Monday, January 19, 2015

Editorial: Enough Lolis Already!

Japan, we need to talk.

I've been an enthusiast and consumer of your contemporary visual media, by which I mean anime and manga, for a considerable chunk of my lifespan by now.  And as with any other artistic medium, over the years I have become cognisant of the more sultry corners of those industries.  That, taken alone, is not a bad thing.  But within those adult-oriented ghettos, I'm witnessing a disturbing trend.  More and more with each passing year, we get various kinds of products, both from the professional and amateur circles, which employ the fictional depictions of underage characters in sexual situations.  And I'm not alone in noticing this: after several false starts in writing an article on the subject, I caught a documentary on BBC radio which spurred my internal dialogue once again.

An example of "loli" content from Kodomo no Jikan,
which even had to be censored for its TV broadcast (above).
Said documentary investigates and discusses the topic of "lolicon".  The term is short for "Lolita complex", and was named after The Lolita Complex, a psychological hoax of a book written by Russell Trainer, which was in turn named after the novel Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov.  In modern practise, "lolicon" is the use of noticeably underage female characters in some degree of sexual situations and an illustrated context, and the sexual attraction of such held by its fans.  There's also a gender-swapped counterpart named "shotacon", (named after Shotaro Kaneda, the main character of the sixties giant-robot anime Gigantor).  Now, I'm not into any of that stuff, what with western ideals of beauty being geared towards a certain... older age.  But apparently plenty of Japanese anime and manga consumers are, even those who have healthy interpersonal relationships in the real world.  So how bad could it be...?

Please bear in mind the following points as I go on.  1) I am against sexual exploitation of real-world minors in the real world, especially if they are used against their will and consent.  That kind of depravity is bad.  It is wrong.  "Badong", even.  But here's the thing: real-life juniors are not employed, much less harmed, in the creation of these lolicon/shotacon products.  At least I hope not...

2) I am a stalward supporter of freedom of speech and creation, so long as it does not infringe directly upon the personal rights of others.  Come to think of it, this debate reminds me of one we've been having here in America for some time now, about whether or not violent content in video games inspires its consumers to engage in similar acts.  I am strongly against that being the case, and if someone does indeed take such inspiration to perpetrate that kind of crime, that's his problem personally.  Back on point, I suppose I could apply that same line of thinking to the lolicon issue, however my personal disdain for the thing softens my edge somewhat.

Yoko from Gurren Lagann.
Surely she's an adult, right?  ...Right?
And 3) I say this as a huge fan of contemporary Japanese visual media.  I'm not saying any of this to condemn the scene and make it go away; I'm bringing up these issues in an effort that these specific problems may be corrected and make life better for the rest of us.  But seriously, folks, Japan's relationship with age is jacked.  Case in point: This lovely vixen you see to the side of this paragraph is Yoko, one of the main characters from the show Gurren Lagann.  As you can see, she's got a face that makes my heart melt, and a body that makes my... "Sex Pistol" hard.  It helps that Yoko-chan is typically portrayed wearing little more than a bikini and hotpants.  Heck, the swimsuit she wears in the show's "beach episode" covers more of her torso than her default costume does!  Also, she's fourteen.

lolwut.

Yeah, the second half of that show takes place a few years in the future, but this was our first impression of Yoko-chan.  I don't know about you, but when I need to envision a fourteen-year-old, I don't think Yoko-chan.  I think Ellie from The Last of Us.  And this isn't limited to the pornographic sphere; teenage heroes are everywhere in manga and anime.  I remember stuff from the '90s like Sailor Moon, Neon Genesis Evangelion, even Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water, where the main characters were fourteen, fifteen years old but whose body types were a bit more on the grown-up side than today's loli fare.  Of course, if these girls were to suddenly take on a corporeal form I'd know better than to do them; I've built a pretty strong mental barrier in that regard.  Again, rape is "badong".  And yet, Nadia-chan in particular is still my "waifu" after all these years, but I am fast approaching the age where it would be creepy to admit that.  Ay, me.  Still, I have my limits; if the girl looks any younger than the examples I listed in this paragraph, you can count me out.

