Review: Ed, Edd, n Eddy

One of the longest-running Cartoon Cartoons embodied the precociousness of youth.

The Lowdown:

Show: Ed, Ed n Eddy

Network/years aired: Cartoon Network, 1999-2009

The Lowdown: Memorial Day has passed, and June has arrived- meaning summer’s unofficially arrived for many people. To that end, perhaps no show embodied the idea of creative childhood summers better than Danny Antonucci’s Ed, Edd n Eddy, one of the first Cartoon Cartoons, and also the longest running one, sticking around in production for a full decade. In many ways, the show marked the beginning of one era and the end of another, serving as a pillar for Cartoon Network in its so-called “golden era” that occurred in almost exactly the same time frame the show existed.

To be sure, Ed, Edd n Eddy is quite different from other later cartoons that take place mostly or completely in the season. It’s not a Gravity Falls with a deep mystery element and overarching story, nor does it try to be, and while a show like Phineas and Ferb focuses on inventiveness and references, it’s almost certainly a successor in some ways to the Eds. The show, quite simply, is classic slice of life scenarios chock to the brim with slapstick, clearly defined personalities, and quite a bit of humor that really clicks once you’re over the age of 18. More specifically, the Eds are your neighborhood outcasts always looking to try a score a quick buck and social “cred” en route to jawbreakers- the hard candies are bloated to massive proportions in the show- and for the most part, fail miserably, often to some combination of disaster, abject humiliation, injury, or bad luck. Most remarkably despite all that, the Eds keep plugging away, one day (or episode) at a time.

For many kids growing up in the early-mid 2000’s, the Eds were probably a constant in your cartoon repertoire. There was some personal involvement in watching Antonucci’s fictional Cul-de-Sac as the Eds navigated life and attempted scams. For an episodic cartoon, there was an unusual attachment to the characters the more one watched- and certainly, most people had their favorites- Double D certainly stood out as the brains of the trio; there was the fear of the Kankers busting out of nowhere in any given episode, and quite a few people probably also wished Ed didn’t have the brattiest sister on Earth in Sarah. The show may have resonated strongly among the demographic precisely because it was an exaggerated version of many a peer group- and the creativity of childhood unbridled in a show with reckless abandon, and so it can be said Ed, Edd n Eddy beyond any other descriptor, is fun.

While the show primarily is set in summer, the 5th season took it in a different direction, bringing the Eds and their peers to school and into fall and winter- a fact sometimes lost in the classic episodes of the first four seasons. However, the best part was that Ed, Edd, n Eddy went out with a bang and at precisely the right moment to avoid seasonal rot in 2009’s Ed, Edd, n Eddy’s Big Picture Show– a movie that largely brought the Eds back to their roots while giving the series a fitting wrap-up. I wouldn’t quite call the series a classic, but it was very influential, and has quite a few individual episodes that are conceptually brilliant (and very funny). It’s a bit of a nostalgia trip to go back and watch the show now, but its trademark style still shines through.


Animation Quality: An old-school 2-D cel shading, which was uncommon at the point the show debuted and virtually unheard of in 2009. Danny Antonucci specifically wanted this style of animation in order to evoke a certain style and feel- and to that end, it successfully captures the old-time feeling of cartoons past, even if it isn’t perfect…but plenty good enough to bring the world of the Cul-de-Sac to life. 4/5 points.

 
Characterization: Episodic show, focused mainly on the three titular characters, all of whom fit a certain type of individual. Of the titular characters, Ed’s the nice, if not completely dumb, grunt; Edd, better known as “Double D” is the smart, nerdy one, and Eddy’s a straight con man.

Ed, while a simple and foolish kid mostly, is very kind, ridiculously strong and loves life. He’s got no sense of personal hygiene, loves monster movies, chickens and buttered toast, and most of all, hanging out with his best pals. Spouting usually nonsensical phrases and laughter, Ed every once in a while has a moment of enlightenment; it’s always entertaining when that happens.

Edd, better known as “Double D,” is the brains of the trio. Diametrically opposed to Ed in terms of cleanliness and knowledge, Edd’s a neat freak and the inventor behind the construction of the trio’s scams. He’s physically weak, but makes up for it in social adeptness, manners, and a kind disposition to please everyone…which comes back to bite him often in this show. He also wears a black sock cap; a running gag is no one has seen what’s under the cap save for the other Eds (and so it’s left to speculation.)

Eddy is the self-proclaimed leader of the Eds and the driver of the scams the trio perform through the show. He’s short in stature, but his greed for money and jawbreakers often dominate his personality. (SPOILERS: In reality, Eddy harbors an inferiority complex. He’s stuck in the shadow of his big brother and desperately wants to be liked by everyone…but is instead the object of derision from the other kids for much of the show.) Despite his flaws, Eddy is fond of his friends, and the Eds are an inseparable trio, despite their wildly different personalities and goals.

The rest of the cast of characters are entertaining enough, though as an episodic show  get varying amounts development for as long as the show aired. This consists of the other Cul-de-Sac kids that appear in every episode, and the Kankers, who are deliciously fun, if not ridiculously over the top, as the villains of the show.  3.5/5 points.

