Friday, June 11, 2021

Sailor Moon Eternal - New Fans Not Welcome

 If you're into Sailor Moon you're going to love this. 

There. Easy review. Now I can go back to watching Castlevania. 

Okay, let me clarify. 

The Appeal of Sailor Moon

It's hard to clarify the appeal of Sailor Moon. To call it "girly" would imply that something being feminine is a bad thing, but when the main character is told by a Pegasus that the best way to defeat the darkness is to believe in your heart's true dreams and also she's a princess I can't think of a better term. That being said, I personally am a Sailor Moon fan, and that the appeal to me is in the unapologetic cheesiness in the whole affair. 



Interestingly enough, Sailor Moon is an interesting hero as she's not a perfect hero. She's best compared to Buffy who just wants a normal life but due to circumstance has to be a hero. These are not weak women, but women who just want a normal life, one where the biggest thing they have to worry about is who they have a crush on. Instead, with the fate of the world on their shoulders, they have to learn to bare the burden despite being young and completely inexperienced. The inspiration comes from when they stand up against the bad guys, which is a fantastic allegory of early childhood trauma, having to grow up before one is ready and finding the strength to take on additional burdens. 

Anyway, About the Movie

So Sailor Moon Eternal on Netflix is less of a movie and more of a season cut together to make a movie. Following from Sailor Moon Crystal season three, the story follows the dream story arc from the manga. 

Okay, let's try this: 

So the Outer Guardians are semi-retired and raising Sailor Saturn who was turned back into a child while living normal lives. Chibi Moon is getting ready to return to the future but first wants to spend some time with her future parents Sailor Moon and Tuxedo Mask. When going back to where the time key will work, they see that it's become a meeting place for people to watch the lunar eclipse, which the trio join. During the eclipse a spaceship is spotted and invites to the Dark Moon Circus appear mysteriously around town, and the Sailor Guardians find that they are unable to transform. Chibi Moon starts dreaming about a pegasus in her dreams telling her that he needs her help. 



Okay, I can't go on because it is a whole season that lasts six hours and that was barely the first episode, but TLDR there's some bad guys who want the Silver Crystal (as always) and draw power from people's suffering (as always) and the Guardians need to stop them (as always). 

It's a standard season of Sailor Moon but it's condensed and on Netflix. The plot and characters are all that we've always loved, but the real treat is the Crystal level animation. Old Sailor Moon fans will enjoy the visuals if they haven't had access to Crystal before now, which is on Hulu's premium subscription, and the experience was a treat despite being hard to describe. 

Worth It? 

Sailor Moon Eternal is great for old and new fans alike, but just for context it is made for fans. The film doesn't explain who the Sailor Guardians are, what their powers are, or establish relationships. Not every film needs to be open to new fans, and sometimes it's nice to see something that jumps right into the action. 



If you love Sailor Moon and want to try Crystal's style but don't have access to it, check Sailor Moon Eternal out on Netflix. 

Monday, June 7, 2021

Pokemon Nicknames: Harry Potter (Gen I-III)

I've recently started re-reading Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone as I begin the series again. As I do (and as I perpetually play my Pokemon games) I'm looking for more fun nicknames to use. I'm currently using Harry Potter-themed nicknames on Yellow, so I wanted to share a few ideas I had in Gen I and beyong. And a few Fantastic Beasts nicknames as well.

PS: I'm way too proud of a couple of these.


Charizard

Norbert


Raticate

Wormtail
(also Scabbers or Pettigrew)
Bellsprout

Pickett

Zapdos

Frank

Moltres
(also Ho-Oh)

Fawkes

Furret

Draco


Linoone

Helga
Mightyena
(also Houndoom)

Padfoot
(also Sirius or Snuffles)
Seviper

Nagini
Sharpedo
(also Gible)
Krum

Friday, June 4, 2021

The One With the Reunion


For years fans have been wanting a Friends reunion. It's been 17 years and in the meantime Boy Meets World got Girl Meets World and Full House got Fuller House. But we never got to see the six Friends return to Central Perk for a reunion... until now. (Spoilers for the Friends reunion ahead, duh)

Seeing the cast reunite in the opening, one by one, and check out the sets of Monica and Rachel's and Joey and Chandler's apartment. It was heartwarming to see them reminisce and explore the memories of filming. And then enter the theme song. The original theme song, interspersed with clips from the reunion. Wow! 


