Tag Archives: Cartoons

Boys Matter Too — Portrayals in Cartoons

Female portrayals are improving immensely within the arena of modern-day cartoons. Alongside the increase of women showrunners, writers, and storyboard artists within the animation industry, many female characters are being placed in the roles of leaders, fighters, and influential advocates. A few examples include: Star Butterfly of Star Vs. the Forces of Evil, Marinette Dupain-Cheng of Miraculous Ladybug, many of the Crystal Gems in Steven Universe, and essentially all of the central female characters in the Avatar franchise.

 

Previous articles including:

discuss both the issues of, and improvements being made in, female portrayals within animated works; however, many of these articles fail to acknowledge the other half of the population. Rather than solely criticizing and assessing the way in which female personalities are written, it is vital to correspondingly address the way in which male characters are portrayed within these same works.

 

 

Characters who are beloved by many, myself included, do not escape negatively stereotypical traits. Some examples include: Robin of Teen Titans,  Mike Chilton of Motorcity, Danny Fenton of Danny Phantom, Ron Stoppable of Kim Possible, and Peter Parker of Spectacular Spiderman.

Within these characters live prominent examples of problematic tropes. The first being the promotion of masculinity as defined by strength and dexterity above all else.

 

Robin and Mike Chilton have this feature in common. Traits including fearlessness, ambition, independence despite being part of a team, physical strength and endurance, and natural leadership, are very admirable qualities that many people strive to achieve in reality; however, when these qualities are relatively over-emphasized to the point where they block these characters from openly displaying emotion and compassion, they are shown to have very one-sided personalities. The issue with this specific portrayal is that young viewers, boys specifically, are socialized to admire these characters and what they represent—in other words, variations of the same macho-esque archetype are not only showcased constantly, but they are typically promoted as positive role models.

 

This isn’t to say that characters who fall under this category don’t have any redeeming qualities, since this would be far from the case; more so, the issue is that they lack the ability to show emotion and vulnerability in the face of adversary. Rather than encouraging the healthy display of emotion, male characters throughout many animated titles are inexplicitly chastised for wearing their heart on their sleeve, and correspondingly praised for tackling every issue they face head on.

 

Another problematic trope commonly portrayed through male cartoon characters can be identified through an opposing set of traits: clueless, frightful, clumsy, and emotional are some adjectives that define this stereotype. Characters like Ron Stoppable and Danny Fenton (in civilian form) embody this personality. And despite often being well-loved by the audience, they are typically completely disrespected within the context of their respective series. These characters are seen to hold a low social ranking and are often bullied as a result. They typically carry relatable human insecurities that are openly seen as unfavourable, with other characters treating them as the punching bag of the series or viewing them as a form of comedic relief.

 

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They way in which these archetypes are treated in-universe inadvertently reveals that male characters are constantly being gauged on their physical prowess, rather than their emotion and intellect—not to say that the former character type is presented as unintelligent, rather, within context of many of these series, intelligence is not held in high regard relative to physical strength, endurance, and agility.

 

Characters like Danny Fenton along with Peter Parker make up a combination of the two personalities, yet solidify these archetypes as problematic. Their soft-spoken and empathetic personas are targets for harassment, whereas their physically-agile forms are praised by the masses. Other factors are of course in play, including the difference in confidence that Danny and Peter’s alter egos emit, and how this reflects in their likability surrounding characters; but for the most part, being a male character who is kind-hearted and sympathetic is less likely to be presented as widely-admired.

 

 

These portrayals are slowly improving. For example, Adrien Agreste of Miraculous Ladybug is written in a way which both his superhero and civilian personas are well-liked by many, and he doesn’t have to choose between being confident, kind, and brave as these traits are seen throughout all aspects of his personality regardless of if he is wearing his mask.

 

A previous article, pointed out some examples of how the abundance of male creatives tend to write female characters stereotypically; however, it is important to note that this same group of creatives also develop male characters in a way that reinforces stereotypes. Many child-targeted animated series, and programs in general, reinforce societal beliefs of social roles tied to gender because the creative people behind these series were socialized into believing in these characterizations. In other words, this cycle represents a self-fulfilling prophecy.

