Friday, December 20, 2013

My Eulogy For Team Rocket


TEAM ROCKET HAS BLASTED OFF FOR GOOD!

In the past I've spoken of Team Rocket's characterization and how it shifted with each saga of the Pokemon anime. I give an update in regards to Kalos TR of the new XY series of the anime:

Kalos TR is a gross exaggeration of what Decolore TR was, but with Wobbuffet thrown in back with them. They look bad. They have no real character or presence anymore. They suck. That’s what happens when you keep characters going past their deadline, folks.

But that’s only the simplified version.

This TR, like how the TRio often was in DA!, have no real mission or purpose on the show and are instead back to actively stalking the twerps in hopes of capturing Pikachu. But whereas DA! was a filler arc where nothing had purpose, XY is the next big series with a big saga in the next big region, which makes the TRio's episodic nonthreatening antagonist status far more harmful to the show and characters. And while DA! TR could sometimes show a good deal of restraint and even real humor, this TRio holds nothing back when expressing themselves and as with DP TR, they have not said or done anything genuinely funny in all of their appearances so far (EDIT: That last part did change eventually.)

Wobbuffet is back with them for no damn reason at all. He literally just wandered onto the scene in the XY pilot episode that was called the last BW episode, and the TRio gave zero reason for why they took him back. In episodes 1 through 4 of XY, Wobbuffet actually did display some character again, being the source of jokes that were relevant to something rather than just popping up just to scream his own name. He even got to become a competent threat in battle with his new Mirror Coat. Sadly, this did not last. By episode 7, Wobbuffet was once again the annoying background Rocket Pokemon who only gets shoved in the forefront for forced, needless and really unfunny gags.

Their designs - the only thing XY Jessie and James have in common with their BW incarnations is the hair. The faces look different: now they both have very similar looking eyes that are basically pallet-swaps of each other and arch up slightly more than their eyes did on their previous models. Their white uniforms are now very white, with the grayish shading gone, and their gloves and boots are very dark black as well. Y'know, like in the movies. Worst is how these models are animated. Their faces, limbs, and body proportions look wrong and almost unrecognizable too often since the models for their designs, like other design models in XY, were slimmed down for the new animation.

Their character - two major problems here. The TRio are more or less back to their caricatured DP selves here, but the big difference is that they don’t even seem to have the Flanderized personality traits anymore. Jessie’s a cocky, moronic, spazzy idiot, James is a cocky, moronic, spazzy idiot, and Meowth is a cocky, moronic, spazzy idiot. They all act like the same damn idiot. Now back in BW, the loss of individuality was a problem too, not gonna lie. Only Meowth really had his own distinct voice, while Jessie and James often acted like generic evil agents who exchanged pretty interchangeable dialogue concerning their missions. However, there was at least an excuse for this: it was how the characters chose to behave while “on the clock”, because they knew that acting otherwise would lead to miserable failure that would disappoint the boss. Here, there’s no excuse for why they’re all behaving like dipshits and not even trying to take a professional approach to do a good job for the boss. It’s so weird. (In light of recent events, I will add that Meowth is still the one who can most occasionally act like himself. Fitting as he's the only one who LOOKS like himself!)

The other problem is that I had predicted way back when that the staff, undecided on what direction to take the characters in now, would try to “combine the best of both worlds” and play them both ways in terms of the seriousness and comedy. Something like how them building up their diabolical plans would be played semi-seriously with the characters taking themselves, their work, and their approach seriously, but then they'd also display frequent bouts of wacky comedic idiocy and incompetence while making random grotesque or juvenile facial expressions and gestures, often not too shortly after their supposed serious moments, eventually proving not to be a true threat in battle, bungling their plan up, getting degraded, humiliated, beaten up, and sent blasting off into the sky for the 10,0000x time. And that’s exactly what we’ve got now. What I did NOT suspect was just how exaggerated and overplayed their characters would be for all this. They don’t just go over-the-top, they really go over-the-top! Their “serious” moments, rather than being subdued, calculating, and genuinely menacing like in BW, are now in-your-face about how dastardly and outright psychopathic the TRio is. When they’re deviously happy and pleased, they make faces that range from psychotic smirks to full on slasher smiles. When they’re mad, they look like they’re roaring in absolute fury. When they’re surprised or scared, they look on the verge of a mental breakdown. And their comedic moments are their DA! moments taken up to eleven. But whereas in AG, DP, and DA! they were presented as seemingly mentally challenged, here they go beyond that into being flat out mentally unhinged. These aren’t simply brainless idiots: these are absolutely psychopathic idiots. Just LOOK:


This is supposed to be a “balanced” moment of seriousness and humor. Instead, it’s frightening in
all the wrong ways. This TRio is a bunch of unfun, unlikable, and flat out unappealing characters who look like decaying zombies and act like mental patients devoid of style, class, and charisma, and in need of a lobotomy. Maybe even with a lobotomy! And the characters were never this crazy before. They were eccentric, not insane. What sucks the most here is that I can easily see Xerosic and the four female chief scientists of Team Flare acting this way and doing the kind of stuff the TRio is doing presently, except it would be to further an actual plot, of course. This yet again shows why TR should not be on the show anymore. They ought to have been discarded at the end of BW: move on to new arch enemies. Make the regional evil team’s members the actual recurring villains for once! But nope, TR is still around even though all signs pointed to their departure last series.

And they have no presence because of the way their roles play out now. They stalk, they watch, they plot, they enact their scheme, they recite the motto, they fight, and they blast off again. This role works only if there's some effort, unpredictability, and variety in there. But XY TR has none of these things. They just go through the motions, with their new crazy edge substituting for actual substantial characterization. There are fans who find them serviceable enough, but for me, they’re just not at all the same as what they were before. Even in DP, which was the last time they were stale and annoying idiot caricatures, they were at least caricatured characters rather than caricatured tools. They each had a distinct voice and characterization, regardless of how paper thin it was, but XY TR, as I've said, just feels like copies of one another most the time. And their “mixing of styles” just ain’t working. Going back and watching their BW pre-Nimbasa filler antics, their N arc episodes, and even their DA! episodes allows one to see a much better way to balance comedic moments and silly character quirks with being serious, efficient, and legitimate threats as villains. With XY TR, they have them doing some stuff efficiently or ineptly with no consistency except that they're always acting like mentally unhinged derpy dipshits, and in between they’re literally going through motions of their designated role and procedures as tools in the episodes’ plot with no sense of identity or personality whatsoever. It’s sad, and makes TR feel like needless relics now (which they are!). They actually shift between being super annoying and super boring constantly in this series. Oh, and those f***ing character models...skinny limbs, thin bodies, enlarged heads, weird looking eyes and faces - it just doesn’t look like them! Nothing about them works when they’re not treated seriously as characters. Just as they were in DP and the bulk of DA!, the TRio are just tools for the lazy hack writers to use, abuse, and discard in every episode they can be crammed into. Their characters have no worth, their existence has no meaning. At their present state, Takashi Shudo would weep.

Now in fairness, XY TR does have three things over DP TR. They don’t appear in every single episode (though they still appear in most of them, which in this series is one too many), they’re notably less overly hyperactive in their idiocy and thus are allowed more capability to be competent, efficient, and threatening on rare occasion, and they’ve still got Zager tech. Zager tech rules! But aside from that, they've got nothing in their favor. There was really only one way to handle them if they weren’t to be written out of the anime completely, which would be to assign them the status of recurring characters rather than regular characters, who've gone to Kalos for their own reasons and only occasionally pop up, sometimes as enemies, sometimes as allies, and sometimes as villains out shopping. But the writers didn’t take that path at all, so instead we're saddled with these overexposed abominations.

As for Giovanni - don’t let that redesign fool you, he is again completely irrelevant to the show. He’s not a character either. He was a tool used for a few seconds in XY03, and it was like the reverse of BW: there, he told the TRio about the Unova region and sent them over there to further his agenda. Here, the TRio, who’d heard about the Kalos region just from listening in on Ash and going ahead 
of him there so they could get the jump on Pikachu, told him about Kalos and he just gave them the okay to continue with their agenda. He has no involvement in this series’ “plot” and as a tool he has even less personality and presence than he did in AG and DP. And while that design isn’t bad
it needs tweaking 'cause it is the blandest, most forgettable look he’s ever had in the franchise.

