Friday, August 12, 2016

Miraculous: Tales of Ladybug and Cat Noir

A recent show to come onto the airwaves, and one that's gained quite the following, Miraculous: Tales of Ladybug and Cat Noir is a French/South Korean superhero show, also with elements of Magical Girl anime, i.e. Sailor Moon. Let's take a look and see if it's worth the fuss...

*Also known simply as Miraculous Ladybug (what I always call it), and if you're anything like me, you'll look at its full title and want to strip away that colon in the way of this being a show about miraculous tales, rather than the words being separated!

Also, before I start, a very special shoutout to the awesome Pixie Blossom, whose video review of this series is how it came to my attention. I'll link it below...

In the city of Paris, the villainous Hawk Moth is sending out his evil Akumas to infect the despondent, furious, and wronged, turning them into powerful supervillains. As they try and wreak havoc, only the brave teenage heroes Ladybug and Cat Noir can stop them, and foil Hawk Moth's dastardly plans of stealing their powers and taking over the world. Meanwhile, in their civilian identities, Marinette Dupain-Cheng and Adrian Agreste go through life at high school with all the usual trimmings. The clumsy and forgetful Marinette has a seemingly unrequited crush on Adrian, while he has feelings for Ladybug (the two not knowing each-others true identities). They hang out with their friends, participate in projects, and try to avoid the wrath of the snobby mayor's daughter Chloe. When danger calls though, they'll be there to fight it off and save the day...

Miraculous Ladybug is an incredibly fun superhero series! The writing is formulaic as hell, partly to the show's success, but more to its detriment (more on that later). The characters and situations will probably be pretty familiar to those who've watched lots of this genre, or just high school TV in general, but due to the good writing, this doesn't come across as a bad thing.

It's very creative, with unique and distinctive villains each episode, often with very interesting powers, such as one that controls Wi-Fi, using cell phone functions as weapons in the real world (like using 'Pause' to freeze people in their tracks, and 'Lock' to trap people), another that mimes objects into existence, making them now corporeal, but invisible, and one that makes people vanish after taking their pictures, resulting in a wall covered in picture frames with all those imprisoned,  among many other neat baddies.

And finally, the puns! Oh God, the puns! They're groanworthy as they are hilarious, and are of course intentionally both.

As fun as this series is though, it's by no means perfect. Let's get into the more negative aspect to the show, and boy is it a big one!...

Most Magical Girl shows start with a monster-of-the-week phase, but gradually move out of it once the cast and world are set up. Unfortunately, Miraculous Ladybug never moves out of that phase. Each episode is a self-contained villain-of-the-week story, rather than developing the main story arc, and furthering the characters. Instead, everything always seems to be at square 1, and follow the exact same story structure (and I do mean exact) for 23 episodes! I say 23, because the last three actually try other stuff, sort-of. First up is Volpina, the true season finale, which seems to be actually moving the main arc along, possibly (but is still mostly adhering to the regular episode formula). Following that is the two-part season finale, Origins...Yes, you read that right. Basically, the first two episodes of this show are aired last, for no discernible reason! The showrunners just decided to throw you in at complete random, and only bother giving the first adventure of these characters at the end! Or in the middle if you live in Australia. The airing schedule for episodes is all over the place depending on the country, which despite causing a couple of teeny continuity hiccups, is mostly fine, given how isolated and samey each one is. Plus, it gave the show the much needed shot-in-the-arm of actually showing a somewhat different story template earlier on, as eps 12 and 13, rather than 25 and 26. Anyway, the repetition in Miraculous Ladybug is a big problem, and it'd better be improved come next season, because it's frustrating never seeing the series go anywhere. Whether or not this will start grating on you can vary. I enjoyed each episode just fine, albeit wishing the show would hurry the fluff up, but others might only be able to take a few episodes before they tap out, due to its repetitive nature, which is understandable.

