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As I've said many times, I'm not really a fan of anime since it seems most of the series seem to go on and on without any definite conclusions, and forget trying to watch a random episode out of sequence since you won't know what the hell is going on without the proper context of the previous episodes. Also there's the fact that there are few variations in character design, the diabetes-inducing cuteness it can delve into, and the conspicuous lack of emotional subtleties when a character gets highly emotional and becomes distorted in some way.
All those negatives apply to "Chobits", but damn if it doesn't have an engrossing story. As the other posters have said, "Chobits" is about a farmboy from Hokkaido named Hideki Motosuwa who just recently graduated from secondary school but has become yet another victim of Japan's ridiculously punitive college freshman selection system when he finds out that he has failed the national college entrance exam. So he is forced to attend a post-secondary college preparatory school in Tokyo, a "cram school", in order to take another shot at the test. During that time he finds a nubile looking female persocom discarded in a trash heap. He takes her home and, after a while, figures out how to turn her on by going between her legs (get it? *winks*)
It turns out that the persocom lacks any programming except for an operating system that allows her to slowly learn stuff and it is up to Hideki to teach her the ways of the world. He has his work cut out for him since at first she is only able to say "chii", a word that would later become her name.
Basically, the series is broken roughly into two parts. The first part is a series of comic misadventures where Chi, a consummate blank slate, has difficulty doing simple things. Hideki tries to help, but he is hamstrung by his own cluelessness about computers and his crippling uptightness around women, even custom-made ones like Chi. The situation is made made even more awkward when Chi, in her sincere effort to please, buys pornography for Hideki (in lieu of granting actual sexual favors, one thinks) or copies the actions of the girls in those magazines. An episode representative of this dilemma is the fourth one, "Chi Goes On Errands" where Hideki just cannot walk in a store and buy panties for Chi, so he makes up a veritable search-and-destroy mission for Chi to purchase a pair in his stead. Obviously, this turned out to be quite messy.
The second half of the series gets to the nut of the problem presented by the availability of human-like computers who are able to interact like normal people. There will me many a lonely soul who cannot compete for the affections of those they love if anybody can construct and program their own personal Galateas to serve even their emotional needs. Then there are the persocoms: are they things to be exploited and tossed away when they are not useful, or do they deserve reciprocal love and companionship that they are programmed to provide humans? Chi seems to expect the latter due to her readings of a series of depressing "Lonely City" picture books she has purchased in which an anonymous woman seems doomed to search in vain for her one true love.
Finally, there is the question that traditionalists have been fighting against for centuries: is it right for humans and persocoms to even fall in love? It's an allegory that could be extended to homosexual relationships, polygamy, polygyny and other non-traditional relationships. The answer the series gives is that as long as the love is sincere and does not hurt other people, then it's sanctified.
Although the overall story is quite solid, especially the end where it almost made macho-me shed tears, there are some draw backs. Like the fact that they have no less than three clip shows for a series with only 27 episodes (plus a six-minute epilogue special). And there are some major plot holes, like how the hell did Chi get dumped among the garbage in the first place? The English dubbing is fine I guess, but you might as well just get the Japanese version with subtitles because, for one, the original Japanese voice actor Rie Tanaka does an absolutely endearing job of capturing the innocence and adoration inherent in Chi's character. The excitement and love present whenever Chi cries out "Hideki! Hideki!" would make anyone want to come home to such a welcome, the other events of the day becoming meaningless.
You are also probably going to miss some original puns and characterizations in the dubbing. For example there is a pun that has "sidedish" and "pornography" being the same word. Also a character, a persocom called Sumomo that is owned by Hideki's friend and neighbor Shinbo, is not properly portrayed in the English version. In the Japanese version, she has a habit of ending almost all her statements with the explanatory qualifier "'n desu", a phrase that I don't quite know the meaning of and that can't be translated without getting too technical. So naturally that part of her character was dropped in the English dubs.
