Tag Archives: anime

S.H.Figuarts Piccolo: The Proud Namekian

A real proud one.

When the S.H.Figuarts line was launched years ago and Dragon Ball Z was at the forefront, it wasn’t Goku who got to be the first figure out of the gate. Nope, it was Piccolo. That figure caught my attention when it was announced even though I had not purchased a Dragon Ball figure in quite some time. I came close, but ultimately never did pull the trigger. The line originally adhered very close to the original Dragon Ball manga so Piccolo sported a light purple gi with yellow, puffy, things (whatever that portion of Namekian anatomy is), and a red sash at the waist. An event exclusive version would follow that depicted an anime color scheme and by all accounts it seemed like most people really liked this figure.

Piccolo looks like a fun guy…

Of course, time being what it is, Bandai has had numerous opportunities to improve upon that original figure. The mechanics of the average SHF release have been altered to create more articulation and better sculpting. As a result, the figures released more recently tend to look quite a bit better than the original ones, even though when those first ones dropped few could imagine a DBZ figure looking any better. Many of the original figures have received updates, but it took awhile for old Piccolo to finally get his. Released towards the end of 2020 though was Piccolo: The Proud Namekian. This figure is a complete do-over with basically nothing retained from the original figure. For longtime collectors of this line, this figure was overdue and just judging it based off of promotional pictures seems to indicate it’s a superior product, but how much better is it really? Well, time to find out!

I don’t think he really wants to come out.

Piccolo comes in the standard SHF window box, but he comes a bit different from what some may be used to. Piccolo has a lot of stuff on him right out of the box. I suppose it’s not surprising to see him with his shoulder pads and turban/helmet thing, but I was a little surprised to see that he has the crossed-arms pose in the box. That look is probably the signature Piccolo look so it’s not that surprising that they would go with that pose, it’s just surprising because usually that crossed-arm piece is an included accessory and not the default pose. Instead, Piccolo’s arms are just kind of chilling right there beside him since the crossed-arms pose is one piece.

Let’s cast this stuff aside for a minute.

Anyway, I’m going to start off discussing Piccolo without all of that stuff. He stands around 6.5″ which puts him on the taller side, but he’s probably not as big as he could have been. His size does kind of vary at times in the anime and the character literally can grow to any size, though that’s a seldom used power kept in his back pocket. Out of the box, he has a big, missing, chunk in his back and that’s because his cape is going to peg into there as well as some other pieces. When not wearing the cape, he has a filler piece that’s made to look like his purple gi and it plugs right in. Mine isn’t quite flush on the right side and I wonder if that’s intentional to make it easier to remove? Either way, it looks good to my eyes and it’s on the figure’s back so it’s not something I’m terribly concerned about.

Bandai included a plug to hide all of the ports on the figure’s back, which is expected of a $60 action figure.
I’ve had this Piccolo animation cel on my wall for 20 years so I’m very accustomed to his face. This scene takes place right after Piccolo’s fusion with Nail on Planet Namek.

Piccolo’s default expression is a stoic one. It looks okay, but something about the face seems a touch off to me and I’m not sure what it is. I think his eyes maybe too small and there’s too much “face” below them. The angle of the jaw is probably off too as it should come in tighter towards the center of his neck. I do not like that they painted his mouth red since he does not and has never had red lips so that choice is odd to me. He has his antennae though and they can be pulled out and if you really wanted to you could reposition them. Do be careful though as I once dropped an antennae from my King Piccolo figure and it was a pain to find in my very shallow carpet. I can’t imagine how hard it would have been had my carpet had more volume. Piccolo is depicted in his anime color scheme so purple gi, a very saturated green flesh tone, pink musculature or whatever we’re calling those, with red trim and a blue sash. He’s the “proud Namekian” as we’re calling him so I guess that makes this figure a late Frieza saga version or perhaps a Cell saga version of the character. Prior to that, he was a straight-up villain who wanted to avenge his “father” by killing Goku and then take over the world. He gradually turned to the side of good, thanks to his bond with Goku’s son, Gohan, and by the time he arrives on Namek to confront Frieza and see his home world for the first time he’s very much a good guy. Piccolo doesn’t really change much visually throughout the course of the show, so it’s not that important. In Dragon Ball, he had slightly different anatomy that included pink kneecaps, but otherwise he’s been pretty consistent ignoring the whole height thing I mentioned. Which is good, because this guy can fit in wherever you need him to. If you want him fighting Frieza that’s no problem or maybe you want to put him up against Android 17? That should work too.

This is a figure that definitely benefits from some effects parts.
Obviously, this is the more appropriate charging pose for Piccolo.

From a sculpting perspective, the figure is pretty solid. The gi he wears is sort of nothing new as a lot of characters wear something similar. And in the case of Piccolo, he looks like a scaled down version of King Piccolo and even a lot of the hand options are the same. He has a decent amount of paint since the red and pink portions of his body needed to be painted and it’s all quite clean. His gi looks to largely be unpainted though, likely because it’s a very dark color to begin with. I do wish it had more of a matte appearance because it’s quite shiny. That sheen does help to accentuate the folds, but it doesn’t help to create the illusion of realism. The only other critique of the overall sculpt and paint I have is that his upper body looks a touch undersized. Piccolo is a pretty beefy dude, or alien, whatever, and I feel like his shoulders could be a little broader and his chest a bit more pronounced. I’m guessing, they had to find a happy medium that worked with both the shoulder pads and without since it’s not as apparent when he has those on. I still think he looks good, but if I could improve something that would be it.

I much prefer this face to the more stoic one.
This figure is very stand-friendly.

Of course, if I was unimpressed with the basic, combat, look of Piccolo I could switch to his default look which includes the shoulder pads and cape. In order to put them on (or take them off) you simply pop the head off of the figure and slide the shoulder pads over it. There’s an opening on the back for the cape to peg into and the peg rotates so you can position the cape however you see fit. You can technically use whatever portrait you want with the cape, but Bandai included two heads that work with the turban: a stoic one and a yelling one. The expressions are both duplicated without the turban piece so I dislike the stoic one here, but the yelling one looks great. It just doesn’t work as well with this look since Piccolo usually ditches his weighted clothing when fighting, but he does engage in some fisticuffs with this on here and there. It’s a good look though and if I liked that stoic expression more I’d have a hard time not displaying the figure this way, but I think I’ll go in a different route ultimately.

If I liked this portrait this would be a hard pose to resist.
Though if you want that cape flowing out behind the figure you’re going to need a lot of shelf space.

Piccolo comes with plenty of things, though there’s at least one thing absent. For starters, he has five heads: stoic, stoic with turban, yelling, yelling with turban, and a teeth-gritting looking to the side expression. The heads intended for the turban don’t have a skull-top, but a chunk of plastic with a key on it so the turban can only go on one way. The other three heads have a full top and antennae. The yelling and teeth-gritting feature added veins and both look quite nice. The open mouth on both yelling heads are fully sculpted and the paint is pristine. For as much as I dislike the stoic expression, I love the other two. Piccolo also has the crossed-arms piece mentioned earlier. To use, you disconnect the arms just below the should and plug that piece in. It’s a bit tricky, but it can be done if you make good use of the butterfly joints. Just be careful about putting pressure on the shoulder piece because it has a cap that kind of just floats on it which can slide down and pop off on you. For hands, Piccolo has the usual assortment: fists, style pose, open palms, and a Special Beam Canon right hand. He also has an arm stump that clips on the left shoulder and features some sculpted, purple, blood dripping off of it. This is great if you have a Raditz figure and want to recreate that scene, though we sadly don’t have a barefoot Goku to go with it. Lastly, there are two plugs for the rear of the figure intended to be used with a Tamashii Nations stand (not included). It adds a port for the stand to plug into under the cape, and the larger of the two plugs is intended to help the cape stay up. The best application for this is so Piccolo can achieve his floating, meditative, pose. I do wish they had included an eyes closed portrait to really sell this, but oh well. The only big, missing, item is, of course, a blast effect. This guy is crying out for a Special Beam Canon effect piece and I really wish it could have been included. Seriously, if it means another 5 or 10 bucks added to the MSRP then just do it, Bandai!

I love that they included an arm stump!
This looks pretty bad ass, but it would be so much better with an actual effects piece.

Piccolo has plenty of stuff, but what good would it all be if he can’t be positioned well with it? Worry not, for he’s about as articulated as anything in this line. The head is on a ball peg with another joint at the base of the neck, and since Piccolo is bald, he has no restrictions in looking around. The shoulders are quite impressive as he has a butterfly joint, ball-hinge, and another hinge that allows the arms to drop down. This is to better accommodate the shoulder pads. The butterfly joint can swing out extremely far, which I believe is to make it easier to get the arms-crossed attachment on and less for actual posing, because it would look ridiculous to pose him like that. He swivels just past the shoulder at those ports where his arms come off and has the usual double-jointed elbow and the spacer piece looks quite lovely. The wrists are ball-jointed and the red trim helps hide them without hindering the range. In the diaphragm, you have a ball-hinge so he can rotate and pivot, but also crunch forward and back. There is some gapping if you go too far, and as usual, you want to be mindful of the parts rubbing against each other. At the waist he can twist and pivot and at the hips he can kick forward and back about as far as you need him to and swivel at the thighs. The knees are double-jointed and look okay when going past 90 degrees and the ankles are ball-jointed as well. They aren’t the best, though it could be due to the shape of the character’s shoes, but I don’t have problems standing him. He has a toe hinge as well, but it’s not particularly useful. Lastly, the cape is articulated so the ends can slide out for a more dramatic pose. It can also pivot up and down and you could turn the peg at an angle if you wished. It’s kind of funky because it’s in 3 pieces, but I think it works better than a wired, cloth, cape for this aesthetic. The superior option would probably have been to just do two capes, one just hanging and the other blowing, but maybe this was the more affordable option.

I brought in one of the effects pieces from my Yellow Power Ranger figure and it works okay.

Piccolo has all of the parts and articulation to really achieve the bulk of his signature poses and looks from the show. He can bring his hands together for his Cell saga energy blast, and his range of motion on his arm is perfect for the Special Beam Canon charging and blasting pose. The open hands work as a Masenko attack or if Piccolo wants to steal Tien’s Solar Flare he can do that as well. In terms of just posing, I like the style posed “claw” hands and the fists. The grimacing expression really adds a lot of personality to the figure so he can look angry or desperate with a touch of worry too. If the box included the stand and a blast effect this would be the total package as far as I’m concerned. One thing I also like about the figure, is you can use the “claw” attachment on the stands to support the figure if you want to, but I actually prefer to just peg into the figure either via those included adapters that work with the cape, or with the port on his back for the actual cape. He’s a very dynamic figure, which is what most want and expect from this line.

We have to do the father-son picture!
A time paradox!

Bandai’s 2.0 approach to Piccolo is a very good attempt. He’s definitely an improvement over the original, which is over 10 years old at this point, and does a good enough job of capturing the character’s likeness from the anime in certain poses. I do wish his default expression looked better and I feel like the character could have been bulked up a touch in the shoulder area. Also, the shiny-ness of the pants is a bummer. And there’s the lack of a blast effect of some kind, but that’s a criticism for the entire line as so few figures come with that. Even so, this figure has a lot of display options at his disposal which is great for collectors like me who enjoy changing things up every so often. I’m going with a wounded, Special Beam Canon, charging pose for now, but who knows what Piccolo will be doing 6 weeks from now? If you’ve been holding out for a better Piccolo from this line, this will probably get the job done for you, even with the obvious room for improvement.


Super7 Ultimates! Voltron – Defender of the Universe

What have I gotten myself into?

My children are unknowingly a terrible influence on my spending habits. It was last summer they started watching Mighty Morphin Power Rangers awakening within me a long lost desire to acquire Power Rangers toys from back in 93/94. Recently, it’s my son discovering the Netflix Voltron series. Voltron was a show I paid little attention to as a kid. It was on early in the morning on week days and that was just a terrible time for me. I was not a morning person so I slept as late as I could and moved slowly through my morning routine. There was no TV watching for me as a result, but when some of my friends started insisting I check out Voltron I did take a peek. Years later, the show would return on Cartoon Network on week day afternoons and at that point I did give it an extended look, though it wasn’t particularly good.

What was undeniably good about Voltron though were the toys. My friend had a vintage, combining, Voltron toy. It should have predated he and I by a few years so I don’t know if he got it secondhand or what, but it was undeniably cool to have five toys that combined into one, bigger, better, toy. It was my first experience with the concept as I wasn’t a Transformers kid and Power Rangers were years away. The concept was better than the reality to some degree as Voltron was rather cumbersome. He articulated rather poorly, but back then, five points of articulation were pretty standard still so he wasn’t that bad. He was just a bit bland with a sword in hand since he couldn’t hold it in a natural way, at least in a natural way for a being made up of five robot lions.

Super7 had one goal with this packaging: shiny!

