Harry Situation’s 350th Review: High Guardian Spice Part 1: High Guardian Schlock
Hello Prose and welcome to another milestone review. This is the 350th review I've written in the past five years I've been on Prose. Now 350 may not be a sexy number like 100 or 300 but it's a helluva milestone regardless.
As per usual for each milestone review I want to review something bad, which has been a while hasn't it? For my 350th review I've decided to do something different. Instead of a bad movie I wanted to review a bad show. And wouldn't you know it a new bad show has dropped online not long ago so it's ripe for criticism. Maybe you're familiar with this show already. Maybe this is the first time hearing about it. Regardless my pick for my 350th review is none other than High Guardian Spice.
High Guardian Spice is an anime-inspired original animated series by Crunchyroll, an online company who has a history of streaming and dubbing anime. It follows four girls - the pink-haired warrior Rosemary; the magically gifted Sage; the dwarven blacksmith Parsley; and the roguish elf Thyme - as they partake as students for an extreme academy called High Guardian Academy for them to fulfill their dreams in becoming guardians. They endure the typical high school drama such as fighting monsters, boy troubles, and uncovering a dark plot that may endanger the school and their fellow students. And that's pretty much it. That's all you need to know about this series. More or less it's your typical magical fantasy world where the main setting is a magical school, much like Harry Potter or Little Witch Academia. The only other detail is that apparently the creative team is 50% women and the writing team is 100% women, as a way to show how "diverse" the cast and crew are.
Believe it or not there was a ton of controversy behind this series and there was major backlash against it before its release. Most of it came from the fact that Crunchyroll was using subscription money to fund the project when they initially said they were going to fund Japanese artists. Also one of the series' lead writers (Kate Leth) has a history of writing a bunch of anti-men tweets, pretty much outing herself as a feminazi. Additionally, Crunchyroll released a promo back in 2018 that showed off how diverse the cast and crew were rather than talk about the series itself, as if they were trying to market on the diversity rather than the series plot, setting, and characters. This is something Disney has been guilty of in the past and are only starting to improve upon now, whereas High Guardian Spice unfortunately falls short.
The series was set to premiere in 2019 but I'm guessing due to all the backlash the project was shelved. I believe I remember hearing about this series years ago and I didn't have any opinions on it at the time. Well now that Crunchyroll has finally released this on their site (which you can view without a subscription I might add) does this show really deserve all the judgment and negative response back in 2018 before it's release? Honestly, I don't believe any product should be prejudged before their release. But since it's out now, yeah, everyone was right.
There's so much that needs to be unpacked that one review alone isn't enough so I'm gonna need to split this review into three parts. Been a while since I did that. Last time I had to split a review up was Cool Cat Saves the Kids, and that was 300 reviews ago.
The first negative to address is the animation. It's pretty bad. It may not look it if you watch the trailer but trust me when you watch the first episode you get an idea how bad it really is. There are so many animation errors and inconsistencies scattered throughout each episode. There are so examples where scale and shadowing don't match of to the next scene. For example, in the first episode Rosemary and Sage leave their homes to attend at High Guardian Academy. To do so they take a travel carriage where an orc or troll loads up the luggage. The orc/troll is made to look bigger than the carriage but in the next scene he's apparently shorter than the carriage door. There's also many scenes where background characters hardly ever move, almost like they were frozen in time while the main characters freely move around. It really gives the impression that none of the focus characters are really part of this world. They feel like they're slapped into this odd Deviant artist's post. Hell, there are even noticeable jpeg images plastered into the background and foreground. Seriously, there's a jpeg image of a set of Hawaiian sweet rolls on a dining table. And once again, these can all be seen in the very first episode. I mean, are the animators just incompetent? Are they lazy? Both?
Now, to be fair, I will say that one positive the show has going for it is that I do like the overall character designs. It does seem that the animators and storyboard artists put some thought in each character. Unique character designs do help make the characters stand out. However that doesn't excuse poor character traits and personalities (more on that in a bit).
Speaking of characters, let's break each of them down. As I mentioned earlier the four main characters of the show are Rosemary, Sage, Parsley, and Thyme. I guess there names are supposed to be a reference to spices, hence the name High Guardian Spice. Problem is that rosemary, sage, parsley, and thyme are herbs. How do you fuck that up? Sure they can be converted into spices but that's not the point, is it? So ultimately the title of the series doesn't make any sense. We're off to a good start.
Now let's talk about the characters, starting with Rosemary the warrior. Wow, I kinda feel bad now that one of my characters from my Sins of the Father stories is named Rosemary because of Rosemary from HGS. But at least her name makes sense and is a far better reference to something, unlike HGS' Rosemary. Any who, Rosemary is one of the most annoying characters in this show. She's meant to be this wide-eyed, energetic and clumsy character but she really comes off as a house fly or mosquito, just something you swat at in hopes of making it go away. I guess this character is meant to have the most motivated of the four since her reasoning is that she wants to be a guardian just like her missing mother. The problem is (and this is something I'll address more on in the second part) is that we really aren't given much history about her or her mother, and it's certainly not a reason for the audience to suddenly care.
