Much like my 2021 posts, I haven’t seen EVERYTHING that was released this year. I could finally get around to watching a great show five years from now only to discover it was released in 2022. Separately, some readers may not agree with my picks. They may point me towards something I missed or engage in a worthwhile conversation.
Yuta Okkotsu is being bullied at school, but, thankfully, his friend Rika is there to beat up Yuta’s foes within an inch of their lives. That’s because Rika is a vengeful demon affixed to Yuta’s aura. The Jujutsu Society, an order that protects Japan from demons, hears about these incidents and wants to have Rika–and, by proxy, Yuta–obliterated. Exhausted by his curse, Yuta is about to agree with these terms when Goto Satoru, Japan’s prodigy sorcerer, offers to tutor Yuta in order to calm Rika’s anger. As such, Yuta joins Goto’s school, Jujutsu Technical High, and meets people like him for the first time in his life. Yuta also finds out that J-Tech had a second wunderkind, Geto, who was exiled for his extreme views (and extreme body count). Geto soon learns of Rika, and no atrocity will make him flinch in order to absorb her power. Better train fast, Yuta!
Having just seen Avatar: The Way of Water, I’m astonished at my own hypocrisy when I tell you that the main reason this is on the list is because it looks cool. The Na’vi sequel certainly didn’t make my live-action movie list (spoiler alert), so what’s different here? Action ALWAYS looks cooler when people you care about are doing it. Goto Satoru’s terrifying power and beautiful eyelashes mixed with his sardonic, blasé attitude are a one-of-a-kind treat every time he’s on screen. Maki (one of Yuta’s classmates) and her determination to succeed in a field where, traditionally, she fares no chance make every thrust of her weapon dazzling. Even the villain’s evil plan is fascinating to watch because of the way he makes the unflappable Goto pause. These character traits, along with a host of others, double the appreciation factor of every action set piece. I lost track of how many times I and my fellow moviegoers shouted “Wow!” at the screen. To those who say, “Who cares” to explosions and fight scenes, viewers of this movie sure did.
Jaeger Clade is the premiere explorer in the land of Avalonia. He’s been preparing his son, Searcher to climb the mountains outside of their civilization to see what lies beyond. No one, so far, has come back to tell the tale. On the fated expedition, however, Searcher finds an electricity-producing plant that could power their home city. He and the team choose to bring home their find while Jaeger decides to press on. 25 years later, Searcher’s discovery has led to a host of technological advancements, but the plant isn’t taking to the ground like it used to. Therefore, the president, a former member of Jeager’s team, enlists Searcher to join a NEW expedition underground, in search of the root’s parasite. As the team descends, Searcher discovers too late that his plucky son, Ethan has joined the crew. Even more surprising is what—and who—they find under the Earth’s surface. …Oh, you guessed the long lost Jaeger? Then how did he get underground if he was going over the mountains? More mysteries await in Strange World.
Like The Black Cauldron and Treasure Planet before it, Strange World is going to set Disney back a pretty penny at the box office. Unlike those two films, however, Strange World seems destined to reach cult-classic status a whole lot faster thanks to its release on Disney+. This movie mines a historical vein of media for which I’m a sucker. It’s “hollow Earth” concept works because the story takes place on a different planet, and its thirst for adventure simultaneously honors both Jules Verne and Steven Spielberg. More intriguing is this movie’s globular creatures, which both evoke Lovecraft and Disney-fy him, making the most intelligent creature sidekick we’ve seen since Lilo & Stitch. Finally, the double-helix theme of family and legacy punched me with a twist I legitimately didn’t see coming. Some reviews have said this plot beat was obvious, but I was too enamored with the inner workings of the truly imaginative setting presented to me. One particularly nasty blurb (obsessed with minor character traits the writer used as fuel for cultural outrage) called the film a knockoff, bootleg version of the new Avatar film. I found that opinion comical, as my prevailing thought during this movie was that Strange World is what the Avatar films could’ve been had they told an interesting story with well-crafted characters.