Over the years, I have resisted the temptation to go after a Voltron. When the Netflix series showed up, Voltron returned to toy stores and comic shops in classic and updated versions. The lions were available individually and I think there were deluxe versions that put everything in one box. There have also been mega expensive Soul of Chogokin versions of the character for those who really wanted to take Voltron to the next level. I resisted those calls though, and I was probably most tempted by the Lego Voltron of a few years ago because that just seemed really cool to me, though I wondered how durable a Lego Voltron would be and ultimately passed. Now, watching the show with my son, I found myself wanting a Voltron all over again, but now the options are severely limited. Those lions that once retailed for 20 bucks or so are near 100 on the secondary market as they’re no longer in production. Suddenly, the Toynami Ultimate EX Voltron is looking like a bargain at $400! I tossed around the idea of getting a Mini-Pla model kit Voltron since it was a combining Voltron, but like the Lego Voltron, I had durability concerns. Especially since that’s another figure that’s going to run close to $100 now since it’s no longer being manufactured. I was left thinking I’ve gone this long without a Voltron, so maybe it’s not something I need.

I found myself at a comic shop over the weekend and there on the shelf was a brand new Super7 Ultimates! Voltron staring me in the face. This edition of Voltron is a pure action figure, so there’s no breaking him down into five individual lions. Part of the appeal of Voltron is definitely the combing element, but there’s also the practical reality that I would never display the character in lion mode. I felt like I couldn’t pass it up, and maybe the shiny, chrome, packaging had something to do with that so I bought it and brought my little robot buddy home.

It’s important to note that this is actually the second version of Voltron Super7 has released. The first one was referred to as a deluxe release and I’m not entirely sure it was considered a true “Ultimates” release. This new one is largely the same as both present the classic interpretation of the character, but it has a different deco and a minor change to the articulation. The first release featured a matte finish aiming to approximate the cartoon aesthetic. This edition swaps the matte out for a glossy approach as this is a very shiny figure. The blue and green especially possess a pearl quality in the paint and the silver bits do a nice job of faking metal. And to emphasize this new approach, the figure comes in a shiny, chrome, box that basically has a mirror finish. This is a snazzy figure, and it’s almost a shame the packaging comes with a slipcase which hides much of the shininess.

Here’s our boy…robot…whatever.

Packaging is cool and all, but the real star is the figure inside. Voltron stands around 7″ in height and he’s one chunky boy. There’s a lot of plastic on this guy which gives him a nice, heavy, feel in the hand. He’s very similar to the Hasbro RED Transformers, only bigger. Part of my reasoning in buying this guy was just to get a sense of how Super7 is going to handle these robot characters as the company has already solicited Transformers Ultimates! and is about to do the same for Power Rangers. It’s potentially going to be a neat, unofficial, line from the company as they build out a fleet of robot figures. The glossy paint job is what stands out the most about this guy and it’s largely applied well. There are a few nicks and small amounts of paint overrun here and there, but overall it’s pretty clean. The only spot I’m not happy with is the nose of the yellow lion which is scratched. I’m tempted to fill it in with a black marker. This Voltron is at the old price point of $45, so he’s in that odd space where he’s more expensive than your average retail figure, but not quite at premium figure pricing. And for what he is, the paint job is fair as they did a very good job with the finer details like the face and the shield logo on the chest.

Admit it, you wish your hands could roar.

The sculpt, on the other hand, is done quite well. This definitely resembles a transformed Voltron so the lion “feet” are a bit stretched and rectangular as that is how they looked on TV. There’s a lot of layers to the sculpt in the chest which is nice to see and really adds depth and character to the figure. The lion head hands look great and remain one of the coolest aspects of the character design. The wings on the back of the figure are a softer plastic so there’s little chance of them breaking. And I can’t stress enough just how good this figure feels in the hand. There’s a lot of different textures to the sculpt and the heaviness is perfect.

A shiny sword demands a shiny shield.

Such a chunky and oddly designed character is going to be a challenge when it comes to articulation. Since this is a non-combining Voltron though, it’s pretty important that Super7 do a great job on that part as we’re giving up an important play feature in order to improve the sculpt and articulation. And with this figure, there’s some good, and there’s some not-so-good. For starters, the head is on a ball hinge, but the boxy nature of the upper torso means he can’t do much more than turn his head. You get a little up and down, but it’s minimal. At the shoulders, Super7 did get a little creative as they used two, big, ball-hinges to increase his range at the joint. You can slide the arm up and down a great deal and even get him to reach across his body as a result. Beyond that, you also get the usual rotation. Below the should is a biceps swivel and single hinge, followed by a “wrist” swivel and horizontal hinge. Elbows remain a disappointment with Super7 as he can’t do 90 degrees. It’s also odd they didn’t give him vertical hinges at the hand given he’s a sword wielder, they’re usually really good about getting that part right. In the torso, we have a ball hinge in the diaphragm (I guess) that lets him rotate mostly, but there’s a tiny bit of tilt and crunch. There’s a waist twist below that as well. At the legs, he can kick forward to 90 degrees and kick back a bit. Below that is a thigh swivel, which is new for this edition of Voltron, followed by a single-jointed knee hinge that does achieve a 90 degree bend. At the ankle, we have a hinge and rocker, but both are fairly limited due to the blocky nature of the feet.

This is about as dynamic as he gets.

It’s an okay assortment of articulation, but there definitely is stuff missing. The lack of double elbows is to be expected of Super7, they have an aversion to them for aesthetic reasons, so I’m not that broken up about it. What is borderline unforgivable though of a modern collectible is for the legs to not be able to lift out to the sides. There’s a part of me that thinks it’s unacceptable for an action figure in this price range to lack such a basic point of articulation. Even the cheap, Hasbro Megazord is able to widen its stance, and that adds a lot to the figure’s posing. It speaks to a larger issue I have with Super7 where it seems that when they run into a part of a figure that gets a little tricky they just punt on the articulation. I like their emphasis on sculpting and not marring that with too much articulation, but sometimes they get too timid. I think they could have done a ball joint here without really harming the sculpt, but they opted to do something different. At any rate, it was something I was aware of before I bought the figure and I did really consider passing largely because it’s so disappointing a feature to not have. I’m glad I was aware of it though because I would have been pretty bummed if I found out about it when I opened the thing.

If you prefer glow-in-the-dark to shiny, Super7 has you covered.

Articulation is useless without some fun accessories to pose Voltron with and Super7’s Ultimates! are known for including a fair assortment of those things. For starters, Super7 included an extra pair of “hands.” It was a bit weird to see that the jaws on the lion head hands were static, but that’s probably to make the grip tighter. The open hands basically replace a jaw hinge and also allow Voltron to act out his dramatic posing following the combining animation in the show, though the feet can’t roar (and I’m fine with that). In addition to the hands, Voltron also comes with not one, but two, swords! The default option is an all chrome, vac-metal, blade that really shines. It’s a throwback to the old toy and it looks especially great when the light hits it just right. He also has a matching shield that’s just as vibrant as the blade. The only downside to vac-metal accessories is the substance can be brittle. My shield has a little chip on it which is a bummer, because otherwise it looks rather glorious. If you think the sheen is overpowering though, there’s a second sword with a pearl blue hilt and glow-in-the-dark blade. The glow-in-the-dark plastic gives the sword a laser quality in natural light, and of course in the dark it glows with a greenish hue. It’s a fun accessory, though I suspect most will opt for the vac-metal blade. As for me, I might just go with a dual-wield display because I really like both. The accessories are also easy to work with. The gripping hand-heads have soft plastic teeth so it’s easy to pop the swords and shield in and out. Swapping hands is also pretty much effortless as they pop out with ease.

Yeah, lets ditch the shield and dual-wield!

The end result is a pretty good Voltron action figure. Yes, it’s not without its problems, number one being articulation, but it makes up for those shortcomings with a good sculpt and truly eye-catching paint job. The weapons are fun, and there’s just enough articulation that I can find some decent poses. And what really works in the figure’s favor is availability and affordability. Super7’s Ultimates! is famously a made-to-order affair, but retailers typically order more than they pre-sell so he should be easy to find as long as you don’t wait too long. And at $45, he’s far cheaper than basically every other Voltron on the market right now. Sometimes, that’s all it takes.

Lets get in a quick robot comparison before wrapping: (left to right) Banpresto Weltall, Voltron, RED Soundwave

S.H. Figuarts Dragon Ball Kame-Sennin (Master Roshi)

The legendary martial arts master has arrived!

Collecting certainly has a gambling component to it. Sometimes, when a new action figure is released it can pay off to wait a bit and see if the price comes down or a retailer has a sale. Other times, that strategy can completely backfire. Such was the case with the S.H. Figuarts release of Kame-Sennin, better known to westerners as Master Roshi from Dragon Ball. A couple of years ago I started my Dragon Ball figure collection with a Goku from this line. Seeing how readily available he continued to be gave me confidence that a character like Master Roshi, a less popular though still much beloved figure from the anime, would play out the same way. It did not. Maybe Bandai had less confidence in the figure than it does some others, or maybe it had something to do with western distribution seemingly picking up after the figure’s release, but this guy came and went pretty fast. Subsequent figures have not, and I scored several this past summer on a sale, but Master Roshi was seemingly lost.

Well, I finally gave up. When Bandai released a Jackie Chun figure, which is basically Master Roshi in black and with a wig in place of his glasses, I figured that closed the door on a re-release. And thus I was forced to turn to the secondary market. To lessen the blow, I actually sold some figures from my collection that weren’t going to see a shelf which essentially paid for this one, but it still stings to know I could have had this figure for considerably less had I acted sooner. Is there a lesson here or did I simply just play the game and have it go against me? If there is one, it’s simply make sure you get the figures you don’t want to live without. I can have a Dragon Ball collection without a kid Chi Chi and be content, or without a version of Bulma that only appeared in the show’s ending credits. I cannot have one without Master Roshi though.

Master Roshi comes well equipped to add some sizzle to your display.

For this figure, Bandai opted to present Master Roshi in his somewhat official outfit: his orange and blue martial arts uniform. He has quite a few different looks in the manga and anime that are a bit more casual, and if I’m being honest that’s how I tend to picture him in my head, but by going in this direction it gives the figure a bit more versatility. You can go for a comic pose, pose him with his shell, or display him ready for a fight. He can’t do his bulked up Kamehameha pose, but that’s to be expected as it basically requires a whole new sculpt. The figure stands right around the 5 and a half inch mark which allows him to scale pretty well with the rest of the line. His trademarked red and green sunglasses are removable and fit on both of his heads and they rest well on the figure. The orange and blue are both plenty vibrant and it’s mostly just colored plastic. There’s no real paint flourishes on display here which is par for the course. Bandai certainly could have opted for something here to bring out the folds in the shirt, but it’s really not supposed to possess many as it hangs long and loose on the character in the show. I think it looks fine, but I know some others out there wish there was a little more flair to these figures as far as paint is concerned.

Note the plug inserted into the figure’s back to fill the peg hold needed for the turtle shell.

Master Roshi comes loaded with the usual assortment of articulation. It’s certainly needed to get him into various martial arts poses, but with this figure the articulation does detract some from the sculpt. The issue lies with the shirt which is very large relative to the figure. Bandai obviously felt it couldn’t do something like a soft rubber piece over an articulated figure and have it work, and they’re probably right. Instead, a lot of the joints have to be baked into the shirt and it does give it this choppy, scalloped, look. It’s unfortunate as it’s a bit of an eyesore, but ultimately, I think Bandai made the right call since the alternative would be to have very little articulation in the torso and arms. Perhaps soft goods could have been utilized, but that would have been just as, if not more, controversial a choice. The only area of the sculpt that does sort of bother me resides in the character’s elbows. There’s a big, circular, component that just jumps out and looks unnatural. The good thing is, simply posing him with bent elbows largely conceals this. Roshi does have a peg hole on his back to keep his shell sturdy, but if you don’t want to display him with that on, Bandai provided a little, orange, peg to fit into that hole to cover it up. Considering the hole is on the figure’s back, this really wasn’t something Bandai had to do, but it’s pretty cool that it did.

The old man can still move.
Though this requires little in the way of dexterity.

Master Roshi’s shirt may look a bit odd, but at least it does deliver in making this figure fully articulated. His head has the usual range of motion expected of this line. He can look up, but not down much as his beard hinders him a bit. There’s a joint at the base of the neck, but the head moves so smoothly that it’s hard to move the neck without taking the head off completely. The shoulders have terrific range and are also butterfly-jointed with that part of the articulation being completely hidden by the shirt which is pretty cool. There’s a bicept swivel and the elbows are single-jointed with his hands are on ball joints. They are buried a little in the sleeves so the range might not be as great as other figures in this line, but it’s fine. In the torso there’s a lot going on with upper torso articulation and waist articulation. The upper torso basically just allows him to pivot a bit without full rotation. The waist is similar though you could probably get him to turn all the way around if you were determined, but I wouldn’t advise it. The legs are on ball joints and swivel just below that joint. He has double-jointed knees and terrific range at the ankle with rotation and rocker action. Lastly, we have the toe hinge for when he needs to get a little taller, maybe to sneak his perverted, old, man eyes over a window sill or something.

It really is a nice looking shell.
Can’t forget about the Dragon Ball!

