It is October! The month of autumnal leaves and spooky things! And that’s why we won’t talk about any of these things. Rather, in a new episode of I end up watching a Japanese animated teen drama that makes me ugly cry, I recently saw A Silent Voice. This movie, which had to wait two years before being legally distributed in France, is a little jewel.
Among a lot of things the movie is beautiful, emotional (hence the ugly crying), has great character, an amazing cast, and a great, character-driven story. It was directed by Nakoa Yamada, written by Reiko Yoshida, and adapted from a manga by Ōima Yoshitoki that came out in Japan in 2016. I want to highlight that all three are women. It is a little thing but I noticed that a lot of the Japanese animation I watch is created by men.
Considering all this I think I gave a certain number of good reasons to watch A Silent Voice. However there are peculiarities to this movie that make it stick with me particularly. And that’s why I am talking about it today.
A Silent Voice is a coming of age story. I love this kind of story especially when they deal with not ‘fitting in’ and how to find one’s place in the world. And that is what A Silent Voice does.
The story follows seven children/teenagers and also a bit of their family too. The two main protagonists are Shoya and Shoko, and the story is mainly from Shoya’s perspective. Shoya and Shoko met in primary school. Shoko was new and ended up being bullied by her new classmates mainly because she is deaf. Shoya was among the leader of the bullies. When the adults in charge started to realize that something was wrong in the class (or rather when the adults had no choice but face it since Shoko’s mother put their nose in it), they confronted it so poorly that Shoko ended up changing schools and the bullying started to target Shoya rather than stop.
At the beginning of A Silent Voice, Shoya is a teenager who has no friends in high school, or outside of it, and has completely shut himself off from social interaction. To be perfectly clear, the movie starts with Shoya leaving his home to go kill himself. He changes his mind at the last minute and instead goes on a quest to make amends to Shoko.
From this moment onward, A Silent Voice turns into a lesson on growing up, apologizing, letting people in, forgiving (especially one’s self), self-love, and simply love, be it filial, between friends, or romantic.
A Silent Voice and forgiving
I can hear some of you having second thoughts: “the redemption arc of a bully really?” And yes, A Silent Voice deals with the redemption arc of bullies. Plural. But it does it properly. It is not just about feeling sorry for yourself, it is about doing the right thing. You are supposed to help the people you have hurt in order for them to get better. And you should not be mad when the person isn’t exactly responding to your action as you wish. It is about growing up not only to become an adult but also to become a better person.
A Silent Voice talks about forgiving people who have grown up to become better. But it is also about forgiving yourself for what you have done/what you are and accepting that you might deserve love/friendship. And this include self-love.
At no moment does the movie excuse or minimize the violence of bullying (or the other type of violence we can inflict on each other), but its message is incredibly optimistic. With work, patience, and love, people, and especially teenagers, can become their best selves.
A Silent Voice and not fitting in
Anxiety about ‘fitting in’ or rather ‘not fitting in’ is a part of nearly everyone’s youth. It is not a surprise to see it treated in a movie like A Silent Voice. However, I will say that the movie is more ambitious than other movies of the same kind, because it gives real reasons for its characters to not fit in. While a lot of movies deals with main characters that are average and a bit quirky, A Silent Voice‘s two main protagonists have concrete reasons to believe they won’t fit in.
First, Shoko has a disability and that’s why other students pick on her. Her disability makes her life harder. She faces social rejection that leads her to self-hate. Not a lot of movies have protagonists with disabilities. In a similar way, not a lot of movies show that the majority of their struggles come from society making them feel as if they aren’t good enough. Shoko is someone who tries. She makes a lot of effort so the others aren’t ‘burdened’ by her disability. But in the end the key to her happiness is to accept herself, not to make herself more convenient. I love Shoko and I wish I came upon characters like her more often.
Surprisingly, Shoya also has good reason to fear rejection. Even if it is less obvious than Shoko, Shoya isn’t the archetype of what Japan is expecting of a young man. He is shy, unconfident, and not very polite (he isn’t rude like he was as a child, but he isn’t a model of courtesy either). His family isn’t ‘ideal’ either. His father isn’t there, and I don’t think he is dead (there isn’t any autel in his family home). His sister has married a foreigner (and not a white one). Finally, I don’t think they are rich. Any or all of these might be reasons why the bullying turned against him and not against another child once Shoko had left.
