Wednesday, April 21, 2010

SMCS Companion Piece #12: SilverHawks


I apologize for being so late, but between parents visiting over the weekend and looming final exams within the next week and a half I’ve been busy.

Anyway this (Past) week on the Saturday Morning Cartoon Show we watched SilverHawks, God help us.

I actually don’t have much to say on the subject since I never watched the show growing up. I watched my first episode about a week ago and I’m slightly less intelligent as a result. I saw a lot of toys all over the place though as a kid. They looked kind of cool. In any event SilverHawks was done by the same folk who made Thundercats and the two shows are very similar in tone and style...and also acting ability, mainly because they shared a lot of the same actors. The show was about some cyborg space cop named Stargazer as he recruits a team of other cyborgs to help him fight the threat of Mon*Star (Get it?) and his “space mob”. Specifically what happens was that Mon*Star was sitting in a cell on a space station/prison that apparently orbits a sun that, if shinned on him, turns him into a nigh unstoppable armored death machine. Why they locked him up in a place where he might be exposed to such a things is a neat question; why they graced his prison cell a damn window is a better one. So of course Mon*Star violently escapes and now Galaxy of Limbo is in serious peril which is a fate they deserve because they’re too incompetent to keep dangerous super-criminals away from their sources of power.

This is what should have happened to the Galaxy of Morons Limbo

In response to this unbelievable level of stupidity Stargazer sends a distress call to Earth, which is in another galaxy by the way, to send reinforcements to help him recapture Mon*Star. Well it turns out that this is a bad idea because the people of Earth are apparently not technologically advanced enough to send regular humans on long space voyages to other galaxies without converting them into silver robotic monstrosities and robbing them of their humanity. Awesome. Why the hell would you expect any sort of decent help in fighting a galactic level threat from a planet that can’t even build spaceships that can sustain non-robot life? That’d be like if the plot of the movie Avatar was about the United States recruiting the Na’vi to help them put a stop to nuclear war on Earth.

Shockingly the Na'vi people's spears and arrows did squat against nuclear fire

Since no one in the universe is trusted more than Earth, for some reason, everyone agrees that sending a team to aide Stargazer is a great idea. Made up of four volunteers, and one child from The Planet of the Mimes who clearly had no idea what was going on, the team had the majority of their bodies replaced with android parts which granted them the ability to fly through space and access to an array of weapons. In the episodes I saw none of them seemed distraught by the fact that they had given up being human for literally no sane reason. The team consisted of Quicksilver, the twins Steelheart and Steelwill, and Bluegrass who in addition of the insulting name (Guess which part of the country Bluegrass is from) also was the only member of the team who wasn’t given the ability to fly. I guess even in the far future the South is still paying for the Civil War. Rounding out the team is the Copper Kidd who, from what I can tell, is an alien orphan kidnapped from his home planet (Of the Mimes) by the Earth government and forcefully transformed into a cyborg weapon for their use. That’s my best bet, anyway.

Possible Autobiography Tittle:

"Tears for a Copper Kidd: My Life in Chains"

Like I said this show is from the same makers of Thundercats and like that show it’s pretty terrible. Oh sure, nostalgia makes us fondly remember these shows from our childhoods but when we watch them as adults it’s brutal. In addition to the obvious logic problems the acting is terrible and the plots are as intelligent as a bag of rice. The one positive point I took was that the show’s premise was kind of cool. I mean, these people were called “volunteers” but how much of that is true? Why did they accept what is clearly a suicide mission? And how are they dealing with the fact that they will never be able to feel the touch of a loved one’s sin and so forth? Plus they’re fighting a space mafia! That just sounds cool! Alas nothing cool really happens here; it’s just that same 80s cartoon with big ideas but low estimations of their audiences’ intelligence.

Also why in the world would they, in Episode One, give me five minutes worth of exposition about the plot when immediately afterward we follow the plot proper, basically hearing everything we just learned like thirty seconds ago? Seriously, did I really need to know all those details about the SilverHawks fifteen minutes before they are even mentioned in the story? Show, don’t tell!

Pictured: Abominations of Science


For a less biased description of SilverHawks click here.

