Friday, September 27, 2019

Kobeni: Don't Be Ashamed of Your Dreams (Engaged to the Unidentified)

Sentai Filmworks 2014

One of the first anime I watched was the adorable rom-com Engaged to the Unidentified. Now, sure, there are elements that aren’t for everyone; for example, there’s a strange amount of fanservice for a show so clearly geared toward straight girls. And don’t get me started about the protagonist’s clingy big sister Benio, who is probably one of the most annoying blockades to a rom-com relationship to date.

Sentai Filmworks 2014

Still, I adored the relationship that slowly bloomed between the stunningly reserved Hakuya and his betrothed, the protagonist Kobeni.

Sentai Filmworks 2014

I initially fell in love with the show for their sweet romance, but I also found something I hadn’t realized I needed: validation.

Sentai Filmworks 2014
Despite being a high schooler, Kobeni is, for all intents and purposes, the stay-at-home mom of the family. She takes care of all the cooking and cleaning while her mother works a demanding job.

And Kobeni is very good at homemaking. Her sister-in-law to be, Mashiro, keeps a constant vigil over Kobeni’s efforts to ensure she’s a good enough bride-to-be for Hakuya. But Kobeni proves a more than capable housewife, exceeding expectations at every turn. The house is always spotless. She makes delicious meals; her desserts are so good that even Hakuya (who doesn’t care for sweets) enjoys them.

And it’s not just home economics Kobeni has under her belt; she’s also a very kind and conscientious person. She may lack confidence, but almost every other character in the show comments at least once how good Kobeni is. She’s wholesome and talented at what she does. She’s always trying to apologize when she makes mistakes or hurts someone. She’s very sweet and tenderhearted.

She’s the perfect housewife, which is exactly what she wanted to be growing up. But comparing herself to her mother and sister’s ambitions, Kobeni feels inferior. It’s her sister Benio who reminds her that as a small child, Kobeni’s dream was to be a bride and homemaker. And Kobeni still enjoys cooking and cleaning and taking care of family. So since that kind of life makes her happy, she should do it; there’s nothing wrong or inferior about it.

While many might scoff at that message and call it misogynistic, I found it refreshing and validating. All I’ve wanted to be when I “grew up” was a stay-at-home mom who writes. I love kids, I love cooking, and I want to be able to pour my time and energy into the incredibly demanding job of taking care of a household rather than bringing home a paycheck.

The irony is, it was the Feminist movement that made me feel like I was wrong to want that life; as if it were shameful to want to be a stay-at-home mom. Like women have to have some grand ambition outside the home for our dreams to be valid.

And girls like me aren’t the only ones who are constantly told their dreams are silly. If a dream isn’t at least moderately ambitious, many scoff at it. And even more laugh if a dream is too ambitious. While I think it’s important to keep realistic perspectives on our dreams, I don’t think it’s right to dismiss perfectly reasonable dreams outright. I think that kills dreams—and takes away people’s joy.

How many times do we need to be told a perfectly reasonable dream just isn’t realistic, or isn’t right, or is something we should be ashamed of or cautious about?

I’m not saying it’s wrong to caution people about the paths they’re choosing or to give them advice. But when people constantly bad-mouth something that’s burning in your heart… it gets so discouraging. How many people abandon their dreams just because of all that negativity?

But dreams can bring so much joy to people… especially when you realize you’re getting closer to realizing them.

There was a period of my life not that long ago when my family had to find a new normal. My brother was going through high school and college, and my dad’s business wasn’t bringing in enough money to pay for it. My mom had to get a job for the first time in twenty-some years, and though it began as a part-time position, it slowly grew to full-time hours. She was gone a lot. Around this same time, my grandma was diagnosed with cancer.

Suddenly I found myself needing to take on a lot more responsibilities around the house. I took my grandma to some of her appointments to give my dad a break. But mostly, I helped out more around the house.

I’d done my own cooking and grocery shopping back when I’d temporarily moved out with my sister, so picking that up for the whole family wasn’t hard. I started compiling the family shopping list and making meal menus for the week. I went to the store, I used the money from my part-time jobs to buy groceries, and I cooked most of the meals.

Sentai Filmworks 2014
It wasn’t until a couple months in, as I was tying on my apron and getting ready to cook, that I realized: I’d become Kobeni.

My mom worked hard, and I wanted to help her out and thank her for all she’d done for me. So I tried to make sure the house was clean when she got home. I planned meals and started cooking at just the right time so she’d have something hot to eat as soon as she got home. Just like Kobeni did.

It seemed so silly, but the realization made me really happy. Because I was living my dream. Because I had become a pretty capable homemaker myself. And it was incredibly rewarding.

