Sunday, February 28, 2021

Fallacies: "The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up."

I've been meaning to write something about Marie Kondo's book ever since I first read it the summer of 2015. In going through this moldy old blog, I found a post saved in my drafts that I had been meaning to finish since November of 2016. As Marie Kondo has been a thing ever since, the intent of this post back in 2016 is still relevant now. There's a sequel book and a manga. There's a Netflix show. There's deals with the Container Store and her questionably shilling over-priced goods. So let's talk about her a bit.

The gist is that it's a how-to book on decluttering that keeps your life as well as your home neat and tidy. That's it. This gets conflated with minimalism a lot but it is not a minimalism book. Marie Kondo does not advocate minimalism, she advocates only spending your time, energy, and providing space to the things that actually make you happy and ditching the shit that doesn't.

I won't go so much into the hows of it. You gather your stuff by category and sort through it all at once group by group in a specific order. I read this book years ago and loved it. I've re-read it multiple times since and have listened to audio book several times as well. I used to pick it up again whenever I need a little clean-spiration. Years ago, the book itself ended up Kondo'd and that's a-okay.

Something that keeps popping up around this book, however, are click-bait type articles saying how Marie Kondo is full of shit. I'll be going through some of the arguments they bring up one-by-one. Because while Marie Kondo may shilling and hustling, but she is not wrong regarding her tidying method. 

brb, gotta go buy $140 desktop zen garden from Kondo's store, lol

#1. "She wants me to deal with an entire category at once? I have to get every book in the house and put it on the floor? It's overwhelming."

I came across another blog that talked about this and it was all "hur hur, if u can't do it, don't!  Know yerself, hyuck. U go girl." What a shitty train of thought. "Don't even try." That's the gist of the advice. Great.

That's it's overwhelming is the whole point. You're supposed to look at the pile of clothes, shoes, books, whatever and go "Holy shit!  How do I have so many? I haven't touched half this shit in years." You need the shock to realize you have too much fucking stuff you don't use. It's generally said we only wear 20% of the clothes we own. That means the other 80% eats into our space, our money, and our time. If you're rich or something and have a mansion to store stuff in and a maid to clean everything, then fine. But the rest of us sure as hell don't.

Make your stack of books/clothes/whatever and go through the entire stack quickly. "Can I part with this? Will I ever read this again?  Have I ever read it?" Ask whatever you need to ask yourself to decide. If there's any doubt, keep it. KEEP IT. 

I don't know why but some people think if they have doubts about keeping something they need to stop. As in stop, justify their choices, and question everything. This is your stuff and you only need to justify for yourself. When in doubt, keep. This is to minimize regrets. You can always choose to get rid of it later.

Some of these Kondo naysayers think the whole process is literal magic. That they're supposed to gather the entire pile and—poof!—they'll end up with a room out of a magazine. They don't understand you make the magic yourself.  It's all a matter of...

#2. "Keep things that spark joy? My frying pan doesn't spark joy. Should I throw away my frying pan, smart guy?"

...taking things too fucking literally.

Frying pan, y u no spark joy?

Some readers have gone through Kondo's books and really latched onto every dumb line they could. Like when Marie Kondo got rid of her screwdriver only to need one later and used her ruler instead. Or how Kondo prefers to put shampoos and soaps away inside of leaving them in the shower despite the fact that Japanese-style showers are different than Western-style showers and her bottles would slime. Or how she empties her purse at the end of the day. 

I can't empty my purse every day. I'm too forgetful. (But I can certainly compromise and clean shit out more frequently.) As for your frying pan, if you get plenty of use out of it, it IS bringing you joy.  I know fried eggs bring ME joy. Items that are useful to you are bringing you joy. It's not in the ra-ra way but in the "happy to have fried eggs" way. Stop expecting to orgasm over your frying pan already. It would never be that kinda joy unless you're a chef.

#3. "Okay, but that folding thing she does looks stupid. She really expects me to fold my clothes so they stand up? That's crazy. Imma busy mom/whatever, waah."

