AVAHS – Niko 2: Little Brother Big Trouble (A Christmas Adventure)

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Rating: 6/10

Plot: Niko has been spending a lot of time with his father, Prancer, since last year. However, his mother’s none too keen on Prancer letting him stay out late or trying to go Santa Speed. Despite this, Niko still wishes for and believes that his mother and father will get back together some day.

When Oona reveals to him that she is indeed interested in bringing a father figure back into their family, he is ecstatic since he believes his mother is getting back together with his father. However, he’s quickly crestfallen when he discovers that not only are both Oona and Prancer uninterested in getting back together, but the father figure Oona had in mind was a reindeer named Lenni.

Niko is clearly upset at this news and becomes even more devastated when he learns Lenni has a young son named Jonni. Not interested in gaining a new dad or a new little brother, Niko pushes both of them away as much as possible. But when he tries to ditch Jonni during a game of Hide and Seek, Jonni gets taken away by eagles who are working for Black Wolf’s vengeful sister, White Wolf, and it’s up to him to be a good big brother and get Jonni back.

Breakdown: Last year I talked about how Niko and the Way to the Stars was a welcome surprise in the holiday movie genre. It wasn’t a masterpiece, but it was a thoroughly enjoyable little family movie for Christmas.

Niko 2 is also a perfectly enjoyable movie, but it’s only barely Christmas-y and it’s not really as good as the first one.

Much of the movie focuses entirely on a plot that has absolutely nothing to do with Christmas. In fact, the Flying Forces and Santa and Christmas as a whole seem really tacked on. Prancer and Oona butt heads, but they never settle things between them. Niko and Prancer only spend the first scene together and then nothing.

They never would have revisited the Flying Forces or Santa’s Fell again after the first act unless two stupid things didn’t occur. First, White Wolf decided to get to Niko through his father, which is why she and the eagles attacked the Flying Forces. Piss poor excuse to get them involved. It’s really such a bother to catch one flying reindeer fawn who can’t even go Santa Speed so target the Flying Forces?

Second, Julius decides to lie about Jonni being taken to Oona by saying Prancer and Niko decided to spend time with Jonni, basically pinning responsibility for the whole thing on poor Prancer, a guy who is seemingly trying to be a good dad to Niko but keeps getting the short end of the stick. (And, what’s dumber, Julius basically becomes an honesty advocate and head shaker towards Lenni and Niko for continuing the lie HE made in the first place)

Not to mention, Santa’s Fell somehow feels even worse this time around. It never seemed too fantastical, but the factory is a lifeless toy factory with literally no one in it. No elves, no nothing. It’s self-running and maintaining equipment apparently. Santa makes a brief appearance cloaked kinda in shadow just to say hi to Niko and reunite with Tobias. And Niko visits his dad all the time but it seems like Santa hasn’t seen Niko in ages.

Well, if Christmas isn’t a big highlight, I guess the only thing we can bank on is the main plot. As a whole, the main plot isn’t that bad. It’s a predictable cliché from start to finish, but it isn’t that bad. I never felt bored or annoyed for the most part, and it’s totally harmless. However, I have to call out some laziness in the conflict.

First of all, the antagonist being the sister to the antagonist from the original movie, wanting revenge for their death; wow, that’s Disquel levels of unimaginative.

Second, the eagles are a total joke. At least Black Wolf and his pack were kinda threatening in the last movie. The eagles are just complete comic relief. The only reason White Wolf even has eagles as a posse are to get to Santa’s Fell without going the same long route Niko took in the last movie. And yes, the eagles carry her like a fish to Santa’s Fell. It’s a bit ridiculous.

Third, White Wolf is in no way scary or threatening. She’s a ‘hands-off’ ‘let my minions do everything’ villain. At least Black Wolf was proactive for the entirety of the first movie. White Wolf just sits in the shadows of the eagles’ domain and commands them to do things for half the movie. She’s not even commanding the eagles out of respect or fear, she manipulates them because they have a crush on her and later because the Flying Forces banned them from the skies for no given reason. Her eyes don’t even constantly glow like Black Wolf’s. Guess that trait wasn’t genetic.

She also wasn’t taken care of in a decent manner. She’s basically tied up and that’s it. I guess she’ll just die of starvation or else the plot really isn’t over since eventually she’ll get out of those ties and go after Niko again, even more fiercely.