They suck”. That’s how I could sum up Team Rocket in AG, DP, and now XY. But in the first two series’ mentioned, I could see why they were still around: in XY there is really no excuse for them to still be around. At all. There were plans to write these characters out of the show last year.  I’m 100% certain that TR were not in the rough draft for the XY series. Since the XY games were in prodcution around the same time as BW2, the XY series must have begun to be planned out while “Best Wishes Season 2” was in the works, and at that time, TR was going to leave the main cast after Operation Tempest and then only be used as guest stars for events like “Episode N.” But then by the time that arc actually came about, they were forced to bring TR back into the main cast, which explains the re-obsession with Pikachu, the balloon, the blast-offs, and the lazy recycled footage for every motto recital (of their original motto) that started happening around that time and still happens now. So TR are now characters the writers had no desire to continue frequently writing for. But since the mandate states they stay, they stay. But not handled by loving hands. The end of BW was the characters’ expiration date. And when something passes it’s expiration date, it goes irreversibly sour. That’s happened to TR (and honestly, just about everything in the entire franchise after Generation V, IMHO). These characters expired. What we see before us now are the characters in body but not in soul. Their soul departed with BW, leaving us with the rotted, deflated, decaying, forever pained bodies of what used to be the real TR. But it’s not the same. While they may still have their fleeting moments of relative decency, this is not the real TR: it’s a soulless imitation made for carrying out the writers’ worn out plot conventions for an easy-to-write formulaic kids’ show. And that’s why I’m glad that, while BW was ending, before XY even premiered, I said my farewell to the real Team Rocket. 

Monday, December 16, 2013

A Colorful Subject

 
For a long time now, the newest Disney film "Frozen" (which is an outstandingly brilliant animated movie, BTW) has created controversy over it's main cast pictured above. Namely that the four human characters are all very, very white. Social Justice Warriors of all kind all cried out "White privilege! Racial discrimination! No representation for People Of Color!" Of course, it's been pointed out that this is fairy tale based on a Danish story by Hans Christen Anderson, set in a Scandinavian area where the people there are typically...well, white. Now that the movie has come out and proven to be a phenomenal success both critically and domestically, the SJWs of course cannot stand to see the thing they'd hated on for so long doing so well: as if racism and white supremacy was being rewarded. So now they continue their claims of racism by pointing out that the people at the start 
of the film are clearly based on the Sami culture, the Sami being non-white folks. And yet they, particularly Kristoff (the guy next to the reindeer), are white in the movie. They claimed this was misrepresenting the Sami or outright stealing their culture to give to white characters. Now I would counter this claim with - people, Arendelle is a fictional kingdom. These people are not the Sami, even if their culture was loosely inspired by them. The fact is, Disney chose to make them look white. They didn't need to be, but they are. So I say we just let them look white and enjoy the movie.

Now this brings me to a bigger issue - while I don't get all the mass hysterical clamoring for "POC (People Of Color) representation" in things, I don't get the overuse of POC as a positive term, and I've begun to think "The Princess And The Frog" might have spoiled some people when it comes to race representation in Disney movies....I am fine with people of different races, ethnicity, cultures, and skin color than me, I loathe racism, I love diversity, and I am all for representation of many different kinds of people as possible if it can be done in a work. BUT really, a big rule about characters and characterization in stories that I believe in is that at the end of the day...we shouldn't give a crap about race. If racism and race issues are big themes in a story, then it's okay to really address the subject. But if not, then the focus should remain purely on the character's character. On what's inside this character, not outside. On who they are, not what they are and what race they belong to. A truly good character transcends race and gender and is just a strong character, period. That's why I find all the riot over "POC representation" in some story to be silly. Would there be a problem with changing Kristoff from white to dark skinned? Not at all. In fact, I'd actually think he looked better!  But the big question is: what about his actual character would that fix? What would changing his race do for his story and characterization and role in the plot? Absolutely nothing. And that's the point I'm trying to make. If he's a good enough character, it's not damaging that he be made not white, but at the same time it's equally not damaging that he IS white. The audience's focus should still be on the characters words and actions that come from who he is inside. That's how you can identify a solid character - by their actual character, physical attributes such as the color of their skin be damned!

Need elaboration? Then let me discuss characters with whom it don't matter if they're black or white:


Roderick Kingsley is one of my favorite examples of what I'm talking about. As the one, true Hobgoblin, he's a great villain in the comics. He made only one appearance in "The Spectacular Spider-Man" and he was changed from a white man to a black man. It made absolutely no difference. He was still a great character destined for future greatness had the show not be cancelled too soon. (I'm still praying for a renewal in one outlet or another) I didn't care that he was black while his source material counterpart was white. He was still Roderick (and/or Daniel) Kingsley, a fabulous character.

Wilson Fisk, the Kingpin is another one of my favorite examples. In the comics, he's a large, bald white guy. In the mediocre live action "Daredevil" film, he's played by the late Michael Clarke Duncan, a large, bald black guy. He's undisputedly one of THE highlights of the film, he just owned the role so much. He captures the character's stature, presence, and personality perfectly. So basically, if anyone complained about this casting decision purely on the grounds that he's black while the character in the source material is white, you know that person is racist. 'Cause who the Hell cares what color his skin is? What other big name actor do you think of who could nail the character better? Our dearly departed Duncan had literally everything needed to play Wilson Fisk and he did so brilliantly.

Nick Fury is a well known example. Originally, he was a white dude. In the Ultimate Marvel comics, he was based on Samuel L Jackson, who agreed to let them use his likeness only if he would end up actually portraying the character on film, which he has ended up doing in the MCU. Since then, the Jackson Fury has become more and more popular to use in stories, to the point where he's considered arguably better than the original white Fury. And it's not because he's black or white. 
It's because he's Samuel L. motherfucking Jackson, who just happens to be black. 'Nuff said there!

Superman is traditionally drawn as a handsome, black haired, square jawed, muscle-bound white man. But really, you could change his skin color and there'd be no sacrilege in my eyes. Why? 'Cause he's a Kryptonian. He's not of any Earthly race, therefore there's nothing saying that he absolutely HAS to have white skin! Change his skin tone and the character stays exactly the same. 

Alicia Masters, Ben Grimm's blind girlfriend in "The Fantastic Four" was originally white too. In the mediocre live action film, she was played by a black actress. While much of the film is disregarded, this case was similar to Nick Fury in how black Alicia became more popular to use in versions.

Harvey Dent was also a white guy. In the Tim Burton "Batman" movie, he was played by Billy Dee Williams. I did not care. In fact, I would have loved to see Billy Dee Williams' take on Two-Face! 

Heimdall is drawn as white in the "Thor" comics. In the movie, he's played by a black actor. Like Superman, he isn't human. He can have whatever skin color he wants and he'd still be awesome.

Perry White is, well, white in the comics and most adaptations. In the dismal "Man Of Steel", he's played by a black actor, despite the character's name. He's a dull character regardless of race.

In the Japanese crime drama thriller manga "Black Lagoon", Revy is very clearly of Chinese descent. She is in the anime adaptation too, yet her design is changed up a bit to look much less Asian and more...tan-ish white? She's got burgundy hair instead of black hair and her face is a bit different. But either way, the chick is a stone cold psychopathic killer. What does her skin matter? 

In the "Fullmetal Alchemist" manga, the one-shot character of Rose looks to be white, but the anime adaptation gave her dark skin. Then the second anime, "Brotherhood" came along and changed her skin back to white! It really makes no difference. (Though I personally prefer her dark skinned look.)

Baxter Stockman was a black scientist in the original "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" comics. The famous Fred Wolf cartoon series of '87 changed him into a nebbish white man instead. Then the 2003 4Kids show made him black again, as did the recent CG animated series. The character goes through changes in each version, but none of them really have anything to do with his race. 

