The 'Shroom:Issue 144/Critic Corner
And just like that, it's March! Time flies by when you're working 40 hour weeks and waking up at 5 am every day!
Thank you to everyone for making Half-Baked Reviews Critic Corner's Section of the Month again! And don't think I didn't notice a decent amount of votes given to our other sections. Keep it up! Spread the love!
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Section of the Month
This month we go back to Germany to finish what I started in January! Everything in this month’s section is brought to you entirely by Backhaus, which has one of the best-animated page loader images I've seen, one of several local German delis and bakeries I frequent often enough and am telling you so all of my rabid fans can stalk me better. I’ll note that this is not a review of the shop, and more of a first encounter and reaction to whatever I tried from there wholly subjective to fussiness, picky palate, and tendency to not want to venture far from established favorites. Other German shops in the area have a wider selection of German retail products and full traditional meals, but Backhaus is a cozy little corner shop that provides a wide selection of pastries, sandwiches, and treats for a decent enough price (that add up quickly, though), and is also closer to where I live and thus more convenient. While this assortment of items is specific to this one location, they’re all pretty traditional and common German things you can find in similar places should you be inspired to try them out as well.
If you notice in the following image there is an Orange Macaron and a Pumpkin Cookie. I opted not to review these because they were uhhhh just kinda there. The Orange Macaron tasted like an orange macaron, and the pumpkin cookie sure was a pumpkin cookie. I will say that the pumpkin seeds were a peculiar choice as I’d never seen that done before, but once I bit into it they didn’t really do anything other than exist. These items were ok, but nothing special that would really be a striking review.
That said, now onto the ones I had stuff to say about!
Of course, I had to get a strudel because it was like the only word I knew in the display case with a cursory glance. I’d be hard-pressed if you guys didn’t at least have a vague idea what a strudel was, given that Pillsbury has made its mark on consumer history, but actual strudels are a bit different. They are layered pastries with a usually sweet fruity filling, most commonly apple. I guess really not that different from Toaster Strudels, then, huh. “Strudel” itself translates to whirlpool, which is probably due to how the pastry is rolled around its filling. I guess strudels are pretty popular in America given our large population of German immigrants, so I’m sure plenty of people have tried this in one form or another, but I’m unique in this experience in that, while my German grandparents did a lot of ‘traditional’ cooking, they also had some…unique choices. Like, what my grandmother called “apple strudel” was just basically apple pie and then she served it in a bowl with milk and would have a fit if we wanted to instead not have a bowl of lukewarm soggy mush.
Being a fan of cherry, that was the flavor I selected. First impression is that it’s way too much cherry. Very thin pastry exterior and a whole ton of cherry filling and I guess some kind of cheese? The pastry was much more tough than necessary for ease of eating, since it couldn’t really be cut or sliced without sending the cherry goop shooting out of it entirely, making it so I had to ease into careful nibbles. Plus, the cherry goop stuck to the paper, as you can see in the image. The taste was fine, and it wasn’t too sweet or anything, but just the physical nature of it was frustrating to handle and eat. Maybe it was baked too long? Possibly. After ripping the thing apart with a fork to scavenge what I could in fear of having wasted my money, I discovered that the interior portion of the dough that had been soaked and softened by contact with the cherry filling was pretty good. I guess this critique is similar to my experience with a napoleon/mille-feuille. I’d be up for giving it another try since the actual flavor of it was good and the textural mishaps are things that I can envision being within reach to be fixed. Maybe this is why apple strudels are more popular, as they’re not as goopy? Honestly, Toaster Strudels had the proportions mostly right.
By the way, was anyone else not aware of Hans Strudel? I’m not sure how to feel about how there’s some Willie Wonka-esque awkward caricature of Germans pushing the boundaries of accepted stereotyping, but I at least feel like I should make you all aware of his existence in our current timeline.
Final Word: Just decide between a cherry pie or cherry pop tart and be on your way.