 
Story quality: Episodic, with some canon here and there, mainly pertaining to the Eds’ themselves, such as Double D’s hat and Eddy’s brother. Each episode is usually well paced and takes a page out of the slapstick book of humor, albeit more unsettling than the classics and not anywhere close to “adult fare.” Most episodes usually follow a formula, and so it’s good, not great. Entertaining is the best descriptor. 3.25/5 points.

 
Themes: This show is virtually void of most deeply engrossing themes…except it explores certain aspects of childhood and growing up quite well. There’s a shared brotherhood in the struggle for acceptance between the Eds, and perhaps a bit of a running meta-commentary on life. (Man, I’m not sure who’d want to live in that neighborhood.) There’s nothing super-objectionable though. 2.75/5 points.

 
Don’t insult the viewer: Ed, Edd, n Eddy is pretty funny, though it can be crude at points, and certain scenes can be unsettling…but that’s probably what Danny Antonucci was going for. The soundtrack also matches the fast-paced mayhem of the show well, and certain motifs are given to characters if you listen closely. 4.25/5 points.

 

 

Total Score: 17.75/25 (71%). Ed, Ed n Eddy was certainly an quantified success by ratings and seasons, but it is at its heart, an above-average cartoon with some notable flaws. Overrated slightly? Most definitely. Downright terrible? Not at all. “Above-average” seems to be a fair descriptor, and careful analysis seems to agree, as it does some things very well and preserves the sense of fun it always had some number of years later.


Like what you see? Was Ed, Edd n Eddy a favorite of yours? Leave a comment!

Review: The Huckleberry Hound Show

The blue hound with a Southern drawl proved influential- but how does he hold up today?

The Lowdown:

Show: The Huckleberry Hound Show

Studio/ years aired:  (Hanna-Barbera), 1958-1962

AniB’s thoughts: Oh yeah, I’m going old-school here. In sharp contrast to samurais, a classroom of amateur assassins doubling as junior high students, or if you want to go back further, a pair of twins in a town full of mystery, it’s all the way back to circa 1958 with one of William Hanna and Joseph Barbera’s classic cartoons: Huckleberry Hound.

Classic cartoon aficionados will recognize this distinctively even-keeled blue hound with the signature Southern drawl and a love for the tune “My Darling Clementine,” and while he’s acknowledged as a timeless character, Huckleberry himself is really straightforward. He either gets outwitted or outwits his adversary of the day, with a trademark dry commentary and a personality that never gets too high or too low. And Huckleberry Hound actually brings me to a conversation I’ve been wanting to have for a while: How should we view classic cartoon characters?

Characters like Huckleberry Hound are archetypes of later shows- the bedrock in which slapstick humor of certain varieties and the bare-bone plot structure of the “slice of life” show came from. It’s fair to say that Huck’s a classic character instantly from the Hanna-Barbera library, but at the risk of probably offending some purists, he hasn’t aged that impressively. The Looney Tunes (the original run of shows, right up through 1969), for instance, still retain their charm quite well over 50 years later, and there’s a sort of classic nostalgia that can’t be replicated, such as the Wile.E. Coyote- Roadrunner chase sequences. Huckleberry Hound on the other hand, has some variety, but Huck’s heavy handed attempts to solve the plot of the day seem to fall somewhat flat, especially with a rogues gallery that’s more generic than anything, and animation that even for the period, seems somewhat lazy at times. The classics are the classics, but there’s nothing wrong in pointing out a flaw or , especially if other shows of the period did it better. However, the show did pioneer one aspect of animation better than almost any other show: breaking the 4th wall. Huckleberry was known to often turn and talk to the audience about his plans, and while other shows certainly did this sort of tactic, it was the bread and butter of the blue hound. Additionally, the show was credited with helping Hanna-Barbera grow into becoming a household name (along with Yogi Bear), and actually won an Emmy in 1960 for children’s programming, while simultaneously helping animation’s push into made-for TV series, and so, Huck’s influence is not to be unappreciated.

The Huckleberry Hound Show was quite successful in its own day, and like most successful Hanna-Barbera characters, Huck re-appeared in a number of spin-offs down the line, especially in the 1970’s (where the company got really successful, but lazy, as the major game in town in Western animation…and it all had to be watered down “for kids.”) The show aired re-runs for a long time on Boomerang, Cartoon Network’s sister channel, after the acquisition of Hanna-Barbera properties by Time Warner, but it may not now, given Boomerang’s propensity to air other classic properties. It’s worth appreciating for what it was (a period piece with some influence) and to add breadth to your animation viewing palette, but I suspect most experienced viewers will either find it to be too simple, or delighted for the same reason.


1. Animation Quality: Traditional 2-D animation, hand painted backgrounds and drawings. Everything was drawn frame-by frame, and so, a lot of classic techniques are on display, such as the static backgrounds that are scrolled along to give the illusion of motion. It’s pretty standard for the late ’50’s- early 60’s, and so, it grades out average as well. 2.5/5 points.