And the show kept it going with tales from the set, past and present. Seeing Matt LeBlanc and Matthew Perry drop into their Barcaloungers was something special. It's like they were Joey and Chandler all over again. Matt and Matthew in their chairs together again. And then you had the whole cast playing Ross's trivia game again, this time about the series (and everyone forgot that Chandler worked in Statistical Analysis and Data Reconfiguration--to be fair, I copied that from the Friends wiki to make sure I had it right). They also told the story of how Matt LeBlanc's arm got dislocated; I had just been wondering if he was actually injured when Joey was in a sling. Turns out he was.

"It's about that one time in your life when your friends are your family."


Seeing fans from all over the world made me feel like I'm part of something. You get that feeling of community with Harry Potter, but I don't know if there are any other franchises like that. All over the world people found hope and joy and companionship through these six over the course of the last 30 years. It's given people a sense of home when they felt alone.

And it's not even just the fans who feel that. Look at all the guest stars who came back. Mr. Heckles! Tom Selleck! Christina Pickles and Elliot Gould! Even Joey's hand twin! AND JANICE!!!

Also, let's talk about Matthew Perry opening up about his fear and anxiety about the audience not laughing at his lines. Not even the other Friends knew this about him. I feel that fear. It's not about my comedy (although sometimes on here it is, I suppose) but it's about how I'm perceived by other people. We all want to be loved and appreciated. And most Friends fans know about how Matthew Perry struggled with drugs and mental health, which makes him even more relatable.

Smelly cat!!!

I know a lot of us fans wanted to see a movie or a TV special, reuniting the characters and not just the actors. But like Lisa said in the reunion special, that would involve taking apart the happy endings that everyone had in the final season. If we were never going to get that, I'm glad we got this special. It's beautiful to see the six Friends still friends almost two decades after the series ended. We all need friends like that and these six have been that for all of us at one point or another.

In the end, whether your job's a joke or your love life's DOA, they'll be there for you.

Wednesday, June 2, 2021

Zoey's Extraordinary Loss and Vulnerability

Zoey is dealing with some tremendous loss on her journey. The obvious loss is the death of her father, but the less obvious losses include her boss, her boyfriend (and best friend), and the life she once knew. The second season of Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist deals with these losses and how Zoey faces her grief head-on. Zoey loses much more than the obvious (her father's gradual degeneration from Progressive Supranuclear Palsy, his death, breaking up with Max). Zoey also lost connection with others, she lost her ability to express her own feelings adequately, and she lost the center of her world. What most people don’t realize is when they lose a loved one, it’s so much more than just the loss of that individual. The peripheral losses are often just as devastating as the loss of the person themself.  Relationships sometimes become unstable; routines get disrupted in a major way; and one may even lose their own identity. These losses are often just as devastating as the loss of the person themself, and sometimes can be even harder to deal with.

In speaking with my own therapist after I had some big losses pile up against me, I learned that those losses were affecting my ability to function in basic parts of my life. I was scared to refinance my house because I didn’t want to face another rejection. I had trouble connecting with certain friends because they reminded me too much of my best friend who took his own life. I was frightened to fully enter into romantic relationships because they would trigger memories of my divorce. I had a hard time talking to Heavenly Father because I blamed Him for a lot of my loss. And I was hesitant to be truly authentic in my life because my identity was often tied to some of the things I was losing, and so I didn’t really know who I was.

Zoey Clarke has taught me that being fearless is the only way to live. I’ve seen how unhappy and dissatisfied she was when she couldn’t connect. Who didn’t cry buckets when she and Max broke up? (C’mon, Zoey, SAY SOMETHING!) We’ve seen her break down at work because she can’t find her footing. And we’ve witnessed Zoey at war with herself because she couldn’t deal with so much loss in her life. I don’t want to live like that, and Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist paints a way through devastating loss. Vulnerability. It’s as though BrenĂ© Brown were a writer for NBC!

As Zoey opens herself up and actually shares how she’s feeling, she finds connection. Zoey learns to actually SAY SOMETHING! and finds the comfort she so desperately is looking for. Nobody will ever replace Zoey’s father. Her relationship with Max may be salvageable (yay Team Max!), but it will never be the innocent peanuts and crackerjack relationship that it once was at the beginning of the season. Zoey’s relationship with Simon has irrevocably changed, and that’s not a bad thing. Her relationship with her mother has strengthened and deepend in ways that are beautiful and enrich both their lives. Even Zoey’s relationship with work, with her emotions, and with control have changed because of her loss, and because she was vulnerable. 

To paraphrase an inspirational quote, Zoey is the person in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly. She knows that if she fails, at least she fails while daring greatly, so that her place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat. Zoey is living.

And look at that, we didn't even mention the music!