 

 

When I published an article about how anime promotes the sexualization of, and dominance over women, I failed to mention that, within the same context, male characters are also portrayed in a negative light in being shown to treat women poorly by taking advantage of their submissiveness (though there is no excuse for “fan service” in anime that mainly focuses on sexualizing female characters to their audience, but this is a topic for another day).

 

 

The good news is that, similar to female portrayals in animated works, the presentation of male characters is also improving. Some examples of characters that embody more forward-thinking personalities include: Marco Diaz of Star Vs. the Forces of Evil, Steven Universe of the series under the same name, Hung of Voltron: Legendary Defender, Aang and Sokka of Avatar: The Last Airbender, K.O. of OK K.O., and Craig of Craig of the Creek to name a few. Taking a closer look at these characters reveals many similar traits: honest, earnest, vulnerable, feminist, knowledge-seeking, understanding, mindful, and comedic in which they are written to be laughed with rather than at.

 

 

The TED Talk titled How movies teach manhood presented by Colin Stokes summarizes the issues with male versus female portrayals in all forms of media.  The lecture compares The Wizard of Oz to films of the Star Wars franchise, in how the former movie promotes friendship and leadership, whereas the latter promotes male dominance alongside gallant battles. Stokes also brings up a very powerful statistic: the fact that 1/5 of American women have admitted to being sexually assaulted within their lifetime—which leads the question, “What are [these boys] failing to learn? Are they absorbing the story that a male hero’s job is to defeat the villain with violence and collect their reward which is a woman, who has no friends and doesn’t speak?. . .We have tools at our disposal like girl power and we hope that that will help. But I got to wonder, is girl power going to protect them if at the same time actively or passively we are training our sons to maintain their boy power?”

 

Stokes summarizes that the media text that young boys and girls are exposed to need to present male characters as working alongside their female counterparts—they need to learn to work in unison with others regardless of gender rather than constantly being fed the idea that men are built to fight alone; because in reality, no one should face adversity on their own, head on. 

 

 

Overall, the fight for positive female portrayals in children’s media should also be met with creating multi-facet male characters that kids can look up to. Recent unproblematic series are proving that television animation doesn’t need to fall into unrealistic tropes just because they are familiar. Viewers of all ages are ready for change and, for the most part, have been responding well to characters that represent intelligence, empathy, confidence, insecurity, resilience, vulnerability, and so on—as varied combinations of these traits offer fleshed-out portrayals that many people can relate to on a fundamental level.

 


A/N: Feel free to start a discussion in the comments below. These thoughts were drawn out by Colin Stoke’s TED Talk (linked above and highly recommended). He leads a very thought-provoking speech that has made me realize that rather than focusing so much on the lack of female characters in media, it’s important to assess the quality of male portrayals as well—despite them being much more abundant. There are issues in the way that many creators are presenting characters to young girls and boys, and despite improvement throughout recent years, problematic tropes are still more than prominent.

Additionally, please note that I am a 20-something woman of colour who was raised in a Western country. This is the perspective that I am writing from. Please share your own thoughts as I do not have the fundamental knowledge of what it was like to grow up admiring male characters as role models. I can only try to relate to this topic by attaching my experience growing up with a lack of positive female representation to look up to, and in turn, internalizing many of the problematic thoughts and behaviours that both male and female characters presented.

Stretch Armstrong and the Flex Fighters — Deep Dive Review

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The Deep Dive segment of Animation Discourse is meant to explore popular cartoons, anime, and animated film to ultimately determine what makes for excellent animated works.


 

Stretch Armstrong and the Flex Fighters is a Netflix Original series produced in part by Hasbro Studios. It was released in October of 2017, and has received mixed, but positive-skewed, reviews since.

 

As mentioned in a previous article Selling Out? Stretch Armstrong and the Flex Fighters, the series “. . . is reminiscent of a combination of both Spectacular Spiderman and Ben 10: Alien Force“, and “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”.

 

In the present-day animation market, which uses Marvel’s Spiderman as its keystone superhero series, Stretch Armstrong offers a much stronger alternative. Although living up to the accredited titles of Spectacular Spiderman and Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes’ is becoming and increasingly distant dream, Stretch Armstrong walks the fine line of having excellent dialogue and exuding overwhelming charm, along with catering to traditionally younger audiences—in other words, it acts as an solid contender relative to what is currently on air.

