Wednesday, August 30, 2023

Bluey: A Pinnacle of (Family? Everyone's?) Animation


Gotta Love Big Beautiful Pictures of a Beautiful Dog Family

This is a remarkable time of life. We have access to all the animation of our childhood; whether that be Pokémon, Digimon, Winnie the Pooh, or even Peanuts specials, we can go back to the 90s and relive some of our favorite moments, like Ash meeting Pikachu, Tai wrestling Matt (or maybe you prefer Tai's wrestle with anxiety and fear at the pyramid...), or Winnie the Pooh and Piglet running from heffalumps and woozels. Or maybe you preferred Arthur, Sailor Moon, Gargoyles, or Magic School Bus. Or maybe you were a 2000s kid and watched Naruto or Avatar, or Spongebob, or an 80s kid an loved He-Man or She-ra; or maybe I'm too old to be writing about children's cartoons (I still need to watch Phineas and Ferb). We have access to so much that even now, shows seem so numerous as to be diluted in quality, and we are drowning in a sea of media. We forget the glory days, and we get lost in a blase, wishing for days of nostalgia. That's why Bluey is such a miracle. 

Set in Australia, and begun in 2018, Bluey is a preschool kids show. Except that everyone who loves and adores Bluey the most are not just preschool kids, or even elementary school kids (primary school for our Englishly inclined), but even teenagers, young adults, and of course parents. Children love Bluey. Their parents love Bluey. College students love Bluey. Everyone loves bluey. I bet my mom would love Bluey (you would too, if you saw it). So, what's to love? 

from Magic Xylophone

The first thing you'll notice is the vibrant color palette. This is a beautiful show. Every frame is full of detail, and everything helps paint the story, and the idea of this cozy little dog family. Not only that, but the expression and the movement of the characters is so well-done, that you can't help but appreciate every movement. 

from Sleepytime, a perennial favorite

Of course, you could imply some weakness in the design. It paints everything in a very bright, very "picture perfect" kind of light, which gives this challenge: are they maybe, "too perfect" looking? Of course we all know the ideal version of a dog family, but are they actually "real" and imperfect? Ultimately, that comes down to the animators. Sometimes they portray messy carseats, or a messy playroom, or cracks or leaves or hairs, and they'll put in all the details of a busy family with small children. There are even moments where we enter dreams and the imagination in ways that only animation could. This is a show that's got it.

Lovely "Jupiter" (Holst) theme

The second thing you'll have noticed (because you usually notice things you see first), is the fantastic soundtrack. From covers of the best classical music pieces of all time (and some that are particularly English and Commonwealthy), to their own original music, Bluey really smashes the keyboard. Or maybe it stretches some bowstrings. Most of the soundtrack has an energetic tilt to it, that breathes hope and life, but it also is very capable of taking time to breath. Bluey's soundtrack covers the range of emotion, from joy and manic energy, to calm, and even sadness. You'll find some of the strongest sound direction in television here. Oh, and an opening theme that can technically be conducted in 17/4 time.

Just a random, run of the mill background track, nothing special

However, the third thing you'll notice, and possibly the most powerful, is the depiction of strong, resilient familial and friend relationships. For instance Veranda Santa, an episode where family is over for Christmas, portrays the challenges of having a younger sibling or cousin who doesn't understand things well, but also how toddlers still have raw emotions when we mistreat them. This episode, which is only about six or seven minutes long, is able to convey in such a short time such strong concepts and emotions, even character development, that would make even movies blush. What's remarkable is how they're effective in doing this every single episode. Sure, there will be standouts, including ones where there is no dialogue, or ones that deal with particularly heavy adult issues, but these are all done so consistently with taste and with a brightness of hope, that I can't help but love the direction. This show covers such topics as relationship dynamics, methods of teaching, attitude cultivation, patience, mental health, and that's just scratching the surface. The depth here is deep, and appreciated.

from Veranda Santa

Of course there is another way that this show really shines, and in fact, it goes all the way back to 1995. Without being particular in every respect, the spirit of the show follows so well the ideals of the Family Proclamation, read in general conference by President Gordon B. Hinkley, that I couldn't help but read out this quote:
"Children are entitled to birth within the bonds of matrimony, and to be reared by a father and a mother who honor marital vows with complete fidelity. Happiness in family life is most likely to be achieved when founded upon the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ. Successful marriages and families are established and maintained on principles of faith, prayer, repentance, forgiveness, respect, love, compassion, work, and wholesome recreational activities. By divine design, fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families. Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children. In these sacred responsibilities, fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners."  
-The Family: A Proclamation to the World

