Entry updated 23 May 2022. Tagged: TV.
US animated tv series (2019-2022). Disney Television Animation (see Disney on Television). Creator and Executive Producer Matt Braly. Directors include Joseph D Johnston, Derek Kirk Kim, Kyler Spears, Jennifer Strickland and Bert Youn. Writers include Matt Braly, Michele Cavin, Adam Colás, Todd Michael McClintock, Jenava Mie, Gloria Shen and Jack Ferraiolo. Voice cast includes Anna Akana, Troy Baker, Jill Bartlett, Keith David, Bill Farmer, Justin Felbinger, Amanda Leighton, Brenda Song and Haley Tju. 58 normally 22-minute episodes (usually two segments per episode) plus 27 shorts. Colour.
Thirteen-year-old Thai-American Anne Boonchuy (Song) is peer-pressured by her friends Sasha (Akana) and Marcy (Tju) into stealing an ornate music box from a thrift store. They open it ...
Anne awakes in Amphibia, a Parallel World of anthropomorphized amphibians. She befriends hyperactive ten-year-old Sprig Planter (Felbinger) and the rest of his frog family: sister Polly (Leighton), still a pollywog but with a warrior's soul, and grandpa "Hop Pop" (Farmer), old-fashioned but good-hearted. Anne and Sprig hit it off, frequently encouraging each other into the reckless option, and thus angering monstrous insects, leeches, reptiles and tomatoes (see Great and Small; Monsters).
Underneath the Planter cottage are chambers left by their ancestors, including a Scientist who created a giant pumpkin/animal hybrid (Polly: "This abomination must be destroyed."). They also confront a parasitic (see Parasitism and Symbiosis) mushroom able to control the mind of its hosts: the town of Wartwood is briefly assimilated (Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978) is directly referenced). Welcoming innkeepers are revealed to be cannibals (though they'll happily chew on Anne too): fortunately, spotting barrels of baking soda and vinegar, Anne cracks her knuckles and declares "Finally, a chance to use everything I know about chemistry." Sprig becomes temporarily engaged to Maddie (Bartlett), an unsettling child witch: "I've seen your death in my mind." Sometimes lessons are learnt, usually half-heartedly ("... right, right, the lesson thing."). Anne overcomes the town's initial hostility, eventually winning its "Frog of the Year" award.
Sasha has been imprisoned by Grimes (Baker), leader of the toads who control the region. When herons – giant, toothed, dinosaur-like herons – attack his castle, she shows him how to rally his demoralized troops by complimenting them, cynically explaining "get them to love you and they'll do anything for you". She becomes his second-in-command. Hop Pop unwittingly inspires rebellion against the toads (see Politics), so Sasha takes him to Grimes's castle to be fed to a carnivorous plant; she is puzzled when Anne objects. Though initially browbeaten, Anne stands up to her and they fight. The castle's turret collapses and Sasha almost slips off, but Anne grabs her hand and the Planters hold on to Anne: realizing they will all otherwise die, Sasha lets go, but is saved by Grimes before she hits the ground. The toads, with Sasha, depart.
In season two the family goes to Newtopia, "a bustling metropolis full of ancient knowledge" . En route they encounter a derelict Computerized factory that once manufactured Robots: briefly reactivated by Sprig's and Anne's high-jinks, a robot is created that, unknown to the Planters, follows and eventually befriends them. Arriving in Newtopia, Anne finds Marcy established there: unlike the reunion with Sasha, this one is joyful. Marcy's scientific worldview has got her the ear of the seemingly amiable King Andrias (David). Anne is told that in the past the box was used to visit Parallel Worlds by the King's ancestors, who – he assures them – "were peaceful explorers, Scientists if you will": but three temples must be visited to recharge each of the box's now faded jewels. There are hints that the three girls' arrival is part of a prophecy ...
