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Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Nippon Reviews: A Lullaby under the Nuclear Sky

A Lullaby under the Nuclear Sky: Directed by and featuring Tomoko Kana.  Running Time: 69 minutes. 

Rating: 4/4

            Great cinematic documentaries are able to bring across to their viewers an understanding of true stories that, in the details, seem almost too incredible or “storylike” to be real.  Doing so is not an easy task.  It’s also particularly difficult for a filmmaker to turn their cameras around and make themselves the focus of a movie without it coming across as gratuitously self-serving or egotistical.  Every now and then, however, someone with the right story, right pathos, and right amount of humility comes along who can pull it off.  Tomoko Kana is one of those people. 

            In one of those strange twists of Fate that seem almost too strange to be coincidence, Tomoko was born almost exactly 40 years before the disaster at Fukushima Daiichi, on the very same day the plant began operating.  This sharing of a birthday, plus the fact that, as a resident of nearby Tokyo, she had been partially dependent on the plant for electricity most of her life, led to her feeling that she had a very personal stake in the story of the disaster and its fallout.  For her, responsibility for the event and its horrible aftereffects went far beyond just the electrical company or the government- everyone in the region, and indeed the whole country, who used nuclear power were culpable. 

            With such a powerful sense of responsibility pushing her, she immediately starting working on a new film project about the disaster and the initial efforts by both the government and the electric company TEPCO to cover up just how bad the situation was.  She began interviewing survivors and forced evacuees from the 20-km radius around the plant, and soon found a couple that agreed to take them into their ruined house and factory inside the zone, despite the danger of exposure to radiation. 

            Up to this point, the tearful videotaped stories of the forced evacuees and scenes of utter ruin inside the zone, as well as piles of rotting corpses of farm animals abandoned by their owners after the meltdown, would in and of themselves be more than enough material for years’ worth of documentary features (and undoubtedly will be for some time).  But for Tomoko, her original plans for the film were thrown in the air wholesale right after her day-long trip inside the zone.  After lying in bed ill for days afterwards, she was informed by the doctor that, much to her surprise and shock, she was pregnant, and indeed had been so for several weeks prior to going into the radiation zone around Fukushima. 

            Having previously assumed that she could likely never have kids for health reasons, any joy or relief Tomoko and her husband felt upon hearing this news was shaded by overwhelming fear and guilt.  What if she had not only damaged her own health, but that of her unborn child by entering the radiation zone?  Her worries were only heightened in the coming months, as it was first revealed that the amount of radiation leaked by the reactor was higher than previously known, and her own hometown of Tokyo was still getting much of its food shipments from the regions close to the radiation area, further increasing the likelihood of increased exposure for not just Tomoko’s child, but all children in that part of Japan. 

            From this point on, the rest of the film mixes Tomoko’s increased activism in coordination with other parents and health groups pushing back against official assurances that all was well, with the increasingly painful struggles of her pregnancy.  For much of her carry time, she was wracked with immense pains and sicknesses, and having never been pregnant before, she became increasingly terrified that she was suffering radiation sickness that would, in some way, do great harm to her child before it even had the chance at life. 

            While the parts of the film dealing with the greater issue of nuclear fallout and the effects of 3/11 on Japanese society could easily stand on their own as powerful filmmaking, what makes the film great is how seamlessly Tomoko intersperses it with her own story.  Her own take is made more potent by how wholly she shows herself on camera; we see her weakened, hurting, beaten down, so sick that she can’t even rise from her bed.  They are the sort of moments that many experience in one form or another, but that most would never want others to see.  That Tomoko opens herself to us so much, conversely, makes her seem all the stronger, more human, and more powerful as a result. 

            At just over an hour, this film is a marvelous example of how to perfectly use the time you have to pack a film with information, emotion, and pathos.  Tomoko seeks to add her voice to the growing chorus of criticism of how nuclear power and government transparency are handled in Japan, and looks to amplify the voices of those usually too small or weak for governments to pay attention to.  With A Lullaby under the Nuclear Sky, she has succeeded brilliantly. 

-Noah Franc 

Monday, May 30, 2016

Nippon Reviews: Hiso Hiso Boshi (The Whispering Star)

The Whispering Star (Hiso Hiso Boshi): Written and directed by Sion Sono.  Starring: Megumi Kagurazaka, Kenji Endo, Yuto Ikeda, Koko Mori.  Running Time: 101 minutes. 