I think it’s supposed to be spelled “streusel” but this is how the bakery spelled it and maybe it just doesn’t matter. The website seems to be filled with discrepancies, like using ‘ae’ and ‘ä’ interchangeably, but whatever. “Streusel” translates basically to crumbs, which upon looking at the pastry it becomes evident why it’s called that. This particular pastry is just a sheet of shortcrust pastry (basically pie crust), with some fruit layered on top, with another layer of basically pie crust on that, finished off with a bunch of floury crumbs. The actual crumble topping that gives a streusel its name can also be found on various breads, coffee cake, apple crisp, probably honestly whatever you want to put it on.Being on a recent kick for peach tea, I decided to get the peach streussel as opposed to any of the others. Without a doubt, it is very good, with nice layering and excellent proportions between the pastry dough and filling. Sweet without being overpowering. Enough fruit filling to get the flavor without just straight-up eating a whole peach. The pastry dough is soft and tender, yet firm enough to be portioned into bites with a fork instead of crumbling to bits. I also got the cherry streussel to basically the same effect, but with cherry instead of peach.
Later on, I got plum, which is kind of a peculiar pick in the standard lineup of fruit flavors, but I guess it really isn’t when it comes to traditional recipes. Basically, the plum strudel was abominable. Being a person who prioritizes texture above taste, it was just wildly awkward to eat. It was quite different from the peach and cherry in that it includes entire plums just kinda placed within the pastry. Now, I’m a fan of plums, and buy them when the stars of me wanting to have a healthy snack but not wanting to get strawberries again align, but it’s just pretty awkward having a few whole ones just plopped into some crumbly dough. It was nearly impossible to actually slice the plums to enjoy as a bite along with the pastry, and could basically only be plucked right out of it and eaten just as a peeled fruit on its own, but with the added bonus of being baked and have a texture, I found uncomfortable and undesirable. I will say that the general fruity slop they left behind tasted pretty alright, along the lines of how the peach and cherry ones were set up, but by the time I removed the plums the structural integrity was compromised and it quickly became just a mess of buttery flour chunks.
Final Word: As a concept, streusels are good and have wide versatility, but such versatility is a blessing and a curse. It’s a blessing in the sense that anyone can go and find a flavor they like and have effectively the same general experience as someone who had another flavor, but the curse within is that a prune pit like me will inevitably come across one that isn’t 100% perfect and will write a paragraph bemoaning it. Being such a simple pastry it’s guaranteed you can find these anywhere, in forms ranging from freshly made to spawned in Little Debbie’s labs, but the ones I tried from this particular bakery have so far been the best.
Next up is nussecken, also known as ‘nut corners’, and are appropriately triangle-shaped nut pastry things. This was one of the more audacious selections of mine because I’m not used to so many nut-themed desserts and pastries, and I really had no idea what it was. It was basically the glimpses of chocolate and sheen of the glaze that drew me in, convincing me that this would be a sweet treat instead of just basically a dry and flavorless granola bar. What this nussecke was was like, a shortcrust pastry (basically pie crust) bottom, with some kind of sticky layer (maybe caramel? maybe nothing?), smashed up nuts on top (probably hazelnuts given Europeans’ affinity for them), with each corner dipped in chocolate with more chocolate drizzle on top. Various non-English Wikipedia entries say that there also may be a layer of sugar, marmalade, or macaroon paste, and potentially topped with whipped cream. Almost every recipe guide says that layer should be apricot jam paste, though. The proportions of the base and amount of nuts and chocolate also seem to vary, but the general ingredients and shape seem to be constant.
Upon the first bite, I was struck with something extraordinary. It didn’t taste like anything. Nothing. Completely inert. I did like the texture, though! The dough was nice and chewy, while the nuts gave it enough of a crunch, but I really had to exert effort to pick out its subtle flavors. It was kinda salty, sure, kinda sweet, sure, it just kinda existed. Maybe it’s that I had this refrigerated for like three days before I got around to eating it that made it dull? It’s quite possible! I’m sure in a much more fresh one the caramelization of the nuts would stand out more, perhaps if there were (more of) a jam center that the sweetness of that would be more noticeable.
Final Word: There exists a place in this world for treats that are muted in flavor but provide a nice textural experience, and nussecken fills that. With the primary flavor being humdrum hazelnuts, there’s not much room to go anyways. I’m sure there are ways to spruce it up, with maybe using honey roasted nuts, or whatever, I don’t know, but maybe we should just let it be. Not everything needs to be a fistful of sugar.
