Reviewing When Marnie Was There

I’ve been meaning to post this for quite a while, actually, but I’ve never been in the right frame of mind for it. Now? Yeah, it’ll do. Doesn’t mean I’ll be able to get to the end of this without some emotional response though…

So, a while back, I posted a list of my favourite animated movies, and whilst for the most part that list does still hold up, I have to say, if I had seen this movie back then, it would have definitely been on there. Not quite sure where, but definitely near the top. Studio Ghibli has long been associated with quality animated movies, and even with the very real possibility that this is their final gift, what a gift to leave on!

Based actually on an English novel by Joan G. Robinson, this film tells the story of a young girl named Anna, who’s artistic, highly introverted, suffers from asthma and lives with a foster family who worry about connecting with her, and her connecting with other people. Truth be told, Anna suffers from a degree of self-loathing. But when a doctor suggests to her foster mother that she get away from the bustle of a city life, she agrees, and sends Anna to live with her sister and brother-in-law in a seaside town near Sapporo for the summer. Although initially about as disconnected as before, including upsetting some of the locals, Anna discovers an apparently abandoned mansion across a marsh, but occasionally sees lights on there too. One night, she discovers a girl her age living there, a girl named Marnie, who’s full of unbridled openness and friendliness towards Anna, and the two of them pick up a very dependable and close friendship, which is very open to interpretation in the way they act, particularly at how Marnie jovially declares Anna to be her ‘precious secret.’ It eventually becomes clear however, that Marnie is incredibly elusive. Occasionally, Anna will find the mansion completely derelict, despite being very full of life when Marnie’s there. It’s obvious that there’s more to Marnie than meets the eye, but given the insight Anna’s had to Marnie’s life in that mansion, one rather isolated and full of neglect, leads to her resolving to help Marnie however she can, no matter who she is, where she came from, or even if she’s even real…

Perhaps what makes this movie stand out to me more than the other Ghibli ones I’ve seen is how this has much more of a story to it than something like Kiki or Spirited Away, which may have something to do with it being a novel first. Kiki is just a slice of life movie, and whilst Spirited Away had a goal accomplished at the end of it, it’s still mostly focused on Chihiro’s interactions in a strange environment. Both these things work fantastically for the movies, but as someone very interested in narrative, this just caught my attention more. I felt like there wasn’t a single thing I could miss about it. Marnie’s introduction gave me all kinds of questions, and continued to intrigue me as the movie played out. Having to know an ending is a true sign of an engaging film. The characters are also fantastic, both the supporting and the main – perhaps Anna’s just all the more relatable to me, particularly how she talks about an ‘invisible magic circle’ in the world, representing social interactions, and how she is on the outside. The emotions Anna runs through throughout the flick is actually reminiscent to what I often go through. See, I told you it would be emotional for me to go through this…but anyway…

The way these two characters work off each other is incredible. There’s a scene where they have a long conversation about their feelings which doesn’t feel heavy-handed or forced or in any way boring…I mean, I love characters talking about their feelings, but this does it all the better with scene transitions relating to what they’re saying, and as it’s Studio Ghibli, you know the backgrounds are just going to be gorgeous-looking. This film is, and it knows it. Just the shots of the marsh, the town, the water, they’re all so beautifully drawn, and despite being hand-drawn, just look and feel so real. It translates well into the pacing of the movie too, as even though the story is plot-driven, they sometimes just allow you to experience the atmosphere of the place, and it really works. The eponymous Marnie isn’t actually introduced until about half an hour in, allowing for you to feel as Anna does, just the way this little town works. There’s a scene with Anna walking home at sunset, and she passes a cyclist as she turns a corner. Why was this detail included? I don’t know, remove it and the story would still be complete, but it’s just such a nice detail. I can’t explain it. It’s just wonderful.

For all my gushing about this movie, you might wonder if it has any flaws. Well, yes, I’d say it did – but it’s difficult to talk about them without going into spoiler territory. I will do my best though.

By the end of the film, you are given an answer as to Marnie’s identity. It certainly fits, although on reflection, the explanation does raise a few questions which might distract a keen viewer, particularly about the nature of Anna and Marnie’s relationship as shown, and the possibilities of Anna’s role in all of this. Again, difficult to word without giving anything a way, but I imagine it could give some audiences a less than resolved feeling by the end. It did in my case when I first watched, but upon re-watching it recently, most of that vanished, because in all honesty, the vagueness presented to you didn’t change the strength of the relationship that we had seen develop throughout the story, nor the strength of Anna’s character development. It does end on a distinctly positive note, so it’s not as if these characters we’ve grown to care about are robbed of a happy ending. It’s just perhaps not as robust to analyst as some others might be. Sure, it raises a few questions, but it solves the major ones and does wonders for your emotions as you do so. Ultimately, these flaws are minor and don’t dent it by much of a margin.

I highly recommend this movie to anyone, even more so for fans of anime and/or hand-drawn animation. It’s emotional, it’s engaging, it’s beautiful to look at, it’s beautiful to listen to, I’ve gone on about it long enough, so go and see it if you haven’t already.


Top 10 Hottest Animated Women

Alright! So, I wanted to do another list. And I thought to myself, as it’s been one of those weeks, I want to do something nice and laid-back. So…10 hottest animated women it is.

What? I can have guilty pleasures can’t I? And I guess the guilt in the matter comes from entertainment geeks like me finding themselves so deeply into series that they find themselves hankering after fictional characters, and then considering the possibility of mental help because we have cognitive dissonance about reality.

As I am a committed feminist, I’m trying to avoid any kind of objectification here, although with women that aren’t real I don’t think that matters as much…furthermore, the merits I will consider for the women that have made it onto this list aren’t just based on looks (though they do help) but the personalities that draw me. It’s interesting to consider, I think, the creator’s intentions behind these characters and whether viewers were meant to be attracted to them or whether it’s just incidental. Which, quite frankly, says a lot about both the viewer and the creator. I’ve also decided to do strictly animated characters as live-acted characters run the risk of having me just attracted to the actress rather than the character they’re playing – in that way, any character played by Chloe Grace Moretz is always a winner. :O

So, without further ado, let me introduce my top 10 ranking hottest animated women….!!! This is going to be very revealing…


#10) Sena Kashiwazaki

NikuOn the offset, she might seem a pretty obvious choice, but there’s more to Sena that just being a blonde, big-bosomed unsubtle bisexual with a cute little fang visible when she’s excited. As I mentioned in my Haganai review, Sena is a nice little deconstruction of the typical popular girl trope in that she’s fed up of being treated superficially by her peers and wants some real friends for a change. Unfortunately she’s far too used to her social status and her attitude presents a rather obvious lack of social tact. This is a hell of a lot of fun to watch but also becomes charming when you recognise her optimism and her gradual shift to humility. In the Haganai review, I also stated Rika was my favourite character, but she strikes me more as the best friend type than anything else. Sena, on the other hand, is the perfect romantic foil for Kodaka, our protagonist, and with this in mind on top of the other traits you notice immediately, I think Sena definitely deserves her place on this list.


 #9) Esmeralda
(The Hunchback of Notre Dame)

She’s the one who gave Claude Frollo the unholy boner, and you can see why. I’ve always had a thing for this particular skin-tone, and, well, as far as intention goes, obviously she was meant to be drawn as realistically alluring to two of the heroes and the villain. But that’s not the only reason to like her – she’s gutsy, she’s resourceful, and she doesn’t take the crap she has to deal with lightly. Frollo, with her tied to the stake, offers her freedom in exchange for sex. She responds by spitting in his face. Brilliant. Add to that a fantastic singing voice highlighting an incredible selflessness, and you too will be singing into your fireplace, having sexy hallucinations and wondering whether your images and fantasies of her will earn you a spot in hell for unstable perverts. Not that that’s happened to me…



#8) Leone
(Akame Ga Kill!)

