Sword Art Online Progressive: Scherzo of Deep Night Review

The show's two protagonists

Sword Art Online Progressive: Scherzo of Deep Night is a sci-fi action-adventure anime film based on the Sword Art Online: Progressive light novels that Reki Kawahara wrote, and abec illustrated. It is also the sequel to a film in 2021 entitled Sword Art Online Progressive: Aria of a Starless Night. The film was produced by A-1 Pictures and directed by Ayako Kōno. This post will have spoilers.

Reprinted from Pop Culture Maniacs and Wayback Machine. This was the twenty-second article I wrote for Pop Culture Maniacs. This post was originally published on February 4, 2023.

This 100 minute film begins with a scene which pulls you into the world of the sword-wielding characters, specifically  Asuna (voiced by Haruka Tomatsu) and Kirito (voiced by Yoshitsugu Matsuoka), her trusty companion. They are helped by Argo (voiced by Shiori Izawa), a female information broker, who sometimes hides in the shadows. Although the two major guilds are together at the beginning, conflict erupts between the two factions, and someone behind the scenes is making them go head to head, leading to a deadly battle, with death in this game world meaning one dies in the real world.

The animation and definition during the fight scenes shows that the work by A-1 Pictures is top-notch, and makes clear the film is more than the simple description on Wikipedia, IMDB, or in Crunchyroll’s promotional material. This is no surprise since this Japanese animation studio has produced acclaimed series like Black Butler, Fairy Tail, From the New World, Kaguya-sama: Love Is Waralong with others such as Engage Kiss, 22/7, and Wotakoi: Love Is Hard for Otaku.

Sword Art Online Progressive: Scherzo of Deep Night does not shy away from showing blood, death, or anything of the sort. This fits with the film’s action scenes which involve swords, magic, and agility. At the same time, there are scenes where it is much more low-key, like when Asuna, Kirito, and Argo have a meal together at the beginning of the film, or when they do treasure-hunting, going into a cave together.

It is interesting how close Asuna and Kirito are despite the fact they don’t see themselves as a couple, regardless of teasing by Argo to that effect. In fact, their closeness only becomes more pronounced when Kirito saves Asuna from two unsavory people, and a bunch of other monsters head their way, with Asuna admitting her fears.

As Sword Art Online Progressive: Scherzo of Deep Night goes forward, you sympathize more with the characters, and their struggles, especially when Asuna has her sword stolen after she falls into a trap. Its funny that Kirito does not know there is a party on December 31, and is a bit annoyed as a result, even though he knows a lot about the game, Sword Art Online. The heartfelt scenes in the film pull you in like no other.

This film wouldn’t be an anime without some fan service, although it is very mild, and not as extreme as those anime which feature women with big breasts or tight-fitting clothes. Asuna fights Argo when they aren’t wearing many clothes, as Argo tries to prove her abilities after Asuna says she is worried about Argo going to extreme lengths to get information on mischievous people, even if it puts her life in danger. In the process, their mock fight proves that Argo is more than worthy to defend herself.

Beyond this, the music and character designs, by Kento Toya and Yuki Kajiura respectively, go hand-in-hand with the other elements of Sword Art Online Progressive: Scherzo of Deep Night. For one, they allow scenes, like Asuna and Kirito sitting other on a beautiful hillside, to maintain your interest, and make you want to keep watching the film to see what happens next.

More than anything, this film is about determination and cooperation, even against those who want to off other players, known as PKs or Player-Killers. This is shown through the drive to keep the party between the two factions going despite those trying to scuttle it to gain a rare item which will boost one group but not the other.

The intensity of some scenes is one of the strong suits of Sword Art Online Progressive: Scherzo of Deep Night, as is the action sequences as shown through the view of playing a game, or without it. The same can be said for the characters, whether in the raiding party of Asuna, Kirito, and others, or somewhat mysterious ones like Mito (voiced by Inori Minase), who appears to be “gathering materials” in the forest at first.

She is one of the more interesting characters, as she isn’t sure she wants to join in fighting the game boss, and betray anyone “again”. The fact that Asuna and Mito duel one another, with Asuna using her sword and Mito her scythe with a chain, shows how close they are, as they were originally best friends in the human world, and willing to sacrifice anything for their goals. I would not be surprised if some fans ship both characters after watching this film, especially as Mito says she won’t let Asuna die, which builds upon the previous film which had their bond between one another as a key part.

One of the best parts of Sword Art Online Progressive: Scherzo of Deep Night is how it can be easily watched without having to watch the prequel. I hadn’t watched that film before writing this review, and had no problem understanding what was happening. This was helped by the number of flashbacks and a relatively simple storyline. It was not like Steven Universe: The Movie when there was a part of the film when all the protagonists did introductions of sorts as part of a song.

I also found it very touching how much Kirito cares about Asuna, but also sees the bigger picture. That makes him intriguing, as he was a former beta tester on the game, even though Mito says that she doesn’t like him.

I enjoyed the final parts of Sword Art Online Progressive: Scherzo of Deep Night, when they the raiding party of Kirito, Asuna, Argo, and their friends, fight together for a common goal, and work well. Without giving away specifics of that battle, I can say that the film remains action-packed, and the boss they fight is a next-level enemy in more ways than one.

I liked the interweaving of magic with the rest of the story and the music fitting with the action. The ending of the Sword Art Online Progressive: Scherzo of Deep Night sets up a possible sequel, as the player-killers are still out there. While I felt like the film’s climax, and ending of the scheme by the two miscreants, was too easy, there is a twist at the end which throws that into question.

As mentioned earlier, the film’s character designs were by Kento Toya and music was by Yuki Kajiura. Their experience shows through in this film. Toya previously worked on acclaimed series such as El Cazador de la Bruja, Canaan, Lycoris Recoil, Le Chevalier D’Eon, and Somali and the Forest Spirit. Additionally, Kajiura has worked on shows such as Noir, My-HiME, Princess Principal, Fena: Pirate Princess, and Puella Magi Madoka Magica.

Eir Aoi also did a great job of performed the film’s main theme, “Shinzo”. She is a well-known singer in Japan who has sung important tracks within Fate/Zero, Sword Art Online, Kill la Kill, The Heroic Legend of Arslan, and many others. Her music really moved the film forward in a way that no one else could have done.

Apart from this, Kaede Hondo, Yūsuke Kobayashi, Hiroki Yasumoto, and Tomokazu Seki, the voice actors for Liten, Morte, Agil, and Kibao respectfully, are seasoned in the industry. They’ve voiced characters in Magical Girl Raising Project, I’ve Been Killing Slimes for 300 Years and Maxed Out My Level, Akebi’s Sailor Uniform, Your Lie in April, Bodacious Space Pirates, Spy × Family, and Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card, to name a few.

Like many anime films, those in Japan have seen Sword Art Online Progressive: Scherzo of Deep Night for many months before those in North America and Japan. In fact, the film was released on October 22, 2022 in the country, delayed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. In the process, it earned over $8 million in Japan, half a million in Hong Kong, and over $170,000 in South Korea. These numbers don’t count the earnings in other parts of the world, whether in Latin America, Asia, or Europe. It will also be screened in select U.S. theaters in February.

All of this relates to what Kim Morrisy wrote about delays in Aniplex shows, that COVID-19 showed the weakness in animation production pipeline, and that the company, which distributed this film, has been “less than transparent” about past delays. This has accompanied by ramping up production as a result of the pandemic, instead of down. Hopefully this changes in the future.

Sword Art Online Progressive: Scherzo of Deep Night will be streaming on Crunchyroll on February 3rd.

© 2023 Burkely Hermann. All rights reserved.

[Review box:

Animation: 5

Voice Acting: 5

Music: 4

Story: 4]

D4DJ Review

D4DJ is music anime directed by Seiji Mizushima. It is part of a Japanese music media franchise of the same name, standing for Dig Delight Direct Drive DJ, consisting of live performances, a rhythm game, a standalone episode, and more. The series, which began airing in 2020, currently has two seasons. This post will have spoilers.

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

The plot of D4DJ‘s first season, also known as D4DJ First Mix, revolves around an idolish DJ unit at Yoba Academy which plays a mix of J-pop and dubstep. It is headed by Rinku Aimoto (voiced by Yuka Nishio), who returns to Japan after living on an unnamed African island. On her first day at the academy, She is inspired to create DJ unit with school DJ Maho Akashi (voiced by Maho Akashi), also known as DJ Mash, after seeing a performance by a hip hop unit named Peaky P-key. Easily excitable, her catchphrase (“happy around!”) becomes the name of their DJ unit.

This music group later gains two additional members: a VJ and talented illustration named Muni Ohnaruto (voiced by Haruka Mimura) and wealthy-born Rei Togetsuwho who is skilled at playing the piano. Each person gets their role in the unit. Rinku becomes the main singer and dancer. Muni is the group’s VJ, Maho is the group DJ, and Rei becomes composer and arranger of the group.

Like many anime with similar themes, music is front and center in the series. It informs the actions and dialogue of the characters, with the story almost built around the songs. In fact, the ending sequence of the season one episodes only focuses on Maho dancing and messing around at her DJ station.

This contrasts with other music series which aired last year, such as Shine Post, League of Nations Air Force Aviation Magic Band Luminous Witches, and the idolish Cue! Those series primarily focus on a single music group. D4DJ focuses on multiple groups at the same time. On the other hand, D4DJ is similar to the aforementioned series in that all of the characters in the series are female. Male characters briefly appear but are never part of the show’s primary cast.

The show’s additional units are just as talented as Happy Around! There’s hip hop-themed Peaky P-key, sci-fi themed Photon Maiden, tropical-themed Merm4id, gothic rock-themed Rondo, lolita-themed Lyrical Lily, and gothic-themed Abyssmare. Each of these units has their own strengths and weaknesses. Even though they often compete with one another, they collaborate with one each especially when holding civic events.

While there isn’t anything to write home about, when it comes to the show’s plot, the songs each band performs are catchy and stick with you. The episodes have some similarities with many episodes of LoliRock, in the episodes often have a music video of sorts at the end. Despite this, the characters are given enough definition that you sympathize with their struggles.

What other series has two characters engaged in a rap battle (as shown above) about their feelings? There isn’t one that comes to mind, making D4DJ unique in this regard. Even Disney series like Elena of Avalor, Hamster & Gretel, Milo Murphy’s Law, Phineas & Ferb or Mira Royal Detective don’t even come close.

The series has as much glitz as the recent seasons of Love Live! Superstar!! and Love Live! Nijigasaki High School Idol Club, both of which have all-female casts. Even so, it is different, primarily because the animation style is more 3D, as much as DreamWorks productions using computer animation, like Guillermo del Toro’s Tales of Arcadia trilogy series.

Personally, I tend to prefer 2D animation in currently airing Western animations like The Ghost and Molly McGee and The Proud Family: Louder and Prouder, or the style of classic anime such as Sailor Moon and Dear Brother. Even so, I appreciate the more realistic and less “cartoony” styles in the recently concluded Undone and the 2018 film I Lost My Body, to give two examples.

As such, it took me some time to adapt to the animation style of D4DJ. However, the distinct character personalities made me more invested in the story and journey of these characters, as they try and make a name for themselves. This interconnects with the focus on music, creating songs, and the importance of having a fun time.

Unsurprisingly, behind all of the optimism and exuberance, especially of Rinku, is drama. For instance, in the show’s first season, Rinku and Muni have a falling out, and almost drift apart, while Maho often overworks herself. As such, it shares some of the same anti-overwork themes manifested in series like as the well-regarded isekai I’ve Been Killing Slimes for 300 Years and Maxed Out My Level.

