Violet Evergarden in Film Form

Violet Evergarden movieWhen I saw Netflix was releasing a movie sequel to the Violet Evergarden anime series, I was excited to see the story continue.  The movie was visually beautiful, much like the original series.  However, not much happened in the 90-minute runtime.  The plot was rather simplistic, and it felt like the scriptwriters took the story for a 20-minute TV episode and stretched it to cover an hour and a half instead, without adding any depth or plot intricacy.  I actually thought that Violet’s initial assignment was going to end after the first portion of the movie and that then the film was going to show her completing other assignments or delve more into her personal life or past like in the TV show.  Instead, Violet’s job as a tutor at a private girls’ boarding school and her interactions with her student and her student’s adopted sister turned out to be the whole plot.  While the story was pleasant enough and had nice moments involving loyalty, friendship, and sisterhood, I don’t think the plot would have even made a particularly great episode in the original series.  This movie had a lot of promise, but I felt disappointed after I finished it and slightly bored as I watched it.  If someone could produce a film that capitalized on all the potential the anime series has in terms of plot, mystery, themes, characters, and beautiful animation and music, then I think that would be a movie well worth watching.  This one, though?  Not so much.

If you haven’t seen the original series, check that out instead.  I highly recommend it.  My review of the TV show is available here.

arrietty pic

-ARRIETTY-

A Noir Masterpiece

Blacksad coverThink a dark version of Zootopia.  Then add superb art, mystery, action, thoughtful themes, and impressively realistic dialogue and characters, and you have Blacksad by Juan Díaz Canales and Juanjo Guarnido.

This graphic novel follows the cat detective Blacksad as he solves crimes and avenges and protects those who are unable to defend themselves.  In addition to the compelling plot, the story raises important questions about justice, racism, revenge, and social and moral problems.  The book is serialized, and each story arc focuses on different themes as the plot revolves around a new scenario and set of characters.  Canales and Guarnido skillfully use the text and art to move the story forward and promote the exploration of each message.  One of my favorite parts of the books is the visual characterization of each member of the story (see featured image for an example).  The characterization in this book is unique and incredible.  Guarnido combines animal and human features to create characters who visualize their personality traits.  For instance, Blacksad is a lonely nocturnal hunter, a little wild and dangerous, just like the black panther features evident in his half-feline half-human appearance.

Blacksad action panel

While Blacksad does contain profanity, violence, and a few scenes with nudity, this gritty graphic novel is not one to pass up if you’re a comic enthusiast.  The story is a page-turner, the characters are realistic and riveting, and the art and dialogue are masterful.  Few graphic novels have Blacksad’s level of artistry or smooth flow of action and dialogue.  With its compelling art, story, and themes, Blacksad is what I would call a triple threat in the graphic novel world.

arrietty pic

-ARRIETTY-

Comic Resources: Reading and Designing

Like many of you, I am hunkering down at home for the time being.  While I’m not bored, I know a lot of people are probably struggling to adjust to this unexpected break from normal activities and keep themselves (or their kids) occupied.  I’ve seen a lot of suggestions that people use this time to start a hobby or learn a skill they’ve always wanted to try, so I thought I’d provide some reading and design resources for any comic book enthusiasts out there.

This is also a fun opportunity for me to dabble and doodle a little myself.  It’s been a while. 😊

strawberry

My first strawberry!

Want to Read a Comic? — Hoopla

This site is a great resource for reading comics.  Hoopla has a large collection of comics, ranging from newspaper comic collections to graphic novels by acclaimed authors and artists.  If you have a local library, check their website to see if you can gain free access to Hoopla through your library membership.

Hoopla’s interface works well with both laptops and cellphones.  If you double tap the screen on your phone while reading your comic, you can zoom in and scroll through the pages panel by panel so that the text is easy to read.

Want to Create a Comic?

idea springboard

Use reality as a springboard for your comic creativity.

Tip 1.  As with writing a regular book, start with what you know.  Consider what you can draw well and then think of a story that will incorporate these elements.  (See featured image for examples of how I applied this to my own sketches.  Leaves, trees, flowers, and simple animal shapes are what I’m comfortable drawing).  Try to choose a story that deals with topics, settings, or characters you are familiar with.  You can add fun or fantastical elements, but familiarity is often the best foundation for a story.

