Ghiblisgiving: Porco Rosso

Up to this point all the films covered were movies I had never seen before, but as we enter the 90s phase of the studio we also enter the movies I’ve seen. None moreso than another fun adventure, Porco Rosso!

Porco Rosso, the Crimson Pig, was a man turned pig-man and the fiercest bounty hunter in the Adriatic. When a group of his foes, a collective of seaplane pirates, hire an American hotshot named Donald Curtis to hunt Porco down, Porco must come to terms with getting help from unlikely places and deal with his past as an Italian fighter pilot in the Great War.

The film is a freaking blast of a good time. It really leverages and builds on the adventure feel of Castle in the Sky. Building on some of the tropes in that film, the gang of misfit criminals, much more cartoony aesthetic contrasted with well lived in world, and message. From frame one it is just so clear how much fun and energy was put into every frame of animation. The dogfights, in particular, are real standouts. With complicated and overlapping animation along with a strong sense of weight and dimension. It’s clear so much time went into that one aspect while not leaving even the smallest detail outside that to go unnoticed. It’s just a party on display the whole time and that is deeply appreciated.

Of course what makes it special is how it seems like just a fun adventure flick on the surface, but does have a message underneath. This message being unique to Ghibli films, a look at what it means to be a pig. Neither choice, making the main character a pig-man, or the fact it is set between World War I and World War II, was purely for aesthetics. Though let it not go unsaid that the team certainly takes advantage of both. Instead both are used as an examination on what it means to be piggish, boarish, and selfish. Porco, real name Marco, often lifts his nose to the rest of society. He sees so little of it to be of any importance and looks out for himself. This puts him in opposition to the pirates, a group of individuals looking out for themselves, and Curtis, a man obsessed with his own status and building up fame. They’re all taken to task in some regard but does come back to Porco as he grows to care about people, or care about them again if he lost that part of himself. It is why the owner of the Not-Casablanca hotel cares so much for him. Porco can be a good guy, and ends up being one once he sees past the front he puts up. He just has to realize he doesn’t have to be as much of a pig. Which, it’s also fun that he says he’s a pig and not a fascist. A line that strikes just as hard as Nausicaa’s “If I take my mask off for five minutes I would die.”

The American dub for this film is more hit or miss, but overall great. The biggest weakens is Michael Keaton. He is by no means bad. He gives Porco a lot of weight and regret behind his words, but doesn’t get the fun most everyone else does. Cary Elwes in particular gets to have a great time as Curtis, and Susan Egan is able to thread that needle of being weighty while also giving the character a sense of having a good time.

Porco Rosso feels like an easy film to overlook. Because, again, on the surface it seems like just a good time with some mild misogyny and focusing too much on how attractive this 17 year old girl is (which Castle in the Sky kind of did too know that I think back on it), but it’s more than that. Even the weird stuff it does with said 17 year old mechanic builds on Porco and his fight to remain a pig inside or not. The film is almost ahead of its time in the way it seeks to criticize middle-aged men like that. But even as it does that it is still a gorgeous film that is just an amazing time to watch. Also Porco shoots at actual fascists and we need more of that.

Film Ranking:

Porco Rosso 

Nausicaa: The Valley of the Wind 

Castle in the Sky 

Kiki’s Delivery Service 

Only Yesterday 

My Neighbor Totoro

I’m cleaning house and selling some media. If you would like to buy comics, manga, or cards I owned and used follow this link: https://ebay.com/usr/connorfahy1013 say you’re a reader and I’ll be happy to discount any item for you!

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The Hooting (I’m so Sorry) Good Time of Owl House Season One

Despite being someone who watches far more varied types of media I have fallen out of the know when it comes to moder cable animated series. I have cursory knowledge about things like Steven Universe and the like but haven’t taken the time to really watch them. As I have said and must continue to say: there is just so much new television that it’s impossible to keep up. But, in the haze of being vaguely aware of shows one caught my eye. A new Disney show focused on magic: The Owl House!

Following Luz, a quirky nerd (who is not all that nerdy when you know anything about teenagers but that’s not here or there), as she is accidentally whisked away to magical world of the Boiling Isles. Once there she befriends the cernudgeonly witch Eda, her pet The King of Demons, and her talking house hooty. After saving Eda and a group of misfits from jail Luz decides to stay on the Boiling Isles, make friend and learn magic. Of course ailing yourself with the outcasts means she will have to work harder than ever.

The series has major Gravity Falls vibes in kind of the best way. I’m sure it’s no coincidence that the creator of Gravity Falls is the voice of one of the characters and that the creator of the series worked on that show. But they have so much in common. A fantasy world that focuses just enough on the gross and strange to feel unique but not off putting. A braggadocious trickster as a main mentor, a desire to twist well worn tropes in a way that feels like they’re telling a story and not just trying to be clever, and finally a deceptively deep art style.

The art and animation in this season is actually far better than in Gravity Falls. Which, for all its greatness, does show its age in places (just like Avatar. I mean that two-part opener is rough to go back to). Owl House goes harder on big set pieces that all look great and move super fluidly. They’re a treat.

But that action is a treat in the actual meaning of the word. The season is not one giant epic. It’s not a Shonen battle series in disguise or even a more serialized mystery like Gravity Falls. Instead, The Owl Houses focuses on self contained episodes and stories that work to build the characters. These episodes don’t come from nowhere. Sometimes a villain will reappear but the story is often focused on a character centered stories. Luz trying to learn magic or her friends healing past pains.

