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X-Men: TAS Episode 2, Night of the Sentinels Part II

Time to wrap up this opening story. We’re in the middle of the mission to destroy all of the files at the Mutant Control Agency; an ill-advised plan, but oh well, it happens. Cyclops, Rogue and Gambit are waiting outside the building. Cyclops is worrying about how the mission’s going, to which Gambit reiterates that he should be the one inside, in case anyone forgot how this mission should have gone down.

Inside, Storm nearly walks her team into a trap, but Wolverine stops her. He claims he can smell gun oil, so he knows that there’re armed guards on the other side of the door. Funny, I would think the scent and pulses of about six people would stand out more than the gun oil would, but what do I know? Maybe Wolverine just really hates that new gun smell.

“There’s guards on the other side of the door, so blow the door off its hinges and send them flying; in fact, always do that. That’s how we’re gonna handle all doors from now on.”

Beast makes a joke about wondering where Storm got her Nom de guerre, and I’m 99% sure this line only exists so kids would ask their parents what ‘Nom de guerre’ means. Then the parents would ask where the kid heard that term, and the kid would say “X-Men!,” and at least temporarily, parents would think X-Men was educational. Oh Fox Kids, you devious charlatans.

A bunch of reinforcements arrive outside to back up the guards, so Cyclops begins taking them down. Cyclops instructs Rogue and Gambit to do the same, but cautions them not to hurt the humans; Gambit snarks that perhaps Cyclops should tell the humans not to harm them. This may shock you, but I think Gambit has a point; Cyclops is assuming that the X-Men outmatch their foes by enough that they can afford not to take the fight seriously, and that assumption is going to cost everyone dearly. I mean, I don’t think Rogue and Gambit should be running around using lethal force on human guards, but still, they’re playing this way too fast and loose.

Back inside, Morph uses a ruse to get some guards out of the way, and the voice he uses is so obviously Cal Dodd (Wolverine’s voice actor) making a froggy voice that it’s pretty funny. The inside team begins destroying the mutant files. Going by the size of the file cabinet, it looks like the MCA has data on thousands of mutants. Err, not good.

We switch scenes to Detroit, of all places, where Jubilee has been kidnapped. Gyrich is trying to get her to spill the beans about the X-Men, but unfortunately for him, Jubilee didn’t stay with the X-Men long enough to even finish the Orientation Breakfast, so she doesn’t know squat. Well, actually she does know the location of the X-Men’s headquarters, and the personnel, and so on and so forth, but she’s not talking. This doesn’t play like Jubilee playing tough to protect her new friends; more like she’s so confused by constantly being kidnapped that she doesn’t even know what’s what anymore. You can’t really blame her.

Bolivar Trask, scientist-guy who makes the Sentinels, discovers that Gyrich kidnapped Jubilee and is clearly upset about it. At first it seems like maybe he’s a decent guy who thinks they shouldn’t be running around kidnapping kids. But no, he’s just pissed that Gyrich went as far as kidnapping a mutant before the Sentinel project had reached the next benchmark.

“Now listen here, if you want to kidnap 13-year-old girls and strap them down to a table, there are certain very specific items of protocol you need to be aware of, Gyrich. First of all, that is not my preferred bondage table.”

Cyclops, Rogue and Gambit are all fighting the guards outside while being careful not to play too rough. Cyclops wants the inside team to come out so they can regroup before things get out of control. Oh Cyke, things are already out of control; you’ve got Rogue dumping tanks into the Potomac. You probably should have told her not to do that.

Fortunately, the inside team is almost finished destroying all the files. Beast tries to wipe out the digital files with a computer virus, but Storm loses patience and fries the computer. I would like to be able to make some joke about how that data is backed up on Dropbox and Storm is screwed, but eh, it’s 1992; Storm’s probably right to just take out the hard drive and call it a day. Informational terrorism was so much easier in the days before the Cloud.

It haunted poor Derrick here that when the hottest woman he had ever seen touched him, he called her a “freak” because of the whole mutant thing. Determined not to ever let that happened again, Derrick adopted a new personal motto: “Booties before Muties.”

The two teams meet up outside, and make a run for the Blackbird. Morph makes another comment about how it’s “Clear sailing all the way!” and oh my God, I’m ready for him to die at this point. You’ll notice a lack of pictures of Morph in this post; that’s not deliberate, I just never felt the urge to take a screenshot when he was on screen. I guess I’m not Morph’s biggest fan, is what I’m saying.

Okay so I felt guilty for not even taking a screenshot of Morph, what with him selflessly sacrificing himself and whatnot, so here you go. Heroic Morph! To be fair, death improves his character a lot; his arc in Season 2 is fun.

Oh no, the Sentinels from Detroit have gotten to Washington in record time! Wolverine is ready to scrap, but Morph gets worried and jumps to push Wolverine out the way of a blast. Jarring scene change to Jean groaning over Cerebro; Morph just died off-camera, sacrificing himself for Wolverine. By the time Xavier puts on the Cerebro helmet to try to sense Morph, it’s already too late.

“I ain’t gonna say I tol’ you so, but I tol’ you so, mon ami.”

As little as the character of Morph himself moves me, I’ve always been impressed with this choice. Killing off a member of the team in the first story shows pretty strongly that there are real stakes here, and makes you question what the X-Men are doing. Was this entire mission worth it? Hundreds, maybe thousands of mutants may be safe from harm now that the data has been destroyed, but the X-Men don’t know that for sure; for all they know, the MCA could collect the same info again quite easily. And even though I didn’t like Morph much, a lot of viewers did; the show killed off a character people actually cared about.

I’m not sure how the show got away with this, because it seems way too hardcore and depressing for a program rated acceptable for 7-year-olds; I have that thought frequently while watching this series. When I first watched it I was already 10, maybe 11, so I had already encountered death in books, but I wonder what it must have been like for really young children who saw this on TV.

We skip ahead a bit to the team arriving back at the mansion; we’ll flash back to the fight against the Sentinels in a moment. This actually reminds me a little bit of the famous second episode of Evangelion, where you see the first half of a fight and don’t get to see the end of until much later; it’s much less dramatic than the Eva version, but to be fair, this came first. Wolverine is about ready to take Cyclop’s head off for leaving his teammates behind, but Jean comes and defuses the situation. She shares that Beast is alive (Thank God!) but Morph is not (okay.)

Instead of shredding Cyclops, Wolverine takes his rage out on Cyclops’ car and takes off. Jean says that what happened wasn’t Cyclops’ fault, or Wolverine’s, and no Jean: it’s Professor Xavier’s fault, for not sending Gambit. I’m not going to remind you again.

Flashback to two minutes ago! After Morph makes his heroic sacrifice, the X-Men are quickly overwhelmed by Sentinels, and poor Beast gets shoved into an electric fence, which is hard to watch. Remember how Cyclops can easily decapitate Sentinels with his optic blast? Well try to forget that, because he doesn’t even attempt it here. None of the X-Men’s attacks seem to do much in this battle, and in order for this to make sense with the end of the episode, we have to assume they were completely taken by surprise and are off-balance. Either that, or everyone gains about ten levels of power progression after this fight.

When the group decides that all they can do now is run, Wolverine wants to go back for Beast and Morph. Rogue uses her energy-sucking power to stop him, which is…weird. She’s not at all subtle about the fact that she’s about to do it, and Wolverine makes no attempt to fight or evade her. You know what I think? I think he wanted Rogue to stop him. I think he wanted to be able to say that he tried to go back from Beast and Morph without actually doing it. Sneaky Canadian.

I said I didn’t care much about Morph, but seeing Beast be sad makes me sad. Anything that makes Beast sad is intolerable.

Beast gets taken into captivity, where he prays for Morph. It may seem odd that a man of science like Beast is praying, but I think I get where he’s coming from. The only thing Beast can possibly do to help Morph at this point is pray for him, so unless he has solid proof that praying won’t help, that’s what he’s going to do. If Beast has ever gone into depth about his religion in the comics I haven’t read it, but that’s how I like to believe he thinks.

I would complain that Beast is sidelined for the rest of the season due to being captured, but to be honest, the scenes with Beast in jail are some of the best scenes in the entire series, so I’ll live with it. You’ll see what I mean when we get to Episode 3.

We see the President of the United States, and she’s a lady! It’s cool. At first it seems like the president is pleased that the X-Men’s attack on the MCA was foiled (it wasn’t actually foiled, they achieved their mission, but whatever), however we soon learn that a) she’s a smart lady who understands the nuances of the situation and b)she’s committed to cardiovascular health. She wisely tells Gyrich to stop with his MCA nonsense, because it’s only going to lead to more bloodshed.  Honestly, at this point, if you put this woman on the ballot, I would vote for her in a hot second.

Wolverine is playing pool at a crummy bar to try to distract himself from his grief. I’ve always gotten a kick out of how seedy this show makes Westchester County look, by the way. I haven’t been there a whole lot in real life, but whenever I have, it’s seemed like the entire area is ensconced inside a giant Starbucks; it’s a little precious. We hear from Senator Robert Kelly over the bar’s TV, in a nice piece of foreshadowing. They really planned out this season! Cyclops shows up to recruit Wolverine on a revenge mission against the Sentinels, and Wolverine is so turned on by the sound of the word “revenge” that he temporarily suspends his hatred of Cyclops and goes along with it.

“I know you’re mad at me, but in my defense, I’m about to offer you a mission that involves chopping up dozens of robots.”

“This is why I can never stay mad at you, Scott.”

This next part is cool. Cyclops goes to Jubilee’s foster parents, and her Foster-Dad rats him out to Gyrich. It quickly becomes obvious that this is what Cyclops wanted to happen, because he wanted Gyrich to send a Sentinel that the X-Men could then track back to the Sentinel’s home base. This is some pretty clever social engineering on Cyclops’ part, and goes a long way toward showing why he’s the leader. Cyclops easily damages the Sentinel (which apparently he can do when he feels like it), and the team tracks the damaged Sentinel back to Detroit in the Blackbird.

