Surfing the Sea

Established 1995

Pokémon Sun and Moon (2016): My Thoughts — December 28, 2016

Pokémon Sun and Moon (2016): My Thoughts

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(Slight spoilers ahead if you have not yet played the games.)

The long wait is now over, and the newest generation of Pokémon has arrived: Sun and Moon! The so-named seventh generation of Pokémon (each iteration is called a ‘generation’), as with all new generations before it, introduces new Pokémon creatures, new people, new moves, and a new region. This time, the region is Alola, based on Hawaii – a tropical paradise comprised of four islands, with a fifth being man-made.

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Map of the Alola Region

The player’s character moves to Alola from the Kanto region, ending up rather jet-lagged (or rather ship-lagged) but excited to start their new adventures as a Pokémon Trainer in Alola. Soon after making their new home in paradise, he or she meets their rival Hau, an 11-year-old boy who is the grandson of the ‘Island Kahuna’ Hala, Lillie, a mysterious girl who is living in the Pokémon Laboratory with the Psychic-type Pokémon Cosmog (or ‘Nebby’, as she nicknames him), and the regional Professor Kukui. In Iki Town, near the player’s new home, Hala gives out a choice from one of the three regional starter Pokémon: the Grass/Flying-type owl Rowlet, the Fire-type cat Litten, and the Water-type seal Popplio.

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The Alolan starter Pokémon (left-right): Rowlet, Litten and Popplio

Naturally, since I nearly always choose the Fire-type starter (with the exception of Silver and SoulSilver, where I chose Totodile and Chikorita respectively), my mind was set on Litten ever since Sun & Moon were first announced way back in May this year. I did not hesitate when the three starters were presented to me, immediately picking up Litten to be my first new Pokémon partner in the Alola region. (In case you chose Rowlet or Popplio instead, here’s a chart showing all three starters’ evolutions. Since I chose Litten, he – yes, he – evolved into Torracat and finally Incineroar, which he is now.)

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Rowlet’s evolution line (left-right): Rowlet (Grass/Flying), Dartrix (Grass/Flying), Decidueye (Grass/Ghost)
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Litten’s evolution line (left-right): Litten (Fire), Torracat (Fire), Incineroar (Fire/Dark)
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Popplio’s evolution line (left-right): Popplio (Water), Brionne (Water), Primarina (Water/Fairy)

Unlike previous Pokémon games, Sun and Moon do not seem to have the usual Pokémon Gyms and Gym Leaders. Instead, whenever someone turns 11 years old, as with Hau, they go through an Alolan tradition called the ‘island challenge’. Somewhat similar to the League quests of previous generations, the island challenge consists of travelling to all four islands and take on what are called ‘trials’ – a set of tasks designated by a ‘trial captain’ which the player must complete. At the end of a trial, a very powerful boss Pokémon – called a ‘Totem’ Pokémon – must be defeated. These Totem Pokémon make great use of a new battle mechanic in the seventh generation called SOS Battles, where they will periodically call for help from ally Pokémon, essentially turning into a Double Battle, except it is 2-on-1. When all trials on a particular island have been completed, the player battles an Island Kahuna, who are similar to Gym Leaders and are chosen by the Tapus, the island guardian Pokémon.

Sun and Moon, therefore, has taken the Pokémon game series in a whole new unexpected direction, which makes for a welcome change from the usual formula, though it still remains in its most basic form. They also give a twist to some of the Pokémon we’ve known and loved since its beginnings 20 years ago, like Raichu and Meowth, by giving them regional variants or Alolan Forms. These change the original designs slightly and give them a new or additional type, such as Alolan Raichu being Electric/Psychic and Alolan Meowth being Dark-type. (This would technically make Alolan Rattata/Raticate, Alolan Meowth/Persian and Mega Gyarados to be the first Dark-type Pokémon even before the Dark type itself was introduced in Gold and Silver.)

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Alolan Rattata (Dark/Normal)
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Alolan Raichu (Electric/Psychic)
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Alolan Meowth (Dark)

(And I just so happen to have an Alolan Raichu on my Sun team!)

Another new battle mechanic Sun and Moon introduces are Z-Moves. These are very powerful moves which are upgraded versions of a Pokémon’s particular move, but due to their sheer power, they can only be used once per battle. Z-Moves can be used whenever the player and one of their Pokémon holds a Z-Crystal, of which there are one for every type. Their power depends on the move they are based on. Z-Crystals are given out by the trial captains when a trial has been completed, or they can be found around the islands alone, usually in hidden places.