There are dozens of videos about the fuckin' folding technique. Search "Kondo fold" in YouTube and you'll get a plethora of demonstrations. Most of Kondo's media appearances feature the folding technique so it's unsurprising the folding "correctly" has become synonymous with Kondoing itself.

For whatever reason, how well one Kondos (yes, Kondo is a verb now) has been tied to folding things right. That completely misses the takeaway: most clothing storage works with folded clothes standing up in a drawer rather than stacked or crammed hanging in closets. AND IT DOES. Kondo just wants to make sure you can properly see what you own so that you wear it.  

She's not wrong. Now, I do not do the fold like she does. I actually do my own modified version of her fold and then line my clothes up in my drawer like a bunch of tacos lying side by side.

People who complain about the fold are being too meticulous. Honestly, they are probably trying to keep too many clothes. I'm using this pic from a Bored Panda article about Kondo memes (or whatever) just for the visual of the inside of that drawer. I could never live like that either! Whoever's drawer that's supposed to has too many damn clothes. And a lot of people are like this. You just need to Google "Konmari folding in drawer" and you will see loads of people pridefully posting drawers packed with clothes. The folding method itself is not to blame here. The mooks cramming up their dresser drawers are.

Thanking these socks will literally send you to hell. So will buying these socks.

#4. "She wants me to thank old socks.  I can't thank socks.  That's stupid and I'm a Christian."

Then don't thank the socks. You're being kinda ungrateful tho'. I mean, they covered your stinky feet at least once and you can't utter a thanks before chucking them in the trash bag?  But whatever. The world won't stop spinning because you don't thank the socks. Thanking objects is a cultural thing anyway. She used to be a Shinto priestess. And you're Christian? So what? You ain't going to hell for thanking some socks unless you're, like, shanking someone as you do so. Jeez, thank God if it bothers you that much.

#5. "Wait, I gotta throw things away?  I can't recycle or donate my old items?  What if I try to resell things instead?"

Knock yourself out. Nothing says you can't recycle, donate, or resell items. What I suggest you do is look at the cost in doing so, especially when it comes to reselling. 

For example: It doesn't make sense to have a garage sale to sell $30 bucks worth of knick-knacks when you need to pay for the permit, set up your sale space, get up in the morning, and work the sale for several hours. It wouldn't be worth it for me. Plus, it's best to get the old stuff out of the house asap. Nothing worse than junk hanging around and cluttering the floor.

#6. "I'm not rich.  I can't just get rid of things I might need later.  It would waste money."

This is a big myth and it's easy to get sucked into it because the face of Kondoing in the US (at least) is about people who have lots of stuff and lots of money. They may not admit they have money, but it's obvious. I'm part of a few Kondo groups online and I see before and after pics all the time of big spacious houses, fancy furniture, and sleek appliances. Lots of these folks have closets bigger than the room I live in. They can easily get rid of something and go repurchase it later.

Look, I'm pretty much fucking poor. I get it. It doesn't appear Kondoing is for you when you see people of means making Kondoing videos on YouTube because, like, it's sooo hard having so much stuff and the means to buy it. Right? What a hard-knocks life. But I was surprised at the things I owned. Old keychains. Purses I hadn't used in years. Shirts and pants I wore as a teenager. Old shitty drawings I made. Pens that didn't work. Childhood toys. Yellowed, old, blank paper. Every pay stub from every job I've ever worked. Rich or poor, we all actually have junk we don't use and need.

We are the caretakers of our stuff. Even the useless junk. We have to clean around it. We have to sort it. We have to launder it. We have to give it space in our homes. I have better things to do with my time than be a caretaker to a bunch of old shit I don't even use anymore. I hate dusting. The only thing I hate more than dusting is having to dust items. The fewer things I have to dust around, the better.

The fact is if you haven't needed or used something for years, you aren't likely to need it in the future. We keep a lot of things out of guilt and fear and rarely out of actual need. Google "sunk cost fallacy." The money or time you've spent to acquire your stuff is gone already. And if you can't find something because it's crammed in a pile of junk, what do you do anyway? You buy a new one. This just wastes more time and money. So cut your losses and move on already.