Linzer TorteI wanted to try one of their pies or cakes since they had a bunch, but I’ve been shying away from them because they just feel pricey even though they’re really not. Really, all of them seemed pretty familiar, being just like chocolate or lemon or chocolate peanut butter, so I went and tried the one that wasn’t instantly recognizable to me: the Linzer Torte. Apparently they’re of Austrian origin but like uhhhh close enough. They had it selling at a German place, and last month I reviewed a German item from France, so, hip hip hooray European Union. So, according to Wikipedia, a Linzer torte is:
So basically it’s absolutely nothing different than just any other pie except that it’s just a specific set of variables to select from that otherwise aren’t even out of bounds for other pies in general. Maybe it’s just something for Austrians to be proud of like how Americans don’t shut up about apple pie? We could’ve taken the chance to call it AMERICAN PIE 🦅🤠⚾🇺🇸🇺🇸🇺🇸, but we let a franchise branded as “teen sex comedies” take the name first. Upon asking, the worker there told me that it’s raspberry and apricot. The raspberry jam or whatever got very firm and sticky very quickly. I’m not sure if that’s a factor of this being a pastry that must be eaten immediately fresh, but it didn’t really change the flavor and only made it kinda awkward to use a fork and take bites. It was sorta noticeable that the dough was mostly made with ground nuts instead of flour in the texture and somewhat in the flavor, but not really enough in a way that wouldn’t necessitate being wildly picky to discern. “the raspberries taste like raspberries” and call it a day. Wonka has a point, though; we are the music makers, we are the dreamers of dreams. If we don’t give our input on food experiences, then food can’t give much back, and as such is much more crucial when the dish at hand is kind of bare. If any of you are ever bored feel free to find me in chat somewhere and I’ll jabber your head off about the intersection of food and culture. The Linzer torte is a dessert with a history behind it, with tradition and culture that speaks for it more than the stingy sprinkling of cinnamon provides. It has claims to be the first cake in the world, but diving deeper gets you a clarification that it’s the first cake “of its kind”, and even DEEPER it’s revealed it’s just the first cake to have been named after a location. Whoopdeedoo. What is neat, though, is its binding history as a source of safety, family, and the hearth to Jews fleeing their homes from Nazis, serving as a cultural link between those Jews and Christian neighbors as a symbol of security and kin up to this day.
Final Word: It’s just pie but with stuff Central Europe tends to favor. If the cultural significance of it hits you, then I’m glad, but it doesn’t for me so it’s just apricot pie.
Also called Almond Crescent or Mandelhörnchen (almond croissant), this thing caught my eye due to its unique shape and the fact that it had chocolate on it. Apparently, these are just like...long macaroons, in that the ingredients are almost identical and it’s just the preparation that differs, and really have no reason to be that particular shape. A pretzel is still a pretzel without its pretzel shape, but is an almond horn still an almond horn without its horn? Its crescent? Regardless, they can be made with either marzipan or almond paste and I have no idea which one it is. Vanilla, sugar, eggs, flour, all the typical baking stuff go into it, too.
Taste and texture are kinda similar to a Payday bar in terms of how firm the interior is, but it’s definitely not as salty, nor is it as sweet as I was expecting a chocolate-dipped pastry to be. The almond shavings also provided a crispy texture, different than the Payday peanut crunch. Aside from that tangible comparison, the almond horns did have a pleasant salty-sweet crunchy-chewy combo that is sure to satisfy my apparently life threatening salt craving. I don’t know, there’s really not much else to say about these. There’s not much wild history that I can find about these, except that people disagree on their origins despite it being pretty surface-level that it’s an almond cookie with history in the eastern Mediterranean and flowing everywhere else with spice trades. Shrug, it’s a good cookie.
Final Word: Almond horns are a good general craving pleaser without swinging too much in any direction and burning it out.
