The Other Side of Animation 265: The Deer King Review

(If you like what you see, you can go to camseyeview.biz to see more of my work on video game reviews, editorials, lists, Kickstarters, developer interviews, and review/talk about animated films. If you would like, consider contributing to my Patreon at patreon.com/camseyeview. It would help support my work, and keep the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)

Heads up: I was able to watch this film via a screener sent to me from GKIDS. I received no other form of monetization other than the screener. Thank you GKIDS for this opportunity.

Something fun to see with Chris Williams’ The Sea Beast was a return to the grand fantasy epics in animation. With the upcoming feature film Strange World from director Don Hall and writer Qui Nguyen, we are entering a phase of having non-comedy-driven experiences. The world of animation is big enough to have every kind of genre. That doesn’t mean I want to stop seeing comedies, but let’s start jazzing up the scene in every way we can. That means we should be supportive of films that come out and do offer something different. For example, let’s take a look at the newest GKIDS-distributed feature from Japan, The Deer King. 

Directed by Masashi Ando and Masayuki Miyaji, written by Taku Kishimoto, and produced by Production I.G., the story follows a man named Van, dubbed by Ray Chase. He was a captured slave who worked in the salt mines of a nation that has taken rule of a neighboring country. This is, of course, all while a horrific plague is brought upon by a mass of wolves that infect one nation’s people, but not the others. Van encounters a young girl named Yuna, dubbed by Luciana VanDette. He goes on a journey with her escaping the mines to find a better life and to learn what exactly is going on. This is, of course, all happening while a scientist is traversing the land to find a cure for the plague named Hohsalle, dubbed by Griffin Puatu. Will Van be able to start life over again with his newfound family situation? Can Hohsalle find a cure for this plague that has cursed an entire nation? How will these characters’ stories be connected? 

Let’s get this out of the way first. Everyone and their grandma has been comparing this film to the Studio Ghibli classic, Princess Mononoke. To be honest though? It’s only similar if you haven’t seen the film yet. Yes, there are male lead characters that ride on a deer. That’s about the only way they are the same. Comparing them is like comparing apples to oranges. Both might be fruit, but you aren’t going to call an apple a copy or rip-off of an orange. Whereas Princess Mononoke is the complicated and philosophical battle of humans versus nature, The Deer King is more about humans battling and dealing with human nature. The big bad of the film is the human drive for war and bloodshed. What’s so fascinating about this film is how it has come out during the pandemic period of history, because the director did take note of how the different nations’ civilians have dealt with the plague that sweeps the nation of Zol. It’s very critical of people who are against science and vaccines or those specific people who let “faith” make the judgment call on whether someone lives or dies from this plague. On top of this film being a big fantasy epic and a medical thriller at certain junctions within the story, there is a huge human element to the overarching plot. Much of this film is about Van finding peace after losing his family to the plague and the war. It’s a journey of letting go of loss, not letting rage and revenge take the reins of your destiny, and embracing love and passion for life as he tries to protect Yuna from the grasp of both the empire, a hitwoman, and the source of the said plague. The film takes a substantial amount of time to make that the focus. It’s interesting, because you could assume from the trailer that the film is action-packed and thrilling, but it’s not. It has its big action moments, but it wouldn’t be accurate to call this an action film. It’s more of a drama, due to how the film focuses on dialogue, character dynamics, and more politically charged elements. There is a reason it earns its R-rating, and it’s not for the few minutes of blood that you see in the film. 

Animation-wise, since this has a Studio Ghibli alumni, you can expect the animation to look not only amazing, but carry some of that Ghibli DNA through its lush visuals. There are superbly detailed backgrounds, grounded human designs, and fantastic physical animation in how things squash and stretch at points. It has a lot of those little character beats you would see in the director’s previous experience in animation. The designs may have a Ghibli touch, but they still stand on their own with Masashi Ando handling the character designs as well. You will find your eyes traversing dark caverns, misty swamps, snow-covered patches, beautiful grasslands, small fantasy villages, and ethereal forests. It’s also nice to see a lead character who doesn’t look like someone in their late teens or early 20s. It’s very rare we get animated films with adult characters, which is a bummer that being an adult lead character in a film is so rare, not only in anime but in animated films in general. The voice cast is also great. You have Ray Chase, Griffin Puatu, Erica Schroeder, Luciana VanDette, Doug Stone, Neil Kaplan, Frank Todaro, Keith Silverstein, Luis Bermudez, Chris Hackney, Doug Erholtz, Xander Mobus, and many others. Seriously, look up this cast. It’s fantastic. They do a great job alongside the original Japanese cast that includes Shinichi Tsutsumi, Ryoma Takeuchi, and Anne Watanabe to name a few from there. The music by Harumi Fuuki is quite elegant. If their name sounds familiar, it’s because Harumi composed music for Miss Hokusai, The Wonderland, Forest of Piano, and Tsurune. It’s a beautiful soundtrack that flows between pieces that are elegant, grand, imposing, and loving. 

While it has some superficial elements to the Ghibli classic and can be a touch long at times, The Deer King stands on its own as a grand human journey. It’s a rock-solid debut for  Masashi Ando and Masayuki Miyaji, and if this is what they can do with one film, people will be back for their next one. Hopefully, if you can, you should watch this cinematic journey of man’s conflict with human nature. Next time though, we will be talking about a film that has been in production for over a decade and switched studios to finally get released, and, well, we will have to see how things unfold when we finally talk about Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank

Rating: Essential

The Other Side of Animation 253: The Cuphead Show Review

(If you like what you see, you can go to camseyeview.biz to see more of my work on video game reviews, editorials, lists, Kickstarters, developer interviews, and review/talk about animated films. If you would like, consider contributing to my Patreon at patreon.com/camseyeview. It would help support my work, and keeps the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)

Heads up: I was able to watch this film via a screener sent to me from Netflix. I got no other form of monetization other than the screener. Thank you Netflix for this opportunity.

