More than anything I have made thus far in my life as a storyteller, Barty’s Brew-Ha-Ha 4: Tale of the Legend of the Crystal Chubacabra [sic] is the thing I am most proud of. My masterpiece, one that debuted five years ago today.
(first off, if you want to read further, you should probably watch the original Barty Anderson movies by the Brothers Hussie, Byron and Andrew. I’ll embed the entire series playlist below.)
Aside from the perfectly-passable-but-weightless Solo, it’s not a tough statement to say that The Rise of Skywalker is the worst (live-action, theatrical) Star Wars film. Maybe Attack of the Clones or The Force Awakens are kinda close, but it’s pretty clear to me that Episode IX is the least artistically accomplished, most flawed of the Skywalker Saga.
But I still love it anyway.
Rewatching the movie in preparation for this article, I was struck by just how overcome with joy I was by so much of this movie. It’s such an exciting and silly experience. Never for a moment do I get bored, even when I’m rolling my eyes at the dumber parts. Honestly, that’s what it was supposed to do, anyway; provide a smashing finale to the greatest epic saga in the history of film. It’s the climax to a nine-part series and thus doesn’t exactly need to be jam packed with new storylines and deeper themes. Even though… that’s kind of what it tried to do…
We live in an era
where Star Wars Episode VII really exists, and it’s hard to imagine
now that, at the beginning of the decade, that wasn’t even a thought
in anyone’s mind that that would ever come to pass.
Okay, maybe the absolute biggest turbo-nerds had kept track of all those offhand comments by Mark Hamill where he said George Lucas once wanted him to play the old man mentor character in a new Star Wars movie decades in the future. But for 99% of the population, Star Wars was a finished franchise, at least until the inevitable remake sometime after Lucas bit the dust.
But it happened. Lucasfilm was sold to Disney. JJ Abrams signed on to direct. Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens was filmed and released, and not only that but it became the #1 highest-grossing movie in North America by such a wide margin that no film has even come close to breaching it since.
They don’t really do fast food and junk food tie-ins with big blockbuster movies that much anymore. That was very much a product of the 90s and 00s, and after the first Avengers movie in 2012, you hardly saw it outside the inevitable Star Wars brand tie-ins, which are universal constant.
I’ve always wondered why exactly that is, but then I remember how Fant4stic went.
I can’t believe it was a simpler time for politics back in 2012. It felt like there was really something boiling under the lid, something about to spill over and really harm the country. Of course, that feeling ended up proving true in 2016, when the forces under the surface of the prior election cycle became the ultimate symbol of chaos and division for the United States.
The GOP presidential primaries that year were a battle for the soul of the party, where Tea Party demagogues like Michelle Bachmann and Rick Santorum dueled against the big business establishment of Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich and against the libertarian populism of Ron Paul. A holy war was being waged, and the eventual result, four years later, was that all three of these factions would collide into the socially conservative, big business populist known as, uh, that one guy who became President in 2016.
Nerds of a certain age are highly likely to have seen Super Mario Bros. Z. If you liked video games and had internet access between the years of 2006 and 2009, you either watched Super Mario Bros. Z, or at the very least heard about it. There is very little on this Earth that exemplifies the late 00s more than a Newgrounds flash animation crossover of Mario and Sonic filled with anime fight scenes and chugga chugga guitar tracks.
isn’t an 00s Retrospective series; this is about the 10s. And the
only relationship with the 10s Super Mario Bros. Z has is that this
was the decade wherein the whole project perished, and the world was
taught a lesson on the folly of fan fiction passion projects.
Super Mario Bros.
Z always faced the problem that its entire existence was owed to one
man working for free. Alvin Earthworm, the quite talented series
creator, did the writing, the direction, the animation, and even most
of the custom spritework all by himself, with no chance of
compensation. Solo or near-solo efforts on larger projects can work
out well (see Stardew Valley and Undertale, whose creators are
multi-millionaires now), but for a fan project? It can be a dicey
The series, as it
grew and grew in popularity, grew just the same in scope and
ambition. Each new episode was longer, the plot more “intense”
(this is a Newgrounds flash animation so don’t expect Shane Black
writing here), and the fights more inventive and dynamic. The first
couple episodes were not too much more than your everyday average
let’s-animate-a-DBZ-fight-with-Mario-sprites silliness, but once it
got onto later episodes, especially everything starting with episode
5, things ramped up into action insanity.