While even the religiously inclined would probably be shocked (surprised more like it) if a popular show depicted prayer or worship, the relationships depicted in this show so powerfully enshrine fidelity, love, respect, compassion, and wholesome recreational activities, that it matches so well with the Family Proclamation. As Brigham Young said, 

“[The gospel] embraces all morality, all virtue, all light, all intelligence, all greatness, and all goodness. It introduces a system of laws and ordinances.”

We can carry with us that light that we are able to find, whatever source it may, and incorporate it into our lives. Bluey shows the beautiful love and affection of family, activities and imagination that build and develops kids and adults, and how to live life well. If you haven't given it a watch, or have been wondering about the hype, go and give it a watch. It'll change your life. You can watch it on Disney+ (I know...). 

Monday, August 28, 2023

The Truth Hurts with the Ember Island Players

Welcome again to an unnecessary and bizarre reflection on obscure geek culture references.

This week my reference isn’t too obscure. I’m told the memes directly drawn from this episode of Avatar the Last Airbender are pretty bounteous. We’re talking about “The Ember Island Players,” season 3, episode 17 of AtLA.

In the episode, the Fire Nation acting troupe put on the play that featured all the members of the Avatar squad with very entertaining portrayals. Aang’s carefree and wholesome nature are captured with a high-pitched female actress ala theatrical castings of Peter Pan. Katara is portrayed as overly emotional and desperately clinging to hope, and making sure everyone knows it. Sokka is played as a goofy jokester who is always hungry. Each of these three, and other members of the team are all in denial and disbelief about any resemblance they have to their on-stage counterpart.

Toph and Suki are the only two people who aren’t completely disgusted by what they see on the stage. The characters insist that their personality was completely misunderstood.

Of course, caricatures are hilarious, and snap judgment is something that creates a sort of common language that we can at times understand collectively as a group. Therefore it can be an effective strategy for creating a piece of popular media. I remember going to a dinner theater near Jackson Hole, Wyoming. If you’re from eastern Idaho, you might have heard of Mack’s Inn. The production we saw was “The Phantom of the Grand ol’ Opry.” I loved it, but I’m a sucker comedy musicals. In this show, at one point the phantom sang a ridiculous parody of the popularly stalking-themed classic by The Police, “Every Breath You Take.” He also wore a mask because his face got stuck in a weird position, not because he was born with any unusual condition, or splashed in the face with acid, or whatever the original phantom’s reason was for covering his face.

Anyway, parody and caricature are fun and funny. But what about when it gets personal?

Toph loves every minute of the play, and declares to the team that the truth hurts. She has the sort of concrete thinking that validates the caricatures, and only works in her favor because the actor in her role is a totally stacked dude the size of a tank. Toph is lucky enough to not have any identity issues, although her ability to empathize with the rest of the team, reach a compromise with others is at times impeded by her fiercely rational and stubborn perspective.

People want to be seen in the way they want, although what we want is not always the reality. Our most noticeable characteristics make more sense in the context of our lives, and yet only we are capable of being fully aware of that context. When they are taken out of context, our mannerisms and choices can be made to seem ridiculous and even humiliating. 

Our brains like to make snap judgments. They save energy, and make use of our ability to process a lot of information quickly. Body language, tone of voice, word choice, and overall appearance say things about a person that create an overall impression that we carry without putting in much effort. These are all the building blocks we need to have a caricature for a person. Imagine the theme park portraits that exaggerate a pronounced chin to proportions grown absurdly cartoonish. 

It takes so much more effort to develop a deeper understanding of a person. The Ember Island Players episode works so well because we can see both sides very clearly. The AtLA story is told in such a way that the whole Avatar squad is made up of three-dimensional characters that have their catchphrases and consistent personality quirks, but who also have surprised us, and grown through the challenges of following the Avatar and getting past their hang-ups and weaknesses. 

