Flashback: Sonic the Hedgehog: The Movie

Sonic the Hedgehog: The Movie

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With word of a live-action/CGI movie in the works for everyone’s favorite anthropomorphic blue hedgehog (an overly narrow superlative if I’ve ever said one), it might come as a surprise to non-Sonic fans that this isn’t the first time Sonic has had a movie. Originally two episodes that were pitched as a full anime in Japan before being released as a single OVA, Sonic the Hedgehog: The Movie occupies a very strange place in the Hedgehog’s history. It was made in 1996, not too long after the release of Sonic and Knuckles but it didn’t reach western shores until 1999, when it was dubbed and released in tandem with Sonic Adventure. Sonic is no stranger to animation; by the time this movie came out, American audiences had already been treated to the incredibly goofy Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog (AoStH) and the darker Sonic the Hedgehog (Sonic SatAM), though it would take until the early 2000s before we’d get a full-length anime, Sonic X.

The OVA starts with Sonic and Tails hanging out in Sonic’s beachside home before they get interrupted by an elderly owl delivering mail. He tells Sonic that Dr. Robotnik (Also known as Dr. Eggman) has the president and his daughter held hostage, and wants to speak with Sonic directly. Upon arrival, Robotnik explains to Sonic that his headquarters/city Robotropolis has been taken over by a robot doppelganger named Metal Robotnik. Sonic doesn’t necessarily trust Robotnik, but he doesn’t have much of a choice, so him and Tails head off to Robotropolis. Upon arriving, they meet up with Knuckles the Echidna, who just kind of shows up, and they get into a series of fights against Metal Robotnik’s forces. Eventually Sonic runs into a strange robot in his image to provide the perfect match, Metal Sonic.

Canon-wise, there isn’t really anything quite like the universe this OVA is set in. Sonic and Tails are close friends, but Knuckles is just as much so (in the games he’s a lot more grumpy), Eggman is at perhaps his most affable, and the other characters are either anthropomorphic creatures like Sonic or humans with animal features (like the President and his daughter). Sonic is rather fleshed out, backing up his incredible skill with equal amounts of cockiness, being totally willing to tell off Tails and mouth off to the president, and lazily sitting around until he absolutely needs to do something. The world of “Planet Freedom” has a “Land of Darkness” where Robotnik lives and “Land of the Sky” where everybody else lives, as opposed to Earth (games) or Mobius (Sonic SatAM and comics).

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Aesthetically, I really like the movie’s look. The backgrounds and settings, not to mention the old school look (not that they had anything else to go on) of the characters really captures the feel of the 90s Sonic games. Robotropolis especially looks ripped straight from a genesis game, in a good way. A lot of comparisons can be drawn to Sonic CD, partly from Metal Sonic’s appearances and from the constant nature vs technology themes. In addition, the president’s daughter, Sera, is pretty much Amy Rose as a cat girl instead of a pink hedgehog, having the hots for Sonic and trying her damnedest to get him to notice her, which he blatantly ignores. While her voice is annoying and she’s a total brat, she does at least get some funny moments, already making her more enjoyable than Princess Elise from Sonic 2006. The soundtrack also makes me think of Sonic CD with its heavy synth and rocking guitars, as Sonic CD was the first Sonic game with CD-quality audio as opposed to that Genesis twang (not that I don’t love the Genesis twang).

Being a movie about Sonic in the middle of his heyday, the OVA definitely has a 90’s feel to it. Surprisingly the “mascot with attitude” aspect is rather downplayed, but the film definitely has the 90’s anime feel, mostly in the animation and some of the mannerisms of the characters. The movie has a lot of moments of fast-paced action with Sonic and company that then cuts back to Robotnik and Sera messing around, most of which isn’t that amusing. Some viewers might be turned off by the goofiness of some of the characters, but I don’t find it that annoying. The English dub is okay; Tails and Sera are at best obnoxious and at worst nails-on-a-chalkboard ear-grating. Sonic, Knuckles, and Eggman fare better but even they get a bad line every once.

But overall, Sonic the Hedgehog: The Movie is a nice treat for fans of the blue blur. The tone hits that golden sweet spot for Sonic when it’s dark enough to raise the stakes but light enough to not take itself completely seriously. The plot is straight out of the video games, the soundtrack is equally appropriate, and while it might get too goofy at points, it actually feels like a fairly faithful adaptation of the character’s game personalities. If you’re a fan of Sonic, I highly recommend it. If you aren’t a fan, then it’s not going to impress, but for those on the fence I’d say gave it a shot.

Derek Delago is a UF student who is also an anime club officer. He loves anime, video games and rock.