Thanks to Kobeni, I finally knew it was okay to have this dream; that no one is allowed to steal the joy I feel from taking care of a household just because they think “It’s demeaning” or that I’m lazy because I “have no ambition” or that I “can’t expect to live that kind of life because it’s so unrealistic/entitled.”

No. It’s okay for me to want to take care of people. It’s okay for me to want to be a full-time mom and homemaker. It’s okay that I want to take a house and turn it into a home, a place where people can escape from the hectic craze of the “real world” and find a more real and safe place here, where they can be themselves and be part of my family.

Thanks to Kobeni, I knew that it was okay to have this dream… and that I could achieve it.

My dreams of being a homemaker often seemed just as far away as my dream of being a writer; like I’d never be able to actually pull it off. I was never going to get the skills I’d need to properly take care of an entire household. I’d never be able to just be a mom.

So in that moment when I tied on my apron, pulled back my hair, and realized I’d become a little bit like Kobeni… I realized that I was, in some small way, making my dreams come true.

And I think everyone who has a dream deserves to feel that same sense of happiness and pride. I’m glad Kobeni showed me it was okay to have the dreams I dream. And I hope I can offer that same message to you.

Now go. Follow that dream.

All photos property of their respective owners and used under US “Fair Use” laws.

The Engaged to the Unidentified anime adaptation is the property of Sentai Filmworks. And I am not affiliated with them.

From Him, To Him

Friday, September 20, 2019

Disneytember: An Unabashed Love Letter to Meet the Robinsons

Disney has changed over the past few decades. To many fans, this company once lauded for its high quality and artistic innovation has become a shadow of its former self.

There’s been a lot of highs, lows, and mehs for modern Disney films, and we’re going to look at a few of them this month. Welcome back to Disneytember.

For me, there’s four distinct categories of Disney films: the all-time favorites, the “Take-It-Or-Leave-It’s,” the “Wow, I hated that’s,” and, the most curious: the ones that make me say, “I always forget just what a great film this is.”

There’s something particularly special about films in this last category: the ones that stick with me as much as a happy dream. I can barely remember details, but I still have this pervading sense of delight when I hear these film titles.

More often than not, I can’t quite phrase why I loved these movies so much until I’m in the process of rewatching them. Suddenly, scenes that had faded from memory come back in full color and inspire me anew. Characters that feel like dear family friends who I haven’t seen since I was small come back, and I find things are just as good between us as they were before.

Disney 2007
The unique characteristic of these movies allow me to view them almost anew each time. And the one I love the most is the forgotten Disney gem Meet the Robinsons.

I remember advertisements for this film playing in abundance on Disney Channel promos, but the film came and went with very little fanfare. I never heard anyone talk about it. I never heard what it was about (except that it took place “in the future,” as the promos liked to constantly point out). So when I finally watched it myself, I had very few expectations.

I had no idea I’d discover a film with so much character, heart, and unlikely suspense.

Actually, all of Meet the Robinsons’s qualities are fairly unlikely and unexpected. While a good portion of the film does take place in the future, time travel isn’t the central focus. No, its true core is a ton of heart and a loving respect for Walt Disney himself.

Meet the Robinsons is a story about family. And while you could probably say that about most Disney films, family truly is the heart and soul of Meet the Robinsons, making it feel just as unique as the titular family.

From PoisonPam on Tumblr / Disney 2007

The remainder of this post will contain spoilers for

Meet the Robinsons

You have been warned.

The Characters

Disney 2007

The film’s protagonist is Lewis, a brilliant twelve-year-old boy whose mother gave him up for adoption when he was just a baby. No other potential parents seem to be quite the right fit for Lewis, so the boy is determined to find the one person he’s convinced will be: his birth mother. Lewis invents a device that will display his long-forgotten memories of the day his mother abandoned him, hoping to discover her true identity.

Disney 2007
However, Lewis’s plans get derailed when a mysterious time-traveler named Wilbur Robinson kidnaps him and takes him to the future. Wilbur promises to bring Lewis to his mom as soon as Lewis helps him with a little project: Wilbur accidentally lost one of his father’s time machines, and he needs Lewis’s help to recover it.

These two characters play off each other so well. Their banter is funny, and the characters are well-written and charming. Lewis is an intelligent inventor, but he never once comes off as standoffish or painfully over-intelligent; he’s not an insufferable genius, just a kid: a tenderhearted boy who’s down-to-earth and practical and just wants to be wanted. Wilbur, on the other hand, is an excellent foil: an over-dramatic smooth-talker whose mouth moves a little faster than his brain sometimes. Where Lewis is methodical, Wilbur flies by the seat of his pants; where Lewis is honest and innocent, Wilbur is quick-thinking and isn’t above fudging the truth to get what he needs. (Fortunately for Lewis, Wilbur’s also a pretty terrible liar.) In the end, despite their differences, both characters need each other to find and recover the missing time machine.

