RWBY Volume 9 Spoiler-Filled Review

Team RWBY about to fall

RWBY is an anime-inspired science fantasy action-adventure series, using computer animation, which has run for eight seasons, known as “volumes”. Originally created by animator and writer Monty Oum, in 2013, and continued after his death in 2015, RWBY is the flagship series of Rooster Teeth, a digital media company and subdivision of Warner Bros. Discovery. As a warning, this review will discuss death, suicide, blood, torture, animal death, physical (and emotional) abuse, and other related themes.

Reprinted from Pop Culture Maniacs and Wayback Machine. This was the thirty-first article I wrote for Pop Culture Maniacs. This post was originally published on April 26, 2023.

This young adult animated series primarily centers on the four primary protagonists: Ruby Rose, Weiss Schnee, Blake Belladonna, and Yang Xiao Long, with the series name deriving from their forenames. Set in a fictional world named Remnant, these characters, and others, train to become warriors (huntresses or huntsmen), so they can save the world from monsters known as Grimm, which are driven by fear and dedicated to destroying humanity.

Apart from the aforementioned protagonists, others, such as Ozma/Ozpin/Oscar Pine, Lie Ren, Nora Valkyrie, Qrow Branwen, Robyn Hill, and Jaune Arc, help them fight against evil forces. Uniquely, the series has theme songs, primarily by Casey Lee Williams, at the beginning of each volume, which foreshadows what will happen, making the show unique in its own way.

The show’s ninth volume is unlike the previous volumes, which had a classic conflict between good vs. evil, intricate story telling, horror elements, and character development. That is because the protagonists are stranded in a magical land known as the Ever After. Even so, they retain a semblance which allows them to have superpowers-of-sorts, so they can either manipulate objects, disorient people, use super strength, or have other abilities.

Morally grey characters are inherent to RWBY, including the Ace Ops or General James Ironwood. In contrast, Cinder Fall breaks from the strict dictates of her leader, Salem. The latter, and her enforcers, are determined to do anything to achieve their goals, even engaging in human experimentation. This interlinks with the blood, gore, and death of some characters.

The series’ large focus on sci-fi and magic elements goes beyond characters like Penny Polendina (voiced by Taylor “Pelto” McNee), a cyborg girl, and scrolls which record and receive messages. Arguably, in this volume, the series has received a “directional reset” and ended on a strong note, even setting up a possible volume 10.

One of the most controversial parts of RWBY, up to the current volume, has been its LGBTQ representation. There have been lesbian couples, like Saphron and Terra-Arc, and lesbian characters who have crushes on the protagonists, as is the case for Ilia Amitola (voiced by Cherami Leigh). This was strengthened by the role of May Marigold, the first trans character in the series, in Volume 8. She was voiced by trans female voice actress, Kdin Jenzen. She did not appear in Volume 9 and Jenzen has been critical of the company’s practices. This volume is the last one that Jenzen will be working on, as she was reportedly laid off from the company.

Some fans have held out hope that the Bumbleby ship (Blake and Yang) would become canon, especially after Arryn Zech, Blake’s voice actress, confirmed her character as bisexual in May 2020. This came to pass in this volume and there have been hints of other possible romantic ships, which I’ll discuss later in this review.

One of the strengths of this series is its visuals, which have improved dramatically from the first volume, and its voice actors. Furthermore, although the fandom of this series can be toxic, the show’s fans have come up with colorful ship names. This includes femslash ones, such as Baked Alaska (Yang and Neopolitan), Blood Mint (Ruby and Emerald Sustrai), Freezerburn (Yang and Weiss), Ladybug (Ruby and Blake), and White Rose (Ruby and Weiss), even though some of these are problematic.

The surreal nature of RWBY‘s ninth volume makes it fundamentally different from the canon-adjacent anime series, RWBY: Ice Queendom. The latter focused on Weiss Schnee, especially on how she needs to “unlearn her white supremacist thinking” and become a better person. There was a non-binary character named Shion Zaiden (voiced by Hiroki Nanami, and Jenzen in English). It was confirmed in an interview with the show’s staff and producers. Unfortunately, similar characters have yet to appear in RWBY, even though both series share fight scenes, strong visuals, and soundtrack.

RWBY is somewhat complicated by issues that Rooster Teeth has dealt with over the years. For one, actor Vic Mignogna, who voiced Qrow Branwen until Volume 6, was removed after accusations of sexual harassment. Ryan Haywood and Adam Kovic were either involved in scandals which related to their leaked nude photographs or grooming underage fans, in the case of Haywood. Furthermore, anonymous reviews focused on a negative crunch culture at Rooster Teeth, especially at their animation division, leading to the resignation of Gray Haddock (creator of gen:LOCK), head of this division, as a result.

Former hosts of Rooster Teeth programs stated that they received racist and sexist abuse from the audience. Jenzen argued that an upper manager engaged in transphobic and homophobic abuse. This was followed by other employees posting similar stories. In response, the company released statements arguing they were taking steps to improve the work culture, review pay parity, and even replace the entire Human Resources department, while reducing the number of shows being produced. These issues were compounded by the arrest of then-vice president of Rooster Teeth, Michael Quinn, for assaulting his wife, in November 2019.

In terms of RWBY itself, fans previously claimed that the show queerbaited after the death of a character in the show’s seventh season, believing that Qrow Brawnen and Clover Ebi were canon. In reality, the series never directly showed them together. The argument that Clover’s death is queerbaiting, is like saying Wednesday did the same by not making the friendship between Wednesday Addams and Enid Sinclair a romantic one, despite the false insistence of fans that it was canon. As such, it is no surprise that some see RWBY as a lost cause and not worth supporting.

From my perspective, I think that regardless of these issues, and the fact that Rooster Teeth seems to be a toxic work environment, RWBY still has value. This is because of the hard work of the animators and writers, known as CRWBY. In fact, I would argue that the latest volume is the strongest in the series up to this point and it has some of the best animation. Although some may balk at the show’s style, or even claim that the protagonist’s clothing constitutes fan service for the audience, the reality is that the show’s style makes it stand out, apart from any other action-adventure science fantasy.

Unlike previous volumes, the ninth volume premiered on Crunchyroll on February 18, as part of “a one-year exclusive release with Crunchyroll”, and it will then release on the Rooster Teeth website in 2024. This is a big deal because the series is primary show for Rooster Teeth and its streaming platform of the same name. So, it may portend the end or reduction of the platform.

Whether the worst for Rooster Teeth comes to a head, I’m not sure. It seems very likely that the show will receive a tenth volume, which may be the final season. I would be very surprised if RWBY is not renewed, as it has generated a lot of buzz, has generally strong ratings on Crunchyroll, and, undoubtedly, has thousands of people watching each episode.

The ninth volume of RWBY is captivating. Ruby, Weiss, Blake, and Yang try and find themselves, and anything they have lost. There are new characters like a talking mouse named Little (voiced by Luci Christian), the Curious Cat (voiced by Robbie Daymond), which fulfills a specific role in a land which has many characteristics of Alice in Wonderland, and enemies such as the jabberwalkers (voiced by Richard Norman). Little later becomes Ruby’s emotional support animal of sorts.

I was further drawn into this volume by the story of Alyx, her brother Lewis, the Rusted Knight, and the Curious Cat. This was weaved together artfully, with the audience knowing as much as the characters about the real story as the series went forward. This included the revelation that Juane became the Rusted Knight and was reportedly betrayed by Alyx (voiced by Shara Kirby). He became trapped in the Ever After for over 40 years, causing him to become a “mature” older man, who has a steed named Juniper.

The volume interrogates Juane’s hero complex. It breaks down when the town of the Paper Pleasers is flooded (possibly mirroring what happened to Mantle in Volume 8) and he can save none of them. He admits as much in the seventh episode, saying he “not ok” or “right”. In some ways I see a parallel between Juane (voiced by Miles Luna) and General Ironwood (voiced by Jason Rose). Juane seems to be just as tired and angry at people, thinking he is “saving” people by making “hard choices”. Ironwood is different as be became an unhinged military dictator who turned against the protagonists.

Even more than any previous volume, this 10-episode volume of RWBY has a specific focus on Ruby. She begins a downward spiral, although her sister, Yang, repeatedly tries to ask her what is wrong, often to no avail. Understandably, she is further shaken when her friends are shrunk to miniature size. She begins to have so much self-doubt that she isn’t sure is a huntress/hero anymore.

This volume shows the extreme pressure Ruby is under as team leader, as she puts the needs of others ahead of her own. This is shown directly when she can’t even use her weapon, Crescent Rose, in the show’s seventh episode, after having flashbacks to traumatic events from the previous volumes. This is almost akin to the Steven Universe Future episode where Steven Universe tells his friend’s mother about all the childhood trauma he has experienced over his life time.

Getting back to RWBY, at the end of episode seven, Ruby has a breakdown, asking why she has to be the leader. She criticizes everyone else for not devoting time to solve her problems, for helping Juane’s “make-believe” friends, and seeming to disregard what she is going through. I thought it was interesting that none her teammates push her over the edge, but Juane, who has experienced as much trauma as her, ends up blaming her for everything that went wrong.

Although Juane has a valid point, it is wrong of him to put the blame on her entirely. In addition, Ruby’s plan in Volume 8, to use the staff of creation to create paths to evacuate citizens from Mantle to Vacuo, clearly opened them up to a lot of danger. But, its failure wasn’t entirely her fault. If Cinder hadn’t asked about Ruby’s plan, thanks to magic lamp, it might have been successful. Even so, they seemed to ignore the advice from the genie, in the staff of creation, who told them to “not fall”.

This reality mattered little to Ruby, who felt overwhelmed by everything, and fled, shocking the rest of her team. Having Ruby snap at her team in the ways she did was inevitable based on what has happened through the previous seasons. In fact, she was already under a lot of stress by the end of Volume 8 and almost lost her life multiple times over.

In watching this volume, I am reminded of the mental health struggles of Steven in Steven Universe Future and Steven Universe, and Julian Chase in the ever-problematic gen:LOCK. However, it is different for Ruby. In the eighth episode, she pushes away Little and faces Neopolitan, a mute villain-of-sorts in a mansion, with Neo bringing back ghosts of Ruby’s past to torture her. Through Roman Torchwick, Neo “says” that she will enjoy seeing Ruby break down.

At the end of the same episode, drinks a cup of tea, poured by Neo, with a leaf from the ever-powerful tree. She appears to end her own life, staring into the eyes of her sister, Yang, and feels that the world would be better without her. As this happens, her teammates remain in shock over what she did.

This serious tone of RWBY is only part of the show’s mature, and distressing themes. It is coupled with death, loss, destruction, and horrific creatures such as the Grimm, which are attracted to those who are afraid or scared. Although such beings don’t appear in this volume, the above scene is followed by the Curious Cat possessing Neo for his own ends. The devious cat sees Neo as an “empty host”, and the cat-as-Neo is a being which Weiss, Blake, Yang, and Jaune fight in the last two episodes of this volume.

How RWBY depicts suicide is fundamentally different from how it is depicted in the continually controversial gen:LOCK. The latter featured all of the characters killing themselves, then each becoming the equivalent of a swarm of locusts to defeat the enemy. In the case of Ruby, there are questions as to whether she ended her own life, or she only engaged a suicide attempt.

The final nail of Ruby’s descent into a dark place, Neo, is more than a villain. She is not completely heartless, even though she terrorized Ruby into the drinking the tea and killed Little with a twist of her heeled shoe. By the end of the volume, it is clear that she  may have some form of redemption or will become an ally-of-sorts to the show’s heroes. Ruby even says that Neo will find herself, one way or another, as she falls back into the Ever After.

In terms of the tonal shifts in this volume of RWBY, they were not as well-executed as they could have been. At the same time, it should be remembered that a lot has happened in a short period of time, leaving Weiss, Blake, and Yang, especially after Ruby “ascends”, without much time to process to process everything. Furthermore, it would be inaccurate to say that Ruby’s teammates don’t care about her, as they clearly do, in more ways than one.

The volume was effective in connecting the previous volumes to this one, with an emphasis on the themes of self-acceptance and self-love. Ruby exemplifies this directly. She isn’t sure what choice she wants to make, even as those outside the tree, like Yang, Weiss, and Blake, accept whatever path Ruby wants to go down. At one point, Ruby thinks she might be doing more harm than good, looks at all of the possibilities in front of her, and grabs her mom’s weapon. In the end, she embraces herself. This isn’t as much change as some had been expecting, but it is a powerful message that you are enough, without a need to remake yourself.

The ever-present tree in this volume is shown to be a place of rebirth and rejuvenation, which does not simply resurrect and kill someone. Instead, ascension isn’t death, but it is change, and that is the role of the tree. This is connected with the theme of this volume that you should not condemn yourself for mistakes you make, but accept them and learn from them. In fact, when the Curious Cat, which is vulnerable after the tree’s leaves released him from Neo’s body, argues that humans are weak, confused, incomplete, and break everything they touch, Weiss, Yang, and Blake disagree, saying Ruby is none of those things.

The volume nine finale of RWBY was one of the best episodes, giving background, but tying up loose ends, even talking about how the Ever After was created. It brought together the aforementioned themes and it ends with the characters walking through the portal to a place they are needed most: Vacuo. It was a fitting end to the series, if this is the last episode ever produced.

There is more about of RWBY’s ninth volume, especially when it comes to LGBTQ representation, which put it on the map when it comes to all the representation in series this year. Episode 6, entitled “Confessions Within Cumulonimbus Clouds”, was written by Eddy Rivas, and directed by Kerry Shawcross and Yssa Badiola. The latter was known for her short-lived series, Recorded by Arizal.

This episode built upon previous interactions between Yang and Blake, with flirting or blushing at one another in this volume, and in previous volumes. Everyone is trapped in a Punderstorm, a literal and metaphorical crossroads, with individuals only able to get out if they either solve the problems or wait until the storm passes.

In one of the best-constructed and well-done queer romantic scenes I’ve seen in an animated series, Blake and Yang admit their feelings for each other, as the music swells, then kiss. Significantly, the characters almost express the feelings of the fandom, with Weiss and Ruby surprised to see them linking lips, while Juane says that it “feels like I’ve been waiting forever for that”. It is something which many fans of the Bumbleby ship had been waiting for.