This place is a deli and bakery, so what better item to get than a sandwich? After mulling over what kind of sandwich to get, and subsequently being frightened by the appearances of some and names like “Flesh Salad”, I eventually settled on their house specialty Leberkäse Sandwich, which was artfully condensed down to like “LKW” for people who are afraid of accents on their letters. Leberkäse is similar to bologna in form and appearance, and translates to “meatloaf”. Edo said: “it literally means liver cheese, but it’s more like sausage meat in meatloaf form”, so, it’s bologna. The meats that make it up are corned beef, pork, and bacon, which are then packed and baked together into a loaf. The sandwich itself came together from a pretzel roll, pickles, mustard, and of course the leberkäse. I could’ve also gotten it with Brötchen (just a regular bun, basically), or a Kaiser roll (also basically a regular bun and basically the same thing as brötchen), but who am I to deny a pretzel roll?Edo’s opinion of “I’m not too fond of it (...) they usually slice it too thick.” It’s admittedly a bit of a dull sandwich, so I put fresh mozzarella on it. That’s not to say it’s boring, but rather I’m used to having such a cacophony of flavors and textures from subs and sandwiches that being forced to acknowledge the subtleties of just a few ingredients throws me for a loop. Regardless, it is deceptively filling. It looks pretty small, but I got halfway through it and felt full. Not sure if I’d pay $8.95 for it again, but it was pretty alright for an explorative treat and something new.
Additionally, the lady there was very nice. When I told her that it was my first time there and I'd need some time to look, she respected that and said she'd leave me alone because she knows how annoying it is for a counter worker to just be hovering and staring, and to call her over when I'm ready. I shed a tear of pure respect.
Final Word: Ultimately boring, due to the setup of expecting the leberkäse to be some wildly new meat that transcended the reaches of my imagination, as well as the sandwich not really having much on it. It’s not bad and probably qualifies as “good” as the taste was alright and it did its job as being a fulfilling meal, but in the position of an American used to ‘plenty’, the prospect of ‘enough’ left some to be desired. Maybe Food Network has brainwashed me into demanding a WOW factor from any new dish I try.
Tune in next month for a posh review! Also, tell me what to review next! You can tell me to do can also be movies, shows, physical actions, trying new foods, music, literally anything and I’ll cover it eventually if it’s not too ridiculous. Just send me a message here on my talk page or PM it to me on the forum. Don't like what I have to say? That's fine, and probably bound to happen because I've been told about how much people like Super Mario 64 and how they feel about any criticism of it! We at Critic Corner will welcome your alternate review of it as a new section for the next issue!
Graphic Novel Review
Hello, everybody, welcome back to Graphic Novel Reviews! This month, we'll be diving back into the Archie Comics Library to look at the reboot of Cosmo, the Merry Martian!
Cosmo was just one of the characters being published by Archie Comics back in the 20th century, joining Archie, Katy Keene, Lil' Jinx, and many more. Nowadays, Archie sometimes reprints old Cosmo comics in the digests that aren't Betty and Veronica centered, although since they have so many other characters and stories to reprint, finding a Cosmo comic is honestly quite hard. They've also recently republished some of the old Cosmo comics in a collection, and you can check that out in their store in the link above.
For me, Cosmo was not one of my favorites to read. The art was just meh (the Martians looked like punching bags with legs), the stories could be LONG, and there was a LOT of dialogue to digest. I've noticed that that's a big issue that a lot of older Archie stories seem to have, and by older, I mean pre-1970. I don't have a problem with comics and graphic novels that have a lot of dialogue (I've read some of the Transformers: More than Meets the Eye series and lord knows those are basically books with pictures), but the stories reprinted in the digests are just far too wordy. Most of the panel will be eaten up by the speech balloons, and the text is usually slightly damaged because of how old these stories are, so it makes things hard to read. When you can blaze through most of an average Archie Digest in about half an hour or so, these stories will make you slow down and read a bunch of dialogue for twenty minutes. Don't get me wrong, they're a good look at a culture that's long past, and I do think they should be reprinted for everyone to read, but I personally don't like them very much.
