Review: 'No Evil' animated video series
No Evil is an animated series of short videos by Betsy Lee (aka Warlord of Noodles), featuring a group of anthropomorphic animal spirits inspired by Aztec mythology and folklore from all across North and South America. Throw in the influence of literary, historical and folk heroes, and you've got a great mix of characters. (Click on the thumbnails for larger images.)
The story involves the spirits trying to deal with the return of a dark, spreading entity that causes a deadly sleeping sickness, which they call the Black Tezcatlipoca, or "black ick" for short, except it's just one problem amongst many that they're having to deal with, such as escalating tensions between the nearby villages.
First posted online in August 2012, as of February 2016 there are 18 episodes. Watch them with patience and observation, and you'll be rewarded with many little details and emerging plot threads. After a very gradual build-up, the story really kicks into gear in episode 9, but don't skip the earlier ones.
New episodes appear as opportunity permits (the artist's daily needs taking priority). In fact it's just one branch of a much larger story universe that Betsy Lee has been developing since high school, which also appears in a webcomic she's been drawing called Brother Swan, although the events in the comic take place many years after No Evil.
What I enjoy the most about No Evil are its characters, humor, mythology, and the darker parts of the story that have been showing up. There's excellent use of music, inspired by pre-1960s folk. I especially found the three-part harmony adaptation of "Wayfaring Stranger" to be very powerful. And I certainly hadn't expected one of the other melodies to come from a barbershop quartet tag.
Some episodes of No Evil are more straightforward than others. Most of them have closed-captioning available on YouTube, which helps when learning the names. Later episodes even incorporate sign language. You can also read the YouTube comments; the fan responses are quite helpful. For under $6, there's a 100-page prequel comic in electronic format called No Evil: Judgment. It sets up the background mythology, and shows how some of the main characters met, adding depth to the overall story. It's available on Lulu (no DRM) and on Google Play Books.
Here's a quick guide to some of the main spirits. (There's some more information on Betsy's website.)
Calamity (Chalchiuhtlicue) is a basilisk lizard, inspired by a goddess of rain and rivers, plus a bit of Calamity Jane's sassiness. She's fond of fish. In episode 7, she acquires a magical tuning fork that once belonged to a spirit named Tlaloc. She can manipulate water with it, but the fork's other powers remain somewhat of a mystery, hampered in part by its previous owner's incomprehensible notes.
"It's amazing. You don't seem at all concerned that this plan is a poorly-constructed tapestry of lies."
Huey (Huehuecoyotl) is a mischievous and irresponsible coyote spirit, prone to crazy ideas and a bit of a kleptomaniac. He's taken a liking to the nearby town of Hatfield, who consider him their patron spirit. Huey also has the odd ability to juggle his eyes.
"I got an idea!"
Paula is a large bear, essentially a female Paul Bunyan, complete with an axe and a big blue ox.
"Well, aren't you just a new and interesting addition to the universe."
Wrip and Vinkle are a couple. Vinkle is an easy-going lynx and a fast runner. Wrip is a rabbit who has a talent for convincing people to do things. She also carries around little magic bottles that allow her to disguise herself as other people.
Icky (Ichabod) is a crane, and is the most studious and intellectual of the group. He has a talent for reading omens, although he doesn't always interpret them correctly. He often assumes human form so that he can use his hands instead of wings, and has a soft spot for Wrip.
Kitty (Kajortoq) is a female fox with a southern accent. Although her personality can be rather abrupt, she's also very caring. She has a keen perception of other people's psychology, and is a talented seamstress. (I really like the outfits that the spirits wear; I wonder if she makes all of them.) In particular, she makes clothes for Corn and Calamity with magic poppy symbols on them, that helps the two reptiles keep warm and awake during the winter.
"The little love triangle is kind of adorable."
"Ain't a love triangle, it's a love line segment with one very ambitious point."
Finally, Corn (Quetzalcoatl) is a rattlesnake/feathered serpent attuned to the wind, fond of corn, and is the group's main healer and shaman. He's very shy and gets scared when there are too many people around. He feels calmer when Kitty is nearby.
Overall I should say I'm extremely enchanted with this series. I remember being shown episode 2 a long time ago, and then promptly lost track of it. I rediscovered it while browsing through the yesterdays of Furry Today. Go check it out! And (shameless plug) please consider nominating episodes 13-17 for an Ursa Major Award in the "Dramatic Short Work or Series" category before the end of February!
Lastly, I should mention that Betsy Lee isn't a furry. In one of her question-and-answer videos, she admits she doesn't know how to answer furry questions. She's ok with fan art (as she loves drawing fan art herself), but if it's Rule 34, she's not personally interested and asks it be kept on sites that are appropriate for that kind of material. Mainly she just really loves mythology, and since mythology has a lot of anthropomorphism in it, that's why it shows up in her work. Her friend Sushi-just-ask, who voices Paula the bear, is willing to field furry questions to the best of her ability. (She's also on Weasyl.)
Betsy, if you're reading this, furry is essentially a fan group and social network in which some people enjoy media that has anthropomorphic content, and/or in which some people like to use anthropomorphism as a theme through which they can symbolically express themselves. Beyond that vague explanation, everyone in furry fandom takes the concept in wildly different directions. But despite lacking a central focus (in contrast to fandoms like Harry Potter or Star Wars), we've developed a friendly cohesion, largely online, with the occasional local meet-up or convention. "Furry" is pretty much self-defined, so if you're not the sort to apply that label to yourself, we take no offense. Keep up the great work!
(Note as of February 18, 2016: The videos may be moving off YouTube to a different site.)
The prequel comic can be bought from Lulu (no DRM) and Google Play Books. The related comic, Brother Swan, is on SmackJeeves and ComicGenesis. Some of the music has been posted on Bandcamp. There are also t-shirts and other things.
Whew! Ok, I think that's everything.