BTS: ‘Indigo’ by RM

Promotional image of Kim Namjoon for ‘Indigo’. Copyright goes to Kim Namjoon and HYBE.

Hi! It’s Annie!

We all knew that when Namjoon released his new album it would be lyrically amazing and undeniably comforting. Namjoon seems to relish in the emotionally relatable, and his music is raw and real and makes everyone feel as if they are not alone. And I think we could all do with reminders like that, especially now. Namjoon packed every moment of this album with feeling and meaning. I don’t think you’ll ever find any kind of basic song without much meaning in the lyrics in a Namjoon album. Though that’s not necessarily bad; some musicians focus more on the sound than the lyrics. But Namjoon has said multiple times that he’s a poet and a lyricist first. So you aren’t going to find a song that only focuses on the sound and not the lyrics here. The album is also going viral because of how all of the people Namjoon collaborated on it talked about him in interviews afterwards. So I’m going to go through all of the specifics of the album, including songs and thoughts, and at least try to give back some of what Namjoon gave me through the release of this amazing album.

Yun (with Erykah Badu):

This piece has a funkier sound to it and is a perfect mix of Namjoon’s rapping style that is all his own and Erykah Badu’s unique singing style. It did not surprise me at all when Hobi announced that this was his favorite of the tracks on the album. The song itself talks about learning to be a human being before you are an artist or anything else. Namjoon talked about how this song encourages people to live life to have the experiences for creativity and was a lesson that he holds very dear to himself. I love that he’s sharing these life lessons from his twenties with us!

Still Life (with Anderson Paak):

This has a more hard hitting rap style and a more pop-like sound to it in general. Namjoon was cited at saying that he felt this song had a more western sound and would therefore be one of the most popular tracks in the states. Namjoon said that he wrote this song based off of the term “Still Life” that English speakers use to define paintings. He felt that this term was interesting and could apply to a wide array of things. Such as the fact that, like a painting, he is constantly observed. But like the objects portrayed in many Still Life paintings, he is very much alive and breathing and has a side that the observer does not see.

All Day (with TABLO):

This is more of a pure rap style piece and it is, once again, very hard hitting lyrically as well. The song is more about trying to find yourself in a society that tries to force you into a specific mold. The song also discusses living for yourself rather than others and even tells potential haters to turn away if they don’t want to observe your life. It’s an amazing take on individuality and the importance of self that we don’t often see anywhere. I also really appreciated how heartfelt this collaboration was between two friends who have experienced similar feelings.

Forg_tful (with Kim Sawol):

Namjoon really went all out on experimenting with all types of music genres in this album, and this piece specifically goes into an almost folk sound. This track also features Namjoon singing for pretty much all of this and his deeper register contrasts beautiful with the lighter more playful sound of Kim Sawol. This piece specifically has a very comforting sound to it and Namjoon said he wrote it because of his friends joking with him about his own forgetfulness. But the song mostly addresses how he isn’t able to do simple things he likes, like go to the park, because of his fame. It has a sad and warm feeling all at once.

Closer (with Paul Blanco and Mahalia):

This song was created by another team of writers who specifically had Namjoon in mind when they wrote the song and reached out to him. When he found the song to be right up his alley, it landed a place on this album. This is another one with a bit of a slower but funkier sound and it discusses wanting someone that feels unreachable. Namjoon turned the tables on fans by saying that he found the song personally relatable from an on stage perspective. He wants to date but finds other people so unreachable with his lifestyle. It’s not only fans who see idols this way, but a universally relatable thing with this business. Damn.

Change pt. 2:

This is another one really personal to Namjoon as it talks about how he has personally changed. He even condemns Wikipedia pages written about him or old interviews, because he is a person who, like everyone else, constantly changes. This has a more gritty feel to it than other tracks on the album and feels both cozy and serves as a reminder to fans that Namjoon is a person who changes. People constantly change especially throughout their twenties, and just because he said something in that one interview a while ago doesn’t mean that you can accept that totally as his current reality. Such as when people expressed disappointment when Namjoon said he didn’t want to have kids anymore. That doesn’t mean something happened to him to make him feel that. Sometimes, people just change.

Lonely:

What I love about lonely is that it has a weirdly comforting upbeat sound to it while having some of the saddest lyrics on the entire album. Namjoon said that he wrote this particular song when he was in Vegas and the members of BTS were attempting to cheer each other up while all feeling like they couldn’t leave their hotel rooms. Loneliness is a feeling that we all get, but Namjoon said he felt it so intensely then that he wanted to smash something. Hence why this song was created with so many expletives. He also expresses the feeling of wanting to be home, or somewhere familiar, and I think we all can relate to that at some point.

Hectic (with Colde):

Namjoon created this song because he really liked the English word “hectic” and how it gives a new and more dramatic feeling compared to just saying that you were busy. The song talks about his hectic life and how he can’t often find something to make the day feel meaningful for him, despite being busy during it. I have been feeling this way too hard at my part time job lately. The song has the kind of feeling that makes you think of a traveling scene in a movie. Seriously, this entire album could be a soundtrack for something. It has that type of beautiful and comforting music.

Wild Flower (with Youjeen) and MV:

This is probably my favorite song on this album (I’m going to get back to that later) and Namjoon said that this is currently the most meaningful song on the album for him personally. The song itself talks about how he sees himself versus how the world sees him and how he crumbles underneath that. If that didn’t make sense for ARMY already, in the MV he compares the purple ocean at their concerts to a flower field. This comparison shows how the fame can be overwhelming to him and how in his heart he just wants to be as natural as he possibly can be. The MV has the comforting wildflower field, as well as an anxiety inducing storm, all leading to the concert arena that even made me overwhelmed just watching the MV. It’s beautiful and terrible and completely raw at the same time. The vocals from Youjeen pierce my heart every time I hear the song. It made me cry the first time I heard it because it was so raw. Namjoon said that he didn’t think this song would be for everyone because it was so raw, but I think that’s what makes it even more relatable. Both Hobi and Namjoon now have songs released about how their fame has been negatively affecting them. This is not something we can just ignore.

No. 2 (with Park Jiyun):

This is named the way it is because Namjoon views this song as the beginning of his second chapter after his twenties. This is another relatable song, because it addresses a fear that everyone has had at least once. Namjoon worries about his past self and the fact that he may have regrets and this is mixed with the sweet singing, comfortingly telling the audience and the artists themselves not to look back. This feels like a rainy day song and the fact that it refers to the listener as “dear” while instilling the lesson that you shouldn’t look back makes it feel like a hug. Especially if you’re like me who has constantly been looking back recently. I needed this reminder, and I’m so grateful to Namjoon for giving all of us one.

Namjoon Himself:

I think we all need to talk about the way the artists who collaborated with Namjoon on pieces talked about him. They all described him as a very sincere, determined, and humble person to work with. He has clear ideas but was always open to feedback and seemed to have very sincere conversations with all of the artists about the feelings attached to each song. This is definitely something that has been in the making for years. Namjoon said that he wrote some of these songs at very different times during his twenties. This album is very personal to Namjoon and with how relatable he wanted this piece to be, it will definitely become very personal to plenty of others who listen to it.

Song Snobbery:

Ok, so I unfortunately want to address this because it came up specifically surrounding this album. But it comes up with anything BTS does now. It’s become a trend on TikTok to judge people for liking certain songs in an artist’s discography. With BTS, this started with the very innocent and understandable want to push people to listen to BTS’s Korean music and not just the music they released in English. It is always very disappointing that some people won’t give BTS the time of day if they aren’t speaking or singing in English. There’s something that feels pretty racist about that. Other people have taken this understandable movement and are now using it for the purpose of showing uncertainty for people when they express that their favorite song on an album, any album, is the promoted song. I’ve already seen people make TikToks judging people for saying that their favorite song on this album is “Wild Flower”. Considering Namjoon chose this as the main song for a reason and has even said that it is his own current favorite, I really don’t understand where these people are coming from. Yes, give the entire album a listen! But “Wild Flower” is a gorgeous song that hits really hard. Don’t let anyone tell you that you’re wrong for having the same favorite song as the literal creator of the album.

This album is so good and I feel like Namjoon’s solo projects always come during a time when I need them the most. I was having a really awful week when this album released, and it felt like a genuine warm hug from Namjoon. His lyrics make me feel like I’m not alone and give me so much comfort that I will never be able to describe how much it means to me. This album is full of important lessons, raw emotions, and comforting words. It’s like a breath of fresh air after being in a cramped place for too long. Once again, Namjoon has created something brilliant. This is an album I will cry to in the future.

See you across the pond!

Sincerely, Annie

Marvel: ‘The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special’ Review

Screenshot of Pom Klementieff as Mantis and Dave Bautista as Drax in ‘The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special’. Copyright goes to Marvel Studios.

Hey! Hallie here!

For those who have been following this blog for a while, you probably know that we’ve recently cut down on our Marvel posts. Between the sheer amount of content and feeling less satisfied with some of Marvel’s recent projects, both my sister and I decided to step back from this fandom for a while. But the trailers for ‘The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special’ looked really wholesome, so when my family started scrolling through Christmas content to get us in the holiday spirit, we figured this was worth a shot. The premise is really simple. Mantis and Drax, two of the most obliviously chaotic members of the Guardians of the Galaxy, hear a story about a bad Christmas Peter Quill once had. They also notice that Peter isn’t feeling all that happy this Christmas, either. So they decide to give him the ultimate Christmas present: Kevin Bacon. Yes, this is a kidnapping Kevin Bacon story. I wasn’t sure what to expect from this, but I was pleasantly surprised! This was just as wholesome as I hoped, and paired with some comedy, it really stuck the landing for me. Let’s get into the good and bad in this special! SPOILERS AHEAD!

