Author Archives: Julianna (Animation Discourse)

Kyoko Mogami — Skip Beat Character Review (Excellent Female Portrayal)

Skip Beat is an amazing manga and anime series that has stolen many readers’ and viewers’ hearts alike.

The story centers young Kyoko Mogami, who drops her entire life in Kyoto to shadow her childhood friend and lifelong crush, Sho Fuwa, in his pursuit of becoming famous Japanese vocalist. In being consumed by love of the unrequited variety, Kyoko works 3 jobs just to pay for her and Sho’s living expenses; however, it doesn’t take long before she discovers that Sho doesn’t have the slightest romantic inclination towards her, and instead treats Kyoko as his personal gopher/house maid.

 

Skip Beat, whether taking on its anime or manga form, has everything anyone could ask for; from humor to drama, to even a sprinkle of romance, Skip Beat incorporates multiple genres while maintaining seamless switches between—in many cases, with meticulous timing that reigns humourous results. In addition to Skip Beat‘s carefully-crafted and long-winded narrative, both the inner and outer-tier characters pricelessly add to the story as a whole, each revealing layers of themselves that result in three-dimensional personalities.

 

Up until the point of overhearing Sho’s brutally honest opinion of her, Kyoko is not a very likable character. She’s portrayed as a dim-witted, clueless child who is unable to see through Sho’s mistreatment of her despite it being glaringly obvious. However, this point marks a pivotal moment in Kyoko’s characterization. The audience is led to believe that Kyoko will break down in tears at Sho’s disheartening revelation; however, her response takes a complete detour from the viewers’ expectations:

She slowly raises her head, and with an evil glint her eyes, maliciously laughs while releasing her inner demons in a powerful wave of force.

 

Yes, Sho hurt her, but contrary to the majority of works within the shojo genre, Kyoko does not drown in a pit of self-pity. Instead she retaliates with a deep burning anger that lacks even the slightest hint of mourning. Her next step of action is not to carry on living life as a regular 16-year-old girl; instead she takes all the money she has and uses it to create a new outward appearance—one that she uses to identity herself in the world of show business.

 

Kyoko Mogami uses Sho’s betrayal to fuel a long-winded revenge plan that involves becoming one of the greatest actors in Japan in order to outshine Sho’s path to fame. She becomes motivated to make something of herself and, despite still being within the context of getting revenge on who she once identified as her ex-boyfriend, her response to the entire scenario is one of pure drive and energy; not self-loathing as most characters faced with the same situation would dwell in.

 

Skip Beat the anime immerses viewers in an introduction to Kyoko and her story, as well as her prospects for growth within the entertainment industry. The manga, however, carries on her inspiring story throughout 254 chapters and counting.

She has grown into a strong-willed, hard-headed, inspired, spirited young lady who is slowly recuperating from closing her heart to the concept of love—a negative consequence of Sho’s actions. Her aspiration transitions from one of revenge to one of creating “Kyoko Mogami” outside of her past history. Her revenge scheme falls into the back-burner, and as a reward from Karma herself, the moment Kyoko begins to let go of her resentment towards those who have mistreated her (her mother also included in this statement), Sho begins to develop a romantic interest towards her. Kyoko refrains as, while roles have satisfactorily reverse, she long decided to close that chapter of her life.

 

What makes Skip Beat so intriguing is the fact that it diverts from shojo characteristics and plot points. We as readers have the opportunity to peer into Kyoko’s transition from being dependent on someone who shows no interest in her as an individual, to her ambitiously picking up all of her broken pieces and putting them together with the upmost ambition. We follow Kyoko as she impacts the lives of the people she comes in contact with for the better. And on top of this, as she develops feelings for one of her fellow actors and vice versa, she conquers her biggest fear of all: allowing herself to be vulnerable by opening her heart once again.

 

Yes, love is a huge theme within Skip Beat; however, it isn’t necessarily focused on love from a potential romantic partner, but rather love for Kyoko herself. The ability to see herself as valued and to work towards something that fosters her own potential are even more impactful than the drama and romance that Skip Beat so graciously offers to its audience. The series also carries a central theme of forgiveness, both towards the people of her past and towards herself—for how she, retrospectively, poorly handled herself when placed in volatile situations that even she had no control over; in this case, turning to Sho for love and support to fill a void left by her cold mother.