Perhaps this fascination with taking on fantastic adventures in one's youth is just a cultural thing, as parodied by this Scandinavia and the World comic.  Or perhaps it's universal: we will always need main characters whom we can relate to, and the sad truth is that a lot of our stories are geared towards those of us in the midst of growing up.  And the Internet being what it is, there's always someone out there ready to re-interpret these stories to fulfill the sexual fantasies of themselves and others.  You know, "Rule 34" and all that.

Going back to the topic of bringing up social problems for the sake of having them fixed, this Lolita Complex... complex brings with it... complex implications for the future of Japan itself.  According to the resources cited on the Wikipedia page about the demographics of Japan, the country has suffered a shrinking population for a few years running, despite an increasing life expectancy.  You may not notice it by visiting the place these days, but Japan's economy suffered a really bad recession in the early 90s, and depending on whom you talk to, has yet to recover fully.  Thus, we have dating-age women who a generation ago would have been content to live out as housewives for the many well-off suitors available, but these days must be more proactive in picking out a suitable husband.  But the stress of this romantic competition instead drives men away from the real dating scene, and towards the more docile girls of the virtual realms.

This is probably not the only factor in Japan's depopulation, and I do not claim to be an expert on the subject, but that doesn't mean I still don't hold within me wishes to improve the future of one of my favourite nations.  And yet I admit that solving the matter myself is an improbability, not to mention the implications of imposing the culture I happen to follow upon another culture entirely.  Remember, you're reading the words of someone from "World Police" America.  So allow me to just put this suggestion out there that maybe, the Japanese should take the effort themselves to embrace older characters, and maybe the medium would be a more respectable place.

Then again, if I really wanted to instill any real change in Japan, I should have done it in their own language.  D'oh.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Film Review: The Wind Rises

Previously on the SDP, I discussed the Studio Ghibli film The Wind Rises on two occasions.  First, I discussed its ramifications in the context of the Japanese political right, and second, I lamented its lack of exposure and acclaim from my own country.  But between the time I first saw it in theatres and when I got to re-watch it on home video, The Wind Rises became, to me, less of an actual product and more of an icon, an ideal, something I chose to stand for.  But now that it finally came out on home video and I've had a chance to re-watch it, how does it stand against my mind's interpretation of it?

The Wind Rises
  • Publisher: Toho (JP), Touchstone Pictures (US)
  • Studio: Studio Ghibli
  • Genre: Drama
  • Release: 20 July 2013 (JP), 21 February 2014 (US)
  • Director: Hayao Miyazaki
  • Producer: Toshio Suzuki
  • Writer: Hayao Miyazaki
The Wind Rises bills itself as a fictionalised biography of a one Jiro Horikoshi (EN: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, JP: Hideaki Anno), a Japanese airplane designer active in the 1920s and '30s.  Sounds like a boring idea for an animated movie, doesn't it?  Well if you thought that, A) you suck, and B) Studio Ghibli has ways to punch it up every once in a while.  At points throughout the movie, the plot is intercut with Jiro's dreams, where he interacts with a mister Giovanni Caproni (EN: Stanley Tucci, JP: Nomura Mansai), a real-life Italian plane designer who inspires him to embark down a similar path in life.  And indeed Jiro does go down that path, studying aviation in high school and eventually landing a job with the Mitsubishi company, all the while accompanied by his friend Kiro Honjo (EN: John Krasinski, JP: Hidetoshi Nishijima).

