originally posted at https://canmom.tumblr.com/post/721772...

I’m back~

Hey everyone. Last week Animation Night had its second week off in just over three years. A shameful lapse; the perpetrators have been… dealt with, and you can trust it won’t happen again. (Editor's note: it very much did happen again.)

So tonight! I figured we’d watch Nimona, since it just came out and all. This is actually sorta related to Annecy (‘Annecy related stuff’ will be a theme for a good few weeks), insofar as it premiered there. But I didn’t see that premiere, so instead I gotta talk about some other stuff…

(please forgive the big ugly stickers, this is the only high-res version of the cover I could find)

So. We’re in the era where the people who were big in webcomics back in the 2010s are now making animated films. A few months ago we talked Lackadaisy; now it’s Nimona’s turn.

If you’re old by Tumblr standards, you might well remember that time ten years ago when Nate Stevenson was one of us poor sods drawing pictures on Tumblr as gingerhaze (he just came back in fact!), and Nimona was a popular webcomic. But not one you can find online anymore; Nimona came out on paper, and this in turn launched Stevenson’s gradual rise through comics and into animation. Perhaps you are more likely to know of his work from She-Ra and the Princesses of Power. More on that shortly…

Nimona follows a shapeshifting girl in a fantasy world and her friendship with one Ballister Blackheart, a 'villain’ in the roles of this setting but very much one with a heart of gold, at odds with the 'Institute’ and his counterpart/rival/secret boyfriend Ambrosious Goldenloin. In contrast with the uptight Blackheart, Nimona is a kind of prickly traumagirl chaos agent, an archetype that we would meet again in She-Ra’s Catra; the story involves many sciencefictional turns but her tumultous relationship with Blackheart is at its heart - along with the question of what sort of person Nimona is when you get down to it, which even she struggles to decide…

It’s tricky to know how to characterise Nimona, 10 years on. At the time I was certainly into it; looking back I feel like it’s definitely a first longform work sort of thing, where sometimes the plotting feels a bit haphazard - but regardless, it’s absolutely a solid read. And for a Tumblr craving that #representation it was exactly what the doctor ordered. The great success of this comic led to more comics, primarily the Lumberjanes series about a group of girl scouts having various wacky supernatural escapades; all this comic work in turn got Stevenson an in at Disney, working on Craig McCracken’s series Wander over Yonder as a writer, before finally getting a chance to run his own show…

Clip from She-Ra, Catra bumps Adora's forehead romantically.
Gif source: @briesidonielarsons

That show was the 2018 Netflix reboot of the 80s cartoon She-Ra: Princess of Power, animated at Dreamworks. (At about the same time, Stevenson married Molly Ostertag, author of Strong Female Protagonist and writer for The Owl House). This one was very popular with the lesbians on here, odds are pretty good that you’ve seen it, I actually ended up watching it as it came out with housemates… but let’s talk a little about it, why not.

So. Princesses is the original She-Ra by way of Avatar: The Last Airbender, taking a lot of AtlA’s general approach to pacing, humour and drama alike - the first season finds it hard to step out of Avatar’s shadow, but gradually it figured out a bit more of its own identity.

She-Ra is ostensibly the story of Adora, who has defected from the evil empire and gained the power to transform into magical girl supersoldier 'She-Ra’, along with her two friends Glimmer and Bo from the good two shoes kingdom. These protagonists have their conflicts - Adora trying to fill the big shoes of She-Ra, Glimmer’s tense relationship with her royal mother - but it is absolutely far more interested in antagonist Catra, who is the Nimona/Zuko figure of this story, as well as Adora’s long-term will they or won’t they love interest. Catra consistently steals the show, and most of its big drama comes from the question of whether Catra will follow Adora in defecting from the 'Horde’ - or rather, why she does not, and continues to make all the worst choices possible. The intermediate season finales with their time travel and fantasy worlds are honestly pretty solid sci-fi melodrama - the final season, which really rushes to tie everything up neatly, sadly drops that ball.

Besides AtlA, it’s a show that will wear its anime influences on its sleeve (with some really overt Utena nods). The animation is in an odd place where it is clearly leaning on anime drawing styles but with an American Toonboom-era inflection, where everything is pushed into simple shapes just a little too much; it has its moments (the 'Fright Zone’ backgrounds are rather good, and there are some charming moments of character interaction) but struggles with space and perspective in a way that’s not great for an action-driven show.

But whatever I might have to say about its flaws, She-Ra was a hit, successful enough for Netflix to fund it for four seasons - making a much larger splash than Powerhouse’s concurrent He-Man series which took a much more traditional approach. And I suppose that led them to look at what other ND Stevenson related properties they might be able to sell…

Clip from Nimona, Nimona rubs her hands together with an evil grin.
Gif source: @ballisterboldheart

As all this was happening, the Nimona film was brewing. It had a rather troubled production; in 2015 Fox bought the rights, planning to make it at Blue Sky (best known for Ice Age). The project got cancelled when Disney digested Fox, with Disney feeling a little nervy about all the gay/trans shit in this movie. (Not that that stopped them having a float at London Pride yesterday lmao. Cunts.)

But that wasn’t the end of the story, and Netflix and Annapurna swooped in, pulling in directors Nick Bruno and Troy Quane who had been at Blue Sky before its demise and worked on the previous version of the film. The animation ended up being finished at the visual effects company DNEG and premiered at Annecy a couple of weeks ago - I could have met Stevenson and got a signed copy of the comic lol. Now at last it’s here for streaming.

So after that messy story what sort of film is it? The story takes a similar premise to the comic, and keeps the core character relationships pretty much as they were: Blackheart is a good man unjustly framed as a villain, Nimona is a shapeshifter who pushes him to escalate, Goldenloin as the official pursuing Blackheart, and his boyfriend before the shit went down. But the plot looks like it will end up diverging quite a bit. Visually, it’s CG with a 2D celshading inflection - most likely unrelated to Spiderverse given the timeline, but it’s definitely belonging within that new flavour of CG film. It’s a style that really pushes and exaggerates the expressions, and I can’t really say how well it will work - but let’s find out! The critics seem pretty excited.

I think I said that Animation Night would start at a reasonable time today. Well, my best laid plans ganged aglee, but there is time I think to check out Nimona - so if you’d like to join me, I’ll be live shortly at twitch.tv/canmom and I hope to see you there ^^


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