Master Roshi has a solid assortment of accessories and interchangeable parts. For starters, he has an optional head that’s basically his pervert face. It works with or without his glasses and it’s not hard to imagine many fans posing him in such a position. Only thing missing is a way to make it look like his nose is gushing blood. You can also swap the bearded portion on each head in effect doubling your range of available expressions. He also has five sets of hands to go along with the fists he comes packaged with. He has gripping hands for his staff, a set of pointing/pinching hands, a set of martial arts styled hands, an open left gripping hand for use with the Dragon Ball, a left hand making a “peace” symbol, a relaxed open palm left hand, and a firm open palm right hand. He has his trusty staff or cudgel and his three-star Dragon Ball. And then, of course, he has his big old turtle shell. It clips into his back and it also has straps that can pop in to make it look like it’s something the character simply slipped his arms through. The peg on the back of the figure makes it sit nice and I really like the sculpt of this thing. It has that very “Dragon Ball” look to it as far as the texture goes with lots of line work and I do enjoy the almost lilac color it has. Bandai even saw fit to make the middle panel of the shell removable so you can still use the action stand with the figure, whether he’s wearing the shell or not. Lastly, Bandai included an action stand for him which is always appreciated. It’s a real nice allotment of stuff that Master Roshi comes packed with. If anything is missing, I guess it would be Turtle? That’s probably asking too much though since he would require quite a bit of plastic. The only other obvious omission is the lack of Kamehameha style hands. I guess Bandai didn’t see the point since he can’t bulk up, or maybe they figured they’d include those hands with the Jackie Chun release. I can’t say I miss them since I wouldn’t pose him like that, but I can see that being a disappointment for some. Especially Dragon Ball Z collectors who may have wanted to line up all of the Z fighters performing Master Roshi’s signature technique.

Look who decided to join the party.
Of course, we have to bring in Goku too. These three look pretty great together.

Making use of Roshi’s accessories is not quite as smooth as it is with other figures. His head pops on and off just fine, though you do have to make sure the ball-joint is orientated properly. The hands are a bit trickier though. The cuffs of the shirt mean the pegs are recessed and they want to move all over the place when pressing a hand onto them. I don’t feel like I’m ever in danger of breaking anything, but it is annoying. The straps on the shell are also a bit troublesome. I find it’s easier to insert the top peg first on each strap before putting it on Roshi’s back. Then you have to kind of finesse the bottom pegs into their respective hole. It at least doesn’t need to be real snug, but if you don’t have patience for such things it could drive you mad. Once you have the setup you want, the hands at least all function the way they should. He can hold his staff with either gripping hand with no problem and the Dragon Ball rests in the open hand just fine. He also stands well with or without the shell on his back making the action stand Bandai included feel unnecessary which can free it up for another figure in your display, should you desire such.

I am so sorry, Bulma.
Maybe I should look into acquiring Lunch so he has someone of-age to menace.

Master Roshi fits in well with the other Dragon Ball releases so far. I maintain that the kid versions of Goku and Krillin are a bit too big, but it doesn’t stand out as much with Master Roshi as it does with Bulma. She’s still the odd one of the bunch though as she should probably be taller than Master Roshi, but instead she’s pretty close in height. It almost looks like he’s designed to scale to Goku and Krillin, with Bulma and the others scaling better with each other. The only other disappointing aspect of the display is just in the choice of attire. Roshi mostly wore this get-up during the training sequences where Krillin wore his yellow gi and Goku sported his blue pants and white tank top look. By the time the two get their Turtle School gi, they’re at the World Martial Arts Tournament where Roshi is in a formal, black, suit. Oh well. I’m definitely glad this version isn’t in the black suit, but I am still partial to his beach bum look when Goku and Bulma first meet the old man.

Yes, I realize I need a dedicated shelf for my Dragon Ball guys.

Acquiring this figure of Master Roshi more or less finishes off my humble Dragon Ball collection from Bandai. The only other figures released in the line include an alternate version of Bulma, Jackie Chun, Lunch, and kid Chi Chi. I don’t really feel a need to grab any of those, though if Jackie and Lunch ever make it to a sale I could be persuaded. The big omission so far is a Dragon Ball version of Yamcha and I would like to have him. Tien, Chiaotzu, Grandpa Gohan, Adult Goku, and Piccolo Jr. would all be intriguing as well. And if they could get an Oolong into one of those releases that would also be great. At least with Master Roshi in the fold I no longer feel like I have a major hole in my collection. He looks awesome and he really is one of my favorite characters from the show. Hopefully he won’t be my last acquisition from this line.


S.H. Figuarts Dragon Ball Z Yamcha

Look out boys, here comes Yamcha!

Today’s action figure review comes courtesy of online retailer Big Bad Toy Store. No, I have not hit the “big time” where I’m getting freebies for review. Rather, BBTS had a Twitter give-away for an action figure and yours truly happened to be selected. Which is pretty cool, so thanks go out to Big Bad for the hook-up because otherwise I would likely have never had the chance to talk about this figure.

Gotta love that window box packaging.
There aren’t many characters who get featured as a corpse as part of their own product shots.

Yamcha comes straight from the anime Dragon Ball Z. I have reviewed a few of the figures from S.H. Figuarts in the Dragon Ball line, but I’ve largely avoided Dragon Ball Z. That’s because I only have room (and money) for one high-end anime property and if I had to choose I’m taking Dragon Ball over Dragon Ball Z. If I were to reverse course though, and maybe one day I will, I’d probably prioritize the earlier episodes of DBZ like the Saiyan Saga, which is where this figure comes from.

What’s this guy have to smile about?!
I wonder what shampoo he uses?

Yamcha is basically known to the fanbase as the punching bag of DBZ. He’s routinely one of the least powerful warriors and his most famous pose is lying dead in a crater. He makes himself an easy target because he’s often brash and quite arrogant, only to wind up getting his ass handed to him. He’s so bad that I even tried to make referring to someone as a “Yamcha” an insult amongst my friends back in my high school days, but I never really got the phrase over. Yamcha would change in later arcs and in Dragon Ball Super he became more self aware of his lot in life. This has made him actually endearing, to a degree, to the point where Yamcha may be able to refer to himself unironically as a fan favorite these days. After all, being outclassed by Goku is hardly meaningful anymore since virtually no one from those early episodes can hope to stand with him.

Now we’re getting serious.
Here comes the “dreaded” Wolf Fang Fist!

As mentioned earlier, this figure comes from the Saiyan Saga of DBZ so it depicts Yamcha in his orange Turtle School gi complete with big hair. He’s right at the six inch mark which I assume is pretty much average for the line and leaves him about 3/4 of an inch taller than the Vegeta from the same line (not factoring in Vegeta’s giant hair). It’s hard to say what Yamcha’s most popular look is since he’s one of the characters who seems to always change his look, but this one is certainly right up there. He maintained this look through the Frieza Saga before switching to an awful bowl cut that thankfully didn’t last long. It’s a simple look though and I suspect there’s a lot of parts reuse in this figure as he’s essentially Goku. I can’t confirm that though because I don’t have a Goku. The only real difference between he and Goku are the shoes and the lack of a blue undershirt, because Yamcha is first and foremost out to attract the ladies. The more skin showing the better.

I’m more of an energy blast guy, myself.
Solar Flare or “hands up?” Yamcha is not above backing down from a fight.

The S.H. Figuarts line from Bandai is known for its high quality and abundance of articulation. Yamcha is no exception as there’s very little he can’t do as far as posing goes. His joints are all nice and tight with none being too tight so he has no trouble holding a pose. His head sits on a ball joint with surprising range of motion considering the giant hair behind him. The hair keeps him from looking up, but he can do pretty much anything else. There’s a hinge in the middle of his hair if you want to make his hair more billowy than usual, though it doesn’t do much to free up the head any further. He has a joint at the base of his neck that honestly isn’t really needed since he can look pretty far down without engaging it. The shoulders are ball-jointed with butterfly joints as well to allow him to reach across his chest and form a proper Kamehameha pose. The bicep swivels and the elbows are double-jointed. The hands are on ball-pegs with hinges in them so they can rotate and turn in and out. There’s an upper torso joint under the gi that provides for tilt and rotation there as well as another ball-joint at the waist. The legs can go out, forward, and back pretty much without restriction and swivel there as well. The knees are double-jointed and the feet are on ball pegs. There’s a toe hinge and articulation at the knot in his belt, for good measure.

Yamcha with his former lover and the guy she left him for.

Were Bandai leaves itself open for criticism with this line is in the amount of articulation taking away from the sculpt. With Yamcha, it’s not much of an issue because the gi lends itself well to hiding articulation. It’s a flowing, roomy, garment with lots of folds to stash stuff in. Contrast this with Vegeta who is often in skin-tight outfits where the various seems and breaks in the sculpt really stand out. There are still odd parts where things look messy, like the crotch and mid-torso. The sleeves of the gi are also pegged into his shoulders and not attached to the main part of the uniform which is rather odd looking. The other frequent complaint I see is the lack of paint, and there, Yamcha isn’t much of an exception. Bandai sticks with colored plastic for the most part and almost never applies a wash or anything to bring out some of the detail. This figure though does have a wash applied to the sides of the pants, chest, crotch, and sleeves. I’m torn on if I prefer this look to what I’ve seen more recently in the Dragon Ball figures. Kid Goku, Krillin, and even Tao have really no wash applied to them and look mostly fine to me. The effect here does work in certain lighting and poses, though in others it stands out more than I’d like.

I had to…

Yamcha comes packed with an assortment of facial expression and hands to complete his look. He has four distinct expressions for you to choose from, and swapping is simple and effortless. The bangs of his hair pops off to gain access to the face plate and the seems left behind are minimal. For expressions, Yamcha has a cocky grin, an open mouthed yell, a teeth-gritting face, and a stern face. If this were a Dragon Ball version of the character I’d want a frightened/shocked look, or a love-struck one for when he encounters Bulma, but for a Saiyan Saga Yamcha this is a strong assortment. He also has four sets of hands: closed fists, wide open palms, Kamehameha open hands, and martial arts pose hands. There’s some room for criticism in this area as Yamcha really doesn’t need the wide open, Solar Flare, styled hands. What he could really use are pointing hands for his Spirit Ball technique. The Kamehameha hands and martial arts pose hands give him enough range for his other signature maneuvers though, the Kamehameha and Wolf Fang Fist.

He actually he let himself get killed by this!
There is some nice sculpting going on here.

Lastly, Yamcha comes with one other important accessory: the Saibaman. This little green guy is notoriously the one who killed Yamcha. Or rather, it was a Saibaman who felled him and left him dead in a crater and that creature was not distinct from any other Saibaman. This little guy stands a shade under 3″ and is positioned in a permanent crouch. He’s largely colored plastic with very little paint but has quite a bit of sculpting details all over. The eyes and claws on the hands and feet are basically the only parts painted. He’s at least cast in two shades of green so he more or less looks the part, but really could have used a paint wash to bring out the grooves in the skin and the veins in the head. He’s minimally articulated and it’s largely a what you see is what you get affair. His head can rotate side-to-side a bit and the arms rotate at the shoulders on simple pegs. Oddly, the right wrist is on a peg and can rotate, but the left does not. What he’s missing is articulation at the leg, because with a simple swivel there he’d be able to really grab onto Yamcha for his self-destruct attack. Instead, if you want to attempt that you basically need to make Yamcha hug the little alien, which looks a bit silly. This makes the accessory something to pose opposite Yamcha like the two are about to face-off. It’s not nothing, but it’s a shame Bandai didn’t sink a few extra pennies into the sculpt to make it really work. Though if we’re on the subject of small changes that could have made a big difference, I wish instead of the standard one-color backdrop in the box that Bandai had printed the infamous crater instead!

Seriously, Yamcha! This should be a freakin’ mismatch!
Well, looks like this one is over.

There’s room for nitpicks with this release, but at the end of the day this is easily the best Yamcha figure ever made and likely will ever be made, at least as far as the Saiyan Saga is concerned. It’s another high quality release from Bandai via the SH Figuarts brand. There are very few poses he can’t pull off and the screen accuracy aspect is fantastic. Sure, the Saibaman is essentially a foot note for the release, but it’s not as if Yamcha is missing anything. Sure, some might have preferred another energy wave accessory, but this is fine. Though I’m guessing there are some diehard collectors out there rooting for a proper stand-alone Saibaman figure. Until that happens, this will have to do. If you ever wanted to add Yamcha to your collection, it would be hard to pass on this one.


Dragon Quest: Your Story

dq your storyIn the 1980s, game designer Yuji Horii set out to create a role-playing experience similar to a pen and paper RPG for a video game console. The goal was to blend elements of those experiences with statistical and complex Western PC games like Wizardry and Ultima as the back bone. In order to make it appeal to a Japanese audience, he wanted to infuse it with what he had learned working with manga and add character and story to the equation. The end result of that was Dragon Quest, known for a time as Dragon Warrior in the West. In creating Dragon Quest, Horii gave birth to the genre we know and love as the Japanese Role-Playing Game, or JRPG for short.

Dragon Quest was a cultural phenomenon in Japan when it arrived for the Famicom game system in 1986. Three sequels would follow and all would be brought to the Nintendo Entertainment System in the West. The series never caught on outside of Japan, and the series skipped the Super Nintendo all-together and didn’t return to a global release until Dragon Quest VII on the PlayStation. The series was the flagship title for game developer Enix, who would eventually be acquired by Squaresoft who had found great success with its Dragon Quest clone:  Final Fantasy. Those two franchises have come to define the JRPG genre and are still to this day looked to as being the trend-setter for the genre, which has admittedly sailed past its hey-day.