2. Characterization: Essentially, the entire section falls on how strong of a character one thinks Huckleberry Hound is.

Huckleberry is an erstwhile individual who usually serves in a variety of professions which change depending on the episode and setting, from a cattle rancher to a policeman (on several occasions) to even a knight in medieval times. Typically, he’ll be pitted against the episode “antagonist(s)” who is/are the cause of the conflict, and slapstick comedy ensues when Huck attempts to resolve said issue. He’s relatively cut and dry outside of the characteristics mentioned in my thoughts. Still, those characteristics, from the Southern drawl to the 4th wall breaking, gave him a distinct personality and made him a classic cartoon character; unfortunately, the rest can’t be said of the rotating generic cast. 3.25/5 points

3. Story quality: Episodic shorts with plenty of cutaway gags. Huckleberry Hound was a typical work in story structure for the period, and wasn’t terrible, but a bit simple, given Western cartoons’ propensity to target kids exclusively in shows at the time. 2.5/5 points.

4. Themes: Thematically, the show is very simple, largely in part because the story and characters are simple too. Essentially, it’s the classic “good guy” wins (mostly, or sort of) and the “bad guy” (or antagonist figure, most, if not all of Huck’s opponents could be described as mischievous or flat characters, rather than truly “evil”) either gets his just desserts or “loses.” This would be docked more for being rather cliche and shallow if the show aired 40 years later, but considering the period and target audience, it’s very difficult to fault too heavily weakness in this area. 2/5 points.

5. Don’t insult the viewer: Huckleberry Hound is a clean show, has classic slapstick humor, and is simple fun, if nothing else. It doesn’t have a snazzy soundtrack or a crazy premise, but it’s got a decent main character and a nostalgia factor. 5/5 points.

Total Score: 15.25/25 (61%). The score may seem somewhat low for a “classic show,” but The Huckleberry Hound Show is a mixed package of a period piece that’s quite dated in some respects, and still retains some charm and innovation in others. There are other cartoons from the period that did plenty of the things it did better, such as the aforementioned Looney Tunes, but it’s worth a look if you love retro shows, classic characters, or a further look into the history of animation.


Like what you see? Love any classic or retro cartoons from pre-1980? Leave a comment!

Review: Samurai Jack

After a 13 year hiatus, the story of a samurai lost in the distant future comes to a stunning conclusion.

The Lowdown:

Show: Samurai Jack

Network/years aired: Cartoon Network, 2001-2004 (initial run), 2017 (season 5)

AniB’s thoughts: I had originally planned to write a encompassing Jack review as early as late 2015, nearly 2 years before I started this blog (at the time of this writing), but with the announcement and subsequent return of the Cartoon Network- turned Adult Swim classic, I put it on hold. Mind you, it was going to be a favorable look back on the original 4 seasons in which Jack faces “the Shogun of Sorrow,” Aku, and is flung into the far future, where the events of the show unfold, just like it is now, but with a great deal of fresh thoughts and material in the wake of 10 frentic, beautifully animated, well-written episodes that finally put to rest the very last of the Cartoon Cartoon series. (Previously, this distinction was held by Ed, Edd, n’ Eddy, which concluded with Ed, Edd, n’ Eddy’s Big Picture Show, the finale movie, but with Jack’s revival, it claimed the belt- in all likelihood for good.)

(SPOILERS AHEAD. SKIP TO THE GRADED SECTION IF YOU WISH TO AVOID.)

The finale of this show, for better or worse, will be talked about for a long time, and while my initial reaction was that the show could have used 20 more minutes, it was satisfying on the whole, bittersweet and fitting in the end. Jack made it back to the past, Aku was finally defeated, and as for Ashi…we’ll get to that in a second. The episode was crammed with cameos, callbacks, and perhaps the greatest troll job Aku’s ever pulled in playing the original Samurai Jack intro to the world in announcing he’d captured the samurai. We also got at least one last meeting between the Scotsman and Jack, and that was wonderful- but another question worth wondering, “was it all a dream?” Because as Jack looks out up the beautiful valley at the end, it might as well have been- for nobody in the past truly knew the suffering, pain and struggle it took for Jack to save them all and change the course of history.

As for Ashi, she was Season 5’s most notable addition. She had an entire character arc crammed into the course of 10 episodes, and despite the horde of Jack’s past allies, Ashi stands out and does so well.  Slowly, she becomes Jack’s romantic interest in a total 180 from her intial role- an assassin of the “Daughters of Aku,” a cult that worshiped Jack’s mortal enemy. As it turns out, her “Daughter of Aku” title was no mere nickname, but literal- as in quite the twist, she was quite literally Aku’s daughter…which made for a very interesting endgame. Being part-Aku, it was she who was able to create the portal to the past…but in the process of “undoing the future that is Aku,” she undid herself from existence. (It was quickly pointed out the similarities of Ashi’s end to Nia from Gurren Lagann, and so Jack is our Simon here- he saved the world, but couldn’t quite save the one he loved, and that enough qualifies the bittersweet ending as exactly that.

Not to be forgotten in any analysis of Samurai Jack are the four seasons that defined the show from its original run (and what would have comprised a complete review prior to the revival season.) As the show was in Cartoon Network hands at the time, it was designed to be far more episodic with some recurring elements and characters, and it was during this period in which several staples of the series were established, as well as the bulk of the show, from the mask-free animation style that remains striking (and slightly updated, though still the same 13 years later) to many memorable characters, most notably the Scotsman, a trash-talking firebrand of a man with a machine gun for a peg leg and Jack’s equal in combat.