But other than that, it's both a riot and poignant, and is recommended for anyone who has ever loved someone. Even though the anime does include some adult situations and heavy petting, all you horny teenage boys are outta luck with this one since you are not going to see any exposed aureolas or labias in any of the episodes. Overall three out of four stars *** out of ****
X-Men: Evolution (2000)
First Lame, Then Good, Then Epic
I had the opportunity to watch the first four episodes of this series when they first aired. Seeing all the producers and directors that were from "Batman: The Animated Series" being involved with this show and the superior production quality courtesy of Mook Animation ("Aeon Flux", "Spawn") and DR Movies ("Justice League") that was far superior than the cheesy Akom animation of the early nineties X-Men cartoon provided me with high expectations for this show.
Unfortunately, those episodes were long on the melodramatics and suffered from a poverty of the necessary action. I had to suffer through Scott Summers moaning and whining about his powers, Kitty and Rogue being freaked out by their manifesting powers and their subsequent confrontations with the X-men. But the episode that really made me groan was the one where the Blob is discovered, develops a possessive crush on Jean Grey and I guess turns evil when she rejects him.
What was this, Did "Dawson's Creek" and "X-Men" decide to hook up and have a baby? I wasn't even that much of an X-men fan anyways, never having watched the old nineties cartoon due to number of characters and story lines I had to keep track of. Also, back when "Evolution" premiered, I had "Batman Beyond", "Static Shock" and "Men in Black" to keep me entertained, I didn't need this crap. *Click*
Fast forward three years. "Batman Beyond" and MiB were both cancelled and Static Shock was in a prolonged hiatus, so I was left with practically nothing to watch, so I decided to see a repeat of X-Men: Evolution on Cartoon Network and it happened to be the season two episode "On Angel's Wing." That episode was well crafted to include the ambiguities of being a hero, religious allusions and a kick-butt battle between Rogue and Magneto at the end with a dazzling flight through the New York skylines and landmarks, in a way that reminded me of "Gargoyles". It got me hooked to see the rest of season two which brought about the great reveal of the existence of mutants to the outside world during the finale. Now these kids not only have to live their lives with their powers but now everyone will know them as freaks? Now it's getting interesting.
The series finale that featured the X-Men defeating Apocalypse was the coup de grace of the series which made me wish they made more episodes. I can honestly say that they managed to pull off the impossible during that event. With the half-hearted fare that the TV and cable stations are trying to feed us ("Coconut Fred's Fruit Salad Island!", "Loonatics Unleased") I miss that series more and more.
**** out of **** stars.
The Buzz on Maggie (2005)
When I first heard of this new flash animation cartoon being broadcast on the Disney Channel, I was naturally skeptical. It's not enough that they had to make yet another show starring a (shudder) female "tween" that involves school, bothersome parents and the requisite obsession with boys, but now in order to make the show "unique" they've added the wrinkle of making this young teenager into a fly? Sorry, not buying it.
But it was summer and I was bored, so I scanned the mostly unwatchable cable channels and happened upon this show. It was the episode where the main character, Maggie Pesky, unwittingly found herself the love object of a socially repellent stinkbug. That episode was characteristic of what I found appealing about the character carrying the show - an adolescent girl continuously conflicted between her vanities and her better nature. She is sure she does not want to become intimate with a stinkbug, but she continues to lead him on in order to take advantage of his connections to a country club that offers mudbaths, snorkeling in swamp water, and other amenities fit for insects.
Adding to her appeal is the fact that she is not your typical wallflower type that populates these shows. She's unconcerned about popularity, and she makes no secret for her disdain for the popular, snobbish bugs at her school. But she can just as easily be the one who needs dressing down, especially the times she takes advantage of other people for her own personal gain.
The voice of Maggie is very appropriate for a tomboyish pre-pubescent girl who seems to be into popular punk (if I were to callously categorize her), with all the cracking and deepening of a child going though puberty. It almost recalls the voice of E.G. Daily's (Tommy from "Rugrats"). I have yet to get totally used to flash animation being a medium of choice for cartoon shows since it has a stop-motion quality that is hard to ignore, but the animators really outdid themselves here in trying to keep the motions fluid. The bright and stimulating colors, aesthetic designs and those big expression-able eyes on the characters are also appealing.