Katara has good reason to depend heavily upon hope, as she was forced to grow up prematurely after the death of her mom, and the absence of her father in her life. Her mentions of hope are courageous and useful to help keep herself and her team from becoming hopeless in the face of ongoing war. Aang does have a carefree and wholesome personality, but that doesn’t prevent him from challenging his fears and rising up to the call of taking down Fire Lord Ozai. His trickster tendencies are a mask at times that provide a release valve from the weight of his responsibilities of mastering the four elements, and using them to prevent world domination.

Zuko turns out to be one of the most vulnerable characters, in proportion to how outrageously tough he forced himself to be throughout the first two episodes of the show. His dynamic transformation through the series works so well because he is given sufficient attention to set up his descent from the throne of the Fire Nation, to abandoning his father by choice, and finally realizing that he was meant to be Aang’s firebending teacher.

To wrap things up without going into further details of the episode, the play reveals many details and insights into the Avatar team that are not only cringeworthy, but which the team purposely avoids talking about, including unrequited love, and fears about how things might end up at the final battle. The truth does indeed hurt, as there is always chance you will lose the fight. Yet the team’s ability to stay and watch the whole thing says something about their tolerance for discomfort, and their hope that the way things will end will turn out okay. Luckily for them, the show did not follow suit with the play. It was a play put on by the Fire Nation, so of course the Fire Lord had to win in the end.

This episode is wildly creative and fun to watch. I love it when media like stage shows and cartoons mix together. This episode had a lot of moving parts in it that came together really beautifully. What was your favorite moment from the Ember Island Players?

Friday, August 25, 2023

You Need to Read Cradle!

artist: u/-cloudsmith-

I was told a few years ago by a trustworthy friend that I should read the series Cradle. I put it on my to-read list on Goodreads (follow me on Goodreads), but I waited years to read the series. To be fair I looked for it at my local library and they didn’t have a copy nor did BYU or any bookstores that I visted. Anyways, recently the author, Will Wight, posted on Twitter that all his ebooks were free for a day because of the upcoming novel (the last book in Cradle). So, I got all eleven books for free and another book from a different series he is writing. Let me tell you, I have enjoyed reading these books to the point that I debated if I should read the newest secret project from Brandon Sanderson or continue the series. I have been upset at myself for taking so long to start reading the series. I should have paid for the books and read them sooner. . . . I blame my friend. It’s his fault for not forcing me to read it sooner.

artist: u/meadblossom

To give you some background about this series; these are self-published and sold on Amazon. That explains why I couldn’t find them in stores or at a local library because they usually don’t support self-published authors. I don’t know the details of why they are self-published nor can I tell that they are. 

artist: unknown

Cradle is Chinese inspired level up fantasy. Imagine a book about the origins of Bruce Lee or Jackie Chan and how they trained to become strong fighters. That is how this series is with an RPG aspect to it. If you like any RPG video games like Chrono Cross, Final Fantasy, and Kingdom Hearts where the characters get stronger over encounters and training this book is similar. Cradle also gives off an anime feel to it. So, if you like Naruto, Dragon Ball, or any power up Animes then you will like this too.

artist: Uncannyrewind

The story follows Lindon, an underdog, a person that no one in his village would train and give resources to to become stronger because his spiritual energy (madra) is too weak. There is no point in training someone that is crippled. Even though his madra is low his determination is high, and he embarks on adventures to show his worth. 

To frame how weak he is let me explain how the level system works. If a character obtains so much madra they advance to the next rank. While kids around 10 advances to the second stage he is left at the first stage in his mid-teens. Those on a higher level usually defeat the weaker levels easily. Therefore, Lindon is used to losing to 10-year-olds.

What I really enjoy about this series is the main character stays weak and struggles facing his opponents. He relies on stronger characters to face the main antagonist. Each character gets a spotlight and shows how strong they are while he is catching up. I really appreciate it because it relies on other characters’ strengths and weaknesses. Unlike typical anime’s where one character always faces the main boss, this series gives the supporting characters a place to shine.

artist: u/sugar_skye
I almost forgot to tell you my favorite part of each book. At the end of each novel there is a blooper section where different events could have occurred in the story. It usually makes me laugh. I just wish it was sub-scripted at the end of the chapter where the other event could have occurred instead of the end of the book.

The series is a fun adventure and so far very clean. If this seems like something you would be interested in, you can find all the books on Amazon here.