Bane is of Mexican/Latin descent in the comics and most adaptations. The Blockbuster Buster infamously called him "the pride of all Latin fanboys everywhere" for this reason. (Yeah, you got an evil, cold-hearted, murderous mercenary representing you, but as long as he's a badass...yay?)  But in Christopher Nolan's "The Dark Knight Rises", he was played by Tom Hardy, a white Brit. Fanboys raged, despite the fact that this Bane is easily the more interesting character, ethnicity be damned.

Professor Emil Hamilton was white in the comics. In "Smallville", he's played by the Latin Canadian Alessandro Juliani, who has a darker skin tone but played what's he was given very well.

An odd case here: Khan Noonien Signh is meant to be of Indian descent. Yet he was played by the Mexican actor Ricardo Montalban. Then in the recent reboot film, "Star Trek: Into Darkness", he's played by Benedict Cumberbach, one of the whitest men on the planet. Both actors, regardless of their race, portray the character masterfully. (I actually do have a complaint with white Khan, though: why must he be Khan? Why not just keep him John Harrison and take a new direction from there?)

Katniss Everdeen is described as having olive skin, which led to many believing she was a person of color and that it was a crucial part of her character's struggles for some reason. In the movies, she's played by the white Jennifer Lawrence. And she does such a fantastic job at portraying the character and making her compelling and endearing, that I have no problem with her inaccurate skin color. Many others do have a problem though, despite the fact that the book's author has no issue.

Catwoman went from the white Julie Newmar to the white Lee Meriwether to the black Ertha Kitt 
in the 60's Adam West Batman series. For the record, I think Kitt's rendition is the weakest not because of her skin color or performance, but because the show had gotten a bit TOO heavy on the camp at the time she came on to the show. And we shall not even speak of Halle Berry...

April O'Neil was of some different ethnicity in the original mirage comics, but she certainly was not white. The Fred Wolf cartoon changed her to white and possibly of Irish descent due to her name. Unlike Baxter, the 4Kids show did not reverse her back: they made her really white. I mean Joker white skin! Yeesh! In general, the colors of her design on that show (chalk white skin, very red hair, purple shirt) is what really bugs me about an otherwise fine design for a perfectly good character.

The Mandarin, Iron Man's most iconic nemesis, is a really weird case. He's obvious a "Yellow Peril" racist stereotype of an evil Asian man. To avoid this racism, the 90's cartoon made the radiation from his magic rings give him emerald green skin...which kind of made it more racist. In "Iron Man 3", the white Sir Ben Kingsley plays the Mandarin...literally. His character, Trevor, is an actor playing the Mandarin. The real Mandarin turns out to be the even whiter Guy Pearce as Aldrich Killian! This caused a lot of fanboy rage, but since China is such a big market, is this really any surprise?

There are some characters who are created as great characters who just happen to be of color, so there's no need for whitewashing. Or some such characters need their race left alone because it has no bearing on who they are and it's great that we can see that. Elisa Maza from "Gargoyles" is technically like three different races and has a mixed family, which we clearly see onscreen. No attention is drawn to this: it's just there, perfectly normal. Why can't more shows follow that example? Of course, there is whitewashing and reverse whitewashing (POC-ing?) that I don't particularly agree with if I find it to be gimmicky or lacking in any logical sense. I cannot think of much at the moment, but there's a whole trope on TV Tropes about it: Race Lift. Feel free to check through it and see which examples you're fine with or not. But the bottom line is that a character should be weighed and measured by the strength of their character regardless of what race, color, or nationality they are. If the character is good or bad enough, than a Race Lift shouldn't positively or negatively impact a thing about them. On those grounds, race, POC, and whitewashing should not be made a big deal of....

...okay, some Race Lifts are just flat out BULLSHIT.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The Salvation Of Korra?


It's common knowledge now that "The Legend Of Korra" has been a disappointment as both a sequel to the masterpiece "Avatar: The Last Airbender" and as a show on it's own merits. Last year's season, Book 1, had a high quantity of flaws, but the quality of the strengths was good enough to keep it from failing completely. This year's Book 2, on the other hand, started off as a total disaster. Bad storytelling, bad characterization, wasted potential, character derailment, wrong implications, poor choices, and a general betrayal of the original's spirit was everywhere. Many viewers hate this show, feeling heartbroken, betrayed, and disgusted by what it had become. And it shows in how Book 2 steadily bombed in the ratings. A lot of people walked out from this show, not wanting to give it any more chances. On one hand, I cannot blame them at all for this. But on the other hand, it's a shame. Because I believe that following the two-part "Beginnings" story, which told the gripping tale of the first Avatar and how many things in the Avatar mythos came to be, the show took an upswing in quality. Not a major enough upswing to get rid of all it's faults, but it went back to having quality that offset the problematic elements of the story and series. The season finale in particular just really impressed me. In a complete opposite of last season's finale, it actually took risks. It actually had sacrifices and permanent consequences. It actually had character growth for the main character and her closest friends. It had a great atmosphere, an epic battle, a strong finish and everything. So now when I look back at Book 2, I can see that it's like the opposite of Book 1: the story and quality got better as it's second half progressed rather than get weaker. Here's how I would rate the episodes:

1. Rebel Spirit - Adequate
2. The Southern Lights - Poor
3. Civil Wars Part 1 - Bad
4. Civil Wars Part 2 - Crap
5. Peacekeepers - Weak
6. The Sting - Absolute Shit
7/8. Beginnings - WOW, that was GOOD.
9. The Guide - Small step down, but still good
10. A New Spiritual Age - Even better
11. Night Of A Thousand Stars - Great, but flawed
12. Harmonic Convergence - Great
13. Darkness Falls - Excellent
14. Light In The Dark - Holy crap, that was awesome!

Yeah, it's really something. I can certainly say that I didn't enjoy Book 2 as much as Book 1 because the bad stuff here was really bad, and the premise it set up wasn't strong enough to hook one in like Book 1's story. That so many people walked out before it got to the good stuff is evidence of that. So now I think I want to go over the pros and cons of Book 2: Spirits. I'll start with the notorious cons:

- Korra's character derailment in the first half of the story. I understand they were going for showing the inevitable negative consequences that Book 1's false happy ending would have on her character, but there were too many big problems with how they decided to portray Korra here. She was written as too angry, too aggressive, too proud, too bratty, and too much of a dumbass to the point of having virtually no likability or sympathy. For all her flaws in Book 1, she was always well meaning and had a nicer side that showed she was capable of caring for others. Here she was always only thinking about what was best for HER: her family, her wants, her needs. She was a mean, self-centered, completely unlikable little bitch. Another problem is that she had next to no agency of her own. All of her major decisions and actions were influenced by Mako, her uncle, her parents, or circumstances. And she barely had any positive interactions with anyone who wasn't her slimy, manipulative, enabling uncle or her slimy, manipulative, enabling boyfriend. Speaking of whom, it's asinine that he's portrayed as the poor, put-upon ideal man who's too good for a dumbass girlfriend like Korra, even though between the two of them hooking up in Book 1, HE was the one who came out looking worse. The writers just had to invalidate the freaking titular protagonist so darling Mako could look better!

- Bolin's character derailment. Now that might sound weird since by the second half of Book 1, Bolin had next to no character left to derail. And yet somehow, Book 2 did it. First he gets himself stuck in an abusive relationship where all he can do is whine and cry and react in fear, which gets played for "comedy" each and every time, giving no serious consideration to Bolin's feelings, making empathy with him impossible. Then Varrick makes him a mover star, and suddenly he's this smug jackass who thinks he can say and do whatever he wants, and even disrespects the actress he's working with by forcing an unscripted kiss on her. And he's apparently so retarded now that he doesn't know the difference between reality and acting. And I get that it was meant to be him losing himself in his role as Nuktuk, but yet again it's played for "comedy." Something that should be really disturbing and serious is executed with this goofy tone that makes it clear we are not meant to take Bolin seriously. There was more to Sokka than comic relief. There could be more to Bolin if they'd only let there be.

