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!

On Animation Channels and Decision-Making Pt. 1: Cartoon Network

Hey everyone! This is the beginning of a 3 to 4(?) part mini-series where the discussion will be about some of the impactful decisions major animation networks in the United States have made over the past decade in regards to shows. The opinions expressed in this regard are completely my own- but I watched the networks and did some research all the same.

 

The other day, I talked about my thoughts on the 2010’s in animation from a viewing perspective: that is to say from a wide lens-sort of viewpoint about some of the better things I’ve observed, and on the whole my view of the decade is fairly positive at this point in time. It’s unlikely to change too much in part because we’re now on the back 9 of the decade and the opinion was formed with the majority of the years already in the bank, but there was another side to that discussion that intrigued me enough to write about: Network decision making.

To preface this discussion, I’m going to talk about the main 3 US networks known for animation: Cartoon Network (which includes sister block Adult Swim in this conversation), Nickelodeon, and Disney X.D., where all of the House of Mouse’s animated series have migrated to, away from their traditional home on Disney Channel (which has devolved into fairly awful sitcoms, but I digress.) I’ll also throw Fox a bone here too, as it’s noted for its mainstream adult fare, which while commonplace, is not particularly impressive. This is more of a detailed breakdown of decision-making by these networks and provides a sort of context for the decade as well. For the first part, I’ll be taking a look at:

Cartoon Network

At the dawn of the new decade, Cartoon Network made the fortuitous decision to green-light both Adventure Time and Regular Show. That decision alone ensured the beginnings of a resurgence for a network that had seemingly lost its way in the waning years of the 2000’s. Having two anchor shows was a boon, but what about some of the network’s other decisions in the meantime?

-From the 2000’s, the network carried over Star Wars: The Clone Wars:

While I haven’t talked about this show in depth with a review yet, it would be amiss to not give credit that keeping this show under contract from Lucasfilm in the final years prior to the Disney acquisition was wise. In all likelihood the final Star Wars show to be broadcast on a Disney rival, the show continued to improve and grow in complexity…too bad the time slot didn’t. The show finished season 5 on the network in 2013 before airing its final salvo on Netflix.

-The ballad of Genndy Tartakovsky: A promising failure and an unexpected return

Tartakovsky, the well-known Russian animator behind yesteryear hit Dexter’s Laboratory and the first crack at the Clone Wars era in Star Wars, came back in 2010 with an innovative, darker new show- Sym-Bionic Titan. In what is one of the more underrated tragedies of animation, the show was canned the next year after only one season that was very, very good…because toy sales… or lack thereof. (More on that issue later.) However, it was not the last of Tartakovsky this decade: He returned to direct the long-awaited but totally unexpected 5th and final season of Samurai Jack, some 13 years after its initial stoppage.

-Toys, toys and toys…fun to play with, terrible strategy to choose shows

While a whole review column is going to be devoted to what is an utterly asinine policy, Cartoon Network executives’ biggest mistake- or rather, lack of foresight, is that it’s perfectly fine to have a show succeed outside a target demographic. What happened to Young Justice is a perfect example, where it gained a diverse following but got the axe because…wait for it…it wasn’t big enough in that holy grail target demo of 7-13 year old boys, and therefore, not selling enough toys to them. What? (Fortunately, the tragedy of Young Justice does not end like Sym-Bionic Titan; the long-awaited Season 3 is being developed for Netflix.) Quality of show almost unanimously carries to financial success without being forced; look at any of the decade’s shows that hit it big, including some of Cartoon Network’s own, from Adventure Time to Steven Universe.

-Death of a bad idea: Live action shows

When your network literally has cartoon in the name, being anything aside from a specialty network in animation is a really dumb idea. And part and parcel of the wayward late 2000’s was a foray into poorly conceived, poorly written and “never should have happened in the first place!” live action shows. Incredibly enough, the network tried airing them as recently as early 2013; to everyone’s relief there’s nothing in the works (and hasn’t been) for almost 4 years now.

– Everyone’s “favorite show”…TTG

Well, it’s not a formal review/rant, and I’m also going to get there, but…a major issue for the network, even as they emerged into this new era of animation, is the absolute lovefest the higher-ups at Cartoon Network seem to have with this awful, awful production. It is shoved into every spare timeslot (including ones that really should go to other shows), promoted endlessly despite universal scorn, and somehow has survived nearly 4 years and 5 seasons. And yet…nobody I’ve heard seems to like it, except apparently “some kids,” which is hardly a ringing endorsement. It’s an insult to the original Teen Titans series which is fantastic, focuses far too hard on very low humor (to the point where’s it’s not even funny, if it was to begin with), and reportedly was the de facto replacement on the network for Young Justice. I’ll leave it at that.

-Different directions for social messages

I’m going to keep this bland, but more recent efforts like the popular Steven Universe have tried some very different messages unfamiliar to Cartoon Network shows even 5 or 10 years ago. For me, they are hardly the main focus, but they do exist; whatever the prominence of said social ideas is stays up to the viewers to decide. I think that’s clear enough.

-Some big successes, some failures

Like all their competitors, there has been shortcomings and triumphs. Adventure Time, Regular Show, and more recently Steven Universe have been big hits, and even on a smaller scale, something like The Amazing World of Gumball apparently found a niche; conversely you have TTG, Uncle Grandpa, and some others that range in terms of financial success, but not so much critical success, which I’ve elected to focus on here.

 

-The return of Toonami

Adult Swim made arguably the best decision in their history to revive the beloved anime block. Like the old days, (at the time of this writing), tune in on a Saturday night into Sunday morning- and there’s a mix of old favorites and new dubs.


 

Obviously this isn’t every last aspect of Cartoon Network’s (or Adult Swim’s, for that  matter) decision making over the past 6+ years, but some key points that I thought were worth noting. It’s a nice addendum for context with the original thought piece (https://anibproductions.wordpress.com/2017/02/17/the-2010s-in-animation-what-i-think-so-far/) that inspired this writing, and I’ll have more of this mini-series coming out!


Like what you see? Are you a big fan of Cartoon Network? Chime in on the comments!