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!

Review/Rant: Breadwinners

Duck soup: A terribly misguided knockoff of Regular Show.

The Lowdown:

Show: Breadwinners

Network/years aired:  Nickelodeon, 2014- 2016

AniB’s thoughts: Once again, some balance is being brought to the reviews with the perfectly awful Nicktoon Breadwinners. Like Fanboy and Chum Chum (which I blasted in a previous review), this show has very little going for it. In fact, the picture I chose for this article sums up how the entire endeavor felt: That our main characters, Sway-Sway and Buhduece (seriously, that’s their names) both smile through abject stupidity that they are often at the heart of while being oblivious to the disaster around them!

Nick seems to have a weird obsession with buddy-buddy shows in the past decade, with the common denominator that they’re terrible. Fanboy and Chum Chum was one; this show is another, and for good measure, I’ll throw Sanjay and Craig on that pile to give everyone a sense of the turgid overflow of awfulness coming from the general direction of whoever green-lit these endeavors. The story behind this one is almost just as bad as the Adventure Time pass that Fanboy beat out; Breadwinners was chosen to be developed into a full-time production from an online short animation that frankly was average at best (and that’s being generous), and highly obnoxious at worst:

(Even without watching it, that screen freeze right there sums it up better than anything I can say.) As an online short, it was not anywhere close to a sure bet to be developed into a full-time series , and frankly, there wasn’t enough substance there to do so. In my mind, the first mistake that led Breadwinners to be a poor series was the fact that it was chosen at all- something that should have never happened. Unfortunately, it did, and so every other valid criticism falls squarely on its misguided Nickelodeon run.

In a lot of ways, the same criticisms that applied to Fanboy apply here: Poor animation, underwhelming storytelling, non-existent themes, and in the case of this show, a very uncomfortable obsession with butts and flatulence. I get the whole dumb network trend of the past however many years that “young boys are our audience, they love this stuff, it’s so damn funny!…” but it’s really not. I don’t want anything related with the posterior to be vitally important in a plotline or a characterization, because it also tells me your show likely sucks ass (pun intended) and that the writers are pandering for cheap laughs from a narrow demographic who network executives might be surprised to learn, like shows that don’t play down to them. This sentiment makes all the more sense when you consider its direct competition over its run were shows like Gravity Falls and Phineas and Ferb from Disney XD, or Adventure Time and Steven Universe from Cartoon Network, using a few well-known examples. (And that’s just within the intended target demographic.) This show never had the potential to hook in a larger crowd with sophomoric humor, the usual sub-standard Flash animation, and writing that oftentimes left yours truly with his face in his hands. Fortunately, its misguided run came to a merciful end last year; both our TV sets and cartoon ducks everywhere are safe once again.


 

Animation Quality: 2-D Flash animation mixed with what can only be described as clip art. If the characters of the show didn’t outright tell you, you’d be hard-pressed to tell they were ducks; and frankly, the main cast looks (and feels) like a poor man’s version of Regular Show’s cast. Visually conflicting, and cheaply produced, it’s not eye-bleeding, but not close to good either. 1/5 points.

 
Characterization: For those who care, the show follows the titular “breadwinners,” a pair of ducks named Sway-Sway and Buhdeuce, who deliver bread to various citizens of their world, and are obvious knock-offs in many respects, of Mordecai and Rigby from the aforementioned Regular Show, lacking the same sort of charm, development and supporting cast, while attempting to fill the void with more toilet humor and butts than any one show ever needs…

Sway-Sway is the taller one. He’s technically the main protagonist, and while marginally more competent than his partner, he’s still relatively dim-witted and reckless at his job, passion non-withstanding. (It turns out that he actually inherited the family buisness- why anyone though this was a good idea is beyond me.)

Buhdeuce is the short one. Enthusiastic as all-get out, the kid has an obsession and reliance on using his “booty.” (There is no context to make that sound good.) Even more reckless and foolish than Sway-Sway, no one will ever mistake him for one of the great deutragonists of animation…

The supporting cast is unremarkable. Not the worst crew ever, but still fairly poor. 1/5 points.

 
Story quality: Episodic in nature, no continuity or canon to speak of. Where do I start? From unoriginal plot lines to crude solutions to some problems, the plots are uneven, and more serious characters are shoved aside quickly as cheap gags. The show’s attempts at humor tend to be pitiful; as mentioned, the toilet humor is off-the charts bad and distracting.  And the pop-culture references and slang are not going to keep aging well. The dialogue is cringe-worthy, even for this style of show. It still maintains a basic story structure though, so it saves the grade form utter annihilation. 0.5/5 points.

 
Themes: Power of friendship? Honestly, aside from weak offerings and a crash course in how much flatulence two ducks (?) can make, this show offers next to nothing, except constantly boring, low expectations. There’s no character growth, and nothing to write home about whatsoever. 0/5 points.