Akame Ga Kill is one those shows that you can never be sure who they’re going to kill off next, and all the time I was pleading with the show that they wouldn’t kill off Leone. It’s weird, because I’m certainly not a furry, and whilst Leone is hardly an anthropomorphic animal (those paws and ears are actually just temporary extensions of her powers) she certainly has something animalistic about her, and in a series so full of vibrant, colourful characters, this was very clearly intentional. So, is it her animal-like nature I find so alluring, coupled with the slightly more feral habit of barely wearing anything on the top half of her body, exposing both impressive cleavage and a sexy abdomen? Or is it her personality, terribly gutsy and very forward in her dealings with the opposite sex (hell, the same sex sometimes as well)? It’s probably a combination of the two. To put it shortly, I’d definitely want this girl in my house…she can keep my cat company.


#7) Hinata Hyūga
(Naruto franchise)

In no uncertain terms, Hinata is my favourite character of the highly popular Naruto franchise, and it strikes me as interesting that her creator’s liking of her slowly seemed to grow, until he eventually succumbed to the only logical conclusion and her marry her long-time love interest, the eponymous protagonist himself!
Due to the timeskip the series has, Hinata is given plenty of time to develop. In the original series, she was immensley shy, obstructively selfless, but still overly loveable and cute. Post timeskip, and she’s still just as selfless, but getting over her shyness, utterly driven, and sexy…like, REALLY sexy…
Still one of the best scenes in the entire show is when Naruto, having been finally shut up by the motive reveal of one of the classiest antagonists ever, has Hinata rush to defend him, confess her love before nearly dying. It still brings a lump to my throat every time I think about it and her conclusion was well worth waiting for.



#6) Rapunzel

Admitting your attractions to animated characters is bad enough, but it’s when such things get distracting when you’re trying to watch a more family friendly film. The because lure of Tangled, was, for me, Rapunzel herself. Her wide-eyed curious nature is basic enough, but I get the feeling the animators were really pouring a lot into her design. Nobody had done a Disney-style fairy tail in CG-animation before, they obviously needed to make sure their lead was wonderfully pristine, down to beautiful detail on her famous hair to her adorable little overbite.
Now, as I am a Frozen fan, and in fact a much bigger lover of Frozen than Tangled, it’s easy to wonder why I didn’t put Elsa or Anna on this list. It’s true – Elsa and Anna are both beautiful, they have good relationship, and have personalities that compliment each other perfectly, and I doubt I’ll get tired of Anna’s antics of Elsa’s ice powers. But…Rapunzel perpetually foregoes shoes, and on this list, that automatically gives you about twenty points. Sorry ice sisters. It’s nothing personal.
Wow, this is even more awkward than before. I think I need to go and think about what I’ve done…


#5) Kurumi Tokisaki
(Date A Live)

Oh, well now…
Being the insane, psychotic slightly yandere banshee of a harem series, there is absolutely no way Kurumi’s hotness was unintentional, which makes me feel a little bit better.
Known as Nightmare, she is the only spirit observed that actually seems genuinely malevolent, rather than just a victim of unfortunate circumstances. With time and space manipulating abilities, her goal is Shido, the protagonist who is attempting to neutralize and save spirits by dating them. She wants not only his abilities, but clearly his body too, and it’s that kind of deliberate entertaining factor which makes us love Kurumi so much. Perhaps a highly dangerous girlfriend, but certainly an attentive one…



#4) Minene Uryu
(Future Diary)

OK, so this one’s potentially dangerous too, what with being a free-lance terrorist, but…I don’t care…
First introduced as an opponent to our protagonists in the survival game, Minene (or the 9th) quickly became one of the more important characters. We got to see her have plenty of development, more than most of the other diary users, and I loved virtually every minute of it. It didn’t bother me than she lost her eye and then later one of her hands. It didn’t bother me that she’d sooner kill me than much else. She just radiated hotness! Not only does she look inexplicably gorgeous, but she is, once again, a character that doesn’t care what the world hands her, because has always resolved to fight back. It’s only when she realises she has a conscience that the strain of what the world hands her returns.
On top of that, she’s a COSPLAYING terrorist, which, let’s be honest, would be a pretty cool way to go. It now seems blindly obvious why she was stripped almost naked when captured by the 12th…



#3) Erza Scarlet
(Fairy Tail)

Also known as Titania, the queen of the fairies, Erza has certainly lived up to her reputation. The men want her, the women want her, she’s just reputable in her badassery, her leadership, her love for strawberry cake and her wonderful array of armour and outfits. Erza is by far my favourite character in the series, and her backstory didn’t disappoint either. So far in my viewing of the series, it’s probably the darkest step the story took, and I loved it for that. Not much else to say on the matter. If you don’t like her…then, well, more for the rest of us. I have a poster of her on my wall too…



#2) Tenten
(Naruto franchise)

Even though Hinata is my favourite Hinata character, Tenten, for me, is the finest girlfriend material. Despite being listed as a ‘main supporting character’ Tenten gets so little screentime it’s insulting, despite her being Kishimoto’s favourite character to draw. Well, I can certainly see why…
Unlike most of the girls in other teams, I like how Tenten’s main fixation doesn’t seem to be romance. She’s sick of all the double standards against kunoichi in this world (which although aren’t explicitly stated, are quite evident) and maintains a headstrong outlook in order to become a great ninja. It’s just a shame such potential for character development was sidelined as much as it was, and so we have to rely on fillers and our own imagination to decide what this gorgeous weapon’s mistress did in her spare time.
I’m imagining it quite vividly…



#1) Lucy Heartfilia
(Fairy Tail)

One has to wonder as to why Hiro Mashima didn’t get a prize for Most Attractive Drawing when he was designing this character. One of the main protagonists of the show, I was drawn to Lucy the second she appeared. And…I really was. Damn…
I think the real appeal of this character comes from the fact that she seems to fit into any kind of fanservice you want. Not only does she have an unlimited choice of costumes, but the kind of situations and clothing damage she’s susceptible too throughout the series seem only just slightly over the top. Not too much so it’s still believable, but just enough so you notice the character seems to have been retconned into a fanservice character. Which she does EXTREMELY well.
This isn’t to say Lucy doesn’t have a character – she shares the heart and drive of the other members of Fairy Tail and has a compassionate side despite her attention deficit and a little too much focus on the glam. Even for all it’s plot repetition and slightly bizarre situations, Fairy Tail does at least promise to have something worth coming back to…ahem…


So, there was the list, I’m sure you found it incredibly awkward and now think I’m some of freak. Well…join the queue. Obviously I should probably seek help for fantasizing about relationships with fictional characters, but if you share similar sentiments to me, let me know which animated characters you find attractive. It’s a way of growing that’s harmless. I think.

All images belong to their respective owners.










Anime Analysis – Puella Magi Madoka Magica

At some point, I will return to blogging about other things, if any fresh ideas come in (hint hint, suggest things to me!), but before then I thought around now, with the sweet soundtrack playing in my ears, was the right time to do another Anime Analysis.

For years, I have said Naruto was my favourite anime series, because it was one of the first I watched, because I had immersed myself in it’s fandom and continued to watch it episode after episode. I still love the series, but it’s crown of being my absolute favourite anime series has finally be usurped by this gem – Puella Magi Madoka Magica. Why? Because virtually everything about it is done PERFECTLY. The main characters are perfect, the villain is perfect, the pacing is perfect, the emotional impact is perfect, the music is perfect, even some of the visuals are so trippy and beautifully artistic, it’s just insane how brilliantly good they’ve been designed.

