The weather has turned cold and many of us are preparing for the long winter – filled with hot cups of tea, ill-fated attempts to wear 6 sweaters at once, and spending snowy evenings with your dear friend, Netflix.
And that’s where I come in. I’m a firm believer that Netflix time should be quality time. Until their algorithm improves, I’m hoping to spare you some time searching through their catalog and point you right towards the good stuff. So in this edition of Netflix Hidden Gems, I present you with April and the Extraordinary World.
I’ve said it before and I will say it again. The US and Japan are not the only countries telling great stories with interesting and dynamic animation. Just a little digging can easily find top-level animation with dubbing performed by both gifted and well-known actors – April and the Extraordinary World is a perfect example of this.
A French-Belgian-Canadian production, April and the Extraordinary World takes place in an alternate reality where scientists are disappearing. Robbed of their genius and technological discoveries, the world remains dependent on coal, wood, and steam. A young girl named April who lost her parents as child, strives to complete their work by recreating a serum that can grant eternal life. With the help of her talking cat, April discovers the truth behind the missing scientists.
I’m not sure I’m giving the story justice here because I didn’t want to give too much away, but I can say that it’s familiar and inventive in the best ways. April’s world is one that is both beautiful and ugly, shining and polluted. The adventure plot elements are energetically paced while the story still provides enough character development to allow the viewer to see the events of the story from differing perspectives. As I watched it, it reminded me of other period adventure stories like Tintin or Indiana Jones. But this time, our hero is a lady…and well, that’s pretty awesome.
The visual style is much like the imaginary world in which it takes place – gorgeous and off-putting at the same time. Styled after Jacques Tardi’s work, the characters have exaggerated features unlike the large-eyed designs you see in major American and Japanese studios like Disney or Ghibli. Instead, main characters have oddly large noses and tiny eyes that almost seem like they were just hastily added at the end. And yet it all works. The expressions remain clear and have a subtlety that I think can be hard to find in animation in general.
That isn’t to say this film is perfect. With a strong cast featuring Susan Sarandon, Paul Giamatti, and Tony Hale, I was surprised that there were a few times when the delivery felt stilted. Whether this was the result of dubbing over the original French or just my own perception, there were some moments when it managed to take me out of the film a bit. It did cross my mind that it might have been a stylistic choice to mimic the delivery and style of acting in classic films, but it wasn’t always consistent enough to make that clear.
Overall, I would argue that this film is a breath of fresh air and a great alternative for those looking to watch something that is both high in quality and a bit different. It’s a solid bit of storytelling and world creation that it deserves your attention. So really, treat yourself and check this one out. There’s a great chance you’re going to enjoy it, and not just because it has that awesome talking cat in it.
If I know anything about our readers, it’s that as soon Labor Day has passed and a slight chill hits the air, it’s time to get ready for Halloween. Suddenly your Netflix queue is filled with scary movies, your house is covered in fake cobwebs and real animal skulls, and all you want to do is suck the marrow out of this all too short season as much as possible.
Well friends, let me add to your current atmospheric choices by suggesting a few things that are a bit unnerving and creepy to keep you company during your darkening commute and warm mugs of pumpkin-spiced drinks.
Spooked – What I love about this podcast of true-life supernatural experiences is that each experience is told by the person who experienced it. The variety of voices is engaging and the fear in their voices rings genuine. Regardless of whether you believe in curses, hauntings, or the like, these stories are fascinating.
Suggested episode: This podcast is barely 2 months old, but my favorite episode so far is “The Curse.” A man tells the story of how his mother was cursed. It’s not only creepy to think of the powers some people claim to have over others, but it’s also heartbreaking to hear the story of a small child who believed he was witnessing the death of his mother.
Nocturne – Less about ghost stories and more about all the things that happen in the world while most of us are asleep. The stories range from being lost in the inky blackness of the ocean to big rig night runs, but regardless of the content, each episode illustrates how nighttime experiences are unique and intriguing. If you want a podcast that is filled with ambiance and is perfect for listening to while drinking tea and watching the sunset, this might be a perfect match for you.
Suggested episode: “Episode 16 – Standing Over the Bed” tells the story of a man who suffered from night terrors and paralysis so brutal that they not only threatened his grasp on reality but also caused him to question his relationships with his loved ones. This episode disturbingly graphic as it describes how sleep can become your enemy.
Stuff They Don’t Want You To Know – I know there are an awful lot of “How Stuff Works” podcasts out there, but if you really want to stay up at night worrying about things you can’t control, then this might be the podcast for you. I mean, I’m personally not much for conspiracy theories, and with the world as it is right now, I’m not even sure why I have this on my list. I suppose I just want to be sure I’m covering enough ground to creep everyone out. The episodes range from the silly (The Search for Bigfoot) to the timely (how vulnerable is your personal information online).
Suggested Episode: “The Sick, Sweet Secret of the Sugar Cover-up” I personally find the things that have a direct effect on my life to be the most worrying and upsetting. This podcast covers the history of sugar and how it was deliberately sold as an essential part of our diets by powerful lobbies/trade groups and backed by a lot of money. Sugar is in so much of what we eat that it’s interesting (and important for some of us) to make sure we are aware of how free sugars can affect our health.
What creepy or spooky podcasts are in your playlist? Share below to make sure that none of us get any sleep this season!
In my last post, I mentioned that there were some manga I was excited to share with you all. Since nothing else took my attention this time around, let’s talk about them.
I should note that I haven’t yet read a lot of manga – I really enjoyed Ranma 1/2 when I was just getting into comics, but that was nearly 25 years ago, when the selection of good translations in America weren’t as plentiful as they are now. Additionally, there are SO many manga, in every genre you can imagine. Separating the wheat from the chaff, or even just what stories might be interesting to you in particular, can be a daunting task. Luckily, there are folks out there who can help. Comicazi has a manga book club – I learned about one of these titles from their list. Another I learned about from my pal Morgana, who is the manga maven at Comicopia, a store with a great selection of manga. The last was given to me by my husband, who thought it just looked up my alley. So here are my three picks – don’t be afraid to ask your local shop for other suggestions!