2012
08.25

For the record, I initially did have some inklings of what could be considered interest in this show. Sadly that interest lasted for two episodes before I dropped it from my to-watch list this anime season. So why am I coming back to it? Well, I’d say it’s because it’s like one of those abusive relationships where I keep coming back to it no matter how badly it treats me, but the answer’s far less interesting. Curse you, AniRev staff for making me keep up with this show!

Exposition via news reporter? A rather simple means to start explaining where this videogame stands in the world it’s setting up. At least it wasn’t as shove-down-your-throat-ey as the Hunger Games announcers in the movie.

Why is anything tech related in anime look like something out of a Murakami animation (doesn’t help that the title card reminds me of another tech-based anime)? Vast white empty spaces have to be considered O.G. by now, right? I mean at least think of something else to find synonymous with technology like—

—hexagons? This is probably at least the third anime I’ve seen within the last two or so years that used hexagons as part of some kind of technological aesthetic. Ano Natsu, Guilty Crown… basically anything with robots or futuristic technology of any sort. I wouldn’t say I mind right now, but gimme another year and I’ll probably throw a Wiimote at the screen the next time I see a hexagon.

So after the briefest of glimpses at the real world, the protagonist straps on his helmet and enters Sword Art Online—a super popular MMO. I’d make some kind of comparison to World of Warcraft or League of Legends or some other game I don’t care about but I honestly wouldn’t even know if my comparison would be accurate or not. Newfangled vidya games are so foreign to me…

Anyways, exposition within the world continues with the protagonist showing the ropes to a newbie player… which I doubt would ever happen in an actual MMO, but then again I wouldn’t know. Pretty basic story-telling setup here a la having a Gus Griswald-type character to give an excuse for explaining things for the viewer. Not the best, but not the worst either.

So after a bromantic exchange of lines, we find that some kind of bug is preventing people from logging out. All other possibilities of escape are periodically marked as impossible by the protagonist. While it does make sense to go through any possible options when in a pickle, this scene started to lean a bit towards Death Note levels of overly explained for the sole purpose to further bringing home the fact that you can’t log out.

Speaking of massive amounts of text, all players are then transported to the same location in-game, where the game developer/god complex guy Akihiko (sadly, not of the senpai variety) bad-guy monologues about how he rigged the lack of a log out option on purpose and how people will die in real life if they die in his world with the only way out being to beat the game. So like Jumanji without Robin Williams and the CG is a slight step up from the mid-90s.

But the real kicker: the players are expected to do that all while looking like their real world counterparts… again further explained with massive amounts of dialogue.

Now I get that this is the first episode and time needs to be given for explanations, especially when it comes to works of fiction, so I’m willing to let it slide. And honestly, I’ve gone through things like Death Note and Bakemonogatari where massive amounts of texts were a staple for the show, and I actually enjoyed them for the most part. Really, it’s more the fact that I lost interest in the show halfway through episode two that’s the real kicker.

Episode one, though: solid enough. And with a list second plot twist, too. Hopefully my attention span will remain consistent enough through the rest of this series.

2012
08.08

 

With every new season of television comes the promise of fresh experiences, traditional elements, modern designs, and of course totally terrible television. As any fan of animation is aware, the industry is not doing all too hot currently. Not to say there are not good shows being made, but the industry as a whole is not one of a healthy outlook, respect for tradition, new ideas, nor consistency. It just operates on the 1980s mentality of “Kids will watch anything” with similar toy tie-ins and similarly cliched characters only with a winking nod to the audience to add just that little edge of irrelevance to make it hip with the cool kids, (or is it “cool with the hip kids”? See, I can write modern comedy, too!) but still telling the same tired jokes based on sitcom situations and character designs that everyone has seen in the show that was on half an hour prior.

But it isn’t all doom and gloom. Every once in a while, you will get a new show that comes around with enormous potential but more often than not, it gets sucked into the same tired pattern of most anything else on Nickelodeon or the Disney Channel. Why do I say this? Similar fresh looking shows like Chowder or Phineas & Ferb start off with the promise of something different to the endless barrage of sitcom-style cartoons based on normal situations simply exaggerated to cartoon proportions (Which is what a sitcom actually is by the way… talk about redundancy), but after a promising start fall into two camps highlighted by similar shows in the styles “Fairly OddParents” and “Spongebob Squarepants”.