Monday, May 31, 2021

Cruella - Disney's Latest Darling

Here's a fun puzzle: How do you retell the story of a puppy-skinning psychopath who smokes at least a pack a day for modern audiences and make the person not only relatable but likable? 

The answer: You cast Emma Stone as the puppy-skinning psychopath. 

Beware: There be spoilers ahead. 

Sympathy for the DeVil

Cruella jumps us back to the titular character's childhood where she always had a knack for misbehaving and for extreme fashion, both of which kept her in constant trouble. Called Stella by her mother, she meets her lifelong friend Anita Darling and is forced to move to London after getting expelled from her school. After some next level Disney tragedy she becomes an orphan living on the streets of London with her two new friends, Horace and Jasper, and their dogs, Buddy and Wink. They grow up as thieves with Cruella dreaming of becoming a high fashion designer. 

Stella gets her chance to work for the Baroness, the Devil Wears Prada of 1970's London fashion, played gloriously by Emma Thompson, where she excels as a beginner designer, until she finds out that her boss killed her mom. Drama ensues as Stella plots to take revenge on the evil Baroness and embrace her true Cruella self. 

You'll notice that nowhere did I mention Dalmatians. While Dalmatians, three in fact, do play a role in the plot they are not the absolute crux of the story. They seem like they would be at one point, but more on that later. The main focus of the story is on Cruella realizing that while her inner true self may not be what society accepts, it is who she truly is, and that letting her freak flag fly is the only way to live her authentic self. 

Bad Vs. Evil

The trick to making films about villains is to frame their actions as believable and relatable, and Disney tends to go with vengeance as a good motivator (Going the slow and complete destruction of a person's psyche Joker style is probably too far from Disney's family friendly label). Cruella as a character is framed here as being bad, going against the grain but having moral lines she won't cross unless absolutely necessary. 

In a brilliant piece of cinematic writing, the audience is set up to wonder just how far Disney will come to the line of making Cruella evil by ambiguously implying that she did skin a dog to make a coat. When it's revealed that she didn't and only wore a fabulously spotted coat to egg on her enemy the sense of relief is palpable. Cruella may hint at skinning an innocent doggo, but as long as she has access to a JoAnne's Fabric the act won't be necessary. 

Worth the $30? 

The big question hanging over a lot of new releases on Disney Plus are around the Premier Access price for new movies, an extra $30 to see the movie when it's released. While I can't speak for certain on Disney's last two attempts, Mulan  and Raya and the Last Dragon, I will say that Cruella was well worth the $30. Considering that we were finally able to host a watch party with friends, the cost of tickets vs the cost of Premier Access was more than even. If you're scrolling through your Disney Plus account and wondering if it's worth it, I say it is, though watch it a couple times to feel like you got your money's worth. 

-JOE

Friday, May 28, 2021

Heroes of the Forgotten Realms - D&D Avengers

Dungeons and Dragons is certainly enjoying a new golden age, evident by all the new books, video games, toys, TV shows and Magic the Gathering crossovers that are coming out this year. Featuring foremost in are Dungeons and Dragons long-lived stars, the Heroes of Mitheral Hall. While new fans may be more familiar with Vox Machina and the Mighty Nein, I figured it'll be helpful to talk about Dungeons and Dragons OG stars. 

Plus it gives me a chance to gush over my favorite dark elf, Drizzt. :)



Welcome to the Forgotten Realms

If you're looking at Dungeons and Dragons products produced by Wizards of the Coast you'll probably see the Forgotten Realms thrown around. This is D&D's basic world. This is where most of the adventure books take place, where most of the books take place, and where nearly all the video games take place. It's a world where magic is a thing, Elves, Dwarves, Halflings, Gnomes and all sorts of other people and monsters live alongside humans and where something is always happening that require the need for adventurers. The world has every biome and setting for any basic D&D campaign, and the stories written for it can easily be transplanted into any dungeon master's homebrew setting. It's not the most innovative universe, since it's basically Middle Earth the next generation, but sometimes that's all you need for some great adventures. 

And Now for the Star of Our Show: Drizzt

Drizzt Do'Urden (Don't ask me how to properly pronounce it) is unarguably the main character in D&D's Forgotten Realms push. Premering in 1988 in R.A. Salvatore's The Crystal Shard series as a secondary character, Drizzt quickly became a fan favorite and now has nearly 40 books published about his adventures, plus appearing all over D&D merchandise. 

Born a Drow (dark elf) in the underground city of his people, Drizzt learned that he had something most other Drow were not born with: a consience. He escaped his dark homeland, coming to the surface to embrace a new life where he can follow his heart, despite quickly realizing that his dark heritage will always mark him as an outsider to people who don't know him. His ebony skin and white hair forever marking him as one of the realm's most dangerous people. Armed with his scimitars, an incredible fighting skill and his magical panther Guenhwyvar. 

