Category Archives: Cartoons & Anime

Thundercats: A Purr-Fect Reinterpretation?

Who remembers Thundercats?  I imagine a lot of people do.  The show was quite popular when I was a kid, and the popularity has only grown as nostalgia sets in.  Heck, you can probably find some random middle school kid who wasn’t even alive when the show was on sporting some Thundercats t-shirt (Don’t hate.  They might be legitimate fans.  Easy to do in this age of DVD and the internet!)  However, much like other classic shows, I often wonder how many people actually REMEMBER Thundercats.  As in what actually happened in the show, not just that it existed and the basic premise.  A few years ago I dug up my old VHS tape of Voltron and I was shocked at finding plot points I never recalled or the fact that the characters would routinely change outfits mid-conversation for no reason.  So when I think back to Thundercats, I often find gaps in my memory.  Even when the last time I watched it was as recent as when it ran on Toonami (which was ’96 – ’98 I think, barely over a decade ago!) I find huge gaps in my memory of how things happened, especially in the later episode.  I remember Lynx-O, Pumyra and Bengali but I don’t have the slightest memory of how they came to be part of the cast.  The New Thundara storyline? Complete blank.  Oh sure, I can look it up online.  There’s wikis abound about old cartoons.  However, it’s the memory that most people go off of and that is what informs the opinion.  After all, if they made a new Superman movie where he couldn’t fly, just jump really high, would the average person going to see the flick remember that once the extent of Superman’s abilities was just to “leap large buildings in a single bound”?  No! They remember Superman flying. So if Superman isn’t flying, they’re going to be bothered by it.

The Cuteness, man! THE CUTENESS!

If you’re a fan of the original the first thing that is going to hit you is the striking difference from the original.  When I say ‘striking’ I mean ‘resembles absolutely nothing in relation to the original show’.  The Thundercats are not Superman substitutes fleeing the doomed planet Thundera before it blows up.  Lion-o is not a little kid that grows old due to a stasis problem.  Snarf doesn’t talk (Thank Jaga, he doesn’t talk).  In fact, Thundera is a kingdom on what I can only assume is supposed to be the same Third Earth.  It is the dominant kingdom that united all the other animal kingdoms under it (If you read between the lines, it’s kind of a disturbing thought that our heroes essentially conquered all the competition and now keep them under their boot).  Lion-o is older by default, judging from his attitude and demeanor probably late teens or early 20’s and Tygra is now his adopted older brother (There’s some resentment there as Tygra is favored by both their father and the people to be the next king, but he can’t because he doesn’t share the bloodline) and Cheetara is a cleric under the very much not dead after four episodes Jaga.

The show in and of itself is structured very differently than how I expected as well.  By the end of the two-part premiere, the team consists of Lion-o, Tygra, and Cheetara.  That’s it.  Oh we see Wily-Kit and Kat (who are street urchins, stealing their way through life in hopes of reaching the fabled lost city of treasure) and Panthro is mentioned (to be more precise, he is mentioned to be dead.) In fact, the full team isn’t assembled until the end of the fourth episode.  I was expecting the usual ‘Series premiere is spent setting up the premise, establish the villain and assemble the team’.  In this regard, we get a brief glimpse of the real villain (Mumm-ra appears but is stopped just before he transforms into his true form) and we focus mainly on his sub-ordinates the Lizard Army, the team is not fully assembled by the end, but it does do a fair job of establishing the situation by the end of the premiere.

Even after four episodes, the show has completely seperated itself from its predecessor.  The characters are only the same in name and rough appearance and for what it’s worth, I’m loving it!  The characters are interesting and there is honest to goodness conflict in and between them.  Lion-o is thrust into position of leadership when he’s clearly emotionally not ready for it, Tygra constantly gives him grief for not being more like their father, and Cheetara attempts to comfort him.  Snarf, Kit and Kat thus far are mostly for comedic relief, but thankfully they are not annoying in the least.  I actually enjoy watching their antics.  The villains aren’t blithering idiots and can actually formulate a plan.  All in all, this show is good.  Simply in structure, tone and narrative pacing.  It’s not rushing itself to arbitrary goals, and actually has the feeling of being a more cinematic experience.  While there are some nods to the original material, it’s not needed to understand the show and actually if you were two separate the two in your mind completely, it might help with enjoying the experience.