Rating: 4/4

            The Whispering Star bears some remarkable resemblances to the arthouse hit Under the Skin from a few years back.  It’s a sparse, slowly paced, terse, and gorgeously shot observation of humanity from the outside.  The eyes through which we see ourselves anew belong to a character clearly not human, yet required in some unclear capacity to interact with them, and over the course of the film this figure’s experiences with humanity blurs both her perception (if indeed it is a her) and our own of where the line between being human and being something else can be drawn. 

            “Her” name is Yoko, an AI living in a time when both robots and humans have spread throughout the cosmos.  For reasons unexplained, AI’s have long started to greatly outnumber humans, and the remainder live in tiny groups on a handful of planets in the galaxy, with only one left inhabited solely by humans.  Yoko flies a rented space shuttle, amusingly designed like an old-style Japanese house (occasional shots of it puttering through the stars got quite a few laughs at my screening), which she uses to deliver packages to various customers on different planets.  She explains to us eventually that this is something unique to humans- the AIs neither send nor receive mail- but the purpose and meaning behind such activities remain a mystery to her, although she has her guesses.   

            We do nothing more or less than follow Yoko on her deliveries, meeting a handful of strange people all living in ruins- buildings, streets, houses, and factories literally lying in pieces and left to rot.  It must be mentioned here that the filming was done in areas within the still-empty evacuation zone around the Fukushima nuclear plant, so the inside of the space ship is the only artificial set on screen- every other locale is a real place of unrepaired devastation from the tragic events of March 2011.  What this simple fact adds to the film’s central themes of destruction, devastation, loneliness, and of the tenuous resilience of hope even amidst such horror is difficult to overstate.  As the film’s opening reminds us, “human life is just a flicker of a candle flame,” and every glimpse we get of the destruction only reminds us of the fact. 

            When not experiencing Yoko’s strange encounters with people, we observe, in minute detail, the unending routines and monotonies of her life inside her tiny, one-room ship.  Few films have so powerfully conveyed to me a sense of the emptiness and vastness and loneliness of space.  With literally nothing outside, we become very familiar with the interior of Yoko’s ship, with its contours and spaces.  Music is extremely sparse, and other than a single, breathtaking instance, the entire film is shot in crisp black-and-white, which only seems to accentuate every on-screen detail, The utter lack of color enhances the abject emptiness of much of what we see, quietly adding to the dreary blandness of everyday life.  Apparently Yoko kept an audio journal for some time after she started traveling, but abandoned it at one point, and a scene of rediscovery of the old tapes is the first suggestion that something within her might be changing since she started having more and more contact with people. 

            This is one of those films that most would likely not enjoy, or even be able to sit through.  The stunning imagery aside, there is a very large amount of time that consists of nothing happening, the sort of thing that many casual viewers assume is the entirety of the “arthouse” and “indie” film scenes- all pretty technical show, with no depth to it and nothing of use to anyone to say.  And The Whispering Star is certainly not an easy viewing experience, and it doesn’t beg to be liked, or even understood. 

            And yet, it has stuck with me in a way I can’t quite describe.  The ending still haunts me.  If there had been nothing different to the last portion of the film, I would likely have rejected the whole as, indeed, being all arthouse and no show.  But the long hours spent in the empty void of space and amidst the destruction of Mother Nature is building up to Something.  What that Something was for me might not be what the Something is for you, but it’s a journey worth taking, just to find out what it is. 

-Noah Franc 

Friday, May 27, 2016

Nippon Reviews: Kishibe No Tabi (Journey to the Shore)

Journey to the Shore (Kishibe No Tabi): Written by Kiyoshi Kurosawa and Takashi Ujta, directed by Kiyoshi Kurosawa.  Starring: Tadanobu Asano, Eri Fukatsu, Yu Aoi, Masao Komatsu, Akira Emoto.  Running Time: 128 minutes.  Based on the novel by Kazumi Yumoto. 

Rating: 4/4

            Ghost stories are as old as the art of storytelling itself, and if there’s one thing that connects them all across time periods, cultures, and styles, it’s that most tend to emphasis the otherworldly nature of these apparitions, presenting them in some way that ensures they look and/or sound like something foreign to the land of the living.  Horror is the most common genre wherein the dead regain their voice.  However, in his latest film, Journey to the Shore, Kiyoshi Kurosawa (himself no stranger to the realms of either the horror or the ghost) takes a markedly different tack from your standard apparition fare, and indeed from many of his more typical past works.  Presented with the question of whether or not live actors, unaltered with makeup or effects of any kind, could effectively function as ghosts within a story, he decided to use his latest film as a vehicle to explore how far this concept could go.  