The original seasons also served the purpose of building the world in which Genndy Tartakovsky was able to build a convincing dystopian future- one that had plenty of Aku’s evil influence, but also parts yet not ravaged by the evil overlord. In saying that, the idea of “hope”- or lack thereof, as the 5th season appeared and Jack came to fight his inner demons- is pivotal to the thematic aspect of Samurai Jack, and without it, it couldn’t possibly be the show that it is, nor would we have received the ending we got.

On one other specific note for season 5, Scaramouche, the self-proclaimed “Aku’s #1 assassin, babe!” became a fan favorite, starring as the main episode villain in the first new episode after 13 years (XCII), and after his defeat against Jack, went on a quest to inform Aku of the samurai’s missing sword. (Unfortunately for him, his info was outdated in short order).  Noted for his scatman inspiration and fast-talking mouth, he was a likable villain worth mentioning, considering his dark humor and attitude brought some levity and action together into the grimmer interpretation of Samurai Jack. And as his catchphrase goes, “That’s all, babe.”


Animation Quality: A unique 2-D animation, mask free (so no outlines). Season 5 featured a refreshed, upgraded version of the original style, which took the show to another level aesthetically. Samurai Jack is a dazzling array of environments, characters, and circumstances. It features fluid action sequences, and most importantly, is able to successfully convey the story with its settings and animation. They did a marvelous job- both during the original run, and through the final season.  4.75/5 points.
Characterization: Jack himself is a wonderfully simple but complex protagonist, who is continually developed as a character in every episode during the original seasons as the stoic samurai. In the 5th season, he is forced to confront despair and fading hope head on, and so the darkness he fights is not only Aku’s, but that of his own heart. Unparalleled in combat and trained to the peak of human perfection, his goal is to return to his home in the past and defeat Aku.

 

Aku, the self proclaimed “shape-shifting master of darkness,” is masterfully voiced by the late Mako, who brought the character to life in the first 4 seasons, and is carried on by Greg Baldwin in the final chapter. Unspeakably evil, but also outlandish and humorous, Aku is the incarnation of “chaotic evil” in a character and seeks to only bring darkness and despair to all. Interestingly enough, Aku has somewhat of a human side in his remarks and jokes, but it’s limited to that- he’s unafraid to smite anyone who annoys him or he deems a threat. The mortal enemy of Samurai Jack and his father, the Emperor, he vows to destroy the samurai to break all hope and cement an eternal reign.

 

(I already commented on Ashi from season 5 in the spoiler section.)

 

The rest of the show features a quirky, interesting group of characters, with the occasionally recurring one (the Scotsman comes to mind). As the show is primarily focused on Jack’s development, it does this very well, often letting the animation action convey Jack’s personality with an economy of spoken words.  The writers also are successful at making side characters episodically interesting. 4.5/5 points.
Story quality: Beautifully scripted, epically varied in its narration, and ever focused on Jack’s character development and the situations he’s put in, it’s perfect in the first 4 seasons. With the shift in tone and format the 5th season brought, a tightly scripted narrative arc told hold over 10 episodes and while the pacing feels arguably rushed to an extent at the end, the ending is still mostly fitting and remarkable.  4.5/5 points.
Themes: A classic story of good and evil, but done with the sort of complexity developed through Jack (and Aku) that really grabs one’s attention. There’s a focus on the test of one’s limits, and the belief in overcoming the odds for a good end. Everything the show explores, it tends to do well at thematically. “Hope” especially is focused on as a theme…and the struggle to keep that flame alive really becomes prevalent as time goes on in the narrative.  4.5/5 points.
Don’t insult the viewer: A gorgeous show, Samurai Jack is a stellar achievement in animation and writing. It was wonderful to see it come back and receive a proper conclusion after many years, and it was well-worth the long wait. 5/5 points.
Total Score: 23.25/25 (93%). Genndy Tarkovsky’s masterpiece, Samurai Jack is a triumph of Western animation and perhaps the finest of the old Cartoon Cartoons lineup on Cartoon Network. Masterfully inspired by many different animated styles and themes before it, the story of a lone samurai in his quest to defeat the ultimate evil continued to age gracefully up into its revival season, and then finished the tale with a satisfying conclusion.


Like what you see? Still in awe over the Samurai Jack finale? Leave a comment!

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”- a discussion about reboots done badly

They might look the same, but poke under the hood and you’ll find something rotten.

In some recent posts, I’ve touched on the idea of shows that haven’t aged well, but there’s also another type of show that needs to be put out to pasture, and that’s the badly done cash-grab type of reboot. In my breakdown of Disney X.D. for this decade so far,I talked about the upcoming DuckTales reboot that frankly, looks very promising. That’s one example of a re-imagining trying to do it right. Another is Hunter x Hunter, perhaps the best anime example around; it had a 1999 adaptation from Nippon Animation, which was very good, but the 2011 version is better in about every conceivable way and might just be the best anime of this decade, along with Steins;Gate. (Here’s the review.)