- Lin's character derailment. Yeah, nobody saw this one coming. Lin Bei Fong, daughter of Toph, smart, no-nonsense, hardcore badass police chief of Republic City, was turned into the stupidest, most irrational, ill-tempered, and incompetent police chief ever. She was fine in her first and last appearances this season, but her three middle ones had her acting so freaking dumb all the time. And the worst part is it was just so Mako could look like such a super awesome competent detective on a force full of idiots. Urrgh! Lin was a great character last year. How the Hell did this happen?

- Asami's character derailment. This is the most minor derailment and it only really came up in two episodes, but it's still one all the same. Strong, intelligent, independent Asami Sato goes from making her own business deals to relying entirely on Varrick or Mako to make the big decisions for her, another example of a female character showing a lack of agency. Once she seemingly loses everything again despite all her hard work and gets hit with the feels, Asami, in her moment of weakness, kisses the newly single Mako. Despite the fact that he might not be entirely over his break-up with Korra and the fact that it's the same douche who lied to her, cheated on her, and broke her heart before. Yet Asami sees nothing wrong with crawling back to him. Afterwards, she goes crying to Varrick about her business and allows herself to get duped by him without ever suspecting a thing or doing anything for herself to find out about his crimes and manipulations. The next times we see Asami, she acts like a clingy girlfriend and unsuspecting airhead. Until Mako shows his true colors...again. Then she goes back to being an independent badass, and how is she rewarded for it? By being written out of the finale. That's the biggest issue with Asami's character. Bryke and the writers still have no clue how to use her 'cause they've yet to give her an effective, satisfying role.

- Unalaq. Just...blegh. Unalaq. We seriously follow up the awesome Amon with this dude? He was an incredibly weak main villain. At first he had some potential to be a good religious fundamentalist villain who'd have valid points about the nonspiritual state of the world and what should be done to restore harmony between humans and spirits, but would go to extremes in the name of his self righteous cause. But then he started showing obviously evil vibes and playing a role that was essentially a bland copy of Tarrlok's. Then he called on a war between the Northern and Southern Water Tribes because he wanted conquest for some reason. Then he was revealed to have played Loki to Tonraq's Thor, having set up a disaster that got his brother banished, all so that he could be chief instead. What his motives were is never addressed: he's just written off as a power-hungry evil jerk. There was still a chance that he was doing all that he did in order to protect his tribes from the dark spirits...but then that got dashed when we learned he was in fact serving Vaatu and the dark spirits, willingly and selfishly throwing his tribes and the entire world under the bus for the sake of power. In the end, he was just wanting to destroy the world so that it could be reborn into a new age of spirits in which he would be the all powerful Dark Avatar, the supreme spiritual ruler. The nickname "H2Ozai" pretty much describes what he ultimately was. He started off promising but ended up as this completely one-dimensional villain whose character ran on cliched tropes. What tops off the disappointment is how little depth and presence he has. His lackluster design and monotonous voice did him no favors, and he lacked certain nuance and passion needed for me to get invested in him as an antagonist. It's almost insulting that this generic bad guy is the one who ended up becoming the Avatar's evil counterpart. He's a horrible, boring failure of a character on just about all levels.

- Unalaq's kids, Eska and Desna, were barely any better. Their shtick of being creepy twins who act and talk like they're not from this world was amusing at first, but it wore thin fast. They really needed character development, but for the most part, they did not receive it. The idea that was mentioned in their bios that they didn't get along with Korra due to them being classist pricks who considered her   a southern rube went completely unspoken of in the actual show. Eska became a satellite not-love interest for Bolin just to subject us to that horrible abusive relationship subplot, while Desna was a satellite character to his sister. When Bolin left Eska, she went totally bonkers in what amounted to "lol, crazy ex-girlfriends, am I right?", and when Unalaq sent her and Desna out to capture Korra, all I saw was a bland rehash of Zuko and Azula. Thankfully they did get development in the next half, but it still wasn't enough to make me like them completely. They were boring and annoying for too long.

- Makorra was still a terrible relationship. Thankfully this season showed that rather than trying to play it as true love between soul-mates like Book 1 did, yet it still failed to address the actual reasons. Instead it first had Korra acting like a violent bitchy girlfriend, then had Mako as a lying, cowardly cad of an ex-boyfriend, and then finally just flat out saying they're not compatible.

- Boleska as a teased relationship, meant for "comedy." Abusive relationships are not funny, Bryke. And in real life, they don't end on good terms from both sides. What were they thinking with this?

- The romantic subplots in general, while not as bad as in Book 1, were still needless. Just...stop.

- Tonraq's character was very clumsy. We're now told that he, along with Tenzin, played a part in keeping Korra's childhood confined to the Southern Water Tribe, never allowing her freedom. I'd thought it was the White Lotus Order that was behind that back in Book 1. There, Tonraq seemed a-okay with letting his daughter run off to Republic City at Katara's request. So why are we expected to believe he's been a controlling, restrictive father? It would have made sense if he'd just become overprotective after the whole ordeal with Amon taking Korra's bending, but nope, they pull a retcon instead. His backstory also came right out of left field, and Korra' anger at him keeping it secret wasn't really understandable. And despite it showing him as something of a nonspiritual warmonger, the narrative uses the fact that Unalaq set him up for exile in order to validate him so that he doesn't have to be accountable for his actions. Please. His deeds should not need be whitewashed like that.

- The Civil War. Okay, a Civil War between the North and the South. Cute, Bryke. Really cute. So where are you taking this angle? Nowhere? We're barely going to see the war at all? Huh. Oh well.

- The grimdark tone that took up most of the season, especially in the first half, was so off-putting. The original series and Book 1 could make things serious and exciting while keeping it fun to watch. Here it seems like every major character was often bitter or unpleasant, and the tone of the story's events was needlessly gritty. Part of this could be due to the animation that'll I'll mention, but the writing, voice acting, musical score, and general direction all share guilt here. We did get good comic relief with Varrick and Bumi, but we also got bad comic relief with Bolin and the creepy water twins.

- Studio Pierrot doing the animation for episodes 1 through 9 of the season. It's noticeably inferior to the animation as done by Studio Mir, which did Book 1. It made the show that much more tiring to watch. Thankfully Studio Mir came back for "Beginnings" and the end portion of episode 9, and then did all remaining episodes and will do all episodes of the next two seasons to come. Yay!

- I don't fault Tim Hendrick and Josh Hamilton for this, but Mike and Bryan's sexism, whether it be conscious or not, still seeps into the scripts. Male characters are the most major players in the story. Male characters have agency and development that's not dependent on female characters, while female characters get the reverse. Ex-girlfriends get stereotyped. Women like Katara, Senna, and Pema do squat. Asami needs a man to turn to when things look down. Did I mention Lin Bei Fong already? Even the minor role of actress Ginger is sexist. When did we get so anti-feminist, Bryke?

- We only saw General Iroh in two episodes, both in very minor roles. Such a waste of Dante Basco.

- Idiot plots abounded in this story. The most glaring example would be the "Detective Mako" subplot in Republic City, where every main good guy behaved like idiots, even dear Mako himself often acted idiotically so that conflict could be forced, and the smartest character was Varrick! Korra also had several idiot moments, Tenzin and his siblings had idiot conflicts, and even our villain Unalaq was a bloody idiot. There's people making mistakes, and there's just being dumb. This was dumb.

- The continuing lack of camaraderie within "Team Avatar." Good lord, will they ever get this right?

- Even with two new writers, Mike and Bryan's reliance on bring in a Dues Ex Machina or two to help solve a crisis in the story still hasn't wavered. Jinora's soul of light in the finale...what even was that?

- The story rarely ever seized opportunities to NOT take the lazy, predictable routes, which sucks.