Now that THAT's all out of the way, let's talk about the reboot, shall we? First off, the story. We get a real treat with this one: Ian Flynn does all the writing in this volume 1 collection. Flynn is one of Archie Comics' best action writers, no matter how much the Sonic the Hedgehog fanbase likes to whine about him, and this series is no different. A mix of action and the snarky charm that Sonic's known for makes each installment a delight to read. Although this series is meant for younger readers, I never felt like it was talking down to me. It's like watching a kid's show that has appeal to teens and adults, like My Little Pony or Transformers: Rescue Bots. It's nice to read something that's not trying to be angsty or violent for the sake of being "edgy" for the higher age rating.
Cosmo revolves around the adventures of the merry martian, Cosmo, and his team of galactic adventurers. At the beginning of the book, they rescue an Earthling named Max Strongjaw, and he spends the rest of the book with them helping them deal with the evil Venusians on a couple of different planets. Characters are charming without being grating, although Max has a few annoying habits that go right up to the line there. None of this book will have you on the edge of your seat (unless you're under ten years old), but it's a cute and fun story.
Up next, we have the artwork. Doing the lineart for the first four issues and a handful of pages in issue five is longtime Sonic the Hedgehog artist Tracy Yardley! Tracy Yardley! has always been one of my favorite artists from Archie. Everything he did for Sonic was amazing, and looking at the ups and downs of the Archie Sonic series, that's really saying something. His art has a style that sits between traditional Western animation and Eastern manga and anime-inspired characters, although it has a tendency to lean more towards the latter. Characters are always on model and the designs are very appealing. The colors used are lovely, as well. To be honest, it was absolutely the aesthetics of this reboot that attracted me in the first place. Cosmo has a team of Archie all-stars working on staff, and it really shows.
What more can I say about Cosmo? Archie put some of their best creators on this project, and it really made a difference. If it hadn't been for Flynn and Yardley, I probably wouldn't have even picked this one up, feeling how I do about the original, but I'm glad I did. If you like space adventures, the Sonic the Hedgehog Archie series, or merry Martians, you should really give this one a read. Highly recommended.
Rising Sun Reviews
MF: Alright, so I may have gone back on something I said. I hinted in the last review that this month, I would be looking at a show that’s a favorite of mine, but then someone else offered to do a collab piece and instead I’m looking at something that’s the complete opposite! Today’s show is something I have a bit of history with. Several years ago, my cohost, Chibiki Daisy, showed me a series that was to be my first anime...well, ever. It was a little something called Black Butler, and after I finished it I had an enjoyable time, if only because I had literally no standards from other shows. But that was a long time ago, so will my thoughts on it be any different? More importantly, would <you>, the readers, get anything good out of it?
MF: In late 19th century London, orphan Ciel Phantomhive is the owner of the Funtomhive toy company at only 12 years old (at the start of the series, anyway).....at least, this is what his life is like on the surface. The part he doesn’t want to let out is that his family is known as the Queen’s Watchdog, cruel and cold guards to her majesty, while simultaneously being the head of the city’s criminal underworld. He’s able to accomplish all of these extraordinary tasks with the help of his charming butler, Sebastian Michaelis. One could say he could do any job in front of him with almost...demonlike efficiency, whether it be preparing an exquisite dinner in the blink of an eye or dirtier work, like, say, striking down anyone who dares to threaten his master. As it turns out, Sebastian is a hellish entity who Ciel struck a deal with for one purpose: tracking down the culprits behind his parents’ sudden death in a fire. Along the way, they come upon many other supernatural occurrences, including grim reapers gone rogue, puppet masters, cursed gems, and a giant dog that can transform into a photogenic man that also acts like a dog for….some reason. Though the mystery of Ciel’s parents’ demise is unknown, one thing is for certain: the homoeroticism will be aplenty.
MF: Yeah, about that. When the manga debuted, it was put into a magazine meant for the audience of shounen, or teen males. Though one look at an episode of Black Butler could make you swear that this was made with the opposite gender in mind. For one thing, every male character that isn’t some middle-aged man is drawn with very attractive proportions, almost as if they were meant for high merchandise sales when they were still being created. Perhaps more apparent are the high amount of teasing scenes between two male characters that are guaranteed to make shippers squeal in delight on their Tumblr blogs. Hell, one could argue there’s more romance between Ciel and Sebastian than with his own fiance! While the show isn’t predominantly fanservice (besides one extremely questionable corset scene in one of the earlier episodes), it’s still rather distracting whenever it pops up.
