Saturday, November 3, 2012

Ruby Gloom Review Thing

Mirai talking about shows for little girls, right?

Ruby Gloom is odd because, for the most part, I could easily have overlooked it as generic goth Hot Topic junk. In fact, I really did, because Ruby Gloom was initially goth apparel sold at Hot Topic, so that would make sense. But after a few years and after I stumbled across it on Netflix, I was surprised to find it is quite good.

Which won't be as surprising since the show has been over for close to four years, but it really is. Somehow they found a way to merge The Nightmare Before Christmas-esque pseudo-horror elements like skeletons, cursed luck, monsters, and 17th century Gothic visuals with the cuteness of a show aimed primarily at little girls, and it all comes without being overbearing or obnoxious. Really, it's kind of a marvel at how it sounds like a guaranteed recipe for an obnoxious plead for TNBC fans' money while having none of the charm, nor of the charm of a show like MLP:FIM, but it actually successfully nails all of it.

Really, if I were to compare it to anything, it'd be most similar in structure to Homestar Runner. A small team of characters, numbering no more than seven or so, plus a few recurring background characters, make a surprisingly wide spectrum of events happen without breaking any of those characters' established personalities or aspirations. Once you know the main cast (with one exception), there's little that breaks their archetypes or makes them less endearing.

Ruby Gloom: The titular character, Ruby is a young girl (about ten/twelve or so), who resides in a small house in Gloomsville with her friends. She is cheerful, pleasant, intelligent, hard working, and essentially the straight man around which the show revolves.

Ordinarily, that would be a surefire way to make her obnoxious and oblivious, but Ruby is surprisingly flawed. Most of the time, she endures her goofy/dumb friends' antics with a smile and a shrug, but not always. She occasionally is frustrated, upset, depressed, or annoyed. It warms me up to her more to not see her be unbreakable, but to be human. I truly like her when she is unbothered, because it is not her only state of being.

Misery: Misery's name is fitting as she, as with all of her family, has been cursed with awful luck. Her voice is dry and raspy, her eyes endlessly streaming tears, and her reaction to everything around her always is nothing more than exhausted and dulled acknowledgment. And, because of it, she easily has some of the best gags in the series.

Misery's one gimmick thankfully doesn't define her, as she occasionally is granted bouts of happiness, humor, and playfulness. But even if it was all she had, her presence gives the show its much needed laughing aloud, comic relief moments. Misery fades into the background frequently enough you forget about her, and then she shows up again. Her dry talk of illness, injury, and death is a cute way of adding it to the show without really letting it sink in what she means when she talks about her ancestors' horrible demises.

Frank and Lem: A zombie-like two-headed beast, Frank and Lem are brothers stitched together at the side, with an affection for heavy metal. Their dumb-and-dumber double-act is an entertaining trait, with Frank as the Harry and Lem as Lloyd, and they add some more of the harder-edged heavy metal theme to the show. As with most of the cast, they both have great lines, and play off each other and everyone well.

Scaredy Bat: A play on the term "scaredy cat," Scaredy Bat is afraid of everything and anything. His introductory episode is displaying his fear of flying, something that should ideally come naturally to him. Similar to Misery, this sounds like a one-note gag that runs out in a matter of a few episodes, but Scaredy is similar to Ruby in that the show lets him break out with occasional acts of bravery, selflessness, and quick thinking. These moments warm you to him, especially when he remembers to be afraid a moment later and faints in horror.

Iris: If this show managed to make every character endearing without being overbearing, Iris must have been a heatsink for this because she is about as lovable and endearing as a rabid badger the size of a dog. Iris' personality is defined as fun-loving and adventurous, but she somehow lost that moment of breaking past her one attribute the rest of the cast did.

Her one role is to act like this show's version of Ethan from the (terrible) comic Control Alt Delete, which is to say be a comedic klutz that runs around and creates disasters for the rest of the cast to fix. You know how Rainbow Dash in Friendship is Magic can be characterized as brave and adventurous, but is also oddly lazy? Or how her bravery also comes with pride and arrogance, which are frequently her downfall? Or how Pinkie Pie is fun loving and silly, but still has a heart of gold and knows when to stop? Iris is like that, but without any of the important parts I mentioned.

