Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Scariest Fictional Canon Moments

To celebrate Halloween, I give you my picks for the scariest moments in fictional canons:

Disney Animated: The Headless Horseman from "The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad."

Winnie The Pooh: The Heffalumps And Woozles Sequence ("The Blustery Day")

The Lord Of The Rings: Shelob's Lair

Star Wars: Darth Vader's Introduction

Kingdom Hearts: The Unknown (KH), Sora forgets Kairi (CoM), Maleficent's Revival (KH2)

Harry Potter: The climaxes of every year!

The Chronicles of Narnia: The death of Aslan (1), the White Witch ritual (2), Dark Island (3), the Giants (4), Tash (7).

Pokemon: Lavendar Town (games and manga), Ash and co. are trapped in Sabrina's dollhouse neighborhood (anime)

Peanuts: The cheteau catches on fire (Bon Voyage, Charlie Brown)

Avatar: Aang meets Koh the Face Stealer (Book 1), The Dai Li brainwash Jet (Book 2), Bloodbending is revealed (Book 3), Amon confronts Korra face-to-face (Korra)

Batman: "Dreams in Darkness" (TAS), "Strange Minds" (The Batman), Joker's first threat (TDK)

Dragon Ball: Cell absorbs people, and later uses their energy to scare Piccolo

The Legend of Zelda: The ghosts of the Forest Temple ("Ocarina of Time"), The music box house at Ikana Canyon ("Majora's Mask"), Zant snaps ("Twilight Princess")

Super Mario: The living piano at Big Boo's Haunt ("Super Mario 64")

Spider-Man: Spidey mutates into the Man-Spider (TAS), Green Goblin's trap in "The Uncertainty Principle" ("Spectacular Spider-Man"), Doc Ock's arms come alive (the movies)

Yu-Gi-Oh!: Death T's horror zone, Mai vs Yami Marik

Banjo Tooie: Three words: Zombie King Jingaling

Digimon: Piedmon turns the kids and digimon into keychains (1), Oikawa copies Ken's Dark Spore (2), Scary Jeri's reveal (3), Lucemon's message (4), Kurata's face appears on Belphemon (5)

Sonic The Hedgehog: Drowning!

Superman: Toyman kindaps Bruno Manheim (TAS)

Gargoyles: Fox transforms into a werewolf in front of Xanatos in "Eye Of The Beholder"

Spongebob Squarepants: Doodlebob attacks Spongebob at his house at the climax of "Frankendoodle"

Final Fantasy: Kefka kills Leo (VI), the Trail of Blood (VII), Adel grabs Rinoa (VIII), Necron (IX), Sin reveals itself outside of Zanarkand (X)

Neon Genesis Evangelion: The Mind Rape in "Don't Be" (Directors Cut), and Third Impact

Arthur: Arthur's cake induced fairy tail dream in "Just Desserts"

Care Bears: Nicholas and the Spirit confront the Care Bears. "Wheeeere arrre they?" (The Movie)

Dr. Seuss: The nightmarish sequence inside Grinch's wagon ("It's Grinch Night")

Henson Muppets: The Demon ("Don't Eat The Pictures"), Jareth has Sarah drugged ("Labyrinth")

Darkwing Duck: Darkwing begs not to go to Hell in "Dead Duck"

Rescue Rangers: The elephants try to crush the Rangers in "An Elephant Never Suspsects"

Duck Tales: "Figured it out, did you?" ("Nothing To Fear")

Tale Spin: Baloo's Nightmare ("From Here To Machinery")

Yu Yu Hakusho: Rando shrinks and tortures Kuwabara (1), Elder Toguro (2), Sensui's Multiple Personalities are revealed (3)

Teen Titans: Slade nearly kills Robin at the climax of "Haunted"

Death Note: Kira makes Raye kill the FBI and then kills Raye (1), The second Kira's broadcast (2)

Hey Arnold: "The Headless Cabby" and "Curly Snaps"

The Powerpuff Girls: "The whole world went to Heck!" ("Speed Demon")

Looney Tunes: The alien carrot Bugs Bunny (Bugs even says so!)

The Slayers: Phibrizzo breaks the casts' souls one by one ("NEXT")

El Hazard: Fighting the Shadow Tribe

South Park: The resolution of "Scott Tenorman Must Die" and it's follow-up in "201"

One Piece: Crocodile impales Luffy on his hook

Haruhi Suzumiya: Ryoko Asakura tries to kill Kyon. Twice.

Sailor Moon: Wiseman's skull flashes through his hood after he strikes down Dimande

Cowboy Bebop: "Pierrot le Fou"

Code Geass: C.C. is kidnapped by Mao in "Cheering Mao"

Naruto: Gaara freaks out and screams "IT'S MY BLOOD!!!"

Full Metal Alchemist: Nina Tucker is turned into a Chimera by her own father

Shaman King: Dr. Faust dissects Manta

Monster: Tenma meets Johan, the monster

Elfen Lied: Lucy breaks out and goes on a bloody massacre

Black Lagoon: Hansel and Gretel kill people while singing a creepy song

Hellsing: Alucard tortures and kills Luke Valentine

Higurashi: Keiichi's meeting with Rena in Episode 4

Buffy The Vampire Slayer: The Gentlemen in "Hush"

The Twilight Zone: The climax of "Midnight Sun"

Dark Chronicle: Meeting and fighting Emperor Griffin

Epic Mickey: The Crazy Clock

Star Fox 64: The reveal of Andross

Reboot: The end of "My Two Bobs"

Code Lyoko: XANA almost destroys the world. A lot.