Anne, Marcy and the Planters visit the temples, joined at the third by Sasha and Grimes, with whom an uneasy truce is formed: the jewels are recharged, which unbeknownst to the girls involves draining something from them – though in Anne's case only partially. Returning to Newtopia, Sasha and Grimes attempt to usurp the crown but fail: the box is finally handed to King Andrias, who then announces that his ancestors "were glorious conquerors" and he can now continue their work and rule "not only this world but all worlds" (see Imperialism); his castle then rises into the air, powered by advanced Technology. Andrias also reveals that Marcy is complicit in his plans and responsible for the trio being in Amphibia. Anne and Planters end up on Earth – but only after seeing Marcy run through with the King's sword. The extraordinary season two finale was pulled the day before broadcast: it was only shown three weeks later with a content warning and a season three trailer appended which revealed Marcy was still alive, albeit suspended in a liquid-filled jar and attached to various tubes.
Though Anne has a loving family on Earth, it can be inferred that Sasha does not (Grimes is clearly a father figure to her), whilst Marcy's actions were the result of her parents announcing they were moving to another state. In a stunningly animated scene Anne briefly turns into an Anime-style magical girl – though more violent than is typical, deliberately echoing Goku going Super Saiyan in Dragon Ball Z (1989-1996). The first half of season three has the Planters living with Anne and her endearing parents in Los Angeles (see California); their success in remaining clandestine is mixed; Anne seeks a way back to Amphibia and the Planters learn about Thai culture. A Mad Scientist who had recorded the energy surge caused by the initial opening of the box has created a nearly-working dimensional portal. Meanwhile, in Amphibia, Sasha and Grime have fled to Wartwood; a penitent Sasha is unable to cross the threshold of the Planter's house. In Newtopia, Andrias's master, the Core – an immortal "collection of Amphibia's greatest minds" – is Uploaded into Marcy's brain.
The portal returns them to Amphibia, to meet up with Sasha and Grimes. We learn Andrias's backstory – a thousand years ago a friend's betrayal postponed an invasion of Earth; this, and his father's disappointment, warped him. The Core – now calling itself Darcy – has hived off Marcy's consciousness into a corner of their mind: creepily but entertainingly, it retains some of her quirks. Earth is finally invaded (see Invasion): here Anne, in her blue form, fights Andrias in his Powered Armour (though, due to his size, he resembles a Mecha). Andrias wavers when read a letter from Sprig's ancestor – his betrayer – whereupon Anne knocks a hole through him, revealing he is a Cyborg ("living for a thousand years was not without sacrifice"). The Core, distracted, has the helmet controlling Marcy detached by Sasha. The girls are reunited and return to Amphibia to announce their victory ... but the Core's helmet scuttles off and departs for the moon – which is partially or wholly artificial – directing it to crash into Amphibia. Using the music box's jewels, the trio transform into magical girls (Marcy: "This is the coolest, most anime thing that's ever happened to me."), but it is not enough. Knowing the consequences, Anne absorbs the power of all three stones, destroys the moon and the Core, then dies, fragmenting into leaves.
Anne awakes. The Deity of the Three Stones (see Gods and Demons) took a copy of her when she died: "To all intents and purposes, you're the same Anne Boonchuy." Anne: "Well, that's going to cause some serious existential dread later on." (see Eschatology; Identity; Metaphysics). Nevertheless, the Anne we have followed for three seasons is dead. The Deity oversees the Multiverse, but wishes to retire, so wants Anne to be their replacement. She refuses, pointing out she is 13 ("for every heroic sacrifice I'd make a hundred dumb mistakes"), but might reconsider when she dies: the deity says they can wait 78 years and sends her back to Amphibia. After tearfully saying farewell to their friends there, the girls return to Earth. Ten years later Sasha and Marcy meet up for Anne's birthday – the three having drifted apart after their return. Anne is now a herpetologist; awaiting her friends, she reflects, "Change can be difficult, but it's how we grow. It can be the hardest thing to realize you can't hold onto something forever ... But of the things you let go, [looking up to see Sasha and Marcy arriving] you'd be surprised what makes its way back to you."
The contrast between the series' joke-centred episodes and those that propel the plot can seem awkward (though the former invariably turn out to hold a significance only apparent a season or two later). The final run of episodes confirmed Amphibia as belonging to the first rank of animated shows. Created by a former director of Gravity Falls (2012-2016), it is imaginative and very funny, with appealingly odd moments and asides ("... Aaaand there's the weird dark turn"); yet it also provides deep and affecting character arcs for Sasha, Marcy and, particularly, Anne, as she gradually acquires responsibility and self-belief. There are moments in all seasons that carry great emotional heft. [SP]
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