Presenting these characters allows A Silent Voice to deals splendidly with the not ‘fitting in’ theme. And I could never thank the writers of the story enough for offering a happy ending to Shoya and Shoko’s story. First, because my heart would not have supported the alternative, and second, because I think we need this kind of story.
A Silent Voice and bullying
Finally, one of the great strengths of A Silent Voice is it’s treatment of bullying. We already saw that it avoid taking the road of “anyone can be bullied,” which isn’t true. But it does two other things particularly well: it takes into account the long-term damage bullying causes, and it talks about how the treatment of bullying by adults can make things worse.
Both Shoko and Shoya suffer from massive trust issues due to the bullying they suffer. Trust issues that are explicitly represented in the movie for Shoya (animation is perfect for this kind of visual metaphor). These trust issues have an impact on their mental health. After all, without giving any spoilers, Shoya is suicidal. It has also an important impact on their family. It is particularly visible with Shoko’s family. For example, her little sister, Yuzuru (my favorite character), is extremely defensive of her big sister. To the point of maybe sidelining her own life.
Finally, the adult intervention. Except for Shoko’s mother (who has her faults in the way she deals with it even if she actually wants to protect her daughter) adults in A Silent Voice seem very happy to ignore the problem of the children/teenagers they should take care of. It is particularly evident with Shoko and Shoya’s primary school teacher. Not only does he directly witnesses the bullying and do nothing to prevent it, he is the one to throw Shoya under the bus for it. Bullying happens because we as a society let it happen. It isn’t something that happens in the shadows and as an exception. It is something the person in charge can unconsciously encourage. A Silent Voice describes this masterfully.
A Silent Voice is an exquisite movie. Not only is it well made, it is also beautiful in all its artistic aspects (click here to listen to the main theme). It has great characters and a great emotional story.
But most importantly, it treats ambitious themes in a coming of age story and it does so in the right way. Give A Silent Voice a try. You won’t be disappointed.
Images courtesy of Eleven Arts Anime Studio
‘Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse’ is a Stylish Deconstructionist Dazzler
While watching Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse it occurred to me how narrow-minded and timid studios are when it comes to thinking of new ways to tell stories. Yes, I already knew this, but sometimes, it takes a movie like Into the Spider-Verse to throw it into sharp relief.
More and more audiences have been noticing the staleness, in both DC and Marvel, in how they frame their action scenes as well as their stories. Marvel has ushered in a new age of the studio as the auteur and in the process brought back the assembly line production of the olden days of Hollywood. They’ve reproduced the efficiency and the functionality of the system, but they’ve also little care or worry about the content or the style.
I mention all of this because Into the Spider-Verse is such a breath of fresh air, not just for the genre, but for the form as well. Pixar’s animation is flawless, but their prowess seems to more and more lie in animating every blade of grass and strand of hair. It’s gorgeous, but the animation is supposed to free us from reality not reproduce it so faithfully we can’t tell the difference.
Into the Spider-Verse is never ashamed of its cartoon roots and in fact leans into its surrealism to great effect. Comics and cartoons are two sides of the same coin; with each form almost an extension of other. Both lack a fidelity to the laws of physics most movies are wed to while also being able to play with time in a more abstract sense than even movies do.
Incredibles 2 was a mess of a movie, but its action was thrilling and inventive because Brad Bird was allowed to handle the visual depiction himself without being forced to hand it over to a separate department. Into the Spider-Verse isn’t a mess and is an exhilarating spectacle to behold with a script chock full of gonzo bonkers storytelling twists and turns.
Phil Lord and Christopher Miller are the ones getting all the love and kudos. While Lord helped write the screenplay along with Rodney Rothman and Peter Ramsey; and Miller helped produce the film; they are not the names that you should be committing to memory. They are the names already known to us, so we cite them over Ramsey, Rothman, and others.
The names on the tip of our tongues should also include Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, and Rodney Rothman; the directors of Into the Spider-Verse. Lord and Miller may have had some input and even helped it get off the ground. But let us not forget the names of Rothman, Ramsey, and Persichetti. Like Tinkers to Evers to Chance, they are a crucial trinity to the success of this groundbreaking and joyous cinematic experiment.