Lenni and Jonni are both perfectly fine new characters. I was really worried they’d make Lenni out to be a secret jerk and then Oona and Prancer would get back together or Jonni would be an annoying little brat and I’d end up wanting to play reindeer games with his face, but they’re both perfectly nice characters.

If anything, Oona’s the one I’m more annoyed with this whole movie. She obviously sees how much Niko loves his father and wishes they got back together, so what does she do? Instead of sitting him down gently and explaining that she and his father will never work and he should learn to love their slightly disjointed family and maybe learning to lay off Prancer and then later leaning into ‘hey I’ve been dating this new guy….’ what does she do?

One day, out of the blue, after essentially leading Niko to believe that she and Prancer will be getting back together by leading the conversation and not disclosing who she’s talking about, she reveals that she’s been dating Lenni behind Niko’s back for some time now and that he’ll be moving in immediately. Oh and also, he has a young son, he’s Niko’s little brother now. Deal with it.

Then she pretty much expects Niko to be instantly fine with all of this, even though it’s clearly bothering the hell out of him. She briefly speaks with him about it, but it’s, again, basically just expecting that Niko is fine with everything.

When Lenni lies to her about the situation with the boys, he says he wants to go up to Santa’s Fell to confront Prancer and she’s all ‘whoo! I’ll go with you and give my two cents!’ Whoo yeah, he needs a talkin’ to what with his mild leniency with Niko; having fun with him and spending time with him and training him in flying and whatnot. What an ass.

Also, the reason Lenni and Jonni suddenly moved in is because she’s pregnant with Lenni’s kid. They give ‘subtle’ hints at it throughout the movie, but it’s obvious she’s preggers and both Lenni and Oona know and have known for a while. And she never tells Niko. She had to have told him some time between the final climax of the movie and the birth of the kid at the end, but she doesn’t mention it before then. Mother of the year.

We get another new character in the reindeer, Tobias, who is a pretty old reindeer living by himself out in the wilderness. His schtick is Mr. Magoo. He’s blind as a bat and frequently does silly things because he can’t see well. Also, he’s kinda looney. I went back and forth with liking Tobias. On one hand, he can be funny, but on the other hand his schtick is horribly cliché and one-note. On one hand, his backstory is kinda interesting and his life at the moment is a bit sad, but on the other hand his backstory kinda doesn’t make sense and is a bit dumb.

Last note, the thing with Niko attempting to go Santa Speed is arguably the most predictable part of this movie. It’s completely obvious that he will be able to do it by the end.

Ranting over with, the art and animation are about on par with the original movie’s though the lip-synching is noticeably worse.

The voice acting is alright, though, again, the emoting and vocal volumes need work.

The music is completely forgettable and we don’t even get a song from Wilma to spice things up.

Bottomline: I have more problems with this movie than I did the last, but it is a perfectly fine movie. If you were a fan of the original, give it a shot. If not, skip it. Also skip it if you’re looking for a fun Christmas movie. Despite the tagline being ‘A Christmas Adventure’ there is a staggering lack of anything really Christmas-y. If anything, it seems to purposely skip out on it and the stuff they do include seems really forced.

AVAHS – Niko and The Way to the Stars/The Flight Before Christmas

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Rating: 7/10

Plot: A young reindeer named Niko has always been told by his mother that he was the son of one of Santa’s flying reindeer in the flying forces. Because of this, Niko has always held the belief that he would fly, but has always been unsuccessful. He’s a bit obsessed with his flight training, and one day ends up accidentally leading a pack of fierce wolves to his herd’s location while practicing in an area he was told to stay out of.

In order to finally fly and avoid the rejection of his herd, Niko and his father figure, a flying squirrel named Julius, travel to the mysterious location of the flying forces and Santa, Santa’s Fell, to find his father. However, the wolves are hot on his trail and intend to eat him as well as the flying forces and Santa himself.

Breakdown: This was a pretty nice surprise. I honestly didn’t think much of this movie from face value, but it’s a pretty nice Christmas movie. It’s not hilarious or particularly heart-warming, but it is fun, has a pretty solid story and doesn’t try too hard to be anything more than it is.

Niko is a pretty generic character who reminds me a whole lot of Tarzan. Outcast because he’s trying to be something he’s not, but he’s doing this because of his mysterious past, ends up screwing up everything and putting his family in danger because of it so he tries his hardest to achieve his dreams and find a place to belong.