#7. "I'm a book lover and lurv muh books. She wants me to get rid of my books."

You are surrounding yourself with things that make you happy. Unless you're a hoarder, there's no way every piece of crap you own could make you happy. If you're a collector of dolls, spoons, or whatever, then keep your collection because it makes you happy. No one is arguing with you. 

The people who love books are the most vocal because Kondo doesn't think we should hang onto a bunch of books and papers. "Meh blerb blerb, but I luv muh books. I luv tah read." Then keep the damn books if they make you happy. But what about that sweater you haven't worn since 1987? That used paper cup from Burger King? The shoes you don't wear anymore because they pinch your toes? Your backpack from high school? You know damn well all that shit don't bring anyone joy except a hoarder and we all know hoarders are sick people. (I'm saying that in the kindest way possible. Hoarders have problems and need professional help.)

But I think we need to be honest with ourselves here: most Americans do not read books. They just don't. A lot of us have books to make ourselves look smart. You're supposed to own books. Smart people own books. Sophisticated people get large, overpriced books to plop on the coffee table they never use and display the candle they never burn. If we don't want to look stupid, surely, we must own books. "Look at my perrrrrrrsonality showing on these shelves!" I guarantee most people are not bibliophiles who just love books so damn much.

Saturday, February 27, 2021

5 Anime I Like That You Should, Too - #4. Hajime no Ippo: The Fighting! (2000)

Based on
: the manga by George Morikawa. 1989 - present/ongoing.
Claim to fameDenpushii rouru! **jet engines**
Dubbed: Yes, but it's a mixed bag.
Subject: Boxing.

Hajime no Ippo is a modern day classic and if you haven't seen at least one episode of the first series, put everything down right now and go find some of it. Like Initial D, I've heard good things about this show for years and delayed on watching it. At the time, Netflix was always missing the discs of the series or had it on long wait. (Yes, this was back when mailed DVDs were primary for using Netflix.) My Internet connection was lousy at the time too so I couldn't go find it online either.

Like Initial D, I thought "meh, boxing? Who cares?" in the same manner I dismissed a show about illegal street racing. It's old, it looks kinda lame, and doesn't have anything to offer me. Even these days, in trying to introduce this show to others, I see the same dismissiveness with them as I used to have. But passing on this show is a big mistake.

Hajime no Ippo is about Ippo Makunouchi, a limp noodle of a highschool kid that has a bit of a nervous personality and a good heart. He's a hard worker, helping his mother before and after school to keep their business afloat and inadvertently honing his physical strength in the process. He gets bullied and in the first episode, boxer Mamoru Takumura comes to his rescue.

Long story short, Ippo's meeting with Takumura ends up jumpstarting a passion for boxing. Ippo gains strength and confidence (well, some confidence) as we watch him persevere towards his new dream of being a professional boxer.

So some various points here...

1. This story is on-going. My recommendation is actually for the first season of this show. It's over 70 episodes long but it tells a single concise story with a beginning, middle, and end. There's other seasons and OVA but as the narrative progresses in subsequent media, we get into longer (sometimes outright sillier) fights and it honestly feels pointless at times. The story is reduced to "x has to fight y" and the sense of direction is kind of lost. I have watched all of the available Ippo anime and will continue watch more, but I don't blame anyone for checking out after season one.

2. This show is now more readily available. Legally. It's been on YouTube for a long time in its entirety but I fully see the YouTube uploads being pulled as it was recently announced Hajime no Ippo will be on Crunchyroll. Um, yay. Don't get me wrong, I like Crunchyroll way more than some of the other available services. I assume the app is supposed to be garbage if you're a free user so you can pay for better service. Which is fair. But I'm biased and Crunchyroll just likes to freeze on me way too much.

Me vs. Crunchyroll

If Crunchyroll isn't your thing, Discotek Media picked up Hajime no Ippo for 2021 home media re-release. I wanted to link to their site but I can't find an entry for Ippo there. Their website just advertises to buy from Rightstuf or Amazon anyway so you can find it there with a simple search.

