Disorder Reviews: Cliffside (2018)

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Martintox

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CLIFFSIDE


Director: Liam Vickers
Screenplay: Liam Vickers
Actors: Liam Vickers, Tess Rimmel, Joelle Elizabeth Jacoby
Release Date: 20 May 2018
Genre: animated post-modernist western "comedy"

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Just like the roofied apple that put Snow White to sleep, the Information Age is a curse disguised as a gift. Yes, it's never been this easy to learn about esoteric topics and interact with like-minded people, but the intimidating wealth of knowledge on hand has done little to entice those who were too lazy to go to the library in the first place. Many would rather ignore this treasure trove and browse Twitter incessantly than to confront their ignorance, let alone their insignificance in the great online exchange of ideas; many others, mind you, do actively use the Internet to learn, but this insecurity persists in the most subtle of ways. The aspiring artists of our time are the herald of postmodernism gone too far -- a plague made manifest through the obsessive consumption of existing media, emblematic of a fixation on what already is rather than what could be, and easy to find in independent productions.

There are many shows, movies, and games that illustrate this problem, but Cliffside is easily the most damning example that I know. It's a shame, as its very existence is an accomplishment in its own right: 2D animation is a notoriously difficult and time-consuming medium, all the more so as an independent artist. Plus, when it comes to YouTube revenue specifically, viewing duration is more important than the raw view count, making animation one of the worst possible routes to success on the website. Even so, the occasional full-fledged animated show will bubble to the surface and cause serious buzz by mere virtue of its improbable completion. Hazbin Hotel is a relevant instance of this, but not only did Cliffside come about more than a year earlier, it appeared mostly out of nowhere; there was no Patreon backing nor any prior output, save for an animatic and a few drawings on DeviantArt and other social media. Compare the videos on Liam Vickers' channel with those of Vivziepop and you'll see exactly what I mean. In fact, this show left as abruptly as it came, with updates stopping a few months after the pilot's release. If you ask me, though, it's for the best that the project went nowhere, because this lone episode already squanders any and all of its interesting ideas. In short, Cliffside is a western with fantasy/horror elements, featuring the cocksure gunslinger Waylon, his stoic partner Jo, and an impressionable spider girl by the name of Cordie. The woefully underexplored concept of a western/horror hybrid already holds plenty of potential, and so does the idea of a Wild West-era town assailed by all manners of horrifying creatures, but it simply does not deliver on those promises, even as a mere pilot. The animation isn't to blame: some aspects of it are rather simplistic, but that's more than reasonable when Vickers was the lone animator. The problem lies in the writing, and to stress my discontent with it, I have to drop my facade of professionalism: it's absolute fucking dogshit. Listening to the dialogue actively provokes a visceral reaction of disgust in me.

You see, while the Internet allows us to organize and synthesize information more efficiently than ever before, that does not necessarily mean the information itself is worthwhile. Wikipedia upholds a plethora of writing standards for a reason: among other things, a good encyclopedia article must be concise, compliant to linguistic rules, and devoid of biases, explicit or otherwise, that are inappropriate for the given context. If you don't try to abide by similar criteria, you get a fan-made wiki filled to the brim with superfluous and poorly-written content. The Dragon Ball Wiki has over 7500 pages (including doozies such as "Recoome's race"), yet that is only a modest example of the sheer lunacy that such endeavors can reach. Even worse than that, though, are websites that organize information in a way that is actively poisonous to a reader's perception of the subject. To anyone who has ever considered engaging in the arts in any shape or form, I implore you never to consult TV Tropes. A site that attempts to catalogue major artistic conventions by using examples in fiction as well as real life sounds like a neat exercise, but it's hard to refer to TVT as such when it has been going strong for more than 15 years. For all intents and purposes, it is the embodiment of postmodernist insecurity, as its most fervent users tend to have a dangerous fixation on the mere presence of tropes in media. To the site's credit, it outright has a page to explain that such conventions are only tools, and thus do not have any intrinsic positive or negative value, but we can see the damages regardless in works such as Cliffside.

The main issue that comes with obsessing over tropes is that one may become a little too self-conscious about them, and thus attempt to subvert or acknowledge them with reckless abandon. In the last couple of decades, we've seen many great works of media put a new spin on long-established storytelling conventions, and since it seems harder and harder to come up with something truly original, it's all the more tempting to take such an approach so as to stand out. Unfortunately, those who come to this conclusion forget that an artist will very rarely create with such a theoretical point of view: they have an idea, and whatever subversion takes place is only an extension of that core idea. This trope-obsessive approach to writing generally comes to light in two ways: 1) the work subverts or "deconstructs" various tropes for no meaningful purpose outside of this technical framework, or 2) the work plays these conventions straight, but compensates by being self-aware about its usage of such ideas.