Miles Morales (Shameik Moore), much like Peter Parker (Chris Pine) once was, is just an average kid. Confused and scared, Miles never asked for any of this. But after getting bitten by the infamous radioactive spider, he finds himself thrust into greatness.
A lesser comic book movie would have left it at that and been fine. But Into the Spider-Verse, turns it up to eleven and introduces not just Spider-Men from alternate realities but alternate Peter Parkers. It does so while also, killing off the actual Parker.
In addition to pushing the form into new and exciting places, Into the Spider-Verse, also deconstructs the Spider-Man mythos and Parker himself. Even better it does so without denigrating the actual character. Unlike most deconstructions which believe that in order to look at a character truthfully you have to ground it in “realism.” A realism that isn’t actually realism. More an exaggerated machismo tone hellbent on doing everything the opposite of what we’re used to seeing of the character.
The Spider-Persons of the alternate realities are prisms of the original Peter Parker/Spider-Man. Even Miles is an updated version of the iconic web-slinger. Each version has their own Uncle Ben/Father/Friend who has died. The deaths of Uncle Ben, like the deaths of Jonathan Kent, are not meant to be purely tragic fuel for their angst. They illustrate, each in their own way, a pulsating reminder of there are things you can not control.
In the case of Miles, he has a loving family and is attending a private school for gifted students. Miles has both a father, Jefferson (Brian Tyree Henry), a Black cop and a mother, Rio (Luna Lauren Velez), a nurse. Miles Morales is a rarity; if only because he does not come from a broken home or tragic beginnings to fulfill his destiny. Spider-Man exists and is a real hero until a tragic incident leaving Miles alone to figure out his newfound powers.
Even his Uncle Aaron (Mahershala Ali) is unable to help him. Miles is left to stop Wilson Fisk/Kingpin (Liev Schreiber) on his own until he meets Peter Parker (Jake Johnson). Describing the plot of Into the Spider-Verse calls to mind the moment of The Big Lebowski where the Dude intones, “Lotta ins, lotta outs.”
Kingpin wants to open up a door to alternate realities regardless of the cost to the one he’s in. Thus we get a plethora of variations on the Spider-Man character. We get Johnson’s Parker, whose life has taken a few wrong turns. Unshaven, depressed, with a little bit of a belly, he is not the mentor Miles wanted. Divorced and barely making ends meet he arrives in the new dimension in a worn out Spider-Man costume and sweatpants.
Soon they meet Spider-Gwen (Hailee Steinfeld), otherwise known to Miles as Gwen Stacy, the cool new girl at school he’s been crushing on. Gwen and Peter make up the basic trio who help Miles as they try to find a way to get them home and stop Kingpin.
It’s hard to describe the joy I had watching Into the Spider-Verse; of seeing a movie relish and lean into its characters and playing with them. Steinfeld’s Gwen is a punky loner who, much like alternate Peter, wants to go in alone. Both have lost someone they love and so believe the job of Spider-Man must be a lonely one.
Miles does not agree. Even after he experiences his own tragic loss, his first instinct is to run to his father. For reasons, you’ll understand after seeing the movie he can’t, but the desire is there. Unlike all the other iterations he doesn’t believe being a hero means going it alone. Miles already understands how great power demands great responsibility, but that doesn’t mean sequestering yourself away from human interaction.
Into the Spider-Verse, along with Black Panther, has a diverse and fresh soundtrack. Hip-hop mixed with an electronica vibe that doesn’t feel like it was made to copy every other musical score currently out in theaters. It has a personality and a style; two things that separate it from almost every other modern day comic book movie.
Ramsey, Rothman, and Persichetti imbue the film with a sense of urgency, humor, and gravitas. The mixture of visual styles makes for a heady concoction. I especially liked the decision to focus on the shapes of objects making them pop out of the scene. It lends a texture lacking in even the most visual live-action comic book movie; a sense of reality by exaggeration.
Movies aren’t real but rather warped mirror images. Somehow it’s in the funhouse version of reality things seem more real. The art production team led by Patrick O’Keefe succeeds with such exacting talent I still think about them days after the movie is over. Moments such as when Miles slaps a sticker on a street sign. Or when he jumps off a skyscraper, his body arched as he free falls.