No matter, for Dragon Quest still has a dedicated and loyal following. And while the somewhat recently released Dragon Quest XI has taken it in a more modern direction, it still seems that the favorite game of the series amongst the fanbase is Dragon Quest V, also known as Dragon Quest V:  Hand of the Heavenly Bride.

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Dragon Quest: Your Story is based on Dragon Quest V which is easily the most beloved entry in the long-running series.

Dragon Quest V, released in 1992 and eventually in North America in 2009, was the first game in the series released on the Super Famicom and also the first to skip North America initially. Like basically every game in the series, the player controls a silent protagonist that they’re allowed to bestow a name upon. They journey with that player on a lengthy quest partaking in turn-based battles that result from random encounters on both a world map or a dungeon sequence. Where Dragon Quest V seems to really distinguish itself though is in the scope of the journey and subversion of expectations. During the course of the game, the player will be faced with a choice of whom to take as a bride and that marriage will result in the birth of twins who eventually join your party as playable characters. There’s also a monster collecting element at play that undoubtedly influenced the Pokémon series in which after defeating a monster some will randomly request to join your party becoming playable as well. The game ends up following the hero from child to adult and players seemed to really enjoy that aspect of the experience as it breads attachment. It’s actually surprising more games haven’t attempted the same.

To celebrate the franchise, Dragon Quest:  Your Story was conceived and released in Japan in 2019. It has just now become available on Netflix outside of Japan. The film adapts Dragon Quest V for the big screen with a CG adventure that takes the viewer through the events of the game basically from start to finish. The film is written and directed by Takashi Yamazaki with additional directing credits going to Ryuichi Yagi and Makoto Hanafusa. Shirogumi Inc was chosen to handle the animation with additional effects done by Robot Communications.

luca sabrecat

The film opted to go with CG in place of two-dimensional, hand-drawn, animation.

Fans of Dragon Quest V seemed elated at the thought of the game becoming a feature-length film. Animation is definitely the way to go, though I wonder if many were disappointed to find out it would be a CG animated feature and not a more traditional two-dimensional anime. By including the tagline “Your Story,” it seems the film is also aiming to replicate the RPG experience each player goes through, even if it means this time around the hero needs a name.

Like the video game it is based on, Dragon Quest:  Your Story tells the tale of a hero named Luca (Yuri Lowenthal) who at a young age loses his mother to monsters. Together with his father Pankraz (Parker Simmons), Luca embarks on a mission to retrieve the fabled Zenithian Blade in the hopes that it will help them free their beloved. The blade can only be wielded by the Heavenly Hero, whom Pankraz believes to be his son. Along the way, Pankraz will meet his end forcing Luca to go it alone. Only, he’s not alone and will soon be joined by a sabre cat cub and a curious slime. He has allies in the young prince Harry (Zeno Robinson), scrappy Bianca (Stephanie Sheh) and magical Nera (Xanthe Huynh).

dq slime

Yes, we have a slime in this one.

Adapting a roughly 25 hour game to a 103 minute film is certainly a daunting task. Much of those hours in the game are spent grinding away through dungeons and such, but even stripping those away still leaves a lot of ground to cover. As a result, the film can’t really attempt at introducing everything the game throws at the player and basically boils it all down to a few key bullet points. There’s also a liberal dose of montage at work making this film really only accessible for those who played the game. To those who did not it will feel more like an animated summary with no room to breath or to form actual attachments to the characters presented here. This format might actually make it more accessible for younger kids with short attention spans, but older viewers with no familiarity with the brand will probably tune out.

The visuals for the film hold up quite well throughout. Series artist Akira Toriyama was not on-hand for the development of this film, but it’s clear his original art was referenced for the film’s visuals. The sabre cat in particular has a very Toriyama-like appearance as do others. Where the visuals suffer is in the dubbing. Either a direct translation was insisted upon for the English dub or there just wasn’t much attention paid to it because the mouth flaps of the characters rarely sync up naturally. It’s distracting, but this is a film that isn’t exactly dialogue heavy so it’s not as killer as it could have been. There are subtitled options available, and if you’re not averse to reading them it might be the better way to go. Much of the film’s music and sounds were lifted directly from the game, but updated with an actual orchestra where appropriate. It makes the film feel incredibly authentic in its presentation.

Where the film has garnered controversy though lies in its aim. Much of the film up until the climactic battle with the monstrous Bishop Ladja feels like a love letter to Dragon Quest V, but that’s ultimately not the film’s intention. Dragon Quest:  Your Story is aiming a bit higher. It wants to be a celebration of Dragon Quest itself and not just a particular game. Dragon Quest V is merely the chosen vehicle for that delivery. The end contains a twist that is rather high concept. I don’t wish to spoil it, but even if the idea sounded great on paper the execution is a bit awkward. It definitely torpedoes the excitement of the climax adding a layer of complexity onto a story that, up until that point, was anything but.

bianca

Bianca was probably my favorite aspect of the film, though given the rapid-pace of the film she ends up not being featured all that much.

As someone who does not have any particular attachment to Dragon Quest or Dragon Quest V, I can say that the ending did not anger me, though I certainly wasn’t satisfied either. I have played Dragon Quest V, so I was familiar with the story going into this and could follow the film. The ending to the game is possibly the least interesting aspect of it, so changing things up doesn’t bother me on the surface. The execution here is just clumsy, and some of the elements of the ending might have served the film better had they been introduced from the start. This isn’t the type of story that needs or wants a big twist. It doesn’t have enough depth to pull the viewer in and then reap the reward of dumping them on their head. For those unfamiliar with the game, it just feels like a noisy, dumb, fantasy picture that commands little attention. For those who love the source material, they just want to see it to its conclusion likely enjoying the ride well enough while knowing it’s incomplete and only scratches the surface. The film basically spends 90 minutes making fans of the game happy, then the last ten angry.

dragon-quest-your-story-smoke

Dragon Quest fan groups reacting to the ending.

As a result, Dragon Quest:  Your Story is a film that doesn’t really please anybody. Newcomers will likely find it dry, while longtime fans will be angry with the ending. I suppose Dragon Quest fans that aren’t that enamored with Dragon Quest V might be able to better appreciate what the film was striving for, but I have yet to meet a fan that fits that definition. For me, a casual player of Dragon Quest, I got very little out of this one. The visuals and music are mostly nice, even if I would have preferred a more traditional anime look. The action pieces are dull and the pace of the film is far too quick for any of the emotional beats to land with much impact. I found Luca charming and Bianca especially was charismatic, though she is in maybe 10 minutes of the film as a functioning character, when all is said and done. Dragon Quest:  Your Story is a flawed and ultimately disposable piece of entertainment. It’s ending will give fans something to talk about, which unfortunately is likely to become the film’s legacy rather than as a celebration of a beloved franchise.


Dec. 25 – Samurai Pizza Cats – “The Cheese Who Stole Christmas”

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Original air date December 25, 1990 (Japan)

Welcome, Christmas Day! Hopefully you’re not hungover from too much Christmas partying last night, and if you are, hopefully it was worth it. By now, Santa should have deposited presents under the tree, if you were good this year, and hopefully he remembered the batteries. It’s been fun, but this post means we are done for the year. Christmas often lingers though into the new year, but once the holiday comes and goes it loses some its luster. Lets not dwell on the holiday coming to an end though, as we still have one more holiday special to enjoy! Maybe. Hopefully…

Samurai Pizza Cats sure sounds similar to another show, doesn’t it? That’s obviously by design as starting in the late 80s the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles took the world by storm and made lots of people lots of money. The ridiculously named property originated in comics, but once it made the move to television it had to be altered to make it more kid-friendly and toy-friendly. As part of that adaptation, the Turtles were given a favorite food, and since they live in New York, pizza was the chosen entrée. And boy did they like pizza, it was basically all they ate on the show. Given how silly the show was, it’s not at all surprising to find it was ripe for parody, and that’s partly how we got the Samurai Pizza Cats.

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The heroes of the show (left to right): Guido, Polly, and Speedy.

I say partly, because that’s not the show’s original name. Samurai Pizza Cats is a Japanese production originally titled as Kyatto Ninden Teyandee (which directly translates to Cat Ninja Legend Teyandee). When Saban got ahold of it is when it became known by its new English name. Allegedly, when Saban licensed it for global distribution they received either poor or no translations for the scripts so they basically just made up their own lore for the show. The show takes place in a version of Tokyo in which anthropomorphized animals dwell and some (all?) are partly cybernetic, including our heroes. They work in a pizza restaurant by day, but when duty calls they become heroes. The villain of the show is the local prime minister who is corrupt. The palace guard for the emperor is aware of the corruption, but he can’t prove it, so he relies on the heroic cats to stop the evil deeds.

The English script and dub, being wholly original, might cause anime fans to turn up their noses, but for my money it’s actually pretty well done. The show is just full of parody, pop culture gags, and lots of fourth-wall breaking. I didn’t watch this show as a kid (I don’t think it came to the US until 1996), so I’m not super familiar with it, but I was entertained by the script of this episode. Even if I didn’t tell you it was redone when brought over from Japan you would likely figure that out rather easily just by watching it. It’s very American, but it doesn’t try to hide the more anime moments and pretty much runs with it.

Our main characters are a trio of Samurai warriors who look like cute versions of the Ronin Warriors with a dash of Mega Man. They have a real cybernetic look to them and I assumed this was how they went into battle, but they actually add more armor and such when they prepare to fight (accompanied by traditional transformation animation that looks way better than the other animation in the episode). The three cats are Polly Esther, Guido Anchovy, and Speedy Cerviche. They’re joined by Francine who assists them from their headquarters and probably provides some tech support as well. Big Al Dente is the Chief of the Palace Guard and the one conspiring against the villain. He summons the cats when they’re needed. Big Cheese is our villain and is the Prime Minister of Little Tokyo looking to overthrow the emperor of Japan, who is named Frank. He’s supposed to be a fox, but Saban decided he looked enough like a rat to go with that instead. He’s assisted by the Ninja Crows and their leader Jerry Atric (hardy har-har) who he makes use of for his various schemes. And in this particular episode, ruining Christmas is the theme of the day.

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No messing around with this one, it’s Christmas morning right at the start!

The episode begins with a wild intro featuring narration that gives a general overview of the show. The narration is done by Michael Airington who is obviously doing a Paul Lynde impression during the opening song.. It’s a very jovial and announcer-like voice that works for the show. Legend has it that Airington was drunk on the job when he recorded the intro which may have even enhanced his performance. When the episode begins, the actual narrator is far more understated (and voiced by Terrence Scammell). The Pizza Cats are all receiving their Christmas presents as it’s Christmas morning. Guido (Terrence Scammell) seems unimpressed with a comb he receives and Polly (Sonja Ball) quickly jumps in to remind him it’s the thought that counts when it comes to Christmas presents. Speedy (Rick Jones) finds this hilarious and begins mocking her for her pure-hearted point of view. Polly tries appealing to the other female of the group, Francine (Pauline Little), who surprises her by going along with the other two as they shout at her Christmas is about the presents!

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They deserved this.

Lucille (Susan Glover) then enters to remark on what a lovely day it is. Lucille appears to be a sheep, though she has ram horns despite being female. She apparently owns a nearby tea house and Guido and Speedy are quite interested in her. They’re borderline lewd towards her, actually. Polly thinks she has an ally when Lucille enters, but she soon asks for her presents and adds she assumes she has lots and lots of them. This causes the narrator to chime in that yes, Christmas is all about presents, as the other cats look shocked by her response. Speedy and Guido go into their routine as they make each other laugh with each passing comment ending with Speedy pondering if Lucille wants them to take her out to lunch. She is not amused, and actually starts to cry. This causes the other cats to run in terror. I have no idea why, until Lucille basically explodes. Apparently, she has a lot of hardware under that kimono.

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Well, this guy hardly seems threatening.

The setting then pivots to the pagoda of The Big Cheese. It’s all decked out for the holidays as we see the villain awaking rather late on Christmas morning. Big Cheese (Dean Hagopian) arises from his bed excited to see what Santa has brought him. He’s wearing a nightgown and cap and the voice performance, combined with the clothing, gives him an obvious effeminate slant. I feel like a lot of villains were given such a characteristic during this era. He races to his giant stocking and hopes it contains a dance partner as pretty as he is handsome to take to the New Year’s Ball. We see an image of what he’s wishing for and it makes me wonder if in the original translation he was wishing to be the dancer. Instead, he finds a seemingly hungover Jerry Atric (Mark Camacho) who is quite receptive to the idea of being Big Cheese’s date to the ball. He then remarks that’s the last time he indulges in Timothy Leery bird seed, a noted proponent of psychedelic drugs so apparently Jerry here was up doing acid. Big Cheese then starts shaking the old bird demanding to know where his Christmas presents are. He tosses Jerry and he smashes into the screen prompting him to ask that someone please move the camera.

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Is there still time to change what I want for Christmas because I want this clock!