For the Saturday Morning Cartoon Show blog click here; for the podcast click here

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Uncanny Spider-Man

So Marvel Comics has offered picture previews for their X-Men line of comics for July. Basically they’re pictures of characters saying “We Are the X-Men”. They’ve been doing similar things with the Avengers recently as well, but the roster shake-up with Marvel’s Marry Band of Mutants is a bit more….radical? If these previews can be considered actual roster changes than new X-Men may well include Magneto, despite being the X-Men’s arch enemy, the new She-Hulk, and Electra for reasons that I cannot really understand. But most confusing is Spider-Man, who was on the first released preview.

You know, because Marvel wants your money.

Soon Spider-Man's plot to star in every Marvel book will be complete!

Now I am a comic book nerd, I won’t lie about that. However when you have a blog and are a nerd it can be really easy, and tempting, to be one of those guys who just moans and complains about Marvel (Or whatever) making decision that make me angry and being long winded about it to the very few people who read what I have to say. No one likes that guy. So let me briefly say these two things: 1) I think if Marvel puts too many non-mutant superheroes on the X-Men then the lines between that team and any other group of crime fighters will blur. There’s a difference between the New Warriors or Alpha Flight and the X-Men. 2) Like with my hated Wolverine Spider-Man is really starting to become really annoying with overuse. On top of being in a weekly (Not monthly like other comics) book and being on not one but two squads of the Avengers if Spidey were to also star in an X-Men book wouldn’t it become tiresome? How many times do we need to see the web slinger a month? While he might be my friendly neighborhood wall crawler he’s not a side dish that goes great with everything.

Okay, it’s out of my system. What I really want to talk about is Spider-Man and the X-Men as a pairing. Technically I don’t mind Peter Parker alongside the likes of Cyclops and The Beast on regular basis. In fact I had a great crossover idea that I’m saving for a day when I can trick Marvel into hiring me. Spidey has crossed paths with Xavier’s mutants many times over their long history; more so than I could keep up with. However I often have thought what it’d be like if he joined on a permanent basis.

When Spider-Man replaced Wolverine murders committed by X-Men went down 89%

Although deals with the devil went up 400%

The first time the X-Men ever met Spider-Man this very idea came up. This was an early issue of The X-Men, but I can’t remember the number I‘m sorry to say. Iceman and The Beast were on a double date, or something, when they saw that there was crime afoot. Like all good superheroes they ditched their lady friends and changed into costumes to put a stop to it but by the time they got to the crime scene Spider-Man had already taken care of business and was none too humble about it (Spider-Man in the 60’s was significantly more of little punk than today). Before the Beast and Iceman could walk off with their bruised egos their leader, Professor Xavier, telepathically communicated an urgent need for them to ask the Web-Head to join their team, but would offer no immediate explanation as to why. Spider-Man turned Beast down hard, enough so that I think he’d be justified in hold a grudge should he and the webslinger ever cross paths again. The reasoning, as explained by Spidey’s thought bubbles, was that he was still pretty bummed out from his recent, and disastrous, attempt at joining the Avengers and didn’t want to go through the process again with another team. The next time they met a now more calm Spider-Man tried to explain he was having a bad week, but the X-Men as a four man unit decided instead of listening to his apology they would beat the crap out of him for half an issue because they mistakenly thought that he was a “spider menace” (Because presumably they were loyal readers of the Daily Bugle).

So there you go: Spider-Man, in storyline, turned down a chance to join the X-Men early on in his career as a superhero. I don’t think it was ever explained why Professor X wanted Spider-Man on the team, but the guy’s a mind reader so maybe he peeked into his brain and realize that he was actually shy teenager Peter Parker and wanted to help the young man adapt to his still kind of new super powers (Seeing as teaching teens to use powers responsibly is his only real job). Of course if that’s true Xavier put zero real effort into a follow-up since I don’t think it ever came up again. But wouldn’t that have been something if Spider-Man had said “yes”? The whole scope of the Marvel Universe would have been different today. Spider-Man hanging out with The Beast in the science lab. Spider-Man nursing a crush on Marvel Girl/Jean Grey. Spider-Man, who is always pretty broke, in a rivalry with Angel, who is rich as hell. Spider-Man clashing with team leader Cyclops due to his being an obvious loner. The stories write themselves.