I have to admit that despite my love of the character (I own the Funko Pop and am planning on obtaining the Magic the Gathering card as soon as it comes out), the character does come across as a bit of a Mary Sue, usually able to either outwit or outfight any problem he comes across. He's heralded as one of the best fighters in o'er the land and everyone who gets to know him wants to be his best friend unless they're a bad guy and even then they usually respect him. That all being said I love Drizzt for his unashamed awesomeness and his angsty little journal entries we get throughout the books where he contemplates the meaning of his existence in a world that will always hate and misunderstand him. There's a charm that Drizzt brings to the experience that for me similar characters like Batman and Wolverine just can't seem to match. Maybe it's the high fantasy. Maybe it's how cool Drow society is depicted in the fictions. I don't know, but there's a reason audiences have fallen in love with him and why he is overused by the Dungeons and Dragons writers. 

Bruenor Battlehammer-A Dwarf to Beat All Dwarves

You know how Gimli from the Lord of the Rings films started off as an awesome warrior but by the end devolved into someone's annoying uncle? Bruenor is Gimli if he never devolved. Born the prince of Mitheral Hall his people had to flee after an attack by deep Dwarves (Deeper Dwarves, just go with it) and they fled to the frigid lands of Icewind Dale. Eventually he gathered a group to retake his ancestral land and reclaim the ancient throne for himself and his people. 

Bruenor is a warrior/smithy/king/nanny who is not afraid to confront every problem with a swinging axe or hammer, but only after deciding the best place to put said hammer or axe. He's a brilliant battle strategist and cunning warrior, demonstrating that height means nothing to a Dwarf. He is also prone to picking up strays, as nearly his entire adventuring party ends up being people he adopted because they had nowhere else to go, including Drizzt his lonely friend, Cattie-Brie his adopted human daughter, Wulfgar his adopted human son, and Regis the Halfling who he keeps alive because someone needs to. It gives Bruenor depth to know that he can be at one moment a warrior king and in the next a protective father and friend. 

Catti-Brie, the Not-So-Token Female

At a young age, Catti-Brie's family was killed in a goblin raid. Before she joined them, the girl was rescued by a Dwarven patrol, lead by Bruenor. He adopted the girl and raised her in the mines beneath Icewind Dale, where she learned the values of the Dwarven people. Her education included fighting prowess at the hands of her adopted father, and she thus has become a skilled warrior in her own right. Combined with her enchanted bow and heavy Scottish accent (Thank you again Tolken) she picked up from her adopted people, she's basically high-fantasy Merida, which is not a bad thing. 

Wulfgar, the Blonde One

Another stray adopted by Bruenor, Wulfgar didn't join the Dwarf until he was in his late teens having grown up among the barbarians of the frigid north. He was shown mercy by the dwarf during battle who only saw a scared child inside a warrior's body. Wulfgar was held as a prisoner for several years, until he understood that his people could benefit just as much from peace as from raiding, a rare intelligent conclusion coming from the muscle bound barbarian. Wulfgar has been shown to let pride take place of reason, including waking up a sleeping dragon so he could fight it properly, and not realizing until deep in the adventure that the person who tried to sew discord among his party was an enemy in disguise-long after everyone already knew, including him. Wulfgar is a magnificent warrior, especially after wielding Aegis Fang, the magical war hammer crafted by Bruenor specifically for the barbarian, but they're are times when he's lucky he's good at something besides thinking. 

Regis Rumblebelly

Regis is a character that does not get his just due. While the rest of the heroes show up frequently across media, Regis is usually absent, presumably because nobody wants to play as a fat little Hobbit. Hailing from the deep south, Regis found himself in trouble with the head of the thieves guild he was part of, mainly because he stole the leader's enchanted ruby pendant. The Halfling fled north and became a prominent member of the Icewind Dale community and friends with Bruenor et al,  becoming yet another person for Bruenor to look after. Regis is a decent thief and con artist, usually apt at escaping situations he can't handle rather then confronting them head on, which has lead to no end of trouble. Nicknamed Rumblebelly by Bruenor for always wanting something to eat, the Halfling nevertheless has gained the respect of the traveling companions, and even becoming a general in Bruenor's Dwarven army, a position never given to non-Dwarves. Regis demonstrates that being clever is sometimes better than being strong.