Chibiki: Of course, this show would be nothing without its two main characters, first with the young master, Earl Ciel Phantomhive. Once an innocent, carefree child, Ciel’s been hardened by some unfortunate happenings in his past. He lost his parents to a fire on his tenth birthday, kidnapped by a cult not long after, and only got out once Sebastian came around and they made a deal. That would certainly mess a ten-year-old up. After going through all that at a tragically young age, he’s developed the mindset of ‘everyone serving me is merely a pawn’, and it certainly shows in his interactions with nearly every other character. Aside from this, he also extremely stone-cold, but sometimes, he does crack or have to drop it for other reasons.
MF: Despite this, though, it’s hard not to see him as an incredibly flawed character. One of his almost crippling weaknesses is that he’s very much dependent on his butler. For example, there’s one instance towards the end of the show where he has to go by without his company and ends up getting chewed up and spit out by the entire city of London. Though this is somewhat forgivable compared to a more frustrating consequence of this dependency, where literally every time he gets in a situation where his life is on the line, Sebastian swoops in sometimes out of nowhere to save him. These situations would be nice potential for Ciel to fend for himself and grow some character development, but instead, it just sets up a case of Sebastian ex machina that tends to make tension weak and predictable.
MF: Fortunately, Sebastian does a much better job at keeping the interest of the viewer. The demonic butler’s sort of lacking in character, as he doesn’t have much a backstory (which would be rife of possibilities considering...you know, he’s an immortal butler from Hell), and if you were hoping he would face personal conflicts or character development, then think again. Instead, Sebastian entirely thrives on Rule of Cool. His voice and style of speech are very soothing, typical of a butler. Everything he does, he does with impeccable style and finesse. And just try and find another character whose weapon of choice is throwing butter knives.
MF: Probably the most interesting aspect of the show is Ciel and Sebastian’s ever-evolving relationship. It’s clear that although they may joke or have idle conversations with each other, they don’t think of each other as friends or even acquaintances; it’s merely nothing but a symbiotic relationship. Ciel needs Sebastian so he can avenge the death of his parents, and Sebastian needs Ciel so he can eventually claim his soul. Perhaps it’s because of this intimacy that the two form a rather sociopathic duo; as said earlier, at the beginning of the show, Ciel sees his fellow humans as nothing more but pawns for his plot, and he will get to his goal even if it means the death of everyone close to him. Later on, however, a sacrifice from a friend changes his whole mindset, making him a bit more sympathetic towards people, and it’s even enough to cause a rift between him and Sebastian, who has no qualms mowing down opponents indiscriminately. It’s a great dynamic, and it’s probably the biggest reason to endure throughout the season.
MF: While Sebastian is indeed a great character, he might as well be carrying the entire show, because the gripes I have are aplenty. First off, the pacing: there weren’t that many manga chapters to work with at the time, so as a result only a third of the anime actually adapts the manga, meaning that the team had to panic finding new stories to work with. While they did make their own overarching plot (which isn’t exactly quality stuff, more on that in a bit), most of the episodes are just fluffy filler. For example, even though Ciel’s hellbent on finding his parents’ murderer, he spends one episode trying to take a picture of Sebastian with a haunted camera for no good reason. And after he spent several hours having his servants attempt to sneak a picture of him, Sebastian admits at the end that he could have just asked! Thanks, I didn’t need those 20 minutes of my life, anyway! While some of these filler arcs have good humor or a creepy atmosphere to keep them slightly interesting, this sadly isn’t the majority of them.
Chibiki: And now, onto the elephant in the room (for anyone who’s seen this show beforehand, that is): the show’s villain and, by extension, parts of the plot. Hooo boy, where do I even start? First off, some of the plot twists concerning the villain can be seen from a mile away. The villain here is essentially two entities, Ash (the male half) and Angela (the female half), in one body, but that doesn’t get officially revealed until the penultimate episode. That said, there’s a lot of major hints that get dropped beforehand. For example: The demon hound Pluto is Angela’s pet before she asks Ciel to take him in. Later on, when Ash is at the Phantomhive manor, Pluto comes up to the window, presumably recognizing Ash/Angela (otherwise known as Ashela), Ash motions him away, and Pluto gets the hint. Aside from that and Ash and Angela separately going on about purity and uncleanliness, it’s not hard to figure out that twist.