I give this show three out of four stars, but it might not be for everybody. This show is a personal favorite of mine for the additional reason that it panders to my background in biology. Aside from presenting a hypothetical world of flies and other insects where rotten food and garbage are considered delicacies and germs can be kept as pets, I love how they incorporate trivial facts about flies such as how they regurgitate some stomach contents on the food they are about to eat in order to facilitate digestion. *** out of ****
Maxie's World (1987)
This cartoon was made in 11-minute segments to provide a companion piece to another cartoon, whether it was an 11 minute "Punky Brewster" cartoon or half of a "Beverly Hills Teens" cartoon in order to fill out the entire half hour. I guess that was to make room for the other syndicated shows broadcasts on the UHF channels at that time.
I say that because I felt that was probably the ONLY reason why they made this cartoon - too ridiculous to expand into an entire half hour, but they already budgeted money for this turkey so they decided to economize. What can I say? Maxie is an airhead with her own TV show and an equally airheaded boyfriend. Her other friends I could care less about (I can hardly remember their names). I would venture to say that the only aspects of this cartoon that piques my interest is the scattered references to eighties pop culture and that annoyingly catchy theme song at the beginning.
The animation is typical of DiC, good character designs but the fluidity is wanting. It is still better than some of the other endeavors made by DiC (*cough*Cyber Cops*cough*) overall ** out of **** stars.
Arrested Development (2003)
HI-Larious as Well As Intelligent
In this age of lazily-conceived, hastily-produced, fill-in-the-blank reality shows that the FOX network seems to corner the market on, it's refreshing to see them invest in a show that doesn't fit a clichéd formula and challenges the audience's intellect with hilarious results.
Previously, I had written off this show without giving it a chance, assuming that it's just another show about rich people with problems, a la "The OC". It's too bad I didn't give it a chance because I just happened to watch a random episode right while waiting for "Malcom in the Middle". Little did I expect to laugh so hard at George Michael continuously wearing a muscle suit just because his COUSIN. Maebe, gave him a passing compliment. And the absurdity of the situation was amplified by Ron Howard's deadpan narration of the episode, giving it the seriousness the situation doesn't deserve.
The show was still confusing because I wasn't clear on all the relationships and the origninating humor that the episodes look back to. Good think FOX did a marathon of the show in order to set me straight.
Bottom line, this show did not win all those Emmies for nothing. It could give Frasier, Friends and Seinfeld a run for their money any day. Let's hope the Emmys shielded the show from the FOX cancellation bug that afflicted other good shows such as "Action", "Titus", "Greg The Bunny" and ESPECIALLY "Family Guy".
**** out of ****
Still Good, Given The Constraints
After the utterly reprehensible way Warner Bros handled the release of "Return of the Joker" by Bowdlerizing some sensitive, but operative scenes in that movie, it's little wonder that the producers of the "Batman: TAS" franchise decided to settle on a considerably more lighter fare that would run little risk of offending the higher-ups.
Considering the creative straitjacket the producers found themselves in, they pulled it off rather well. The plot is pretty simple - it's a more sophisticated version of a Scooby-Doo-like whodunit where you are presented with multiple characters and you try to figure out which one is playing the double-role of the Batwoman vigilante. The ending might not suprise the sophisticated movie-goer, although it did work for me.
Unlike "Mask of the Phantasm" and "Return of the Joker" (the unedited version) there are no deaths depicted in this video and not as much emotional investment and (most important) CHARACTER GROWTH. In "Phantasm" you get to witness Batman's formative years and how a lost love shaped his present persona. In "Return of the Joker" you really get to see how much of a cold, debased psychopath the Joker really is - nothing like we saw in the cartoon series. Here, I'm quite sure we would have seen this as a really good multi-part episode on television if the "Batman" series hasn't been canceled. We aren't given too much insight into Batman's character, except now (*minor spoiler alert*) Batgirl/Barbara now has feelings for him and he's embarrased about it. There is another minor instance of character growth at the end of the movie, but I'll leave you to see for yourself.
One of the more memorable parts is the soundtrack song "Betchu Neva" provided by the little-known artist Cherie. If that single was played incessantly on the radio a la Christina Aguilera, I certainly wouldn't mind. And if you buy the DVD, it contains a featurette starring Batman and Catwoman called "Catch Me". Classic Batman, and it doesn't even need a dialogue.