Despite the loaded and complicated history of the rubber hose animation aesthetic, the visual look has always been a favorite among fans of art and animation. When animation visual styles go through trends, there is always this yearning for an older visual look, and while I think some of the yearnings for more nostalgic-fueled visuals can sometimes lean into some very toxic attitudes, you can see, on a visual level, why people would want to see creators and studios bring back a classic look to new shows. Of course, when you tackle something with rubber hose animation, it’s the art style you have to be the most careful with, due to how some of the design decisions made during the early days of animation have some racist undertones. Luckily, with Studio MDHR and their hit game Cuphead, they were able to translate the iconic visual style into one of the most graphically impressive experiences of the previous console generation. Of course, when a game like this gets as big as it does, then you know a show is not too far behind. Well, let’s get started then! 

Animated by Lighthouse Studios, executive produced by Chad and Jared Moldenhauer (the two who created the game), and it’s developed by Dave Wasson for Netflix. The two different directors involved for this first batch of episodes are Adam Paloian and Clay Morrow. The story follows the wacky and shenanigan-filled adventures of Cuphead and Mugman, voiced by Tru Valentino and Frank Todaro. They go all around the Inkwell Isle encountering the individuals that live there and of course avoiding the evil grasp of The Devil, voiced by Luke Millington-Drake. Along the way, they interact with their elderly caretaker Elder Kettle,  voiced by Joe Hanna, the lovely Miss Chalice, voiced by Grey Griffin, and you get the idea. 

So, while there was a “plot” in the original game, it was very straightforward. The world was vast and full of a lot of interesting-looking characters. The one thing the game was not, was story-focused. Since that is the case, how on earth do you turn this show into a TV series?  With how there wasn’t too much lore and world-building put into the main game, it wouldn’t make sense to make it more story-driven, so instead of going the route of some story-driven shows, they went the route of the more recent Animaniacs and Looney Tunes direction, making more episodic shenanigan-filled adventures. Some episodes have some pseudo-ongoing story beats, but they are usually wrapped up within the second part, and the first batch of episodes ends with a cliffhanger, so it will be interesting to see where they take the rest of the episodes. The main focus for the episodes is putting Cuphead and Mugman in a situation and the hijinks ensue. They feel very old school with how they set up stories and jokes, but they bring a more modern-day sentimentality to the overall vibe and humor, so it never feels dated or going fully against the time period the show’s animation style is from. A lot of the jokes and set-ups are delightfully charming, and that’s because they were able to give the characters more concrete personalities for our heroes to work off of. Not that the characters didn’t already have them in the game, but they were mostly told through one line of dialogue or through their animation via their movements. Some of the stories have the typical “oh, this was a big misunderstanding” plot set-up or “I’m brave because I got this special item that’s not actually special, but it makes me feel brave”, but the dialogue and the lines they offer are what help elevate it to be more than just shorts going through the motions. With all that said, the character they do give these individuals is delightful, and The Devil might be my favorite character alongside his grunt and King Dice. 

Now then, with the animation, there has been a controversy about how the animation itself is not purely or strickly like the video game. Listen, you can dislike how polished the linework is for the show’s visuals, but the fact of the matter is that doing super old-school 2D animation is costly and time-consuming, and knowing the current landscape of animation production, they were never going to be able to do pure 2D visuals like the old-school days. Heck, the developers of the game revealed they had to remortgage their home to make the game, due to how costly it was to make said game with super slick 2D animation. With what the studio had with whatever production schedule they were given, The Cuphead Show looks really good. It might use a mix of 2D and maybe some animation rigging, but the fact that the visuals look as good as they do and how they were pretty much able to copy and keep the game’s visuals the same is impressive. They even use some filter or graphical techniques to give off the impression of the multi-layer camera effects the older Disney films had. It’s a visually impressive show that stands out from other animated offerings on Netflix. The voice cast is also pretty great, with the already mentioned names above with Tru Valentino, Frank Todaro, Joe Hanna, Luke Millington-Drake, Grey Griffin, Wayne Brady, and the rest of the cast is spot-on with the characters they portray. They even have a few musical moments and they are real bangers that bring back the musical styles of the old Betty Boop cartoons. 

Overall, The Cuphead Show succeeds with its adaptation from video game to animated series, and we already know there are going to be 48 episodes, so we are getting more. Now, Netflix, I’m happy this show is a success, but you better pay the teams that made this show the money they are owed, because with the current landscape of the animation industry revealing how much worse people who work in animation are paid compared to live-action is disheartening and maddening. It would be a shame to find out if you all didn’t give this team their due. Anyway, you can enjoy the first “season” on Netflix on the 18th, and if you like old-school cartoony-style shows, then you will love this show. Now then, let’s tackle a film that Netflix barely covered and advertised with Child of Kamiari Month

Thanks for reading the review! I hope you all enjoyed reading it! If you would like to support my work, make sure to share it out, and if you want to become a Patreon supporter, then you can go to patreon.com/camseyeview. I will see you all next time!

Rating: Go See It!