TV World {Yuri!!! On Ice}

Glittering and gasp-worthy. Some observers might describe the figure skating world this way, but it would also be an apt summary of Yuri on Ice, the figure skating anime that’s taken the interwebs by storm.

Credit to YOI creators and Honeyfeed.fm

Never in my adult life did I imagine my nerd-doms would collide in such a charming series. And never did I imagine so many others would be taken by it too. However, whether you were a figure skater or not, you’ll be drawn to the story of Yuri Katsuki, an elite Japanese athlete who needs some help getting back up on his skates. Like in many competitive sports that favor youth, hitting your early twenties in figure skating usually leads to the sunset of one’s amateur career. Yuri is twenty-three, and his crisis of confidence doesn’t go ignored by Viktor Nikiforov, a silver-haired Russian star in the field. Love-is-love deniers beware, there is a sweet romance brewing between the two that anyone would have trouble saying it’s not endearing. Thankfully, the promise of more isn’t far off as a second season is in the works due to the surprise popularity of Yuri’s debut.

You’ll meet a vibrant cast of supporting characters whose personalities and motivations are memorable and distinguishable. I don’t know how the animators and writers managed, but in relatively short twenty-minute episodes, I find myself empathizing with not only Yuri but his competitors whom he also deeply respects. My favorite is Phichit Chulanont, the Thai wunderkid who’s trailblazing as an elite skater from Southeast Asia. I just can’t wait to see how many country jackets may be seen at Anime Expo, where there will for sure be many cosplayers of Yuri Plisetsky, the relentless Russian star, or maybe Otabek Altin, the prideful Kazakh stud. This room for bold and maybe even melodramatic characterization is something that the medium of anime lends itself well to. With a blank canvas or screen, there’s no excuse not to go all-out. Need I remind you of Naruto?

Most importantly, the figure skating world is painstakingly and lovingly rendered in 2D, and as a former rink rat, I was impressed by the details I saw even in the background art. For example, at most rinks people skate counterclockwise, and in YOI, I saw a sign in the background with kanji indicating “to the left.” The real marvel is the actual animation of the figure skating. Skeptical at first, I changed my mind when I realized I felt like I was watching the real thing. The intro alone is a work of art, and I often held my breath when a skater attempted their third quad jump in the routine (program, as we formally call it). The skater fell, and I felt for them much as I would watching live figure skating with real medals at stake.

Credit to YOI creators and gamenguide.com

Beyond the movements, the stresses, struggles, and surprises of the figure skating world were outlined faithfully. Yuri Katsuki is a small-town hero in a nation that now often stands at the top of figure skating podiums (search Yuzuru Hanyu, be amazed), while Yuri Plisetsky, his chief rival, comes from a nation with a long history of champions. So it would make absolute sense for the figure skating world to be shocked when the Russian prince Viktor takes a break at the height of his career to coach a Japanese skater. This is about as far-fetched as the series gets though, and it’s necessary since it gives Yuri K. new and intriguing (sparks! fly!) motivations to skate well. As for me, I will never be able to think about a bowl of savory katsudon the same ever again.

However, the happiest aspect of the series for my fellow former figure skater viewing friend (say that five times fast!) and I is how sportsmanship is depicted in the anime. I’ll admit, it’s been a while since I watched Prince of Tennis, so I don’t have a recent point of comparison. I can say that in YOI, everyone’s biggest competitor is truly themselves, and rather than cut their fellow athletes down, they want them to do well to make for interesting competition. In a show about figure skating, whose athletes aren’t immune to the temptations of doping or even clubbing another’s knees to get ahead, it would have been easy to capitalize on this history of scandals to make for cliffhangers that would keep people watching.

Don’t be swayed by the crazy costumes in this series (indeed, I think they’re one of the best parts) and give a different type of sports-based show a try! As the Russians would might say, davai!

Layers of Love in Kubo & The Two Strings

Before I walked into the dark theater to lose myself in another LAIKA creation, I bought myself a cup of coffee despite the 7:15pm showtime. Ensuring that I was alert was my way of honoring the studio’s unbelievable craftsmanship. After being enchanted by the detailed worlds in Coraline and ParaNorman, I expected nothing less from Kubo. And of course, LAIKA has outdone themselves, again.

kubo poster
Source: kubothemovie.com

A lot has been said more elegantly than I ever could about the actual art and filmmaking of Kubo. Watching it all unfold flawlessly before your eyes, you would never (or totally can) believe that it takes a week on average to film just 4.3 seconds. Of course the final product, like any movie today, had help from computers and 3D printing, but the overall amount of crafting and puppeteering required can only be described as a patient labor of love. However, this is only the first layer of love that permeates Kubo. Indeed, I was expecting an adventure movie, but to me the intricacies of the story all relate back to love.