What I Liked:

Mantis and Drax: This Christmas special wouldn’t have worked if these two couldn’t carry the special. They’re the main characters, yes, but both of these characters are comic relief characters. Some comic relief characters can be irritating to follow without someone rational to balance them out, and others just aren’t strong enough to stand on their own. That’s not true of either Drax or Mantis. The two are hilarious in this, but they do a good job of balancing each other out without needing some kind of outside party. Drax is definitely the most outrageous of the two, with some of his comedy involving doing grievous harm to other people. In this way Mantis becomes the straight-man, as she actively works to stop Drax from doing any permanent damage to anyone or anything. But before Mantis dips into an area where she might seem too serious, Drax is able to lighten up the mood and involve her in more crazy antics. On top of this, for a Christmas special there’s really nothing wrong with having two characters who set an overall light tone. Both characters have an adorable bewilderment that endears you to both of them and casts the comedy in a heartwarming light. The humor here doesn’t dip into obnoxious purely because it’s going right for the heart of the audience, and that benefits the special and the characters greatly. As for the role these characters play overall, Drax is pretty much there for the good times. That’s respectable, but I think this is where Mantis truly steals the show. Mantis knows that Peter is technically her brother and she doesn’t really know how to tell him. Because of this, her misplaced desire to present Kevin Bacon to him as a Christmas gift becomes a journey to make her brother happy and find the courage to tell him that they’re related in the process. This character motivation is the most gut-wrenching, lovely part of this special, and is definitely one of the biggest things that will draw me back to this project every Christmas.

Kevin Bacon: Kevin Bacon does exactly what you want Kevin Bacon to do in this special. He screams a lot, makes fun of his own career, and ultimately ends the whole thing by singing a song and embracing the Christmas vibes. He does a very good job of matching the comedic timing of all the other characters. His interactions with Mantis and Drax when he first meets them are fun, mostly because he’s terrified. But his chilled out state of being after Mantis uses her abilities on him is even more hilarious because it allows for moments where Bacon has to react to lines like “We hate you” with happy acceptance. Kevin Bacon just looks like he’s having an amazing time throughout the whole special and it’s so fun to watch.

Kraglin and Nebula: Kraglin isn’t in this special a lot, but I do really love Kraglin. While he’s just as oblivious as many of the other members of the Guardians of the Galaxy, he’s quickly become the heart of the team. His conversation with Kevin Bacon highlights this so well. He demonstrates a clear caring for the other Guardians and Peter especially, as well as a self-awareness about the things he and the rest of the group don’t quite understand. But none of this is revealed in a preachy speech made to Kevin Bacon about why Mantis and Drax’s hearts are in the right place. It’s casual and grounded, as if Kraglin had accepted Kevin Bacon as a friend who he can chat comfortably with. I got the distinct impression that Kraglin would be incredibly easy to talk to and that impression alone warmed me to him. As for Nebula, she’s in this even less but it’s so nice to see her reluctantly but happily integrating herself into the family she’s made. I can’t get over the way she helped Mantis and Drax present Kevin Bacon to Peter, or the smile on her face after she gifted Bucky’s arm to Rocket. Nebula deserves the world and I’m glad she’s found some peace with the Guardians.

“I Don’t Know What Christmas Is (But Christmas Time is Here)”: This song is at the very beginning of the special and it’s probably the funniest part of the whole thing. It was written by James Gunn and performed by a band he’s loved for many years, The Old 97s. You have to listen to this song. It’s so unexpected, so wrong, and so outrageous in all the best ways. I completely lost it at Mrs. Claus working the pole.

What I Disliked:

Kevin Bacon’s Reaction to Mantis and Drax: I’m going to get nitpicky here because I don’t have many things in this special that I dislike. Why did Kevin Bacon assume Mantis and Drax were two crazy people in costumes? Why did he continue to assume this after they started exhibiting superpowers? Why did he act as though they were abnormal beings? This is the Kevin Bacon of the MCU. Where the general public has been made painfully aware of superpowered individuals and aliens because of frequent disasters. You would think Kevin Bacon would have more of an idea of what he was up against when he first met Mantis and Drax. It was strange that he was acting as though he had no idea what they could be.

“Here It Is Christmas Time”: I know they decided to use this song because the Old 97s have performed it before, but this is a really weird Christmas song that took me out of the special’s ending a bit. The lyrics don’t go well together and overall made me cringe with both their strangeness and overly obvious wording. It’s just an awkward song and I don’t think it suited the emotional beats of the finale.

Lost in LA: I think the sequence where Drax and Mantis first show up to LA went on for a bit too long. Especially when it came to the two spending time in the nightclub. Already the scene where Mantis and Drax kept getting stopped for pictures in front of the Chinese Theatre took a bit more time than I expected. But I felt the sequence of them spending time in LA really started to drag once we transitioned to them getting drunk. I could have done for less time on one or both of these sequences.

Clearly I don’t have much to complain about with this special. I wouldn’t say it’s a work of art or anything. But it’s really fun and makes a great addition to whatever Christmas movies you revisit each year. It has the perfect amount of heart, family focus, and comedy to keep you coming back for more. And more than anything else, it’s the first time I really feel like I was given enough of Mantis and her personality to fully appreciate her character. If for nothing else, watch this special for Mantis and Pom Klementieff’s amazing performance. This has officially made me like the character, and that alone makes watching ‘The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special’ so worth it.

Don’t do anything fun until I get back!

Hallie

ATEEZ: ‘Paradigm’ and MonTEEZ

Promotional image of (from left) Choi Jongho, Jeong Yunho, Jung Wooyoung, Park Seonghwa, Kim Hongjoong, Song Mingi, Choi San, and Kang Yeosang. Copyright goes to KQ Entertainment and ATEEZ.

Hi! It’s Annie!

This is the comeback that we were all waiting for after it started becoming apparent that there were more releases on the way from ATEEZ. Oh my god, it did not disappoint. It seems like ATEEZ has recently been making more of an effort to embrace the sexy vibes that became extremely popular especially after the release of “Deja Vu”. Of course, their recent performance of “Cyberpunk” more than embraced those vibes, and everyone’s (rightly) obsessed with it. So the clean cut suit vibes that cut to the darker aesthetics are exactly the escalation of this that I wanted. But obviously, all the music that comes out of ATEEZ is unique and amazing. Some of the most underrated and amazing songs ATEEZ have released have been on their Japanese release albums. This is no different from the brilliance of any of those, so I’m going to get into it! I’m only going to talk about a few of the new releases, so this won’t be a review of the entire album. And I did want to include another announcement that made me so so happy this week!

“Paradigm”:

After first hearing the snippet of music in the teaser, I had a similar feeling to when I first heard the snippet of “Deja Vu”. Though not as intense; it was still the overwhelming feeling that the song was going to be awesome and unlike anything I’ve ever heard before. This songs is the perfect mix of hard hitting beats and lyrical melody. The first few times I heard it, I couldn’t absolutely piece it together because it felt like I wasn’t expecting the equal amount of hype throughout the song. There’s so much going on at the same time it fits together so perfectly. And I love seeing ATEEZ continue to make things so even among all the eight members. While Yeosang still lacked some sung lines for this song, I didn’t feel as though he was lacking much considering their dedication to continuously giving him other lines whether they are sung or whispered. And they also have been using Yeosang reliably in other ways that I’ll get to later. This is the perfect mix of beats and a showcase of vocal ability; I just think everyone would have a better week if they listened to this song.

The MV:

The sharp dressed members of ATEEZ go in between a dark and a light setting for this MV, with red in between. This isn’t like “Don’t Stop” where we got some more ATEEZverse story. This MV actually reminds me more of “HALA HALA” because it’s a dance showcase more than anything else. Yeosang is centered for a lot of it and, as we all know from “Cyberpunk”, pulls off these sexy themes very well. Mingi absolutely slayed me in his glasses that I was not expecting them to put him in. I love how Hongjoong gets his arm band into every outfit, it’s such a badass calling sign for him. Seonghwa’s light shift “shhh” in the video took all of us out. San continues to put us all in our graves with his facial expressions. How did they get Wooyoung to look so damn intimidating? Jongho looked like the romantic CEO of a company here. What did I do to deserve that Yunho hair flip and oh my gosh he looked so suave when he started out the MV. Nothing about any of the members in this MV was fair. And they continue to show everyone that when it comes to dancing, no other group is as technical and fluid with it as they are. The flashing between aesthetics in the MV matched the song by giving the impression that so much was going on. It was kind of difficult to keep track of everyone, so it forces you to watch the MV time and time again so that you can catch absolutely everything. But who’s complaining? We’re all trying to stream this one anyways! They are once again making this song into a dance challenge. I wonder if other groups will be up for the amazingly intricate choreography this time around. We’ll have to find out!

“Intro: The Siren”:

I loved the way this intro sounded partly because it reminded me of the hype of the concert. There’s something very profoundly like introducing the audience to the show in this piece. I kind of wonder if the person talking is all Hongjoong, a collection of various ATEEZ members, or even someone else entirely. But I think this piece is such a great introduction to the corrupt government in the current ATEEZverse, and I loved how much story, importance, and gorgeous music such a small piece still packs.