Wednesday, August 23, 2023

Christopher Robin's Misadventures in Growing Up

I’ve gone on record in at least one previous blog post about what it means to grow up healthily and unhealthily. Our family watched Christopher Robin recently and I had some additional insights about adulting that I am eager to get out. 

If you haven’t seen this movie, go check it out on Disney Plus. It’s heartwarming, heartbreaking and overall wholesome. It’s one of the movies I could watch on repeat, especially as a dad. 

Between having the childhood drilled out of him in boarding school and having some measure of PTSD from fighting in World War II, Christopher Robin isn’t the same person that you remember from the Pooh Bear cartoons. He even admits to Winnie the Pooh in his frustration: “I’m not how you remember me.”

Adulthood is a complicated time of life. In many ways, it’s just the daily grind and living in survival mode (that’s me lately). In the midst of all of this, Christopher Robin ends up putting neglect and adult expectations on his daughter. Probably the same way that his parents did to him. 

Everything in his life is so practical and serious. It’s no wonder that Pooh’s friends didn’t recognize him until he started playing. There’s something to be said for laughing and being silly. I know I am way too serious at times. My three-year-old has such a vivid imagination, always involved in imaginative play. As an adult, I wish I could find more joy in that on my own. But I can start with finding more joy in the simple things, like a red balloon. Or my favorite pen at work.

Grown-ups are so good at complicating life, but what happens when we slow down and get back to the basics? I’ll admit I’ve even tried to do that with this blog. As we expand to include the podcast, I wonder how I can simplify my work, so that it stays more of a hobby. I enjoy communing here as geeks and Christians, but I don’t want to let it pull me away from my family. 

So here’s to growing up the right way. If there is such a thing. Or I can just be like Winnie the Pooh and do nothing. After all, “doing nothing often leads to the very best of something.”

Monday, August 21, 2023

Strong Six: The Strongbad E-mails That I Will Quote on my Deathbed

 There was a somewhat obscure but mighty internet phenomena in the late nineties and into the early two-thousands that developed a cult following which remains strong to this day. The site was called, and its flagship series was a webtoon called Strongbad e-mails. The site itself is full of hilarious content delivered through original characters, brilliant voice acting, innovative animation, and humor that threw out the rails from the beginning and makes a solemn vow never to get back on.

I am curious if anyone else runs into this phenomena with entertainment we discovered as kids. It's that hope that just maybe, when we find someone who has never heard of something we loved, that they will love it like we did and do. But then you show it to them, and find an unbridgeable gap. Sigh.

Yet, even as an adult, the humor and craftsmanship of hasn’t died at all. As Brandon Sanderson would say, I do not believe the “Suck Fairy” visited Strongbad emails across the years. In fact, my appreciation for the quality there has grown with time. Not only do I still find it funny, I admire what the Brothers Chaps created, knowing it was before internet content was such a huge market.

Matt and Mike Chapman, the creators of all things have quietly and very successfully uplifted big IPs such as Gravity Falls. They have done numerous other things from website creation, voice acting, writing, directing, and producing all kinds of content, including work under a contract with Disney XD. They seem like the sort of flexible and highly talented people who were in the perfect position as the internet was exploding. It always does my heart good to see the creators of content I love actually continuing to grow and develop more great stuff, including holding their own amongst the bigwigs of commercial entertainment.


I remember my first time watching a Strongbad email. I was at my sister’s in-laws’ house and her husband’s younger brother was with me and my older brothers. I’m not sure what the first episode I saw was, but I know that we were all hooked for good from that moment forward.

My brothers and I have been leaving voicemails in the voices of our preferred characters with quotes from the site for years. We really can’t have a conversation without quoting something from Strongbad. It’s such a common part of the fabric of our shared vocabulary that I’m not sure how to state the depth of our indoctrination into the Strongbad email subculture and do it justice.

The most recent Strongbad e-mail was released a year ago, and the website continues to get improvements and little updates here and there.

Here are six of the Strongbad e-mails that get quoted most often by me, to this day, and which would be a great intro if you need more zany internet content to waste your time with:

Sbemail #120: Radio

The appearance/voice mismatch, and the spot-on characterization of public radio, drive-time morning show, and college radio stick in my head with ferocity. Strongbad’s various characters within characters really shine in this one. Matt finds different characters and colors through Strongbad and makes the toon way more effective than it has any right to be. Stay tuned for partial excitement!

