Netflix Fun: Miraculous Ladybug

Overview
Not being much of a comic book reader—until recently—and never that interested in the superhero genre, I will take the word of the creator when he says that this is the first ladybug-based crusader of right and justice. Even I know there have been other cats, but mostly they’re bad and/or female, or at least big brawny bashers.
Put simply, this is one of the best animated shows I’ve ever seen, and it is one of my favorites of all time after just its first season. Rather than me bothering with explaining the premise, here’s a promo video that’ll tell ya all you need to know.

Writing
Did you catch the last thing mentioned in the video? (It did go by pretty fast.) Except for the superhero aspect, the most important thing in this show is the relationship between the leads. It’s actually quite funny how Marinette likes Adrien when he’s himself and is easily annoyed by him when he’s Cat Noir, even though they’re the same person. And he likes her as Ladybug but doesn’t spare her a second look in her civilian guise, thinking of her only as a friend. So that dynamic makes for four relationships between the two characters: without wasting my time trying to remember or look up their portmanteaus, there’s Marinette/Adrien, Marinette/Cat Noir, Ladybug Adrien, and Ladybug/Cat Noir (LadyNoir; I remember that one). It’s amazing that each of those have their own special elements that make the show so watchable as well as relatable.
The other superb part of this show is its humor. Most of my favorite moments involve Marinette’s adorkable attempts to speak to Adrian. Of course a major part of that is in the animation and acting, but it wouldn’t work at all if not for some great writing.
Some of my faves:
Marinette’s hand sliding down the railing {Guitar Villain}
Her fall off the bench and Cat Noir’s dances {Mr. Pigeon}
Her weird walk in the park, the sighing chin drops, and the best of what are usually puns that are smellier than Plagg’s cheese: Coldilocks {Stormy Weather}
The phone message and Baywatch-style slo-mo run through Copycat’s eyes {Copycat}
Marinette making “yada-yada-yada” gestures behind Cat Noir’s back {Evilistrator}
Using one hand to make the other stop waving, and the incredibly corny—on purpose—dramatic moves during Ladybug’s song {Santa Claws}.
And of course her catchphrase when she has to go before she turns back into a pumpkin: “Bug, out!”
But as a photographer, I must protest about all those “the boy ate too much spaghetti” lines! I’m stuck somewhere between outraged and amused, but those ridiculous red pants drop it into the outraged side.
Another thing that abounds is shoutouts. My favorite is in “Stormy Weather,” when Manon is hiding under the table and giggles, right out of Brave! Even though I’ve never watched a Spiderman movie, I still recognize the iconic scene where he’s hanging upside down next to right-side-up girl, and this happens twice, although one time it’s the girl upside-down. In “Pixillator,” Mr. Damocles uses the line, “Surely you can’t be serious,” but Jagged Stone doesn’t bite. I’d be shocked if Gabriel’s scream of “Adrien!” from the Christmas episode isn’t recognized by all. And this one might be me projecting, but there’s something about the vertigo-inducing scenes in the Origins episodes that remind me of Lindsey Stirling’s “We Are Giants” video.
Now for a small downside. I think the writers made it a little too obvious and over the top with the clues as to who Hawkmoth is, so it’s entire possible they’ll pull a switcheroo in the second season. My no-evidence guess is that he’s actually Gabriel’s brother, who was jealous that the gorgeous blonde woman didn’t pick him, so he kidnapped her and is holding her hostage. He wants the ultimate power that having all the miraculouses would give him so he can give her the world. Or perhaps she ran away so he wouldn’t nab her, having to leave her family to protect them. Yes, I’m a master of the delicious art known as fanwanking  . . .