I am not exaggerating when I say that Super Mario Bros. Z has some of the coolest action setpieces in 2D animation, and these are with friggin’ Mario sprites. I mean, LOOK at clips from these episodes:
Whereas the animation in actual Dragon Ball Z is mostly stilted and static aside from brief moments of energy, Super Mario Bros. Z cuts out all the fat and shows only the parts of fight scenes that you will actually care about seeing.
You simply don’t get this in traditional animation, or even much in CGI animation, because of the cost of actually animating all the action going on. When you use sprites taken and edited from video games, obviously things get a lot easier, but I imagine it’s still an incredible undertaking that Alvin Earthworm was able to pull most of this off.
The problem is that these really impressive fights are done in a Mario and Sonic crossover fan fiction, and the amount of effort needed to create each episode was far too much for anyone to consider a worthy use of time. And not saying fan fiction isn’t worth your time–I mean I wrote a 100-chapter Bowsette story—but it was clear the series was too much of a time sink to keep going with just one person at the helm working for free.
You can see a narrative form from the release dates alone:
Episode 5: February 2007
Episode 6: May 2007
Episode 7: October 2008
Episode 8: October 2009
rarely succeed, and ones this big, ones with only one guy working at
it, are almost universally doomed. And that’s OK. Alvin Earthworm
grew in experience and used his impressive talent for ridiculous
fight scene choreography to create an entire career out of it, and
that’s what matters.
…Oh, uh, wait.
No, he didn’t.
You see, I didn’t
even know this until several years later, but he didn’t stop with
Episode 8. He continued to work on Episode 9 for years, until
finally, just to appease clamoring fans, he released “Episode 9
Part 1” in 2012, just an opening scene to what would come next.
The problem was,
this was 2012.
I first found the
series in like, 2006. I was in elementary school. When this episode
came out in 2012, I was an ADULT! This is the case for
practically anyone who followed the Super Mario Bros. Z series; we
were just a bunch of silly kids, but the updates took so long that
some of us already had kids by the time it ended.
Episode 9 didn’t come out, in the end, being canceled in 2013 with Alvin Earthworm citing time commitments and having written himself into a hole with the cliffhanger ending of Episode 8 (???). And that was fine. Sad, but fine.
Until he remade Episode 1 and released it in 2016.
Long, long after the point that anyone could possibly still be waiting for more Super Mario Bros. Z, we get a remake of Episode 1, to coincide with a new Patreon to support this new series. It’s still impressive stuff, I’ll admit, even better than the original series at creating interesting, dynamic fights. But the Patreon was almost immediately shut down by Nintendo because, well, it’s Nintendo.
And so this new
series, supposedly filled with promise and hope for Alvin Earthworm,
was over from the get-go. With no funding, there was no chance he
could keep making new episodes, especially if they were going to all
be as long as this new one. And so that was the final end of Super
Mario Bros. Z.
going, isn’t he?
Alvin Earthworm has essentially wasted an entire decade’s worth of his skills toiling away at a flash animation series that is long past the point of relevance. There is so much he could have done with himself, and he chose to work on Super Mario Bros. Z, almost exclusively, for the entire 10s.
And his folly is
sadly not uncommon in the world of fan projects.
A very sad trend
with creators of these sorts of niche, free passion projects is that
they don’t get canceled abruptly. They fade away into the night like
the flame on a candle, only instead of a gust of wind knocking that
last bit of light away, it’s a post saying, “Update! I’m still
I’m singling out
Alvin Earthworm because he is one of the most prominent examples, but
he is far from the only one.
Take, for example, Tails Gets Trolled, one of the seminal ironic masterpieces of the early 2010s. The creator made a bunch and bunch of content, then slowed down a lot… then hiatuses took over… then the project eventually died and the creator started over brand new with… the same exact series but original characters now…? Then uncanceled years later??