3. You don't need to know shit about boxing. Like Initial D, this show is willing to hold your hand. Ippo doesn't know anything about boxing either so as the other characters hold his hand, this show holds your hand.

4. The English dub is so bad it's good. It's a bit garbage, not gonna lie. The actual voice actors themselves aren't terrible actors or anything but delivery, the lines themselves, and the casting is all a bit off. Be prepared for that if you insist on an English dub. I do find myself amused by the English dub tho' because of those reasons. I've seen the Spanish dub too and that one's pretty solid. 

You will never have a nickname as cool as Rocky the Naniwa Tiger.

This show, however, is best experienced in Japanese and has some powerhouse Japanese voice actors including Rikiya Koyama as Mamoru Takamura, who manages to be both a guiding force for Ippo as well as, uh, another bully; Wataru Takagi as Masaru Aoki and Keiji Fujiwara as Tatsuya Kimura, gym mates along with Takamura and Ippo; Tomokazu Seki as Ichiro Miyata, former gym mate turned rival except not really; Kenji Utsumi as Genji Kamogawa, owner of the gym and Ippo's boxing coach; and Masaya Onosaka as Takeshi Sendo--a.k.a. Rocky--a hot-head boxer who challenges Ippo to a fight. All of their performances really bring the comedy and drama home. These actors have all collectively done tons of voice over work and if you watch anime you're bound to find several great characters among their resumes.

** pained elephant noise **

5. The humor can be low-brow. There are dick jokes and naked dudes in this thing. Neither of these is bad and everything in this show is funny. Even Takamura being a creep is presented in a way that doesn't glorify his behavior but shows he's a d-bag. (He's still my favorite character.) This point is just here for full disclosure.

6. Don't be fooled by #5, because this show does drama pretty well. There's some tense scenes, some sadness and legit depression. It all arrives organically without being hamfisted. The story's twists and turns come naturally. Going into the show, some characters feel unimportant and while there are characters that stay that way, others actually come back or have a moment that makes you appreciate how it was approached.

While I don't want to spoil everything in this post, an example in particular that stood out to me was Ippo's school bully Masahiko Umezawa. This is the bully we see in episode one; the same bully Ippo has to be saved from.

All bullies should be made to rock the pomp'. Even the girls.

Normally, this type of character would appear and serve his purpose as he does in the first episode. And then maybe he'd appear later so we get some contrast to Ippo-then versus Ippo-now. But, no, this show does one better. Like, this guy gets actual character growth. I had seen some images of him later in the series and didn't even realize he was the same guy. I was really surprised. Without giving away much more, he actually becomes a decent person. Touches like this throughout any series are just very nice. While it doesn't happen with everyone (some of them do stay kinda random), it does happen with more than just Umezawa's character. It's immersive to have a character come back and be a bit more important than the viewer first thought.

Btw, if you like the old school pompadour delinquent look, Takamura pretty much rocks it the entire show. Putting it out there because I just dig that type of design.

Since you have no excuses, go watch this show. The first part of Discotek's series re-release is currently available, you can go to YouTube now, or wait for it on Crunchyroll soon.

Friday, February 26, 2021

My Favorite Studio Ghibli Films

On the back of my recent Earwig and the Witch review that I just posted, I'm making this new post for my top five Ghibli films. This is based on my own opinions and personal enjoyment. It has nothing to do with what films were the most impactful to the industry, made the most money, or are beloved by the majority. These films are my comfort food. I've already given my basic opinion on Laputa: Castle in the Sky and Princess Mononoke in my Earwig review. Sorry, but I stan Lady Eboshi and would burn that entire forest to ashes for her smile.

She's my Queen. No homo. :)

So, uh, with that out of the way, I'm gonna start listing my faves. I'm not really giving too much thought to the specific order.

A village so comfy you'd expect a Titan to come and smash it.

1. Howl's Moving Castle (2004)

I'd say this is my current top favorite. I say "current" because I think it changes sometimes. Before, it might've been Kiki's Delivery Service or something like that. I recall seeing this in the theater when it came to the U.S. and being kinda disappointed. So it's really grown on me in the past few years to say the least.