 

Kyoko’s spirited personality is something that does not waiver, and on top of this, it’s also incredibly addicting to watch. Like flipping a switch, Kyoko can be bursting at the seams with enthusiasm, to drowning in a pit of her own sorrow, to releasing her inner demons to wreak havoc among those who cross her—all in a humourous fashion. She’s excitable and full of unwavering drive; qualities that, in combination, are very uncommon in Japanese animation and manga.

 

From her outrageously volatile display of emotions, to her incredible drive and ambition, to her captivating backstory and rise to the top, Kyoko Mogami is one of the most unique, likable, and unproblematic female characters to grace modern-day anime and manga. She is incredible and her personality alone is enough to inspire anyone who takes the time to read her story.

 


A/N: As I wrote this blog post, all I could think about was when the next chapter will come out. I am deeply invested in Kyoko’s story and even thinking about her during times of inner turmoil and fear helps me strive to reach my own goals. It’s kind of silly to look up to the traits of a fictional character, but I guess when you can’t find someone to take inspiration from in reality, you either create your own persona or look up to someone else’s creation.

Or maybe I’m just crazy.

 

Selling Out?: Hasbro’s Stretch Armstrong and the Flex Fighters

From My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic (2010 – present)  to Transformers: Robots in Disguise (2015 – 2017)  Hasbro Studios has been behind the production of a wide variety of animated television and web series. As one of the largest toy-manufacturing companies in the world, it’s no surprise that the creation of its sudio’s series are directly tied to merchandising.

 

Hasbro is not the first production company that uses merchandising as a way to justify the hefty financial investment that corresponds with animation. In fact, Disney has used this business strategy for decades in order to increase its project’s revenues outside of the big and small screen. The difference between Disney’s production however, is that storytelling is of upmost priority, while toy sales only follow. On the other hand, the creation of works by Hasbro Studios are directly tied to and financially dependent upon the production and distribution of merchandise.

The conception of works is based upon their potential marketability to either young boys or girls. As series directly conceived on capitalistic foundation, it’s no surprise that many older viewers are heavily against these projects as many have the potential to tell an excellent story, yet are clearly restricted by market demand.

 

My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic is an outlier of this statement, as Lauren Faust did an amazing job in its initial development. And rather than focusing on what toys would sell, she and her team’s main priority has been to create something of high quality. Although Faust is no longer a part of the series’ production, her legacy has been carried over by the writers and storyboard artists who stayed around.

 

The topic of discussion however, is of a new Netflix series produced by Hasbro Studios titled: Stretch Armstrong and the Flex Fighters. This Netflix original series was released in October of this year and has a total of 13 episodes along with an IMDB score of 7.2/10. A promotion for the series was released on IGN’s YouTube channel, but was greeted with many comments against the series:

FistbumpBros: This animation style. Just, wow. You’d reckon in 2017 they could just up the frames?

Muctaru Bah: Gotta makes that money

Gol. D Rodger: Why the black guy always a big muscular loudmouth or a complete dweeb… all I see is white dude with his black and Asian sidekicks yawn…

OTHE: But Why … ?

W01fman: $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$

Klaud Speed: I’m guessing a new toyline. This time you gotta buy his stretchy friends and enemies too.

The Illuminati: I remember Stretch Armstrong being a muscly guy not a teenage kid.

Cat’s Tuxedo: Muscly guys aren’t as hip and marketable to their target demo.

YesteryearsGamer: Seriously… what? My only guess is, they wanted an excuse to renew the license. Or they’re bringing out new toys. Well, it is Hasbro, so it all comes back to toy sales for them.

 

Despite the subpar ratings, and the somewhat valid comments shown above, Stretch Armstrong and the Flex Fighters is reminiscent of a combination of both Spectacular Spiderman and Ben 10: Alien Force. The series in question is actually produced and directed by Victor Cook who worked on the former project, and it definitely shows in both its art style and dialogue points.

