The End of Adventure Time: The Cartoon of a Generation

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Introduction

A few weeks ago, I happened upon a clip from the ‘Adventure Time’ episode ‘Ketchup’ which saw the character of Marceline discovering a USB drive inside BMO containing a slideshow of her young self and her long passed mother. And this scene, which I watched before I actually watched the full episode, affected me. The following narration of an interpreted story by BMO (as Marceline pretends to not know the context of the images) over a sequence guest animated by Lindsay and Alex Small-Butera all served to remind me of what drew me into the series. Looking at this character who I absolutely loved getting nostalgic over something that the years of immortality she experiences could never get back to her and feels uncomfortable talking about to others, while she finds solace in an unreliable narration by a character who lacks the ability to understand the true context of those images brought out this unique comic yet emotionally gut wrenching experience that only the unique scenarios of ‘Adventure Time’ could bring out. I won’t try to make out like this scene was necessarily the most emotionally affecting scene in all of fiction. In addition to it not even being the most emotionally affecting moment in ‘Adventure Time’ it wasn’t even the most emotionally affecting Marceline moment, but it was a powerful example of what the series is capable of when handled well.

And it also reminded me that I seriously needed to catch up (or Ketchup haha, I’m funny I swear) on the series after taking a long break from it after a long while. The series is now officially coming to a close, something that was first announced only shortly after I myself started this blog and now after over a year and a half coming to be. Although there are plans for the adventures of Finn, Jake, and the countless other characters of the series to continue in the comics by Boom! studios, the TV series is coming to a conclusion after eight years of world and character building through the endlessly intriguing land of Ooo. It might seem odd to think now given much of the hype surrounding it has since dwindled down, but ‘Adventure Time’ towards the start of the decade was a full blown global phenomenon. A revolutionary moment in cartoon history that represented a turning point in tone and presentation for Western cartoons which also went far ahead what was previously done in the medium. All the while garnering an incredible level of public affection and acclaim that hadn’t been seen for a cartoon since the Simpsons-mania of the early 90s. And although that level of public affection has since gone down, ‘Adventure Time’ has still retained a healthy following throughout its eight years on television up until its end in 2018.

I felt it only necessary therefore to take a look back on ‘Adventure Time’ from both a personal and cultural perspective. And here, we will take an in-depth look into how it managed to achieve this, and the developments it made which allowed it to retain its charm up until now. We will go into more detail about what set it apart form other cartoons as well as the feats in world building it made and how successfully it managed to create a finely tied together narrative throughout its long run. So join me in this over long article as we talk about; ‘Adventure Time’; the cartoon of a generation.

Origins, Pendleton Ward, and Flapjack

To understand what it is that made ‘Adventure Time’ so distinct when it first aired, it should be understood first of all where it came from. That being the cartoon landscape of the 2000s, which saw a stylistic divide between a curvy and experimental design which was the remnant/progression of the style popular among series in the 90s such as ‘Ren and Stimpy’ and Golden Age ‘Simpsons’, and the more action oriented pointy style that had developed mostly within that decade that saw the influence of Genndy Tartakovsky and to some extent the DC animated universe and Shounen Anime of the time. I’ll talk about the former in more detail throughout this article, but it is worth noting that as the decade progressed, the latter was what took up most of the landscape. Series such as ‘Teen Titans’, ‘Avatar’, ‘Danny Phantom’, ‘Ben 10’ ‘Fairly Odd Parents’, and ‘The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy’ being some of the most popular cartoons of that time. And it didn’t exactly stop immediately with the decade’s end with ‘Sym-Bionic Titan’, ‘The Spectacular Spiderman’, ‘Young Justice’, and ‘Legend of Korra’ flourishing well in the first half of the 2010s, leaving the unending ‘Spongebob’ the only remnant of the rebel era which towards the end of the 2000s had mostly been marked by a series of now forgotten gross out comedies.

My purpose in illustrating this divide and it’s eventual outcome is not to try and drive a wedge between the two styles, partly because I think doing so is rather immature and mostly because it ignores that these two artistic movements, which to be clear were never in direct conflict with each other, are both relevant to the origin of ‘Adventure Time’ which found it’s start in Pendleton Ward. Ward was an animation student at the California Institute of the Arts or CalArts for short. An institution which also bolstered two other men who would go on to find success with their own series with J. G. Quintel (Regular Show) and Alex Hirsch (Gravity Falls), both of whom were also close friends with Ward and would go on to work with them.

If I might be allowed to backtrack here for a little bit, this institution’s place in shaping a generation of creators for many modern cartoons is something of a controversial topic, especially recently where the style that has become the norm for cartoons of this decade dubbed the “CalArts” style, a style which has also recently received quite a hefty amount of derision from corners of the internet among other things for “all looking the same”, “having a lazy quality to it”, and most egregiously for “ruining cartoons by replacing the cool and diverse designs of yesteryear with politically correct anatomical character designs which emphasise cuteness and..” I’m just going to stop right there. I doubt they use that many big words but that’s essentially the gist of it, and it’s a fundamentally flawed argument. For one thing because as I have laid out, the previous decade has had popular norms and trends that the media of its day tended to follow, with the 2000s being a decade of pointedness and action, and the 90s being a decade of fluid and rigid experimentation and hyperactive wackiness. I’m painting in broad strokes there as those descriptions don’t fit every cartoon of their era of course, but it does show that the criticism that this art style is taking over cartoons is absurd when such an accusation can easily be applied to the previous styles. There’s also the fact that of course not every creator of a cartoon that has used this style attended CalArts.

To get back to the main topic, I will address the other criticism that this design choice is inherently bad, this ignores the fact that this style was adopted onto some of the best cartoons of this decade, and for a reason. As mentioned before, the “gross out, rebel era” that I said faded out through the previous decade is actually what birthed this specific style. And a large factor in both its widespread implementation and longevity between eras is the fact that rounder character design and less edges around them tends to allow for a more fluid visual design which enhances the potentials and abilities of the animators to create a very real sense of movement which is more difficult to achieve from an overly detailed design. It’s generally for this reason that so many series today have such vibrant animation (which many of the people who hate this style would probably realise if they actually bothered to watch them instead of judging them based solely on a poster), that and some really passionate staff behind many of these series that give them an incredibly lovely look.

How this style and ‘Adventure Time’ ties into the “gross out” era can be found in a now forgotten remnant towards the end of this era, Cartoon Network’s ‘The Marvellous Misadventures of Flapjack’. Created by Thurop Van Orman, ‘Flapjack’ is a series that does I think deserve to at least be recognised by cartoon historians for what it represented in how the Experimental animation of ‘Ed, Edd n Eddy’ and ‘Courage the Cowardly Dog’ gave way to series like ‘Gravity Falls’, ‘Regular Show’, and ‘Adventure Time’ and its largely because Quintel, Hirsch, and Ward all worked on the series as writers and storyboard artists.

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Telling the story of an inquisitive and often naïve young boy raised by a sea pirate inside a whale, and the episodic adventures of their search for the elusive Candied island, the series’ production was generally driven by its storyboard artists, which allowed the artists to write all the dialogue and action for the episodes they created. Although based on an outline handed to them, this approach in effect allowed artists a greater say in what the finished product would look like and allowed them a chance to truly prove themselves for when their experience would gain them the clout to start their own series. Ward in particular was struck by his work on the series, a fact possibly helped by the fact that it wasn’t like anything else airing on the network at that time with its unique seaside aesthetic, old school and unapologetically childlike style, and decidedly laid back and quiet atmosphere, very similar to Ward’s own artistic ambitions which he would go on to channel into his passion project once his experience on the series allowed him to adapt it into a full series.

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‘Adventure Time’ was the product of Ward’s early time working at Channel Frederator, which he was employed to following his graduation from CalArts and was commissioned to pitch a title for their Random! Cartoons series. This resulted in a 7 minute short that Ward animated all by himself, only receiving help on the colouring (Neil Graf), the background designs (Julian Narino), and the prop designs (Adam Munto). The short told the quick story of a boy named Pen (short for Pendleton) and a talking bulldog named Jake going on an adventure to save Princess Bubblegum from the villainous Ice King. Frederator’s CEO Fred Seibert initially declined the pitch, finding it too much of a student film that lacked much commercial appeal, but several other staff at the studio were more supportive, allowing the short to get approved for broadcast on Nicktoons on 11 January 2007, from which it would become a viral success, amassing over 3 million online views by April the next year and pave the way for a full series to be commissioned.

Strength of the Early Episodes

My paragraph in illustrating all of this beforehand was to emphasise exactly how different from the current norm ‘Adventure Time’ was when it first went into production. In sharp contrast to the cool and cut cartoons of the time was this decidedly laid back and simple Indie cartoon created by an incredibly Indie artist whose character designs tended towards default small smiles, pin-dot eyes, and the glorious animator’s dream that is noodle arms. And it was a series that garnered a divisive reaction from the business minded types at Cartoon Network’s management. Some felt that the series was too odd and too nonsensical to be understood by young viewers, while Ward and several staff members didn’t quite know how the series should look in its completed form and submitted several rejected episode pitches. It was ultimately largely through the decision of Rob Scorcher that the series was able to be green lit, as he saw it as “really Indie, comic book-y and new”. In short, he described the appeal of ‘Adventure Time’ early on.

Indie is a word that I particularly want to highlight as an example of the direction of the series. Despite later on coming to be defined by a offbeat weirdness somewhat reminiscent of the gross out genre that it’s Flapjack predecessor laid for it (that series was also decidedly Indie to the point that Modest Mouse lead singer Isaac Brock was a noted fan of it and even did voice work for it), the series was notable from the offset for the taking the incredibly simple premise of a boy and a dog going on a series of episodic adventures and having a simple fun time in an overall toned down and eloquent manner. This is was a stark tonal shift from the louder and more action oriented series on Cartoon Network at the time. It was also a style that ruminated throughout Ward’s work and even his personality. He often displays an incredibly quiet and thoughtful personality in interviews and apparently experienced a lot of difficulty working on the series early on due to his intense fear of having to interact with other people, a trait that would cause him to leave that position later on.

It’s likely this personality that drew him into a decidedly niche background that fuelled its way into his work at Frederator, notably his sketched short film ‘Barista‘ containing a rather familiar looking main character and some rather subversive, laid back humour. This approach to simplicity is something which no doubt drew him towards the childlike ‘Flapjack’ and something that greatly influenced his approach to ‘Adventure Time’. A series like the incredibly left of the dial ‘Home Movies’ and ‘Dr Kattz, Professional Therapist’, both of which carried a folky, restrained sense of humour with a distinct animation style as well as the rebellious style of early Simpsons, and combined it with his obsession with imaginative fantasy worldbuilding in his experience with ‘Dungeons & Dragons’ and the beautiful and therapeutic fantasy styling of Miyazaki, with ‘My Neighbour Totoro’ in particular being cited as an influence by Ward.

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Of course, this artistic vision being adapted into a full 26 episode television series was something that required more than just his basic outline. As such, a whole team of people were brought in to help with the tumultuous production of the first season which included a mix of both industry veterans and bright newcomers, many of whom included people who Ward discovered on the internet and were brought on despite never having worked on a television series before. This included once again Ward’s college acquaintances such as writer/storyboard artist Patrick McHale, with whom he, Ward, and Adam Munto created the episode that after several rejected scripts would finally be accepted for submission and become the first to be produced (but fifth to be aired once it was), ‘The Enchiridion’, a reworking of the original short which sought to improve upon it by adding elements such as world lore and a greater emphasis on the main character, now renamed Finn, going through a tangible character arc, all the while opening an opportunity to have it serve as an example for the series animation style by having it open up on a heavily populated party in the central setting of the Candy Kingdom ruled by Princess Bubblegum.

Of course, the exact style of the series was still to be worked out at this stage, with the crude style of Ward’s earlier work being felt to not really display the fantastical nature that he wanted for the series. This issue would end up being resolved by three animators who had previously worked on ‘SpongeBob Squarepants’, Derek Drymon, Merriweather Williams, and Nick Jennings, as well as ‘Flapjack’ creator Thurop Van Orman, whose experience managed to place the decided look of the series, a more restrained look which helped to communicate the personalities of individual characters through their decidedly goofy movements while maintaining Ward’s initial designs and vision for them, largely thanks to the work of character designer Phil Rynda, who sought to maintain Ward’s natural aesthetic however the animation turned out in order to help it keep a consistent look. This provided the series with the expressive animation that it was yearned for, with the animation adapting the storyboards matching them by providing that aforementioned dance party with incredibly wavy noodle arms on each of the two main characters which displayed a highly freeform and expressive animation style that would define the early seasons of the series and display its old school cartoonish movements.

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This animation style would meet its match with veteran director Larry Leichliter, who allowed a visual style encompassing rarely moved cameras and angles which allowed the animation to be set on full display. A style maintained in his extensive catalogue of American cartoon history from ‘Charlie Brown’ to ‘Hey Arnold’. This long term experience going back to the 70s allowed Leichliter’s emphasis on character movements through minimal camera movements to function well as a visual supervision for the storyboard format that the writers for the episodes created them in. The expansive and D&D inspired Land of Ooo which the majority of the series would be set in was to be designed by another ‘Flapjack’ alumni in background designer Dan “Ghostshrimp” Bandit, who was largely allowed his own distinct vision for what the world would look like and who designed many of the mainstay locations in Ooo, including Finn and Jake’s house, the Candy Kingdom, and the Ice Kingdom.

With all of this powerhouse force behind it, the series eventually garnered some incredibly high expectations, and ones that would luckily turn out to be fruitful when the series finally made its airing debut on 5th April 2010 and turned out to be a considerable success that would only grow more successful as it went on. And there are a few reasons as to how the series got popular (the established norm growing increasingly stale for many as oft happens, and the relatively simple for children quality of it) but of particular importance to its success was its premise.

Expanding on the basic outline established in the Nickelodeon short, ‘Adventure Time’ follows the Adventures of a human boy named Finn and his talking, shape shifting bulldog, best friend and adoptive brother Jake. And the appeal of the early episodes of ‘Adventure Time’ can be found in how self contained they are. Often creating adventures out of silly and occurrences such as a sentient mountain becoming incredibly distraught by the view stuck in front of him, Finn having to overcome his fear of the ocean to complete his adventure, and a standard “find the object in a secret cave” storyline displaying the D&D influence.

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Opened upon with a visually expansive opening showing off the multiple recurring characters and locations of the series before transitioning to the humble theme song sung by Ward himself in an incredibly timid singing voice, each of these stories and others displayed the offbeat and out there nature of the series, utilising many of the strengths discussed previously to give it a childlike sense of discovery. A story of discovery told from the viewpoint of Finn, a main character who would have been around the age that many young viewers, and who in essence carries a hopeful and inquisitive personality which sets him out on these adventures often to try and break from the hegemony of daily life, a feeling many 12 year olds could relate to. But what makes the adventures themselves particularly compelling, is the world that they take place in.

Distinctive Style and the Nature of Surrealism

The Land of Ooo on which the majority of the series takes place is a whole continent which is a place that allows for the imaginations of the staff behind the series to flourish, as it is a world seemingly without rules. A large plain of differing landscapes through which our two main characters walk through in search of adventure, and where there’s always the sense that it can be there due to the vast number of locations in this land, each with its own inhabitants which encompass all sorts of oddities and specimens ranging from the candy people of the candy kingdom, mythical creatures, talking animals, people made out of different elements, robots, human-animal hybrids, and living objects such as mountains, rivers, and clouds.

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This all gives the series an air of unpredictability in regards to what the episodes can do with the vast variety of places we visit, similar to ‘Doctor Who’ or 2003 ‘Kino’s Journey’. A fact helped by the fact that the supporting recurring characters who are each given their own little personalities and quirks, such as Princess Bubblegum, a sentient piece of gum who rules the Candy Kingdom and the object of Finn’s youthful affection which serves as the catalyst for him to perform several off jobs for her, the often vacuous yet always fun Lumpy Space Princess, the precocious and childlike sentient gaming pad BMO, Lady Rainicorn, the Korean speaking flying unicorn with a body made out of a rainbow who serves as both the steed to Princess Bubblegum and the girlfriend of Jake, Treetrunks, an elderly yellow pygmy elephant with the mind and mannerisms of a grandmother, and the Ice King, a deluded wizard who creates Ice from his magic crown who often seeks to try and make Princesses into his brides and who served as the main antagonist of the original pilot before being made into more of a comic foil for Finn and Jake to frequently battle in the early episodes. And this is just the main selections in a vast and ever expanding list of characters who inhabit the Land of Ooo and who display the immense creativity that went into designing the surreal and otherworldly nature of the world in ‘Adventure Time’.

Describing something as being “Surreal” is something I would generally hesitate to do, mostly because of how much that term is misused to describe anything that can be considered “weird”. And it is often attributed to ‘Adventure Time’ specifically due to its perceived randomness and “trippy” nature. I do however think it is accurate to apply the term to ‘Adventure Time’ because it does in fact assert its odd imagery to some meaning. This is something later seasons would make more apparent, but the imagery in ‘Adventure Time’ ends up taking on a deeper symbolism, as is the nature of surrealism, starting out in reaction to the despair and a critique of the prevailing rational system of thought that led to World War I. This distinguishes surrealism from Dadaism, which arose from the same basis and period and describes what many often mistake surrealism for, but surrealism combines the equal union of a conscious and unconscious self, as opposed to Dadaism which derived its artistic influence from pure nonsense and an inchoate sense of oddity.

Although this element of the series becomes more apparent in the later seasons, the hints of how the surrealism of the series informs the series on a deeper thematic level are apparent even early on, especially once you rewatch the early episode with the knowledge you gain from the rest of the series. From Finn’s youthful perspective, we see imagery relating to the questioning of one’s identity and the desire for clarity and connection. Serving as the audience surrogate, although Finn as a character has grown up in the weird and colourful Land of Ooo, it is through the explorations of his adventures that he discovers and learns.