 
Don’t insult the viewer: Butts, farts, and burps. Not my idea of appointment television. The music is meant to capture some of the 8/16-bit video game era style, but in this show, it doesn’t always come off as charming. At least the colors are nice… which is code for “this is wasting my time.” 1.5/5 points.

 

 

Total Score: 4/25 (15%): Another awful Nicktoon from the decade following 2005, Breadwinners was chosen off of a very average web video, which frankly didn’t have the depth to be a full time series. Lacking coherence and originality in most facets, Breadwinners is a misnomer for “losing.” It you really wish to watch a plot-of the day show, there are far better choices.

Review: Hunter × Hunter (2011)

A dynamic anime that cannot be described simply as “shonen,” but rather, as an experience.

The Lowdown:

Show: Hunter x  Hunter (pronounced simply as “Hunter Hunter”)

Studio (Network)/ Years aired: Madhouse (Adult Swim-Toonami), 2011-2014;  USA 2016-

EDITOR’S NOTE:  This review encompasses the 2011 reboot of the Hunter x Hunter series, and is considered the definitive version of the anime. This review is also unaffiliated with the 1999 series, or its subsequent OVAs, despite covering all of the same material, and then some.

(Some SPOILERS ahead. Nothing too big, but I mention some arc names and certain characters. Skip ahead to the grading section if need be.)

AniB’s thoughts: If you’ve been reading the comment sections of different articles on this blog, or popped over to the Twitter feed, you might have figured out a Hunter x Hunter review was coming at some point. And I’ll be the first to say that I was beyond excited to write about this fantastic, fantastic show. It’s certainly in the top 3 anime I’ve watched and unequivocally the best shonen for a variety of reasons, and I say this not only because I absolutely love this show and franchise, but because it merits the praise, wholeheartedly and without conditions. It starts with the absolutely fantastic characters, stretches to a story that flips skillfully to different genres and even narrative styles in a way that flows cohesively; preserves the original vision of Yoshihiro Togashi, the manga writer and creator of HxH, and does it with aplomb and essentially no filler despite 148 episodes of action-packed, narratively exciting goodness.

Hunter x Hunter succeeds better than any other shonen out there chiefly because of its characters and story. Gon is a shonen protagonist in the traditional sense, and this is evident especially during the first arc of the show (the Hunter Exam) where the possibilities of the world begin to be revealed and a great deal of foundational character building takes place. It is after this point that the show begins to shift rapidly, from the high-stakes training ground that is Heavens Arena, to Yorknew City, and later into the insanity that is the Chimera Ant arc, and what all these disparate locales share in common is a sort of real-worldliness that doesn’t exist usually in shonen. What I mean by saying this is that while Gon and other Hunters in the show gain a special power called nen, it has specializations and drawbacks; and ultimately, the characters are still human- highly skilled, but never able to outright overpower an obstacle- and in the rare cases they do, there are terrible, real consequences that follow. In terms of narrative direction, the arcs are not at all shonen. Yorknew City, for one, has an action-thriller feel, with hints of noir thrown in. Not what you’d expect from this type of show normally…

However, the real hook, the part of HxH that gets you into the show and keeps you enthralled right through to the end and beyond, is the characters. There are four main characters in the show- the aforementioned Gon, Killua Zoldyck, Kurapika, and Leorio. While I’ll go into more detail individually in the grading section on these characters, it is Gon and Killua’s unshakable, organic, natural, and absolutely well developed friendship that takes the cake in the show as a backbone to everything else. It gives a more relevant framing to Gon’s ultimate goal, is key in developing Killua’s own character arc (which might I add, is uniquely fantastic), and is severely tested by various challenges through the show which in turn shows the growth of said characters. Mind you, an entire novel could be written on the characters of Hunter x Hunter alone (from Hisoka and his eccentrically unique, but strangely delightful character, to the arc involving the Chimera Ant King, Meruem.)

In a decade defined so far by weak performances from anime studios across the board, and a disturbing influx of fanservice being substituted in for actual quality, Hunter x Hunter was a standout show from its debut in 2011 through the end of its initial Japanese run in 2014. The dub, at the time of this writing, is in the middle of its English run on Toonami, and is worth checking out (Keith Silverstein as Hisoka in particular is outstanding.) However, if you do watch this show, or have watched it, you’ll probably (or already have) binged the entire thing; in that case, there is quality sub work available. Finally, some new to the series ask about the ’99 anime of the same name. While that can be a separate review on this site, it is advisable to watch the 2011 first due to the more extensive nature of the story (it goes a lot further than the original adaptation of HxH did) and the dearth of filler. Hunter x Hunter ’99 is fine on its own merits, but doesn’t necessarily graze the heights this reboot does; it’s got an older animation style (which is good, but different), and only gets about 3/4th of the way through the Yorknew City arc; after which point a series of Japanese-only OVAs finish said arc and add Greed Island. (It’s about the equivalent of 75 episodes in this version.) Regardless of your preference, Hunter x Hunter is a show nobody should miss out on; it’s an experience, and not just another show.