We then get a look at two other characters opening presents, Emperor Fred (Scammell) and Lady Vi (Liza MacRae). Fred appears to be a panda while Vi, his daughter, is a rabbit. She opens her gift and is ecstatic to find it’s exactly what she wanted:  a “Me” clock. It’s basically a cuckoo clock with her face on it. At the top of the hour, a little caricature of her pops out to shout, “Don’t tick me off!” Fred, who is apparently of limited intelligence, seems happy with his gift; a teddy bear that resembles him. Big Cheese is irritated to see the two enjoying their gifts when he received nothing. He heads to the balcony and looks down and sees all of the “extras” enjoying their presents too. He also notes that the producer’s family has a huge stack of presents as well. I love this fourth wall stuff!

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Poor Jerry has to give up his present to try and keep this brat in check.

He then directs his ire back at Jerry Atric. He’s happy to see he’s not enjoying a present, which leads to Jerry trying to downplay the whole present thing as he conceals a gift behind his back. Big Cheese sees it and immediately starts to get angry, but Jerry says it’s for Big Cheese from him and hands it over. This sates his boss, but only momentarily, as he opens the box to find ninja blades or something indicating it was obviously a gift for Jerry and immediately gets upset. He swipes at Jerry, but then goes into a tale about how his Christmases as a kid were just as bad as this one. We see a brief flashback where an excited young Seymour (that’s his real name) is opening a gift from Santa. His dad excitedly says it’s a real boy’s toy, which is a bizarre thing to say. He opens the box and sees a toy wagon hooked up to a toy bull. He proclaims “What’s this bull?!” and tosses it aside. Back in the present, Seymour starts shouting to the heavens about getting even with Santa. Jerry just watches and we hear some of his thoughts as he takes this all in. It seems he knows this is just going to lead to some crazy scheme he’ll have to partake in.

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For someone who has to work on Christmas, Speedy sure looks happy.

We then head back to see what the Pizza Cats are up to. Francine is taking orders and this show is quite adept at coming up with some gross toppings just like the Turtles did (sausage with mint jelly, in this case). Polly is ticked off that Speedy is apparently missing in action (I’m guessing he’s the delivery boy) and is taking it out on Guido. Meanwhile, some attendees at a Christmas market are enjoying some shopping. When a kid asks his mom why dad isn’t with them she says he’s at home waiting for the trickle down theory to take effect. As an econ major, this amuses me. Speedy is also passing through rather casually on his delivery route. He’s making up a song as he does so and seems to run out of words. Soon they spot a figure flying over the market – it’s Santa! He’s oddly in a one-reindeer open sleigh and looks a bit off. That’s because it’s obviously Seymour in disguise with Jerry acting as his lone elf helper. He passes out gifts to everyone which they happily receive.

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That dude is clearly not a rat, and also clearly not Santa.

Speedy sees the patrons greedily grabbing gifts and even gets knocked to the ground in the commotion. Maybe this is the start of him coming around on the whole giving is better than receiving thing? The people find the gifts are all masks, and soon they appear to be in a panic. Speedy takes note and wonders why Santa would do this. At the busy restaurant, a kid comes running in telling people Santa gave them creepy masks that won’t come off. Apparently they’re all stuck on, which is why the others seemed to be in such a panic. Guido and Polly take note as they run outside to try and help the crying mass of children. They can’t get the things off, while “Santa” flies overhead laughing all the way. He reveals that he put superglue in the masks and it’s at this point I realize his helper is not Jerry, but another character named Bad Bird (Michael O’Reilly). While Seymour enjoys his mayhem, Big Al (A.J. Henderson) is watching from the palace through a telescope and is sizing-up the imposter Claus. He recognizes Bad Bird and decides to put in a call to the Pizza Cats!

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So the headquarters for the good guys is just a giant gun. Something tells me that would have been a challenge to bring to toy stores in America.

We then get to see the transformation animation of the Pizza Cats. The three heroes jump into what the narrator refers to as laundry chutes, but they look kind of like pizza ovens to me. This takes them down a tunnel where their armor is put on. Meanwhile, the restaurant itself transforms as well with what is basically a giant revolver rising from the roof. The cats are loaded into it like bullets and then fired out into the sky as a trio of fireballs. The Paul Lynde voice and theme song return for this segment too and it’s quite a hoot. He cackles after delivering his lines as if he’s really amused by them which certainly makes the rumor about him being drunk at recording seem plausible. Francine chimes in with a little rhyme of her own essentially assuring her customers that everything is okay. She’s the one that engages the firing mechanism via a normal-sized revolver of her own.

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Bonus points for the festive heroic attire.

The fireballs fade away to reveal the heroic felines beneath them. They’re dressed in Santa suits and Speedy isn’t too pleased by this. Polly explains they’re dressed this way to restore Santa’s reputation. If the people see Santa-like beings saving Christmas, they’ll feel good about Santa once again. Meanwhile, Big Cheese is spreading more of his sinister gifts around Little Tokyo. This time though, the Pizza Cats drop in to prevent anyone from actually opening them. They first knock Big Cheese from the sky, who takes a terrible tumble along with Bad Bird. They then point out to the crowd of onlookers that this Santa is a fake, and they buy it. They start shouting fake as the Pizza Cats tell them of the nefarious gifts that await them.

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Even the villains in this show are kind of cute, in their own way.

Bad Bird ditches his disguise and goes after the Pizza Cats. He hits them with a bomb that knocks away their Santa costumes. The onlookers are then disappointed to see the Pizza Cats as this confirms they’re not denizens of the North Pole. Speedy shouts out what’s going on, while Big Cheese attempts to escape. When Polly points this out Speedy declares he won’t get away, “Not when I can pull out great props from no where!” And he does, as he produces a sort-of grappling hook that he tosses at Big Cheese to hook on his sleigh. As he pulls the villain towards him, the crowd runs at the sleigh and basically pummels the Hell out of Big Cheese.

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Robot #1. You can see why Speedy didn’t take it very seriously.

Bad Bird winces at the sight of Seymour getting mangled by jilted Christmas shoppers. He then summons another helper, this time it’s Hardy Boy, a robotic humanoid with a party hat. Speedy laughs when he sees the thing and mocks Bad Bird’s order to “Say your prayers.” He then pulls out his blade and jumps at the enemy only for it to blast him with a Christmas cracker that wraps him all up. Polly and Guido rush in to help as the robot fires some rockets their way. He then bends over as his party hat turns into a drill and is apparently ready to skewer the pair. Speedy then gets up and uses his sword to slash open the back of the robot. A big beam of light emerges and the robot falls away to reveal…

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Robot #2 is sort of creepy. I’m not sure why she has a bird beak, but whatever.

Another robot! This one looks like a female super model of sorts, only instead of a nose and mouth she has a small beak. The announcer seems to like her. Speedy is a bit intimidated and remarks that he hopes she’s not teed off. Apparently she is though, as she’s armed with a golf bag. She tees up a ball, and with a mighty swing she sends an explosive flying at the heroes. It rips through Guido’s umbrella and explodes on a nearby pagoda. Polly and Guido are a bit shaken, and then the robot starts launching more golf balls their way eventually sending them into the bushes. She then turns her attention to Speedy, and after some puns about making a point, she tosses a bunch of needles at him. Apparently golf isn’t her only gimmick as she’ll soon take note of Polly and Guido planning an attack. She then produces a giant pea pod, yes you read that right, which also contains giant explosive peas. I have no idea what her gimmick is at this point, but whatever.

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All right, we’ve had our fun and now it’s time to put an end to all of this.

Speedy has apparently had enough. He’s pretty ticked off that Santa’s reputation has been besmirched by these clowns and declares it’s time for the ultimate weapon. Yes, we’ve reached that point in the anime where the hero finally just uses the thing that always works. Speedy takes his sword and gets enveloped in an aura. The announcer even points fun at the whole ultimate weapon thing remarking the special FX guy was wondering when he’d be called upon. The sword basically splits into two better looking swords. With a cry of “Pizza power!” Speedy slices the air which sends energy slashes at the robot woman. She quotes Tweety Bird with a cry about seeing a “puddy tat” before she explodes. Bad Bird gets tossed as a result and he bemoans why they always lose to that sword. Seymour goes soaring by to answer it’s so stunt men have jobs. Speedy then reminds the kids who are watching to always eat their pizza as the trio pose triumphantly.

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Could that be the real Santa Claus? I’m still alarmed by the whole one reindeer thing.

We’re then taken back to town where all of the people are still suffering with their masks. A sight appears in the sky, could this be the real Santa Claus? He has what looks like a rocket sleigh and still just one reindeer, but the people are ready to believe anything. He drops some sparkly stuff on the crowd and soon the masks come off. Everyone is happy and also excited to find out that Santa is real! We then see that he is not, though, as it’s actually Big Al in disguise with Francine along to help. They’re just dropping some kind of glue solvent to get those masks off and Francine even makes a remark about Santa not being real, which is really odd to hear in a children’s show. Disturbing, even! The announcer even runs with it as he wraps things up by saying even if there isn’t really a Santa Claus, at least there are those willing to play the part. Thankfully, this isn’t the note we end on as we then pan to the sky and find the REAL Santa! He’s smiling and laughing and basically mocks the announcer before flying off passing by the moon in the process as he’s contractually obligated to do. And he too has just one reindeer. Clearly, this Santa is fraudulent as well.

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Ho ho! Now there’s the real Santa! And I thought this episode was going to blow the whole thing.

And that’s how this festive episode concludes. The machinations of this show are pretty straight-forward. The bad guy devises a scheme, the heroes arrive to face-off with he and his minions, they get beaten back, but then emerge victorious when the leader unleashes his ultimate power. It’s very similar to Power Rangers or Ronin Warriors in that regard. However, what elevates this program really is the script and performance of the voice actors. Now I’m guessing there is an offbeat quality to the original show, but I also get the sense that when the non-Japanese writers got ahold of this thing they felt it was pretty ridiculous, and it shows in their approach. Maybe that is offensive to fans of the original incarnation of the program, but it’s hard to deny a team of samurai cyborg felines that work at a pizza restaurant isn’t ridiculous on its own. The script was genuinely funny, and while there are certainly numerous bad puns, the show has this self-aware approach that actually makes those puns land in an ironic fashion. It’s silly and it’s fun. The only change I might have made was to not go with the title Samurai Pizza Cats. Because the 90s was full of sincere TMNT knock-offs, the parodic nature of this program doesn’t come through in that title. It probably should, given the silly-sounding title, but as I said the 90s was full of crap cartoons that make this one plausibly sincere. I know I and some of my friends dismissed it for that reason as a result.

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Gah! One reindeer! Are we sure he’s the real deal?!

For a 90s anime, this show is pretty consistent in terms of visual quality. I love the character designs as they strike a nice balance between cute and sleek. There is a nice melding of traditional Japanese settings with this cybernetic twist. The choice to dub Big Cheese as a rat is rather odd though as he clearly looks like a fox to me, but I guess that doesn’t really matter much in the grand scheme. The animation itself is somewhat limited as the characters are so complex it would be hard to have them in motion all of the time. As a result, there is a lot of standing around with just mouth flaps moving and extremely fast and exaggerated motions when the characters actually need to do something. This is par for the course with anime so it’s nothing to be surprised by. I enjoyed looking at this one, and I might even watch some more.

As for a Christmas episode, I was expecting there to be some lesson imparted on our heroes. They held a very cynical view of the holiday, all except Polly, and their selfishness was never really punished. I guess they didn’t get any superior presents and they did get blown up, but Polly suffered too. Speedy did witness the greed of the townsfolk and obviously didn’t enjoy it. They also had to defend the good name of Santa and weren’t looking for a reward beyond that so I guess that’s good. Not everything needs a moral, and I suppose the offbeat nature of the program means this one in particular doesn’t need to say a whole lot.

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There may not be a ton of traditional Christmas cheer in this one, but they did sneak in this nice, festive, image just before the end.

If you wish to take in a viewing of Samurai Pizza Cats the easiest way to do so is via Amazon Prime Video. It’s free for anyone who has a Prime membership so no additional purchase is necessary. It’s also not exactly a well-protected IP so if you don’t have Prime you can probably find it without issue for free elsewhere. The show was also released on DVD, if physical media is still your thing.

And that’s a wrap for this year’s edition of The Christmas Spot! I hope you enjoyed soaking in the holiday via Christmas specials, good and bad. I enjoy doing it and I plan to return to it again in 2020! For now though, enjoy the day and get all of the Christmas cheer you can tolerate for tomorrow it ends. Thanks for reading, and Merry Christmas!


Dec. 6 – Pokémon – “Holiday Hi-Jynx”

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Original English air date December 11, 1999.

Yesterday, we took a look at the so-called Pokémon killer, The Weekenders, so today we’re going to look at Pokémon itself. The Weekenders earned that nickname because it was the first to knock Pokémon off the top of the ratings charts for Saturday morning television after it had reigned for a year. The victory was short-lived, and it would seem Pokémon has fared far better in the long run than that forgotten Disney cartoon.

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Yeah, we’re going to have a problem here.