 

While it is obvious that the series’ central focus is marketability through its character and design choices, many outside features (dialogue, plot, etc.) are quite creatively satisfying. The series is self-aware to a degree in subtly poking fun at cliché superhero tropes, which is one of its strong points. Dialogue can be very comedic, sharing the humor of its brother series Spectacular Spiderman. Some characters are very endearing and dynamic such as Jake, Nathan, and Erica; while others such as Ricardo and Riya fall flat, but additional character exploration can reverse this. Overall, the pros well outway the conceptual flaws and campy premise of teenage heroes granted with elasticity-themed powers. It is an enjoyable and light-hearted series which makes for a very high re-watch value.

 

While consumerism may not be the ideal platform for any form of storytelling to be built on, at the end of the day, it provides avid cartoon viewers with more animated content. It’s important to keep in mind that chastising a series for its capitalistic roots does not entirely exclude traditional television that thrives on advertising dollars. The clear difference is that Hasbro Studio’s series are directly tied to merchandise sales and need to cater its content to the production and distribution of products— while traditionally-aired series are expected to indirectly cater to advertisers through staying within their conceived target market. Overall, both routes are influenced by capitalistic undertones with are inherently just another component of entertainment; as such, should the level of capitalistic sway really be a defining factor of what makes an excellent series? Or rather, should a series be automatically reprimanded simply because it is funded by a children’s toy corporation?

 

In the Internet-dominated (Western) world, and as mentioned in my post titled Teen Titans GO! Does it Really Deserve all of this Hate?, the increase of streaming and torrenting, means that creatives are required to find different sources of funding in order to make their vision come to fruition. So can we really blame studios similar to, and including, Hasbro’s if the result is more opportunities for storytellers, animators, and producers to do what they love while providing their audience with some form of entertainment?

 


Like the vast majority of the articles I post, I honestly had no idea where I was going to take this. The flow state really took over, and I just began writing whatever came to my mind. This makes for some interesting (and sometimes unstructured) articles. Either way, I would love to hear your opinion on the topic of animated series conceived for the purpose of selling merchandise. Should they be considered low-brow entertainment? Or should this aspect be disregarded as long as the works are entertaining? Let’s have a discussion.

 

Existentialism in Cartoons: Bojack Horseman and Rick & Morty

To the average person, cartoons are viewed as a form of stress-free entertainment. This genre of television is rarely expected to dive deep into philosophical thought-including questions about life, death, and existence as a whole. However, the series Rick and Morty and Bojack Horseman have truly altered the way that many people view television animation in that it has bluntly introduced an abundance of raw self-awareness which centers many plot points and character qualities within the two programs.

 

More importantly, these elaborate series have showcased the fact that animation as a genre can have a relatable layer of existential complexity within its storytelling.

 

Existentialism is the philosophical thought that “existence precedes essence”, meaning we as humans are brought into the world primarily, and then decide what the point of our existence is. The majority of religions would argue the opposite; that we were created with innate purpose granted to us by some greater power.

 

The reason why Rick and Morty is the highest rated television series in American animation is, in my opinion, the fact that it doesn’t try to sugar coat the existential question: What is the meaning of life? This can be broken down even further: Is there any meaning to life? If so, what is it? Where can I find meaning? How can I create it? The series takes a nihilistic approach to this question in constantly repeating the idea that life is essentially pointless and that nothing that anyone does really matters.

 

Image result for bojack horseman depression

This is the foundation to the character Rick Sanchez and, to a less direct degree, Bojack Horseman, the protagonist of the series of the same name. Both 0f these series showcase an, in theory, unappealing main character who drowns in pessimism and the egotistic-based entitlement to live a self-destructive life; however many people adore these characters enough to tune in every season to follow them through their journey. The reason behind this seemingly ironic enjoyment through watching these characters is the fact that they are relatable.

 

Their thoughts and actions coincide with those of someone struggling with depression. Believing that there is no true substance to human life and leading a self-destructive life that rejects any ounce of perceived meaning as soon as it comes within the vicinity of the person is evidence of this.