Gravity Falls: Bill Cipher unleashes Weirdmageddon

Invader ZIM: ZIM goes after Dib for his organs in "Dark Harvest" 

Ben 10: Zombozo in "The Last Laugh", Ghostfreak shows his face in "Ghostfreaked Out"

Fillmore!: A culprit rants using his dummy during the climactic chase of "Foes Don't Forgive"

Ed, Edd, and Eddy: Eddy's brother comes out to play in "The Big Picture Show"

Foster's Home For Imaginary Friends: Mac at Barry Bling's mansion ("Affair Weathered Friends")

Scooby Doo: Professor Pericles kills Ed Machine ("All Fear The Freak")

Monday, October 29, 2012

Highest Points EVAR!

This entry lists what are, in my opinion, the highest points of any fictional canon or franchise:

Disney Animated Canon: The Disney Renaissance - From 1989 to 1999, this was post-Walt Disney at their Disneyist. All movies produced during these times had a mass amount of heart and quality put into them, even the one that wasn't all that good ("Pocahontas". Yes, I liked "Hercules." Is that wrong?) Disney has had their hits and misses over the years, but they haven't ever had a decade of consistent hits like this again. Perhaps they never will...

Winnie The Pooh: "Pooh's Grand Adventure" - People say "The Tigger Movie" was the height of Pooh's career. I disagree. This overlooked animated gem was a DTV that focused not just on Tigger, but on the rest of the great "Pooh" cast of characters (minus Kanga and Roo, but oh well. I didn't miss them.) Particularly Pooh, Piglet, Tigger, and Rabbit, who all must learn lessons on the journey, and Christopher Robin, whom they're trying to find. Owl and Eeyore get smaller but still notable parts as well. Though still whimsical and fun, this is probably the closest a "Pooh" film will ever get to feeling "dark" and almost "epic." And through brilliant storytelling, it ends up with a payoff that in any other story might feel like a cheat, but here it just...works. This movie spins off from the end of "The Many Adventures Of Winnie The Pooh", (with the talk of "doing nothing" and growing up) and uses a plot device that would later be re-used in "Winnie The Pooh" (Christopher Robin goes to school and leaves a note that Owl misinterprets). But the way this one closes out really feels like the grand closure to Disney's Pooh, even if it's not the end of the franchise. Oh, and "Wherever You Are" is pure emotional awesomeness in a song. It's just all around great.

The Lord Of The Rings: "The Return Of The King" - I'm speaking of the motion picture trilogy here, not the book(s), which was one big high point of Tolkien's career in of itself. It doesn't work as well as a polished and paced movie like "Fellowship" does, but it's better than "Two Towers." But more than those two, this one is epic. This one is a spectacle: an experience. This is what we've been building towards this whole time. This one goes on for so long and, aside from the Ending Fatigue, the payoff is more than worth it. Just...look at all the awards this movie has won. And clearly it deserves them. When you watch, it absorbs you in. It's an epic, thrilling, emotional, and thoroughly compelling ride.

Star Wars: "A New Hope" - I've already said in my "First Installment Wins" entry that I consider this to be better than it's follow up "The Empire Strikes Back", even though that one is technically the superior film. This one started the entire phenomenon, and it's simple beginnings is something that nothing in the rest of the franchise can ever match or live up to for me. With the finest story and characters, it's the "Star Wars" that many love best.

Kingdom Hearts: Hollow Bastion (KH1) - Like "Star Wars", the first game in general can never be matched by anything else the franchise gives us, even when three later installments were also very enjoyable. The highest point in the game, and thus in the whole series, would be the first visit to Hollow Bastion, the lair of the games' group of Disney Villains, where the story reaches it's climax and we get several great moments and payoffs to the saga that had been developing through the whole game. Twists, turns, and truths are thrown at us, we get an awesome party member, we get our long awaited duel with the treacherous Riku, face down the main villain herself in order to stop her terrible plans, meet the mastermind behind the Heartless and the whole plot, and set the princesses of heart free at last. And there's also a moment where Sora stabs himself with a keyblade and becomes a Heartless but then gets restored, which ends up being a blessing and a curse to the storyline afterwards. All in all, this defined "climactic" and can not be topped in any other game.

Harry Potter: "The Order Of The Phoenix" AND "The Deathly Hallows Part 2" - Yes, I'm putting both the dead middle and the grand finale of the saga here, and it won't be the only time. OotP (Year 5) in it's entirety was the deepest, darkest, most mature and epic book in the series to that point, with the most shit going down in it, and an extraordinary climax. It was not topped until the latter half of the final book, which was adapted into the last movie in the franchise, "Deathly Hallows Part 2." There we got the incredible battle of Hogwarts, the death of Severus Snape, many revelations and emotional moments, the surprising sacrifice of Harry himself, one last talk with (the deceased) Dumbledore, and then the final battle of good and evil in the series: the Hogwarts army against the Death Eaters, and the big Harry vs Voldemort confrontation. There was never a dull moment here.

Pokemon: Generations 1 and 2 - I covered why Generation 1 was the best ever in "First Installment Wins", but Generation 2 has to be mentioned here as well since it was when the phenomenon reached it's pinnacle. It featured the west region of the same continent, and the last bunch of consistently creative pokemon. "Gold, Silver, and Crystal" were technically even better games than the last ones, the manga gave us an excellent story arc that completed the original saga, and the card game, while losing steam, was still good and eventually ended in a commemorative set. The one weak spot here was the anime, which Jumped the Shark beyond return in Johto. But even that gave us some gems, such as the occasional memorable episodes, Takeshi Shudo's best "Pokemon" movie of the bunch ("Spell of the Unown"), and also his conclusion to the Mewtwo saga of "Indigo League" in the form of the TV special "Mewtwo Returns." The franchise has not reached the heights of these two generations ever since. It's finally come closest with the current Generation 5, but it's not quite as good because the card game still sucks, and the anime and manga seem to have curiously switched places: the anime is currently the best it's been since Geneartion 1 while the manga has stepped down from it's quality in Generation 4! The hell? All the same, it's still the best the franchise has been since Generation 2, and ought to be the end IMHO.