I think what I look for the most in my Ghibli films these days is the pure aesthetics. This film has quaint villages; the "moving castle" which is the most comfy hunk of junk I've ever seen in a film; the beautiful flower field; and the castle grounds that are stately without being intimidating. This film makes me want go to the hat shop and trim hats with Sophie or sit down with a cup of coffee and a blanket in front of Calcifer's fire.

I like the characters for the most part. Sophie is bland and inoffensive without being boring. I think in part because she takes things in relative stride. "Oh, I'm old? Better go" and then she just packs her food and leaves. She has a tiny bit of mischief in her that balances her well with the apprentice boy, the snarky fire, and the dramatic Howl. The Witch of Waste evokes a sense of danger at the beginning of the film, sympathy after being stripped of her powers, and then anger when she takes Howl's heart. (Though I forgive her when she gives it back.)

I don't really watch the dub. Billy Crystal and Christian Bale kinda pull me outta my vibe. They aren't terrible or anything but I prefer the Japanese language.

Sophie and Howl falling in love is a bit weird. It feels too sudden but they do mesh well together so I can buy it to an extent. I don't really watch this film for the love story or lack thereof anyway. I just like to sit and chill out with it.

This room has the best use of weed I've ever seen.

2. The Secret World of Arrietty (2010)

Just look at that room, man!  Look at that room. This film vibes. All sort of beautiful settings abound: the houses of both Arrietty and Sho exude with coziness and the fields, garden, and wildness outside is such a treat. The story's not exactly impactful so I think that's why this one doesn't really win people over. Like Totoro has a dying mom and Spirited Away has a little girl saving her family and you know this stuff from the get-go of those films. This film is all "little people can't let the big ol' human beans sees thems." And thus, it doesn't feel like much despite that it does get some stakes at the ending half. 

Apparently, there's two English dubs including a Brit dub with Saorise Ronan and Tom Holland and I really want to watch it some day. Like Howl's Moving Castle, I don't care for the English dub we got so much. But with this film, I like the dub even less so. It's probably the music that does it to me.

I don't recall if this movie came to theaters in my area at all and I don't remember watching it in a theater. If it ever gets a re-release (post-pandemic), I would love to go see it on a big screen.

Lofi Beats to Study and Relax To. No takedown pls.

3. Whisper of the Heart (1995)

This film is really damn touching. It, above most other Ghibli films in my opinion, feels incredibly personal but not like Only Yesterday which smacks your face with the protag's past. This film feels like we're being silently invited into an important period of time in this girl's life, omnisciently recounting this girl's childhood when she starts becoming the writer she knows she is. Or maybe it's more bias on my part because I like to write, too. Either way, it's a sweet little story with a touch of fantasy and young love.

Of course it has those Ghibli aesthetics: Shizuku's family's cramp apartment; the school grounds and the library; the quaint shop full of curiosities; and the snug, homey streets of town. The characters are nice with some of them having a light touch of sass. 

The dub's okay and has a Cary Elwes cat. You can't say no to a Cary Elwes cat. Sadly, it's the only film ever directed by Yoshifumi Kondo. And double-sadly it has a sequel (The Cat Returns) that left me feeling kinda meh. I think it's due to the sequel being a much more fantastical story than this film and I liked this film for the opposite reason. The sequel exclusively follows the Cary Elwes cat so it's still worth a watch. I have yet to find anyone that has The Cat Returns as a favorite tho'.

That feel when has talking cat but you can no longer understand him.

4. Kiki's Delivery Service (1989)

I think this might've been the first Ghibli film I ever watched and for that reason was my first favorite by default. Not that it's a bad one to have as a default favorite. I would say it's a nice gateway Ghibli film. It's fantastical without being too fantastical: Kiki rides her broom and can talk to her cat but I can't think of any other instances of magic we actually see. It's also adventurous without being too adventurous: Kiki leaves home for a quaint seaside city. Aside from a jaunt in the forest, she doesn't really go anywhere else. And it has drama without being too dramatic: Kiki loses her powers, becomes depressed, but then is happy again. 