While the scene was hinted in the volume 9 poster, it was no substitute for the scene, which excited fans over the canonization of Bumbleby, including on the show’s subreddit. Even the Bumbleby’s subreddit was exploding with new content. It could be said that the episode set a high standard for women-love-women romance.

It is only rivaled by the developing yuri story within the recently ended yuri isekai The Magical Revolution of the Reincarnated Princess and the Genius Young Lady, or the queer romance encapsulated within She-Ra and the Princesses of Power, Dead End: Paranormal Park, Arcane, Star Trek: Lower Decks, Helluva Boss, Craig of the Creek, Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts, and Steven Universe to name a few recent series with prominent representation.

The episode itself generated discussion from the show’s roundtable and even on All Good and No Worries, a Rooster Teeth show hosted by Barbara Dunkleman (voice of Yang), in an episode in which she talked with Arryn Zech (voice of Blake). In previous years, Zech and Dunkleman often hinted at this ship, stating their support for the ship, as did actor Kara Eberle (who voices Weiss).

The life of Zech somewhat mirrored her character, as she accused her ex-boyfriend, prominent actor Bob Morley, of verbal and emotional abuse, and said that Morley was furious when he learned that she was bisexual. Blake had been with an abusive ex-boyfriend of her own named Adam Taurus, who wields a chokutō and a gun, and attempts to take over the White Fang, peaceful organization originally aimed at improving conditions for the Faunus, a group of people with animal traits.

In the penultimate season six episode, “Seeing Red”, Blake and Yang kill Adam together, and touch their foreheads, which some see as a sign of romantic affection. Blake is also a bisexual character, like Zech is real life. In addition, during the discussion with Zech, Dunkleman admitted she is “not fully straight”, but is “for the most part…fairly straight”, while Zech talked about the struggles of dating as a bisexual woman.

It is clear that the romantic relationship between Blake and Yang was always planned, despite brutal shipping wars claiming otherwise. The canon nature of Bumbleby flies against those claiming the show’s crew was queerbaiting. In fact, some made similar claims about the slow build-up of the romance between Marceline the Vampire Queen and Princess Bubblegum in Adventure Time, whose relationship, known as Bubbline by fans, was canonized in the series finale “Come Along with Me”. It is not known if the CRWBY would ever an hour-long episode about Bumbleby, akin to the Adventure Time: Distant Lands episode “Obsidian”, which almost exclusively focused on Bubbline, but would be great if that occurred.

The episode six scene was reinforced in other episodes: Blake and Yang fight together in tag team style, Yang protects Blake at one point, or Ruby sarcastically says she is “happy” for Blake and Yang getting their “feelings sorted out” when she has her breakdown at the end of episode seven. More powerfully, in the final episode, Blake and Yang walk through the portal door back to Vacuo holding hands just like Korra and Asami Sato in the Legend of Korra series finale.

Blake and Yang are not alone. There are various indications what Weiss may have a crush on Juane, in a ship known as Whiteknight, with Weiss laughing when Juane is surprised by his own voice in the final episode. In addition, some fans saw hints of romantic themes between Weiss and Rose, known as White Rose. Others claimed there was confirmation that Nuts and Dolts, the ship name of Penny Poledina and Ruby, is canon. As the Blacksmith/Tree (voiced by Kimlinh Tran) says in the final episode, real balance comes from love and patience to see things through. That is the case for any of these ships.

As it turns out, not only is Zech openly bisexual, as noted earlier, as mentioned at various conventions over the years, but so is Lindsay Jones, who voices Ruby, as she stated in July 2018. Additionally, Tran, who is of Vietnamese descent, identifies as non-binary, asexual, and as a demigirl. Otherwise, it was a bit funny to witness those on social media shipping Summer Rose (mother of Ruby) and Raven Brawnwen (mother of Yang), known as Rosebird, after a scene of them together in the final episode. Some even believed that both characters were in a romantic relationship at some point.

All in all, the story of RWBY Volume 9 could have been significantly improved if the volume had at least four more episodes, the length of Volume 8. Even so, the average run-time of the episodes was only slightly less than those in the previous volume. Possibly due to budgeting, many of the episodes seemed relatively short. Even worse, they have no subtitles because Crunchyroll incorrectly described them as “dubbed”. Hopefully the latter is fixed soon and subtitles are added. On the other hand, the show’s music remained strong thanks to the talents of vocalist and songwriter Casey Lee Williams, and others such as Martin Gonzalez.

Williams’ music, and that of others, meshes well with the show’s emphasis on horror. This includes terrifying creatures, actions of Neo, or the antics of the Curious Cat, when he turns on them, takes over Neo for its own ends, and is murdered in the final episode.

There are many possible avenues for RWBY Volume 10, which seems somewhat confirmed. If the volume does come to pass, there will be the return of those who never used the pathways to Vacuo, or fell into the Ever After. This includes Winter, Ren, Oscar, Salem, Cinder, Qrow, Robin, and some of the Ace Ops. As such, there will undoubtedly be reunions between the characters the volume, which may be the final volume of RWBY as a whole.

Although RWBY is not perfect, and could be improved, including with the addition of more Black and Brown characters, it stands out as a strong series for young adults. It comes at a time that many series, especially those produced and aired on Disney channels, are produced to entertain children. Hopefully, other mature animations such as Arcane, Invincible, Helluva Boss, and Hazbin Hotel, to name four prominent series, fill the void left after the end of RWBY‘s ninth volume.

The series will not be in a hiatus as Justice League x RWBY: Super Heroes and Huntsmen, Part 1 will be available on various platforms after April 25th. It will be followed by a second part this summer. I look forward to watching both films and highly recommend RWBY for the reasons mentioned in this review.

The ninth volume of RWBY is streaming on Crunchyroll, while previous seasons are on Rooster Teeth and Crunchyroll, and are available for purchase or rent on YouTube Movies.

© 2023 Burkely Hermann. All rights reserved.

Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur Spoiler-Filled Review

Moon Girl stands in a crowd with a bunch of people from her community cheering behind her

Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur, also called Marvel’s Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur or Moon Girl, is an animated superhero adventure series created by Laurence Fishburne and Helen Sugland. It is based on the 2010s Marvel Comics series, Moon Girl, by Brandon Montclare, Amy Reeder, and Natacha Bustos.

Reprinted from Pop Culture Maniacs and Wayback Machine. This was the thirtieth article I wrote for Pop Culture Maniacs. This post was originally published on April 24, 2023.

The plot of Moon Girl centers on a young girl named Lunella Lafeyette (voiced by Diamond White). She is secretly a superhero named Moon Girl, named after her favorite scientist, and a student by day. She uses a dimensional portal to bring a T-Rex named Devil Dinosaur (voiced by Fred Tatasciore), to the streets of New York City. Her best friend, Casey (voiced by Libe Barer) helps her, while she fights against villains like The Beyonder, a mischievous and curious trickster voiced by Fishburne.

Lunella’s family have an important role in this series. Her grandmother Mimi, mother Andria, father James Jr., and grandfather “Pops” are protagonists. They are voiced by acclaimed actors such as Alfre Woodward, Sasheer Zamata, Jermaine Fowler, and Gary Anthony Williams. I personally remembered Williams for voicing characters in Star Wars Rebels, Star Wars Resistance, Velma, The Cuphead Show!, and The Owl House, or when Zamata voiced Jade in the subpar film, The Mitchells vs. the Machines.

From the get-go, I knew that Moon Girl would have a superb animation quality because the show’s production companies include the animation arm of Disney (Disney Television Animation), a Marvel Studios subsidiary (Marvel Animation), and two animation studios: Titmouse and Flying Bark Productions. The latter two are known for Star Trek: Lower Decks, Fairfax, The Legend of Vox Machina, Glitch Techs, What If…? and Pantheon.

Fishburne’s own production company, Cinema Gypsy Productions, is helping produce Moon Girl. This could be part of the reason the series got a favorable reception from executives, resulting in renewal of a second season before the first season had premiered. The animation style is said to be inspired by Spider-Verse, pop art such as Jean-Michel Basquiat, Andy Warhol, and Keith Haring, along with comic book and graffiti style, and other influences.

Moon Girl has an impressive cast including well-recognized names like Indya Moore, Craig Robinson, Pamela Adlon, Jennifer Hudson, Anna Akana, and Asia Kate Dillon. It includes actors of Indian, Iranian, Puerto Rican, Vietnamese, and Palestinian descent.

This is reinforced by executive producer Steve Loter, composer Raphael Saadiq, and producers Pilar Flynn and Rafael Chaidez. Loter is an executive producer of The Ghost and Molly McGee and has been recognized as a former Kim Possible producer. Saddiq previously did the discography for Lovecraft Country Season 1. Flynn was co-producer of Elena of Avalor.

Show director Trey Buongiorno previously been a storyboarder on Glitch Techs and She-Ra and the Princesses of Power. Samantha Suyi Lee storyboarded on Cleopatra in Space, Christine Liu on Steven Universe, Rodney Clouden on Futurama, and Ben Juwono on Big Hero 6. Show writers Jeffrey M. Howard, Kate Kondell, Halima Lucas, Liz Hara, Taylor Vaughn Lasley, Maggie Rose, and Lisa Muse Bryant have written for Elena of Avalor, Rugrats, Sesame Street, Broad City, and Kenan.

The cast and crew of Moon Girl support the series’ aim to be something for “everyone” and have tones of “heart…comedy, incredible action and great music” as Loter put it. What he is saying has validity since the series is clearly smart, punchy, dynamic, dazzling, and enchanting, with a unique personality.

Representation in Moon Girl is central to the show’s storyline. In an interview with the show’s producers in February 2023, Loter noted that the show started with Laurence Fishburne loving the Marvel’s Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur comic series because he had read the original late 1970s Devil Dinosaur comic. Supervising producer Rodney Clouden said that it “means a lot” for the series to have the first Black female protagonist in a superhero series by Marvel.

Later in the interview, Clouden added that Lunella is more than young Black girl into science and math, but is about helping her community and family. This is because her brains are her superpowers, not any other special abilities. She is a 13-year-old who has teen problems that are relatable, and universal. This is done with the intention of making the series inspirational and creating “sophisticated and elevated children’s program”, to summarize Clouden’s words.

There is more beyond the interview with Loter and Clouden. Like The Proud Family: Louder and Prouder, Craig of the Creek, or My Dad the Bounty Hunter, the series has a Black-majority main cast. Moon Girl is different than those two series, in that it is centered on superheroes. There are very few other Black superhero animated series, apart from three prominent series, either Vixen in the 2010s, Static Shock in the 2000s, or Todd McFarlane’s Spawn in the 1990s. Various additional Black cartoons aired since the 1970s, but few are in the superhero genre.

Moon Girl has outward LGBTQ representation. This includes Lunella’s classmate, Tai, and living/A.I. supercomputer named LOS-307, which are both non-binary, and Brooklyn, an openly trans character. Furthermore, Casey has two dads: Isaac and Antonio.

The voice actors for Tai and LOS-307, Ian Alexander and Asia Kate Dillon, are non-binary in real life, while Indya Moore, the voice of Brooklyn, is trans and non-binary. In addition, Wilson Cruz and Andy Cohen, who voice Casey’s dads, are both gay actors. It remains to be seen if any of the main cast will be shown as LGBTQ or not. Some fans have seen hints of romantic attraction between Casey and Lunella, shipping them either as “Lucasey” or “Mediamoon”, but ship this has not been confirmed presently. Furthermore, it is possible that since Michael Cimino, who voices Lunella’s loud friend, Eduardo, has seemed to say his sexual identity is fluid, this may be reflected in his character.

In watching Moon Girl, I was reminded by the fact that Moore previously voiced a trans character in animation (Shep in Steven Universe Future). Recently, Dillon provided the voice for the genderfluid and pansexual Val/entina Romanyszyn in the ever-controversial and problematic gen:LOCK. This series appears to be the first voice role for Cohen, but not for Alexander or Cruz.

This is not unique to Moore and Dillion. Diamond White has provided her voice for characters in Phineas and Ferb and Sofia the First. Tatasciore has voiced characters in animated series since the 1990s. Fowler prominently did voices for Tuca & Bertie and BoJack Horseman. Others have voiced characters in wide-ranging series including We Bare Bears, Star Wars: The Clone Wars, Mira, Royal Detective, The Simpsons, and Hamster & Gretel.

The show’s first episode began with a bang and pulled me in almost immediately. I’ve been lamenting the reality that few present series have roller-skating protagonists. This could be because wearing such shoes seem almost retro these days. It is part of Lunella’s shtick, as she skates around fighting villains with the help of her dinosaur (Devil), using her gadgets for good.

Having a protagonist move around in roller skates puts in her good company alongside protagonists such as Sakura Kinomoto in Cardcaptor Sakura and Candace Flynn in Phineas and Ferb. Occasionally Kim Possible of Kim Possible and Milo Murphy in Milo Murphy’s Law wear them. The same is the case for characters in the Steven Future Universe episode “Bismuth”, possibly Jenny /XJ-9 in My Life as a Teenage Robot, and more directly, Neon Katt as shown in some RWBY volumes.

What further endeared me to Moon Girl was the setting, in New York’s Lower East Side, and character’s relatability. In the 44-minute first episode, Lunella almost abandons being a superhero, after Devil is seriously injured by Aftershock. She is reassured on her path by her wise grandmother, Mimi (voiced by Alfre Woodard). The latter makes even more sense after the revelation in the season one finale that Mimi knew that Lunella was Moon Girl the entire time!

I can see how Moon Girl is like the musical coming-of-age comedy, Karma’s World, created by rapper Ludacris. Both series emphasize the importance of community, family, and history. The latter is manifested within Moon Girl with blending of the old with the new. Moon Girl uses a cassette player as a device. The show’s fight scenes featured music which fits perfectly with the story and action, while in-keeping with the series style. As a person who enjoys interacting with “analog” technology, or possibly soon-to-be analog (CDs and DVDs), I liked this part of the story.

