Monthly Archives: June 2012

Ginie Reviews TV: The Legend of Korra (Book One: Air)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

TV Show: The Legend of Korra (Book One: Air)
Creators: Michael Dante Dimartino and Bryan Konietzko
Years: 2012 –
Rating: 3.5

Maybe it’s unfair to review a show that has only had its first season, but I think Book One of The Legend of Korra has given me plenty of initial thoughts and feelings about the show, the characters and the direction it all seems to be heading in and I thought this would probably be the right time to get them all out.

I get the feeling I may get some flak for this, but while I did love The Legend of Korra and would definitely call myself a fan (the kind of fan that listens to Republic City Dispatch podcasts and gets into speculative discussions about who Amon might be, etc.); a part of my feels a bit let down by The Legend of Korra.

If Avatar: The Last Airbender was a show for kids that dealt with various issues and themes with a far greater sense of maturity than most adult-TV-shows; then The Legend of Korra is a show that’s clearly aimed at an older audience and yet fails to adequately tackle the mature issues and concerns that are raised by the very nature of its central premise. Namely, that there is a non-bender revolution taking grip of Republic City and that balance needs to be restored by Korra, the Avatar (and as such, the ultimate bender as she can bend all the elements).

~*Spoilers Ahead*~

So first of all, the things I loved: the animation is, as ever, absolutely gorgeous. It’s so fluid, the character expressions are great and the designs are wonderful. I loved the idea of a 1920’s industrialised Avatar world! It just had so much potential and was so awesome – not to mention the soundtrack which is also beautiful and combines traditional Chinese music with jazz. Just. So. AWESOME. Not to mention the fashion, the Sato-mobiles, Republic City itself – there’s been a lot of fantastic world-building for this city and I loved every bit of it.

And I also loved the premise, although from the start I was weary about the real-world parallels that were being drawn between The Equalists and the rise of Communism in China. Not because I didn’t think it was an interesting idea to explore – more because I wasn’t sure a Nickelodeon show (however awesome) could do justice to that kind of seriously turbulent history, and furthermore the in-universe history of the United Republic and Republic City is different to real-world Chinese history. You can’t understand the rise of Communism in China without understanding the civil war and the Imperial system that came before it. But I was willing to be open-minded and I trusted that the show’s creators knew what they were doing: that they’d offer some insight into how this world has evolved with a bending elite and a non-bending underclass who are under-represented in government, in the police (Beifong’s Metal-benders) and in other crucial areas of Republic City life. And that Korra’s restoration of balance would involve an acknowledgement of this – that it wouldn’t just be about getting rid of Amon and the Equalists, but that it would also be about re-dressing the balance so that non-benders have an equal place in Republic City’s society.

So far that hasn’t happened yet.

Now I know this is just Book One, and that maybe these issues will be addressed in the next season (I dearly hope so). But I can only assume that with Amon and Tarrlok out of the picture for good, Book Two will have to introduce a new antagonist – and that means there might be a chance that this theme is dropped in favour of something else.

I suspect this might happen because the Book One finale had clearly tried to tie up all loose ends. Korra lost her bending, unlocked her air-bending, unmasked Amon who was later killed by his brother Tarrlok, entered the Avatar state, got all her bending back and the ability to return bending to others all in one fell swoop. Not once in the entire season were the actually legitimate concerns of Equalist sympathizers acknowledged or addressed and indeed, Amon and his Equalists are nearly always dismissed as “that madman and those crazy Equalists”. Now while Amon clearly uses manipulative fear tactics and could be labelled a terrorist, I was disappointed that Korra was only forced to confront the inequality between benders and non-benders once: when Tarrlok and his task-force were rounding-up protesting non-benders (“You’re our Avatar too!”).