I think a lot of the other Ghibli films, for better or for worse, have a level of Japanese culture that makes them a little less accessible than Kiki is. Not that I don't appreciate Japanese culture but films with less cultural nuance do feel more universal.

As for the English dub, the actors do a good enough job. This movie was released in an English dub on VHS in 1998. Phil Hartman voices Jiji and while I love Phil Hartman, I can concede he's not really right for the role. (RIP Phil Hartman. Jiji was his last voice role and I was a Simpsons fan at the time so I was very familiar with who he was.) To add insult to injury for fans of this film, the English dub did make some changes and take some liberties which was more common back in 1998. So even though I'd say this is the most accessible Ghibli film, there was a need to make it more accessible. This film's dub was then tweaked for later re-release to sort of course-correct back in 2010. Which is fine... because I stick the subs for this one now anyway.

License and registration please. Just kidding. No one drives me.

5. My Neighbor Totoro (1988)

Gonna be honest here. I did not like My Neighbor Totoro when I first watched it. Firstly, it took me forever to actually watch it. When it was released in the U.S., I just didn't care. The pictures you see in regards to this film show this weird, round rabbit-looking thing and two little girls. And it's just... what is this? And why would I watch it?

I ended up taking Japanese classes in college and our sensei put on some of this film. This brings me to the second issue: those opening credits started and I wondered what the hell I was looking at. Hearing that song, it sounded like this movie was for toddlers or something. Again, what was this about and why should I watch it? So I zoned out. I didn't know what to think of this back then.

I don't know what exactly made me watch this again. It was many years later and probably when my sister and I were going on a Ghibli binge. So we watched My Neighbor Totoro with the Disney dub around its release in 2006 and we really loved it. I definitely see the appeal and timelessness it has now.

That cozy house, the beautiful country side, that sweet family, and those odd forest critters give this film such a nice touch. I don't really care for Totoro himself but he's actually not in the film all that much. Susuwatari and Cat Bus for the win.

While it may be heretical to say this, I like the English dub more than the sub. I'm not even a fan of the Fanning sisters and the older girl plays her role kinda stiff in my opinion. Even so, the English dub is prettty damn decent and the younger Fanning girl does a fantastic job as Mei.

Kurotowa and Princess Kushana are best. No lies detected here.
Honorable Mention:

Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (1984) - Does this really count as a Ghibli film? No? Yes? Well, I really like it either way. Especially Kushana and Kurotowa, played by The Bride and Jack Skellington in the English dub. Princess Kushana is everything I really look for in a fantasy princess: she has a sense of personal duty, she's tough, she suffers, she becomes ruthless and then she becomes understanding. Nothing against Nausicaa herself, but Nausicaa didn't feel like she had growth the way Kushana did. Beginning of film: Nausicaa love forest. Nausicaa protect bugs. End of film: Nausicaa love forest. Nausicaa protect bugs.

Also in the dub is Patrick Stewart as Lord Yupa. I liked his performance here, too. The English dub does have Shia of all people as Asbel but, er, just ignore him. I feel like this movie pulls off the themes that Laputa and Princess Mononoke tried to much better.

Spirited Away (2001) - I had a lovely time watching this in the theater when it came to the U.S. and I dig the aesthetics. I'm just not into the story so much. After halfway through, I kinda check out. It's like once she gets on that train, my brain also got on the train but never got off of the train. Heh. But it's really a beautiful film about two disgusting pigs and their nameless daughter.

Earwig and the Witch (2020) - Yes, I liked it enough to make it a favorite. I wrote a review in my earlier post. I think it's flawed but still solid.

Whatever else I've not discussed, I either still like it but not as a favorite (such as From Up on Poppy Hill, Porco Rosso, Only Yesterday, Pom Poko) or haven't seen it (The Tale of Princess Kaguya, When Marnie Was There) or am indifferent for one reason or another. If you're so inclined, comment with your favorite Ghibli film and why you love it. Unless it's Princess Mononoke. Ha ha.

Thursday, February 25, 2021

Earwig and the Angry Inch

Note: The following blog post adapted from a post I made over at my lil' dead forum. 

