04 May 2021

You're in for a Wild Ride: A Review of "Invincible" Season One

Image from the Invincible Wiki 
via Fandom.com
On March 26, 2021, Invincible premiered worldwide on Amazon Prime, and its first season of eight episodes wrapped April 30. As someone who has previously read issues of the comics and enjoyed them years ago, I was looking forward to seeing Invincible finally make it to the screen, and animated, no less! I was counting down the days for it to come, hoping and praying it would make it to Japan so I could watch it. 

It did. But as I suspected, it was only available in Japanese. I watched it anyway. There were some changes from the comics, but it followed them closely enough I could still understand the gist of what was happening despite the language barrier for me.

Then over the weekend, something magical happened. I went to rewatch the season finale again (it was so amazing!) and suddenly the whole series flipped over to the English. I didn't hit any buttons or mess with settings. It just happened!

Out of fear it would revert back to the Japanese on its own, I rewatched Invincible all over again in its entirety with the original English cast and decided I had to write a review of this season or else I'd explode. 

WATCH OUT! SPOILERS AHEAD!

The Premise:

Seventeen-year-old Mark Grayson is just like every guy his age, except that his father is Omni-Man, the most powerful superhero on the planet. As Mark develops powers of his own, he discovers his father's legacy may not be as heroic as it seems.
Story: I love that with Invincible we get a coming-of-age story with Mark (played by Steven Yeun) finding his way as a teenager and a brand-new superhero, while at the same time we have your standard plots that secure this series in the superhero story pantheon, with heroic teams fighting off superpowered villains, aliens, and everyday criminals. But the heart of this series lies with the characters and relationships with each other. Mark grapples with his identity as a regular teen, a student, a boyfriend, and hero, and tries to balance each identity with the people he cares about. Who he is is very much tied to his purpose, and he's trying to figure out both. Then you've got his father, Nolan (aka Omni-Man, played by J.K. Simmons), who's the greatest superhero on Earth. There's this similar current there. Mark thinks it's the same for his dad. His identity is tied to his purpose: Omni-man is a hero, therefore he is good and saves people. Omni-man is his father, and therefore his father loves him. It all seems crystal clear that people are what they do, and yet we learn through this show that it's just not that simple. There are many harsh lessons throughout this series, and they are learned in painful ways that tug at your heart and even fill you with horror. This is one of the most emotionally engaging superhero series I've encountered in a while. 

Characters: Here's an official clip from Amazon that gives you a peek at the type of relationship that Mark has with his dad. (Click here to watch on Youtube.)


I love the dynamic of the Grayson family. Mark and Nolan's relationship overall as father and son is touching, and I love that Debbie (Mark's mother, played by Sandra Oh) and Nolan have an active, romantic love life. I love that Debbie isn't afraid to call out her teenage son when he's being a jerk, yet can turn around and say "I love my asshole son" and still make it sweet. That's why when this family broke apart, it was so devastating to see. 

Image from POC Culture

I like that the series gave both Debbie and Amber (played by Zazie Beetz) more agency and made them more active heroines. In the comics, Debbie doesn't actually get into real estate until much later, but here she's already into it and is very good at it. In the comics, she doesn't take an active role investigating the deaths of the Guardians of the Globe. She's very much a reactionary character in the books, but here, she is continually suspecting something is wrong and is trying to do something about it. 

Image from CBR

And Amber was really just a pretty face in the comics, and later took on a victim role, whereas here in the series she has more fire to her and seems like a genuinely interesting person. Plus, they decided to make the character resemble her voice actress more, which added even more diversity to the characters, which is always good.  (As a sidenote, they made Mark seem far more obviously Asian here than in the comics, which is also good!!).

Image from Rotten Tomatoes

Atom Eve (played by Gillian Jacobs) is largely the same, but I like that they toned down a lot of the pining/unrequited feelings she had for Mark in the comics. You can tell that something is brewing, but it seems a little less...annoying? She also seems to have a lot more agency this time around, though I would say she was pretty powerful in the comics, though, too. 

Image from Den of Geek

William, Mark's best friend (played by Andrew Rannells), has also been improved. They skipped over the delay in William's coming out and pairing up with Rick, and made William openly gay immediately, his infatuation and relationship with Rick clear from the get-go. I liked how they handled this much better than in the original comics. And I like that they cut out the offensive gay jokes with William's love of flying. Those did not age well in the comics. 

Image from tumblr

When it comes to favorite characters, though, I have to go with the entire Grayson family. I truly loved their relationship, how they interacted with each other, their care for each other, and how all of that evolved over time, despite the painful surprises in Episodes 7 ("We Need to Talk") and 8 ("Where I Really Came From"). 