The series has similarities with Karma’s World and The Proud Family: Louder and Prouder when it comes to episodes about the dangers of fighting online trolls, and themes of cooperation (rather than competition), friendship, self-acceptance, patience, and Black girl’s hair. One episode even echoes the “Sugar Rush” episode of Elena of Avalor. Lunella speeds up tasks because they are taking “too long”, reminding me of Elena using her powers to speed up the making of chocolate desserts. Another episode slightly mirrors Steven Universe finale “Change Your Mind” where Steven fuses with himself (Pink Steven), when Lunella comes back together with her hair, Mane (voiced by Jennifer Hudson), promising to take care of it.

Moon Girl has recurring villain-of-sorts, as noted earlier. He is one of the most playful I’ve seen in animation and is named the Beyonder. He is not conniving like Cece Dupree in Karma’s World or downright evil such as Salem in RWBY. He can be playful and fun, but can do a lot from the snap of a finger. In fact, he even threatens to destroy all of humanity in the show’s seventh episode, unless Lu “proves” to him that humanity is worth saving.

In another, he kidnaps Lunella’s mother and Casey, threatening to send them to another dimension, where she will never see them again. He never considers how his actions will cause trauma, only claiming that what he is doing is “helping” her, which is questionable. Hopefully, Lunella doesn’t have a meltdown like Ruby Rose in Volume 9 of RWBY, who takes her own life, or Steven Universe in Steven Universe Future who becomes a monster.

The ninth episode of Moon Girl mirrored some plot points in the classic Futurama episode “Time Keeps Slippin'” and the more-recent Cleopatra in Space episode “Do-Over“. In all three cases, skipping forward in time goes horribly wrong, but with completely different results. In the case of Moon Girl, the episode points to the dangers of A.I., as shown by the Skipster App, and hints at possible future scenes in the show’s second season.

The value of a work-life balance is emphasized through Lunella faking a sickness to get out of a photoshoot. This reminds me of the Cleopatra in Space episode “Cleopatra Needs Space”. The difference is that Lunella lies to her friend Casey, claiming she cannot get of bed so she can have a break, while Cleo wants to get away from her two friends who are flirting with one another. However, Moon Girl doesn’t as directly counter the issues with overwork, making it different, in that regard, from the isekai anime, I’ve Been Killing Slimes for 300 Years and Maxed Out My Level, which emphasizes this theme repeatedly.

I further enjoyed the episode in which Lu rallies her community against the Muzzlers, two White home inventors, who are trying to gentrify the Lower East Side. The episode examines gentrification as much the Season 2 finale or three-part Season 4 finale of Karma’s World, both of which approach the topic in their own ways. Moon Girl is more poignant on this topic than the construction by the golf-addicted Mafia in Birdie Wing, in which the protagonist’s family are evicted, or that shown in City of Ghosts.

The last few Moon Girl episodes, which focus on value of chosen family, facing your fears, and being perfect the way you are, strongly end the first season. These episodes also center plotlines about Jewish traditions (since Casey is part Jewish) and the issues with clout-chasing. The latter is somewhat reflected in certain episodes of The Proud Family: Louder and Prouder.

The two-part season one finale of Moon Girl is unique. The villain, Maris Morlak (voiced by Wesley Snipes), wants to construct a dimensional portal so he can gain recognition for his contributions from White leaders, which are those with authority.

Maris reveals that his work, and that of Lu’s grandmother, Mimi, were ignored by their White bosses, with White scientists taking all the credit when speaking to the U.S. military generals. This story of casual and institutional racism is more relevant than ever, with  White supremacy currently running rampant across society. I liked how even though Mimi disagrees with his method (opening the portal), she agrees with his concerns, but says he doesn’t need others to validate him.

The actions of Maris go beyond the actions taken by other series villains, such as the Rat King, Abyss, and Gravitas, and Odessa Drake. He has an army of followers to support him, called the Enclave, and is willing to do anything to achieve his goals. In fact, he is probably the most ruthless villain of the series, destroying Lunella’s underground lab, even when Devil is trapped inside, causing Lunella to drop to her knees and think Devil died. Although this is not the case, it undoubtedly deepens Lunella’s growing trauma, which may be addressed more in season 2.

The first season of Moon Girl ends on a cliffhanger, with Mimi and Lu turning off the dimensional portal from each side. It could possible provide fuel for crossover fan fictions to be written by dedicated fans. The second season of Moon Girl may feature more of S.H.I.E.L.D. and its Agent, Maria Hill (voiced by Cobie Smulders), tying the series more into the Marvel Universe.

The growing friendship between Lunella and Casey will likely be an important part of the next season. By the end of the season, Casey becomes almost becoming the equivalent of Tomoyo Daidouji in Cardcaptor Sakura, who made all of Sakura Kinomoto‘s Cardcaptor outfits. This is because Casey made the outfits that Lunella used as a superhero. In addition, it is possible that the Beyonder will have a bigger role in the next season, and there be more fourth-wall breaks. The series might even have a storyline akin to the OK K.O. episode “Your World Is an Illusion”, in which K.O. realizes that his whole world is an illusion.

Moon Girl fills the void left by the season 2 finales of The Proud Family: Louder and Prouder on February 1 and Star Wars: The Bad Batch on March 29, and the series finales of The Owl House (on April 8) and Amphibia in May 2022. Unfortunately, with the last episode of Moon Girl airing on the Disney Channel on May 6, it may be some time before any other series with as strong plot, characters, animation, and writing airs on Disney+ or other Disney-related platforms.

Although Kiff and Hamster & Gretel have their merits, as do any of the other animated series on Disney+ or Disney Channel, none of them measures up to Moon Girl, or the quality of The Bad Batch, Amphibia, and The Owl House. The same may be the case for upcoming series such as Hailey’s On It!, Primos, Iwaju, Cookies & MilkTiana, or Moana: The Series, something which can only be proven or disproven after said series begin airing.

Although the episode-dumps on Disney+, the equivalent of Stevenbombs, undoubtedly reduced the possible audience, Moon Girl remains a shining example of a recent animated series. It can be enjoyed by all, even though it is primarily aimed at children. It is for that, and reasons I have previously stated, I recommend this series and look forward to the second season.

Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur is currently airing on Disney+.

Guide for SAA Election 2023

Image shows a graphic for the 2023 election for the Society of American Archivists and notes that ballots will be open from April 4 to April 25.
originally posted here: https://www2.archivists.org/governance/election/2023

Originally published on LinkedIn on April 6, 2023.

Hello everyone! Readers may remember that I previously wrote about the elections of the Society of American Archivists (SAA) in March 2020, and April 2021 (see here and here). As it turns out, a few of these people are running again, specifically: Alison Clemens, Michelle Ganz, and April K. Anderson-Zorn. Clemens was on the SAA Nomination Committee and is currently running to be on the SAA Council. Anderson-Zorn, who lost the election in March 2021, is running again for the aforementioned nomination committee, while Ganz is running for a Council seat. All the others appear to be new. Here’s what I wrote about Clemens, Ganz, and Anderson-Zorn in my April 26, 2021 post:

“…Clemens…is the only candidate to talk about transphobia and ableism”…Ganz…[has an] idea for “multiple pathways to SAA membership and participation,” having the public be “as excited about archives” as archivists, and new programs to “help archivists and potential archivists learn to advocate for the profession”…April K. Anderson-Zorn…even got an SAA Foundation grant to “create Wikipedia pages for underrepresented archivists,” highlighted the importance of growing LGBTQI+ collections, and helping “all underrepresented students and colleagues,” adding that Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) members need to lead SAA…Anderson-Zorn…[had a] focus on growing LGBTQI+ collections”

So, in sum, I support Alison Clemens, Michelle Ganz, and April K. Anderson-Zorn. Since I’m an associate member, I sadly am illegible to vote, as only “full individual members, student members, and primary contacts of institutional members” can vote. I think associate members should ALSO be able to vote as well, but alas that isn’t the case. But there are many more beyond those three candidates that I’d like to talk about.

For SAA Vice President/President-Elect

The first of these is Lori Lindberg. She is a leader and archivist at Cummins Heritage Center. While her statement about her connections in the archival field sounds nice, I am worried that she describes being an archivist as “a calling” and said she got a “calling” when looking into becoming a librarian, showing she is embracing vocational awe (which was first coined by Fobazi Ettarh) in more ways than one! She also says that she would apply the principles used at Cummins within the SAA, calling Cummins an “inclusive company”, says she would envision working with SAA sections and other associated groups to help provide a more continuous presence in the SAA, argues that the SAA should develop more “quality online education”, and emphasizes the importance of the SAA performing concrete actions to “learn about, help, and advocate for one another.” One her statements I do support, strongly:

I envision SAA revising our dues structure to accommodate various types of archives professionals, including part-time, intermittent, underemployed, and undefined levels of earnings.

This contrasts with Tomaro I. Taylor, a director of special collections for University of South Florida Libraries. She notes that she has in the last 20 years established a record of “leadership, innovation, and mentorship”, with a focus on management, use, and promotion of science-focused collections within “academic archives and special collections.” She also states that in Florida there is “legislation and rhetoric targeting those of us who are, live as, support, advocate with, are allies for, and teach about the DEIA umbrella”, calling it frustrating and infuriating, and noting she is “rather privileged” and recognizes that this creates “blind spots” in her “relationships with other people and their experiences.” To counter this, she says she notes where she is lacking knowledge, and work to expand her understanding. This involves recognizing the collective “responsibility towards addressing inequities and removing systemic barriers”, which I fully agree with. She also states that there is not anything “normal” about the world, as normalcy is “perceived individualistically based on previous experiences, current tolerance, and future anticipations and expectations”, and notes that she has found ways to be adaptable and flexible during her career, and notes that she would “identify opportunities for both leading and participating in solutions-oriented processes that will provide the steadiness and support our friends and colleagues need.”

Of these two, I definitely favor Tomaro Taylor above Lori Lindberg, as it should be obvious at this point, since I feel she is better qualified.

For SAA Council

This brings me to the other candidates, apart from Clemens and Ganz, for the committee. The first of these is Conor Casey, head of Labor Archives of Washington, University of Washington Libraries Special Collections, noting that he has research interests including “social, labor, immigration, and ethnic history; oral history research and curation; and EDI-centered archival administration”, and he developed a strategy for archival administration and documentation he described holistic, EDI-centered, and collaborative for the community, noting it was “corrective collecting.” He also noted that he wrote a regular column in the Labor Online e-newsletter of the Labor and Working Class History Association (LAWCHA), and was a co-chair of the Society of American Archivists’ Labor Archives Section (LAS). He went onto say that there needs to be something beyond countering systemic problems, but countering his own privileges and biases, and hoping to “center and elevate the voices of historically marginalized and minoritized communities and steep myself in a framework of antiracism and cultural humility.” He then adds that he has served the labor movement as an organizer, helping to unionize his workplace, and having “sensitivity on EDI issues” because he identifies as “nonbinary, queer, and working class” and says he will seek to use his privilege to serve “activists and members of historically marginalized communities to empower themselves.”

Casey concludes by favoring parts of the SAA Strategic Plan, Strategic Plan, and emphasized the LAS, while emphasizing the importance of the SAA is advancing efforts to “diversify the archival profession and to create pathways to leadership for members from historically marginalized communities”, and noting the need to recruit new members. He further stated that there needs to be “programmatic efforts to counter the inherent biases and structural imbalances of our profession and our society”, discuss labor issues within the profession, and making “archival jobs more sustainable…more appealing to new groups of workers…[and] help expand the scope of our profession”, ensuring it better reflects societal diversity and reflects the “communities we serve.” Reading all of this, I definitely favor him for the SAA’s Council, without a doubt.

This differs from another candidate, Ryan S. Flahive, describing himself as an archivist, historian, and educator, who believes in indigenization of archival training, proactive repatriation of cultural patrimony, archival praxis which focuses on patrons, and professional support and empowerment for memory workers who are BIPOC. He also noted his years of proactive outreach and advocacy, and notes that he has become aware of his inherent voices, listens to diverse voices, and that “diversity is the active, institutional celebration of difference.” He also noted that if elected to the Council he would advocate for increasing support for the SAA Native American Archives Section, identify and recognize volunteer BIPOC memory workers, and have free “online and in-person trainings for BIPOC memory workers” who may/may not have professional archival training. He then says that such proposals may empower community memory workers to build the archival profession “from the bottom up, creating inclusive and equitable collective memory moving forward.”

He further advocates for enhancing professional growth, advancing the field, meeting members’ needs, and advocating for “memory workers of all types”. This includes, in his words, formal inclusion and recognition of BIPOC community memory workers (and community archives), focus on emerging archival professionals, advocacy for archivists and archives to focus on fiscal value of memory workers, and urging all predominantly white institutions to “reappraise holdings for potential voluntary repatriation.” He also argued that even though NAGPRA doesn’t cover archival materials, “some of what we hold should be rightfully returned to source communities” and states that proactive reparation will benefit “the field and all memory workers” as there is work toward a more inclusive and diverse profession and the same within archival collections. In sum, I would say I favor him for the SAA Council.

I then get to Selena Ortega-Chiolero, another candidate for the SAA Council. She lays out her biography like a resume, noting her current work for the Chickaloon Village Traditional Council, her education, role as chair of the Native American Archives Section, board president as Museums Alaska, member of the Northwest Archivists Native American Archival Collections Roundtable, member of Mukurtu Advisory Board, and member of University of Maryland Indigenizing SNAC Advisory Board. When it comes to her ideas, she noted the importance of DEI to her, especially when it comes to “seeing, acknowledging, and listening; honestly seeing the differences in one another, acknowledging and respecting those differences”. For her, this relates to her identity as a first-generation Mexican-American with Indigenous Mexican roots, carrying her “cultural traditions and family history” close to her heart, which drives her personal aspirations and professional work, actively contributing and participating in SAA’s Native American Archives Section, working with others toward a “singular purpose and vision to improve the resources for and understanding behind the complexities of stewarding Native American archival collections.” She says that she would provide/offer a “unique perspective”, bringing voice to the table including those which are not traditionally “considered voices of authority”.