Meimei is a thirteen-year-old eighth grader in Toronto circa 2002. She’s fiercely dorky and her squad is unapologetic in their identity—one that mainly revolves around pining after the boy band 4-Town (which has five members). Meimei’s not one of those teenage rebels, either. She helps her mom at the Red Panda temple and gets perfect A’s in her schoolwork. All those brownie points have gotta pay off when she needs to ask her parents for concert tickets, right? Before Meimei gets the chance, though, her mom discovers DeviantArt drawings of the local convenience store clerk as a shirtless merman. Dying of embarrassment, Meimei unlocks a literal beast within and transforms into an enormous red panda! Thankfully, her parents knew this would happen, so they can perform a mystical ceremony to—wait, WHAT?! Her parents knew and didn’t warn her? So much for mutual respect… Meimei’s inner rebel is about to burst out!
I watched this movie embarrassingly late in the year despite its spring release. Why? The trailer made it look exactly like Teen Wolf. It was also on Disney+, a streaming service to which I hadn’t yet subscribed, so I figured I’d get to it eventually. Now that I’ve seen it, I’m kicking both myself and whoever made that boring preview. Turning Red’s comedy is perfectly attuned to early 00’s cringe comedy, on par with Hulu’s Pen15. Nearly every secondhand embarrassment situation brought back memories of things people I knew had done. Did I have a close friend who drew every zodiac sign as Legolas-inspired anime boys? Yep. And Pisces was a merman. Did I have middle-school classmates who made steamy comments about Britney Spears and Christina Aguleria? Of course! One guy’s talk even made it back to his mom! (It wasn’t me!) The point is, this movie had me howling. I also appreciated when the tables were turned on the mother halfway through, and she had to deal with pressure from her own parent. Though I was never too surprised with where this movie went, Turning Red earns plenty of novelty points for being Pixar’s first foray into the bone-shuddering awkwardness of early adolescence. Of course, to any parents reading this, that means Turning Red definitely earns its PG rating. Those merman pictures get fairly steamy!
Dale the chipmunk has been forcing a smile for so long, he’s forgotten how to turn it off. Ever since he and Chip split up and their Rescue Rangers show was cancelled, Dale’s been trying to recapture that former glory. The business is tough, however, especially in their world, where every cartoon and puppet are real persons with daily lives. After his former co-star, Montery Jack, gets kidnapped by the Valley Gang, Dale reteams with a bitter Chip. The duo will have to patch up their differences if they’re going to find their friend, but the leader of the Valley Gang, a Disney character far more famous than Chip and Dale, has a scheme more dastardly than either chipmunk realized.
Chip ‘n Dale wasn’t even my favorite Disney Afternoon cartoon (Darkwing Duck for the win!), so imagine my dumbfounded face when this movie had the go-for-broke nuts to be a spiritual sequel to Roger Rabbit–with three references to Roger Rabbit! Brilliant in its irreverent execution but always loving in its Mariana-Trench-level deep-cut references (Shrek shampoo anyone?), Chip ‘n Dale makes the audience feel the struggle of aging chipmunks trying to stay relevant in today’s media landscape. The fact that I sincerely mean the sentiment behind the bizarre previous sentence is evidence of this movie’s strange power.
Geppetto, devestated by the loss of his son, cuts down the tree that shades the boy’s grave. From this tree, he carves a wooden boy named Pinocchio to replace the dead child. Frustrated that his home’s been chopped up, James Cricket decides to build a home in the hole where this wooden boy’s heart should be. Moved by this sad story, an ominous fairy with life-giving powers imbues the puppet with sentience. This… goes awry pretty quickly. Dissatisfied that Pinocchio isn’t like his previous son, Geppetto pushes the boy away. Pinocchio ends up joining a circus, then a fascist youth camp, all the while learning what it means to have a soul.
Apparently, Pinnochio has been adapted to screen 32 times! If I scratch my head, though, I can recall maybe four. Before this version, the only one worth mentioning was Disney’s 1940 adaptation. 80 YEARS of remakes have come and gone without note… until now. Guillermo del Toro’s take on the classic material revels in its Italian culture, but adds the director’s signature unsettling mysticism. In a clever twist, Mussolini’s reign is satirized by Pinnochio’s innocent yet questioning nature, skewering the reign of a man who, in the 1930’s, tried to make this story a pro-fascist film. The autumn color palette used in the movie harkens back to the dark ages of Disney animation in the 70’s and 80’s, and the frightening imagery evokes Don Bluth films like The Secret of NIMH. Beyond that, however, is this work’s humor. At many points in the story, James Cricket attempts to start a song that will rival Disney’s immortal “When You Wish upon a Star.” He… doesn’t get there—not for lack of trying. Rather, the plot keeps interrupting him… or an enormous door… or a heavy textbook. These elements, along with scores more, make Guillermo del Toro’s Pinnochio a brilliant star placed BESIDE Disney’s version, not over it. My only wish is that EVERY reimagining was this good.