 

What makes Stretch Armstrong and the Flex Fighters an enjoyable series?

 

Characters

The characters of Stretch Armstrong are both down to earth and likable. They truly feel like dynamic people, as opposed to walking stereotypes (with the exception of Ricardo who is still presented as quite one-sided). Both Nathan and Jake are full of insecurities, which seem to vanish once they step into their superhero personas. The confidence that they gain while keeping their city safe is realistically shown to influence each character in their day-to-day lives—in that they are more willing to take social risks given they willingly put their own lives in danger for their city whenever needed. The trio’s team dynamic works extremely well in that Nathan and Jake have been friends for an extended period of time due to their clear similarities, while Ricardo is forced into the group due to school circumstances, and correspondingly influences their routine. They each have unique traits that are more than enough to differentiate these characters from one another, utilizing a wide range of personality traits that audiences can relate to on, at least, some level.

 

Secondary characters have also been explored enough to stand out as having dynamic personalities. And although the main characters are male, the secondary female characters (who are hinted to play a much larger role in the second batch of episodes) are not problematic in the slightest; they are shown to be dynamic, intelligent, and capable. And to add to diverse characterization, the main trio is also very culturally different, and which extends to the way each of their home lives are presented—an element that is surprisingly uncommon in children’s animation. Both the primary and secondary characters have familial issues that range from absent parents to being constantly compared to older and younger siblings. By showcasing these personal struggles alongside heroic conflict, the protagonists have to carry plenty on their shoulders. This is not only relatable within the context of struggling to balance various obligations, but also allows we as a the audience to witness the interplay between the personal and professional aspects of their lives—because no matter how much they try to keep these elements separate, they inevitably bleed into one another.

 

Tone

Stretch Armstrong is a lighthearted series that carries the essence of child-targeted, but the elements of all-ages. In other words, it incorporates high stakes with an intensity that doesn’t necessarily translate to the audience fully, but just enough for viewers to stay invested in its plot. A combination of being interesting but not too serious leads to a tone that fosters high re-watch value. Bright colours also add to its lighthearted tone by making it a visually fun watch.

 

Dialogue

Image result for stretch armstrong and the flex fightersCharacters of Stretch Armstrong and the Flex Fighters are presented as realistic and relatable in part due to their dialogue. Not only is there plenty of wit in their conversations, but they also speak among each other very realistically. Nathan in particular is the most relatabe character in the way that he is written. He says whatever is on his mind, no matter how rash or off-topic it may be given the circumstance—a common way of speaking with close friends in actuality. He isn’t afraid to admit his flaws or insecurities, and corresponding to this, is able to see and vocalize his own strong points as well. Aside from some awkward taunting puns while in superhero form, which is hallmark to the superhero genre, the Flex Fighters exercise a solid amount of amusing self-awareness. Teasing one another, along with superhero stereotypes as a whole, keeps the characters’ dialogue comedic and witty.

 

Which areas does Stretch Armstrong and the Flex Fighters lack in?

 

Premise

Image result for stretch armstrong and the flex fightersThe premise of Stretch Armstrong and the Flex Fighters is quite childish when broken down—a group of teenagers stumble upon toxic chemicals that grant them elasticity-themed powers. Not only do our heroes receive their powers in the most trope-complying way, but the element of elasticity that connects their powers as a trio is ridiculous at best. The concept of their city being overseen by a powerful technology corporation, head by its charismatic and intelligent CEO, is a huge stereotype (i.e. Lex Luther of Justice League & Young Justice, Abraham Kane of Motorcity, Vlad Plasmius of Danny Phantom). The characters’ personalities and weekly villains’ interesting designs are enough to differentiate the series from others with a similar premise, but not necessarily enough to define it as anything groundbreaking or unique.

 

Plot

Stretch Armstrong and the Flex Fighters holds up a subpar comparison to its cousin Spectacular Spiderman‘s plot (but in all fairness, many superhero series don’t hold a candle to this title). Episode one of Stretch Armstrong is full of exposition that is presented in anyway but subtle. When Jake gives Ricardo a tour around their school in the first episode, the series’ writers use this as an opportunity to glorify the facility full of unique and trope-defying student cliques. This presents Ricardo as a mere storytelling device to explain the series’ context to the audience.