MonTEEZ:

For those of you who haven’t been following the series of videos labelled ‘MonTEEZ’ on ATEEZ’s Youtube channel, now is the time to do that! I am ecstatic that it looks like we’re actually getting some ATEEZ designed plushies. This is where so many K-Pop groups hit me in the wallet the most. I am very susceptible when it comes to plushies. Like San, I just love a good plushie so much. So, I always knew that when ATEEZ announced that they would be releasing literally any kind of plushie, I was going to be all over it. And I love that they’re going with several versions of Yeosang’s original Hehetmon design. I am already in love with all of the final product designs and now it just feels like a matter of time before we get the official announcement. I’m just hoping that they release these new plushies in a wide variety of places, because I can’t afford the shipping for the KQ Entertainment Store website. But, I’m going to be honest, I already know my money is forfeit. These new designs include; Hongjoong’s which adorably has his own Hongjoong bangs and definitely bears a similarity to his designer, Seonghwa’s who stays true to the original Hehetmon design with some new touches and a star on his head, Yunho’s who is very cheesily giving two thumbs up with a large thumbs up on his head as well as an adorable tooth, Yeosang’s which is the original Hehetmon design but with a new and improved hat, San’s which consists of two friends holding hands with different outlooks on the world, Mingi’s who has a clover on his head and looks very chill, Wooyoung’s which consists of two vastly different friends in what appear to be teacups, and Jongho’s which has lots of purple and a look of adorable determination. There’s something for everyone here and I just can’t wait to see the final plushie designs any day now. I love how original these designs are and how they stem from something that’s been fan loved for years now. Thank you to Yeosang for the original design that now got us these cuties!

I’m going to be completely honest, I’ve been having a really tough and exhausting week. And none of that is in a good way by any means. My week has been pretty bad. The release of ‘Paradigm’ and the announcements surrounding MonTEEZ have put me in such a better mood. And Seonghwa and Yunho recently did a live as well! These ATEEZ releases have been keeping me from spiraling this week and give me something amazing to look forward to every single day. I am absolutely in love with all of these! I will be listening to “Paradigm” every day and staring at pictures of MonTEEZ until they finally are for sale. This is exactly what I needed to help me through the week. I just want to thank ATEEZ for working so incredibly hard and being in the business of making the days, weeks, months, and even years for so many of us so much better.

See you across the pond!

Sincerely, Annie

Comfort Entertainment: ‘Belle’ Review

Screenshot from the movie ‘Belle’. Copyright goes to Studio Chizu.

Hey! Hallie here!

‘Belle’ was one of the biggest anime movie releases from last year. There weren’t many places you could go on the internet without hearing one of the songs from this film or seeing someone cosplay the title character. I really wanted to watch ‘Belle’ when it came out, but for various reasons I wasn’t able to see it. And then it completely slipped my mind until I saw it pop up in my recommended list on HBO Max. I had really high expectations. This has excellent reviews on most websites and was given a very long standing ovation at the Cannes Film Festival. And the songs drew me in long before I was able to watch the whole movie. But, to be honest, this didn’t live up to my expectations. In fact, I thought this movie was extremely messy. I have a lot of mixed thoughts about ‘Belle’, so let’s just get into it! MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD!

The Good:

The Songs: The music in this movie is incredible. As a disclaimer for this section, though, I did watch the English dub of ‘Belle’. So when I talk about the voice of Suzu/Belle, I’ll be referring to the angelic voice of Kylie McNeill, who was only around eighteen when she voiced the character of Suzu. You would never guess the voice behind these songs belonged to a teenager. The amount of control she has is enviable. She switches easily between light, sweet notes and strong belting. The dynamic nature of her voice works extremely well in fast-paced, fun songs like “U”, but even better in slower, more heartfelt pieces like “Gales of Song”. I will never get over how amazing “Gales of Song” is. Beyond just the singing though, the soundtrack of this movie is gorgeous. It really does transport you to another world and embraces more of a fairytale feel than I expected. I highly recommend the soundtrack for this movie. It’s addictive and excellently crafted. I also want to note that it fits well with the movie itself. Moments where the main character breaks out into song are made natural by the fact that she’s well, a singer. And the songs serve to move forward the plot by reflecting the inner turmoil and thoughts of Suzu. I don’t really have anything negative to say about the music here.

Animation: Visually, this is a near perfect movie. The 2D animation style is aesthetically pleasing, especially when it comes to the scenery. The bright colors are gorgeous between the green of the forests and the blue of the frosty bridge. But the seamless transition into 3D animation is where the movie really shines. The online world of U is not only just as colorful as the 2D locations, but is also complicated and vast in its design. It really feels like another world that’s worth exploring. The character design in ‘Belle’ is also mind-blowing. The title character herself is absolutely stunning. Her soft pink hair, bright blue eyes, and facial markings all lend themselves to a unique and unforgettable look for the character, and the 3D animation embraces the fluidity of the 2D animation while also breathing more life into her. Another design I love belongs to the Beast, who manages to look like a traditional Japanese painting and a lifelike creature all at the same time. I don’t blame cosplayers for jumping at the chance to tackle the designs from this movie. It’s hard not to love the characters when their designs are so gorgeous.

The Bad:

The Story: It’s really unfortunate that something so influential to the movie failed almost entirely. Especially when the setup was so good. Suzu is a character that’s extremely easy to relate to. She’s insecure about herself, can barely talk to other people, and doesn’t feel that she’s able to accomplish much. All of this is tied to past trauma concerning her mother, who died attempting to save someone else’s child right in front of Suzu. Because of that, Suzu feels both a pressure to live up to her mother’s kindness, and an anger for being essentially abandoned. Also tied to this trauma is her inability to sing, which was one of her favorite things to do with her mother when she was alive. You really feel for Suzu and share her happiness when she realizes that in U, because she can hide behind her avatar, she can sing. But just when it starts getting into the juiciness of her hiding behind her persona, the Beast plot line gets dropped on the story. And that’s where it goes off the rails. For those who don’t know, ‘Belle’ is based off of ‘Beauty and the Beast’, specifically Disney’s version. So when the Beast came in I thought he was a love interest, likely her childhood friend who might be able to tie more directly into Suzu’s storyline and help her heal more of her trauma. But instead the Beast takes over the entire plot, including Suzu’s character development. They spend half the movie trying to figure out who the Beast is while Belle protects him from the internet cops, Belle forms a bond with him so quickly that you as the audience don’t understand what her obsession is with him, and then the story ends with the reveal that he’s a random kid who’s abused by his father.

I suppose the final sequence, where Suzu sings a song dedicated to the Beast without her avatar as a means to convince him to trust her, is supposed to demonstrate that she’s developed the self confidence to stop hiding. Except it doesn’t do that. Instead of revealing her true self because she’s grown more confident, she does it out of an obligation to get the Beast out of his abusive situation. And her confidence doesn’t actually seem to grow before or even after this event. She feels like the same character at the end of the movie as she was at the beginning of it. Not to mention that the whole way she and her friends go about trying to help this abused kid is ridiculous. Really? She and her teenage friends are able to guess his location because of the placement of two buildings and some quick googling? And then her friends, some of whom are adult women, send her off to deal with this abusive father on her own? The whole finale is so ridiculous that it takes you out of the story entirely. I really wanted to see Suzu learn to love and accept herself. I wanted to see her come to terms with what her mother did instead of deciding, unprompted, that she was done talking about her mother halfway through the movie. I didn’t want the movie to pivot to a random, unrelated character who’s storyline was resolved by Suzu’s friend group briefly turning into Mystery Incorporated.

Overall this movie couldn’t make up for its faults. It matched gorgeous music and jaw-dropping animation with a lacking story that just got worse as the movie continued. I so badly wanted to walk away from ‘Belle’ with a new obsession, but honestly, I’ll probably forget about it in a few weeks. I won’t forget about the music though. I’ll still be listening to “Gales of Song” after I’ve forgotten ‘Belle’s plot, and it will probably be better for it.

Don’t do anything fun until I get back!

Hallie

International Dramas: ‘My Secret Romance’

Promotional image of Sung Hoon and Song Ji Eun. Copyright goes to ‘OCN’ and ‘DramaFever’.

Hi! It’s Annie!

I am admittedly starting to really run out of dramas to watch on Netflix. I hope more are added soon! There are a number on the streaming service I still haven’t watched, but I’m really into lighthearted romances so I’m a lot more hesitant with any of the ones with darker themes right now. Though I did love ‘Vincenzo’, so I may eventually give some of those a chance. This drama won me over with the pastel themed holiday-type photos Netflix has been recently advertising it with. (Yes, the photo that I used is from these!) So, I finally gave this one a chance after seeing it in my recommended shows for what feels like forever. It’s not a super recent K-Drama, but it isn’t an older K-Drama either which kind of surprised me. While the drama does deal with a lot more recent progressive types of thinking, it also has a lot of the cheesiness that I expected from dramas more around the era of ‘Boys Over Flowers’. This drama did end up having some of that cute charm; but there were several things that soured it for me a little bit. And yay to more second lead syndrome! I’m just going to get into it, but bear in mind that this will have MAJOR SPOILERS in it. This is your only warning!

Summary: Yumi stays at a fancy hotel after attending one of her Mother’s weddings and while there meets a “busboy” named Jinwook. Both are unhappy with their current lives and find solace in each other after a series of odd events, leading to them sleeping together. Years later, Yumi finally lands the job of her dreams at a company that she soon finds out is run by Jinwook, who was never a busboy at all.