Flashback: Akira (Film)

Show: Akira— Genre: Action, Adventure — Movie

Animated movies are already treated as a curiosity to American audiences, treated typically as only fare for children that has no place in serious cinema. This unfortunate view has left many animated works without the respect they deserve, and has led to a famine in the field of animated films for adult audiences. Sure, anomalies like Heavy Metal and Fantasia exist, and in recent years, quality animated films for children are getting more and more prestige amongst young adults, but the stigma still exists.

And then a movie like Akira comes along.

Imagine being there in 1989 when this movie hit American theaters. Though American audiences had gotten a taste of gritty science fiction with movies like Terminator or Blade Runner, none get quite as heavy at the time as Akira did.

But let’s backpedal for those who haven’t seen it. Akira is a 1988 Japanese animated film based off the manga by Katsuhiro Otomo (the movie was also created by him). Taking place 30 years in the future (from 1988 anyway), Neo Tokyo is a dark, pessimistic shithole of a city, practically the epitome of a cyberpunk world. A motorcycle punk named Tetsuo runs into an escaped patient of secret government experiments, a sickly looking child with psychic powers. Tetsuo is hauled in and scientists find out he’s got incredible psychic potential (likely from the interaction with the child), and they decide to turn him into a guinea pig. Tetsuo’s a messed up kid even going beyond the new psychic powers, and without giving away all of the movie, he busts out of the labs and goes on a rampage. While all this is happening, one of Tetsuo’s friends from the motorcycle gang, Kaneda, learns about Tetsuo’s abduction, and goes after him.

In between all of the above are government conspiracies, mad science, unknown phenomena and a whole lot of cyberpunk. The movie’s plot is deep and confusing at best, though that may be intentional. It’s hard to follow, but at the same time, the world itself is mesmerizing. This is a world just gone to hell; nobody is happy, and everything is either miserable and dull or violent and cruel. It’s a world where nobody, even the people on top, are fulfilled.

The two aspects of the movie that make it stand the test of time are the animation and the sheer ambition of the film. What do I mean by ambition? I mean the movie makes the subject material epic, and it takes itself seriously. The animation is literally breathtaking at points, being incredibly fluid and incredibly violent. The movie revels in the sheer spectacle it creates, and with good cause. The final scenes are among some of the most disturbing and yet profoundly memorable moments in film history. If I were cataloguing my favorite scenes purely on their own merits, then this scene is right up there on the list with the ending scenes of Pulp Fiction or Life of Brian.

Does Akira stack up for modern viewers? While I think the plot and dialogue (though that may have just been the english dub) is a bit lacking, the sheer size and spectacle, along with the fantastic animation, are what keeps makes Akira a classic. It’s a bit rough around the edges, but Akira is unlike any movie you’ve ever seen, and it’s one of those rare movies that I’d say to check out purely for the experience.

Derek Delago is a UF student who is also an anime club officer. He loves anime, video games and rock.

Buried Gems: No Matter How You Look at it, it’s Your Guys’ Fault I’m not Popular!

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Show: WaTaMoTe— Genre: Comedy, School — Episodes: 12

          The difference between comedy and tragedy is a lot blurrier than one might assume. A great deal of comedy is watching bad things happen to people and finding their reaction amusing, snickering at the absurdity of the situation, or even taking glee in karmic retribution. One of the greatest errors you can make in writing a tragedy is to write too over-the-top or making the characters unsympathetic, and in many ways a tragedy is as simple as making the audience feel sorry for characters as opposed to laugh at their misfortune.

Watashi ga Motenai no wa Dō Kangaete mo Omaera ga Warui!, translated to the title above and often referred to as “WataMote” to save time, is one such series that dances back and forth over the line between comedy and tragedy (even if it mostly ends up as a comedy). Best described as dark comedy slice of life, WataMote is published online in Japanese. A spinoff manga, called Watashi no Tomodachi ga Motenai no wa Dō Kangaete mo Omaera ga Warui (translated as No Matter How I Look at It, It’s You Guys’ Fault My Friend’s Not Popular) has also been released. A 12-episode anime ran in 2013, and it adapts the manga fairly closely, diverging slightly but overall maintaining the same feel. It can be streamed on Crunchyroll.com subbed legally for free. As a caution, the opening is absolutely ridiculous.

The audience follows the adventures of Tomoko Kuroki, a nerdy high school girl who wants to become “more popular.” She tries to make new friends, start up a club, act cool, invoke anime clichés, and overall tries her damnedest to be popular, thinking that being in high school should be the most exciting time of her life. After all, she knows how it all works out in anime and visual novels.