- MAKO. I don't think I need to elaborate, but I will a little. There were deniers that he was a Mary Sue and a creator's pet last season, but now there's no mistaking it. One could theorize that Bryke and the writers wanted people to forgive Mako for his actions in Book 1, so they wrote him as being as good a boyfriend, as good a cop, as good a guy as possible just to force his greatness down our throats. But seeing as Book 2 was in production when Book 1 was airing, before fan reaction towards Mako was a thing, that's not the case. In truth, they just wanted us to love Mako the way they love Mako, so they have him as the guy who always says and does the right things at the right time and gets talked up by the rest of the cast as being so awesome and generally being Mr. Perfect. It's the exact same deal as Wesley Crusher. And even this gets screwed up because it makes the moments where Mako acts like a dick even more jarring given how a nice, strong, wise person like him oughtn't be acting this way, and no one, freaking no one, ever calls him on his douchery. Yet again he seldom pays for his mistakes and he never, ever really has to say he's sorry. He owes up to them, but he doesn't apologize. Sheesh, at least Norman Osborn was honest about that! Mako is just ass-scum.

So with that negativity out of the way, let's get down to the GOOD STUFF!

- Tenzin is still the best character on the show, and not only did we get to explore his family more in this season, but he got a complete character arc through the whole thing. All along, he was looking for a way to define himself and prove himself worthy of his dad's legacy. Through being Korra's mentor, being the one to carry on the Air Nomad and airbender ways, being father of the next generation of Air Nomads, and being the spiritual guide to the Avatar in the Spirit World, he was always trying to be on top of everything, but we constantly see his failings here. The moment where he faces his demons and admits to himself that he already is who he wants and needs to be is a very moving moment, one that solidifies his character development. As always, JK Simmons did a great job in voice acting. His family, who in Book 1 were often annoyances, were handled much better this time around. Jinora played a pivotal role as a spirit guide for Korra who ultimately helped her recover the Avatar spirit and save the world, while also discovering her own spiritual side on her own. Ikki got some development when she realized the value of her family. Even Meelo learned to be in control and competent through lemur training. And of course Kya and Bumi, Tenzin's older brother and sister, were just great. They really felt like an older Katara and Sokka, which was not a bad thing at all. I'll say nothing of the controversial "Aang wasn't a perfect father" thing, except that I liked it.

- Korra Korra Korra. I'd long been waiting for her to truly grow and develop as a character, which didn't really happen in Book 1 since she got cheated out of all her progress, ending up never really learning anything that stuck with her. I already mentioned how despicable she was portrayed as at the start of Book 2, and for a moment, I lost all hope in her. Then she got eaten by a spirit, lost her identity, and had to undergo a spiritual rebirth in which she relived the origins of the Avatar. Suddenly, she was back to her old lovable, doofy but still well meaning and courageous self, but filled with a new resolve to do her Avatar duties correctly and get in touch with the spiritual forces in order to protect the world. In the next couple of episodes she grew smarter, nicer, more thoughtful, more patient, and more spiritual than she ever had been before, particularly during her wonderful ordeal in the Spirit World when she literally becomes a child again and learns spiritual lessons from Iroh. It's topped by the finale, where she FINALLY learns that her worth as a person is not defined by her role as the Avatar, and the Avatar is not defined by the power, bending, and spirit he/she possesses. She found self worth as a person: as Korra. For WHO she is, not WHAT she is. It's her spirit alone, without Raava's power inside her, that fights and defeats UnaVaatu. It's her decision, not based on any of her past lives, to keep the spirit portals open so that a new age can begin in the world. And she now has the wisdom to see how incompatible she and Mako are as a couple, so she breaks it off with him on her terms as well. Korra really grew up here and became a great character. I could not be prouder.

- Varrick was a terrific addition to the show. Not only was he a genuinely fun and hilarious comic relief character, but he ended up as a great antagonist. Easily my favorite villain in Book 2. He's such a shady character who does such corrupt, nefarious things that we're led to believe he's evil, despite our previous conception that he was an ally. And he technically stays on the side of the allies, even once it's known that he's really a criminal mastermind. But what's better is that he ends up not so evil so much as he is crazy and morally ambiguous. A classic trickster who plays any side of a conflict when it best conveniences him. Even when behind bars (in a luxurious pre-prepared jail cell), he flat out points out all the good he's done in spite of the bad he'd done too. "Korra, who warned you about Unalaq? I did! Bolin, who got you into the movers? I did! Asami, who rescued your company? I did! Mako, who got you thrown in prison? I did!" And despite what he may say, that last part was NOT a bad thing. And immediately afterwards, he helps the heroes again by loaning them his airship. Of course this doesn't change that he's a criminal, and as soon as he sees an escape, he takes it. What's best is that it would have been easy to have Varrick drop his silly, eccentric persona in favor of a more sinister attitude once he was outed as a bad guy. But he keeps his personality, effectively creating a balance of comedic humor and subtle menace. Wow, such an awesome guy!

- Asami might have had a miserable role in this story, but her character was less depressing this time around. In episodes 1, 4, and 5, she demonstrated the characteristics that I always wanted to see from her. She's a rich heiress to a business who's savvy enough to know how to use her money and connections, and though she takes it seriously, she can be all smiles about it too. She deserved more opportunities to be badass in fights, but the moments she got were fun and impressive. They still haven't quite cracked the way to write and handle this character, but we're steadily getting there.

- Bolin, along with Mako, is still one of the weakest characters for reasons we all should know. That said, he actually grew up a little by the end of the season. Yeah, I know: it shocked me too. When Varrick quite publicly called him a "knucklehead earthbender" whom he made a mover star, you could see in Bolin's face the realization that he wasn't as hot as he was thinking he was. He then walked out of his own mover premier and to Asami he expressed loneliness without his brother and friends there to share in his success, and bitterness over how they all never really came together as Team Avatar the way he'd hoped. The moment actually got played seriously, for once not invalidating Bolin's feelings because "lol, comic relief idiot." Bolin then ended up becoming a real hero as he saved the president and exposed Varrick, all this occurring while his fake hero role in the mover is playing, which was brilliant. He was also able to throw Mako's "rip off the leech" advice back at him when he needed to break it off with the forgetful Korra. He was able to use his overemotional behavior to manipulate Eska and Desna into letting him and Mako go. And as unrealistic as it was, he actually showed maturity in how he broke it off with Eska on good terms. Small yet major steps.

- "Beginnings". This two-parter was just...holy shit, it was like a one-hour short film! Korra was literally the only main cast member to be featured in it, and even then it was in the framing devices at the start and end of each part. The story of Wan that took up the bulk of it was just an incredible tale that wove more Avatarverse mythology and tied so many things together. It told an intriguing tale, featured characters that actually mattered and developed, and in general felt very much like it came out of the original "Avatar." The magic was back! And not only did this show us the origins of how the Avatar came to be, how benders were divided into nations, and how the human and spirit worlds got separated, but it was also a literal game changer for Korra. We now knew that Unalaq wanted both portals opened at Harmonic Convergence so that Vaatu could be set free to lay waste to the world. And it tied in to the finale, where we see things coming full circle. Seriously, go watch it! 

- The Spirit World itself and all the weird and wacky spirits we saw were just so enjoyable and intriguing and creative. Some have criticized Mike and Bryan for taking too much inspiration from Miyazaki and other Asian animation sources, but really, Miyazaki would see it as an honor. Folks in Japan barely cared about the whole "Kimba-Simba" debacle, so why should this matter? And I think we got a better glimpse of the Spirit World in this season than we ever did in the original show.

- Vaatu as the Bigger Bad of the story was a far better villain than boring Unalaq. Being the spirit of darkness, destruction, and chaos means that he is the living embodiment of all those evil things, so
it feels natural that he would harbor only dark thoughts and desires. He's gotten flak for acting so blatantly evil rather than neutral, ambiguous, or "necessary evil", but his high-and-mighty cackling evildoer persona made sense to me. Every mythology needs it's Devil, and that's exactly what Vaatu is for the Avatarverse. He had a great design and a compelling voice. He lacked much of anything in the ways of character, but damn if I couldn't buy that this was the ultimate villain. When he and Unalaq became the Dark Avatar and destroyed Raava, he took dominance in order to change his hosts form and provide the much needed threat for the big finale. I felt glad to see him vanquished.