The Delicious:

The Places- I always absolutely love it when a drama gives the audience places that feel cozy and familiar. The best example of that in this is the bookshop and brewery that the second lead, Hyuntae, runs. He says earlier on that he opens it when he wants and closes it when he wants, so it’s mostly open at night because, like me, he’s a night owl. With the cozy atmosphere covered with plants and books, it’s the perfect place for the main character to spend some time decompressing. The night aesthetic and the bright lights of the shop just add to the comforting feeling of the hole-in-the-wall type place, and it absolutely helps that it’s run by a sweet second lead who wears all of those cozy looking sweaters that second leads wear. The show also spends a lot of time at a very pretty resort right on the beach, which is another escapism place that made this show worth watching. The beach, though being by what looks to be a very tourist-y area, is usually pretty private and has plenty of rocks to climb on. This show succeeded in making me want to go to so many of the places that they showcased.

The Female Lead- Yay! Another drama where I actually liked the female lead! There were times where she felt a little weak within the plot, but I also think the drama did a good job in keeping her strong and letting her make decisions for herself. She holds a lot of, understandable, past trauma with her Mother. The drama doesn’t seek to completely undo the trauma that was done, but instead justifies the main character for the decisions that she makes. Yumi is very sweet to the team she works with as well and tries to make everyone feel included. She wasn’t an original character by any means or one of my favorite female leads, but I think she pretty well remains strong throughout the show. The show doesn’t dumb her down or make her the damsel in distress for the main male lead. And I liked that it showed her interest in her job despite not knowing everything about it yet. She wasn’t perfect and it was relatable to show the learning curve of a career.

The Second Lead- Once again, second lead syndrome hit me hard here. And this is also one of the few times that I thought the main female character would have been better off with the second lead. He was really supportive, helped her take care of her family, and even stepped up to the plate to push the main lead towards her in the end. He also was a published novelist who wrote about travel who was on the lookout for someone to travel with. Sign me up! He had a very bright and sweet personality, almost every character in the show would go to him for advice, and he wore all those cozy sweaters. I seriously don’t know how you don’t choose this man. I know that I usually go for the sweet ones, which is probably why I suffer from second lead syndrome so often, but this was ridiculous. Not only because this guy was so irresistible, but also because the main lead was not my favorite for a variety of reasons that I’ll go into later. But how can you not go with the big brother type, sweater-wearing, cozy, travel writer? How??? Yumi is always more comfortable and even playful when she’s with Hyuntae and is more flustered and annoyed with Jinwook. There wasn’t a decision here.

The Side Characters- Though we didn’t get much of them, I really loved the other food workers working with Yumi. They were super supportive and very cute and they were never ill used or annoying. I liked Jinwook’s assistant in his absolutely garish suits and his crush on one of the women on Yumi’s team too. When Yumi eventually decided to leave her job, I was honestly more distressed at her parting with her team at work. The karaoke night they all had to say goodbye to her was so sweet! Again, there really wasn’t much of them at all, but I didn’t feel that there was a need for them to show up more than they did in this drama with the way the plot was set up.

The Over-Done:

The Main Male Lead- I know that the whole “falling in love with the boss” thing is super popular, but I personally think it can get really complicated very quickly. For one, this creates a boss-employee dynamic, which is an unbalanced power dynamic. I’ve seen some shows subvert this by adding instances where they aren’t quite boss-subordinate. The employee might actually be on a similar level to the CEO, or is working in a company or department that is more adjacent to the CEO’s company. Or even that the employee is only working at the company for a limited amount of time because their career is actually in something else. This drama didn’t take any of those routes. This was straight up boss-subordinate and, even worse, the boss character decides to take advantage of his situation at every moment possible. Jinwook realizes that Yumi is working for his company by chance, and makes her work overtime to hand-make individual meals for him and then deliver them so that he can see her and punish her for leaving him before he woke up after they slept together. If that isn’t taking advantage of your position of power, I don’t know what is. Especially because of how much he sends his food back to be remade and consistently makes her work after everyone else has gone. This is straight up harassment. Could you imagine if a CEO of an actual company slept with an employee and then punished them at work for what happened that night? I’m sure it’s happened before, but I don’t see how you can paint this in any sort of positive light. On top of this, Jinwook also demands that Yumi eat with him (essentially go on dates with him) and threatens her job if she refuses. How is this romantic?? Jinwook needs to be in jail! He’s also a pompous brat for most of the series and doesn’t actually seem to learn. It almost feels like they purposely created a toxic male lead to show off how adorable their second lead is.

The Other Love Interest- The male lead, being rich, has a female love interest that his family expects him to marry. Of course, she’s rich and pretty and really mean to the main character. They tried to do a redemption story with her, but I just didn’t feel that it worked out at all. I usually love redemption stories! She was constantly putting down women that were poorer or “less pretty” than she was and she never really seemed to learn from it. At the end of the show she ends up with the second lead, and this is a storyline that I usually like. I like when the second lead actually gets to find love too. But the issue was that she wasn’t nearly good enough for him. She was still really bratty and insulting. I understood that she felt crushed that the only guy she ever liked didn’t like her back, but that doesn’t excuse her hateful actions towards other characters (mostly other women) in the show. I’d love to see more shows without female characters tearing each other down for not being “feminine” enough. I’m really sick of seeing female characters fight over a guy, too.

The Last Couple Episodes- This seems to happen a lot where I don’t really like the ending of a K-Drama. I’ve said before that romance shows in general seem to not know what to do with themselves once a couple actually gets together. They like the idea of the chase, but writers don’t seem to think that showing the audience the couple just being a couple is interesting enough. This drama was another example of that. After Yumi’s Mom makes a fool of herself on television in which she reveals the secret relationship between Yumi and Jinwook; Yumi decides to run away from home. Eventually Jinwook finds her on the beach they met at, but she, once again, leaves the next morning before he can wake up. She decides to go back home, has a really bad fever for a while, and then finally gets back together with Jinwook because her Mom tells her to do it on TV. What? Also, can we talk about the fact that even Hyuntae knew where Yumi would be and he literally has to spell it out to Jinwook in order for him to find her? And they really put her with Jinwook at the end?

Progressiveness- I never thought I would be putting this in a review. Essentially, Yumi is ashamed of her Mother for a variety of reasons, but the main reason is that she was made fun of because her Mother starred in an adult film. The Mother is shown to be so proud of this adult film that she decides to show large screenshots of it at her wedding. There’s a lot wrong with all of this. Sex workers have to deal with enough as it is. What we’re not going to do, is use a large platform to shame sex workers. Most of them would not want screenshots of their work shown to all their friends and family, but many of them also would not be ashamed of their work and we should not shame them for it. If they were going to cover this topic, they needed to do it with care. Because of how much this show addressed rich people and how much they spent on this show, it really did feel like they were punching down. The show spent a lot of time really trying to progressively address sex, but they seemed to catastrophically fail every time. Whether it was the shaming of sex workers or the fact that they claimed to be progressive but frequently danced around the topic of sex. The characters in the show talk about how having one night stands should not be frowned upon, but the main character is extremely self deprecating for having had one at all and the show refuses to really talk about the incident. If you say that you’re going to be progressive, actually be progressive.

As you can tell, I’m pretty split about this drama. Is it one I would watch again? No. But it had a certain charm to it! There were things about it that I liked, and things about it that I definitely did not. I didn’t find it to be all that romantic, for one because of a lot of the dancing around important topics, and the whole boss thing for another. But it’s a cute world to live in for a while as you’re watching the drama. It’s not something I would really recommend, but if you want to watch it, go ahead! It’s not (all that) offensive! But it’s also not very original and not the romantic escape I was hoping for.

See you across the pond!

Sincerely, Annie

ATEEZ: Happy Birthday, Wooyoung!

Promotional image of Jung Wooyoung. Copyright goes to KQ Entertainment and ATEEZ.

Hey! Hallie here!

This blog recently went from a BTS ult blog (We are still huge BTS fans and will still be posting about them a lot!) to an ATEEZ ult blog, and that means we’re going to be doing more ATEEZ birthday posts! Today is Wooyoung’s birthday and there are so many things I want to say about this sweetheart. Between his chaotic energy and the genuine enthusiasm he approaches every challenge with, it’s really hard not to be effected by his positivity. And today I really want to shine a light on that positivity because I know that he’s very likely not feeling much of it right now. For those who don’t know, his grandfather passed away directly on his birthday. It’s awful that he has to struggle with this on a day he should be celebrating, and even worse that he won’t be able to go home and spend this time with his family. I genuinely hope that he’s doing alright and will be able to take some time to heal soon. In the meantime, I’m so grateful for the loyalty and love he’s showing Atiny, even now, and how much light he brings into all of our lives. Let’s get into all of the wonderful things about Wooyoung to celebrate on his birthday!

His Sense of Humor:

Wooyoung is one of the most mischievous, hilarious members of ATEEZ. He especially likes to enrage Hongjoong, who is always a mix of annoyed and endeared by Wooyoung’s particular brand of crazy. He’s been known to unexpectedly hug Hongjoong, who likes his personal space, use informal language to irritate him, and recently, on Hongjoong’s birthday, he smashed his face in a cake in front of an entire arena of Atiny. Not only did Hongjoong threaten to send him back to South Korea, but Hongjoong also had to perform the rest of the concert with cake on his face. Wooyoung is also the member to make the most jokes about Hongjoong cracking down on discipline whenever he’s angry, but as always, it’s all in good fun. These two spend as much time as possible complimenting each other; Wooyoung specifically to get Hongjoong flustered. Aside from pranking his captain, Wooyoung is the type to exaggerate his actions just to make the other members laugh. When a member irritates him he’ll give them a long glare until they start to laugh. When he’s scared he’ll yell at the source long after it’s gone to lighten the mood. When he’s frustrated he’ll pout until the members comment on his expression. As much as Wooyoung likes to play pranks, he also loves to ensure the members stay entertained and happy. He’s always hilarious to watch, but also heartwarming in the ways he uses his humor to care for the other members of ATEEZ. And I will never get over his adorable, high-pitched laugh.