They’re not flashy stories, usually. But, when it times to get epic the team does it right by keeping Luz in perspective. She is never the strongest in the room so when she gets to do something epic it feel momentous. Similarly, the strongest in the room get to show off their great power without it looking like they’re over powered.

With the episodes being more character focused it is kind of a shame that the wider cast doesn’t feel as fleshed out. Luz, Eda, and King are well explored and textured characters. But Luz’s friends Willow (sick Buffy reference), Gus, and Amity all feel a little shallow. Not to say that they don’t get their moments. Gus being hyper-confident is great. Amity being stoic just long enough for Luz to show up and become a bumbling wreck, and Willow being nice but having a backbone (I guess) also works. But that is the most I can really pull. They don’t feel totally distinct or as memorable as they could be.

As neat as this all is the series has become notable for its LGBTQ representation. A push for less-gendered pronouns in romantic quips. Characters dressing outside of what they’re usually coded. Luz literally wearing a gay pride outfit as her school uniform. A gay dance sequence where they tango and beat monster (obviously my favorite moment. I mean it’s not like I put a first dance between two love interest framed as a fight or anything… please read Dieous, it’s good), and some gay relationships in the background. Like Willow having two dads. It is all a net positive to be sure, but I’m also dubious of some it.

None of it is bad to be clear, but when you put characters in “wacky” outfits or push for a message of friendship while also having a romantic relationship not being developed and played for laughs it’s strange. I can only think of the reverse. An example is Eda dressing up in a tuxedo. Is a good image. But then I imagine someone like Spongebob wearing a dress in a similar context and it being framed as a joke. It still pushes the idea of dressing for what you feel fits you, but also playing it as a possible joke feels off. It would be like saying just two guys kissing is funny. Even if you’re supporting the position it is still framing the act as a joke.

The series is primarily a comedy despite me not mentioning much of the jokes. They are funny. Very quip heavy like Gravity Falls. Some surrealist jokes, and general gags. But one punching bag it makes fun of is Harry Potter. It saying how sorting hats make no sense or that Quidditch is a dumb sport for the Golden Sntich. This is all funny, and now in context of JK Rowling totally losing her status to people with any social taste, feels like a call out. The series is saying that you can be different while still being good. You don’t need some white kid with glasses to beat a dark lord, it can be a nerdy Latino girl (or is it Latina? You get my point) with a her diverse friend group, no prophecy, and no conformity. It’s a season that says being who you are and working hard is good enough. Standing up for those society doesn’t like good enough. You don’t have to win that fight, but not standing down is a good start.

I’m cleaning house and selling some media. If you would like to buy comics, manga, or cards I owned and used follow this link: https://ebay.com/usr/connorfahy1013 say you’re a reader and I’ll be happy to discount any item for you!

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Ghiblisgiving: Only Yesterday

It’s hard to remind ones self, but Stuido Ghibli is more than just Hayao Miyazaki and his fantastical stories. There is a whole studio full of talented directors, writers, and animators. Famous of all is Isao Takahata. We should have covered his downer Grave of the Fireflies had it been available for streaming, but his next film, a grounded drama based on a novel, is available for streaming and is unlike any of the other movies thus far.

Only Yesterday follows Taeko, a businesswoman in the city as she take a summer vacation trip out to the countryside and work the fields. Only she isn’t going alone as memories of her fifth grade life flood back into her and color her week long trip living with the farmers and their son, another former businessman turned farmer.

The film feels incredibly ahead of its time. The mid-life crisis film is an incredibly common genre of fictional film, but the quarter-life crisis less so. Those films, ones like this one, featuring people who are just starting careers and yet already feel unsatisfied and wanting more from life have been gaining in popularity more recently. That makes this one about a girl being restricted as a child due to how she was brought up and following that path into adulthood feeling unsatisfied in what that life brings at such a young age so refreshing. Even the fixation on decades old foibles and flops feels like something a more modern film would focus on as a thing millennials talk about now, but making a film in the 90s about it is so shocking.

It is unfortunate then that the film isn’t more watchable. That’s in no way saying it is a bad film. Ill-paced for sure. Some of the flashback to childhood segments go on too long or don’t feel connected enough with the springboard. Similary, continuing to introduce new elements of her past even near the end feels off when a setup earlier wouldn’t have made it feel so forced. Also the constant hyping up of farm life does get tedious from time to time. Regardless, it’s a contemplative movie. Fun only in the academic sense, but oddly enough the best written movie yet. Written meaning the dialogue and exchanges. The previous films were all mostly transactional. They were used to get across a direct point without any flowery language or doublespeak. Only Yesterday goes the extra mile of having words say less or more than they imply. The use of silence is also awe inspiring.

Similarly awe inspiring is the use of animation in a film that could easily have been live action. Most of the Ghbili movies could have been, but used the fantastical as the excuse. This film, instead, uses changes in art style to get the changing emotions across. The use of a more cartoony art style that grows from sparse watercolors to more solid backgrounds as the memories get more concrete in the flashback segments is great and contrasts with the realistic present scenes so much more. The scenes in the present have their own grounded feel that’s carried more by the soundscape and ambiance than flashy cuts. That’s to say the animation is consistently smooth without going that cartoonish extra mile the previous films did.