Avatar: Book 2: Earth, AND "Sozin's Comet" - The other time where I put the middle and grand finale that I was talking about. The second season was easily the overall best season of the whole show. It gave us the archvillain Princess Azula, a Zuko and Iroh B-plot, introduction of new characters, further development of old ones...and Toph, of course. It got even better once the 'learning Earthbending' arc of the first half was done and we moved on to the Ba Sing Se arc of the second half. It very quickly became the most gripping, fascinating, and well done part of the whole show, particularly by the finale where all plot threads of the season came together, Azula dominated the entire story, and Zuko made a decision that shocked the entire world. This was only topped by the series finale in the following season, the four-part "Sozin's Comet." Aside from the occasional padding, a Deus Ex Machina towards the finale's climax, and the overdramatic asking of a question that goes unanswered, everything in this finale was nothing short of nigh perfection. The story and tone was truly epic and it all delivered, particularly the long awaited Zuko vs Azula and Aang vs Fire Lord Ozai battles. It was a spectacular, unforgettable end to a spectacular, unforgettable cartoon.

Batman: The Dennis O'Neil Era - As a franchise, Batman has had several ups and downs over the years. But as far as the comics go, Batman was at it's best during the Dennis O'Neil years. From the moment he became the main editor of the comics to the finale of "No Man's Land", this era was filled with great stories, characterization, villains, and writing that knew how to "get" Batman.

Dragon Ball: The Cell Saga - Akira Toriyama is a master of making shit up as he goes along and actually weaving that together well in order to make the story work. From the moment Demon King Piccolo was brought in, Toriyama was on a roll and in a phase where he continuously topped himself. The Freeza Saga was a grand story that was the pinnacle of Goku's series-long character arc and would have been the high point if not for two things: the setting and the length. Namek got really boring after awhile, and that combined with the length that seemed to "drag on", gave several people Arc Fatigue. Toriyama planned to end the series after this arc, but Executive Meddling (yet again!) made him keep going. So he turned these lemons into delicious lemonade by making the Cell Saga, which turned out to be the best story of the series. From the moment Trunks arrived on the scene to free the readers' from taking any more of Freeza's bullshit and then told Goku a startling truth, the story just kept on escalating from there. It got more and more epic, eventually introducing Cell, the series' finest villain who really raised the stakes. I could go on about how well done this saga was and all it did right, but I won't. All I'll say is that you know that this is when the series reached it's peak when the final saga that followed it, the Buu saga, felt like a serious step down in several ways, especially in how it's story progresses and concludes. Cell and his saga, however, were...perfect!

The Legend Of Zelda: "Ocarina of Time" - You all should know this game's reputation. I don't think
I should even touch this one any further. It just...it can't be topped. Ever. And it was some time after this one that the screwy timeline of the series' installments was introduced, which is why the franchise Jumped the Shark. Funny that.

Super Mario: "Super Mario 64" - Mario's first outing in 3D. While he'd have many successful 3D games afterwards, unlike Sonic, this is still where his video game career peaked. Yeah, I know "Super Mario Galaxy" is better rated and a technically better game, but...let's face it: it's "Super Mario 64" IN SPACE! So even if we were to call it the franchise's high point, it still owes everything to this!

Spider-Man: The Lee-Ditko & Lee-Romita Eras - From the origin of Spidey to the death of Gwen Stacy, Spider-Man's comic book runs were never as fun and engaging, only coming close during Roger Stern's time as main writer. These are eras that the Raimi trilogy and the short lived "The Spectacular Spider-Man" show were trying to emulate, and it shows.

Spongebob Squarepants: Season 3 and The Movie - This cartoon just got better and better until the third season and the theatrical film that followed it. And then it Jumped The Shark save for the Lost Season episodes. Clearly, these heights were never reached again.

Yu-Gi-Oh!: The Duelist Kingdom arc - This series really came into it's own at the Death T arc and continued it's greatness in the Monster World arc. But this arc that followed them topped  them both. It made great use of the series' most popular game (the "Duel Monsters" card game) by having a very unique card tournament at a unique location with unique rules and a host of quirky characters, with the overarching plot revolving around Yugi and his other self locked in a battle against the creator of the game himself, the eccentric and twisted Maximillion Pegasus. Everything just "clicked" in this storyline. It felt grander than any story that had been told before. It gave us really great moments of character development and heroism for Yugi and Joey, really started Yami Yugi's development into a better person, featured Seto Kaiba returning as a badass anti-hero, gave us the strong willed, sexy Mai Kujaku, and had great villains in Pegasus and Bandit Keith. We even got surprise return appearances from the evil Bakura as well! The arc was paced perfectly through eight volumes, with the final one being rightfully dedicated to the final duel between Yugi and Pegasus, and the incredible conclusion that followed it. Seeing as after this we got the stretched out Battle City arc, which also ran the card game into the ground, and the rather rushed Memory World arc (And also this being the only consistently good arc of the anime), it's clear that this was the series' height.

Digimon: 1998-2001 - From "Digimon Adventure" to "Digimon Tamers". The franchise lost a whole lot of it's magic afterwards. Levels stopped mattering, too many needless new Digimon were created, and the series' were lacking in quality. It only came close to reaching good heights again when "Xros Wars" became a merchandising success, but even then it wasn't the same.

Sonic The Hedgehog: Sonic CD (games), Issues 25-50 (comics) - For the games, "Sonic CD" is easily the best. It followed the original trilogy of games and embodied everything that was way cool and fun about Sonic at the time. For the Archie comics' series, it was at it's best during the original "Robotnik saga", particularly it's latter half after Issue 25, which was coincidentally enough, a story based on "Sonic CD". The next 25 issues and all specials and mini series that tied into them were when the comics were strongest, with a nice blend of wacky humor and increasingly serious plot, culminating in the epic "End Game". From both these points, Sonic could only run downward.