- Iroh. Not General Iroh voiced by Dante Basco. The original Uncle Iroh voiced by Greg Baldwin impersonating the late great Mako (the kickass actor, not the shitty boyfriend character.) It was a huge surprise and delight to see his soul residing in the Spirit World. We got to see him twice, even. Once when he accompanied Korra and was her mentor in spirituality within the Spirit World, and again when he gave advice and directions to Tenzin, Kya, and Bumi. Such a well used guest star!

- The action was great as it's always been. Even better in the Studio Mir animated episodes.

- That season finale. That finale could cover an entry in itself! In those two episodes that premiered online last Friday but will be airing on TV this coming Friday, we had:
- Korra VS Vaatu
- Unalaq merging with Vaatu
- Korra VS Unalaq in a battle of Avatars
- Eska and Desna changing sides
- Conclusion to Tenzin's character arc
- Tenzin and his siblings saving Jinora
- Unalaq and Vaatu ripping Raava, the Avatar Spirit, out from Korra, attacking her, destroying her, and utterly breaking all connections Korra has to the past Avatars.
- Vaatu taking over Unalaq completely, turning into the giant "UnaVaatu."
- UnaVaatu attacking Republic City
- Varrick seizing the opportunity to make his escape
- Tenzin aiding Korra in her darkest moment
- Korra learning that being the Avatar is not defined by what she is, but by who she is
- Korra meditating and reflecting on her spiritual growth
- Korra's spirit coming out, enlarging, and going to Republic City to fight UnaVaatu
- GREAT BIG EPIC SPIRIT SHOWDOWN!
- Air (Tenzin), Water (Kya), Earth (Bolin), Fire (Mako), and normality (Bumi) against dark spirits!
- Jinora's soul fulfilling her role as Korra's spirit guide, literally guiding Korra's spirit to Raava's
- Korra's spirit using a spiritual technique to destroy UnaVaatu
- Korra getting her Raava-made Avatar spirit back but still not regaining her connections to the past lives! The cycle stays broken. Korra is the first in a new cycle of Avatars!
- Korra choosing to NOT close the spirit portals, instead letting the worlds of man and spirits co-exist the way they used to. It's up to the humans and spirits to determine the future, with Avatar Korra as the keeper of peace and balance who keeps Raava's light shining within her.
- Eska and Desna leaving for home, with the former and Bolin breaking it off on good terms.
- Korra, finally remembering that she and Mako broke up, realizing they're incompatible and unable to be together. So she breaks it off with Mako. The break up is real. It's over. MAKORA. IS. DEAD.
- Korra unites the Water Tribe, with her father Tonraq finally becoming chief.
- A wiser, more confident Korra tells us a new age has begun. Hopefully, a new age of quality.
- Oh, and did I forget to mention the RANDOM ADMIRAL ZHAO CAMEO? 

- It's a lot to take in, but it's really, really good. The addition of Tim Hendrick and Josh Hamilton as writers (though the latter is the weaker of the two) was ultimately a good move, and Michael Dante DeMartino as a writer on the finale has restored some of my respect for him. I still have no such respect for Bryan Konietzko, though. That guy's a hack with no writing talent and a major asshole.

So yeah, "The Legend of Korra" really picked up by the end of this season. It still has it's flaws and kinks that prevent it from being nearly as good as it's predecessor, but there can never be another "Avatar." I just hope that this show can be something good in it's own right, because we all know that it should be: it has the potential to be. Korra's speech about a new age at the end of this story, plus the fact that the show took a turn for the better in quality starting with episodes called "Beginnings" gives me hope for the future of this series, as naive as that may be. Even in the face of all the faults, and Mako and Bolin still being the worst characters, I have hope. Consider my faith restored.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Scary Evil!

There are two big kinds of scary - the kind that scares you in a good way and you think what you've seen is cool because of it's scariness, and the kind that just plain scares you shitless, disturbs you, gives you terrified, uncomfortable feelings, and makes you lose sleep over it. There are many villains who've invoked the former in me, but it takes very special cases to invoke the latter. So for my last October villain entry, for Halloween, these are the villains of TV and film who genuinely terrified me.

 Alex Forrest: This crazy lady really got under my skin. Glenn Closse played her a little too well. At first she had my sympathies because she was obviously not right in the head and felt she was owed this man's devotion to her, which, if her claims of being pregnant were true, she very much was. I was rooting for her to give Hell to that ass-scum Dan. But soon she started to take things a little too far with the vandalism and outright stalking. Then she got his wife and daughter involved, two complete innocents. And then she put the bunny in the boiler - now she was completely unforgivable, deranged, and frightening. She was not going to be IGNORED! And of course, who could forget the last scare in the bathtub? Made me scared to take a bath again!

 Annie Wilkes: An even crazier lady: one who seems so sweet and pleasant until you find out she has psychotic and even murderous tendencies. She's the crazy fangirl taken to the highest extreme, and she shouts, assaults, tortures, and kills in order to get her way. What she and Alex share in common is that as scary as they are when they flip out, they're even scarier when they're just on-screen acting normal, because you just know anything could set them off and you're not sure what or when, but you're constantly dreading the moment. Cathy Bates really hit a home run with her performance: successfully luring in with her likability, and then...AAAH!

 Buffalo Bill: He may be a boring villain, but damn if he wasn't a scary-ass serial killer. Everything he says and does, from his famous line about lotion to that dance he does in front of a mirror while dressing in drag and saying "Would you fuck me? I'd fuck me." is just horrifying. In fact, that's part of what makes him uncomfortable to watch. He's too real.

 The Child Catcher: The child molester whom kids see before they even know what a child molester is. He says the word "kiddy winkies" and makes it sound like the scariest thing ever! Oddly enough, I think he might be scarier to adults than he is to children due to what he represents. A strange, obviously sick stranger abducting children is a definite adult fear!

 Angelus: He's a vampire, but the way David Boreanaz plays him is so human, and not in the good way! He feels like the ultimate abusive boyfriend: every crazy, mean, domineering jackass rolled up into one. Every time he was on-screen, even when Angel was pretending to be him, I felt unnerved. I always expected him to mercilessly assault someone while cracking jokes and taking glee in it, because that's sort of what he does best. This dude is such a monster that he transcends humans or vampires, and that makes him so scary. He's such a beast!

 The Gentlemen: One of the rare occasions when setting out to make something specific actually pays off, since Joss Whedon deliberately made these guys to be the stuff of nightmares. And they are! You're never going to forget those hideous grinning faces!

 Ghost Face: It's strange that this mask has become so iconic that it's hard to really scare anyone anymore, but the first time it's seen in the first "Scream" movie, it IS scary! And the killer is scary too. He doesn't just kill his victims, he toys with them first. He's not just evil, but smart: he arranges everything to fit his sick, twisted game before going in for the kill. And his insanity is so believable. His line of how "movies don't create killers: they make the killers more creative!" is unforgettable and eerily true. He's the poster boy for bad media influence.

 HAL 9000: "I'm sorry, Dave. I cannot let you do that." HAL's nature extends to all AI villains in fiction, from GLADos to XANA. Human beings created this thing, and it's doing exactly what it was programmed to do, but now that works against us. We are the makers of our own destruction, and that is frightening! Extra scare points for that chilling monotone.

 Hannibal Lecter: Oh yes, who doesn't know of Hannibal the Cannibal? I thought he was petrifying in "Red Dragon" and "The Silence Of The Lambs", and even in "Hannibal" he was creepy due to Sir Anthony Hopkins' portrayal. Intelligent, articulate, sophisticated and cultured, he seems so appealing and polite at first, but you quickly begin to hear the creepy undertones in the way he speaks and gazes at you. As a psychiatrist, he gets into your head and plays games with your mind, finding where you're most vulnerable. And he eats people. Not out of malice, but because it's simply in his nature. He's a true human animal: a predator. Ignore his bullshit "origin": nothing happened to make him this way. He happened. Some find Dr. Lecter too larger-than-life to be scary, but that's the kicker for why he's so scary! A man like him simply should not exist, yet does. When he's in the scene, it's like you've walked into a completely different reality, one in which he is the master. He's among the most iconic horror villains for a reason. He gives me chills!