As you can see, I do have an admiration for well done shows that fall under the definition of “reboot,” but my ire was recently drawn towards not so illustrious examples, chiefly the Powerpuff Girls ’16, which despite recapturing much of the  original series’ visual style, lacks any of the humor, charm, originality…and to boot, has a very politically driven agenda which in my book, is a cardinal sin in animation unless your show is specifically designed for political commentary (and yes, I’m talking about South Park.) If it wasn’t any clearer about the shallow motivations for bringing back a beloved IP and shoving it into the ground, there was a conscious decision not to bring back the original voice acting cast, a decision that left VA talent giant Tara Strong rather sad, and despite reports, the original creator Craig McCracken never “gave his blessing” for Cartoon Network to go ahead with it, citing that he had “understood the business reality that I had no power to stop it from being made.” McCracken’s statement actually lends credence to the thought that except in certain circumstances, any rehashing of a story years later is usually best handled by the creator who had the vision to create the show, the characters, and the world as they saw fit….or letting them truly find someone who understands what they were trying to do. As another example, I personally would be very unhappy if I wind up writing for years about animation, and one day, maybe I can’t do it anymore and a potential successor doesn’t respect the vision and goals of what was laid out initially. That would be very sad. Reboots, like anything else are a re-interpretation of a story created by someone else most of the time, and while The Powerpuff Girls is an example that’s badly done, it’s evident that if a show gets a person or a team of people who fundamentally understand that specific universe inside and out, instead of creating a hollowed out version of a beloved flick, they can take a universe to a whole new level.

It’s not that I want to keep pointing the finger at Cartoon Network, but another example of a re-imagined show gone wrong is Teen Titans Go! The show is not meant to be the in depth effort that the original beloved Teen Titans was, but it fails miserably at its stated purpose with brain-dead humor, tasteless satires of the Titans themselves, making them shallow parody characters at best to their original inspirations, and not helping its cause is the network’s continued insistence to air the show at an alarmingly high rate despite most viewers unanimously loathing  it. The reason the show continues to air- and be renewed has nothing to do with the quality, which is a shame. It has everything to do with the merchandising and toy empire that exists- which makes loads of money.

I’ve always believed that networks could have quality shows and still make tons of cash, because people love investing themselves in gripping narratives, enthralling worlds, and compelling characters. It’s also my belief that just because a show has a specific target audience, it is a great thing if it find new niches and has an unexpected group of viewers. Bad reboots and re-imaginings, therefore really upset that beautiful idea. It emphasizes a sellout to the almighty dollar over the actual audience that gives the money and the views, forgetting to understand what made a show popular and beloved in the first place, and kills off the potential of new watchers because the shows in question have earned bad reputations, and rightfully so. This isn’t to say I think The Powerpuff Girls and Teen Titans IP’s are bad- they are still phenomenal properties, but their current incarnations are more disrespectful than anything else- to the fans, to the writers forced to go through with contrived plots, and to the universes and characters themselves- who imagined offing Ms. Bellum as “offensive” in the PPG back in the day, or that the Titans would have an episode devoted to waffles of all things, complete with a hyper-annoying song? Animation is an absolutely wonderful medium to tell stories in, but I’m sad when cringe-worthy pieces exist solely for turning a profit, which is entirely different from bad shows that were greenlit and simply flopped.

I’ll end by saying that I do like reboots or different takes on a franchise when they are done well. As I mentioned already, DuckTales 2017 looks amazing, and Hunter x Hunter is perhaps the best example anywhere of a marked improvement, further preserving the vision of the creator. It’s also my belief that there is no need for a retelling of a tale if the original product was already a memorable, well loved piece on its own, but it’s also true from movies to shows, people in entertainment can’t resist going back to the well, so to speak, in order to revisit successful ideas. If they really feel the need to do so, I’m always hopefully that the retelling brings a new dimension and exciting aspects to a franchise. Animation is no different in this regard. As a note to studios… please stop expecting to cash in on old classics without any effort, and understand that if you make a great product instead, the people will come.


Like what you see? Have any reboots in animation or movies you like or dislike? Leave a comment!

Review: Ben 10

It started when an alien device did what it did…(and spawned a franchise!)

EDITOR’S NOTE: This review encapsulates the original series that aired from 2005-2008. This is NOT about any of the successor shows spawned in the franchise, or the reboot of the same name that started in 2016. We’re going old school!…if you can call a show that’s the same age as Avatar: The Last Airbender that.

The Lowdown:

Show: Ben 10

Network/years aired: Cartoon Network/ 2005-2008

AniB’s thoughts: Long before Ben 10 became a ubiquitous household name type of franchise, this was the show spawned by Cartoon Network and Man of Action (the same people behind Teen Titans) that started it all. Yet another take on the classic “summer vacation” trope, the show follow the titular Ben Tennyson, his cousin Gwen and their grandpa Max on an RV road trip that ultimately delves straight into the realm of science fiction. I’ll be the first to admit that this show captured my imagination as a kid, between the alien transformations of Ben, the increasingly strange locales the show featured…and this super catchy theme song:

(It goes to about 1:05; this video also has slight variants.)