            Mizuki has struggled to manage living and teaching piano alone for three years since her husband Yusuke’s disappearance, when he quite suddenly reappears in their home one night.  The catch, of course, is that he is long dead, so what has returned is his spirit, at least in some form.  Saying that it took him so long because he had to walk (the dead move just as slowly as we do, apparently), he reveals that he apparently had quite a few adventures along the way back, and asks her to accompany him on a trip back to see some of the people he met.  Why are they traveling, and where are they going?  He never says, other than that he wants to show Yusuke “someplace beautiful.”  Thus begins a trip of several parts, as Mizuki and Yusuke try to deal with unresolved issues from their marriage, learn about the personal demons plaguing the people they meet, and Mizuki tries to find answers to her unspoken question; how, in God’s name, is she supposed to go on living?   

            It would be easy to get hung up on questions about the spiritual mechanics in this world, which I must recommend you avoid, since it’s wholly secondary.  As it is, how being a ghost works is never fully explained- they can eat and physically interact with the world as much as anyone living, and appear to be completely normal.  According to Yusuke, it’s really only other ghosts that can tell when others walking around are “like them.”  So it’s best to just accept what the movie offers you as that regard and get on with the rest of it.  If anything, not knowing all the “rules” about ghosts in this world makes our interactions with them in the film all the more disquieting, since you can never he wholly sure what will happen next. 

            Korusawa has been praised in the past for his masterful use of lighting to establish tone, and his immense skills are on full display here.  Several key moments hinge on how the lighting starts off at one setting- say, bright and luminescent, or nearly pitch-black, to name a few- and will suddenly shift into something else entirely, sometimes causing a complete 180-degree turn in a scene’s tone.  In lesser hands this is the sort of trick that could spin wildly out of control, but Kurosawa’s hands at the wheel are steady ones indeed.  Bright light, either heavenly white or richly green, is ever-present, and the very concept of light and what exactly light is (or is not), eventually becomes a central theme. 

            This is not a horror film, so don’t go in expecting to be scared, but Korusawa’s influences from that particular field are still quite noticeable.  The atmosphere of the film can’t help but feel frighteningly tense at times, with how the long camera work immerses you enough in the moment that you truly don’t know what will happen next, and whether it will be something good or bad.  A particular sequence involving a forested waterfall delivers a potent mixture of worry, uncertainty, and dread about the fate of several characters.  The dichotomy between the more uplifting tone of much of the film and the more horror-esque elements that occasionally come in clashes at times, perhaps deliberately so. 

            This movie is a remarkable and affecting meditation on the nature of life and death, and on the importance of continuing on despite how hopelessly small and short human life seems to be at times.  It’s a large universe we live in, and perhaps we do, in the end, consist of nothing of substance.  But that doesn’t make our efforts to love and enjoy what we have futile- quite the opposite, in fact. 

-Noah Franc 

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Review: Captain America 3: Civil War

Captain America: Civil War (2015): Written by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, directed by Anthony and Joe Russo.  Starring: Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson, Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie, Don Cheadle, Jeremy Renner, Chadwick Boseman, Paul Bettany, Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Rudd, Emily VanCamp, Tom Holland, Frank Grillo, William Hurt, Daniel Bruehl.  Running Time: 147 minutes. 

Rating: 3/4

            Let me state this unequivocally, for the record- I find that Captain America is, for the moment at least, the best individual franchise within the larger umbrella of the current Avengers film universe.  None of the others have been able to maintain the same level of steady excellence as the adventures of Steve Rogers, and for all the kitsch and over-the-topness that the very concept of Captain America would seemingly guarantee, his more quiet and underplayed portrayal by Chris Evans has made him into one of the most consistently endearing characters in the Marvel film canon.   
            One could, though, be excused for mistaking this as the next installment in the main Avengers series instead of a Captain America movie (Thor and The Hulk are the only ones to not make an appearance by the end), but that’s almost inevitable- since Rogers does nothing BUT hang out with Avengers personnel anyway, there aren’t many people to draw from for the supporting cast.  In fact, we start the film off much like Age of Ultron- another day, another mission, and the Avengers are in the middle of Africa trying to stop a heist of a biological research facility.  They ultimately succeed, but in the process inadvertently allow a bomb to kill and injure a large number of civilians, including members of a humanitarian delegation from the reclusive African nation of Wakanda (no, it doesn’t actually exist, although I may be the only person in the world too geographically obsessed to case).   