Ideally her fun-loving antics would one day send her straight into a volcano, because she is irredeemable as a character. Virtually every episode she's in she is just annoying, including her shrill voice and laugh. I can only think of one episode where she's not irritating, and it's basically because she doesn't exude any of her core attributes (Because they suck, I hope).

Poe: A play on words, with his two roommates/friends Edgar and Allen, off of the infamous poet Edgar Allen Poe, Poe is a raven with a crisp British accent and a love of luxury, food, talking, and intellectualism. Frequently a prim and proper gentleman, Poe can be a bit annoying, but his traits never stay irritating for more than a few gags here and there. He's not very interesting, but his contrast to the others allows comedy to be spun almost effortlessly.

Skullboy: Imagine Jack Skellington combined with a jack-of-all-trades, and you basically have who Skullboy is. He's the Master of Disguise of the cast, constantly trying to discover who he really is and coming up with ridiculous gimmicks to do it, such as turning into a couch-surfing layabout, an action hero, a Shakespearean actor, an ice sculptor, a magician, a British General, a mechanic, and a million more. Along with his excellent voice - which perfectly nails the attitude and tone of each of his roles - Skullboy melds easily into every episode's needs.

The show's tone shifts with his. When he's a private eye, his voice begins a smooth narration, and the music turns into film noir detective easy tunes. As a layabout, his slouchy demeanor comes with bongos and percussion, and his voice slows and drips with apathy and dismissal. When he becomes an action movie hero, his voice swells and bellows like a lion, and he is acrobatic, inventive, and daring, with the background themes swelling into a triumphant overture. Were the music and animation not so excellent, this would be jarring, but each scenario adds to his likability.

Without going into detail, the show manages to do a lot with a very small cast (I'm skipping characters like Mr. White and Mr. White, or Boo Boo, or Iris' pet, etc.). Some of the best goofiness moments come from simple setups. My favorite example is when Misery leaves and, with it, the cloudy weather they were used to goes, forcing them to flee the hot sun. Ruby and Skullboy go off to find her, using the underground tunnels, while Poe, Scaredy, Frank, and Lem stay under the house. Inspiration strikes them, so they don Misery's raincoats and go back outside, all three pretending to be Misery to an imaginary audience. Scaredy, with his tiny Indian voice, shouting out that he is in fact, her, and he truly dislikes his luck, only to be followed up by Poe's soliloquy in his crisp British accent,  "Forsooth! For I, Misery, am cursed with the most in-fortuitous luck!"

It's also delightful on the senses - the animation is smooth and gorgeous, relying on very little outlines but strongly contrasting colors such as Ruby's hair, her skin, and her dress/Wynona Ryder Beetlejuice-era stockings. The music manages to juggle an unbelievable amount of different styles. The main theme gives vibes of TNBC, as I've said, with the eerie and addicting theme song, but it branches out with themes reminiscent of The Incredible Bongo Band, Manowar, John Williams' Indiana Jones, military drum marches, Edvard Greig's Hall of the Mountain King, and more. It's not to say the themes are that good, but the simple background melodies add to the ever-shifting tone Skullboy adds to the theme.

Aside from Iris, the show doesn't skate by so easily without mistakes. Despite being very strong early, it felt like towards the end it just lost its way and ran out of material, and rather than resolving long-running plot threads like having an adorable relationship start between Skullboy and Ruby, something teased in the first few episodes, they just ran the third season out until the contract ended, did a final episode, and called it a day. It's very underwhelming that a show so strong didn't even have some semblance of closure. Even if it was cut off early, that's no excuse - Sat AM Sonic the Hedgehog managed to close up some plot threads even with its long-hanging cliffhanger of Snively taking over.

In short - it's very, very good. Very cute, and incredibly funny.

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