Animation Quality: Modern 2-D animation, with computer shading and a diverse color palette. The detail of Hunter x Hunter is amazing; the animation itself contains the tonal shifts and mood of the show at any given moment, and the character models are both memorable and pleasing (for the most part). Accentuating the action and tension throughout, the style really does lend itself to bringing the show alive, even more so than its predecessor from ’99, and quite impressively for any animated show at all. 5/5 points.

 
Characterization: Undoubtedly the strongest point of Hunter x Hunter, the show revolves around four main characters, with other characters coming prominently into the story in different arcs.

The main protagonist of the series is Gon Freecss, a simple, but talented 12 year old boy who sets out on a journey to become a Hunter (which in this universe is a highly sought after and difficult to obtain title) in hopes of finding his father, the mysterious Ging Freecss, a top-class Hunter in his own right. Along the way Gon meets and befriends many individuals, growing  in both experience and strength, as well as a person. In particular, he becomes best friends with Killua Zoldyck, another boy of the same age who takes the Hunter Exam with him.

Killua is the second youngest in a feared family of assassins, and technically the heir of the family business; through the show he serves as the deuteragonist, trying to find his own path, struggling to become his own individual, and and to follow what his heart tells him against his twisted family’s ambitions. He also works to find a resolution to the two sides at war within him- the kindhearted boy with unyielding loyalty to those he truly cares about, and the merciless assassin who can kill without so much as a second thought… The boys share one of the best developed friendships in animation, which forms a major plot and character development point in the show…

Gon and Killua also befriend Kurapika and Leorio during the first arc of the show. Kurapika is the last of a tribe known as the Kurta, who seeks vengeance and justice against the Phantom Troupe, a powerful gang of outlaws with prodigious abilities, who wiped out his people. In particular, Kurapika seeks to recover the special eyes of his people, which turn a brilliant shade of red when excited or enraged, and are highly valued on the black market… His dark quest ultimately shades his decisions through Hunter x Hunter; however as aside from his goals, Kurapika cares deeply about his friends, is smart and usually cautious, and willing to usually lend a hand to them.

Leorio is a young man who wishes to become a skilled doctor, but initially cannot pay the high fees for medical school. Never one to shy away from his opinions, Leorio is in many ways the kindest heart of the four main characters, always sticking his neck out for what he cares about as a loyal and committed friends despite his brashness at times.

The supporting cast of the show is also very strong, which often changes from arc to arc, leading to a diverse cast of characters encountered by the foursome (though Gon and Killua in particular.) Of that rotating cast, it’s led by characters such as Hisoka, the psychopathic “magician” who lives for the thrill of battle and strong opponents; Illumi Zoldyck, one of Killua’s older brothers who is a rather cruel person in many ways, and a fearsome assassin; and Chairman Netero, the mysterious head of the Hunter Association whose leadership style is very unique… There are plenty of other names worth mentioning here, but it’s best to experience the show and discover them for yourself…not unlike a Hunter themselves. 5/5 points.

 
Story quality: Overarching story structure broken down into connected arcs, of which there are 7 in this show. Each one seems to embody a different aspect of storytelling, and are dynamic in expanding the world of Hunter x Hunter, bringing it to life in interesting ways. The way in which each character’s goals and development are brought into the overarching structure is well done, and it gives you the sense of a world full of people hunting (no pun intended) for their own goals… which ultimately draws back to the show’s motif. 4.75/5 points.

 
Themes:  Supposedly simple themes of friendship and family exist prominently in Hunter x Hunter, with a great deal devoted to character relationships and dynamics. The show also deals with far more complicated issues as well. Questions arise over one’s life goals and path, the meaning of existence, and the complicated entanglements of what being a Hunter actually means to each individual. Personalities clash, goals cross, and the show develops all these questions in fulfilling ways. All of these dynamics are worth considering, and as a bonus, it plays well with some usual anime tropes, never overusing them… 4.5/5 points.

 
Don’t insult the viewer: Hunter x Hunter is a unusual shonen anime in many respects, but it’s also largely the reason it’s an excellent show. Shifting tone and even genre to an extent from arc to arc, HxH’s writing, adapted from the manga, is wonderfully engaging and keeps you on your toes in anticipation. Add in a music score which fits nicely and has some fairly cool leitmotifs, and you’ve got yourself a very fun experience. 5/5 points.

 

 

Total Score: 24.25/25 (97%). A exceptional shonen anime with great depth, storytelling and compelling characters, this iteration of Hunter x Hunter improves strongly on the ’99 version, with a further expanded story adapted from the manga, successfully creating a compelling experience despite its longer length (148 episodes.) Also praiseworthy is the strong friendship of Gon and Killua, which is simply outstanding. Definitely recommend this show, especially if you’re looking for a longer watch.


Like what you see? Did you know irrespective of criticism, HxH’s my favorite anime? Leave a comment!