Wilbur and Lewis are the most developed and grounded characters, but the whole cast is quirky and charming in their own way. Even the most minor characters stand out despite hardly having any screen time!

Part of Wilbur’s flair for the dramatic stems from his absolutely zany family, who all live under the same roof. Wilbur’s grandfather Bud draws faces on the back of his balding head and puts his clothes on backwards. One uncle is a pizza delivery guy who poses as a superhero. His great-aunt has a life-sized remote-controlled train on tracks that run through the house. Another great-aunt is an actual puppet. Wilbur’s mother and his Uncle Gaston love to use food as weapons in kung fu battles against each another. And don’t forget the doormen, Uncles Spike and Dimitri, who live in potted plants just outside the front door. Heck, even Wilbur’s best friend is the family robot, the overly-paranoid and snarky Carl.

Though Lewis only spends a brief amount of time with the Robinsons, you could easily write an entire TV series following the misadventures of that cast. While they don’t get much screentime, each one is colorful, unique, and fun.

It’s little wonder, then, that Lewis finds himself longing to be part of a family like theirs. And when Franny, Wilbur’s mother, offers to adopt Lewis, it seems like that’s exactly what will happen.

But with one fell swipe, Wilbur reveals the story’s biggest plot twist: Lewis is—or rather will eventually become—Wilbur’s father. It was Lewis who had invented the time machines and many other creations that had revolutionized the future… and one that would prove to be a terrible mistake.

The Villains

Disney 2007
As an adult, Lewis had invented DOR-15 (“Doris”), a bowler hat-shaped robot, to assist mankind. But Doris seethed at the thought of serving mankind when she had visions of world domination. Doris managed to escape Lewis’s workshop, scheming with another of Lewis’s nemeses to steal Lewis’s time machine, alter the future, and take over the world.

And here we come to the greatest part of the film, arguably one of the best Disney villains to date: Michael “Goob” Yagoobian, known to Lewis as “The Bowler-Hat Guy.”

A slinking, scrawny, pasty man designed to look like the most cliché mustache-twirler you’ve ever seen, “Bowler-Hat Guy” hates Lewis and everything he’s made. Consumed by jealousy of Lewis’s success while he himself lived in squalor, Bowler-Hat Guy seeks to ruin Lewis’s life and steal all that success for himself.

The Disney Elite on Tumblr / Disney 2007
Bowler-Hat Guy burns with hatred for Lewis, but he’s completely incompetent and naive. His grand plans for revenge involve throwing toilet paper and eggs at Lewis’s office. Bowler-Hat Guy keeps his evil plans in an easily-accessible checklist in a unicorn binder. He’s child-like, easily delighted, and really terrible at the villain gig, botching almost every one of Doris’s schemes. He’s a bowl of delightful and hilarious contradictions, and the fact he doesn’t appear on more Top Disney Villains lists is almost criminal.

As if he couldn’t get better, he’s also a key part of the film’s core theme.

The Themes

Meet the Robinsons may be a film about family, but it’s also a film about how to handle failure.

As a perfectionist, I struggle to let things go. With each new rejection, I feel like I want to hide in a hole and stay there forever. But this film teaches me that not letting things go and obsessing over the past only hurts me in the long run—and can hurt others, too.

Lewis also finds it hard to cope with failure and rejection. Even with how brilliant he clearly is, he fails a lot. In fact, his prototype inventions blow up in his face so often that the other students in his class come prepared with helmets and welding masks just in case. Lewis becomes so frustrated and disheartened by these failures that he nearly gives up inventing altogether… just like how he gets so disheartened by all the rejections and failures to find adoptive parents that he gives up on the process in favor of finding his birth mom.

But Lewis learns through Goob just how dangerous it can be to “let it boil and fester” rather than letting go of those frustrations and learning from the past.

NoWorries-JustDisney on Tumblr / Disney 2007

Disney 2007
In the final big twist of the film, Bowler-Hat Guy reveals he was Lewis’s orphanage roommate all along. After Lewis’s inventions kept him up all night, Goob found himself spiraling into madness, blaming Lewis when he lost a baseball game due to falling asleep, blaming Lewis for his slathering rants that drove away any potential adoptees, and blaming Lewis for the fact he’d locked himself away in the orphanage long after it had fallen out of use. As he grew up, Goob never learned to “let it go” and move on with his life.

NoWorries-JustDisney on Tumblr / Disney 2007

I’ve lived my life haunted by failure: I’m afraid to fail, and when that failure comes (as it does to all of us), I get trapped in my frustration and self-condemnation.

But failure isn’t what I think it is. Failure isn’t losing a baseball game. Failure isn’t an invention blowing up in your face. It’s not a creation turning out different from what you expected. True failure is giving up and allowing your circumstances to define you. It’s believing the lie that you can’t be better than you are now, that you’ll never amount to anything unless you tear down others who seem to have it better than you.