The Big Deal

So my fanboy level gushing aside, the entire Forgotten Realms franchise is a marketing exercise that has grown into a beast of its own. Originally meant to sell Dungeons and Dragons to new audiences, the stories have created fans that could give less than a baby owlbear pellet for the game, and many people who play the game have never heard of Drizzt or his friends outside of the occasional reference in the Player's Handbook. We can attribute the reemergence of the companions this year mainly to the popularity of Critical Role and similar D&D games broadcast over the internet which renewed interest in the game in ways that the company could only dream of. To take advantage of the hype and steer new fans towards Wizard's existing franchises, the heroes of Mitheral Hall are being displayed front and center. Time will only tell if it works, and existing fans can only help the hype increases visibility of the characters and doesn't lead to something disasterous in the same vein as making Raven a comic relief character in Teen Titans Go!

Don't mess with my Drow, Wizards. 

-JOE

Monday, May 24, 2021

Why Boy Meets World is Still Relevant


My wife and I are finishing up a re-watch of Girl Meets World. Every time we watch, we naturally have the desire to re-watch Boy Meets World as well. It’s been over 20 years since the show ended and yet it still remains just as poignant as ever. The technology and the pop culture references might be a bit dated (read: nostalgic) but the stories hold up over time. So let’s talk about those for a second.


Discrimination

Early on in the series, Cory made a bet with Feeny that he could be a better teacher. It was a simple idea meant to teach Cory a lesson, but it got real fast when Eric’s friend was hurt by a racial slur. The incident impacted how Cory went on to teach about Anne Frank. What a way to teach 6th graders about racism and discrimination. As a white male, I can’t say I’ve ever really been discriminated against, but this episode hits me every time. I can’t put into words how real this made things for me. So give “Teacher’s Bet” a watch to see how Cory handled it all.


Boundaries 

A couple episodes in the series really hit hard about appropriate boundaries and expectations for interacting with other people (particularly members of the opposite sex). The first happened in “Chick Like Me” when Shawn had a rude awakening to his own faults, when (dressed up as a girl) he felt pressured beyond his comfort when a boy made a pass at him. The second episode happened later on in Cory’s college years during “Everybody Loves Stuart” when a young college professor tried to push boundaries with Topanga, making her feel unsafe. With sexual assault being a devastating issue these days (I swear it's worse and worse as the years pass), it’s important to understand boundaries and to teach it on a teen show back in the late nineties blows me away. (Also, you need to watch Cory throw a punch at Stuart in that episode (played by his real life brother, Fred Savage)


The Family We Choose

I came from a good family with reliable, loving parents. Unfortunately, not everyone does. Shawn was one of those unfortunate cases, leaving him feeling like he didn’t belong anywhere. In “Cult Fiction”, this feeling took Shawn to the arms of a Mr. Mack and his “Centre”. We don’t know exactly what kind of financial, emotional, or physical way Mr. Mack was using Shawn, but it was clear that Turner, Feeny, and the Matthews had reason not to trust him. It was in episodes like this that Shawn was able to get a glimpse into which relationships really mattered to him. Even though he didn’t have a reliable set of parents, he chose to make the Matthews and Mr. Turner into his family. A lesson that would go with him into Girl Meets World when he befriended and mentored Maya.


Abuse

So I talked about boundaries already, but Boy Meets World also tackled the idea of abuse. In “Dangerous Secret” Shawn found out that his friend Claire was being physically abused by her father. Like many abuse victims, she didn’t want to report her dad at first and just focused on getting her a safe place to sleep each night. But for the other teens, what to do? Call the cops? Put her on a bus? The episode had a happy ending, but it posed many questions that you wouldn’t have expected teenagers to have to consider. Domestic abuse still happens twenty years later, but knowing how to respond is the first step.


Sex

The show did a fantastic job portraying various aspects of romantic relationships. As the teens figured out dating, high school, college, and marriage, it was natural for the subject of sex to come up over the years. In “Dangerous Secret” after misunderstanding Shawn’s relationship with Claire, Cory acted almost as though Topanga owed him sex. Big no no. Later on, in “Prom-ises, Prom-ises”, we got the consequence of (possibly) unprotected sex when Amy and Alan discovered they were pregnant again. The reveal of which taught Cory and Topanga some self-restraint and responsibility. The way this show talked about sex was done in a respectful way that I don’t feel like happens anymore. And I didn't even dig into that time when everyone thought Cory slept with Topanga in the computer lab.

Like I said before, I’m looking forward to re-watching Boy Meets World. It’s one of those shows that has aged so well that it’s still worth watching and re-watching twenty years later. Not the case with every show. I guess we’re all meeting the world when we watch it.

"Boy Meets World... Now I get it."

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