At the very least, I'm glad that one aspect stopped getting overdone-Having Marinette's schoolmates be influenced by Akumas. That seems to happen just a liiittle too much, and there was even a whole block of episodes one after the other that centred on just that, and was the show's repetition at its most annoying. Other things the series does from time to time to shake up the proceedings are having Marinette de-powered for most of an episode, have Cat Noir possessed in another by the villain, etc. Just little touches, but they help add a bit of variety when they come.

Onto the characters. Marinette is a fun lead, full of life, and as adorable and absent-minded as she is ass-kicking, and acrobatic, making for a great lead. Though it can get a bit annoying that she's forever unable to talk with Adrian for the most part. It's not like he's just some random guy in school she has a crush on-Adrien is an actual friend of hers, and hangs out with Marinette and co. frequently.

Adrien is great too. I'm glad the show never tries making him either a 'bad boy' anti-hero who's 'too serious' for fun, or an arrogant snob. Despite his upbringing in a super rich household, he's a likeable, down-to-earth character, who always has time for his friends, and willing at a moment's notice to fight the forces of evil and save others. He's a witty and charming rogue when he's Cat Noir, and has great rapport with Ladybug.

The rest of the cast are all really good. Marinette's best friend Alya is a neat supporting character, while Chloe makes for an amusing stuck-up snob and bully to basically everyone around her, her 'sidekick' Sabrina included. Granted, it can be annoying how unredeemingly nasty she is, never once showing any development. She's also ADORABLE in the Antibug episode! Those of you who've seen that know what I'm talking about! The remaining supporting characters range from cute to interesting, though completely underdeveloped until their respective Akuma episodes.

Miraculous Ladybug is quite diverse in its cast. Adrien is white, but Marinette is of mixed descent, partly Chinese. There's also Alya, who I actually couldn't tell the ethnicity of, and I wasn't sure if she was black, Middle Eastern, or what until I read on Wikipedia that the character is from Martinique, in the Caribbean. Between those characters, and others, the show has a nice balance of diversity.
The voice acting is all good to great, with the English performers really embodying the characters. While a bit wonky to get used to at first, what with their mouths moving in French, I quickly got used to them.

One interesting little aside. The character of Hawk Moth is named The Butterfly (Le Papillon) in the original French, but renamed for the English release. Perhaps the distributors didn't have high hopes for the intimidation factor of a villain going around proclaiming "Fear me, for I am The Butterfly!". I don't mind the change much, though I was weirded out at first why he was named after two animals, unlike Ladybug and Cat Noir, but then I realized that a Hawk Moth is an actual species, and not just the villain trying to sound cool.

The 3D animation is gorgeous, and the action scenes are a joy to watch, with impressive choreography, and neat visuals. The show was originally in the form of an anime in its promotional video, and (as well as a potential future webseries), before the creators/studio settled on the 3D CGI style, for a few reasons. The animators apparently had difficulty with strobing effects with Ladybug's costume, and there was just a general preference over the 3D art style overall. I like the look of the anime incarnation, but prefer how it is now. One last thing to note is the recycled animation! As far as I can remember, it's just the one part, when Ladybug 'de-evilises' the episode's Akuma. I'm not sure if the constant re-use of that animation is lazy, or amusing.

The main theme is fun to hear, and the rest of the scoring is fine too, always bright,and never overused.

Originally, Miraculous Ladybug was going to be a more serious and mature series, focusing on more political and social themes, but no studio would pick that up, so it was retooled to the more harmless and 'safe' show it is now. Part of me is curious what the show would've been like had it been darker and more adult, but my head is also filled with mental images of concepts such as 'Marinette pregnancy scare', 'attempted rape', 'Chloe starting a hostile racist group in school', and other such dark and depressing storylines featuring these presently happy, cute characters! Tackling serious topics would still have been commendable though, depending on how they handled it, and I'm sure it could've been great, so it's a bit of a shame that the series was 'dumbed down' in a way, even if I still really dig what we got.

Overall, Miraculous Ladybug is a very good, albeit flawed series. If you can handle simple villain-of-the-week storytelling and nothing much beyond that, I highly recommend it. It's still a creative and fun show, well worth a watch!...

Pixie Blossom's review
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g23PONFlT1A

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