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Some examples of Z-Moves

There are also Ride Pokémon, who can be called upon to traverse tricky areas, reach hidden coves, or search out items hiding from plain sight. These take over the role of Hidden Machines, or HMs, from the previous generations, thus making HMs redundant in Alola. So no more having to visit the Move Deleter, and no more wasted move spaces!

(It’s not really a new feature in Sun and Moon, though – the previous generation, X and Y, introduced being able to ride on Pokémon, but they were not yet used for the purpose that HMs had.)

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Surfing upon a Lapras

As you can see, Alola likes to do things a little bit differently from all the other Pokémon regions. Even their own Pokémon League has only recently been established by no other than Professor Kukui himself, whereas previously challengers had to defeat all four Island Kahunas in a row. But Kukui decided to rise up and follow what the other regions have, choosing a few of the Island Kahunas and trial captains to act as Alola’s Elite Four. You don’t become Champion straight after beating all four, though – Kukui has a bit of a surprise before you claim the rightful title…

Pokémon Sun and Moon come just in time for the franchise’s 20th anniversary, and they represent the starting point of a brand-new pathway for the Pokémon games. Wherever next for our favourite Pocket Monsters?

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IAMP/PC: Decorating the Christmas Tree (2016) — December 25, 2016

IAMP/PC: Decorating the Christmas Tree (2016)

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With it being Christmas, a suitably festive artwork to go with it was obviously going to come about sooner or later. And I just had to base it around what is probably one of my most favourite fandoms – Project Canada, or the IAmMatthewian Project, or Sherry Lai’s Canada (as I call it).

Though it might be just a little bit late, Canada has gotten on to decorating the Christmas tree, with all his province and territory kids watching. He’s now just putting on the finishing touches by sticking a huge golden star on top, glimmering with the reflection of the light given off by the falling snowflakes.

As it’s cold and snowing, everybody is decked out in their winter wares (except, strangely, Canada). Their winter outfits this time look slightly different to the last time I drew them, though – I decided to change them up a little for the new winter season, and not a cheesy Christmas jumper in sight!

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IAMP Provinces in Winterwear
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IAMP Provinces Wearing Santa Hats

(Manitoba and the territories keep their normal outfits – with a few minor additions – as their winter outfits, since they’re already geared up for the cold weather.)

Much like a previous artwork of mine, the star atop the Christmas tree and the snowflakes were coloured using metallic coloured pencils – gold for the star, and metallic blue for the snowflakes. Metallic coloured pencils – including gold and silver – are now common in many artists’ pencil packs, which means you can also give sheen to objects which need a little more shine. Metallic gel pens can also make a drawing shine, though it may take longer to colour something in with them, particularly if it’s a large area.

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Prismacolor metallic and neutral coloured pencils
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It’s Christmas in the City of Canada – Promotional Artwork

A very Merry Christmas to everybody, and I’ll be seeing you all in 2017!

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Dartmouth and Jollimore: On Christmas —

Dartmouth and Jollimore: On Christmas

(Dartmouth and Jollimore are sitting in a room decked out to the brim with Christmas tinsel, a Christmas tree with fairy lights and baubles of different hues, flashing neon ‘Merry Christmas’ signs and Santa Claus dolls of varying sizes. Christmas songs play in the background.)

Dartmouth: (takes in a deep breath and sighs) Man, oh man. Christmas. The most stressful time of the year.

Jollimore: (cheerfully) The most wonderful time of the year!

Dartmouth: Many people say that. But really, it’s stressful.

Jollimore: It’s Christmas. What more could you say? Presents under the Christmas tree, colourful decorations, turkey with stuffing, Christmas pudding, fun in the snow… It really is the most wonderful time of the year, as the song goes!

Dartmouth: Not for some people. Christmas is the most expensive and stressful time of the year for them. Including me.

Jollimore: Well, I can understand that. Some gifts aren’t cheap. Like those fancy phones, tablets or video game consoles all the kids want nowadays.

Dartmouth: And it’s even more expensive if you have several kids or friends who want those gifts too. Just thinking about the prices is bringing a headache on to me.

Jollimore: (smiling) But still, it feels good to give! That’s what Christmas is all about, after all – it’s the season of giving!

Dartmouth: Well, I certainly do give… those stupid kids a good whacking when they get up to their little tricks!

Jollimore: (grinning) Gonna get coals in their stockings, are they, Dartmouth? Naughty kids get coals instead of presents for Christmas.

Dartmouth: Oh, they certainly will be. They’re always on Santa’s naughty list, so every Christmas will be full of coal for them!

Jollimore: That’s actually kinda sad. Those kids look forward to Christmas all year for their presents underneath the tree. And all they get are little black rocks.