The character of Honjo stuck out to me, in what few scenes he took part in, because of his commentary on the state of Japan at the time.  This movie takes place, at the latest, half a century after the Meiji Revolution brought Japan back onto the world stage, but even then, the nation's industry and modernisation was a work in progress.  The Japanese of the time might have been able to make airplanes, but they were still using wood-and-canvas frames whereas their peers in Germany, the United States, and what-have-you had advanced to full-metal models.  Perhaps this state of affairs is best encapsulated in an observation Honjo makes, that they still use oxen to transport prototype planes to the takeoff/landing site.  It's as if the whole of Japan is a character in and of itself, having its own character arc and all that.

So as you witness this transition take place over the course of the movie, you'd be forgiven for thinking The Wind Rises is taking a nationalistic standpoint on history.  You may also feel troubled if you know your basic 20th century history, because this development also led to the Japanese Empire thinking it could get away with bringing its neighbours under its fold -- the hard way.  But The Wind Rises is surprisingly apolitical about the whole thing.  If anything, it's against war in general, which for the record is also the point of Miyazaki-sama himself.  There are a few lines in the script when Jiro states disapproval of how his creations were used for such destruction, but at the end of the day he is proud of his contributions to the field of aviation.  As he and Signior Caproni discussed in one of their dreams, he'd still rather live in a world with the dreams of aviation realised.  There's even a moment when Jiro discusses how to cut the weight from one of his models, and he half-jokingly suggests they take out the guns altogether.  But, I ask of Horikoshi-san, if you don't want your planes to be used for war, then what, pray tell, is their purpose?  It's not like these planes can carry a suitable volume of passengers for peaceful air travel!  What did you think would happen when you decided to design fighter planes!?  Oh well, you know what they say -- the road to Heck is paved with frozen door-to-door salesmen -- I mean, good intentions.


The Jiro/Naoko romance scenes are sweet,
but have little impact on the plot.
So going through the movie, Jiro's career goes through a few ups and downs, until one particular failure causes him to take a sabbatical at a mountain resort, wherein he meets up with Naoko Satomi (EN: Emily Blunt, JP: Miori Takimoto).  The two spark up a romance in due time, which goes unextinguished even when he learns that she suffers from tuberculosis, thus casting a shadow of impermanance over their relationship.  My problem with this romantic sub-plot is that it doesn't exactly have any say on the main plot of Jiro's career, which especially jarring considering that it doesn't start until about an hour in to the film's runtime.  And, in fact, it never even happened to the real Jiro Horikoshi.  This little diversion comes from a novel also titled "The Wind Rises", written by Tatsuo Hori in 1937.  (Hori-san is, at least, given a dedication slide at the end of the film, along with Horikoshi-san.)  Remember when I said this movie was a "fictionalised biography"?  Yeah, that's why.

It is a perfectly fine romance, don't get me wrong.  I like a good tug at the ol' heartstrings every once in a while, and indeed the Jiro/Naoko sub-plot does this every once in a while, for example when he hears about her lung haemmorhage, or when his boss holds an impromptu wedding for the young couple.  All in all, it still leaves me with a warm and fuzzy feeling, and as my praise for the similarly emotional Kaleido Star indicates, this is a positive quality in my book.  But you could cut out Naoko's scenes and not only would The Wind Rises not suffer for it, but it would bring the film's 127-minute running time down to a more manageable length.