But when things don’t go as planned or when I make a mistake, that’s not real failure at all. And it’s nothing that can’t be overcome with persistence and a good attitude.

Creating anything worthwhile is going to result in mistakes that may, like in Lewis’s case, literally blow up in your face. But the Robinsons’ motto—taken directly from Walt Disney himself—is to not let it keep you stuck in the past, but to “Keep moving forward.” Learn from those mistakes. Keep pushing. Don’t stop. Don’t give up.

Because what does it matter if an invention doesn’t turn out the way you wanted? All you have to do is pick yourself back up and try again. It’s not a big deal. It’s not the end of the world. In fact, the Robinsons consider not succeeding as something just as worthy of celebration as successes.

When Lewis attempts to create (and fix) a peanut butter and jelly-dispensing machine, it explodes, covering the Robinson family in a gooey mess. Lewis buries his head, mortified, apologizing profusely. He’s sure he’s ruined his good relations with the family forever. However, they’re not upset; they’re ecstatic.

Rae A Chang / Disney 2007

“Awesome” they call Lewis’s failure. But how? Well, as Aunt Billie Robinson puts it, “From failing, you learn. From success, not so much.”

With a theme like that, it’s little wonder how this quirky cast of characters has come to mean so much to me. Little wonder why even if I don’t remember moment to moment how the movie goes, I always hear the title and think to myself, “That was such a great film.” Meet the Robinsons is a movie that lasts, a movie that’s taught me that even when the worst happens, as Rob Thomas puts it in the film’s ending theme, I can “let it go; let it roll right off [my] shoulder…” and “know the hardest part is over.”

Need more Disney? Check out my thoughts on Moana here!

All photos property of their respective owners and used under US “Fair Use” laws.

Meet the Robinsons and all related terms are the property of Walt Disney Studios, based on the children’s book A Day with Wilbur Robinson, written by William Joyce. And I am not affiliated with either of them.

From Him, To Him

Friday, September 13, 2019

Disneytember: Fixing Moana

It’s been tough watching Disney change over the past few decades. While they continue to rake in the cash, this company once lauded for its high quality and artistic innovation has become a shadow of its former self to a large number of fans.

While I’m not a fan of the live-action remakes, I do love Disney original films. I get excited hearing Disney’s producing new material. So often, there’s a lot to love with these films… but over the past decade or so, many just haven’t quite reached the full potential of the creators’ vision.

Over the next two months (okay, and one week in November), I’m going to be looking at Disney highs, lows, and mehs. I’ll be praising those films I adore the most and critiquing some of the ones I think needed a little boost to achieve maximum narrative punch. Perhaps you’ve heard of a little something Channel Awesome calls Disneycember? Welcome to Disneytember and Disneytober!

(But not to fear: Disney will not totally absorb this blog for two months straight! I’ll still be releasing anime-related posts same as usual, every third week!)

Reviews are an inherently subjective thing, so I’m dying to hear your thoughts on these films as well. Love ‘em? Hate ‘em? Let me know! I adore talking with people about media; it always helps me appreciate them more!

And if our opinions differ, please remember, to paraphrase Monsters, Inc.: I scare because I care. ;)

Now, let’s kick this off with one of the most visually stunning Disney animated films in recent years…

In a desperate attempt to free her people, a compassionate and adventurous young ruler must venture far from home despite her father’s disapproval, risking her life to find the only person who can mend her rapidly-decaying village: a trickster demigod who’s only interested in what’s best for himself.

Thus begins Disney’s Polynesian-inspired film,1 Moana.

Disney 2016

This post will contain some spoilers for


You have been warned.

The Good

There’s so much to love about Moana and so many ways the team really nailed their vision for the film.

The Visuals

The gorgeous visuals capture everything stunning about the Polynesian islands and all the brilliant, vibrant colors that adorn them. But not only is the film pretty; its visuals are equally functional. The film uses its spectacular color design, graphics, and cinematography to tell its story, tugging the viewer into the setting and setting up the tone and atmosphere of each scene. Sun-bleached beaches are bright, almost white and hazy. The tropical paradise island that Moana calls home is colorful, indicating just how fruitful this land is. Dangerous scenes are bathed in the crimson light of a setting sun or the ominous orange glow of a volcano.

The Music

Moana has amazing, catchy music crafted with care to pay homage to the cultures that inspired it. Look no further for proof than Sideways’s excellent in-depth analysis of the track “We Know the Way.”

