Saturday, March 2, 2024

Endings And Beginnings

Time for a very quick update on TV shows I've finished. If I leave it any longer I'll have forgotten what I wanted to say about them. 

They're all animated shows. I seem to watch mostly animation these days. It's not so much a preference as it's all I can find that interests me. There's a dearth of live action shows in the styles or genres I like right now, at least on the services I subscribe to. I think I need to sub somewhere else and soon.

Let's begin with a couple I wrote about before, when I was still in the middle of watching them. How did that turn out?

My Daemon

I absolutely loved this. I would say it's one of the best anime I've seen but a) I haven't seen enough for that to carry the weight it needs to be a compliment and b) there seems to be some controversy over whether My Daemon is actually anime or not. 

That really is a pointless debate in my opinion but when I went to read up about the show, after I'd finished watching it, the only things anyone seemed to care about were whether or not it qualified as anime and whether it was a good Pokemon rip-off or just a rip-off. I read more arguments over that than I did any discussion of story, theme or execution. 

Some people didn't want to accept anything made outside Japan into the anime fold (The studio that made My Daemon is based in Thailand.) while some claimed the Japanese setting was enough to give it a pass. Others weren't having any truck with digital animation, insisting anime had to be hand-drawn. 

Semantic literalists repeatedly reminded everyone that "anime" is just the Japanese word for "animation" so any animated content is automatically anime anyway. Cultural gatekeepers weren't having any of that reductive claptrap. It got quite heated at times.

I never read anything about shows while I'm watching them, for fear of spoilers, but if I like a show I almost always go read reviews and opinion pieces about it as soon as I finish it, often literally moments after the closing credits roll on the final episode. I want to see if other people responded to it the way I did and also I'm hoping to postpone, just a little longer, that numbing moment when you realize it's done and you won't be hanging out with this particular set of imaginary friends any more.

In that respect, when it comes to My Daemon, I seem to be an outlier. No-one else seemed to be pining for more or needing support and affirmation for their loss. The minority who wanted to talk about the content and quality of the show at all seemed underwhelmed by most of it. There seemed to be a sense that it was mostly for kids, not especially well-animated and generally nothing much to get excited about.

I would like to disagree most strongly with all of that. In terms of tone and content I found it not just adult but positively grown up. Thematically it deals with grief, loss, abandonment and betrayal in some very bleak and uncompromising ways. I found much of it hard to handle, emotionally, and some of it actively hard to watch. 

Technically I don't suppose there's anything in there that wouldn't pass the regular checks for content suitable for sub-teens, although the parental advisory site I checked suggested using discretion in letting younger children see it. They recommended it be watched by"older children and teenagers due to the intense themes and animated violence",  to which I'd only add "...yeah, and the rest!"

The thirteen-part series is self-contained, to an extent, and has a satisfying conclusion, although it clearly anticipates a second season, which I regret to say it probably isn't going to get, not having been especially successful or well-reviewed. The first eight episodes are the most harrowing. 

If you can get through those, it does shift tone slightly, towards more traditional action-adventure. There's even a fight on top of a moving train. It was a change of pace that came as a huge relief to me after the claustrophobic, introspective, soul-searching intensity of the earlier narrative.

Even so, it never really lets up on the animal cruelty, some of which I found quite distressing. It was a strange co-incidence that I watched it almost at the same time as playing Palworld. I've never played a Pokemon game but if either of these "inspired by" takes is remotely accurate to that IP's ethos, it has to be a damning indictment of Pokemon itself.  

Together, the two of them have made me re-assess some of my own behavior while gaming. Too many of the things we blithely accept as "just how the game works" simply don't bear close examination.

Overall, I'm very glad I watched My Daemon and would strongly recommend it to anyone who thinks they have the stomach for it. Just be ready to have your assumptions uncomfortably challenged.

Hazbin Hotel

This one ended much sooner than I expected. It seemed like one of those shows that takes most of its time setting up the premise and introducing the characters before suddenly realizing there are only a couple of episodes left to deal with the plot.

That said, I thought it was great. It looked fantastic, made me laugh out loud several times, had me hissing the villains and cheering the heroes, and left me feeling satisfied and sated after the big ending. The songs were pretty good, too.