Whilst on the subject of this film's flaws, I thought the English voice cast was a tad hit-or-miss.  Actually, I can think of only one miss, but it's a big one.  Maybe Joseph Gordon-Levitt wasn't the best choice for this role.  Why couldn't this Honjo guy have been the main character?  Or at the very least, why couldn't his actor have portrayed Jiro instead of Mr. JGL?  The same goes for the Japanese track, where the lead character is played by Hideaki Anno, of all people.  (If you don't know, this guy created numerous anime series back in the day, and was even an employee at Studio Ghibli once.)  There are more engaging performances sprinkled among the supporting cast, such as the aforementioned Honjo-san, Jiro's boss Mr. Kurokawa (EN: Martin Short, JP: Masahiko Nishimura), and his sister Kayo (EN: Mae Whitman, JP: Mirai Shida).
Dream sequences and other visualisations demonstrate
the animation prowess of Studio Ghibli.
The Wind Rises a Studio Ghibli production, so I shouldn't have to tell you how good this movie looks.  What few scenes of fast action exist in this movie are animated realistically yet dynamically at the same time.  There are some moments where I wondered if the animators used rotoscoping techniques, and I mean that in a good way.  But the film isn't entirely grounded in reality; some scenes take place in the dreams of Jiro and Caproni, as I previously mentioned, and other scenes apply a layer of similar dreamlike visualizations onto otherwise ordinary moments, illustrating Jiro's thought process and what-not.  For example, in one scene where Jiro is drafting a design for a certain plane component, we see the finished plane flying in a clear sky, and the wind rustling the pages on his desk.  And yet no one seems to notice them...  But anyway. these visualisations serve two purposes: they provide visually creative shots, and they explain technical concepts for the laymen of the audience.  The score is also magnificent, although I'd expect nothing less from composer Joe Hisaishi, who has worked with Ghibli for a long time.  I don't know about you, but I'm a sucker for dramatic scenes where the music is a slow buildup and the sound-effect track is muted entirely.  (See also: the opera shootout in Quantum of Solace.)

So if I'm able to find so many flaws upon re-watching this movie, why am I still willing to stand up for it?  Well, to put it in one word, it's real.  It's not trying to be anything it's not, which is especially notable for an animated feature.  You know how Frozen, for example, had musical numbers, comic relief characters, and a romantic sub-plot entirely separate from the rest of the movie?  Yeah, The Wind Rises ain't having any of that.  Except for that last one... bad example, that.  My point is, this story could have fit very well as a live-action film, but Miyazaki chose to have it animated because A) animation is what he's good at, and B) this movie is the story he wanted to tell.  And to those who say, "Why did it have to be animated?", I say to them, "Why not?"

Positives:
+ Plenty of emotional moments which left me with a warm and fuzzy feeling.
+ An interesting and well-acted supporting cast.
Negatives:
- The Jiro/Naoko romantic sub-plot could have been left out.
- The lead actor's performance is a tad wooden, both in Japanese and English.

Acting (English): 4 airplanes out of 5
Acting (Japanese): 4 airplanes out of 5
Writing: 4 airplanes out of 5
Design: 5 airplanes out of 5
Technical: 5 airplanes out of 5
The Call: 90% (A-)

P.S.: After I started work on writing this review, it has come to my attention that Hayao Miyazaki, among two others, had won an Academy Honorary Award in November of 2014.1  For those who don't know, these awards are given at judges' discretion separately from the regular Oscars, but involve the same statuettes given to winners at the regular ceremony.  After having been so unfairly snubbed by the Oscars earlier in the year, I suppose hearing about this development has put my soul at ease a bit.  I mean, you could interpret that as him winning the award for all of his films!  All the same, for the sake of my mental health, I'm probably going to ignore the Oscars from here on out, or at least the Best Animated Feature category.  Wouldn't wan't to have my hopes dashed like that again.  I suppose this younger, more worldy generation will make the kinds of changes once we get into positions of power, but until then, I'll leave you with these words:

This is IchigoRyu.

You are the resistance.

1"Harry Belafonte, Hayao Miyazaki, Maureen O’Hara to get honorary Oscars". Entertainment Weekly. 28 August 2014, retrieved 15 January 2015. http://insidemovies.ew.com/2014/08/28/harry-belafonte-hayao-miyazaki-maureen-ohara-to-get-honorary-oscars/

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Year In Review 2014

It's been a while since I did one of these year-in-review things.  I passed it up last year (referring to 2013) because I had put off my bottom-ten and top-ten song lists to the last minute and was too busy finishing those.  And I shall continue to put it off because this isn't a year-in-review article in the traditional sense, where I categorise the year's current events in some capacity.  Instead, I will focus on my personal developments over the year, or lack thereof.  Narcissistic you may call me, but by doing so I hope to reveal my plans for the SDP going forward, and for other projects of mine.