His Love for His Members:

Wooyoung is known amongst the members for his strong displays of affection. Hongjoong has said that Wooyoung can bring the members together when they’re apart, and the easy nature with which he demonstrates his friendship has made everyone in ATEEZ feel seen and appreciated. Wooyoung is especially close with San and Yeosang, who he shows fondness for as much as possible. San and Wooyoung do everything together, and just as much as San supports Wooyoung, Wooyoung supports San. Wooyoung offers to cuddle San when he needs help sleeping, talks about how handsome he is to anyone who will listen, and will hug San whenever he thinks San needs it. As for Yeosang, Wooyoung’s known him since they were trainees at Big Hit Entertainment. The two promised to stay together, and when Yeosang left for KQ Entertainment, Wooyoung kept that promise by following him. Their friendship is a bit different, with Wooyoung enjoying pushing Yeosang around while Yeosang responds with scalding sarcasm, but their closeness is undeniable. Wooyoung spends a lot of time praising how much Yeosang has grown since he’s met him and talking about how grateful he is that he debuted with Yeosang. While these members are the two he’s closest with, he shows appreciation and love for all of the members. He supports them, jokes with them, and offers comfort whenever he feels he can provide it. Every member of ATEEZ is deeply important to him and he never misses an opportunity to show it.

His Love For Atiny:

His love for Atiny could never be in doubt. He even left Hongjoong with a message for the Atiny who attended the recent New York fansign, apologizing for not being able to make it and promising them that he would show them his best work at the next concert. He was absent because of his grandfather passing away. He really didn’t have to say anything, and all true Atiny would be understanding if he stayed completely silent at this time. But all Wooyoung was worried about was the Atiny who would feel disappointed that they wouldn’t get to meet him. At the same time I feel horrible that Wooyoung felt he had to do this, the love he has for Atiny blows me away sometimes. Every video I’ve seen of him at a fansign involves him paying back each compliment with a genuine question about the life and preferences of the Atiny who payed him the compliment. He listens intently to everyone who speaks to him and laughs good-naturedly at every joke that comes his way with a genuine smile on his face. He’s even been spending most of his free time learning English so he can communicate better with some foreign Atinys during fan events. He’s open and sweet to Atiny as a whole, and while he is one of the members that will not apologize for setting firm and healthy boundaries, he always makes it clear that he loves spending time with us.

His Amazing Performances:

I can’t finish this post without talking about what this man does as a performer. First off, his dancing is incredible. ATEEZ is essentially a dance crew who started out their careers doing dance covers. As such, every single member is insanely good at dancing and Wooyoung is no different. He approaches each dance with energy and precision. His facial expressions are also on point and perfectly intense for each song he performs. All of this can be seen in his solo work as well, particularly the dance cover he did when he was labelled “Artist of the Month” in June of last year. His dancing there is effortless, his expressions casual but enticing, and his presence is intimidating. I’m not even sure how I survived seeing all of these elements come together live on stage during their concert. Along with his dancing he’s also an amazing singer. Amongst ATEEZ he’s one of the members with a higher range, which suits slower and calmer songs with its sweetness, as well as more exciting songs with the effortless belting he shifts into. The cover of “12:45” that was released on his birthday was such a lovely gift that showed off the beautiful softness and powerful range of his voice perfectly. I love his voice and I hope we can hear more of it as we keep getting more albums.

And that’s it! It was really nice to go through all of the things I love about Wooyoung, but I’m still extremely sad writing this. His birthday came with so much pain this year and Wooyoung doesn’t deserve to have to carry such a heavy burden while he’s so far from home. I hope that the love from Atiny can cheer him up and he’s able to get the rest he needs. I also hope that, if you’re worrying about Wooyoung and feeling upset yourself, that you were able to find some happiness in this post. I know it’s hard, but I want Wooyoung to know how much he’s loved and how much we appreciate him. He deserves all of our love, and if Atiny has anything to say about it, he’ll get it right now when he needs it most.

Don’t do anything fun until I get back!

Hallie

International Dramas: ‘Soundtrack #1’

Screenshot of Park Hyungsik and Han Sohee in ‘Soundtrack #1’. Copyright goes to Disney+.

Hi! It’s Annie!

I’ve been trying to get around to watching some of the K-Dramas that Disney+ recently added and just haven’t had the time at all. Or the motivation. I’ve been slowly trying to get myself back into watching full K-Dramas (I currently lack the attention span), so when I saw that this was four episodes I thought it would be the perfect short watch to get me back into it! It helps that this drama stars Park Hyungsik. I’ve been wanting to watch him in something since seeing him in ‘In the SOOP: Friendcation’, so I was also thrilled that he was the lead of this drama. And this drama definitely did succeed in getting me back into watching K-Dramas! I’m watching another one now that’s actually a decent amount of episodes that I will also be reviewing soon. But, I can’t say that this is a recommended watch. I was sold immediately on the synopsis and how simple but adorable it seemed, but for some reason this drama just couldn’t pull it together enough for me to come out of it with that wholesome feeling I was hoping for. As always, I’m going to get into reviewing this and there will be MAJOR SPOILERS ahead. Though there’s honestly nothing much to spoil.

Summary: Eunsu and Seonwoo have been friends for almost twenty years and, despite Seonwoo’s feelings for Eunsu, have never dated. When Eunsu needs help with writing lyrics for her job and Seonwoo is kicked out of his own apartment, they decide to live together for two weeks.

The Soft:

The Acting- I love both of these actors. They succeeded in making their characters likable, as much as they can be, and their acting decisions were very believable and nuanced. Both of these actors took what they were given and ran with it. Every emotion the characters felt was sure to make the audience emotional as well. And they worked great together! It’s not too often you can put two actors together, say that they’ve known each other since they were nine, and have the audience actually feel like that was a true occurrence. The chemistry between these two completely sold it!

The Aesthetic- This drama was made to feel cozy and you can absolutely tell by watching it. Between the snow, the cozy jackets, the fairy-light lit streets, and the soft blankets, it really does feel like a cozy winter drama. Each shot had warm colors and even desserts galore. I absolutely had a sweet tooth by the end of watching this. And, as a California native where we don’t get much snow, I adored every shot with snow in it.

The Soundtrack- Part of the charm of this drama is the soundtrack that goes perfectly along with the story. Including songs that have the lyrics Eunsu is writing within the show. It really made the drama feel even more personal to the characters and the music itself was lovely.

The Scratchy:

The Plot- Yep, I’m coming out with the hard hitting ones first. Like I said before, I loved this synopsis. I loved the idea of two people who’ve known each other their whole lives, slowly realizing they are in love with each other while living together in a cozy apartment. It sounds adorable, right? Well, this synopsis doesn’t quite pan out like they advertise it will. Firstly, you have the fact that Seonwoo has always had feelings for Eunsu. We’re told at the very beginning that he’s had unrequited feelings for her and she knows he’s had unrequited feelings for someone; but he’s told her that it’s some girl she’s never met named “Jennifer”. The reason why she invited him to stay with her is because she needs help on lyrics about unrequited love because she’s told that she doesn’t know enough about it. For one, this doesn’t make sense because they later establish that she actually did have “unrequited” feelings for him. So wouldn’t she understand it enough to write about it? Why does she need his help? But for another, it takes the magic away of them falling for each other while living together if one (or more) of them is already in love. It’s like the story should have started far before this story actually started. This aside, they don’t actually fall in love or confess to each other while living together. One of the characters moves away not long into the show and then has to come back in order for that to happen. When they get together they are no longer living together and haven’t been for over a year. They don’t actually get to know each other much living together. In fact, them living together is pretty uneventful. Speaking of which…

Boring- I know this is rather blunt, but I really did find this drama to be boring. Nothing much happens in it at all. We don’t really see them fall in love because they were apparently already in love. We constantly see them apart and pining for each other while doing pretty menial tasks. Their jobs, photography and song-writing, seem really interesting but they find a way to barely show the jobs and make almost nothing of it whenever they do actually show them working. It was like watching absolutely nothing happen. I almost quit two episodes in before realizing that there were only two episodes left and I might as well finish those. The two leads don’t get together until ten minutes before the entire series ends, and it’s also a pretty nothing scene. They confess to each other pretty awkwardly, agree to date, and then it just ends. We get one more after-credits type scene (I’ll get back to this scene), but it’s very short and doesn’t focus so much on the leads. I sat there for a second afterwards wondering what the point of the series was.

The Characters- I wanted to like these characters. I really did. The actors were so likable and both of the characters seemed likable because of that. But none of the characters had any depth. We didn’t get much backstory for either character, probably because they didn’t have much time to do it, and what we got was very bare bones. We didn’t really delve into who these characters were, what their personality traits even are, or what caused them to finally get together in the end. They both had rejected each other at separate times because they didn’t want to ruin their friendship and were afraid of what would happen if they eventually broke up. We don’t really see why the moment they do get together was the right time for them. It feels like everything in this drama just sort of…happens. Like it’s going through the motions of every K-Drama ever with none of the heart.