*** out of ****
All Grown Up! (2003)
Been There, Done That
The storylines aren't bad, the characters are unique in their own way, and the animation is solid. This new show would have deserved a higher rating - if I hadn't seen it about a million times before.
I believe that this incarnation completes the metamorphosis of a droll, avant-garde Nickelodeon children's show that explored the psychology and socialization of infants to just another cookie-cutter pre-teen show for the Brittney Spears generation. I would be interested in seeing the types of topics they covered that hasn't already been done in "Doug", "As Told By Ginger" and any other show that involves home, school and friends.
Basically, this is a show that's would be most enjoyed by "Rugrats" fans. I'll admit that it's fun to see how the characters in the older show turned out, although one would be wont for surprises. Chuckie is still as insecure as he ever was, which goes well with the awkward geek stereotype he turns out to be. Angelica has toned down the "brat" side to her personality and has slipped comfortably in her role as an alpha girl seeking popularity and influence.
Tommy resumes his role as the unofficial leader and consensus builder of the gang while Susie is the sunny one. One of the few pleasant surprises is Dil, who turned out to be even weirder than we use to give him credit for. While Phil continues to be a goof-off, Lil is in the process of finding her own identity apart from being the female counterpart to Phil.
The parents haven't seemed to change a bit, they still have that ambience of cluelessness around them which would make for some funny moments when the more sophisticated kids confront them.
All of this won't matter, however, to those that have been living under a rock for the past dozen years or so and don't know who the "Rugrats" are.
The main rule of making sequels is to not just redo - reinvent.
Unfortunately, I don't see much creative investment in this "Rugrats" spin-off other than making the characters ten years older.
** out of **** stars.
Teen Titans (2003)
I Really Wanted To Give This A Bad Rating
I mean, come on! This show has so many targets to shoot at that I can't possibly replace the arrows fast enough.
For starters, these people live in a big "T" on an island when it would be just as easy sending out invitations to the entire rogues gallery - in alphabetical order - to come and attack them. They are never out of costume (even when they are asleep) and therefore don't seem to have any lives or identities beyond their superhero personae. And Robin inaugurates each fight with "Titan's, GO!", as if they were trained dogs.
But what really trumps these petty annoyances is the obscene use of japanamation in what is obviously an American production (not counting the animation manufactured overseas, of course). You want garish, red crosses at the temples representing a heavy pulse? No problem. A GIANT drop of water festooned on the side of heads representing heavy perspiration? You got it. Eyeballs constantly shifting from one unnatural design to another? Heads separating in the middle during fits of laughter? Characters changing sizes during piques of rage or timidity? Check, check and double check. Zeus, as if we don't have enough of that being imported to this country, now they want to copy that too? Sometimes japanimation motifs, like the flying lines during fights, work well when done right. But here, lines have been crossed.
I was about to write this new series off, but there were certain elements that still lead me to go back and view each episodes whenever I had the chance. First, it's obvious that the show doesn't take itself THAT seriously, so the slapstick humor that is frequently tossed around goes down very easy and is highly enjoyable - especially when it involves the several conflicts between the self-appointed heroes. At times it makes me wonder how these characters manage to meet each other, let alone maintain a group.
Second of all, despite the show being mostly camp, elements of melodrama aren't entirely pushed aside. There is betrayal, obsession, lives that were believably at risk, and plenty of instances of character growth, especially in the plotline involving Robin and Slade.
Eventually, I grew to live with the ill-informed yet studiously done animation and the plot holes, but that doesn't mean they still take away from a show with great potential.
My Little Pony 'n Friends (1986)
What Was The Attraction?
I was vaguely aware of this show back when it was airing during the mid to late eighties, and I remember watching some episodes and being charmed by them, even though I was too young to remember those episodes in any detail. So I decided recently to rent an episode of MLP because I thought it would be a delightful trip back to memory lane.