The plot isn’t something that older audiences can be deeply encapsulated by straight away, but its story is intriguing enough to hold attention a few episodes in. It is a series that can be played in the background without missing too much of the substantial narrative. Stretch Armstrong attempts to integrate plot twists in order to keep audiences interested; one of which is pretty obvious, and the other not being as groundbreaking as it was conceived to be; however the attempt to add intensity to the plot does not go unnoticed.

The plot of the first 13 episodes tell a somewhat linear story, which is not very common in the current episodic animation environment. The biggest strength of the series’ plot is the amount of effort and charm that is evident throughout the majority of episodes. The creative team behind Stretch Armstrong are clearly doing their best to create an engaging narrative, given their requirement to comply with traditional marketability as Hasbro ultimately has stake in merchandise tie-ins.

 

Marketability

Stretch Armstrong and the Flex Fighters’ largest drawbacks are due in large part to the series’ focus on marketability. It follows a specific, seemingly researched, formula that gives the three protagonists distinct colours and personality traits that translates well into merchandising. Additionally, placing one member of the trio on a pedestal, in this case Jake Armstrong, as the leader of the group is another common move done in heavily merchandised series—it’s much easier to focus on a central character as the face of the series on promotional material. And it’s no surprise that the head of the series is the only Caucasian character of the group. Unlike another superhero series that is commonly covered on this blog, Miraculous Ladybug, Stretch Armstrong tries to hide the fact that its entire conception is based on the foundation of merchandising. This approach makes the series a lot weaker, as it tends to undermine the viewers’ level of awareness to capitalistic intentions.

 

Conclusion

Overall, Stretch Armstrong and the Flex Fighters is an entertaining series within the sphere of titles clearly designed to target an 8 to 12-year old male demographic. I recommend the series to anyone that is looking for something with more substance than Marvel’s Spiderman as its charm, characters, and dialogue is much better in quality and makes up for the series’ areas of improvement.

Miraculous Ladybug — What Season 2 is Doing Right

Miraculous Ladybug is one of the most popular Americanized cartoon series that is presently being broadcasted on an international scale. It features the kindhearted and clumsy Marinette Dupain-Cheng as she transforms into her crime-fighting superhero alter ego, Ladybug. She works alongside her partner Cat Noir—who, unbeknownst to her, is also her classmate and crush Adrien Agreste—to track down and defeat the dark magic that is plaguing Paris.

 

A/N: The use of the term “Americanized” refers to how the series targets and complies with U.S. styles of storytelling and marketing, not a description of where the series originated, as Miraculous Ladybug was created via a collaboration between French and Korean production companies. 

 

The premise of Miraculous Ladybug follows the format of a typical Japanese “magical girl” anime, being a known genre to anyone even remotely familiar with series along the same spectrum as Sailor Moon. However, it’s fairly common synopsis is not a feature that has initially attracted viewers to the series; rather, its stunning high-quality computer-generated animation is what has captivated the majority of current fans which, until the point of the series’ premier, had been lackluster at best within the context of television animation.

 

Viewers may have grown intrigued by Miraculous Ladybug‘s fluid and cinematic animation along with its well-thought-out character designs, but an educated guess behind why viewers of Miraculous Ladybug chose to stick around for its 26-episode ride, is more likely than not a result of the “love-square” presented from its very first episode onward. While Marinette is in love with her classmate in civilian form, Cat Noir holds romantic feelings towards Ladybug while immersed in his superhero persona. The catch is, they have no clue of each other’s real identities, contradicting the whole idea of a love square because they are actually in love with each other.

The first season played with this love-square dynamic, teasing its audience that a budding romance would soon break the formation; but despite hinting at breaking the status quo, our beloved duo didn’t get far at all.

 

This signifies the core difference between the first and second season; not the fact that season 2 more boldly plays with the romance configuration between Marinette/Ladybug and Adrien/Cat Noir, but rather the fact that the creative team behind Miraculous Ladybug is so willing to break this pattern that has been integral to season one’s 26 episodes (24 excluding the origin episodes that show how our protagonists initially receive their miraculouses). The series’ writers and storyboard artists have clearly worked tirelessly to create something intriguing, and this seemingly newfound passion has greatly influenced the quality of the second season for the better.