You may have noticed a sharp lack of SDP output this year, on both the blog and video fronts.  Yeah, somehow 2014 was, if not a bad year for the SDP, then at least a year of decline.  There are a couple of reasons for this.  Most of my articles and scripts are written during the lunch breaks at my job, but during the first quarter of the year I instead got hung up on planning a holiday in Japan.  (Which was way nice, if you were wondering.)  But even afterwards I just couldn't pick up the momentum again, and I am at a loss as to why.

And that's not to say I was lacking in inspiration, per se.  For example, you may recall a certain incident, or so I would have you believe, that happened at the Academy Awards this past year.  I felt like [noun] after first hearing the news, and even worse when I attempted to write a second article about it, sometime just before Thanksgiving.  Well, doing so got me so depressed that I deleted my work on that article entirely, because of how bad writing it made me felt.  Then, I had a talk with my parents, which I took two things from.  One, these sorts of developments are out of my control and I should just accept them.  Which I was hesitant to accept since, as I thought when dealing with the Mega Man Legends 3 crisis a few years ago, I regarded as tantamount to admitting defeat.

But rather than actually admitting defeat, I used the opportunity to renew my interest in re-writing my novel series Sapphire, which I'm thinking of renaming to the Indigo Children series.  In fact, I've made a New Year's resolution to myself of getting at least a finished first draft done.  The reason I bring this up is because it is my end goal to have these stories adapted into video games and movies, specifically anime, or anime-style, traditionally-animated productions.  After all, there's a certain quote, apocryphally attributed to Mohandas Gandhi, which I found really inspiring: "We need to be the change we wish to see in this world."  So if I want my people to take animation seriously, I need to start making the products that will do so.  And this change will not come instantly, but this is something I'm willing to accept.

But the greatest obstacle to this goal seems to be my own willpower.  I had written and published the earlier Sapphire novels online on my deviantART account, but my interest in that faded right around the time I started writing for this very blog.  Thus, looking forward, 2015 will be the year of Indigo Children, or at least a year of transition from the SDP to Indigo Children.  But that's not to say I'm giving up on the SDP entirely.  There are still a few reviews I wish to make before retiring the brand entirely.  Links will be provided to the below reviews as they are made available.

Video Games
Sonic the Hedgehog (Sega Genesis, 1991)
James Bond 007: The Duel (Sega Genesis, 1993)
Time Crisis (Arcade et al, 1995)
Power Stone (Arcade et al, 1999)
Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty (PlayStation 2 et al, 2001)
Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes (PlayStation 3 et al, 2014)
Shantae and the Pirate's Curse (Nintendo 3DS et al, 2014)

Music
Invisible Touch by Genesis (1986)
The Heist by Macklemore & Ryan Lewis (2012)
"Latch" by Disclosure & Sam Smith (2013)

Movies
Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby (2006)
Wreck-It Ralph (2012)
The Wind Rises (2013)
The Interview (2014)

TV & Anime
Sailor Moon (1992)
Totally Spies (2001)
Sailor Moon Crystal (2014)

Again, change doesn't happen overnight.  But if you still love the SDP, that also means it won't be going away overnight either.  Just allow me to leave you with these words:

This is IchigoRyu.

You are the resistance.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Film Review: Frozen

Previously on the SDP, I commiserated the Oscar defeat of Hayao Miyazaki's The Wind Rises to the Disney venture Frozen.  Might as well be the bigger man and evaluate it on its own merits.
Frozen
  • Publisher: Disney
  • Studio: Walt Disney Animation Studios
  • Genre: Fantasy, Musical
  • Release: 27 November 2013
  • Directors: Chris Buck, Jennifer Lee
  • Producer: Peter del Vecho
  • Writers: Chris Buck, Jennifer Lee, Shane Morris
This article was updated on 22 November 2015.