Detroit, inside the Sentinel Skunkworks. Gyrich tells Trask that they’re going to pack up the Sentinel operation and move overseas, now that the President has withdrawn the government’s support of the MCA. I would go on a rant about how hard-working American Sentinel-building jobs are being destroyed, but it seems like Trask is the only one actually building the darned things, so I guess that’s not a concern. You have to give Gyrich credit though: by pulling manufacturing out of Detroit, he’s about 5 years ahead of the curve there. If only Detroit had kept the critical killer-giant-robot industry, things might be very different today.

In the chaos caused by the broken Sentinel returning (apparently losing an arm also fries their guidance system), Jubilee tries to escape. She does a pretty good job of blasting through a metal wall, which seems like it shows off a lot more juice than her powers usually have. Why? Because Gambit is near, of course! Gambit gives Jubilee the courage to fight like a proper X-Man!

NEVER LET GO

What follows is a virtuous ass-whomping, with the X-Men easily taking out about 30 Sentinels. It’s a bit puzzling that they’re so good at fighting the Sentinels now when they sucked at it the first time, but I guess we just have to assume that the X-Men are all full of piss and vinegar now and were ready to engage. Back at the MCA, they were still in “Let’s pull our punches and not harm the puny humans” mode, and that’s why their attacks at that time were so weaksauce; that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.

“I can nevah kill these robots properly until I’ve had my coffee in the mornin’! Let’s get ’em all, while I’m still running on French Roast, Sugah.”

One particularly choice moment in the fight involves Cyclops yelling at Jubilee to “duck!,” then he promptly blasts some Sentinels about forty feet above her head. There was no need to duck, is what I’m saying. Another nice moment (this time being serious) involves Wolverine using his claws on a Sentinel with extreme prejudice. Even though we know the Sentinel is a robot and not really alive, it still looks impressively brutal and shows off what Wolverine is about.

And so ends the Detroit Sentinel program; of course it’s going to be resumed in Bangladesh or something like that, but for now, the X-Men enjoy a well-earned victory. Besides, the quality of the foreign-made Sentinels won’t be nearly as good as these patriotic, American-Made Sentinels, so the X-Men’s hardest fight is likely behind them. Vote for X-Men:TAS President in 2020, she’ll bring manufacturing back to America and Make Sentinels Great Again!

Wrap-up time: Jubilee is saying goodbye to her foster parents, now that she knows she belongs with the X-Men. She confesses that the pair are the best foster parents she’s ever had, and uh…let’s all take a moment to appreciate what a scathing indictment of the American foster care system that is. Nevertheless, Jubilee will now call the X-Mansion her home for the next five seasons; beginning of an era.

There’s a moment at the end of the episode where Cyclops asks Jean if he did the right thing back during the battle where Morph was killed and Beast kidnapped, and she replies that he “did what he had to do.” Cyclops, hon, you shouldn’t have been put in that horrible situation in the first place, because you shouldn’t have even been there. If the Professor had only sent Gambit—-

*gets pulled away from the keyboard kicking and screaming*

Okay, let’s bid goodbye to Night of the Sentinels, and I promise that I’ll never mention that Xavier should have sent Gambit again. Probably. Unless it’s highly relevant. Next time: Magneto! Sabretooth! Due Process! Wolverine not understanding the concept of organizational hierarchy! We’ve got some good episodes coming up.

X-Men: TAS, Episode 1: Night of the Sentinels, Part I

Let’s start with a note on format: I’m taking screenshots from the official Marvel DVDs of this series. While I was glad to support the show by buying the official release, these DVDs don’t have much going for them beyond that. The special features are virtually nil. I have all of SheRa: Princess of Power on DVD, and those sets have tons of extras, including episode commentaries, featurettes, and even the entire series bible; my X-Men discs are just kind of sad in comparison. I don’t know what necessitated putting out such a bare-bones release here (maybe some legal restrictions?), but I hope someday, we get something better.

I’m impressed with how this episode has aged overall. The visuals are often too dark and muddy (a problem that plagues much of the show), and the backgrounds are often very perfunctory, even by the standards of the time; the only area where care seems to have been taken with the bg art was Xavier’s mansion. Still, this episode has to introduce 10 different characters, plus the entire world of the X-Men, and does it pretty darn well, all told. It’s also patently ridiculous at times, but the ways in which it’s ridiculous function better as satire than I’m entirely comfortable with.

Anyway, enough preamble, time for Night of the Sentinels!

We open with a news report about mutant violence and hysteria, which seemed overblown to me at the time. As a child, while I was aware of racism and bigotry, I thought of those as being largely problems of the past; understanding and acceptance of different types of people had improved within my lifetime, and I had every reason to believe that this was something that would only continue to improve as I got older. I thought that if super-powered mutants ever existed in real life, the response to them would be much calmer than this show portrays, because people have to be smarter than this. On some level, I think I’ve always been a little mad at the world for disappointing me about that, ever since.

“I’m telling ya Lorraine, we shoulda known something was up with that kid when she kept wearing that raincoat even when it wasn’t raining. Now she’s blowing up VCRs, and we can’t tape General Hospital? That was the last straw!”

Jubilee’s foster parents are agonizing over what to do about their mutant foster child, and it’s surprisingly hard-edged. Her mother even asks if the father regrets taking Jubilee in, and whoah…isn’t that the kind of thing you’re never, ever supposed to say as an adoptive parent? Granted, she didn’t know Jubilee was listening, but still, introducing the idea “maybe your adoptive parents don’t actually want you,” seems like a pretty dark place to go right out of the gate. This show is really dark for a kids cartoon, notorious for it actually, but I’m still surprised sometimes at the ways in which it’s dark.

Jubilee whines that she used to be a normal kid, and I wonder if she ever was, really. She was a gamer girl in 1992, and weren’t all girl gamers at that time vilified and harassed constantly? I read it on the internet, it must be true!

Five feet tall, I can believe, but 90 lbs.? Yeah, and I’m Scarlett Johansson, pfft. Someone lied on their Mutant Control Agency paperwork.

We get our first look at the mutant-hunting Sentinels, and by God, are they ridiculous looking. They were terrifying when they were first introduced in Days of Future Past, but that was in the context of the whole world becoming an unbelievably horrific place; seeing a bright red-and-purple giant robot strolling down a suburban street just looks ridiculous. Also ridiculous is the amount of collateral damage Sentinels are authorized to allow while capturing mutants; apparently it’s totally fine to destroy houses while in pursuit of target mutants. Part of me wants to laugh at this, and part of me realizes it’s actually not funny; you mean, ideological zealots don’t care who they hurt or what they destroy in the process of rounding up “dangerous” people? HAHAHAHAH what a huge exaggeration that has no relevance at all to current societal problems!

One tiny little dog does not approve of the giant robot in his neighborhood and hassles the Sentinel; remember this dog, he’ll be important later.

Jubilee takes out her frustrations on some space aliens at an arcade in the mall, and someday, when I watch this show with my daughter, I will probably have to explain what an arcade was. Jubes breaks the machine with her mutant powers, and tries to blow it off by being too cool for school, but naturally it doesn’t work. The arcade owner really should just chill; once the Sony Playstation comes out in a few years, electric-type mutants with poor impulse control are going to be the least of his problems.

“Dude, it was a Robocop cabinet, I did you a favor here.”

Jubilee runs out of the arcade and collides with Rogue and Storm, who were clearly on a shopping spree. In fact, considering the fact that they have about ten packages, I wonder how much of an allowance Xavier gives them for “personal expenses?” Meanwhile, Gambit is introduced flirting with the cashier at a stationary store; this wouldn’t be noteworthy, were it not for the fact that it’s so clear they’re both thinking about knocking boots that it’s actually kind of disturbing. Like, I have seen hentai less sexually charged than this scene between Gambit and this nameless cashier lady.

Sentinel bursts into the mall, causing havok, and captures Jubilee. Rogue and Storm take exception to this, and Storm changes in a flash of lightning from her normal clothes into her X-Men uniform. It bugs me a little bit whenever Storm does this, because it looks too much like magic, and mutant powers are not supposed to be magic. Technically she could be using lightning to incinerate her outside clothes to reveal her uniform underneath, but eh, I still don’t like it. Rogue’s initial response to all the mall shoppers running and screaming for their lives is “Must be sale,” said in a very deadpan way; this is why the entire world loves Rogue.

“Ah keep tellin’ ya Sugah, if you didn’t keep frying your clothes like that, we wouldn’t need to go to the mall once a damn week!”

“As if you don’t LOVE IT.”

“Ah do.”

Rogue and Storm retrieve Jubilee from the Sentinel, which involves Rogue decking it with an escalator, than flying up and punching the snot out of it. Jubilee is amazed that other people have powers more useful than breaking  VCRs, and seems to be somewhat in awe. Rogue eventually sends the Sentinel flying into the card shop where Gambit is busy flirting, nearly nailing him. I’m 90% sure she didn’t mean to do that, but I guess we’ll never know.

The Sentinel blasts Rogue and Storm out of commission for a little while, leaving Jubilee to run into Gambit. He actually catches her in his arms, making this the best thing to happen to Jubilee all day. Granted, her day so far has involved being betrayed by her foster parents, getting yelled at, and getting attacked repeatedly by a giant robot, so it’s kind of a low bar to clear, but still; Gambit has her in a princess carry. You cannot put a dollar price on that.

Suddenly this trip to the mall was not such a bad idea. Now, onward, to Dippin’ Dots!

Unfortunately, the version of this story where Gambit and Jubes have a romantic date at the mall will have to be continued in my fanfiction, because the Sentinel catches up and proceeds to blast the shit out of Gambit. When the Sentinel looks like it’s about to finish Gambit off, Jubilee belts the sentinel with her fireworks power. I like the fact that Jubilee’s first proper use of her powers is done to protect Gambit; that’s my girl.

Dear Sentinel 9872, this scan has revealed insufficient information. Please do a more thorough scan, and send all of your findings to my phone Mutant Control Agency Headquarters.