Shiego Kageyama, AKA Mob, is an extraordinarily powerful psychic. He’s also a teenage boy who just wants to impress his crush Tsubome. Even as a child, Tsubome was underwhelmed with Mob’s powers, however, so Mob’s been improving himself to catch her eye. In season one, Mob joined the “Body Improvement Club” …and fought an underground psychic operation. In season two, Mob tried to take on more responsibility at his part-time job working for Reigen, a fraud “medium” that Mob is too gullible to recognize. Reigen’s pride and antics got them into trouble with a reverse-psychic who could absorb power. Now, in season three, Mob has the opportunity to impress his crush by… becoming a cult leader?! Mob will have to resist a different kind of temptation for power. More importantly, he’ll need that balance to help his friends resist this new religion’s pull as well.
Part of Mob Psycho 100’s magic is that its protagonist is simultaneously the most powerful yet the least knowledgeable person in any given room. Thankfully, Mob is also the most empathetic. Watching Mob naively follow people we, the audience, know should be groveling at his feet is endearingly frustrating to watch. The result is almost like watching Aang from Avatar: The Last Airbender get bullied by middle schoolers. Also like Aang, Mob can’t help but make friends with people wherever he goes, especially if they start out as adversaries. In this (likely final) season, we see familiar characters make big mistakes only to be reminded of Mob’s true heart. As Mob digs deeper inside himself to convince every opponent to cease the harm they’re causing, the show propels us through a powerful—literally and figuratively—final arc that shows how kindness is repaid by those who received it when they needed it most. Just like Mob, this show’s kind heart makes it shine.
Twilight is Westalis’ greatest spy, keeping the fragile peace between his country and Ostania. So far, he’s been able to complete any mission with aplomb, but his latest assignment is Operation Strix. The task requires him to make repeated contact with Ostania’s defense minister, Desmond. Desmond is extremely secretive, though, only appearing publicly for his oldest son’s term meetings at his school. Therefore, Twilight has to find a wife and child within seven days, have the child enroll in the same school as Desmond’s son, and have the child perform well enough in school to catch the attention of the minister. Undeterred by the burden placed upon him, Twilight adopts the name Loid Forger and scores a wife, Yor Briar, and child Anya. What he had too little time to suss out, however, were Anya’s telepathic abilities and Yor’s occupation as an assassin! How will this family put on a sophisticated front when they’re too busy fronting each other?
Have you ever wondered what James Bond would look like if he was a mid-century, domesticated dad? Look no further! The improbable finesse that Loid shows with every task in his life, no matter how small pairs brilliantly with Anya’s subversion of his tactics. There’s no way for Loid to bluff his way out of parenthood, especially considering this child’s ability to see through every deception. Even funnier, Anya appears as an inscrutable chaos gremlin to those who don’t know her abilities. Her desire to please others or get what she wants comes off as scatterbrained because the people around her can’t follow her telepathic train of thought. Though things get a little episodic in the back half of the season, Spy x Family charms its viewers with heart and surprisingly relatable family dynamics. Add in a bomb plot and an underground, illegal tennis match, and you have a show that leaves you with only one thought: So exciting!
David Martinez attends a private corporate school in the dystopian hellhole of Night City. With minimal cybernetic enhancements, David is bullied by rich kids and stuck in an apartment where his mom can’t pay the credit for a laundry cycle. That all changes when David accidentally gets his hands on a cybernetic spine which gives him super speed. After a run in with one of his mom’s colleagues, David meets Lucy, a high-tech mercenary known as an Edgerunner. Desperate for cash, David joins her team and uses his rare tech to up their standing in the eyes (many, many eyes) of their handler. The more the cybertech is used, however, the more strain is put on its host’s brain. As friends and mentors begin losing touch with reality and going “cyberpsycho,” Lucy and David wonder how long they have in this line of work before they succumb too.
