The Other Side of Animation 193: Fe@rless Review

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(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!)

2020 has been an underwhelming year for theatrical animation. The obvious reason being COVID-19, and COVID-19 is awful. Everything has either been pushed back or is now having to either do small limited screenings at safe places like drive-thru theaters, or virtual screenings that are only viable through a computer, and requires some tedium and such if you don’t have a smart TV. As an animation critic, it’s not hard to find stuff to review. I have an immense back-catalog of films I need to write reviews for, and I’m a co-host of Tooned Up! podcast where we mostly talk about the TV shows that are on streaming services. Unfortunately, in between the major show releases and the bare-bones film releases, you will have to scavenge for any new features that may go under the radar, for both good and for bad. Guess which side Fe@rless stands on? 

Animated by Vanguard Animation, and directed by Cory Edwards, this is the newest film from the notorious low-budget feature studio that had no real marketing outside of a trailer on “not Netflix”’s main YouTube channel. For some reason, I have searched the internet, and there are no real news stories or press release articles about this film. I learned about it last month before its August 14th release, and to no real shock, the film has very few reviews, and what reviews are there are universally negative. If you want to hear me talk about this film, you can go to this link here to listen to me and my co-hosts talk about it. For now, though, these are my written thoughts and my review of the film. 

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So, how do I explain this story to everyone? We follow our lead, a young male gamer named Reid, voiced by Miles Robbins. He is the only gamer in the known world to get far in a game, Captain Lightspeed, that is notoriously difficult. He beats the second to the final level of the game as the titular hero, voiced by Jadakiss, who also happens to have three babies with superpowers. Well, within the game itself, the villain known as Arcannis, voiced by Miguel J. Pimentel, attempts to steal the babies with his henchman named Fleech, voiced by Tom Kenny. They succeed in kidnapping the babies, but then the babies end up escaping and going through a wormhole. By the way, all of this is happening while Reid is playing the game. Anyway, the wormhole opens up into the real world, and Reid has to take care of the babies, alongside his classmate who he ends up roping into the situation. It’s up to him to protect the babies and avoid the grasp of both the military and Arcannis. 

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So, while the story summary that I have given is as good as I can offer, the film goes out of its way to make this setup way more complicated. The entire story comes off like it’s the first draft of a premise that didn’t have time to go through a second or third run. Why does Captain Lightspeed need to be a videogame character? There is nothing in this film that required him to be a videogame character or having to do with games. He could have easily been a human-like alien from another galaxy. Also, the video game elements don’t come into play a whole lot for the entire story. They are brought up, the film tries to have a “don’t waste your days away playing video games, do more!”, and then the day is saved because Reid played a video game. The film doesn’t do a good job showing off how Captain Lightspeed gets from his video game realm to the real world, and somehow gets connected to one of Reid’s not-shown gamer friends. Another part of the story that doesn’t work is the villain. Arcannis is easily one of the animation world’s most non-threatening villains. He only becomes a threat, because the story, by no will of his own, gives him easy outs in terms of getting far into the plot. The story tries to have something akin to Jack Jack from The Incredibles, but it misses the entire point of Jack Jack’s storyline from the first and second Incredibles film. I know it seems unfair that I’m ripping apart the story of this film, when most bad movies, or films I considered bad, don’t get this kind of under-the-microscope treatment. It’s because in a year where the theatrical film experience has been limited to non-existent, if animated films want to come out this year, then they are going to get critically judged like the rest. It’s also the fact that the characters are bland, and the story is not engaging enough to not make me notice all of the flaws or plot holes. Like how Arcannis does eventually absorb the babies of their powers, but the babies still have their powers during the final fight. So, did Arcannis not absorb all of it? Also, why are Captain Lightspeed’s upgradable weapons, babies with superpowers? Maybe the game he’s in is notoriously difficult, but only because all of your weapons in-game are babies, and babies are, well, not useful in a fight. The film does nothing to keep you invested with the characters, the story, and the writing. This might be yet another Vanguard Animation project, but even then, the studio does have moments where there is a fun idea at hand, like with their still unreleased in the US film Charming. Once again, without really knowing, unless someone from the team wanted to speak up about it to me personally, everything feels like a first draft that got sent into production, and it shows. Everything is so bare-bones from the dialogue, the jokes, to the character dynamics, and how the overall world works. You don’t even see some characters mentioned.