“Holiday Hi-Jynx,” also known as “Rougela’s Christmas” in Japan, is one of the more controversial episodes of the long-running series (which has surpassed the 1,000 episode milestone) due to its focus on the character Jynx. Jynx, as you can see from the image above, seems to resemble a character in blackface. Now, in Japan this isn’t a thing, but in the US where an entire race of people were once enslaved, we have a few hang-ups about this sort of thing. And post slavery, people of color rather famously weren’t afforded the same opportunities as whites, some would say they still aren’t, which included depictions on stage or eventually on film. White actors would be cast to portray black individuals and utilize blackface. And then there were also minstrel shows which were also pretty damn racist, but also pretty common during the era.

In television, characters like Jynx were once waved off. Similar characters have been showing up in animation since it started and some made it to television, and some did not. A contemporary to Pokémon in the late 90s (as far as American audiences are concerned) is Dragon Ball which also featured its own blackface character in Mr. Popo. Mr. Popo largely went unchallenged and was featured in Dragon Ball and Dragon Ball Z with no alterations or cuts for years. Only when the series returned to television as Dragon Ball Z Kai in 2010 was a change made. And in that case, it was only done for the episodes airing on broadcast television and not cable. For them, Mr. Popo was re-colored with an electric blue skin tone that did little to hide the racism, but I guess it allowed the network to say, “We tried.”

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The CW’s solution for Mr. Popo.

For Jynx, the solution was far simpler. Unlike Mr. Popo, Jynx is not often featured in the series. When Pokémon first aired, the character went unnoticed and the episode was allowed to air. Eventually, the character garnered some negative press and the episode was pulled sometime in 2000. And ever since, it’s essentially been banned. When Netflix and Amazon Prime eventually acquired Pokémon for streaming, this episode was not included. The only way to see it is to purchase a physical copy of the show on DVD, and not just any DVD, as you need to get the specific version that includes it. Future releases would omit the episode.

Is all of this necessary? It’s hard for me to say. I’m a white guy, so I’m naturally not as sensitive to the subject as others would be. Someone apparently didn’t see the value in giving Jynx the Mr. Popo treatment to get it back on air or into a streaming catalog, which is unfortunate since this is a Christmas episode! Poor little Pokémon fans are being deprived a Christmas special because of the stupid, racist, Pokémon it features. I suppose now with the show totaling over a thousand episodes no one sees a need to make sure this one, specific, episode makes it onto Netflix or wherever. Plus, the show has other Christmas episodes. What’s worse, is the episode did get recolored, but for Japan only. A “fixed” episode exists, it just needs to be dubbed. Did they lose the dub track or something? It seems like something that would be easy, and cheap, to correct.  It’s also annoying because Jynx is terrible, she is one of the worst of the original 151 Pokémon. As a human shape, she lacks the cuteness or the charm of someone like Squirtle or Cubone. She’s rather curvy too, which is just weird for a Pokémon.

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Japanese audiences received a new version of this episode, but English audiences have not.

Anyways, that’s Jynx for you. She’s the reason this episode has been placed into purgatory which gives me a desire to take a look at it. Also, for me 2019 may very well be remembered as the year my son was properly introduced to Pokémon. Since getting him Let’s Go! Pikachu for his birthday, he’s been a walking, talking, Pokédex. Time will tell if this obsession will stick, but it’s been rather amusing for me to see him get into something so completely like he has Pokémon which has only further made me want to include the show in this year’s version of The Christmas Spot.

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A rather idyllic piece of Christmas imagery.

Let’s get to it then. This episode is from the first iteration of the show taking place in Kanto. It’s episode 65 of the English dub, though it was supposed to air sometime around episode 39 or so and there’s a continuity error as a result which I’ll note when we get there. And naturally, this is a Christmas episode and it’s going to go all in on that sentiment.

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That’s no Santa!

The episode opens and narrator Rodger Parsons brings us into a darkened bedroom with a girl asleep in bed. It’s Jessie (Rachael Lillis) of Team Rocket, so something must be up. A shadowy figure enters the room from the chimney, could it be Santa? As the figure approaches the bed, a trap is sprung and the old elf is caught in a large net. Jessie rejoices at the capture of Santa, as does their sometimes loyal sidekick Meowth (Madeleine Blaustein). After the title card is displayed, we discover that this is not Santa, but James (Eric Stuart) dressed-up as the Christmas icon in a dry run for a true Santa trap. Jessie has apparently been obsessed with capturing Santa dating back to her childhood when she made an important discovery. While asleep one Christmas Eve, she woke to find Santa in her room, only it wasn’t Santa it was a Jynx! The Santa Jynx picked up Jessie’s favorite doll and departed up the chimney with it infuriating the young girl. Ever since then, Santa has failed to pay her a visit and now it’s time for her revenge!

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We call this one the Pokémon army crawl

Elsewhere, Ash (Veronica Taylor), Brock (Stuart), and Misty (Lillis) have just made a discovery. They’ve spotted a lone Jynx on a beach and she’s holding what appears to be a boot. Jynx, being a rare Pokémon, immediately captures Ash’s attention and he decides he needs to catch this Pokémon. He deploys Pikachu who’s thundershock attack does little to bother the Jynx. She gets Pikachu in her arms and uses her signature maneuver, a kiss, to paralyze the electric rodent. Ash then deploys Charmander and commands him to flamethrower the Jynx. This is the continuity error I mentioned earlier as Ash’s Charmander had already evolved in a previously aired episode.

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Because Jynx wasn’t content to just be racist…

Charmander’s flames subdue the rather docile Jynx, and Ash attempts to capture it with a Pokéball but it fails. Ash is confused, which is about when the group decides to diagnose this situation further such as why is Jynx holding a black boot? Misty takes a look at the boot Jynx is holding and finds it belongs to Santa Claus. How can she tell? He has a picture of himself in his boot, which is a pretty weird way to declare ownership over something (that’s because in the Japanese version, Santa’s name can fit on a postage stamp-sized image where as his English name would not, so he gets a portrait). Jynx then tries to tell them what happened, but like most Pokémon, she’s only capable of saying “Jynx.” Brock guesses she belongs to Santa, and Jynx gets all horny and tries to kiss him which he does not respond well to.

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Jynx’s power on display.

Jynx then does something she should have done from the start. She glows and shimmers with rainbow colors as her hair stretches out and touches everyone around her, including Charmander and Pikachu whom Charmander is adorably carrying on his back. It seems Jynx has the ability to psychically communicate with others. They see the Jynx in an arctic setting polishing Santa’s boot when suddenly a piece of the ice she’s standing on breaks apart from the mainland and drifts away. This Jynx is lost and needs to get back to Santa, and Ash vows to help her out which nearly earns him one of those undesirable kisses.

From atop a peek nearby, Team Rocket is watching and scheming. Since Jessie knows the “secret” about Santa, she’s naturally inclined to follow this Jynx. They intend to follow Ash and the others to Santa’s workshop to steal all of the toys – the horror!

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They live to serve

Ash’s grand plan is to board a raft and sail to Santa’s workshop using Misty’s water Pokémon to pull the raft. As they do so, Team Rocket boards a Gyarados submarine to give chase. Eventually, the water Pokémon get tired and Ash decides he can take over pulling the raft. He strips down to his boxers and dives in. He doesn’t appear to get very far before fatigue sets in as well. He starts to think about turning back, but hears a feminine voice in his head urging him on. When he asks Misty and Brock if they heard it they say they did not. Ash keeps going and the voice informs him he has a ways to go. Suddenly, a wave rises up and crashes into Ash. It severs the rope around his waist and pulls him underwater. He opens his eyes and sees a black void approaching him.

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I bet Ash wishes he was wearing something other than just his underwear when meeting Lapras for the first time.

We’re interrupted with a “Whose that Pokémon?” (it’s Pidgeotto) bumper before returning to the show. The black void before Ash turns out to be a Lapras, a dinosaur-like Pokémon of the sea. It takes him to the surface with Ash upon its shell and Misty is able to get a Pokédex reading on the gentle beast. Turns out, Lapras is capable of telepathy and that’s the voice Ash had been hearing. Lapras (Jayne Grand) explains to everyone that Santa had asked it to find a missing Jynx. Lapras has been watching this trio for some time, and can take them to Santa’s work shop.

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So called they’re willing to get next to a racist, sexual harasser like Jynx.

Lapras pulls the raft ever faster, forcing Team Rocket to speed up. Their submarine is pedal-operated, so they have their work cut out for them. As Lapras pulls the raft along it starts to rain. Ash enjoys it, but Lapras cautions him that it will soon get really cold. Ash says he can handle it and we cut to later to find all three huddled for warmth amongst Jynx’s hair. Lapras informs them they’re almost there and we soon see what looks like a giant iceberg up ahead. Lapras informs the others this is the location of Santa’s workshop, but before they can get too excited the visage of Gyarados rises from the water’s surface.

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Team Rocket bringing new meaning to the term chilly reception.

Team Rocket exits the submarine and breathlessly goes into their usual introductory routine. Eventually, Jesse and James are forced to embrace each other for warmth as Meowth makes his entrance. He quickly decides it’s way too cold and returns to the warm confines of the submarine. Jesse then demands that Ash hand over Santa Claus. When they express confusion, she clarifies she means Jynx. The others have a good laugh at her expense, while Jessie insists that Jynx is actually Santa Claus. Fed up with their laughter, Jessie orders Meowth to fire a missile from the submarine. It arcs into the sky, and as Ash and the others panic, Jessie and James make off with the Jynx. The missile explodes and a huge cargo net is draped over the good guys while Team Rocket heads to the workshop.

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I suppose it makes sense that in this world Santa would have a team of Pokémon instead of elves.

Once there, we see a frozen Christmas tree and Team Rocket peering through the windows of the fabled shop. Inside they see numerous Jynx (which Jessie insists on referring to as Santas) doing the work we would normally associate with elves. They soon spy the real Santa, causing Jessie to question everything she’s thought up until now. Santa is seen fretting about his missing left boot to one of the Jynx, and Jessie pops in with the boot and presents it to him. He’s delighted and asks if she also found a Jynx with it, but before she can answer Ash and the others storm in. Ash informs Santa that these people are on his naughty list, and before he can inquire further James and Meowth tie him up. Jessie then tells them if they want to have a happy new year they better do as they command.

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What makes less sense is for Santa to possess no eyes.

With Ash and the others all tied and bound there’s nothing preventing Team Rocket from loading all of the Christmas presents onto their submarine. Santa tries reasoning with Jessie and he seems to be onto something. Jynx comes over and uses her psychic powers to show Jessie what really happened that night. When she woke from her slumber she knocked her favorite toy on the floor causing it to break. Jynx, who was assisting Santa that night, saw the broken toy and took it to have Santa fix it back at his workshop. She now returns it to Jessie good as new. When Jessie asks what took so long, Santa explains that after that Christmas Jessie sealed off her heart to Santa, and once a child stops believing he can no longer enter their home. Jessie’s eyes well up with tears, and James appears affected by this display of emotion. Jessie is thankful, but then informs Santa she’s still taking all of the toys anyways because she’s still Jessie.

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That’s a lot of presents.

As Team Rocket flees in its sub, Lapras emerges. Lapras tells them Christmas is for everyone, and can’t be stolen, before unleashing its ice breath attack on the submarine. It becomes frozen solid, and Ash uses the opportunity to summon Charmander once again. He instructs the Pokémon to free them first before turning its fire breath on Team Rocket. Charmander ends up thawing the ice, inadvertently freeing Team Rocket allowing it to call upon Weezing to take out Charmander and resume its escape.

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Is Jessie about to have a magical Christmas moment?

Ash apologizes to Santa for letting Team Rocket get away, but he’s not too concerned. He instructs the Jynx, dressed in little Santa suits of their own, to use their psywave technique. They do as instructed and telekinetically lift the submarine from the water and dump out the presents on the shore. The submarine is then destroyed, and Team Rocket “blasts off” as it always does.

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That would make me run too.

Santa is then shown in a one-Rapidash open sleigh piled high with presents. He thanks them for their help and instructs Lapras to take them home. As he flies away, Ash realizes he never told Santa what he wanted for Christmas. Lapras informs him that Santa knows as Jynx brings out presents for all of them, even Pikachu. Lapras wishes them a merry Christmas to finish things off here.

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This show found a clever way to avoid my reindeer criticism.

We’re then taken back to the castle-like structure on a cliffside that opened the episode. Team Rocket is shown all sharing a bed. They look a bit worse for ware. They’ve hung stockings, but Meowth doesn’t think they’ll be getting filled with presents. Just then, Jynx shows up outside the window. She winks and blows them a kiss, which puts all three to sleep. Santa is then shown flying past the moon, because all Christmas specials featuring Santa are required to include such a shot, and he too wishes us all a merry Christmas.

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Gifts for all!

That was a rather interesting approach to a Christmas episode. It turned an unpopular Pokémon into Santa’s elves and gave Team Rocket a Grinch-like plot. I suppose I should have foreseen a Grinch turn for Team Rocket, but it wasn’t something I ever considered. It’s always interesting to see how Santa is incorporated into a fictional world’s lore, and in this case his existence is unquestioned. It’s perhaps a touch light on Christmas sentiment, but it’s also nice when a special doesn’t beat the audience over the head with the same. I like the fake-out with Jessie who appeared to be having a happy Christmas moment, only to continue on with her plans of thievery. It genuinely fooled me and I thought the episode was going to take the sappy way out, but I’m happy it did not.