One thing I will say is that I do seem to have watched an awful lot of shows in the last two or three years with demons or devils as the protagonists. I'd like to write a whole post about it but I need to do a lot more research first. 

A lot of them are generically demonish but this one has actual, named devils and angels from the Judaeo-Christian tradition, something that always feels weird. OK, there's no actual Daughter of Satan in the Bible as far as I remember from my Religious Knowledge O-Level studies, and even if there was I'm pretty sure she wasn't called Charlie, but Hazbin Hotel has roles for Satan himself, not to mention Lilith and Adam

As seems to be the norm these days, the devils are the good guys and the angelic crew the villains, only in the case of Hazbin Hotel there's very little in the way of nuance when it comes to the angelic hordes. Satan is a charismatic fop with a suppressed paternal streak you do not want to awake. Adam is a genocidal, carpet-chewing sociopath and all the angels merely his unthinking storm troopers. They're idiosyncratic characterizations, to say the least.

The show was great fun from beginning to end and broke viewing records for Amazon, so I imagine we'll be getting more. I will definitely be watching.

Star Trek: Prodigy

Now this was a complete surprise. I am not much of a Star Trek fan although I am slowly coming to believe that, in the eternal cats vs dogs debate, I'm probably more attuned to the wavelength of the Federation than either the Empire or the Alliance.

Even so, I couldn't even name all of the official Trek shows. I watched the original series in the seventies (Not the sixties, when I don't recall even knowing it existed.) and the first season and a half or so of New Generation in the eighties, quitting out of boredom before, as people like to tell me, it got good. 

After that, I think the next Trek show I watched was Lower Decks, which I loved. That positive experience was why I thought I'd give this one a go and I'm very glad I did. It's not as sharp and clever as Lower Decks and it's much more tuned for a tween-teen audience but it's fast, funny, exciting and very coherently plotted. I enjoyed it a good deal.

As usual, the best thing about it was the characters, all of whom are nicely individuated, recognizable types without actually being stereotypical. The voice acting is solid, not spectacular, with no-one really standing out as particularly impressive or annoying. That makes perfect sense with such an ensemble cast and such a focus on camaraderie and teamwork.

I assume the show is canon, if only because one of the main characters is Capt. Janeway from Voyager, of whom I had heard, even though I never watched the show. She seems very dry. I'd be interested in watching an episode or two of Voyager now, just on the basis that she's probably pretty good in it.

The animation is not stellar (Ha!) but it does a job. The visuals are at their best when the team visit various planets. The interior of the ship really doesn't give the animators a lot to work with. 

The plot, while consistent and tightly-focused, doesn't make a whole lot of sense but that's nothing new. Most SciFi shows don't make sense if you think about them too hard. This one involves time-travel, which is always a big red flag to logic, anyway. It also features any number of call-backs to other Trek shows and series, which may delight or infuriate, depending on your tolerance for fan service.

The show has a fractured past. Originally commissioned by Paramount and shown on Nickelodeon in two, ten-episode half-seasons, it was then cancelled after a second season had already been approved and work on it had begun. Netflix picked up both the first and second season, the latter of which is supposed to air later this year. 

Once again, I will be watching.

Neon Genesis: Evangelion

I knew the name from the manga we sell at work but I never thought it looked particularly interesting. Then one day I was chatting to one of my managers, the one who games and watches anime, and she recommended it in the strongest terms so I thought, since it was right there on Netflix, I'd give it a go.

O. M. G! This is one of those "What did I just watch?" shows, pretty much from start to finish. It's an acknowledged classic (Did not know that.) from the nineties (Didn't know that either.) with an infamously weird and divisive ending. 

The show runs 26 episodes but they ran out of money for the animation towards the end so the last two are basically slide-shows. The show then became a cult as the director, Hideaki Anno, spent the next two decades trying to get the story told the way he wanted. 

There are a bunch of Evangelion movies, all dealing with the same plot as the show, most of them on Netflix, all of which I still need to watch. My manager, whose opinions are sound, tells me they're all better than the TV show, which means they must be damn good because the show is wonderful.