This is also one of the more recent dubbing attempts. It makes sense to an extent. Ghbili was under Disney and this is a hard film to market to that demographic, so waiting till now makes sense. Getting talent like Daisy Ridley and Dev Patel to give really weighty and serious performances while also fighting their English accents back at every corner is great. They also contrast well with the more seasoned voice actors in the cast to feel distinct but not bad.

See what I mean. All of this is good stuff. Fun to talk about and analyze in this hypothetical space. Looking at how the last scene on the train plays with everything that came before is neat, but that doesn’t make this a joyful experience to watch. That makes it doubly hard to judge because it wasn’t fun. Kiki, for all its poorly mixed flaws and odd pacing, was still fun. This has a place and a strong message to send but isn’t a constantly rewatchable film. It’s a quintessential Oscar drama. A film to watch once and get its meaning (maybe twice or three times to really absorb it), but not to put on when you’re having a bad day or just need something on in the background. It’s a great film. The one I was most looking forward to in fact because of its more mature nature, and I guess I got what I wanted out of it. Heck, even this malaise feels almost intentional, but it doesn’t make it more fun or one I would rewatch.

Film Ranking:

1. Nausicaa: The Valley of the Wind

2. Castle in the Sky

3. Kiki’s Delivery Service

4. Only Yesterday

5. My Neighbor Totoro

I’m cleaning house and selling some media. If you would like to buy comics, manga, or cards I owned and used follow this link: https://ebay.com/usr/connorfahy1013 say you’re a reader and I’ll be happy to discount any item for you!

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Ghiblisgiving: Kiki’s Delivery Service

Despite the classical nature of Ghibli and Miyazaki’s films it is odd how the only adaptation up to this point was of Miyazaki’s own work. However that changes after this point and lends more credence to the Ghibli as Disney comparison (I bet they feel bad letting that license slip now that Disney+ is around. That would have been a killing for them). Disney usually stays to well worn fairy tales while Ghibli likes to branch out into newer tales.

Kiki’s Delivery Service, based on the novel of the same name by Eiko Kadono, follows burgeoning witch Kiki as she goes out on the rite of passage for every witch at her age. She must leave home and make a place for herself among a new town and find out who she is. Kiki finds herself in a port city where she uses her singular talent of flying to make a name for herself as a delivery girl. She is a teenager, so of course the winds of passion can change and she must find a way to make those passions her own with her powers and friends she makes along the way.

The movie has a problem. Not the base film but movie posted to HBO Max. I am unsure of this problem persisted in the original 90s Disney release or there was a change made in the transition to streaming, but the vocal mixing on Kiki in particular, but everyone at certain points, is terrible. Her voice is often incredibly tinny or like her voice is coming from a blown out speaker (having since watched the next set of movies on the same system with the same settings and this problem never repeating it is definitely something wrong with this movie). What’s worse is how it happens to everyone at certain moments, and it only seems to affect the voices and no other sound effects. This made it a harder film to watch than intended because literally hearing the characters speak was testing. It’s an unfair thing to criticize a movie on, but it was still part of the experience and must be taken into consideration.

Outside of that (far, far outside) the film is incredibly cozy. Watching Kiki make her deliveries and deal with the residents of the town is just nice. It has the feel of a kids TV show that could go on forever. It means the pacing on the whole is not as good. It takes too long for Kiki to really make her way and for the movie to really show what it is about. However just seeing Kiki being nice to people as she works and watching that kindness come back to her (hypothetically. Her voice is grating to listen to because of the aforementioned mixing problems, but I get the intent)

The animation even reflects that TV feel. It feels even more restrained this time around with more focus spent on the mechanics of her flying and what that would realistically look like. That’s not to say there aren’t little touches thrown in. It’s a Miyazaki movie so of course there are. But on the whole it feels more like it wants to be a long running series over a splashy movie.

The advantage to it being a movie is it’s more individual focus on the idea of growing up. This is a consummate coming of age story, but what sets it apart is what it’s all about. At first glance it seems to be about trying to maintain old traditions in an evolving world. It is about that to a certain extent. The struggle Kiki finds when she first arrives seems to be in contrast to what her mom went through. Meanwhile scenes like using the old school oven in place of an electric one to bake a pie shows how not all old things need to be discarded. However it comes into focus that it’s about Kiki finding her passion and what she wants to do in life, and be accepted for it. Having to deal with burnout as well is an interesting choice, and provides a neat way to rethink it. But I don’t think it’s handled nearly as well as it thinks it is. That comes mostly from the lack of conveying why she doesn’t feel accepted. I mean I understand it being a completely internal struggle for her, but that struggle is not given an external example (some would argue her losing her powers is that example, but that’s the consequence not the inciting reason). Everyone she meets likes her and thanks her and even still she feels exiled from everyone. That’s a fine feeling but never shown in a way to understand it from her perspective. But her inherent drive to help and friendly nature does come through in why she is accepted and finds her place. It just could be conveyed better.

This is a film I want to watch again. Not just so I can see if that vocal issue persists in other copies of the movie but because it’s just kind of a nice world to live in. If it were a series I could see it still going to this day, and totally see why it was one of the highest grossing movies in Japan. It’s charming, cozy, sweet, and has a good character guiding us along the way. Her arc could have just been conveyed better.