There is much I haven’t even touched on about Into the Spider-Verse. Nic Cage as a black and white noir Spider-Man, John Mulvaney’s talking pig from a cartoon universe, the character design of Kingpin, and much more. In fact, if there is a complaint is that the “too muchness” of the movie is a bit too much. Oscar Isaac is listed in the credits, and yet I can’t recall his character at all.
Ramsey, Rothman, and Persichetti spin fifty plates, and they do a herculean job of keeping them all spinning. But this comes at the expense of character development of all the varying Spider-People. At one point a character loses a trusted friend, and I found myself not really caring. It’s all a little bit overwhelming which leads to at crucial moments we the audience feeling underwhelmed.
When I say I was breathless by the time the credits rolled I’m not being hyperbolic. I felt invigorated and a little out of breath. The film is a brave new step for comic book movies but what exactly the lesson other studios will take from this remains to be seen.
Into the Spider-Verse is daring, shockingly so for a studio film. For once I wasn’t checked out during the obligatory third act battle. A beautiful marriage of style and narrative I found myself deliriously overjoyed by the end. I can’t wait to see it again.
Image courtesy of Sony Pictures
Away In A Manger: Black Lightning 2×09, “Gift of Magi”
Well, my friends, we’re nearing the end of Black Lightning S2, and I think it’s time to declare a sophomore slump. Anyone here with me? Let’s get into this week’s episode and discuss.
Jen and Kahlil are still on the run, but Kahlil was cut with one of Cutter’s Special aka Poison knives, so he’s quickly succumbing. The pair find a barn, where there’s a lot of soft lantern light and Kahlil can curl up in the hay. At first they swap cute-funny stories about when they first met, but soon Kahlil can’t manage talking let alone breathing well, so Jen goes out to steal some antibiotics from a hospital. (They don’t yet know that it’s poison, they assume his wound is infected). Jen is getting really good not only at controlling her powers, but using them for specific tasks, and I’m here for it although I really wish it wasn’t in the context of this storyline.
She manages to get the antibiotics and injects Kahlil with it, but it doesn’t work. She grows increasingly desperate, and as Kahlil’s death seems imminent, she goes outside for some air and a good cry. That’s when she goes back to her brain-salon, where she sees Perenna (her brain-version of Perenna, not the real one) and a twin version of herself. Mind-Perenna tells Jen that she already has everything she needs inside of her; it’s very Inside Out. Together with her brain creations she figures out that Cutter is actually *right there* watching them through binoculars. She manages to capture her and tie her up, tasering her with her hands as a form of torture in order to get her to tell her what she did to Kahlil. It’s not long before she figures out it was a poison knife, and cuts Cutter with it so that she’ll be forced to show Jen where on her person the antidote is. Turns out, it’s in that very obvious vial on her necklace!
Jen goes to a dark place when she’s torturing Cutter, which is kind of hard to watch. Again, I’d be more interested if this whole thing didn’t revolve around Kahlil. Anyway, Jen gives both Kahlil and Cutter the antidote and they’re on their way again. But only after they declare their undying love for each other.
I’m happy to report that no one left Kahlil’s aunt for dead in her house, as Black Lightning, Thunder, and Gambi have set up camp there to help her recover from what turned out to be one of Kahlil’s pain pills and try to figure out how to find Jen. They know Kahlil is hurt so they check hospitals, and end up being in the same hospital as Jen at the same time!
Jefferson and Anissa figure out Jen was there because she left a trail aka scorch mark in her path, but the fact that she keep eluding them is driving Jefferson to be irrational and reckless. Gambi and Anissa manage to keep him under control, but Lynn is losing it too. When she’s not crying in the wreckage of Jen’s room that she destroyed, she’s trying to get Kahlil’s mom, and then his dad, to give her clues as to where they might be.
Of course neither of them can help, but along the way she grabs a gun from the Inner Sanctum aka Gambi’s basement so that’s concerning, considering her emotional state.
In a parallel storyline, Tobias has set his sights on a kid named Todd, an academic prodigy who has just been rejected for a research grant in favor of the white kid whose rich dad just funded a new wing of the university. It’s unclear what Tobias wants Todd to do, and Todd seems dubious at best until Tobias deposits $100,000 into his bank account. Money is the root of all evil, amirite? I mean, capitalism is. But that’s a discussion for another place.