This is helped additionally through the plot structures of many of these early episodes, quite a few of which involved Finn and Jake having to overcome an obstacle through figuring out its solution. Take for example ‘His Hero’, the penultimate episode of the first season which sees Finn and Jake trying to impart the wisdom of their personal hero and influence Billy, a retired adventurer who has become jaded in his old age and who when they ask for advice from gives an incredibly basic piece of advice to not use violence to solve their solutions. So they go out on a series of adventures aiming to not use violence to resolve them, and this turns into a horrid failure to the point they ultimately have to betray Billy’s advice, something which initially leaves Finn disappointed until the old lady they saved reminds him of how he succeeded. This results in Finn’s perspective of the situation changing fundamentally, causing his idealised view of Billy to shift, seeing that the solutions to problems are not quite so clear cut, which among other things is an incredibly mature lessons for children watching while being well integrated enough into the episode so as to not feel like lecturing, and once he reveals this to Billy, it then restores his faith in his own line of duty and as such, Billy also comes out of the experience becoming bettered, showed symbolically by a hole in his body healing itself upon hearing this.

Episodes such as this give off the impression that Finn and Jake actually manage to learn a lesson from their experiences. And more importantly is how the surreal and offbeat perspective of the series prevents moments like these from coming across as lecturing. It doesn’t speak down to its young audience and says “Well children, what did we learn today?!” especially since some of the lessons Finn learns are often not so clear cut and therefore something the series seems to ward the young audience off from fully taking to heart while making for effective entertainment. Another example can be found in ‘Boom, Boom Mountain’ in which Finn resolves a large multitude of conflicts whose initial resolutions seem to then cause trouble for someone else and locks him out of managing to find a solution that can satisfy everyone involved, showing him how difficult the world around him can truly be to better, but something that he at least always seeks to fix because of this strong sense of morality.

This is further exemplified by the way that the series uses it’s villains of the week. The Ice King, as mentioned before, is usually handled as a comic foil for Finn and Jake to rescue Princesses from rather than an imposing threat to be taken seriously. This describes several other villains who often serve as more of an obstacle and often aren’t total super villains. Even Ricardio the Heart Man, one of the most openly evil characters early on is essentially a Princess stealer (though one with much darker implications as examined later on). The series as a whole commits to it’s chilled down atmosphere in handling it’s villains in this way, showing that enemies such as Magic Man aren’t pure evil so much as simply jerks. And displaying them as even having their redeemable aspects, such as having Ice King unintentionally help Finn and Jake at points.

A more concrete example however, would be one of the series’ mainstays in the aforementioned Marcline the Vampire Queen, who was actually the villain of the episode in her first appearance, being a vampire who evicts the pair from their home, repeatedly taunts them, and even drinks Jake’s blood at one point (in a rather violent moment it must be said). And yet she would turn out to become the fan favourite character following her next appearance which saw her with a newfound respect for Finn, having him join her in using her powers for fun, and even causing the two to develop a close friendship that would last the rest of the series.

Cast of Writers and coming into its own in Season 3

When Ward started the series off, he sought to create a series built upon ambivalent emotions. Feelings of being happy and scared at the same time, reflective of the laid back tone of the series. To this end, he has sometimes described the series as being a “Dark Comedy”, distinguished from its gross out predecessors by placing a greater emphasis on cuteness than most entries in that genre. Although the series still carried several elements of that subgenre, such as occasional fart jokes and some truly great, creased facial movements in the early episodes. There are even a few scenes of graphic violence, made justifiable by the fact the characters it happened to weren’t human, but a lot of these elements weren’t overplayed or made to be the main point of the series. He expressed several times that he never strove to try and push the limits of the PG rating like a lot of other creators on Cartoon Network were doing at the time.

It is likely this that in turn helped the series to appeal to teenagers and adults as well as children, especially as some teenagers at the time would have grown up with the gross out era of animation and would have been appealed to by moments such as that, but this is merely a miniscule summation of the grownup appeal for the series. A more important development in this can be found in a detail about the series that I’ve danced around so far that was first revealed early on in the episode ‘Business Time’ which sees Finn and Jake encounter zombies of businessmen. Although the episode itself is mostly a fairly simple jab at business culture as zombies have oft served as a metaphor for, it was the implication that their presence created that would become an integral part of the series and establish a lore for it. That the series takes place in our world, 1000 years after a nuclear apocalypse.

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And the bizarre imagery of the series are the remnants of life following that apocalypse, with Finn being the only human we see throughout the majority of the series, leading to the conclusion that he is the last human alive, or at the very least one who has no contact with others. This is also revealed in vignettes of his backstory, where we learn that he was discovered as a baby alone in the forest and discovered then taken in by Jake’s family. This then leaves him not only as a surrogate for the children watching, but also for the older viewers who then come to learn the mature themes of the series, and it is largely in the subsequent seasons that this takes shape.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about this aspect of the series to me, is that it wasn’t actually planned from the beginning. The series was indeed originally conceived as being a silly, fun adventure series with elements of dark comedy, and even the episode which started this was just Luther McLaurin and Armen Mizaian’s light hearted jab at businessmen that then came to shape an idea that the writers for the series would build upon. It is in this regard that possibly the smartest decision Ward made for the series was in allowing people he discovered on the internet to work for the series. Many of these people coming from a similarly Indie and outside the cartoon norms background as Ward, and as such brought with them several ideas described by him as being “Idiosyncratic and spiritual”, which in turn would allow the series to tackle more mature themes, experiment with less conventional plot ideas, and touch deeper onto the character’s stories to the point that they would form full on character arcs.

A lot of which would come to pass in the second and especially third season. It’s hard to tell how much of what ultimately came to screen was planned for a long time coming and which parts of the series were only thought of shortly before they were written (the post-apocalyptic angle as discussed before being one of the latter), but regardless, it surprisingly managed to congeal into a cohesive whole by the end of the series. And it could often come from unexpected small details, such as a small moment in the season 6 episode ‘Graybles 1000+’ features a scene involving a small cookie leaving a capsule, and this small moment actually leads directly to the series finale (going further is spoilers obviously), and this shows the amount of dedication to this collaborative construction between the different writers for the series put into making this development, the likes of which wasn’t something often done in long running children’s cartoons on such a scale before, but certainly became so following ‘Adventure Time’.

A format that took the mature themes of Japanese Anime, and placed them within the eclectic world of a series that like the game that inspired it, allowed it’s writers to use their imaginations to flourish and use their Indie backgrounds to give a look and feel distinctive from what was popular before it. In addition to names we’ve covered here before (Muto, McHale) this team of unafraid writers/storyboard artists included Tom Herpich, Skyler Page, Steve Wolfhard, Somvilay Xayaphone, Ako Catsuera, Cole Sanchez, Jesse Moynihan, Niki Yang, Kent Osbourne, and too many others to count. And many of them also took a much more collaborative role in the series which is a large part of what helped it to function. Not only because they often co-wrote episodes with each other in addition to writing them on their own, but even taking other active roles such as notably voicing some characters, most notably Yang providing the voice of BMO and Lady Rainicorn.

Perhaps the most significant writer for the series however, both within and outside of the series, was Rebecca Sugar. Now known mostly as the creator of ‘Steven Universe’, a series that likely wouldn’t be what it is without ‘Adventure Time’ in more ways than one, Rebecca Sugar wrote not only some of the common fan favourite episodes, but also the most transformative to the series itself. Crafting one of the more unique bodies of work among the writers for the series with stories containing a number of recurring themes including a greater emphasis on emotional depth, song writing prowess shown in her often rhythmic songs taking a shift from the more improvisational music that Ward provided, shifting focus away from the main duo to expand on side characters such as Ice King, Princess Bubblegum, and especially Marceline by handing them tragic backstories which utilised the post-apocalyptic angle to its thematic potential strengths. In doing so, establishing many storylines that would come to define them for the rest of the series, and which would go on to form whole new arcs. This would in turn lead to storylines with a more dramatic and dark flare that the series as a whole would follow through on.

All that said, another aspect that Sugar brought to the table that would transfer more famously into ‘Steven Universe’ was her nuanced and progressive portrayals of gender and sexuality. One particular episode where this aspect comes through is the fan favourite ‘Fionna and Cake’, an episode which takes us into a version of the series’ world where all of the characters are gender-swapped versions of themselves. Taking a concept devised by storyboard revisionist Natasha Allegri, the episode that could have just been a simple gimmick works by going a step beyond that and turning these gender-swapped versions of the characters we know into individual characters in their own right, with noticeable differences from their counterparts, be they minor mannerisms, fashion codes, or their different approaches to attraction. Many of these differences making sense within the context of their gender, which is handled in a somewhat performative and refined manner, making for a rather progressive narrative that could have easily just been a bottom tier list of gender based jokes, but instead conveys a thoughtful message which I think is needed for viewers, young and old, about treating people respectfully regardless of their gender, and again manages to do this without feeling like speaking down to it’s audience.

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This arguably makes this episode one of the most influential in the series, defining it’s social politics in a very grounded way, and would go on to certainly produce the most fan fiction out of all episodes. While I’m not sure if the episode introduced the concept of gender-swapping in fandoms, it certainly popularised it, making the practice a common trope in fan-art circles even in other fandoms as well. All while the episode manages to establish its own world and large cast of characters in just 11 minutes. This added to a nice twist at the end that I won’t dare spoil here but did allow for further instalments in this universe to be made afterwards all make this one of the best episodes in the series and a showcase of Sugar’s abilities. Oh, and did I mention Neil Patrick-Harris and Donald Glover voice Prince Gumball (Princess Bubblegum) and Marshall Lee (Marceline) respectively.

Another Sugar-penned episode from Season 3 worth noting which displays some of the qualities I brought up earlier would be ‘What Was Missing’, which displays her penchant for in-depth character studies that would herald forth the more dramatic tone the series would take from that point. Placing the main characters; Finn, Jake, Marceline, BMO, and Princess Bubblegum together to try and reclaim personal items that were stolen by the Doormaster, who puts them through a puzzle they have to solve through song to get them back. From there, we get an episode that could very well serve as a summation of some of the most pleasant aspects of the series. The scenes where the characters all get along with each other and have fun with each other are all quite lovely, and show how well integrated into each other’s lives these characters had become at this point, and how much the audience had gotten to know them, so whenever we see them in a casual slice of life scenario like this, it becomes extremely nice to see. The more dramatic scenes where they become increasingly disorientated with the situation meanwhile have this subdued nature to them which prevents them from feeling melodramatic.

One thing I’d like to note about this episode is how much it humanises Princess Bubblegum, who was by no means an uninteresting character before this, having been established as a Princess who was also a Scientist (yay for dissolving gender norms) but this episode which has her be less formal than we had usually seen her and even giving her a change of fashion to signify this. All the characters in this episode have their own revealing moments; and it wins continuity points by having a brief scene from a previous episode where Finn got a piece of Bubblegum’s gum hair into the object he wants to try and get back. The beginning of the episode establishes this, where we see him sniffing it in….. a weirdly sexual way. The episode only vaguely hints at how creepy this can come across, but more on that in the next chapter. The moment everyone tends to remember from this episode however is the song that Marceline sings to try and open the door, which reveals that she and Bubblegum have some sort of past together that resulted in her having feelings of bitterness but also resentment towards that bitterness.

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The end of the episode in which it is revealed that Bubblegum’s object was a shirt that Marceline gave her once that “means a lot” to her, and hearing this causes Marceline to blush gives more evidence to the hint that this past Marceline and Bubblegum share together was a romantic one. This is once again something that future episodes would expand on, and once again something I plan to talk on more later in the article, but it did cause a hefty mix of adoration and controversy for the same reason of implying the existence of a gay relationship between two characters in a children’s television series in 2011. Hints were the best we could hope for back then due to both society at large and network managements efforts of censorship under the guise of doing it to avoid censorship in other countries, thankfully that has changed dramatically in the last few years, even if there are still some issues in the field of representation, but this is nonetheless a great thing. Anyway, this also shows the deeper side to each of the characters, with Bubblegum showing her more emotional side, Finn showing his more confessional side when he basically admits his item to her, and Marceline having her softer side shown in both her hesitation to be truly mean to Bubblegum and the revelation that she didn’t have any items of hers stolen and just wanted to spend the day enjoying her time with her friends, a feeling the viewer is left sympathising with once the episode comes to a close and they feel more emotionally connected to each of these characters.

Character Aging and Character Development

Season 3 was indeed transformative for the series as a whole. Even the visual accompaniment to the writing compliments this. The overall colour pallet for the series is given noticeably more attention from this point on, with a greater emphasis on rich colours as opposed to the pale imagery of the first two seasons. And the direction for the series which became increasingly taken charge of by the storyboard artists at this point, resulting in those still camera angles I mentioned earlier being traded in favour of shots which focused more directly and up close to the characters.

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Whether or not you like these changes (I will admit I do resent the fact that those wiggly arms from the early episodes were now gone) this does show as additional key to ‘Adventure Time’s longevity is it’s willingness to change. This has been established from the start of the series of course. Characters who appeared in early episodes became mainstays where their personalities changed and several plot threads were continued into episodes, but this was where the series really came into it’s own. And in addition to the story changes, a major change was occurring in the characters but most audibly in the main character.

I say audibly because Finn’s voice actor Jeremy Shada contributed a lot to this noticeable change by occasionally putting voice squeaks in his lines to give off the impression that his character was going through puberty (which it’s worth noting the young voice actor himself was also going through), and this provided the series with a sense of linearity by having it’s main character as well as several other characters age. As most of them aren’t human, their aging process is somewhat different which is how the series prevents them from aging too much, but the characters in ‘Adventure Time’ do still age, and this is something which set it apart from other cartoons where even when they last for a long time, the characters almost never age.

‘The Simpsons’ being the obvious example where Bart, Lisa, and Maggie have all remained the same age through a solid five different Presidential administrations. In the context of that series it was never meant to have a linear ongoing story and simply serve as a satire of ongoing issues in the modern world, but where it becomes a problem for many series is when it gets to a point where it breaks the continuity of a series to the point that it comes to disregard it’s past while sticking to that past’s formula to the point it becomes a hollow shell of it’s former self, as ‘The Simpsons’ and ‘Spongebob’ have unfortunately done. This is something that by having a linear storyline, ‘Adventure Time’ manages to avoid by allowing the continuity and aging to continuously reinvent the series.

And it’s also by way of it being a long-running series (which I choose to define by a series having over 100 episodes) that ‘Adventure Time’ manages to give it’s character’s aging a sense of purpose. As mentioned before, Finn served as an audience surrogate at the start of the series, and so he aged at the same time the audience was aging. It’s not quite as close to that process as the Magical Girl series ‘Ojamajo Doremi’ did in having each of it’s episodes take place in the course of a week and be set at the same time of year that each episode was airing (fun Anime trivia there), especially given it didn’t quite get there with Finn being 12 at the start of the series and 17 at the start despite the series last eight years due in part to the inconsistent schedule Cartoon Network would give it and several other series later on, but it does provide a detailed journey into his physical development in addition to his outside character introspection in a way that would often correlate with the young audience growing into their teenage years.

This coming of age story is one which continues the more progressive element by showing even some of the parts in puberty that some of us don’t quite want to see. Yeah, that thing about the increasingly sexual nature of Finn’s affection towards Bubblegum with him sniffing a lock of her hair is now to be brought up. It gets worse than that, as there are even a few subtle hints (this is still a family show after all) that he masturbates. Going from innocent schoolboy crush exemplified in the episode where Bubblegum was even aged down and got to play with Finn in a tragic story where we truly felt sorry for him in the end, to his yearning bordering towards entitlement is a plot point that has thrown quite a few people off from the character. Although, if I may be the one to leap to it’s defence, I do think that the main theme of what puberty does to a young boy is portrayed realistically, and it does even serve his character development when he grows past that attraction and begins his official relationship with Flame Princess in season 4.

The storyline of Finn and Flame Princess’s relationship is also something that occasionally throws people off, with some decrying the series for slipping into teenage melodrama, while others ship the two character and were thus unhappy with the way the relationship ended. Having the context of where this storyline would lead to (without spoiling too much) does for me however help me to appreciate the arc on a deeper level. Myself viewing it as an arc of Finn learning from his relationship how to handle involving others in his life and the difficulties that come with finding yourself in a relationship for the first time. Once again, something I imagine the young people watching may have also been dealing with, and the mistakes that Finn makes are at least ones that he learns and grows from.

This process of development would also carry over into how he views the world around him. Particularly tangible in the way that he views his earlier antagonists. And by antagonists, I specifically mean the Ice King, whose character is given whole new meaning in the two part episode ‘Holly Jolly Secrets’, an unexpected Christmas Special set in a world where Christmas doesn’t even properly exist. The episode starts up with the standard setup of Ice King being shown to have some highly questionable social skills when approaching Finn and Jake, whom he sees as friends despite everything. As was established before, he isn’t entirely a bad person, just misguided and heavily hinted to have some sort of mental illness. But in this episode…..

Warning, the following paragraph can actually be considered a legitimate spoiler for the episode ‘Holly Jolly Secrets’ and the series as a whole. If you wish to avoid these spoilers, I suggest either skipping over to the next paragraph or preferably watching the episode. It’s only 22 minutes long and it is really good.

So, Finn and Jake end up discovering an old cassette tape and, in a scene directly inspired by the famous Faye’s Past scene from ‘Cowboy Bebop’, we discover that Ice King has lived since before the Apocalypse that created the world we know in the series. That he used to be a scientist named Simon Petrikov who discovered the magic crown the character we know wears, and visually details the process of his transformation into the Ice King who has lost his memories from this former life. Upon this realisation, Finn and Jake decide to comfort him in a truly heart warming moment, and in doing so unintentionally resurrect Christmas. This moment is a true turning point for the series. Utilising the pre-established post-apocalyptic scenario of the series to create some powerful character drama, with it’s characters who have lived through the creation of that land and who in turn, take the part of the audience viewpoint to see the tragic and emotional stories that created the world of the series.

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Attention to world building would become a staple of the series’ second half. The Sugar penned ‘I remember You’ expanding on the concept introduced in that episode by tying it also into our immortal demon-vampire queen’s life; revealing that she and Ice King have a history with each other. Incredibly, the character’s voice actors share this in common with their characters, as Ice King’s voice actor Tom Kenny had worked as a comedy act at Olivia Olson’s father Martin’s comedy club when she was a child, meaning they had met before. Also, Martin Olson voices Marceline’s biological father Hunson Abadeer. This is a recurring theme we see throughout the series.