Directing
I admit to not having a single notion as to what a director does in animation. Everything must be storyboarded to an OCD degree and then sent to the animators. It’s noteworthy that when I do catch a director credit, it’s always the creator. So, since there’s really nothing to say here, I’ll just leave it at that.
There is one thing I have to mention, though I don’t know if this started in the writing room, done on purpose, or if it was an animation error. Since at least some of the animation must be done in Japan, it’s completely possible it wasn’t noticed, but in “Guitar Villain,” Marinette is outside the hotel talking to Tikki—this is when the Gorilla catches her and she says it’s a talking purse from Japan—but behind him you can see the traffic going on both streets. We don’t see the intersection, but enough cars pass by so that if they were stopped for a red light, we’d see them stopped behind the Gorilla. So with both directions going at the same time, there’d be plenty of crashes. . . and they’re driving on the British side of the road. . . which is also the driving style in Japan.
I also wonder about the background characters. Of course in order to save money they’ll reuse the same images, thinking no one will notice, but there’s a regular cast that appears in almost every episode. The one who’s really noticeable, is the redhead in the green sweater; in “The Mime” she’s on the bus and then is right outside it too!

Acting
I don’t follow voice actors, but apparently the two English leads are pretty famous, and they show here that they very much deserve to be. There’s a few BTS vids of Marinette’s actor both vocalizing and singing, and she’s truly stunning to watch. In “Evilistrator,” there’s a scene where Marinette—not Ladybug—tells Cat Noir how they can escape from the box they’re in. As usual he thanks her in a flirting manner, only to have her turn his face away with a dry, “Yeah, I’m a genius” that he doesn’t pick up on, but is a subtle yet amazing piece of acting. In “Guitar Villain” after she slips down the railing, after Adrian leaves, she murmurs, “I can’t feel my legs anymore,” and it sounds incredible. Then there’s the beginning song of the Christmas Special, when her mom tells her to be nice to Chloe: she gives a small “ugh,” compared to Chloe’s over the top reaction. But the crowning moments had to be all those tiny squeaks when she’s around Adrien. . .
One last note: I would think one of the best reasons for a writer to go into animation is that you don’t have to worry about the actors adlibbing! Given that constraint, I have a new and higher respect for the job these voice actors do.

Cinematography (“Artwork” if animated)
I’m no expert on animation, though I did get why Brave was so amazing in that respect. With such little experience, it may not mean much when I say the CGI here is every bit as spectacular.
Perhaps the best example is in Ladybug’s transformation sequence: if you look closely you can see the geometric patterns of her suit, which shine when the light hits them and makes the view shimmer, but not in a “that-looks-like-a-mistake” kinda way.
It’s startling how quickly one gets used to the visuals of Paris, with that iconic if ugly tower and the buildings around the river. Other landmarks are delightfully rendered, like the Trocadero, the Louvre, the Grand Palais, and the zoo. But once in a while, particularly when they’re jumping along the rooftops to get somewhere quickly, there are glimpses of the city that tourists would never notice, and possibly locals don’t bother with either, the best being the park next to the bakery, now featuring a statue of Ladybug and Cat Noir.
Perhaps the best episode for visuals was “Stormy Weather,” where the very first shot is from above, looking down the building. And the final storm taking place on top of the same building looks spectacular. When Marinette gets off the bus in “Mr. Pigeon,” the street and buildings look gorgeous. The only recurring scenery worth noting is every time an akuma leaves home, giving an overview of the Paris suburbs, with that damned tower in the background.
Closer to the camera, there’s plenty of freeze-frame bonuses, my favorite coming in “Timebreaker”: during the scene in the restaurant, with Alix and her dad celebrating her birthday, there’s a close-up of the Egyptology specialist, and you can see he’s wearing a shirt decorated in hieroglyphs. . . and it looks a lot better than mine! Another one occurs in “Mr. Pigeon,” when Plagg lands on the bed in the hotel after declawing. As the dish of cheese is brought to him, you can see a pillow in the shape and color of a ladybug behind him.

Music
Possibly the best theme song since Jack of All Trades. Here’s the complete version, in English.