A lot of people have come out to praise this series, but I don’t many who would say this is their all-time favourite. Well, here’s one now – I don’t doubt that the series isn’t without it’s flaws, but I will address that later, along with everything else. I will try to keep this as spoiler-free as possible for those who haven’t seen the series, but for those who have, we can discuss the finer points privately. For now, I’ll just sum up, as spoiler-free as I can, what the series is about.

It stars a cheerful, highly friendly middle-school girl named Madoka Kaname, who lives an ordinary, happy life with her parents, little brother and school-friends. One day, Madoka’s class gets a new transfer student, a mysterious, soft-spoken dark-haired girl named Homura Akemi, who Madoka vaguely recognises from a dream she once had. Homura gives Madoka a dire sounding message concerning the life Madoka leads and how she should hold onto it, but is otherwise a mystery to both Madoka and her friends. Soon after, Madoka and her best friend Sayaka Miki find themselves inside an incredibly trippy Burton-esque environment, only to be saved from it by an older girl in their school named Mami Tomoe and a weird, small, white furry creature called Kyubey. They seem to be very chirper and friendly, but Homura seems to have a strange antipathy towards them. Kyubey reveals he wants Madoka and Sayaka to become what Mami and Homura are – magical girls! Although through these girls perspectives, we soon learn that being a magical girl is not quite all the glammer it first seems…

I have to admit I never saw a magical girl series before this one, although I was familiar with titles such as Sailor Moon, Tokyo Mew Mew and Cardcaptor Sakura, and had seen clips and pictures from them. The obvious girly and overly cutesy nature of the design was, and still is immediately apparent, and this is the kind of impression Madoka Magica is also supposed to give. I won’t give away too much, but what the plot does with the magical girl genre is so beautiful and terrible that it just needs to be watched to truly experience. I should point out that the type of magical girls in this story are the magical girl warrior types, rather than idol singers – and the enemies fought in the story are the previously mentioned Burton-esque type Eldritch Abominations, known as witches, which are absolute pools of creative and wacky design every time they appear.

And the way the story unfolds is amazing too – it starts of quite light and cheerful before going in a different direction, but none of how it happens feels unnatural in the slightest. I mentioned earlier how perfectly paced this story is, and I think part of that is to do that this was originally an anime – many other anime series were originally manga, or light novels or video games etc, but this was made to be an anime of 12 episodes and so the breaks in the story for each episode, complete with cliffhangers are done extremely naturally and well, leaving you in just the right spot to ensure you come back for more. One of the main reasons I have to tread carefully in this review is that the plot keeps giving and has several of what are known as Wham Episodes. This essentially means that there are several episodes in the series that change your entire perspective and mean that nothing after them is ever the same. Prime examples of the Wham Episodes are episode 3, episode 6 and episode 8, although opinion may depend on whether or not there are more. Another advantage to the fact that this was originally an anime is something I already mentioned. Not only is the animation on the characters fantastically done, with beautiful shots of the city they live in, but the designs of the witches are so horrific, and yet so unbelievable to look at, that the way they’re drawn and animated will stay with you forever.

And in this series, they are far from the only things.

The character design and development is yet another brilliant thing about this series – no character is wasted, every single one introduced plays a key and memorable part in the series, and I find it impossible to dislike any of them.
One of the key themes in this series (trust me, you will find plenty more) is the idea of what you want, how much you are willing to get it, and whether getting it is even the right thing. Kyubey makes girls become magical girl warriors in exchange for a wish – his ability to grant wishes appears to be fairly expansive, and so each of the characters have a particular thing they wanted that they got in exchange for gaining magical powers. How well these wishes served them are key parts to the storyline and character arcs, and you can draw your own conclusions about them in fun and thought-provoking ways. To give you an example, I’ll discuss the one who has this theme most clearly set out to them in their character arc – Sayaka Miki.


(Oh, she looks so happy here, doesn’t she? Yes, this is the kind of series we’re dealing with…)

I’ve already stated I virtually love every character in this show, but my favourite is undoubtedly Sayaka. Madoka’s closest friend, she is in many ways quite different to Madoka – whereas Madoka is meek, gentle, overly generous and very polite, Sayaka is headstrong, unbelievably stubborn, and whilst she has a strong sense of justice, she also has a warped view of the gap between what is right and wrong. She looks down upon magical girls such as Homura and a later introduction called Kyoko Sakura who are, in her eyes, too pragmatic. She refuses to associate with them, until Kyoko points out that she used to think much the same way Sayaka did, and that her wish, which was for another person, carried the same weaknesses that Sayaka’s did – she couldn’t rely on other people to be grateful for what she did, and nor could she let go of that, ultimately, what she wants may have come first, after all. Sayaka, who used her wish to heal a irreversibly injured childhood friend, dismisses this at first, claiming that she would never regret her actions, until she comes to realise that she’s not entirely above being selfish herself when unforseen consequences of her wish come to light – I won’t give away any more, but let’s just say, it’s beautifully and heart-wrenchingly done. I was moved to tears upon re-watching it recently, and I doubt that trend will vanish as I continue to do so.

The series does, in a way, have a villain, and I won’t give away their identity, although it will become more obvious as you watch on, as you grow increasingly disgusted with them. The way you’re meant to hate them, is, again, done absolutely expertly, and yet at the same time, you do understand their motivations, and the way they are written is done in a believable and almost a kind of defend-able way, although this is not something you’ll be prepared to do as you’ll be breaking your heart over what’s happening to all the other characters, including a belated backstory in episode 10 which will cause everything to make a beautiful and tragic sense.

The music? I really don’t know what to say. The entire soundtrack is filled with absolutely fantastic pieces of music, both personal themes, opening and closing themes and a lot more. Showing you all of them would hardly take less time than you just watching the entire series and experiencing them for yourself, so I’ll just share one gem – Decretum, Sayaka’s theme.

It’s very hard for me to think of anything wrong with this series, but I’ll suppose I’ll try and be as impartial as I can. Quite a few people dislike Madoka’s character, and on the one hand, I do see where they’re coming from. Madoka is a fairly typical protagonist, a cheerful, happy-go-lucky girl who’s also a little ditzy and occasionally naively pure-hearted. But I still like her, and more importantly, she is the perfect kind of character to have as the point-of-view character for this series, because it’s such a transformation to see her go from as cheerful as she is to absolutely horrified and broken by the trauma. Yes, I’m a bastard.

Another point I think is, although much of the applied magic and lore that goes on in this series is explained (Kyubey is our main exposition character) there are definitely some areas that are left a little vague. It’s quite understandable if you’re left after finishing the series with more than a few questions about why exactly everything went on: ‘Hang on, why etc, how come etc.’ But for me, this never caused too big a problem, as hey, you only have 12 episodes, and in those 12 episodes, the focus is where it should be, on the characters and storyline, not the few details. In fact, I’m still surprised they managed to accomplish as much exposition as they did without taking focus away. Applying thought to they way things could work, you’re bound to come up with a few potentially workable solutions, which is always fun. Another point is the ending – I will admit it’s not the strongest, because it leaves you, again, probably with a few questions, but the Rebellions movie (which I mentioned in my favourite animated movies list), which is a follow-up to the series, does clear up a few of the points you may be left with. The movie has a controversial ending too, but I personally like it, and I’m willing to explain my reasons to someone who has seen both the series and the movie.