The steps towards humanising it’s antagonists aren’t the innovate part by themselves. ‘Batman the Animated Series’ often portrayed it’s villains sympathetically and as realistic human beings in the 90s and individual episodes where a protagonist would temporarily team up with their antagonist had become something of a trope in cartoons. But what separates ‘Adventure Time’ from that uvre is the lack of the word “temporary”, as the changes  and developments it’s characters go through become fixed. Finn and Jake for example do end up becoming noticeably nicer to Ice King after this whole ordeal. The changes to antagonists can be even further seen with Magic Man, who through his small number of appearances scattered throughout the whole series goes from a mischievous troublemaker, to someone who’s past we come to learn, to someone who has his magic powers stripped away from him and becomes Normal Man, and then reaches the end of his personal character arc by becoming King of Mars, or King Man. Or in a more dynamic change, how the character of Betty went from being voiced by Lena Dunham, to getting a replacement voice actor you could feel less disgusted from listening to.

And while the way that the series handles it’s antagonists make for a compelling character development, I think an even more impressive feat is how it then proceeds to question the morality of it’s protagonists. I’ve spoken before about Finn’s perverted nature and how he’s a boy going through puberty in a world with a completely different set of morals than our society (does the Land of Ooo even have an age of consent? I’ll stop myself right there to avoid going into really dark subject matter). But the aspect I want to highlight is the morality of Princess Bubblegum. As the series progresses, we see more detail into how exactly she rules the Candy Kingdom, and it’s safe to say that at times the way she rules, with several secrets and surveillance operatives, that the Kingdom to end up coming across like a Police State. One that she even has difficulty maintaining and which is indeed brought to the forefront quite a few times.

Does this make her evil therefore? Well, this is certainly the position that a fair number of people in the fandom were quick to leap aboard when it first became apparent. Although to reduce this aspect to such a simple conclusion is missing the purpose of this element. Like a lot of the society in Ooo, the way that the Candy Kingdom is ruled allows for an exploration on what happens when societies after an apocalypse try to function without a past to learn from and develop a sense of morality that seems foreign to our society. One of the major themes of the series is that the passage of time is a repeating cycle. Everything stays but it still changes, ever so slightly, daily and nightly, in little ways everything stays. And this is something that feeds directly into the finale of the series being a war similar to the one that created the setting of the series. Bonnibel governs in an authoritarian manner because among other things, she subscribes to a highly utilitarian viewpoint in which she aims to try and ensure the safety and wellbeing of her people, and she mostly doesn’t know that much better than what she does because her experiences of finding difficulty other options are presented led her to this conclusion.

Does all of this necessarily justify her actions? Probably not in a moral sense if you were to apply that to rather than at the idea. Within the context of the series, this is largely done to provide the perspective of the series with a greater sense of nuance with showing a less than certain sides dynamic one would expect to see in an adult oriented political thriller than a children’s cartoon. We certainly do get an understanding of where he necessity for this comes from when we see how she and the Candy Kingdom were born and the responsibilities that spawned from it in the two opening episodes of season 7, with her breakdown in ‘Varmints’ being a particular character defining moment.

Before we talk about season 7 however, we should talk about season 5. A monumental moment in the series’ history that saw the 26 episode format of previous seasons give way to a colossal 52 episode season that aired for the entirety of the year 2013. The season which saw the series attain it’s highest viewing figures, at which point the series had already cemented itself in pop culture, becoming a mainstay in the growing realms of fanart, cosplay, and eventually the medium itself. It was at this point that Ward’s ‘Flapjack’ associates were themselves making success with their own series, JG Quintel making ‘Regular Show’ which similarly adopted a cutesier version of ‘Flapjack’s artstyle onto a new decade on Cartoon Network which began around the same time as ‘Adventure Time’ and shared time on the Network with the series until ending the same month that ‘Adventure Time’ was announced to be ending. Alex Hirsch meanwhile was starting his own series on Disney, the highly acclaimed ‘Gravity Falls’ which would also become highly acclaimed for it’s tackling of mature fantasy themes and engaging continuous storyline which appealed it to all ages. This collection of cartoons indeed signalled a noticeable change in the way that the public perceived cartoons for children.

This is something that season 5 of ‘Adventure Time’ would provide, albeit in a way that some weren’t entirely happy with, as it saw several individuals from behind the scenes leave the series. Not on any harsh terms it must be stated, most of them leaving to focus on their own work once their experience on the series gained them the rights to spearhead their own series. Larry Leichliter who had directed every episode up until that point left early into the season, resulting in episodes afterwards being directed individually by all sorts of different people, Skyler Page left the series to produce ‘Clarence’, Patrick McHale left to create the excellent miniseries ‘Over the Garden Wall’, Natasha Allegri left to produce Frederator’s ‘Bee and Puppycat’, Rebecca Sugar would of course leave to create ‘Steven Universe’, and  storyboard artist Ian Jones-Quartey would go on to work with Sugar on SU before creating his own series ‘OKKO’. Perhaps most significant to the series was that Pendleton Ward stepped down rather abruptly as showrunner. As mentioned much earlier in the article, Ward’s extremely introverted personality made working on the series increasingly taxing for him, although he did still continue to work on the series as a storyboard writer until season 7. And even then he still served as an executive producer right until the very end of the series, though he did nonetheless also produce his other college pet project ‘Bravest Warriors’ for Frederator online, which saw a similar artstyle to ‘Adventure Time’ to an adventure series with a subversive but sometimes twisted sense of humour in a setting that allows for a wide variety of stories. In the meantime, Adam Muto was promoted in Ward’s place as supervising producer and creative director for the series, and held that position up until it’s end.

It should of course not even need to be clarified that none of these leavings were on any sort of harsh terms. Certainly I’ve never read or heard any evidence of behind the scenes turbulence. But it wouldn’t surprise me given the nature of fandoms if there were some people trying to insinuate this as the case to try and explain perceptions of the quality of the series. While season 5’s vast number of episodes allowed for all sorts of episodes of just about every flavour the series has to offer is present in this series, while also providing a thorough expansion of the themes and storylines established  in previous seasons and some of the best episodes of the entire series. But it was also around this time that many people began to drift from the series. Which begs the question, did the series’ quality drop?

Losing it’s Way?

To understand why people felt that the series was declining in quality during this time, one need understand the changes undertaken in seasons 5 and 6 following all this that led to this belief. I have already mentioned several controversial story decisions which created some discontent in the fandom, but what I think is worth noting is that many of these criticisms came quite prematurely, with many complaining that the series seemed to be lacking any real sense of direction, before the direction it took would become apparent later. Yes, I am accusing people of judging the series prematurely, but it’s no coincidence that the people who stayed with the series ended up being comparatively impressed with it’s last few seasons, finding the catharsis of numerous arcs to be extremely satisfying in turn.

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Though I also won’t ignore the tonal differences that were brought about in these two seasons. The series during this time resorted to taking a more hands on approach to developing it’s plot threads, resulting in episodes that expanded on the lore. This includes the episode ‘Evergreen’ which reveals the origin of Ice King’s crown and how the world would come to be. Though some felt that these episodes came to the detriment of the more episodic nature of the earlier seasons which allowed the series a greater degree of accessibility for newcomers, especially as the  rate of these world building episodes would increase with rapid propulsion. Of course, this doesn’t mean that there weren’t any individual stand alone episodes. In fact, one notable trend which firmly established a pedigree of respectability it had in the medium of animation was in having occasional episodes done by guest animators, allowing for wildly different episodes which worked upon the series’ free form nature to their benefit.

This began with the CGI ‘A Glitch is a Glitch’ by Irish filmmaker David O’Reilly and continued with work by British Disney character animator James Baxter (responsible for work in 90s Disney films) would make an episode that proved successful enough to get a sequel, the flash animated ‘Water Park Prank’ by David Ferguson, and Kirsten Lepore’s stop-motion ‘Bad Jubies’. Easily the best example however would have to be the episode ‘Food Chain’, written and directed by none other than the excellent Masaaki Yuasa and even completely animated by Science SARU. In the span of the episode, Yuasa demonstrates his uncanny ability to grasp a true and proper understanding of the product that he works on (it’s appeal, it’s themes, it’s intended style and tone) and manage to utilise their strengths while staying true to his own artistic inhibitions which always manage to carry them through a careful combination of exaggeration and profundity. Whether it be through his understanding of the charm of Tomihiko Morimi novels in his adaptations of ‘The Tatami Galaxy’ and ‘The Night is Short, Walk on Girl’, the speed embued into ‘Ping Pong’ the Animation, or the expressive hyperviolence/hypersexuality of the more recent ‘Devilman Crybaby’ which is likely what you know him from, his style of exaggerated and playful animation always manages to fit well onto what ever work he chooses to do. And this carries well over into ‘Adventure Time’, as the episode’s contemplation on a subject of school hood knowledge makes for an appropriately philosophical episode with numerous hidden details in both visual and writing that demonstrate how Yuasa understands the series and works to it’s strengths.

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This episode is one of quite a lot of strong episodes in this era, which became increasingly pondering and philosophical, much to a mix of acclaim but also concern among the fandom which led to a deeper cause of concern for the quality of the series. That being that it’s increasing attempts to be intelligent could get in the way of it’s attempts to be fun. Certainly the overall tone of the series came to reflect a sense of saudade. Saudade meaning an emotional respite of longing, melancholy, and nostalgia which in effect tangentially reflected both the character’s and young audience’s growth and increasing maturity with how the characters came to tackle the nature of the world around them which to a lot of young people can make a lot of unsense, especially in the politically turbulent times that the series was airing which the series subtly mirrored.

Melancholy became the name of the game for the more philosophical bent of the series and as stated it did come to what some saw as a detriment to the entertainment value of the series, regardless of it’s intentions in trying to connect with the audience more deeply or in trying to expand the prestige of the series to a literature aspirational device. Episodes such as ‘Friends Forever’ which sees the tragic story of Ice King’s furniture coming to life and questioning their existence much to his annoyance can indeed be seen  as overly depressing more than darkly comical (though thinking about it, the episode does make for a strong meta commentary on the nature of fandoms).

Another problem for many is that while the series had manages to consistently maintain it’s 11 minute runtime for episodes before, some of the episodes of this era became so ambitious that they couldn’t be contained within a single episode. This is one criticism I can actually understand, with ‘Betty’ and ‘The Comet’ being prime examples of episodes which either suffered for this, or could have been reappropriated in the form of two-parters. And  going back to that old chestnut of the series seeming to lack direction, the episode ‘Breezy’ retconned a major character  change from the beginning of season 6 in a way which rubbed many as a cop out, and this is often seen as being a point of no faith in the series’ run where many discontinued watching, especially as both ‘Gravity Falls’ and ‘Steven Universe’ were starting to gain traction around that time for following in the footsteps of ‘Adventure Time’ in creating engaging adventures that were also intelligent enough for all ages to enjoy.

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Of course, many people who stuck with the series after this point did find that the last few seasons restored and in some areas even surpassed the series’ previous quality, but before we talk about the last four seasons, I do actually want to state that I believe the mid point of the series to actually have more merit than a lot of people give credit for. This is especially true on rewatching many of these episodes, where knowing the direction the series would take afterwards does alleviate the issue of the storylines feeling directionless while providing a new perspective on what many of them are trying to do on a philosophical and narrative level which cause them to feel a lot less overbearing.

Particularly of note in serving as an introduction to the more involved and conclusion driven direction of the later seasons is the path of episodes linking seasons 5 & 6, with ‘Billy’s Bucket List’ followed by the two-parter ‘Wake Up’ and  ‘Escape the Citadel’. These episodes begin with an episode in which Finn completes the unfinished work of his life long hero, allowing him rest but also in the process accidentally advancing himself. Most apparently, he finally overcomes his life long fear of the ocean (which would prove especially useful for a later story arc) and both he and the audience is rewarded for his arduous task with a revelation that after five seasons, he is finally given a hint into his origins and the backstory behind the series when he is told the existence and location of his biological father.

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This turns out not to be the immediate hopeful reunion however as his father (who noticeably looks like Pendleton Ward) turns out to be an uncaring and unresponsive individual who takes no interest in his son. This is all in the midst of a large scale intergalactic prison break so he doesn’t get much time for reconciliation anyway, but the real meat of this episode is in how it illustrates the strengths of the series through displaying exactly how kindness is not necessarily a genetic trait, and in having Finn and Jake be displayed as being true family. This is all displayed even further by the heavy loss and suffering that Finn goes through in the episode, losing both his bad father and his arm in the course of the episode. It all builds up to a conclusion which takes him into that saudade I mentioned before, especially since the series’ most outwardly villainous character gets a surprising retcon by the end.

Oh yeah, I can’t believe I’ve come this far without even mentioning the Lich. One of the most viscerally dark antagonists that has to have been featured in a series intended for children. The character who even led the two main characters to this point by his actions in season 4, and until Uncle Gumbald towards the very end of the series was the closest thing the series had to a main antagonist. But even that was subject to change as after delivering a frightening speech in a powerfully atmospheric scene, he gets transformed and turned into a new being called Sweetpea, being allowed a whole new life by Finn and Jake who deliver what is now a child to Tree Trunks and Mr. Pig, and despite some repercussions from this later on, is even allowed a new lease on life. (There are way too many characters in this series for me to give proper introductions to them all)

Coming Along Forward

Speaking of characters, let’s jump into the seventh seasons by bringing up the fan favourite Marceline. We’ve already discussed the exploration of her relationship with Bonnibel in ‘Varmints’ but that episode was largely a set up for the first of the three miniseries that the series began in this era to provide catharsis to some of the series’ longest running questions. The first of these was ‘Stakes’ an arc which sees Marceline attempting to get rid of her vampirism only to have it manifest into a problem for which she teams up with all the regular characters on an adventure that provides for some truly solid character examination, filling in many of the holes that had been left by previous seasons and providing satisfying answers to each of them. We learn more details of Marceline’s life, the identity of her mother (voiced by Rebecca Sugar who returned to both do the voice and provide songs for the miniseries, and whose casting here I’m almost certain is a meta commentary on how Sugar advanced Marceline’s character by making them her actual mother), how she became the Vampire Queen, and most significantly a summation on the main theme of the entire series which for many gave a sense of direction to where the series had previous seemed aimless.

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The miniseries serves as an answer to the complaint that the series had become too focused on her character (which if you actually look at the number of episodes focusing on her versus the number focusing even on Finn instead of other characters, it still doesn’t mathematically add up) by having her be the centre, and for fans the miniseries felt like a treat. This was especially the case for Bubbline shippers for whom the miniseries provided ample material which just barely strays from outright saying they’re a couple by throwing the fact that they’re extremely affectionate for each other at every opportunity. This does lead some to accuse the series of queerbaiting, which the details behind why the series didn’t outright confirm them as a couple do seem somewhat sketchy about given that foreign distribution is a common scapegoat but one that doesn’t hold much weight when censorship exists in those countries while homophobia certainly does exist in the West. Anyway…

The fan art that the episode would spawn generated some truly spectacular fanfare and was seen as a return to form for the series. Especially it’s ending which sees many of the series’ key ingredients being returned to their former positions, Marceline being a vampire again and Bonnibel being Princess again, immediately forgoing a story which had developed a few episodes before. Although initially seen as a cop out by some, this ending actually informs the nature of Marceline’s worldview, and establishes one of the many reasons why her character is so revered. Her perspective as someone who has lived through the apocalypse which created Ooo causes her to more deeply understand the idea that time runs in a cyclical nature, with war being a consistent throughout and people failing to learn from their mistakes, creating a wheel of slight change which feeds directly into both the beginnings and ending of the series, which this miniseries also serves to hint towards in this ever so slight thematic nudge.

The ‘Stakes’ miniseries helped to revitalise in the series by appealing to some of it’s most popular strengths (by which I mean Bubbline) and managed to gain over two million viewing figures on it’s initial broadcast. However, it would also prove to be the last episode to do so (unless the hype surrounding the finale changes that) as while seasons 5 & 6 saw ratings high points for the series, the last few seasons despite reception being positive amongst the fandom would see the all time lowest ratings for the series, with episodes being unable to even break 900’000 towards the end of it’s run. Considering how much of a high it had reached shortly before, winning multiple awards including an Emmy, getting the McDonalds toyline treatment, and being a household name across the entire world with the cute Jake bullet train in Taiwan. And yet now it was just sort of there, not really getting much notice outside of it’s still active fan base.

I’ve already spoken about how the mid point of the series threw a few people off, and coming out at the same time that both ‘Gravity Falls’ and ‘Steven Universe’ were beginning to gain traction, but the reasons for it’s viewership decline has more to attribute to. There is of course the fact that the advent of streaming services has caused television viewing in general to decline. There is more controversially the way that Cartoon Network tended to release it and many other series. ‘Steven Universe’ introduced the advent of ‘Steven Bombs’ which rather than having a series air weekly saw multiple episodes be dropped in a single week, which ‘Adventure Time’s miniseries were largely acclimated towards, and it certainly worked well for story arcs but it has had a rather unfortunate legacy in how it led to series being aired like this all the time, something which multiple viewers have agreed makes it difficult to keep up with series due to an inconsistent schedule. This poor mismanagement on the part of Cartoon Network is easily the biggest contributor to the ratings downfall, which is a real shame considering many of the series’ best episodes come from this portion for me. Though considering the series was already being planned to end at this point, it is good that it at least didn’t affect the series in any major way.

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Going back to the positive side of the miniseries however, the other two ‘Islands’ and ‘Elements’ each also brought a lot to the table in terms of effective question answering, character arcs, and being enjoyable overall. The former taking a look at Finn’s origins in greater detail, finally revealing the identity of his mother, showing a new side to his father that we hadn’t seen before in flashbacks, and also finally showing what happened to humans in this world after all, continuing a story thread from ‘Stakes’ which helps give each of the miniseries a nice sense of connection between each other as well as the larger series. This carries over into ‘Elements’ which sees Finn back from his island adventure to see that the Land has been reaped in chaos as a result of each of the elemental kingdoms being affected by a curse driving each of them to their most extreme points.