I find it a little weird that his backstory is actually that his mom, Oona, had a one-night stand with one of Santa’s flying forces and just never saw him again. I mean, they don’t say it, but she met him once, never met him again and had Niko.

Julius actually has the most interesting backstory that I’m surprised they didn’t balk on. See, early in the movie, Julius makes a squirrel out of snow and pretends it’s his Aunt Sally to help Niko lie and get out of trouble. Later in the movie, he makes three snow squirrels and explains to Wilma, a weasel, that these snow squirrels are actually representations of a family he actually had. He had a wife, an aunt and young son. One day, he went off to look for food and when he returned his family was gone. After seeing wolf tracks in the snow he realized that his family had all been eaten by wolves. He took in Niko as a kind of surrogate son since Niko also had no father, which serves as one of the bigger conflicts in the movie.

Wilma was a great character. She was a lot of fun, and I loved her song at Santa’s Fell. That was legitimately funny. I am kinda weirded out that she’s made out to be Julius’ love interest, though. Why don’t animated movies find inter-species mating to be weird?

I also appreciate that they didn’t make out Santa’s flying forces to be a bunch of jerk-offs. While they’re not the smartest nor the humblest reindeer alive, they’re not that bad and they’re perfectly nice to Niko throughout. Would’ve been nice for Niko’s father to have fleshed out a bit more. He really doesn’t stand out anymore than the others.

I found that Niko’s relationship to his mother and love interest, Saga, weren’t fleshed out enough either. Saga’s whole role is, in a Faline fashion, to be the love interest and nothing else. She’s at the beginning and end of the movie to be simply that.

Finally, the antagonists of the wolves, in particular Black Wolf (guess what color he is) are…..fine. They’re really just terribly generic and their plan makes no sense. I mean, finding the herd of reindeer makes sense because they’re their main source of food. However, planning a terribly dangerous mission to Santa’s Fell to eat Santa’s reindeer and Santa as well as every little girl and boy that they will visit on Christmas? Plus, Black Wolf’s eyes, which are yellow, literally glow throughout the entire movie.

The fact is, he’s more focused on killing Niko, also for no real reason. He has no idea who he is or where he’s heading, he just wants to kill him for existing.

Along with the wolves is a pink poodle named Essie, who also really serves no other purpose than to be a love interest for one of the wolves, Specs, who is basically an example to prove that not all of the wolves are all bad….even though the rest of them are shown to be bad. I actually kinda liked their relationship…it’s much more fleshed out and interesting than Niko and Saga or Oona and Prancer…..Uh…err….spoiler alert.

This is actually a Finnish movie with an English dub, and you can tell with the various accents that pop up. It’s like they were trying to hide their accents half the time, but were inconsistent with it. Most of the voice acting is decent enough, but my god the VA for Niko is just awful. He can’t emote worth a crap, nor can he raise his voice. Everytime he yells it’s like there’s someone in the studio reminding him to use his ‘inside voice’.

The animation is….good. It’s kinda like a mix between Dreamworks and Sony. Trying to be realistic with the backgrounds and snow but wanting a more cartoony look for the characters. I think it works well enough, though I still can’t decide if the snow effects were that good.

All in all, a surprisingly good movie. It’s not forcing some ‘true meaning of Christmas’ down our throats nor does it follow too many cliches. While not doing anything grand or fantastic, it’s still a fun ride.

Recommended Audience: E for everyone!

Christmas Special Review: Itsudatte My Santa! Review

Rating: 2/10

Plot: A boy is left all alone every single Christmas, which makes him hate the holiday and never believe in the magic of Santa. When a girl shows up proclaiming to be Santa Claus, she wishes for nothing more than to make him happy this Christmas.

Breakdown: Let it be known that I went into this wanting to review a good stand-alone Christmas special for the holidays. Anime doesn’t get a whole lot when it comes to Christmas specials, especially stand alone features. I’ve seen the Christmas specials for Cyborg 009, Azumanga Daioh, Ai Yori Aoshi and a few others, but I’ve never really seen a stand-alone anime based on Christmas.

In comes Itsudatte My Santa – an anime special made by the same person who made Love Hina, a harem anime I’ve never seen and have never really wanted to see either.

Reviews that I’ve read about this series are ultimately mixed, but siding on the negative. In fact, the only article-based review I’ve found was completely negative. I did find some pretty positive reviews on it, though. So it seems I’m left at a crossroads. I really want this OVA to be good since it may give me another Christmas special to watch as a holiday tradition.