In this video, Sideways points out how Disney uses this song in particular “to highlight… and celebrate the cultural divide between the audience and the characters… in a way that’s both welcoming and understanding.”2 The song begins in the Tokelauan language, which is spoken on such Polynesian islands as Tokelau, Olohega, and New Zealand.3 Already, Sideways says, this shows the tremendous respect Disney has for these Non-Western cultures, but Disney doesn’t just stop with using the Tokelauan language; they take things a step further by maintaining the same Polynesian-inspired musical style and roughly same melody even when switching between Tokelauan and English. As Sideways puts it, this doesn’t just reveal the setting, “it [also] musically welcomes the audience to cross the cultural divide and explore the world of Moana.”4 And heck is it inviting; it may be my favorite song on the soundtrack.

The Characters

Disney poured additional love and care into the film’s character designs. Proponents of more realistic body image portrayals will rejoice to see the less wispy designs of traditional Disney films replaced by characters with varying and more realistic body types. These designs help anchor the world and tell us much about the characters: Moana’s acrobatics and Maui’s stamina make sense coupled with their athletic builds.

Disney 2016

And speaking of our Polynesian-inspired princess…

Moana made a poor first impression on me by insisting she was not a princess as if it were some sort of disease (I have pretty strong feelings about princesses…). However, I was pleasantly surprised how quickly she won me over. She’s just so refreshing—the perfect amount of spark, spunk, independence, and emotional vulnerability. She’s feminine and strong emotionally with tender compassionate for her people. I adore that.

Also, whoever thought to cast Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson as the trickster demigod Maui deserves the world’s biggest raise. Everything about that character and The Rock’s performance is pure gold.

The Bad

However, not all the music and characters reached their full potential.

Disney 2016
For instance, while I loved Moana’s soundtrack overall, one song hit a sour note for me: the monstrous crab Tamatoa’s song “Shiny.” Compared to the rest of the soundtrack, which pays loving homage to the various cultures and peoples of Polynesia, “Shiny” sticks out like a sore thumb. And for good reason; while the rest of the songs (with the exception of Moana’s song “How Far I’ll Go”) were created with heavy help from the creative team that had so carefully researched Polynesia, “Shiny” was heavily inspired by and made to be a tribute to David Bowie.5 As much as I respect paying tribute to artists who have inspired you who have since passed on, unfortunately the late David Bowie just didn’t quite fit in a movie like Moana.

There was only one song that didn’t reach its full potential, but the characters suffered worse.

Disney 2016
According to Gizmodo, during production, Disney writing legend John Lasseter pointed out that the chicken sidekick, Heihei, served no function to the plot. Lasseter gave writers an ultimatum: come up with a function in 48 hours or cut the character. In response, the writers made Heihei a minor obstacle in Moana’s journey,6 but being reduced to nothing more than a nuisance throughout the film did the chicken no favors. The marketing and screentime devoted to this annoying chicken only added to the frustration I felt toward him.

Disney 2016
The film is equally unkind to Moana’s pet pig Pua. Featuring prominently on promotional material,7 one would have thought the adorable pig would get more screentime than a one-off joke about eating pork.

According to an interview with screenwriter Jared Bush, Pua and Heihei were initially included as self-inserts of co-directors Ron Clements and John Musker as a nod to the large number of pigs and chickens they saw during their research trip to the Polynesian islands.8

However, Bush cut Pua’s role in the film, feeling the pig would be too powerful a comforting figure on Moana’s journey, preventing her from being pushed to her limits. And while I understand his reasoning, I think what it took from the film vastly outweighs what was gained.

So, here’s how would I go about fixing Moana.

Fixing Moana

Moana is a great story that only needs a few minor tweaks to taken its script to the next level.

For starters, I would have cut Heihei and left in Pua!

Heihei’s purpose is to make Moana’s life difficult, but this should never be the sole purpose of a protagonist’s ally. Allies may make things worse on occasion (like how Pippin accidentally alerts the orcs to the Fellowship’s presence in the first Lord of the Rings novel), but they should always help the cause in the end. I would have handed off Heihei’s responsibilities to another party—perhaps another Polynesian-inspired creature like the coconut-shaped Kakamora that attack Moana midway through the film.

Disney 2016

Unlike Heihei, Pua would have helped ease Moana into this outside world and provided her with backup when dealing with the headstrong Maui. This wouldn’t have taken away Moana’s agency, as she still would have been the one to stand up to Maui and get him to behave.

While it is important to drive Moana to her lowest point, I don’t think having Pua there would have been as detrimental as Bush believed. Plenty of films have featured a protagonist traveling with their best friend and still found ways to bring the protagonist to their breaking point. After all, there are some things that even your closest friends can’t resolve for you.

I think Pua could have also helped by reflecting and playing off Moana’s emotional state throughout the journey. Pua could have been sad when Moana was; when Moana determines to find Te Fiti on her own, Pua could have also reflected her newfound confidence.

This scene, when Moana finds her inner strength, also felt a bit rushed; it comes off the heels of a somewhat arbitrary disagreement with Maui that feels forced for the sake of plot and ends with a resolution that hinges on Moana’s tragically underdeveloped grandmother, Tala: a mystic-woman and storyteller of the village who abruptly dies with little fanfare just before Moana sets off on her journey.