Arendelle.  A world where ice runs everything, if not in the summer.  A world host to not one, but two princesses: Elsa (Idina Menzel), and her younger sister Anna (Kristen Bell).  Elsa, for some reason, is a cryokinetic: she has the power to conjure up ice and snow.  But one time while they were playing together with those powers, one of her ice shots hit Anna in the head.  So, in fear of causing further damage, her family locks her up in the castle, and her powers are hidden from the rest of society.  I'm not gonna lie, this film starts off on a really strong note.  To see what I mean, check out one of the opening songs, "Do You Want To Build A Snowman", which contrasts Anna's optimism and Elsa's fears as the two sisters grow up side-by-side yet separated from each other.

Then Elsa’s coronation and 21st birthday happen, when she accidentally exposes her abilities during a party, and runs away from town.  And things were going so well until then, too.  Anna even found herself a strapping young marriage prospect in the form of Hans (Santino Fontana), a foreign prince.  But good luck with that when you're dealing with an emotionally and magically unstable sister!  Hey, Elsa!  You ever thought of just explaining your powers on your own terms, when you're all cool, calm, and collected, instead of waiting for some accident to catch you off-guard, thus preventing you from thinking clearly?  ...Heh, “cool”.  But seriously, folks, I can understand Elsa’s behaviour in this scene, as more than likely it comes from her having been forcibly cloistered for pretty much her entire childhood.  The lack of social interaction, even with her own sister, has thus led to her growing her own problems out of proportion, which emphasizes the lesson to the viewer that if you’re dealing with problems of your own, you need somebody else to support you throughout it all.  That doesn't mean I have to like it.
This film is at its best when it focuses on the relationship between Elsa and Anna.
 Whatever.  So when Elsa's instabilities force Arendelle into a permanent state of winter, Anna takes it upon herself to talk some sense into her.  Along the way she meets up with Kristoff (Johnathan Groff), an down-on-his-luck ice trader, and Olaf (Josh Gad), a short snowman inadvertantly turned animate by Elsa's magic.  Olaf's gimmick is that he has a fondness and/or desire for warm things, blissfully unaware that they would cause him to melt.  I honestly find this a funny schtick, but neither the character nor his gimmick serve any purpose in the plot to speak of.  To me, he just smacks of a comic-relief mascot put into this film for the sake of having a comic-relief mascot.  This is but one manifestation of the film's core problem, but I'll delve into that later on.

Anna and company make their way up to an ice castle Elsa had spontaneously built, now that there's no one around for her to hide her powers from.  Anna tries to inform her sister of the plight their people are in and convince her to do something about it, only to take an ice-bolt to the heart.  Okay, I'm gonna pause the review for a moment to do some nit-picking.  Let's go back to the movie's intro, when the same thing happened to a younger Anna.  Her parents were told that she survived the incident because the shot missed her heart.  If that had been the case, her whole body apparently would have been frozen instantly.  But when it does happen, the fatal freezing doesn't take effect immediately.  You remember Back To The Future, where Marty had that photo of his family which faded away gradually until he set right what had become unstuck?  Don't tell me you saw that and didn't think it strange.  Oh well, I usually accept these sort of things because it lets the protagonists have a fighting chance against the plot, and I do like it when the good guys win.  Who doesn't?  But I do not like it when the movie sets up rules, only to break them later on.

So, anyway.  Out of fear, Elsa chases her company off by conjuring a snow monster.  When you get right down to the matter, it serves no practical purpose in the greater plot, which you may have noticed is becoming a running theme of this review.  Once they reach safety, Anna and Kristoff high-tail it to some rock trolls.  One pointless song later, and she learns that the freezing spell can only be undone by an act of true love.  Meanwhile, Hans (remember him?) has more or less taken over the kingdom in Elsa's absence, has a couple of soldiers come over to Elsa's new digs to capture her, and upon her return, captures Anna as well.  Olaf springs her, and she, Elsa, and Hans confront each other on the frozen sea.  Hans goes to strike down Elsa, but Anna jumps in to block him, just as she freezes solid.  But wait -- that constitutes an act of true love!  So Anna is thawed, Hans is arrested and sent back to whence he came from, and Elsa learns to moderate her powers through the power of love.  You are now free to turn off your TV.