Not to mention I was hoping to hear more about the Spirit World (and had secretly hoped that Amon was somehow linked to Koh, the Face-Stealer – an excellent, excellent potential villain that has been totally under-utilised in both A:TLA and TLOK). Considering how much emphasis was put on Korra’s spiritual block at the beginning of the show, I can’t help but feel let down that her spiritual block had been “solved” so quickly and so effortlessly. I don’t buy that Korra losing all her other bending and sulking about it constituted some great spiritual epiphany, even if it is true that her bending is very tied up with her own sense of identity and self-worth. And while I totally bawled like a baby when Aang turned up with all the other past Avatars and Korra finally went into the Avatar-state (shut up!) I was disappointed that Korra had lost her bending, only to re-gain it all within a matter of screen-time minutes. Maybe I’m being nitpick-y, but a loss isn’t really a loss if it’s so easily re-gained (which is also why if you choose to kill off a character they had better stay dead, at least for a little while, because otherwise it’s just cheap and there was nothing really at stake).

So those were my concerns with Korra on a thematic level. But I also felt somewhat let down by The Legend of Korra on a character level.

All I can say is that while a lot of the characters are awesome and show a lot of potential (LIN BEIFONG IS MY FAVOURITE-EST PERSON EVER) so many characters have had their character development and storyline pretty much shafted (I’m looking at you, Asami and Bolin). I’m still holding out that Asami will become more than just a useful plot-device to throw in extra romantic ~tension~ between Mako and Korra. And that Bolin will evolve to be more than just a comic relief character. And I’m hoping that the romance between Mako and Korra will eventually feel natural and not so forced. But I’m not nearly as optimistic as I was at the beginning of the season. Here’s hoping things will change though, and we get to see the New Team Avatar interact with each other more and actually give us a better idea of who they really are.

So is The Legend of Korra a good show? Absolutely yes. It has plenty of tension and enough mystery and questions that you’ll keep coming back for each new episode to find out what it will reveal. Is it as good as Avatar: The Last Airbender? Still hard to say at this stage – I genuinely think A:TLA was a better show, but then I went into A:TLA expecting nothing and the show did mature a lot over three seasons. We are only into Book One of Korra, and I went into TLOK with very high expectations following my love for A:TLA. While I think I do have legitimate reasons for preferring A:TLA to TLOK, I’m also willing to admit that at least some of it may be due to my own biases.

Conclusion? Definitely go watch it! Lord knows Tumblr needs more fandom theories about what the future holds for our heroine Korra 😉

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Ginie’s Top Ten: (Mostly) Nostalgic Animated Crushes

I noticed that for something I really love, I actually haven’t talked much at all about animation on this website. And I’ve decided that I’m going to address that! With – what else? A Top Ten list of Hotted Animated Guys, partially inspired by Nostalgia Chick’s Top Ten “Hottest” Animated Guys list. A point Lindsay raises in her list is that while Top Ten Hottest Animated Women lists tend to be quite unanimous, Top Ten Hottest Animated Guys tend to have a lot more variation in  them and I guess are much more subjective to whom is drawing up the list. That being said she still discovered a trend: apparently we like them dark, and we like them tortured. Also we freaking love woobies (I’m totally with you there Nella). In drawing up this list I’ve come to realise that basically…yeah. Spot on. Apparently I, like most fangirls, just want to save you! And give you a hug or something. So anyway, here’s my personal and absolutely subjective Top Ten, with some nostalgic crushes and some more recent ones.

  1. Howl (Howl’s Moving Castle)
    So I’m developing a theory that Howl represents a certain character archetype that I think is really appealing to young girls – the fantasy character who crashes into your hum-drum life, grabs you by the hand and whisks you off to somewhere exciting and dangerous to have adventures together.  I’d argue that that’s definitely one of the appeals of characters like Doctor Who for instance (especially in the episode The Eleventh Hour), and I find it hard to believe that TV Tropes doesn’t seem to have come up with a name for this trope yet. (Dear TV Tropes: get on it!) Otherwise what is there to say? Animated!Howl is basically fangirl catnip: he’s handsome, he’s charming, he does magic, he’s noble of spirit – but he’s also tortured with (literal) personal demons and needs a hug! I actually much prefer his bookverse counterpart, but that doesn’t mean that teenage me wasn’t totally in love with Hayao Miyazaki’s version of Howl, especially as the English dub was voiced by Christian Bale.
  2.  Li Shang (Mulan)