            This prompts a huge international outcry, and the Wakandan king appears before the United Nations to appeal for a set of accords meant to subject the Avengers to better international and public oversight (and named after the quasi-Russian town destroyed at the end of Age of Ultron).  But evil is, alas, always afoot, and a bomb attack breaks up the meeting and kills the king, prompting his son to take up his mantle and push for greater control of the Avengers (you only get two guesses as to who the son is revealed to be).  This already leads to edgy disagreements within the Avengers about whether or not accepting the Accords is a good idea, but the situation is further exacerbated when evidence surfaces that seemingly proves that Bucky was the culprit behind the bomb. 

            Obviously this movie assumes you have seen the previous Captain America films and know the tortured history of Steve Rogers and Bucky, the legendary “Winter Soldier,” and given the devoted following these movies have gotten, this is one of the few times a movie making this kind of leaping assumption is a safe bet.  Captain America, already hesitant to put powers like his at the beck and call of fickle, and often short-sighted, politicians, now decides to go fully rogue and track down Bucky before the authorities get their hands on him.  This splits the Avengers right down the middle, with some joining Captain America, and the rest following Ironman’s lead in trying to catch Rogers and Co. before things get even further out of hand. 

            In many ways, this film functions as almost a point-by-point counterweight to the much-marauded Batman v Superman, a movie that seeks to pull back and consider some of the broader social consequences (and harm) that the existence of superheroes and superpowers can mean for regular people.  It doesn’t shy away from ideological conflict or from zooming in on the casualties of past films, but unlike the current DC canon, it never sinks into depressive gloom or loses its sense of humor about itself and its characters, and this ends up being the key difference between the two.  It doesn’t address concerns like emotional turmoil, ideological divides, or civilian casualties with quite the level of emotional depth or intellectual complexity it might think it does, but the acting is solid enough across the board that its attempts at seriousness are genuine enough to click with its more humorous asides; a bit cameo by Alfre Woodard as a grieving mother of a young man inadvertently killed in Age of Ultron is a particularly powerful moment. 

            The fairly solid blending of usual Marvel colorful wackiness and a somber reflection on the more serious side of hero business is, on the whole, the best strength of the film.  There are just as many characters and stray side stories jumping around as in Age of Ultron, but somehow this one feels more polished and unified, less creaky at the seams.  Everyone who has been alive the past year has known that Spiderman shows up at some point, but the big question was whether or not they would go to detailed lengths to introduce this new version to us, or if it would be just a glorified cameo.  Thankfully, like with the other bit parts floating around the edges, the first scene with this new Peter Parker feels like an organic part of the film.  It’s not too exposition-heavy or overly dramatic, going on just long enough to tell us all we need to know about him before integrating him into the team, and it’s probably my favorite scene in the entire film. 

            And yet, as with so many of these films, some basic plot issues hold it back enough that I can’t quite praise this one as being on the same level as The Winter Soldier.  As with so many of the ensemble films in the canon, so many of the issues that drive the plot could have been avoided entirely if these characters would simply talk with each other openly and not hide a major secret until the worst possible moment.  It also doesn’t help that the major storyline is a disappointing retread of much of the first two Avengers films; once again, Tony Stark overreaches trying to solve minor or nonexistent problems, only to exacerbate the situation and make things worse.

            Ironically, the recurring Marvel bug of the one-off villain being entirely forgettable is not as big a problem this time around.  Yeah, it’s another boring non-entity with a plan that makes little sense, but it actually fits much more with this kind of story; the world isn’t ending this time around, and there is no impending governmental mass-genocide.  He just wants to throw a small wrench in the works, and since this is more of a character-focused film rather than a plot-driven one, it works much better than it otherwise would. 

            Ultimately, there isn’t so much to differentiate this new one from the rest of the grander franchise it’s connected to.  If you generally like the sort of aesthetic and sense of humor that most Marvel films embody, this is more of the same, and like me you’ll have a fun of time of it in theaters.  If you are one of those suffering from Superhero Fatigue, this won’t change your mind.  But so far, I’m still on board, and am now especially excited for the upcoming Black Panther film (stick around through the credits to find out why). 