The Message- Now we get back to that final scene. In this scene we see a cut to the future where the friends of the two leads are watching them cuddle cutely while making comments on the fact that they are finally together. Instead of saying really cute things about how they’re perfect together or how the young couple reminds them of their own relationship; they instead take this time to make it a lesson about how men and women can’t be friends. As a woman who has had male friends before who I never thought romantically of, I still don’t understand thinking that no men and women can ever be friends. I know this is a more controversial opinion in South Korea than in the US, but I still didn’t enjoy the oddly preachy nature of this scene. And it kind of soured this scene that was supposed to be cute.

I’m not saying at all that I thought this was the worst thing that I’ve seen. I honestly thought it was pretty boring and I wouldn’t watch it again. But this feels like something that you could put on in the background and not pay attention to. It has a nice aesthetic that makes you feel warm and cozy when you look at it; just don’t look for a compelling plot. If you want to watch this, go ahead and give it a watch! It certainly won’t take up much of your time. I was expecting more from this, which is saying something considering all I wanted was a simple, cute romance. I wish it would have followed more closely with the synopsis it advertised. But at least it was a cozy watch!

See you across the pond!

Sincerely, Annie

Book Adaptations: What Peter Jackson Made Better in ‘The Lord of the Rings’

Screenshot of Liv Tyler as Arwen in ‘The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring’. Copyright goes to New Line Cinema, WingNut Films, The Saul Zaentz Company, and the Tolkien Estate.

Hey! Hallie here!

We’ve mentioned LOTR on this blog a few times, but we never fully dedicated a post to it. Recently I’ve been feeling particularly passionate about this series, so I figured it was time to rectify that. Mainly, I’m really tired of the discourse over ‘Rings of Power’ that’s been going on non-stop for the last few years now. When the series was announced, suddenly everyone became an expert on ‘The Lord of the Rings’ books and what Tolkien intended for the world he wrote. Any changes to canon were condemned, racism and sexism became rampant, and “book purists” started picking apart everything about the series to convince others that anything not aligned with the books was immediately invalid. And yet, somehow, Peter Jackson’s original trilogy is still beloved amongst these fans. I hate to tell these toxic fans this, but Peter Jackson changed some major things within his movies. Some of these things have received their own criticisms, but many of them I’ve seen book purists wrongfully attribute to Tolkien because of how seamlessly his changes fit into the story of Middle Earth. In my opinion, I think Jackson’s changes in these adaptations have elevated his movies even beyond the books. So let’s get into what Peter Jackson did better in his LOTR films.

Women in Middle Earth:

I’m starting off with something I see toxic fans and non-toxic fans alike complain about. Peter Jackson has made a habit of writing in female characters to break up the meat fest that Tolkien originally wrote. Some of these characters are present in the books but have their stories elongated or modified, such as Galadriel and Eowyn. Some of these characters are briefly mentioned but never given personality, such as Arwen. And others were created entirely from scratch, such as Tauriel. Obviously, there are male fans who complain about Peter Jackson’s attempts at giving us more female representation simply because they’re sexist. But some complain about these women from a narrative perspective. Arwen gets complaints because she replaced a fan-favorite elf from the books, Glorfindel. But what Arwen gives to the plot is so much more than what Glorfindel ever provided. Glorfindel was an elf who appeared only the once in the ‘Lord of the Rings’ trilogy. His past is mentioned in ‘The Silmarillion’, which is why people like him so much, but he holds no relevance to Frodo’s story at all. Meanwhile, Arwen, while also providing a badass woman for little girls to look up to, also has a meaningful relationship with Aragorn that deeply effects him throughout his entire character arc. For that reason, narratively, expanding her character is far more satisfying and makes a lot more sense.

Tauriel gets complaints for her side-story with Kili being unnecessary. But her story with Kili actually gives him personality where, in the book, he had none. Not to mention that the Mirkwood elves in the book play a tiny role in the story but were one of the most interesting elements of ‘The Hobbit’ to readers. It makes sense to give us a Mirkwood elf for us to attach ourselves to, and let’s be honest, it wasn’t going to be Thranduil (As much as I do love him). Eowyn and Galadriel are the only two female characters whose narrative purpose stays mostly the same between books and movies because they were two of three rare female characters that Tolkien wrote well (The third being Luthien from ‘The Silmarillion’). But Tolkien still wrote them both with a hefty dose of sexism that Peter Jackson fixed. Galadriel, in Jackson’s films, is given a larger amount of power and takes a more personal role in taking down Sauron. Meanwhile, Eowyn doesn’t get a stupid ending where Faramir “tames” her and she never fights again. No matter how you look at it, Jackson does far more justice with the female characters in ‘Lord of the Rings’ than Tolkien ever did.

Fleshing Out Characters:

I already talked a little bit about this above, but this whole topic deserves its own section. Tolkien was an excellent writer who will forever be known for his world building. But many of the characters outside of the Hobbit characters feel a bit underdeveloped. Legolas gets absolutely nothing in the books, especially when comparing him to the rest of the Fellowship. Aragorn is the stern, honorable, and confident sort of man you’d expect from a character who will end up as king, and not much more. Gandalf is mysterious and disappears for a good chunk of every single book. Many of the beloved character traits we love from these characters came from Jackson’s movies. Legolas’s sass and witty back-and-forth with Gimli is far more explored in the movies, and his presence overall is stronger. Aragorn gets an entire character arc about trying to balance his responsibilities with not wanting to leave Arwen, fearing he will succumb to the ring and turn out like his ancestor, and finding within himself the self confidence to be king. All of which makes his character far more interesting of a protagonist to follow and makes his success all the more emotional. And Gandalf gets the time to be just as big of a main character as everyone else. When he leaves we actually get to see where he goes off to, making his sacrifices and struggles while there much more impactful to the audience. And his sternness and confidence is sometimes replaced with a humble, silly, gentle man who I’d personally like to know even more than the Gandalf from the books.

Then there’s the characters that Peter Jackson created lore for that is sometimes mistaken for Tolkien’s own writings. The biggest example is Thranduil, who I keep seeing book purists criticize for not being as tragic of a character in the movies as he is in the book. But Thranduil isn’t a tragic character in the book. Sure, Tolkien did write of the battle where Thranduil lost his father, but it’s not a major story that goes into the impact this loss had on Thranduil. It’s a small battle written in passing that isn’t even mentioned in ‘The Hobbit’. You want to know what else isn’t mentioned in ‘The Hobbit’ book? Thranduil’s wife or child. Yes, we know Legolas is his son, but that information doesn’t come from ‘The Hobbit’ book. Thranduil’s name isn’t even given in the book. He’s only referred to as “Elvenking”. The tragic backstory of Thranduil, where he loses his wife, distances himself from his son, and remains in perpetual mourning, is all Peter Jackson’s films. The fact that the treasure he’s searching for in the Lonely Mountain is actually a necklace once belonging to his late wife is also a plot line only introduced in Peter Jackson’s films, though the scene that blatantly states this never made it into the final cut. In the book, Thranduil is described as greedy and legitimately just wants to see if he can get something valuable from the dragon hoard. Tolkien’s strong point isn’t his character development, and while it isn’t bad, it’s definitely made better in Jackson’s movies.

Cutting Out the Excess:

It’s funny to see how many people will criticize Peter Jackson’s adaptations for throwing in “too many extra plot lines” when Tolkien did this so many times in his own books. Tom Bombadil is an entirely unnecessary character that breaks up the entire plot. Not only do Frodo and his friends spend too much time in his household, but the fact that they meet a man who is not even the slightest bit tempted by the ring so early in the story removes the stakes. We have all this setup describing how dangerous the ring is because of how irresistible it is to everyone, including Gandalf, and yet suddenly we get some random guy who undoes this build up while the story is still getting going. There’s also the amount of time Tolkien dedicates to world building. I’m not sure there’s any side plot as unnecessary as the entire chapter that’s dedicated to Pippin being shown around Gondor. And I’m not sure there really needed to be so many parts of Frodo’s journey where he’s stuck in a forest for several weeks on end with nothing but pretty descriptions of trees to pass the time. This is not to say that what Tolkien wrote is bad. I love these books and the amount of description within them. But there’s no way I’d want to see any of these things on screen and I’m grateful Peter Jackson avoided it.

Once again, this post isn’t a dunk on Tolkien. I’m a huge fan of the books and movies. But toxic fans need to remember what adaptations of Tolkien’s writings have added to the fandom. I don’t think anyone would appreciate these characters and these stories as much as we do if not for some of Peter Jackson’s tweaking. We would still have a deep love for the characters and world Tolkien made, but the closeness we feel to it all is very much aided by what Peter Jackson’s films did. And the same might be true of ‘Rings of Power’ in the future. While I may not have loved season one, I do already think it deserves praise for actually showing racial diversity within its cast. Just like Jackson’s development of female characters, it’s a necessary step forward that is long overdue. (Tolkien also wrote that the Harfoots were “browner of skin” so get out of here racist fans.) And I think the show has the opportunity to keep breaking boundaries and making strides forward if the creators listen to some of the criticisms surrounding the first season’s structure. There’s no reason to hate on it for being different from the books or diverging a little from canon. ‘Lord of the Rings’ has benefited majorly from it before and it certainly will again.

Don’t do anything fun until I get back!

Hallie

ATEEZ: Ult Group

Promotional photo of (from left) Jeong Yunho, Choi Jongho, Jung Wooyoung, Kim Hongjoong, Choi San, Kang Yeosang, Park Seonghwa, and Song Mingi. Copyright goes to KQ Entertainment and ATEEZ.