 Judge Doom: Christopher Lloyd as this villain is pretty creepy already, but then he's revealed to be a crazy toon serial killer who killed Eddie Valiant's brother. He has bulging red eyes and a high-pitched squeaky voice. And he is just nightmarish. You never learn exactly who he was or why he went wrong, but you don't want to find out. You're just glad he's gone!

 Samara: The decrepit, decaying little girl with overgrown hair who crawls out of the well and through the TV screen to kill you. That might be spoiling things, but just about everyone knows it. "The Ring" is one of the scariest movies for this reason among others.

 Kayako: The decrepit, decaying young Japanese woman with overgrown hair who haunts a cursed house. Quite possibly even scarier than Samara. Her hideously warped face, her contorting movements, that sound she makes whenever she's present..it's freaky!

 Pazzuzu: Six words: your mother sucks cocks in Hell! This demonic entity that possessed and corrupted a young girl was so terrifying and believable that it made many claim that the Devil was really present on the set of "The Exorcist." The low, raspy, androgynous voice that comes out of her is just bonechilling, and that face...eeeewww! Such details make this movie one of the scariest films of all time. You're so scared, you forget it's only a movie!

 Michael Myers: Only from the first "Halloween" movie, mind you. He scared me less and less as the films kept getting made and they refused to let him go. But in the original, more self-contained film, Michael had no origin, no background, no motivation for his killings. As Dr. Loomis describes, he was simply pure evil ever since he was a child. There's literally nothing inside of him but malice. The closing lines of the film describe what he is perfectly. "It was the boogeyman." "Yes...in fact, it was." Michael is the boogeyman. And that's all he ever needed be.

 Mola Ram: "CALI MA! CALI MAAAAA!" Maybe it was just the general unpleasant tone of this movie coupled with this creepy skull-head guy and all that he did, but
I thought he was just horrifying. He rips out hearts and burns them, and sentences several children to abuse, labor, and misery. All in the name of his religious fanaticism, which seems downright Satanic!

 Mr. Dark: Owner of the Dark Pandemonium Carnival that visits Green Town every few autumns. He is in truth the embodiment of darkness. He and his troupe prey off of sorrow, fear, insecurity, and desire: it is what sustains them. The nature of the carnival attracts people with what they want most, only to take it away from them and claim their souls. And this man here was a very sinister villain, played to perfection by Johnathan Pryce. He just exudes pure evil and made me hate him as much as I feared him. Everything he said and did shook me to the core.

 Moodi Mamudi: Not a particularly well-written character, but Alfred Molina's acting made up for that in how deranged and intimidating he was. As with Alex Forrest and Annie Wilkes, I was scared of him on principle because I knew that if the stress of his family problems overwhelmed him or his wife did something she wasn't allowed to do, he'd fly off the handle. In his rage, he is blind and will strike, slap, choke, or even attempt murder on his wife. He displays the most barbaric of human nature. This wasn't a horror movie, but this guy was scary!

 Norman Bates: Each and every time he showed up dressed like mother, wielding a knife as that screeching music played in the background, I was seized with fear. And that last scene with him all alone, thinking to himself in his mother's voice? So haunting!

 Jack Torrance and the Overlook: Jack Nicholson is the go-to guy for crazy, and this was no doubt his scariest psychopath performance. He really captured a mentally disturbed guy slowly going absolutely bonkers. All of his deranged moments and lines delivered with convincing madness are both memorable and terrifying. But if I had to be completely honest with myself, I'd say Jack was actually the least scary of the scary things that accompany the Overlook Hotel in this film. That is how freaking scary that thing is! The creepy twins, the hideously decrepit woman, the guy in the dog suit, the blood flooding from the elevator, and all the frightening sound effects...it's a dark, disturbing whirlwind of horror that makes this one of the scariest of films.

 Sweeney Todd: I didn't think Johnny Depp could scare me, so I was completely unprepared for this performance. I felt for Benjamin Barker, but I feared Sweeney Todd. This is a man with nothing but pain and hatred inside of him, and he'll do anything to satisfy these feelings. The more he pursues his revenge, the less redeemable he becomes. And his method of slitting men's throats while shaving them invokes fears that men could have about their barbers.

 The Joker: Damn, this clown is just a horrifying creature. He amuses me, but then he also scares me. He terrified me so much when I first saw this movie at the cinema. And most of that is certainly due to Heath Ledger's convincing performance as a completely unhinged psychopath who lives by absolutely no rules, has no goal other than to create chaos, and has no good reason to hurt people other than he finds it fun. But I'd be lying if I said it wasn't also due to the "dead man walking" feeling I get from watching Ledger in his final role. I wish he was still with us today, but I am glad that before passing away, he left us a performance that is truly immortal.

 The White Rabbit: The Czech film "Alice" is pretty much the perfect nightmare put to film, and this guy was the prime offender. A foppishly dressed rabbit with googly eyes, sharp teeth, and always looking like he's decaying, it is he who lures Alice into the strange domain of terrors. Since he is the Queen of Heart's lord high executioner, he always carries a pair of scissors that he uses to cut heads with. He's such a frightening, freakish creation, just as the whole movie is a brilliant way to make one lose sleep. One of the most underrated horror villains.

 The Haunted Mask: I could handle most "Goosebumps" stories, but this thing scared the crap out of me as a kid. The way it looks, the voice it gives it's wearers, and just the whole concept of a mask that turns the nature of the wearer ugly so it can grow strong enough to become that person's face was just really horrifying. It's less scary now, but geez. 

 The Carnataurus: This scary-ass mofo terrified me when I encountered it on a ride at the Animal Kingdom in Disney World, and it's still scary in "Dinosaur!"

 The Truck And The Shark: Both are the same basic concept from Spielberg, and both are equally terrifying and believable. The truck is driven by some unknown psychopath who wants to pursue and kill some guy for no certain reason at all. That we never see the face of evil here is truly unsettling. It embodies a fear of just going out on the road and into a very unpredictable life. The shark, meanwhile, embodies fear of water. While in the movie it's what leads the hero to ultimately overcoming his fear of the ocean, it gave several people in real life a fear of going into the ocean - and a fear of sharks, too! And after seeing the movie, I can understand why.

 Sunny Jim: One could call "The Elephant Man" a horror film, and the horror is human nature itself. And no one shows that better than Sunny Jim, the night porter. This guy represents the absolute worst of humanity. He's vile, greedy, selfish, mean-spirited, and utterly unapologetic for all of it. He gets kicks off of tormenting others, and a "freak" like John Merrick was just the sort of person he could take full advantage of. The scene where he leads the drunken party into Merrick's room in order to assault and humiliate him is one of the most terrifying, heartwrenching, infuriating, and disturbing sequences in any movie I've ever seen. His nature is dark, he exploits the nature of others, and he feels proud of it. What absolute scum. And that's scarier than most monsters or supernatural beings can manage. It's such a relief when this guy gets it in the end.

 The Blair Witch: Never seen, only felt. But just....DAMN.

 The Demon: May well be THE scariest villain I've ever seen. Like the Blair Witch, it's never seen, but it's presence is felt everywhere. But what makes it scarier is that we gradually begin to understand it's character and goals, all the while never seeing it or hearing a word from it! And the more Micah and Katie learn about it, the more agitated it becomes, and that leads to the endangerment of lives. Each night, you're always scared that the Demon will come through that door and make something happen, but you're never sure what. By the end where the Demon takes possession of Katie's body, I'd completely checked out with fear. I do not care for all the sequels they're making and releasing each year. Like Michael, this one needs no further story.