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Speaking of what feels bare-bones and what didn’t get a second or third pass-through, let’s talk about the animation. I know this studio is known for having very small budgets, and you don’t need $75 mil to make a good looking film, but I will not take anyone seriously if they tell me that an Illumination Entertainment film looks worse than Fe@rless. You can make a visually stunning film on a smaller budget, and we saw that with films like On Gaku: Our Sound, but doing straight-up generic-looking CGI fare on a small budget is only going to make the film look worse, and Fe@rless looks awful. It, again, looks like a first run, in terms of animation. They are all very basic textures, movements, designs, and visuals. Normally, other studios would keep rendering, polishing, and doing what they need to in order to make it look visually better, but it’s obvious Vanguard Animation does not have that time or that’s, for some reason, not high priority. It was more important that the budget be used for Lionel Richie royalties than anything else. I know I haven’t talked about the voice cast, and that’s because it’s a mixed-to-mostly-negative bag of thoughts and comments. On one hand, the film has a predominantly black cast, which is rare for animated films, and I think that’s highly commendable. On the other hand, I think only one person gives a decent performance, while everyone else doesn’t know how to act or were given bad direction. Everyone sounds so wooden, bored, or like they aren’t even trying. The only one who is doing anything worth giving credit to is Gabrielle Union, who plays General Blazerhatch. She has one of the few funny or chuckle-worthy lines in the entire film. The problem is that you could have easily gotten voice actors for all of the roles, and they probably would have done a better job with the material. Why the heck did this film even need Susan Sarandon for a voice cameo? It’s a waste of talent that wasn’t used well at all. It’s the most bare-bones example of celebrity stunt casting being used, and the film coming out worst for it. I hate that I have to say that, but the acting is not great in this film. 

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Sometimes, there is a decent line and the character of Captain Lightspeed himself could have been a decent Saturday morning cartoon character, but outside of that, this film is bad. It’s easily the worst animated film I have seen this year, and I wish I didn’t have to say that. Not all animated films are going to be made equally, but after multiple years of seeing nothing but mediocre from Vanguard Animation, it’s disheartening. No real change seems to be at hand with the studio, and the fact that Netflix thought this should have been one of the high points of August is disappointing since Netflix is already under fire for a lot of their business decisions. I would say avoid this film, but I know people already have. If you are 100% curious to check this film out, then do so, but there are so many better films on Netflix and in general that you can watch. Well, we can only go up from here, and you know what? I want to review something I enjoy and it’s time we go back to GKIDS and Keichi Haara with Summer Days with Coo.

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: Blacklist/The Worst

The Other Side of Animation 129: Batman Ninja Review

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(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. It would help support my work, and keeps the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)

You know, there is only so much you can do with a character, before you have to start getting creative. You either find new ways to tackle a character that has been around forever, or you simply stop their story right then and there. There are also tactics and plans to be had in-between those two decisions, but when you are someone like Batman, you have pretty much done it all. Batman Ninja, directed by Junpei Mizusaki, is one of the rare DC animated features to not be tied down to the more strict DC-animated film tropes. It’s a Batman film that decided to take a big shot of anime in its veins, and that is what we got. It also had some big names attached to it, like Takashi Okazaki, who was the creator of Afro Samurai, and Yugo Kanno, who did the music for Blame!Psycho-Pass, and the PlayStation 4 game, Nioh. It’s also one of the more interesting animated features, due to its mix of CGI and 2D animation. So, is it as good as the best action anime out there? Is it one of the best DC animated films out there? Let’s find out.

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The story starts us off with Batman, dubbed this time by Roger Craig Smith, during a mission at night, as he tries to stop Gorilla Grodd, dubbed by Fred Tatasciore, from selling another mighty invention of his to the black market for supervillains. These villains include Poison Ivy, dubbed by Tara Strong, Deathstroke, dubbed by Fred Tatasciore, Two-Face, dubbed by Eric Bauza, The Penguin, dubbed by Tom Kenny, Harley Quinn, dubbed by Tara Strong, and of course, The Joker, dubbed by Tony Hale. After Batman gets into a fight with Grodd, the machine goes haywire, and sends all of them, including some of Bruce’s closest allies and partners, back into feudal-era Japan. Now, along with Catwoman, dubbed by Grey Griffin, his butler Alfred, dubbed by Adam Croasdell, Nightwing, also dubbed by Adam Croasdell, Robin, dubbed by Yuri Lowenthal, Red Robin, dubbed by Will Friedle, and Red Hood, also dubbed by Yuri Lowenthal, must stop the villains, turn back time, and save the day.