Sbemail #6: Depressio

A very early episode, the gag in this one never stops making me laugh. Strongsad, Strongbad’s sensitive and painfully disempowered younger brother is too fun not to make the butt of the joke, but the added bonus is the way the toon has fun at the expense of the individual who submitted the e-mail to SB.

Sbemail #45: Techno

Very popularly quoted. Strongbad demonstrates how easy it is to create a techno dance hit with electronic rhythmic layers. Unfortunately, the Cheat learns that he is not allowed to throw lightswitch raves.

Sbemail #57: Japanese Cartoon

People often quote the blue hair moment as Strongbad transforms himself into an anime character with some resemblance to mega man. There are many episodes like this that break down the essential building blocks of a genre from entertainment and give it a delicious SB twist. 

Sbemail #121: Part-Time Job

Strongbad talks about his part, part, part, part, very part-time job. And we see Bubs’s management skills at work. Also, remember, pictures with the tragic clown-dog ain’t free!

Sbemail #58: Dragon

Trogdor seems to be the most popular episode people quote when Strongbad comes up. If they haven’t seen anything else, they have heard the Trogdor song. Those peasants aren’t going to burninate themselves. Some dragon has got to do it.

If you haven’t yet, set aside some time to go to the site, or the youtube channel, and prepare for some quality vegging. There are so many layers, from the random rabbit holes of each episode, to the easter eggs at the end. Maybe it's the voice-acting nerd in me, or the kid who was just discovering the endless entertainment of the internet, but I will certainly always have and SBemails kicking around in my brain.

Friday, August 18, 2023

Cosmere Deckbuilding Game


Artist: Katie Payne

It has recently been announced that Brandon Sanderson Cosmere creation is being made into a deckbuilding game by Brotherwise Games. As you are aware Brotherwise Games are well known for their Call to Adventure game. They have adapted the game for Stormlight Archive and Kingkiller Chronicles. Personally, I have not yet had the experience to play any of their games, but I approve of how they made some of my favorite books into board games.

In this post I will go over how I hope the Cosmere deckbuilding game will turn out and how it will probably turn out. This is all speculations I am a board/card game enthusiast and I have hopes.

I would like the Cosmere deckbuilding game to be played as a collectable card game (CCG) like Magic the Gathering or Pokémon but without the need to keep buying pack to get new cards. Don’t get me wrong, I believe the youth inside me would really appreciate opening a pack of Cosmere cards hoping to get Blackthorn, but my wallet and You Need a Budget life keeps reminding me I am broke and will forever be broke. Therefore, I would want CCG game mechanics without the collecting aspect. Luckily Brotherwise Games announced this to be a deckbuilding game not a CCG. I want the deckbuilding game to be a competition with my opponent and not a cooperation.

Artist: Guy Horsfall

So, I want multiple decks each representing one world and we can combine two or three worlds into one deck for a space battle if only two people were playing. If there were more than 3 people then each player would have their own world. One group can be Ghostbloods while the other team could be world hoppers, etc. You battle each other to determine which Shards are the strongest.

I would want the game mechanism to be like Magic the Gathering where instead of tapping lands for mana you must tap worlds for investiture to perform an ability or attack. The players represent one of the sixteen shards and when the players health is depleted then the opponent wins his shard and gains dominance over the Cosmere.

This is how I would like the game to turnout, but usually deckbuilding games are co-op. 

When I think of deckbuilding games, I think of Marvel Legendary. Where multiple players (or single player) face an enemy. Like in Legendary you would combine different decks which would represent  different worlds into one large deck. Each card in the deck would have a character that the player could buy or persuade to join World Hoppers to defeat one of the evil Shards. Each buyable character would be stronger than the base deck that the players gets, and they will have abilities to help make your personal deck stronger. As the players’ personal deck becomes strong enough and the team’s dynamics are right then they could defeat the Shard preventing it from taking over the Cosmere.

Artist: Uknown

I love Legendary, but I already own a fun copy of the game and I don’t need another game that is like it. I hope the deck building game will surprise me and I hope that it will be fun. Luckily, with the game expected to be released in November 2024, I have time to raise my funds for the release of the game. The game release date should be the same time that Stormlight 5. What release are you more exited for and why is it Stormlight 5?