Four episodes in and all you see is the silhouette of this thing... HEY! It comes with a Snarf figure!

Speaking of that vehicle, this is another showed that has peaked by interest in terms of the ever-present debate of the role of technology in fiction.  You see, Lion-o is obsessed with mythical fairy tales of his youth about this thing called “technology”.  No one else believes it exists despite Lion-o routinely making his way to Thundera’s black market to purchase supposed pieces of this tech from beyond the city walls.  Ultimately – Spoiler! – it turns out to exist, and is used to bring down Thundera.  However, because of Lion-o’s insistence in its existence, he finds a way to use to his advantage and almost saves the day with it.  Technology, although mostly used by the villains, is not portrayed as an inherently good or evil thing.  It’s a tool.  Which is precisely what it is in real life too.  It’s nice to see that when a lot of shows and movies are more than willing to easily splatter the narrative brush around to paint technology as bad and nature is good.  That’s a theme I could without.  It drives me nuts.  Technology and civilization are not diametrically opposed to nature in any way.  To simplify them as such does disservice to supporters of both.  Case in point: Fern-#$%&ing-gully.  So to see technology portrayed in such a neutral light made me really happy.  I hope they continue to explore the idea as the show progresses.

So the big question remains, should you watch it?  I’d say that if you made it to this point without shouting “You gottta be [Expletive Deleted] kidding me!” that yes, you should check it out.  If anything it is the beginning a potentially epic series of good vs evil with some interesting races and side stories thrown in and that is what I remember Thundercats being.  Lot of weird creatures, good vs. evil, and cool machines.  They hit all of my bases in my book and did a solid job world building a brand new interpretation of all the elements.  Is it exactly the same?  No.  In my opinion, they tossed out a lot of the goofier unnecessary elements (Did the Thundercats need to be aliens from a dying planet?) and reworked them into something simpler while tying them into the overall plot.  I’d recommend it to anyone willing to see a different version of an old cartoon.

Generator Rex: Waging War Against Luddites?

Time to lay my cards on the table for this one.  Luddites (that’s folk who don’t like technology) and I do not get along.  Never have.  Which is unfortunate that my college major (creative writing) was so chock full of anti-technology people who I couldn’t go a single semester without one major showdown of the rest of the class vs. me over the issue of the ever-growing integration of technology in modern society.  These are the people who would drudge up the most pessimistic possible view of things if you were ever to utter the word “zeitgeist” (a word that you will never hear or use outside of college) that you would you actively fear that these poor souls are the future because some of them would see the annihilation of all humanity as a “step up”.

What does any of this have to do with Generator Rex?  During those trying years I found a word that will stay with me for as long as I live: Transhumanist.  Those who believe in, and I quote (from Wikipedia), “the possibility and desirability of fundamentally transforming the human condition by developing and making widely available technologies to stop or slow aging and to greatly enhance human intellectual, physical, and psychological capacities.”  In other words the fusing of man and machine, sometimes through little things called nanites.  Nanites are the very heart and soul of the plot behind the hit Cartoon Network show, Generator Rex.

The story goes like this: a few years before the show starts there was a massive explosion at a test facility that launched nanites into the atmosphere, ultimately infecting everyone on the planet.  The nanites were designed originally to be things that helped people – curing diseases, treating injuries, and eliminate hunger – but they the explosion released them before they could be finished.  Now anyone who carries nanites in them can be unwillingly be transformed into an EVO (Exponentially Varigated Organism), a monstrous creature that may or may not preserve their human minds.  Anyone being everyone.  Everyone except White Knight.

White Knight is the leader of Providence, an organization devoted to the elimination of all EVOs, and is the only human being in the world that does not have nanites due to an (un)fortunate accident that sealed him in a decontamination chamber before the start of the series (It’s shown as a flashback to when the show’s protagonist, Rex, first joins Providence).  White Knight is a ruthless man who is willing to go to any length to stop the EVO menace – send his soldiers to their deaths, has a magnet that will rip the nanites right out of your body and kill you, and on more than one occasion just says #$%* it and tries to nuke’m.  (And he’s one of the good guys!)

White Knight firmly believes that despite his track record of doing anything to get the job done – which rarely actually goes well I might add, including dropping a nuke on a rampaging zerg swarm of EVO bugs that just causes them to rapidly multiply – he is the only one in the world that can be trusted to run Providence.  Why?  Because he can’t go EVO due to his lack of nanites.  Because he hasn’t been exposed to the machines, he is the only one to be trusted to never betray anyone.  Need I mention that this revelation comes in an episode where he is actively trying to beat up and possibly kill Rex – WHO IS ONE OF HIS SUBORDINATES?