Lastly, this episode ends with a scene in which a mysterious someone murders everyone in a bar in Texas before getting a phone call from his boss telling him that his next job is in Freeland. I feel like we’re about to meet a bigger bad than Tobias, but time will tell! Just someone end this Kahlil-Jen nonsense and give us our family back kthanks.
What do you think is in store for the final episodes? Are you happy with this season so far? Black Lightning is going on hiatus until the end of January, so I’ll be back then to see where we’re at. Enjoy what’s left of the year, friends!
Images courtesy of The CW
Winter Hiatus Blues
Even in December with the broadcast networks hiatus for scripted series starting, and pilot season underway, there’s so much to discuss!
The continuing behind the scenes drama of Les Moonves’ ouster from CBS, ABC’s entertainment president Channing Dungey stepping down, NBC’s Greenblatt moving on, and FOX setting up for its new leadership once the merger goes through…every big 4 network has a lot to deal with between now and the TCAs in early February. The exec panels will sure be a time… Especially if ratings come up at all.
As of this Tuesday, and as always, I’m talking about scripted ratings: FOX is number 1 with a 1.13 average followed by NBC, ABC, and CBS. CW of course is last with .35. Last month, four of the five networks had six shows at or above their overall average.
Now, ABC has eight shows, the CW has five, and the rest have six.
Across the five networks, only a third of new shows are performing above the average on their network. The Connors (considered a new show), FBI, The Neighborhood, Last Man Standing, New Amsterdam, and Manifest. The highest rated new show on The CW, Legacies hovers right below the network’s average.
Interestingly, across the board, long running shows are still high rating performers (or what’s high now) for the networks. The exception to this is SVU at a tenth below the average.
Their “success” indicates that we probably won’t lose any of the longest running shows anytime soon. Still, the network with the largest average season length (including shows yet to premiere) is FOX at 5.3 followed by CBS at 4.5. Removing the shows already cancelled and predicted as canceled doesn’t make an impact because of The Simpsons‘ whopping thirty seasons! (Unrelated but with the announcement for Crisis on Infinite Earths, DCTV isn’t going anywhere either.)
Of course some of this will shift when the rest of the new slate premieres begin in January. I do not envy the folks in charge of scheduling spring shows, especially as more time slots are lost to winter reality or competition shows.
You can put whatever new show after strong shows and still have a dud in the ratings race.
On The CW, ableist In The Dark has had zero promotion beyond the scheduling announcement that it starts after Supernatural. Their other new show Roswell: New Mexico or Roswell: TVD received the coveted post Flash slot plus actual promo. Except for The 100, their other spring shows already received cancellations, so ratings definitely don’t matter.
FOX only has two newbies to premiere, with The Passage starting after The Resident and Proven Innocent taking the 9PM slot after Cool Kids. I don’t know that people watching an hour of comedy will stick around for a procedural, but anything can happen these days.
ABC on Wednesday revealed that in a vote of confidence (or in hopes to increase viewers or to get Whiskey Cavalier onto the schedule earlier) is moving the last bit of A Million Little Things behind Grey’s leaving current slot holder Station 19 off the schedule until March. Considering AMLT hit a .7 last week… The Fix is the only other newbie to get a spring slot, starting in March in The Good Doctor‘s place. Grand Hotel is now a summer show. ABC what are you doing?!
NBC and CBS have yet to fully unveil their new schedules so more on that in January! However, pilot development is in full swing and reboots (and spin-offs) continue to rule the pack.
Predicting what pilots will make it to series this early is silly, but I do think that a chunk of the reboots in development will definitely make it to air. If they’ll get renewed is another question. Even though this year, only Charmed received a back 9 order (Last Man Standing was ordered with 22 episodes). Last year, all the shows that received fewer than 9 episodes in the fall except for Good Doctor were cancelled. So now in May, that trend continues, or the new trend is that any back order indicates a renewal.
Which is why even though I think it’s silly to bank on so many reboots in development, I know that networks are still going to do it. I won’t list all of the shows in development because there are a lot and many will die by January. The CW has three alone! And NBC already has a series order for Law and Order: Hate Crimes or as my friend calls it, “SVU but grittier” making it the seventh L&O series.
By late January, early February, the big entertainment sites will have lists of all the pilots in contention and then we can really get into the details. Until then, what shows are y’all waiting to see for the first time (or again)?