Jubilee bolts outside and runs into Cyclops, who easily takes out the Sentinel by using his optic blast to sever the Sentinel’s head from its body. Now forget you ever saw him do that, because if you remember, you’re going to spend all of Night of the Sentinels Part II wondering why he doesn’t just do that a few more times, and many Sentinel-related problems could be avoided. Jubilee succumbs to some knock-out gas the Sentinel emitted before its unfortunate decapitation, and blacks out. Scene shift to the Mansion, yaaay. The backgrounds in the mall were just too depressing.

Jubilee wakes up and destroys the lock on her door, since that’s what you do when people rescue you from a rampaging giant robot; break their stuff. She begins sneaking through the mansion, only to run into Beast, doing some kind of experiment. Beast muses aloud that it would be really fascinating if his experiment were to suddenly explode, so Jubilee wisely books it out of there. She then gets a view of Morph, the male character created for this show with Mystique’s shape-shifting power. Hmmph. I feel like I should have a lot to say about Morph, but I’m not sure what that is yet. Maybe I’ll wait until next episode…oh, wait, never mind.

Beast’s Log: –Still no progress creating an anti-dandruff shampoo that doesn’t dry out the scalp. Shampoo +Conditioner hybrid is still years of testing away.

Professor X and Jean appear, with the professor upset that the existence of the X-Men is going to be revealed to the world “like this.” Err, what were you expecting exactly, Charles? Did you expect to send out a press release that said “Today I’m proud to introduce my private militia, the X-Men,” and get favorable media coverage? It was always going to go down like this. Jean realizes that something is amiss, and the Professor puts out an alert that “an intruder” is afoot. Kind of rude to call Jubilee an intruder when she’s a guest, but I understand that it’s important to find her before she hurts herself.

“I always thought the public launch of the X-Men would be a joyous occasion. I had even hoped for…cake.”

“I can bake you a cake, Professor.”

“It’s not the same, Jean.”

In her zeal to get away, Jubilee accidentally crashes a Danger Room session meant for Gambit and Wolverine, which is definitely not something you want to be in the middle of without superhuman agility. Gambit tries to get her to safety, but he has Wolverine to deal with, who’s still oblivious to Jubes’ presence. Interesting choice to introduce Wolvie over halfway through the episode, by the way; you would think they would have put him front and center. Since Jubilee doesn’t know yet that the Danger Room is for training, and Wolverine is only pretending to beat up Gambit, she blasts Wolverine with her fireworks, sending him flying. Apparently, whenever Jubilee is protecting Gambit, her mutant powers increase by about 50%; that’s a girl with her priorities straight.

“Hah hah Wolverine, you just got beat up by a 90 pound girl!”

“You really believe she’s only 90 pounds, Bub? And I thought I was the one who just hit my head.”

Storm takes Jubilee outside for a heart-to-heart about who the X-Men are. Jubes is less than enthused about being taken to Xavier’s School for the Gifted, pointing out that “gifted” is a euphemism. That’s a really politically loaded comment that I’m afraid to touch, and I don’t mind admitting it. Storm tries to console Jubilee about her situation, but Jubes gets her bitch mode on for some reason and points out that the people at the mansion seem a little old for school, like they might have been left back because they failed. Wow! Is that how you treat someone who just rescued you, kiddo? I like you, but you pick all the wrong times to get vicious.

Storm then does a gratuitous display of her powers, allegedly to show Jubilee the importance of learning to control your abilities, but mostly to get back at Jubes for being a snotty little brat; no one would hold it against her.

“How big an allowance does Professor Xavier give you if you join the X-Men?”

“It’s $200 a week. In 1992 dollars.”

“WHERE DO I SIGN?”

Inside, everyone gathers in the war room, planning their next move. Wolverine asks if anyone’s called Jubes’ parents, and it’s important that he’s the one to ask that; when he finds out that they haven’t heard back from her family, he effectively becomes her parent, right then and there. All you need to do to get on Wolvie’s good side forever is blast him in the spleen with some explosive energy, he respects that sort of thing. Professor Xavier has somehow hacked information out of the disembodied Sentinel head (don’t ask), and found out that the Sentinel had Jubes’ information because it had access to her profile from the Mutant Control Agency.

The gang then discusses what the MCA is, and I feel like I need to quote this:

Cyclops: Professor Xavier, could the government be plotting against mutants?”

Xavier: No; the Mutant Control Agency is a private organization with occasional support from the government.

….

…Wow, what a critically important distinction, Professor. I’m sure Cyclops feels so much better now. Of course, it’s a little rich that anyone’s surprised that an organization called “The Mutant Control Agency” has an interest in controlling mutants, but that’s one of those things we just have to shrug off. It would make a lot more sense if it were called The Mutant Outreach Program or something, but we gotta make some allowances for this being a kids cartoon.

While the X-Men are all busy discussing the MCA and its “hidden” agenda, Jubilee hops a bus to go see her foster parents. Great security there, X-Men, but I guess hacking that giant Sentinel head was pretty distracting. Gyrich from the MCA is asking Jubes’ parents about her friends, curious if the X-Men are among them, but they claim not to know about Jubes friends because she’s only been with them “a year.”

Your kid has lived with you for an entire year, and you still don’t know who any of her friends are? What the hell is wrong with you people? I know I’m supposed to have some sympathy for these folks, being caught in a dangerous situation they were totally unprepared for, but damn, are they making it hard to care about them. Jubilee then promptly gets captured by the Sentinels, because without Gambit there to motivate her, her powers are still weaksauce.

Back at the mansion, Professor X comes up with a plan to sneak into the Mutant Control Agency and destroy their files, so that hundreds of mutants will get their anonymity back and hopefully be safe from the Sentinels. Gambit suggests doing it himself, and hey, that’s a great idea! And no, I’m not just saying that because I obviously want to marry him like his character. Gambit is a professional thief; getting in and out of places without being seen is his specialty. Even if the Sentinels were to show up, he’d pull some ruse to distract them and then get away, the other thing he’s really good at.

But no, Professor Xavier decides that for a stealth breaking-and-entry mission, he does not want the free services of the best thief in the known world, but instead wants a team of Beast, Wolverine, Morph, and Storm; Storm, the woman who cannot go five feet without announcing her presence. You know, Cyclops is going to get hammered later for how this mission goes south, but really, this was all the Professor’s fault from the very beginning; he put lives in danger the minute he refused to send in the best qualified person.

I think the implication is supposed to be that Xavier doesn’t full trust Gambit yet, whereas he does trust the others, but still; stupid, stupid decision.

Cyclops confronts the professor about his concerns about the mission, namely that attacking a civilian organization is not the way to teach people that mutants are not to be feared. It’s really interesting that we’re already getting this schism between Cyclops in the Professor this early on, although it’s never fuly developed here the way it is in the comics. The Professor really has no response to Cyclops, so he cops out with “we have no choice,” and leaves it at that. I kind of feel like all of Professor X’s terrible decisions in the entire series were front-loaded into this one episode, because I don’t think I’d remember him as fondly if he were normally like this.

“Look, all I’m saying is, if you want people to learn to like us and even trust us, this is not the way. This is not how we win hearts and minds.”

“That’s an excellent point, Scott. My well-reasoned counterpoint to that is that I am the boss of you, and you will do what I say.”

The crew finally catches on to the fact that Jubilee is missing, and Wolverine decides to go after her, despite the fact that he’s just been assigned the MCA mission. Cyclops and Wolverine have power struggle/testosterone spewing competition, then Wolvie storms off; if you make taking a shot every time this happens part of your X-Men:TAS drinking game, you’ll probably have a very good time, but that’ll be the end of your liver.

Mission time! For some reason, everybody’s tagging along on this mission (except Jean and Prof. X) even though only Wolverine, Storm, Beast and Morph are supposed to go inside. En route to the MCA complex, the group has an interesting discussion about what makes mutants the way they are. One of Beast’s suggestions is “television!” which is delightfully meta; see, it’s a good thing this program that you’re watching is teaching you how to deal with being a mutant, because it might be turning you into one. Discussions like this, by the way, are what put this show a cut above typical action cartoon fare, at least in my mind.

Wolverine catches up with the rest of the team, having lost Jubilee’s trail. He sheepishly says that he “got bit by a dog, too,” and AHA! Remember that little dog from the beginning of the episode, the one who was hassling the Sentinel like “stay way from my house, dude!” That dog bit Wolverine, apex predator; canine has balls of steel. Great guard dog, 14/10.

You know who has really good night vision and wouldn’t need to use binoculars to scope the joint out? GAMBIT.

Storm whips up some clouds to lower visibility (I guess she has her uses), and the guys head into the complex. There’s an interesting little bit where Morph gets thrown over the fence, then uses his shapeshifting power to impersonate a guard and take him out. What’s neat is when Morph copies the guard’s appearance, he also copies the weapon the guard is using, then uses said weapon to shoot the guard. Then when he shifts back, the weapon disappears.

This is interesting to comics geeks because this isn’t how Mystique’s shape-shifting works; she can copy anything, but it’s cosmetic when it comes to devices that people may be carrying. If Morph can make his copied objects functional, that actually makes his powerset more like a cross between Multiple Man and Mystique, but he’s going to die in about ten minutes, so I suppose it doesn’t really matter.

Storm electrocutes a guard (nice job being gentle on the puny humans there, team), and Wolverine uses his claws to destroy the door inside. Beast already lifted the key from one of the guards, meaning there was no need to destroy the door, but look; Wolverine needs an excuse to use his claws on something. It’s actually a bit of a problem for this show that Wolverine is constantly brandishing his claws but can’t do much with them, because if he used them on a person, things would very rapidly get too bloody for the Y-7 rating.

“I can’t decide which one I love more; nineteenth-century poetry, or assault and battery.”

“No one’s asking you to decide, Bub.”