The White Knight represents the luddite.  Who despite discoveries like Rex having a more finalized version of the nanites that can actually be used to cure some EVOs of their mutations, still doesn’t trust him and would rather see him dead (He kinda warms up to Rex in season two.  Still doesn’t trust him.)  He sees anyone and everything affected by the nanites as untrustworthy and corrupted.  It’s an extreme viewpoint that is firmly rooted in the ‘Science is Evil’ camp.  Nanites are evil, regardless of their intent. Trying to find a cure is a waste of time. Why use science when you can just kill them?

There is also a rogue AI named ZAG-RS that is devoted to stopping the nanite problem, usually through some means of destroying them and, coincidentally, their hosts along with them (ZAG is very clear that this is just a side effect of its goal, and is not actively malicious.)  So we have a human that wants to destroy EVOs, an AI that wants to destroy every living thing (except White Knight I guess) – can’t we just throw this one in the typical Anti-Science sci-fi box and move on?  Not yet.

This picture doesn't really have anything to do with the article other than the show is worth watching JUST for Bobo Haha, the gun-toting, eye-patch-wearing, fez-sporting talking monkey. (technically an ape, but monkey is so much more fun to say)

The difference between this and almost every single movie based on a Michael Crichton novel is that science is not blindly considered a bad thing.  Case and point being the show’s protagonist: Rex.  Rex is an EVO that was gifted with a unique set of nanites that were not part of the batch that was showered down on the rest of the world.  His were more a more advanced version that were much closer to their intent goal.  While not perfect, Rex’s nanites allow him several capabilities that other EVOs do not have.  Including a human appearance and the ability to “cure” some EVOs by absorbing their nanites into himself and revert people and animals back into their original forms.  He fights off enemies and dangerous EVOs alike using massive bio-mechanical constructs that he forms with his body like a cyborg Green Lantern.  In this sense, science becomes the cure to other scientific ills.  A concept that is strangely foreign to some in both the show and in real life (We can’t use science to help stop global warming! Science caused global warming!)

The best part of the entire show is that there isn’t a single right answer (However, I would consider ZAG-RS’ plan of “kill everything” a definite WRONG answer) there is merit presented in both White Knight and Rex’s argument.  After all, Rex’s nanites can’t cure everything (Yet.  His powers have grown over time.  He originally could only cure people, but over time his abilities have expanded to curing animals as well. So it’s not out of question that he might be able to eventually cure even the “incurables” who have their nanites immune to Rex’s absorption/healing abilities.)

So maybe stating that the show is waging war against Luddites is a bit much (does make for a great headline though.) Still, this show has generated a lot of debate about the ethics of technology and its uses.  I’m always firmly rooted in the camp that while science can cause problems, science can also fix many more problems, while others sometimes fall firmly in the “it’s not worth the risk” camp of Michael Crichton and White Knight.  At least it generates more discussion than your average episode of Spongebob (even though I will admittedly say that Spongebob Squarepants has generated many laughs and the occasional philosophical or ethical debate among me and my friends.)  The show is definitely worth checking out, even if it’s just for the awesome music.  Seriously.  Love that theme song.

 

 

Fallout: Adventure Time

Finn and Jake in the Land of OooWARNING: This post contains some spoilers and speculation for the show ‘Adventure Time’.

Somehow, until just a few months ago, the most epic show ever had escaped my field of vision. This coming from a guy who spends no less than 15 hours a week watching animation of some kind. Yet somehow I totally missed Adventure Time! An awesome show from Pendleton Ward (who previously worked on the Misadventures of Flapjack, a show that was very hit and miss with me) that I would simply summarize as a 10 year olds D&D game brought to life through animation, as the adventures of Finn the Human and Jake the Dog quest for glory amongst the strange and delightful Land of Ooo meeting characters like Princess Bubblegum, Marceline the Vampire Queen, and squaring off with their nemesis the Ice King.  If that doesn’t pique your interest, don’t be dissuaded – these primitive constructs known as words can do little to properly contain the sheer amount of win that this show possesses.

