Den of the Cyphered Wolf

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Who Digs Western Animated Shows?

Okay time to play connect the mental dots. I love Bennett the Sage's Anime Abandon a show where he reviews old schlock the anime community would probably like to forget. He just concluded not quite anime month reviewing stuff that's anime influenced but just not quite anime. Part of what got him on it was an infuriating November Forbes article calling Avatar: The Legend of Korra, a show I like by the way, a new genre.  Anybody who's watched any anime knows that's a falsity, but he was trying to prove that the idea of adult animation and more specifically the animated drama was not new in the west either, by reviewing Spawn, Aeon Flux, and Lady Death.

You know what I've been meaning to something similar for a while now. There was a time in my life where I was a little but of an anime snob. Well I still am but what I mean is that I hated western animation. I was one of those assholes. You know the type. Those guys who believe that there is no way western animation could compare to anime ever.  Then I opened my eyes and realized there was a lot of good stuff.  Let's go.

Mighty Max

Okay technically Mighty Max is one of those old 30 minute toy advertisement shows from the 90's but god is it good. There are a lot of things I like to point to making me interested in sci-fi, but Mighty Max might actually be the prime here.  The show played off of so many genre tropes it would be easier to make a list of the stuff it didn't hit, and it didn't aways do it in expected ways.  Vampires can shape shift but they ain't bats. They're the other annoying little blood suckers of the summer, and swatting the little buggers pisses the hell out of the vampire queen.

All said the show was smart and well written with its lead being a guile hero snarker.


So much pathos so little time. How many people remember that old Beauty and the Beast show not the remake but that thing from the 80's. Show's like that but cool. Okay there is a whole thing and explaining their origin would ruin the first 5 episodes. So I'll try to explain it as vaguely as possible.  A group of living stone gargoyles are transported from the 16th to 20th century and have to adjust. I know that sentence sounds lame but the characters and arcs are brilliant. Furthermore the show has this habit of integrating folklore, for instance Puck and Macbeth yes that those ones are reoccurring characters. Heck this was my introduction to Coyote.


I never hopped on the Seinfeld bus, largely because it was before my time and only once I hit college did I realize I was watching stuff influenced by Seinfeld. Downtown is one such show. It's a sitcom so there really isn't an over arching plot but rather a status quo. Alex a 20-something New Yorker has just moved out of his parents place and has to put up with the antics of his annoying little sister as she uses his new privacy as a way to get away with doing whatever she wants, while he just wants to be chill. I'd be lying if I didn't say that the reason why I like the show is that I really relate to Alex.

But what really made the show were the surreal cut away gags as the characters gabbed about whatever.


Alright seasons one and two of reboot were your normal Saturday morning affair about the world inside your computer, but the show got canceled on ABC and was moved to Toonami. When season three came it out was a whole new beast. To be fair a lot of that stuff was set up in the tail-end of season two but man there were some great ideas. The main character was betrayed and was this universe's equivalent to lost at sea.  For reasons the guy chosen to fill his shoes is was the kid character. That might sound normal for these types of shows except here he's in over his head barely holding it together, eventually failing and failing bad. Better yet.

Spoilery Short version (Seriously this is 5 minute recap of season 3 set to that Major General song from Pirates of Penzance Don't watch it if you're going to watch the show.)

You know the Forbes article said that cartoons never had the guts to let the bad guys win. Well here the bad guy wins and turns the place into a post-apocalyptic hellscape!

Not unlike his predecessor he's lost and after a a time skip he grows up to be "Matrix, The Renegade" a cynical mean, enraged version of his younger self willing to do anything to accomplish his goals of finding his mentor and eventually his home.

The show built up the stakes and made him fail. He's on an epic quest to make it right even if it turns him into a maladjusted antihero who his friends barely recognize. And it works because we saw both this show and this guy when he was a lighthearted squirt. We the audience are continually asking the same questions his friends ask whenever he shoots the dog. What the hell happened? And we know we the audience were there for both the good and bad times.

The Real Adventures of Jonny Quest

It's a reboot of Johnny Quest that's pretty damn good. Remember in the early 90's cartoon network was looking for action shows and Jonny Quest delivered. Benton Quest has made a name for himself by basically inventing Second Life, or in this universe an incredible simulation program that can be used to scan the attributes of real life objects then analyze and manipulate them. The tech is used as the glue that hold the show together, Quest being commissioned as a consultant on some pretty amazing stuff.