To say her attempts at becoming popular fall short would be a massive understatement. Tomoko can barely have a conversation with most people, immediately freezing up and getting nervous. Only her family and best (ONLY) friend are immune to this, and even then, she often annoys her family as well. In addition to coming with “get popular” schemes so fast and of such ineptitude to give the likes of Homer Simpson a run for his money, whenever she tries taking the simple, direct path she fails miserably.

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            Besides her attempts to be popular, another recurring setup is watching her manage to get meaningful interaction with the few people that can stand her (or at least have to). She frequently torments her brother Tomoki (who could probably be the straight man in something like Daily Lives of High School Boys), and several plots involve her hanging out with her middle school friend, Yuu, who adjusted far better than Tomoko did, despite also being nerdy. Beyond her family and Yuu, there are few recurring characters; most of them are rather incidental.

Now some of you may be wondering why watching a girl try desperately hard to make friends is funny. It isn’t always; in fact, sometimes it’s downright cruel. What ultimately swings the pendulum from tragic to comic is in Tomoko, herself. She is deeply flawed as a character, although it doesn’t really relate back to her shyness and inability to converse. Tomoko is petty, hypocritical, judgmental, and overall totally self-centered. Her appearance comes across as creepy more often than endearing. She’s not particularly intelligent, nor is she at all good-natured or even civil to most people. Since the audience follows from her point of view, we even hear most of her inner musings on the people around her, most of which isn’t pretty.

So this gives us our comedic out; as much as we can sympathize with her plight, a lot of the bad things that happen to her are her own damn fault. Even worse is that a lot of the time she seems really close to finally making some progress, only for her to ruin it at the last minute by being an idiot. Though on the other hand, the few times something good happens to her are genuinely enjoyable, perhaps to sort of make up for when the universe seems to just hate her, as opposed to it being her fault. Even though it’s mostly a comedy, genuinely depressing moments are common enough.

Your enjoyment of WataMote really depends on how much humor you can find in watching Tomoko’s misadventures. It’s black comedy at its finest, and if that isn’t your cup of tea, you probably won’t enjoy the series. Some people might find Tomoko either too sympathetic to enjoy the humor or too unsympathetic that she becomes annoying. The comedy might skew a bit obscure when it comes to references to Japanese media, but I don’t think it detracts. There’s also a surprisingly large amount of sexual humor and innuendo, which while I find amusing, might turn some readers off.

Amusingly enough, WataMote has a large amount of western fans, most of whom (including yours truly) were introduced via word of mouth on Internet forums. It’s rare that I find a character endearing even as I simultaneously find her unpleasant. I hope she finally gets somewhere, even if I know she’ll suffer a lot trying to get there. It’s just depressing enough that a sense of drama is never truly forgotten, but it remains humorous and even kind of uplifting at points, given Tomoko’s sheer tenacity (one of her few good traits). If you’re a fan of dark comedy or quirky slice-of-life, I’d say give it a shot. A bunch of lunatics on the Internet can’t be wrong, after all.

Derek Delago is a UF student who is also an anime club officer. He loves anime, video games and rock.

Flashback: Azumanga Daioh

Show: Azumanga Daioh— Genre: Comedy, Slice of Life, School — Episodes: 26

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I’d like to begin this article by apologizing. I’m sorry. I’m sorry for turning the video below into a meme among some of the Gator Anime community.

Azumanga Daioh was first a “yonkoma,” essentially a comic strip that read from top to bottom, published in Dengeki Daioh magazine. It’s primarily a comedy, but it integrates a lot of slice of life elements and occasionally more emotional moments. The anime would follow a couple of years later and adapts a lot of the stories and gags. It is classified as shonen, which may surprise readers given the nearly all-female cast and the focus on high school girls doing…high school girl things. Surprisingly, it paid off, and a lot of later shows, such as Lucky Star and Nichijou, would follow a similar concept.

The story follows the misadventures of six high school girls, three of their teachers and the incidental people around them. The girl with (arguably) the most focus is child prodigy Chiyo, who enters high school at the age of 10, and has to spend a lot of time learning about how high school works. The character with the most development is probably Sakaki, the tall, athletic and dreadfully shy girl who strikes fear into the hearts of everybody, none of the qualities she wants. The other main girls include Tomo, a hyperactive jackass, Yomi, Tomo’s ever suffering friend and complete opposite, Osaka, the polite, imaginative, ditzy, and overall kinda weird girl, and Kagura, the emotional sports junkie.