All right, perhaps I'm not being fair. Perhaps this episode, "The Glass Princess" was not really a representative episode of what is supposed to be a popular and thoughtful children show. But then again, if this is what they consider an episode worthy of distributing in commercial VHS, then we might have ourselves a problem.
I can honestly say the opening and closing sequences were the best parts of this 35 minute treac-a-thon. The music was upbeat and wistful at the same time, which would beckon kids from whatever activity they may be engaged in at the time and embrace them for the fanciful adventures that will be sure to follow. The closing sequence stripped down to the many flutes provided the proper denouement of a mythical adventure that recalls the dance of the satyrs.
But instead of a carefully considered bit of storytelling, we are subjected to a continuous traffic accident of plot holes barely small enough to cover with an infield tarp, disconnected plotlines that were haphazardly stitched together, carbon-copy characters I could care less about and (worse of all) VERY superfluous songs which were lazily written.
For specific examples, the ponies were preparing for a Pony Olympics at the beginning of the episodes, yet less than five minutes in you wouldn't even know there was a huge event being planned. The main-character pony, Shady, gets into a song about how useless she is, only to be sung back into comfort by one of her human friends - an exercise that could have been easily resolved by a few well crafted dialogue. In this episode, Gusty the magic unicorn and Heartthrob the pegasus were kidnapped along with Lickety-Split the "earth pony" and kept in bondage - even though magic unicorns can *magically* teleport wherever they want and pegasuses can fly away under their own volition as welland were give several opportunities to do so as well. And the show just generally suffers from the fact that it has too much characters and too little time to distinguish between them and make them compelling and interesting enough.
What is really inexcusable, however, is the slipshod animation it serves us. This has got to be the one of the cheapest, most weakest production of a cartoon series this side of juvenile anime. Missing cells translate into jerky and stuttered movement of every character. Continuity of form is thrown out the window. And lip sync? They might as well be dubbing over an Estonian film for the type of attention they've paid to it. Oh well, at least the cartoon has a lot of color that will stimulate the mind of the youngest audience.
All this seems to indicate that the producers of this cartoon only intended to make this a vehicle to which to sell their many toys and pony dolls, which were virtually ubiquitous during that era. Any new and useless character introduced will usher in a new doll and the cycle will repeat itself at the bidding of the toy companies. This is not the 12-year-old boy repelled by anything that would appeal to girls, I showed this tape to two of my younger sisters, and they were appropriately repulsed by it. It's a shame I have to do this, but this saccharine piece of popular watered-down pablum deserves only one star. I was expecting a LOT more.
* out of ****
After being burned by how the two Fox Kids "Spider-Man" cartoons were cut short before the plot lines were resolved, I was ready for a whole new incarnation of the wise-cracking webslinger in the red-and-blue pajamas.
At first, I was dismayed when I learned the entire thing was going to be done in computer animation. Come on! I didn't like the computer animation in neither the Spider-Man nor the Hulk feature films. I'll be scourged if computer animation will ever capture human motions as fluidly and as flawlessly as either live action or cell animation. If this series is going to be saved, it would have to be by the virtue of the story lines.
Luckily, it delivered in that avenue. Unlike the earlier incarnations of Spiderman on television, the writers either focused TOO much on pointless dialogue which can easily be conveyed through the actions of the characters, or as in the 1994 version, a lot of action (good) but a lot of superfluous dialogue was crammed in as well (bad). Here, they understood that the TV show does NOT always have to resemble a d**m comic book and actually utilized the cinematography offered through this medium (as well as the appropriately requisite dialogue) to convey the constant drama that is the dual life of Peter Parker/Spider-Man. Plus the fact that they take "liberties" with the language and themes by virtue of it being broadcast on Empty-V is an added bonus.
Speaking of the cinematography, the dizzying exhilarating web-slinging action almost makes up for the religious use of computer animation. The 1994 Spider-Man was enhanced by computer animation during the action sequences, so you can't really blame these people for taking the genre to its logical conclusion. Yet the characters still have that robotic feel to them, a major drawback to the CGI world that must be resolved before it's fully accepted.
The show still looks promising, and I will definitely place this among the shows to watch - a statement that is rare considering the channel it's being shown on.
*** out of **** stars.