Visually, it's stunning, in large part because of the direction rather than the animation. Shot selection is incredible. It looks like an art-house movie from the eighties or nineties done in animation.

Characterization and voice acting in the American dub are good to very good. (I'm not even going to get into the Netflix vs ADV vs Japanese original arguments. I saw this version first  so it's always going to be the version to me.) I'm guessing the levels of hysteria in some scenes would be orders of magnitude more intense in the original so I'm happy to be missing that. I don't think I could cope with a full-strength, anime-style Asuka.

The world-building is off the charts but also very hard to credit. For a start, the timescale, fifteen years after a global catastrophe, doesn't seem to be anywhere near long enough to allow for the rebuilding that's taken place and the technology level is probably hundreds of years ahead of ours although everyone behaves like it's still the nineties.

None of that matters, of course. It's a full-on, sensual, intellectual and emotional assault that can feel quite overwhelming at times. Fortunately, there are also huge swathes of teen drama, adult soap opera and slapstick comedy to get you through the tough-to-follow parts. I never did figure out where the cyborg penguin fitted into it all.

Now I need to find time to watch the four, essential movies that supposedly make sense of the whole thing. That's going to be a trip, I bet!

And The Rest Will Have To Wait

I'm pretty sure I've watched other stuff through to the end as well but I can't off the top of my head remember what it was and anyway that's enough for one post. Next time I write about TV, I'll go through the several shows I started then dropped, something I find very interesting when other people do it. 

If only I can remember what those shows were, that is...


  1. Speaking as someone who is a Star Trek fan (sort of -- it's complicated), I *despised* Lower Decks, but I think Prodigy is the best thing the franchise has done in about two decades. It's the only modern Trek that seems to actually understand what the franchise is about.

    While I have a higher opinion of Voyager than most, I'm not sure I'd recommend checking it out on the basis of Janeway. Voyager had a lot of writing issues, and Janeway suffered from them more than most. She never really had a consistent personality in that series. She's by the book, except for when she's a maverick. She's kind and tolerant, except for when she's petty and vindictive. One of the many things I appreciate about Prodigy is that it finally gave her a consistent characterization.

    If you watch Voyager for anything, watch it for the Doctor, who is by far the best thing about the series. He's supposed to have a cameo in Prodigy's next season, which I'm very excited for.

    If you didn't already know, I would like to mention there's a Prodigy video game on Steam, called Supernova. It's... not great, admittedly, but it does have the voice cast from the show, so there's some nice character moments. I don't know if I'd recommend it or not, but I figured you might want to take a look at it at least.

    1. Thanks for that tip. I'll take a look at it.

      I think I remember a bit of a discussion in comments between you and... I think it might have been Nimgimli? about Lower Decks a year or two back. I can see how someone who takes the underlying principles behind Star Trek seriously, or at least likes to see some consistency there, would find Lower Decks very trying. It certainly doesn't treat any of it with much reverence and some of the characters seem barely aware of the level of responsibility they're supposed to be working towards. If you just come to it as a half-hour, animated sitcom with a SciFi setting, though, it works very well, always assuming the humor is to your taste in the first place, of course.

    2. Whether Tyler would agree with me or not is another matter (I suspect not, given that commentary) but I think Star Trek: Strange New Worlds is fantastic. Long may that series continue! By far my favourite output within the franchise in... I don't even know how long.

      I'm with you on My Daemon as well. I *almost* didn't watch it, with the presentation it gave on Netflix's home screen essentially shouting 'This is for kids'.

      But having gone through it after 'Just going to give the first episode a try', I'm now fairly convinced anyone trying to give the argument that it *is* for kids simply didn't watch it.

    3. People who haven't seen the show/read the book/played the game writing the copy to describe and promote it is a perennial problem. It's not like Netflix hands that job out individually to different people who know and love each of the shows; some poor sap has to write copy for dozens and dozens of them.

      A worse problem, though, is the annoying tendency of adults to think any story with a child as the protagonist has to be a story intended for children or, even worse, only suitable for children. It happens less in publishing, I think, where child protagoniosts are a long-standing staple of literary fiction, but when you get to animation, a lot of adults are going to make assumptions that may be way off beam. Certainly the case here.