What’s notable is that the show almost beyond a doubt has the highest animation production values of any of the Ben 10 iterations. The Teen Titans inspiration is clearly there in terms of style, and while it’s clearly a Western show not veering into the realm of Japanese anime, the detail as well as the story arc progression certainly resemble it. The show came in the later years of “classic Cartoon Network,” a golden period that in these years had the really amazing “CN City” bumper campaign (seriously, check them out if you’ve never seen them) and was able to stand out thanks to a fairly unique premise, the quality of the animation, and the fact that it carved its own unique niche at a moment in time when Cartoon Network was loaded with good to great shows (and obviously some bad ones, but that’s true of any network over the years.)

Another distinct factor about Ben 10 was that Ben in fact, had access to only 10 aliens for much of the show. Whether it was the design team, the marketing team, or the writers, the franchise became known for pumping out a new set of transformations for Ben to take in each iteration of the universe, but as our lovely intro above makes clear, those original 10 were the stars and remained fairly static save one major change until later in the show’s run. What was established here however (and was smart, as well as logical from a writer’s point of view), was that each alien had a distinct personality and different strengths, which mixed with Ben’s own 10-year old attitudes and ways of doing things, and due to his inexperience, the Omnitrix (the watch-like device that allowed him to transform) sometimes would lock him into a different transformation that he did not want to use…and all his changes had a time limit, with a subsequent cool-down time. The last part was more a narrative failsafe to make certain problems have a more compelling way to be solved, and one episode actually teases this when Ben find a master code to get rid of the time limit, only to have to reset the watch by the end.

At its heart, Ben 10 is a unique show that does some unexpectedly original twists on ideas normally seen in comics. There’s a secret organization (and secrets in general), otherworldly villains, unexpected twists, and of course, the hero origin story. To a 10 year old boy watching, it really did excite me…and it’s still a solid show today, if drowned out by the successful spinoffs that succeeded it. You might just want to find out “what an alien device did what it did” and go on a summer vacation that once again, breaks the trope into new territory.


Animation Quality: Traditional 2-D animation, with computer shading, some rich detail and colors and some really creative design work. Ben 10 looked fantastic in the various locales and places it spanned; the characters themselves are aesthetically pleasing and it leads to a fine effect overall. 4.5/5 points.

 

 

Characterization: Being the original series, Ben is a bit of a jokester, looking for adventure (and occasionally trouble) and is in all respects, a fairly typical 10 year old personality wise. He’s got a good heart though, and a strong sense of justice. While he loves his newfound alien powers, he’s rather impulsive and can become arrogant from time to time, a trait that often gets him in trouble.

Gwen, Ben’s cousin, has a love-hate relationship with him, but it is developed through the series to show despite acrimonious appearances, they do really care for each other. Unbeknownst to her for most of the series, Gwen also possess certain “special abilities…” though I won’t say what they are!

Grandpa Max is an amicable old man with a deep, mysterious past that compromises quite a bit of the story. Highly fond of his niece and nephew, he’s determined to have a great summer with them in his beat-up old RV, but what that entails exactly is even more than he bargained for… (Fun fact: His voice actor, Paul Eiding, is also the Colonel in the Metal Gear Solid series of video games!)

Finally, Ben’s rogue gallery is pretty good, especially his archenemy from season 1, Vilgax, and Kevin Levin (who in the franchise, actually has a much bigger role, but serves as an enemy in this series.) 3.75/5 points.

Story quality: There’s a clear story and canon, but the episodes can stand alone as well as episodic events. To that end, they usually are quite humorous, action packed affairs. The backstory is decently solid, if not convoluted, but it’s all very pleasing when it comes together. 4/5 points.

 

 

Themes: There’s notions of family, sticking together and the like, plus heroic ideas of justice, but there’s also a fairly dark sci-fi element to the whole show. It’s gripping enough, but perhaps not next level compelling in terms of themes. 3.5/5 points.

 

 

Don’t insult the viewer: Ben 10 isn’t always the easiest thing to digest from time to time due to the sometime jarring shifts in location and objectives, but stays fairly clean and inoffensive. The theme song is addictively catchy as can be, and the overall product avoids talking down to its audience.  4.5/5 points.

 

 

Total Score: 20.25/25 (81%). Ben 10 was, and still is a highly successful endeavor that spawned an entire franchise with this extremely solid first entry. Packed with action, written with some memorable characters, and featuring a diverse cast of alien creatures, this sci-fi ‘toon stayed strong.


Like what you see? Are you a fan of the Ben 10 franchise? Leave a comment!

The Return of Samurai Jack

After 13 years, the samurai wielding a magical sword is back.

He’s backSamurai Jack. Wa-cha!

13 years since Cartoon Network aired what everyone believed was the end of Samurai Jack, a 5th and final season of the beloved series will finally start airing on Saturday night (3/9/17, for posterity’s sake.) Much has been made of this triumphant return by plenty of people across the internet, and the trailers and teasers dropped by Adult Swim (where the series has shifted to for this relaunch) suggest not only the potential for a very fulfilling conclusion, but a far gritter, darker Jack than we’re used to. For once, darker might actually be better. Let me explain…

The original seasons of Samurai Jack were lauded for a variety of reasons, including its unique animation style, narrative and pacing, and that by Cartoon Network standards (even now), it was a rather dark show. However, the network still had certain restraints that handcuffed the show in certain ways: blood could not be visibly shed, language was toned down a bit, and so on. With the new season comes new ideas, and with the shift to Adult Swim, there’s new rules. Chiefly, a 50 year time skip has happened, and narratively speaking, I’d be miffed if this wasn’t the case. Considering the real-world wait for this final season was in fact over a decade, it seems like a nod to the fans of the original production that Jack has grown with us in age- but what exactly went down in the dystopia that is Aku’s world creates a whole new set of questions and intriguing possibilities. As a result, the conscious shift to an older audience really has the potential to unleash the old samurai in ways we’ve never seen before.