Another point raised at one point was the fact that the opening theme of the series, whilst good, doesn’t match the increasingly dark tone of the show, unlike the ending theme, that changes accordingly. This much is true, but it’s really scraping the barrel of things to nitpick, and why? Because everything in this series works fantastically, and I will continue to hold by it and jealously defend it.

In conclusion, this series is wonderfully, spell-bindingly, unrelentingly, uncomparatively, tear-jerkingly and beautifully amazing, reminding us amidst the tragedy that hope can still be founds in times of despair. I highly doubt it’ll shift it’s position from the top of my list any time soon. If you haven’t seen it yet, THEN DO. IT’S ONLY 12 EPISODES, IT’S MORE THAN WORTH YOUR TIME, DAMN IT!!! If you have seen it, go and watch it again, because every time I do, it just keeps getting better.

Just one more thing to add to it’s list of merits – although it isn’t technically a yuri series ( a series about girl-girl romance), it might as well be, the undertones are so strong. And as the main picture of my blog might tell you, I am a die-hard shipper of Sayaka Miki and Kyoko Sakura.


And if this doesn’t persuade you it’s a series worth watching, then nothing will!

Seriously, I can’t recommend it enough. I wish I could somehow do it justice, and the only way I can imagine doing so is to watch it all over again. Send this to your friends, like and comment and give me an idea of what to post next. I don’t know when I’ll post something again, but hopefully I’ll see you soon!

All images belong to their respective owners. 


Anime Analysis – Haganai


It’s like a reunion party.

Yeah, OK, so it’s been quite a while since my last blog post. I’ve been busy. Lol, brilliant joke that, I should be busy with all my work, but you tend to care less about things that matter when you get the feeling you don’t matter…

Sorry, this kind of thing settles in during the holidays, when I discover all of my friends actually have lives and they’re busy doing all this cool stuff whilst I’m just willing away the time and trying to stop my cat coming into my room, which is more difficult than it sounds, because she’s very stubborn.

Anyway, I was going to write a little piece about shipping in the fandom communities, but my mind’s not nearly together enough to write something like that at the moment. So, instead, I thought I’d do another anime review, this time of a little show that I like to call Haganai. Why do I like to call it Haganai? Because it’s less of a mouthful than Boku wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai, which is it’s full name. Trust me, I’m not the only one.

Haganai is a harem anime based off of a light novel. Now, I can imagine that’s already ringing faint alarm bells. For those not in the know, a harem series is basically a set-up with a main male character who’s surrounded, either romantically or in any other way, by a whole load of attractive girls. They will all want him at various stages. There’s also reverse harem, which has the genders flipped. Now, obviously this kind of set-up is there for one purpose only – fanservice and wish fulfilment. OK, that’s two purposes, but if  you really care that much, come over to my house and we’ll have cake.

A lot of people in the anime community see harem series as largely glorified porn without anything resembling a decent storyline, and who can blame them? I certainly thought this way when I started discovering various harem series and was bitterly disappointed about how uncaring the writer seemed to be. But I get the feeling that my experience in harem anime was ruined beforehand by Haganai – after seeing that particular harem anime, nothing I saw since then measured up to it.

Haganai may be a harem anime, but honestly, I really love it, it’s one of my favourites. That is a personal preference though, to be very straightforward, I can see why some people may be put off. It is still, as I keep on reiterating, a harem anime, and an ecchi one at that. Whilst there is a lot to recommend in terms of story and character, you will find that the common harem tropes, including the less desirable ones, keep on creeping back in.
Oh Lord, we’ll get to that in a minute…

No, let’s start with the story as it is.

A new transfer student to St. Chronica’s high school, Kodaka Hasegawa, hasn’t made a single friend in the month he’s been there. Why? Well, the blond hair he inherited from his late English mother makes him look, in the eyes of all the other students, a delinquent. And a miscommunication on his first day has cemented the image of him as a thug. One day, he finds a classmate of his, Yozora Mikazuki, chatting animatedly and cheerfully to an apparently empty room, which surprises him, as she is normally very sullen-looking. Yozora seems shocked to see him enter the room and is quick to defend her actions – she claims she was talking to Tomo, her best friend ever – who’s made of air.

As the two discuss the role of friendships, Kodaka quickly learns that Yozora has no friends either, but something they discuss gives Yozora an idea – soon enough, she announces to him that she’s founded a club known as the Neighbour’s Club, the purpose of which is to allow people to make friends and practice social events with said friends. Eventually the club begins to fill with a whole range of misfits, including Sena, a ridiculously hot, popular rich girl who’s fed up of being ogled and wants real friends for a change, Yukimura, a very feminine-looking boy (or so he says…) who looks up to Kodaka as the epitome of masculinity, Rika, a sex-obsessed reclusive teen genius who speaks in the third person, Kobato, Kodaka’s 13-year-old sister obsessed with vampires (whom Sena has a really creepy thing for…) and Maria, the club advisor, a religious sister of the school who Yozora finds very easy to manipulate considering she’s only 10 years old. Although a lot of episodes are just focused on the activities of the club, a story arc concerning the relationship between Kodaka and the main girls is made obvious early on, although I don’t wish to spoil it here.

One of the things that I think really appeals to me about this series is the concept – as someone who’s own social skills are hardly advanced and has often lamented about the role and significance of friends in my life, this spoke to me in a way that I’m sure any other harem series I started with wouldn’t. In this way, I feel like an equal to the members of the club, because no matter how they differ, their crippling lack of social skills puts them on a level of something I can relate to, and I think in fact most people can – although not everyone has such crippling social problems, I’m sure most people have felt insecure about who they can rely on. And not only can you identify with the characters on this level, but they feel very much like they’re on an equal level with each other too. Nowhere in the series did I feel that one character was being bigged up too much or too little, and I think that may have been deliberate on the author’s part to make the characters seem this equal and therefore, however subtly, strengthen their bond. Even Kodaka never felt like too much of a Creator’s Pet – although he very often played the straight man in whatever comedic punchline the story felt like dishing up, sometimes he was also the butt of the joke, and he also had his moments of being slightly unhinged…

And, significantly, I think I will bring up the humour – even if the plot or characters rub you the wrong way, this is one of the best comedy shows I have ever seen. The best part is, most of it literally comes from the members of the club just sitting around talking. The topic of conversation is normally relevant to whatever they plan on doing that day, but it often goes off on various tangents, whether it be Yozora and Sena’s inability to stand one another (which often leads to Sena overreacting to something Yozora said and flees the room crying), or Rika just being…Rika…
There is a reason she’s my favourite character in the show…

Another key strength is the characters, which I’ll got into more detail about now. Kodaka might just be one of the best leads I’ve seen in anime series ever – and this makes a really nice contrasts to a lot of harem leads who are just as dull as driftwood. He isn’t some pervert who the world craps on from a great height, nor is he a pinball protagonist. He’s intelligent, fairly sane and values friendship and loyalty – perhaps even more significantly, he’s flawed in spite of his good nature. Apart from the fact that he’s incapable of telling a joke properly, he also suffers from the crippling need to maintain the status quo. His value of the present compared to the past or future that Yozora and Sena value respectively (more of that will become clear as the plot develops) puts him at odds with his life forcing him to make important choices. Although he acts oblivious, he is fully aware that the girls, particularly Yozora and Sena, are making moves on him, and he knows he’s going to have to confront it one day, but his inability and unwillingness makes for good drama – his refusal to face up to the changing motions of his life drags the conflict on, and allows for more drama, perhaps more than you’d expect from such a show.