Movie Rank:

1. Nausicaa: The Valley of the Wind

2. Castle in the Sky

3. Kiki’s Delivery Serivce

4. My Neighbor Totoro

I’m cleaning house and selling some media. If you would like to buy comics, manga, or cards I owned and used follow this link: https://ebay.com/usr/connorfahy1013 say you’re a reader and I’ll be happy to discount any item for you!

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Ghiblisgiving: My Neighbor Totoro

I am aware there is a moving missing. Grave of the Fireflies by Isao Takahata came out before this film. But, due to what I must assume are licensing and rights issues it’s not streaming anywhere (thanks why I use Surfshark… no NordVPN… no, I’m not cool enough to get sponsored). Doesn’t mean there aren’t ways to watch it, but for now I’ll power through and circle back if I find the time.

In the meanwhile I always wondered what the Studio Ghibli logo looked like before Totoro came out. I mean they needed to have something, but it seems odd that I can’t imagine the study without it. Odder still that I never saw the film.

The film, by the way, follows sisters Satsuki and Mei as they move to the countryside with their father. While moving in and exploring their new home the girls find that they have some unexpected but not unwanted spirits in the troll (interesting translation) Totoro and his mythical friends. Of course their life is not perfect. With a sick mother in the hospital, and a busy father they must find ways to live and fill their days with life, and their neighbor can help.

Ghibli and Miyazaki are often compared to Disney and their stable of animated films. Interestingly the previous films don’t really feel like Disney films. Totoro on the other hand totally feels like one.

Totoro feels like a storybook. It’s mundane world made fun by a trickster character and his minions and friends are the plot to many an actual children’s book. Classics like Cat in the Hat and Puff the Magic Dragon and the like all come to mind and all feel true to the spirit of this film.

A film, by the way, which should be incredibly boring yet is not. Most of the film is just hanging out with Satsuki and Mei. Watching them go on adventures or spend time with their dad or Totoro and his forest spirits. Not much honestly happens but the characters are honestly so fun loving and hyper-energetic that you fall into their rhythm. Seeing the world both normal and magical from the perspective of the little girls makes even the boring act of laundry or growing seeds into something fun.

It’s helped immensely that the sisters, played by real life sisters Dakota and Elle Fanning, having an amazing chemistry (for obvious reasons) and totally fit the roles of the girls. Satsuki has to act more mature than she lets on while Mei is far more emotional but open to new things. Their interplay, especially early on, sells the film the most. Well that and the father.

It would be easy to overlook their father played by Tim Daly (the voice of the best Superman). He’s kind of nothing. Just a generally nice guy who works hard and cares for his family. Of course it’s in the details that he shines. His ability to turn any event into a supernatural game or fun adventure builds the themes of the movie without even thinking of it. He just so easily and naturally turns the mundane into the games the girls play with simple framing. He is the backbone of the story more than a giant cat guy.

Not to say the giant cat guy isn’t important. But Totoro, the movie, is about facing life with the imagination and heart of a child. When seeing the world through their inventive eyes everything becomes fun. It’s not just dust but soot spirits. Acorns don’t grow because of rain and sun but from a cats magic. The wind blows because it’s a cat bus carrying its passengers across the fields. These are great visuals that help both us and the sisters keep their mind off the hardship in their life. Only the secret is that anyone can do this. They face hardships in the film, but they are often worse because they don’t try and find whimsy in it. Not to say you always need to. It’s okay to be sad, but being only sad doesn’t help you grow.

The animation this rime around is still smooth but far subtler than Castle in the Sky. That movie focused more on the grand adventure. This decides to keep it tight like the story. The character movement is far more detailed. The scene of the girls running around the house is great for all the little touches. Same can go for even simple interactions or Totoro moving. A lumbering furball like that needs to really feel furry and he does. Of course the standout is interior of the cat bus and how it moves and breathes with the ease of a real cat. It’s not as visually stunning as a train chase, but just as impressive.

It’s hard to place this film. On one hand this type of slice of life family film is not my thing. It’s valid and a really good story, but not for me. On the other it is just so incredibly charming that having to rank it as 3rd only because it’s not nearly as fun as Castle in the Sky is sad. It’s a movie that kind of deserves its spot. It’s simple, but so is the life and eyes of a child, and that’s okay sometimes.

Movie Rankings

1. Nausicaa: The Valley of the Wind

2. Castle in the Sky

3. My Neighbor Totoro

I’m cleaning house and selling some media. If you would like to buy comics, manga, or cards I owned and used follow this link: https://ebay.com/usr/connorfahy1013 say you’re a reader and I’ll be happy to discount any item for you!

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Ghiblisgiving: Laputa – Castle in the Sky

Nausicaa was a major passion project for Miyazaki and his team. It was also based on his own manga series of the same name so of course he would want to do it justice. Of course he can’t rest on his laurels forever and had to come back with a new hit, Castle in the Sky.

Laputa: Castle in the Sky is far more of a classic family adventure film than Nauscaa was. In that this film follows Pazu, an assistant to the coal miners in a small town. His life changes when Sheeta, a mysterious girl floats down from the sky with a Crystal both pirates and the military are after. The two then must band together in order to find the secret behind the crystal and how it connects to the floating city of Laputa all while dodging the military colonel Muska and female pirate Dola and her family of misfits.

The film is less story or idea driven than Nauscaa was, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less energetic or has worse pacing. It’s even arguable that the pacing in this film is better. There is far more connective tissue between scenes and events. The structure is tighter, and there is more setup and pay off. The fact that we are given time to sit in Laputa before the plot shows up gets us more invested in the location and it’s meaning than the quick bursts of location in Nauscaa.