Gargoyles: Season 2 Part 1- After an already classic first season, Greg Weisman and his staff topped themselves with the first half of the second season, which expanded more plot lines, introduced and developed more characters, built the show's world more, and just told great stories. Everything from the season premiere to the "Avalon" arc was glorious and when the series was going strongest. The "world tour" and everything that followed was interesting, but a bit fatiguing and just not quite as good. And then the series ended with a non-existent third season. "Gargoyles" is a great show overall, but it never got better than it was here, 'cause it most shows the essence of it.

Final Fantasy: "Final Fantasy VII" - DUH. Need I even elaborate on this one? It's the same deal as "Zelda 64". It just can't be topped. Ever. Ever, ever, ever, ever!

Neon Genesis Evangelion: Episodes 7-15 - From the tech support themed episode 7 to the romantic episode 15, this was when this anime was most balanced. It wasn't slow, oddly paced build-up like the first 6 episodes, nor was it a Mind Screw like the following 11 episodes. It was just the right level of humor, characterization, plot building, psychology, and ass-kicking action. The only other point in the show to reach such quality would be the excellent episode 24 (I don't care what JesuOtaku says, it was very well done!) In the whole anime, these episodes had the most to offer.

Care Bears: The Movie AND "The Care Bear Family" - Yes, I put the best movie and the best show that the franchise has had right here. To me, there's really no mistaking it.

Yu Yu Hakusho: The Chapter Black Saga - While my favorite saga is The Spirit Detective Saga,
I think the series was at it's highest point in the climactic Chapter Black saga. It was this series' equivalent to the Cell Saga of DBZ, and it was also totally epic. It had the best story, the best fights, the best moral and psychological conflicts, and the best main villain in Shinobu Sensui. It's downside would be how the saga, and the series, quite literally went to Hell after Yusuke's dramatic second death and the tunnel to Demon World opened, but even after that, there were some great moments
to be found, and the anime managed to give it a satisfying conclusion and sense of closure to all characters uniquely involved in the story. Put the series finale after this arc, and it's simply perfect.

Teen Titans: The Judas Contract - In both the comics and the animated TV series, the Terra story arc was the pinnacle of the series. Both versions had their strengths and weaknesses, but both were really great experiences that the other Titans stories could never quite live up to.

Death Note: "The Last Name" - Specifically, the storyline events that were adapted into the second live action movie, "The Last Name." Everything from L introducing himself to Light to L's death. The quality of the series took a hard left turn afterwards, with inferior L replacements, incomprehensibly convoluted gambits, a dumb and unpleasant storyline, characters getting total shafts (Souichiro Yagami especially!), and padded out arcs that dragged on and on. Only the series' resolution was satisfying. This is the big reason I'm thankful that "The Last Name" adapted the highest point and then ended the story in a manner similar to how it ended in the series anyway, only with L doing the job he should've done to start with, and Souichiro living in the end. 'Cause clearly, little good came from stretching the series past this point.

Looney Tunes: The Chuck Jones era - Does this one even need to be talked about?

The Slayers: "NEXT" - I'm hardly alone in thinking of "NEXT" as the best season of the Slayers anime. This one had the most memorable and entertaining episodes, the best storylines, the strongest characterization, introduced Xellos Metallium, and featured Martina too. The finale featured a climactic showdown against Hellmaster Phibrizzo beneath Sairag City, which was not only where the anime peaked, but where the light novels it was adapted from peaked as well. The Slayers were never better after this in any book, anime, or manga they've ever been featured in since.

One Piece: The Alabasta arc - The climax and conclusion to the Baroques Works Saga. "One Piece" would have been better off having only one last saga and ending after this one, because there was no way this could ever be out-epicced. We had the best Straw Hat crew line-up (Luffy, Zoro, Nami, Usopp, Sanji, Chopper, and Vivi), an extraordinary and big desert location, a story with a truly epic scope, a nation at civil war with itself, the most sincere drama and peril, and the last stand of Baroques Works, particularly it's leader Crocodile, who plays an excellent main villain, the best the series ever had. This is where "One Piece" ends for me. The Viz US release of the manga graphic novels started adding subtitles and stopped calling it simply "One Piece" the volume after this arc was over. And the anime ended the arc with the theme song, making it a perfect cap off. This arc was the pinnacle of the grand series that "One Piece" used to be.

Haruhi Suzumiya: From "Melancholy" to "Disappearance" - In both the Light Novels (1 through 4), but even moreso in the anime (pretending that the second season doesn't exist, of course.)  The series kind of lost itself afterwards, focusing a bit too much on Yuki, Mikuru, and Itsuki at the expense of Haruhi freaking Suzumiya, and squandering the potential for ideas and stories that it had by not moving quick enough. After the recent two-parter that concluded the "Nega SOS Brigade" storyline, the series is as good as done with. The early days were clearly the best it ever got.

Sailor Moon: The First Series finale - Or heck, the entire first series! But the two-part finale deserves special mention because it's conclusion to the Dark Kingdom storyline trumps the original manga's conclusion by far. It had all five Sailor Soldiers going to the enemy's stronghold in the Arctic, then one by one Sailor Moon's four friends are killed off. For real. In gruesome, very final ways that involve self sacrifice. Sailor Moon actually gets sent into a Heroic BSOD before pressing forward. Then she has to deal with Queen Beryl herself, as well as her brainwashed lover Endymion. Then Endymion dies after he's come to his senses. And THEN Queen Metaria gives her consciousness to Beryl, so both main villains merge into one Final Boss. The final showdown between Princess Serena and Queen Beryltaria is absolute awesomeness and the whole thing concludes in a satisfactory way, with the villain vanquished and the dying princess' last wish serving as a magic reset button. This emotional roller coaster ride just could not be topped for the rest of the anime or franchise.

Naruto: The Chunin Exams/Kohona Invasion arc - A mediocre series to begin with, this is really the only time it was truly epic and badass. Great characters, great fights, great plot that kept on building and building to an action-packed climax, and it had Gaara as the villain!