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It is impressive how each of these miniseries manage to stand alone by themselves, as exemplified by the fact they each have their own variations on the series opening, all while connecting to each other and the whole series, as well as each of them tying into the finale in some way, be they thematically, hopefully, or directly (Umble Gumbald coming out of the resolution to the conflict in Elements). They also did this while encapsulating all of the strengths of the series and each stand as some of the best examples of what ‘Adventure Time’ has to offer with their respective displays of Horror, Sci-Fi, and Fantasy; their penchant for lore, and importance in the series over all. The connection between them makes the homage to all three in the semi-recap episode guest animated by Lindsay and Alex Small-Butera who had previously worked on the episode ‘Beyond the Grotto’. That episode was ‘Ketchup’, which we discussed at the very beginning of this article. And with that, we have now come full circle. Well I mean, there’s still stuff I want to say right below but, ok this didn’t roll as fluently as I tho…

Mathematical Summation

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There really is so much that I can talk about with ‘Adventure Time’. I haven’t even mentioned things like Lady Rainicorn’s bad girl past, the significance of the episode ‘Nemesis’ in showcasing the extreme moral greyness the series could reach, Earl of Lemongrab who in addition to providing one of the series’ most  popular recurring catchphrases early on would also be another villain who went through a compelling redemption arc. Bonnibel’s secret dealings with actual aliens, how cool both Huntress Wizard and Canyon are and how they become favourites despite only appearing in the last few seasons, anything relating to Fern, or even the fact that Jake ended up becoming a father and then a grandfather in the course of the series. I haven’t even talked about two of my favourite episodes of the whole series in ‘Dungeon Train’ and ‘The Hall of Egress’, both of which take the initial dungeon concept of the series established way back when in ‘The Enchiridion’ and peel away the fun idea of it with incredibly frightening states of being which lock Finn in a state of being in which he becomes lost with frighteningly little help of return. The former showcasing Jake’s loyalty to Finn and the latter displaying what Finn can do when he finds himself completely alone.

However, if I were to pick a moment that best encapsulates ‘Adventure Time’, it would have to be the ending scene of ‘Lemonhope’. One of the most hauntingly artful moments in any cartoon which firmly establishes itself by disconnecting itself from the previous scene with a fade to black. This separates the concluding scene of that episode’s main plot involving the title character saving his people, seemingly conceding to Bubblegum’s wishes against the ideological disagreement the two characters had at the start of the episode. Except not, because he chooses to travel the world for the next 1000 years rather than stay and be king. Following this, we hear a song (and a beautiful little character moment between Finn and Bonnibel which I really like) about the character.

Following the fade to black, we get a vision of a much older Lemonhope gazing upon familiar locations of the series, but also aged significantly. Finn and Jake’s tree house seen having grown into the clouds and the Candy Kingdom considerably more technologically advanced yet abandoned, as is the entire land, including the Lemon Kingdom which he keeps his word to and returns to in order to finally rest, making it clear this is chronologically the last piece of story we get in the ‘Adventure Time’ mythos. The funny thing is that I remember watching this scene on Youtube for the song several times, and without the full context I simply thought it all looked quite nice, certainly serene for a children’s cartoon. But when I watched the full episode and understood everything in this moment, my heart sank into my chest. This scene actually broke me with it’s foreshadowing to the fact that the characters and land that we watched and loved wouldn’t last forever, the symbolism behind the tree showing that Finn and Jake and all the rest had ascended which of course means death didn’t help, nor did the character of Lemonhope being symbolic of, well Hope. The last thing that dies after everything else. It’s beautiful but also incredibly heart wrenching.

hope

And the scene also showcased a point of no return for the series which assured it’s viewers that the Fun described in the opening song would indeed end at some point. And while this post-series Ooo was also shown in the folding narrative of ‘Graybles 1000+’ which continued to defy expectations by having a cute anthology series of episodes lead into this part of the timeline, the answer to how it would come will finally be answered in the ending. In the Great Gum War.

It was at this point in writing that the final episode ‘Come Along with Me’ aired, named for the song that plays in the ending credits of ‘Adventure Time’, I set everything aside to watch it. I certainly won’t spoil anything that happens in the episode as it has only just come out, and also because this article is meant to serve as an advertisement for the series and while some plot details can be revealed in doing that, I’m certainly not going that far. All I will say however is that I’m glad nothing in it made the content of this article instantly dated because it is an extremely rewarding finale which like any good finale builds upon what the entire series was leading to and provides a satisfying conclusion to all of it. Also worth noting is that Rebecca Sugar was actually brought to write a song for the episode, showing once and for all how much of a mark she had on the entire series.

gum

‘Adventure Time’ encapsulated an entire decade of cartoon entertainment, and while I have perhaps overstated some of it’s influence, as ‘Phineas and Ferb’ technically came before it and reintroduced childlike fun, as did ‘Regular Show’ to some extent, both of which ‘Adventure Time’ would go on to out last, ‘Adventure Time’ nonetheless remains an indelible mark in the history of Western Animation. Introducing a new and cute animation style that I will continue to defend when people describe it as the death of animation, and is what we really needed in an age when the world’s youth is experiencing record levels of depression. It may not have been a completely perfect package, there are still some plot threads left open by the end, as with many episodic series the quality can vary according to episode with a few weak episodes in the mix, although given it has 280 episodes it is impressive how few weak episodes there are. And then of course there’s its crushing length which can be a major turn off for many, but that is also one of it’s key strengths in how it wraps up into such a congealed whole.

The series has of course influenced many other cartoons than the ones I have named. ‘We Bare Bears’ is a series that likely wouldn’t exist with it, as would ‘The Amazing World of Gumball’ and ‘Star vs. the Forces of Evil’, at least in the forms we know of them. This influence also extends to outside of Cartoons, with the medium of children’s Comics adopting that cutesy style such as ‘Rat Girls’ and ‘Lumberjanes’And it’s not just children’s animation it has influenced either, as Adult Animation which has in the past usually extended it’s perceived maturity to adult situations and transgressive humour ended up taking on a new emotional core which extended beyond brief sentimentalities to becoming direct character studies of flawed individuals such as ‘Bojack Horseman’ and ‘Rick and Morty’ (despite the impression the fandom often gives of that series), in the process cementing themselves as being truly mature.

As for the future of the medium now that ‘Adventure Time’ has ended, it is worth noting it continues to flourish new series. ‘Bravest Warriors’, Pendleton Ward’s other Frederator series which has been broadcast online for the last few years is apparently going to have it’s continuation broadcast on television, making the most obvious artistic successor to ‘Adventure Time’. The series also continues to spread it’s influence through the people who worked on it, with Julia Pott who worked on the last few seasons releasing ‘Summer Camp Island’, ‘Steven Universe’ sending it’s own staff to create new series with Matt Burnett & Ben Levin making ‘Craig of the Creek’. Although not instantly associated with ‘Adventure Time’ the big one that many are anticipating is Owen Dennis from ‘Regular Show’ making ‘Infinity Train’ which based on the pilot looks to continue the era of engaging cartoon storytelling with what we hope ends up being Cartoon Network’s answer to ‘Gravity Falls’. Although I am also worried given the current state of Cartoon Network airing many of it’s series inconsistently and failing to advertise it’s series which would cause ‘Adventure Time’s ratings decline in it’s last few seasons. If these series have to be subjected to this sort of treatment then I also fear for their futures and for the generation of children who could really need them.

But to avoid ending on a dour note, I just want to say thank you to ‘Adventure Time’. Thank you to all the incredibly talented and incredible people who worked on it over the years, who took an entire medium into a forward step. Thank you for choosing to televise your little writer’s Dungeons & Dragons game into a truly Mathematical experience. I love my cute funky little lesbians, crazy ice man, plant ladies, disabled children, and rubber dogs. I love this series so, Thank You!

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One Year of reading Manga: My Retrospective

manga

Writing about an entire medium is hard.

We are familiar with them pretty much throughout our whole lives, even if we don’t necessarily connect with them immediately in any meaningful way, we generally know of their existence, especially in the case of television, movies, and songs.  To write about your whole experience with a medium, be it film or music, must be emphatically difficult. Not only because mediums by nature are so heavily varied and to make grand statements on them would be largely inaccurate as there’s always an artist who creates the exception to the rule, but also because of how they play a part in our lives. And while there may be a point when someone becomes an outright nerd for some of these rather than a casual fan, it is usually a specific genre most likely which they have been able to connect to, leaving them absent to a detailed understanding of it. Of course, then there are the niche mediums which people are more likely to get into through personal interest, such as comic books and Anime. While we become mildly obsessed with them and they take up a large portion of our time when they do, they can be easier to keep track of. Hence why my Anime List is much more concise than my Letterboxd list.

And this is especially true of the medium which I have most recently sought to acclimate myself to, Manga. I still can’t really write something like the history of the medium or what particular artists in it stand out, as I still lack the proper knowledge on that forefront, but I have gotten into it recently enough to keep track on my own personal history with it in a detailed fashion. I suppose if there’s a purpose to this Article, other than allowing a platform to display some of my brief opinions on Manga since MAL doesn’t allow a notes section on it’s Manga lists like it does on Anime lists, it’s to provide a look into the life and trivial difficulties of getting into the manga, which could potentially provide a guide for any aspiring manga readers to follow while I’m at it.
So, with that introduction out of the way, allow me to take you into the backlog of my roughly one year history with Manga.

*****

Naturally, like many, I decided to start reading Manga because of my interest in Anime. My history with that one may be a subject for another article in the future if I feel like it. Though this wasn’t immediate, as although there was a significant Manga section in my local Waterstones, I was intimidated  by the Right-Left format, thinking I wouldn’t be able to feel accustomed to it. I also wasn’t particularly sold on the uncoloured art of it all. Thinking that I would find a lot of it a chore to read through. Most of all, I just felt that since Anime adaptations for a lot of popular Manga already existed, I could just watch them instead of having to ploughing through black and white pages of it for endless hours. These thoughts now sound hilarious to me by the way, but I’ll get into how much later.

Where it started to change for me was when I watched more and more Anime, beginning to distinguish between titles I liked and those I didn’t like, and my knowledge of the medium expanded. With it came the realisation of how different Anime and Manga could be. The fact that there can be weak adaptations of strong source material, that Anime adaptations can often remain unfinished, and that some Manga titles for some reason or another didn’t and were unlikely to get an Anime adaptation.

Before I had even read anything, I had gathered the knowledge that there were certain titles in the medium which could tackle areas which Anime would only tiptoe around at best due to censorship restrictions. Topics like sexuality, politics, religion, genocide, the human condition, all those cheery topics which made those titles seem more interesting to me at that time than what I was getting out of Anime. That isn’t to say a story handling these topics automatically improves it’s quality, just that it makes for a more immediately noticeable and intriguing from the outset.

 

buddha

Still, I was intimidated by the style of most Manga for the reasons mentioned before. I did once try reading the first few pages of ‘Attack on Titan’ in Waterstones and only stopped because I was stripped of time while I was there that day, so it didn’t really allow for any impression to form on me. The point however which really made me decide that I should really try it out was when I watched Under the Scope’s excellent video on ‘Oyasumi Punpun’, which made me decide to read it, meaning I would also likely have to read other Manga.

Of course, the fact that Manga, especially titles without an adequate Anime adaptation, is difficult to access outside of there without poor scanlations online didn’t help. It was here where I did make my first attempts to begin reading. When I tried this on my computer, I found the task of sitting up and reading the flat screen jarring. I then opted to read them from my iPad instead, since it replicated the feeling of holding a book a lot better.

So, to avoid having to spend a lot on multiple volumes of a single series, I used pirating websites to begin reading Manga. I already planned for multiple different titles to read, but the first one I chose to, before ‘Punpun’ because I felt the high regard it was held in made it too important to experience without gaining an understanding of the medium first hand, was ‘Berserk’. Yeah, not exactly small beginnings there I know.

Keep in mind all the qualms I discussed earlier about reading Manga were ruminating in my head as I began reading this, page by page while trying to keep mindful of the fact that I was supposed to read it from right to left, and soon enough, I found that I was reading it with great ease. It perhaps doesn’t need to be pointed out that on the technical side of things, ‘Berserk’ is an excellent Manga with famously detailed Artwork which really helps to bring a very real sense of weight and gravity to it’s battle scenes. And the  black and white Manga colour pallet adding a physical grittiness to them, as they help to bring out a lot of the dirt from the floor beneath the soldier’s feet, while the strongly defined outlines of each characters ensures that the reader is able to distinguish each and every one of them.

berserk

This is just quoting a Wikipedia article of course, since everyone already knows this about Miura’s artwork, but what made an even bigger impression on me was the panelling. The frequent use of large scale panels between pages to display the artwork and the scope of the opening battle (which is repeatedly used throughout the rest of the series, often in more dramatic circumstances but always with a sense of purpose) which helped the task of reading it a lot easier for me, especially with the well placed vertical smaller panels often placed to the side to ensure that these panels didn’t overtake the whole Manga, maintaining a level of balance which keeps the viewer’s attention paid firmly to the happenings of the story.

The other important aspect of ‘Berserk’, and the one which was perhaps most influential in allowing me to figure out my own preferences for Manga I would read later on, was the dialogue. More specifically, how minimal that dialogue was, as Miura is clearly a very visual artist, keeping exposition regarding the narrative to a minimum by having his expository dialogue only appear when it is truly necessary and allowing the imagery to tell the story more freely. This helps each individual chapter of the manga to move along at a constant pace which never feels too slow, something which became apparent to me after I finished that first chapter and continued reading into the next few, which didn’t take as long as I expected because the following chapters were on average only 20 pages in length.

It’s worth noting that I wouldn’t consider myself a particularly quick reader at all. For me, it can often take an extensive number of minutes for me to complete a single chapter in a novel, or an issue of a Western comic book, which is often exacerbated if the format of a particular work does something that throws me even just a bit off and causes me to be not completely invested in it. And this has happened with some manga that I’ve tried out so I won’t pretend the medium is completely guilt free of this either. But the minimalist presentation of reading words that I find to be more prominent in manga than in Western comics (with exceptions of course) was a significant factor in helping me to become more invested in the medium.

The fact that I was able to read through this already long series so quickly was a true sudden joy to me, who was afraid the task of reading manga would take up too much of my busy time, and early on established a definite preference for me for more fast paced yet methodical and picturesque manga which didn’t allow their dialogue to hold the reader’s pace hostage, allowing them to feel weighty and impactful without coming across as overbearing. This is not to necessarily speak for the actual content of such works or their subjective quality being influenced fully by the format in which they are presented, but it was what was finally able to help me latch onto the medium.

Of course, it didn’t take me long to find out that not all Manga was as finely packaged in its storytelling abilities as this, as I found with some of the other early titles I read. The first of these being ‘Madoka Magica: the Different Story’, which I started reading primarily just because I felt I should have a title which was completed which was short enough for me to complete quickly. There were probably shorter titles I could read a lot quicker if I wanted that, I realise now, as the twelve chapters were each longer than what I had recently become accustomed to, and significantly more dialogue driven, which made for a contrast I could quickly distinguish my preferences for format-wise.

Another title I decided to check out early on was ‘Fullmetal Alchemist’. Although I did make a promise for myself to opt away from reading Manga which already had Manga adaptations (this was back then, I may make more exceptions for it now though) I decided to read it because having seen both Anime adaptations I decided this would be the story in it’s definitive form. Having previously heard of how ‘Brotherhood’s early episodes were condensed, which having seen the 2003 version I could easily see, I was struck therefore when I saw that the Manga was actually a lot closer to those early episodes pacing wise than I thought, with the chapters even taking only slightly less time to get through than their respective episode counterparts.

I don’t wish to make it sound as though I’m inherently prejudiced against manga with 50 page chapters, I bring this up mainly because I became caught off guard in the earlier days and something I found I needed to prepare myself for if I wanted to give myself free time for other things. And it wasn’t as though I was completely averse to it, as about half way through my read of it (when I had also found the time to read other Manga in the meantime) I decided to start reading the copies of FMA in Waterstones instead to stop inadvertently providing funding to pirate sites. And I found reading through physical copies made the reading easier and provided it a more satisfying feeling.

It helped that while I was a bit caught off by how weak some of the humour in the series could be early on, that was the point in the story where slowly but surely I remembered why I loved the series to begin with, as the whole mythos of the thing in that extended lengthy climax was truly a pinnacle in narrative structuring, character progression, and thematic conclusiveness. And comparing it with the Anime adaptation, the sense of nostalgia it invoked in me allowed me to understand the appeal of reading manga whose adaptation a reader had already seen, as there is a great comfort in knowing already what path a story takes. As I had already watched ‘Berserk’s Anime, I did have a somewhat similar experience with that, but this time with a cast of characters I remembered more clearly and felt more of an affinity for.

I don’t intend to use this article simply to produce a mini review for every  manga I’ve ever read, but rather as a portrait of how my introduction to the medium shaped my thoughts on it, but then we get to the point where the medium truly became something else for me than a little hobby. That was when I decided to finally read ‘Punpun’. I didn’t quite know what I was getting into, being only vaguely aware of what it was about and that it was apparently adult. Having been around the Wyald arc of the Golden Age saga in ‘Berserk’ at that point, I was firmly familiarised with the medium’s intense ability to venture into extremely hardcore territories than any other work of media which only leave you to speculate on the more graphic segments of its darker material. The fact that the Wyald Arc’s treatment of rape being considered problematic would be a huge understatement is beside the point. The point is that I began reading ‘Punpun’ thinking even with it’s 20 page-average chapters to be something that I would read as an odd experience.

When I did read it, I found myself entranced in it. The story of Onodera Punpun and his longing to be loved and in depth examination of the ugly and selfish thoughts that he and many of the people around him kept with themselves and coped with while wading through the frustrations of adult life in a less than quirky way became something that quickly resonated with me. Something that I used the volume format for to read on average a volume or two in one sitting and managed to complete less than a week after I started because it’s loose yet concise narrative and always engaging developments in where these thoughts that felt to me like they had read my own and understood me while refusing to cater and glamorise those thoughts I felt ashamed of simply caused me to need to know what happened in the next chapter.

Now, I won’t say that Punpun was a whole life changing experience for me personally. I won’t say that it forced me to confront myself in a way that few works of fiction could ever hope to match, whether it be in the portrayal of sexuality stemming from the often stubborn (in his younger years) and self entitled title character, or Seki’s committed faux nihilism which prevents him from trying to aim for something else in life which provides the series with a greater sense of nuance to prevent from being an all encompassing edge fest. I won’t say that it’s portrayal of victims and victimisers was such a hauntingly personal experience for me. I won’t go on about separating my own personal feelings towards it, it is such an objectively excellent work of fiction and one which utilises every component of the manga medium to it’s fullest potential. I won’t say that every single page and panel is infused with such artistic/narrative care that it continuously captivates the reader. I won’t say that it’s artwork is among the most incredible I’ve ever laid sense upon, adding to the intense realism of the whole thing.

