Since I’m not starting a new series this year, I figured I’d celebrate the new year with a list! This is not a “best of 2017” list – it’s just a list of some stories I’ve encountered this year (mostly from 2016-17, but not all) that made an impression on me which I believe merit some more attention. As per usual, I have no restrictions on the type of media I include, but I also haven’t seen all of the notable works from 2017. If it’s not here, either it was so popular that I didn’t think it merited discussion, I didn’t actually like it a ton, or (most likely) I haven’t gotten around to it yet.
First, here are some stories which people of all ages might enjoy.
Anne of Green Gables series (L. M. Montgomery): I have long enjoyed the original Anne of Green Gables novel, but this year I finally got around to reading the sequels, and they are actually worth checking out if you enjoyed the first one. Sometimes they get a bit melodramatic, but Anne is generally able to keep the stories grounded. My personal favorite was the third, Anne of the Island, mainly because it was the most (sometimes frustratingly) down-to-earth of the ones I read.
Cars 3: I know, this is Pixar, it shouldn’t need any more attention, but I just have to talk about this movie because it’s easily the best non-Toy Story sequel they’ve put out. It has a combination of brilliant character writing and the sort of thematic depth we’ve come to expect from Pixar. I was always pretty lukewarm on the original Cars (and disliked Cars 2 along with most of the world), but this movie takes the premise in some new directions without abandoning the warmth that made the original so endearing to its fans. Cars 3 is a worthy addition to the Pixar canon, whether you liked the original or not.
Miraculous: Tales of Ladybug and Cat Noir: This is a European CG cartoon starring magical girl(/boy) superheroes in Paris and I loved it. I fully acknowledge that this is a children’s show which just happens to be right up my alley, but it’s still a pretty good children’s show – not great, but good. It has a very episodic structure, but the central dynamic between Ladybug and Cat Noir carries the show pretty well, and the supporting cast is also quite likable. There are a handful of hints regarding the direction of the plot that you can sniff out if you’re attentive, but it can just as easily be enjoyed as a fun little action cartoon with ridiculous hammy villains.
There have been many comic book movies in the last few years, but these three managed to stand out in very different ways.
Logan: This is a superhero story for adults, and it makes no bones about that. It might also be an X-men movie for people who don’t like X-men movies (I’ve always considered The Incredibles the best X-men movie), but maybe it just has to do with your personal investment in the fate of the characters. The characters in Logan are very human, and thus very frail. It invites comparison to The Dark Knight in its darker, more philosophical tone, but I actually prefer Logan for two main reasons: I generally prefer the philosophy it presents, and unlike The Dark Knight, it doesn’t feel the need to be “cool” or attractive to younger viewers. A big part of my fondness is because it seriously explores various Christian ideas, which is pretty rare in a franchise film. Its combination of the old Western and post-apocalyptic aesthetics also reminded me a lot of the anime Trigun (one of my favorites), although I’m still not sure whether or not that made me appreciate it more. I don’t love it (I’m not even sure if I’d ever want to watch it again), but I am glad that I saw it.
Spiderman: Homecoming: Because I had to include the Marvel Cinematic Universe somewhere. Seriously, though, this one did stand out both as a Marvel movie and a Spiderman movie. This Spiderman is the first one that seems like an actual teenager you might meet in real life – not a persecuted geek so much as an unpopular nerd (the only person who bullies him is widely recognized as a jerk). The conflict is relatively small, and that works just fine for a teen who’s still figuring out life as a high schooler, never mind how to be a superhero.
Wonder Woman: This is another one that seems to have already gotten its fair share of attention, but since it’s considered by many to be the only really good DC movie since the Dark Knight trilogy, I just wanted to take a moment to consider why. It made me realize what all the other DC movies have been trying (and failing) to do: Presenting characters as symbols of greater ideals (as opposed to Marvel’s approach of “characters as people”). It turns out that the key to making characters work as vehicles for ideas is, strangely enough, solid character writing. Unless you care about a character as a character, you won’t generally care about the things they stand for. That’s really all there is to it.
And here are some miscellaneous stories I enjoyed this year.
The Kite Runner (Khaled Hosseini): This book has just been sitting untouched on my stack of stuff for years, but I finally opened it up and read it. It is not a story to approach lightly, and certainly not for children, but it is definitely worth engaging. It gives a face to Afghanistan and a voice to refugees, which is just as relevant today as it was 15 years ago. Like an Afghani Les Miserables, it is a tale of redemption and the hope that it can bring to the downtrodden.
The Addams Family musical (touring version): This is easily the best musical I’ve had the honor to perform in. The music is insanely catchy, the characters are lovable (whether you’ve seen the TV show or not), and the story is surprisingly emotional. There are very few modern stories that focus on a functional family unit or celebrate family ties, and that’s the heart of The Addams Family. I need to specify the touring version of the play (as opposed to the Broadway version) because there were a lot of changes made after its initial run that vastly improve the show, even though I don’t know if there’s a legal means of even acquiring the soundtrack for that version. Basically, you need to just go watch it at your local theater if you see a production of it. It will be worth your time.
Recovery of an MMO Junkie: This anime came out of nowhere and wriggled its way into some small crevice of my heart. One big reason people go to anime is to see the kinds of stories that just aren’t told in any other medium, and this is one of those stories. It’s a romantic comedy about two nerds meeting in an MMORPG (where they each have avatars of the opposite sex) and falling in love. The protagonist is a 30-year-old woman (which is practically unheard of in anime), and it’s one of the few romances where I can actually relate to both of the leads. It also really understands the appeal of MMOs and the dynamics of online communities in general. So if an MMO-centered romcom intrigues you, you’re in the mood for a cute nerd romance, or you just want a PG-rated romance starring adults, give MMO Junkie a shot.
Until next time…