The reliability of these characters come from understanding that depression is a void in which, once one enters, is difficult to get out of; and something that many of us have experienced at least once before. Let’s be honest here, people who drown themselves in cartoons as a form of escapism don’t exactly represent the epitome of happiness, but then again, there are many reasons why people of all ages watch animated works. The point is, for the most part, depression seems to live right alongside existentialism, and both are very common experiences.

 

An important question to ask is:

What comes first, existential dread or depression? 

The answer is quite simple when you think about it, and also helps us to unravel the mystery behind these complex characters. Depression is preliminary. Happy people do not question existence—they simply take it as a given that they are alive, and they live. Take the character Mr. Peanutbutter of Bojack Horseman for example, he embodies this frame of mind in simply enjoying life free from expectations of what it has in store for him. The quote his character:

“The universe is a cruel, uncaring void. The key to being happy isn’t to search for meaning, it’s to just keep yourself busy with unimportant nonsense and eventually, you’ll be dead.”

 

Mr. Peanutbutter carries a contrasting frame of reference to that of Rick and Bojack, which demonstrates that people can be divided into generalized segments:

a) Those who believe that life has innate meaning

b) Those who believe that meaning is not innate, but can be created

c) Those who are convinced that life is truly a meaningless void with no exit outside of death

 

Rick and Bojack fall into the third category; however as both series progressed, we have witnessed some character growth that hints to there being a possibility that their mindset is slowly beginning to change; and that no matter how much each of them deny meaning, they both carry hope for something greater.

 

In terms of Rick, it’s his appreciation and love towards his family which, although well-hidden, as been showcased through him being willing to give his own life for Morty; freezing time for months to hang out with his grandchildren; and staying with the family even after being demoted to the lowest status following Jerry’s return in the season 3 finale. In this same episode, Beth even tells Rick to change dimensions once again in response to his comment about their choice to stay together as a family not having an inch of significance in the multiverse.

 

What is important to note here is that rather than hitting restart, Rick decides to go out of his way to fix his poor standing with the President of the United States in order to remain in America—all to stay with his family who he has grown fond of, despite being in denial of the fact. No matter how much Rick tries to convince himself that the people closest to him aren’t special because of their infinite nature, it is clear to see that he views these characters, or at least the Morty of dimension C-137, as holding a special place in him.

 

On the other end of the spectrum, Bojack has lived a self-destructive life after reaching his prime two decades prior starring in a popular television sitcom. His existential dread stems from believing that he had already reached the best and most successful moment of his life, but after this high point was over, he realized that there is no other direction to go in but down. In season 4, we begin to see a change within him. Since his long-lost half sister Hollyhock made an appearance, Bojack begins to see that he is capable of caring for someone outside of himself; and that making a positive impact on someone else’s life can bring him genuine joy and provide him with the meaning he has been searching for.

 

This tells us that there is nothing left for him in the Hollywoo scene; rather as his values are beginning to change, Bojack is seeing that there is so much more in the world that he is capable of achieving in different areas of his life.

 

The main difference between Bojack and Rick, despite their many similarities, is the fact that Rick tries to convince himself that believing in the meaning of life is an illusion design for those of lesser intellect. He constantly denies the fact that nothing matters because he believes that emotions are synonymous to being weak, and that this is essentially demeaning to the “God” that he sees himself as. We have witnessed that Rick is capable of caring for others and about life in general, but consciously chooses to hide these emotions and to convince himself that he doesn’t care.

 

Bojack however, is a different case. Starting from the firsts season, we see that he truly wants to believe that life has meaning. He wants to care about something outside of himself. But alongside depression, Hollywoo’s high standards of success, and ___ he ends up acting self-destructively when anything positive comes his way. Bojack is plagued by an unfortunate family dynamic that was both negligent and verbally abusive. As much as Bojack would like to believe that he deserves his success and that he has made it far, he instead believes that he will never amount to anything, no matter how successful he becomes. Coming around full circle, it makes sense that his existential crisis and depression has rooted from mistreatment from childhood, but is slowly being fixed by him upbringing Hollyhock and seeing how an adult figure can positively impact the younger generation.