So that was Frozen.  If I had to pick out one specific problem which holds the film back -- and I do, because I have to present you with a decision somehow -- I would say the plot is a little scatterbrained.  If the plot had been solely about the relationship between Anna and Elsa, as was set up in the beginning, then I would have been much more positively pre-disposed towards the film.  Heck, I might even have been more supportive of its Oscar victory!  (Or still not, considering the circumstances.)  But as it stands, Frozen's attention is strained by having too many superfluous elements.  As I mentioned, there’s Olaf the snowman, as well as the ice giant guarding Elsa’s castle, and the villain is… well, without wishing to spoil, that Weselton guy who is set up early on as someone who is obviously evil, promptly gets forgotten about.
Too many superfluous elements and an uneven tone drag this movie down.
With wishing to spoil, however, it turns out the real villain is Hans, that prince Anna hit on in the first act.  My opinion on this development is… mixed.  On the one hand, he has little development apart from his earlier appearance, giving us no indication whatsoever that he’s about to turn evil.   But, on the other hand, he’s the kind of villain I wish I saw more often.  None of this sneering, painfully obvious villainy, cf. Weselton.  He comes across as a nice guy, even offering to help the people of Arendelle by going out to find Anna and Elsa, and then, bip, he flips the switch.  You could call this a subversion of the handsome prince roles in many other Disney works, and I’ll agree that there’s merit in that argument.  And given Disney’s recent tradition of being a little more genre-savvy, that very well may be right.  But I prefer to look at it as lazy storytelling. Maybe it’s the story’s fault for jumping about all over the place and not giving us enough time to understand his character.    So anyway, coming back to all those distractions I listed earlier, let me ask you readers a question: Do any of these affect the plot -- and by plot, I am referring specifically to the plot between Anna and Elsa -- in any way?  Not the way I see it.  And it's these distractions which keep Frozen from developing to its full potential.

I will say this in defence of Frozen: its animation, character, and set design are outstanding, and this matters more than you might think.  First of all, the animation works on a technical level, as well, avoiding the spastic style of contemporaries like Dreamworks (especially the Madagascar franchise), and instead treating us with a smooth sense of motion.  But the technical quality of animation is one thing; I can be generally counted on to opine that graphics don't make a good video game, for example, but that aesthetics do.  And that goes doubly for non-interactive animated shows, because it is design which leaves an impression on the viewer.  Think about it -- would Neon Genesis Evangelion, for example, have been as cool if not for the designs of the Angel monsters, the Eva robots, or the NERV base?  I think not.  And Frozen succeeds in this category.  There's some downright beautiful set design to be had, especially in the case of the ice castle Elsa conjures up.  And the characters are pleasing to look at, their faces and what-not stylised enough to steer clear of the Uncanny Valley.  In fact, they even bear resemblance to the hand-drawn characters of Disney's past films.  But that just begs the question: why couldn't Frozen have been a traditionally-animated film to begin with?  I mean, they had to have drawn in that fashion for the concept art, storyboards, and what-not, so why not keep it that way?  And would I have liked it more or less had that been the case?  ...Hard to say.
The outstanding visual design makes this film fun to watch.
On the topic of aesthetic elements, the musical numbers didn't really do anything for me.  It could just be me being jaded, but it seems like the types of songs presented therein are all the same styles of songs Disney's used for films past, and they're generally not catchy besides.  For example, while I said some good things about "Do You Want to Build a Snowman" in terms of storytelling, it’s still very… talk-singy.  And some of the other numbers, especially the one with the rock trolls, can make anyone with half a functioning brain scream, "Get on with it!"  The only exception I would make is for "Let It Go", a standout number by Elsa which really accentuates the character arc she goes through at the time.  Then again, the visual aspects of that scene also contributed to the positive feelings it left in me, so you could say it has an unfair advantage.