So in a way Spider-Man joining the X-Men seems kind of right to me, if well past its expiration date. I assume the story will play out with Spidey coming into the X-Mansion and saying “Hey guys, remember a while back when you asked me to join the team. Well I’ve had about 43 years to think about it and I’ve decided to take you up on it, seeing as I’ve disgraced myself in the eyes of actual superheroes when I made that deal with a being of pure evil a few years ago never been tied down by the burden of marriage.”

This was just a dream you had

Saturday, April 10, 2010

SMCS Companion Piece #11: Last Exile


Dear Anime,

Please stop being so cliché with your main characters. You are making great shows come off like just good shows. Stop it.

Love,

Beta Magnus

This weekend on the Saturday Morning Cartoon Show we did things a little different and watched a straight anime, as opposed to an anime that was broadcasted on American syndication at some point. We watched Last Exile, a cartoon I am so familiar with I thought I’d write a full review rather than just a rant. Is this an example of what Japan does right when it comes to making cartoons or does it make me pray to God that this is in fact the “last exile” and no more will follow?

WARNING: May contain some minor spoilers

Last Exile was created by GONZO, an anime studio that made its name in the last decade. Some of its other productions include Gatekeepers (Which was alright) Vandread (Which was pretty good), Hellsing (First really good than later pretty bad), and Kiddy Grade (Which was awful and kind of creepy). The series lasted but one season, which is pretty par for the course with anime, pumping out a typical 26 episodes. Trust me; we didn’t want any more than that.

In a world that seems to be one part industrial revolution and one part steampunk Claus Valca and Lavi Head are a pilot and navigator of a vanship (Which are kind of like planes but uglier) and work various courier jobs to make a living despite both being only fifteen. One day, while competing in a race, the two come across a downed vanship whose dying pilot asks them to carry out his final mission: delivery of his package to the airship “Silvana”. The ship, captained by the infamous Alex Row, is mysterious but carries a dark reputation that spells disaster for anyone who comes across it. The package in question: Actually a little girl named Alvis Hamilton. Despite the fact that any sane person would have turned around, walked in the opposite direction and pretend that they were never there Claus instead takes the dangerous job, despite protests from his partner. From there the two are forced into the center of a growing conflict between three warring factions Anatoray, Disith, and The Guild (Well, two warring faction and one faction full of jerks). As the series continues it becomes clear that Alvis, and by proxy her new caretakers, holds the key to the fate of the world.

Alternative Fuel Source: Teenage Angst

The absolute best thing I can say about this series is that it has a fantastic setting. The 19th Century/Super Aviation amalgam works very well. The character designs, the structures, the vehicles; they all add to what is a unique and varied world. All three factions have their own style and culture and there’s a distinct feeling of "culture clash" and xenophobia when they are forced to interact. It helped make the setting feel real. Though like I said earlier the vanships look terribly ugly they do fit in with the rest of the technology we see. The unfolding story works well enough, though I’d hesitate to say it was one of the best I’ve ever seen. It moves at a respectable pace and tells us exactly the right amount we need to know about Alvis and those who wish to use her in every episode of the series. Nothing feels rushed or delayed. That said a lot of the answers for the questions don’t make a whole lot of sense. The ending, though not the mind screw some anime writers like to give, felt out of place with what we already knew. At the risk of giving out spoilers let me just say that things turn from fantasy to science fiction pretty dang quickly during the last few episodes. Plus we never learn the answers to certain aspects of the world at all, which made me pretty frustrated by the end. Now maybe I just missed it because I have a low attention span or maybe the answers were in a guidebook or a Drama CD (Many anime tend to have important story details in some extra material that tend to never be released in America) but either way I was annoyed.