    What can I say? Let’s get down to business! To deafeat – the huns! Li Shang is well, hot. But despite that he’s also got this kind of awkward thing going on which makes him quite relateable and likeable and I imagine that for most  fans of this character it’s the awkward likeability that puts him above all other similarly hot-ly drawn Disney princes(?) Also! Bonus point for being the kind of animated guy who acknowledges he was wrong and makes up for it by following Mulan’s lead into battle. And having the most awesome song in the movie while not being a Disney villain.
  3. Dimitri (Anastasia)
    Ahh, Anastasia! What a way to completely re-write history, movie! But of course, Anastasia is hardly the only serious offender in that category (*cough*, Pocahontas, *cough*). Anyway, I saw this movie long before I knew anything about 20th Century Russian history (which is why, dear animators, making animated films based on “historical facts” and getting them completely wrong is absolutely awful! CHILDREN DON’T KNOW ANY BETTER, and you’ve deliberately misinformed them). But back to what I was saying – I saw this movie when it first came out and obviously had this huge nostalgic crush on Dimitri. If Howl represents the fantasy-character-who’ll-take-you-on-adventures archetype, I’d argue that Dimitri (and Aladdin further down this list) represent the “real-world” counterpart to that archetype. As a side-note: re-watching this film as an adult is hilarious because I actually get references to 20s/30s Parisian things like the Josephine Baker cameo.
  4. Zuko (Avatar: The Last Airbender)
    Oh Zuko. Was there ever an animated woobie that needed just needed a hug more than you? Seriously though, I do love Zuko as a character and of all the characters in Avatar: The Last Airbender, he is the one with one of the most interesting and fully-developed character-arcs in the entire series. From conflicted antagonist and general bratty shit-head to ultimately becoming one of the series’ heroes, Zuko is easily a fan-favourite and it’s not hard to see why we all love him. I think one of things I love most about A:TLA though, is the amount of self-aware humour that is used, and isn’t spared when it comes to Zuko. Sure, Zuko’s story is pretty tragic but that doesn’t stop characters in-universe making fun of his obsession with restoring his honour. (Sidenote: Aang is disqualified  on account of age, basically.)
  5.  Link (The Legend of Zelda)
     Oh man, this is a long-standing nostalgic crush for me. I know this is also kind of cheating as Link isn’t a character from an animated movie or show (shut up shut up, that animated show doesn’t count!), but he is an animated character so as far as I’m concerned his position on this list is totally legit. My first introduction to Link was my step-cousin play The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time  back in 1998, and I just loved Link. He’s another archetypical character, the Hero who must go on his Hero’s Journey and I guess the great thing about Link is that you’re adventuring right alongside him on his Hero’s Journey. He is intentionally silent in all of the games as he’s meant to be your avatar into the Zelda-universe, but I actually think the animation (especially in later games like Twilight Princess and Skyward Sword) have been great for actually expressing giving him a personality and expressing emotions.
  6. Count of Monte Cristo (Gankutsuou)
    This is a much more recent one – anyone who knows my reading habits knows I love me some French 19th Century writers, especially Alexandre Dumas’ adventure stories and having finished The Three Musketeers books as a teenager I’m now working my way through The Count of Monte Cristo which I think I’ve already decided I like better than The Three Musketeers. This anime is actually a surprisingly faithful adaptation of the novel, but with a few key differences that make it its own story. First of all it’s set far into the future (where apparently there’s been a restoration of the monarchy in France?) and secondly Edmond Dantes’ drive for revenge is fuelled by a pact he made with a demon while incarcerated in the Chateau D’If. There are other differences of course in terms of the different characters and their relationships and motivations, but those two are the most notable differences with regards to the plot. The anime is quite dark, and the Counts’ thirst for revenge is shown to be a all-consuming destructive force that almost completely engulfs the good man that the Count used to be – Edmond Dantes.
  7. Aladdin (Aladdin)
    I think Aladdin’s position as on this list was solidified by an encounter I had several years ago with a IRL hot guy who actually looked like Aladdin. Despite all the race-fail there is in this movie, I do really enjoy it and I think the appeal of Aladdin is that he’s clearly a flawed character but one who learns from his mistakes and most importantly wants to take you on fun adventures. (We’ll firmly ignore the part where his character design was apparently based on Tom Cruise. Why..?)
  8. …Entire Prince of Egypt Cast
    Whether it’s Ramses or Moses or even Joseph from the less-good King of Dreams movie, I’ve got to hand it to the animators of The Prince of Egypt: all their animated characters are ridiculously good-looking. (I’ll momentarily ignore the fact that I just called a bunch of Biblical characters hot). Re-watching The Prince of Egypt makes me kinda sad that Dreamworks doesn’t do this kind of animation any more, because this film was amazingly epic and the music was gorgeous and the animation was beautiful.
  9. Dr. Facilier (The Princess and the Frog)
    Dr. Facilier is easily one of the most awesome characters in The Princess and the Frog, has one of the best Disney villain songs ever and possesses just an amazing amount of style and charisma. It also helps Keith David’s voice acting is nothing short of amazing and spine-shiveringly cool. There is a lot of race-fail in this film too when it comes to the representation of Vodou, and I take issue with how easily Dr. Facilier is defeated but regardless of these issues I can’t help but love this character to bits.
  10. Scar (The Lion King)
    What? I dare you not to love Jeremy Irons.