She goes onto say that at present we in a momentous period “within the cultural heritage sector”, and noted that the balance can go either way, with professionals continuing to “empower those of privilege while maintaining exclusive spaces with limited access” while others reflect on their own identities, and that of their organizations and institutions. She adds that the latter have begun to “understand and acknowledge the subjectivity and commodification of knowledge” and how colonial legacies continue to “influence how we manage, share, and provide access to material culture.” She adds that the SAA currently “embraces collective knowledge through acknowledgement and collaboration”, has identified that “structural barriers exist within the organization”, emphasizes the importance of restructuring and reevaluating SAA leadership and membership, states the understandings and views of archives are changing with a focus “toward community-centric approaches” toward managing and maintaining cultural heritage. She she concluded by saying that the success of the SAA lies in collaboration, with supportive networks, and more. In sum, I would favor her as a candidate for the SAA Council.

There’s one more candidate for the aforementioned Council that I’d like to mention: Alex H. Poole. He is an associate professor at Drexel University, teaching research, teaching, and service, and said he is “deeply passionate about and invested in DEI” with work which “surfaces hidden histories and marginalized voices and fosters a dialogue between past and present.” He describes diversity as about “the myriad differences among us…and the ways in which we acknowledge, understand, and honor them”, and said he has long grappled with his privilege and worked to dismantle it, saying that his personal and professional experience and expertise have prepared him “to advocate vigorously for inclusive and equitable practices.” Poole also added that he experienced trauma, said he has an inveterate, “rigorous commitment to DEI and antiracism”, said he would help the SAA promote paid internship opportunities and “broadly cultivate a reciprocity pipeline between graduate programs and local institutions.” He went onto said that he wants an “innovative, dynamic, flexible, and responsive SAA…committed to continuous improvement,” explore training and education issues with “diverse SAA stakeholders”, reject technochauvinism but support ethics in technology, create a task force/committee to address those archivists with student loans, and says that he believes in the “value of archives to society and to human-flourishing more broadly”. I favor Poole, although I favor the others more than him, to be honest.

For SAA Nominating Committee

Apart from Anderson-Zorn, whose candidacy I favor, I’d like to talk about Courtney Dean, Interim Coordinator, Collection Management, at UCLA. She notes that she has been “advocating for and supporting archival workers”, was co-founder of Los Angeles Archivists Collective (LAAC), helped develop the Best Practices for Archival Term Positions document, served on the Archival Workers Emergency Fund (AWE Fund) Organizing Committee. In her diversity statement, she noted that she is a “white, cisgendered woman in a field overrepresented by white, cis women”, meaning she is aware of privilege from White supremacy she has, the need to go beyond DEI work and “actively work towards antiracism and other forms of decolonial and justice work” with an “active and intentional commitment in every facet of our professional work.” She also notes that a lot of justice and reparative work as a White person is “knowing when to be quiet, to listen, and to allow others to take up space”, and says she aims to use her institutional privilege, power, and positionality to intervene and amplify, helping to call her fellow White people in.

She goes onto say that the SAA can be a signpost, giving space and promoting space to “our BIPOC and LGBTQIA+ colleagues” and those with disabilities, along with those outside academia, and anyone else who “may find themselves invariably excluded, should be paramount.” She ends her statement by saying she believes in work-life balance, self-care, and remains committed to the SAA because of her belief in “the radical possibility of change”, leveraging collective power to create a professional organization that supports archives and archivists. She then says that the SAA should work to disrupt our professional involvement with “policing, armed response, surveillance, and the prison industrial complex” and to those amplifying “professional contributions to the…climate crisis.” This makes me favor her candidacy without a doubt.

Moving on, there’s Krista Oldham, an university archivist at Texas A&M University, who oversees “acquisition, description, and preservation of university records,” previously chaired the Records Management Section, and was appointed to the Digital Archives Specialist (DAS) Subcommittee. She also noted that she believed in the value of DEI, considers herself a memory worker, says she understands importance of continued advocacy and allying with “many individuals and communities”, and says there is a need to “fully grasp the importance of integrating diversity, equity, and inclusivity”. She ended her argument by saying that volunteering is important, with benefits of volunteering beyond “personal and professional gains”, and noted that archivists are “uniquely mobilized around advocacy efforts which support the continued growth of the archival profession and nurture archivists and archives.” That seems notable. I’m not sure I favor her as much as others.

She is different from Jonathan Pringle, another candidate who describes himself as a Canadian-American archivist, and said that he did a First Nations curriculum concentration, intending to return to his home “and serve a population with a majority First Nations, Inuit, and Métis people” but then ended up in the desert, in a different country, managing the University of New Mexico’s Native Health Database. He further noted that he has “enormous privilege” as a cisgender White man, but is also gay, noting the importance of accepting his bias to inform his professional decisionmaking and ethics, and notes his strong interconnectedness with those dealing with mental illness, and said he would bring his “natural compassion and empathy” to the Nominating Committee. He goes onto say that volunteering is an expression of support for the broad goals and mission of an organization, and can lead to leadership opportunities, noting that the SAA has been listening to “its key stakeholders and seeks collaborative solutions to helping us be better custodians of these materials.” He concludes by saying that humor is an important part of voluneering, as is not overextending ones self, creating flexibility, and paying attention to the “impact of our work and its effect on those with less privilege” while centering decision-making around “those who may be most vulnerable to its effects.” I have to say that I favor his candidacy for the Nominating Committee, after reading his page.

There are two other candidates I’d like to focus on here. One of those is Sarah Quigley, director of special collections at University of Nevada, Las Vegas. She noted that she has arranged and described numerous collections “across…collecting areas, supervised students and professional archivists, and led our efforts to increase transparency in our descriptive practice and develop inclusive description guidelines.” She says that she has a strong track record of professional service, including as chair of the Committee on Public Policy, and teaching arrangement and description in workshops and graduate programs. She goes onto say that for her, DEI work involves considering her “immediate sphere of influence” and how she personally contributes to “safe and accessible professional spaces”, consider how she can contribute to “dismantling systems that have made our profession hostile to difference”. She adds that systems are slow to change, but that much of her DEI work has been in archival descriptive practice and professional labor practices, and that she is “particularly sensitive to class issues and structural barriers to financial stability” in GLAM professions, including discouraging “ise of temporary positions for core operational work”. Beyond this, she notes that the SAA is “a powerful tool for influencing the profession and creating positive change”, that some are skeptical of serving, and says that the profession and culture need to stop “asking people to give us time and investment they just don’t have”, saying the SAA can help us address this issue. All of these comments make me favor her candidacy.

Last, but least, is Krystal Tribett. She defines herself as a curator and historian, and an “activist forever in training”, working as a curator for Orange County regional history for UC Irvine Libraries Special Collections and Archives, saying that she is a library professional but is continuing to explore “community-driven knowledge of the past and present and preservation of memories for the future.” She goes onto say that for her, “diversity, equity, and inclusion have been at the center” of her personal and professional life, noting that she has experienced alienation, and says she will continue her “commitment to centering BIPOC, LGBTQ+, differently abled, economically poor, and others pushed to the margins by those with power.” She goes onto say that DEIA work is everyday work because “every day there will be some attempt to sustain systems of power that keep the marginalized in their place”, opposing individuals, organizations, and institutions that “lean on the maintenance of…anti-Blackness.” She says that if on the committee she would identify candidates committing to DEIA every day “even when it is hard, even when it is inconvenient, even when others make excuses.” She also argued that there needs to be a real need for work-life balance, challenging “traditional roles” of archivists, curators, and library professionals and of cultural heritage repositories, while working in consultation and partnership with “previously un- and underdocumented, misrepresented, and maligned communities.” Reading all of this, I have to favor her candidacy.

Those I favor

I’d like to outline who I would favor to be elected if I was allowed to vote:

  • Tomaro Taylor for Vice President
  • Michele Ganz, Alison Clemens, and Ryan Flahive for SAA Council [three seats]
  • April Anderson-Zorn, Courtney Dean, and Krystal Tribbett for SAA Nominating Committee [three seats]

If Ganz, Clemens, or Flahive are not victorious in their candidacy, I would favor Conor Casey, Selena Ortega-Chiolero, and Alex H. Poole. When it comes to the Nominating Commitee, if Dean, or Tribbett are not successful in their candidacy, I would favor Jonathan Pringle and Sarah Quigley, but not Krista Oldham.

That’s it for this post.

© 2023 Burkely Hermann. All rights reserved.

Ippon Again! Review

Ippon Again!, also known as Mou Ippon, is a judo sports anime directed by Ken Ogiwara. It is based on a Japanese manga series, which has run since October 2018 for total of 21 volumes, written and illustrated by Yu Muraoka. This series was produced by Bakken Record, a division of the Japanese animation company Tatsunoko Production. This post will have spoilers.

Reprinted from Pop Culture Maniacs and Wayback Machine. This was the twenty-ninth article I wrote for Pop Culture Maniacs. This post was originally published on April 9, 2023.

This series has a simple premise. Michi Sonoda (voiced by Ayasa Itō) planned on quitting being a judoka, a practitioner of the Japanese martial art of judo, during her final tournament in junior high school. However, this changes due to the encouragement from her friend and Sanae Takigawa (voiced by Yukari Anzai), and presence of a girl named Towa Hiura (voiced by Chiyuki Miura) who caused her to go unconscious during her last judo tournament. All three form a judo club at Aoba Nishi High School, to the chagrin of Anna Nagumo (voiced by Nene Hieda), who wants Michi to join the fencing club instead.

Admittedly, I was not originally planning to watch this anime. But, I was drawn into it because of the simple story, well-animated action sequences, and voice acting. This series is nothing like any of the other sports anime I’ve watched before.

It doesn’t have wild golf games like Birdie Wing, nor the dramatic tennis games as in Stars Align, or high-stakes baseball games such as those in Tamayomi. Instead, the series is in a league of its own. There are very few other judo anime out there, apart from Inakappe Taishō, Judo Boy, and Yawara!, two of which were produced by Bakken Record, which also produced Ippon Again!.

While sports anime is not something I generally gravitate towards, this series is well-constructed. At times, it is as strong as Birdie Wing or Stars Align. Similar to some other series in the same genre, there is yuri subtext in the series, especially between Michi and Towa. In fact, Towa comes to the same school as Michi so that she can apologize to her for how she acted during their tournament. This has echoes of Yui Yamada running, in a pivotal scene from the 58-minute yuri OVA Kase-san and Morning Glories, to the train so that she can join another girl, Tomoka Kase, who she likes. Otherwise, while the show doesn’t have direct yuri themes, and only subtext. It is more than a female-centered version of sports shonens focused on nakama-power.

Ippon Again! has comedic moments, like Michi and Sanae thinking they have found the advisor of the judo club, believing it is a big, burly, tough-looking, and extremely dedicated man, Gondo who teaches gym at the high school. However, the reality is very different than what they believe is the case. A thin, athletic woman named Shino Natsume (voiced by Yumi Uchiyama), who knocks down the instructor, Gondo, by doing a judo move, impressing them all, turns out to be the club advisor.

I liked how Towa becomes more sure of herself as the series moves ahead. Early on, she only has enough confidence if she wears her judo uniform, an item which allows her to feel more self-assured. Her social awkwardness is not unique to anime, as Komi Can’t CommunicateKaguya-sama: Love Is War, Hitori Bocchi no Marumaru Seikatsu, Mitsuboshi Colors, Asobi Asobase, YuruYuri, and Azumanga Daioh are other examples. Despite this, how Towa is portrayed is socially awkward is unique. She further faces a challenge of fighting her former senpai, which makes the series that much more intriguing, and charming in its own way.

All of this is reinforced by the show’s cast. For instance, the voice actors Itō, Anzai, Miura, and Hieda are known for voicing characters in series such as The Demon Girl Next Door, Revue StarlightBanG Dream!Release the SpyceCue!, Tokyo Mew Mew New, The Maid I Hired Recently Is Mysterious, and Love After World Domination.

The other voice actors are as talented, with Aoi Koga (voice of Erika Amane), provided voice for Kaguka, protagonist of Kaguya-sama: Love is War, while Konomi Kohara previously voiced Mina in Teasing Master Takagi-san and Koyomi Kanou in Bloom into You. Additional members of the cast, Yumi Uchiyama, Maria Naganawa, and Anna Nagase, have lent their voices to characters in Re:Zero, Haikyu!, Kinmoza!, Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid, BNA, Your Lie in April, and Cyberpunk: Edgerunner.

Unlike other series, writers of Ippon Again! know the right lingo about judo martial arts style, making the series more authentic in that regard. The first part of the show’s name, “ippon”, means to a throw which plays a opponent on the back, and keep them down, resulting in a victory. If the throw isn’t strong enough, someone only scores a waza-ari (formerly called “yuko”), meaning when a contestant throws an opponent on their side, as noted in Masao Takahashi’s 2005 book, Mastering Judo. An ippon, more simply, refers to the highest score someone can achieve in a Japanese martial arts contest, often in jujitsu, karate, kendo, or judo. Other terms such as osaekomi-waza, meaning “holding or pinning techniques”, are mentioned in the series as well.

The series is not without drama. For instance, Sanae promises her parents she would focus on academics in high school and not join the judo club. But, she decides to do so anyway, and as a result, Michi encourages her when she is rattled. The drama is also apparent for the show’s fight scenes, like those with teams from other schools, such as Kasumigaoka High School. This is offset by the camaraderie among the Judo Club members, who help each other out when anyone else is down, and root for one another.

Ippon Again! may not be a show for anyone, but that does not matter. This series is peak fiction in more ways than one, through its cuteness, or the bonds between the characters, either long-time friends Michi and Sanae, or Michi and Towa. Each of the characters has determination to be better fighters and blast through expectations, although they are not all at the same level.

While some may think there are suspicious or problematic moments, the truth is that these moments are primarily instances of the characters fighting each other in intense judo style. At other points in the series, Michi smacks Sanae on her butt, while other characters do the same, smacking their teammates in the same manner. Some may think it is “cringeworthy”, it is done with a purpose: to snap their team members back to reality so they will be ready for the fight. As for Michi, her action makes sense as she is a bit of a joker at times, even saying that Sanae should lose her match so she can have a better opponent. Furthermore, throughout Sailor Moon R, Usagi occasionally smacks Chibiusa on the bum, so it makes no sense for people to make an issue out of it. Even so, I would say that Ippon Again! has mild fan service, although not as much as Kandagawa Jet Girls by a long short.