Dartmouth: At least those coals have a useful purpose – keeping them warm throughout the winter, unlike all those fancy-prancy gadgets they’re so addicted to!

Jollimore: But they want something fun for their presents. They ARE kids, after all.

Dartmouth: Yes, but what about us adults? We’re too old for all that “magic” and “sparkles” malarkey! We’re more hardened and realistic!

Jollimore: I think you’re forgetting something, Dartmouth…

Dartmouth: Eh, you’re just a fluke, Jollimore. But I’m much more mature than you. I don’t have to deal with all that “positive thinking” New Age malarkey you practise. And Christmas is just another ordinary day for me.

Jollimore: Oh, Christmas certainly isn’t just another ordinary day. It’s a magical day!

Dartmouth: It’s a stressful day for me, and that’s that.

Jollimore: (to the audience) Ah, he can never catch a break… even at the holiday season.


A very Merry Christmas to all of you!

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Humanized Cast of Alphablocks (2016) — December 19, 2016

Humanized Cast of Alphablocks (2016)

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A short while ago, I reviewed Alphablocks in full after briefly mentioning it in my post on Autistic Pride Day – the adventures of 26 people who personify each letter of the alphabet, living in a magical land which fills up when they hold hands to spell out words. This helps little children everywhere – though particularly in its native England – learn their ABCs, and also the valuable skills of reading, writing and spelling via seeing these colourful characters interact with each other and their world.

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Alphablocks Alphabet

As fun as it is to see the letters of the alphabet personified to help kids learn those precious life skills that are so needed in the modern world, I decided the Alphablock characters themselves needed a little more personality and humanity to them. So as I got into Alphablocks, I decided to turn all of them human.

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Humanized Cast of Alphablocks

And this was what came out of my efforts to humanize Alphablocks. While designing what they might look like if they were human, I took the colours and clothes they ‘wear’, special traits and their personalities into consideration, then transferred those onto the humanized versions. Some were more straightforward to design than others, who had a more complex look.

The human Alphablocks’ looks are mainly based on their colour(s), with their outfits using the colour(s) of their ‘bodies’ when in their usual block form. For those who have two or more colours, I made their clothes have each one of those colours (as with J and K), or drew them as stripes (as with A, O, T and U).

The human Alphablocks also take some of their characterizations from their personalities or jobs (see my review on Alphablocks for each letter’s character bio), so F wears a spacesuit as she is an astronaut, M wears a chef’s hat and apron since he is a chef (pretty obvious), and X is a superhero and so wears a cape and mask. V is slightly different in his human form than in his block form; in my humanized version of him, he wears a pair of rollerblades to signify his love of going fast, though he still keeps his helmet and overall appearance of a racecar driver. (P and S were probably the most fun to draw, since they have many colours!)

Since drawing this artwork, I’ve not stopped with my humanized versions of the Alphablocks – I draw them for screenshot redraws of the actual Alphablocks show, replacing the block versions with the human versions:

And I’ve even thought up human names for the Alphablock characters:

  • A – Anneeka (originally Annie)
  • B – Beatrice
  • C – Charleen
  • D – Dennis
  • E – Edwin (originally Eddie)
  • F – Fern
  • G – Geraldine
  • H – Harriet (originally Henrietta)
  • I – Iris
  • J – Julieanne
  • K – Kieran (originally Kiaran, with a second “A”)
  • L – Livia
  • M – Marcus
  • N – Nicholas (originally Nathan)
  • O – Oliver (originally Oscar)
  • P – Petunia (originally Patricia)
  • Q – Quinnella
  • R – Ruby
  • S – Serena
  • T – Terence
  • U – Upton (originally Unity)
  • V – Victor
  • W – Walter
  • X – Xander (originally Xavier)
  • Y – Yohann
  • Z – Zachariah

And my sister’s also been getting into the Alphablocks groove:

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Humanized Cast of Alphablocks (Melissa’s Version)

Who would’ve thought I’d get this deep into a little kids’ TV show, let alone myself, or my family? 😉

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Alphablocks (2010-): My Thoughts — December 15, 2016

Alphablocks (2010-): My Thoughts

 

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OK… So I know what you’re thinking. A grown woman like me reviewing a TV show for tiny children who are only just beginning to talk, read and write? When she should be focusing on something a little more “mature”? Well, since I’m an aspiring animator, and the overwhelming majority of animations are aimed at children, it’s something I have to do occasionally for my research and inspiration-taking. 😉

So what is Alphablocks? I briefly mentioned it in my blog post on Autistic Pride Day, though it was only a few words and a big picture long. But today, since this is a full-on review, I’ll be going into much more detail about this series, and why I’m attracted to it.