Image from Comics Beat

Animation: I like the look of the characters. They are more streamlined than what's in the comics (which usually happens when you switch to the animated medium) and their straightforward, colorful designs are a good contrast to the lovingly detailed backgrounds throughout the series (the universe, planets, cityscapes -- all are rendered with great care). 

I think one of the most incredible things the series pulls off is facial expressions and character tics. You can see Omni-Man at war with himself through the changes in his eyes. You can see Mark's hesitancy when he has a habit of looking downward and placing his hand on the back of his neck. These little details enrich the characterization quite a bit. 

The action sequences are also top-notch. For an example, take a look at this clip of Omni-Man taking out the Flaxans on their home planet (click here to watch on Youtube): 


There's a lot to enjoy in terms of animation, and yes, the series does get incredibly violent, but even that is rendered beautifully. You may disagree with me, though, and that's fine -- I'm somebody who likes horror so this aspect of the show satisfied that for me. There are plenty of horrific moments in the series, to be sure, and that's not everyone's cup of tea. 

Voice Acting:
 The reason why I was so overjoyed my Amazon Prime switched over to English magically was because as soon as I heard who was cast in this series, I knew I had to see it. Even supporting characters are voiced by a knockout group of actors, from Mark Hamill to Jon Hamm to Jonathon Goff to Seth Rogen to Djimon Hounsou...there are so many stars voicing characters in this cast and I knew I was going to love their work. 

Again, I have to give a shout-out to the cast of the Graysons, consisting of Steven Yeun as Mark, J.K. Simmons as Nolan, and Sandra Oh as Debbie, for rendering full and emotional performances. Zachary Quinto, who also plays Robot, gets a mention, too, for his excellent job voice acting. 

This was really a dream cast and I can't wait to see who else they bring into the fold in future seasons. 

Image from Screen Rant

Low Points of the Season: I had a hard time thinking of low points this season because this series is off to such an excellent start. But, to me, there's no such thing as perfect, so if I was going to choose something that would be considered a "low" point, it would be that some of the villains are annoying, like D.A. Sinclair. Of course, I'm pretty sure they are supposed to be, so...well done, I guess?

Image from We Live Entertainment

High Points of the Season: Guys. Guys. Guys. Episodes 7 and 8. Oh my God.

These are the episodes where everything changes. I knew what was coming, but the series added much more than what was in the comics, and so everything still shocked me to my core, especially the season finale. The first part of Episode 8 is the fight between Mark and Omni-Man, and the second half is the aftermath of that battle and a glimpse of the future. 

The battle between Invincible and Omni-Man had to be one of the most emotionally devastating, and violent animated sequences I've ever seen. There was true horror and pain there and I literally shouted at my TV the first time I watched it, "HOLY SHIT!" 

I have never seen a season closer like that before. I've watched the episode twice now in two different languages and I'm still thinking about it days later. What a way to end the season and what a great way to get us excited for Seasons 2 and 3! 

Image from Horror Geek Life

Final Thoughts:  As soon as I finished the first season of Invincible, I went ahead and purchased all three compendiums of the comics, so now I own the story in its complete iteration. Again, I read a couple issues back in the day (but never continued when I saw how many freaking issues there were), and I enjoyed what I saw. I know what's going to come but there is still much I don't know (as of writing this, I just started the third compendium and am on issue #97, but I know what's coming in issue #110 thanks to a spoilery internet). I don't know how things are going to end. Part of me wants to stop reading so as not to spoil my experience of the series, but now that I see how the show improves on the source material, I know no matter what, I'll be in store for some surprises. 

If you like stories that go deeper into what it means to be a hero, full of surprises and twists and turns, with a solid emotional core, then I highly recommend Invincible. This series made me laugh, tugged at my heartstrings, put me on an emotional rollercoaster, appealed to my taste in horror, and it isn't afraid to go to dark places, which I definitely love. A powerhouse cast, vivid animation, and a brilliant soundtrack rounds this out for a memorable viewing experience.

03 May 2021

#52 writing cards: Prompts from Shaun Levin's Writing Maps - no. 17

Image from the #52 Writing Cards Project. For all of their maps, click here!


I. 

Shoes for exercise
-- I've got my hiking boots that I purchased in the USA right before coming to Japan. I knew that I wanted to get back into nature, and hiking is my primary form of exercise because I love it so much, and it's always beautiful here wherever I go. 