-Noah Franc 

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Rebecca Sugar Knows What She’s Doing: My 8 Favorite Steven Universe Moments (so far)

            I love Steven Universe.  Lots of people love Steven Universe.  And with the show now well into its second season, it’s not hard to see why- it’s set in a fabulously creative world with funny, compelling characters, is littered with some of the catchiest songs I’ve ever heard in a kid’s show, it’s relentlessly fun, and is gorgeously animated to boot.         

            If that was all the show had going for it, it would be good enough.  But it’s not a good show.  It’s a great show, one of the best animated series currently running.  And I give much credit for this to the astonishing talent the creative team behind it has shown in fully utilizing every second of every episode to broaden the emotional depth of the world and its characters.

            For a show with only 11 minutes allotted per episode, even less than packed storytelling successes like Gravity Falls or the Avatar franchises, SU episodes, surprisingly, don’t feel nearly that short.  There’s a remarkable weight the creators are able impart through tiny scenes, quick asides, and silent moments that, in lesser hands, would either be empty bits to kill time, or would be relegated to the cutting room floor by an overzealous studio hack.

            Make no mistake, Rebecca Sugar knows what she’s doing with this show, and to celebrate what she’s given us so far until the next round of episodes comes out this summer, here is a quick rundown of what, for me, are the most meaningful moments in the show (so far). 

**spoiler alert- I don’t want to devote too much space to describing what happens in each scene, so I’m assuming anyone reading is caught up on the show and knows the episodes I’m referring to**

8. Peridot discovers the rain (Season 2: Episode 19- “When It Rains”)

            These are the sort of scenes I adore seeing in animated works, because it’s the sort of thing that would otherwise almost always get cut, especially in shows with episodes as short as those in SU.  With the Gems away on a mission, Steven finally convinces Peridot to step out of the bathroom and teach her about the world.  She is initially terrified of the rain, but when Steven steps outside, we get a brief shot of her slowly reaching out her hand and feeling water for the first time.  It’s only a short moment, but it’s reflective, almost childlike, leaving a much bigger impact on the viewer than something like that normally would. 

7. When Greg tries (and fails) to fuse with Rose (Season 2: Episode 9- “We Need To Talk”)

            There are so many things in SU, especially the whole concept of fusion, that can be directly used to talk about the intricacies of love, sex, and relationships both romantic and platonic (and lately its specifically sexual overtones have gotten VERY overt), and one of the best examples is when Greg reveals to Steven that he once tried to fuse with Rose in order to improve their relationship and be closer to her.  It obviously fails, which really upsets Greg but just seems to amuse Rose.  The conversation that results does a remarkable job of packing a wealth of commentary on the contradictory and confusing feelings of being in love, and all the anxiety and anxiousness about the future that entails, into just a few short minutes.  Anyone who has been in at least one serious relationship has experienced that crushing sensation when you are worrying yourself sick about something, and your partner just…doesn’t…get it.  How many animated images can you think of that better capture that sensation than the sight of Greg laugh-crying, and Rose’s response? 

6. Garnet’s split, post-Pearl (Season 2: Episode 12- “Keystone Motel”)

            With Pearl having betrayed Garnet’s trust just to be able to fuse with her again in a previous episode, Garnet struggles so much with her feelings over it that it literally drives Ruby and Sapphire apart for a night while they are on a road trip with Greg and Steven.  It’s the first time we really get to see what Ruby and Sapphire are like, what sort of characteristics, personalities, and powers they have, which their brief introduction at the end of Season 1 didn’t provide. 

            I love this scene for how it touches on a key part of family dynamics.  The scene is practically a commentary on how fights, separations, and open disagreements between partners can affect their kids.  The whole episode is from Steven’s perspective; he tries to be around Sapphire, but the literal coldness of her anger and hurt freezes the room, and drives him outside.  He tries to go swimming with Ruby, but the literal fieriness of her rage evaporates the entire pool, and Steven once again feels forced to leave. 

            This powerfully shows how, when two partners are openly struggling to deal with something bad, it can deeply affect children even when the issue has nothing to do with them.  What brings the two back together at the end of the episode is not a resolution of their problem, but rather the realization that their inability to handle their anger in a controlled and mature way was upsetting Steven, even though they obviously didn’t intend that.  This episode should be required viewing for wannabe parents. 