But it’s kinda surprising that there isn’t much of an emphasis on sound in this series. An interview shows that this is on purpose: “The music plays a very minor role in the show. Often times it’s hardly audible over the dialogue or sound effects, but it provides the right subtle push that guides the emotion of the episode.”
There’s some great soft music at the iconic scene at the end of “Origins 2,” not quite romantic but still emotion-inducing. Once in a while there’s mood music, like the soft stuff when Adrien’s dad finally hugs him, or during the first scene of “Horrificator,” where it’s melodramatic horror; on the other hand, “Smelly Wolf” might become the next “Soft Kitty.” Then there are the themes, particularly Ladybug and Cat Noir’s transformation sequences, which immediately go into earworm territory, though the “Fly away, my little akuma!” theme does not. Besides the Christmas episode, which is actually a musical episode, there’s one other that features music, “Guitar Villain,” where we get Jagged Stone jamming on the electric guitar—actually pretty good instrumentals—unlike XY’s (purposeful) crap.

“Feel”
If I had to pick one moment above all others to encapsulate exactly what this show is made of, it would be the climax of “The Puppeteer,” where a split second before she’s going to be turned into an evil minion and have her powers taken away, Ladybug uses Lady Wifi to “pause” the villain. . . then, having all the time in the world, she casually strolls to the Puppeteer while whistling her own theme song!
But more than anything, this show has so much heart, particularly in its young heroine. While someone like Clark Kent has had decades to learn how to be both himself and Superman—and to a lesser degree the same goes for Batman and Bruce Wayne—Marinette not only has been an unexpected superhero for only a few months, she’s a teenager! She’s got school, she’s got family, she’s a babysitter sometimes, she’s trying really hard to be a fashion designer, and she’s dealing with her first case of puppy love. . . all these things pull for her attention, which is hard enough for your average teen, but then add the humongous responsibility of saving her city at least once a week. This also goes for Adrien, but to a lesser extent. Thankfully there’s a few scenes that show how much of a weight this is for her, as well as times when she doesn’t make the right choice, choosing herself first over her job as Ladybug. . . usually involving jealousy whenever another girl’s around Adrien.
Yet despite all that, Marinette is an awesome character. For a teen to be a superhero but unable to gloat about it, and always failing to get what she wants in the end, she takes things remarkably in stride, never losing her sense of humor or sweetness. Her big aquamarine eyes, which get even bigger when she’s joyful, perfectly offset the blue/black hair to the point she goes from incredibly cute to downright beautiful. Early on there’s a shot of her caught as she’s rooting through the trash, and the look she gives is priceless, worth the price of admission alone. She usually doesn’t mind being teased, quirky but lovable, so she’s someone girls can relate to. All this makes her one of the most intriguing teen protagonists I’ve ever seen. Adrien manages to pull that off in no small way as well, even when his fame and wealth are added to it, though he becomes a bit of an arrogant jerk when he’s dressed feline.
But of course I can’t leave this without mentioning the giant elephant in the fandom: the far-too-common complaint by supposed fans who spend all their time whining about how no one recognizes Marinette as Ladybug. That doesn’t seem to bother people about Superman, but for some reason it’s a big issue here. This surprises me because you’d think such creative people as the fans claim to be would rather spend their time coming up with fanwanks rather than whimper about it.
So here’s mine. There’s a comic strip called “Phoebe and her Unicorn,” where in order to keep herself hidden from most people Marigold the Unicorn has something called the Shield of Boringness. Now, considering all the magical powers Tikki gives Marinette, especially the way her mask didn’t come off when Lady Wifi pulled on it, then you’d think over 5000 years they would have developed a power that disguises their faces and bodies. See, simple?
(And as I wrote above, I don’t believe Hawk Moth is Adrien’s Dad, but that’s a story for another time.)
9/10

;o)

Netflix report, part 2

Another round of stuff to watch–or not watch–albeit probably too late for the holiday break.