Spoilers ahead!

Love That Defies The Heavens

Not long before the film’s release date, lovers in China and Japan celebrated a holiday known as the Double Seventh Festival or Tanabata, respectively. To put it another way, these are equivalents to Valentine’s Day in the Western hemisphere. As a simple summary of the legend behind the holiday, a mythical being fell in love with a mortal man, and they were forbidden from seeing each other except on the seventh day of the seventh month of the lunar calendar.

qixi bridge
Source: Google Doodle for Qixi (7/7)

I couldn’t help recognizing this cultural reference while learning about Kubo’s story. It’s revealed in the film that Kubo’s mother had to escape with him because her father and sisters perceived her love with a mortal warrior as a betrayal of their family’s heavenly status. (Talk about tough in-laws, right?) Later on when Kubo confronts his grandfather as his antagonist, the latter cannot understand why he would not want to join him and his aunts in the heavens, free of the suffering characteristic of an earthly life. Kubo defends the mortal struggle and insists that it does not diminish the beautiful moments but in fact amplifies them. His love for life and all that it entails is his rebellion against his grandfather and the heavens.

Love That Bonds Mother and Child

kubo mother
Source: tribute.ca

Unlike the parental relationships depicted in many other animated films, Kubo and his mother display reciprocal care for each other, which added much tenderness to the story. The bulk of the film indeed shows the extent to which his mother protects him in both human and non-human forms of her being, but in the very beginning we see Kubo serving as his mother’s caretaker. As a result of the trauma she faced to keep Kubo from the clutches of her (terrifying) father and sisters, she is rendered catatonic for most of her day and so needs his care. For me, this was refreshing to see in a movie, as it provides enough reality to ground the viewer without weighing them down too much.

creepy sister
Source: fatmovieguy.com

Like Lily Potter, whose love protected her son Harry, Kubo’s mother enchanted his clothing to help him escape when her human form could no longer protect him. Even so, she uses her magic to put herself into another physical form so that she can be with her son for just a bit longer on his journey. By the end of the story, Kubo has grown and become stronger, and his mother’s love remains with him in his memories.

Love That Forgives and Lives On

Although Kubo’s grandfather is painted as the enemy, ultimately there is no slaying of the final boss, no Kubo taking back the eye that was taken from him. Instead, Kubo’s generosity of love extends to the grandfather he had no connection with, and it’s implied that they will build a relationship from scratch. In this way, the story conveys the idea that perhaps love’s greatest power does not only come from its tendency to persevere, but also the capacity it gives us to forgive. Besides Kubo’s epic shamisen-playing abilities, this was the most aspirational part of the story for me.

Kubo delivers a heart-wrenching final monologue at a makeshift grave for his parents, amongst other villagers celebrating what I believe was a clear reference to Japan’s Obon festival honoring the deceased. He wishes more than anything that his parents could be with him to live out more of his story with him, but the memories he holds are what will have to carry him forward. To remember, then, is another way to love.

TV World // China {God of War, Zhao Yun}

Recently I’ve rediscovered Viki, a site I often visited in college when I was due (or not) for a study break. Suffice it to say that I am open to all kinds of life advice (quit your job, travel, don’t quit your job, etc.), but I tend to ignore the occasional “don’t waste your time on TV” line that shows up in listicles.

Viki’s layout has changed a bit since I first started using it to watch my beloved Asian shows, while the offering has expanded significantly. You can find content from Korea, Taiwan, China, Mexico, Indonesia, the Philippines, and more places. Put it another way, Viki has made content that may be filed under niche genres in other SVOD services into its main value proposition.

With their international expansion, Netflix has stepped up its efforts to bring in just this type of global content. Viki’s original show Dramaworld has started streaming on the SVOD giant’s site, and Netflix is also looking to license Descendants of the Sun, a Korean show already on Viki. On first glance, these content plays make obvious sense for Asian markets, but explore the comments section under any episode on Viki. You’ll find discussion among fans in English, Spanish, Russian, and some Slavic languages I can’t name. It’s proof that TV can bring the world together (no drama intended).

