El Sijo's Blog

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Review: Steven Universe’s episode “Reunited”

This episode made it official for me: while I like the Steven Universe series for its mythos, I really don’t care for its normal human characters- with the exception of Steven’s girlfriend Connie, I find them boring at best and annoying at worst. Still, this was an epic episode, once we got to the action.

Summary: After the revelation that (spoilers) Steven’ mom was actually the missing Pink Diamond all along, which led to a brief separation between Ruby and Sapphire, Steven helped them get back together and marry. Just as the ceremony is complete however, Blue Diamond and Yellow Diamond show up, intending to destroy the Earth!

The wedding was OK, even touching. But it had some parts that annoyed me, like why was the usually girlish Sapphire wearing the suit, and the tomboyish Ruby wearing the dress? I get that its a joke and also probably meant to please the show’s LBGT audience, and I don’t really mind it by itself, it just doesn’t make much sense in-universe. Neither does the fact that the guy who had the crush on Garnet and Major Dewey suddenly begin dancing with each other. There’s such a thing as pushing an agenda too hard.

Thankfully, the action part of the episode made up for it. The Diamonds’ plan to use The Cluster to destroy Earth backfires when it sides with Steven. Ok I didn’t see that coming! Nice touch. And I won’t deny that Lapis’ return almost made me tear up. Just one thing: In the battle against the diamonds, the Crystal Gems only merged briefly. Heck, why didn’t ALL of them merge into a new fusion? I get they wanted Steven to save the day, but again, it doesn’t make much sense in-story.

The final resolution however, did make sense as Steve was able to prove that the last fragment of Pink Diamond is now part of him. What now? Judging from the next episode bits [and the fact that next episode is #150] it could very well be the Series Finale. Well there are a few loose ends left [Lars is still in space, where is White Diamond etc.] but overall I don’t see much that could not be wrapped in say, a TV special.

Overall, I must say that Steven Universe is an unique experience, with great ideas even though marred by some bad characters and too much of a LGBT agenda [again, I don’t mind the latter but you know kids are going to be confused, and no I don’t believe gender issues are appropriate for preteens.] Still I have enjoyed the show and am glad it exists.

 

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Final Space: Dark Sci-Fi done surprisingly well

I’m usually not a fan of ‘dark comedy’, much less of graphic violence. But I must admit, TBS’ new animated series, Final Space, has impressed me with its quality. Its still repulsive, but it gives a ‘this is leading to something big’ feeling; you get the impression its creator had a vision he’s very confident in.

The basic concept involves Gary, a petty thief from sometime in Earth’s future who has been condemned to 5 years of solitary confinement- aboard the Galaxy 1, a spaceship manned only by robots. His crime? Having caused massive destruction accidentally while disguised as a pilot so he could hit on Quinn, a female captain of the Galactic Guard! (yeah he’s an idiot. And a jerk. And unlucky.)

Being alone (except for the robots, who are either uncaring, or @$$holes) has driven him at least half-mad. So when he finds a cute alien creature, he adopts it as a pet, calling it “Mooncake”. He’s unaware that it possesses tremendous destructive power, and an alien tyrant named Lord Commander is looking for it.

Eventually, Gary is joined by Avocato, a green cat-like alien bounty hunter, who is looking for his son (who was kidnapped by the Commander) and by Quinn, since she has discovered something is destroying the universe but no one believes her. Meanwhile, a mysterious figure is watching these events unfold…

Of all these concepts, its curiously, Gary himself that I find most intriguing. You rarely see a space prisoner as a protagonist. Also, is he crazy or not? What will be his role in saving the universe IF it can be saved (you never know with this kind of show). One more thing of note: Every episode starts with Gary adrift in space, with his suit’s AI telling him how much time he has left to live. We don’t know when this happens but it appears to be a flash-forward to the last episode. So we know where he ends up but not how or if survives or what if anything he does afterward. Its a great hook.

That said, sometimes its hard to watch this show. The biting cynicism gets tiresome after a while and if you don’t like to watch characters dying in gory ways, skip it entirely.

Still, my interest is piqued enough that I will continue to watch probably until the end (unless they do something to really tick me off before that.) Recommended for fans of Science Fiction who like comedy, distopic futures and who don’t mind gore.