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Alphablocks Alphabet

Alphablocks is a children’s TV series which originally began airing on the CBeebies preschool channel (part of the BBC) in 2010, thus making it a British production. It follows the adventures of 26 personifications of the letters of the alphabet, each with their own lively personalities and traits. Together, the Alphablocks make Alphaland, their homeland, a magical place by holding hands to spell out words, which causes the spelt-out word to come alive – for example, if C-A-T is spelt, an actual cat will appear. (I wonder if that could happen in real life – simply spell out words to get what you want or need…)

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C-A-T spells cat!

As well as a TV series, Alphablocks has also been made into a magazine, a mobile app, a jigsaw puzzle, and a large library of books aiming to help children learn spelling and phonics in a fun way. Strangely, although it is quite a hit in its native England, Alphablocks remains virtually unknown around the rest of the world (though there’s talk of an American version being produced for Stateside kids. So they’d need to make a few changes to the series. First up, they’d have to call the final letter of the alphabet “Zee” instead of “Zed”…)

As mentioned before, each one of the 26 Alphablock characters have a unique personality and their own quirks. (This might be a little long, since I’m going to go through every one of them, but you’ll come out a lot more educated on the series… it’s supposed to educate!)

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A

Eight-year-old A is the protagonist of the Alphablocks series. With a plaster stuck across her cheek, she is cheerful but clumsy, often having apples drop onto her head, which gives her the “Ah!” sound. A bit of a singer, she likes to help her vowel pals out.

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B

Seven-year-old B is the bass guitar player of the band, playing with her bigger brother D.

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C

C is the resident daredevil girl. Wearing goggles and having a crack in her ‘head’, the seven-year-old loves to perform stunts and tricks. Everywhere she goes, she causes cracks to break through the ground, as though she were creating earthquakes. She sometimes questions why she’s even a letter because she sometimes sounds exactly like her big brother K, but she does have a sound of her own too.

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D

Ten-year-old D is B’s older brother. Just like his littler sister, he’s a musical type, playing the drums in the Alphablocks band. He’s nearly always seen carrying his trusty drumsticks.

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E

E is very busy for a nine-year-old. His status as the most-used letter in the English language means he’s always on his toes spelling out words or using his megaphone to sound himself out. Because of this, he’s a popular and friendly sort.

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F

Fifteen-year-old F blasts off to infinity and beyond. This spacegirl loves to float and fly, using puffs of air to blow herself about. On one occasion, her space adventures led her to make a new alien friend.

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G

Six-year-old G is a garden girl. Loving to grow plants, her hair is even made out of grass. If she drinks water, she can grow it to great lengths. She loves anything that’s green like her.

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H

Eight-year-old H loves to run, but she can get exhausted quite easily, huffing, puffing and panting. This gives the ‘hah-hah-hah’ sound.

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I

Despite only being a mere fourteen years old, I is already a superstar. She loves to sing – even when it’s not needed or wanted. She thinks she’s the most important letter, and also the most incredible, intelligent and interesting.

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J

Jolly J loves to dream. The three-year-old thinks she’s a blue jaybird (although she more closely resembles a penguin), and can also fly and sing like one. She often flaps her arms as though they were wings, and she wears an orange ‘beak’.

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K

The eleven-year-old Kicking K loves to kick his football around. He’s C’s bigger brother. They sometimes bicker with each other because they make the exact same sound in some cases, but they both do have their differences.

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L

Twelve-year-old L loves to sing lullabies with her “Luh-luh” sound. She sings to help the others sleep, but sometimes she herself falls asleep in doing so.

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M

33-year-old M loves to cook and munch on everything – even things which aren’t supposed to be edible, like plates. This can be an annoyance to the others.

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N

Nine-year-old N is pretty negative, always saying “no” even if he means “yes”. He’s also somewhat stubborn and nearly always looks angry.

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O

Six-year-old O has a rather unusual quirk – he cannot speak at all, so he can only communicate by making his “Oh” sound. Despite this, he’s very curious, and he loves to investigate things with his magnifying glass.

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P

Six-year-old P loves to make a pop. Seeming to be a pixie, she is sweet and loves to help her friends out. Her unexpected popping in and out sometimes makes the others jump.

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Q

65-year-old Q dresses like a queen – and acts like one too. It seems she can’t live without U, as she needs him for her to have a sound, but he isn’t that into it as he thinks she’s quite quarrelling.

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R

Twelve-year-old R loves to play the pirate. She’s always going “arrrrrrr” and “walk the plank”, and likes to swing on a rope like a swashbuckler. She’s tomboyish and loves adventuring on the high seas.