Honourable Mentions:

  • Prince Adam/The Beast (Beauty and the Beast)
  • Judge Claude Frollo (The Hunchback of Notre Dame)
  • Hadji and Johnny Quest (The Real Adventures  of Johnny Quest)
  • Haku (Spirited Away)
  • Gambit (X-Men)
  • Bolin (The Legend of Korra)

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Another Art Update!

Finally finished my illustration of Howl, Sophie and Calcifer from Diana Wynne Jones’ charming book “Howl’s Moving Castle”. And yeah….the castle may have been a little Miyazaki-inspired. What can I say?? Castles aren’t my forte! Check out updated the updated Fanart and Myths, Fairytales and Fantasy pages!

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Ginie Reviews Films: First Love (Thai Film)

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Film: First Love (สิ่งเล็กเล็ก ที่เรียกว่า..รัก aka. A Little Thing Called Love)
Director: Puttipong Pormsaka Na-Sakonnakorn and Wasin Pokpong
Year: 2010
Notable Actors: Mario Maurer, Pimchanok Luevisadpaibul
Rating: 3.5/5

~*Spoilers ahead*~

You know what? A part of me really really loves this movie. It’s funny, it’s sweet and it’s just so very Thai it reminds me of home. But it’s at about the half-way mark that things in this movie start to get a little bit awry and as much as I still love, let’s be honest: there are some pretty problematic things with this movie, not least of which is how the main character has a dramatic change in skin tone as part of her transformation:

To which I’m going to have to defer to Tumblr experts Damn, Lay Off the Bleach. The tale of the “ugly duckling” who changes into a beautiful swan and wins the prince is hardly a new one (hello there, She’s All That!); the fact that this transformation involves highly discernible skin-whitening is well, nothing short of awful. (Seriously, the first time I saw this film I thought they’d changed actress half-way through, she looks like two completely different people). More on this later.

First Love is a Thai teen romantic comedy about a girl called Nam and her crush on senior boy Shone.  The film follows her and her three loyal friend through all sorts of funny hijinks as she tries to get P’Shone to notice her while also becoming top of her class so that she might get to go to the States where her dad (who she hasn’t seen in five years) is currently working.

So far so typical right? But genuinely – but I really really loved the first half of this film. Maybe it’s because of the hilarious comedy. Maybe it’s because for at least the first half of the film a part of me genuinely sympathised with Nam and found her and her friends really sweet. Maybe it’s because for the first half of the film, Nam and her friends seemed playfully defiant of the shitty narrow beauty standards they were expected to live up to – even while trying to live up to them. (Hello “makeover” scene! That yellow stuff? Kamin? Yeah, I’ve had that used on my skin before.)

But mainly I think I loved it for the humour, especially Khun Khru Inn:

(Seriously though, I LOVE HER.)