The Venture Bros.

The Venture Brothers started as a metajoke parody of Jonny Quest with the idea that all that adventuring would a.) traumatize the kid and b.) give him a massive inferiority complex when he couldn't live up to his scientist dad. And yeah that is pretty much Rusty Venture, a former boy adventurer to a tee.  But eventually the show pulled back layers and as it did more and more revealed how a world of boy adventurers, super villains and a GI Joe style commando force maintained itself leading to an ever more intriguing setting.

Moral Orel
Not unlike The Venture Bros. Moral Orel started as a parody of those old Davey and Goliath shorts with the idea that nothing is that wholesome.

The first couple of seasons played Orel's dad's asshattery and hypocracy for laughs but well the last one was downright depressing.

The Timmverse/DCAU

Okay if you aren't a fan this may take some explaining.  After the first well technically second Batman movie, Warner Brothers commissioned Bruce Timm to produce a Saturday morning television version. And, god was it a success eventually leading to several fondly remembered in continuity spin-offs. Superman the Animated Series, Batman Beyond, Justice League, and Justice League Unlimited are the agreed upon shows in the universe but I also like to count Teen Titans, Static Shock, and Legion of Superheroes. I dig Braniac 5.

The thing is that these shows, continuity is so tied together and especially with the first five the quality is so constantly good, that you can't really talk one without the others so that's what I'm going to do. I came on board with Superman: The Animated Series and that show pretty makes up my image of Superman, even more so the Chris Reeves.

And don't get me started on how awesome Batman Beyond is.

For a long while these shows were considered the best out of comic adaption of the DC Universe, heck there is still an on going debate whether or not Heath Ledger outdid Mark Hammil's Joker.

Young Justice

The DCAU came to an end after Justice League Unlimited, but it wasn't long before Young Justice came to take it's place. Instead of the big boys this show however focused on the sidekicks who were hungry to prove they could hang. Heck the series starts with a tirade after they were due to be inducted into the JL, but weren't told about The Watch Tower, their secret space station headquarters.

The tiff ends with the sidekicks deciding to go and do their own thing for a while acting as a covert force since they aren't as well known as their mentors. Seeing Superman is a big deal, but how many people even know Superboy exists.  One of Kidflash's petpeeves is confusing him with Speedy, and oh boy does that guy have issues.

What really makes the show for me is that is a really good ensemble piece. Everybody is given their own distinct powers, back story, personality, and character arc.  Everybody does something in this show.

Ben 10 Alien Force/Ultimate Alien

You know what. I like Ben 10. The show about a kid who can transform into aliens was slowly building a mythos and you know what? Those two spin-offs are the payoff to that mythos. Five years after the end of the first show Ben's Grandpa goes missing and it's up to him to find out why. The first show slowly revealed that Grandpa Max was basically a Man in Black and with him missing things are a little wonky. First off there was a reason and second off the MIB are concerned getting more and more entangled in Ben's life as he tries to dunk them and find out what's up.

What's most striking is how different these shows are from the original, as a matter fact the third series is bassically trying to bring the tone back to the original and I kind of don't like it. That personality for Ben worked when he was 10 but not so much at 17. And that's my problem with Omniverse five seasons worth of character development is gone and that's not even counting the subtle shifts in the original.  And I think the art style is stupid. Focus Miles. Focus.

Samurai Jack
Long ago in distant land.. Wait. Hold on. Let me turn on "Da Voice".

While Samurai Jack has some amazing stories what really works is the style. First off Jack is laconic so what we know about the guy is mostly conveyed through his actions and expressions. And amazingly both of those are strong enough so that yes he is a character. His silence is one of those actions. Jack is sincere. Whatever he says and even whatever he does he means it. He doesn't waste words for the sake of themselves. That's more or less his defining trait being delivered by showing it rather than telling the audience he's a sincere guy.

Furthermore visually the show is just interesting using contrasting colors rather than outlines to form shapes.

He-Man 2002  and Thunder Cats 2011

I like fantasy and the He-Man reboot was pretty cool. Same goes for the 2011 Thunder Cats reboot. Not perfect, Lion-O's character development zigzaged but given another season it had potential.

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