I won’t say any of the things that I just said with that whole paragraph. But I will say that on the artwork side of things, one of the many ways it helped me gain a greater interest in the medium was how it incorporated black and white imagery to enhance its artistry. The vast majority of manga is of course uncoloured to allow for faster production, setting it apart from much Western publication and something that I worried when getting into manga would make it less accessible, because the lack of colour would potentially cause the imagery to lack much sense of vibrancy or personality, and while I understood that images without colour could have an enhanced atmosphere, but Punpun in particular showed how it created this sort of ambivalent and un-vibrant environment through such imagery which lends it a strange sense of detached intimacy which is excellent for character drama.

Both ‘Berserk’ and especially ‘Punpun’ showcased how colourless imagery could enhance the intended, often harsh emotions of a scene in a way which, in the case of the latter, spoke to me as both someone who aspires to illustrate despite the results of my work often setting to a less than satisfying standard, it made me come to a realisation. One that would be enhanced when I decided to try out reading more physical copies of Manga and read the author’s notes which were sometimes placed at the ends of volumes (a feature I love when it happens by the way) of how much of an artist’s medium it was. How even in it’s most basic format, manga seemed to me like this gloriously personal experience and one which begot an extensive amount of passion into it, one which even in it’s lower quality could demand more attention from me than most other mediums. One which also presented stories evidently very personal to their respective authors. In other words, it was a medium that I felt was almost made for me, with how it incorporated both visual and verbal information. Through aesthetic appeal which lent it a fine mix of uniformity and diversity to keep me invested in the medium in multiple ways.

solanin

The emotional resonance I extrapolated from ‘Punpun’ was again somewhat replicated in Asano’s other work I sought out, specifically ‘Solanin’ which was a lot more down to earth and less gruesome, but no less harrowing. And, since I always half heartedly use money I get for my birthday, having little real inclination to get anything, I decided that since I couldn’t read the sealed off manga in Waterstones, I could use part of it to purchase one of them, so I got Asano’s ‘A Girl on the Shore’, a manga known for it’s extremely explicit sexual content and unforgivingly raw depiction of youthful ambivalence which now has the honour of being the only manga I own an official copy of.

And venturing outside the realms of gritty Seinen, other emotional narratives such as ‘Orange’ and ‘A Silent Voice’ presented a similar emotional intensity which while constructed naturally by their writing, were also enhanced by their liberal use of large panels which enhanced a scene without coming across as needlessly show-offish, and enhanced by the enhanced care of cuteness imbued into their respective character designs, which the comparatively less internally fleshed designs which drawing-wise concentrated more on outlines of their features served to achieve, creatively a more latch-able character for the reader to wish protection towards.

orange

This is what led me to spend a good portion of my time reading Shoujo manga and begin reading ‘Horimiya’ both at Waterstones and online. Though this does bring me to the more complicated process of how I would decide what to read next. Especially given my more recent aversion to the use of pirate sites, I opted to go to Waterstones and see what they had in stock, which had the advantage of changing its selection every so often, allowing me to go there continuously. But it has the natural disadvantage of leaving certain series incomplete, especially the longer running or more recent ones, what with the limited physical space in the shop. This often leads to me completing a single first volume in a single sitting and being left either waiting for the next volume to turn up in the shop which has only occasionally ever happened, or resort to seeking them out online.

It’s a shame too, because the presence of manga in that shop has made the task of deciding what to read easier for me. After all, having been introduced to a whole medium means there are hundreds of titles out there that I still have yet to read after a year, and from that I was able to have a concentrated selection of titles to browse through and pick out what to watch. And from it, I did manage to pick up some decent titles that maybe wouldn’t have been the first things I would read if I had access to every acclaimed title that was considered the ones I should read above all else. This included Junji Ito works, hidden gems such as Kaori Ozaki’s ‘The Gods Lie’, Yuuta Nishio’s ‘After Hours’, and Nagabe’s ‘The Girl from the Other Side’. Each of which may have only slipped past my radar if not for their inclusion in that collection. I even found the time to start reading a cute little gag manga about a Polar Bear in love with a Seal.

But beyond what was available there, I do now find myself having to search beyond that if I really have a desire to read the stuff I’ve put on my Plan to Read list, which for the most part I sincerely do. The list in question is something I built up through the recommendations of people far more experienced than me, similar to Anime I plan to watch, but it wouldn’t feel right if I had to read all of them online. At the same time, I can’t really imagine buying that much manga physically with money, at least not long running series. Any that I buy would likely have to be short ones so I can save money a lot better, even if with how quick I can read a single volume, it often feels like they cost too much to be equivalent to the time I spend reading them but, that’s a whole other issue.

But even with the irritating blocks against my ability to read more, I am honestly still anticipating reading more. As I said before, the format of the medium has resonated with me, and provided me with some of the most intimately touching or at least interesting media I’ve encountered as of late. That’s not to say every manga I’ve read has necessarily pleased me. Reading the original manga of ‘Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid’ only showed me how much the Anime adaptation managed to miraculously improve something which, was just outright trash I’m not going to sugar coat it. Other times when stripped of much else to read, I’ve actively sought out reading trash. Looking at ‘The Water Dragon’s Bride’ in particular. There I go just trying to name check everything I’ve read again. Indulgence aside, I still highly anticipate how much Manga looks set to take up a good portion of my creative influence in the future.

I haven’t even talked about minuscule details such as how often I’ve looked at first chapters of work to get a taste of it before having it fill up my time, or my attempts to latch onto more Manga through connection between authors. Or my attempts to go into older Manga. If we’re talking really old, the oldest would be Osamu Tezuka’s Buddha, which wasn’t as meditative as I anticipated and a bit long for my taste, but certainly had noticeable merit. Or how ‘Forget Me Not’ uses panelling to portray glimpses of psychosexual perversion and internalised misogyny in an  intelligent and personal way. Or the most important thing in this whole journey, the fact that the best Manga genre is of course gay romance. It’s just a fact. All because this article has already gone on for a bit long now, so to conclude I want to say this:

Throughout much of this article, where I’ve mostly mentioned ‘Berserk’ and ‘Punpun’, I’ve possibly given the impression that I’m a violence hungry depression monger only capable of enjoying darkness, and I like to think my negative reactions to the early chapters of ‘All you need is Kill’ would disprove that, but as I said before, the format Seinen manga like this is placed in is what makes it the most easy to read for me. Something further shown by how invested and immersed I manage to be in both ‘Vagabond’ and ‘Golden Kamuy’, the latter of which at the time of writing this article is just a month away from the airing of it’s Anime adaptation, marking for me the first time I’ll see first hand the adaptation of a Manga I’ve already read before, not counting ‘A Silent Voice’ which was less of a direct adaptation of its source material.

And while that could have been a decent place to end this article, I instead want to highlight a panel from Iyashikei, ‘Yokohama Shopping Trip’, the Manga which I’ve put on hold from nearly completing for the purpose of this article and the one which has come the closest to rivalling ‘Punpun’ as my favourite Manga. This is despite the fact that in just about every conceivable way, it’s the exact opposite of ‘Punpun’, showing how much of an eclectic taste I’ve developed in my manga journey. It has the most calm and effectively relaxed tone I think I’ve ever encountered in any work of fiction, it’s artwork is good but only truly “incredible” in a few select panels (including the one I’m sharing), and unlike ‘Punpun’ I can’t say I related to it in any way that I can specifically identify. And yet, my fondness for this wonderful manga perseveres through all of that because it’s melancholy and sense of hopeful sadness is just done so well, and the moment which for me best illustrates not only ‘Yokohama’s strength, but the ability of it’s medium to break through the seemingly impossible to push against its own limitations and create a tangible and harmonious feeling. within the reader.

It’s in one of the very earliest chapters, when Alpha (the extremely adorable main character) is at a meeting with her neighbours, and begins to dance in a drunken haze. That setup may not sound like much, but the following few pages when we see her dance are what make it so special. Movement is of course something which the still images of manga can’t convey in its most complete or absolute portrayal, yet these pages  manage to do so to an incredible effect which only the medium of manga can really achieve. It achieves this through a combination of thickened and vibrant line-work which fluently creates the illusion of movement with just a handful of pictures displayed on large panels which take up the whole page. The artwork in this scene is incredible, what with the shading helping to lend a calming atmosphere to the setting of this scene and use of waving motion lines to display Alpha’s movements during this dance. It’s hard for me to explain how, but this atmosphere somehow actually makes me hear the music that obviously can’t be heard. The angle from which we see Alpha in all her glorious beauty pulls the reader in with her inviting stare towards us. Maybe I could feel this effect because I read it when I had recently had a dance like this but even so, the technical craft that has gone into making these pages so effective is visible.

yokohama

The scene would certainly feel less immersive if it were displayed say, with a succession of small panels revealing each intricate and animated movement of the dance, so Ashinano’s precise choice to illustrate the scene in this way displays the level of care that an artist puts in crafting how to have a scene affect the reader. But perhaps the most effective thing about these pages are the context surrounding them, which is bookended by an extremely laid back and sombre sense of serenity and quiet mundaneness, all taking place in a world that has experienced the apocalypse. A world where humanity as a whole is on the verge of its last breaths, yet rather than present a sense of dread at this prospect, the people gathered in this scene have come to enjoy and appreciate what life has to offer them, which is part of what make the world of this series so peculiarly inviting despite that context.

Other moments like this pop up throughout the series, these moments of beauty intercutting between the more simple and activity based scenarios of most of the manga (and this is hardly much of a spoiler I think, especially given how early this scene takes place) but this this first example is perhaps the one that has stuck with me the most throughout my journey reading it. It’s a clear cut example of the level of immersion and dedication that the medium is capable of, to make still images come to life. After all, isn’t life what fiction is ultimately about?

Thanks for Reading

The Eleventh & Twelfth Days of Anime: Blergh!

I am still currently planning to release the idea I had for the 11th Article in this series at some point soon, but I did find that it would be better for me to conclude this series now, since it’s already long past the cut-off date anyway. The 12th Article was going to be a piece expressing some of my experience the past year becoming part of the wider Anime community online, particularly showcasing some of the grievances I found can come with it. I ultimately lost my passion to write that Article because a) I already ended up putting some of those feelings into my previous Article anyway, and b) I no longer have the mind set to do it anyway.
So, that’s all I really have to say with this now. Just as I expected, I wasn’t really equipped to write something on  schedule and it isn’t surprising to me how much I failed to fully commit to this project. Still, at least I managed to write some stuff for it. So, I suppose that’s it.
Bye!

The Tenth Day of Anime: Miss Kobayashi and Me

I realise this Article is coming extremely late. After most people completed their 12 Days posts, and it’s just barely still within the 12 days of Christmas as I begin writing it, I am aware of that. This is why I was so anxious to do these, I knew even when trying to keep Articles short it would still result in getting far behind schedule. Between actually trying to watch Anime (which has taken up so much of my time it’s left me unable to check out other media without the spare time), participating in discussions on Twitter when I can, and my increasing reluctance to get out of bed too early due to the freezing weather and increasing distress towards my home life and self hatred for how critically selfish my own thoughts can make me towards my family life and how it can seem to interfere with my life; it’s harsh.

koThat brings me at the beginning of 2018 to go back to the beginning of 2017, which wasn’t all that dissimilar from an emotional standpoint. At the beginning of 2017, I felt incredibly disconnected with the world, with many friends I got back in touch with the previous year. The political landscape with the electoral success of Trump and Brexit giving rise to the profile of many racist right-wing groups who opposed the existence of me and people I cared about, the resulting discourse from these elections leaving an extremely bitter aftertaste accentuated by the benevolent cold the winter season brings.

Truth be told, my own efforts to try and be more of a centrist (which in my case was mainly a defence mechanism from the environment too not have to definitely be one a specific side, I’m not saying that’s what all centrists do but it was the mindset that I had at that time) are something that I do regret now, and something I do like to think I have moved past. Although I do experience a somewhat similar angst, it is more of a personal problem than it was last year.

It was during this time that I watched Kyoto Animation’s latest slice of life series, Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid. Like many, I was incredibly touched by that series’ frank look at the lives of stand-ins for minorities trying to commit to the basic task of living in a world which although kind to the viewer’s perceptions due to the calming slice of life vibe established for the series’ decided tone. Only really seeing extremities in glimpses through the dragon’s previous lives, especially towards the end. Coming out at the aforementioned climate of political discontent and more descriptively, hatred for people born into a world that hates their existence, the series works as both a form of delightful escapism for people affected by said climate and as a subtle commentary on acclimating oneself into everyday society under the thumb of it all.

I myself wrote an  Article about the ‘Dragon Maid’ and ‘Interviews with Monster Girls’ while they were both airing. This is an article I ended up losing passion for while writing it as the act of writing an article turns out to be a lot more hard work than people get credit for. Not to mention, the fact that neither series had finished when I was writing it meaning that it was difficult to really articulate a discussion on the themes it presented when it hadn’t yet finished presenting them, and how ‘Dragon Maid’ came out the clear winner of the two afterwards. That article remains something I don’t want to try and repeat, and I decided to write about ‘Dragon Maid’ again for this to append what I did before.

For one, I tried to moderate the political aspects of the article due to my aforementioned weariness of politics at that time, resulting in a rather non-informative analytical piece. By using the words “right-wing” and “Trump” in this article, I’ve at least stepped foot toward more information here than I did in that at least.

More significantly however, this year I created a twitter account which allowed me to become more engaged in Anime discussion, and became more acclimated to the idioms presents in that sphere. Becoming increasingly used to the surroundings and new, generally kind people around me, almost like Tohru in a way, but even more like Miss Kobayashi in how I remained situated generally in the same place, just with different people. At least that’s the comparison I make when reflecting on the series.

Kobayashi’s perspective within the narrative of the series as a viewpoint character, outsider, and generally the moderator to some of the more outlandish set-pieces allows me to compare myself to her position, especially given that this sphere I introduced myself to isn’t always the most welcoming place. Twitter in general isn’t, but on my personal account where I mostly only knew people from school with low follower counts like mine who generally didn’t get into heated arguments (not that I’m condemning anyone for doing that, as they may well be justified in doing so, just the fall back from it has in the past caused intense stress for me).

And Kobayashi’s ability to confront and assure those affected by society’s harsh blowbacks (which I link with said arguments, especially the ones revolving around social politics) was always something inspiring for me whenever I tried to help in those situations. Especially her confrontation with Tohru’s father in the final episode. But though I realise this perhaps sounds selfish of me, doing this usually tended to make my own feelings worse. And I do realise that I’m not really Kobayashi. I’m not strong enough an articulator, and people on Twitter aren’t nearly as stoic or as reserved as Tohru’s father. I’m not just trying to lazily tie my own (or anyone else’s) struggles to the narrative of the series as if that’s the only commentary I can make on it by the way, this is more the type of communication relayed by the series to make its point.

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Of course, there are parts of myself I can see in each of the characters.  In Kobayashi I saw the sort of performative and stand-up-ish figure I wished I could be to try and confront the people I despise and comfort the people I love to try and fix all the mental torture that parades social media. Even though in perspective, this is ultimately putting it into the fixture of an egoistic figure I can only aspire to be. Hence Tohru would be the more realistic presentation of me, both someone eager to impress the people they admire (and possibly a bit gay for them as well) and as someone who is often afraid to face the world  head on.

Kanna perchance presents the side of me that focuses on the softer, more wholesome points in life to protect themselves from becoming wrapped up in all the negatives. Elma always represents this with the added detail of how responsibility can sometimes comically seem to interfere with this intention. Fafnir and Takiya out of all the couples in the series present the sense of security I would wish for in a romantic relationship with how caring they are for each other.

And then there’s Lucoa, who I can’t quite say I see myself much in. Well, I suppose I would say my tendency of clumsiness and tendency to use a façade of ignorance and feigned stupidity to try and lighten up my surroundings connect me to her, but her paedophilic actions towards needless to say never sat well with me, and were easily a weak point of the series for me. The series certainly isn’t perfect, neither is life as it is easy to find out.

In that sense, the series’ minor glimpses into daily life and use of dragon characters for stand-ins still works as a meditation on daily life.

The Ninth Day of Anime: Love and Regret are ERASED’s strongest assets

For this entry, and possibly every entry afterwards although I do still intend to keep them short enough for me to write in about an hour, I’m actually going to attempt to write something serious instead of my initial promise that this project would consist entirely of shitposts.

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So, one of the Anime I watched in 2017 was the ultra-divisive 2016 Time-travel/Murder mystery Anime ERASED. I won’t relay my full opinion on the series here, since this isn’t the article for that and also because that’s an awful mishmash of thoughts in my head that also drastically changed in conflicting ways in the months after I watched it. What I will say is that the part of the series that I enjoyed exponentially more than the Mystery side to it, was the lovely coming of age tale/budding romance in the interactions between young Satoru and Kayo which provided much of the emotional core of the series in its first half.

You may make fun of these scenes for the perceived “paedophilia” in them, but when observed through the lens of a story similar to that of ‘Let the Right One In’, where we see the blooming innocence of young love in a world which is less innocent, it gives me an image of how I felt the story would have been significantly improved if it focused more on this aspect. It helps that these are also among the more well directed segments of the series, making expert use of rising camera angles to slowly reveal a new world to the abused Kayo’s vision. This combined with a truly lovely implementation of the series’ Winter aesthetic which pulls us into the cold environment longing for the sense of connection that these two find with each other.

Most significantly, these segments appeal to me directly, partly because of how much I utterly adore the winter aesthetic of the series, but also due to how it reflects my own desire to go back in time and change many things in my own life I wish I could do differently, even with every time travel story telling me how much of a bad thing that would be. I do quite naively wish that I could relive my childhood and develop a deeper connection with certain people in order to try and help myself, and in turn try and help others in the process. This desire is part of what adds to the intrigue of time travel stories of course, and though the conclusion that ERASED reached felt largely unsatisfying for a lot of reason, this brief moment in time during the series is where I felt a deep connection with the series.

Quite appropriately, I write about these moments carrying a deep sense of nostalgia and longing for the past when I watched these moments  without any knowledge to where they would lead (not that the conclusion to child Kayo’s story was as unsatisfying as other parts later on, as seeing Satoru manage to get her away from her abusive household was quite a highlight). The fact that this series is at least something which can be looked back on nostalgically is of course appropriate as it is made to invoke the past and one’s longing to right the wrongs of one’s past. This leads me to the main point I was trying to get to with this article, the OP and ED of the series.