The often fast-paced nature of D4DJ makes it different from the easy-going nature of the slice-of-life musical comedy, K-On!, or the classic surreal comedy Azumanga Daioh. In some ways this is a positive, since it makes you feel the hyper for the show’s songs just like the characters.

Rei counters this exuberance, since she can be a more reserved, yet talented piano player, partially because of strict expectations her parents hoisted upon her. Through the group, her character gets a chance to cast those rules aside and be as free as the optimistic Rinku, coming into her own as the show’s first season progresses.

The second season, also known as D4DJ All Mix, changes up the story entirely. Instead of focusing on Happy Around!, it pivots to Lyrical Lily, DJ group whose members attend a well-regarded all-girls Catholic school named Arisugawa Academy. All the previous musical groups which have appeared in the series are pulled in, as Lyrical Lily enlists their help in an event to revitalize their town.

Unfortunately, these episodes do not pick up where the first season leaves off. In order to understand what is happening, viewers would need to play the video games of the franchise or watch the spin-off anime series, D4DJ Petit Mix. This confusion is compounded by the layout of the show on Crunchyroll, which treats the show’s first and second seasons as separate shows.

This is remedied by the official D4DJ English YouTube channel, where viewers can watch music videos, OVA, a voice drama, or episodes of the show’s seasons free-of-charge. The episodes air on Crunchyroll first and then are available on YouTube.

The series is similar to many female-centered idol anime for one major reason: it has yuri subtext. This is not unique. Shine Post, League of Nations Air Force Aviation Magic Band Luminous Witches, Cue!, and the two Love Live! series, which aired last year, all have similar subtext to varying degrees.

In fact, two of the members of the UniChØrd DJ unit, Kokoa Shinomiya and Hayate Tendо̄ , are in a canon romantic relationship, making them the first canon lesbian characters in the D4DJ franchise. Both attend Arisugawa Academy, like the members of Lyrical Lily, making it likely they will have a role in this anime.

Yuripedia has pages on six characters in the series, noting the closeness between Happy Around! members Rinku and Maho, Muni of Happy Around! getting jealous when Rinku gives attention to those other than herself, the habit of Noa Fukushima (VJ in Photon Maiden) to collect cute things and love “cute girls” (like Muni), and additional yuri subtext manifested by Aoi Miyake (a DJ in Rondo) and Haruna Kasuga (a member of Lyrical Lily). Such yuri subtext goes beyond these six characters.

The setting of the second season partially at an all-girls Catholic school hints at possible additional yuri themes. After all, the classic yuri, and Class S, series Maria Watches Over Us, known as Maria-sama ga Miteru and Marimite in Japan, is set at a fictional Catholic girls school named Lillian Girls’ Academy in Musashino, Tokyo. The focus on Lyrical Lily in D4DJ is not all bad because viewers are shown some character depth, showing the closeness between these girls, and making them relatable.

The excitability of D4DJ‘s characters shines through in their voice acting. For instance, those who voiced the Lyrical Lily members are shown having a fun time in the above video. Some of the show’s cast have provided voices to characters in music-themed series (BanG Dream! and Wake Up, Girls!) and shows in additional genres, such as Luck & Logic, Assault Lily, Komi Can’t Communicate, Wandering Son, Non Non Biyori, and Do It Yourself!!

The character voices of the series are consistent from season-to-season apart from Kanon Shizaki, who voiced Rei in season 1, but departed the D4DJ franchise in 2022. She was replaced by Maiko Irie in the second season. The same was the case for Ami Maeshima, who voiced Ibuki Niijima until 2022, with Kanon Nanaki taking her place this year.

D4DJ is bolstered by Bushiroad, a Japanese company which created the franchise. It is known for the Revue Starlight, BanG Dream!, and Tantei Opera Milky Holmes franchises. While all three have spawned anime series, the first two of these franchises have yuri subtext in their anime, just like D4DJ.

The series is further reinforced by the animation studio, Sanzigen, which animated the series. Interestingly, the studio itself is partially owned by Bushiroad. This studio previously produced the BanG Dream! anime series, along with Sakura Wars the Animation, From Argonavis (spinoff from BanG Dream!), and many others.

The director of both D4DJ seasons, Seiji Mizushima, is accomplished. He even studied dance music, which is an important part of the show itself, as is portraying being a DJ as realistically as possible. Mizushima previously directed episodes of Neon Genesis Evangelion, Fullmetal Alchemist, and Beatless.

Otherwise, the group Photon Maiden may be a reflection of the actual Japanese idol industry, as it is formed by an entertainment company. All the units apart from them are formed by the groups themselves, rather than a company. In Japan, idols are marketed and commercialized through merchandise and endorsements from talent agencies, and deal with ravenous loyal fans.

This series, unlike the short-lived Heroines Run the Show, which ran last year, does not focus on the darkness of the idol industry. The latter has grueling work conditions, bans on dating, and oft serialization, especially for female idols. Often this is not a subject in idol anime either because the characters put together idol groups on their own or those involved in the industry (including voice actresses or the idol groups) are part of the anime series.

While D4DJ is not my favorite music anime, as I enjoy the Love Live! franchise better, especially Love Live! Nijigasaki High School Idol Club, it is still entertaining and stands firmly on its own in more ways than one.

The first and second seasons of D4DJ are currently streaming on Crunchyroll. Both seasons are also available free-of-charge on the official English D4DJ YouTube channel.

© 2023 Burkely Hermann. All rights reserved.

Star Wars: The Bad Batch Review

Star Wars: The Bad Batch is an action-adventure sci-fi animated series created by Dave Filoni. He is the creator of Star Wars Resistance and Star Wars Rebels, and supervising director of Star Wars: The Clone Wars and Star Wars: Tales of the Jedi. This series was produced by Lucasfilm Animation, which has headed all Star Wars-related animated series since 2008, a studio built “from the ground up” by Filoni. This review will have spoilers.

Reprinted from Pop Culture Maniacs and Wayback Machine. This was the twentieth article I wrote for Pop Culture Maniacs. This post was originally published on January 26, 2023.

The plot of Star Wars: The Bad Batch focuses around a group of elite clone troopers (all voiced by Dee Bradley Baker), Hunter, Wrecker, Tech, and Echo, known as Clone Force 99. They become fugitives following the genocidal Order 66 to kill all Jedi as “traitors of the Republic”. They join a genetically deviant clone and replicate of Jango Fett, who works as a medical assistant in Kamino, named Omega (voiced by Michelle Ang).

These characters form a family-of-sorts, akin to the “Space Family” in Star Wars Rebels, or the chosen family in Star Wars Resistance. This family, called the Bad Batch for short, faces adversity in the forms of their arduous mercenary jobs, avoidance of bounty hunters such as Fennec Shand (voiced by Ming Na-Wen), and their old clone brother, Crosshair (voiced by Baker), both of whom have it out for them.

The latter becomes part of the newly formed Galactic Empire, helping to restore order, headed by Darth Sidious/Emperor Palpatine (voiced by Ian McDiarmid). He is assisted by Admiral Tarkin (voiced by Stephen Stanton), a high-ranking officer in the Empire, and an Imperial officer named Vice Admiral Rampart (voiced by Noshir Dalal), and new Imperial elite squad troopers.

The first season consists of the Bad Batch on the run from those accusing them of treason, gathering supplies, beginning their mercenary work with Cid (voiced by Rhea Perlman), removing their inhibitor chips, meeting with other renegade rebels (and clones), and fighting the Empire. All these actions strengthen their family-of-sorts as they are pulled into the criminal underworld of the galaxy. All the while, Tarkin and Rampart scheme to phase out the clones entirely with conscripts.

A major theme of The Bad Batch is the importance of cooperation and working together toward a common goal. Often this is to engage into mercenary missions, while the Bad Batch tries to figure out where their loyalties lie in early days of the Empire.

This is tested in the final two episodes of season one, with the tearful destruction of Kamino by the Empire, with Tipoca City falling into the sea, with the Bad Batch and Crosshair inside. They barely escape Kimono with their lives.

Throughout the series, the Bad Batch is shown as “good”. In contrast, the Empire is portrayed as “evil”, through their destruction of Kamino, a massacre of rebel forces ordered by Rampart, and capture of Nala Se (voiced by Gwendoline Yeo) as a scientist. The latter is somewhat akin to what the U.S. did with Nazi scientists in Operation Paperclip, following the end of World War II.

Furthermore, the Empire is portrayed as honoring order and stability, while cracking down on anyone who disobeys. This manifests in Rampart’s idea of chain code registration system, which has the potential to create a database of everyone in the galaxy, and issuance of new currency. Everything is done to erase the Republic and replace it with the Empire. Even one clone commander, Wilco (voiced by Baker) who refuses to falsify a report is killed at gunpoint by Rampart.

The Bad Batch and Omega resist these measures. They indirectly battle the Empire through daring actions, leading to countless near-death experiences. In the process, any past allegiance to the Republic fades away as battle droids fight on their behalf in one episode and they rescue a former Separatist politician in another.

The second season of The Bad Batch brings a host of new characters to enliven the cast, including a pirate, voiced by Wanda Sykes, named Phee Genoa. She gives the Bad Batch a tip on the location of Count Dooku’s former war chest, which portends to free them from Sid (and the criminal underworld), allowing them to begin their own future. Like many aspects of the show, nothing is that simple. At the same time, they occasionally have to free Sid from her lapses of judgment.

Both the Bad Batch and the show’s villains prove to be highly relatable characters. This includes Crosshair, who seriously questions his loyalty to the Empire after a mission with Commander Cody (voiced by Baker) to free a kidnapped imperial governor, Grotton (voiced by Max Mittelman). He is held hostage by the Desix system governor, Tawni Ames (voiced by Tasia Valenza). She opposes the Empire’s occupation and hopes to use the kidnapping of Grotton as leverage, and a bargaining chip, to convince the Empire to recognize them as an independent system. However, the Imperials will not let this “dissent” stand.

Ultimately, by the end of the second season’s third episode, the elite Imperial force led by Cody and Crosshair overthrows a legitimate government, after Crosshair shoots Ames in the head (shown below). The Empire then occupies the planet by military force, scaring the populace. In many ways, the common refrain of “good soldiers follow orders” comes back to haunt him, as he is all alone, with no one to bear the brunt of his actions except himself.

While the story of The Bad Batch feels somewhat familiar, in some ways, to previous Star Wars series, it is also new and different, with various moral quandaries and huge action sequences. While the protagonists of The Bad Batch could be seen as predictable and banal, in actuality, each clone has a unique personality, especially since all of them share the characteristic of being “defective.”

The Bad Batch was simply a sequel and spinoff to Star Wars: The Clone Wars. Jennifer Corbett remained the head writer and Brad Rau as the supervising director, as they were in the other series. Like the aforementioned series, the value of fighting for what is right is emphasized. The importance of preserving history is emphasized, including by a Serenno local, Romar Adell (voiced by Héctor Elizondo) who has a datacore holding records of the culture, art, music, and memories of his people.

Unlike Star Wars: Clone Wars, Star Wars: The Clone Wars, Star Wars Rebels, Tales of the Jedi, and Young Jedi Adventures, the Jedi are not a major part of the series. That sets it apart in many ways. Even so, The Bad Batch has still garnered praise for hiring female-identifying people, and has received an award in sound editing.

Apart from Ang, who is of Malaysian Chinese descent, the series voice cast is composed of actors with Singaporean, Iranian, Japanese, Jamaican, Haitian, Taiwanese, Puerto Rican, and Dominican roots. It also includes those with Indian, Chinese, Sudanese, and Maori ancestry, along with a few Black actors, such as Phil LaMarr, Dahéli Hall, and Sykes, with Sykes and LaMarr as two of the most well-known of the lot.