But yeah. There was a line that stuck out to me in particular – a line that is uttered by Nam’s best friend Cheer. While they are waiting to sign up for Khru Orn’s traditional Thai dance show Nam remarks that it’s a waste of time – Khru Orn only ever chooses the most beautiful girls to perform in her show; “white skin, Chinese-looking and all those other qualities!” Her friend Cheer in response says “Hey! We still have to try – the four of us, we might not have white-skin and we might not have Chinese-looking faces. We’re dark skinned but we’re still beautiful, we can be the pioneer generation!” and I just thought that was so awesome. Of course I think the joke here is that none of these girls are remotely what would be considered beautiful by traditional Thai standards, but you know what? Screw you. Cheer is freaking fierce and I love her. And that is my massive massive problem with this movie. It takes this awkward heroine and her shameless but absolutely fierce friends and by the end of the movie manages to remove just about everything that made any of them even remotely engaging to watch.

Over the course of three years Nam changes from “ugly” duckling to beautiful swan (while also miraculously changing to a much lighter skin colour – hurrah for toxic skin-whintening products!) and in the process manages to somehow loose all her personality. While before her pursuit of P’Shone was funny and cute, towards the latter half of the film Nam takes an increasingly passive role in her pursuit of Shone and just allows other people’s actions (Shone’s friend asking her out, Shone going out with another girl) to guide her life. She moons over Shone while allowing life to blow her in every which direction without once taking charge. And that makes her considerably less interesting than the younger girl who at least planned ways in which she could bump into him or speak to him. Not to mention at the beginning of the film there’s this running joke of how girls pretend to sprain their ankles to get the attention of boys like P’Shone – it’s done so often I can only assume it must be satirical? But by the end of the film our heroine does just that (although I think we’re meant to take it that she  actually sprains her ankle rather than pretending – but still). Whereas in the beginning it was an action her and her friends laughed at (“Oh-ho, so drama!”) by the end she is doing exactly the same thing.

For these reasons the second half of the movie is pretty weak.

The ending is by far the worse though. Nine years later Nam is back in Thailand from the USA (where she met her father, did her studies and became an apparently very successful fashion designer). It is on a talkshow that she is reunited with Shone who has been waiting all this time for her to return – revealing that he too, had always been in love with her since the very beginning.

A few thoughts on this:

– She became a fashion designer?? Why? How? There is absolutely NO indication earlier on in the film that she had any kind of artistic talent or inclination outside of performing in Snow White. Shone’s love of photography and football are well-developed throughout the movie, so it is unsurprising that he grows up to become a footballer (and then after he leaves football a photographer) but seriously – there is not indication whatsoever that Nam likes fashion or loves to draw. None.
– In nine years they both loved each other but neither thought to get in touch or call or e-mail or something?? I mean I know she’s in America and all but seriously – skype is free!

But worse of all is the moral that I think we’re supposed to take from the film. Nam tells the talk-show host that all the things she’d done in her life – making herself more beautiful (more white!), studying harder, taking part in extra-curricular activities – all these things she did to “better” herself she did out of love for Shone. Now here’s the thing: I can understand the message that love ennobles us, that it makes us want to be better than who we are. I totally get that and I can even get behind that (though I usually think “bettering” oneself in terms of – oh I don’t know, becoming a more honest, caring and considerate person). But really? Bettering oneself shouldn’t have to involve skin bleach. This is especially insidious considering the massive skin-whitening industry in Thailand that consistently tells Thai women (most of whom aren’t white-skinned) that they look ugly because their skin isn’t fair enough.  Also: this was her only life’s motivation? Whatever happened to studying hard so that she could meet her dad? (Apparently that motivation is completely forgotten by this movie who decides to ascribe Nam’s academic achievements to love too).

To conclude, I do love this movie (I know, you wouldn’t have guessed it from the way I speak of it) but genuinely I do. It’s a funny and sweet movie that never fails to make me laugh, but I can’t help but feel that half-way through the director decided to make an entirely different movie, and I have to say I like the second movie considerably less. The second-half is not only boring but pretty much serves to completely undermine the confidence the four girls had in the beginning of the movie with a really awful message. It’s definitely still worth a watch for the laughs, check out the trailer and go see it for yourself (Although YMMV on the skin-whitening thing).

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Ginie’s Art Update!

Just added my latest Labyrinth fanart to the Fanart Illustration page

Also keep your eyes peeled for some Howl’s Moving Castle art which should be up shortly too.

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