"Six inches forward and five inches back/ I've got a, got an angry inch."

I don't like Laputa: Castle in the Sky and I don't know if that's okay. I also don't like Princess Mononoke. San is annoying. She's literally "bitchy Nausicaa raised by wolves" and I only rewatch that film because Lady Eboshi's my girl-crush. If all of that invalidates my opinion (and my taste), so be it. Read no more.

That being said, I think this little film is pretty nice. It had heaps of expectations on it and on director Goro Miyazaki as well. It's a Ghibli film and people are hungry for the next Spirited Away or Kiki's Delivery Service. We're in trying times right now and we want the comfy vistas; awesome bg music; an adorable plucky heroine; and other forms of Ghibli cuteness to sort of be this big ol' hug telling us things will be okay.

Earwig and the Witch is not that hug. It's a reassuring pat on the back by a very good friend and I'll take it. The film story is an adaptation of a book of the same name by Diana Wynne-Jones, the writer of the book Howl's Moving Castle which also became a Ghibli film. I like Howl's Moving Castle so I decided to check out Earwig and the Witch but only found an audio book.

It's actually not a very long story at all. The gist is "little spoiled orphaned witch Earwig unslaves self from weird-ass foster parents Bella Yaga and the Mandrake." There's some magic involved. Emphasis on some.

So going bit by bit here...

Look at that beautiful 3D animation, folks. It's love. It's life.

Animation/Visuals - This would've been much better with a more 2D look but I'm sure we all knew that already. The fact this was 3D grinded a lot of gears. The CG unfortunately does look a bit like a cheap Direct to DVD featurette from the early 2000's but it actually has a quality I can appreciate. The weird playdoh liquids, the stiff hair, the rubbery-looking plants, Bella Yaga's strange high-heeled Wellies... like, it's not beautiful but it's not ugly either. The textures sorta fascinate me.

2D, however, would've allowed a greater range of expressions and more cuteness than what the 3D here was able to give us. Earwig can only arch those pencil-thin eyebrows so many times until we need her to make a different facial expression. The movements sometimes feel a bit stiff. And while we're given nice settings such as the quaint village orphanage, Bella Yaga's spell room, the house garden, and the comfy kitchen, they don't quite have the vibrancy of similar settings provided to us in 2D such as the inside of Howl's Castle or Kiki's bedroom. Every background in Earwig feels dull like the town is perpetually cloudy or the rooms don't have enough light in them. 

And as for the food, there were no complaints. Only Vanillaware rivals Ghibli when it comes to yummy-looking food. The fish and chips, fry bread, and bread and cheese legit made me hungry.

The picture's shitty but it's delicious, trust me.
It looks dingy in the picture but it would in my belly, too.

Music - I found the music jarring and I actually like jarring music. I guess I don't expect loud twanging electric guitars to be mixed into a Ghibli film. I think they got the era right (sorta like a 60's/70's thing) but the instruments are clashing about and I don't find it suits the story. What's there isn't awful but it's not very Ghibli-esque. People expect Joe Hisashi and they're not gonna get him. He's busy on Papa Hayao's film.

Cool, it's my favorite thing ever: a neato band that's completely irrelevant!

The music could've been "fixed" by making the musician characters folk rock types and matching the incidental background music to the general vibe. Think Fleetwood Mac's "Dreams" or Heart's "Dreamboat Annie." As is, I'm not feeling it. "Don't Disturb Me," the main track that plays, is really overplayed by the end of the film. It's a nice song but I found myself sick of it by the end. This could've easily been fixed by writing a couple of short snippets to play from Earwig's cassette tape as if the band had other music and were more fleshed out. As it is, it seems like these people literally wrote and recorded one song. Maybe that was the point through.

Matthew Crawley died so Thomas the Cat could live. Or something.

Voice Acting - "Nonsense!" said in English by Japanese ladies is gold. Everybody was good. Both the English and Japanese tracks. I saw someone picking on Dan Stevens. Pick on him for leaving Downton Abbey. I'm salty, okay? He was my favorite character. But he's just fine as Thomas the Cat. Jiji's the superior Ghibli black cat anyway. Thomas having another voice actor wasn't gonna change that. Didn't care for the English singing but the actress worked with what she was given.