Next is Sage, the magical mage of the group. At the very least she has the more interesting conflict where she's restrained to using old magic while everyone at High Guardian Academy is using new magic. However her personality (if you can call it that) makes her come off as a total bitch. For example, she and another magical character Amaryllis get into an argument about old magic versus new magic. She gets asked why she cares so much about old magic, to which Thyme also chimes in and seemingly agrees with Amaryllis. Apparently Sage takes offense of this for some reason, runs off to go cry, and then demands an apology from Thyme. I mean, why does Thyme have to apologize? What does she have to apologize for? Another example is when she isn't paired up with Rosemary, who is head-over-heels for some guy, and spends the whole episode going on a bitch fit on why she doesn't like Rosemary hanging out with this guy. She even tried to use the whole "guys don't talk about their feelings" bullshit argument when speaking to a guy. So yeah, she's a bitch and a sexist. But the major problem is that this attitude comes completely out of nowhere. So she's really being a bitch for no reason. Why should I root for this character?
And then we come to Thyme, the edgelord elf. She is easily the most unlikeable character this show has to offer, only second to Sage. And like Sage she comes off as a bitch too. She's always scowling, always insulting the others, and acting like your typical angsty teenager. I'd describe how edgy she is supposed to be but I'm afraid of getting cut. Like Rosemary, we're supposed to care about her situation since her forest is being corrupted by some sort of purple stuff called the Rot, and trying to remove the Rot is the sole reason she wants to be a guardian. The problem with her is her personality and bitchy attitude really makes me not like her nor care about her situation. She is also kinda stupid. In one episode she thought it would be a good idea to summon a demon in order for it to send a message to her father so he can copy the formula of healing water to save her family's forest. Do you see the problem here? That's like me summoning Cthulhu and using him to send a package to a friend on the other side of town. Why couldn't she just send a letter to her father? Why couldn't she go back to get more healing water? Why didn't her brain and common sense think of this before I did?
And finally there's Parsley the dwarven blacksmith. You know, I'll give her a pass. She might be one of the most generic but she's at least the most level-headed of the four, or at least doesn't annoy me as much as the others do. Parsley might be one of the very few reasons to watch the series.
Now that's not to say that all the characters are terrible. The exceptions really are Amaryllis and Snapdragon, two characters who are initially introduced as bullies to our protagonists. Snapdragon's character arc is one of the better highlights of this series. I know, shocking. He was raised to be more masculine and bullied for not being as such, but he's also on a path of self discovery of who he wants to be and what he wants to identify as. Seriously, this kid is probably the best written character because the audience can actually sympathize for him. Trust me, I'll address more on him later. Amaryllis is another character I like. She initially bullies Sage for using old magic. I know we're not supposed to root for the bully but since I don't like Sage as a character I'm rooting for Amaryllis. Personally, I just like how chaotic evil she can be sometimes. It's just a joy to watch. She also has a good heart, in particular when she stands up for Snapdragon. However it's a bad sign when the side characters are much more interesting and entertaining than the main characters.
What's kind of bothersome to me, as a CIS-gender straight male, is that there really aren't any good straight male characters in the show. I mean there is Snapdragon, but again we'll get to him later. There are two male characters that stick out the most in this show: Aster and Cal. In episode six (I think) we are introduced to Aster, who Rosemary develops a crush on. We learn throughout the episode that he is a blowhard, constantly showboats, and talks down to Rosemary. Basically he's the embodiment of masculinity. Someone who is dumb and useless. Now I wonder what reason the writers decided to write Aster as such. Hmm.
Then we get introduced to Cal, the other male character and basically the embodiment of toxic masculinity. This guy is nothing more than a stereotype on how feminazis view men. This character is rude, crude, creeps on women, and just an all around cunt. Also, he's apparently transphobic, as if he wasn't already an unlikeable asshole. But surely there are far better male characters the series has to offer, right? Rosemary does have a father and an older brother, but they're only seen for like two minutes in the first episode and are never referenced again. Oddly they're featured in the intro as if they mattered. Oh, what about one of the teachers from High Guardian Academy, Professor Caraway? Um, yeah, once again, I'll address him in a later part because this is something that needs to be talked about in a separate post. But wait, we do have Slime Boy (that's what they call him in the show). Oh, fucking Slime Boy. Honestly he's irrelevant to the whole plot of this show. I don't even know why he exists at all.
Ultimately, the major issue I have is that all the males in this series are portrayed as one of the four: misogynistic, villainous, incompetent, or irrelevant. Why? Because that's how the writers want to portray men. The same way they want to portray each character, solely by their personality or quirk.
I think this is enough ranting about this series for now, but just you wait. This is only the beginning. Come back next time for part two as I address the other major issue with this series: the writing and worldbuilding.