I'm no aviator but I don't think that thing is supposed to fly

Characters, not storytelling, are where this anime shines and it’s on the strength of the cast which eases the shortcomings elsewhere. That said the main character of the show Claus is a lame duck. He’s basically that same young lad cliché we’ve seen a thousand times in anime: young boy, who is polite and brave, who is absolute average in everything he does with one distinct exception (In this case vanship piloting) who ends up be the moral center of the show due to his youth and his determination. Yawn. Aside from being the guy the camera spends the most time on Claus doesn’t really do that much to further the plot with the exception of the very beginning and the very end and maybe also the fact that every girl on the airship he lives on seems to have a crush on him (Why?!). Interestingly Claus is at his best when he’s paired with Lavi. Superfluous romantic subplots aside this duo’s friendship is an important part as to why I liked this show and their time together as a vanship team, as well as the flashbacks to their troubled childhood, provides some of the most heartwarming and touching scenes in the show. Unfortunately, despite the early episodes making it seem like they were playing a two-man protagonist team (Which would have been great), Lavi is quickly demoted to supporting character status leaving us with a directionless Claus who goes on to angst about the “problems in the skies” while also doing nothing to help or hinder things. It’s a shame that the writers didn’t seem to find the spunky, yet vulnerable, Lavi to be as important as her counterpart because the show suffers as a result.

"Can I please be a main character again? Second tier sucks!"

Alex Row is also a bit clichéd. He’s your basic quiet, aloof and brooding anti-hero with a dark mission and a ruthless streak. This archetype shows up a all over the place, but thankfully Alex is not the main character so it doesn’t take anything away from our main focus (Also the writers did a good job with him during the last few episodes, I think). All the other supporting characters are great. From rifleman/hopeless romantic Mullin, to icy vanship pilot Tatiana, to the mechanic team onboard the Silvana I think this may be one of the best casts every written in anime; they are interesting and surprising layered. Dio, a member of the Guild (Which is the antagonistic faction of the series), is my favorite character though. Despite seemingly possessing just about every annoying character trait he could possibly have to begin with as the show moves on we learn things about Dio’s past, and his future, that make him easily the most sympathetic character in the cast. By the end I was more emotionally invested in him than anyone else.

Speaking of Dio I have to mention his older sister Maestro Delphine Eraclea, leader of the Guild and effective ruler of the world. She is one of the most evil villains I’ve ever seen in anime. She’s not just cruel, she’s not just manipulative (Although she’s very much those things) but she’s hedonistic to a sociopathic and genocidal degree. Everything and everyone exist only to be her playthings in her mind which is made much worse by the fact that her people are so technologically ahead of everyone else that she could easily wipe out humanity in a week if she were motivated. She and Alex are at odds over the fate of Alvis but make no mistake; she could pretty much take the girl whenever she wanted to. She apparently decides not to put any effort into it because she found the whole situation so amusing. Once I realized how dangerous this character was every time she was onscreen I literally could feel the absolute terror her enemies had to have been feeling. If the Maestro ever deemed it necessary to come face to face with you, giving you her disturbingly friendly smile, chances are you’re already dead.

Bender: "I love living as much as anyone. Except maybe you, Maestro."

Delphine: "I apologize for nothing!"

At the end of the day Last Exile is a good, if flawed, show. It features a great setting and great characters but has a few minor hiccups that add up to a less than perfect product. Don’t get me wrong; this is a well-above average anime at worst and at best it could be your favorite anime of all time. If you like fantasy settings this show is for you. If you like dynamic characters who grow over time this anime is for you. If you hate whiny teenage protagonists who are outclassed as characters by their redheaded counterpart then, well, you will still probably like this show; you just might not be in love with it. Overall it is a worthy addition to your anime collection.

Someone better cut Ikari Shinji a damn check!

I give Last Exile 4 Adorable Pandas out of 5


Pros

-A very unique and interesting setting

-Great supporting cast and a very memorable villain

Cons

-The Claus & Lavi Vs. The World aspect of the show quickly turns into Claus and the Infinite Sadness and we’re all lesser for it

-Some confusing elements to the show that are never properly explained

-Superfluous sci-fi elements shoehorned in at the last minute seem out of place


For the Saturday Morning Cartoon Show blog click here. For the podcast click here.