5. Amethyst turning into Rose (Season 1: Episode 43- “Maximum Capacity”)

            Good God, this scene is messed-up as all hell.  And I love it for that.  After Greg and Amethyst have spent days obsessively watching a ridiculous old sitcom they used to love called “Little Butler” (as someone who just recently discovered “The Nanny,” I can sympathize), Steven goes to find them and inadvertently stumbles on what can only be described as this show’s version of bedroom role-playing, with Amethyst having transformed into Rose to taunt Greg about wanting to leave.  The embarrassment hanging in the air when the two realize Steven saw everything is painfully palpable, and it opened up SO MANY QUESTIONS about what exactly went down between Greg, Rose, and the other gems.  Yeah, I know a later episode nixed the possibility of Amethyst and Greg have an explicitly romantic relationship, but somehow, even going back to this episode with that knowledge in hand in no way diminishes the tense emotional of this scene.    

4. Steven and Lion chase after Pearl (Season 1: Episode 45- “Rose’s Scabbard”)

            This was the scene that made Pearl my favorite character on the show.  They tried to recreate it later on in the episode where Connie learns swordfighting, but the cake had already been taken by this earlier episode, which revealed more about Pearl and her complicated relationship with Rose than any other scene before or since.  It’s moving, it’s heartbreaking, and it was one of the turning points of the show from being just really good to becoming genuinely great. 

3. Stevonnie’s creation and self-discovery (Season 1: Episode 37- “Alone Together”)

            Since SU is, at least on the surface, a kid’s show, I can’t quite say that the moments after the creation of Stevonnie are explicitly erotic, but there is a clear sensuality to how Stevonnie’s hands slowly move over the contours of this newly-created body.  Since Rebecca Sugar subsequently confirmed that Stevonnie identifies as neither male nor female, this moment plays out as a beautiful celebration of the pure human form, detached from any subset of identity.  The whole episode easily ranks as one of the series’ best, but even within its contours the magic of this particular scene will always stand out to me.   Also, good Lord does Stevonnie have Steven's laugh.  

2. Steve and Connie sit and watch the falling snow together (Season 1: Episode 42- “Winter Forecast”)

            While I consider myself a Man of All Seasons, the silences to be found in wintertime will always have a special, metaphorically warm place in my heart.  Maybe it’s a symptom of growing up in cold-deprived Georgia, but I absolutely adore snow, and no amount of shoveling, car damage, or travel delays will ever allay that. 

            This is, without a doubt, the number one reason why this quiet moment at the end of the “Winter Forecast” episode counts as one of my absolute favorites of the whole show, but I think there is a larger magic to how the scene, done using dark night tones and quiet sounds, embodies many of those small, peaceful moments rarely found outside of childhood, where the world seems to still in its revolutions, the bigness and scariness of the unknown fades away, and only calmness and peaceful wonder remains. 

1. Rose’s Video for Steven (Season 1: Episode 35- “Lion 3: Straight To Video”)

            As of this writing, Rebecca Sugar and others working on SU have made no claim that there is any particular spiritual, religious, or philosophical “message” underlying the show’s world, story, or characters.  There are certainly some morals regarding trust and honesty and friendships and relationships in particular episodes, but the show is first and foremost a fun fantasy-adventure romp, with any “teaching” being secondary to that.   
            And yet, like fellow Meisterwerk The Last Airbender, it’s a show that has a lot to say about love, life, and the beauties of the greater universe we coexist in, and these are what make some of its best moments so special.  Some might say that this is despite the fact the show isn’t trying to pass along a particular philosophy, belief, or what have you, but honestly, I think these parts resonate precisely because they aren’t of some grand indoctrination scheme.  Most of us humans have a strict aversion to being preached to, and usually instinctively call out shows/movies/books/etc. that seek to do so.  Ironically, this makes us all the more likely to be open to the truths that simple stories can convey without even consciously trying to do so.  When a show like SU comes along, one that’s trying to just be sweet and funny and a lot of fun for everyone, and every now and then slows down to say something important about life, it feels so much more genuine, meaningful, and earned. 

            For me, there is no finer example of this (and thus no other scene that comes close to being my favorite in this show) than when Lion reveals to Steven that he has a home video made by Rose herself, expressly for Steven to see when he’s old enough to understand.  I won’t go into any further detail than that- it’s a moment that can only be experienced to be fully grasped- but it’s one of the most beautiful and moving moments I’ve ever seen in an American animated show. 

            And that’s a wrap!  It won’t be too much longer folks!  Soon, the Steven Bombs will rain down upon our heads once more.  And there will be much rejoicing. 

-Noah Franc