The inside team encounters a laser trap. Beast quotes nineteenth-century poet Coventry Patmore, of all people, then uses his agility to disarm the trap. I’m curious what went on behind-the-scenes here; who on the staff was a big enough fan of Coventry Patmore to include his poetry in an episode of X-Men, but was still okay with Beast’s dismissive quip “A minor poet for a minor obstacle,”? Maybe someone had to read Patmore in college and this was their revenge? In any case, it’s delightfully incongruous with the rest of the episode, like about 50% of everything Beast does.

Outside, Cyclops is worrying how the inside team is doing, wishing he had some way of keeping tabs on what they were doing. Gee, if only there were someone on the team who had the power to keep everyone in constant telepathic contact, that would be mighty convenient. Come to think of it, aren’t there two people with telepathic abilities, both of whom stayed home for no apparent reason? At some point, you have to wonder if Professor X is trying to sabotage this mission.

Morph says “It looks like clear sailing from here,” so of course a bunch of gun-toting guards are just waiting to ambush the X-Men. This is why I’m not too broken up about Morph’s imminent death, by the way; who but a moron tempts fate like that? Plus, he teased Gambit not once but twice during this episode, and that’s not acceptable.

Storm opens the door, enemies await on the other side, and we’re done with this episode! Next time, we’ll see the conclusion of this storyline, and commiserate a little more about how everything bad that has ever happened is actually Professor Xavier’s fault.

 

Blogging X-Men: The Animated Series

X-Men: The Animated Series is not anime, and even the most vocal proponents of widening the definition of the term would not label it as such. It’s an American cartoon, and arguably doesn’t belong on a blog called Otakusphere, which is mostly about anime most of the time. However, X-Men:TAS was kind of like my gateway drug to everything otaku: discovering the X-Men cartoon led to a passion for American comics, which led to a passion for anime and manga, which led to me becoming…well, me. If I hadn’t become a huge X-Men fan at the age of 11, chances are I would be a vastly different person today.

Maybe I would be a better person. I mean, maybe if I hadn’t wasted so much time with cartoons, comics and anime, I could have become a doctor, found a cure for cancer, and already gone down in history as one of the most important people to have ever lived. Maybe I should be pissed as hell at the X-Men for keeping me from sundry achievements in medicine, astronomy, or theoretical physics. Instead, I became the kind of person who writes thousands of words about cartoons on the internet, and I think I should probably just go with that at this point.

I tried to have my cake and eat it too by blogging the 2011 X-Men anime; it was anime and X-Men at the same time, score! Unfortunately, it was a pretty terrible show. Still, I was probably harder on it than I should have been because I was mad at it for the unforgivable crime of not being the X-Men show I really wanted to write about. So I apologize, X-Men anime; you were kind of bad, but I could have been nicer to you.

Now I want to cut the nonsense and go through my childhood obsession show episode by episode, which I think I’ve really wanted to do for a long time without consciously thinking about it. This will probably be like my Tomb Raider project, something I dip into from time to time when I’m taking a break from anime.

Let’s start by going down the cast list before diving into the show proper, so I don’t drag the individual episode posts off-topic by waxing poetic about certain characters. It’s funny that I think of this roster as being the “classic” X-Men line-up, when it’s really not at all; in fact, to comic fans at the time, this team probably seemed like a slap in the face. Where were X-Men stalwarts like Colossus, Nightcrawler, and Kitty Pryde? Why was Gambit included, when he was only created about ten minutes before the show aired? Even so, for better or for worse, I’ll always think of this team as my X-Men.

Cyclops

Character created: 1963

Power(s): Constant beam of concussive energy issuing from his eyes.

Voice Actor: Norm Spencer

At the time, I didn’t care much for Cyclops; he was just a boring authority figure. Over time, I’ve come to appreciate him. He’s usually a competent leader, but suffers from the deep-seated fear that if he ever screws up, Professor X might just drop him back in the orphanage where he found him.  He loves the professor as a father figure, but on another level he resents the hell out of him; on the show, he never seems to realize this. In the comics, he absolutely did.

The comics-version of Cyclops is one of the few characters who went through genuine character development, without said development being constantly compromised by resetting him back to the status quo. Cyclops, towards the end of his life, had changed dramatically from the person he was introduced as. Unfortunately, he’d changed into a person I didn’t like at all, but that doesn’t take away from the achievement that he was a Marvel Comics character who actually (and believably) changed as a person due to his experiences. He’s dead now in the comics, but his entire character arc represents a singular achievement; until they inevitably revive him and screw it all up again, that is.

It’s nostalgic to see this innocent version of Cyclops, basically a big Boy Scout troop leader who’s trying so hard to please his adoptive father and his girlfriend that he can’t see that he’s grinding himself down in the process. In the world of the animated series, Cyclops seems to agree with the Professor’s principles, whereas in the comics (I almost said “real life”), he finds that he doesn’t. In a way that makes Cyclops problem more subtle on the show than it was on the page; the problem isn’t the ideas he’s being forced to represent, its the fact that he never was given a choice in the first place.

Wolverine

Character Created: 1975

Power(s): Enhanced agility and senses, super-accelerated healing, claws protruding from hands; skeleton bonded with super-strong metal, which is not a natural power but the result of tampering by Those Evil Government Types.

Voice Actor: Cal Dodd

Another character who’s grown on me tremendously over the years. At the time, it bugged me that Wolverine was so obviously the star and we were all supposed to like him; it annoyed me how much screentime he got, and I wished everyone else would get equal time in the sun. I didn’t really care for his gruff attitude, and I thought that having knives come out the back of your hands was a boring superpower; to be fair, it still is.

Once you crack the Wolverine code, and realize that Logan is the most sensitive of all the X-Men– even moreso than teenaged Jubilee– then he suddenly becomes much more interesting. He’s been deeply scarred by losing practically everyone he’s ever cared about, but his memory has been so tampered with over time that he’s not even sure who those people were. He’s always mourning someone, but he doesn’t always know who it is. Both in the comics and on the show, Wolverine’s stories have tackled surprisingly complex themes about identity; if you as a person are the sum of all your previous actions, how can you even know who you are if memory is fallible?

I think the X-Men movies to date missed a lot of opportunities to take advantage of the strengths of the comics, but one area where they absolutely succeeded was with Wolverine: casting, attitude, etc. And Logan is one of the best superhero films ever made, to the point of not feeling like a superhero film at all. Wolverine’s cinema presence is having an odd effect on me though; I never found cartoon Wolverine attractive in the slightest, but now that I associate him with Hugh Jackman, I’m finding early ’90s Wolverine to be oddly sexy, and it’s weird. I really need this to stop, because everyone and their Mom knows that Gambit is supposed to be the sexy one.

Rogue

Character Created: 1981

Power(s): “Life-sucking” touch that sucks out other people’s strength, memory, and superpowers, either temporarily or permanently; flight, super-strength and near-invincibility have been permanently stolen from Carol Danvers, AKA Ms. Marvel.

Voice Actor: Lenore Zann

Everyone loves Rogue. You can tell even the animators loved Rogue, because whenever she’s onscreen, the art quality seems to go up by about 30 percent. Everything about the show will look dull and kind of muddy, then Rogue flies into the room, all crisp linework, and suddenly, it almost looks like an anime.

Rogue was my favorite character for a long time, even though as a kid, I really didn’t understand the nature of her problem. I remember thinking it was weird that she complains that her power doesn’t allow her to touch anyone, whereas she touches people all the time; that’s what her gloves are for! It wasn’t until I was older that I realized that Rogue’s real problem was that she couldn’t have intimacy. I guess this is what happens when you discover X-Men before you discover sex.

The animated series version of Rogue has a bit of a problem though, because she’s much, much more open to using her life-sucking power than she is in the comics. This changes the nature of the character a bit, because it’s hard to believe that she deeply hates her superpower when she uses it all the time. The problem is, if she didn’t use it, then the audience wouldn’t really know who Rogue is supposed to be. I think Rogue’s issues, and her moral issues with stealing other people’s powers and memories, were on the cusp of being too dark for a kids show to deal with. They tried admirably though, as the Ms. Marvel flashback episode demonstrates.

One thing that used to really bug me as a kid was that Rogue would always get thrown around, run over by trucks, etc., just because she was the only one who could survive that kind of punishment. I hated seeing my favorite girl get pummeled just to show off how strong the enemy was. It still kind of bugs me, but now I understand that one of the reason that happens is that Rogue intentionally takes hits for the rest of the team; at the time, it seemed like all the villains were just being really mean to her. Stop throwing Rogue into things, meanies! What has she ever done to you? Besides possibly stolen your memories and powers, that is?

Storm

Character Created: 1975

Power(s): Ability to manipulate the weather, which manifests as wind-riding (flight), throwing lightning, making snow, and doing basically whatever the writer can think of that is even vaguely weather-related.

Voice Actors: Iona Morris, later Alison Sealy-Smith

There are almost as many versions of Storm as there are comic books published. You have original, Earth-Mother Storm, Saavy Thief Storm, Megalomaniac Storm, Competent Leader Storm, Vicious Brawler Storm, etc. She’s a character who’s gone through a lot of changes over her publishing history, but with much less consistency than Cyclops. When Chris Claremont was writing her back in the ’80s, she had a definitive personality; ever since then, every writer has put their own spin on her. You never really know what you’re going to get with Storm these days.

Almost by necessity, the cartoon goes with the most boring version of Storm; naive, Earth-Mother Storm. This is because if she was shown as being as smart and competent a field leader as she often is in the comics, then she’d be taking over Cyclops’ role. Plus, her backstory– the stuff that makes up the core of Storm’s personality– actually was too dark for the cartoon to deal with. We’ll get to this in more detail in episode 4, but basically, we got a severely watered-down version of Storm on this show because the real one just wouldn’t have worked on a program rated Y-7.

Even Storm’s skin color is toned down; on the show, she could pass for a white woman who just got back from Hawaii and has a great tan. It was a little bit of a shock when I read the comics and realized that Storm was actually black. From our modern perspective, it’s  appalling that they changed Storm’s character design to make her more appealing to white people, but I think it’s better to shrug this off as a bad decision and let it go; it was 25 years ago. We have enough to worry about with racial representation in today’s programming.