Other important characters include their teachers Yukari Tanizaka and Minamo Kurosawa, both of whom get a few stories to themselves. Yukari is essentially a grown-up Tomo (though lazier and a little smarter) while Ms. Kurosawa is very sweet and, of course, Yukari’s best (and probably only) friend. She gets incredibly tired of her antics. There’s also Kaorin, a girl who has a crush on Sakaki (mostly played for humor), and Mr. Kimura, the perverted, but ultimately harmless goofball that mostly just acts as a jump scare to the girls.

Most of the series is just following the characters in their everyday lives and watching the experiences and adventures that arise from their interactions. Most episodes are just a series of events that don’t always have much to do with each other; the girls will be having a conversation one moment and be walking home the next. The comedy is mostly very situational and character-based, but some parts approach sketch comedy. Some sketches are nothing, but the tangents and rambling by the girls as they sit in class.

While most of the stories are played for humor, a lot of character shines through in how they bounce off one another. This is where the slice of life elements are more apparent, though it usually swings back to comedy pretty quick. The humor can also intertwine with actual character development. Watching Sakaki continuously try to pet cats is both funny and kind of heartbreaking at the same time, for example.

The anime is an incredibly faithful adaption of the manga, consisting entirely of jokes and plots from the manga. It mimics the yonkoma’s usage of “beat panels” by having long moments of silence as a character’s expression changes or otherwise reacts. This might be a bit odd to viewers of faster-paced comedies like Nichijou or Daily Lives of High School Boys, but it lends it’s own charm. The music is very memorable, really cutesy and odd, highly fitting the series. The opening and ending themes are both very good as well; the opening theme sounds very upbeat and quirky while the ending theme is very somber.

The English dub I highly recommend. Though I don’t recognize most of the voice actors, I must give a nod to Luci Christian and Jason Douglas, both of who perform excellently as Yukari and Chiyo’s father, respectively. The biggest thing you’ll be missing out on is Norio Wakamoto, once again as Chiyo’s father, and as always, he’s awesome.

As for flaws, the show might be too slow-paced for some people to be engaged, and while I find that part of the charm, it might not be for everyone. Being a comedy series, it’s of course very much up to the individual if they find it funny.

Honestly though, I find very little fault in Azumanga Daioh. The manga is a ton of fun and, despite it’s format, has a lot of characterization. For most people, I’d actually say to check out the anime, given its masterful translation of the yonkoma, and I feel the slow pace of the show really heightens the slice of life elements. It isn’t for everyone, but I think it has more of a universal appeal (as far as anime is concerned) than other shows in its wake, and it never ceases to make me smile and feel content when I’m watching it.

Derek Delago is a UF student who is also an anime club officer. He loves anime, video games and rock.