 


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The Best of 2016

rs_600x600-161202140354-600-best-of-2016-mhTo many people -including myself- 2016 was a bad year. But nothing is absolute; there were good things as well. And since this is a science fiction/fantasy blog (and I don’t care to remember the bad things) I present you now my favorite series of 2016:

This was a surprisingly good year in animation. In addition to expected hits like Zootopia and Moana, we had films like Kubo and the Two Strings (stop-motion, but it counts) and even Storks and Sing were much better than I expected! On television, Steven Universe continues to reign with shocking revelations both personal and cosmic; and the return of DC’s heroes in Justice League Action was long awaited. And as a Latino, I appreciated Disney finally giving us our own Princess with Elena of Avalor.

As for Japanese animation, my favorite of the year was My Hero Academia– best American-style superhero show ever done in Japan ever (I also liked One Punch Man, which was also about superheroes, but was more of a deconstruction.) Funniest Anime of the year goes to Konosuba (God’s Blessing on this Wonderful World) which deconstructed fantasy role-playing games. On the other hand, I had a love/hate relationship with Re:Zero. For one thing, it was a show for sadists, as the main characters were killed or made to suffer over and over again- but at the same time, it had an intriguing premise that begged you to keep watching to see if the heroes would ever win. (I guess I understand why people watch The Walking Dead now.) Funny how deconstruction seems to be a theme these days eh?

In live action, I didn’t see that many movies. Deadpool was another surprise in that I hate the character but I enjoyed most the film well enough. Captain America: Civil War was thankfully excellent despite being based on a terribly comics storyline. Doctor Strange was OK but I wasn’t too happy with the changes they made (I  refer more to the SFX than the ethnicity of some characters). Arrival was probably the smartest film of the year (probably too smart for its own good.) Before you ask, no I didn’t see Rogue One yet (I’m not that big of a Star Wars fan, especially when I knew the ending ahead.) I’ll catch it in DVD and tell you my opinion then.

I don’t watch much television these days -most comedies and dramas don’t do much for me- but I was hooked by two in particular: The Good Place and Designated Survivor. Both have surprisingly clever writing. And I’m quite amazed in how Good Place is effectively mocking the conventions of religion yet hasn’t gotten called in for it. As for survivor, you might wonder why its listed here. Well, since it obviously takes place in a different version of the present, I count it as Science Fiction. In any case, its a clever use of the designated survivor protocol as well as a great drama with lots of intrigue. And do I really need to say that Stranger Things is also on my list?

Finally, we had some great video games as well. Pokemon celebrated its 20th anniversary successfully with Pokemon Sun and Moon, which not only had a neat Polynesian setting (which in turn had great synergy with Moana’s) but also modernized the franchise in many ways. Final Fantasy also had a great year with both the fun World of Final Fantasy and the more traditional Final Fantasy XV. Note I don’t play shooters, so I can’t talk about Overwatch.

That’s all I can think of now, but there were plenty of other things both I (and I’m sure, you) enjoyed as well last year.


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Why Superheroes and pessimism don’t mix

Wow, I haven’t posted here since July? superman_vs-_the_elite_2012My apologies, I was really really busy both with other projects and personal matters. I hope to do so more often from now on.

Anyway: today’s subject is one that has bothered me since the late 80’s, when the whole “Grim and Gritty” comic book era began. But lately its become more obvious than ever, especially with the clash in styles between the Marvel and DC comics movies. So I want to give my two cents on the matter.

First, let’s define exactly what a super hero *is*.  Most people assume that any character with powers and/or a costume is a superhero. This is not correct.

Originally, a Hero was anyone who achieved feats beyond the usual. Morality was not a important factor; most of the good they did was incidental- for example they happened to slay a monster that preyed on the locals, but not necessarily because they cared about them. Hercules has had his image cleaned up in modern versions but in the original tales he wasn’t so nice, he even killed his own family during one of his berserk rages.

However it cannot be denied that has changed over the years; civilization has progressed and despite what many cynics will claim most people today respect life and other human rights, and revere those who step up to defend them. Policemen, firefighters and medics are very much real-life heroes, most of the time.