Bleach: The Soul Society Saga - Does this even need an explanation? The first arc was good and all, but this is what it was building to. And this is the only good storyline that hack Tite Kubo ever wrote. It's biggest failing would be...well, think of how much better off we would be had they only finished Aizen off at the end of this story.

Code Geass: The Middle of R1 - From the battle at Narita to Suzaku getting knighted. The two-part season finale might count as well, but it happened in the wake of that dreadful Euphinator incident. This middle portion was where the story and characters were best handled and balanced.

Gurren Lagann: The Middle - The beginning was too camp. The end was too serious. And the series finale was downright terrible. The middle was just right.

G Gundam: The Gundam Fight Tournament - And I mean the actual tournament. This part of the series had the delicious villain team-up of Master Asia and Wong Yun Fat, the introduction and participation of Allenby, great moments of fight action and character development, and one hell of a payoff that resulted in the emotional deaths of Kyoji Kasshu, his clone, and Master Asia. Everything about this was engaging and FUN!

Inu-Yasha: The first season - When the story got started, the characters got introduced, and all basic ideas of the series were developed. Setting all this up was the fun part. It was the refusal to let them go anywhere that caused the series to decay afterwards.

Eureka 7: The last season - This was it, no question. The final story arc, the epic scope, the big action, the most emotional moments, Dewey Novak at his finest as the villain, and the most screentime and development for Dominic and Anemone in the whole series! This was a flawed anime overall, but this last part of the show was nothing short of amazing and beautiful!

Rurroni Kenshin: The Kyoto arc - The middle of the series and it's longest arc. The one with Makoto Shishio as the main villain. Everyone knows this.

Zatch Bell: The Milordo Z arc - This arc was this series' equivalent to the Kyoto arc, or the Odaibah arc of "Digimon Adventure". When fans claim that the Faudo arc was the best, I have to disagree. This was the best story arc in the series. It had the best plot centering around the revival of 1000 year old demons that were turned to stone in the previous Mamodo Battle and what's giving them their life and power. It had a true party of heroes uniting together under a common cause for the first time. It introduced the excellent character of Dr. Riddles, and the story behind him and his mamodo Kido. It had a great pace, a solid structure, an interesting setting, memorable moments of action and genuine emotion, THE best villains in the whole series, and the anti-hero team of Sherry Belmont and Brago reaching the conclusion of their character arc. This story arc truly felt epic, more than any other story the series told before or after. It was great stuff and frankly, after it, I was fatigued of the series by the time the Faudo arc came around. Yeah, it was that good.

X-Men: The Dark Phoenix Saga - This was easily the peak of Chris Claremont and John Byrne's storytelling, before they became hacks who totally ruined the X-Men comic series and franchise.

Buffy AND Angel: Seasons 2 and 3 - People can debate which show is better all they like, but
I think they follow the same pattern. The first season's good, the second and third seasons are excellent, the fourth season is where the show jumps the shark, and the fifth season is where the show ends and you're glad it does. So it's pretty clear what the high points of the Buffyverse were. And what's this about a sixth and seventh season of "Buffy?" The fifth season finale was the hundredth and final episode, remember? Such following seasons never happened!

Code Lyoko: Season 2 - The first season was solid entertainment, but the second season is where the worldbuilding, storytelling, and character development really took off. The only disappointment is that the payoffs to the elements that this season brought in either never happened or happened in the following two seasons instead of this one. But this was still "Code Lyoko"'s height all the same.

Reboot: Seasons 2 and 3 - The first season was an enjoyable episodic kids' show. Nothing more or less. The second season actually brought in really solid plots and stronger characterization. After AndrAIa joined the cast, the season started winding up and delivering wham moment after wham moment until the shocking cliffhanger of a finale that led us into the third season, where the show had become darker, edgier, more engaging and badass, and just downright gripping to watch. They tried to follow this season up with a TV movie trilogy, but that went nowhere since the third installment got scrapped. The greatness of Season 2 and Season 3 was not ever recaptured.

Phineas and Ferb: "Across The 2nd Dimension" - It's the big damn movie for this show, it had high quality animation compared to the actual show, had our titular character actually meeting Dr.Heinz Doofenshmirtz, finding out about their pet platypus' secret life as Agent P, and going on a huge adventure in a dystopian alternate reality ruled by a truly evil Doofenshmirtz...an adventure that ends up having them fight to save their reality as well! It was exciting, wacky, and touching at all the right points. This sort of movie really makes me hope this show gets canned after it's next season so that it doesn't go the way of Spongebob!

W.I.T.C.H: The first 6 issues - The six issues that the series creators actually wrote for. Back when all the characters were interesting, the set-up was very engaging, and the story was well written beyond standard Shoujo fare. But then Disney had them removed, so the series we got wasn't the series we were supposed to get!

Scooby Doo: "Mystery Inc." Season 1 Part 2 and onwards - After a very solid opening episode, the "Mystery Inc." series started to show itself to be an incredible waste of potential. I mean aside from the occasional bright spots and flashes of it's promised greatness, the 9 episodes that followed the first one were pretty awful. But then in the second half of the first season, after enough clues were gathered to officially start an ongoing mystery, Professor Pericles had flown the coop, and that dumbass Shaggy/Velma/Scooby love triangle plot was aborted, things became to pick up and get good. And I mean REALLY good. The show was now abundant in quality that hasn't let up, from the shocking first season finale and on into the second season. I definitely think the series is now the high point of the "Scooby Doo" franchise. I am eagerly anticipating it's finale next year.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Farewell To Team Rocket?