Disney 2016

I believe Tala’s death would have been far more impactful had she been closer to her son, Moana’s father, who mainly dismisses her stories and philosophy. Not only does this buck the clichés of the overprotective father and understanding grandmother, it also allows the viewer to grow equally attached to Tala. This would have granted her death—and Moana’s decision to leave on her adventure—far more emotional impact. In addition, it better facilitates Moana’s father’s character arc, forcing him to acknowledge the danger to his village and grant his blessing on Moana’s journey to rescue their island home.

I also would have merged Tala and the ocean’s purposes. The writers took a unique but odd angle for portraying the ocean, personifying it to the point where journalist Germain Lussier calls it a character all its own.9 This personification takes away the mystique of the ocean and isn’t even carried over consistently throughout the film. About halfway through, the ocean sort of loses a lot of its “personality,” barely acting at all, as if the writers sort of forgot about that plot point.

I think the ocean should have remained a personified but largely mystical force, while Tala’s spirit could follow Moana throughout the story (maybe even in the shape of a wave), showing up periodically to make some comment or otherwise encourage and guide Moana. Not only does this give Tala more much-deserved screentime; like Pua, it gives Moana one more ally to teach and encourage her, to bring out more of Moana’s strengths and personality. Then, when Moana must carry on with her own strength, Tala comes back one last time to encourage Moana before vanishing, similar to how they handled her farewell in the film. I think this is a far better use of the character and leads to a far more satisfying conclusion since the viewer was able to get to know Tala so much better.

The Conclusion

Moana is a visually gorgeous film with genuine humor and memorable, loveable, colorful main characters. The music was catchy, unique, and beautiful. The visuals, designs, and cinematography were breathtaking. Moana and Maui are both fantastic characters: relatable, sympathetic, and likeable. And just a few tweaks would have brought the rest of the cast up to the same level.

Ultimately, even a few minor changes can make a world of difference. However, something must be said for how solid Moana’s foundation is if all it needs is a few little changes to take something good and make it great.

I certainly hope Moana continues an upward trend in original Disney films for the future.

Still not enough Moana? Check out this breakdown of “Shiny” analyzing Tamatoa’s psychology by leaky20!

Notes and References:
  1. Lori Barbely, “Disney’s Moana Movie Was Inspired By These Polynesian Islands,” (blog), Bonnier Corporation, November 22, 2016, accessed September 9, 2019.
  2. Sideways, “How Disney uses [sic] Language,” YouTube video, 15:49, April 23, 2017, accessed September 9, 2019.
  3. “Tokelauan Language,” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, July 6, 2019, accessed September 9, 2019.
  4. Sideways, “How Disney uses [sic] Language.”
  5. Kara Warner, “Tribute to David Bowie with Moana Song ‘Shiny,’” People Magazine, Meredith Corporation, December 20, 2016, accessed September 9, 2019.
  6. Germain Lussier, “15 Fascinating Facts About the Making of Disney’s Moana,” (blog), Gizmodo Media Group, September 7, 2016, accessed September 9, 2019.
  7. Daniel L, “Why The Pig In Moana Stayed Behind [sic]: 9 Conspiracy Theories,” (blog), December 20, 2016, accessed September 9, 2019.
  8. Attractions Magazine, “Interview with Moana screenwriter [sic] Jared Bush at D23 Destination D,” YouTube video, 14:07, November 19, 2016, accessed September 9, 2019.
  9. Germain Lussier, “Making of Disney’s Moana.”
All photos property of their respective owners and used under US “Fair Use” laws. Unless otherwise specified, all are from Disney’s Moana official website.

Moana and all related terms are the property of Walt Disney Studios. And I am not affiliated with them.

From Him, To Him

Friday, September 6, 2019

Character Study: Levi - An Outsider (Attack on Titan)

This post will contain spoilers for

The Attack on Titan anime

You have been warned.

Warning: This post contains images of gore and violence. Reader discretion advised.


With Attack on Titan, there’s no character that tops official and unofficial fan favorite lists more than Levi Ackerman.1, 2, 3, 4

Funimation 2013-2019

He’s the poster child of Attack on Titan, moreso even than the show’s protagonist, Eren Jaeger—the subject of almost uncountable fanart and videos. And while all this attention can cause some to pan Levi as a pretty face with no substance, even a cursory examination proves that’s not the case. True, Levi isn’t without the angst-riddled charms that so easily draw in the fangirls, but he’s far more than a calm, collected bad-boy; he’s a deeply complex and well-written character.

For example, Levi’s emotional isolation goes far deeper than your typical angsty bad-boy. Levi is not a lone wolf; he’s an outsider, in many more ways than one.