To say that Cliffside suffers greatly from the latter issue is akin to saying the Rwandan Genocide was a bit of a bummmer. Because of this, the pilot is completely unable to get the viewer emotionally invested in its sequence of events: any time it brings in a new idea, a character is sure to devalue its weight by responding in such a way as to bring undue attention to the fact that you are witnessing a trope. Waylon is simply insufferable, because he constantly brings the circumstances in which he finds himself into question in a way that no actual human being would in his situation. This is not a comedy in the style of Monty Python, where the breaking of the fourth wall comes off as a natural extension of the tone: Cliffside's self-aware jokes feel tacked-on for the sole purpose of sounding clever, as if Vickers was constantly going: "Wow! Look how aware I am of the clichés in my own creation!" Sloppy writing of the sort utterly destroys the audience's suspension of disbelief: when characters are not even willing to take the story seriously, it's extremely difficult to empathize with them or have an interest in their development, since they seem so aware of each and every beat in their character arc. Why should the viewer care what happens when the show repeatedly tells them what's going on in a sarcastic fashion, as if the plot is just a succession of punchlines? Cordie may come off as yandere waifubait, but she's easily the most interesting character in the main cast, since her impressionable nature means that she doesn't stop herself to point out a trope with a hesitant tone every 30 seconds. By the time the pilot is over, it doesn't feel like anything meaningful happened, because it didn't show the characters evolve in an organic fashion.

Once again, this trend of shallow, self-aware writing is so much more prevalent than you could ever imagine, but I can hardly think of media that uses this approach as poorly as Cliffside does. Just as with any other artistic technique, the subversion, lampshading, or deconstruction of tropes is not some kind of special ingredient that will automatically make your magical realist romance novel any better than it presently is. If you are to use any well-documented storytelling tool, it's because you find it appropriate for the concept you have in mind: never should you try to construct a piece of media from the outside-in. If Cliffside has any value beyond its unfulfilled potential, it's that it makes for an excellent cautionary tale. Really, so does all of Liam Vickers' work: what I've neglected to say thus far is that he's returned with a new animated "series", and it's safe to say he has learned absolutely nothing.

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PERSONAL RATING: it's shit
RECOMMENDATION RATING: don't watch it
LETTERED RATING: no


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THE UNDERTALE REMINDER

If you've gone for the Genocide ending, you already know well and good how badly Undertale falls for this problem of self-awareness.
 
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SupahEwok

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Finally, a Disorder Review worth reading more than banging Martin's mom. 5.5/10 could be more concise.
 
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Worgen

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Whatever, just wash your hands.
Save yourself 10 minutes and just watch the 10 minute pilot instead of spending 20 minutes reading this.
 

Latif

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Save yourself 10 minutes and just watch the 10 minute pilot instead of spending 20 minutes reading this.
If your reading rate wasn't 10 minutes per letter, you would have realised Mr. Disorder has already linked to the aforementioned Cliffside animation. I do however appreciate your zeal for exposing horrid cartoons.
 
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Worgen

Follower of the Glorious Sun Butt.
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Whatever, just wash your hands.
You must be an amazingly slow reader if it took you 20 minutes to read this.
If your reading rate wasn't 10 minutes per letter, you would have realised Mr. Disorder has already linked to the aforementioned Cliffside animation. I do however appreciate your zeal for exposing horrid cartoons.
Considering what his taste is like, it would have taken me an hour since I would be cringing so hard.
 
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Tsun Tzu

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I liked Cliffside.

Was interesting, if awkwardly put together.
 

Kae

Just burn the whole thing.
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Woah woah WOAH!!!

What's going on here?!

Seems like this thread is on fire with all these sick burns!
 

SupahEwok

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Woah woah WOAH!!!

What's going on here?!

Seems like this thread is on fire with all these sick burns!
Do you not read Disorder Reviews? The only thing that redeems them are the comments sections.
 

Kae

Just burn the whole thing.
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Do you not read Disorder Reviews? The only thing that redeems them are the comments sections.
OOF!

Occasionally but I'm normally too shy to comment on most things, I haven't slept in days though, so I'm very uninhibited right now and basically high despite no consumption of actual narcotics.

Tsk tsk tsk...

So basically I need to be high to tolerate these Disorder reviews.
 

Neuromancer

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@Neuromancer hey, you've got an endorsement for the marketing!
I know the market I'm getting into. There's three kinds of people that read these reviews

1)The ones that take them seriously, i.e. complete idiots
2)The ones that shitpost, i.e. partial idiots
3)The ones that are too stoned to really care and may even get a laugh out of them, i.e. the people that are in the best mental state to read them.