Tip 2.  If you’re uncomfortable committing to a design, practice drafting your art with a pen.  You can discard what you don’t like because this is just practice. Consider using scrap paper or the blank sides of used paper so that the pressure is off for you to maximize each page and you don’t feel bad about throwing your sketches away if they don’t turn out.  This is the brainstorming stage, the rough draft, so just relax and have fun!  You need to get your ideas down before you will have anything to work with.  Also, you won’t know what you like or dislike unless you explore a little first.  Try something new and see where it takes you.

Tip 3.  Vary the tools you use to figure out what suits your project’s style and your personal preference.  The beginning of a hobby or a project is the best time to explore your possibilities so that you don’t unwittingly limit yourself.  If you become hooked on the first medium you try (pen, pencil, charcoal, etc.), you may never discover that you really love something else even more.  This will also give you more tools in your artistic tool bag so you can adapt your medium to suit particular projects.

Additional Resources

Happy reading and drawing!

arrietty pic

-ARRIETTY-

The Last Unicorn

TLU illustrationWhen a reclusive unicorn discovers that her kin have been disappearing and she may be the last unicorn in the world, she leaves her forest to find out where the other unicorns have gone.  This simple premise begins The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle, a short novel that follows this magical quest along many creative twists and turns.

I read The Last Unicorn a couple years ago.  When I found that there was a graphic novel adaptation, I was curious to compare the two.  I enjoyed both versions and discovered that they both have qualities that make them worthwhile.  The original novel is quite dark but has thought-provoking themes and clever narrative and dialogue that bring the characters to life.  Beagle’s novel is simultaneously simple and intricate.  But perhaps that is what the best fairy tales are like—using a predictable formula of unicorns, wizards, princes, and enchantment to explore complex themes and scenarios.

Beginning in 2010, Peter S. Beagle adapted his story into a six-issue comic with art by Renae De Liz and Ray Dillon.  These issues were then compiled and released as a graphic novel in 2011.  The Last Unicorn graphic novel captures the same charm, mystery, and magic that enchanted me about the novel.  This surprised me because I have often found graphic novel adaptations unsatisfying.  The artists and the author in this story, though, united the art and text with skill so that the two elements became a greater whole instead of lessening the quality of one or the other.  The art is beautiful and illuminates Beagle’s clever dialogue and captivating narrative.  In fact, the colorful images helped lighten the dark tone of the original novel, which is unusual because I normally find that graphic novels darken stories rather than brighten them.  My only slight criticism of the art is that the depiction of the unicorn is reminiscent of anime—with her big eyes and long waving mane—and does not match the style of the other characters and artwork.

Whether you’re looking for a fun graphic novel or are already a fan of The Last Unicorn, I think you will find this graphic novel adaptation a satisfying read.  So take a leap and enjoy the mystery, poetry, magic, and beautiful artwork of The Last Unicorn!

arrietty pic

-ARRIETTY-

A Flower for the Winter

Violet Evergarden letterI am no connoisseur of anime, but I have dabbled a bit.  One series that I watched on impulse last year was Violet Evergarden.  This seemingly simple show turned out to be quite touching.

From the moment she awakes in a hospital, Violet’s only thought is where “the Major” is, if he is all right, and when he will give her a new mission.  Her preoccupation might seem unusual, given the fact that she has just lost both her arms in battle and now has robotic prosthetics.  In fact, a lot about Violet is unusual.  Why does she seem so emotionless?  Why does she care so much about the Major and her missions?  How did she lose her arms?  The mystery of who, or what, she is and what happened to the Major is a driving force in the story of the anime series Violet Evergarden.

Eager to end her convalescence and begin her next mission, Violet accepts the position that Colonel Hodgins, one of the major’s old acquaintances, offers as her next assignment.  The job is to work as a letter-writer for a company that hires “auto memories dolls” to ghostwrite and deliver messages to people around the nation, working from the capital city Leiden.  At the CH Postal Company, Violet witnesses auto memories dolls translating people’s emotions into written messages.  Wanting to understand other people’s emotions too, Violet determines to train to become an auto memories doll.