This phenomenon becomes abundantly clear when a South Korean pop star carries a huge part of the draw to God of War, Zhao Yun, a Chinese martial arts fantasy. Girls’ Generation member Yoona is heavily featured in the marketing materials, and at least when I watched the first episode, the comments in the video player were from fans clamoring for her first line. (Spoiler: she does not show up yet.) It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say they were watching the show only because of her. This cross-pollination is not new though, as South Korean pop groups often include members from ChinaThailand, and elsewhere.

god of war art
Show art with Yoona front and center. (Source: dramovies.com)

Towards the end of the episode, I kind of felt the same. My curiosity about when she’d make her appearance was what kept me watching. There is a slight Game of Thrones aspect to the saga, but only slight. I realized halfway through that I just couldn’t connect with the story, and I was plain confused by some bits.

At one point, our gang of heroes come across an imposing white tiger mom who leads them to a trap, where she implies that she needs their help extracting her babies safely. They do, and a sentimental moment ensues as they acknowledge each other and separate on their respective paths once more. Perhaps the symbolism will come through later on in the series.

A strength contest occurs in the Chinese emperor’s court, where soldiers magically lift a heavy metal cauldron with their bare hands. For Godfrey Gao’s character (you may know him as Magnus Bane in The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones movie), he does this with one hand. I’ve been away from the fantasy genre for a while, it seems!

Godfrey Gao in God of War (Source: fanpop.com)

You also can’t ignore the lavish and grand production design, and the language is incredibly poetic. It’s escapist drama at its best, although it still requires a significant suspension of disbelief. All the hallmarks of a classic Chinese period (and therefore, costume) drama are there, but now they’ve been upgraded for the modern omni-Asian entertainment fan. They may study Chinese in school because it’s the business language of the future, listen to Korean pop in the car, and have a passion for Tex-Mex. …Or maybe I just described myself!

Don’t Kick Gerald Off The Rock!

Last Sunday I attended an employee screening for Finding Dory, the long-awaited sequel to one of my generation’s beloved Pixar movies, Finding Nemo. Walking into any Pixar film, we expect an excellent story with bits of humor, sadness, and hope, as well as vivid characters who stay with us long after the theater. We, or at least I myself, don’t expect to feel uncomfortable at any point.

But that is exactly what I felt when the goofy sea lion character Gerald is introduced early on in the movie. The motif is that Gerald wants to join his fellow sea lions sunbathing on a rock, but as soon as he approaches, they forcefully bark him off. It seems my feelings are validated, since I’m not the first to comment on how the other sea lions interact with him:

  • The Blog on Huffington Post: “The One Glaring Problem with ‘Finding Dory'”
  • zap2it: “Did ‘Finding Dory’ mock autism with Gerald the sea lion?”
  • USA Today: This article is more complimentary and notes that “‘Gerald eventually has his day.'” However it also mentions that he’s aware there’s a “‘playground pecking order.'”

Loop Source: The Blog on Huffington Post

Gerald’s scene stealing is altogether short, so I’m not saying that it detracted too much from the likability of the story. It hasn’t caused an outright backlash on the scale of the ire caused by Tilda Swinton’s casting in Marvel’s Doctor Strange, so no one’s calling anyone, for lack of a more descriptive word, “butt-hurt,” yet. It is surprising that Pixar included this “you can’t play with us”-type scene though.

I share the same worry as some of the above and other article authors that today’s kids, who’ll likely have a stronger bond with Finding Dory than its predecessor, may watch Gerald getting bullied (playfully or not) and decide that since it’s all in jest, it’s okay. Obviously, it’s not. I hope that kids (or adults!) don’t kick the Gerald in their lives off the rock.

Maybe I react this way because at some points of my life, and come to think of it anyone else’s life, we have been the Gerald or had a friend who was. He’s a little different in appearance, personality, and maybe mental ability from everyone else. When I started pursuing figure skating seriously as a tween, I was a little heavier set than everyone else. I wasn’t into the same celebrities, and I preferred Japanese rock over Justin Bieber any day. (He’s okay now.) I felt the exclusion that comes with a clique not willing to let you in, and it hurt my self-esteem at the time. There wasn’t any sea lion barking, but there were side glances, which are just as poisonous to a tweenaged girl.


As for the rest of Finding Dory, we all know the expectations for it were incredibly high, and the movie as a whole impressed me for the technical advances in animation and creative storyline. At times maybe a bit too creative, as I found it hard to imagine a whale shark jumping out of its tank and back into the ocean…

whale shark and diver
Source: Tiger Quoll’s Photobucket.

But the overall pieces fit into the ending so well that I was taken by surprise when the dots all connected. I can’t imagine the number of ways that were brainstormed for how to find Dory, but I sincerely loved what they came up with. Have you seen her yet?