Even with the better pacing the characters are weaker than in Nauscaa. Well, the main duo of Pazu and Sheeta do not hold a candle individually to Nauscaa. They are much younger and more generic. Both hardworking, adventurous, and forced to grow up early, they work great as a pair and seeing their bond grow is legitimately sweet. It is kind of easy that Pazu just so happens to want to find Laputa just as the person to help him shows up, but the initial jumpstarts for these far more family affairs are like that. Once it gets going it works. Mostly. Their voice actors, James Van Der Beek and Anna Paquin, do their best to match the characters but just don’t fit the more throwback look of the character designs.

This vocal problems seems to only affect them as they try to give much more grounded performances. The rest of the cast seems to get it let loose like the film wants. The standouts in that regard is the pirate captain Dola played by Cloris Leachman, and her family. They get to be totally wacky but earnest. They fit perfect in a far more cartoonishly evil world. Same can be said for Mark Hamill’s Muska. Muska, the secret king of Laputa, gets to go all out and hit every vocal range he can. From the more subdued Skips like performance to the menacing Ozai, and off the wall anger of the Joker. He gets to have a ball and it shows in his voice.

It also shows in the movies animation, which was clearly where most of the focus went. That is not a bad thing. A simple story told well, but with some of the most expressive, colorful, heightened-realistic animation you can see it is worth it. So much thought and time clearly went into how everything would move. From the fantastical airships, to the machinery, to the people who live in the world. The little touches Nauscaa had are taken to the next level. The characters scramble, I mean like a dog on hardwood, scramble. It’s more impressive, though with the crowd shots of individual people moving and doing their own thing, and the drifting of the giant planes. It was all taken to the next level and just looks amazing.

That doesn’t mean there is no story. It’s just a lite version of Nauscaa’s appeal and purpose of nature along with how humans need to act in order to get along with it. Muska’s hatred and annoyance at Laputa getting overrun with nature contrasted to Sheeta’s awe being the best example. That’s as far as it goes though. It is not nearly as deep as Nauscaa but is a better time.

Both this and Nauscaa felt like passion projects to an extent. This just felt like more of an animation showcase than a serious story. It is far more commercial and has kid appeal. That’s not a problem. It is one of the better child focused adventure films. It is incredibly inventive and thrilling but doesn’t feel nearly as personal. Not every movie has to be. Sometimes it’s okay for a movie to just be fun and show really cool imagery and it succeeds at that.

Film Rankings:

1. Nauscaa

2. Castle in the Sky

I’m cleaning house and selling some media. If you would like to buy comics, manga, or cards I owned and used follow this link: https://ebay.com/usr/connorfahy1013 say you’re a reader and I’ll be happy to discount any item for you!

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Hot 100 Review: Positions by Ariana Grande

Watch the video: https://youtu.be/tcYodQoapMg

Arianna Grande is not for me. Her voice is too airy, like if her singing voice was a cloud it would be one of those dumb whispy boys and not a thick cumulonimbus. There just feels like there is nothing to it. Her beats often do not help. They are set to match her voice, so they’re just as weak and nebulous. Yet she’s found her fans to be sure, and it is no surprise that when she has a song come out that it tops the charts.

positions (in all lower case just to annoy me) starts really strong. By starts I mean how the first few bars of Latin guitar and strings gives it throwback vibe it quickly tosses for more of her usual production work. From there it feels and sounds like so much of her normal work.

In positions (okay, so maybe all lower case isn’t so bad) though it is about how meeting somone new made her switch how she usually acts. This person is just so great that she wants to be different. Lines like, “Switching the positions for you… Know my love infinite nothing I wouldn’t do/That I won’t do, switching for you,” followed by, “[Eff] it, now I’m running with you (with you),” and, “This some shit that I/Usually don’t do (Yeah)/But for you I kinda/Kinda want to/‘Cause you’re down for me,” all convey that. The in between lyrics being more specific on how she feels.

Now the song is simple. I understand that, but if you don’t know where I am going to go with this then you’re new (hi, great to have you here. Try the cheese plate it’s dairy free). The issue being how there is no setup to what she usually does and what makes this person different. The line in the intro, “Heaven sent you to me/I’m just hoping I don’t repeat history,” tries to do both. Someone sent this person to her and she doesn’t want to mess up, but more setup wouldn’t go unwanted.

The song is short both in time and in lyrics. It’s under 3 minutes and has two brief verses. The quote above is all of verse one, for contrast, with a repeated pre-chorus and chorus. There is space to use. Make the verses longer or cut the pre-chorus. I would like to know what is different about this person that it makes her want to not mess up, and what are her usual mistakes. If answers are in the album of the same name that is great, but doesn’t make the single any more fleshed out (there is also a whole read about the dangers of being so devoted to a person – I don’t want to assume man because the gender isn’t expressed, but it works regardless of gender. It’s fine to want to do things for the person you love, but it can also be read as forcing it. She is, “… in the Olympics way I’m jumping through hoops,” which seems like it could be codependent since so little information is provided. Unfortunately or fortunately for this song it’s sparse nature saves it from this criticism because there isn’t enough there to make an argument work).