For the record, this isn’t just speculation. The sneak peak already showed off some of what we can expect, including the return of the beetle drones as a callback to Jack’s first major battle in the future all those years ago:

While the video alone draws most of the conclusions you’ll need to see, it’s evident that the traditional samurai, immaculately robed in white, has embraced a fusion of his past and present realities. (How he arrived there will probably be far more telling.) It’s nearly unfathomable to imagine Jack on a motorcycle back in the day, when he traveled everywhere on foot, or using modern high-tech weaponry. I suspect he took a page from his old pal the Scotsman on fusion of old and new combat styles…and who coincidentally will be showing up at some point.

There’s plenty more that can be said about Samurai Jack coming back into the lives of many with its first new episode in such a long time, but it also could serve to introduce Jack to a whole new generation that never really knew the original series. Such an idea is very exciting as a way of extolling the potential and unique medium animation offers to tell a story. As for me, I anxiously I await Greg Baldwin’s voice work as Aku, “the shapeshifting master of darkness,” as Mako’s work was iconic. Inevitably he and “the foolish samurai” will have their fated final showdown. Whether that is in the past where Jack is from, or the future where he has had most of his shared history with Aku, remains to be seen…

No matter what you think, the return of Samurai Jack is one of the decade’s more surprising stories in animation; an unexpected twist to a series long thought to be finished, and an ode to quality shows that attracted solid fanbases of many different kinds of people. It’s a ride I’m ready to take…gotta get back, back to the past, Samurai Jack! Wa-cha!


Like what you see? Eager to see Samurai Jack in action once more? Leave a comment!

Preliminary Review: Young Justice

A surprising turn of events resulted in season 3.

EDITOR’S NOTE: If you took the time to read the stickied post on the blog’s front page (https://anibproductions.wordpress.com/2017/01/27/creating-the-magic-how-i-do-reviews/), there’s a mention at the bottom about what a preliminary review is. Essentially, these are seasonal reviews for shows still not yet completed (so I’m grading the total body of work up to that point in time); I can do multiple preliminary reviews for shows if they have several seasons, and grades, as well as perceptions, change accordingly. In the case of this show, Young Justice, I thought for a number of years that anything I’d write formally on the show would constitute an air of finality, because the show was infamously canned by Cartoon Network in 2013 for some very dumb reasons (which I touched on in the Cartoon Network decisions piece and will do so again here), but after a strong crowd-sourced and fan-fueled push since then, Netflix swooped in to save the series, and so a 3rd season, which probably will wrap up this enigmatically fun, albeit serious take on DC’s younger heroes, is now in production. And so, there is no better show to introduce the preliminary review; one that will no longer be doomed to steep in unrealized regrets and unfinished plot holes.

The Lowdown:

Show: Young Justice

Networks/ years aired: Cartoon Network (Netflix), 2011-2013; 2017-

AniB’s take: An enormous mistake was rectified with the announcement of this show’s 3rd season, which will air on Netflix, and while this in a vacuum might not mean much, it is in fact a massive victory for quality animation. Young Justice initially was a tragic story; an extremely well-made show with a compelling story and a fresh, true-to-the DC original character development, it was promptly shuttered after its second season (also titled as Young Justice: Invasion), a baffling reversal for a show that had gained quite the following and generated good ratings. The answer for this unfortunate turn of events was later said to be linked to toy sales and network executives’ unwavering penchant for the coveted 7-13 year old boy demographic- the holy grail of target audiences for a kid’s network. Young Justice had in fact attracted too much diversity in its large following- quite the irony- and from my perspective at least, this was a baffling reason to let a quality show go. If you get a different audience than you initially expected, but it’s big, and the show is good, run with it. A good business should be flexible, always looking for an opportunity to grow, and in this case, Cartoon Network was inflexible. There was also another reason Young Justice might have gotten the axe…because the network was planning to release a “light comedy version of Teen Titans.” That’s another review…

As for the show itself, the first two seasons went from “remarkably promising” to “totally compelling.” Young Justice made an entire side of the DC universe accessible to viewers not steeped in the comics’ ethos, and made sure to establish plenty of individuals that tend to be niche in the comics (think Black Canary, or Aqualad, one of the leads, as an example), while emphasizing certain well known faces and downplaying others (Lex Luthor? He’s definitely a player. As for the Joker, he barely registers.) It managed to balance a large cast while not overshadowing its leads with the most well-known of characters, such as Batman, and the result is a cohesive universe that never feels hijacked into something it’s not. There’s complex relationship-building, including some romance that doesn’t feel forced, and it’s actually a very fun dynamic to watch adolescents growing into young adults navigate typical social anxieties related to their age with more typical superhero duties and problems.

