Recently, my fourteen-year-old self knocked on my window in the dead of night and asked me to reconsider demon butlers. Or, rather, I went to watch Black Butler: Book of the Atlantic (a movie adaptation of one of the later arcs of the manga) in the cinema with a friend, where we were both promptly reminded why we’d loved this series so much as teenagers. The Black Butler manga is more than ten years old and still going strong, and the movie reeled me back into this world of supernatural action and Victorian Era finery with enough force and finesse that I was compelled to revisit the first few volumes of the manga—the “Jack the Ripper” arc, the storyline I remember being my favorite and starring my favorite pair of villains—and dive back into this story to see if it held up. Is it still good? Certainly. Is it also riddled with problems I’m much more wary of and attuned to now that I’m older and wiser? Absolutely. Spoilers for the arc ahead!
I’ve been hearing whispers about a new Life is Strange project for a while, though I couldn’t figure out how the developers would do it. A sequel was out of the question since the ending of the game is set up deliberately to take the story in two completely different directions, so making a direct Life is Strange 2 would surely be impossible unless they wanted to make two completely different games. Lo and behold, it turns out the new Life is Strange game is a prequel, focusing not on Max and her time powers but on Chloe a few years before the events of the original story. This is, all things considered, the sensible choice, though I’m intrigued and cautiously optimistic about how it will turn out.
My friend and I came out of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 convinced that the Infinity Wars movies, and the big Avengers/Guardians crossover therein, were mostly going to consist of Tony Stark and Peter Quill trying to out-Daddy-Issue each other. As well as both having facial hair and a penchant for roguish one-liners, the two heroes have a few things in common, most notably their parental situation: like Tony, Peter Quill has a complicated and at times antagonistic relationship with his father that forms the emotional core of a whole movie, and a sense of wistful mourning for his mother, who was sweet, kind, and only shows up in a few scenes. She’s also dead due to circumstances that were in no way her fault, so they can bond over that as well. At this point, maybe Thor can chime in too, perhaps initiating a group hug, since he also has a complicated relationship with his main-character dad and grieves over his good and nurturing dead mum. Jeez, is Infinity Wars just going to be one big session of father-related angst and mother-related mourning?
Fridge a kind mother and elevate a father to main character status once, Marvel, and that’s shame on you. Fridge a kind mother and elevate a father twice, still shame on you. Do this three times for three different superheroes and it’s officially a pattern. What exactly is going on here, and why does it annoy me so much?
You first meet the protagonist of Night in the Woods, twenty-year-old Mae Borowski, when she arrives at her hometown’s bus station after dropping out of college. She remarks that the bus station is probably the newest and fanciest building in the town of Possum Springs, all the better to give people coming through the best first impression possible. However, we soon see that the bus station, with its shiny floors and glorious sunny mural advertising prosperous life in Possum Springs, is just a façade, and as soon as Mae arrives in the town proper, we see that it’s crumbling inside and out.
As Mae explores her childhood home, the game’s use of color, landscape design, character dialogue and atmospheric music all help to build a rich, vivid, sensory picture of this once-great but slowly dying coal town, injecting so much personality that the setting almost feels like a character. Which not only makes it a fantastic backdrop for the unfolding story, but a neat metaphor for what’s going on with Mae herself. And… also a little bit of something deeper and darker.
Spoilers for the end of Night in the Woods ahead!
Flying Witch did for witches what Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid did for dragons: just had them be kinda there, going about their daily business instead of getting wrapped up in some sort of epic fantasy plot. Makoto, the protagonist of Flying Witch, is a young witch completing her training, but is she rollicking along on some sort of Harry Potter-ish adventure attending a haunted magic school and defeating evil incarnate? No, she’s just doing the gardening. Occasionally she unearths a howling mandrake and disturbs her friends and neighbors, but otherwise she lives a relatively conflict-free existence, sitting where she does in the place where the “supernatural” and “slice-of-life” genres meet. Which is, it turns out, pretty near the dreamy land of magical realism.
Spoilers for Flying Witch Episode 11 beyond!
Flying Witch is not a show you watch for conflict and action—it’s quite literally just the day-to-day goings on of a girl’s life in a rural town, including high school cooking classes, vegetable planting, and long conversations about the history of the pancake… oh, with the occasional bit of magic woven in. There’s no overarching plot, no tension, no mysteries or intrigue as we glimpse the magical world. The witches in this universe don’t have a statute of wizarding secrecy so much as just keep to themselves because they like it better that way, which pretty much tells you all you need to know about the series’ casual tone and casual acceptance of magic. Apart from some initial shock when Mako floats on her broom for the first time (and some comedic reactions to the yelling plant), the existence of magic is basically accepted by the cast and by the story without anyone batting an eyelid.
If you could write a letter to your younger self, what would you say? “It will get better”? “Don’t stress too much about fitting in”? “Yes, what you’re feeling is love, and that’s okay”? “The future is awful and sad and I want you to work tirelessly to make sure you don’t end up a regret-stricken wreck like me”? Orange takes this last approach, and the result is a series that I have a barrel full of mixed feelings about.
Spoilers and content warning for suicide ahead.
On the first day of the new school year, protagonist Naho finds a strange letter addressed to her, which was apparently sent from herself, ten years in the future. Naho is confused and dubious that such a thing can be real, but then the events the letter describes start coming true: the letter tells her that a new student, a boy named Kakeru, will be joining their class that day, and he’ll sit next to Naho. Naho’s friends will attempt to be welcoming and invite the new kid to hang out once school is over, but, the letter warns, they should absolutely not do that. Not that day, at least.
Naho soon realizes that the letters are full of specific advice from her future self, chiefly about things that Future Naho regrets and wants to change. These mostly concern Kakeru, since, as Naho is shocked to find out, ten years in the future Kakeru is no longer alive. In Future Naho’s world, Kakeru died—in an accident later discovered to be suicide—when he was seventeen, and she’s sending these letters back in time to try and stop that from happening.
“A bunch of friends who might not be film experts, but sure do have funny opinions, watch bad movies and rag on them” is a podcasting trope by now, if such a thing can exist. How do you wade through the sea of cinematic chit-chat to find one you know will be good? That’s not actually a question I can answer, since I was lucky enough to stumble into Trash & Treasures sideways, but I can help by assuring you that Trash & Treasures is one worth checking out.
Trash & Treasures is where self-described “three weirdos”, Vrai, Dorothy, and Chris, watch movies and sometimes TV series that have been lost down the back of the pop culture couch. Maybe they’re a product of Disney’s awkward and edgy dark era where the company was low on funds and fighting with Don Bluth, maybe they’re an obscure single-release piece of queer action cinema, maybe they’re… just plain bad. Each episode is devoted to a different piece of media, and the trio discuss the plot, context and history of how this movie came to be and how they came to find it, and which parts of it are terrible and which parts are actually, maybe, kind of good.