This series contains possibly my favourite OP/ED combination in all of Anime in Re:Re by Asian Kung Fu Generatioin, and Sore wa Chiisana Hikari no Youna by Sayuri. I won’t go into the intricate visual symbolism of these pieces, partly because I’m too lazy and writing this in a hay morning, and also because there are already a stark many analysis’ for  these areas. The significance of having some visual elements make subtle changes as the series progresses (something I always love when OPs do), and the connection between the flat animations of this ED and that of ‘From the New World’ which created a collective geeking out from those invested in A1 Pictures’ production techniques.

Looking at them as music, they also do the serviceable job of sounding lovely. ‘Sore wa Chiisana’ carrying a lingering tone which works well with the cliff hangers at the end of each episode from those creeping shamisen notes. Re:Re may have received some criticism for supposedly sounding too happy for the series’ dark tone, which I don’t agree with at all. Least of all because I would describe it as more “exciting” than “happy”, the rhythm structure of the song connects significantly with the time travel concept through its repeating chorus going back and back again. The fact that Re:Re is a song from 2004 instead of a more recent single adds to the nostalgic sentiments that it conducts when applied to the 2016 series.

This then brings my attention to an aspect of OPs and EDs which is often overlooked, the significance of lyrics. It tends to be overlooked because not all OPs provide translated  lyrics for one, and when left without knowing what the lyrics are most listeners just think of the songs as enjoyable melodies. And indeed in many cases, the lyrics only a vague at best connection to the series they are paired with, as they are typically only paired with their respective Anime series after being released to the general public. As a result, many Anime songs including these ones tend to be love songs at their core, as they’re conventional enough to blend well enough with many different series.

I bring this up in regard to these particular Anime songs however because of how their lyrics which talk of love but also regret of the past (see earlier in the article how such themes reflect ERASED). Specifically, the lyrics sound almost devastatingly precise to the regrets that Satoru feels over losing Kayo, and how he uses his (poorly explained but that’s not the point I want to bring up in this article) time travel abilities to form a deeper bond with her which creates a longing to escape from the cruel environment surrounding them which offers a glimmer of hope in tragic romance stories.

I like this all because, to dumb it down as much as possible, it all feels very Me. Stories of regret appeal so directly to me. And while ERASED itself didn’t focus as much on that aspect as I would have liked, the  scenes involving the two characters, and also the OP and ED of the series invoke such a sweet story that I can make up in my own mind. A story that I quite like.

Incidentally, what inspired me to write this article was a video that encapsulated that idea by melding the OP and ED into a single mix and brought out the more intimate side to the lyrics. I speak of the cover by AmaLee of LieandLee.

I only recently became invested in this channels work, despite knowing of their existence during the time when I more frequently listened to English covers of Anime songs (many of them from lesser known channels) and from what I had seen of her work (mostly the earlier videos) it didn’t seem to stand out that much. How much that has changed, as part of her appeal I’ve found after becoming more invested was how unafraid she is to alter the original compositions and make changes to the songs she covers, which in turn help to create a new perspective on them. A perspective often brought to life through minimalist animation accompaniments in the videos which blend quite well with the music and appropriately look almost like Visual Novel OPs.

And with this particular cover, a notice towards the lyrical significance has been paid in the translated versions of the lyrics. Whether intentionally or not, the lyrics bring out the meaning of both songs extremely well, helped by some dedicated and lovely vocal work. That isn’t to take away credit from the adjustments to the instrumentals, which strip away the Pop Rock sound of the song to begin with a sombre yet creeping clock tick which slowly builds into a melancholic transition point before going into an epic rock soundtrack closer to the original song before it transition into the ED. When it does this, it takes a unique path of seemingly going backwards. Starting with the chorus of the song before fading out with the slow build up to conclude the cover with.

This unique compositional choice does quite a few things. For one, it utilises the choice to mix the two songs into a medley instead of covering them both separately (as she has done with songs from a series before) to focus on the cohesion of the two and their similar lyrical themes. For another, it helps to craft this song its own identity by blending the instrumentals into the same genre so that the two halfs don’t clash with each other, and it allows the song to have its own beginning, middle, and end through the quiet build up and fade out bookending the more dramatic middle portion of the cover.

Most significantly though, it works well with the concept of time travel in how it builds up to something in the Re:Re portion before reversing itself in the reworked structure of Sore wa Chiisana which almost gives the impression that as the singer thinks back on the past, they reverse time with their longing to change it. I know this was the focus when conducting this video because of how the animated clock moving in a counter-clockwise rotation is implemented in the video alongside close up images of Kayo and Satoru looking tired from life.

The artistic choices made in this video are quite a stroke of genius, and also provided me a sense of nostalgia when I discovered it quite recently, and that made me quite enjoy taking the time to write about it for this.

The Inbetween Days of Anime

The  Fourth Day of Anime: I don’t have the strength to continue this.

The Fifth Day of Anime: I don’t have the strength to continue this.

The Sixth Day of Anime: I don’t have the strength to continue this.

The Seventh Day of Anime: I don’t have the strength to continue this.

The Eighth Day of Anime: But nonetheless, I will!

The Third Day of Anime: Three Bald characters in currently airing Anime

This Saturday I noticed a recurring trend between three (really good) Anime I’m currently watching, and these episodes in particular. This being their incorporation of bald characters with designs meant to key the viewer into viewing them as rather threatening figures at first glance, and in each of their most recent episodes, we saw instead the softer side to their personalities, which I decided was interesting enough to waste a whole Article on, because apparently one a day is still demanding too much effort from me.

So, allow me to introduce you to each of these baldies and not really have it lead to anything important:

Junkei-March comes in like a Lion

jenkei

The only human character and on the list, and thus the only one who would truly fit the classical definition of “Baldie”, the opponent who defeated Nikaidou  was given an all too human backstory after being initially established as a tough, unfeeling archetype, but of course such simplistic antagonists don’t exist in the world of ‘March comes in’ where people each have their own feelings of shame when they do realistically bad things such as undermine the characters we know and love.

And in his case, we learn his intense humanity through his love of pigeons he takes care of and holds a genuine love for them. It’s also hard not to feel for him in this sequence when we also see how his drinking friends make him slightly uncomfortable. For more information on him, take a look at prominent Aniblogger Bobduh’s exquisite recollection of the episode while I just continue to waste your time.

Sensei-Land of the Lustrous

sensei

Although we did see hints of a more caring side to the initially stern sensei of the gems in previous episodes, this week’s episode really brought it to the forefront with his interaction with the Lunarian which unexpectedly transformed from a threatening giant monster into a group of fluffy puppy-like creatures.

Within the episode itself, he served as the catalyst for the other gems to become almost absorbed into the larger creature’s form, displaying knowledge on how to tame it which they later denied and became enraptured in its fluffy textures. I can’t quite explain what all of this actually means. I understand what happens to the Lunarian at the end, but as for why it needed the majority of the gems to be hypnotised into hugging it I can’t try to explain to you. But it is the type of unique, oblique visual storytelling which reminds me in some ways of ‘Haibane Renmei’ (one of the reasons I like this series so much).

And while we may not know everything from this, we can confirm that the scenery of Sensei actually hugging the thing is utterly adorable and probably provides them with much needed rest after all those frightening incidents last Winter.

Elias-The Ancient Magus Bride

elias

Perhaps the most well known entry in this list, yet also the one who some may argue doesn’t qualify as a “Baldie” because that would imply having to have hairless skin, of which Elias does not, having an entire coating consisting of just hollow bone. You might (not) think that I’m including him here because his skull is specifically that of a creature similar to a goat, and so if he did have skin he should have hair and yet does not. In actuality, I include him as bald because much of his body consists of thorn branches, which do indeed contain little furs on them like body hairs.

Ok, the actual reason he’s here though is because like others, he was initially displayed as an authoritative, unfeeling, and perhaps even antagonistic figure before a more in depth look into him from his series provided a look into his softer side. In his case, this week’s episode showed both his unfortunate history during his formative years of being hunted and prejudiced against due to his monstrous appearance, as well as his communication with his young apprentice with whom he is able to develop a genuine if unique emotional connection with.

While he may have been the character whom viewers have trusted the longest amount of time out of any of these, it doesn’t spoil the relevance of the most recent episode in developing our understanding of him.

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So there it is. I don’t know why exactly the oddly specific concept of “Tough, Bald characters with softer sides they got to display in this episode” was such a recurring theme on Saturday, but I do hope it shows that sometimes kindness and humanity can still be found where we don’t expect to see it. Even in those who keep up an exterior to try and shield that side of themselves from us.

The Second Day of Anime: The total and absolute necessity of Saekano’s Real First episode

‘Saekano-How to Raise a Boring Girlfriend’. A series which leads to a range of responses from “That lame harem anime that was packed with panty shots and nudity right from episode 1” to “By any metric, that was an epic anime! The artwork was consistent from beginning to end, the motion was fluid, and the girls in it were all super cute!” and indeed these two lines from the prequel episode which aired before the main series proper began airing in Winter 2015  would go on to encapsulate accurately the responses toward the series, with some viewing it as a typical harem series, others viewing it as a commentary on the genre.

But going back to this episode specifically, which chronologically takes place after the events of episode 12 and introduces us into the series with this conversation, we get introduced specifically with the perspective of close-up of each of the girls bathing fully naked in a public bathhouse, some carefully placed hands being the only thing preventing it from just becoming an all out Hentai. It is with this introduction that we bare (heh, bare!) witness to the intense sexual imagery (I hesitate from referring to it as “Fanservice”) which defines the series’ harem attributes and causes many to instantly decide if they’ll stick around with it.

nude

And yet, when we actually watch episode 1, following the shenanigans of this cast of characters introduced primarily through narration going out into the country for sound effects and to tease our male protagonist, the episode itself is actually considerably devoid of such scenery. Only a scattering of few close-ups in regard to the girls are displayed and it’s all considerably tame. As we learn as the series progresses, this is largely because of that episode’s chronology within the series, in which the subtle visual display of an increase in sexualisation takes place as our sorely committed 2D Waifu seeker of a protagonist only develops sexual feelings towards each of them as the series progresses.

The main series also trades in the more overt, hijinks driven sense of humour for a more subdued one, which much like the sexuality, becomes more apparent as the series progresses and the characters begin to mix with each other more.

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Many people will tell you that because of it’s chronology and painting of the series in such a sexual light, that this was a terrible way to start the series off with, including fans of the series. These people are wrong! The choice to have this be the introduction to the series was actually a fine one, placing the bridge between the first and second season to provide the synthesis of both season’s differences set the general tone of the series, and thus have it be the mental association for the audience. This is perhaps the perviest bit of foreshadowing into the direction the story would go I can think of, but it nonetheless works in hinting towards the sexual heights of the series.

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The most apparent change from the main series to this episode is the lack of Michiru in most of the main series, who only comes into the story in episode 10. This left me eagerly awaiting her appearance in the series which helped me to view the minimal tone that the series set for itself with greater ease, as among other complaints the series receives is also the idea that it’s “boring”, which one wouldn’t be a fault for thinking, as it’s focus on a character who by title description is fundamentally required to be dull and slow pace towards the construction of the visual novel being crafted by the team can make for something that can feel like a slog to get through.

This is where the anticipation built by this prequel/sequel episode allows for the series to feel more advanced, as I don’t know if I would have been able to enjoy it as much if I didn’t watch that episode first. And it is because of that built up anticipation that it is recommended ultimately to watch episode 0 first of all. The game may be nearing its end in terms of completion, but the story is just beginning.

My, that was short! Exactly what I intended. Probably not going to get all 12 done though.

The First Day of Anime (or other things maybe): Fuck It I’ll do it After all.

You ever give up on an idea only to then decide at the last minute to go through with it anyway? Well, as the title says, I’m going to do 12 Days of Anime anyway.

If you bothered to read my previous Article which was originally intended to kick-start an Awards themed 12 Days, but ended up proving too much work for me. I have an admittedly unfortunate habit of overwriting Articles, and in this instance, the project I decided on was too ambitious to not take too long to meet deadlines. In fact, I wouldn’t blame you if you only decided to skim through that Article rather than read it, because I found myself struggling to find new and interesting things to say about different OPs, but ended up lacking the substance and focusing too much of my writing capabilities into one insignificant area of each category. This caused the Article to get fairly repetitive and uninteresting after a while.

But anyway, before I get side-tracked by talking too much about how I get side-tracked talking about stuff too much, I write this mainly to announce how though I decided to drop out of this two days before it started, I eventually found the strength to at least attempt it again, this time through a completely improvised plan, where at the time of writing I only have ideas for a few small Articles, the keyword here being ‘Small’. Nothing particularly challenging or ground-breaking from me, because in case you haven’t followed me before, I’m extremely busy.

At the time of writing this, I’ve only just completed my UCAS Applications after revising them, and just had my final day of term in College for the year. While that should provide me ample opportunity to do this with the extra time I’m given, the previous experience has already taken a toll on me.

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Sharing screenshots from ‘Just Because!’ Just Because they represent my state of mind while writing this, and I suppose because I should still try to keep the Article Anime related in some way.

At times like this, I wonder why people would even bother to do something like this. Why do they put themselves through this little contest which pushes them to come up with ideas for Articles and write them in a limited timeframe. I mean, I imagine many people probably write them before the deadlines, which I intended to do before all my College work and Anime I still need to catch up on came at me. But the reason I chose to do it personally was because I felt I needed something to get me more into the habit of writing, to try and expand myself, and improve my workflow and thought process.

 

And my first attempt may have proven futile, but there is always the option to treat WordPress like any other Social Media account and use it to relay that bastion of beer-mindedness, the fine line between unintentional intellect and intended stupidity; the Shit post.

Now that may not seem like a fair description of what I plan to write, as I do still plan to put some effort into making the Articles, and they will have a mostly serious slant to them, but I still call them Shit-posts because of how they will be set up. Mostly in focusing on something insignificant enough to fulfil an Article a day. I like it because it adds something to my insignificant little life, and like many shit-posts, is at least something fun that can keep the poster sane.

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Even though I plan to do small things, somehow I bet they’ll still find a way to be hard on me. I don’t even think I’ll manage to fill in every single day for this.

 

So now that the Fuck Its are out of the way, I shall proceed to do some things, probably! I’m a bit drunk on drowsiness at the time of writing this but let’s go! Go and do things! I still need some time though.

Rushed Article: Openings Presents

This was originally intended as the first in a series of posts I would do for the 12 Days of Anime challenge, but because of restrictions in my time, and the fact I was running so late I couldn’t write any of the other articles in such a limited timeframe, I ended up dropping out of that challenge. my choice on what to do is to make my own version of Anime Awards, in which I will separate different components of the year across 12 Posts to determine what were objectively the best Anime related things in 2017. It’s a nice blend of simple enough to write quickly while also covering enough detail to merit a challenge from me which encourages me to write more.

Of course, by the time this is over, the year itself still won’t be over, which I acknowledge is an inherent weakness in this idea. So, I suppose since the words “…of the year” aren’t mentioned in the title, this can be considered more the Uchi Awards for Best Anime of 95%  of the year I guess! Finally, as this is a tribute for the whole year, a recurring theme in this will be to split the categories between each season of the year in order to a) cover the groundwork of the whole year and spread them out, and b) filter them so that deciding the final winner will be that much easier.

So, I suppose with all that said, I’ve conveyed what I’m doing by this point, I don’t need to expand the intro to be longer than it needs to be, so I’ll get started then.

*****

The Best Openings of (most of) the Year

I love Anime Openings, partly because they’re only a minute and a half long and thus I’m able to view them on YouTube with much more ease than 7 hours of an entire Anime TV series. In seriousness though, this year provided more than ample supply in many a memorable OP, which also allowed me to form my own opinions on how to view and judge OPs, which likely will result in this Article being my favourite to write for this project. I plan to write an entire Article detailing this topic (probably in several months time knowing my average writing speed) but I’ll outline some of my thoughts briefly:
These entries are judged on combinations. Combinations of the intelligence of the visuals, the music, the tone and how it relates to the series it comes from etc.
There is a whole community of channels on YouTube who dedicate themselves to creating countdown videos of OPs, and having looked at a fair few of them myself, I came to the conclusion that my own taste in OPs is radically different from theirs. Many of them seem to base their rankings on details such as how enjoyable they find the song in question (which I also tend to take a different stance on) resulting in many of them being based on a sort of “Epic Feel” type of OP generally acclimated to fast paced Shounen series, popular series basically. Truth be told, while I would be inclined to agree that the majority of Anime OPs are actually good, of the ones I’ve seen at least, which makes sense since in many cases they are an extremely powerful advertisement for a series which can often result in far more effort being put in them than the animation for the main series itself.
Another thing for me, actually watching the series an OP is attached to. This is not something I did for all of the OPs I will mention here, since I already had a busy enough schedule as is, and from what I’ve heard about some of these series, it’s probably better for me to avoid them. However, I have discovered that becoming aware of the context surrounding an OP does help to recontextualize it and can often radically alter one’s perfection of it’s meaning, not to mention that watching a series does help to give a better understanding of the meanings the OP wishes to convey through its use of visual information and tone-setting musical accompaniment.

I describe all this just to give you an understanding of how I’ve chosen to judge the OPs I’m going to be talking about, which should at least give some idea of how I’ve chosen to judge them. That and the fact I feel I needed somewhere to relay those little thoughts of mine down. On to the thing:

 

Winter

Without a doubt, the first season of the year for this category came in full force with easily the strongest selection of OPs of the entire year. There were so many which excelled in what they set out to achieve that I’m stumped in finding where to begin, from ‘Gintama’ season 857 (probably) providing intense energy, ‘Tale of Zestiria the X’ providing a minimal yet sublime call to epic arms, ‘Konosuba’ season 2 delivering the expected wackiness, and ‘Interviews with Monster Girls’ changing the visual on one of it’s characters to signify her development (which I felt the need to inform you of since it was one of the more notable moments in OPs this year). But listed below are the honourable mentions and eventually the king above them all which enters to the OP of the year nominations.