This is also where Rika comes in – I’ve already established she’s my favourite character, but my preference stems from far more than just her wonderful desire to make love to every boy/girl/robot/jellyfish/train she sees (I’m sure there are more such things, these are just examples invoked in the show). She cottons on, quite early, to Kodaka skirting around the elephant in the room, and this comes into brilliant fruition in the second series. She seems at first willing to let it go, but she becomes more confrontational with Kodaka about it when his refusals begin to tear the club apart, as it’s something she can’t bear to lose, as the club has offered her the greatest experiences of her life.

OK – so what issues are there with this series?

Well…mainly the fanservice. On the one hand, being a heterosexual male, I’m certainly not going to say no to plenty of shots of cleavage, prominent female rear ends and girls in cute outfits. But there is a line to be drawn, I feel, for the sake of the plot, and well, there are occasions where they go too far – it may be a case of crossing the line twice, in that they go so overboard it suddenly becomes funny, but on other occasions it just serves no purpose.  Take the above picture as an example – it’s from the beach episode (standard for this genre) where the Neighbour’s Club stay at Sena’s family’s private beach as they’re not great with massive crowds and they’re putting on sunblock. Yozora takes the opportunity to humiliate Sena by applying some via her foot onto Sena’s back and pressing down hard on her centre of gravity to prevent her from getting up. The sunblock makes a very obvious and poignant noise, and it’s resemblance to a certain discharge is obvious enough – the main problem is, the scene goes on for a few minutes…and at the end of it you’re just really uncomfortable. More weirdly, Yozora is saying all sorts of things you’d expect to hear a dominatrix say. Now, she does have a fly-swat that she hits members of the club with to keep them in line, but this scene has nothing to do with it and is really out of nowhere.

And…OK…it’s got to be said. Lolicon.
Both Kobato and Maria play this role – they both see Kodaka as a big brother, which I think is fair enough. But they also get nude shots. Kobato is 13, and Maria is 10…and even though the scenes are in non-sexual contexts and are only brief, they are VERY uncomfortable to watch. I would completely understand if you couldn’t see past that, although it may provide you some comfort to know that, as Kobato and Maria are animated, there aren’t any real under-age girls being exploited or exposed. But admittedly, the idea is still very off-putting.

Oh, and then there’s the ending. The last episode of the second series (the current final episode) isn’t bad in an of itself, but the very end is ridiculous. I’m not going to say why, all I’m going to say is…brace yourself…

But overall, Haganai has some wonderful characters, hilarious comedy, very good writing for the genre and overall, despite the hiccups, it’s a personal fave. If you’re in the mood for something new, I’d say go and check it out. I hope you liked this review and I hope you’ll let me know what you thought.

All images belong to their respective owners.

Anime Analysis – Sound! Euphonium

Well hello there, and Happy International Women’s Day! If you’re reading this on the day it was posted…or you know, annually since then.

My day’s been pretty standard as it is, and I’ve felt, as someone who strongly identifies as a feminist, and who believes society’s gender roles are a restrictive, throttling obstruction, I feel I should make some small contribution to this day. Obviously there’s no obligation, but it feels right to do so. Soooooo, this post, whilst serving another purpose (made obvious by the title) does kind of connect to the theme of today in a convoluted way that makes sense in my head at least. Please note that I may be doing more anime reviews, or indeed film reviews at a later stage, and if this is well-received, feel free to comment on what you want to me analysing.

A bit of background – Sound! Euphonium, also known as Hibike! Euphonium (the exclamation marks are present at that point for some reason) was originally a Japanese novel, which was then adapted into a manga, and more recently into a 13-episode anime series produced by Kyoto Animation, which I started fairly recently and finished only a few days ago. I have to say, I was wonderfully impressed by it. I had seen other music anime before – Love Live! School Idol Project is one that springs to mind immediately, and I had also seen a bit of K-On! before getting bored and stopping…sorry, K-On! fans…

The genre itself is one that I think, in many ways, you either like or you don’t. I happen to love musicals (except maybe Grease), and even jukebox musicals, the genre which makes use of existing songs for it’s musical numbers, can have a charm to them if used in the right context, in something like Fox’s musical dramedy Glee. But more on that another time. In the case of music anime, they tend to be focused around certain genre of music – K-On! was about light music, whereas Love Live was very explicitly and obviously about idols. This one concerns classical music and concert music, which is something I haven’t immersed myself in before, but I do enjoy the genre of music, so I was willing to give it a go. But what really grasped me is the story itself.

Our protagonist is a bright young spark, a first-year high school student called Kumiko Oumae. She has a history of playing brass instruments, specifically the euphonium, but questions her dedication and ability to be swayed by the opinions of others. She joins her school’s orchestral music club along with two friends she makes – one, a chirper beginner at music with a slightly tomboyish style named Hazuki Katou, and a soft-spoken contrabass player named Sapphire Kawashima, though understandably she prefers to be called ‘Midori.’ However, a few problems are afoot with the club – firstly, Kumiko is reunited with Reina Kousaka, a girl she knew from her old school who was reduced to tears when their concert band was unsuccessful in a competition and was highly indignant at Kumiko’s dismissal. Kumiko is uncertain how to act around her, and is seemingly reminded of her own issues with her personality when encountered with her. Reina herself seems to act aloof and indifferent, and focuses on her trumpet expertise. The other issue concerns the new instructor to the group – a professional who seems very serene and smilingly polite, is revealed to be very blunt and unapologetic about his criticisms and the groups rustiness. Most of the story concerns the band ascending to improve themselves, partially in indignation, and also for many of the members to resolve any personal issues they may have throughout the process.

One thing that really stands out to me about the quality of this show is the characters. Let’s start with Kumiko herself. Knowing what I did about music anime and female characters in school-related anime in general, I was expecting Kumiko to be cast from the same mould – the high-pitched, cheerful, naive everygirl who has a ditzy personality and the strong intent to never offend, who gets bad grades on top of that. All anime fans know the type of character – people like Yui Hirasawa, Honoka Kosaka, Nagisa Aoi, Madoka Kaname, all very much the same archetype. This isn’t to say they’re necessarily bad or unlikeable characters. Madoka, I think, has a character type that works very well for the series she’s in, but I’m indifferent to Yui and whilst I don’t really dislike Honoka or Nagisa, they’re far from the most interesting characters in their respective series (Love Live and Strawberry Panic). The problem is, as I’ve said, you’ve seen this character so many times you just find them boring. In this sense Kumiko was a pleasant surprise. I think I first noticed her distinction when she first arrived at her new school and saw the concert band giving a performance outside the school to welcome new arrivals. They gave a fairly standard display of their talents, and Kumiko’s first reaction was to say to herself: ‘Wow…they suck.’

Perhaps is because she’s based off a character from a novel, but Kumiko’s character strikes me as a lot more three-dimensional than a lot of other protagonists. Whilst she’s not entirely well-spoken and is swayed by others, she nevertheless knows her own mind and is far from polite when she needs to express it, and whilst she’s quick to judge the quality of some people and how the perform, her own insecurities come bubbling up to the surface in a very realistic way. She doesn’t just say, ‘oh, I’m no good’ and apologises a lot, she’s quite angry and adamant about it and seems to convince herself that there’s not much point in getting other people to help her – that this is a mountain she should climb herself. Self-determination and the goal to be the best sets her apart from the aforementioned female protagonist archetype, who don’t tend to have much of a goal at all. For this reason, she’s very entranced by Reina, who’s another interesting character.

Kumiko’s and Reina’s relationship is definitely one of the main selling points of this anime too…and when I say relationship, well…
I didn’t edit this, this is an actual screenshot from the series, subtitles and all.