The first is by far the most grating and tired, the “Loud” humor of characters yelling every line as if it is the funniest thing ever uttered by human mouth with nonsensical plots based on characters doing something mean-spirited to others for cheap laughs. While shows used this formula before it, I don’t think there is a show that embodies these tired gimmicks more than long-running dog, “Fairly OddParents”. Empty characters with empty jokes based on said characters mauling each other is not what any would consider enjoyable to watch. You could probably try to paint this as being similar to the Looney Tunes, but you’d be severely underestimating both the characters and the extremely clever writing that went into said show.

The second style, embodied by “Spongebob Squarepants”, is the formula. What starts off as a promising new show with a fresh approach is eventually quashed by milking the same formula and jokes while adding nothing new as the soup spoils. Yes, there are many episodic shows out there, but few follow the same formula for almost every episode like Spongebob ended up doing. A better modern example of this would be Phineas & Ferb where literally the same thing happens in every episode and jokes are even made about that fact. But because they joke about it, it is seemingly immune to criticism, it seems.

 

So what does this have to do with Gravity Falls, the newest animated comedy from Disney? Well… Truth be told, because it is in a very delicate position right now. While being fresh and creative, it can very easily fall into the traps mentioned above without not even much effort needed to do so. But first a little information on the show.

Gravity Falls is about a pair of twins named Dipper and Mabel Pines who move in with their Great Uncle Stan in the distinctly Canadian (but apparently American) town of Gravity Falls where the unexplained happens on a daily basis. It’s an easy set up, and the characters are pretty distinct. Dipper is the plucky hero, a boy with more guts than brains or muscle (which helps him out of quite a few jams) and most of the stories focus on his exploration of the mysterious town. His sister, Mabel, is probably the show’s breakout character, being a weird and ditzy girl who is as positive as she is at trying to be helpful to her brother. The supporting characters, for the most part, are pretty well fleshed out and have good chemistry with each other and the slight horror and thriller bent the plots can take up are always well executed and the highlights of said episodes.

 

Despite the foundation, the execution is where the show is currently facing the most problems. Plot-wise, the show has been a mixed bag of sitcom cliches and genuine creative fun with episodes wasted on “Becoming a man”, and “Dating issues” which heavily downplay the supernatural bent of the series and in the process severely undercutting what makes it unique from everything else currently on. To be fair, there have been more episodes about the paranormal but such episodes demonstrate a worrying sign that the show might drift further in such an uninspiring direction. Plot aside, characters also can fall into a similar trap. Great Uncle Stan is already the most stock and boring character on the show being the typical greedy old man and recycling Krusty the Clown jokes from over twenty years ago, and the plot always suffers for focusing on him. Not to say he doesn’t have any funny moments, but his scenes are always by far the most predictable and continues the trend of “unlike-ability” in other shows mentioned before. His side of the plot is usually the worst aspect of any episode so far shown.

The show’s humor is also currently in a state of flux. This is understandable of course, it’s new and trying to find its legs, but there have been a few serious errors in consistent humor. For one, there are pandering jokes to the lowest common denominator clearly intended for internet video fodder that tend to jar with the show’s general tone in an attempt for mainstream acceptance. This show doesn’t need to pander, when it’s focused it can be really good and there are plenty of other lesser shows that already do pander filling that niche well enough. Other times the show doesn’t know if it wants to focus on verbal humor or physical slapstick humor so it tries both, however both styles only really work on the show when used with the paranormal bent that the show doesn’t always use enough of which leads to more than a few jarring moments.

The biggest worry is the worry of waste. Much like Chowder flushed away a lot of potential with it’s horrific second season, Gravity Falls wasted the debut of Lil Gideon, a short, plump, and adorably violent psychic voiced by Thurop Van Orman, and his father voiced by the masterful Stephen Root on the cookie-cutter plot of Mandark wanting to date Dexter’s sister and Dexter not… Oh yeah, wrong show. You get my point, though. The character was funny and fit in perfectly with the weird world of Gravity Falls, but the plot didn’t do anything with him. This is something to wonder about.

So in the end you might be wondering if Gravity Falls is good or not based on this strange review. Make no mistake, it is absolutely worth watching. This review mainly wants to serve as a warning to this great new show in an attempt to warn it from traveling down the path no one wants to see it go, and where most of the terrible animation today sits. Because while this could easily be the next Dexter’s Laboratory or Rocko’s Modern Life for Disney, it could also just as easily become the next Chowder or Camp Lazlo, wasted potential, lack of effort and soul, and forgotten just as quickly as it was made. It’s almost as if the current state of the animation industry wants this show to be bad, but it’s fighting back hard to be what it wants to be, and I for one hopes it continues to fight and not give in. For those interested in easily the best new animated show this season, you can definitely not go wrong checking this out.