 

Overall, many series in television animation are beginning to develop in complexity and progressiveness; however, only a select few tackle themes of depression and nihilism. The problem with the existential question in reality is that fact that it is asked far too often. As a video by rauserbegins states: Depressed people introspect far too often. They question the meaning of life to almost an obsessive degree. Although self-reflection can be positive, too much of it can become self-destructive depending on the mental state of the person. In this sense, maybe we can learn something from a line Rick Sanchez has mentioned a couple of times: “The answer is, don’t think about it”.

 

And finally, to end on a more uplifting note, and to quote the Anonymous Baboon from Bojack Horseman:

“It gets easier. Everyday it gets a little easier. But you gotta do it everyday, that’s the hard part. But it does get easier”.

 

 

 

 

Mysticons: New Series, Great Potential!

As of August 2017, Nickelodeon has hosted a brand new series to add to its roster of animated content. Mysticons emerged quietly into the television scene without much of a heads up, but has been gaining plenty of online attention as of late.

Produced by Nelvana and Corus Entertainment—two Canadian production companies specializing in children’s programming, specifically animation—has created a series that could potentially become a hit in the world of online cartoon fandoms. The series surrounds a group of four teenagers, Arkayna, Piper, Emerald, and Zarya, who are brought together through a acquisition quest for the “Dragon disk”, an ancient artifact that is held in the royal ranks of Drake City. This artifact has caught the eye of evil perpetrators who would like to use it’s power to revive a previous overlord. The four girls are unexpectedly granted powers from the disk and are bestowed the unsolicited role of protecting their home from evil entities.

 

The first episode titled Sisters in Arms provides a solid foundation for the series. The first minute into the episode takes a dive into Drake City and many of its elements. The setting seems to be a combination of futuristic and fantasy, mixing hover vehicles with urban city life that is occupied by pixies, dwarves, and other inhumans alongside regular people. It makes for a very refreshing world with the early promise of extensive expansion.

A detail in showcasing Drake City that is very appealing is that the setting does not shy away from social divides. Piper and Zarya are part of a class called the Underdwellers—a population in the city that is plagued my misfortune and poverty, to the point where Piper and Zarya have to risk imprisonment just to steal food for some of the other inner city kids in their community. Of course in being a child-targeted series, this point was not strongly emphasized and the visualization of poverty wasn’t striking in the slightest, but including portrayals of social divides in any series targeted at young people displays a very realistic rendition of almost every region.

 

The four main protagonists share a very unique dynamic. Rather than none of the characters or all of them knowing each other prior to their unexpected earning of the “Mysticons” title, they can be separated into two different groups. Piper and Zarya being Underdwellers and Arcadia and Emerald being part of the royal family in some capacity. This is likely to become a point of conflict throughout the season as each pair comes from a completely different background. Seeing the social divide play out in the Mysticons’ team dynamic would be very entertaining, realistic, and something that would definitely add depth to their relationship with one another.

 

The character designs of the series also stands out. There is plenty of creativity in how the characters look in civilian attire versus their post-transformation suits. Their weapons of choice are also unique to each of the four protagonists. And the details of their hair and clothing does a solid job of encapsulating each of the girls’ personalities (e.g. Piper’s eccentric and lively personality paired with her three pigtails and golden hoops as weapons making up her hero look).

 

Mysticons’ animation is also quite different from the modern-day norm. The series uses 2D computer animation, with an attempt to make it appear somewhat hand drawn. I’ve brought up the budgeting issues that Canadian content is often plagued by (read this post for more information), so fir a Canadian-produced cartoon, I applaud its animation; however, in comparison to American-produced content that is currently airing, I believe that hand drawn animation would be much better suited. Although many avid animation fans would argue that hand drawn beats Flash, ToonBoom, and other computer-created 2D formats every single time, I strongly disagree with this statement. Series like Star Vs. the Forces of Evil and Gravity Falls utilize modern animation techniques really well (in combination with traditional animation at times). Mysticons, however, loses out on this type of animation given it’s heavy action scenes and plot-driven story—which are typically paired with traditional animation (e.g. The Legend of Korra, Voltron, Steven Universe etc.). The movements are similar, yet much more fluid, to the Canadian series Detentionaire. So although the series can benefit from higher-quality animation, at least it is a step up from other Canadian works.