It’s interesting, because in the original book, Kumiko has a romantic subplot with a childhood friend of hers, a guy named Shuichi, who’s also part of the music club and plays the trombone. It seems obvious to me the that the overseers of the anime and possibly the manga too had a very different ship in mind. And…yeah, I ship it too. Shuichi’s role is reduced to supporting and it bigs up the romantic subtext between Kumiko and Reina, so much so that Sound! Euphonium is firmly in the ranks of those anime which aren’t technically yuri (female-female love), but much like Puella Magi Madoka Magica and Love Live, the subtext is so strong that it might as well be.

The thing is, their relationship does really work. Kumiko has big ideas, but nevertheless feels tied to people’s perceptions, and whilst she wishes to break free from that, still feels guilty if she thinks she’s upset someone. Reina is single-minded in her ideas of self-improvement, and whilst talented, she seems to know that she’s an elitist. She admits that she likes Kumiko because she has a ‘horrible personality’ but was concerned about being awarded the solo trumpet part at their upcoming competition, as she’ll be depriving a much loved popular third-year student of that opportunity, and that she’ll be ‘a villain.’ Kumiko’s response? ‘Then I’ll be a villain with you! Also Reina, I think I really want to finger y-‘

Are they bad for each other? Well, maybe not – Kumiko constantly tells Reina that she wants to be ‘special’ like her, and is an obvious point of accomplishment for her. Perhaps in more ways than one…
What’s more, Reina becomes a lot less frosty with everyone as the series progresses, largely because she has Kumiko as a morality pet, someone who’ll shut up and listen for a few minutes and who is willing to do what other people want of her, even if she’s not shy to give her opinions. Whilst I’ll be the first to admit I wished they kissed at some point, perhaps a very strong platonic bond is far better for terms of a decent, developed, female character. See me trying to make a loose connection here…?
Kumiko rejects most of Shuichi’s advances in the series, displaying, first and foremost, that she has interests outside of getting a guy, which is sadly a flaw of many female leads in anime (and everything else really) in the past. We’re looking at you, Sakura Haruno. It’s not just Kumiko and Reina who are different in this regard – the majority of the members of the music club are girls, and most character development seen from their perspectives are unrelated to the few boys in their group. Hell, Shuichi is the only guy that ever really does anything. And this, to me, reflects an evolving world.  Debatable? Well, feel free to say what you think, but I love Kumiko and Reina’s ambition, and I love everyone else’s habit of not being tied down by what restricted their gender in the past, both in fiction and reality. There’s even a scene in which Kumiko’s close friend Hazuki, whom I briefly mentioned, invites Shuichi, whom she has a crush on, to one of those staple Japanese festivals that seem to crop up in a lot of anime series. (Kumiko, of course, was up the hill with Reina.) She confesses her feelings to him at this festival, to which he awkwardly replies he doesn’t feel that way. Her reaction? She sucks it up and says, stubbornly, that with that out of the way, she’s going to try and get him and Kumiko together, as it’s obvious he’s into her. No moping, no anger vented towards Kumiko, this girl reacted a hell of a lot better than I would have done.

Most of the other characters are reasonably standard, but they’re all likeable enough. There’s no character I dislike, and some really stand out as being very memorable and some of my favourites. I’ve already talked about Kumiko and Reina, but there’s also Taki, the music instructor I mentioned. What’s interesting about him is his blunt delivery – he wastes no time on telling anyone who’s struggling or not keeping up that they should practice or else they won’t be good enough for their competition. He’s kind of ruthless in this regard, and yet at the same time, he’s polite, soft-spoken, unabashedly democratic and fair, and, nearer the end, expresses a great pride at how far everyone’s come. And he is a main driving force as well – naturally, many band members feel resentment towards him, and resentment that drives them to improve themselves.

Another character that really stands out and might be my favourite is Asuka – she’s the vice-president of the music club, and, much like Taki, you never entirely know what she’s thinking. At first, she’s quite loud, energetic, and very eager to induct girls into her section of the band, in a way that once again brings to yuri undertones bubbling to the surface. It really doesn’t help that she keeps on talking about fingering. In regards to holding brass instruments, of course…

But as time goes on, it’s revealed that she’s a little more complex than that. A lot of people constantly ask why she doesn’t opt for president of the group, as she has the kind of charisma. She replies that such a position doesn’t interest her, and it seems to me that her reasoning may simply be she’s very good and noticing people’s strengths and insecurities, and prods them in the right direction ever so subtly. She just enjoys it that way. Whilst she is a cornerstone of the band, she’s definitely not someone to cross.
What else can I say about the series? The art is gorgeous and very real-looking, the musical moments are wonderful. I still listen to the opening theme constantly. I also love the tone of the story. Things like Love Live were very much about comradery, and whilst there’s definitely elements of that, there’s much more of a steer towards the message of perseverance and personal accomplishment, something that you feel in both the characters you’ve got to know, and the atmosphere created. When they’re performing in front of an audience, I feel the ringing nervous silence proceeding the performance in the same vain, thrown back to my recent performance in a showcase, and my not as recent performance in a musical – I feel this as the characters do, it captures it very well.

I can’t think of much wrong with this series, other than occasionally it does move a little slowly. I found some story points in some episodes being milked for a little too long, but this is nullified in the later episodes, and the fact that I rushed to finish is telling that it certainly isn’t boring. Ultimately, I would recommend this to anyone, particularly if you like music anime. In my opinion, it’s 13-episodes-worth of your time worth giving up.

So, thanks for reading this, give me your opinions in comments either here, or if you’re coming here from a link on other social media I have, that’s also fine to comment on there. And as a special treat, before I finish off here, here’s more of Kumiko and Reina:

All images belong to their respective owners.

My Top 10 Favourite Animated Movies

Well, hi guys! Time for something completely different. Again!

So, with Valentine’s Day just around the corner, I figured I should get a nice little project under way before the inevitable soul-crushing despair that I often associate with the particular calendar date. And before we get on to what that is (which you may have been able to infer from the clarity of the title), a little word about Valentine’s Day.

I’m not trying to rain on the parade on those who are celebrating the big VD with a significant other – I think that’s great, it’s nice to celebrate with the people you love and want to share your life with. Yes, maybe it would be easier for me to sympathise if I had such a person myself, but that’s a story for another time. (Of course, I keep on saying that, but I have no idea when other times will come around). But the point is, I don’t think Valentine’s Day should exclude or even imply to exclude single people, because, simply put, it’s a celebration of love, and a lot of the single people I know are very capable of that. What’s more, why set aside a day? I like to consider myself full of love for my family, friends, and various people around me all the time, and I know a lot of people who are too. I know this is hardly news, but just consider it a reminder for everyone tomorrow that there should be no constraints to your love.

Well, except for infidelity, but that’s another issue entirely.

But of course, activities that both couples and singles can engage in are sitting d0wn and watching films. I’ve always loved films, and, as VD is a celebration of love, maybe it’s only fair to share the films I love the most. But to be fair, that’s not always easy. I can’t imagine myself being able to concoct a reliable list of my all time favourite movies. I’d end up feeling like I’ve betrayed another favourite after it’s over or something. It would be a disaster.

So, I thought I’d narrow it down a bit, and talk about animation.

Animated films, I feel, hold an important distinction. There are no real limits to the visual style, the same way there are for practical effects and actor constraints and all sorts of other painful inevitabilities of live-action movies. Animated films are not just a work of story-telling art, but of very obvious visual art as well. This isn’t to say live-action can’t be visually appealing too, but with animated movies, as I’ve said, the art-style is very obvious and there are no constraints. I’m not an animator myself, but I can see when an art style has worked…
(Oh look, that was unhyphenated.)