I made a deal with myself before I wrote this review an even before I watched the anime that I would post it before Christmas if I enjoyed it enough, to give people an early Christmas gift, and I would post it between Christmas and New Years if I didn’t like it, to avoid putting a damper on the holiday.

So, yeah, you can not only tell my feelings based on the rating, but also when I released the review. Hooray!

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We start off with narration and a flashback from our main lead wondering when it is that people stop believing in Santa. The normal rate, he presumes, is when children enter elementary school and start understanding reality more clearly. Or it could be due to accidentally seeing presents hidden around the house before Christmas or catching their parents in the act etc. For him, however, he never believed in Santa. His parents were always away for Christmas, and all of his gifts were mailed to him.

He was always lonely on Christmas, even if he points out that his grandma was there and even baked a Christmas cake for him every year.

Not only did his parents ditch him every Christmas, but they told him that if he was a good boy, not only would Santa come, but THEY WOULD COME BACK HOME. What dicks.

“Oh sorry son, we still can’t make it back for Christmas. Guess you must’ve been a little asshole. Maybe next year.”

He states again that, no matter how good he was, he was still alone on Christmas, even though in this very shot we see him being held back by his Grandma and whom I assume is his Grandpa beside him. I understand missing his parents every Christmas, but you can try to enjoy the holiday with your Grandparents whom seem to care about you greatly.

Thus, he doesn’t believe Santa exists and hates Christmas.

Cut back to present (hehe, puns) day where the first line we hear is a girl asking if the main character wants to spend the night with her. Everyone around them hears her, because obviously the middle of Tokyo is just so quiet, especially in the midst of Christmas, and they start gawking and chattering about what she said. She sees the blush and look of shock on the boy’s face and instantly slaps him for thinking dirty thoughts.

If there’s one thing I do know about the creator of this show, Ken Akamatsu, is that slapstick (literally) is kinda his thing, especially when it comes to males being the abuse victims.

This is completely unwarranted. This strange girl randomly walks up and the first thing out of her mouth, and the second, no less, is ‘Do you want to spend the night with me?’ ANYONE’S first thought, as portrayed by the crowd, would be instantly jumping to sexual insinuations. The main character didn’t even say anything, he just sat there with a shocked face and blushed. Yet, nope, he deserves a huge slap in the face for taking that ridiculous line and thinking it’s something dirty. Bitch.

She proclaims she’s Santa Claus and gives dreams and hopes to children, thus it’s awful to think such a thing about her, even though it was such an easily misconstrued sentence that even the cops are quickly taking her away for prostitution.

Santa got arrested for prostitution……I don’t have a joke, I just wanted to say that.

As the main character is about to leave, the girl pops up out of nowhere sans police escort and says she can detect loneliness and sadness on Christmas with her….hair antennae….Because that’s something Santa has right? She detects this in our main character, and says that, because she’s ‘Santa’ and spreads hope and dreams to children, she wants to spend the night with him to make him happier with her Santa powers—okay, now you’re just trying to sound like bad Christmas themed porn.

He runs away only to be latched onto by ‘Santa’. He keeps proclaiming that he hates Christmas and doesn’t believe in Santa, so she should just leave. She doesn’t understand how such a person could exist, so she pesters him for the reason behind his hate.

Surprisingly, he doesn’t mention the stuff with his parents first. Instead he yells that he was born on Christmas Eve and that his parents named him……Santa.

His parents…..must hate him.

I can’t really give any other explanation. The whole thing about not being there for him on Christmas is dick-ish, but maybe understandable if they had to be away for some reason. Saying they’d come home for Christmas if he was good enough was just awful. Naming him Santa is a ticket to asskicking and mocking throughout his life, let alone Christmas. Ditching him around Christmas when it’s also his birthday on Christmas eve is just terrible. Naming him Santa with all of that crap piled on top is borderline evil.

And, really, his parents named him Santa because he was born on Christmas eve? People have named holiday themed names, sure. There are even people literally named ‘Christmas’ but out of all the names associated with Christmas, why choose one you really can’t recover from? One you can’t even really shoo aside with a nickname?

So….’Santa’ (the girl one) starts rolling around on the floor laughing her ass off that he’s a guy named Santa born on Christmas Eve. Yeah, you spread those hopes and dreams you bitch. And who are you to talk when you introduced yourself as freakin’ Santa Claus? Is it the whole ‘born on Christmas eve’ thing that pushed you over the edge into hilarity?