Violet Evergarden header

This series is not only beautiful with its gorgeous animation and soft piano soundtrack but also develops thoughtful themes.  Violet Evergarden learns many lessons through her letters and her travels as an auto memories doll, and the audience gets to share these experiences with her.  The story’s topics range from the meaning of love to friendship, war, courage, and family.  An especially poignant part of the story is Episode 10 “Loved Ones Will Always Watch Over You.”

One of my favorite aspects of the show is how it explores the power of letters.  Sometimes written words can express ideas better than any other medium, and letters can even become treasures to be reread through the years.  The challenges Violet and her coworkers face as they try to turn other people’s ideas and emotions into letters is something that resonates with me as one of my passions is to become a better communicator and transform others’ messages so they can reach their audience.

Like its name, this show really is a flower.  The story is seemingly simple, but full of sweetness, beauty, and depth.  Violet Evergarden brims with the vivacity and color of a garden that blooms evergreen—a place for quiet comfort and refreshment, tears and smiles and growth.

arrietty pic

-ARRIETTY-

FoxTrot

foxtrot-header-e1577844069708.pngFoxTrot by Bill Amend carries on the legacy of comic strips like Calvin and Hobbes and ranks with other great comics like Baby Blues and Zits.  Amend brings his own style to the genre of comics about families and kids, though.  FoxTrot has its own creative personality, humorous style, and amusing cast of characters.

A Profile of the Fox Family

Roger (Dad): Loves golf and food, enthuses about sports with his oldest son Peter, grills in a life-threatening fashion, has no computer skills, and demonstrates quirky behavior at times (like taking his family camping in the desert).

Andy (Mom): Struggles to keep her family in check (especially her precocious and plotting son Jason), is usually pretty no-nonsense, and occasionally reaches a breaking point.

Peter: Detests yard work and driving Paige to the mall, wants an electric guitar, struggles to understand his girlfriend Denise, sometimes teams up with Jason against Paige, and exemplifies the stereotypical comic book teenager.

Foxtrot comic 002

Paige: Loves shopping at the mall, drives her brothers crazy, finds her brothers annoying (especially Jason), and has imaginative, romantic dreams about a French boyfriend named Pierre.

Foxtrot comic 003

Sometimes Paige gets the upper hand.

Jason: Plays pranks on Paige as his favorite pastime, loves school, math, science, and video games, plays with his friend Marcus and iguana Quincy, exasperates his family most of the time, and is an undeniable nerd.

Foxtrot comic 001

A typical example of Jason’s passion for school

 

Have a wonderful New Year!

arrietty pic

-ARRIETTY-

Review: JOKER

Joker is a film that could have been set anywhere, in a universe without Batman, Joker, or superheroes of any kind, and the characters and plot would still work. What is the point of a tale like this? A tale where the setting no longer directly informs the plot?

With a wandering plot and ambiguous detail, I can only speculate about the point director Todd Phillips intended for audiences to see. Nevertheless, as a memorable and gripping story of mental illness, and as a display of the extremes people will go to be noticed in a society that promotes and accepts loneliness, Joker succeeds on all counts.

Arthur Peck works as a clown by day and dreams of being a stand-up comedian by night. The only problem? He’s not funny, and he is crippled by uncontrollable laughter, a result of childhood trauma, that makes him socially awkward. It’s very tragic to see him laughing, at times almost wheezing and crying at the same time, while onlookers only see him as creepy and awkward. The stigma he feels is something relatable to anyone who has ever been judged for something about their manner or appearance that they can’t help.

The film inevitably takes a darker turn as Arthur descends into the persona known as Joker (for those squeamish about violence – be warned!). Inspired by elements from the film The King of Comedy and Taxi Driver, this is a film that has generated a lot of discussion and buzz, both positive and negative. Almost as if the movie is a mirror, reviewers have seen everything from depictions of Antifa to a glamorization of incel culture (if you have to look up the term incel as I did, you are not alone) in the frames of this dark character portrait. My opinion? Todd Phillips wanted to shock audiences by mixing a bunch of interesting themes into his film without committing to a single one idea. The result is something that is well-acted, thought-provoking, yet ultimately wandering and bleak. But memorable cinema nonetheless.

-BONE-