Pen15 Season 2 Part 1 (Hulu) Written by Sam Zvibleman, Gabe Liedman, Anna Konkle, Vera Santamaria, Josh Levine, and Maya Erskine Directed by Sam Zvibleman
The first season of Pen15 was a wonderfully funny, absurd examination of female adolescence at the start of the 21st century. The creators and writers managed to balance the pathos & pain of growing up with inventive moments of comedy, most notably the two leads being played by thirtysomething against a cast of age-appropriate classmates. Season two took a slightly different route and ended up being much heavier & downbeat in its episodes’ conclusions, highlighting the melancholy nature of being a young teen in the 2000s.
The Human Voice (2020) Written by Jean Cocteau & Pedro Almodovar Directed by Pedro Almodovar
The present COVID-19 global pandemic has forced those in the film industry to change many of their practices. From production to distribution, those who are forward-thinking are adjusting to a world where the traditional exhibition of movies just isn’t going to be possible for a while. I have been most pleased to see many film festivals offering limited virtual viewings of the film they show this year. I will likely never travel to Vancouver, Toronto, or New York City to attend their respective film festivals, but I am willing to pay to view festival circuit films in my home. The Human Voice is the first picture I have viewed in this manner, and it has made me excited to do it again.
The Itchy and Scratchy and Poochie Show (Season 8, Episode 14) Original airdate: February 9, 1997 Written by David S. Cohen Directed by Steven Dean Moore
The Simpsons has always been focused on lampooning and critiquing the medium of television. The method of doing this frequently comes from episodes centered on Itchy and Scratchy, the in-universe children’s cartoon series featuring a hyper-violent cat and mouse. In 1990, the series did its first episode with Marge against Roger Meyers Jr. and the animation studio that makes Itchy & Scratchy. In 1997, with The Simpsons looking like it would last forever (and arguably has), the writers decided to comment on what happens when a show has been around for so long that it appears it might be going stale.
The Tale of Princess Kaguya (2013) Written by Isao Takahata & Riko Sakaguchi Directed Isao Takahata
When people talk about Studio Ghibli, you will most often hear them talk about it in the context of Hayao Miyazaki’s films. That’s completely reasonable as the studio’s most prominent work started with Miyazaki before becoming a collaborative effort. However, he was only the co-founder of Studio Ghibli, with his partner being Isao Takahata. Takahata was the director behind films like Grave of the Fireflies, Only Yesterday, Pom Poko, and My Neighbors the Yamadas. Takahata’s take on animation was quite different than Miyazaki, but both men worked to push the medium in ways it never had been, both artistically and thematically.
Legion of Super-Heroes: Five Years Later Omnibus Volume 1 (2020) Reprints Legion of Super-Heroes v4 #1-39, Annual #1-4, Timber Wolf #1-5, Adventures of Superman #478, and Who’s Who #1-11, 13, 14, 16 Written by Keith Giffen, Tom & Mary Bierbaum, Dan Jurgens, and Al Gordon Art by Keith Giffen, Doug Braithwaite, Dusty Abell, Brandon Peterson, Jason Pearson, Rob Haynes, Ian Montgomery, Joe Phillips, Stuart Immonen, Colleen Doran, Curt Swan, June Brigman, David A. Williams, Chris Sprouse
I have not read many omnibus collections though there is a larger type of trade paperback collection that gets pretty close. It used to be when comics got bound together for a reprint, you got about 6-8 issues a book. Now we are seeing year-long arcs being collected and, in the case of omnibuses, entire creator-focused runs. Everything about Legion of Super-Heroes: Five Years Later feels epic in scale. The cast is beyond sprawling, and the story arcs touch on brand-new elements and established bits of Legionnaires lore going back decades. These issues were originally published in 1989, and the influence of Watchmen and that British new wave of storytelling is also present throughout.
22 Short Films About Springfield (Season 7, Episode 21) Original airdate: April 14, 1996 Written by Richard Appel, David S. Cohen, Jonathan Collier, Jennifer Crittenden, Greg Daniels, Brent Forrester, Rachel Pulido, Steve Tompkins, Bill Oakley, Josh Weinstein, & Matt Groening Directed by Jim Reardon
In season four, the staff realized they were short a couple of minutes for the runtime of “The Front.” They tacked a very short “bonus” Ned Flanders cartoon complete with a theme song and title card, a la Looney Tunes, or Hanna-Barbera. The staff loved the silliness of the short they tried to find places for them over the ensuing years but just could never fit them in.
Howl’s Moving Castle (2004) Written & Directed by Hayao Miyazaki
Howl’s Moving Castle is one of the most financially successful Japanese films ever made. It grossed $236 million worldwide, which is quite a feat for a picture like this. It’s also yet another Miyazaki film that has had heaps of praise for its inventive magical world and characters. However, it’s the first Miyazaki movie in this series that I would rate below everything that has come before. For all of the technical mastery of animation and the fully developed world, I would argue something is lacking to pull all the elements together. Miyazaki revisits some old themes and some new ones, and I think the result is a very confusing picture.
Young Justice Book Four (2019) Reprints Young Justice #20 – 32 Written by Peter David, Jay Faerber, Chuck Dixon, Brian K. Vaughn, and Todd Dezago Art by Todd Nauck, Sunny Lee, Coy Turnbull, Eric Battle, Patrick Zircher, and Scott Kolins
One of the problems I think Peter David encountered as the writer of Young Justice was his inability to develop or change his flagship characters because he was borrowing them from other titles. Superboy has his own ongoing series, which wouldn’t end until 2002. Robin had a very popular ongoing written by Chuck Dixon that ran from 1996 to 2009. Impulse was under the umbrella of Mark Waid’s Flash family with a solo book. Wonder Girl was a recurring cast member in the Wonder Woman title. That left Waid with characters like The Secret, Empress, and Arrowette to have the freedom to develop. However, the book wasn’t going to sell if those were the people on the covers. Yet, by continuing to spotlight characters outside of David’s control, the book never really felt like it went anywhere.
Spirited Away (2001) Written & Directed by Hayao Miyazaki
Spirited Away became the Studio Ghibli film that opened the floodgates into the American theatrical market. It was just home video sales of movies like My Neighbor Totoro and Kiki’s Delivery Service had doing well until this picture. However, seeing a Miyazaki movie in a theater was a more challenging experience to find. If you lived in a major urban area, your art-house theater might show them, but it was difficult outside of those venues. That isn’t to say Miyazaki films became marquee pictures in the States. However, from my own experience, it was from this point forward that I knew I could go to my local Regal cineplex; when these animated films reached our shores, they would have them playing on at least one screen.
Deep Space Homer (Season five, episode fifteen) Original airdate: February 24, 1994 Written by David Mirkin Directed by Carlos Baeza (with David Silverman)
For some staff and crew, including creator Matt Groening, this episode felt like jumping the shark. If you aren’t familiar with that term, it is derived from a pretty ludicrous episode of Happy Days and has come to mean a moment when a television series goes off the rails, losing touch with what made it special, and instead becomes centered around an outlandish weekly gimmick. I can definitely see the argument for Deep Space Homer being that type of episode, but I still contend that the “jumping the shark” moment was later in The Simpsons’ development.