Chibiki: Second off, their motive. They want to ‘purify the world’ by killing or destroying anyone or anything they deem to be impure. That’s all fine and dandy at first… but then you realize two things: that their motive is as cliche as all get out, and that there’s no reasoning behind it. They want to go about this by burning London to the ground, so I guess the world would be purified if there’s nothing left of it. As for there being no reasoning behind their motive, that ties into point number three: this show explains literally nothing about the angels. They can rewrite a person’s memories? Sure, why not? One of them blows up a church in order to escape a couple of grim reapers? Yep, we love our plot conveniences! I’ll let ‘disguising as a human’ pass because that’s actually kind of a surprise to viewers at first, but come on, we know more in this show about how demons and their powers work!
MF: The presentation’s serviceable, at least. The soundtrack has a nice mix of serene orchestral pieces and more atmospheric tracks, and the opening theme is pretty nice, it’s one I actually found myself listening to a few times in a background. The animation isn’t outstanding, but at its worst, it’s awfully stilted and disjointed, and at its best, it does the job just fine. While I haven’t seen the Japanese audio track, the English dub is great, all things considered. The accents seem reasonably authentic (besides a miserable Cockney accent for one of Ciel’s servants and some rather stereotypical Indian accents halfway in), and J. Michael Tatum practically steals the show as Sebastian. In fact, I can only watch this show in English now because of him!
MF: Overall, would I recommend Black Butler? Well, yes and no. While I don’t think the entire season is worth spending any time towards, what with its jumbled pacing, weak villain and payoff, and some downright ridiculous character decisions, it’s hard to deny that the parts that actually came from the manga are some pretty entertaining stuff. If you’re interested in the initial concept, I would suggest watching the first six episodes, AKA the ones that come from the manga. If you like what you saw, then you can skip the rest of the season altogether, along with the atrocious second season, to move on to Book of Circus, the next arc in the manga that starts off right at the end of episode six and is actually good, with an interesting cast of characters and a deep and immersive mystery. But if you’re morbidly curious enough to give all of the first season a shot anyway, to my knowledge the DVD boxset is the only way to watch season one online (the show’s on Funimation.com as well, but it’s only everything starting from Book of Circus and most likely requires a membership. Thanks Funimation). But in my opinion, the manga episodes are especially worth watching if the premise intrigues you. Thank you all for reading, special thanks to Chibiki for helping me with the review, and I’ll see you all in May!
Hot Pot Reviews
Hello everyone, and welcome back to Hot Pot Reviews! My name’s Chibiki, and today, I bring you a story of something funny going on: Lucky Stiff. This musical has drastically taken over my life for the past two months (and it's STILL continuing to do so). Mainly because that’s the spring production my school decided to do this year and I got cast as one of the understudies. So I figured I’d kill two birds with one stone by reviewing it here since I have to learn practically half the show anyways.
If you don’t already know what this musical is about (and don’t feel bad if you don’t because no one at my school had even heard of it until it was announced), a man named Anthony “Tony” Hendon is killed one night. He leaves his entire estate of six million dollars to his only living relative, Harry Witherspoon, an English shoe salesman whose life is on the downside. However, in order to receive the six million, Harry must take the dead body of his uncle on a trip to Monte Carlo while passing him off as alive. If he fails to do this, then the six million will instead go to his late uncle’s favorite charity, the Universal Dog Home of Brooklyn. Since Harry despises dogs, he is determined to do whatever he can to get the money and improve his life. Sound complicated? Trust me, that’s not even the half of it.