The video seems to be more of a general female empowerment anthem with Grande working as the president and switching to other professions like terrible chef (I mean did you see how she just ruined that pizza toss?). It makes the song turn instead from a love song to one of self improvement. No romantic interest shows up. It’s either her by herself or with her White House staff. The ones of her alone where a man should be gives it that feel that she is switching positions to make herself better. She’s changing for herself. The person heaven sent to her was herself (or her happiness) and she wants to make that better by changing. That almost works, but too many of the lyrics, “Boy I’m tryna meet your mama
On a Sunday/Then make a lotta love/On a Monday,” show that can’t be it. But it is still an interesting interpretation of the song, and supporting USPS staff is greatly appreciated in this time.

I am self aware enough to realize I often heavily over analyze the songs I cover. This one being a great example. It’s just supposed to be a nice song about how loving the right person makes you want to be better. That’s all there is to it, but that same problem of being sparse and airy holds it back. For, why can’t it be about that and provide context for either how her behavior is different, or why this person is different? Ariana doesn’t want it to be. That’s fine. Her stans like it well enough, but it feels like they are settling when the song could be so much better.

I’m cleaning house and selling some media. If you would like to buy comics, manga, or cards I owned and used follow this link: https://ebay.com/usr/connorfahy1013 say you’re a reader and I’ll be happy to discount any item for you!

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Ghiblisgiving: Nausicaa Valley of the Wind

This might come as a surprise to hear, but writing and maintaining a blog (functionally solo – no shade. We’re all busy people) by writing for five days a week is tiring. It makes the process of enjoyment a task and I needed a break but instead crafted a months long project, Ghiblisgiving: a look at all the Stuido Ghibli movies since they’re available to stream on HBO Max. So it’s best to start at the beginning!

Nausicaa: The Valley of the Wind is an incredible first showing for a new studio. It certainly helps that Miyazaki was a veteran director before this point, but even with that experience it is impressive what he and his team could accomplish in one film.

Set 1000 years after the end of modern society the film finds the world plagued by toxic jungles filled with unnatural and mysterious insects while humans have been cordoned off into seperate kingdoms. The film follows Nausicaa, the princess of the Valley of the Wind. When a bug and spore infested airship from a neighboring kingdom crashes into their village, followed quickly by that kingdom invading and killer her father, Nausicaa must set out and explore more of the world to find the truth behind the spores and forest while the other kingdoms seek to use old world technology to burn it all and reclaim their place in the world.

Despite being incredibly dense the film has great pacing. It does throw a few too many concepts and has a couple pieces of throwaway dialogue explanations for some events, but outside of that it manages to pack tons into its two hour run time without it feeling too rushed. The balance of exhilarating action paired with incredibly calm and quite moments, and daring adventure all make it feel totally complete.

It helps that most of the film is from Nausicaa’s perceptive because she is an absolute joy of a main character. She is incredibly reminiscent of what JJ Abrams and the team would do with Rey decades later. A high spirted, resourceful teen with incredible compassion and intuition. She brims with personality from the first scene and just keeps building. It’s even more impressive that her arc is kind of completed in the first act so she spends the rest of the film trying to convince others of her new mindset. Of course it helps that her actress, Alison Lohman, gives her such a range of emotions.

The whole American voice cast is strong. Patrick Stewart makes an appearance as Lord Yupa, a world traveler and skilled fighter with a strong edge, and Uma Thurman gives a good snark to the invading ruler, Kushana. They help bring what could be and kind of are unmemorable characters to life. The biggest surprises are a young Shia LeBeouf and Mark Hamill making an appearance as citizens of another land. They don’t get enough screen time to really shine, but their presence gives them a weight unknown actors couldn’t give.

This is a Ghibli movie so it of course looks amazing. The art direction is incredibly solid, and the small details are nice to see. It is, however, primative compared to what they will be able to do in later films. This can be seen most of all in how simple some of the bigger elements like the airships and giant bugs move. What would be done with more detail later now moves in bigger chunks. It makes them see slower, but doesn’t take away from the heft and feel. This is not to say it’s bad. It’s not at all. But they are shooting to do a lot and have to make some compromises.

A Ghibli film is also not without its messaging, and from the plot description it seems pretty obvious what that message is. Humans need to live in harmony not just with the world around us but with each other. It is more complicated than that and for what American animated features were doing at the time. The idea that there could be multiple factions that are wrong, and that nature reacts to humans and looks out for us more than we think is novel and true without being nearly as heavy handed as things like Ferngully.

This film was clearly a passion project and a jumping off point for many peoples careers. It is a film brimming with life, personality, and a unique visual style. Hard to believe that it can get both up and down from here.

Film Rankings:

1. Nausicaa: The Valley of the Wind

I’m cleaning house and selling some media. If you would like to buy comics, manga, or cards I owned and used follow this link: https://ebay.com/usr/connorfahy1013 say you’re a reader and I’ll be happy to discount any item for you!

If you enjoyed this: like, comment, and follow us here, and on Facebook & Twitter at Tower City Media! Subscribe to our YouTube Channel, Tower City Media and Submit to the suggestion box: TowerCityMedia@gmail.com!

Digging into Maddness (or I finally finished the Soul Eater Manga): my White Whale

Soul Eater, the anime series about scythe miester Maka and her scythe-human hybrid partner Soul and her band of monster hunting friends, was one of my most influential anime series. It’s haunted aesthetic, great fights, animation, and fun characters made a giant impact on my teenage years. It was a series I watched three times in a row back on YouTube when companies would post whole episodes for free in an early streaming attempt. It was a series I loved but learned later was lacking due to wrapping up with an anime-original conclusion. That made me seek out the manga to find the truth only to be confronted with an insanely accurate adaption. This shocked stall made me sit on the manga, stuck at vol 9, always wondering what the future was like. What was different? How did it change what I thought was a pretty solid ending. After more than a decade of wondering I finally found out… and it’s amazing.