Formative Childhood Trauma

Every angst-riddled character must have some traumatic backstory, and in this regard, Levi is no exception.

Levi is the survivor of a horribly traumatic childhood. He was born the son of a prostitute, his mother choosing this lifestyle in a feeble attempt to earn money and escape the persecution that came with her family name.5 She died when Levi was just a child, leaving him utterly alone. The boy would have starved to death if not for his uncle Kenny, who finds the young Levi sitting in the dark by his mother’s decaying corpse, a sad sack of skin and bones with nothing to live for.

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Kenny takes it upon himself to raise Levi, unable to watch his own flesh and blood starve, though he himself admits he was no father.6 Kenny is a serial killer, and he trains Levi in a similarly violent lifestyle to ensure the boy could survive in the brutal underground city they called home. But when Kenny deems Levi strong enough to get by on his own, he abandons the boy. Once again, Levi finds himself alone.

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Forced to raise himself from that point forward and having already been abandoned twice, it’s little wonder Levi becomes independent to a fault. The viewer would expect him to become a lone wolf, a mysterious force determined to live on his own.

But that’s not the case. Or at least, it’s not the full picture.

Repeated Trauma

Love wolves seek solitude. They purposefully cut themselves off from communication with any others. But Levi has never wanted to be a loner. Even by the end of season three, he has only recently chosen a life of physical isolation due to repeated trauma—to protect himself… and anyone who gets too close to him.

Levi repeatedly loses anyone close to him, often to brutal, violent deaths. Over and over again, anyone Levi holds dear is torn away from him, often leaving him the sole survivor.

Photo courtesy of Danika Richmond
In parts one and two of the “A Choice with No Regrets” OVA’s, we learn part of Levi’s backstory, namely how he came to join the military and serve under Commander Erwin. While living in the filthy, crime-riddled undercity, Levi takes in two “strays” like him, cultivating their skills and watching their backs. For the first time in a while, he has a group of friends. A family, one could say. And together, they find a way to gain citizenship to the city above, where opportunities are plentiful and life is cushy: kill Commander Erwin.

However, they’re thwarted by Erwin himself, who’s no mere soldier but the leader of the death-defying Survey Corps and a madman among madmen. Still, this turns out to be a golden opportunity: Levi and his friends cut a deal with Erwin to drop the murder charges against them if they’ll join the Survey Corps. It’s the perfect chance to kill their target.

But the plan goes awry. Levi’s friends wind up dead, brutally killed by Titans on their first Survey Corps outing.

Despite Levi’s rage directed at Erwin, deep down, he doesn’t blame Erwin for the deaths of his comrades. Levi blames himself.

Photo courtesy of Danika Richmond

Once again, Levi is left with nothing, his only family stripped from him.

The pain is agonizing. But as Levi kneels in the ashes and blood of his past again, Erwin offers him new purpose. Levi becomes a killing machine in the Survey Corps: the unequivocal master of murdering Titans. Even civilians recognize him at a glance and know him by name as the Titan-slaying hero.

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As the years pass, Levi gains a new crew, a squad he’s hand-picked: cautious, suspicious, deadly, and a bit eccentric, not unlike him.7, 8 They loyally follow him, trusting in his judgment, having forged bonds thicker than blood from their shared traumatic experiences fighting—and surviving—the Titans.

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It’s still not enough. When encountering a sentient human-controlled Titan for the first time, Levi’s squad is exterminated—again leaving him its sole survivor.

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It wasn’t his fault. It wasn’t his call. But it’s taken its toll on him. You can see it in the silence he adopts after the deaths. You can see it in his lack of anger or resentment toward others. You can see it in the lack of sarcastic bite Levi normally exhibits.

He’s beaten down. He’s exhausted. He’s devastated. Because for the third time in his life, he’s lost everyone he cared about.

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Not long later, Levi is given another squad, this one comprised of fresh recruits that include most of the protagonist, Eren’s, surviving friends. They’re young, but they’re hardly inexperienced: battle-hardened by their own near-death experiences with the Titans and, now, near-death experiences with the Military Police, who begin to hunt down the Survey Corps for alleged crimes against the crown.

Levi still trains his squad, guiding the young troops with precision and command. But it’s clear he’s even more distant from them than any group before.

A Gradual Distance

With each new group Levi grows attached to, he begins to slip further and further away from them emotionally.

It began with Kenny, who he saw as his father; this loss resonated so strongly that Levi still felt confusion and resentment about Kenny’s inexplicable abandonment even as an adult.

“That day… why? Why did you leave me?”

When he meets his friends in the underground, he’s a little more reserved. But they’re pals, and he’ll look out for them all the same. And then he gets them all killed.