Well...this was it. I've built up to an entry about this, so it's time to do it. The second part of the two-part finale for the first season/act of "Pokemon: Best Wishes Season 2" aired the other day. The arc that featured our heroes going to East Unova, staying at a villa in Undella, getting into various beach hyjinx, participating in the Junior Cup Tournament, and hanging with the wandering Pokemon Meloetta. And in the background, Team Rocket was building up to what was said to be their biggest mission ever. All TR-related promotional material used to hype this really made it seem like this could very possibly be TR's last hurrah, and then the trailer, promos, and summaries for this two-part event came out calling it "Our farewell to the Rocket Gang", "a finale after 15 years of activity for the Rocket Gang" and "the final actions of the Rocket Gang". If that wasn't enough to be convincing that this was more than just a cheap gimmick to generate hype, the finale was confirmed to feature something that definitely marked the end for Team Rocket..a confrontation between Ash and Giovanni! I was blown away by this news and pumped to see how this would go. But the fact that it was a finale for a team of villains (something this anime sucked at doing twice!) and written by Atsuhiro Tomioka (the show's biggest hack who wrote them both!) had me worried about it. It could seem epic but then turn to crap at the last act, as was the case with poor Team Galactic. Well, it's all done now. Did it disappoint?  FUCK NO. This was almost everything I could've hoped for out of an arc finale, and a Team Rocket finale.

Now to clarify what was so great about this, I'll first have to talk about my favorite incarnations of Team Rocket again: the original series' Team Rocket as handled by the late head writer Takeshi Shudo, and this current "Best Wishes" Team Rocket as handled by director Norihiko Suto. Jessie, James, and Meowth of the original series were legendary comedic villains. Funny, dim, wreckless, bumbling, inept, eccentric, inventive, silly, stupid, self absorbed fools who were nevertheless nefarious and could pose a serious danger or/and bring genuine villainous conflict to the show....in the "Indigo League" arc at least, but even after their Villain Decay, they rarely failed to entertain and delight. They were NOT the completely ineffectual, completely harmless, completely unintelligent, mentally challenged blithering idiot derps who try too hard to be funny but end up being annoying and obnoxious instead that they were in the bulk of "Advanced Generation" and all of "Diamond and Pearl". Shudo, who created the characters, saw them as creations whose existence held great value, and hated it when his writers would treat them as nothing more than gag generators and punching bags who engaged in formulaic villainy. This is why I loathed how much worse they got handled after Shudo's departure, and why I love how they are today. It's much closer to Shudo's original vision of them, minus the comedy, quirks,
three-dimensional personalities, and appearances in every episode. What's even better about all this to an eerie degree is that Shudo had planned to tell a story in the Johto seasons in which Celebi would emerge from that GS Ball and would befriend Ash and co., and the larger Team Rocket organization would be the main antagonists in a mission to capture Celebi and control nature, directed by Giovanni himself. This would ultimately lead to Team Rocket's grand finale. However, the show crashed and burned in the Johto seasons, so Shudo's vision was destroyed and the GS Ball was just dropped off and never heard of again. And yet now all these years later we've gotten a storyline that uses an eerily similar premise. Perhaps this was similar to how Shudo would've wanted Team Rocket's story to end. Perhaps this was destined to be...

Second of all, I have to mention just how utterly overjoyed I feel that we've been given a totally GOOD evil team finale for once! This wasn't pure crap (with crappy effects and animation) like the 2-part Team Aqua & Team Magma finale, or an increasingly epic spectacle that took a HARD left turn to pure crap (with better effects and animation) like the 3-part Team Galactic finale. This two-parter was pure EPIC from start to finish, and actually left me feeling more satisfied than letdown. Amazing! In fact, this one did almost everything that those previous finales did and did them all better. Similarly to the Aqua/Magma finale, it took place around an ocean, featured a natural disaster crisis that threatened to destroy a region, an evil team leader getting possessed and crazy, Pikachu playing a key part in saving the day, and the villains giving up in the end.  Like the Galactic finale, it featured three young commanders, a mad scientist, and the team boss as the main villains, took place on the peak of a legendary place, featured a small, weak legendary Pokemon being used to harness the powers of bigger stronger legendary Pokemon, and that weak legendary being the key to snapping the stronger ones out of their destructive madness. But in this one, it all came together better and it ALL ended in a satisfactory manner, with no character shafted, derailed, or disrespected in any way. So much was rehashed and recycled from other points of the show, particularly past evil team plots, and there were many of Tomioka's typical hack writing devices to be found. Yet under Suto's now experienced direction, this story just...worked. Take note, AG & DP fanatics - THIS is how you do a truly grand finale!

And so, here's my review on this glorious event:

Episode 97, all preparations had been made and Meloetta's location was secured.

And it ended with the brilliantly done reveal of Giovanni's return! *FANGASM*

The episodes start off with a familiar jet plane flying over the ocean.

Giovanni has arrived in East Unova, landing his plane on top of TR's boat.

The Rocket Gang stands in this familiar position. Just like in the lost episodes, minus one Pierce.

Giovanni looks out at the ocean as he announces his diabolical plan of conquest.

"It's time for the deciding phase of Operation: Tempest!" he declares sternly.

Meanwhile, at Cynthia's villa, this random dude named Larry arrives on the scene.

He interrupts a training battle between Meloetta and Ash's Pokemon.

Jervis the butler calls Cynthia on his phone. "Lady Cynthia, you might want to come see this!"

I love that we've been seeing Cynthia's vivacious, laid-back in-character self in this arc, as opposed to the preachy, pretentious hypocrite she was in DP. Better direction works wonders, people!

It turns out that Larry is Meloetta's sworn protector, who's mistaken Ash and co. for kidnappers!

We learn that Meloetta came from a foresty wilderness land located somewhere northeast.

Team Rocket had tried to capture Meloetta before this arc even began, which implies that they had Meloetta (and the Kami Trio) as part of this "Plan B" after the failure of the Meteonite mission.

It's revealed that Meloetta was fond of Ash because she saw some protector-like quality in him. Aaaw, this little moment here is so adorable.

But then Team Rocket shows up to launch a surprise attack on the villa!

Larry says he'll handle the grunts. Ash and co. must take Meloetta and GO!