Unfortunately these cast members only comprise about 25% of the total cast, including starring, recurring, and guest characters. Instead, many of the characters are either White men (like Baker, who voices 11 clone troopers) or White women. Although the series has as much diversity in its cast as Star Wars Resistance, an often overlooked animated series which stands out with its diverse cast, The Bad Batch tends to reinforce the Whiteness which is often present in Star Wars films.

This is because Resistance features Black actors (Suzie McGrath, Scott Lawrence, Gary Anthony Williams, Daveed Diggs, and Donald Faison), those of Filipino and Indian ancestry (Sumalee Montano and Nazneen Contractor), Chinese ancestry (Nikki SooHoo and Tzi Ma), Mexican ancestry (Myrna Velasco and Jason Hightower), Costa Rican ancestry (Tasia Valenza) and Japanese ancestry (Sean Christopher). Of these characters, all but six are in the main cast. In contrast, The Bad Batch effectively features four White men and one person of color, in the main cast, meaning that racial diversity of the series is reduced as compared to Resistance.

This is because Resistance features Black actors (Suzie McGrath, Scott Lawrence, Gary Anthony Williams, Daveed Diggs, and Donald Faison), those of Filipino and Indian ancestry (Sumalee Montano and Nazneen Contractor), Chinese ancestry (Nikki SooHoo and Tzi Ma), Mexican ancestry (Myrna Velasco and Jason Hightower), Costa Rican ancestry (Tasia Valenza) and Japanese ancestry (Sean Christopher). Of these characters, all but six are in the main cast. In contrast, The Bad Batch effectively features four White men and one person of color, in the main cast, meaning that racial diversity of the series is reduced as compared to Resistance.

Although The Bad Batch has no LGBTQ+ characters, reportedly typical of Filoni productions, even while some fans argued that Omega is either intersex or a trans woman, it shares one aspect with Resistance: romance is not a big part of the series. That is in contrast to Star Wars: The Clone Wars and Star Wars: Clone Wars, which have scenes showing the secret relationship between Anakin Skywalker and Padme Amidala.

Otherwise, while it is strange that Omega is older than the rogue clones she is with, but still is portrayed as a little kid (due to her height), she does mature over the course of the series. She becomes more sure of herself, even though she takes foolish risks which put her in harm’s way.

Otherwise, while it is strange that Omega is older than the rogue clones she is with, but still is portrayed as a little kid (due to her height), she does mature over the course of the series. She becomes more sure of herself, even though she takes foolish risks which put her in harm’s way.

In addition, Resistance features a gay couple (Ortka and Flix), as did Star Wars: The Clone Wars, with a brief lesbian couple (Cassie Cryar and Ione Marcy). Both subtle portrayals were confirmed outside the show, however: Lucasfilm creative executive Pablo Hidalgo confirmed the latter, and executive producer Justin Ridge confirmed the former in a podcast. Apart from these instances, LGBTQ+ characters in Star Wars have primarily been relegated to comics and graphic novels – with a recent live-action queer couple confirmed (and playing a key supporting role, unlike in some blink and you missed it elements of Star Wars live action films) in the recent series Andor. Hopefully future episodes of The Bad Bach bring in such characters, although I am not optimistic this will happen.

Despite my criticisms of the The Bad Batch for its lack of diversity, LGBTQ+ characters, and falling into common tropes, the series still has its positives, especially when it comes to the chosen family Omega has formed with four rogue clones, and the emphasis on tricky moral quandaries.

Star Wars: The Bad Batch is currently streaming on Disney+.

© 2022-2023 Burkely Hermann. All rights reserved.

Things Get Better?: LGBTQ Representation in Animation in 2022

Komichi Akebi of Akebi’s Sailor Uniform happily welcomes all the LGBTQ animated shows in this article. Logos of my favorite anime with LGBTQ themes which aired throughout 2022 are shown in this graphic which I created

In January 2022, I wrote that there was a possibility that in 2022 things would “get better” in terms of LGBTQ representation, with new fandoms developing from shows which take risks by telling diverse stories. Although 2022, in some regards, more than lived up to this possibility and went beyond, there were challenges.

Reprinted from Pop Culture Maniacs and Wayback Machine. This was the nineteenth article I wrote for Pop Culture Maniacs. This post was originally published on January 16, 2023.

In the world of anime, some series with implied, or directly represented, LGBTQ characters, came to an end. [1] Often times these series had yuri themes. For instance, there were somewhat strong undertones between the protagonist, Komichi Akebi, and her friend, Erika Kizaki, in Akebi’s Sailor Uniform, and the protagonists of The Demon Girl Next Door, Yuko Yoshida and Momo Chiyoda, and those of the short-lived, but intriguing, yuri isekai, The Executioner and Her Way of Life. In the latter series, one of the protagonists, Akari Tokitō, has a crush on Menou, a female assassin with a duty to kill her. At the same time, Menou’s aide, Momo, has a crush on her and is jealous of how close she is getting to Akari.

One series, Birdie Wing: Golf Girls’ Story, blew representation out of the water, with strong romantic themes between Eve and a Japanese girl she plays golf against, Aoi Amawashi. Eve is often unaware of how romantic she is toward Aoi, who has a clear crush on her. Erica Friedman of Okazu, a well-known reviewer who focuses on lesbian themes in anime, even wrote that she may “start measuring other anime based on how amazing this one was”. Other series ranged from having implied to more direct themes, including Vampire in the Garden, Do it Yourself!!, Bocchi the Rock!, Healer GirlLycoris Recoil, and Mobile Suit Gundam: The Witch from Mercury.

There were additional anime with LGBTQ themes or characters. For instance, Life with an Ordinary Guy who Reincarnated into a Total Fantasy Knockout, which had a three month run from January to March 2022, featured a reincarnated protagonist, Hinata Tachibana, who is heavily implied to be a bisexual trans woman. The spinoff from the popular Rooster Teeth series, RWBY, named RWBY: Ice Queendom, featured a non-binary nightmare hunter, Shion Zaiden. Christine Brent, Senior Brand Director for Rooster Teeth, confirmed this and said she would like to have similar characters in future productions.

Apart from these series, there were implied yuri themes in the ongoing idol series Love Live! Superstar!! and second season of Love Live! Nijigasaki High School Idol Club. Such themes were also present in Management of Novice Alchemist, Encouragement of Climb: Next Summit, KanColle: Itsuka Ano Umi de, My Master Has No Tail, Prima Doll, Smile of the Arsnotoria the Animation, Shine Post, and many others, [2] all of which began, and ended, in 2022.

Many of these series are on Crunchyroll, one of the biggest anime streaming services. With its recent merger with Funimation, Crunchyroll now dominates the anime streaming market, and will likely continue crackdowns on pirate sites. Its only real competition is YouTube, smaller sites like HIDIVE (owned by AMC), and streaming services such as Netflix, Tubi, and Hulu.

In 2022, there was a plethora of LGBTQ characters in Western animation, from gay warriors Orc and Iago in Battle Kitty to a lesbian drama teacher in Dee Dee Holloway in Big Nate. Other series featured gay couples (as in Baymax!), gay and lesbian parents (as in Firebuds), and many other lesbian, bisexual, non-binary, and queer characters. [3]

Some series had more representation than others. One of these was The Legend of Vox Machina, airing on Amazon Prime and based on the Critical Role roleplaying podcast, which featured lesbian, bisexual, and queer characters, specifically Vex’ahlia “Vex” de Rolo, Vax’ildan “Vax” Vessar, Lady Kima, Keyleth of the Air Ashari, Scanlan Shorthalt, and Lady Allura Vysoren. Stephanie Beatriz, a bisexual actress, voiced two of these characters: Lady Kima and Lady Allura. In addition, there were was a reboot of Monster High which premiered on Nickelodeon in fall 2022, with more gender diversity and LGBTQ characters, such as a non-binary monster named Frankie Stein and two lesbian moms (Medusa and Lyra).

Just as powerful was the reboot of The Proud Family in a series named The Proud Family: Louder and Prouder. It aired on Disney+ from February to April of 2022. Created by the same person as the original, Bruce W. Smith, it includes three gay characters: Randall Leibowitz-Jenkins, Barry Leibowitz-Jenkins, and Michael Collins. There were also one-time lesbian characters and queer vibes among other characters, who are part of the show’s mostly Black cast.

One of these characters is Maya, a 14-year-old anti-racist activist voiced by Keke Palmer. Although Palmer is an actress who has described herself as sexually fluid and queer, it remains to be seen whether Maya will be “sexually fluid and queer as much as Palmer is in real-life.”

This was followed, later in 2022, by the much-expected Dead End: Paranormal Park, which Netflix recently cancelled. This series broke barriers as the first animated series with a trans protagonist named Barney Guttman. He is voiced by a trans male actor, Zach Barack. The show also includes Norma Khan who likes multiple genders and is ambiguously queer, and Courtney, who is non-binary. This series goes beyond the barrier-breaking of High Guardian Spice, a series by a trans male creator, Raye Rodriguez, who voiced one of the show’s characters (Caraway), or the trans male lead character in Wendell & Wild (Raúl Cocolotl), who was said to be the first trans man in an animated film.

2022 heralded the end of the much-beloved Disney series, Amphibia. The series featured LGBTQ characters who were confirmed after the show’s finale, like bisexual Sasha Waybright, voiced by bisexual actress Anna Akana. There’s also Mr. X, Frodrick Toadstool, and Toadie who are gay, Yunan and Lady Olivia who are lesbian, Ally who is pansexual, and Jess who is bisexual.

Just as bombastic is the third season of Harley Quinn headlined by two bisexual protagonists, Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy. Both are known by the ship name Harlivy. The season, premiering from July to September 2022. The series also features a queer character named Clayface, who works with Harley from time to time. Harley Quinn was recently renewed for a fourth season, with a standalone episode premiering sometime this year.

There are other Western animated series with LGBTQ characters. For instance, Craig of the Creek features Kelsey Pokoly and Isabella “Stacks” Alvarado, two lesbian characters who have an important role in the series. There are additional LGBTQ characters in Summer Camp Island and Victor and Valentino. In the latter series are episodes partially focusing on the relationship between Xochi Jalapeno and Amabel. The former series has at least four LGBTQ characters: Puddle, Alien King, and Ghosts Dads as noted by the Insider database of LGBTQ characters and cartoons, which was last updated in June 2021.

All three of these series were targeted by Warner Bros Discovery execs. Summer Camp Island and Victor and Valentino were removed from the HBO Max streaming platform. Craig of the Creek had its final season order cut in half by execs, worrying those who worked on the show. These shows were not alone. In 2022, three other series with LGBTQ characters also faced the axe from corporate executives: Tuca & BertieThe Casagrandes, and Close Enough.

In 2022, some months after the fourth season ended, shenanigans by Warner Bros Discovery execs led to the effective cancellation of Young Justice. The series includes LGBTQ characters such as Eduardo “Ed” Dorado Jr., Kaldur, and Marie Logan. Lagoon Boy “La’gaan” was shown to be bisexual and in a poly relationship in the recent season. Bart Allen is in a relationship with Ed, and Wynnde is in a relationship with Kaldur.

The show features Harper Row who is bisexual, Rosa who is trans woman, and Violet who is non-binary. In the most recent season, there was a sub-story showing Violet beginning a romantic relationship with Harper Row. Unfortunately, without another season, these stories could not be expanded.

Other series shined through in their representation. This included The Dragon Prince. There are lesbian (Amaya and Janai), non-binary (Kazi), and otherwise queer (Annika, Ethari, Neha, and Runaan), characters. The story of Amaya and Junai was an important part of the story in the show’s recent fourth season, becoming more than “lip service” regardless of how bad other narrative choices in the season were, with this story likely continued in the show’s next three seasons.