Then there is the infamous Mother 4 fan game. Fan games are already one of the least productive uses of time for fans of any media, but there have been some legitimately incredible fan games (MFGG, lookin’ at you buddy), and Mother 4 genuinely looked like an amazing game. It even had a release target: Winter 2014! …It still isn’t out, and finally rebranded to Oddityand removed all Earthbound references so that it could be sold for actual money.
In almost all of
these cases, the creators restarted their projects, with so much time
having passed that they decided to go back and “do it right this
time.” But their fanbases had already close to disappeared by then;
did they really think anyone would care if they were starting from
scratch all these years later?
It’s sunk cost
fallacy meeting passion projects in a sad collision that ends up
wasting more of the time these creators could have spent making
something new and maybe even getting money out of it someday.
I’m certainly not above any of this. I know full well that I will one day return to Sandswept: The Squiddle Session, spending months and thousands of dollars on a project to a franchise so far past its popularity that its official sequel has to be funded via Patreon. Sandswept means so much to me that I couldn’t leave it unfinished forever. Maybe it’s a bit of a different story considering this comic has literally hundreds of pages of scripts, storyboards, and not-yet-used art assets, including multiple fully-designed walkaround minigames. But even so, any time I spent continuing Sandswept will have been time spent on a project nobody else will ever care about but its creators, and even knowing that I will surely do it anyway.
Therefore, I am not condemning any fan who tirelessly works on a project far past its point of relevancy out of sheer love for it. But when I see it from the outside, it always breaks my heart.
One day, perhaps, Alvin Earthworm will make something that is wholly original, and it’ll suddenly revive the whole sprite-animation-battle genre into the big craze hit of the 20s. I really hope that does happen because I am always in the mood for ridiculous anime fight scenes. But the fact we didn’t get that in the 10s is a small tragedy.
Did you know I
took the Summer of 2013 off the internet?
I don’t know why you would know that… It’d be kind of weird if you did. But, and this is extremely weird to say, but after I graduated high school I made the firm decision to avoid the internet for a whole two months because I thought it would help me spend a lot more time with friends and family before I went off to college.
What I’ll talk about here has already been covered very well by other authors and sumarized quite succinctly in some quite biting memes, so I’ll be somewhat brief about my feelings on Hibike! Euphonium and what its decision to queer bait the audience meant to me.
I think Kyoto Animation is for sure one of the best animation studios in the world today. Even when they make work far below their usual standard, it’s still mediocre at worst. To call them the Pixar of anime is probably only a slight exaggeration. Have they even made a genuinely bad show? I don’t know.
My problem with Hibike! Euphonium lies in the fact that it is NOT a subpar show in any way. It was well-written, filled with memorable characters with interesting characters arcs, and it was beautiful, with gorgeous artwork complimenting the lovely music (both in the OST and in the show itself).
This is not a 2010s video. In fact, everything about it reeks 00s—All-American Rejects, Windows Movie Maker, 3D modelling and animation done by a teen in the pre-Gmod, pre-Blender era, and that overall since that a video like this could only ever have been created while George W. Bush presided over the U.S.
Super Mario Dance Bros.,
one of the all-time greatest videos on Youtube, is part of the 2010s
Retrospectives Series not because its own creation because of what it
created in me.
Watch the video
for yourself and watch what happens to the rest of your life:
One thing I really, really love is using old technology to create new things in a way more streamlined and successful processes can’t fully capture.
In the same way that adding digital film grain to your camcorder movie will never match actually shooting on 35mm, it’s a completely different feeling when you listen to electronic music that uses chiptune samples versus using tracker technology to make chiptunes that can actually run on the hardware they are designed for.
And one of my absolute favorite uses of old technology is ancient, antiquated 19th-century photography equipment in modern day.
Yeah, I’m sure someone with a powerful enough digital camera and enough time spent in photoshop can replicate most of the feeling of a daguerreotype or talbotypes or, as this article is about, tintypes. But with very few exceptions, it won’t be close enough to the real thing.
Case in point, in 2014 and 2015, movie stars at the Sundance Film Festival were captured with tintype cameras. The results are striking and gorgeous, and most of all completely authentic.