It’s a great story that a beloved show got a chance to make a return that was rather justified. The cliffhanger at the end of season 2 now will find a resolution, and there is no doubt in my mind the show will pick up right where it left off, with innovative storytelling, worldbuilding, and a continuation of the outstanding character arcs that have become a hallmark of the show. I’ll be the first to note a letdown, but I doubt it will happen. If you haven’t watched the show, now is a great time to do so; that way, you can be caught up when Season 3 finally releases.


Animation Quality: Traditional 2-D animation, digitally animated. Like most DC shows, Young Justice has impressive animation in a variety of very different locations. The character designs are very pleasing, and the backgrounds are stunning. Notably, the action sequences, which there are quite a lot of, are all extremely fluid and very enjoyable. Masterful work. 5/5 points.

 
Characterization: The show balances a relatively large cast over time; for our purposes, the main cast through the two season are Robin/Nightwing, Kid Flash, Superboy, Miss Martian, Aqualad, and Artemis, all of whom form the initial Young Justice squad in the show.

Dick Grayson, true to his comic book origins, starts as Robin in season 1, and after a timeskip, is Nightwing. Well equipped (in more ways than one), a martial arts master and detective, as one might expect of Batman’s one-time protege, he’s the de facto fill-in leader for the squad (as an early storyline actually designates Aqualad as the team’s leader.) He’s also got great acrobatic skills, virtue of his origins as a Flying Grayson, a backstory preserved in this show. As for the “Robin” moniker and identity, it’s passed onto Tim Drake in the second season, who is mentored by Grayson.

Wally West is Kid Flash. He’s best friends with Grayson, is a fast talker and is looking for a girlfriend at first (initially Miss Martian), but (spoilers!) eventually falls for Artemis. He’s always looking to help people in need and loves collecting souvenirs from missions. In the second season, he takes a “retirement” from the team, though that doesn’t prove to be completely binding…

Aqualad, known also by his Atlantian name, Kaldur’ahm (pronounced “Kal-durr-ahn”), is the former right hand of Aquaman and the son of supervillain Black Manta. Wise and calm most of the time, he’s a skilled warrior and the leader of the Young Justice team; in season 2, he’s revealed to also be highly skilled at covert operations.

Superboy, or Conner Kent, starts off as a genetic experiment of the Genomorphs (a group of alien scientists, to keep it simple) and is a physical hybrid of Superman and Lex Luthor. Somewhat anti-social and veiled about his feelings, he grows a great deal as a person while learning better ways to use his powers and immense strength through the first two seasons. He also becomes romantically involved with Miss Martian for a time (which becomes some complicated buisness indeed…)

Miss Martian in fact is a white Martian who is brought to Earth by the Martian Manhunter. Her telepathic and mental powers are formidable; the Manhunter even said they could surpass his own. As a shapeshifter, she models her appearance and personality to a large extent after an old TV sitcom “Hello Megan!” and actually has a bio-ship that transports the team to missions.

Finally Artemis (her name is the same as her actual identity) is the late addition to the team. A skilled archer who works with Green Arrow after the disappearance of his ex-protege Speedy, she’s actual in fact (spoiler!) the younger sister of villainess Cheshire and daughter of Sportsmaster. Initially quite at odds with Wally West, she falls for him, and in the second season, takes on a covert mission and identity as “Tigress,” (which actually shifts to be her main hero outfit.)

The other young heroes could probably be defined more as “significant supporting characters.” An excellent move the show does is push the main DC heroes (i.e. Batman, Superman) into the background, so while they’re there, they neither usurp the focus from the Young Justice heroes, or act as deus ex machinas. Finally, despite the two seasons being immensely enjoyable in terms of character development, the show’s characters were not fully realized, as it was clear a 3rd season would have resolved some issues still. This was unfortunate. 4.5/5 points.

 
Story quality: Seasons 1 and 2 could be considered two distinct arcs within a larger overarching story. Ultimately, what starts as a simple request from three sidekicks to be more than just sidekick turns into an elite covert ops team who gets entangled in the master plan of a mysterious entity only known as “The Light” and their operatives. Season 1 deals more explicitly with this; Season 2 has The Light in the backdrop as the Reach become the main antagonist for the the arc. Season 3 is likely going to resolve everything, and what we received so far has been engaging and very satisfying. 4.5/5 points.

 

 
Themes: The show deals with a broad spectrum of issues with relationships, friends and family, and even romance on a fairly mature level. It also deals with blurring certain lines between good and evil, and a complex view into a variety of different perspectives. It’s also a superhero show which never got to finish what it started. 4/5 points.

 

 
Don’t insult the viewer: High flying, action packed, and full of emotion, the only insulting thing initially had been the show getting canceled as it continued to build up its plot. However, now there is nothing holding this grade back. 5/5 points.

 

Total Score: 23.25/25 (93%). Young Justice is a gem of a show, focusing on a number of lesser-known DC heroes, mixing in intelligent storytelling with a compelling backdrop, and some outstanding action sequences. It speaks to the quality of the show when it was able to garner a high grade in spite of its layoff and current incompletion; the 3rd season is much anticipated not only for fan excitement, but to really cap this review off. I’d suggest checking it out if you haven’t already.


Like what you see? Know lots about the DC universe? Leave a comment!