The decision to make Jynx essentially Santa’s elves was perplexing to me, then I remembered Black Pete. Yes, one final bit on the inherent racism of Jynx seems to come from Sweden. There, Santa has a servant named Black Pete who functions similarly to Krampus. He’s often depicted by a white actor in blackface, not unlike Jynx. Black Pete punishes bad kids, which is something Jynx apparently does not do (unless you view her putting Team Rocket to sleep at the episode’s conclusion a form of punishment or trickery), but the Jynx certainly are servants of Santa. The main Jynx was scrubbing his boots when she got lost, for goodness sake!

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Even Pikachu!

As for the future of Jynx, she’d return without the Santa plot. Nintendo and Gamefreak also apparently took the issue of her appearance with western audiences to heart and her skin tone has been altered from black to purple. This change has carried over to the games and it’s definitely an improvement. She’s still an awful Pokémon, but at least her racism is less blatant.

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The natural closing shot for 99% of all Christmas specials.

Because of its controversial nature, “Holiday Hi-Jynx” isn’t the easiest Christmas special to view legally. It’s not streaming, and it obviously won’t be shown on television this year. You can either go out and buy the old DVD, or turn to the internet. It’s not particularly hard to find if that’s the route you take. As for me, I’d like to show this one to my Pokémon obsessed son. I don’t think the imagery will have a negative impact on him, and he’d probably like to see Ash and company interact with Santa this Christmas. Hopefully he’s not expecting a Jynx to visit him on Christmas Eve because there’s no way I’m letting one of them into my house. I have my limits.


Sunshine Blogger Post

 

sunshineYou may have heard of or seen this Sunshine Blogger thing going around. It’s essentially a chain post, not unlike a chain letter or those chain posts that used to (still do?) circulate through social media. I was tagged by Jay Friz over at RJ Writing Ink for such a post in which most of the participants appear to be anime-centered blogs. While The Nostalgia Spot is not an anime blog, it has certainly touched upon the subject from time to time mostly via several posts on the Dragon Ball franchise. I am a lover of animation though, so naturally I do enjoy anime and this presents an opportunity to touch upon it, so thank you for such, Jay.

All chains have rules, and these are the rules for this particular chain:

1. Thank the blogger who nominated you in your post and link it back to them.

2. Answer the 11 questions the blogger asked you.

3. Nominate 11 new blogs to receive the award and write 11 new questions for them.

4. List the rules and display the Sunshine Blogger Award logo on your first post.

Once again, thanks go out to Jay for the acknowledgement. If you have not visited his blog, he does a lot of animation-related posts of old and new properties and is currently doing a daily Halloween post (and if you read this regularly you know about my affinity for that format) and it is certainly worth checking out.

What got you into blogging?

My journey into blogging began nearly 9 years ago. I had always wanted to write and pursued a writing degree while in college. It eventually struck me as something impractical, and rather than reach for a dream I went with a different major. It has financially worked out, but I missed writing. After being out of school for many years and finding myself with a lot of spare time, I decided to start a blog for my own benefit. The theme of nostalgia came naturally, and it’s something I’ve had fun writing about. I do it for the enjoyment of writing, not for publicity. If people read and enjoy it then that’s great, but if no one read it I’d still consider it a worthwhile endeavor.

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I love me some Christmas, and here’s a little teaser for a future Christmas Spot post. Recognize it?

What’s been your favorite thing to blog about?

Nostalgia seems like too broad a topic for the purpose of answering this question. I have greatly enjoyed revisiting Batman: The Animated Series. Not only does it provide me with something to write about, but I also re-watched every episode along the way. It spanned more than two years of my blogging life, and I’m actually a little sad it’s over (final post scheduled for the end of November). I have also enjoyed doing the same for the much smaller Bucky O’Hare and the Toad Wars. Bucky O’Hare being a smaller, often forgotten, subject makes it rewarding for different reasons, even though the quality of that series is not on par with the likes of Batman. Without question though, my favorite posts are the Christmas ones. After dabbling with Christmas for years, I finaly went all-in on doing an advent calendar of posts a few years ago. When you blog for sheer enjoyment it can be hard to find time to make posts. Plus my own tend to total 3000 words no matter what I do, so doing 25 days of posts is hard. That’s why I spread them out and make use of the scheduler function to make sure they post when I need them to. It gives me a reason to stay tapped into Christmas all year round.

If you could date one fictional character, who’d it be?

Let’s go with Sara Valestein from the Trails of Cold Steel video games. She can kick ass and loves a good brew – what’s not to like?

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Sara (left) was likely created with the whole “Hot for Teacher” vibe in mind.

What’s your all time favorite show? Or video game?

My favorite show is probably either Futurama or The Venture Bros. Those are the two I’ve revisited the most. From a more nostalgic perspective, my favorite as a kid was X-Men. As for video game, it’s a lot harder since I play a lot of RPGs, but rarely revisit them. I’ll just stick with the same answer I usually give and go with Xenogears. It has its problems, but I love the aesthetic of it and the battle system is unique enough to separate it form other JRPGs.

What’s your favorite show from the 2010s?

It’s hardly much fun to say this is my favorite show from the past decade, but it’s Game of Thrones. The showrunners may not have stuck the landing, but it was a fun ride while it lasted.

What are you looking forward to the most in 2020?

Whatever NECA releases in its line of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles action figures, and the same for Boss Fight Studio and its Bucky O’Hare line. Looking forward to new toys is supremely exciting for me, likely because it allows me to feel like a kid again. That and I rarely have time for video games so looking forward to them feels like a waste of energy.

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Bruiser will hopefully arrive in 2019, but could slip to 2020. Either way, I look forward to whatever is next in this toyline.

If you could have any fictional power, what would you want?

Let’s keep it simple and just go with flight. I live in Boston and traffic is brutal, flying would solve so many problems.

What’s been your favorite anime recently? For non-anime fans, you can say cartoon

Recently it’s been Dragon Ball Super, which just wrapped up a week ago for the English dub. I never really wanted a proper sequel to Dragon Ball Z, so I’ve been surprised at how much I enjoyed the new series. I’ve also really enjoyed My Hero Academia and Devil Man Crybaby, as the Devil Man OVA was one of the first DVDs I ever purchased.

If you could travel to a fictional universe, which one would you want to go to?

Duckberg. I’d stand out, but it would be fun trying to break into Scrooge’s Money Bin.

What was your favorite cartoon/anime growing up?

My favorite cartoon was X-Men, my favorite anime was Dragon Ball Z.

X-Men (FOX) [1992-1997]Shown from left: Wolverine, Morph, Beast

I lived for Saturday morning as a kid.

Beef or chicken?

Chicken, always chicken.

 

Thanks again to Jay for the chance to do something different. He made his questions fairly broad and not applicable to anime, which probably worked better for me since most of my anime related responses would just refer to Dragon Ball or Cowboy Bebop, fine shows certainly, but also shows that have been talked about a lot. My insulated nature means I have no blogs to tag for future responses as the few I follow have already done this post. I don’t normally spread chains too, but I wanted to play along with this one especially since I’ve been buried in Batman and Christmas-related writings lately. If this is something you want to do, feel free to consider yourself “tagged” and answer the same set of questions I already have, and as always, thanks for reading.


Dragon Ball Super: Broly

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Dragon Ball Super: Broly

The first movie under the Dragon Ball Super umbrella is one that sets out to take what was previously non-canon and adapt it into the main series. The most recent two Dragon Ball Z films; Battle of Gods and Resurrection ‘F’, ended up being the start of Dragon Ball Super which is now well over 100 episodes into its own series and several volumes of manga as well. It was last year that the series took a pause, seemingly coming to an end, only for this feature to be announced soon afterwards. Over the summer it was revealed that the subject of the film would be the infamous Broly, a character created for the prior Dragon Ball Z films that is either a fan-favorite or fan-hated character, depending on who you ask. In that universe, Broly was the featured villain of three separate films, and according to this humble blogger only one of those three films was any good. Broly is simply an all style and no substance villain. He’s big, mean, and powerful, but he has no real motivations beyond wanting to annihilate the hero of the series, Goku, whom he despises because he made him cry when the two were infants. Yup, you read that correctly.

Finding out that Broly would soon be adapted for his fourth film and presumably brought into canon left me with mixed feelings. Those feelings quickly shifted to positive ones though as what reason did I have to really doubt series creator Akira Toriyama? Broly already had the look, and aside from the reason for hating Goku being quite lame, the rest of his origin was fine. There was enough of a skeleton there that could be fleshed out into something worthwhile. And after doubting that there was anything left in this franchise, I’ve been proven wrong time and again by the last two features and basically the entirety of Dragon Ball Super. Toriyama, and those working with him, seem to have a handle on what sets this world apart from others. It’s the humor, as well as the action, that makes it go. The series can’t stop to take itself too seriously, or else it will betray what it is. Anchoring the series on the Goku and Vegeta characters is also fan-service at its best. It’s their differences as characters that works so well. It meant taking away most of what once made Vegeta a villain, but Dragon Ball Super has managed to make him likable and understandable without also softening him too much.

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Broly is re-introduced in this one as canon with a tweak to his base design.

Before I go any further, it is worth pointing out just where this film follows in the grand scheme of things. If you’re like me and have been following Dragon Ball Super via the dub that airs weekly on Toonami then you’re going to have some things spoiled for you. This film takes place after the events of Dragon Ball Super so far, so it’s after the Tournament of Power which has yet to officially begin. If you watch the Japanese dub of the show, then no problem as you saw the finale almost a year ago. For us just watching on a standard cable package, it means having the events of that tournament some-what spoiled. And I mean that very loosely as the setup for that tournament is that all of the universes who lose are destroyed. I don’t think any viewer expects the universe inhabited by Goku and his friends to be wiped out and have the story end there, so the fact that this film even exists is only the most mild of spoilers. The film doesn’t go into any detail about how that crisis was resolved, so I didn’t feel particularly spoiled by anything. Only the fate of one character would really count there, so if you want absolutely nothing else spoiled you may want to stop here as I can’t really discuss this film without mentioning that character at least in passing. There’s your final warning.

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King Vegeta’s court where Paragus is informed on the fate of his son.

Okay, with that out of the way we can freely talk about Dragon Ball Super: Broly! This is a review, not a synopsis like I did with my DBZ movie feature from last summer, so I don’t aim to spoil anything pertinent to the film beyond just going over the general plot and setup. If you’re a longtime fan, you’re probably most curious about how this new Broly (Vic Mignogna) equates with the old. He’s a different character, but it is also largely the same. The film begins several years before the present day when planet Vegeta was still a thing. In addition to seeing the early days of Broly, we’re also treated to something previously untouched upon and that’s the transfer of power over the universe from King Cold (Jason Douglas) to his son, Frieza (Christopher Ayers). It’s fun seeing that acknowledged, though it’s not particularly thrilling. Broly himself though is soon introduced as a baby, and like the prior Broly, he seems to have incredible untapped power. King Vegeta (Christopher Sabat) appears jealous that this child rivals his own infant son, also Vegeta (Sabat), and it may explain what he does next.

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The flashback also contains a brief look at young Goku in a somewhat touching scene.

Like the prior Broly, this one will find himself banished from planet Vegeta. His father, Paragus (Dameon Clarke), suspects the king did it out of jealousy, but the king claims he did it out of fear over what Broly is capable of. A power so terrible cannot be controlled and he could destroy them all. It’s hard to say what the truth is, but Paragus refuses to see his son exiled to a barren world alone. He steals a spaceship and chases after him all while swearing revenge on the king who did this to him and his son. We also get another peek at Goku’s father, Bardok (Sonny Strait), and even meet his mother, Gine (Emily Neves). It retcons the events of Bardock’s solo film a bit, and also shows us a softer side to the character which provides some context for how Goku (Sean Schemmel) came to be so different from other Saiyans. We also get to check in on a toddler Vegeta and Radditz, which is amusing, and see the destruction of planet Vegeta from another angle. There’s even a mention of a brother to Prince Vegeta that I was not aware of. I don’t know if that’s mentioned at all in the episodes I have not seen, or it could be a hint at something to come in a future movie or series.

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The design for Broly’s father, Paragus, is also still in-line with his old portrayal only now he’s aged up. He’s also still a dick.

After the lengthy setup, the film jumps to the present day and finds Goku and Vegeta sparring. They’ll soon find out that Frieza is up to not good, and his stealing of the Dragon Balls from Bulma’s (Monica Rial) lab is what sets the plot in motion. That will get all of our main players to Earth, including a now fully grown Broly and his father, where the action takes place.

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Goku and Vegeta showing off their trendy new winter duds.

To no one’s surprise, the majority of this film is action as the two heroic saiyans take on Broly. Broly is depicted as actually kind-natured this time around, but his power drives him mad. It’s a subtle change from the previous version we’ve seen, but it’s handled far better and this character actually has meaning. He’s a sympathetic character, much more so than before, and one the audience isn’t necessarily instructed to root against. His design is only a little different from his old one, but he has a slightly more refined look. There’s some grit there as well and he actually looks like someone who has lived his whole life in exile. He’ll find some sympathetic characters which help add to his story, and overall I think he’s a fine addition to the cast this time.