Even with all these limitations, the TV character still has some charm. I love when she gets snarky, because it’s such a contrast to her typically grandiose way of speaking. But it wasn’t until I read the comics that I realized why Storm was actually an interesting character, as opposed to a boring character with interesting powers.

Beast

Character Created: 1963

Power(s): Enhanced agility, with enlarged hands and feet. Technically his blue fur and ape-like appearance isn’t a mutation, but let’s not get into that. Also genius-level intellect, although it’s never been clear if that should really count as a mutation.

Voice Actor: George Buza

One part mad scientist, one part Frankenstein’s monster, one part loopy English professor who really wants you to do well on the exam; I love this version of Beast, full-stop. He’s like a blast of pure joy whenever he’s on screen. In the comics they tried to give him this existential angst, and it was usually more annoying than interesting. Even on the show, he still had a dark, brooding side, but they didn’t overplay it the way they did in the comics.

What’s really fun about going back to this show as an adult is getting all the literary references centered around Beast that went completely over my head as a kid. One thing that sticks out in my mind is when Rogue and Gambit go to visit him in prison during Season One, they bring him a copy of You Can’t Go Home Again, to which Beast responds “Thomas Wolfe; an old friend.” Any old friend of Thomas Wolfe’s is a friend of mine!

As much as I like the character, I find I have very little to say about him in this incarnation; he’s just wonderful. Wonderful things are self-evidently wonderful, you don’t really have to explain it.

Gambit

Character Created: 1990

Power(s): Ability to kinetically charge objects so they’ll explode, enhanced agility, some kind of hypnotic tomfoolery that the show wisely ignored completely.

Voice Actors: Chris Potter, later Tony Daniels

I’m going to break with protocol and give away a closely-guarded secret here. If you know any female, any woman at all, who was on the cusp of puberty in 1992, she was in love with Gambit. Like, if you gave her a form and asked her to fill in her sexuality, if she’s being honest she would ignore the boxes for “straight” and “gay” and add a box called “Gambit,” then check that box three times.

I didn’t have relationships until relatively late in life, and up to this point, I have allowed people to believe it was because my standards were very high; in reality, the reason why I didn’t date for so many years was because I never ran into anyone who looked sufficiently like Gambit to make it worth the bother.

Why was I so into Gambit? Why were so many of the girls I knew into Gambit? I think it’s because he’s kind of like the archetype of the mysterious, handsome guy who knows a lot of stuff you don’t know. Adults often find his character grating for just that reason, but when you’re 11, you’ve never seen that kind of character before, it’s still exciting to you.

Gambit was another character where the show wasn’t able to explore his darker aspects, but unlike Storm, I think this actually worked in his favor, making the cartoon version the superior incarnation of the character. The trick with Gambit is he’s supposed to have some really dark stuff in his past, and oh, if only the X-Men knew what it was, they’d be forced to kick him out in disgust. But the moment you reveal that stuff, if it really is dark and sinister, he stops being viable as a hero; if it’s not dark enough, then the audience feels lied to. The comics successfully threaded this needle until about 1995, then after that most of what they did with Gambit was just embarrassing. Even now, most writers have no clue what to do with him.

A part of me will always love Gambit the way he appears here, An 11-Year-Old Girl’s Introduction to Sex. I have changed over time, and am no longer strictly Gambit-sexual (I also found a place in my heart for Squall Leonhart from Final Fantasy VIII), but this cartoon character with an odd obsession with playing cards and the color pink will always be my first love…I mean, my first cartoon crush. Same thing?

Jubilee

Character Created: 1989

Power(s): Ability to discharge brightly-colored energy from her hands that functions similarly to Cyclops’ eye lasers. Ability to make ’90s slang sound even more cringeworthy and painful than it actually was at the time. Ability to be a brat.

Voice Actor: Alyson Court

If Wolverine was the obvious star, Jubilee was the obvious Point-of-View character for the young audience, and I resented her for it. It was so obvious that I was supposed to relate to Jubilee, when I vastly preferred Rogue, Gambit, or Beast. I think her dialogue, peppered liberally with early-90’s slang, sounded incredibly dated even at the time, but that could just be my memory playing tricks on me.

That said, Jubilee has a lot going for her as a character. She took over the role that Kitty Pryde had in the ’80s as the X-Men’s resident teen sidekick, but while Kitty had to be annoyingly perfect at just about everything (at least to me), Jubilee is refreshingly average. She’s not supposed to be gorgeous, or brilliant, or particularly powerful as a mutant, but she knows what she wants and goes after it with considerable aplomb. She also has about zero tolerance for bullshit, something not true of the more romantic Kitty; as an orphan on the streets, she had it rough way before she found out she was a mutant.

Like Storm, Jubilee was basically turned white for the cartoon; you would never know that she was supposed to be Chinese. However, unlike Storm, this was true of Jubilee in the comics until pretty recently, so at least it was consistent.

Right now I kind of feel bad for Jubilee, because she’s been a horrendously abused character. First she was kicked off the X-Men on to a satellite team where she didn’t really belong, then she did nothing for about a decade, then she lost her powers, then she got turned into a vampire (seriously, a vampire), and God knows what else. I think they restored Jubilee to normal recently (meaning, she no longer drinks blood and is back to shooting fireworks out of her hands), but to say she’s been through the ringer would be an understatement.

Even though I wasn’t fond of her initially, it’s nice to see Jubes here as she was meant to be: energetic, bratty, and really excited about being part of a superhero team. To me, the most interesting thing about Jubilee is the fact that Wolverine was (and is) a much better father to her than he ever was to any of his actual children, but this show takes place before Wolverine’s kids were invented, so we’ll have to put that aside for now.

Jean Grey

Character Created: 1963

Powers: Telekinesis and Telepathy. Ability to become a giant, invincible firebird flying in space, but that may be from an alien possessing her, or maybe it was really her all along? It’s complicated.

Voice Actor: Catherine Disher

It has recently come to my attention that I have no clue who Jean Grey is.

On this show, she’s very feminine and altruistic; definitely the Mom of the team. However, for most of her character’s history, she wasn’t like this in the comics. When Stan and Jack invented her in the ’60s, she was Stan Lee’s typical “pretty girl” character; practically indistinguishable from Sue Storm or any of Lee’s other female creations. When Claremont reinvented her in the ’70s, it was as a fiery redhead, with special emphasis on the “fiery” part. The character died in 1980, then after she was revived years later, writers tried to write her kind of like Claremont had written her, only a little less fiery. (At least, that’s what I think; to be completely honest, I haven’t read the early issues of X-Factor yet.)

In the early 2000’s, written by Grant Morrison, she was a brainy, aggressive genius, who was very interesting but seemed to come out of nowhere. Then she died again, and they’ve since brought her back, as recently as a few months ago. I have no idea what her personality is like now, because I’m not buying X-Men Red: it’s not happening, Marvel.

I’m kind of fond of the motherly, calm version of Jean we get on the show, even if she’s not really consistent with her comic counterpart, because at least I know who she’s supposed to be. Towards the end of the show they tried to play up the “fiery redhead” angle a little more, and it mostly just felt forced. TAS Jean is like your Mom, or rather like a mom on a 1950’s sitcom, and trying to give her an edge just doesn’t work.

One thing to note about Jean is that her Jim Lee-designed costume made the worst transition from page to screen. Her ’90s outfit was just some strange aerobics-type getup, but when Jim Lee was drawing the X-Men, everyone looked so damned gorgeous it didn’t even matter what they were wearing. On the show it just looked dumb, even when it was on-model, which wasn’t often.

Professor X

Character Created: 1963

Power(s): Extremely powerful telepathy. Technically has the ability to use mind control, although he never does it because if he did, the X-Men would have no enemies and it would be a very boring series.

Voice Actor: Cedric Smith

Just like TAS Gambit and Beast are my preferred versions of those characters, the cartoon Professor Xavier will always be the real professor to me. As much as I enjoyed Patrick Stewart’s portrayal of the character (especially in Logan), I felt like his Xavier never quite escaped the shadow of Captain Picard. When I think “Professor X,” I hear Cedric Smith’s voice.

A lot of the character’s appeal can be pinned on Smith’s performance, which was serious and intense without quite crossing the line to sounding pompous; well, okay, sometimes he sounded pompous, but I’m pretty sure it was intentional. But I think the cartoon distilled what was good about Xavier without getting caught up in his domineering, paternalistic baggage. He was commanding, and a father figure, but generally always seemed like a nicer person to me than his comic counterpart.

What was really striking to me (though I only realized this recently), is how much of his dialogue on the show takes the form of questions. Xavier is supposed to be very intelligent, but sometimes his arrogance undermines this; on the show, he had the humility to always know how much he didn’t know. I wish his comic version was as perceptive.

In the name of “progress,” the comics have ditched Xavier and his dream of human-mutant peace; I think that was a terrible mistake. I have no interest in a group of paramilitary fighters with superpowers who grumble about how “naive” Xavier was with his dream of coexistence; I get enough ideological terrorists in the real world, thanks.

Where the X-Men are concerned, my happy place will always be a relatively small team, holed up in a nice mansion in Westchester County, with Professor Xavier at the helm. If I think the X-Men were more likable and interesting in this incarnation than they are currently, it’s undoubtedly part nostalgia, but it’s not only that. To me, for all it’s flaws– often hokey dialogue, limited animation and all– this show really captured what the X-Men are supposed to be about. I wish they were still like this, but if I can’t have that, at least I’ll always have this show.

Next time I feel like writing a silly amount of words about the X-Men, we’ll tackle the pilot episode of the series, and how you know a kids cartoon means business when they kill off a character in Episode 1.

Finishing up the Spring 2018 Anime Season

Here are some closing thoughts on shows I didn’t blog, but still watched this season.