What’s more, for many a modern person, animated films are some of the first we ever saw. The obvious artistic choices are probably one of the reasons that animated movies are generally family or childrens’ media, but I don’t think it’s fair to consider them a lesser art form because of this – on the contrary, that age is where we’re the most impressionable, and even if we first watch some animated films when we’re older, we can appreciate how good (or not) they are for the next generation and if they’re conveying the right messages.

With all this in mind and more, I’ve compiled my personal list of my Top 10 Favourite Animated Movies. (Ha, bet you didn’t see that coming, considering it was the title and everything!) These are the ones that just really spoke to me and I have, or will be willing to watch them many times. I’ll be commenting on visuals, music, storytelling, characters, all that good stuff, and by the way, any animation style counts – hand-drawn, CGI or stop motion, although there are no stop-motion examples on this list. I’ll also only be counting animated features, the first of which was Walt Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarves (1937), though that’s not on this list either…

The format of the list will contain the name of the feature, the year it was released and the animation studio who released it so one can examine and compare. Also, take care that if one of your favourites isn’t on the list, DON’T PANIC. This isn’t a list of what counts as the best animated movies of all time, just my personal favourites. In some cases, I may acknowledge that some lower on the list are stronger in certain respects to entries higher on the list – these are just my personal favourites in animated feature films.

So, without further ado, let’s begin…


#10) Beauty and the Beast (1991)

Studio: Walt Disney Pictures
I do believe this was the only animated film ever to be nominated for Best Picture, and let’s be honest, you can see why. The most famous scene of Belle and the Beast’s dance with shots to the beautifully rendered ceiling and chandelier is just one of thing’s that makes this film such a spectacle. The post above declares it ‘the most beautiful love stories ever told’ and…yeah. Beautiful is a great word for it. I definitely felt the emotions of the characters and the journey they were taking during the movie, even though I knew what the outcome would be. As per a good animated feature, or any feature really, it does a very good job at visual storytelling, and taking on board just the right things to tell something of the fairy tale genre – as far as fairy tales are told, this is one of the ones that does it best.
You probably note that, as a movie often considered one of Disney’s finest, I’ve placed it pretty low on my list. Well, to be fair, I watched it a little late – I already knew most of the plot when I finally got down to viewing it, and whilst I definitely enjoyed most of the elements (barring of course the fact that the Beast in his human form looked inbred), it wasn’t quite the new spectacle that audiences in 1991 first got. Still, it’s nevertheless a very enjoyable film of very beautiful animation that I’ll definitely be seeing a few more times.


#9) The Prince of Egypt (1998)

Studio: DreamWorks Pictures
Being raised in a very Christian environment, it was inevitable that I’d eventually see DreamWorks’ take on the story of Moses. But this is not a problem – this movie’s a total treasure. I’d definitely recommend it for any audience – not content with just telling the cut-out version of the story from the Book of Exodus, it uses it’s artistic licence to it’s full affect, taking full advantage of brothers (in this case, Moses and Rameses II of Egypt) who grew up together now being forced to be each other’s foes over the fates of the enslaved Hebrews. Not only does this film pile on the drama and the storytelling, but also has a fantastic and severely underrated soundtrack orchestrated by Hans Zimmer. Listening to the opening number of the movie as I write this, I feel the weight of the scenes they were set to, and if I weren’t so distracted, would definitely feel a chill…the design of the human characters isn’t always on par, but the animation of scenery at whatnot is gorgeous – the sweeping shots of Egypt, the segment full of burning hail during the plagues of Egypt, and the Passover sequence which is still one of the most chilling animated segments I’ve ever seen are just a few examples of why you should check this film out if you haven’t already.


#8) Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989)

Studio: Studio Ghibli
I only discovered this one recently, but as you can see, I enjoyed it enormously.
Studio Ghibli is perhaps not as well known in the West as Disney and such, but you’ll find it has a very defensive community of fans. The story of this film is, at it’s core, actually very simple. It’s mainly about the life experienced by a young witch, who, upon arriving at a new town as per coming-of-age rituals, ends up setting up a delivery service using her broomstick. But this movie’s strength comes from it’s allowance for atmosphere. It gives us plenty of time to just get absorbed into this world and it’s characters. I remember being impressed at how well-paced it was. Nothing was happening too quickly or too slowly. It was just perfect. The characters are also very likeable – from Kiki herself, to the baker she stays with, to the artist who lives in a cabin in the woods to (insert other character if you’ve seen the film in here, I’ll love them, I love all of them.) It’s just a delightful experience, this entire movie, and the serene animation and music matches it perfectly. One of the most impressive things about the animation, in my opinion, is when Kiki’s flying – on the scene of her first delivery, when she deliberately drops, you just feel the gravity, and I hope some animation buff will tell me why. If there was one thing I think it could have done without, it would be the forced climax (there’s a joke to be made there). Not least because after it, the film just ends bizarrely anyway. But it’s a minor issue, I know I’ll be sitting down to experience this again sometime, maybe when I’m feeling down, because I found myself empathising considerably with Kiki when she goes through what she does here.


#7) The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996)

Studio: Walt Disney Pictures
Damn these unevenly sized posters!
But anyway…
Released at a time when the Disney Renaissance was on a bit of a decline, I do agree with Doug Walker’s sentiment that it may not have been the best movie to get a general audience – the source material was very dark and controversial, and yes, this was sugar-coating it…somewhat. But what do I care? Enough of the original elements of the story where there to still make it a pretty dark film, particularly for Disney. So, the ending’s happy, and it’s full of musical numbers and goofy side characters. But it’s also got undertones of abuse, corruption, genocide and lust. There’s even a whole musical number dedicated to the antagonist’s lust for a gypsy woman – a number which still has a reputation for being one of the best villain songs ever. Once again, the visuals all support it – not only does Notre Dame look fantastic, both on the external and internal sides of things, but they don’t shy away from religious iconography and fiery symbols of someone’s inner turmoil either. Even with these dark elements in place, sometimes the simplicity is nice too – Quasimodo, the eponymous hunchback, is a very likeable character, and so are the gypsy woman Esmeralda, the villain (in his own way) Claude Frollo, and the majority of the other characters, barring the gargoyles…
Also, much like Prince of Egypt, this movie has an unbelievably fantastic soundtrack that is considerably underrated. Make sure to check that out once you’ve finished the film – it’ll be an urge you can’t resist. Just as I can’t resist constantly re-watching this movie.


#6) Frozen (2013)

Studio: Walt Disney Pictures
No, I refuse to join the bandwagon of people that, because Frozen is now literally everywhere and they’re fed up of it, are saying that this is a terrible movie despite loving it initially. Even if you didn’t like it initially, I don’t care, because I absolutely love this movie. So there!
I remember going into this movie not knowing what to expect, but within a few minutes I was hooked. Once again, Disney’s playing up the fairy tail element to it’s advantage, and while Beauty and the Beast agreeably takes more time with setting out the opening story, what we get from Frozen is another well-thought out story focusing on the emotions characters are going through, and even redefining Disney’s long-held definition of what counts as true love. Convenient for Valentine’s Day, I think…
What’s more, it updates the Disney tropes for a modern audience, not only in what I previously mentioned but the fact that both the leads are female – yeah, so Disney princesses are unbelievably common, but having two, one of whom is the queen, without any true animosity is very new and refreshing.
And yes, I guess I should probably talk about the music. I know you’re all fed up of hearing ‘Let It Go’ everywhere, and yes, I do prefer some other Disney movies’ soundtracks (see Hunchback above), but I still think it’s a good song. And even if you don’t like it, I still think the movie it’s in is worth it. Once again, the visuals are stunning. With Tangled three years earlier, Disney were just starting with the 3D-style – here they pretty much perfected it. Elsa’s ice castle looks amazing, as do most of the other scenes. Not much else to say about it other than stop giving this movie a hard time. No matter what you say, I’m going to be watching this movie many more times, so there. Ha!