"Lady Cynthia, you REALLY might want to come see this!"

Really creepy shot: our heroes run through the forest as the smoke continues to rise behind them.

Ash tries to get Meloetta safe, but the group is cornered by Jessie, James, and Meowth!

Wearing Meloetta-vision goggles, James sees through the ruse and orders Yamask to attack!

Oh no! Meloetta's been hit!

TR is feeling more competent and dangerous than ever!

Iris and Cilan tell Ash to take Meloetta and get out of there while they contend with TR.

Ash and Pikachu go deeper into the woods with Meloetta, when WHAM! Persian pounces!

And then...it happens. Giovanni himself appears in person, riding a hover board and wearing goggles.

At long last, it's Ash vs Giovanni! Face...

...to face! (I only wish it was the real Ash Ketchum, not this mindless, soulless poser!)

Their signature Pokemon face each other, and Persian finally shows it's claws in action!

And then Dr. Zager flies his helicopter out of nowhere to trap Ash and Pikachu!

With Ash and Pikachu at his mercy, Giovanni forces a sadistic choice upon Meloetta!

If she doesn't surrender, the cube imprisoning Ash and Pikachu will shrink, crushing them to death!

Meloetta cannot stand the thought of losing her friends, so she complies with Giovanni.

A satisfied Giovanni recalls Persian to it's Poke'ball. *gasp!* Persian has a Poke'ball?!?

Cilan and Iris arrive on the scene too late: Ash, Pikachu, and Meloetta are taken by TR's chopper!

The TRio hop inside the chopper on their jet packs, taunting their enemies as they leave.

Larry fought off the grunts, but received a major beating in the process!

Team Rocket goes back to their boat, get inside their submarine, and deploy it into the sea.

Our main TRio manages the controls while their bosses sit in the back.

James tracks the location of the Abyssal Temple and underwater ruins.

Giovanni is pleased to see the location of Team Rocket's most glorious achievement!

Utilizing the entranceway they carved out three episodes ago, TR takes the sub inside the temple.

The sub emerges from a pool of water within the temple's core chamber.

Giovanni sneers about how Meloetta will unlock the seal, and how Ash is powerless to stop them!

He then orders for Meloetta to be crucified upon a slab! Geez, this is getting dark!

TR has brought their own special sound system, which they use to play Meloetta's Ruin Song.

Meloetta is put under a trance by her own song playing while she's in this crucified position.

Golden energy illuminates on the circular floor.

Following this, a large spiral stairway rises from the ground and lights up...woah, deja vu?

Giovanni ascends the stairway while Meloetta's beautiful soothing song still plays, making this 
a chilling, unsettling moment.

And at the top, on a pedestal rises...the Reveal Glass Mirror!

Quite obviously, the Rocket gang is delighted by this!

"At last, the Reveal Glass! And it's all mine!" Giovanni laughs.

Meanwhile, Cynthia's arrived at her villa. It's time for her to stop being lazy and get dangerous!

Back at the temple, Giovanni commands for the temple to rise from the sea!

Operation Tempest has reached it's climax: Team Rocket's triumph is now at hand!

What's going to happen next? TO BE CONTINUED... End Part 1.

The temple has risen above the water, and the roof has come off too!

Meloetta must remain on the slab in order for the mirror's energy to be kept in balance.

Meowth turns to the camera to talk about conquering Unova. "Be sure we get this for da trailer!"

Giovanni makes a wish upon the Reveal Glass to summon the three great powers!

The energy beam from the mirror shoots into the sky, creating a huge dark Tempest cloud.

Larry explains the history behind Meloetta, the Reveal Glass, and the Abyssal Ruins. The ancient people of Abyssal had fought over the power to control the forces of nature that Meloetta and the mirror held until the city sunk beneath the sea, leaving Meloetta to feel like it was all her fault.

As the storm gets worse, the clouds open up. The three great powers have been summoned!

It's the Kami Trio! They had a deeper purpose all along!

Giovanni releases the mirror into the air so that the Kami Trio can change form!

Ash and Pikachu break free, but Jessie and James are ready to stop him!

But all of Ash's friends arrive on the scene, and their top Pokemon charge into battle!

The ritual circle glows a Satanic red as Giovanni shouts his command to the Reveal Glass.

The Kami Trio sees their true souls reflected in the mirror, and so they start to change form...

And with great power there has come great insanity for Giovanni!

Now glowing with chaotic red energy, the madman gives his best slasher smile.

His madness and rage keeps building until...YIKES!

When the red explosion clears, the Kami Trio have turned into their bestial Therean forms!

Giovanni commands the Kami Trio to go ravage Unova with their powers, starting with the east!

Our heroes' Pokemon stand in his way, so Giovanni orders the Kami Trio to fight back!

Thunderus zaps Pikachu, who actually absorbs some of it's godlike electric power!

Iris and her fresh Dragonite have a heart-to-heart moment in which Dragonite actually listens to her!

Giovanni raises the mirror's full power, causing the legendaries to fall under demonic possession!

The Kami Trio seem to call upon the power of Kyurem as they launch an attack that freezes things.

The effects of this crisis reaches Undella Town, and Officer Jenny tries to keep things in order.

Ash finally reaches the top of the temple. He must stop Giovanni and save Meloetta!

Giovanni orders the Kami Trio to turn their attention towards Ash now!

Combining it's power with Thunderus', Pikachu produces a GIGANTIC electro ball! It's fired, and....

..BOOM! This happens. It is epic beyond words. The podium is decimated, Giovanni is zapped, the mirror flips over and blasts Giovanni with his own reflection! Pikachu has defeated Giovanni!

I normally don't root for Ash and Pikachu anymore, but this was a Crowning Moment of Awesome!

Meloetta is freed at last, and now reunites with Ash and Larry.

The Rocket Gang rushes over to their boss' side. "We don't need Meloetta..." he says.

Oh geezus! Giovanni's been possessed by the Devil!