I guess we’re also supposed to take that everyone in the crowd’s laughing too since it sounds that way, but they’re not animated to be laughing.

He runs away, upset because that’s the very reaction that makes him hate Christmas—Dude, pick a lane. Do you hate Christmas and Santa because of your name and birthday or because of your insanely douchey parents?

However, girl Santa stops him, apologizes for laughing, says she’ll do anything to make him happy and begs to allow him to spend the night with her.

Seriously, you’re just doing that on purpose now.

He denies her, however, and runs away yet again.

Later, as he’s getting a drink, girl Santa arrives yet again to pester him and we get this line;

“I’ll bring you something tastier, Santa!”

She actually means, however, that she’ll dump pounds of saury on his head, because apparently another of her powers is to make things that start with ‘S’ appear from nowhere because Santa begins with S.

Airtight logic, that is.

He manages to get away again and we cut to a video arcade. Damn, I miss arcades. He’s playing a fighting game when, surprise, girl Santa pops up and says he should play a real version of that game. He gains the power of sambo, the martial art, because sambo also begins with S.

Later still, he’s gawking at a game world icon when girl Santa pops up saying a real world icon is better. She uses the power of her ‘Sample dressing room’–Okay now you’re just cheating. You can make anything a legit S word if you purposely put an S word in front of it.

“Oh gee, I’d sure love a bicycle for Christmas. But it doesn’t start with S. Hm. I know, I’d love a SUPER COOL bicycle for Christmas! *poof* Yay loopholes!”

She uses her ‘Sample’ dressing room to dress up in various outfits and tells Santa to take pictures of her. However, her outfits (and subsequent light fanservice) turns the pervy crowd’s attention to her instead of the game world icon and they start practically dogpiling on her. From how they’re bunching up on her and making grabby hands, I was expecting some huge grope fest.

They escape from the crowd only to bump into some gang leader, causing him to drop his cake. Santa offers to buy him a new one, but the gang guy says it was such a special cake that you need to order it three months in advance (?!) so he just starts beating the crap out of him.

Girl Santa won’t stand for this and kicks him in the head. She then says she and Pedro will take him on for getting in the way of her cheering up Santa. The gang believes she’s talking about Pedro San Jose, some giant guy I can’t find information on. But she’s actually talking about a small plush-toy-like Reindeer that sits on her shoulder.

Pedro the reindeer. South Park was right.

Pedro whips up a Three-Sectional Staff, because staff begins with S. I’m annoyed that they keep bringing up that these things are popping up because they start with S. We know our letters, anime. Thanks.

Isn’t this also cheating? I know S for staff, but technically the correct name for her weapon starts with T right?

She also brings up a whole bunch of other stuff that starts with S for really no reason whatsoever like a set square, a salamander, a seafood gourmet set and a samba festival.

The gang leader is sick of girl Santa’s games and starts fighting her again while Santa leaves. However, through the power of sloppy editing, he decides to also join in the fight.

He knocks out the gang leader, but the gang wants revenge. Pedro’s now powered up by the fact that Santa helped them fight, so they dump a truckload of saury on the gang, showing that his power is 30% increased.

They make their escape and we cut back to Santa’s house where girl Santa, now introduced as Mai (get it? Mai and Santa…..My Santa?) is taking a shower. Oh thank god. I was worried we wouldn’t see anyone shower in this Christmas special.

Mai says she’s A Santa Claus, implying there are several, and that she’s currently in training.

Mai tells him not to peek at her, but he says he wouldn’t anyway because of her ‘baby-ish figure’ (IE Small boobs) and that he likes women who are more filled out.

She gets insulted and points out the fact that she is more buxom when she’s transforms, but she can’t transform due to lack of power since fewer and fewer people are believing. Why…why do so many Christmas specials use the ‘Santa’s running out of power because fewer people are believing in him’ plot line? It is the plot of a bulk of Christmas specials involving Santa. It’s ridiculous.

Santa picks up Pedro, which apparently is a big nono since this prompts Mai to open the door to the shower and warn him about it, even if nothing happens. Then she throws everything she can at him for looking at her naked body when he said he wouldn’t. Another thing that is not his fault.

If someone suddenly opened the door while in the shower, it’s kinda hard not to look. But nope, he deserves to get all sorts of crap thrown at him and somehow what I think is a fridge crushing him.

See, even he points out that it’s her fault. Bitch.

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