At first I really just enjoyed the show, it was clever, fun and probably the most energetic thing since I replaced my hamsters water bottle with a can of Red Bull (his wheel is now powering my xbox 360) but then I learned something while surfing around the net. Something that would change my perspective on the entire show and propel it from cool show to a level of awesome not witnessed since ninjas first lifted guitars and unleashed a lick powerful enough to shatter Pangea: Adventure Time is set in a post apocalyptic world.

Did that just blow your mind? This cutesy, crazy and colorful cartoon world that bursts forth with rich childlike wonder actually takes place in a post apocalyptic Earth.  Granted, this is never directly addressed in the cartoon thus far. I can only imagine it’s something that Cartoon Network would be hesitant in bringing up (I’ll admit that they have loosened their standards. We’ve gone from Duo being ‘The Great Destroyer’ instead of ‘The God of Death’ in Gundam Wing to Jedi being killed outright in Clone Wars – Granted it’s usually offscreen, but still.)  The Word of God still has insisted that The Land of Ooo is very much a post apocalyptic Earth and there are quite a few hints of this throughout the show that reference back to the end of the world and the so called “Mushroom War.”

Title Card for the Adventure Time Episode Ocean of Fear

The Title Card for "Ocean of Fear" shows traces of just some of the strange things dwelling at the bottom of the oceans in the Land of Ooo

Some of the clearest examples is when the main characters, Finn the Human and Jake the Dog, encounter strange things that don’t seem to belong in their world.  Stuff like tanks, airplanes, or in the case of the episode ‘The Ocean of Fear’ they find an entire submerged and ruined modern day metropolis at the bottom of the ocean.  Finn and Jake never call attention to it, heck they don’t even seem to notice it – it’s a tease for the audience.  The fact that a major city that resembles something like New York or Los Angeles is sitting at the bottom of the ocean is probably the most direct they ever came to referencing Earth that was.

Subtler hints to how this could have happened have been tucked in places as well, like in the episode ‘Susan Strong’ Finn finds a tribe of hyoomans (which he mistakes for humans, a shocking development because as of up to this point in the show Finn had been the only human, hence the name ‘Finn the Human’) however it turns out that the hyoomans are…  well, let’s just say they don’t turn out to be humans.  However, in earlier edits of the episode, on the metal pipe that led down the hyooman tribe’s land, there originally was a radioactive hazard symbol.  A possible hint that nuclear radiation is responsible for the creation of the Land of Ooo?  Never been confirmed.  Yet.  But the fact that the world of Adventure Time is simply a silly and strange take on the same concept that brought us the Fallout series fills me with demented glee and horrifically wicked laughter.

A zoomed out picture of Adventure Time's Earth with a chunk missing from the episode the real you

A subtle tease from the episode 'The Real You' shows the world missing a large chunk from it. They blew it up! Those maniacs!

The sheer possibilities of this underlying concept makes my mind boggle with possibilities.  Every hint, every tease and every murmur from the show’s creative team about it drives me more into the lore of this nonsensical world.  Because it’s not nonsensical. It’s our world.  Just something happened to make it that way.  Talk about a tantalizing tidbit of toon teasery! If there is only one word to describe how much this show’s dark underlying secret, I would have to borrow from Finn’s lexicon and say it’s “algebraic” (which I suppose is slightly more complicated than Reboot’s “alphanumeric”?)  If you haven’t already taken a look at this show, I think it is totally worth it for this reason alone (the amounts of insane humor and ‘I can’t believe they got that past the censors’ moments always helps too. Reminds me of the stuff they got away with on Animaniacs sometimes.)

Adventure Time with Finn & Jake is currently premiering new episodes on Cartoon Networks Monday Comedy block at 8pm, with reruns throughout the week.

Forgotten Characters: Carmen Sandiego

Film Noir meets Children's Edutainment... What is not to like?

She’s probably one of the longest running gags in edutainment.  She’s spawned boards games, a game show, a great cartoon, and one of the world’s most popular a capella songs.  She’s the ever elusive klepto queen that is recognized by everyone and yet not a single soul could tell you where’s she is going.  Carmen Isabella Sandiego is a staple of almost every 90’s kid out there, and yet I find that she’s probably one of the most taken for granted characters out there.  Mostly because no one exactly seems to recognize how much there is to the character beyond a catchy song and that steals things.