There’s also a few other people looking to get the six million dollars. Firstly, Annabel Glick, the representative of the Universal Dog Home of Brooklyn. She tells Harry early on that even the slightest error in following his uncle’s instructions will result in him being in default of the will and the money going to the Dog Home instead. Secondly, Rita LaPorta, Tony’s legally blind lover who accidentally killed him. With Tony’s help, she embezzled the six million from her husband’s casino but ends up dragging her poor brother, Vinnie, into it when her husband asks about the missing money, giving them both a reason to get the money away from Harry.
...yeah I don’t know about you, but that’s certainly some interesting case of circumstance at work here. Onto the rest!
First and foremost, this musical is a farce. Meaning that a lot of crazy things happen in this show that are unlikely to happen in real life for the sake of comedy. (hell, they even bring this up in the prologue!) So keep that in mind before you start calling shenanigans and/or Deus ex Machina when the drunken maid mistakes Uncle Anthony for a pile of laundry and wheels him away, only to return him about three scenes later. That being said, this musical does have its fair share of good moments that are more on the relatable side, such as Harry lamenting his life and ending up talking to a shoe while taking inventory, or Rita and Vinnie freaking out when the oxygen masks on their plane drop down without any warning at all. However, these moments don't make up the majority of the show, but that's okay. Most of the more extreme comedic moments are pulled off extremely well, such as any time the bellhop is involved (especially the scene with his rambling) and the entirety of Rita's Confession.
Of course, with this being a musical, there is more to it than its story or comedic moments. We have, of course, the music. If you've ever heard of Seussical, the duo behind that show also worked on Lucky Stiff. This musical was actually their very first collaboration, over a decade before Seussical was even written. A lot of the music here plays into the eccentricity of the show’s plot, and I’ll be damned if some of these songs aren’t catchy. Even if they aren’t, most of the songs in this musical are memorable in one way or another.
The previously mentioned Rita’s Confession embraces the dramatics in telling of the outlandish circumstances that dragged poor Vinnie into the whole mess in the first place. In a way, it’s also serving as a flashback to the catalyst of the whole show, since Tony’s murder is never directly shown on stage (they reference it in the prologue, but it doesn’t show the direct event as it tells it here). Dogs vs. You does an excellent job at setting up Harry and Annabel’s initial rivalry with intertwining parts from both of them at different points. Between Annabel trying to convince Harry dogs are a worthy cause and Harry’s refusal, it’s an entertaining way to start a rivalry off. However, if I had to pick the most entertaining song in the whole show, that title would go to The Phone Call, because once again, Vinnie can’t seem to catch a break. He’s calling his wife at the airport to tell her he won’t be home for dinner and why, but she is having none of it. As you can imagine, his exasperation only grows. For a fun listening experience, try imagining the other half of this conversation during the song, since we only get Vinnie’s half.
Times Like This is probably the most pure-hearted song in this entire show, being a testament to Annabel’s love of dogs. It's also nice because it talks about all the little things Annabel enjoys in life, really giving a positive light to her character. Him, Them, It, Her is probably the most complicated song vocally in this show, containing a lot of intertwining parts and harmonies. It also marks a point where the plot is escalating quite considerably because at this point in the show, Uncle Anthony is missing and everyone is trying to find him for their own gains, lest they return to their miserable lives. Of course, there are plenty more songs than the few I’ve mentioned, but these are just what I feel to be some of the highlights.
Something else worth mentioning about this show is that it manages to cover up its biggest twist (which I will NOT be telling here in case you readers want to find out for yourselves) quite well. None of the main characters are even aware of it until the final few scenes in the show, that’s how well this twist is covered up. A few very subtle hints are dropped throughout the show, but they’re extremely numbered. So numbered, in fact, that the only one I can think of off the top of my head is in the finale of Act One. And while yes, this is definitely an extremely unrealistic twist, it turns out quite well for everyone involved in the end (except probably Vinnie, because everything that happens in this show is just against the poor guy for some reason).
Overall, Lucky Stiff certainly puts the many comedic parts in its plot to great effect, both in and out of the music. While there are indeed many parts of the plot that aren’t easily relatable, it’s still quite the fun watch/listen, depending on how you choose to get into this musical. While I certainly wish I was introduced to this show under different circumstances, I’m very happy regardless to have been introduced to it, and I’m glad to have this chance to introduce all if you to it.