Hi! It’s Annie!

I mentioned this briefly in my last post, but I feel like this is quite possibly an important change that the blog will reflect in the future. While we write posts based off of all of our favorite fandoms, I don’t think we write about anything quite as much as K-Pop. Both Hallie and I have changed our ult group to ATEEZ. And obviously we still love all of the other groups we’ve mentioned as well, but I think this has been coming on for a little while. Literally every time ATEEZ releases anything, it’s my new favorite thing that I’ve ever seen or heard. I am absolutely in love with how they delve into storytelling. I’m a huge geek and their storylines really appeal to my fandom heart. And also, as I have mentioned before, Yunho has been my ult bias for months. Sometimes I think that ATEEZ isn’t underrated anymore and then I am reminded that people still don’t give them the credit that they deserve. I’ve been voting for them every day for the MAMAs and I hope everyone else is too! But I do want to take this announcement post to give them more of the credit that they deserve. Because nobody, anywhere, does anything like ATEEZ does.

Hongjoong:

Our Captain, a rapper, and one of the brilliant brains behind ATEEZ. This man has written so many songs for this group and his love of classic music and tampering with different kinds of music has partly given ATEEZ their unique sound. It would not have surprised me if the decision to combine “Answer” with “Ode to Joy” was something Hongjoong suggested. This man has lost a computer’s worth of songs just to re-do all of the work, and was at one point the leader of around twenty trainees. He’s known for being responsible and sometimes selfish over Atiny and the absolute best Captain that we could have asked for.

Seonghwa:

The absolute Mom of the group and the ultimate shoulder to cry on. Seonghwa can both sing and rap and has one of the lower registers of the group, and he’s also known for his visuals. Seonghwa is the support that we all need in our lives and the one that surprises a lot of Atiny the most. He’s very adorable behind the scenes and extremely intimidating on stage. His onstage presence has been known to bias wreck those who see him live. Seonghwa is known for making so many people comforted with much of what he does and I think we’ve all turned to Seonghwa for comfort at some point.

Yunho:

Obviously I’m biased (pun intended), but Yunho is one of the most underrated members of ATEEZ. Fortunately, people are beginning to notice this and give him more credit. Yunho is one of the main vocalists and the main dancer; if one of the members need help with a piece of choreography they go to Yunho. Yunho has also successfully tried his hand at being an actor and has an underrated stage presence. I can never tear my eyes off of his aggressive but very clean dance style whenever I see them perform. He’s known for being a sweet golden retriever with a competitive streak and I don’t know how more people don’t bias him.

Yeosang:

Yeosang used to not get many lines as a vocalist, but now he’s been getting more and more and I’m very glad. Yeosang has a unique darker tone to his voice, but he’s mainly known within the group for his statue-esqe visuals. And now that the tour has happened, his way with the choreography has wrecked so many people. Seriously, I don’t know how any of us survived watching him perform “Cyberpunk”. Yeosang is the most introverted of the group and he’s also so incredibly sweet. He may be quiet but he also has a sarcastic wit that makes me laugh every time. He has the best burns of any idol.

San:

San, a vocalist, is the most biased of the group and we all know why. He has one of the most eye-catching performance styles in the entire industry. His facial expressions and interpretations of the choreography has attracted many a fan. And also, if you saw an idol go viral for wearing a crop top not that long ago, it was most likely San that you saw. His intense performance style, like Seonghwa, is also a difference from his more adorable persona. This man takes care of his members and also has a collection of amazing plushies that we all love to see. San also made me question me entire life during “Cyberpunk”.

Mingi:

This man just wrecked everyone, and I mean everyone, for this tour. When he performs, he goes all out. He’s known for his deep voice when rapping and he’s also known for taking off his shirt. If you’ve seen one of these members go viral because he was shirtless during a performance, I guarantee you that was Mingi. He also got all of the fans to bark at him at pretty much every location of this most recent tour. Mingi is another sweet goofball and I’m so glad that we recently got the Mingi and Yunho head spin back. We missed him for the short time he was away and we’re all glad he’s back!

Wooyoung:

A bit of a troublemaker with definite vocal and choreography skills. Wooyoung and San can be a double kill on any day of the week, but Wooyoung has proved time and time again that he can be a kill completely on his own as well. He loves to mess with other members of the group, specifically Seonghwa and Hongjoong, and they all make fun of his laugh all the time. But Woo has laser focus on stage. His dedication to the performances always comes across and makes it hard to not notice him when he’s on stage. And Wooyoung’s attachment to the other members is always so endearing to watch.

Jongho:

The amazing maknae that is also the other most underrated of the group. Have you heard this man’s voice? Why don’t more people bias him? Jongho is not characteristic for a typical maknae because of his slightly intimidating presence and the fact that he often acts older than other members of the group. He can also rip apples apart with his bare hands. But mostly, he’s known for quite possibly having the strongest voice in all of fourth gen. Jongho hits notes that many other people wouldn’t be able to even think of hitting. And when you see him live, he’ll hit them all over again like it’s nothing.

Storytelling:

This is the major thing that sets ATEEZ apart from everyone else. ATEEZ is always game for a story. Through their various albums and performances we’ve been introduced to HALATEEZ, an alternate dimension version of ATEEZ from a semi-apocalyptic world. As well as ATEEZ themselves, a pirate crew with a flying ship that stand up for the young people who don’t feel that they can really speak for themselves. As the story has gone on we’ve seen the struggles of both ATEEZ and HALATEEZ, but in particular we have seen them help each other out. Often their realities will collide and ATEEZ will rescue HALATEEZ from prisons or even help them fight in wars. HALATEEZ lives in a reality where the government has prohibited human emotion and banned creativity. After the threat from HALATEEZ’s own universe popped up in ATEEZ’s world (over the course of their ‘Kingdom’ performances), HALATEEZ crossed over to help ATEEZ fight that threat. And unfortunately lost their lives in the process, leaving their own world without a revolutionary force. The most recent storyline for ATEEZ has seen the pirate crew cross over into the universe of HALATEEZ to pick up where they left off in being the revolutionary force. And recent interviews have Captain Hongjoong saying that this will not be the end of the story. In fact, he said that this universe crossing is the beginning of a new storyline. No other K-Pop group has ever been this story driven. It’s like waiting for the next season of your favorite streaming show. This added to their unique and hard-hitting music makes it difficult to see why ATEEZ is so overlooked. This combination of music and storytelling makes them almost unbelievable to me in how much so many of my likes could exist in one thing.

Music and Choreo:

All of that story was partially because they liked the look of HALATEEZ, something that they came up with to prove to the industry that they weren’t just getting by on visuals. They did an entire MV, the “Hala Hala” MV, as an enormous dance focused video where they all wore masks to cover their faces. The masks make it virtually impossible to decipher who is who (unless, of course, you are very familiar with the members), and the MV takes place entirely in a warehouse type of area. This makes it so that the audience can focus on nothing but the dancing. And the dancing is more than enough. If you’ve seen someone make a video about the best dancers in K-Pop and they put “all of ATEEZ” somewhere in the video; that’s really common. ATEEZ is a dance group. On top of that, their genre mashing and fast paced tempos make their music addicting and dance-worthy. But more than that, they try to make things different than anything the industry has ever heard before. ATEEZ has never made a move where they played it safe. So each time they release anything, I’m blown away with how unique it sounds and also how I’ve lived my life so long without whatever they just released.

Message:

I need to talk about this too. My sister and I are the exact same age as most of the members of ATEEZ. This honestly could be a reason why we connected so much with them so quickly. ATEEZ has made it a point to talk about things that make their generation feel less than or unworthy. I got out of college in the middle of a pandemic, had no idea what I wanted to do with my life, and spiraled. When ATEEZ released “Turbulence”, a song about not knowing who to be or where to go, I was shocked for at least a week that a song describing so much of what I had gone through had come at such a perfect time for me. ATEEZ has made songs encouraging fans to lean on them during hard times and describing them going through the same things. I don’t think I’ve ever connected this much with something, not just because it meets so many of my likes, but also because it feels so incredibly personal.

Why the Change?:

I think this question always comes up when someone changes a group or a bias. Especially when it comes around the same time the last group you were an ult stan of starts slowing down for a while. And, no, my sister and I did not change our ult bias group because BTS is going into the military. While I can’t speak entirely for my sister, this is where I’m at in this situation. My sister and I started stanning ATEEZ only about two years after they debuted. This was before ‘Kingdom’ and even before the release of ‘ZERO: FEVER, Pt. 2’. ATEEZ recently just had their fourth anniversary, meaning we’ve been with them for two years now. And we started stanning BTS about seven years after their debut. For me, this has meant that I got to see ATEEZ grow and change and the fandom grow and change. And somehow it all got so personal to me because of that. Not to mention that even before we made this decision I had been saying that my favorite K-Pop songs were ATEEZ songs. Just because, like I said, the minute I heard their sound I wondered where it had been all my life. Yunho has been a giant comfort to me, both in the ways he’s talked about his own hard times and how amazingly kind he is. And all of the members of ATEEZ have helped me out in so many ways I can’t even describe. They gave me incentive to keep going and, more than that, made me feel heard by covering things that I feel are important to me in my life right now. Right now I’m deciding on a career that not everyone in my family is supportive of. And ATEEZ has a song for that! If you’re wondering why this is changing, it’s because this is very personal to us. It’s not going to be a situation where once ATEEZ goes into the military the bias group changes again. This is a decision that was a long time coming for probably over a year for me personally. They had slipped into being my ults before I even realized it!