So he gets a squad. And while some degree of professionalism is required due to being an officer, it’s clear Squad Levi (and the Survey Corps in general) don’t particularly abide by strict professional distance. Quite the contrary, the Survey Corps (and Squad Levi in particular) share a deep-seated comaraderie. But though Levi’s squad clearly adores him and would easily give their lives for him, their captain is a bit more distant, reserved. He barks orders, but he doesn’t spend much recreational time with them. He makes biting comments and commands, but he doesn’t have the same friendly bond with them as he did with his underground gang. He’s the squad’s officer, not their friend.

And then one squad dies, and a new one falls to him. And this time, Levi keeps his distance more than ever before. Rather than listen to the group squabble or chat, Levi physically removes himself from the squad in scenes outside of combat. Though he’ll intervene to scold the kids when they’re being too rambunctious, Levi typically remains out of view. He listens in on conversations… but he never joins in himself.

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Like the night Eren and his best friends sit outside a tavern discussing their hopes and dreams the night before a vital mission. Levi listens in, hears it all… but never participates, remaining in his own isolated world. He remains outside the squad.

Or later, when so few of the Survey Corps troops return from that same doomed mission. As Levi’s squad discusses the sacrifices that were made—a conversation in which Levi himself is being accused of making poor decisions, a conversation Levi has every right to join in—still Levi remains in the background, hearing everything but not engaging with his troops. He doesn’t admonish them. He doesn’t agree with them. He doesn’t advise them. He just sits on the outside of the circle, alone.

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Levi has seen so much trauma that he can’t take it anymore; he can’t get too attached. He can’t stand losing more of his comrades again. Because anyone that gets too close to Levi gets killed.

I think this is one of the reasons Levi ended up pledging himself to Erwin’s forces and how they formed such a close bond despite their vastly different backgrounds and personalities. They both understand the pain of feeling responsible for the deaths of those close to them and under them, who trusted them.

The Outsider by Design

Erwin, despite seeming more socially open than Levi, is still a very private man and closes himself off in a less pronounced but similar way to Levi. Erwin very rarely discusses his true feelings, his insecurities, or his motivations to anyone—but when he does so, it’s most often with Levi.

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Both of them have served as leaders, guiding others forward… and watching the people under their command get killed time and time again. And though both men excel at maintaining decorum and hiding their emotions under a stoic mask, they also both suffer from guilt at the horrific loss of life they’ve incurred.

The people they have lost weigh heavily on Levi and Erwin’s shoulders. But it is this very loss that allows them to connect with one another in an intimacy that few other characters in Attack on Titan share. It’s not Erwin’s second-in-command and Levi’s fellow captain, Hanji, who the men confide in. It’s not the experienced and wise Commander Pixis they seek guidance from. They turn to each other, knowing only they understand the guilt they feel.

These two men separate themselves from the rest not out of some angst-ridden desire to be alone, but out of guilt, shame, and trauma. They cannot bear the thought of dragging others down the path of death and destruction their lives—and the lives of anyone close to them—goes down. Yet circumstances demand they do so again and again.

They are the outsiders. The ones who stand apart. The ones who stand alone.

The ones who sit in the shadows as their comrades talk, not wanting to take part… out of a desire to protect themselves from the pain of loss.

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As always, in the comments, please remember to be considerate of anime-only fans who haven’t read the manga. :) Spoilers will, unfortunately, need to be deleted!

Notes and References:
  1. “First Character Popularity Poll,” Attack on Titan Wiki, April 2, 2019, accessed September 3, 2019.
  2. Gamer1280, “Top 10 Attack on Titan Characters,” The Top Tens, accessed September 3, 2019.
  3. Peter Virage de Jesus, “Top 10 Coolest Attack on Titan Characters,” Honey’s Anime (blog), December 27, 2015, accessed September 3, 2019.
  4. Brad Stephenson, “The 5 Best Characters in the ‘Attack on Titan’ Anime,” Live (blog), April 10, 2019, accessed September 3, 2019.
  5. Attack on Titan; “Friends”; Season 3, Episode 10; Directed by Shintarō Itoga and Aiko Sakuraba; Written by Hiroshi Seko; September 24, 2018; Funimation.
  6. Kenny Ackerman; Attack on Titan; “Friends”; Season 3, Episode 10; Directed by Shintarō Itoga and Aiko Sakuraba; Written by Hiroshi Seko; September 24, 2018; Funimation.
  7. Eren Jaegar, Attack on Titan; “Special Ops Squad – Night Before the Counteroffensive (2)”; Season 1, Episode 15; Directed by Kiyoshi Fukumoto; Written by Hiroshi Seko; July 21, 2013; Funimation.
  8. Attack on Titan; “Bite - 57th Expedition Beyond the Walls (3)”; Season 1, Episode 19; Directed by Kiyoshi Fukumoto and Tomomi Ikeda; Written by Noboru Takagi; August 18, 2013; Funimation.
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