The same can be said for the mature animated series, Disenchantment, which features the bisexual Princess Bean, voiced by a bisexual actress, Abbi Jacobsen, and various characters in Star Trek: Lower Decks. [4] The latter series, its third season airing from August to September 2022, has a bisexual protagonist named Beckett Mariner, a possibly asexual chief engineer named Andy Billups, and a lesbian woman named Jennifer Sh’reyan. The relationship, and subsequent break-up of Mariner and Sh’reyan was an important part of the recent season, which featured Mariner as a protagonist.

There were other characters of note, like the confirmed lesbian relationship in Arcane between two characters (Vi and Caitlyn) and many characters in another ongoing series, The Owl House. This includes the now-canon romantic relationship between Luz Noceda, who is bisexual, and Amity Blight, who is lesbian. The show featured other LGBTQ characters, whether those who are queer (Eda Clawthorne), aromantic asexual (Lilith Clawthorne), gay (Gilbert Park and Harvey Park), non-binary and transmasculine (Raine Whispers), and presumably non-binary character named The Collector.

While some shows with LGBTQ characters, have ended (Kid Cosmic and Amphibia), were cancelled (Q-Force), or won’t be renewed (Dead End, gen:LOCK, and High Guardian Spice), indie animation has continued to shine. Some argued that people shouldn’t look to Disney for queer representation in animation, that there may be a decline of superhero shows where many queer characters are, and noted a limited number of out TV stars out there. Although by midway through the year LGBTQ representation looked grim, due to what I’ve mentioned earlier, indie animations made clear that queerness is normal, just as it should be in real life.

None of these indie animations would even be recognized by GLAAD, which recently promoted the animated series Chicago Party Aunt, and animated films, [5] and with their nominees for the GLAAD Media Award, blogposts, and annual reports, nor by queer feminist magazines like Autostraddle, a queer feminist magazine. Instead, they have been recognized by fans and supporters. This includes those such as Helluva Boss, Ollie & Scoops, Eddsworld, a new season of Hazbin Hotel in development, along with others in development like The Descendants, Wild Card, Far Fetched, and Indigo, to name a few.

In the year ahead, there are bound to be more LGBTQ series, with the premiere of the yuri series The Magical Revolution of the Reincarnated Princess and the Genius Young Lady in January, the second season of D4DJ in January, the new series Yuri Is My Job! in April, and the new season of Birdie Wing, also in April. Another yuri series, I’m in Love with the Villainess is also set to air this year, while the sci-fi yuri manga, Hoshikuzu Telepath, is in development. This is coupled with continued release of yuri manga, visual novels, and the planned release of Love Live! anime spinoffs Nijiyon Animation and Genjitsu no Yohane: Sunshine in the Mirror. Both will likely have yuri subtext in line with other Love Live! anime series, which only have women as characters. There are indications that anime adaptations of Hikikomari Kyuuketsuki no Monmon aka The Vexations of a Shut-In Vampire Princess, Whisper Me A Love Song, Young Ladies Don’t Play Fighting Games, and Vampeerz may be premiering this year.

Despite these positives, I worry that LGBTQ representation in animation, this year, may wane, in line with declining representation in film. For Western animation, what shows can fill the void left by The Owl House, Amphibia, Kid Cosmic, Dead End, gen:LOCK, High Guardian Spice, or even Q-Force? Its hard to know if existing series can fill that gap. In anime, there is more possibilities, due to the aforementioned yuri series, and any possible yaoi (boy’s love) series.

However, there is some hope for representation in Western animation. The next season of The Proud Family: Louder and Prouder is coming in February, along with Ark: The Animated Series which features a lesbian protagonist, the animated series Princess Power and Velma in January, and the Nimona animated film in the summer. New seasons of Witch from Mercury, Arcane, Star Trek: Lower Decks, The Great North, Invincible, The Ghost and Molly McGee, and Disenchantment may premiere. The pilot episode of S.A.L.E.M.: The Secret Archive of Legends, Enchantments, and Monsters or the film which precedes the Lumberjanes series might air.

There might be new information about an animated series set after The Legend of Korra, which had two bisexual protagonists (Asami and Korra), which will focus on an unnamed earthbender, a film centered around Korra said to be released in 2026. There might be LGBTQ characters in Kiff, Hailey’s On It!, and Iwájú, which are scheduled to begin airing this year, or those in future series such as Primos, Moana, Tiana, and Iyanu: Child of Wonder.

Animation may continue to be in a bit of a rough patch and more may flock to indie animation in hopes of finding an alternative to the studio system. That is what can be easily predicted for this year.

© 2022-2023 Burkely Hermann. All rights reserved.


[1] Some could say that the final season of Princess Connect! Re:Dive has yuri subtext and point to the second season of Dota: Dragon’s Blood featuring an Elven thief named Fymrym, who was once in a polyamorous relationship with a woman and two men, with her partners murdered by Luna, who attacks the Elves who don’t worship Selemene. Also, Komi Can’t Communicate featured Najimi Osana who has an ambiguous gender and Ren Yamai who is a lesbian, a bisexual man named Apollo in Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon?, gay characters like Nagi and Soldier in Goblins Cave and Suma in Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba. Attack on Titan has LGBTQ characters as well, as does One Piece.

[2] Others, as listed on Yuri Anime Reviews, include Teppen!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Laughing ‘Til You Cry, League of Nations Air Force Aviation Magic Band Luminous Witches, Kakegurui Twin, Magia Record: Puella Magi Madoka Magica Side Story Final Season, RPG Real Estate, Miss Shachiku and the Little Baby Ghost, Black Rock Shooter: Dawn Fall, Cue!, Slow Loop, and Girls’ Frontline.

[3] This includes lesbian characters Nadja el-Koury and Danielle in Human Resources, Laura Feinberg as a bisexual woman in Little Demon, a queer non-binary couple (Gladys and Wren) in Pinecone & Pony, a non-binary Faerie student named Jae in Supernatural Academy, and a non-binary transformer named Nightshade in Transformers: EarthSpark. In addition, Dragon Age: Absolution, which only aired for six episodes in December 2022, featured four of LGBTQ characters (Miriam, Hira, Roland, and Lacklon), with Qwydion voiced by Ashly Burch who came out as queer and pansexual in July 2022.

[4] There were gay characters in Kid Cosmic (Fry and Hamburg), The Great North (Ham Tobin and Crispin Cienfuegos), Jellystone!, Chicago Party Aunt (Daniel and Gideon), Close Enough (Randall “Randy” Watson), Invincible (William Francis Clockwell), Big City Greens (Alexander and Terry), Baby Shark’s Big Show! (Viv and Vera), Undone (Alejandro Diaz), and Pete The Cat (Sam and Syd), along with lesbian characters in Little Ellen, The Ghost and Molly McGee (Mrs. Roop and Pan), the new Rugrats (Betty DeVille), Tuca & Bertie, The Casagrandes (Becky). In addition, non-binary characters appeared in Ridley Jones (Fred) and Madagascar: A Little Wild (Odee Elliott) while genderless characters had roles in Star Trek: Prodigy (Zero) and Solar Opposites (Korvo and Terry), and a trans woman is a character in Peepoodo & the Super Fuck Friends (Evelyn). There were an assortment of LGBTQ characters in Big Mouth, The Loud House, Miraculous: Tales of Ladybug & Cat Noir, Bob’s Burgers, Bee and PuppyCat, Rick and Morty, RWBY, Hey Duggee, American Dad!, Red vs. BlueSouth Park, Family Guy, Spongebob, The Simpsons, and Archer.

[5]  Strange World featured a gay couple: Ethan Clade and Diazo. In 2022, there were been bisexual and lesbian characters in Catwoman (specifically Catwoman and Batwoman), queer characters in Turning Red (Priya Mangal), a lesbian woman in Lightyear (Alisha Hawthorne), along with lesbian women in DC League of Super-Pets (Nancy), and Trick or Treat Scooby-Doo! (Velma Dinkley and Coco Diablo).

What the World Thinks of “Wednesday”

A compilation of some headlines about Wednesday from various publications since the series debuted in November 2022, showing different views of the series.

Since it’s debut on Netflix on November 23, 2022, Wednesday, a live-action supernatural coming-of-age comedy horror series, has been all the rage online. Thanks to its unprecedented popularity, those on social networks like Twitter, Facebook, Tik Tok, and Tumblr, in thinkpieces, and elsewhere, have reviewed the series, providing their own views and perspectives. This reception often focuses on potential queerbaiting, anti-Black undertones, or something else entirely.

Reprinted from Pop Culture Maniacs and Wayback Machine. This was the nineteenth article I wrote for Pop Culture Maniacs. This post was originally published on January 9, 2023.

A major point of contention for reviewers has been the lack of LGBTQ representation, especially when it comes to the protagonist, Wednesday Addams (played by Jenna Ortega). For example, Petrana Rudolvic of Polygon argued that “Wednesday doesn’t need a love triangle, she needs a werewolf girlfriend”, referring to Wednesday’s roommate, Enid Sinclair. Their romantic ship, popular in the show’s fandom and in fanfictions, has been dubbed “Wenclair” by fans which embrace it. This ship has been embraced by Ortega herself, something which some LGBTQ newsletters have pointed out.

Others, like Abby Monteil of Them magazine, have declared “Let Wednesday Addams Be Gay”. Monteil added that Wednesday is a “queer icon” due to her close friendship with Enid. These views are reinforced by those fans who believe that the series is queerbaiting because their Wenclair headcanon did not happen.

However, such claims are tricky. This is because, as David Opie of Digital Spy admitted, the show “never really promised anything queer outright”, at least not the way that Wenclair fans had hoped for. Additional fans pointed to chemistry between Wednesday and Bianca during the scenes where they act side-by-side.

There is undoubtedly chemistry between Enid and Wednesday, and nice scenes of them together, including when they hug each other, or when Enid saves Wednesday from the monster. However, it is clear that both characters were intended to only be friends in this story, and nothing more. Furthermore, Enid and Wednesday have romances with men. Enid has a short-lived relationship with Lucas and off-and-on relationship with Ajax Petropolus (played by Georgie Farmer). Wednesday has a relationship with Tyler Galpin (played by Hunter Doohan), who is the the son of Sheriff Galpin. The latter falls apart when Wednesday learns that Tyler is the monster, the hyde, who has been haunting the school and killing people.

On the other hand, some fans believed that there were clear asexual, or even aromantic, vibes from Wednesday, citing that she detested friendship and connecting with people. Wednesday prefers solitude, even though her burgeoning friendships with Enid, Eugene, and Xavier indicate that invisible walls she erected around herself are coming down. It is possible that Wednesday will have a LGBTQ storyline in a second season, exploring her possible asexual, lesbian, or bisexual identity.

The series has also been hit with accusations it is racist, and with anti-Black undertones, on Twitter and elsewhere. The latter is reinforced, in the minds of some, by previous comments from Tim Burton defending his casting choices in Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, which had a cast with little diversity. Some went further, claiming that his previous films featured token characters of color, downplayed Jewish cultural elements, or had stereotypes of overweight people.

Various social media users have criticized portrayal of Black characters as “villains and bullies” of Wednesday. This includes a focus on Bianca as a mean girl and Lucas Walker (portrayed by Iman Marson) as a bully. The latter is the son of a corrupt mayor of Jericho, Noble Walker (portrayed by Tommie Earl Jenkins) who owns Pilgrim Land. As a result, the strong Latine representation in the series is offset by the Black characters painted as a villain.

While the criticisms of racism in Wednesday is well-intentioned, they distort the reality. For one, Bianca and Lucas are redeemed by the end of the series, which is only eight episodes long. Both help Wednesday fight off Joseph Crackstone and capture the suspected hyde. Crackstone is many times worse than Jack Skellington in The Nightmare Before Christmas, a film by Burton, a character which some have described as a colonizer.