Animated by the always innovative Studio Trigger (Kill la Kill, BNA: Brand New Animal) and current holder of a certified fresh 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, I hardly need to heap further praise on this show. While the characters may start out archetypal, they deepen and grow as the episodes progress, creating heart-thumping relationships and heartrending betrayals. The ultra violence and alien-lit nudity harken back to anime’s sci-fi heyday of the 80’s and 90’s, while the day-glo color scheme of Night City gives off vaporwave vibes, making Edgerunners both retro and bleeding-edge cool. Perhaps most daring is creator Rafal Jaki’s choice to leave David void of his own ambitions. A kindhearted boy who’s ultra powerful and has nothing to live for? The character arc reads like a Shakespearean tragedy. Make no mistake, for all this show’s artificial enhancements, its ending will leave you with very real emotions.
Miyuki Shirogane and Kaguya Shinomiya are the president and vice-president, respectively, of the prestigious Shuchiin Academy. They work so well together that many believe the two are dating. IMPOSSIBLE! Love is for the weak and leads people to humiliate themselves in front of their partners. ‘Tis a jest and a manipulative power game.
That said, Shinomiya would have complete power and status at her school if she got the president to admit that he is in love with her. Shirogane, meanwhile, is a scholarship student, proud of his accomplishments. The only feather left in his cap is to get the richest girl in school, the vice-president, to admit that she is in love with him. Thus two players begin playing the greatest game there is: love. The first to admit feelings for the other loses!
One would think the above premise would wear thin after a few episodes, but the amount of comedy built from such minute scenarios never gets old. Season three just started airing, and half the episode is dedicated to someone listening to music on their phone without the headphones plugged all the way in.
With such perfectly orchestrated segments, Love is War pulls back its character development to a slow-motion pace. This isn’t a criticism. The show uses character reveals to gently shift the group dynamic, making each episode feel fresh. Before I knew it, the show had made me care about its characters as well—even the ones I initially found repellent. I was laughing too hard to notice the solid narrative construction being built. The stellar animation gags and blink-and-you’ll-miss-’em callbacks add to Love is War’s already deep bench and make the show a joy for almost any audience.
Denji is a boy so in debt to the yakuza that he’s had to sell body parts! All he’s got in his life is a pitiful shack and his trusty chainsaw dog, Pochita. That’s right, Pochita has a ripcord for a tail and a chainsaw for a nose. This isn’t too weird in Denji’s world because he and Pochita pay the bills by mowing through devils—enormous, surreal monstrosities that pervert the very thing they represent. When the yakuza make a deal for more power, though, Denji gets caught in the crossfire. Now, he and Pochita will have to bring their friendship to a new level if they want to see tomorrow. After all, tomorrow’s worth seeing. Tomorrow might have toast!
The synopsis above doesn’t do this show justice; I simply can’t describe any further without spoiling one hell of a ride. Superb animation, top-gear voice acting, and a story to sink your teeth into: Chainsaw Man has it all. It’s silly, action-packed, emotional, thought-provoking, and juvenile—often within the same scene. While I wouldn’t hold the show up as a beacon of feminism (Denji’s raging testosterone takes it out of contention for that [though the show’s refreshingly never creepy about it, simply preoccupied with it]), viewers meet five female characters over the course of the season that show surprising dimension and depth. Of course, the highlight for me is the twisted sense of humor the show brings to even its most despairing moments. I’ll let the jokes speak for themselves when you inevitably watch this gem, but I’ll warn you that they hit below the belt. When they do, though, you’ll be too punch-drunk to care.
Blow Out: Leftover from August’s theme
Why are PG Rated Movies from the ’70s and ’80s So Graphic? A “Why Does Hollywood?” Post/Oblogatory Deep Dive
Why Aren’t There More Family Sitcoms Nowadays? A “Why Does Hollywood?” Post
Adventure Time: Partially Obligatory
Why do European movies look different than American ones? A “Why Does Hollywood?” Post
Obligatory Animated Viewing from 2023
Obligatory Live-Action Viewing from 2023
Rocky: Yo, Adrian!
Midnight Cowboy: Hey, I’m Walkin’ Here!
Road House: Pain Don’t Hurt…
The Big Sleep: “You’re Cute.” “Gettin’ Cuter Every Minute.”