 

Overall, Sister in Arms presents a solid start to the series, laying out the premise and introducing the main characters quite well. Plenty happened during this episode making it feel surprisingly long for a 20-minute episode. My main concern with the series moving forward is that it might be jumping into the plot a little bit too quickly. The pacing might become a little bit too quick to fully enjoy, or even grasp the story. As for the dialogue, the jokes can be a hit or miss, but overall it’s clear to see that the creative team behind the show has put a lot of heart into it.

Finally, the theme song is very upbeat and catchy. It gives off a similar tone as that of Totally Spies, except it is an original song created specifically for the series. Additionally, another track played near the end of the episode which was also quite good. Together the provide plenty of promise for the remainder of the series’ soundtrack.

 

Although it’s too early to tell whether or not this series will be a hit, it is definitely one of the higher-quality cartoons to come out of Canada. Additionally, if the series is successful, and seeing that Playmates Toys is a producer of the series, the characters and premise of the series have amazing potential for merchandise creation.

 


A/N: It’s passed midnight right now, but I just wanted to release this post into cyberspace as soon as I finished typing it out. I will definitely revisit it tomorrow to fix some of the poor language choices and descriptions. Let me know what you think of the series!

Cartoon Network’s Scheduling Woes

Recently, the “Big Three” animation television networks—Cartoon Network, Nickelodeon, and Disney XD—have been relentlessly targeted for their less-than-favorable program scheduling. Cartoon Network specifically has been receiving quite a bit of cyberspace hate from grieving animation fanatics for months on end. Cartoon Network is being accused of selling out creatively for profit—two elements that are, by nature, polarizing. But ever since the release of Teen Titans GO! the checker box network has been coming under relentless fire.

 

Let’s take a look at this week’s schedule.

Out of all of the series that Cartoon Network currently airs, 46% (164 episodes) is taken up by Teen Titans GO! reruns. Now anyone who has seen a video of why Teen Titans GO! is an absolute disgrace is aware of the complaints plaguing the series and Cartoon Network’s schedule of it, so I won’t dive into that here; however allow me to redirect you to a previous blog post that discusses the issues surrounding the series.

 

What happened to variety? Is it really intelligently strategic to have almost half of network’s airtime directed at a 6-to-10-year-old age group? In my, and many others’ opinion, absolutely not. Each network may have a general target demographic that they skew their content towards, but they are rarely restrictive to this degree unless the network is focused on very niche programming. And given the vast range of animated content that is available (i.e. content ranging from PG-rated Phineas and Ferb to Adult Swim’s Rick and Morty), “animation” does not appeal to a specific niche. Rather than perceiving it as a genre, it should simply be considered just another medium and form of storytelling. In the long-run, poor scheduling will catch up to the network, and is already beginning to impact how Cartoon Network is being perceived in a negative light. It is alienating its wider audience and forms a redefined brand image that said network is only catering to insert very specific target audience here.

 

However, we also need to look at the other side of the spectrum. Business and creativity are naturally polarizing, so it’s difficult to analyze a corporation whose structure is built upon balancing these two opposing components; in other words, we need to assess both sides, not just the lack of variety in creative content. This is not to say that television executives know what their doing 100% of the time—many fail miserably, and other fail to learn from their miserable mistakes—but they are in the business of overseeing their television network, so have an abundance of insider information and years of industry experience to guide their decisions.

Rather than being all in for the Teen Titans GO! money grab, we need to stop assessing these people as greedy businessmen/women who are only in the entertainment industry for the sake of financial security. This is simply not the case. Scheduling is a meticulously-calculated decision involving research and data that we viewers probably would not be able to wrap our minds around; or possibly, it is the complete opposite. The importance here is that we don’t know what actually goes on during the planning meetings at Cartoon Network, Nickelodeon, Disney XD and every other television network out there.