Also, the deputy of Sheriff Galpin, Ritchie Santiago (portrayed by Luyanda Unati Lewis-Nyawo), is a Black woman. Bianca has more depth in her character Callie, a mean girl in Cleopatra in Space. For one, viewers learn about how Bianca fell out her mother, changed her name to distance herself from the Morning Song cult which her mother is a part of, and joined the Nightshades. She is integral to the story because she is Xavier’s ex-girlfriend. Lucas assists Wednesday by providing information which helps her recognize who the monster really is, and he connects with Bianca.

Mayor Walker, a Black man, stands out as a negative character. He is easily manipulated and propped up by Principal Weems, who keeps him in power to hide the reality of Nevermore Academy. Near the end of the series, he is killed by the hyde because he was about to meet with Sheriff Galpin. An interview with his actor, Jenkins, could shed more light on his character.

Beyond possible anti-Black undertones and lack of queer representation in Wednesday criticized by reviewers and fans, some have said the series was two-dimensional, similar to CW dramas, and noted its appeal to Generation Z. There is a case to be made that Wednesday uses elements employed in the Harry Potter films, based on the Harry Potter books by transphobic author J.K. Rowling.

Such criticisms were reflected on Rotten Tomatoes, New York Times, The Wrap, The Independent, and elsewhere. In contrast, some reviewers described the series in generally favorable terms, calling it as a “rococo romp” that is delightful, visually appealing, and praised the deadpan humor of Ortega. This is in line with those who argue that Wednesday’s eyes convey emotional truth as she is never shown blinking, not even once, in the series.

However, Wednesday’s appearance is not unique. Characters such as Kaisa in Hilda and Amity Blight in The Owl House are likely shown in black-colored clothes with for the same reasons. Furthermore, Wednesday’s demeanor has caused her to become an icon, especially to those in the LGBTQ community. The franchise itself has been popular enough to influence series such as Dead End: Paranormal Park, and designs of characters in The Flintsones and The Simpsons.

The series, listed as one of the best TV shows of 2022, garnered various award nominations, and certain scenes became a viral sensation. This included Wednesday’s dance scene, shared on TikTok by celebrities, and as a song on Spotify.

Songs used in Wednesday, like the 1981 song “Goo Goo Muck” by the Cramps, surged in popularity. The Guardian argued that the viral dance trend, which mainly spread on Tik Tok, “may have single-handedly revived Gothic subculture for Gen Z”, causing the show to become a “pop culture phenomenon”.

On the whole, despite the fact that Wednesday has achieved immense popularity, its reception is varied. It is hard to know how if this popularity will last or whether it will become passing fad like The Queen’s Gambit and Mrs. America in 2020 or Maid in 2021. With a second season now ordered by Netflix, we shall see if it’s popularity can endure.

© 2022-2023 Burkely Hermann. All rights reserved.

Spy x Family Review

Spy x Family is an action spy comedy based on a manga by Tatsuya Endo. It is directed and written by Kazuhiro Furuhashi. It is produced by Wit Studio and CloverWorks. The latter studio is known for many series, including Akebi’s Sailor Uniform, My Dress-Up Darling, In the Heart of Kunoichi Tsubaki, and Bocchi the Rock!, which released this year. The former studio gained recognition after it produced Attack on Titan‘s first three seasons. This review will have spoilers.

Reprinted from Pop Culture Maniacs and Wayback Machine. This was the seventeenth article I wrote for Pop Culture Maniacs. This post was originally published on December 31, 2022.

The plot of Spy x Family focuses around the mission of a skilled secret agent codenamed Twilight (voiced by Takuya Eguchi). He is tasked with enrolling a child in a prestigious university to spy on an important political leader as part of Operation Strix, in an effort to keep peace between two warring nations, Westalis and Ostania,  an allusion to East and West Germany. In order to complete his task, he takes on the name of Loid Forger, adopts Anya (voiced by Atsumi Tanezaki), a young orphan girl, and marries a beautiful woman named Yor Briar (voiced by Saori Hayami).

Little does he know, but Anya and Yor have secrets of their own: Anya is a mind-reader and Yor is a deadly assassin who is named “Thorn Princess” due to her deadly nature. Despite these dangers, and Loid making decisions which don’t always follow common sense, he struggles with juggling the duties of being a caring father, husband, and perfect spy all at the same time.

This plot makes for an enjoyable comedy. Anya is a character that many can relate to not because of her mind-reading abilities, but her quick wit, flexibility, and love for cartoons. Hilariously, the cartoon she loves, Spy Wars, resembles what Loid actually does for a living.

In the same way that Carmen Sandiego, in the recent animated series of the same name, is shown to have human limits, Anya, Loid, and Yor are not superhuman. Anya’s powers wane during a new moon and crowded places stress her out. Yor can become insecure and has a lack of social skills, leading her work colleagues to bully her. Loid can become physically exhausted from his work, including his cover job as a psychiatrist at a local hospital in the city of Berlint.

All of the characters have their own villains which makes Spy x Family an intriguing series. Apart from the country’s secret police, Loid faces a skeptical brother of Yor, Yuri, who is wholly dedicated to her. Just like the protagonists, Yuri has his own secret. He masquerades as a diplomat when he is actually a secret police officer. Also, Yor feels threatened by Nightfall, a former apprentice of Loid who has a crush on him, and believes that Loid may leave her for Nightfall. At school, Anya faces challenges from fellow students and instructors.

While each of the characters, especially those in the main cast, have their strong points, Yor stands out above the others. While she only marries Loid at first as a matter of convenience, as the series goes on, she is further drawn to him, and dedicating herself to him, and Anya. She has a tough and strong nature unlike any other character, which is displayed when her assassin skills are put to use. Similar to other anime characters, she drinks to calm herself down. In an interesting twist, she can clean well, but cannot cook (unlike Loid), and can be selfless but absent-minded.

Spy x Family is unlike any other spy series I’ve ever seen. It does not have the combination of comedy, action, and adventure like the classic 2000s Disney series Kim Possible or similar to the often formulaic, and glitzy, spy fiction Totally Spies! This is because Anya, Loid, and Yor are all playing certain roles, either as schoolchildren or parents, to allay any suspicion from who they truly are.

The series has been positively received, with fans engaging in cosplay, and manga editions flying off the shelves. This popularity has been recognized by the show’s producers, who recently renewed the series for a second season and film, which is set to premiere in 2023.

There are many themes in Spy x Family that go beyond a focus on spying. For one, human experimentation is an important sub-theme, even more than occasional mentions of it in the ongoing yuri golf series Birdie Wing. For example, Anya detests studying because it was forced upon her when she was a test subject. Furthermore, the family dog, Bond, later adopted by the Forgers, has future vision akin to Garnet in Steven Universe, and was also experimented on by humans.

The smoothness of the anime’s voice acting, music, and animation make it stand out more than other series which aired this year, such as Bocchi the Rock! and Do it Yourself!. This is unsurprising since the show’s director, and writer, Furuhashi, is well-established in the anime industry. He previously worked on series such as Rurouri Kenshin, Zipang, Hunter x HunterGunslinger Girl, and Le Chevalier D’Eon.

The show’s music is by (K)now Name, a Japanese group known for their work in five other anime, including Sakura Quest and Dorohedoro. Additionally, the show’s voice actors are seasoned. For instance, Eguchi prominently voiced Kazuya Kujo in Gosick, while Hayami voiced Yuzuki Shiraishi in A Place Further than the Universe. These elements are enhanced by the show’s writing.

Spy x Family doesn’t have any direct or indirect LGBTQ themes, even it arguably has queer themes, but not queer representation. In this way, it is different from other spy fiction like the 2018 steampunk spy action Princess Principal, or the OVA and anime springing from the Read or Die light novel and manga. Both have some indirect yuri themes and subtext.

This series was only rivaled on Crunchyroll by the final season of Kaguya-sama: Love Is War, the third season of Ascendance of a Bookworm, and new series such as Love After World Domination, Aharen-san wa Hakarenai, and Shikimori’s Not Just a Cutie, all of which were well-animated and constructed series. However, Spy x Family was the only outright only spy fiction which began during the Spring 2022 series lineup for the streaming platform. This anime was on par with those series because of its staff, artwork, story, and plot.

Although accurately identifying which anime have the best production values can be challenging due to a lack of public information, and the fact that having a big budget doesn’t “mean that a production ends up looking great”, Spy x Family is well illustrated, animated, and constructed, meaning that the production value is higher than other series. As such, it is no exaggeration to say this series has some of the best production values I’ve ever seen in an anime. This has attracted many fans to the series, which received some of the best ratings “among all [TV Tokyo] programs on all stations for the July 2022 season”.

In Western animation, happy families are often the norm, especially in Disney series. This series stands against that norm. Yor, Loid, and Anya are only together for convenience. They are a chosen or found family, but all feel a connection to each other. This is not unique to this series.

A similar family of sorts exists in the popular isekai I’ve Been Killing Slimes for 300 Years and Maxed Out My Level. The protagonist, Azusa Aizawa, becomes an immortal witch, and has a family of sorts which includes a dragon girl, sentient slime spirits, and a ghost girl. A difference is that Spy x Family is more focused on each family member trying to fulfill their societal role, of sorts, and the family in this anime only consists of three people, rather than something larger.

This series bucks the common theme of anime protagonists struggling to do “their best” in school. Such a theme is present in the well-regarded magical girl series Cardcaptor Sakura and Sailor Moon, but is also often present in Western animations.

In Spy x Family, Anya is a terrible student, in part because of human experimentation on her. As a result, she tries to become friends with fellow students to further the “friendship scheme” rather than becoming an Imperial Scholar. Anya is just as bad at academics as Eve in Birdie Wing. However, she has the unique advantage of reading minds and a level of charm that Eve doesn’t always have.

Although this series is not as absurd as the overly dramatic golf tournaments in Birdie Wing, the interactions between the characters make you invested in them, and want to watch more. This is strengthened through the many comedic moments, either between Loid and Anya, Anya and Yor, or Anya and Bond. As a result, you root for the characters, either when Loid is gathering intelligence for his next mission or when Anya is trying to make friends at school.

The second season of Spy x Family, set to air sometime in 2023, along with a film, will likely develop the growing romance between Loid and Yor, the friendships Anya is making at school, and the strained relationship that Damian has with his family. As was the case with the 25-episode first season, all of these stories will be intertwined together in some form.

The first season of Spy x Family is currently streaming on Hulu and Crunchyroll.

© 2022-2023 Burkely Hermann. All rights reserved.

Bocchi the Rock! Review

Screencap from opening sequence from Bocchi the Rock

Bocchi the Rock is a slice-of-life comedic music anime based on a manga by Aki Hamaji. It is directed by Keiichirō Saitō and written by Erika Yoshida. It is produced by CloverWorks, a seven-year-old Japanese studio known for series such as Slow Start, Rascal Does Not Dream of Bunny Girl Senpai, The Promised Neverland, Akebi’s Sailor Uniform, and Spy × Family. This review will have spoilers.

Reprinted from Pop Culture Maniacs and Wayback Machine. This was the sixteenth article I wrote for Pop Culture Maniacs. This post was originally published on December 14, 2022.

The show’s plot centers around a socially awkward girl named Hitori Goto (voiced by Yoshino Aoyama) who struggles making friends at school or anywhere, playing cover songs under the name “guitarhero”. She is pulled into a group at an underground bar named STARRY by a girl named Nijika Ijichi (voiced by Sayumi Suzushiro), and meets Ryo Yamada (voiced by Saku Mizuno), who plays bass. The fellow members of the Kessoku Band dub her “Bocchi”, saying they are fans of her “guitarhero” channel.