In order to be a super hero, then, the character must be capable of feats beyond even those of modern human heroes. That’s where superpowers, of any kind, come in. And yes I’m aware that I’m implying that characters without powers, such as Batman, aren’t true super heroes. And they’re not- they are crimefighters at best. Now I’m not saying they cannot be just as noble or effective, but at the end of the day, the superhumans have the advantage. Sure, Batman might be able to beat most foes, but he’s also very smart and resourceful, something that doesn’t apply to every hero (even those with powers.)

Note that having a costume or a code name, while they are traditional tropes, are not strictly necessary. Most characters in the TV show Heroes did not wear anything unusual, for example (ironically, despite the title most characters there weren’t sufficiently heroic to count either.)

So we can conclude that a superhero must both be *truly* heroic AND have superpowers. This leaves out characters like The Punisher or Deadpool. Not that they call themselves heroes, but their fans do (and the companies behind them market them as such.)

Now I’m not saying this type of characters cannot have their fans. They exist to fulfill certain type of audience’s fantasies, and that is OK. Unfortunately their popularity has stained the public image of heroes, at least in the mind of some writers (who feel that superheroes MUST be deconstructed, as if everyone had a skeleton in their closet that has to be brought out) and even worse, on those of company executives who think “grim” is the “in” thing now so the characters much change to fit.

This is where I take umbrage; you can have your “dark” heroes if you want, but don’t mess with mine. I don’t care to see Superman, for example, who is supposed to be the greatest of heroes, reduced to a mopey bully because its more “realistic.” Sadly, the only way we can protest is by announcing our opposition (like I do here in my blog) and with our wallets (don’t spend money on their comics, movies or merchandise.) Now I know these things are cyclical and will someday change again; I hope its sooner rather than later.


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Diversity and Superheroes

why-black-panther-and-other-non-white-superheroes-are-necessary-today-a-more-diverse-cre-498185

Diversity is a hot topic these days; minorities want more representation, and the world of entertainment has tried to provide it. Now that superheroes have become a fad, it is only logical they follow suit. But the way it’s being done, honestly, baffles me. For the most part, instead of giving more exposure to characters of diverse genders, ethnicities or religions that they already own, they are changing existing characters to fit those roles!

For example, Thor was replaced by a woman (and not by Lady Sif or the Valkyrie, long-time supporting characters of his, as you’d expect) who just called herself “Thor”; Jimmy Olsen was hinted as being a Transvestite- never mind that all the times he had dressed as a woman were as disguises (and those stories were intended to be humorous) and later reinvented as a Black Man on the Supergirl TV show! Batwoman was reintroduced as a Lesbian, never mind that the original version was most definitely straight (why not give the identity to Det. Montoya, an existing lesbian character instead?) and there was a controversy over whether Daniel Rand (Iron Fist) should be made Asian for the live action TV show, simply because some people think the “White Guy who masters Kung Fu” stereotype is offensive. Honestly, this feels like tokenism to me: “why use the actual minority characters when you can change more popular ones to fill in for them?” Besides, you know that, in most cases, these characters will return to their original status. Does anyone believe The Falcon will remain as Captain America?

Admittedly, Non-WASP characters are few and rarely as well known as most major Comic Book characters. But if no push is done, their situation will never improve. After all, there were times no one had heard of Superman or Spider-Man! I’m pretty sure if they wanted, DC and Marvel (and their parent companies) could find ways to make them popular. Make them members of famous teams, then give them their own spin off series, movies or shows. Most people agree Marvel screwed up in not giving Black Widow her own movie by now, despite being one of the most popular characters in the Avengers movies, for example. Sure they might fail, but if they never try, how will they know?

Also, if they feel they don’t have diverse characters who are strong enough to support their own series, or fear the ones they have are too stereotypical (which admittedly was a problem with many) then create new ones! The new Miss Marvel, a Pakistani-American teenage girl, has been very popular in the comics, and I bet she would transition very well to TV.

All I’m saying is, if the big companies really want to gain the support of minorities, they need to give more than a token effort. One of those “obscure” heroes might very well be the next Big Thing.