Hiking isn't easy for me. I'm obese and really out of shape, and I have bad knees, so I have to go very slowly when I go out. My proudest hiking moment in Japan, though, was when I went to Yakushima to Shiratani Unsuikyo in 2018 and hiked for about six hours straight. And there is some legitimate mountaineering that happens on some of that trail, too, and I hadn't done any mountaineering since 2004 when I lived in Wales. 

I was terrified of strenuous hiking after so many years, especially because I definitely was not the shape I was from my 20s, and I remember packing my backpack like I was going to die. Lots of water, lots of emergency rations, a compass, an emergency whistle, etc. It was a serious endeavor and I made it! It was also my first significant solo trip in Japan, too, so there were a lot of things that had me nervous. But Yakushima may be one of the most beautiful places on the planet, with its primordial, lush green forests, and the effort was definitely worth it. 

Shoes for work
 -- I own four different sets of work shoes, but they are all in the lockers at my different schools (in Japan you have a separate set of shoes for indoors) so I don't have any pictures of them. So, these are my work shoes for going to work. 

Because I have to be somewhat dressed up for my classes, these are the shoes I wear everyday to and from work, and I never wear them for any other purpose. This is my third pair of "going to work" shoes. Something about the landscape here, and tons of concrete and gravel, wears my shoes down so easily. My last pair of shoes were completely destroyed. I can't find what I did with that photo of them, but I posted it on Facebook and people were like, "Those shoes are from The Grapes of Wrath." They were literally in tatters. 

We'll see how long these shoes last me!

Shoes for glamour
 --  I don't wear very fancy shoes anymore. I did when I was younger. But I did make sure to own a pair of fancier shoes while I'm here in Japan, just in case I needed to. 

I ended up wearing them for cosplay when I dressed up as a female Gankutsuou but haven't had any other reason to wear them for a special occasion. You can't really tell from the photo, but what makes them fancy is the fact that they are velvet and at the heel is some knockoff gold metal running through it. I got them from Modcloth, my favorite place to shop while I'm in Japan (because they have plus sizes and ship to Japan!). 

Shoes for leisure
-- This pair of sneakers is my official go-to in Japan. I've worn them all over the place here. I did buy them in Japan instead of bringing them over from America. I can't remember what happened to my American sneakers but these were purchased as a replacement pretty early on into my time here. 

They were originally my indoor shoes at my special support school, where we did a lot of indoor athletic activity with the children, but when they removed that school from my roster, I decided to make the shoes my regular everyday pair. This is how I found out I'm a size 26.5 in Japan! I can never find women's shoes here, so when I'm not ordering them from overseas, I'm buying men's shoes instead. 

Before we reached a Level 5 emergency here in Kumamoto prefecture (the highest level on the emergency scale for coronavirus), which we are currently under during our Golden Week holiday, I managed to travel to Itoshima in Fukuoka prefecture right before the travel restrictions to other prefectures were handed down. I still have sand in my shoes from that trip. 

II. 

As soon as this prompt came up, I couldn't help but think about my ballet shoes. I started ballet when I was six or seven years old and stopped at age fourteen when my ballet instructor retired. Then I took a long break from dance, and briefly enrolled in ballet classes again at Ballet Met in my twenties, then stopped again (I wish I hadn't ever stopped 😔). 

Photo by Merve Sehirli Nasir on Unsplash
In ballet, women wear two types of shoes. The first pair of ballet shoes are usually canvas or leather and they are form fitting on the feet. Then, perhaps the more famous pair of shoes are the pointe shoes, allowing ballerinas to dance on the tips of their toes. Made out of satin, hard glue, leather, and other materials, these shoes are not comfortable. I first danced en pointe when I was twelve and continued until I stopped at fourteen. I managed to dance in a recital in them in addition to using them in class. 

I have saved my pointe shoes, which are currently in America, and one of the key things about them is that they are filled with my blood. As in, my blood has stained the box inside the shoe, and it's not like a dab here or there. The blood is in noticeable patches. 

The toe pads I used as cushions for the pointe shoes were made out of cotton and not very thick, so they didn't offer much protection. And because my shoes hurt my feet, I have some souvenirs from my time en pointe. 

I have these very faint, circular scars near the knuckles of my toes where the skin was rubbed raw off of them. My pinkie toes are also completely turned on their sides from going up on my feet all the time. There are still callouses from my time dancing, and I have not danced for quite some time. 

I often wonder about the state of my feet, what would've happened to them if I ended up pursuing ballet professionally. I kind of feel like they would've become quite hideous, but that's the price you pay when you dance on the tips of your toes. 

Cue smarmy person saying, "I suffer for my art." 
 
  • 。・:*:・゚★,。・:*:・゚☆   。・:*:・゚★,。・:*:・゚☆