It feels important to say that I never felt unsatisfied watching Soul Eater. Despite, now clearly, only hinting at much more interesting ideas and story concepts, they all felt beyond the bounds of our characters. Kind of what Hunter x Hunter does, but unintentionally. Sure, Maka and the rest grow and change. Maka, the daughter of a human and a weapon, awakening both sides of her parentage to help win the day, is crucial to the series. But so is Black Star and Kid’s arc, though they are basically deeply compressed versions of what the manga does. My point is that the anime was so set and focused around the core team and their missions that all the expanded lore felt like just that. Lore. Not important or necessary, just flavor text. Unfortunately it will be hard to go back to the series knowing so much of what I know.

The odd thing is that even with this expanded information the broad strokes of what the anime covers and what the manga explores feels relatively small on the larger plot. Both series are consistent until Crona, non-binary (I assume. They call them a he, but has always clearly been non-binary. Though that does lead to… you know what, they’ll get their own section) child to the witch Medusa, turns on the DWMA and corrupts Stein further before leaving. In the anime they turn themselves in near immediately while in the manga they split and then a DWMA investigator, JB, is killed when he gets too close to the truth. In that divergent point it feels like more should happen, and it does in the details but not the broad strokes.

In the broad strokes, the DWMA take on Arachnophobe by attacking their castle, then end up having a final battle with the Kishin, master of Madness. In that fight Death the Kid unlocks his full potential, along with Black Star getting to go all out. Finally, Maka has a realization and beats the Kishin. That describes both series pretty well. It seems like Ohkuba gave his rough sketch for the rest of the series and Bones did what they could. Except for all the specifics (so that’s what the book of Eibon is, and I finally get to see Kilik do stuff!) and important character beats that surround the series main idea: order vs madness.

Every character arc revolves around the idea of order: the modern systems, perfection, symmetry, and balance; versus the discordant, erratic, and isolating nature of madness (and paranoia). If this were a longer form piece (like a whole book on this series) I would dig into every character, but even just a cursory look at our lead Maka and Soul prove the point. Maka, the bookish and strong willed meister has deepseated issues when it comes to her father cheating and mother getting a divorce (the fact we don’t see the mother at all feels like a mistake in both). She is compassionate, but scared of being weak. She is physically the weakest of the group and through her struggles must realize that it’s okay not be strong because you have others around. In her worst moments she feels useless and has nothing to contribute but when paired with Soul she has power. Meanwhile Soul, the too cool for school musician, has his own fears and madness about not being good enough. He comes from a line of musicians and chose to run away instead of face that linage. To prove his path a different way. But with Maka he learns his music doesn’t have to measure up as long as it reaches people.

This same examination can be done for Kid and Black Star. Kid, a symmetry obsessed grim reaper jr, must learn how to find balance in the imbalance. He is interesting to compare to Black Star because of how similar their arcs are. Black Star, often disparagingly called a Naruto Clone (which he is not. Naruto is brash and loud in hopes he gets himself to believe it. Black Star does believe it and wants the world to see) wants to be the strongest person around and will go to every length in order to achieve that goal. In both cases they give into madness and must be snapped back into seeing rationally. They both have more supportive and stable weapons. Kid using twin guns Liz and Patty, while Black has the multi-tool Tsubaki.

I might be more of a story guy, but even outside of that, if you come purely for the action, the series has that too. Though not as intricate as the anime, the manga is incredibly dynamic and readable (like the action is not the story). The choreography is stellar. Every fight feels fair and well planned out. The multiple page fight scenes flow so well. With panel work that gives enough detail to give a picture in your mind while also having enough connecting tissue to form a bigger fight. The moments of more classic “anime” style fights with overblown powers that come out of nowhere never impact the current battle to feel cheap. They often come out of character revelations and declarations. The big power surges also aren’t how they win. Instead they often give the edge enough to either talk down the foe to an extent, or use another method of magic in order to win. It never relies on pure power to win but soul (pun kind of intended). This doesn’t mean there aren’t epic as hell moments that makes me sad the anime never got to adapt.

It is hard to deny that the manga isn’t a better story. It’s themes and characters are even more fleshed out, along with an even more intriquet world and setting. But if I were to say there is one character failed by the series it is Crona.

Crona, description given above, was the character I never liked the most but did feel the most attachment too. They were always nervous, unsure what to do in most situations, and was terribly awkward. This came from their incredibly abusive upbringing under Medusa. They literally could not understand others but where able to when Maka finally resonated with their soul. From there the arc is the same, but Crona is made much more redemptive and immediately in the show than manga. In the show they realize how dumb it was to listen to Medusa and go over to the DWMA side and help take down their mother. It might be read as too easy, but you also shouldn’t assume the arc was done. They’re still a teenager with room to grow. Crona in the manga is the long game. Finding Crona and bringing them back is Maka’s main goal for the rest of the series. Unfortunately Crona is not treated nearly as well.