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S

With her bright, colourful looks and inflatable tube, the eleven-year-old S could easily be mistaken for a beach ball. She can fly (somewhat) by inflating or deflating herself and letting it go, blowing her around. She can be somewhat prone to feeling sad, especially when she sags.

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T

50-year-old T loves his tea – maybe a bit too much. He’s always asking everybody else if they want some tea, and if he’s run out of it, he’ll tut-tut-tut. He’s the true gentleman of the troupe.

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U

Nine-year-old U can be moody and uncooperative. He uses a lot of ‘un-‘ words, like “unbelievable” and his favourite, “unfair”. He has to run away from Q whenever she says “I Need U”, as he thinks she’s quite quarrelling.

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V

Sixteen-year-old V loves to vroom! With his steering wheel and feathers on his arms, he can zip around fast like a racing car.

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W

Three-year-old W is a wailer. If he hurts himself or gets upset, he will start to cry uncontrollably, which causes flooding everywhere. He’s so much of a wailer that he calls himself by the sound of wailing.

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X

Fifteen-year-old X is the X-Man – the superhero Exciting X! He can fly and use his X-ray vision to see through solid objects. However, despite his heroic demeanour, he sometimes crashes, which causes his letter shape to drop sideways, becoming a plus sign. He then turns into Plusman, who has the power to make two words into one, like blending ‘star’ and ‘fish’ to make ‘starfish’.

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Y

Two-year-old Y is the youngest member of the Alphablock gang. Sometimes identifying himself as a (semi)vowel – on one occasion he wanted to join A’s vowel troupe via means of a musical ditty – he will always persevere even in the face of trouble.

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Z

80-year-old Z is the oldest of the Alphablock bunch, carrying his walking stick around. He’s always catching some of his own kind, snoozing away (usually while standing up). I wonder what he wears that medal for, though?

As mentioned earlier, whenever two or more of the letters hold hands, they spell out a word. This can be very helpful for little kids who are just beginning to read and write for the first time, and Alphablocks makes a great job of personifying each letter for easier identification – for example, D could be the “drum man” and R the “pirate girl”. Whenever a child sees a difficult-to-spell word, they could simply think of the letters of that word as some of the Alphablocks themselves holding hands. That in turn can help them become more confident in spelling and writing.

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R-E-D spells red!

While the first two seasons (there are currently 4 seasons of the series) focus on the most basic letter sounds and learning the alphabet, later seasons introduce what are called “letter teams” – letters that, when placed together, create a different sound, such as “ch” or “sh”. These are suited to slightly older kids (about 4 to 5 years old) who have passed the “ABC” stage and are now ready to read and write at a more advanced level.

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An example of a “letter team” – dance the cha-cha-cha!

There is also ‘silent’ and ‘magic’ E, who in the show is basically E wearing a black ninja outfit (silent E) or a black top hat (magic E). When in these two forms, he can make the vowels say their longer sounds or change the pronunciation and meaning of a word, like ‘hat’ vs. ‘hate’. (For the older generation who didn’t have Alphablocks, like me, they must surely remember Words & Pictures, or that catchy ‘Magic E’ song…)

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Silent E with Double E
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Magic E

Apart from the obvious aim of teaching kids their ABCs and the two R’s (reading and ‘riting), Alphablocks does give some of the letters more depth in their character. For example, C sometimes questions her standing as a letter of the alphabet and even bickers with her bigger brother K, because they sometimes make the same sound as each other. (In one episode C even challenged K to think of as many words as he could with his sound, with her finding others with the same sound.) However, they do understand that C does have another sound when paired with certain letters, which sounds more like her own name. The two can even come together at times to make a letter team of their own.

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Q-U-I-C-K spells quick!

So not only do kids learn to say the alphabet, read, write and spell, they also learn that it’s OK to be different even though we may share some mutual traits, as with C and K.

And since I love personifying things, I found the series’ mechanic of personifying the letters of the alphabet appealing to me and my imagination. So much so that I got deep into the show, and I imagined them as actual people:

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Humanized Cast of Alphablocks

This is how I draw the Alphablock characters whenever I draw fan-art of them, since they’re much more fun to draw than just coloured cubes with faces and letters. And it gives them more personality and humanity, too. (More details can be found in this exhibition.)

If you’d like to start your kids (or even yourself!) on the Alphablocks pathway, here’s the first two episodes I watched which’ll help introduce them – they teach the letter sounds and the alphabet:

 

The Alphablocks even have their own YouTube channel to continue the learning.

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