Shuttle Discovery’s Last Mission
While there’s a sense of propaganda–not for the country, but for Smithsonian, which received Discovery, and this was made for their TV channel–there are still moments that make you genuinely choke up. Had some stories I hadn’t heard, and it’s always a pleasure to hear from the techies and ground crew as well as the astronauts; even the conservation crew gets in the act here. To my shock, I was a little amused at myself for feeling slighted toward my hometown Endeavour. 4/5

MythBusters
Those who know it of course love it. Those who don’t and like science and/or special effects at all, or even comedy, you’d do well to watch this often wacky series that does exactly what it purports to do: takes famous myths and examines them for truth, usually to hilarious proportions. Tempered by the fact the Three Amigos were just kicked off the show, leaving only the two mains. 4.5/5

TED Talks
These are arranged by categories, from humor to space to psychology and everything in between, which makes it easier than randomly searching on the TED website. As you would expect the offerings are uneven; the worst problem is when the speaker thinks they’re lecturing in class and sound like it, but happily that’s not often. It’s worth looking through for the few gems, like “How to Use a Paper Towel.” It works! 4/5

The Fall
They really love to juxtapose ordinary actions–washing a kid’s hair, even having sex–with murders and the kinds of creepy things serial killers do with their victims after death. The first epi featured a long sequence shot from above, flying over an apartment–bedrooms, bathroom, etc.–which I found sinister but brilliant. Gillian Anderson is the lead, and forget everything about Scully; her character is so cold here, even during sex. 4/5

The Big Wedding
Not as bad as most people say, but not great either. There are two hilarious moments for us Katherine Heigl fans: one where she’s sitting on a diving board and just jumps into the pool fully dressed (don’t ruin it for me by saying it’s a stunt double), and most importantly when she’s walking out of the hospital with her brother and turns with her hands spread far apart to inform the astounded nurses about his size. . . 2.5/5

Ancient X-Files: The Holy Grail & The Labyrinth
Ugh. . . had they been the least bit humorous about this, it might have worked, but the deadly earnestness, the full-in conspiracy mode. . . ugh. 1/5

Discovery Atlas: Uncovering Earth
There are two separate parts to this small series, the best being the scenery porn; Hawaii and the Great Rift Valley of Africa are particularly at their stunning best. That part would get a 5/5 for being exactly what it says.
Unfortunately the last two episodes involved an obnoxious guy–he’s actually worse than Steve Irwin–claiming to “solve history,” though the offerings are incredibly different. One is a search for Atlantis, and his hysterical peppy manner does not help in making me take him seriously, even though I’ve done a lot of research on this very subject. The other is on Devil’s Island, which is a small land mass off Cayenne, French Guiana, in the northeast region of South America (learned that by reading Hardy Boys!). I couldn’t finish either one. This part was 1/5, so using what little math I remember from college I’m pretty sure this averages out to 3/5.

Wish Upon a Star
Probably the best work Katherine Heigl did as a teen. Even though it’s typical Disney nonsense about sisters changing bodies, there’s a lot of genuinely sweet moments, and the chemistry between Katie and Danielle Harris–whom I’m pretty sure was much older than her costar, despite being a foot shorter–is fantastic. There’s a scene where Katie’s making faces while being photographed for the school paper that’s nothing short of hilarious, but for me the best part is when she’s playing volleyball and hurts her hand; her reaction when asked if she’s okay reminds me that the best compliment you can give an actor is to say they don’t look like they’re acting at all. 3.5/5

The Tick: The Complete Series
Watched for Liz Vassey, never got that far. Hated it too much in the first 5 minutes. Warburton has always annoyed me but this time he aimed for the moon and hit it. I’ll be generous and give it an incomplete.

Hinterland
This show doesn’t know if it wants to be serious or Twin Peaks; the murders and motives are very dark, but there are some eerie/funny moments in every episode. And even though the detective is nothing like Coop or Truman, the scenery and especially the waterfall in the first epi can’t help but remind one of that epic show. The intro is much like Sherlock‘s, and I don’t ever need to see that collection of teeth–or any other–again. As I said, not quirky like Twin Peaks, but seriously, the people here are even more fucked up, and that’s saying a lot. And the sad-faced detective is as taciturn as Cooper was cheery. 4/5

;o)