Comic Girls— I lost interest in blogging this episodically about halfway through the season, but still kept up with it. It was a perfectly nice slice-of-life show about girls who draw manga, except I wanted something a little more serious– like Bakuman, only with girls– and that was not this show. I think it’s okay to acknowledge that a show turned out to be different from what you wanted, as long as you realize that the creative team had no responsibility to deliver specifically what you wanted. There was never any indication that the show was going to be anything other than what it was, so really, the fault is with me for looking for something that was never meant to be there.

Still, even if the show wasn’t quite what I was looking for, it did have its moments. Kaos’ struggle with finding her voice through manga was a very relatable depiction of artistic insecurity, and as a result, her eventual success feels more hard-won than it usually does in these learning-your-craft tales. Her self-deprecation and frequent crises of confidence may have seemed over-the-top, but that’s what made it work; she basically acted out every insecure thought that many artists have, but usually force themselves to hide. People who say “I suck” over and over again in real life tend to be annoying, but it works when you’re an adorable anime character with pink braids running down your back, I guess.

This is another one of those shows with yuri moments all over the place, but nobody ever actually uses the word “lesbian,” or any other terminology that would make it explicit. I wonder; do people not count shows like this as increasing LGBT representation because they don’t label it that way? Are they right to feel that way? Nevertheless, I can’t imagine anyone even trying to deny that Kaos is a lesbian; the evidence is overwhelming. Maybe there’s one person out there somewhere who thinks that Kaos isn’t gay, but that person probably also thinks that Attack on Titan is really about bowling.

Uma Musume— This show is unusual in that it ended up being good in a completely different way than I anticipated. At the beginning of the season, I thought that if Uma Musume was going to be watchable to anyone but people with a highly specific horsie-girl fetish, it would need to embrace it’s own audacity: Go big or go home, make it as nuts as possible. Like Keijo!!!!!!!!, I guess.

Instead, they went the other route and made a show that was entirely about female athletes, with the gimmicky elements substantially toned down. Not only was the idol singer aspect minimized after the first episode or two, even the “girls based on famous horses” shtick wasn’t that important; you could take the racehorse connections out of this show, make it entirely about female track runners, and it would remain pretty similar. The horse aesthetics add charm and flair and whatnot, but end up being pretty unimportant in the grand scheme of things.

Above all, they managed to make the race sequences exciting, which I wasn’t expecting. Main girl Special Week lost often enough that victory never felt pre-ordained, and the show managed to drag out the races a little bit for drama without slowing them down too much, not an easy balance to achieve.

All in all, a really pleasant surprise this season. I seem to be in good company with this opinion, because despite the jeers before it started airing, I don’t think I’ve heard a bad word about it since it started.

Kakuriyo, Bed and Breakfast for Spirits— This is continuing for another cour, but I wanted to mention it here since I don’t think I’ve talked about it since the Spring Season Preview. Anime seems to have a monopoly on this kind of show: a story that focuses on sometimes-creepy occult creatures, yet with tons of class, warmth and playfulness. If any non-Japanese creators have ever done a show with the feel of this (or Kamisama Kiss, or The Morose Monokenean), I’ve never come across it.

Ai is a great heroine, because she’s a strong character who displays that strength in ways other than kicking ass. I hate this idea that for a character to be “strong,” they have to be a badass ninja who can beat up all of their enemies or something. Ai mainly influences her world through cooking, but she does it in a very assertive, decisive way.

She also doesn’t fall into the typical anime trap of compromising her own safety just to make a stupid point. She refuses to marry the Ogre Inn Master, instead opting to work off her family’s unpaid debt as a cook. However, characters frequently call her “the Ogre Bride” or “The Ogre Master’s Intended,” and she never corrects them, because for a fragile human in the spirit world, having that perceived status is helpful. Either that, or she doesn’t bother correcting them because she really doesn’t give a toss what anyone else thinks.

I don’t know if this really needed to be two cours; my gut feeling is that I’m going to find it dragged out by the time it stops airing in the fall. But maybe the second cour will introduce some twists that keep things lively.

Isekai IzakayaWhen it started, I thought this show was just an inferior version of Restaurant to Another World, and it never did anything to disabuse me of that notion. It’s a serviceable food anime, if you like watching anime characters cook and eat things that look delicious, but that’s really all it has going for it. While Restaurant had this delightful air of magic and mystery, we never get to learn much about the world of Isekai Isekaya; it seems to be a vaguely medieval setting with little character.

That said, this show is pretty much critic-proof. If you like food anime, like I do, then you tend to watch everything, because there isn’t all that much of it; if you don’t like food anime, this would never be on your radar in the first place. The live action bits at the end were intriguing, but sometimes it felt like I was sitting through a boring episode to get to the interesting 3 minutes at the end, which is a shame.

Yotsuiro Biyori— This show gave me exactly what I asked for, nothing more and nothing less: a relaxing, slice-of-life show taking place in a cafe, focusing on four handsome dudes, with a healthy side of food porn. There is a larger plot involving main guy Sui and his cold-as-ice, businessman brother, but honestly, very little happens with that and it doesn’t even matter. This show isn’t quite Yuru Camp levels of comforting, but it’s kind of along that same continuum. As the season progressed, I found myself looking forward to this one more and more every week.

I’m afraid this show will likely be forgotten in the future, but I think it should be added to the list of shows that are great to watch when you really need to chill out: Yuru Camp, Non Non Biyori, Three Leaves, Three Colors, etc.  I don’t feel like there’s any real need for a second season, but if they make one, I will watch it.

Cradle Con 2018

I hadn’t been to a con in years and felt like it was time to get back in the swing of things. Still, I didn’t want to deal with the crowds and hassle associated with a major convention. Cradle Con, a brand-new comic convention, held at The Cradle of Aviation Museum in Garden City, New York, fit the bill very nicely. I ended up deciding to go pretty much at the last minute, so I wasn’t really prepared to cover it anime-blog-style; plus, for some of the time I had a two-year-old in tow, and she was low on patience. Nevertheless, there were some aspects of the con that I wanted to mention here.

The first is the venue. The Cradle has been host to a bunch of cons (including the Long Island Retro Gaming Expo, which is coming up again in August), but this is the first time I’ve actually been there for an event. I’m pretty sure I’ve been to the museum in the past for normal museum-going purposes, but being there while an event is going on is a unique experience. You’ll be cruising through the dealers’ room, looking for good deals on comic books and video games, and next thing you know, you’re navigating around a fully restored WWII-era bomber. They didn’t really separate the museum exhibits from the convention activities, so it was an interesting mixing of worlds. Most of the conventions I’ve attended have been in boring hotels, or the hellmouth that is the Jacob Javits Center in Manhattan (don’t get me started on that place), so this sort of eclectic atmosphere was inviting.

The first event I went to was a Jpop concert with Nicole Oliva. I hadn’t heard of Oliva before, but she’s an operatically trained singer, and takes her anisongs quite seriously. She’s got a powerful set of pipes and a really laid-back stage presence that makes you feel at ease, and her concert easily surpassed my expectations. I mean, of course she sang Moonlight Densetsu, which I expected, but then she also sang the Sailor Stars! theme from the fifth season, and the newer theme to Sailor Moon Crystal. Her version of 1000 Words from Final Fantasy X-2 gave me chills, and I don’t even like Final Fantasy X-2.

The A10 Thunderbolt II behind Ms. Oliva made a better backdrop for an anime concert than you might think.

Sometimes while in the shower, I imagine getting up on stage at a con and singing my version of Suteki da ne from Final Fantasy X, or Hacking to the Gate from Steins; Gate. The only problem with this plan is that I’m a tremendous coward and will probably never do this. In the meantime, while I try to grow a spine, we can all appreciate Oliva’s performance, since she actually knows what she’s doing.

Next I attended a panel on self-publishing by comic artist Jay Stuart of Poppycock Productions. Most of his work is horror, which isn’t my cup of tea, but he had a lot of good tips on self-publishing…the kind of nuts-and-bolts stuff they don’t tell you until you’re halfway through formatting your comic for print, and then you realize you have a major problem. His advice will likely prove very useful in the event that I ever get back into making comics, which will totally happen as soon as I catch up on my novels and all of my other projects for this blog. Totally.

I also attended the costume contest, which was a lot of fun. Technically Cradle Con has three costume contests: one for kids, one for teens, one for adults. I’m surprised a new con can get enough cosplayers to hold three separate cosplay contests, but I guess that’s the advantage of Long Island; we are stupid overpopulated. We can always find enough kids who want to dress like Pokemon and women who want to dress like Spider-Woman. Anyway, I only attended Saturday, so I only got to see the Adult cosplay contest. Some of the franchises that were represented on stage included Sword Art Online, Sailor Moon, and Final Fantasy XV. There were also quite a few excellent Star Wars costumes; I may not be a Star Wars fan myself, but man, are those people dedicated.

A  note on cosplay photos: I did actually take photos during the con, but I wasn’t sure whether or not I should post them. People who go to Otakon and AX in cosplay know that they’re going to end up included in photo galleries on numerous websites, but that’s not necessarily true of a local con like this. I also didn’t have a press pass, and there was no indication when I was taking photos that I was taking them for any larger purpose, so it just felt kind of morally questionable posting these pictures to Otakusphere. If I go to Cradle Con again next year, which I hope to do, I’d like to go officially as press and then take photos of EVERYTHING.

Lastly, it wouldn’t be a con without my husband and I spending way too much money in the dealer’s room and Artist’s Alley; here’s our haul:

If you’re wondering “How can you afford all that stuff?” the answer is hahaha, WE CAN’T. We kind of blew all of our fun money on this one event and can’t buy anything else for a while. If I go to Anime NYC in the fall, I’m not going to be able to buy anything there except a keychain and a can of soda.

Our loot included three My Little Pony Classic Blind Boxes (which caused me a lot of pain, since I got TWO freakin’ Princess Sparkles and not one Glory), a bunch of Frozen toys to keep the little one happy, a collection of Suburban Fairy Tales by Francis Bonnet, (which came with a neat-o Rapunzel sketch), Suikoden II for PS2 with the strategy guide, a set of Magic cards that my husband just had to buy because he is a slave of WoTC, some X-Men issues from the early ’90s to fill out my collection, an X-Factor trade paperback, a really cool figure of Saber from Fate/Stay Night riding a motorcycle, and a helpful pocket-sized container of hand sanitizer.