This is such a lovely scene. Enjoy it for two seconds at the end of the film.

Story - It's kinda hard to really adapt this story to be a comfy film when it's a weird abuse narrative. There's also no major climax to the story other than Earwig getting the Mandrake pissed off enough to make Bella Yaga agreeable so Earwig can go to normie school and learn magic on the side. She's basically a slave but in the "I'm a slave and that's kinda annoying" sorta way. Bella Yaga just goes to an orphanage to get this forced child servant and the Mandrake doesn't give a shit as long as he's not "disturbed." (In other words don't piss him off. Yikes.) All that shit's just weird. I guess cause I expect it more from a Dahl story than a Ghibli adaptation.

Earwig's mother doesn't play a real part in the book although the reader is informed clearly the woman's a witch and on the run from other witches. The author died before she could write any sequels so unknown what the plan was regarding reuniting Earwig with her mom or if that'd even happen.

The main story itself was adequately adapted and the musician angle was actually a nice touch. (The musician element in this movie is absent from the book.) It rounded out everything and gives the viewer more on the mother. And while that's all great, it feels like this movie never revs up and goes anywhere. 

I saw and read a few reviews and the guys reviewing it all had that general consensus of "okay, now what" after it was done. I think becoming familiar with the book tempered my expectations enough to enjoy this for what it was and appreciate the extra tidbits we got.

Earwig scrubbing me.

Characters - The main heroine Earwig's about two degrees less likeable than Sen/Chihiro from Spirited Away. She's brattier and manipulative but not completely unlikeable. She certainly will be few people's favorite witch or Ghibli heroine. She at least has a personality which, in an age full of graham-cracker crust heroines, is all I really ask.

    Thomas the black cat is all right but I think they could've made him much cuter.

    Bella Yaga is The Witch of the Waste + the two old witches in Spirited Away + Manic Panic Rockabilly blue hair dye + some retro-looking clothes. Put all of that in a bowl, age her down, give her a drum kit, and make her perpetually on the rag. That's Bella Yaga in a nutshell. She seems okay in the end but it does leave the viewer wondering if she's mentally ill. Like she'd just adopt a slave from the orphanage and be an asshole when she's capable of being cool and nice? It's weird. I wanted more "cool Bella Yaga" and way less "jerk Bella Yaga." And she's a giant jerk-ass for most of this movie.

   The Mandrake (a.k.a the tall dude with glasses) doesn't have much to him but I like his general design. His personality is MEH. "Don't disturb me." I wish Earwig had kicked him in the pants. Him summoning demons to bring him food of all things is neat though. The little demons are adorable and wish we got more of them. Shame we didn't.

   Earwig's Mom seems both really awesome and really awful. On one hand, she a gorgeous red-haired rocker chick. On the other, she ditched her kid at an orphanage. Was there a reason she couldn't leave the kid with Bella Yaga and the Mandrake? Why was the Mandrake's car chasing her? I hope you enjoy unanswered questions.

This demon here givin' me some Sheldon from "Garfield and Friends" realness.

Advertising - Gotta add this because we gotta talk about it. The way this is being marketed is crazy as hell. It appears to be a rock musical and it's not. It also appears to be sold as a "find your mom" narrative and it's not that either. It's not Harry Potter but it's also not Kiki.

Kids will like this movie. People familiar with the story knows it's not going anywhere and will appreciate this adaptation. But the majority that aren't in one of those two categories is in for some confusion and disappointment. The ads showing Earwig with a microphone in front of a band really did it a disservice. I know the name of the game is to make people want to watch it but you can't promise some rock 'n roll adventure and not deliver on it.

Supposedly, Goro would like to do a series. I can't find where I read that or verify it's true but this being a tv movie in Japan lends credence to that, I think. If so, I'd love to see more. Since Diana Wynne-Jones didn't get to finish this story, it'd be nice if Goro Miyazaki did.

Using my acorn rating scale, I give it a 4 out of 5 for a solid effort.