 Chernabog and Fire Bird: Both big, scary, evil beings in the "Fantasia" movies are legitimately terrifying. Chernabog being the Devil, and the Fire Bird being the spirit of death and destruction itself, the anti-thesis to the spirit of life. They both really disturbed me.

 The Coachman: One of Disney's most monstrous villains. When you first see him, he looks so kindly and gentle, and then as he explains his vile, inhumane business on Pleasure Island, his face changes into what you see there. He goes back to his regular face afterwards, but you're not fooled. You know what he really is. And what he causes is one of the most horrifying things to be put into a Disney animated movie. This sinister creep is just a nightmare.

 The Big Bad Wolf: Not the Big Bad Wolf from the Disney cartoons, who was always more comical than menacing. The one from the Disney storybook and tape that accompanied it, which I had as a child. For some reason the Wolf is drawn to look darker and scarier, with yellow eyes, a sleeker look, and very sharp fangs. And his voice on the tape - good lord, it could make one piss themselves in fright! Completely unlike the Wolf in the cartoons! They even make his sheep disguise moment sound menacing! As a kid, this scared the Hell out of me!

 The Headless Horseman: DAT LAUGH. The visuals are scary, the build-up is just too perfect, and that is one of the most terrifying evil laughs ever! EVER!

 Judge Claude Frollo: In just my last entry, I mentioned that he was the scariest Disney villain due to his realism. Well, even as a kid, I was aware of this. I knew something was wrong with this guy, I just wasn't quite sure what. I felt dirty watching the "Hellfire" sequence, and also very frightened, but I didn't know why. It flew over my head. And his complete succumbing to evil and madness at the end ("And he shall smite the wicked..") was no doubt the source of many of my nightmares at that age. Frollo was evil, scary, and just so evil that it's scary.

 Slade: Normally Slade doesn't scare me. He's super creepy at worst, totally awesome at best. But there was this one episode titled "Haunted" where he scared the shit outta me. Robin was fighting him but never laying a hit, and he was beating him up to near death. The whole time, the other titans claimed Slade wasn't really there: that Robin's hallucinating. And killing himself. Slade kept on toying with Robin, and making me fear him in doing so. It all came to a head with his absolutely chilling words at the climax. "No, Robin. I will not stop. Not now, not ever. I am the thing that keeps you up at night: the evil that haunts every dark corner of your mind. I will never rest...and neither will you!" By the end, I was expecting him to never go away. So scary!

 Professor Pericles: How did "Scooby Doo" get such a genuinely terrifying villain? The Freak of Crystal Cove and the Nibiru Entity from the same series frightened me too, but this fucking parrot is the one who was consistently bone chilling and kept on topping himself in how scary he could be. The character's freakish intelligence and Udo Kier's vocal performance always sent shivers down my spine. Pericles was crafty, malevolent, and murderous!

 Bill Cipher: I thought Bill was pretty creepy to begin with but he was mostly funny and endearing in a crazy, evil sort of way. The Season 2 showed us all the horror that Bill truly was. Like Pericles, he just kept topping himself in scariness up to the very end.

 Ryoko Asakura: Like Slade, she usually doesn't really scare me at all. But that scene in "The Disappearance Of Haruhi Suzumiya"...I think I almost died of fright!

 Femto: The emissary of God's Hand that Griffith morphed into. I'm not so much scared of the guy himself as much as I am of who he used to be, what he does, and what he represents If there was any doubt that Griffith was evil, this really should've put them to rest.

 Johan Liebert: Did you not see my Top Thirty Anime Villains?

 Shou Tucker: If you've watched the anime or read the manga, you know this guy, you know the scene, you know what he does. He's a despicable mad alchemist who killed his own wife with his experiments and turns his own daughter and her dog into a chimera. And this comes right the fuck out of nowhere, too! The way the scene plays out, especially in the original anime, horrifies and disturbs me like few things in fiction do. Such a disgusting man he is.

 Vicious: He scared me the most in his first appearance, where we knew next to nothing about him other than the fact that he and Spike used to be partners, and that he's bad news. His look, his low, rasping voice, his bird...everything about him was chilling.

 Tongpu: The scariest part of the scariest episode of "Cowboy Bebop." Just looking at him freaks me out. He's got a false-looking grinning face and a balloon-like body, and loaded with artillery for killing people. And he only gets more frightening from there. He starts the episode capable of normal speech, but he regresses as it goes on: soon he's screaming every word, then he's reduced to nothing but mad cackling, and finally he starts moaning and crying like a toddler when he feels pain. We never get his full story, but like Spike, we don't feel we want to.

 The "Real" Mima: The main antagonist of the mind-screw anime psychological horror film "Perfect Blue". She's not necessarily one character, but an apparition who appears in the psyches of three different characters in the film, the third of which is the most horrifying and leads to both the climax of the film and the explanation behind much of what's been going on in it the whole time. I don't want to spoil much, but I can say this chick genuinely creeped me out. Basically, they made a cute, upbeat Japanese pop idol into the most frightening thing ever.

 Emperor Griffon: The character isn't really THAT scary, but his initial reveal actually did frighten me a great deal. He's just the most unexpectedly nonthreatening looking thing beneath that hood, yet he's supposed to be the ruler of darkness. And then he starts kicking your ass and going crazy while a haunting battle theme plays. I was then very, very afraid of him. Then he transforms into a griffon man with a snarling voice performed by Mark Hamill. Yikes!

 JENOVA: Anything having to do with this alien monstrosity freaked me right the fuck out! It set the tone for the game's Big Bad when it broke out of it's hold at Shinra HQ and murdered countless people, including President Shinra himself, leaving behind a trail of blood. And if that wasn't scary enough, wait 'til you fight the damn thing! At least four times! This is the malignant entity whose legacy Sephiroth has inherited. It's the source of the worst scares.

 Saavedro: A pained, broken, vengeful psychopath played to menacing perfection by Brad Dourif, Saavedro is another memorable antagonist who genuinely terrified me.  Since the "Myst" games are like computer games where you're not playing as any character or avatar, and Saavedro is being played by a real person, something about the moments where he speaks to you seem so real.  Like the TV/computer screen is the only thing separating him from you, and you're always fearing that he could break through at any moment and try to kill you.

 Pyramid Head: A silent killer devoid of feeling, this guy is the ultimate boogeyman. His name describes exactly what he is, and his design is what terrifies me the most. He literally wears a long, sharp, triangular shaped helm where his head should be. It has no expression or symbol on it, and it looks even scarier when he turns to the side. He never speaks, only moans and grunts like your typical slasher, but that actually adds to his creepiness. In the plot, he symbolizes deep psychological fear of, and even desire for, death. And that is just super scary.

 The Path: The entire game, but especially Gradma's House.

 Five Night's At Freddy's: If The Path is like The Blair Witch Project, then this game is Paranormal Activity. Freddy Krueger doesn't scare me. This Freddy does!

 Rumpelstiltskin: This fairy tale always creeped me out, and
I owe it to a Rabbit Ears version narrated by Kathleen Turner that I saw once but I cannot remember where and when. The whole atmosphere and soundtrack was dark and mysterious in this version, and the little man himself was just scary, particularly his dance around the campfire and his "THE DEVIL TOLD YOU THAT!" breakdown at the end. I didn't quite follow it entirely, but it disturbed me. I think Robert Carlye's portrayal on "Once Upon A Time" reawakened my fear of Rumpelstiltskin, but he manages to be scary in the cool way, and I got used to him fast. Still I wonder..WTF was this?

 The monsters of "Pan's Labyrinth": All the monsters in this brilliant movie kept getting scarier and scarier. The faun man was frightening, but also pretty funny in his hamminess. The big toad was both scary and disgusting. The child-eating Pale Man was so damn terrifying that allegedly even Stephen King was uncomfortable watching him. And the fascist Captain Vidal, a human being, was the scariest monster in the movie. He had zero redeeming qualities, committed atrocious acts of violence, and was all too willing to use, abuse, and dispose of his new family. Everything about these monstorsities won't ever be leaving my head.