 

Broadcast television is a dying platform. It’s quickly going downhill and these companies need to try to secure a solid income stream in order to stay afloat. If this means producing inexpensive flash cartoons based off of a hugely-popular series, then so be it. I personally believe that a large reason behind Cartoon Network’s constant airing of the series is a response to the increase of online streaming. Young children do not necessarily go out of their way to stream content on questionably-legal streaming services. They don’t have money to purchase content legally either. SO when it comes to entertainment, Netflix might be an option, but it’s likely that their parents will turn to a child-friendly television network and said child will be completely fine with whichever series is playing in that moment.

 

Other the other hand, older audience members, who crave plot, character development, high-quality animation, etc., will most likely stream content that they really want to watch, cutting out potential viewership numbers that networks are losing to the World Wide Web. This is my best guess as to why a hugely popular series with a highly prominent fandom, Steven Universe, receives a lower rating count when compared to a new episode premiere of Teen Titans GO! 

 

Series like Adventure TimeRegular ShowThe Amazing World of Gumball, etc. are much more expensive to create as they have deeper storylines, intertwining plots, and high-quality animation to appeal to the higher set of entertainment expectation of an older audience member. Teen Titans GO! on the other hand attracts a large viewership rating compared to these high-quality series, so carry a much greater return.

In response to this, Cartoon Network has been releasing more new content on its app and other digital platforms to recapture potential audience revenue that they are losing out on. This is no to excuse Cartoon Network for its lack of variety. It has its reasons for scheduling in the manner that it currently does. But it really is impacting the brand in a negative way. In this sense, it is trading in long-term gain for short-term gain—either this, or the network believes that it can easily redeem itself in the future. Either way, the expression don’t put all of your eggs in one basket comes to play here. Possibly, Cartoon Network knows that Teen Titans GO! will not be around for too long so might be attempting to capitalize on it now through a 50% scheduling “strategy”.

This, of course, does not stop a lot of people from their passionate anger that only stems from a love for excellent animation. Many people grew up with Cartoon Network and still spend hours of their week on the channel to this day.

 

Now, I’m not necessarily defending the network for it’s one-note and lackluster schedule; however it’s always important to keep in mind that there are two sides to a story and it is important to analyse the reasons and frame of mind from both sides, rather than simply dismissing one as idiotic and incompetent towards handling art and creativity. In addition, the network’s weekly schedule has been improving through releasing more episodes of OK K.O.! Let’s Be Heroes (see my review here) and reruns of the original Teen Titans series. Possibly Cartoon Network is listening to what it’s viewers have been vocalizing for months. Either way, things are looking forward!

OK K.O.! Let’s be Heroes: Surprisingly Endearing

In 2013, the pilot for OK K.O.! Let’s be Heroes was created and released through Cartoon Network’s Summer Shorts program. Despite its positive reception, the now hugely popular series Steven Universe was, unregrettfully, chosen from the pack instead.

However, 4 years later, OK K.O.! finally earned its long-awaited chance to shine. On August 1st, 2017, Cartoon Network released four 11-minute episodes followed by multiple more during the days following, granting the series its starting momentum to reach potential heights. Ever since this K.O.! bomb, the series has been receiving plenty of hype throughout various online platforms and is starting off with a 8.4/10 rating on IMDB.

 

OK K.O.! is an episodic series told from the perspective of Ko—a young boy who tags along with his mother to work at the Lakewood Plaza Strip Mall. While his mother is working at her dojo storefront, Ko breaks off and and engages with the wacky personalities within the vicinity—both shop owners and customers. Ko’s dream, and typically the center of most episodes, is to become a admirable hero; because in this universe, everyone has specific abilities in the art of butt-kicking that is showcased through a level-ranking system. Most of the people located within the plaza are at a certain level ranging from 1-11, and it’s implied that 100 in the highest. Ko is currently at level zero, but wants more than anything to level up to become the “greatest hero in the world”. Although the series is told from his perspective, we also get a sense of the other two personalities who work at Gar’s Bodega, a convenience store in the plaza where Ko spends the majority of his time, Enid and Radicles.

 

The series aesthetic is very promising. Its art style and character designs are incredibly unique in the world of post-Adventure Time television animation (in which many series take after its style). OK K.O.! uses hand-drawn animation which is different from the high and low quality Flash cartoons we have been receiving lately—not that Flash or ToomBoom is necessarily bad, in fact Star Vs. the Forces of Evil along with Gravity Falls are prime examples of Flash done right—but straying from the current norm is the sole definition of standing out from the crowd; and this is exactly what OK K.O.! brings to the table.