Actually, his inner soul has just been possessed and now he's lost his mind. He's been consumed by
the evil he's always had deep down on the inside. "How do you love me now, mother?"

With the mirror's energy and the Kami Trio's power, Giovanni says he shall destroy Unova! This horrifies the Rocket Gang: Team Rocket's way is supposed to be that of conquest, not destruction!

"KILL EVERYTHING!"
Good lord, what is up with this man's face? He's turning into Lord Voldemort!

Dr Zager is told that without Meloetta, there's no balance between the mirror and it's beholder.

Larry tells the Rockets that Giovanni might destroy himself if this keeps up. They must act NOW!

BIG DAMN HERO TIME! The TRio jumps at their boss and knocks him off the glowing circle!

Giovanni lands smack on the ground and hey, he's back to normal!

Giovanni asks what just happened there, but Zager wants to dodge that question.

When asked if they should take back Meloetta, Giovanni simply looks at his adversaries, gives 
a grudging but humble smile, and says..."We withdraw."

So Team Rocket retreats to their plane and take off. That was surprisingly fast!

Inside, Jessie remarks about how Pikachu's giant electric ball proves they were right all along: 
Ash's Pikachu is a very special Pikachu. James agrees. A perfect book end for them.

Giovanni says nothing, but the look on his face implies that his mind is still troubled.

Meanwhile, to stop the rampaging Kami Trio, Larry makes a wish upon the Reveal Glass.

The mirror's energy is reversed and given to Meloetta, who immediately sings her melody of love.

Meloetta's song soothes the savage beasts, and they get changed back to their normal forms.

Back on his plane, Giovanni remarks that his actions almost led to his own self-destruction.

"Let us return to Team Rocket's home base in Kanto!" he then commands.

"Roger!" the TRio replies. And they fly off over the horizon. Never to be heard from again, right?

The Kami Trio depart back to the heavens, the Tempest vanishes, and the ruins sink back under.

Cynthia then gets into preachy mode and talks about how Meloetta has brought both war and peace. Ugh, and you were doing fine until now! Guess Tomioka had to get some pretentiousness in.

But I love how Larry seems to be scowling in disapproval over it, but Meloetta enjoys it!

We cut to the cliched afternoon ending, where it's time to say goodbye to Larry and Meloetta.
(Poor Oshawott.)

And after a genuinely emotional and moving farewell, our friends take off into the gorgeous sunset. In a final scene for a finale that feels satisfying, well done, and not rushed! With a Meloetta song playing in the background as the narrator closes it all out and it ends... I got something in my eye...

And that was it. That was Team Rocket's big exit. I've got to say that I was thoroughly intrigued and entertained by this Meloetta story arc, in a way I hadn't been since the Meteonite arc and the Nimbasa Subway arcs from the first two seasons of BW. The way it played out was so mysterious and cool, and at times, especially this finale, it felt like a feature film or something! This climax and ending was as epic as anything we could get out of a movie, and again, that last scene! In the previous evil team finales, the story got rushed towards the ending and then ended in a really abrupt, ho-hum unsatisfactory way. Not this time. This ending had a sense of actual closure, and the events that preceded it were all freaking amazing! And as for Team Rocket?  I LOVED how they've been handled in this series. Suto's direction of the characters has been so well handled and so well done, but even I was blown away by what happened with them here. It is the complete opposite of Team Galactic. The normally 2-dimensional villains of the show actually show humanity and are treated with respect by the narrative. We see that heroism, sympathy, and redemption is not beyond them. And this IS the end of their run as recurring main villains on the show. This is where they get written out of the main cast for good. All evidence shows it: they made it no secret that this was Team Rocket's "final mission" in the promotion for this finale, made it clear that it wasn't just the end of their missions in Unova, but the whole show, with lines such as "Farewell, Rocket Gang!" and "finale after 15 years!", and the story played out like your regular evil team finale with Team Rocket summoning Legendaries that put the world in peril, and Ash meeting, confronting, and defeating the freaking boss! How do you top this? Where do you go after that? There's not much else left, is there? Which is why TR's final scene in this episode had a dramatic feeling of a true departure, complete with Jessie and James bringing their characters full circle - in the boss' good graces, and remarking on the specialness of the Pikachu that defeated them. Even their positions mirror their first shot:

 

And if there remained any doubt that TR was done for, the end credits of this episode was a special one that played a montage of Team Rocket clips from various points of their long run on the anime, including the first time we ever saw the characters looking at their wanted poster in Viridian City from episode 2. As this montage played, the song playing on the credits was "Rocket Gang Forever!", the TRio's theme song. Now there was no mistaking it: this was TR's goodbye. They have been written out at last. And seeing as their 15 year run had a strong beginning, an inconsistent-to-crappy middle, and a strong finish, I'm quite satisfied. But if you think this means we're never seeing them again, I'm not so sure. We've seen with Tracy, Misty, May, Dawn, and Brock that even after a character has been written out of the main cast, that doesn't mean they've gone away for good. At the very least, I'm expecting three possibilities for when we see TR again. Most likely would be a Hoso special episode that gives them proper closure. Considering how open-ended their exit was here, they're just asking for that. Otherwise, or maybe also, we'll be seeing them at the very end of the BW series when Ash inevitably returns to Kanto, which is where Giovanni said they were headed back to. OR perhaps we'll get to see them come back to guest star in a stretch of episodes on the show, just like Ash's female companions have done. Perhaps it'll be all of these. I don't know. I just think that while the Rocket Gang has indeed had their climax, their fate has not been sealed. They need a proper conclusion. And seeing how shaken Giovanni was by what happened in this mission, I think that once he's had time to think everything over, he'll realize how extreme he's been this whole time, and will disband Team Rocket for good. This will give all agents, the TRio, and even Giovanni the chance to live their lives as honest trainers. Given Giovanni's place in BW2, it doesn't seem like a stretch.