#5) Toy Story 2 (1999)

Studio: Pixar

Hang on, I hear you cry, where’s the first Toy Story? Well, I didn’t want to include the entire trilogy here, as this would discount many other decent films, so instead I opted just for my favourite of the trilogy, and what is, to me, one of the most nostalgic treasures I have. So much so, that I’ve put my sister of this movie possibly for life because of how many times I watched it as a child. :/
But I just loved it that much! I’m sure most of you can agree that the Toy Story trilogy in general is very good imaginatively with it’s character creations and storytelling and visuals, we all know about that. But for me, Toy Story 2 is the best for it’s new emphasis on a growing, creeping dilemma now facing are characters, which comes into fruition in the final film, but I feel as though the uncertainty made it a lot more engaging and a lot easier to empathize with the characters’ decisions. Not least because of what we learn on the cast’s new editions and their pasts.
The climax is also one of my favourites – if you wanted an update from a chase with a moving van in the first movie, try at the airport with a bloody jet. Not to mention dealing with a reasonably sympathetic yet still diabolical villain. Definitely one I’m going to be watching many times more…providing my DVD doesn’t break. ;_;


#4) Inside Out (2015)

Studio: Pixar

This movie isn’t even a year old yet and I already think it belongs up there with some of the best. And apparently I’m not the only one – Inside Out has received universal critical claim. Not since the Toy Story trilogy has a Pixar film been this well-received, as far as I know.
And well, you can see why. A few people, obstinate at being different, have claimed that the idea is unoriginal. Well, yes…but nor is practically anything. Virtually every idea has been done before, but what Inside Out does with the concept of personified emotions in the head of a girl named Riley is everything intelligent you can do with an idea like this, with focus on what should be focused on. The story itself is actually a coming-of-age story, detailing and highlighting the transformations you go through as you get older. For many who are going through or who have gone through the motions, this film is a very (unsurprisingly) emotional experience. Whilst taking part in some usual conventions of a family film (all of which are entertaining as well) when it needs to make a point about the role of your emotions and how you should feel about the transformations and choices you make, it drives home it’s point in spectacular style. And if I should take time to talk about the animation as well, then it’s also unbelievably creative and very nice to look at. And then there’s the feminist themes – as a film aimed for general audiences, it has a good number of female leads. It’s early days, but I get the feeling this film will persist through the ages as a classic.


#3) Spirited Away (2001)

Studio: Studio Ghibli

So, I get the feeling I’ll probably get lynched for placing this anywhere other than number 1. But…it’s my list. So there.
As you can see, I do definitely regard this movie very highly, but perhaps I’m disenfranchised, because I actually saw this a little later than most? I don’t know. There are still some elements about it that rub me the wrong way. Like, for example, what was the point of that No Face character? Yeah, he had a nice design, but other than that, I can’t really see what he did worthwhile.
But enough of that – most of what I have to say about this movie is overwhelmingly positive. For all I said about Beauty and the Beast and Frozen about catching the fairy tale element well, this, I think, is the one that does it perfectly. When it needs to be eerie, it’s eerie, when it needs to be sad, it is very sad, when it needs to be delightful and beautiful and whimsical, it captures that as well. The spirit world it draws us into, whilst not developed in an enormous amount of detail, is still stunning to look at and just very engaging. Even though the story’s enjoyable as well, it might be worth having a viewing of the movie with the sound muted, just to enjoy the visuals. I can imagine it would be wonderful even then, though with that being said, the music is also fantastic. I’m listening to it now, and it has occurred to me I will never get tired of that wonderful piano arrangement. And then there’s the story as well – the characters are very engaging and colourful and interesting, you feel the wonder, the terror, the grief…I don’t know what else more to say about it that everyone else has already said. Just watch it if you haven’t already. And if you want a summary…I’m not very good at them. Go find someone else…


#2) The Land Before Time (1988)

Studio: Universal Pictures

Here’s another nostalgic treasure of mine – whilst I will admit I haven’t seen as much of Don Bluth’s work as I should, remembering and re-watching this movie as I do really makes me want to. So, maybe being a dino-nut as a young boy originally drew me to it, but this movie has so much more to offer than just that. Not only does Bluth’s signature animation style create a very mystical element to the entire thing, but the messages of this movie stand out. Look hard enough, and you’ll see an anti-racism undertone. This movie also deals with companionship and loss in hard circumstances, and what’s more, the child dinosaurs who are the main characters actually act like children, both in their attitudes, insecurities and actions. This makes them, I think, all the more relateable. They were some of my favourite fictional characters growing up, and to this day I still hold them very fondly. As well as the wonderful animation, this movie also has a fantastic score by the late James Horner, which I listen to very frequently. If there was one thing that might count against it, it’s the fact that it’s a very short film. A lot edits made in the initial stages rendered this movie little over an hour in length. And sometimes, the compression does show. But as you’ve probably picked up by now, I don’t care. This is a treasured bit of a gold from my childhood and I still enjoy watching it as a young adult.

So, what could possibly be number 1?? Well…


#1) Puella Magi Madoka Magica: Rebellion (2013)

Studio: Shaft

Is this technically cheating, as this is a movie based on an anime series? Or that, despite my inspiring message at the beginning of this, this is not really a movie for children? Well, this is my list…and I utterly love the series, and I utterly love this movie. It technically counts as it’s a story separate to the series – a sequel, as it were. And as I have another sequel on this list, I think it’s allowed.
It’s very difficult to know what to say about this movie without giving away details of the plot of both the series and the film itself, but I’ll say that what the series does well, this movie ramps it up to the next level. The visual style really has to be seen to be believed, and even if you watch the series, you’ll only get a taster of how visually mind-bending and unbelievable the movie is. Taking both gorgeous colours and very dark, horrifying images, and blending it with a beautiful soundtrack supported by wonderful characters and underlying an amazing story, it reaches almost what I could consider a perfect animated film. Whilst opinions differ, I can proudly call myself a dedicated advocate of this movie.
The story, without giving too much away, underlies an inherent mystery. Even watchers of the series will be confused when they watch this, but whilst always dosing us with beautiful character development and great visual symbols of what’s to come and what’s going on in the mind of the point-of-view character in the story, they carefully bring us to the almighty twist that’s in the beginning of the movie…and that’s not even where the intense storytelling/visuals/literally everything stops either. This movie probably needs several viewings to understand fully, and even then, you can draw your own conclusions as to why everything happened and what it all means. Because, if you’re like me, you’re with this every step of the way. During some parts, I found myself literally pleading with the characters not to do…whatever they were about to do.
What else can be said? The animation is unbelievable, the characters and story awe-inspiring, the soundtrack beautiful…and if you enjoyed the lesbian undertones in this series, this movie cranks that up as well. So, if you enjoyed the series, definitely give this a watch. And if you haven’t watch the series and then the movie. I feel it’s my duty to promote it, if I make nothing else of my life…


So, there it was! I hope you enjoyed this list – let me know either from a comment here, or a message to me if you got to this link from my social media. If you liked this kind of opinion piece, give me more ideas for what I could make lists of. I have a few ideas, but let me know anyway. Basically thanks for reading, please share your thoughts and feelings, and have a good day!

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