I liked how strength is not the only thing that allows characters of Ippon Again! to win in judo. Their determination and strategy is just as important. Being stronger is not everything in this series, as their coach/advisor Shino reminds them, part of building a backbone for the team to rely upon. Sometimes that person has strength on their side, but other times they inspire other team members to work together to win, all while sweat drips down their faces.

A key message from this series seems to be that hard work, and gumption, can lead to success. However, this idea has been questioned, with some saying it is a component of being successful, that it is a myth entirely, or that neither makes life better or fun. Others have said that this concept, especially when it relates to material success, is no longer “a uniquely Western value.” In any case, this anime makes clear that anyone can improve themselves. For instance, even though Sanae is visually impaired, she fights in judo like everyone else, although she does judo while not wearing her glasses.

Ippon Again! goes the typical route by having a rival-of-sorts: Erika Amane. She is the former senpai of Towa and the person who got Towa interested in judo in the first place. The intense fight between Amane and Towa has some of the best animation in the episode, and perhaps the entire series. Michi sees it as so cool that she is left speechless. In typical fashion, the episode ends before the battle is over, hooking you to watch the next one. In the episode following that, there is a powerful judo match between Michi, and her competitor, Ami Shiraishi. All the focus is on the match, and nothing else, pulling you into the action.

The show’s choreography is one of the series’ strong suits, making you feel like you are part of the action, as is the yuri subtext, as noted earlier, with possibly some subtext between Amane and Towa. This is mixed with the fact that the protagonist struggles with feeling she has “hit a wall of physical ability”, all while the show has some feminist potential.

Ippon Again! is markedly different than any of the other shows airing during this Winter. It is not an idolish series like D4DJ which mainly focuses around different music groups, nor is it a yuri isekai set in a medieval world such as The Magical Revolution of the Reincarnated Princess and the Genius Young Lady. Instead, it has clear yuri themes throughout, but is not outright yuri. For instance, Towa describes Amane as “terribly precious” , while Anna describes Michi as “incredibly precious”. Similar to Do It Yourself!, the romantic feelings between the show’s characters are never directly expressed, only implied with words, blushing, or other actions.

The series generally focuses on sports matches, specifically judo, after the characters prepare themselves for the tournament at their school dojo, even recruiting a new member, Tsumugi Himeno (voiced by Anna Nagase) to join them. While continuing matches means that there isn’t much story development, apart from flashbacks and the camaraderie, especially between the show’s five protagonists (Michi, Sanae, Towa, Anna, and Tsumugi). Even so, there is undoubted romantic tension between some characters, and strong animation in the fight scenes, with the characters trying to get ippons to win the match.

After finishing Ippon Again!, my previous thoughts about the series were reinforced, as I came to the realization that the series is only yuri-ish, and is primarily a sports series. However, one of the many crinkles in this supposition is the fact that an opposing team coach, Rinka Inui (voiced by Chinatsu Akasaki), is overly excited to see her “senpai”, Shino. Her entire demeanor to changes when she sees Shino. I found this funny because it shows that Rinka and Shino have cool demeanors when preparing for a match, but have different personalities otherwise. In some ways, it makes me think of the dual personalities of the characters in Yuri Is My Job! who act one way in front of patrons and another way in private.

While saying this, I enjoyed the fact that Ippon Again! is all about the love for the game (in this case judo) rather than about winning. The series ends with main protagonists losing to a better team, which has a powerful blond-haired exchange student named Emma Duran (voiced by Akira Sekine). There seems to be the message that you should love who you are, no matter your body type, coupled with the value of teamwork, and having fun, even if you lose. One character, Michi, even laments that they could have spent their summer getting boyfriends instead, but admits she enjoys the company of her fellow teammates.

Even so, I found it unfortunate that some character development can be weak. For example, in the final episode, Sanae calls herself nothing but a “burden”, and is reassured by Himeno. However, such character traits for Sanai are only hinted and implied in other episodes of the series, showing that such a focus could have been emphasized more consistently in the show as a whole. In fact, the young adult animated series, RWBY, does a much better job of this: the character Ruby Rose blows up on her teammates as her trauma and low self-esteem comes to a head, with her going to even more extreme measures in another episode.

Surely, Ippon Again! is different, but it could have had character development, for all its characters, as good as RWBY. Perhaps another season could expand upon this. Sadly, it very unlikely the series will get a second season. Nowadays, many anime only run for 11-13 episodes, and never come back for more, in contrast to Western animation which, generally, run for longer.

Ippon Again! comes at a time that various anime with direct and in-direct yuri themes are airing, such as the Kuma Kuma Kuma Bear, Alice Gear Aegis Expansion, Tokyo Mew Mew New season 2, and Yuri is My Job!, or have ended including the D4DJ and The Magical Revolution of the Reincarnated Princess and Genius Young Lady. Soon, Mobile Suit Gundam: The Witch from Mercury season 2 will be airing, as will season 2 of Birdie Wing. Unlike those series, I’m not sure that Ippon Again! will have staying power, but I’ll surely remember it for its judo fights, strong animation, music, and yuri subtext.

Ippon Again! is currently streaming on HIDIVE.

© 2023 Burkely Hermann. All rights reserved.

The Magical Revolution of the Reincarnated Princess and the Genius Young Lady (Spoiler-Filled) Review

Anis talks to Euphyllis

The Magical Revolution of the Reincarnated Princess and the Genius Young Lady, known as Tensei Oujo to Tensai Reijou no Mahou Kakumei or MagiRevo for short, is a yuri isekai directed by Shingo Tamaki. It is based on a Japanese light novel series by Piero Karasu and illustrated by Yuri Kisaragi, which was later adapted into an ongoing manga. The series was produced by Japanese anime studio, Diomedéa. 

Reprinted from Pop Culture Maniacs and Wayback Machine. This was the twenty-eighth article I wrote for Pop Culture Maniacs. This post was originally published on March 30, 2023.

This animated series primarily centers on a Princess named Anisphia “Anis” Wynn Palettia (voiced by Sayaka Senbongi). She remembers her previous life, love of magic, and tries to turn these fantasies into reality. By accident, she comes upon her brother, Algard, who is breaking off his romantic engagement with Euphyllia “Euphie” (voiced by Manaka Iwami). He publicly declares his love for another woman. After she whisks Euphie on her magic broom, she convinces her father to let Euphie come live with her, become her magic assistant, and help restore her royal credibility.

Unlike yuri isekai, such as The Executioner and Her Way of Life or I’m in Love with the Villainess, this series focuses on a reincarnated princess living her second life. In fact, Anis, applies what she remembers about witches from her previous life in Japan, to this new world, to move it into toward social, or industrial, revolution.

MagiRevo mixes dramatic and slow scenes with bloody battles. Anis the “Marauder Princess” fights magical monsters and takes parts of them for herself. Through it all, Anis becomes the heart of the series. She deals with her father, King Orfans II Palletia (voiced by Kenji Hamada), who dislikes her. Furthermore, her trusted maid Ilia Coral (voiced by Ai Kakuma), becomes her sister of sorts.

The series remains engaging due to the Anis’ determination to study science to create magical gadgets. This is coupled with Euphie becoming more sure of herself. While this happens, both women slowly develop feelings for one another.

In some ways, Anis gives off a vibe similar to Chisato in Lycoris Recoil. Other scenes are reminiscent of I’m the Villainess, So I’m Taming the Final Boss, but there are more similarities to a 50-episode webcomic, The Girlfriend Project, which ended last year.

The aforementioned webcomic is set on Earth, and centers on two girls: one from a wealthy family (Ryn) and another from a working-class family (Julia). This anime echoes some of themes. The webcomic and this series both focus on finding one’s self, confronting privilege, and dealing with obstinate family members.

However, MagiRevo has more drama and meddling male characters, such as a jealous prince named Asgard (voiced by Shogo Sakata). He is the equivalent of an over-controlling woman, such as Ryn’s mother, since he wants to gain power by any means necessary.

MagiRevo depicts monarchies as slow-moving and bureaucratic. The King does administrative work, as does the Prime Minister (and father of Euphie) Grantz Magenta (voiced by Tomohiro Tsuboi). Anis takes bold action without needing anyone’s approval. In one episode, she even brings Euphie with her to slay a dragon while the royal council is deciding what to do, enraging him.

This contrasts, in more ways than one, with the “benevolent“/”enlightened” monarchy shown in Elena of Avalor, or the incompetent one in Disenchantment. This is partially because the King in MagiRevo is a reformist, as his Grantz, while he fights against institutionalists and conservatives among the royal ruling class.

MagiRevo more than a yuri isekai. Anis is very principled, which influences Euphie to see the potential for a society with inventions created by Anis. Such qualities are enhanced by her character’s sweet nature. She says that magicians should use their magic “to make other smile”, rather than to hurt others.

Anis even creates special weapons for Euphie and believes she can make a better world. In other ways, how Anis acts is an indicator of how someone can have independence, even under monarchy, as Elena does, to an extent, in Elena of Avalor.

The villa where Anis lives shares similarities with the Cursed Princess Club in the webcomic of the same name, in that she brings in those who don’t have another home. For example, Anis saved her maid, Ilia, from a marriage she didn’t want, and Euphie after Prince Asgard dumped her.

Even so, Anis can be reckless, making her more than happy to help Euphie become more certain with herself, and recognize what to do with her life. She also goes to extreme lengths to ensure she can use a power akin to magic. What this means for Anis, is that she implants crystals from a powerful dragon into her body which turns her “into a monster” as the dragon cursed her.

While Prince Algard is a villain without repute, it is funny how Anis intentionally, or unintentionally, shatters his plans. In the end of the fourth episode, Anis and Euphie fly off to fight the dragon while Algard tries to convince the King into fighting the dragon on his own while threatening his authority. This is supported by the fact that Anis has more experience, as a high-ranking adventurer, while it is not known if Algard has any battle experience.

MagiRevo is woven together nicely. Other than the cuteness of the show itself, the writers did a good job with the story. Unlike some other series, they don’t jump into a relationship between Euphie and Anis. Instead, it is built up over time, making it a slow burn. There are nice scenes of them Euphie together, including when they fight alongside one another, or slow dance at the end of episode 5, even complete with a mutual marriage/relationship proposal.

That is not unique, as the strained friendship between protagonists Catra and Adora is the central theme of She-Ra and the Princesses of Power. Another recent example is the canonized relationship between Blake Belladonna and Yang Xiao Long in the ninth season/volume of RWBY, a young adult animated series. As such, this makes MagiRevo one of the recent series which has employed a queer slow burn between its characters, something which certain creators prefer over other storytelling methods.

The latter half of MagiRevo builds on what happened in the first half. Even characters such as Tilty Caret, the research partner of Anis, and Lainie Cyan, have more of a role. For Tilty, it means studying curses and medicines, but for Lainie, it involves unknowingly using their power to influence others, a “power of fascination”. This was coupled with an novel explanation of “vampires” as humans who manipulate people’s thoughts rather than sucking blood.

The show’s writers did a good job constructing the friendship, and later romantic feelings, between Anis and Euphie. Both complement each other in some many ways, with Euphie as more practical in her attempt to trying to sell the idea of magicology concocted by her friend, Anis, to those who are skeptical. Their connection is only enhanced later in the series, with Euphie going along with Anis, who believed she had to accept her royal birthright.

These plotlines are expanded in MagiRevo with the presence of various enemies. The brother of Anis, Algard, wants to take power for his own gain. He goes to extremes in an effort to change the kingdom, even stabbing himself in the chest with a magic crystal, and fighting his sister. Their battle is only stopped by Euphie in the nick of time.

Algard embodies a similar toxicity present in Cassandra in Tangled. The latter is manifested in her actions against Rapunzel, when being manipulated by Zhan Tri. It is also displayed by the traumatized Ash Graven in Final Space after Invictus controlled her toward her former crew members, and an angry catgirl named Catra in She-Ra and the Princess of Power toward the princesses (and Adora herself). Algard is off his rocker and not being dictated by anyone else. This is his own off-the-wall plan. It ends in his banishment to the borderlands and Anis re-inherited as a princess.

One of the well-constructed aspects of MagiRevo is the internal struggle Anis has to confront when faced with the prospect of becoming queen. She does not want this, but resigns herself to it, even though this means abandoning her passion for magicology. The fact that Euphie sees through this, and tries to do whatever she can to ensure that Anis doesn’t become queen, is a testament to her character! In fact, Euphie even agrees to take up a spirit contract with Lumi so she can enter the royal family, and will live forever, as she will become a spirit.

The last two episodes of MagiRevo bring home everything that has happened in the series. Anis tries to hold onto her identity as a princess and doesn’t want it to be to be stripped away. I liked that Euphie directly challenges this mentality, coming off so strong that they end up fighting one another in the final episode.

Although Anis is unsuccessful, and Euphie wins the fight, they still respect one another. This isn’t a series where they break apart, but grow closer instead. In fact, Anis even confides in Euphie that she has memories from her past life and wonders whether she is “real” or “fake”, with Euphie providing the reassurance that she is human after all.

The final episode ended very powerfully in terms of the romantic development between Anis and Euphie, including multiple kisses, and implied sex. This wasn’t something new in the series, as they are shown sleeping together many times. Unfortunately, Anis’ father declares that Euphie is her “sister” now, a oft-used trope in anime. However, it appears that Euphie is only a sister on paper and a formality, as both of them are not related by blood.

The final episode sets the stage for a possible second season, with the King and Queen stepping down, becoming simple farmers, making way for Euphie and Anis as the new rulers. The latter both commission flying ships which remind me of those in the classic 2000s Disney films Atlantis: The Lost Empire and Atlantis: Milo’s Return. Whether that was intentional on the part of the character designers, or they were basing them on the manga, I don’t know. In any case, the series ends on a strong note, with Euphie and Anis flying in the sky together, while Lainie becomes an apprentice of Illa.

The voice cast is a strength of MagiRevo. Protagonists Euphie, Anis, and Ilia are voiced by Manaka Iwami, Sayaka Senbongi, and Ai Kakuma. These individuals have experience voicing characters in Fruits Basket, Re:Zero, Love Live! Nijigasaki High School Idol Club, Spy × Family, The Demon Girl Next Door, I’ve Been Killing Slimes for 300 Years and Maxed Out My Level, and As Miss Beelzebub Likes.