For much of the book they are just absent. Never checked back in with, only mentioned. When they are finally seen they have been so wholly corrupted by Medsua that they’ve become a single minded monster with incredible power and broken psyche. A psyche that gets worse when he ends up killing his mother in the best single chapter or a manga, probably ever. A kid so starved for affection that when they are given some by the person who believed in them only to constantly abuse them that they kill her and decide to try and absorb everything. It makes the possible reading of non-binary problematic by saying they’re monsters. Of course they do come around eventually and act as sort of the soul of humanity realizing what they must do in order to purge madness. That is a unique idea that would have worked better if they were more prominent in the middle chunk of the book.

Though what I often used that time they were absent focusing on was Ohkuba’s growth and maturity as an author. The early parts of the book were incredibly crass. Nudity and sexual innuendo abound. It’s not bad, but felt juvenile. So it was neat to see himself push that from the book or reincorporate those ideas in fresh ways that, by the end, when the old sex-comedy bits return they feel fresh and more mature in a way. The joke was not just about seeing girls naked or touching boobs, but how the characters relationship change to those events. It’s subtle but almost secretly genius.

It is also hard not to want Bones to do a FMA Brotherhood and come back to remake the whole series or adapt the bits they missed. Not just for the fights they could do justice too with even better animation skills, but because music becomes such an integral part of the story that getting to hear what the composer would do with the musical ideas would be a joy to hear and see. It’s a great series that I am glad I finally got to read to completion. But the lingering thought I have is not just how good the book is, but how artistic and bold it feels in comparison to Fire Force. I like what I have read and seen of Fire Force (vol 13 or 14 and the first season), the Fire-demon fighting manga, but it also feels less styalized and bold. Kind of just standard. That could change. He could keep evolving as an artist, but even if it is good it won’t carry the weight this massive series has in my soul.

I’m cleaning house and selling some media. If you would like to buy comics, manga, or cards I owned and used follow this link: https://ebay.com/usr/connorfahy1013 say you’re a reader and I’ll be happy to discount any item for you!

If you enjoyed this: like, comment, and follow us here, and on Facebook & Twitter at Tower City Media! Subscribe to our YouTube Channel, Tower City Media and Submit to the suggestion box: TowerCityMedia@gmail.com!

Basket Full of Heads will Roll (a Comic Review)

Even as specifically horror season ends it is still getting cooler and darker, still spooky. So I figure it’s fine enough reason to finally look at the first in DC Comics and Joe Hill’s Hill House series: Basket Full of Heads.

Joe Hill, the son of horror legend Stephen King, has had his share of smash works that I never got to experience correctly. Locke and Key being the best example. The TV show was lacking and the audio drama, though hypothetically compelling, was neigh unlistenable or understandable at moments. Outside of that his short story collection Strange Weather was full of mostly misses. Yet I am compelled to keep giving him chances. It’s clear he is talented and Basket Full of Heads

Following in the classical Kingian horror tradition of a classic drama turned dark by mystical forces the book follows June, a college student visiting her boyfriend, a deputy intern for a local New England port town. On her visit to help him clean out the house boat he was living on the night takes a dark turn when the worst storm collided with a collection of inmates breaking out of jail. When June is confronted by one of the inmates she goes for the protection of an axe only to find that when the head is removed it keep on ticking. With the help of her decapitated counterparts she will work out what happened to her boyfriend, Liam, and find the true darkness the town was hiding.

The book is incredibly satisfying. That’s not a word I use often in my writing, but that was the final feeling the book left me with. A twist on the revenge-horror trope that positions the creature getting revenge as just a college girl trying to save her man. It’s an incredibly tight narrative. Every person she kills has an interesting story of how they relate to the larger mystery, along with a final twist that feels totally believable and callable.

The art, by Leomacs, works overall but is a little cartoony in places. The worst of it is shown when they try to do a head turning back and forth. It might supposed to look scary, seeing a two headed person, but instead looks silly. It also does not hold a candle to the fantastic, ominous, and dynamic cover art. It gives a much more realistic portrait of what the book is like that the book itself doesn’t totally give.

Though the atmosphere of the covers sells the book it is not really what the book is about. Again, the person in the rain jacket, axe, and basket of heads is a twist on revenge horror entities. The person under that hood isn’t scary and neither are the events that occurre to her. Not in the traditionally horror way. Instead the book is about (take a shot cause this feels like just a theme of works now) systemic horrors. How corruption can spread throughout an idealic looking community. It’s about how greed, power, and fear of losing both causes men to do terrible things to people. Sure it’s not piss your pants scary like a hay ride full of killer clowns with chainsaws (totally not a random example from personal life), but is more realistic and prevalent than we would want to believe. I mean there is a reason why an examination of the police and police procedures have been so hot for such a long time.

This book was a solid start to this line. Sure, more books have come out since and seem interesting, but it’s good to have a strong baseline quality, and that, for my misgivings about Joe Hills work (all little of it I have read), is definitely baseline. It’s got strong ideas, pretty good characters, a good premise, and strong ending. It’s hard to ask for more with such a short series like Baskets Full of Heads.

I’m cleaning house and selling some media. If you would like to buy comics, manga, or cards I owned and used follow this link: https://ebay.com/usr/connorfahy1013 say you’re a reader and I’ll be happy to discount any item for you!

If you enjoyed this: like, comment, and follow us here, and on Facebook & Twitter at Tower City Media! Subscribe to our YouTube Channel, Tower City Media and Submit to the suggestion box: TowerCityMedia@gmail.com!