Also, there’s the acting.  It’s at least pretty good across the board, but some characters, especially Kristen Bell as Anna, sound a little too… contemporary for a setting like this.  She uses words like “totally” way too often for a fantasy princess, and in one scene, she and Kristoff talk about his sleigh like it was a new car!  I suppose my problem with that kind of writing is that it breaks my immersion in the world they’ve created.  You can be a gripping drama or be a farcical comedy, but the moment you start switching between those two modes is when things get awkward.

Oh, and by the way, do you remember when I barred "Let It Go" from the top spot of my 2014 music list, purely as an act of protest?  Well, let me set the record straight: No, "Let It Go" would not have been my number 1 even if I hadn't pulled that stunt.  As I said back then...
However, a good chunk of the lyrics are a little too specific to the song’s scene in the movie, so its utility as a personal anthem for those going through the same struggles as Elsa does in the movie suffers a bit.
At the same time, I wish to assuage your minds at this point and remind you that I still think "Let It Go" is a good song.  It would've ranked in my top five, were the circumstances different.  But even if the circumstances were different, it's still not without its flaws.  ...Which is a fitting metaphor for Frozen itself.

But in the end, I tend to judge a work of art based on whether it deserves to be watched, played, read, or listened to.  I mentioned that I would show Kaleido Star to my hypothetical children, as a shining example of characters overcoming adversity and what-not.  Would I give Frozen the same treatment?  Well, I wouldn’t hide it from them or anything.  For all its moments of shallowness, it does bring up valuable life-lessons now and then, and quite subtly, too.  When Doug Walker, a.k.a. the Nostalgia Critic, discussed this movie for one of his “Disneycember” specials, he pointed out Elsa as a lesson on what can happen if you shut yourself away from other people all the time, and on the flip side, Anna as a lesson on what can happen if you share yourself haphazardly with other people.  Both very important lessons in today’s age of social media, I must say.  Oh, and to be fair, Doug did like The Wind Rises, too.

After all I've had to deal with since Frozen's release, all the negativity I've associated with, what do I think of the movie itself?  Eh, could be better, could be worse.  All in all, it's just... rather safe, like a Pierce Brosnan Bond film.  It's about princesses, for one, and we know how many times Disney's dipped into that wishing well.  Granted, it's about two princesses, one of them's technically a queen, and they drive the plot themselves, by their own actions, but it's still all-too-familiar territory.  If you want a better, more focused film about a two-girl non-lesbian relationship, I would instead recommend any number of Studio Ghibli films, but especially their last one, When Marnie Was There, which right now potentially stands as the last feature film they may ever make, so please, check it out while you can.  Still, Frozen is not terrible, and it's certainly easy on the eyes, unlike that Shrek garbage.  It is proof that American animation is on its way back to respectable standards after its nadir in the last decade, although it’s still a hundred years too early to compete with the Japanese, if you ask me.  And while I still will never forgive the Academy's voters for what they did and why they did it, I suppose the best course of action would be to love the player, and hate the game.

Positives:
+ The relationship between Anna and Elsa offers great potential for a plot.
+ Gorgeous animation and visual design.
+ Olaf’s scenes were kinda funny.  Hey, I’m not made of stone.
Negatives:
- Too many extraneous elements for us to concentrate on its main plot.
- None of the musical numbers stand out, save possibly for "Let It Go".

Acting: 4 snowmen out of 5
Writing: 3 snowmen out of 5
Design: 5 snowmen out of 5
Technical: 5 snowmen out of 5
The Call: 80% (B)