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So, what’s so amazing about this film? Well, for one of the rare occasions, DC decided to let someone else take the wheel, and they take the wheel hardBatman Ninja is unapologetically dumb, fun, over-the-top, Japanese, and it will not stand down. Out of many of the DC-animated features I have seen the past few years, this one felt like it had the most consistent tones outside of the Adam West Batman films. It’s Batman in Japan, fighting a version of the Joker, whose grand master plan is to make a giant mech, and rewrite history. It will not let up on how anime this entire film is. From the designs to the action-packed fight sequences, it was clear that they knew what they were doing. Heck, they even have giant robot fights. Again, giant robot fights between the villains and Batman in feudal Japan. While there is definitely a story arc for Batman having to remember to rely less on his gadgets and more on his closest allies and his own skill, it’s balanced out enough within the main plot to keep you invested among the insanity.

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While I was fairly disappointed in how this film was going to be mostly CGI, and CGI on a small budget can be a gamble if you do not have the right creative team, I felt like it worked. Sure, they act like puppets sometimes, but the models used are way more expressive, detailed, and they feel like they have some kind of life to them. I was concerned about how action sequences would be handled, but I never found it distracting that they were CGI. The action is fast, brutal, satisfying, full of energy, and very entertaining to watch. The last fight between Batman and Joker is probably one of the best fights among these animated DC features. I never found myself wondering what the heck was going on during the fights. I think that’s because, unlike the Berserk anime series that uses CGI, Batman Ninja has proper direction in how the fights flow. On top of the crazy action, the color pallet is used well, the CGI models look good on the 2D planes, and they even have an entire surreal sequence done in 2D animation, and it looks fantastic. The music by Yugo Kanno was also matched up well with the film’s pacing and style. The big action theme that plays near the end is quite heart-pounding, and it makes the final fight so intense to watch.

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In terms of the voice cast, I was surprised. While we have some returning faces like Roger Craig Smith, Tom Kenny and Tara Strong reprising their roles as Batman, Penguin, and Harley Quinn, the rest of the voice cast is pretty spot-on. I was curious to see how Tony Hale would do as The Joker, and while a bit off-putting at first, he does a good job capturing that zany crazy nature of the character. As you can tell, many of the actors in this film pull double shifts with voicing multiple characters, but they are each unique sounding enough to not be an issue or a distracting element to the overall film. It was also simply fun to see other villains outside of the main Batman library, like Gorilla Grodd, who is definitely one of the more entertaining aspects of the film.

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While I do love this film in terms of how willing it is to be not only visually creative, but fun with its plot and setting, I do have a few complaints. I get why they used CGI animation, and it’s not the worst I have seen, but it definitely shows itself at times with how limiting it is. Sometimes characters seem more like puppets, and less like actual characters that are on the screen. It’s even more distracting when you can tell that not everyone is a CGI model. It is better than what I have seen Polygon Pictures or the Berserk series use, but I wish they went full-stop 2D animation for this film. For as fun as the action is, the final battle that is not Batman and The Joker is really underwhelming. You have all of these amazing villains and characters with the unlimited creativity of anime fight sequences, and the villains end up losing in under a minute. It’s really underwhelming, because all the other action sequences in the film are great. The one full 2D sequence was fun to see in the film, but it sticks out like a sore thumb. I don’t think I fully got why it was only that one scene, and why it was animated in such a way. The rest of the complaints are minor, like even though I respect how much the film wrapped itself up in the anime culture, some parts were just a bit much, like the little monkey sidekick. Some of Batman’s sidekicks also don’t have a lot to do, or get that many line reads.

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Overall, Batman Ninja is just a fun movie. By the end of the year, it probably won’t be in my top ten or five, depending on what else comes out, but it will be one that people should definitely pick up. If you were burned by their other animated features, definitely pick this one up. I had a lot of fun, and it’s easily one of the most entertaining DC animated films you can get right now. For now, we must move on to the 130th review as we take a look at another film that may be good or bad for infamous reasons. I won’t say what it is, but you will have to see next time! Thanks for reading the review! I hope you enjoyed it, and I will see you all next time.

Rating: Go See It!