TV – Space Dandy: Season 1: A

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It took me a few episodes to get on board, but once I did, I thouroughly enjoyed the ride. After I resolved myself to its chaotic narrative style and just let it flow, it was much easier to enjoy the whimsy. I believe the fourth episode was the first to showcase how subverting the expected story structure can pay off so well. The animation is top notch with certain episodes notably standing out, especially the first. The action flows gorgeously and the character/alien designs are creative and unique. Once you abandon searching for things like continuity or making sense and just embrace the insanity, Space Dandy is quite enjoyable.

Movie – How to Train Your Dragon 2: A-

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The animation was fantastic, the new dragons fun, and the story well-plotted, but none of it felt nearly as funny or clever as the first film. It also had some odd pacing, with the slower dramatic family moments clashing with the central conflict’s foreboding urgency. If I wasn’t so distracted with comparing it to its predecessor, I’m sure I would’ve been enthralled, especially by the dragon battles, but it just couldn’t surpass that strong precedent.

TV – Star Wars: The Clone Wars: Season 1: B

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After seeing the abysmal movie they released to introduce the series, I’d never given the show a chance. The animation and the plots are slow and deliberate, taking time to spell everything out, often a bit too simply. It has some terrible voicework at times, especially the battle droids, who are beyond annoying. And of course Jar Jar is as awful as ever. But it also has some great characters, most of which are the Jedi Masters like Plo Koon and Kit Fisto. In fact, the episodes showcasing the Jedi Masters are easily the best ones. There are the occasional cool ideas, like space mantas, or fun nods to things barely mentioned in the films, like gundarks or the Angels on Iago. But there also quite a few boring or lame episodes, and pretty much all of them feel like filler, with no central mysteries or plot threads to keep you engaged. Perhaps later seasons will correct this.

Movie – The Wind Rises: A-

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I don’t think I’ve ever seen an anime biopic, probably partially because I don’t usually care for the genre. But if anyone is going to convince me of the merits of such a film, Hayao Miyazaki is the man to do it. His  favorite subjects, complicated machinery (especially trains), innocent love, and dreamlike vistas (this time literal dreams), shined beautifully in the first and final acts. But at times during the middle there was a bit too much “history lesson” and less “story arc.” But the most intriguing aspect wasn’t the gorgeous animation or the classic story. It was the sound effects, which used human-noises for everything from airplanes to earthquakes. Perhaps jarring and somewhat distracting, but I enjoyed them thoroughly.

TV – Archer: Season 3: A-

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Archer’s writing is smarter than it initially seems. The characters have more development than a raunchy comedy would normally attempt, and the running gags are especially well done. This season starts with a great three-part opener and has several other awesome episodes, including what may have been my favorite of the series, “Lo Scandalo”. Unfortunately, the two-part finale disappointed, and a few attempts to revisit past plotlines fell somewhat flat.

Movie – The LEGO Movie: A+

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I don’t think I’ve ever seen a kids movie so consistently funny and purely entertaining. Every character was distinct and I would be hard pressed to choose a favorite. I was pleasantly surprised by how many LEGO franchises made cameos. And the animation blew me away. The dedication to keeping everything 100% LEGO produced astounding cohesion and immersion. A definite candidate for best film of 2014.

Movie – The Croods: A

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The creature designs here enthralled me so wholly that all faults the film had were diminished so much that I couldn’t be bothered to notice. The animation was gorgeous, full of complicated and frantic action that showcased all these amazing monsters quite exceptionally. The family story was passable enough, and done better by other films like How to Train Your Dragon, but the humor found a few chuckles. Not destined to be a classic, but a fun piece of animation.