All in all, good clean fun. It seemed like everyone around me was really happy to be there, and I think there’s an excellent chance I’ll be heading back to my favorite aviation museum in 2019 for Cradle Con 2.

Comic Girls, Episode 7

Time for more horror with Fuura-sensei, which I could generally do without, however it kind of works on a meta-level this week. See, this episode is about Kaos learning how to draw backgrounds, and that’s a terrifying subject for most newbie comic artists, so it’s only fitting that she has to do it in an attic, literally surrounded by skeletons, dripping candles and creepy dolls. It’s a clever bit of juxtaposition that might not be immediately obvious, but I’m pretty sure it’s intentional.

Kaos seems to pick up background-drawing rather quickly though, while I still struggle with it, which makes me wonder; would I allow Fuura-sensei to tutor me, even if it means I have to be subjected to her horror shtick for an hour or so? I don’t know if even I love comics enough to go through with that….

This is about my reaction when I realize that I have to draw backgrounds. I have this weird mental block with linear perspective, where I never seem to do it right no matter how many times I read about it or have it explained to me. It’s actually pretty sad.

The best part of this episode is when Fuura-sensei shows Ruki a panel that Kaos drew, and Ruki doesn’t believe it because everyone knows that Kaos can’t draw well, then realizes how cruel it is to say that out loud in front of Kaos. It’s funny to me that “Kaos can’t draw” is basically a house rule that everyone acknowledges in a dorm specifically intended for artists. I would say “Git Gud, Kaos,” except now that she can draw bg, she’s technically better than me, so I’ll shut up.

The other significant thing in this episode is the revelation that Koyume got a magazine serialization, so she’s jumped ahead of Kaos in terms of professional credits. She says it’s a short serialization, so she’s not quite on Ruki and Tsubasa’s level yet, but she’s getting there. I wonder: did she ever learn how to draw guys? I feel like she must have, and I feel kind of robbed that we never got to see that. No major improvements off-camera, Comic Girls!

The rest of this episode is about Kaos getting glasses, which is typical CGDCT fodder that I really have nothing to say about. I don’t have a problem with this show having the girls do cutesy humor (it’s kind of part of the mandate and all), but I would be really stretching to find anything to say about that whole sequence beyond “it’s cute, I guess.”

Hopefully the next episode will have a little more substance, because they were on a roll there for a little while.

Comic Girls, Episode 6

Sometimes my personal quirks put me in a weird position where I hate something, but I know that’s totally on me and does not reflect badly on the media in any way. I pretty much hate horror and have no tolerance for jump-scares and stuff like that, so the fact that this episode is half over-the-top horror was pretty unpleasant to me. That said, I can appreciate that it was well done; in fact, I think this show did a better job creating a horror atmosphere, even with tongue-planted firmly in cheek, than a lot of horror anime that try to do it seriously. Of course, I’ve just admitted that I don’t really watch horror anymore, so I guess I wouldn’t know? The point is, the animators captured the horror vibe really well.

Please stop with these shockingly effective mood shots, I want a tepid Cute Girls Doing Cute Things show and I won’t stand for any insubordination! Wow, I get bossy when I’m terrified.

Once again, I find myself strongly identifying with Kaos, who was screaming her head off during this whole segment; if only I, too, could harness the power of my love of boobs for strength the way she does. Unfortunately, I’m only just okay on boobs (don’t really have strong feelings for them one way or the other), and the more anime I watch, the more I’m beginning to feel that this is a disadvantage. Kaos may be a boiling cauldron of crippling insecurities, but she could probably summon the courage to slay a dragon if someone just told her that she could see some awesome boobs afterwards, and it’s kind of inspiring.

A pretty accurate depiction of my face during the first half of this episode, if only I could watch TV while I was in the bath…waitaminute. Why can’t I watch TV in the bath? A TV in the bathroom sounds unsafe, but it’s only a matter of time before they start making baths with included waterproof TVs, right?

To change the subject from my excessive wussiness, I do like the fact that the new girl embodies her genre of manga, and it would be cool to see more of this. Imagine if they introduce a magical girl manga artist, only she’s actually a magical girl? That would be surreal, but really cool if done right.

Fuura-sensei; I wish I was better able to appreciate her character, because I know a lot of fans of the show took to her immediately. I just can’t get past the fact that she shows suddenly behind people in mirrors, that’s way too creepy dammit.

The second half of the episode focuses on Tsubasa, who is my least favorite of the four main girls. I don’t dislike her exactly, but she’s just so darned successful at such a young age, it’s hard to relate to her. Ruki is successful as well, but in a different way than she expected or wanted, whereas Tsu has gotten successful drawing exactly what she wants all the time, which isn’t that interesting. We’re supposed to be sympathetic to her because she’s hiding her identity as a girl, thus she can’t go to signings and connect with her fans, but….eh, I just don’t find that very compelling. I’m pretty sure she could come out at as a girl tomorrow, and if anything it would just serve as a PR boost for her manga. It seems like a non-problem.

Homeroom teacher Nijino-sensei, as seen through patented Kaos-vision. I joke about Kaos having no talent, but to be fair, her art style is very cute and well-suited to 4Koma. Now she just needs everything else….

I like the character of the otaku teacher, and she serves an important practical purpose; now that the girls have an ally inside the school, maybe they can stop running themselves so ragged trying to keep up with academics and their manga. Look, I’m not suggesting that Nijino-sensei fabricate their grades or anything, but maybe she could cut them a little slack, y’know?

Plus, the fact that Tsubasa’s biggest fan is someone simultaneously really close to her, yet far from her in terms of social rank creates an interesting dynamic. I’m hoping they’re going to come up with some fun things for Nijino to do to try to “help” Tsubasa with her manga that add to the gleeful everyday insanity.

Finally, Kaos seems to be developing as an artist since she’s learning to create characters inspired by people she finds interesting in real life, which is a really useful tool for her to have in her arsenal. She still doesn’t know anything about writing a story, but baby steps kids; baby steps. Frankly, considering the amount of investment Kaos’ editor is putting into her development, Kaos darned well turn out to be the next Rumiko Takahashi at the end of all this, but who’s to say she won’t be? It’s a goofy, surreal, wish-fulfillment kind of anime; nothing is off the table, and that’s what I like about it.

Comic Girls, Episodes 4 & 5

I had to take care of some real-life stuff, so I’m a little behind on anime. To catch up, I’m going to be doubling up on some of these episode posts– or maybe tripling up, if I get even further behind. Who knows what kind of wacky anime coverage you might find at Otakusphere? It’s part of the charm! Err, hopefully.

Me, getting ready to do some blogging. I think I might steal “I Feel Digital Just Sitting On It” as the title for a memoir.

Episode 4: Sex is Not So Bad

I like the ongoing joke that Ruki is inadvertently sexy, even when she’s being a total dork. It’s the rarely seen parallel to the trying-too-hard-to-be sexy character.

Anyway, back to the Manga Artist Dorm of Awesomeness. Ruki is running herself ragged trying to keep up with her manga and school, to the point where she’s staying up multiple nights in a row, and seeing that kind of behavior always makes me wince a bit. Ruki, my girl, I give you permission to skip school if you need more than one all-nighter to finish your manga, okay? Maybe I’m a bad influence, but I think school attendance becomes less important if you already have a job in the adult world. Besides, sleep is very important, people; I thought I was functioning on minimal sleep in college, but when I look at some of the dumbass choices I made back then, I wonder.

This is the first episode that really had a strong theme, that of Ruki getting over her issues with drawing lewd manga. I really liked this angle, since Ruki being dreadfully uncomfortable with the manga she’s drawing has been arguably more disturbing than humorous since the beginning. I like that when she gets out and meets her readers, they’re all totally normal women and girls from different walks of life, and there’s nothing unsavory about the experience; basically, this episode is a little paintbox full of sex positivity. Everyone has sexual fantasies, this is normal, and Ruki shouldn’t feel bad for drawing manga with sexual elements.

“Hello, ladies! I’m 14 and I’ve never even kissed a boy, but please come up to me and ask for advice on your marriage– It’s not like I’m going to make it any worse, right?”

Of course, the idea that a sheltered, 14-year-old girl can pull off the role of an experienced older sister-type at a public event, to an audience of people twice her age, isn’t really plausible. However, criticizing this kind of show for the characters being precocious is a little like watching a giant robot show and then complaining that the animators didn’t account for how the robot would be effected by air resistance; there are certain genre conventions that are at odds with reality, but we all knowingly accept them for the sake of entertainment. This story with Ruki would make more sense if she were 24 instead of 14 (or 34, God forbid!), but that’s true of a lot of anime characters in various genres.

I guess you could criticize storylines like this as part of a larger point about how Japanese pop culture is youth-obsessed, but A)that’s not just Japanese pop culture, that applies to INTERNATIONAL pop culture and B)I’ve always thought the reasons why younger characters tend to dominate entertainment were pretty intuitive. I may lament the lack of characters my age in anime sometimes, but I understand the reasons why they’re rare.

In any event, this episode really felt like Comic Girls finding a purpose beyond tepid cuteness, and I for one felt validated that I had a reason to be watching it in the first place. My taste, validated! Surely this won’t last….

Episode 5: We Are Up To 50% Lesbian, And That’s Fine

…and it’s a beach episode, goddamit.

Actually, it’s really not bad. I appreciate the fact that this episode only devoted half it’s runtime to the beach, and then moved onto other things. The girls all look lovely in their swimsuits if you’re into that sort of thing, and the show managed to remember that this show is about artistic girls, not just generic cute girls. I like the fact that three out of the four girls had to basically be dragged kicking and screaming to go swim in the ocean, since they preferred to sit on the beach and draw. I haven’t been to the beach in a long time, but when I did go, I was the girl who was sitting on the blanket drawing, so I relate to Kaos and co., as usual.