Flashback: Ranma 1/2

It’s one of those rare series that anybody familiar with anime can at least remember the premise.
“Oh yeah, that’s the one where the boy turns into a girl.”
Probably Rumiko Takahashi’s most famous work (though Inuyasha is very close), ​Ranma ½ is regarded as a cornerstone of late 80s/early 90s anime. Running from 1987 to 1996, it was one of the first shows and manga to be translated and available to western audiences. Interestingly enough, it’s also one of the earliest examples of parody amongst shonen works, mocking things like shouting the name of your technique or having increasingly obscure and ridiculous martial arts styles.
But enough of my history lesson. The real question is if Ranma ½ is worthy of your attention over 2 decades after it started. As a series that tries to cram romance, action, comedy, and drama all in at once, does it work out in the end?
Our story concerns the many adventures and strange happenings of high school student and martial artist, Ranma Saotome. The story begins with Ranma getting forcibly engaged to tomboy martial artist, Akane Tendo, who deals with a lot of unwanted male attention already. Ranma and his father, Genma, live at the Tendo household, along with Akane’s two sisters, Nabiki and Kasumi, and their father Soun Tendo. Ranma has to deal with rivals, love interests, old masters, monsters of the week, and full-on arc villains.
So beyond being a magnet for trouble, what else does Ranma got to worry about? Well, he’s also been literally cursed by a magic spring he fell in to. Whenever he gets splashed with cold water, he becomes a female version of himself. Getting splashed with hot water turns him back to normal. He isn’t the only one either; lots of people have these curses as the series goes on. For starters, his own father, Genma, transforms into a giant panda.
For a time, the series focused on Ranma going to school while dealing with his curse and trying to get closer to Akane. More and more characters were introduced, such as Ranma’s rival Ryoga, and several possible love interests, like the “Chinese Amazon” Shampoo or the martial arts chef Ukyo. The more serious tone of the opening chapters was gradually phased out, though never truly killed (in the manga at least), and more and more fantastical elements were introduced, such as ridiculously niche forms of martial arts based on things like dining or gymnastics.
Martial arts fighting is prominent throughout the series. Ranma himself often has to beat opponents through trickery and creative ploys, a welcome change from other shonen where fights are often settled by who can take the most punishment and acquire the most broken powers. The comedy often comes from visual gags, slapstick, parody of action and romantic clichés, and contextual jokes revolving around Ranma caught in embarrassing positions and his misunderstanding or ignorance of feminine behavior.
In addition to the comedy and action elements, the romantic parts are just as important. Ranma ½ could easily be considered an early example of “harem” anime; as the series goes, Ranma increasingly picks up a number of possible romantic interests (even some for his female form). As one would expect, the love interests fight amongst themselves to be with Ranma, and several take time out of their schedule to harass Ranma into marriage.
All of this might sound like a mess, but for the most part, Ranma ½ combines the three genres remarkably well. Although ridiculous, the action scenes are still fun to read or watch, and the romance is surprisingly amusing, as most of it is following Ranma’s reactions to the crazy actions of his many suitors. It never takes itself too seriously, knowing full well how silly and goofy it can be and rolling with it.
Ranma himself is not your ordinary shonen protagonist, having an ego to match ridiculous talent in most fields and an underhandedness and pragmatism to his combat. He’s rude, prideful, and rather petty while also being crafty, defiant, and even heroic when things get serious. Akane is one of the classic tsundere examples, though she’s honestly far nicer to everyone not named Ranma or a recurring villain. Ryoga, Ranma’s rival, is generally nobler than Ranma himself is, but simultaneously easily fooled. Most of Ranma’s enemies are just as often his friends, and the antagonists who don’t return often aren’t evil for the sake of evil, having more complex motivations. Indeed, there are very few totally flat characters in Ranma ½.
Being from the late 80s and early 90s, Ranma ½ is no stranger to some unfortunate cultural differences between now and then. Modern readers might feel uneasy with some of the character’s attitudes towards gay individuals, as homosexuality is considered either perverted or unnatural by the main characters, and it’s often played up for jokes. Given the time period it was made and the more tolerant attitudes that the characters express later on, I think it can be excused.
Nudity, specifically uncensored bare chests, appears sporadically, as does mention of sexually explicit content, though it’s usually played for humor. In today’s world, baring the nudity, most of the time its hovers around PG-13. Cursing is frequent, and the action can get tense and bloody, but it’s overall nothing too bad.
Ranma ½’s anime adaptation ran from about 1989 to 1993, with several OVAs and movies following in its wake. It follows the manga’s story on most of the key parts, but introduces some original stories (or filler, if you prefer) and occasionally diverges from the source material. The animation is definitely not the best, though I admittedly have a soft spot for that old school look. The background music and opening themes are very catchy. Overall the tone feels lighter than the original, partly due to the later serious story arcs of the manga never getting adapted. Due to its greater length, more story arcs, and greater character development, I feel the manga is the better of the two.
Although one of the earliest English dubs, Ranma 1/2 has a surprisingly competent cast and script, only really hampered by the unfamiliarity with dubbing at the time. It adapts some of the cultural jokes into ones Americans might be more familiar with, but it still feels genuine. If you prefer dubs to subs, it’s worth checking out.
Where Ranma ½ suffers the most is probably just how inconsistent it is. You might have an epic story arc for a few chapters then followed by goofy one-shot chapters where nothing really happens. While it blends comedy, action, and romance well, if you’re not a fan of those genres to begin with, or even Ranma 1/2 ‘s take on it, you might be disappointed. The art style of the anime or the overall feel might seem archaic to some, given the show began over 20 years ago.
So is Ranma ½ a good read today? I think some parts of it have aged remarkably well, such as the characters and the humor. It does a good a job of mocking shonen tropes while simultaneously embracing them, and it takes itself seriously enough to where you at least care about the characters without ever forgetting how silly it is. Ranma’s curse is always relevant and never feels like a gimmick, while being different enough from other shows (especially it’s contemporaries) that it doesn’t get old.
I’m definitely not objective when it comes to the series, being the first manga I read all the way through, but I feel modern fans can enjoy the show as well. I don’t feel it’s a good show to show to new fans, nor is it good one to show to children, but it has a lot of charm and definitely breaks the mold, especially for the time. Fans of Rumiko Takahashi’s other works, like Inuyasha, will probably feel right at home with Ranma ½. I don’t give numerical ratings, but overall Ranam ½ definitely deserves the recognition of being a classic.

Derek Delago is a UF student who is also an anime club officer. He loves anime, video games and rock.