Kanadeai-Itowokashi: Twin Star Exorcists:  Since ‘Naruto Shippuden’s final OP was from Fall 2016, the other long running Shounen series by Studio Pierrot which came to an end this season filled the gap for an OP to start off the year, and did so with gusto. Creating a genuine sense of conclusion by building on the Twin theme established in the previous OPs through the use of distilled black and white imagery (used to exquisite effect in the heavily symbolic previous OP) before the climax in which the two main characters reach out to one another and become consumed in a world of colour as the divide between them shatters into glass. Add into that a frequent use of action-packed zoom shots, parallel environment imagery, and the fact that in a world where most final OPs for Shounen series tend to feel awkwardly melancholic, this OP informed the fans that the battle still isn’t over made it a noteworthy entry and a prime example of all my favourite qualities in an OP.

Itteki no Eikyou-UVERworld: Blue Exorcist:Kyoto Saga: Speaking of shattering glass, the OP to the second season of ‘Blue Exorcist’ which just came and went with little notice but did not only use the visual technique of shattered glass, but even incorporated the sound effect of it into the music, very faintly as the chorus kicks in. I only discovered that while doing my research for this, and it’s certainly dedicated I’ll say. And some excellent use of zoom in shots.

Seija no Koushin-CIVILIAN: All Out!: This succeeds in being a genuinely exciting sports OP by focusing much of its attention to the intensity of the rugby match, introducing us to each character through the perspective of the ball to maintain an exhilarating and enthralling experience of an OP. The impressive thing is that despite this being one of the greatest Sports OPs I’ve ever seen, I still wouldn’t place it in a Top 10 ranking for just this season, it was that good.

Aozora no Rhapsody-fhana: Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid: Instantly appealing to the series’ irrevocable sense of intensive cuteness with its flying side characters and self cloning main characters. fhana’s always high pitched vocals meanwhile help to express both the silliness and heart of the series simultaneously, with the perfect timing of the chorus with the shot of Tohru looking on romantically in the direction of Miss Kobayashi. And it ends with some choreographed dragon ass rotation.

Onihei~Edo wo Hashiru~-Kouhei Tanaka: Onihei: The instrumental opening to this hidden gem of the season about law enforcement of the Edo era is certainly a less conventional pick for this list. Without poses or a definite chorus, it feels more the opening to a film than an Anime. That intrigue is worthy of mention, but the assorted flutes and shamisen which make up the music make for an action packed opening which excites the viewer along with its added rush through lanterns.

Shiny Ray-YURiKA: Little Witch Academia: The use of night time colours in this ironically bright and optimistic OP is truly lovely. Although maybe not as action packed as one would expect from a series/studio known for its high energy, the animation efforts are placed nicely towards the falling stars which make up the visual highlight of the OP, and along with the happy melody of the song, prepares the viewer to be taken on an adventure filled with childlike glee and wonder.

One Hand Message-OxT: Hand  Shakers: And speaking of comedy, ‘Hand Shakers’ also had an OP which perfectly matched the series’ ability to cause internal vomiting. This isn’t just me picking on an easy target by the way, the OP does at least match its action with the music.
Gekkai Toppa X Survivor-Kiyoshi Hikawa: Dragon Ball Super: ‘Dragon Ball Super’s second OP showcased the ultra-fast paced fist fighting the franchise is known for, making for an exhilarating experience which even I, one of the few people in the world who’s never watched a single episode of any ‘Dragon Ball’ series, pumping my fists in excitement trying to keep up with those of Goku.

Fighter-KANA-BOON: Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans: ‘Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans’ likewise gave an intense and extremely well animated series of robot battles against KANA-BOON’s larger than life vocal work providing a glaring sense of euphoria  and being lost in the moment through the space-like environment Maguro Taniguchi’s voice creates.

MY LIBERATION-nano: Chain Chronicle: The Light of Haecceitas: This Fantasy series embellishes its genre with imagery of battle, elves, mages, and quickly edited actions bits. But where it went further than a serviceable fantasy OP was with a page flipping visual motif which displayed each of the characters by colouring in their pictures while taking a second to land on their pages. The fast pacing of this sequence is incredible to me, and nano’s desperate vocals accentuate the epic motion of the piece, while they sing partly in Japanese allowing me to not notice the terrible lyrics of many other Nano songs. Don’t think I didn’t notice that they didn’t bother to reanimate the text within the book for each separate page though, how dare they not meet a particular standard that I set up for them, you’d almost thing the Japanese animation industry had limited resources or something!

Uncontrollable-Kanako Itou: ChaoS;Child: This OP is littered with intriguing, symbolic imagery which I can’t quite vouch for the nature of since I haven’t watched the series, but it certainly looks impressive. From the disappearing people around a clearly distraught protagonist, everyone looking distraught really, and drowning (wouldn’t be a dramatic OP without some drowning).

Uso no Hibana-96neko: Scum’s Wish: Speaking of symbolism, ‘Scums’s Wish’ was a master in that area as the inkblots which represent with the character’s clouded visions and underlying manipulative nature as they stand in their respective facades overtaking a saturated, pretty colours which represent the facades they each put on. This is also represented by the series’ own trademark, the use of Manga panels to display the different perspectives of society at large and their intimate angst, and the contrast between exterior costumes and interior selves. This alongside flashes of the sexual yet not fetishist imagery relayed through inkblot transitions as we see Hanabi descending head first into the dark abyss, and roses, one of the most heavily used symbols in all of symbolism, and we have an OP which causes one to reminisce about how excellent this series was.

Imawa no Shimigami-Megumi Hayashibara: Descending Stories: Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu: This OP is probably the prime example for me when I say how gaining knowledge of the context alters my perception of it. I had watched it on YouTube before even watching the first season and mostly took from it a sort of haunting vibe implying a more dramatic tone than the first OP maybe. But when I watched the second episode of ‘Descending Stories’, and was introduced to Hayashibara’s whispering vocals introducing Yotarou’s reluctant shy demeanour as he was replaced by still shots of each of the other characters in tandem with a lingering clock ticking in the background, I suddenly felt a chill down my spine as it occurred to me the stake the Artform of Rakugo was at in the series. And the rest of the OP served to confirm that sense of dread with the emphasis on Yakumo in pitch black, funeral like clothing wandering aimlessly off the edge of a cliff and drowning into despair as Yotarou reaches out to him. All of this serving to inform us of how something is dearly at stake here. To add on further, the second half of the OP is littered with hints to the development of Yakumo’s tragic story, hinting at “that twist” when the music picks up in all its jazz assortments of dark violins and whistling flutes once the scratch touches the spinning record from which Yakumo looks on all the others, with the image of Miyokichi in the centre which then changes as the series progresses. And then the spectre of Sukeroku embracing Yakumo, still haunting him in his old age, who’s eyes change colour to a sinister red whenever we watch an episode in which something is going to happen.  And the final tipoff being the quick backwards play the OP does at the end to imply Yakumo’s coming mortality. All of this makes for one of the most haunting OPs ever made for one of the greatest Anime ever made.

Sayonara Bystander-YUKI: March comes in like a Lion: More than any Shounen OP this year, the second OP to ‘March comes in like a Lion’ made me leap with joy from the moment I first heard those swelling violins introducing us to the panning shot toward the Sumida River skyline. Coming shortly after Reina’s breakdown in episode 12, this informed us instantly of how things were going to be okay for our deeply struggling protagonist. Add onto that a series of shots of each of the side characters building up to the chorus, in which YUKI (a clear nod to her involvement in the previous Chica Umino adaptation ‘Honey and Clover’s OP) uses her unique, twangy vocal style to provide unprecedented high notes the likes of which are like no other high notes I think I’ve seen. This accompanies a sequence showcasing the Shogi element of the series by breaking down the animation into gorgeous rough sketch animations which underline the vulnerability present in each of the players, while advanced 3D Animation is used for the zoom-in on the ultimate player Souya Touji, dressed in blended white traditional clothing to give him a respectable lure to emphasise his difficulty level. And it concludes with a symbolic shot of the family picking up a collapsed Rei form the snowy ground in which he initially hallucinates them as his original family to signify their importance in his life, and shows how his life is on the right track to improvement. This OP is easily the most beautiful of the season, but when it comes to the best…..

Winner: Shadow and Truth-ONE III NOTES: ACCA: 13-Territory Inspect Dept.

It is the view of many that the opening to ‘Cowboy Bebop’ is the greatest OP of all time, and while I’m not sure if I would necessarily agree with that viewpoint, it is hard to deny how much the Saul Bass inspired use of highlighted colour imagery mixed in with a retro Jazz sound which acclimates into the soundtrack for the entire series works. It achieves the job it sets out to do in reeling the viewer into the series through a clever use of intrigue and undiluted coolness that only retro can achieve. I bring this up because the opening to ‘ACCA’, a series which sadly seems to already have been forgotten by most people, draws fairly obvious parallels to Tank! and any OP which has something in common with that is an instant win. But beyond that, this OP impresses from the first note, with the series’ mascot, the red bird on which the shape of the fictional country of the series’ setting is based introducing us to the setting with movements synchronised with the halting sax beats of the song which buildup to a song which defies expectations by introducing a rapper into the mix, and then an autotune chorus which manages to increase the sultriness of the alluring character designs which are one of the series’ greatest strengths. It additionally provides some extra mystique to the effectively implemented still shots of characters given a morally ambiguous design to hint at who the antagonist will be.

This is all conjecture to the real strength of the OP though. Through this season’s diverse mix of intrigue and bombast, retro and technical innovation, ‘ACCA’ stands above the rest through the power of sheer coolness relayed into its atmosphere, making the OP a perfect summary for the series itself. The OP also stands out through it’s song which other than the mix of jazz and hip hop, I can’t really pin anything I’ve heard before that sounds like it, at least not in the way that ONE III NOTES utilises it. Of course, it’s also something I can’t really even scratch the surface of in this already too long section. I still haven’t mentioned things like the use of camera flips, the tonal balance between the moe romance moments involving cake eating and the more mature use of shadows, the use of CGI briefly in some shots to either add dimension to the separate room scenes, the use of cigarette smoke combined with ink blot transitions, the way the credits are integrated into the scenery, the symbolism behind the shot of a puppet king, or the final 10 seconds of music ticking after the final chorus to playfully mislead the viewer into an ending before the words “You gotta use your eyes to perceive the wind” play. The wind in question being a rush of coolness which blows directly into the viewer’s face.

Spring

The season which promised to provide the most action packed openings of the year, with the Shounen Saturday double bill of ‘Attack on Titan’ 2 and ‘My Hero Academia’ 2 being the main talk of the season. But it was certainly a busy season beyond just that, with MAPPA set to start a year they decided to claim as theirs with the return of ‘Rage of Bahamut’, as well as subdued dramas such as ‘Sakura Quest’ and ‘Tsuki ga Kirei’. The openings for ‘Atom: the Begginning’, ‘What do you do at the End of the World?’, ‘Grimoire’, ‘Natsume Yuujinchou’, and the other ‘Gintama’ thing just barely missed the cut here, partly because that Winter edition was already too long as it is. So here’s what came into consideration instead.

ID-0-Sayaka Sasaki: ID-0: Referring back to the greatest of Watanabe style OPs, while not quite as minimalist as one of those would be, this OP’s use of colours and scenery shifts portrays a totally delightful montage which, again I can’t quite vouch for the meaningfulness of. What I can say is that while the CGI may be a bit jaunted in places, the energy of the robots help me to feel like they’re sharing in the delight of the OP and all its jazz flavoured psychedelia, which is probably a better use of giant robot’s time than trying to destroy each other.

Don’t-NakamuraEmi: Warau Salesman: But for pure Saul Bass inspiration, look no further than the delicious colour on top of black style that this sinister yet playful to a similarly sinister yet playful series complements. From the noir city lights rotating horizontally across the screen to the cartoonish grin of the main character, this one is a powerful nostalgia trip for the retro lover in all of us.

MIND CONDUCTOR-YURiKA: Little Witch Academia: Although in hindsight I may visually prefer the first OP due to its greater imagistic consistency and darker background conveying a greater sense of atmosphere. That said, it does complement the more action based tone that the second cour of the series aims for, with the faces of the characters informing us that things are about to get serious. The allusion to Chariot and Croix when they were young, and their paralleled rivalry/relationship being signified by the hand holding cut in the middle of the OP, a moment which in addition to making shippers such as myself leap for joy, also expertly signified the theme of new and old with the parallel between the characters and their separate interests on the direction of magic. Climaxing with a lovely rotational shot of Akko transforming to showcase that lovely animation, and a greater variety of movement than the first OP which only becomes noticeable during an awkwardly placed still shot of Andrew, and this OP illustrates the magic of this wonderful series.

Tabiji-MAO: Kado: The Right Answer: Not an OP which is going to win any awards for movement in a scene, but if previous entries have demonstrated; I do like to highlight  OPs which experiment outside the realms of the conventional wisdom for what qualities as a “great” OP. And this highly atmospheric OP with its chilling chorus of choirs set against a bleak backdrop of realistic city shots, and some effective use of drawing illustrations on screen alongside dimmed cosmic lights against a pitch black backdrop. This OP oozes atmosphere all over, making it something which truly stands out in this shounen season.

Baton Road-KANA-BOON: Boruto: Next Generations: The beginning of the continuation of the Shounen that it seems will never actually end in our lifetime after all, this opening partakes in one of my personal favourite elements of Shounen OPs, the “This has too many damn characters” syndrome. I recall the 13th OP  of ‘Bleach’ also boasted this syndrome, but that was the thirteenth opening as opposed to this, the first of a series. Like, Christ! Why?! And the line up of them is impressive enough, as they jump to the screen in front of that face mountain thing.

Gravity Well-SawanoHiroyuki ft. Tielle & Gemie: Re:Creators: Certainly an entry which sought to encapsulate as much about the series it came from as it could, which perhaps explains why it became one of the most popular of the year. Featuring shots of each of the characters placed against backgrounds of the worlds they came from before being flung into ours. This is placed alongside some standard action scenes, including the presence of Magical Girl Mamika which actually doesn’t spoil the imagistic consistency with its pinklaiden backdrop, but instead blends well into the rushes of the chorus. But the main strength of the OP is the symbolism revolving around Altair and the secret held by the main character conveyed through empty glasses and final shot of the desert landscape, which makes for an extremely powerful image even without knowing what it implies.

Morning Glory-(K)NoW_NAME: Sakura Quest: Certainly among the most charming OPs of the year is this narrative driven OP which displays a working day in the lives of it’s young adult protagonists. The bouncy and perky track complements the activities on screen, with Yoshino’s broom work tapping along to the melody, all making for a lovely opening for this Slice of Life/Coming of Age series.

Ima Koko-Nao Tuyama: Tsuki ga Kirei: Sweetness is a phrase which doesn’t even begin to do this OP justice, as the flashes into the lives of the adolescent lovers is certain to provide total diabetes to the viewer. Of course, that alone wouldn’t necessarily be enough to place it in these mentions, as the assortment of clips may at times feel more like a standard AMV than an official OP. Where it became great was in episode 7 onwards, after the two grew more comfortable being open about their relationship, the chorus which had previously been supplanted with a blurry and vague live action footage of a performance theatre, was replaced by a fully animated version of the performance (which would of course become a key point in the narrative), giving the OP a whole new meaning and additionally provides the strongest bit of animation in the OP to convey the individual lives of these two extra-cute protagonists.

Blow out-Konomi Suzuki: Akashic Records of Bastard Magic Instructor: Did you just see how well those still images of characters popped into the screen in a way that didn’t feel lazily done due to how well their appearance synchronised with the fast paced metal beat of the music. Oh, and something about effective humorous imagery and action scenes blended well similar to ‘Gintama’, but yeah that use of still shots was effective unlike in the first opening of ‘Guilty Crown’ where still shots spoil the visual fluidity of the piece, which I only decided to bring up to ruin everyone’s notion of how that OP is perfect.

LET iT END-SiM: Rage of Bahamut: Virgin Souls: Speaking of Metal, this is an OP which is absolutely Metal in how it seeks to create a gigantic and thundering chorus blending low-pitch shrieks, distorted double-track and choir like vocals, and the constantly fast instrumentation which fits the Western Fantasy vibe, along with the distorting colours of red, black, and ash white displaying a grim and action packed setting.

Sacrifice-9mm Parabellum Bullet: Berserk: Next in our section of Metal based action OPs is the opening for the ultimate Metal Album Art series, ‘Berserk’. Starting off with a heavenly choir of electric guitars in unison as the scorching sun rises across the fields, we place eyes upon animation which many say should have been the animation for the main series. I’m not sure if I would be inclined to agree, since part of the strength of ‘Berserk’ is its hyper detailed art style which is part of why it’s so hard to adapt into Anime, so I’m not entirely sure if the pale drawn character art would do much service to the source material, but it does at least get the job done of looking tolerable enough for a panoramic view action sequence. Where it does excel expectations however, is the always powerful reverse symmetry between the white and elegant Griffith, and the dark and brooding Guts. Revealed here through a zoom on the former cutting to an impressive zoom out of the latter, the shot of the Black Swordsman himself standing alone with his sword in the dark is undoubtedly the closest the series has come to matching the tone of the Manga and prepares us to witness something truly spectacular before the actual Anime starts and lets us down from the very first vomit inducing CGI frame.

Shinzo wo Sasageyo-Linked Horizon: Attack on Titan: Concluding the round of Metal based action OPs is of course the signature band of that description, Linked Horizon. Delivering on all the bombastic mix of metal and choir sounds to match the epic, over the top style of the series. Some might say that the OP is too similar to its predecessors, and admittedly this is what I thought when I first witnessed it, but it is distinguished by a few things. First and foremost is the fact that it presents the greatest alternation between loud and quiet out of the trilogy of OPs thus far, and my favourite part of it is the lone shot of the father holding the baby’s hand. This moment of quiet accompanied by an acapella choir is something that hasn’t been done in the previous OPs, and hints at a theme which didn’t actually get expanded upon in the actual season, but it did give us shots of dinosaurs and giant animals to accompany the Titans taking their place as the dominant species, so that’s fun.

Peace Sign-Yonezu Kenshi: My Hero Academia: It would perhaps be a sin to not include the most popular OP of the season here. Coming immediately after he broke through with the excellent ED for ‘March comes in like a Lion’, newcomer Yonezu Kenshi displayed his prowess with inspiring anthems in an OP which perfectly fits the tournament arc. It certainly does more so than Porno Graffiti’s tonally confused track that alternated so frequently between awkwardly stilted minimal piano piece and overblown chorus which still fails to convey a sense of power from last year. And all the happy faces on everyone and exercise montage sequences in the beginning, as well as the extremely well animated shot of All Might leaping through the city skyline helps to bring the OP to life.