The series follows the development of Kessoku Band, which expands to four members after Bocchi convinces guitarist Ikuyo Kita (voiced by Ikumi Hasegawa). Over the series, Bocchi becomes more comfortable with other people, effectively coming out of her shell. This makes the series different from the popular 23-episode anime, Komi Can’t Communicate, which centers on a quiet beautiful girl named Shoko Komi, who is also very socially awkward.

Instead, Bocchi the Rock! has more similarities to Hitori Bocchi no Marumaru Seikatsu, which also features a socially awkward and anxious protagonist. At the same time, Bocchi is, arguably, not as physically attractive in the same way as Komi.

Furthermore, her expressions, words, and actions make her more relatable than any other character with similar characteristics, especially when she imagines a dark, depressing future for herself several times throughout the series. For those who are socially awkward, the tendency to hide away from the world and ignore others makes her someone that they can connect to, more than other characters.

This anime is unique because it is one of the only recent music anime series, which are not centered on idols. That distinguishes it from Love Live! Nijigasaki High School Idol Club, Shine Post, and Love Live! Superstar!! which aired this year. It also sets it apart from relatively recent non-idol music series such as Healer Girl and Lost Song, neither of which feature rock bands.

Each of the characters in Bocchi the Rock! stand out in their own way, contributing uniquely to the show’s comedy. However, Bocchi has the most comedic moments in the series, in comparison to the other characters.

Animation and background art of Bocchi the Rock! is simpler than other series, like Do It Yourself!!. Even so, the art style stands out, especially when paired with Bocchi. For instance, when she was listening to the psychedelic rock band, Sick Hack, she is shown in a mix of psychedelic colors. After all, the animation and background art can be very dynamic, as it is in the series opening.

The series music is informed by realism more than other series, in terms of chords and sound of the songs. For example when the band isn’t coordinated, the songs sound discordant. When they have more confidence, the songs sound stronger.

This is enhanced by emphasizing the reality of playing in a band. It also couples with mature themes. One example of this is the talented vocalist, and bassist, of Sick Hack, Kikuri Hiroi (voiced by Sayaka Senbongi), who is an alcoholic. She spends most of what she earns on booze. She is almost as drunk as the character, Shorty, is throughout the Tangled animated series.

Even so, she encourages Bocchi, as does STARRY manager, Seika Ijichi (voiced by Maaya Uchida), the older sister of Nijika. This support, and friendly disposition of her fellow band members, allows Bocchi to grow as a person. That is part of what makes the show enjoyable.

Although Bocchi is very anti-social, she does not go on an adventure to leave society behind, in effect, as the protagonists of the amazing 2018 adventure anime A Place Further Than the Universe do. Instead, she expresses her social awkwardness through her actions and her music, while continuing to attend school. In this way, she fits within existing social norms, while remaining anti-social.

The voice acting of Aoyama, Suzushiro, Mizuno, Hasegawa, Senbongi, and Uchida in Bocchi the Rock! shines through and grounds the show itself, especially during songs. The same can be said for those voicing Hiroi’s fellow band members, Eliza Shimizu and Shima Iwashita, or those voicing Hitori’s mother, father, sister, and dog.

Many of the voice actors in the series are recognizable due to their voice performances in previous anime. This includes their voice overs for characters in well-known series such as Princess Tutu, Non Non Biyori, My Next Life as a Villainess: All Routes Lead to Doom!, Kuma Kuma Kuma Bear, Bloom Into You, and The Promised Neverland.

Others have voiced characters in My Master Has No Tail, Love After World Domination, The Demon Girl Next Door, and Kaguya-sama: Love Is War. This seasoned voice talent makes Bocchi the Rock! a much stronger series than anime which have newer voice actors.

The series has Bocchi at its core, its heart. Bocchi drives the series forward. Unlike series such as Wednesday, where Wednesday Addams holds the series up to such an extent that without her it would collapse, other characters serve as supporting pillars.

Bocchi’s moodiness, emotion, and social awkwardness often all combine together, even causing her disappear or turn into nothingness, especially when she is experiencing too much social interaction or stimulation. While this is not necessarily realistic, it is relatable.

As such, she is more relatable than the aforementioned Komi or Hitori, in their respective series, or even the protagonists of Aharen-san wa Hakarenai and Love Live! Nijigasaki High School Idol Club. However, her character is not unique, as there are various shy, timid, and socially awkward characters across anime, something which is more common than ever.

Bocchi the Rock! centers on a socially awkward protagonist, with a focus on what friendship means, and balancing one’s social abilities with possible social exhaustion. This sets her apart from other characters with similar characteristics.

If there is anywhere the story falls down or falls short, it is the fact that it focuses primarily on Bocchi and not as much on other characters. None of the parents or guardians of the other protagonists are shown in the series. However, this is not as extreme as the hyper-focus on Steven in Steven Universe Future to the detriment of additional characters. In this series, viewers can still see some depth of others characters apart from Bocchi.

Some fans have argued that Bocchi the Rock! has yuri subtext. One prominent yuri news site, Yuri Anime News, even listed it on their website, without detailing how this subtext is manifested in the series itself. These arguments are sound. Ikuko seems to have some feelings for Ryo, despite the fact that Ryo does not mean to attract people to her, and looks relatively androgynous.

This is one area the series could be stronger: going beyond yuri subtext. Even other series airing this fall, such as Encouragement of Climb: Next Summit and Management of a Novice Alchemist, have more prominent yuri undertones. The latter even has a textual yuri relationship between two supporting characters which is occasionally shown on screen.

Despite these criticisms, Bocchi the Rock! still stands out, especially among recent music anime series, not falling into the usual set-up of such series. The focus of the series on social awkwardness and music is the reason I recommend it wholeheartedly.

Bocchi the Rock! is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.

© 2022-2023 Burkely Hermann. All rights reserved.

Cleopatra in Space and the Missing “Quarantine” Episode

On July 15, 2020, the streaming service, Peacock, made 12 episodes of Cleopatra in Space, an animated show, available to all U.S. residents, after making five episodes available to Xfinity subscribers a few months before. Whether by error, laziness, or purposeful action, the show’s sixth episode was not listed, meaning that only episodes 1-5 and 7-13 were available to anyone who subscribed to Peacock Premium. Mike Maihack, creator of the graphic novel series which this animated series was based on, lamented this development. He described the “missing” episode as focusing on a “zombie-like flu,” with Cleo having to face the consequences of avoiding quarantine, and said it is an episode that the “entire world should be able to see right now.” He also called the release of only 12 episodes “disappointing,” referring to the fact that 26 episodes were part of the show’s first season, many of which premiered on the Dreamworks channel, available to subscribers in Southeast Asia. A fan of the show later asked Peacock about this episode and they described it as “temporarily unavailable” and said that there is no news on the release “at the moment.” As of the time of this article’s publication, the episode has still not been added to Peacock, with an official Peacock account explaining that the episode was “not actively” on the platform, but not explaining why this was the case. This article will summarize the “missing” episode, reportedly with the name “Quarantine,” as listed on the website of Rotten Tomatoes, [1] and note how it relates to the COVID-19 pandemic.

This was originally written in October 2020, but never published for some reason. It was since named and fixed up in December 2022, so some of the information in it may be outdated. It will be published on my History Hermann WordPress blog on Feb. 23, 2022. The episode was finally released on Peacock on June 25, 2021.

This episode is not the first time that a show has focused on a quarantine. The Simpsons Movie in 2007 was about the town of Springfield trapped under a glass dome by a power-hungry EPA administrator. Some have argued noted other Simpsons episodes, like one where the “Osaka Flu” spread across Springfield, although such a comparison is faulty due to the unscientific way that the flu spread across the town itself. On the other hand, the August 2011 episode of Futurama, “Cold Warriors,” had the arrogant space commander, Zapp Brannigan, attempt to bring the quarantined city of New New York into the Sun after the common cold virus accidentally spread across the city from Fry to the rest of those in the city. Luckily, the cold is controlled once everyone receives a vaccine, the quarantine is lifted, and the city returned to its rightful location. In a similar vein, Edgar Allan Poe, in his short story “The Masque of the Red Death,” focuses on a prince who gathers his rich friends within a castle while a plague known as the “Red Death” spreads across the country, killing all who are exposed. Ultimately, they are exposed to the virus and end up dying as a result, showing no one is safe from the disease.

Cleo and the zombie flu

This episode is different from the previously mentioned examples. Cleopatra “Cleo,” (voiced by Lilimar Herandez) is adjusting herself to the future, almost getting killed by a robot assassin, a robotic monster, nearly captured by scavengers, and liberating a planet from the control of the Xerxs, the footsoldiers of the tyrannical Octavian, in previous episodes. She begins the episode by going on her first solo mission to retrieve a book from a planet named Buflong whose inhabitants look like butterflies and “speak a musical language,” boasting she can deal with a “bunch of butterflies.” She figures out how to deal with the burping butterflies, first zapping them with her quaser (a type of laser pistol), throwing her bracelets to the creatures, and speaking a burp language with the queen butterfly creature.

Cleo returns to Mayet confidently and when her mentor, Khensu (voiced by Sendhil Ramamurthy), tells her to quarantine because of a flu outbreak on the planet she came from. In her typical style, she decides to not take him seriously, declaring she has no idea what quarantine is, and says she is fine because she “doesn’t even have a sniffle.” She touches as many people as she can when she arrives at Pyramid, an academy which is a cross-between a college and high school, with no social distancing whatsoever. Although she thinks that everything will be “totally fine,” the next day she sees all the students at the campus sick with the zombie flu. She does not understand how she got everyone sick, with Khensu informing her she is a carrier of the flu. She is shocked by how the sickness is developing among her classmates, such as temporary tentacle growth (in the case of Zaid), hallucinations (in the case of Brian), and projectile crying (in the case of Akila). Khensu tells her that the flu “affects every species differently” in the first stage of the virus. Although cats only have a mild cold, the second stage is the same for everyone: “extreme aggression.” Basically, everyone turns into “rage zombies” who are prone to fight others. Yikes!

Cleo defends her actions, saying that she doesn’t know “weird future stuff” and shows she has no knowledge of quarantine, guessing it is a mineral, a dance, or “some kind of pastry.”

Khensu and Cleo leave in the nick of time, as they have to find a cure before everyone in the academy dies from the flu, killing each other in their uncontrollable rage. They travel to an uninhabited ice planet to meet Dr. Queed (voiced by Paul Rugg), former head of biosciences for P.Y.R.A.M.I.D., who was forced out because of his eccentric nature. While Khensu and Cleo are sparring, their ship crash-lands on the planet, and they barely escape being killed by lightning which strikes anything above 20 feet. Thanks to Cleo’s quick thinking, charging her quaser with the lightning’s energy, as soon as the virus fully takes hold of Khensu, making him a “rage zombie,” the giant ice spider, which blocks their way, is killed by a blast from the quaser. Afterward, Cleo and Khensu enter Dr. Queed’s lab, and learn the unsettling news that the monster Cleo killed was one of his creations! As Cleo pleads with him to help those at the academy, he remains skeptical of offering his “uncanny scientific brilliance.” Using his over-confidence, hubris, and ego against him, Cleo manipulates Queed into helping them, as Queed claims he can cure “any sickness.” Khensu, overtaken by the flu, almost kills Queed, until he sticks the untested vaccine into his arm, which ends up being successful. Later, Cleo goads Queed, saying he can’t cure everyone, leading him to declare he will prove his scientific abilities by making a big batch of vaccines.