Additional cast are newer to voiceover work, such as Hina Yomiya (who voices Lainie Cyan) and Arisa Kinami. Others are more seasoned, like Kenji Hamada, Shogo Sakata, Tomohiro Tsuboi, Hiromichi Tezuka and Yū Sasahara (who voices Tilty Claret).

The voices of the characters of MagiRevo are reinforced by the writing, plot, and animation style of MagiRevo. In the case of the latter, the show’s animation studio, Diomedéa, is skilled with animating Squid Girl, Riddle Story of Devil, Girlish Number, and Beatless. But, this is their first yuri series they have worked on.

In any case, the fight with the dragon in the show’s fifth episode, the battles that lead up to it, and Euphie saving Anis after she falls from the sky, to give a few examples, are emblematic of the amazing animation quality of MagiRevo.

The writer of this anime, Wataru Watari, has just as much experience. He was the screenwriter and creator My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU, but worked on various other series, including Qualidea Code, Girlish Number, Domestic Girlfriend, Get Up! Get Live!, and The Saint’s Magic Power is Omnipotent. Watari is not alone in this, as series director Shingo Tamaki worked on some of the same series, along with others, like Fuuka, Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha, and Future Diary.

MagiRevo is supported by Moe Hyuga, music composer for the series. He has composed music on some shows I’ve watched in the past, like Heroines Run the Show and If My Favorite Pop Idol Made it to the Budokan, I Would Die, and those I haven’t seen, like O Maidens in Your Savage Season and Steins;Gate 0.

Hyuga’s music matches the show’s scenes, accompanying the action and drama, making it more impactful. A series can do well, or poorly, depending on its music score, and this series excels in that regard, in more ways than one.

The series grapples with the issues of class discrimination and division in society. It also touches on the topic of parental abuse, which some might think is treated “poorly” in the series. Such a perception is incorrect. Instead, the series primarily shows that the Anis’ parents don’t know what do with her. They see her as a bit of a wild child. They learn that she is much more than that and has vulnerabilities just like them. As a result, they bond with her and provide her support as she deals with her personal struggles. Hopefully this can be expanded in a second season.

MagiRevo comes at a time that LGBTQ representation in Western media is declining. GLAAD, which partners with major companies, recently admitted this in their “Where We Are on TV” report. They stated that 29% of characters in television programs will not be returning either because of a character dying, leaving the show, or the show being cancelled, ended, or shelved.

In contrast, despite overwork, and bad working conditions, in the anime industry, yuri anime continue to be produced. This year, apart from MagiRevo, the yurish Ippon Again! is airing, as is Soaring Sky! PreCure, while Nijiyon Animation and D4DJ All Mix ended.

This series sets a high standard for other yuri series in the future. With the premiere of new seasons of Tokyo Mew Mew New, Birdie Wing, Mobile Suit Gundam: The Witch from Mercury, and Kuma Kuma Kuma Bear in April, as well as the debut of Yuri is My Job!, it remains to be seen if these series will be as impactful.

The same can be said for Genjitsu no Yohane: Sunshine in the Mirror (airing in July), The Vexations of a Shut-In Vampire Princess (airing in October), Whisper Me a Love Song (airing in January 2024), and I’m in Love with the Villainess and Hoshikuzu Telepath which will air at some point this year. This is also the case for Love Live! Nijigasaki High School Idol Club Next Sky (an OVA), Young Ladies Don’t Play Fighting Games, Vampeerz, Laid-Back Camp season 3, and I’ve Been Killing Slimes for 300 Years and Maxed Out My Level season 2, which are in development.

MagiRevo, otherwise known as The Magical Revolution of the Reincarnated Princess and the Genius Young Lady, is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.

© 2023 Burkely Hermann. All rights reserved.

Kiff Review

Kiff is a musical comedy animated series by Lucy Heavens and Nic Smal. They are known for their work in the animation industry, either script writing, storyboarding, or voice acting. This post will have spoilers.

Reprinted from Pop Culture Maniacs and Wayback Machine. This was the twenty-seventh article I wrote for Pop Culture Maniacs. This post was originally published on March 27, 2023.

The plot of Kiff focuses on a young flying squirrel named Kiff Chatterley (voiced by Kimiko Glenn), who is friends with a mellow bunny named Barry Buns (H. Michael Croner) in a magical land, within the mountains, known as Table Town. Both go on adventures in and around the town.

Like other Disney series airing this year, Kiff is aimed at kids and families. This is clear from the format, similar to many episodes of Amphibia, Milo Murphy’s Law, and Phineas and Ferb. Each 22-minute episode is divided into two 11-minute segments. In typical Disney fashion, there is a musical number in almost every episode.

Apart from the animating powerhouse of Disney Television Animation, a well-known animation studio, Titmouse, is producing the series. The same studio is known for series such as Cleopatra in Space, Star Trek: Lower Decks, The Midnight Gospel, Q-Force, Inside Job, Pantheon, My Dad the Bounty Hunter,  The Legend of Vox Machina, Fairfax, and Chicago Party Aunt.

Many of the voice actors in Kiff are well-experienced. Glenn previously voiced Paperstar in Carmen Sandiego, Katherine-Alice in Welcome to the Wayne, Tomiko in Elena of Avalor, and Nomi in Dogs in Space, to name a few roles. Deedee Magno Hall, who voices Deer Teacher in the series, is best known for voicing Pearl in Steven Universe. Furthermore, James Monroe Iglehart and Lauren Ash, who voice Kiff’s parents, prominently voiced characters in series such as Tangled, Helluva Boss, Elena of Avalor, and She-Ra and the Princesses of Power.

Keen listeners might recognize Rachel House, voice of Barry’s mother, or Nichole Sakura, voice of Barry’s sister. Both had prominent voice roles in Moana and OK K.O.!: Let’s Be Heroes. Personally, I was familiar with voice actors Katie Crown and Rhys Darby because they voiced characters in Cleopatra in Space. The former also voiced Ivy in Amphibia. Furthermore, Darby voiced a variety of characters in Milo Murphy’s Law, We Bare Bears, Welcome to the Wayne, Star vs. the Forces of Evil, and Infinity Train. It was great to hear Vella Vowell, who voices Candle Fox, again. I remembered her impressive voice acting as Princess Mermista in She-Ra and the Princesses of Power and as the No Tattoo Barista (which later turned into a CBD Monster) in the lesser-known Magical Girl Friendship Squad.

Kiff snagged the well-regarded Eric Bauza and Tom Kenny. From my years of watching animated series, I was familiar with Bauza as Scoops in Ollie & Scoops, as well as Kenny for two roles: Ice King in Adventure Time and Yancy Fry in Futurama. In this series, Bauza voices Reggie and a scrupulous TV producer named Roy Fox, while Kenny voices multiple characters in the series. A stand-up comedian named Josh Johnson also voices Barry’s brother, Harry.

 

The show’s animation is expressive and colorful. However, it pales in comparison to Amphibia, The Owl House, or Adventure Time. In some ways, Phineas and Ferb is put together better, as is Milo Murphy’s Law. All in all, the show is a bit funny, but not laugh-out-loud funny. Drama is more a strong suit for the series than comedy.

The first twelve episodes of the series are double-episodes. They introduce viewers to the characters, allowing you to get a feeling for their lives. More than anything, they make it clear that Kiff is not serialized like Steven Universe, Tangled, or Milo Murphy’s Law (especially the second season). Instead, each episode seems in its own world, without being connected to another. If some rumors are correct about upcoming Hailey’s On It! and Iwaju, it appears that Disney series are moving in this direction. This is evidenced by the fact that the recently aired Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur uses serialized storytelling.

The first twelve episodes of the series is is a double-episode. They introduce viewers to the characters, allowing you to get a feeling for their lives. More than anything, it is clear that the series is not serialized similar to Steven Universe, Tangled, or Milo Murphy’s Law (especially the second season). Instead, each of the episodes seems in its own world, without being connected to one another. If some rumors are correct, it appears that Disney series are moving in this direction. However, the recently aired Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur uses serialized storytelling as does the upcoming Hailey’s On It! and Iwaju, if reports are correct.

Kiff has some elements reminding me of the Futurama episode openings, like fake adverts at the beginning of each episode. At the same time, the series is different than what has come before since the show creators, Heavens and Smal, who voice characters in the series, are from Cape Town, South Africa. As a result, their life-stories are undoubtedly integrated into the series itself. Furthermore, the show’s directors include animators for Black Dynamite, 6Teen, and Amphibia, with this career experience enhancing the show even more.

The series emphasizes the importance of acceptance, friendship, self-worth, and notoriety. The latter is shown in the extreme by Roy Fox, who makes trashy reality shows in order to profit from people’s misery. In a manner similar to the focus on education in many anime series, Kiff seems to imply that education is important to achieving your dreams and that school shouldn’t be skipped, no matter what. This stands diametrically opposed to what is shown in Birdie Wing: Eve, one of the show’s protagonists, is a terrible student, but remains at the premiere golf academy because she is a sports star.

There are many other themes focused in Kiff. For instance, the episode “Career Day”, when Kiff and Barry get a part-time job at city hall, implies that mass records destruction is fine as long as you cut through the “red tape”. This contrasts with commentary about overly technical bureaucracy in Hilda and Futurama, to name two series. Such a negative theme in “Career Day” is offset by episodes which accentuate family togetherness and honesty.

As a person who has reviewed media with libraries and librarians in pop culture since July 2020, and with a MLIS degree, it should be no surprise one of my favorite episodes of Kiff was “Club Book”. In he episode, Kiff learns the value of quietness in the library after turning the library into a club scene. I thought it was interesting that the librarian, voiced by Aparna Nancherla, is made more relatable than most. Her character, Miss Moufflé, somewhat bucking stereotypes, while reinforcing them at the same time, as she shushes people but also likes souffles.

Similar to other series, the value of libraries as a place of knowledge and learning is affirmed in Kiff. In some ways, the episode reminded me of the “Quiet Riot” episode of The Replacements, in which the show’s protagonist, Todd, causes the shushing librarian in charge of the school library replaced by a rockstar. However, he later regrets his decision, resulting in the original librarian returning to her job.

Currently, Kiff is almost half-way through its series order of 30 episodes. It is hard to know where the series will go from here. Even so. I am more optimistic about this series than Hamster & Gretel, which has fallen flat, despite the fact that Dan Povenmire is the show’s creator. Instead, the series has episodes somewhat mimicking absurdity and, even hilarity (to an extent), which are present in Phineas and Ferb. The latter, in fact, was recently renewed for more two seasons.

Even so, Kiff will probably never measure-up to the strength of four-season animated magical comedy powerhouse of Phineas and Ferb, a series even mentioned in an episode of Better Things, a comedy-drama by Pamela Adlon, who voiced some characters in the series. Despite this, Kiff will chart its own path, perhaps different than what has come before. After all, both creators are said to be a “brilliant creative team”.

Although Disney has recently removed release dates from the upcoming Tiana and Moana series, clearly Kiff is part of a trend by the company to feature more diverse series. This year is bound to bring series such as Iwáju and Hailey’s On It!, while there are others in production such as Cookies & Milk and Primos.

It is further possible that Disney is producing Molly Ostertag’s Neon Galaxy, a series reportedly about a trans princess. In any case, diverse series are on the horizon for Disney, especially more than HBO Max, a network which has been struggling to find its corporate identity since David Zaslav became CEO of Warner Bros. Discovery conglomerate. It is said that the streaming service has Iyanu: Child of Wonder and Lumberjanes in production.

The first 12 episodes of Kiff are currently airing on Disney+ and all twelve episodes have aired on the Disney Channel. Four new episodes will air on the Disney Channel on April 1st and later be added on Disney+.

© 2023 Burkely Hermann. All rights reserved.

What the World Thinks of “Velma”

A compilation of some headlines about Velma from various publications since the series debuted in January 2023, showing different views of the series.

Since its debut on HBO Max on January 12, 2023, Velma, the mature animated mystery horror comedy series has made the rounds either on social media platforms like Tumblr, Facebook, and Tik Tok, or in rants by YouTubers, who are hate-watching the series while trying to monetize off people’s anger. The series reception has been mixed, with reported “overwhelmingly negative” reviews from the audience, if the show’s Wikipedia page is to be believed, with reviewers focusing on issues with the show itself.

Reprinted from Pop Culture Maniacs and Wayback Machine. This was the twenty-sixth article I wrote for Pop Culture Maniacs. This post was originally published on March 9, 2023.

Reviewers have argued that the audience reception of Velma is negative, citing audience scores from Rotten Tomatoes, commentary by people on Twitter, low ratings on IMDB, Metacritic, and Google. However, none of those scores are a reliable measure of whether a series, film, or other media is worthwhile to watch. In fact, there is the phenomenon of review bombing, which is undoubtedly the case with Velma, as it was with High Guardian Spice and Magical Girl Friendship Squad. It is when a small group of people give a series, film, or other media, low ratings, causing the overall rating to plummet.

This is further evidenced by the fact that RWBY, a captivating young adult animated series which recently began its ninth season/volume this year, has only about 6,500 ratings on IMDB, while Velma has over 70,000. Over those “users”, about 87% gave the rating of 1 star. Furthermore, the fact that Velma has tens of thousands more ratings than Steven Universe or She-Ra and the Princesses of Power, both of which ran for multiple seasons, makes it clear that people review-bombed the series.

One of the many reviews of the series came from Parade magazine. The publication declared that the series premiere “fell flat” with fans, citing Twitter users who called it a “disappointment”, and stated that the show downplayed the #MeToo movement. It also noted that some on the social media platform claimed the show had a writing style of making “brown girls that hate themselves,” portraying Indian girls as “losers”, made Velma a self-insert for Mindy Kaling (who voices Velma), and called it “vulgar”. To add to this, on the show’s official account, in tweets possibly written by Kaling in the tone of her character, Daphne is described as a character who will be known “for much more than being hot”, implying that Velma has feelings for her. Additionally, Velma expresses jealousy that Daphne has two “hilarious moms” and describes them as “Daphne’s police officer moms“.