Winner: Nasugamama, Sawagumama-milktub: The Eccentric Family

This being the winner against the big Shounen OPs is what I mean when I say my picks are “different”. I certainly haven’t seen as much praise for this OP as it deserves, even among many fellow fans of this wonderful series, which is bizarre to me because it so perfectly encapsulates even wonderful about ‘The Eccentric Family’. Right from that first shot of a lone Yasaburo standing against a morbid grey sky which serves as the aesthetic of choice for an OP which indicates at how this season will touch on the darker elements of the series, but much like the series it never lets this aspect overpower it as the enter the perspective of Yasaburo’s camera through which we see an assortment of effects trickery courtesy of PA Works constant willingness for visual experimentation giving the, the right to describe themselves as “Progressive”. The use of 3D stop-motion photography animation, CGI rising lampposts, and the always effective use of credit integration through it’s vertical-rotational movement alongside the speeding fisheye lens view of the road in the chorus, as well as credits which cast shadows onto the floor.

While many of the characters are presented from what is are obviously clips from the first season injected onto the screen, they’re integrated so well that to dismiss it as “lazy” (my least favourite word when used in a critical context in existence) would be to miss the point, the purpose of them is to provide a sense of nostalgia after the series’ four year absence but also to provide a sense of business to the otherwise empty Kyoto streets, which here make for a delightful image so busy that every time I watch it I always find small details in the background and even the foreground that I missed before, such as Yasaburo in a miniskirt running on top of that fisheye view. The new imagery we get is a celebration of everything that is ‘The Eccentric Family’. All the wackiness and mystique and beautiful Benten flying through the sky brings a moment of wonder to me. And it isn’t just self indulgence which begets my enjoyment, as the photography element of the OP is used effectively towards the end to highlight the three major parental figures in his life.

Summer

When the Summer season rolled in with what looked like a promising lineup, the OPs this season proved to be lesser than anticipated, with an overload of simple OPs with only a handful of standouts. That’s not to say certain OPs didn’t stand out for different reasons; ‘Fox Spirit Matchmaker’ for example presented an extremely hilarious mismatch of song and visuals with the most melancholic and outright beautiful song they could have picked being played over action scenes and clips which don’t even attempt to synchronise with said music. It’s hilarious honestly! ‘A Centaur’s Life’s best animation was placed firmly into the OP, and was used mainly for the purposes of an embarrassing fan-service romp which only fits the series as much as anything could for something which put so little thought into the cohesion of its tone. Spring leftovers ended up getting lesser followups to their OPs, and while I actually like the music to ‘Sakura Quest’s second OP, the visuals do feel very half-made. I did like the second OP to ‘Virgin Souls’ at first, until I mentally associated it with the general decline in quality the series itself saw this season. Additionally, we got quite a few beatbox songs as OPs, none of which I’ll put here because they sound like audio garbage (Hitorijime my Hero being the only OP this year I actively skipped). I suppose finally, I should mention ‘Welcome to the Ballroom’ which will not be on this selection for no better reason than I didn’t find the OP particularly investing for some reason. Anyway.

Deal with the Devil-Tia: Kakegurui: Directed by Sayo Yamamoto, this OP for the “crazy lesbians gamblers doing crazy lesbian gambling things” Anime serves as a display for her main trademark as a director, her intense infatuation with the human form in all its detail, creating easily the sexiest OP of the year. Filled with domination, self sex, and highly defined legs in tights, which through Yamamoto’s lens feel genuinely sexy rather than crude or exploitative. Tia’s orgasmic vocals delighting in the torture unfolding on screen only serve to accentuate this.

Trip Trip Trip-ORESAMA: Magical Circle Guru Guru: This OP has a childlike innocence which fits the tone of ‘Guru Guru’ to a Tee. The fast animation rolling with each of the side characters is impressive but also lead me to question how this smaller children’s series by the same studio looks better than ‘Welcome to the Ballroom’. The bright colours and overall sweetness of the main couple shine throughout and give it such wholesome feels.

Symphogear Axis: As the only person among my associates who has yet to jump aboard the ‘Symphogear’ hype train, some of the imagery does look confusing and at times something like what an Anime hater would show to outsiders to give them an impression of how ridiculous Anime is, with its bizarre combination of giant robot fights and exploding love heart bombs. But on the other hand, those are the coolest combination of things you can find.

shOut-SawanoHiroyuki ft. Tielle & Gemie: Re:Creators: While many leftovers, as said before, ended up letting down with their follow up OPs, ‘Re:Creators’ managed to create an OP which surpassed its original by instilling a more epic vibe and greater emphasis on fight scenes while keeping the visual focus on Altair’s story intriguing, with meaning added to it through our applied knowledge of the situation, making her reaching out for her past creator provide a more emotional core to the OP. That said, I wouldn’t say it’s quite the OP of the year like many others have dubbed it, due to a) the stillshots of the new characters, while necessary, do spoil the flow and b) that “Rock/Rock/Rock” in the chorus just sounds silly to me.

One in a Million-Wake Up, May’n!: Restaurant to Another World: The loud and out happiness of this OP feels so lovely in a world where many OPs for fantasy series and even food porn series feel the need to take themselves so seriously. This OP, displaying many a lovely location in the world of the series, and each side character who are main characters in their respective episodes gets the chance to display their happiness at the feast ahead.

BUTTERFLY EFFECTOR-TRUE: Hina Logi: From Luck & Logic: Because why not have a whole OP made out of stop-motion paper-cuts?

Red Doors-TeddyLoid ft. Yoshikazu Mera: 18if: Although the CGI cubes end up having a visually homogenous feel to them after a while, the atmosphere of this EDM track is undeniable.

STEP by STEP UP-fourfolium: New Game!!: The scene where all the girls sing along to the song is so vitally important!

Sora ni Utaeba-amazarashi: My Hero Academia: Hey look at that, first OP. It is actually possible to effectively make a more serious toned Shounen OP for BNHA which manages to feel legitimately epic and dramatic without coming across as overbearing and tonally confused! Who knew?!

Dakara Boku wa Boku wo Tabanasu-WEAVER: Sakurada Reset: Proof that not all of these selections are biased towards series that I watched, the use of white lights polishing the environment to the emotional beats of the track in this OP gives it an intensely polished feel.

Dark Cherry Mystery-Ougi Oshino (Kaori Mizuhashi): Owarimonogatari: Despite the perfection of ‘Owarimonogatari Season 2’, one of the few gripes I had with it was how simple/minimal the OPs felt compared to previous seasons. That isn’t to say any of them are bad, Mayoi Hell’s OP is certainly brings an instant sense of joy to my face, though it’s hard to tell if that’s just because of Mayoi returning to the series. More recently, the Blu Ray for the series gave Hitagi Rendevouz an excellent OP which perfectly illustrated the sweetness of that Arc. But I would still have to say Ougi Dark had the best OP of the bunch. I mean, it’s no Mathemagic, but Ougi’s dance in the dark is a work of art in itself against the funky minimalism of this track. And as a final OP for the series, it is satisfying enough.

Deep in Abyss-Mariya Ise & Miyu Tomita: Made in Abyss: This deceptively bright and cheery  OP for one of the best series of the year begins with a descending Piano spill which makes the viewer feel like they’re descending directly into the Abyss. From that we get happy images of Rem and Riko being cute together, followed by close-up shots of the compass reflecting light, as well as quick shots of the characters who pop up as the series progresses, hinting at the darker elements of the series. And the jingling bell that begins the episodes after it is super effective too!

Hikari Tatsu Ame-Soma Saito: Katsugeki/Touken Ranbu: Not much to say about this one other than how impressive ufotable’s fight scenes continue to be.

Eiyuu Unmei no Uta-EGOIST: Fate/Apocrypha: In the toss up between this and what would be my number 1 of the Season, I chose to leave this one out because it did seem to blend in with other OPs this season, robbing it of it’s own unique identity ever so slightly. Though it did still stand out significantly through it’s alternating thundering choruses and a hauntingly beautiful lullaby melody which gradually builds and builds. This combined with some truly atmospheric imagery manages to make for an exciting OP, and one that stands out even among those of its franchise.

Winner: The Other side of the Wall-Void_Chords ft. MARU: Princess Principal

Ask me another time and this choice may be different, and while ‘Fate/Apocrypha’ may have grabbed my attention more with its atmosphere, the opening notes to ‘Princess Principal’ in all its chaotic glory made for an instant call that I was watching a delightfully over the top romp, and indeed something I wasn’t quite expecting to be as good as it turned out. With MARU’s vocals appropriately emulating the sound of an old James Bond theme, working well with the British Spy concept of the series naturally, this OP is pure energy through and through. With the use of darkened lighting perfectly conveying the more serious side in near perfect conjunction with the character introductions of the main girls displaying the more light hearted side, coming to cohesion through the car leaping through the sky and ejecting them into their defined poses, conveying immense personality into each of them.

Fall

Coming at the end of the year, this was possibly the weakest OP wise season. At least, this is what I should feel from the fact it doesn’t have as many OPs that impress me, but at the same time I can’t quite think of any that I actively  dislike. In fact, I found this one had the greatest number of considerations for the list, which I’ll discuss like before. ‘Fox Spirit Matchmaker’ went for a more decisively serious tone with it’s second OP, which while objectively a good OP does rob it of that unintentional hilarity which made the first one stand out. For unintentional hilarity, look no further than the self serious ‘Ousama Game’, which is so overblown in it’s desperate attempt to look edgy that it sort of makes you cry until you see stock Yandere character#8672 tilt her head, eyes dilated as the metal chorus of “This is the End, This is the End” yells in what is meant to be the beginning but never mind. The second OP of ‘Boruto’ was  a little chipper for my taste, while ‘One Piece’s 20th OP does feel a little depressing, not because of the song, but because they’re still doing that needless 2.5 minute thing to continue holding off on Luffy and the Gang actually making it to that titular treasure. ‘Fate/Apocrypha’s second OP was just a fairly standard LISA OP with little noteworthy. Finally, both ‘Osomatsu’ and ‘Shokegeki no Soma’ released new seasons (which I have yet to see due to completing the first season of both much later than I had anticipated), but those OPs did feel like treading old ground for their respective series.

Here-JUNNA: The Ancient Magus Bride: Just barely making its way into the mentions is the most popular OP of the season. The reason being that, while I do think the song is extremely lovely, the visuals feel incredibly uninspired. Like, the whole black background and constant succession of shots focusing on Chise get redundant very quickly, and having frequent movement doesn’t change that no matter how well animated it is. And the final 20 seconds consist of a clip show which while getting recognition from when said clips appear in the series, fails to add anything significant. But again, the song is nice at least.

Invisible Sensation-Unison Square Garden: Welcome to the Ballroom: This OP ups the drama to a significant degree, which helps it to give more of an immediate pull than the first. Most significantly, the song is actually exciting enough to make the viewer want to get up and dance. Dance in the rain more specifically, which is significantly less exciting than portrayed in the OP.

fake town baby-Unison Square Garden: Blood Blockade Battlefront & Beyond: Might as well get the other great Unison Square Garden track out of the way. Between these songs and the fact they’re going to be doing the next OP for ‘March comes in like a Lion’ next Winter, this was indeed an excellent year for them, and their return to ‘Kekkai Sensen’ brought with it an appropriate amount of energy and excitement for the exciting Anime ahead. While it’s no ‘Hello World’, it still makes up for the less intricate symbolism with basic action, just like the second season itself.

akairo-Civillian: Altair: Record of Battles: This one simply deserves commendation for achieving the near impossible task of actually making ‘Altair’ look even remotely exciting (trust me, it’s not), with those thundering rock guitars maintaining a constant sense of suspense, and a lovely introduction via broken sandglass.

Haruka Mirai-Kankaku Pierro: Black Clover: Utilising that book imagery from ‘Chain Chronicle’, this OP is a visual excitement with its eclectic use of 3D spaces to create some truly wonderful cinematic pieces all for the simple purpose of showcasing its characters,  with some impressive rain effects and colour illustrations to boot, as well as the diverse settings we take along the way.

Aiokotoba-GARNiDELIA: Animegataris: Perhaps not something that should qualify for this due to its beatbox style, something which usually puts me off. But this one has the font of the title bounce along with the beat so well, and with the DJ cat joining along for the fun. The bright and happy colourful visuals add to the fun vibe of the song, and having our main character run away from an assortment of cartoon characters is… You know, why am I describing anything other than MARiA’s beautiful voice. That’s the real star of the show here, displaying her incredible prowess to work within many different genres, her ability to go high and heavy within such a short amount of time, and it’s just something I’m always so in love with.

Saturday Night Question-Megumi Najahima: Recovery of an MMO Junkie: Something Something bright and colourful, I have to complete this sorry. Looks good in HD and those computer sound effects are fun.

over and over-Nagi Yanagi: Just Because!: Among the more emotionally charged OPs of the year, this OP fully encapsulates the frustrations of youth that the series focuses on so. The intricate animation of the series is also in full display here, perfectly bringing to life the emotions of the characters, as well as the wind blowing in their faces crosscutting after the throwing baseball shot which makes the viewer feel cold along with the combination to the series’ Winter aesthetic.

Ryuusei Dance Floor-ORESAMA: Magical Circle Guru Guru: Wasn’t expecting the follow up to the cute and fluffy first OP of this cute series to have such a funky disco beat to it, but it complements the rapid succession of multiple characters which never creates any moments of awkward visual overload  within the sequence well.

Rapture-Panorama Panama Town: Juuni Taisen: A song which starts with a slow build up of confident guitar work which leads into a display of coolness which doesn’t have to rely on action to sell the series, instead focusing on the individual aesthetics of each character under a glamorous glitter light alongside details such as the entire city being turned upside down by their presence.

Flag wo Tatero-YUKI: March comes in like a Lion: Coming back to the exquisite combination of YUKI and ‘March comes in like a Lion’ comes an OP less dramatic than the Winter entry but no less beautiful. Reflective images such as glass and water play a big part in that, but the OP also effectively uses bright lighting to display the positive changes that his new family has brought to Rei’s life. Ironic considering the dark arc that this portion of the series covers.

My Hero-MAN WITH A MISSION: Inuyashiki: The number one of the year for those with more of a tolerance for MAN WITH A MISSION’s vocals than me, so basically everyone besides me (I’m just using this whole article to dispel with my many an OP related hot take aren’t I). But one would be hard pressed to find a more hype OP this season. When it starts with an entire city growing out of a character’s back, and has that be its build up to even crazier imagery, you know it’s going to be wild. With its effective implementation of the Cyborg imagery of the series being used to create whole landscapes and use of ball metaphors to represent the cat and mouse game at play, as well as its effective blend of CGI and handdrawn imagery making for one of the most action packed OPs of the whole year.

Kyoumen no Nami-YURiKA: Land of the Lustrous: Fitting that such a unique Anime would get such a unique OP. This one doesn’t exist to “hype up” it’s audience so much as it exists to acclimate them into the world of the series, one which genuinely feels alien and original as opposed to so many other Sci-Fi stories. The quiet Math Rock sound of the track complements the gorgeous CGI crystal imagery perfectly, almost positioning the viewer somehow into the position of the characters who awaken throughout the sequence.

Here and There-Nagi Yanagi: Kino’s Journey: The Beautiful World: The Animated Series: When I first heard the techno beats of this song in the previews, I wasn’t impressed. I didn’t think it would fit with ‘Kino’s Journey’ at all. I have grown used to them the more I’ve listened though, and techno can indeed be appropriately calm and relaxing. But more than relaxing, this OP is appropriately beautiful, as the production values have been placed wisely to deliver some truly gorgeous imagery to demonstrate Kino’s beautiful world. All the transparent imagery looks impressive as hell and the subtle hints to the main character’s past is only the icing on the cake.

Winner: Ugoku Ugoku-Inori Minase & Yurika Kubo: Girls Last Tour

Although perhaps an odd choice for best of the season, ‘Girls Last Tour’ is without a doubt the most immensely likeable OP of the Fall. Just the mere presence of Chiito and Yuuri is enough to instantly make it good, but the addition of simplistic imagery which doesn’t clash with the more serious greys of the series, but instead complements it’s minimalism. With large circles representing the circling world  they travel, the deceptively small OP is much bigger in its intentions. This combined with a song which builds up slowly to a satisfying and fun chorus which comes complete with their synchronised dance and yes, the dab that caught everyone’s attention, all makes this OP a true standout.

*****

And after all that overwriting which eventually caused this idea to fall apart as an idea for a whole 12 Days, I’ll now reveal which of the four openings which made the best of their season is the best of the year as a whole:

Between Shadow and Truth by ONE III NOTES from ‘ACCA: 13 Territory Inspect Dep.’, Nasugamama, Sawagumama by milktub from ‘The Eccentric Family’, The Other side of the Wall by Void_Chords from ‘Princess Principal’, and Ugoku Ugoku from ‘Girls Last Tour’, the winner in that competition, even with some of the difficulties I had in picking each of those titles in their respective seasons, the choice was actually quite easy for me:

Shadow and Truth-ONE III NOTES: ACCA: 13 Territory Inspection Department

Through all the twelve months, this OP held its strength against them all through sheer force of cool. Through those already discussed colour shifts which offer such wondrous gazes into the lovely world of the series and all its tribute to daily life which just happens to be through the lens of an inspective department who really enjoy their cakes. I didn’t even mention things like how much the white smoke which appears throughout complements the scenery, formulating from the cigarette smoke and the pure white clouds. Each one feeling like a pure white drop of sugar sweetness onto an already delectable OP. By this point I’ve probably conveyed how effective the entire aesthetic of this OP is, and because I can’t gain much by contributing to my extensive habit of overwriting everything I’ll stop now.

Top 10 of the whole year:

  1. ACCA
  2. March comes in like a Lion OP2
  3. Descending Stories: Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu
  4. The Eccentric Family 2
  5. Girls Last Tour
  6. Twin Star Exorcists OP4
  7. My Hero Academia 2 OP1
  8. Land of the Lustrous
  9. Attack on Titan 2 OP
  10. March comes in like a Lion 2 OP1