I love these men so much. Probably too much. I seriously can’t wait to see where they keep going from here. It’s felt, weirdly, so right after changing my ult group. It’ll be really cool to see how this will be going forward. But I miss them already. Their Anaheim concert was my favorite concert I’ve ever been to and yes, I still have post concert depression!

See you across the pond!

Sincerely, Annie

Video Games: ‘Eastward’ Review

Screen capture of the characters John and Sam in ‘Eastward’. Copyright goes to Pixpil.

Hey! Hallie here!

Recently I’ve been really interested in cozier games I can casually play on my Nintendo Switch. During my search I came across ‘Eastward’ in a list that was specifically for cozy games that aren’t farming sims, and because I get very easily tired of farming sims, I really wanted to give this a shot. Especially because of the art style, which is absolutely gorgeous. After finishing the game I have a lot of thoughts, which I’ll get into below, but I want to clarify something. This game is pretty high stakes and also has an in-depth and confusing storyline. It even gets quite dark at parts. So while I might call this game’s color palette or wholesome characters “cozy”, I wouldn’t necessarily call this entire game cozy, nor would I recommend it for someone looking for a calming game to unwind with. But that misconception isn’t the fault of the game, just some of the people who’ve recommended it. So with that warning out of the way, let’s get to what I liked and didn’t like in this game!

The Good:

The Protagonists: John and Sam are both really interesting characters that are equally fun to follow. John is a completely silent protagonist which isn’t unusual for an old-fashioned RPG like this one. He’s known for being reliable and kind, though with him actions clearly speak louder than words. The game also spends a good amount of time driving home that he’s an excellent cook just to make him even more likable. But what adds most to his character is his relationship with our other protagonist, Sam. While the player takes the role of John through most of the game, Sam is still a character players will spend a lot of time playing as. Sam is a little girl who’s backstory is mysterious due to the fact that John found her in a tube in some sort of laboratory. She does speak, often on behalf of both herself and John, and constantly demonstrates a huge heart and an earnest desire to befriend everyone she meets. On top of her easily likable traits, Sam is also a badass with crazy powers that prevent her from being any sort of damsel in distress. These two act as a father/daughter duo that’s both heartwarming and heartbreaking as the events of the game unfold. While Sam is clear that John isn’t her real father, John sees himself as Sam’s parent and acts according to that role more and more as the plot goes on. The lengths these two go to to protect each other is the entire driving force of the game and it’s a very effective emotional hook for the audience.

The Side Characters: There’s a whole host of side characters in this game, and while not all of them are winners, most of them are, in my opinion, even better than the main characters. First there’s Alva, a princess and a technician who protects her city from danger with her inventions. She’s bubbly, adorable, and hilarious. And she’s also openly LGBTQ+ as she’s actively dating Isabel, a woman who was built(?) to protect her. Isabel is another great character. She’s the most skilled and feared fighter in the world of ‘Eastward’, as well as the most capable person (Aside from Sam and John) at defending her world from the darkness that’s sweeping across it. There’s also William, an inventor who left his family behind to prove that a world existed outside of the underground village he called a home. William is interesting in that he’s very obviously flawed. He travels around with a robot of his own creation named Daniel, whom he treats like a son, but his real life son named Daniel was left behind when William made to escape his hometown. William is haughty and a bit difficult to understand at first, but the ways he displays his devastation over leaving his family behind are quickly understandable. These are my favorite NPCs, but there are plenty more. There’s Jasper, the outlandish performer who shows a surprising amount of care for the protagonists at the beginning of the game. There’s also Lee, the menacing casino boss who has a soft spot for Alva that makes him endearing. The characters in this game are full of so many quirks and fun backstories that it’s hard to walk away without having at least one character you love.

The Art: I already mentioned the art above, but I’m going to take a bit more time to gush about it. This game is full of vibrant colors and gorgeous backgrounds. From lush forests to bustling cities, to strange labs, this game is breathtaking to look at. There wasn’t one frame where I wasn’t amazed by the color palette. The mix between bright colors and duller tones is eye-catching. And the character designs are all unique and satisfying to look at. They inform the character’s personalities so well that I wanted merchandise for each character even before I actually started the game. There are even pieces of art in the game that pop up towards the ending that are a completely different art style from everything else. As if the rest of the game didn’t already look like a storybook, the occasional fluid, abstract style we get towards the end elevates that storybook feeling. To be honest, I partially bought this game because of the art and I do not regret spending around 25 hours staring at it.

The Gameplay: The gameplay is very satisfying and not too complicated. While I, once again, would not call this game cozy, it’s not stressful to play gameplay-wise. You spend most of the gameplay fighting, but fighting mechanics are simple and, once you get the hang of dodging, most fights are a breeze. As long as you can button mash and you fully utilize Sam’s abilities to freeze enemies, you shouldn’t have any problems. There were very few fights that I had to restart during my time playing this game and even fewer that I had to restart multiple times. You get a few weapons you can choose from during fights, but each are straight-forward, can only be occasionally leveled up, and some are more for puzzles than fights. Speaking of puzzles, there are plenty of fun puzzles you can solve using both John and Sam. These puzzles aren’t too difficult, but they also aren’t so easy that you don’t feel you’ve accomplished anything once you figure them out. There’s also a cooking mechanic in this game that will provide you with the best healing items you can get your hands on. Cooking is as simple as mixing various kinds of ingredients together and seeing what dish you make on accident, but I did find myself enjoying putting together different ingredient combinations to see what recipe I randomly unlocked.

The Bad:

The Story: Well oof. Although I’m very character oriented when it comes to what I find enjoyment in with video games, a bad story always sours my experience regardless of how good the characters are. And this is a particularly messy story. For this section I’m going into SPOILERS! You’ve been warned! The amount of half-baked ideas it felt like were thrown at the wall and never resolved was frankly astounding. First there’s the identity of Sam, who, as far as I gathered, is one of many clones of a mysterious woman. The purpose of her creation was to help usher in a mass extinction of humans so they could be replaced with artificial “better” humans. But who’s she a clone of? Is it someone specific? Is it the person who decided that replacing humans was a good idea for no reason? Why did there need to be more than one clone? There’s also the fact that all of the characters refer to Sam as “mother” when they either praise her or blame her for ushering in the darkness that’s supposed to be the catalyst for replacing the human race. But who’s mother? What motherly role would Sam or the other clones serve? And though I do like that Sam rejects the idea of destroying the human race and puts a stop to it all herself, who’s the alternate version of Sam that keeps trying to convince her to go dark? Is she another clone? The dark side of Sam? The original creator of the clones?

Then there’s Solomon, a character who claims to work for “mother” and appears at various stages of his life throughout the game. He’s a kid when you meet him, but soon afterwards you meet him as a teen and then as an old man. Who is this guy? Why does he work for “mother”? Is he time traveling, or are the three versions of him clones like Sam? And why does it matter that he changes from a teenager to an old man if he’s just going to play the same “evil dude” role either way? And THEN there’s Isabel, who we’re told was built for Alva but then that piece of information never gets elaborated on. Is she even real? Also, why does she try to clone Alva and plug her into Sam’s human-destroying program at the end of the game? And how is Alva’s spirit able to suddenly appear and talk her out of it? I’m fine with a story leaving questions unanswered, but this many questions pertaining to this many main characters feels more like unfinished storylines rather than open-ended conclusions. I also have to complain about the tone here. It quickly switches from light shenanigans to dark themes frequently, but sometimes it’s so jarring that it’s a detriment to the story. For example, Alva dies pretty suddenly in this game. And I didn’t even realize she was dead until I left her city and came to the conclusion that Alva wouldn’t be coming back. Sure we see Isabel carrying her dead body, but she could easily be unconscious for all we know. And after the mostly humorous shenanigans right before her death, it’s hard to just immediately assume the worst there. This happens so often. One minute we’re messing around on a movie set run by monkeys, and the next Daniel the robot dies a gruesome death. Huh?

Sexism and Insensitivity: It’s undeniable. There are some unacceptable characteristics in the character design for some of the NPCs here. The ones I noticed most had to do with a few of the women in this game. While the main characters, such as Alva and Isabel, didn’t have this problem, a large amount of NPCs who happened to be women were given abnormally large breasts. To emphasize this, their breasts moved independently from their bodies during their idle animations. This is a specific trait I haven’t seen for a long time in games and it was kind of insulting to see it come back as an added trait for so many characters. Not to mention that one of these characters isn’t over-sexualized until her circus troupe, made up of men, forces her to wear a dominatrix outfit that not only gives her an abnormally sized chest, but also completely changes her personality. Then there’s the interpretation of a group of homeless people within a large city. All the designs for this population are made to be purposefully ugly and each character deliberately sounds unintelligent in their dialogue. Because that’s a great way to depict an underprivileged population. These details aren’t included in the most important parts of the story, but the fact that they’re there at all irritated me quite a bit.

I wish I liked this game more. After seeing the art and hearing the plot, I thought this would be right up my alley. And in some ways it was. I did enjoy many of the characters and I loved the art style. But the story was a mess and some of the old-fashioned ideologies made me cringe. This game needed more time and more people to look over it before its release. It’s definitely not a bad game. If you love games like ‘EarthBound’ and ‘Undertale’, you’ll absolutely enjoy this one. But don’t expect the same richness in story you get from either of those titles.

Don’t do anything fun until I get back!

Hallie