The character designs of the series also stands out immensely. There are no bounds to the type of characters that are shown on screen, and their mannerisms also follow a random and unrestricted pattern. It is clear that the crew enjoyed creating these characters and were able to use their unbounded imagination throughout the creation process. The series’ style may take some getting used to. It has somewhat of an intentional unpolished look to the line art and colouring, and characters are known to break their character model’s often; but after being accustomed to its aesthetic, it’s easy to see the series’ visual appeal.

 

The writing of the series follows a villain-of-the-day kind of format. Each 11-minute episode is self contained, which suits the premise of the series. It’s difficult to picture OK K.O.! following a continuous plot that stretches over more than a couple of episodes; but this form of storytelling is well-suited to the series and writers’ intentions. Although series like Steven Universe and Adventure Time are heavily story-based, this should not be used as a defining benchmark for an excellent animated series. Some shows are designed to be self-contained and bring other well-placed elements to the table—which is perfectly fine and adds variety to the series that are available.

The humor of this series is the complete opposite of stale. I found myself laughing at the dialogue, visual gags (especially those that take inspiration from, while poking fun at, Japanese anime), and some of the situational humour. The dialogue is snappy and the jokes are quite clever but not overly-glorified. A lot of the humour is subtle or referential; details that can be easily missed if not enough attention is paid. However, the understated jokes are very appealing.

 

There hasn’t been too much character development so far, but we do get a sense of the main and reoccurring characters’ personalities. Ko is a gem. He is clearly a kid who carries a very optimistic view of the world and people around surrounding him. He is naive in this sense, but this trait allows him to find enjoyment in the little things while truly seeing the beauty in all different kinds of people (or specimens) that he encounters. Writing a young boy character can be difficult to get right; however, this series has nailed it so far. Ko is somewhat hardheaded, but he often chooses to listen and learn from his mistakes—a quality that is lacking in many modern-day animated protagonists. He admirably pours his heart into his self-imposed mission of becoming a great hero, but doesn’t let this objective blind him from his other responsibilities. Ko is such an endearing boy and, although has some pitfalls, he is portrayed as a well-rounded individual who is eager to learn all that he can.

 

Ko’s single-mother, Carol, is very supportive of Ko’s journey to become a great hero, and allows him to train at Gar’s Bodega. She loves her son very much and gives him plenty of freedom to follow his passions and the appropriate amount of space to grow. When he gets into self-inflicted trouble, she does not reprimand him for it; instead she actively helps him to reverse said problem. Additionally, she works at the Lakewood Plaza as the owner of Fitness Emotions, a fight/exercise club. Her hero level is quite high at 11.

 

Enid is one of my personal favourite characters. Working at Gar’s Bodega, her character traits fall along the lines of an self-intitled young adult. She has shown some behaviours of laziness, but knows to act accordingly when necessary. She gives off an older-sister feel whenever she addressed Ko. She teases him but always has his back at the end of the day and finds his actions endearing. At times Enid seems to forget that Ko is just a kid, and speaks to him as if he is on equal footing. And in other cases both her and Radicles share moments of immaturity with Ko, which makes for an entertaining and fitting dynamic.

 

Overall, the series has experienced a promising start; and as the excitement over it increases, hope for a second season does as well. However, the series’ ratings seemed to have dipped below a million views on Cartoon Network, which isn’t very promising. Some of the episodes were released prematurely on Cartoon Network’s app, so this might be the reasoning behind the dip in viewership, but either way, its early success is not implied to even somewhat guarantee a second season.

Here’s hoping that OK K.O.! Let’s be Heroes receives a long-lasting place on Cartoon Network.

 


A/N: I was definitely not expecting this series to be as good as it turned out. In all honesty, I was expecting to dislike it, completely judging the book by its cover. I was definitely wrong to do so, and am very glad that I was able to look passed the series unorthodox exterior—and even better, realize the charm that its style carries.

By the power vested in me, I grant this series a place is the category of highly recommended animated series.