One minor note that perturbed me though; Can you really rent bathing suits at the beach these days? That seems really unsanitary, and given how cheaply you can buy a bathing suit if you want to, really unnecessary. I mean, I’m sure the rental place washes the suits between customers and stuff, but who wants to wear a bathing suit that ten other people have worn? It’s not like going skiing, where most people rent equipment so you don’t have to drop $1000 on your own set. I mean, I realize this is tangential to the episode and I really shouldn’t care, but I’m curious now.

After fun-in-the-sun hijinks, we get Koyume and Tsubasa going on a date with everyone else spying on them, as you do. What’s funny is that Koyume seems genuinely flummoxed that she knows that Tsu is a girl, but she’s attracted to her anyway. It’s called being a lesbian, Ko-chan; Kaos is also struggling with this crazy, obscure concept. Someone needs to sit these girls down and draw them a map, because this is getting embarrassing already.

Let’s be honest, I would go on a date with Tsubasa too. Mostly to grill her for manga-drawing tips, but the point still stands.

I guess the date may be exciting for people who like girl-on-girl romance, but I don’t really care much for that sort of thing one way or the other. The part of this episode that resonated with me was Tsu telling Koyume that the most important part of drawing manga was to enjoy it, and not to obsess over professional achievement. It may be simple and it may be trite, but honestly, I don’t think it’s possible to tell an artistic person that too often. I wish I had a Tsu in my life to tell me that back when I really needed to hear it; my life might be very different today, if I had.

So after a rocky start, Comic Girls seems to be hitting it’s stride, not so much as a show about manga (although the manga element is always there), but more as a show about (unusually sheltered) teen girls trying to wrap their heads around sex and growing up. Even though I would personally prefer a show that went super-in depth into the manga-drawing process, this is probably a smarter direction for the show to go in general.

I hope at least a few people who aren’t watching the show read this post, so they can feast their eyes on this screenshot with no context at all.

Comic Girls, Episode 3

I’m beginning to develop a sneaking suspicion that Kaos is actually a terrible manga artist. Her ideas are shallow, her art is rough, and she seems to like drawing the same strip over and over again, without even noticing she’s doing it. Yet Kaos’ editor seems to think that she has some sort of “unique talent” (her words), and I’m beginning to wonder where she’s getting that from.

I’m a little jealous, honestly: if Kaos’ level of talent is enough to get her into the special Comic Artists Dorm, why didn’t I get to live in an awesome comic artists dorm as a teen artist? I may have sucked, but I doubt I was any worse than Kaos is.

Is this really all it takes to get into Special Manga Dorm? I want to go to Special Manga Dorm, and I can draw better than this! I’m short, no one needs to know I’m in my 30s….

There’s plenty of blame to go around though, since the other characters’ attempts to help Kaos improve her work are all a little bit…off. Koyume notices that the fashions that Kaos draws her characters in are kind of lame, so the girls decide to dress Kaos up in a whole bunch of different outfits to improve her fashion sense. Err…that’s really what you think her manga needs? That’s the one element that was sticking out to you? Are there, mayhaps, other elements of her manga that might be more worthy of spending time on, like literally every other part of it?

Look, I know the whole thing was just an excuse to dress Kaos up in cute outfits, but they could’ve easily done that without such a dumb excuse.

I have nothing to say about the Kaos-Kitty wearing a beret, I just felt like it would have been criminally negligent not to take a screenshot of it at some point.

The second suggestion for improving Kaos’ work is for her to spend some time sketching, which is actually a damn good suggestion. And having the girls available to pose for each other for life drawing is one of the clear advantages of living together. However, for some reason, they call it a “sketching contest,” which is weird. Why would you make it competitive, when Kaos already knows her art is less developed than everyone else’s and she’s really self-conscious about it? Isn’t that just setting her up for failure? However, despite calling it a contest, there doesn’t seem to be any competitive element at all and the girls just draw together. So it wasn’t a contest? I’m so confused.

The stuff in this episode about how each of the girls has a different idea of what female beauty is supposed to be is pretty on-target. It seems like the thin, beautiful girl is always upset because she wishes she was curvy, and the curvy, beautiful girl is upset because she wishes she was thinner. The fact that their chosen manga genres seem to magnify their insecurities is interesting to me.

They are doing something interesting with Kaos though, since she’s a teenaged girl who has trouble thinking of herself as a teenaged girl. The best part of the episode is when the other girls notice that when Kaos talks about teen girls, she talks as though she’s not one herself. You could spitball a lot of reasons for this, like maybe Kaos is actually trans, but I think it most likely has to do with her complex about her size; she’s always thought of herself as a kid due to her tiny size, and she can’t get out of that mindset. Even though she’s technically a teenager now, she still feels like a little kid standing on a box, looking in on the glamorous (or so she thinks) world of teen girls from outside the window.

I can relate to that; I think there are so many romantic ideas about being a teen girl, that sometimes actual teen girls can feel like they’re not “really” teenagers because their lives aren’t cool enough yet. I definitely felt like that during my teen years, at times.

That’s the weird thing about this show though. I want to say it’s missing the mark, but then Kaos will do or say something that really takes me back to how I felt when I was that age. Also, her admission that she never knows when to get rid of clothes because she never  never grows out of them kind of hit me where I live. My favorite gray dress is from 1996, seriously not even kidding, I wore it last month.

One more thing: I’m not sure what to make of how this show handles Kaos’ obvious attraction to women. When ever Kaos says or does anything that makes it clear she’s into girls, the other girls just dismiss it as her “acting weird,” missing the point entirely. I could see getting pissed off by this since the show seems to be equating homosexuality with weirdness, but I don’t think that’s the intention; I think the girls are all supposed to be pretty innocent about sex, and having them be able to nail down what’s going on with Kaos requires more sophistication than they’re supposed to have. They just don’t have the experience to be able to say “Clearly, Kaos is a lesbian, or possibly bi-sexual,” they just know her reactions are different from what they would expect, so they just call her weird and stop thinking about it.

I find myself wondering if real teen girls would be this ignorant about sexual attraction, even younger teens, but then that’s falling into the trap of worrying about whether an obvious fantasy is “realistic”; of course it’s not. The issue isn’t whether or not it’s realistic, but whether or not it’s believable given everything else we know about the setting. This is a world where a manga editor tells a 14-year-old girl, “you draw hot women, you should draw sexy comics!”, despite the fact that said 14 year-old-girl doesn’t know anything about sex, so I guess it kind of fits. Comic Girls seems to be based around the girls being surrounded with sex, for reasons both voluntary and not, and having no idea what they’re actually looking at. If they had a clue what was going on, it would be a very different show.

So I found more to say about this episode than I usually do, which is good I guess? I don’t know. I don’t regret my decision to blog this show exactly, but it’s not turning out like I thought it would either. I do find it interesting that this show is sort of the one last bastion of hope for moe fans this season; where are all the other shows about four cute girls doing a thing? Is this really the only one? What happened? I’m still not quite done wrapping my brain around the fact that this seems to be the season where moe seemingly died AND Full Metal Panic came back; I mean, what kind of timeline is this anymore? I feel like someone made a wish on a monkey’s paw and we’re all going to be hit with the dark side any second now.

Comic Girls, Episode 2

I really want to like this show, but the writers are making it hard for me. The first part of the episode, where the girls go shopping at a huge art supply store, is great (and exactly what I want from a show like this), but then there’s the second part…where the girls go to school. I really don’t need Comic Girls! to show the girls going to high school, I can see girls attending high school in virtually every other anime that has ever been made. I want to see these girls draw comics, and do other comics-related things: Don’t waste everyone’s time by showing them sitting in math class.

I don’t know if they changed her design, or I just noticed it this episode, but Kaos has noticeable fangs. I think I’m just going to start assuming all of these tiny fang-girls are actually vampires until proven otherwise; you can never be too careful. Maybe she can’t draw characters in proportion because she can’t see herself in the mirror?

They do tie in the school segment to the overall premise by showing how the comic girls try to keep their manga careers secret from their classmates, but it’s all just a little flat. I feel like this show has the potential to be really fun, but it’s afraid to stray too far from “cute girls doing cute things” genre conventions, so it wastes time on irrelevant stuff.

You might think I’d be complaining about the girls going to eat sweets, since that’s a pretty generic anime-girl activity too, but hey, I’m not made of stone; ladies gotta eat.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t even mind the “cute girls doing cute things (CGDCT)” tropes, but they work better in some cases than in others. For instance, in last season’s Slow Start, there was no pretense that the show was about anything other than CGDCT, so seeing the girls just hanging out in school was par for the course. Comic Girls! is supposed to be about something more specific than that; I’ve seen people compare it to Slow Start, but is that really a compliment?

[For the record, I found Slow Start oddly compelling and watched all of it, so it’s not as though I hate the show. It wore it’s complete lack of interest in plot as a badge of honor, and I respect that kind of chutzpah. Still, it’s a good example of a genre show that stays firmly in it’s niche and has no further aspirations.]

Can I take a moment here to talk about how completely outdated screentone seems to me? I certainly get the appeal of doing your artwork in pen and ink instead of digitally, but screentone just seems so…anachronistic? It’s like, you notice your toast is dry, and instead of going to the refrigerator, you walk outside to the barn and spend an hour churning your own butter.

I like the way the show often breaks into moving, manga-styled panels to convey jokes; it’s appropriate, and keeps things lively. But I’m annoyed that this show seems to leave me with so little to say about it yet again; it’s just missing something that shows like Hidamari Sketch have in spades, and I’m not sure what it is. You could say that the characters are bland, but I don’t know if that’s really fair; I relate to Kaos and her boiling cauldron of insecurities, and the others are coming along. Still, something just isn’t quite gelling here.

Hopefully next episode we’ll see the continuation of the girls’ combo manga, I Can’t Believe My Neighborhood Axe Murderer is This Adorable; Protect Me Shirtless-kun!