On their return to Mayet, Queed, Cleo, and Khensu wear special helmets equipped to shoot vaccine darts at people. When they return to the academy, it has turned into utter mayhem, with each of them spreading out to cover more ground, firing darts filled with the vaccine at every student they can find. In the end, Brian is the only holdout, remaining infected because the darts can’t penetrate his cyborg body. Cleo has to activate her super pink power and is trapped by Brian, allowing her to suck out the power from Brian’s body. With everything returning to normal, Cleo says the spread of the illness is all her fault, a conclusion which is mostly correct. Khensu admits that he shouldn’t have assumed she knew of the “importance of quarantine.” Ironically, she later enters quarantine after showing symptoms of a presumed common cold. In the last scene of the episode, she remarks, “quarantine stinks!” a sentiment a lot of us would agree with at this point in time, and asks for a charger.

Cleo declares that “quarantine stinks!”

Relevance to the pandemic

The episode is extremely relevant to the present, even though the flu which is portrayed in the animated series is nothing like COVID-19. When Cleo unknowingly brings the disease back to Mayet as an asymptomatic carrier, and becomes the superspreader. A close watching of the episode shows Cleo gets close to at least five people, including fist-bumping with two, and hugging two more people while walking through an area bustling with students. Since the area was crowded with people, at least 18 students in the area nearby, by my count, she undoubtedly spread the virus to them. As such, the simple action of walking near the gathered students is a super-spreader event. When it comes to COVID-19, densely packed areas where people are talking or singing is risky as it leads to super-spreader events, [2] with the same applying here. In the same episode, Professor Jurval is shown teaching a class with at least seven students, although more are likely there and not shown on the screen. This is another presumed super-spreader event as she coughs toward the students, leading them to spread the cough between each other. Similar to the virus shown in the episode, COVID-19 has various stages and symptoms and does not affect everyone the same way.

Jurval’s possible superspreader event

There are few lessons and takeaways from this episode, tempered by the current time and place we live in. The first is that you should quarantine yourself when you are sick and don’t think you are above it. The latter attitude is how people have died or become seriously ill with COVID-19. In fact, Cleo spreading the virus almost caused her friends and classmates to die as their rage came to a melting point. She barely saved the day, only thanks to a medical doctor, although one that was seen as a quack, his vaccines of sorts, and her mentor, Khensu. Another takeaway from this episode is that you should listen to medical advice, not ignore it, as Cleo does at the end of the episode when she develops a cold of some type, perhaps as a side effect of the virus she spread or something else entirely.

The episode as a whole can be interpreted, in our current time and place, as emphasizing the importance of social distancing, coupled with mask-wearing. If Cleo had social distanced from her fellow classmates, wore a mask, and gone to quarantine, the outbreak of the flu could have been completely avoided. But, that wouldn’t have made a “good” story, right? More fundamentally, the episode is about trusting others and not being as self-centered (or arrogant), especially when you don’t know something or others will be harmed by your actions. This is especially relevant considering the current infection of the U.S. President with COVID-19 and those around him, [3] after not following the proper safety precautions, whether not social distancing or not wearing a mask. Clearly, no one is immune from the virus, no matter their stature in U.S. society, and no one can escape its wrath or effects.

Unlike COVID-19, where someone can feel “well in their battle against it one hour can easily take a turn the next,” as noted by TIME magazine’s Senior Editor, the virus shown in the episode only has two stages. Even so, there are many parallels to the current pandemic. The event last Saturday at the Rose Garden to announce Judge Amy Coney Barrett as a nominee for the Supreme Court, has been considered a superspreader event. [4] Similarly, Cleo walking through a crowded area at school, and Jurval sneezing on her class, are similarly superspreader events. At the same time, the way the virus was transmitted in the episode itself is similar to COVID-19 because it spreads in tiny aerosol droplets, something which the CDC recently admitted COVID-19 does as well, after initially denying it. [5] The agency’s official website currently states that “some infections can be spread by exposure to [the] virus in small droplets and particles that can linger in the air for minutes to hours,” making clear that social distancing and mask-wearing alone will not limit the virus, but rather that it is about the time of exposure.

The episode itself also highlights the importance of proper medical care and science. If Queed had never created the vaccine and inadvertently made Khensu into a test subject, then everyone at the academy would have killed each other. Admittedly, this vaccine did not go through all the stages that those vaccines for the flu, measles, smallpox, and many other diseases, must go through before being given to the general public. In that way, it was a big gamble to even make the vaccines for everyone because they only had one test subject (Khensu). What if the effects on the students had been different? Imagine that instead of removing the flu particles within each of them, it killed or made them sicker? This is where the show falls down. Since it is reportedly geared toward those aged 6-11, according to showrunner Doug Langdale, such serious discussions are often sidetracked. As such, shows like Futurama do a much better job of highlighting the medical issues and risks in infection than Cleopatra in Space, with critics praising it for highlighting “what happens when an epidemic breaks loose in the future.” Even so, the Cleopatra in Space episode still has its merits, as it does not have flashbacks and neither is everyone put in quarantine. Similar to the Futurama episode, a vaccine is created, but the plotline is more straightforward and focuses on fewer characters, as Cleo’s usual team of herself, Brian, and Akila, is not possible, as Brian and Akila have the flu.

Final thoughts

The parallels to the current COVID-19 pandemic could why the episode is still not listed on Peacock. However, the episode has aired on the DreamWorks channel, Showmax in South Africa, Viaplay in Scandinavia, and ABC Me in Australia, to give a few examples. Perhaps the executives, whether at DreamWorks, Universal Pictures (parent of DreamWorks), NBCUniversal (parent of Universal Pictures), or Comcast (parent of NBC Universal), did not want the episode to be interpreted as a commentary on COVID-19, with a protagonist who violates quarantine rules and is gleeful about it (before releasing her error). If that is the case, it is completely absurd. Since the show is relatively complex, in terms of the fact it has 26 episodes, coming in a total of over 570 minutes of animated content, it undoubtedly took a long time to produce, as compared to shorter productions. The show has been in production since at least January 2018, when the request to develop the music for the show was put out, [6] and when DreamWorks registered the trademark for Cleopatra in Space itself. Looking into those in the show’s crew, depending on the person, they worked on the show any time between April 2018 and August 2019, far before COVID-19 was on anyone’s mind.

Hopefully, this episode will soon be made available and that other animations in the coming year make parallels to the current COVID-19 pandemic in a way that is respectful and recognizes the gravity of the virus. In the end, there are various lessons and takeaways that viewers can glean from this episode, and the animated series as a whole, which will have relevance to this current time and place, and into the foreseeable future.

© 2020-2023 Burkely Hermann. All rights reserved.


[1] This episode seems to be named “The Flu,” when the Korean title of the episode, when it aired on the DreamWorks channel on December 2, 2019, was translated. It also aired on Teletoon+ in Poland on February 24 of this year, and on ABC Me, an Australian broadcasting service, this summer.

[2] Brown, N. (2020, May 15). What is a coronavirus “super-spreading” event? Retrieved October 4, 2020, from https://www.cbsnews.com/news/super-spreader-coronavirus/.

[3] Over 19 people have been infected as noted by Norah O’Donnell in the CBS News special report on late night television on October 5, 2020 about the return of the U.S. President from Walter Reed to the White House, a number that increases every day.

[4] Santucci, J. and Faulders, K. White House aides anxious as coronavirus cases rise in Trump’s orbit: Sources. Retrieved October 5, 2020, from https://abcnews.go.com/US/white-house-aides-anxious-coronavirus-cases-rise-trumps/story?id=73435247; Holland, S. and Chiacu, D. Trump set to go home to a White House hard hit by coronavirus. Retrieved October 5, 2020, from https://www.yahoo.com/news/trumps-medical-status-unclear-doctors-040418365.html.

[5] Dillion, N. CDC admits COVID-19 can spread through tiny aerosol droplets suspended for ‘minutes to hours’. Retrieved October 5, 2020, from https://www.yahoo.com/news/cdc-admits-covid-19-spread-211400081.html; Edwards, E. CDC reverses again, now says COVID-19 is ‘sometimes’ airborne. Retrieved October 5, 2020, from https://www.today.com/health/cdc-reverses-again-now-says-covid-19-sometimes-airborne-t193348.

[6] Lofty, C. (2019, November 25). Cleopatra comin’ atcha! – the music of Cleo in Space. Retrieved October 4, 2020, from https://futurevega.com/blog/cleopatra-in-space.

Wednesday Review (Spoiler Filled)

From the first promo video for the series in June 2022, showing Thing on Wednesday’s shoulder and showing her snapping her fingers, a callback to the 1960s TV series

Wednesday is a coming-of-age supernatural, and comedy, horror series which is all the rage on social media. It is a live-action series created by Alfred Gough and Miles Millar, with Tim Burton as an executive producer, along with Steve Stark, Andrew Mittman, Kayla Alpert, and others. The series debuted on November 23.

Reprinted from Pop Culture Maniacs and Wayback Machine. This was the fourteenth article I wrote for Pop Culture Maniacs. This post was originally published on December 7, 2022.

Jenna Ortega, a Latine actress of Mexican and Puerto Rican descent, who plays Wednesday, carries the series. She is known for her performances in live action series like Jane the Virgin, Richie Rich, and Stuck in the Middle. She also played protagonists in Elena of Avalor and Jurassic World Camp Cretaceous, two animated series, and a recurring character in Big City Greens. This previous acting experience informs her role as Wednesday, who is part of a multiracial Latine family.

Jenna Ortega, a Latine actress of Mexican and Puerto Rican descent, who plays Wednesday, carries the series. She is known for her performances in live action series like Jane the Virgin, Richie Rich, and Stuck in the Middle. She also played protagonists in Elena of Avalor and Jurassic World Camp Cretaceous, two animated series, and a recurring character in Big City Greens. This previous acting experience informs her role as Wednesday, who is part of a multiracial Latine family.

Wednesday is joined by her partner in crime, Thing, a disembodied hand sent by her parents to watch over her. Thing is sentient and serves as her best, and sometimes only, friend. Wednesday arrives at Nevermore after causing problems at other schools, like dumping bags of piranhas into a school swimming pool to get revenge on kids bullying her brother.

Like other supernatural series, Wednesday has latent magical powers. Specifically she has psychic visions toward the past, seeing her ancestor, Goody Adams (also played by Ortega), and events before they happen. This is akin to the powers of Bond, the dog in Spy x Family who has visions of the future.

The school she attends is filled with other societal outcasts like Xavier Thorpe (played by Percy Hynes White) who can make his art come to life, a siren named Bianca Barclay (played by Joy Sunday), a student named Eugene Otinger (played by Moosa Mostafa) who can control movements of bees. Also Wednesday’s roommate, Enid Sinclair (played by Emma Myers), is a werewolf, who has yet to “wolf out”. Vampires, witches, faceless monsters, gorgons, and others also attend the school.

Wednesday often clashes with those in authority, whether the Nevermore principal, Larissa Weems (played by Gwendoline Christie), Donovan Galpin (played by Jamie McShane), the sheriff of Jericho, the nearby small town, and her court-ordered therapist, Dr. Valerie Kinbott (played by Riki Lindhome). All the while, she tries to solve the mystery about a monster attacking students at the school, sometimes with help from others, and other times, by herself.

Ortega makes Wednesday into a character you can empathize with. This is even the case when she challenges established histories by pointing to genocide of Indigenous people or child slavery used to make chocolate, while working at Pilgrim World. She remains committed toward sharing the reality of what is going on, rather than sugarcoating anything.

Along the way, she faces villains such as Joseph Crackstone (played by William Houston), the Pilgrim forefather of Jericho, who wants to kill every outcast, and a student named Rowan Laslow (portrayed by Calum Ross) who almost kills her with his telekinesis. She fights to defend herself by any means necessary, even through sword fights.