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Vegeta demonstrating his mastery of the Super Saiyan God form.

The action is the main attraction, and after the slow-paced opening I am happy to report that no action was spared as a result. This is a meaty film, and by its end you may even start to feel exhausted. It keeps upping the visual ante along the way though, so it never gets boring. New tricks are unleashed, some more abstract than others. My favorite was a first-person camera in the middle of the fight that really pulled me in. It sounds like a gimmick, but it worked really well to see the lightning-quick action unfold from such a perspective. It was also tastefully utilized, so it didn’t overstay its welcome. There’s plenty of big spots, and also some rather brutal ones. Nothing is gratuitous though, and overall if you’re a fan of action this is one satisfying and spectacular film. There is also less emphasis on fan-service this time around when compared with the last two films. There’s no effort to get all of the old gang back together and the cast is actually fairly trim. This one simply has a story to tell and a battle to feature.

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The film is visually stunning, but there are moments where I felt like I was watching a cut scene from Dragon Ball FighterZ.

The film is still mostly done in 2D with digital hand-drawn animation, the design of which was handled by Naohiro Shintani instead of Tadayoshi Yamamuro who has done virtually all of Dragon Ball previously so all of the characters have a slightly altered look to them, though I wouldn’t go so far as to say they appear off-model. Those hand-drawn parts are delicious for the eyes and Dragon Ball has never looked better. The movements of the characters are so fluid and sharp, and the slightly muted color palette is reminiscent of the manga more so than the actual anime. Vegeta’s battle suit, in particular, uses a more navy color than a bright blue and Goku’s orange gi is just slightly pale. This being Dragon Ball, there’s also lots of bright greens and blacks and some cute character designs amongst the villains. There are instances of obvious CG, most noticeably when space ships are shown. It’s also still used in battles, but it’s less of a distraction than in past films. There are still times though when I felt like I was viewing a cut scene from a video game as opposed to an anime. I wouldn’t go so far as to say those moments were jarring, but the hand-drawn stuff is just so flawless that I wish they just tried to stick with that as much as possible.

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Arctic settings are among my favorites in Dragon Ball. The brightly colored characters just look great against a cool backdrop.

The music composed by Norihito Sumitomo is also quite bombastic and in-time with the visuals. Some of the main themes, in particular Broly’s and a character I won’t mention by name as it would constitute a spoiler, include a chant in the song where the name of the character is spoken. It further adds to the fighting video game feel of some of the visuals and I’d consider it ludicrous if this were any other property save for maybe Mortal Kombat. It manages to add to the spectacle of everything. Also, some old favorites return though it’s worth mentioning this movie doesn’t feature an opening credits scene like the old ones. I kept waiting for it to pop-in, until I realized it wasn’t coming. It’s probably for the best, though I did kind of miss it.

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If you’re looking for some of the old Broly you know (and love?) you’ll get that here as well.

Ultimately, I was left feeling like seeing Dragon Ball Super: Broly on the big screen was very much a worthwhile experience. This film was designed for that setting, and I really enjoyed my time with it. I was surprised to find it actually showing at quite a few theaters in my area, and further surprised to find many shows sold out. Thankfully, I was planning on seeing this alone as I couldn’t find two seats side-by-side anywhere. The machinations of the plot are pretty contained so if you haven’t bothered to watch Dragon Ball Super you shouldn’t have too much trouble getting into this and and figuring out what’s going on, so don’t let that be an obstacle. If you ever cared about Dragon Ball, then you owe it to yourself to catch it on the big screen.


Dec. 19 – Stich and Santa!

StitchAndSanta

Originally aired in Japan on December 24, 2008

Stitch, of Lilo & Stitch fame, is apparently quite popular in Japan. Disney is popular in general over there, but it seems like Stitch struck a chord. He has a lot of Japan exclusive merchandise and his popularity has extended well past the movie from which he originated. In the US, Stitch and his pal Lilo did get an animated series as well as multiple direct-to-video films so it’s not as if he isn’t popular domestically as well. He’s just so popular in Japan that he’s received multiple anime series that ran from 2008-2011. Following that, a series of specials aired with the newest released as recently as 2015. Since then, Stitch has actually switched markets in Asia and gone to China, where a new series launched in 2017.

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Stitch! premiered just over 10 years ago in Japan.

The first of these anime was the Madhouse produced Stitch!. It premiered on October 8, 2008 so happy ten year anniversary to Stitch!. Unlike the American cartoon series, Stitch! is not a continuation of the story started in the film but a reinterpretation. Stitch (Ben Diskin) fell to Earth and is accompanied by Dr. Jumba (Jess Winfield) and Pleakley (Ted Biaselli). He ended up on the island of Izayoi which is near Okinawa where he encounters The Spiritual Stone. He befriends a young girl named Yuna (Eden Riegel), the Lilo of our story, and is promised by The Spiritual Stone to be made the strongest in the universe if he can complete 43 good deeds. Stitch is quite mischievous though, so completing these deeds will not be easy because a bad deed takes away from his total. Pleakley crafts him a counter to keep track of his deeds, and together with Yuna, they set out to complete the task.

Standing in Stitch’s way are other experiments of Dr. Jumba gone rogue. The main villain is Dr. Jacques von Hamsterviel (Kirk Thornton), who looks like a cross between a hamster and a rabbit. He attended college with Jumba and seems to just want more power and he sees a way to attain that via Stitch’s good deed counter, or something. He’s also not a new villain as he premiered in the direct-to-video sequel to the original movie, Stitch. Gantu (Keith Silverstein) from the film works for him after he was dishonorably discharged from the Galactic Federation for bad karaoke and he’s rather incompetent. He has an obsession with an Earth soap opera called The Young and the Stupid, in particular with its lead actress. Also joining them is Reuben (Dave Wittenberg), Experiment 625, who basically just makes comments and sandwiches. He loves sandwiches and he also previously debuted in Stitch.

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Stitch is quite excited about this whole Christmas thing.

Stitch! was first run in Japan, but was also dubbed in English for other regions, though surprisingly the US was not really one of them. Only five episodes aired in the US on Toon Disney before the show was abruptly pulled. It’s possible Disney just felt it was too different from the franchise that is featured here and didn’t want to confuse audiences. Or someone just didn’t like it. The main English cast also was not utilized for the show, but that’s not surprising. As you can imagine, the show has not been released in the US as a result.

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That’s quite a Christmas tree.

The episode opens with Yuna getting ready for Christmas. Stitch has no idea what Christmas is, but Pleakley is happy to inform him since he is an Earth expert and all. He confuses basically all of Earth’s holidays as one and even thinks part of Christmas is the consumption of red-nosed reindeer, which gets Stich quite excited. Venison and presents! His excitement messes up Yuna’s tree decorating, but he refashions it into a facsimile of himself. It’s an improvement. Pleakley did at least get the Santa stuff mostly right, giving Stitch something to look forward to that night. Yuna also gifts her alien friends stockings of their own so that Santa can leave them a present tonight.

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The villains of the show with really only Hamsterviel being an actual villain. Gantu only cares about a soap opera while Reuben is just really into sandwiches.

In space, Hamsterviel is plotting to utilize Christmas to get rid of Stitch. He is planning on masquerading as Santa Claus to gain the trust of the Earth children and Stitch, and launch a plan from there. Reuben and Gantu are expected to help, with Gantu to just seeing this scheme as a means to stop his favorite actress on The Young and the Stupid from getting married. On Earth, Yuna receives a letter from Santa instructing her to meet him in the forest for her Christmas present. She and Stitch are so excited they don’t notice the obvious Hamsterviel stamp on the envelope.

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These kids want their present!

Turns out, more than just Yuna received a letter from Santa as the island’s children are shown heading for the designated spot. Along the way they talk amongst themselves trying to figure out why Santa would change things up. A particularly bratty girl named Penny (Meghan Strange) is the most vocal. When they arrive at the area, Hamsterviel is there floating in an egg-like device dressed as Santa. Gantu is dressed as a reindeer and is playing music while Reuben is just there making sandwiches. Santa Hamsterviel offers the children a cookie, and when they eat it they grow whiskers and buck teeth. It becomes clear they’re under Hamsterviel’s control, but he does still give them presents – sandwiches and plush versions of he and Gantu.

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These kids aren’t very smart if they think that’s Santa.

Not present at the gift ceremony is Yuna, who with Stitch is running late. They’re hopeful that all of the presents aren’t gone. They’re intercepted by Kijimunaa, a little yokai who’s basically a mouth and a pair of nostrils with a mop of hair on top. He witnessed what happened with the kids and warns Yuna and Stitch that it isn’t Santa who’s giving out gifts. They confront Hamsterviel and see the transformed children who threaten to bite them and tickle them with their whiskers. Seeing there isn’t much they can do, Yuna and Stitch retreat to seek the help of Jumba. He’s irate to find out Hamsterviel stole his idea for mind-control cookies so he’s happy to help foil his scheme. He quickly builds a little, golden, cat idol that spits out cookies. These cookies should reverse the mind control Hamsterviel inflicted upon the children.

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Yuna and Stitch are not putting up with this crap, especially not on Christmas Eve!

Armed with the statue, Stitch and Yuna return to the forest where apparently Hamsterviel was content to just hang out and have the kids massage his feet. Stitch jumps around and fires cookies out of the idol at the children who consume them and return to normal. With the spell on them broken, Hamsterviel and company are forced to retreat. As the kids walk back to town, they’re all a bit dismayed they fell for such a scheme. It leads them back to the topic of Santa Claus, and Penny is that kid who wants to spoil everyone’s fun and insists that Santa is their fathers. Stitch is shocked to hear such a thing, but Yuna insists Santa is not their dads. Penny’s response is to point out that of course Santa isn’t Yuna’s dad because her dad is never home (unlike Lilo, Yuna’s dad is alive, he’s just always working so while this is a vicious burn it isn’t as vicious as it would be if she and Lilo shared the same origin) which upsets Yuna and causes her to stop dead in her tracks. She then sadly remarks, mostly to herself, that’s how she knows Santa isn’t her dad because he is never around.

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Santa apparently doesn’t dress lighter when delivering gifts in Hawaii.

At home, Yuna is a bit more upbeat than she was following her encounter with Penny. She writes a letter to Santa, but won’t tell Stitch what’s in it, that she places beside her pillow as she goes to bed. Stitch seems a bit thoughtful, but he too lays down to sleep but is soon awoken by a sound on the roof. He heads outside to find the big man himself, Santa Claus (Dave Wittenberg), on the roof. He thanks Stitch for what he did in stopping Hamsterviel earlier and also asks for his help. Stitch is very eager to help Santa, and the jolly old elf outfits him with his own Santa suit (Stitchy Claus!) and a tiny, one-deer, sleigh. Stitch surprisingly doesn’t seem tempted to eat his lone reindeer and Santa hands him a sack of toys to deliver throughout the island.

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All right, that’s pretty damn cute.

Stitch sets forth and the action unfolds as a montage. He visits most of the kids we saw earlier and places a gift in their stocking, which most seem to hang from their bed (a Hawaiian tradition?). He even gives that jerk Penny a gift, and saves Yuna for last. In the morning, the kids are gathered at Yuna’s house to show off their presents. Yuna got exactly what she wanted, while Penny got a book on how to be nice. Even Hamsterviel is shown as having received a gift – a giant hamster wheel because he’s out of shape. Gantu received a costume from his favorite soap opera, which brings him to tears, while Reuben has decorated their tree with nothing but sandwiches. On Earth, Kijimunaa asks Stitch what Santa got him, which causes Stitch to realise he didn’t receive a gift! He heads back to his room and finds a letter from Santa thanking him for all he’s done. Stitch then checks his good deed counter and watches it increase by five deeds. This excites him quite a bit as he looks to the heavens and the episode ends.

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But this is actually cuter.

“Stitch and Santa” was a pretty charming way for me to get acquainted with this series. Prior to this, I knew it existed but had never sought it out. It looks like a fairly typical anime, while the character designs of the characters we know from the films largely look the same. The voice cast is fine and Hawaii is still a lavish setting. I enjoyed the design of Hamsterviel who is so cute he isn’t threatening and it was interesting to see the new interpretation of Gantu. A lot happens in the 20 minutes the episode lasts to build up to the climax of Stitch helping Santa. There’s something really charming and cute about that whole sequence making it a really nice pay-off following the rather breezy scheme plot.

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Stitch saying “Thank you, Santa” is also pretty adorable. I can’t handle the cuteness!

Since the lore of the show is so different from the film it makes it a bit difficult to just drop-in. Stitch being friendly with Jumba and Pleakley isn’t too odd since that’s basically how the movie ended, though the presence of Yuna is confusing. I at first thought she was just an anime version of Lilo, but obviously I was mistaken. I had no idea about the deed counter though, so Stitch’s ultimate present was a bit of a head-scratcher until I read-up on the series. I’m a little disappointed this didn’t get a US broadcast and release as it seems like it has potential. Because it wasn’t released, it would seem Disney doesn’t care about protecting its asset so this was exceptionally easy to find streaming online. If you like Stitch and want to see a different take on him, go ahead and check it out. There’s enough Christmas feels here to make it a worthwhile holiday viewing experience.


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