    4. I don't think it was me debating about Lower Decks. I kind of wanted to hate The Lower Decks, as a life long Trek fan the idea of a comedic Star Trek show was appalling to me. But then... I loved it! But I dunno if anyone's opinion has ever been changed on the Internet so I try not to argue about these things. Though on the other hand if I was in a mood I may have done and I just don't remember.

      Anyway... I just wanted you to be aware, Bhagpuss, that there's a Strange New Worlds/Lower Decks crossover episode that we found to be REALLY fun.

      And in general I'm finding Strange New Worlds to be really enjoyable.

      I finally finished Attack on Titan...maybe now I can move on to some of you recommendations!

  2. Hey Bhagpuss, here's Angry Onions with a heads-up.

    Chimeraland is shutting down by 00:00 GMT of March 31st. It already was in maintenance mode for most of 2023 (latest news was from a new assistant coming in february 2023, and their last patch broke several mechanics and never got fixed). Guess it hasn't survived the current flood of survival craft games with far less peculiar settings. Or unusual character design. Or mechanics. Or... well, everything was weird about it, but it was fun for like six months? They tried, they really tried, even selling as a "dinoaurs" game with the worldwide Steam release.

    But a video game is a business, and admittedly I never gave them a single cent. Oh, le sigh...

    (PS: of the current survival craft games, which one has the more similar construction system to Chimeraland's? Building custom houses out of preset construction blocks is a thing I loved of Chimeraland, I even built a replica of a notorious RL building within the size & block count constrictions fo Chimeraland (which precluded building anything larger than 13 blocks x2 meters each= 26 meters, albeit some players just built larger projects using two characters in adjoining plots).

    1. Yes, I heard about that. It's very sad but hardly a surprise. Even though it seemed like Chimeraland got rather more positive publicity than a lot of imported MMORPGs, especially in the genre press, it never really picked up much traction. I think it was partly because it was just too weird for a lot of people but mostly because it was really rough in many respects. Unpolished would be putting it politely.

      I'm very glad I had the chance to play it for a while but I think I did about as much there in that time as I was ever going to. I wonder if it will come back in some form? A lot of games end up being emulated, even smaller ones you'd think would be forgotten, and Chimeraland seems like the kind of game that would have something of a cult following. I hope it does, anyway.

      As for alternatives with similar building systems, I think a lot, maybe most of the survival games use some kind of snap-together construction kit. Of the ones I've played in the last year or so, I'd say Palworld has the least-sophisticated bulding/crafting but it does have the benefit of being wildly successful, meaning it will be both safe and stable long-term and also likely to get a lot of onward development. It's also the most superficially similar to Chimeraland in other ways, with the egg-hatching and being able to ride and fly on the creatures you catch.

      Nightingale is at the other end of the spectrum in terms of crafting - it seems like a hardcore crafting game to me, with a huge amount of depth and detail in those systems. The building is very good, too, although at the levels I'm at the style choices are a bit limited. They do look very good, though. As for stability and future prospects, nothing's guaranteed but I would hope it sticks around for a good while.

      The dark horse would be Once Human, which I really like. The building is very good, although again I didn't get far enough to see how varied it gets with later styles. The mechanics are solid and fun to use, though. The game is an MMO - technically an MMOFPS, I think, although you can just hit stuff with a baseball bat if you want - which makes it a different experience to the other co-ops/solo games. I think it might be quite successful when it launches, supposedly later this year. It seemed in very good shape, technically, and very polished in beta.

      Not sure if that helps. I might work all this up into a post some day but I'd probably need to know more about the higher levels of building and crafting in all three games to give a definitive review.

  3. You will probably want to watch End of Evangelion which caps off the originals nale series before the 4 Rebirth movies. Rebirth is sort of a Sequel/Remake. End of Eva is the true end to the original.

    If you really want to go all out, in a few weeks it is being put in US theaters for a few days in limited locations.

    1. Thanks! I have a "How to watch Neon Genesis in Order" guide bookmarked. Not many series require something like that.


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