Now that my life is less busy than usual (though I’m facing an existential crisis about what to do next with it), I’ve decided to keep track of every work of art I ingest and write about it in some capacity. There will be films, shows, books, plays, games, etc. Each entry will range in length, but I’ll be trying to post weekly or biweekly in order to not keep things too long (and also offer some recommendations). This is entirely a personal exercise in order to keep myself writing more often.
So here’s the first collection of things I watched in 2021.
- Kaiba (Masaaki Yuasa, 2008)
Kaiba feels like Masaaki Yuasa found the perfect intersection between Don Hertzfeldt, Chuck Jones, René Laloux, and Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, which I know sounds ridiculous, but it’s the only way I can describe this existential masterpiece. It’s kind of a stunning critique of capitalism, consumerism, and the surveillance state while also being a deeply intimate story about one individual and the myriad of souls they encounter. A crushing but unbearably beautiful show that’s sense of humor lifts one out of the heartache. Also a profound meditation on the malleability of identity and memory and how we take it for granted, repressing what pains us the most and moving from body to body in order to escape what we perceive as dangerous. Incredibly trans too. Just fascinated to see how this series in particular can be directly traced to so many future projects by Yuasa, aesthetically and thematically.
- Revenge (Yoko Ogawa, 1998 — Translated in 2013)
My first Ogawa book was this collection of short stories and, while I found the title to be flat out misleading and silly, I loved the macabre and melancholy works that were within. Easily one of the most interesting books with interconnecting stories I’ve read in a long time. Between this and another collection of hers I started reading, I’m really fond of the way she approaches storytelling through a very character based first-person lens. It’s almost like diving into personal essays, with the slightest connective tissue from one to the next, by various individuals (while maintaining something of a similar voice throughout).
- Spider-Man: Miles Morales (Brian Horton, Bryan Intihar, Marcus Smith & Ryan Smith, 2020)
Sort of a glorified DLC for the previous game. Has its charms (particularly Miles’ tricks and movements when swinging as compared to Peter’s polish) and I’m very fond of the updated gameplay with the venom and camouflage features, but the narrative is relatively weak, predictable, and short. Plus, Miles’ Spanish is straight up atrocious and sounds like a Hillaria Baldwin impression. (Is anyone going to remember what this is referencing in a year?)
- Ratatouille: The TikTok Musical (Lucy Moss, 2021)
When your lead role is woefully miscast (I have no idea what Tituss Burgess is doing in this at all and he’d be the worst part if I didn’t find Adam Lambert so insufferable doing anything), there’s only so much you can do. Feels rushed together in a sort of disappointing way because there’s a lot of potential in this concept overall that ended up being wasted. The tunes are somewhat catchy and the playfulness of the split screen overlays and incorporation of choreography really works (and some A+ one liners snuck in by writers Michael Breslin and Patrick Foley killed me). But it’s just sort of okay overall and clearly designed as a one-off thing rather than any lasting work. Wayne Brady, Mary Testa, Ashley Park, Andrew Barth Feldman, and Andre De Shields do a lovely job with what they’re given though.
- Love Hina (Ken Akamatsu, 1998–2001)
You know, revisiting this after over a decade since the last time I read the whole thing really shifted how I viewed it. Love Hina is still deeply enjoyable on a number of levels; the romantic comedy and comedy of age stories at its core are charming as hell and the way the relationship between Keitaro and Naru develops still works. Even the wild adventures that the characters embark on, complete with all sorts of disastrous situational comedy and absurdity, is still very fun. But, god, I have aged to the point where harem stories are sort of cringe, especially when the age differences are as wildly pronounced as this one (lots of 21+ year old dude walking into rooms and baths with girls in middle school).
- The Flight Attendant (Chris Bohjalian, 2018)
I don’t know how much I have to say about this really. It’s a breezy enough read (or listen, as I switched between audiobook and ebook) and the sort-of-trashy airport paperback noir with an antiheroine that I’m fond of, but it’s also a pretty shallow interrogation of a character like this one as opposed to other, older novels that dive in better. Her fondness for alcohol and fucking strangers is positioned as a net negative, which is kind of moralistic in in the 2010s (and the epilogue’s decision to make her a sober mother is outright embarrassing), but it’s hard to be mad at the book for things like that when it also has characters unsubtly musing on Tolstoy’s morality tales, noting that architecture looks straight out of Blade Runner, and citing Tarkovksy out of nowhere (which is hilarious and dumb and totally out of character but who cares).
- The Flight Attendant (Steve Yockey, 2020)
As an adaptation, The Flight Attendant takes great liberties on practically every level, from character personalities to narrative arcs. It makes Cassie as a protagonist somewhat more interesting and her alcoholism a bit more nuanced than it was in the novel, but the abundance of flashbacks and heavy-handed visual storytelling really bogs it down (though it’s not nearly as insufferable as Jean-Marc Vallée’s Sharp Objects and the incessant clinking of alcohol bottles that lazily represented alcoholism there). Kaley Cuoco’s energy is just right for the role though, really embracing what it’s like to be a sort-of-ditsy and self-destructive person thrown into a larger-than-life situation where your destruction is precisely what you’re trying to avoid. The show sometimes leans a little too much into being an ensemble piece, but an excellent cast (Cuoco, Zosia Mamet, Michelle Gomez, and Rosie Perez especially) makes up for whatever messy writing there is. As enjoyable as the show is though, it is far too bloated for its own good; eight episodes when there’s only really enough material for five or six tops. The aforementioned flashbacks, and the grating mind palace sequences in which Cuoco talks to her dead lover and walks her way through practically every single thing she thinks or does, weighs down jazzy upbeat pacing that the series otherwise has. There’s a great, tight, playful show in The Flight Attendant, if only it knew how to stop trying to be deeper than it needs to be. But, hey, not every show can balance comedy and thrills as perfectly as the first two seasons of Search Party (I enjoy season three plenty but those first two are [chef’s kiss]).
- One Piece: East Blue Saga (1997–1999)
What is there to say about me being insufferable and re-reading One Piece again in order to catch up to the thousandth chapter and enjoy having conversations with my roommates (who are reading it all for the first time) about it. Character introductions within this saga (Luffy, Zolo, Nami, and Usopp of the main crew & tons of supporting folks) are wonderful and I think the way Nami’s back story is presented is really lovely (though I’d argue the depiction of character histories improves as the series continues), but I’ll admit that the fight scenes aren’t always as well blocked as I’d like , particularly those in the Arlong Park arc. Not only are they sometimes drawn out too excessively and sometimes rushed, the angles Oda chooses aren’t always ideal for the depiction of the action. But there’s so much creativity in the way different figures engage with each other and their unique skill sets that I can’t really be mad about something like that. Anyway, I love my idiot pirate kids and can’t wait to continue my journey with them as they approach the Grand Line.