I was actually pretty surprised to learn through the years that there is actually quite a bit of backstory to the fashionable and flirty filcher that a lot of people (or at least most people I know) never seem to see or notice.  Now there’s actually several different iterations of Carmen’s backstory depending on what you’re watching and/or playing.  My favorite is still the animated TV show ‘Where on Earth is Carmen Sandiego?’ simply because it seems to give the most substantial back story to explaining Carmen’s personality and development.

Probably the most profound analysis of Carmen EVAH (Source: ThreePanelSoul.com)

My favorite thing about Carmen was that she’s not an out and out villain.  Far from it.  She actually used to be an ACME agent (ACME, for those who don’t recall, was the name of the detective agency that the player in the games, and Zach and Ivy in the cartoon, belong to) and was actually their star agent.  By the age of 17, Carmen had solved more cases than any other agent.  There are also plenty of hints that since Carmen was originally an orphan before coming to ACME, she and The Chief (who in the cartoon is a giant floating head on a TV screen) had something of a father/daughter relationship during her tenure as an agent, to the point that at one point where Carmen fakes her own death, the Chief becomes severely depressed for a good part of the episode.  No, I have no clue how that relationship worked.  Especially since there’s a number of theories that the Chief doesn’t really exist and is just an in-universe avatar for The Player, a silhouetted child at a computer who we only see communicating with Carmen through text and voice over.  Maybe it’s one of those ‘Can love exist between a man and an AI?’ kind of things.  Asimov would approve.

The problem was Carmen was so good at solving crimes, she found them dull.  It was because of that sheer boredom and lack of a challenge with stopping crimes, she realized what would be more challenging (and by her logic, more fun) would be to commit the crimes and try not to be caught.  Thus Carmen Sandiego left the ACME Detective Agency and formed VILE (Villain’s International League of Evil).  It should be of note that there is some dispute on this matter as there are several episodes of the show where she was seen alongside some of the other VILE villains and it is open to interpretation whether or not she could actual be considered the leader of this organization or simply a member of it.  It’s also completely possible that VILE has no such hierarchy amongst its members (beyond that of Villains and Henchmen), creating an opposing structure to ACME which clearly had a chain of command.  After the formation of VILE, Carmen begins her grand game.  Needless to say, she demonstrates repeatedly through the TV show that she is no longer bored.  Not even a little.

But she is still sentimental.  As shown an episode where after a series of Oz related clues, the gumshoes eventually track Carmen to the orphanage in San Francisco where she grew up, she actually steals the entire orphanage the night before it was torn down.  There’s also the show’s finale where  Carmen mid-heist accidentally finds a portrait of a woman who matches the photo in a locket she has had since she was a child.  The portrait is of the deceased wife of a wealthy man named Malcolm Avalon, and Carmen begins to wonder if these two may have actually been her biological parents.  This revelation causes her to make mistakes, get caught by ACME (and quickly escaping again), and being blackmailed by a two-bit former ACME agent thief named Lee (He is stealing TVs when we first see him, not the Statue of Liberty like Carmen would.)

 

Get Bryan Singer to direct and I'm there opening day.

Carmen also operates to a set code of ethics, she will never steal something that would cause harm to people.  She’s not going to jack your college fund, but a priceless painting in a museum? Why not.  I suppose that’s a bit simplistic as it could be argued that EVERYTHING she steals will eventually hurt someone in some way.  The curator of the museum would be fired, the ACME agents routinely risk life and limb trying to get the stuff back, etc. But I suppose if there is no immediate and apparent harm done by the Mona Lisa vanishing or the pyramids of Giza being airlifted to some unknown location, then it’s okay by Carmen’s standards.  However, she does hold to this pretty rigidly, occasionally even assisting the ACME agents in catching criminals that would do direct harm with their heists, getting back to her roots as an agent and taking on the persona of a semi anti-hero for an episode or two of the show.

I was actually surprised how engaging she could be as a character after going back and watching a lot of the cartoon show.  She is prideful and teasing to both the agents and the player.  She is a fallen angel and temptress of agents, often attempting to goad them into helping her willingly or unwillingly by relying on them to chase false leads in order for her to make the big score.  One thing she is not however is a simple female counterpart to Waldo.  Waldo gets lost, Carmen hides.  Waldo wants to be found, Carmen does not.  Granted, they both had a cartoon, and they both are actively sought, but they are so not the same thing only gender bent.  That is an insult to the complicated character that is Carmen Sandiego.

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