While there is no doubt that the comedic writing of the series isn’t always the best, it admittedly flew over my head at times, I don’t believe there are any self-hating characters. While Velma seems that she is “self-hating”, in reality, she gets more depth as the series moves forward. No character is, by the end of the first season, shown as a loser. In terms of vulgarity, it is important to remember that vulgar means “of the common people“, and it can be a charge leveled against LGBTQ+ people (and content).

In contrast, Ed Power of The Telegraph, a conservative British tabloid, claimed that the series “sexualized” teens, has “juvenile humor” and treats Fred as a stereotype. He also said the series is not “clever or subversive”, but it rather an “accumulation of bad decisions”, and claimed that the “left” and “right” united against the series. He also declared that some online had taken issue with Kaling’s political views.

While I’m not sure about her exact political views are, apart from speaking out against White producers, it is important to remember she is only an executive producer of the series and is not even the series creator (that’s Charlie Grandy). So, it seems wrong to say the series is “hers”. Otherwise, Fred is no stereotype, as his character somewhat grows over the course of the series.

As noted earlier, some people have criticized Kaling’s views, including when she liked a tweet of transphobe J.K. Rowling at one point. However, she is only part of the crew, as there are many other people working on Velma. In any case, it is better to examine the show’s positives and negatives instead of just on the views of one individual.

Furthermore, other than the shower scene in the first episode (which seems to be a reference to similar scenes in horror films), it does not appear that the series sexualizes anyone. Velma has nothing like the ecchi-esque themes in My Dress-Up Darling, cringe-worthy scenes in Akebi’s Sailor Uniform, sexual assault in Citrus, or the protagonist of The Great Jahy Will Not Be Defeated!, Jahy, who wears a dirty long t-shirt and shorts (and a revealing outfit after she transforms into her demon form for temporary period of time). All of these series have fan service up the wazoo. In contrast, Velma does not have that.

As for being “clever” and “subversive”, I would argue that Velma was never attempting to do either. Nor is the series a complete waste of time and energy as Nadria Goffe of Slate argued. I disagree with Goffe’s claim that the show is misogynist, based on actions in the series by female characters and the fact that some (like Velma’s stepmom) are toxic. At the same time, I agree that “race-swapped rebranding” can be good, when its done well.

One of the more interesting aspects of Velma is how many of the relationships of the protagonists with their families are rocky, and unhealthy. There are too many series, especially in animation, which portray families as positive and without problems. While that is the case for some people, it isn’t the case for many others. One example of this is how Velma doesn’t always get along with her dad, and even less with her stepmother, and another instance is how controlling Fred’s parents can be of his life. This contrasts with Norville, who remains supported by his parents through it all.

It also differs from the relationship Daphne has with her two detective moms. The series bucks the trope of finding your “real” parents, since Daphne believes that she is reconnecting with her birth parents (Brenda and Darryl), who are members of the Crystal Mines gang,. But, it turns out they are just manipulating her. Even so, the reunion of Velma with her two moms afterward cannot compare with the heartfelt revelation of Turanga Leela’s two parents in the fourth season of Futurama.

Goffe states that they don’t know who the show is made for. I’d presume that the series is made for Indian-American women, and other adults, but that’s just my guess. I also disagree with the argument by Shirley Li, of The Atlantic, that the series punishes its audience for being invested in the characters. In fact, I would argue that the series does reward viewers to some extent, as Daphne and Velma, especially, become more relatable, despite their personality flaws, in some regards.

Aysia Iftikar of Pink News noted that fans have relentlessly criticized the series, citing the show for “perpetuating stereotypes against South Asian women…poor attempts at self-aware comedy and…losing the essence of what people love about the Scooby Doo gang.” She also stated that some took issue with the “crude” adult humor and said the show “annihilated” the character of Velma in previous iterations. Those are of Indian descent would have a different view of the series than me, as a White man, so I can’t, personally, speak to any possible stereotypes in the series when it comes to South Asian women. On the other hand, I agree with those who argue that Kaling is being held to an “impossible standard” as compared to other producers and creators.

Much of the aforementioned criticism seems to stem from the fact that Velma is a stark contrast from its predecessors. There is no rule that reboots or revivals have to be the same as the original series. To give an example, The Proud Family: Louder and Prouder is different from The Proud Family, as it is more glitzy than its predecessor. So, it is no surprise that Velma would not have the same structure, humor, or plot than those Scooby-Doo series that came before it, which were aimed at all-ages, rather than adults. This is especially the case since Scooby-Doo is not part of the series, which is an understandable decision.

Comments by the above-mentioned reviewers pale in comparison to Taylor Henderson’s review on Pride.com, which states that Velma doesn’t “live up to the hype” and is a “crude, cliche, self-aware…incoherently violent…thinking mess of a series”. He adds that bisexual energy from Velma and Daphne doesn’t “save” the series. The latter sentiment was echoed by Heather Hogan of Autostraddle. While there is undeniably “hype” around the series, and it surely is crude and cliche, and even self-aware, I have to laugh at the comment about “incoherent” violence in the series.

The series is much tamer, in its violence, than the Indian Tegulu blockbuster film, RRR, which includes a scene of British colonists mauled by wild animals, the extreme violence in Akiba Maid War (especially in the first episode), the blood-filled scenes throughout The Legend of Vox Machina, or the occasionally gruesome scenes in gen:LOCK, especially in the last season. Perhaps Velma is a mess, as Henderson points out, but it has some merits.

Joshua Alston of Variety magazine posed similar arguments, calling the series “irreverent to a fault”, designed to be “labeled a childhood-ruining travesty”, and said while Velma centers Velma’s queer identity, it is not groundbreaking. Alston also says the characters are “unpleasant” to spend time around, notes the number of pop culture references and referential jokes”, and asks why the show needs to exist at all.

Alston makes good points, in terms of the number of reference to pop culture or referential jokes, and the fact that the show isn’t groundbreaking, considering the recent LGBTQ animated characters in The Proud Family: Louder and Prouder, RWBY: Ice Queendom, Dead End: Paranormal Park, and Star Trek: Lower Decks, to name a few. At the same time, I would argue that the characters are designed to be unpleasant and not-all-together likable. I see a likeness to the Never Have I Ever protagonist Devi Vishwakumar. She is not the most likable person, and can be a jerk to people, with her behavior said to make her a “real person” in the eyes of some.

Angie Han, TV critic for The Hollywood Reporter, takes a different tact. She says that the series employs many common tropes, is extremely self-aware, is like Riverdale, and states that the characters are “joke-delivery machines” rather than individuals. She further says that Velma doesn’t lose sight of the affection for the heroine, has thoughtful and emotionally honest moments, and criticizes the emphasis on “snark over heart,” noting that is something the show could “stand to consider for itself.”

In terms of the reviewers I noted so far in this post, I agree with Han above any of the others because she is more fair and less negative. One of the show’s weaknesses is that it falls in line with the same tropes in shows like Riverdale, just as Wednesday does repeatedly. But, Velma does not include the harmful anti-Black underones that Wednesday has, in part because Black characters are not villains in this series. The jokes can be stale and the pop culture references will mean little if it is watched a few years from now, just as similar humor in Futurama doesn’t land as well now as it did when it aired. On the other hand, the show’s emotional honesty and thoughtfulness at times are some of the strongest moments.

There are a few more reviews I’d like to mention before ending this post. One of those is from Liz Shannon Miller in Consequence. She argues that there is “too much jammed into this series” and that there is “no clear focus”. She also states that the series feels toned down as compared to mature animation currently in development, while truing to be “super-edgy”.

On the other hand, Miller praises the voice acting and the “bright, poppy, and fun” animation, and criticizes the writing as inadequate. I’d have to agree as the writing can be lackluster, but would say that although the show’s focus can be disparate, it is be strongest when Velma or Daphne are solving mysteries of their own, whether about birth parents (in the case of Daphne) or an evil scientist switching brains (in the case of Velma).

Richard Roeper of the Chicago Sun-Times and Darren Franich of Entertainment Weekly said the same thing as Miller. Roeper criticized the jokes and humor as exhausting, the writing as subpar, while praising the casting as diverse. Franich described the show as a “new bland, a deconstructed canonical bonanza pulled right off the corporate assembly line” and stated that Harley Quinn, also on HBO Max, is better constructed, and stronger, an argument with some merit. This is undoubtedly the case as Velma does try and poke at storytelling methods, like flashbacks and callbacks, but Harley Quinn does the same more effectively.

The views of Roeper and Miller are aligned with what is stated on the show’s Rotten Tomatoes page: that the show has “plenty of attitude and style” but does not have the “first clue for how to turn its clever subversion into engaging fun.” For one, I would argue that the series is more dramatic than funny, although it’s writing can be lacking, it is not bland. It is different than previous iterations, but is not “subversive”. Kaling, herself, never described the series that way.

In an October 2022 review, she told Entertainment Weekly that it was fun to voice Velma, that she and Charles? Grandy were “inspired by Into the Spider-Verse”, said that with animation they could do anything, and stated “the essence of Velma is not necessarily tied to her whiteness…I identify so much as her character…so many people do…[so we decided,] let’s make her Indian in this series.” She further said that Velma is the hart of the show, that she is a “big fan of Scooby Doo,” and that Velma felt like the best character “to handle a scarier environment” similar to Veronica Mars and Riverdale. In addition, Grandy said the idea of the series is not to “completely replace” previous shows, but just to be a “one little weird ice planet in the Scoobyverse.”

In his article, Toon4Thought puts it well. He argued that he didn’t mind changes to characters or get behind the “visceral hatred” for Velma Instead, he criticized the show’s writing and praised the actual mystery as “engaging enough”. He added that the writing for the characters feels “very haphazard” and more like Family Guy than a dramatic character-driven story. Even so, he argued that the show could use a rewrite to fix inconsistencies in characters and balance humor, but  said that people were disingenuous with approaching the series, especially with claims it was a “franchise killer”. He concluded by saying that, overall, the show was a letdown, with clumsy and unfocused writing, and said that while an audience can demand better and rip media to shreds, “we also can and should not be assholes about it.”

I have to agree with Toon4Thought, even more than others I’ve mentioned in this post. Before Velma, I’ve watched shows strongly disliked, by a core group of people, such as gen:LOCK and High Guardian Spice, and especially enjoyed watching the latter. However, Velma was nothing like either of those series. Sometimes, the show made good points, like in the seventh episode when Velma crossdresses as a guy named “Manny”, everyone appreciates her worst qualities, and the series makes fun of how a guy can “do anything” and their male power. In addition, there is a social commentary in the final episode about human experimentation, corporate power, and even hypnosis. However, the latter is not as evocative as that in Jordan Peele’s well-known horror film, Get Out, where the protagonist, Chris Washington, is hypnotized to purportedly “cure” his addiction to smoking.

This brings me to two reviews from CBR. In the first of these, by Sean Migalla, argued that the series “struggled” through the first season, with a “lack of commitment” to plotlines, but can “find its footing” in a second season. He also said the second season wouldn’t be under the microscope as much as the first season. The second, by Joshua M. Patton, argued that the show is indicative of an “identity crisis” among new owners of HBO Max (Warner Bros. Discovery), calling it a “callous remixing” of Scooby-Doo which would do better if it was family-friendly. He concludes that it pushed boundaries in “desperate reach for an edge” and is formulaic in contrast to Harley Quinn.

Part of what Migalla and Patton are talking about is indicative in episode 8 of Velma, which appears to make fun of flashbacks and their use in storylines, with the flashbacks of each of the main characters intersecting with each other. That same episode further reinforces their arguments, as there are many intersecting plotlines, callbacks to the original series, and romantic drama. Patton is right that the show tries to be edgy. For example, in episode 9, Norville makes fun of Teddy Roosevelt as a murderous imperialist, but never expands upon his one-off comment. The new owners of HBO Max may be in a bit of a crisis of identity over the company’s new CEO, David Zaslav, engaging in a content purge, angering many animators.

Apart from these reviews is an article by Kate Francis in Digital Spy. She notes the “abject disappointment” of fans over Velma, and hopes that the series can take in the feedback of fans and “come back swinging with fresh Scooby content soon.” While I have my criticisms of the series, I hope that what Francis is talking about happens, and the second season of the series allows the show to blossom, coming back even stronger than before.

© 2023 Burkely Hermann. All rights reserved.

Velma Review

Velma is a mature animated series which mixes the genres of mystery, comedy horror, and thriller. It is based on characters from the Scooby-Doo franchise and is an origin story, of sorts, for Velma Dinkley, before the formation of Mystery Incorporated. The series was developed by Charles Grandy. He previously created Guys with Kids, produced episodes of The Office, and has been a creative collaborator with Mindy Kaling, the voice of Velma, since 2013. This review will have spoilers.

Reprinted from Pop Culture Maniacs and Wayback Machine. This was the twenty-fifth article I wrote for Pop Culture Maniacs. This post was originally published on February 17, 2023.

The plot of Velma primarily centers around the story of Velma Dinkley. She attempts to uncover the perpetrator who murdered two local teenage girls, Brenda and Krista, and circumstances behind the her mother’s disappearance.

She is soon joined by school news reporter Norville Rogers (voiced by Sam Richardson). Her former best friend, and popular girl, Daphne Blake (voiced by Constance Wu) also helps her, since her quest to find her biological parents, draws her closer to Velma.

Unlike previous depictions, Velma is South Asian American, while Daphne is East Asian American, and Norville, often named “Shaggy” in previous Scooby-Doo iterations, is a Black man. This representation is reflected in the voice actors: Kaling is of Indian descent, Wu is of Taiwanese descent, and Richardson is a Black man of Ghanaian descent.

The only one of the original Mystery, Inc. crew who is portrayed as White is Fred Jones. He is a popular 16-year-old rich kid, heir of a fashion line for men, and said to be a “late bloomer“. Despite these negatives, Velma still has a crush on him. Voiced by Glenn Howerton, known for his role as Charlie Day in It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Fred is accused as the murder suspect of Brenda and Krista, despite lack of evidence which ties him to the crime.

Velma is differs from previous Scooby-Doo series by not featuring Scooby-Doo as a character. Grandy, one of the show’s executive producers, said that the show’s staff struggled to find a take on this beloved dog. This coincided with Warner Bros. Animation telling them “Hey, you can’t use the dog”, as Grandy recalled.