Wednesday’s gothic appearance is likely intended to express her own sensitivity, self-confidence, rebellious nature, and be a wall to protect herself. It makes her distinguished and mysterious, more than any other character.

This is heightened by the difference from previous adaptations. For one, it is more mature, with blood, gory violence, murder, and gruesomeness. Secondly, in Addams Family movies in the 1990s and the two animated films in the 2000s, Wednesday is a kid and does not have independence, always coming back to her family. In this series, such shies away from her family, before coming back to them later.

In the words of Ortega, the series is “Nancy Drew–esque”, with Ortega saying she was inspired by Ricci’s performance, and emphasizing that she didn’t want Wednesday “to be nasty”. She also described the performance, often on location in Romania, as very stressful, and noted Burton’s role in how Wednesday looked on screen, even suggesting changes to the braids Wednesday used, and the style of her bangs.

In Wednesday, there are many callbacks to the films and original television series, including finger snapping to open a secret vault and ringing a bell at the coffee shop in Jericho where Tyler works. Even so, it is different than those previous versions, as Wednesday is much more assertive, even more than when she left her family in The Addams Family 2 and believed a demented scientist was her father.

Apart from Morticia and Gomez, played by Catherine Zeta-Jones and Luis Guzmán, other characters make a brief appearance in Wednesday. This includes the younger brother of Wednesday, Pugsley (played by Isaac Ordonez), the Addams family butler, Lurch (played by George Burcea), and Uncle Fester (played by Fred Armisen), the uncle of Wednesday and brother of Gomez.

In a somewhat surprising twist, the school’s botony teacher, Marilyn Thornhill, is revealed as a villain, after Wednesday suspects her. This is unique because Christina Ricci, who played Wednesday in The Addams Family (1991) and Addams Family Values (1993), plays as the character of Marilyn. In that way, Ricci’s performance in Wednesday could be a callback to her previous portrayal.

Apart from non-existent LGBTQ representation in Wednesday, despite some arguable same-sex romantic vibes and promotion, and undertones negative toward Black people, there are are other grounds to criticize the series, including the use of oft-known tropes, caricatures, and archetypes. At times, the series falls into formulaic mystery and teenage romance. An improved show would have expanded representation, perhaps even with Wednesday as asexual, bisexual, or lesbian, or another protagonist.

Despite this, Ortega’s performance gives the show its charm, especially with her deadpan humor. She makes the show you want to watch until the end, following her from abandoned houses to hidden libraries as she tries to figure out who the monster is, and why it is targeting specific people. Ultimately, without Ortega at the helm, the show would fall apart.

More specifically, while the other actors in the series are talented and skilled, their performances pale in comparison to Ortega. None of them measure up to her, not even Thing. As such, the other performers are underused, or even worse, miscast. This could have been remedied of the series had busted apart genres, rather than complying to them. Perhaps it could have been set in a college environment, rather than a boarding school which almost seems akin to Hogwarts in more ways than one.

The next season of the series has been hinted, but has not been confirmed. Apart from any possible LGBTQ storylines, it would be good to see more world-building outside the town of Jericho and into the wider world. Otherwise the show would feel like High Guardian Spice or Little Witch Academia, in that it would be set in a magical school. While neither series is bad, if Wednesday followed the same path, the show could become too stale and uninteresting.

Furthermore, the series would be weakened if it continues to emphasize heterosexual teenage romance, especially involving Wednesday, or Enid. Such as focus could result in the show becoming like Twilight, and become an unfortunate detriment to the series as a whole.

Despite my criticisms, I tentatively recommend the series, mainly due to Ortega’s acting performance, the role of Thing, and the macabre and horror vibes from the show. I hope the show improves in the future.

Wednesday can be watched on Netflix.

Review box, which says: Acting: 4 stars; Writing: 3 stars; Direction: 3 stars; total of 3.3 stars

© 2022-2023 Burkely Hermann. All rights reserved.

“Hamster & Gretel”: A Series With Promise

Hamster & Gretel tells the story of 16-year-old boy, Kevin, who helps his sister, Gretel, when she and her pet hamster get superpowers. It is an animated action, comedy, and superhero series created by Dan Povenmire. He is well-known for being a co-creator of Phineas and Ferb, and Milo Murphy’s Law, with his Jeff “Swampy” Marsh, often his writing partner. The series debuted on August 12.

Reprinted from Pop Culture Maniacs and Wayback Machine. This was the thirteenth article I wrote for Pop Culture Maniacs. This post was originally published on September 1, 2022. This article was originally written for The Geekiary, but due to their guidelines I submitted to Pop Culture Maniacs instead.

Hamster & Gretel has a pretty simple storyline. An elementary school kid named Gretel (Meli Povenmire) is granted the power to fly and superstrength. She fights alongside her hamster (Beck Bennett). Her older teenage brother, Kevin (Michael Camino), tries to guide Gretel and Hamster. He helps them recognize what it means to defeat evil and remain superheroes.

The series is set in the same universe as Milo Murphy’s Law and Phineas and Ferb. Although it has been stated that no official crossover will happen, it is not known which characters will reappear in Hamster & Gretel.

Diversity is a big part of Hamster & Gretel. Gretel and Kevin are Venezuelan lead characters. Their mother, Carolina Grant-Gomez (Carolina Ravessa) is Venezuelan. The fact that the head writer, Joanna Hausmann, is Venezuelan, as is Povenmire’s wife, according to a podcast, inspired these characters.

Additionally, the series is based on a dynamic between Povenmire and his younger sister. It is also inspired by Povenmire’s family. The series will focus on Kevin and Gretel’s sibling relationship, according to show director Amber Tornquist Hollinger.

Hamster & Gretel includes many former cast and crew who worked on Povenmire’s previous projects. Hiromi “Romi” Dames, who voices Hiromi, a geeky comic book ship employee that Kevin has a crush on, voiced Charlene & Sharon Burlee in Milo Murphy’s Law. Phil LaMarr voiced Marcus Underwood in the same show, while Alyson Stoner voiced Lydia.

Danny Jacob, a composer, performer, and songwriter for Phineas and Ferb, is the series composer and song producer. Like Milo Murphy’s Law, Povenmire is involved with the show’s music. However, he is more involved in the songwriting for this series.

As for Stoner, her voice acting as Isabella Garcia-Shapiro in Phineas and Ferb is well-known. In this series, LaMarr voices a supervillain, Professor Exclamation. Stoner voices Lauren/The Destructress. The latter is part of an fraternal evil duo with Lyle/FistPuncher (Brock Powell).

Hamster & Gretel has promise as a new series due to its animation and voice acting. Even the simple storylines have the potential to lead to something more. It is easily digestible and doesn’t take itself seriously. This quality is not only present in Phineas and Ferb and Milo Murphy’s Law, but Kim Possible, a classic 2000s Disney series.

Reportedly, Hamster & Gretel has action sequences with better quality than the two aforementioned series co-created by Povenmire. The series garnered voice actors like Joey King, who voices Fred, a tech-savvy cousin of Kevin. Also, actor and comedian Matt Jones voices Dave, the father of Kevin and Gretel.

Povenmire voices an unseen extraterrestrial entity. Internet personality Liza Koshy voices Veronica Hill, a no-nonsense news reporter. Priah Ferguson (best known from Stranger Things) has a breakout animation voice role as Bailey, a school friend of Gretel. Also, Povenmire’s daughter, Meli, has her first big-time voice role as Gretel.

The show’s voice actors are experienced. They voiced characters in The Simpsons, American Dad!, Adventure Time, Amphibia, and Onyx Equinox. Series such as Victor and Valentino, The Ghost and Molly McGee, The Legend of Korra, We Bare Bears, DC Super Hero Girls, Harley Quinn, Final Space, Craig of the Creek, and Disenchantment also featured some of the show’s voice talent.

Diverse representation of characters of Venezuelan descent and Black characters, like Bailey, is a key part of the series. However, it remains to be seen whether there will be LGBTQ+ characters or not.

Specifically, Camino described himself as straight but said he doesn’t want his sexuality “in a box”. Stoner, as I noted in my review of Phineas and Ferb, stated her attraction to men, women, and “people who identify in other ways”. She also said she wanted to remain fluid in how she identified her sexual orientation. Hopefully, these qualities are portrayed in the characters they voice.

Furthermore, the series has emphasized the importance of being your true self and acceptance. Having LGBTQ+ characters would not be a stretch. It would easily fall within the series.

Dave cries as Carolina introduces Dave’s “lost” dad as a present

Even so, the series has some downsides. For one, it is not a young adult series like The Owl House, which will is ending possibly this year with its final season, or the recently ended Amphibia. Instead, kids and families are the target audience.

This is not unique. Currently airing Disney series like Big City Greens, The Ghost and Molly McGee, Chibiverse, Chip ‘n’ Dale: Park Life, and Monsters at Work appeal to this demographic. In addition, upcoming series such as Cars on the Road, Firebuds, Cookies & Milk, Marvel’s Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur, Tiana, Iwaju, Moana: The Series, Hailey’s On It!, Primos, and Kiff are geared toward the same audience.

This contrasts with Star Wars: The Bad Batch and What…If?, which have more mature themes. Even The Proud Family: Louder and Prouder falls into this category. Such series are not, for the most part, the focus Disney executives. Instead, they want to remain family-friendly despite the growth of the young adult animation genre with series like Dead End: Paranormal Park, The Owl House, and Infinity Train.

In addition, the series has an issue with implied self-inserts. For one, Povenmire appears to loosely base Kevin on himself. Secondly, the father of Kevin and Gretel has a similar name to Povenmire. This complicates the series in various ways.

It is an open question as to how effective the series can be without Swampy, who is reportedly voicing characters later in the series, as a co-creator, and co-writer. Milo Murphy’s Law and Phineas and Ferb were strong due to their combined talents.

In addition, I have concerns about the series’ staying power considering the first episode is not strong. The theme song is not very good.

Furthermore, since Povenmire wrote and performed the song, it makes me worried that the series will be middling, rather than superb. Generally, I have a high tolerance for theme songs. But, I dislike this one more than Arcane‘s theme, sung by Imagine Dragons.

Kevin and Gretel singing about family togetherness

Despite this, the pop music of Hamster & Gretel is like Milo Murphy’s Law and Phineas and Ferb. I was glad to see a rap battle at the end of “Neigh, It Ain’t So!” It reminded me of the much smoother rap battle between Rinku and Muni in D4DJ, voicing their grievances about each other in song. Hamster & Gretel may do something similar.

It is a distinct possibility that this series will do something akin to the sick battle dance in now non-canon 2005 The Proud Family Movie. It has a bizarre plot almost pulled from Kim Possible or Totally Spies! episode. Currently, such music battles generally only occur in anime series, but Hamster & Gretel could change that.

I liked the reference to the anime series within the show’s universe about cheerleaders who masquerade as students in the daytime but have superpowers otherwise. It had a feel of Totally Spies! and was a clear parody of absurd anime out there.

Situational comedy is an important part of the series, similar to Phineas and Ferb and Milo Murphy’s Law. It is coupled performances said to be “inspired“, featuring actors like Thomas Sanders, who voiced a character in the TV film, Candace Against the Universe.

With other Disney series like Elena of Avalor, Rapunzel’s Tangled Adventure, and Mira Royal Detective having elaborate musical numbers, it is likely that Hamster & Gretel will follow suit. There is also a distinct possibility that Disney will revive Phineas and Ferb as well.

Since ten episodes of Hamster & Gretel are on Disney+, the series appears to be one-third through the 30 episodes ordered for its first season. This means that there is a possibility that the series will become even better as the season continues.

Despite my criticisms, I tentatively recommend the series, and hope it improves in the future.

Hamster & Gretel can be watched on Disney+ or the Disney Channel.

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