Mela's 2013 Year in Review Part Two: The Good Stuff
Okay, Part 1 was Gripe-a-palooza. Part 2 is the stuff I liked, and I’ll try really hard to make it more than just fannish gushing. Also, as part of my Shift to Positive, I’ll be offering a Mea Culpa for some initial knee-jerk reactions in the past, since my revisits have changed my impressions.
As I said before, SPOILERS, SPOILERS, SPOILERS for stuff that’s mentioned.
BEST TV SHOW: Steven Universe: “If every pork chop was perfect, we wouldn’t have hot dogs!” Promoted largely because it’s from the first female original-show creator in Cartoon Network’s history (which surprised me, since they usually want to avoid acknowledging females in any way), it is a damn fine show. Steven himself is a refreshingly sweet & dorky change of pace from the usual sassy & wiseass kid hero (which you do get a break from on Gumball & Adventure Time), the Gems all have great personalities & work well as his surrogate family, his supporting cast is growing realistically & distinctively (I love the family that runs the fry shop), and his world simultaneously feels super-grounded while in town but still full of amazing wonders everywhere else. It’s funny and sincere & sweet at the same time, and the mysteries of Steven’s world (like what happened to his mother or why there are only a handful of Gems left or why they have to gather stray jewels from the monsters they fight) are being parsed out in an suitably intriguing manner. It’s the closest thing to a proper magical girl series on TV right now, and it has Amethyst, one of the few characters on TV built like me & NOT played as a walking fat joke. This show is truly a perfect pork chop. Or an awesome hot dog. Probably both. (And for the record, Wander Over Yonder is a very close second. VERY close.)
BEST ANIME: Gatchaman Crowds: This is actually the show that I started watching and that inspired me to be less negative. I hadn’t been familiar with the original Gatchaman outside of reruns of the “G-Force” dub airing in the early days of Cartoon Network, but that was utterly unnecessary (in fact, in my experience, a lack of familiarity led to more enjoyment because this is so different). An examination of the power of new technology to unify instead of isolate, whether all innovations are innately evil, what motivates people to become leaders or heroes, and whether humans are or aren’t naturally inclined to do good swaddled in superheroic trappings, it has given me one of my favorite unlikely badass characters in Hajime as well. You don’t think a giddy girl who collects notebooks & loves papercraft would be such a strong-willed, insightful heroine, but she goes from being a goof in the first episode to being the only thing perpetually keeping the world safe from the ultimate trolling bastard. Also, her weapons are giant neon scissors. The only complaint I heard was from an old fan of the original series who was disappointed it was an “in name only” adaptation, and he was being too fanboyish to see all the good, so it’s really his loss. Everywhere else, including Comics Alliance, had lots to say about why you need to watch Crowds.
BEST MOVIE: Rifftrax Live Presents Starship Troopers: If we’re talking about “best movie seen in a movie theater”, then this is my winner. I had never seen Starship Troopers, and while I had watched a lot of their DVDs & VODs, I had never been to a Rifftrax live show. But I contributed to the Kickstarter to raise royalty fees for Twilight (the prospect of which being mocked made even my mother interested), and when this was announced instead, I was fine with it. The movie itself isn’t as legendarily awful as my family has repeatedly made it out to me – if anything, its biggest sin is overreaching. I still find it to be more lucid and have healthier gender roles than anything Michael Bay has regurgitated, even if it’s not perfect. And the riffing, holy cats... That was one of the funniest things I have seen in my life. At one point, I was doing the Dom Deluise wheeze-laugh (where you laugh so hard you can’t breathe & just make this high-pitched wheezing noise), and I haven’t done that in years, let alone in public. I’ve been to two more great Rifftrax Live seasonal events, and I can only hope what they come up with next summer (now that they’ve forged a good relationship with Sony after this) is just as funny.
BEST COMIC: (tie) Young Avengers and Bandette: I decided to pick two comics, one print & one digital-only (and that was a close decision between what I chose & Kinski, a comic about a man jeopardizing his job for the sake of a puppy). The first is an excellent superhero comic that plays with the conventions of the medium, with the histories of the characters, with audience expectations, and with generation gaps real & perceived. Every character was winsome & interesting, even people that I had no interest in prior to this (looking at you, Kid Loki & No-Varr), and it gave some obscure characters like Prodigy some much-needed development. The path that’s been set before Wiccan is also super interesting & surprisingly moving – how do you trust yourself & others around you when you can be unconsciously warping reality at any moment? I’m sad that it’s ending, but I’m also glad that it’s ending because the creative team has told their story & not because of a fickle market. As for Bandette, you need to read this book if you love old-school or European style comics. The breezy yet surprisingly in-depth story of a lovable thief named Bandette, her efforts to thwart both the local mob & the local police, her circle of friends & admirers, and her friendly rivalry with an older gentleman thief named Monsieur, it is building to a suitably interesting contest that is either a massive set-up for our thieving heroes or an elaborate attempt to bring the mob down from within. My only complaint with it is how sporadically it comes out – the last issue dropped in July, and the next isn’t out till late January. I guess Monkeybrain respects that skill takes time.
MELA’S MEA CULPA: Re-evaluating Suite & Smile Precure: This started because of two things. First, Doki Doki’s overall low quality annoyed me so much that I decided to rewatch the two seasons before it to see if they were as bad as I remembered. Second, I got a copy of instrumentals from Suite that made me want to revisit it as well. So I rewatched them and... they’re good. My complaints about Hibiki hogging enough solo spotlight time from Kanade to make the latter incapable of functioning as a stand-alone character as the former still stand, but I’ve realized that this doesn’t make Hibiki a bad character. I’ve realized that Ellen’s shift to Cure Beat is good in its own right & not just a rehash of Setsuna’s story, especially whenever she is forced into conflicts with the Minor Trio – her concern for them is so genuine. Ako is a great example of how to do a young precociously mature character who’s NOT annoying as hell. And while the story does feel a bit padded at times, it ultimately feels like the stakes are real. So yeah, Suite is actually pretty good. And you know what? So is Smile. Someone on Tumblr said that if you view Smile as a slice-of-life show that happens to star a group of magical girls, then it makes the series come off as a lot better. That’s true – each of the girls has a distinct personality, distinct motivations outside of how they relate to the team leader (which is one of the biggest flaws of Doki Doki), and distinct reactions to everything. The villains are a weak spot, as is the pacing (we should have had the Bad End Generals’ backstories introduced earlier so that their reformation made more sense, as well as more against the evil Bad End Cures), but the characters were still shaped much better than I initially thought. So apologies for anyone who goes back to read my earlier stuff where I bitch about how awful Suite & Smile are; I’ve grown, I’ve changed my mind, and while I’m not about to self-censor, keep in mind that was a knee-jerk first impression that has since evolved.