Apart from Kaling, Wu, and Richardson, the cast is relatively diverse, more than other Scooby-Doo series, including Black men, Black women, and actresses of Cuban, Chinese, Filipino, Malaysian, and Indian descent. This aligns with the focus of Kaling’s small-but-powerful production company, Kaling International, which founded in 2012 and described by Time magazine as telling stories about “inner lives of women of color” and stories of underdogs.

While in previous iterations, Velma has been in romantic relationships with men, her romantic attraction to women was hinted in episodes of Mystery Incorporated and in 2022 animated film, Trick or Treat Scooby-Doo! In contrast, Velma depicts her as bisexual, as she has a crush on Fred, and accepts Daphne’s feelings toward her. Like other versions, Norville has a crush on her, but it is not received by Velma, as it appears. This leads him, to later, date a cool girl named Gigi (voiced by Yvonne Orji).

Daphne has a crush on Velma, kissing her at the end of the second episode (as shown in the video above), causing her to go into a bit of a panic. She has crushes on men as well. Her actions are partially affected by her two incompetent police detective mothers: Donna and Linda. Both are voiced by lesbian actresses: Wanda Sykes and Jane Marie Lynch. Lynch previously voiced a lesbian character, Mrs. Roop, in The Ghost and Molly McGee, while Sykes voiced a lesbian character Deb, in Q-Force.

This representation is not limited to Daphne, Velma, Donna, and Linda. Cherry Jones, who voices the mother of Fred, Victoria, is a lesbian actress, as is Fortune Feminister, voice of popular girl Olive. Others are unambiguously queer, such as Nicole Byer, the voice of Crystal Cove High principal (and mother of Norville) Blythe Rogers, and Shay Mitchell, the voice of Brenda. This series appears to be the first voice acting role of Mitchell.

Despite this, the characters of Donna and Linda appear to reinforce the lesbian cop trope, which depicts adult lesbian characters as cops. This trope is said to make such characters more palatable to so-called “average people” in the U.S., if these women, mainly women of color, are “helping to uphold the systems that oppress them”.

These characters seem to fall into the has two moms / two dads trope, although such a trope ignores “traditional” views of family life necessitating a mother and father. In this case, Donna and Linda are the same gender as their parents, just as Barry and Randall Leibowitz-Jenkins are in The Proud Family: Louder and Prouder. In fact, Sykes had personally served as a former NSA contracting specialist for five years, something which could have influenced her role as a police detective in Velma.

This breaking of the nuclear family is present in Velma’s family, as her original mother, Diya Dinkley (voiced by Sarayu Blue), left. As a result, her father, Aman (voiced by Russell Peters), a lawyer, re-marries to Sophie (voiced by Melissa Fumero), owner of a malt shop in town and a pregnant model. The latter is often belittled by Velma.

While the first season spotlights Velma’s long, and strong, friendship with Daphne, with Velma even proposing they become girlfriends in episode 8, it ends with everything up in the air. As a result of the events in the show’s season one finale, Velma’s personal life is in shambles. This is unfortunate because the writers had a chance to make Velma/Daphne canon, but chose not to. Instead, they went the route of Never Have I Ever, Wednesday, and even Kashimashi Girl Meets Girl by setting the groundwork for a likely love triangle between Daphne, Velma, and Norville, but not Fred. Such a development shows the limitations of Velma.

Velma has been received by critics, and those on social media, with mixed reviews. Apart from the diverse cast and LGBTQ+ representation, I was drawn into the series as a new fan to the Scooby-Doo franchise. The dialogue can, sometimes, be snappy, funny, and witty, while the plot can move along smoothly. The characters, themselves, can be compelling enough to make viewers sympathize with them, but aren’t always this way.

Even though Velma is snarky, one can root for her at times, but not at others. The former is the case when she has horrifying hallucinations as she feels guilt for her mother’s disappearance. The only parallel that comes to mind is Julian Chase in gen:LOCK. Although he is only alive as a copy of himself, as his original body barely survived, he faces internal demons, which manifest in his memoryscape, while he faces external demons in the form of the Nemesi, who are “evil” copies of him.

While there is some similarity between both characters, Velma doesn’t face trauma akin to the terror Chase experiences. However, she still faces the crushing burdens and oppression of being a person of color, and is in part of some dangerous situations.

Velma sometimes cheapens its own protagonists, even making them unrelatable, at times. For instance, late in the season, Daphne begins a fake relationship with Fred so that both of them can become popular, even if it enrages Velma. Daphne also wants to become part of Jones Gentlemen’s Accessories, and is willing to put everything on the line.

On the other hand, Velma acts awful to everyone throughout the series, even acting like she is in a relationship with Norville to fool her mom, Diya, who is recovering her memory. She is probably even worse than the toxicity of Penny Proud’s long-time friends in The Proud Family: Louder and Prouder.

The series seemed to counter past claims about Norville’s supposed drug use, as he says he hates drugs, and is only shown to be a nerd who likes Velma. While he might appear to be a stoner, he is annoyed, in the second episode, when stoners are listening to his online show. Funny enough, his father Lamont (voiced by Gary Cole), has a design similar to what Norville looked like in previous iterations. The season one finale hints that Norville may begin trying drugs, possibly marijuana, at the suggestion from his father.

In addition, there is a focus on beauty norms, shut-shaming, human experimentation, and the over-bearing power of the government (especially the police). In terms of the latter, the town’s sheriff (voiced by Stephen Root), declares that they can’t catch a serial killer because “it is a ghost”, not because they are incompetent.

For example, in the fourth episode, it appears that Fred becomes a better person after reading The Feminine Mystique. Instead, Velma just sees him as problematic and gross, showing he hasn’t changed. His character somewhat improves as the series move forward, as he becomes more sure of himself.

The voice actors of Velma are seasoned, making the series strong in that regard. Many have experience in TV, film, and even theatre roles, or previously played characters on other projects by Kaling, like The Mindy Project and Never Have I Ever.

Furthermore, some voiced characters in Amphibia, Kim Possible, Milo Murphy’s Law, Phineas and Ferb, Glitch Techs, and Big City Greens, six all-ages series. Others provided voices in mature animations such as Close Enough, American Dad!, Family Guy, Bojack Horseman, Harley Quinn, Star Trek: Lower Decks, Pantheon, and Bob’s Burgers.

I had hoped that characters like Dandruff Tuba, voiced by Weird Al Yankovic, would be more prominent. The name was familar because he voiced Milo Murphy in Milo Murphy’s Law, a character with so much extreme misfortune and bad luck that he is prepared for any situation thanks to his handy backpack. Sadly, he was underutilized in the series.

The voice talent of Velma comes through with actors like Richardson, who is best known for voicing Richard Splett in Veep. Also, Wu voiced the Mom in Wish Dragon, Lynch voiced characters in Final Space, Fumero voiced others in Elena of Avalor and She-Ra and the Princesses of Power, and Peters is a Black comedian. The cast of Velma includes well-known talent like Stephen Root, Ming-Na Wen (voicing Carroll), Debby Ryan (as Krista), and Frank Welker (voicing Fred’s father).

Welker has voiced Fred since the character began to be animated in 1969. He previously voiced characters in a variety of series, like Star Wars Resistance, 3Below, Totally Spies!, and Futurama. There is, additionally, Karl-Anthony Towns who voices Jacques Beau (Jock Boy). Towns is a professional basketball player of Dominican descent.

Although Velma is not my favorite series, I somewhat enjoyed watching the episodes. Others may have liked the series as much as I did, or perhaps even more, as Velma broke records for HBO Max in terms of the largest number of people watching an original animated series on its premiere day. In fact, at times, the comedy can be subtle and strong.

The series premiere is a miracle in and of itself, considering the HBO Max content purge championed by Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav last year. Two series (Summer Camp Island and Victor and Valentino) were removed from the streaming platform, while Craig of the Creek had its final season order cut in half, and Young Justice was effectively cancelled.

All five of these shows, regardless of other issues, had outward LGBTQ+ representation. Previously, the platform shuttered Final Space, which featured a lesbian protagonist, Ash Graven, voiced by pansexual actress Ashly Burch. The acclaimed Infinity Train, which featured Black and Asian protagonists in the third and fourth seasons.

The fact that the series survived this purge could be due to the fact that it was produced by Warner Bros. Animation, along with 3 Arts Entertainment, Charlie Grandy Productions, and Kaling International. Not only had Charlie Grandy Productions, the production company of executive producer Grandy, worked on previous projects with Kaling before, but an executive producer, Howard Klein, was one of the heads of 3 Arts Entertainment.

Another executive producer, Sam Register, headed Warner Bros. Animation, Cartoon Network Studios, and Hanna-Barbera Studios Europe. He had previously produced various Scooby-Doo and Tom & Jerry films, Teen Titans, Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated, Young Justice, Harley Quinn, and many others.

Charlie Grandy Productions was known for producing The Office, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, and Duncanville. The show’s producer, Kandace Reuter, had worked on Scooby-Doo!: The Sword and the Scoob and Thundercats Roar, and the show’s editors had worked on assorted series, such as UndoneBojack Horseman, and Tuca & Bertie.

Despite all of these experienced people, in the entertainment industry, working on Velma, it does not take away from one major flaw: music. Apart from a scene in the show’s season one finale, in which Velma listens to old voicemails of Norville, the music is altogether unmemorable, and the theme song is strangely alienating.

This is too bad because a Bronx-born Black man, Craig DeLeon, who composed the score of the series, worked with renowned directors in the past. Perhaps his talent was not used as well as it could have been. There were no amazing songs like those in D4DJ or banger songs like the theme song of recently premiered Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur.

This credibility of the show’s producers may have been a reason that the series moved forward on HBO Max, just as Harley Quinn did. It could have been part of the rationale beyond the renewal of a Season 2 for Velma. Considering that the series became a “lightning rod for controversy” and garnered many hate-watchers, it may garner more of a cult following than anything else.

Although the series has incurred backlash, with Wikipedia claiming that audience response had been “overwhelmingly negative”, it did not dissuade me from watching the series, nor even writing about it. Surely some of the criticisms, like the comedic lines which fall flat, or possible stereotypes have merit. But, the show is not the worst thing out there as those review-bombing the series on IMDB and Rotten Tomatoes, or others complaining about it on social media and YouTube, may lead to you to believe.

This season had Fred, and his family, as the manifestation of White privilege and wealth. It is on par, in some ways, with the snobbishness and narcissm exemplified by nouveau riche protagonist Kaz Khan in Neo Yokio.

At the same time, the series exemplifies the reality of how easy it easy for someone, especially people of color, to be swept up in the criminal system. After all, Velma herself is almost imprisoned by being at the wrong place at the wrong time, before she falsely implicates Fred in the murder.

Thee show’s plot only hints at part of what the Marshall Project noted in their November 2020 post about trials in the U.S.: that many felony convictions on the state and federal levels are often results of plea bargains, and prosecutors are some of the most powerful players in this criminal system, relying on sheriffs and police as key witnesses. In many of the states, the Marshall Project noted, that judges can charge for use of a public defender.

In Velma, the arrest of Fred by Donna and Linda is not questioned, despite Velma’s defense of Fred, before his outburst causes the judge to declare him guilty. Velma’s father, Aman, takes Fred’s case because he wants the money for his girlfriend, Sophie, not because he truly believes in the case.

The series highlights the inadequacy of mental health care in the U.S., therapy, and gender disparity. The latter is exemplified by the school Principal, Blythe, only having 50 dollars in the school budget to counter “centuries of toxic masculinity”, which she uses to pay for an all-girls self-defense class, taught by Daphne’s moms. The former is shown through Norville and his father.

I thought the story’s focus, at first on experiments by Doctor Edna Purdue, the grandmother of Norville, a scientist who found a way to keep the human brain alive outside the body, was intriguing. I would say the same for the series plot about Velma’s mom, Diya, her lost memory, and manipulation by a miscreant to commit the murders. However, it felt hollow in the end.

Velma reveals that Diya had been manipulated to recreate the lab of Dr. Purdue, recruited by Army General Henry Meeting to create the Special Covert Operations Brain Initiative (Scoobi), a reference to the original franchise. This manipulation happened through hypnosis by Fred’s mother, Victoria (voiced by Cherry Jones). It is further noted that Velma herself was hypnotized as well.

Victoria states that she wanted to switch Fred’s brain with someone more “ambitious”, who she believed were “hot girls”,  and keep the global brand of Jones Gentleman’s Accessories afloat. This absurd plot cheapened the series. It was compounded by Velma’s foolhardy attempt to get her mom to remember anything, involving massive lying, which blew up in her face, and her rupturing of friendship with Norville after falsely accusing his father as the serial killer.

While the social commentary on big companies which support politicians who “look the other way”, as is the case for Jones Gentleman’s Accessories, is apt, as much as the criticism of economic exploitation in My Dad the Bounty Hunter, it is muddled by the rest of the story.

For one, there are callbacks to the first episode of this series, when female characters were showering in the nude together, sexism by the police, and more. In the case of Velma, it is problematic that the villain is a woman in that it could send a bad message about women in positions of power.

Through all of that, the series seems to hint at a possible storyline for another season, as the police officer who received the file from Velma is killed while putting it in a “solved cases” box. Undoubtedly, in the next season, Velma will continue to use her “pretty good” detective skills, the relationship between Velma and Daphne may develop, and a new “conspiracy board”/”murder board” would come about. The series will likely have a love triangle between three of the protagonists: Daphne, Norville, and Velma.

This is because, in the season one finale, Velma inadvertently said she “loves” Norville, so he came to save her from the serial killer who is out to kill her, Daphne, and Fred. If this comes to pass, and the story straddles the home/school lives of the main characters, and doesn’t come into more of its own, it will feel more like a stale CW drama. That would be a serious loss of potential in a story which could be stronger if it’s plot had better execution.

In the end, I feel this series is not great but not terrible, as hate-watchers have declared. Instead, it is only in the middle. So, I can’t fully, and confidently, recommend giving this series a watch.

The first season of Velma is currently streaming on HBO Max.

© 2023 Burkely Hermann. All rights reserved.