 4 of the manga. Yes, it takes that long. Episodes 3, 4, 6 and 7 are filler... and so is episode 9. Yes, that is FIVE episodes of pure filled-up content in a 12-episode run. I don't think I've EVER heard of an anime that started to use filler THIS EARLY in its production cycle.

Do you know what most people hated about series like Naruto, Bleach and Fairy Tail? What brought a lot of their ratings and fan appreciations down? The massive amounts of filler episodes. Fillers are non-canon and often serve just to fill out a time-slot until enough manga chapters are ready to be animated. They're needed in long-running series, but nobody likes them.

And do I even need to mention the nonsense fillers add to the story?

And in such long-running series I can (somewhat) understand the use of filler. But here? Can somebody tell me why 5 of the 12 episodes of Atom the Beginning are Filler? Don't come and tell me there isn't enough material available, because there is. The monthly manga has been running for nearly three years and has sufficient material to fill up a 12-episode time-slot and even more.

And if the creators were testing the waters to see if they would care for a more long-running series of this kind, they most certainly failed. Because once again, nobody likes fillers.

Oh yes, we certainly needed a culture festival episode
Because we all wanted to see A106 make udon noodles, right?

So for crying out loud... WHY? It will probably take months (or even years) before we get honest interview of staff, director or producer on what went wrong here; but we're going to need some explanation. Because the end result is just not worth the investment of a casual anime viewer.

And that is sad because I wanted to praise this series. I want to let the anime community know that there is a huge interest in the Atom franchise in Japan and the rest of the world. I wanted to warm the people up for the upcoming Pluto series and who knows - maybe even the fifth-or-so reboot of the Atom television series as a whole.

And this anime has gorgeous visuals, the OP and ED are really good (Thanks to Bahi JD), the CG blends in really well with the 2D animation and the voice cast is really good. Everything but the story is really GOOD.

But as with most anime, the story is what makes or breaks the series.

And here, it's broken into pieces and patched together with a poor adhesive.

Can I still watch and enjoy it?

Yes, you can, but with a big asterisk next to it. The second half of the series is really good and really enjoyable to watch. The robo-wrestling tournament was always intended to be the highlight of the season and it shows. For those episodes alone this anime is worth watching (Episodes 8-12).

So err, just skip episodes 3 - 4 - 6 - 7 and maybe even 9 (though that one kind of works), and you'll have the story that was originally intended. The 4 mentioned episodes? Skip those and pretend they never existed. This way, you may still be able to enjoy Atom the Beginning.

It's a sad truth, but that's what it is.

Until next time, V out.

2 July 2017

How to make an interesting recap episode?: Let Re:Creators tell you how!

Recap episodes. You hate them, I hate them, even studios and animators hate them. But they're a necessary evil in the production of a TV-series (not just in anime).

Recap episodes can help out balancing the budget for the entire season if too much money has been blown on one specific episode. They can also be a saving grace when production issues cause a certain episode to not make a targeted deadline.

But in the anime industry of today, recap episodes are being programmed along with an anime season. It's why anime of today have only 12 episodes instead of 13. Or 2-cours anime have only 25 episodes instead of 26. There is a planned recap episode somewhere that is not part of the official episode count.

Why is this a standard element of the anime series of today? Mostly because of really tight production schedules in anime. The week with a recap episode is NOT a week where the production staff goes on holidays. No, they have to keep on working hard to make sure the final episode will be finished the moment it needs to air. And that one week "breathing room" is more necessary than you think. I know it's cliché at this point, but just watch Shirobako to see how production changes or unforeseen circumstances can cause a sudden need for a recap episode.

But even when defending the existence of recap episodes, it keeps buzzing in my head: Why can't the studios make these recaps better or more fresh? Just look at what both Avater series did to make their recap episode funny and interesting. But in anime, recap episodes really are just that... recaps! At best you get one character that narrates the entire story. But in most cases, it's just a "clip show".

So color me interested when this image suddenly appeared in Re:Creators Episode 13. Let's just say... I did NOT expect this, and I was pleasantly surprised!

How to make an interesting recap episode?

Before going into detail on why the most recent Re:Creators is a good example of a recap episode done right, let me explain with two examples of interesting and enjoyable recap episodes.

Recap done right: The Ember Island Players

The third season episode "The Ember Island Players" from Avatar the Last Airbender is a masterpiece of doing a recap of the entire show and doing it masterfully!

The plot of the entire show up to that point is being told through the play of a theater group from the Fire Nation (the Ember Island Players), while our heroes are watching the show from the audience and provide their own comments on it. Saying the play is inaccurate is an understatement. Characters have been gender-swapped or are portrayed inaccurately. Characters are being portrayed in a cartoonish over-the-top version that annoys the actual character sitting in the audience and certain plot points are manipulated in such a way that it would please the local people of the Fire Nation. But the entire play (and thus the episode) was done in such a way that the people watching it at home absolutely loved it.

Heck, most people today still say that the "Ember Island" play is a better portrayal of the Avatar series than M.Night Shyamalan's movie incarnation. People love this so much, entire cosplay groups have been spotted, dressed as the Ember Island players (no joke).

Recap done right: Remembrances

While the Recap episode in Legend of Korra (Remembrances) may have been "less awesome" than the Ember Island players, it was still really funny to watch. The entire episode was split into several sections where characters re-tell the past story events, while "chibi" versions of the people in the neighborhood of the narrator voice their live comments. And that is really funny, especially when Mako's family openly voices their disapproval of his actions of cheating on his girlfriend.

And I don't even need to mention the over-the-top storytelling Varrick does when he's recapping the events. The super-villain team-up to take down Varrick's superhero Bolin is hilarious without end.

Recap done right: Re:Creators Episode 13

So yesterday I watched episode 13 of Re:Creators and quickly realized that it would be a recap episode. As usual when seeing this, I think about the Avatar episodes and can only sigh about the lack of creativity in the anime industry when it comes to handling recaps. Then I slide my timer through the episode and drop it at specific points to see if anything new or fresh is added. But low and behold, I was honestly surprised when I saw the following:

Wait, that's not Meteora... right?

I quickly rewound the episode and watched carefully. As it turned out, the character named Meteora was recapping the prior 12 episodes and gave the story her own "personal touch", especially when it came to her self image (some issues there, girl?).

And while she "kills" the Military Uniform Girl from the first episode, she quickly comes to come to the conclusion that such a series ending would be forced and people would not like it. And thus she quickly "rewinds" her story and tells it the way we actually know it.

For the rest, new scenes are kept to a minimum, but Meteora keeps narrating and adds her own personal "touches" to the characters of the story and even starts singing (very much off-key) to one of the songs.

Yes, that is the word "Lolicon" you've just heard.

Later on, she gives her own opinion on the design of the Military girl, as if she was one of the animators herself. Trust me, it's more funny than this screenshot can show. It's hilarious.

But to finish it all off, she gives the reason why recap episodes exist in the anime industry. It's really well-put together and worth watching the entire episode for.

And I could voice my opinion on it. But I thought it would be the most fitting, if I transcribed the entire dialogue for you to see... and to share. Because messages like this should NOT get lost in the much dreaded recap episodes.

Meteora's words on recap episodes

Well then, I hope you enjoyed this intermission.
However, since this episode was a replay of highlights from the show, I'm sure that some of you may be left feeling a little concerned about the future of this show.
But please do not panic.
"The Quality is getting worse", or "the industry is in a crisis".
People say things like that these days to sensationalize things. But that is not our intention.
This intermission was planned as part of the broadcast, right from the beginning, so please do not worry.
Since this story has a large number of characters and a high density of elements in each frame, the expectations of the client are also high.
Without an interval like this, the director and producer would end up as shriveled-up mummies before the second half even begins.
Starting next episode, the show will resume in the normal format.
Perhaps I may have said some inappropriate things or foreboding words today.
But please don't tell anyone.
Ladies and gentlemen, please enjoy the rest of the show.
Brought to you by the magician of the Kunst Wunderkammer,
Meteora Osterreich.

I have no further words to add.
Until next time, V out.