 

 

While season one of Miraculous Ladybug tends to take itself seriously, its second season isn’t afraid to make fun of itself. Season 2 has a layer of self-awareness that admits to its audience that the premise of the series has some narrative gaps, rather than thinly extending viewers’ suspension of belief. Ironically, the addition of self-aware comments in Miraculous Ladybug‘s second season is used as a tool to strengthen its questionable plot points by revealing that even some of the characters are unsure of what is happening. It also paints the series as more playful, making it clear that the writing staff enjoys what they are doing. It is clear that more time was taken to write and translate the characters’ dialogue, which is most likely the reason behind the creative staff exuding charm and enjoyment into the batch of episodes.

In a more recent episode of Miraculous Ladybug‘s second season, Gigantitan, the series tackles how ridiculous Marinette’s stalker-like crush is on Adrien. It makes fun of itself though Marinette and Alya coercing their friends into helping Marinette live out one of her Adrien-involved fantasies. This is a great diversion from her season one portrayal, as rather than presenting her boy-obsessed tendencies as sweet and romantic, the creators are adding a bit of self-aware charm in emphasizing how absolutely ridiculous and unrealistic her attitude towards him can be at times.

 

Image result for miraculous ladybug gigantitanSpeaking of self awareness, season 2 of Miraculous Ladybug makes a larger effort to target slightly older demographics. Rather than aiming solely at children, the executives behind the series have seemingly come to realize that Miraculous Ladybug attracts many teenagers and young adults, alongside children; thus, the creative team has diverted from creating simple episodic plots and instead moved into relatively complex (yet still episodic) narratives. Plot points, including how our heroes will defeat the villain of the week have become much less predictable compared to season one. Additionally, stakes including threat levels of villains, near identity reveals, and those causing alterations to the standard formula of the series, have become much more intense.

Right from the start of season 2, the huge, game-changing, shocking secret (sense my sarcasm) of Gabriel Agreste being one in the same as Hawkmoth is revealed. This is a big deal as it sets the tone for he remainder of the season—Miraculous Ladybug is no longer planning to beat around the bush and is ready to hit the ground running. Keeping Hawk Moth’s painfully-obvious identity a secret was a shaky move from the start, but his identity revelation shows that it has grown passed treating its audience as oblivious. This is the series’ way of inexplicitly informing its audience that it is planning to take the series in a different, more thought provoking, direction.

 

Season two of Miraculous Ladybug also gives our characters more time to shine. Marinette, Adrien, and other background characters are treated as three-dimensional and are increasingly showcased in settings outside of their school, sharing different facets of their lives with the audience. Additionally, characters are given more dynamic personalities; for example, season one’s Cat Noir is presented as mildly problematic through ignoring Ladybug’s annoyance and seemingly forcing his romantic flirtation onto her. Despite Adrien’s whole-hearted intentions, this can make him appear somewhat insensitive. However, less than halfway into season 2 showcases Cat Noir being much more receptive to Ladybug’s outwardly platonic view of him. Although it definitely should not have taken this long to get to this result, season two has been showcasing much more empathetic and relatable characters, while giving the audience more time to follow their personal lives in each episode.

Chloe’s character has slowly been improving. In the first season, she had caused almost half of the akumitizations that have occured, a process that turns everyday people into evil villains through harnessing their negative emotions. After agreeing to try to become a better person in the episode Despair Bear, she has not caused anymore deep negative emotions enough to attract one of Hawkmoth’s akumas. This shows he audience that Chloe is not all talk and is genuinely trying to be kinder; however, it’s difficult to tell for certain given her relative lack of screen time.

Marinette is also shown to explore her feelings towards Cat Noir and we as the audience are slowly beginning to see how her emotions can be quite complicated; rather than being blindly in love with one version of Adrien and not the other, she is now beginning to develop feelings for his Cat Noir alter ego (Glaciator). This reveals that Marinette is not as one-note as she may have been presented in the first season. She is able to see that Cat Noir has some of the same qualities she loves about Adrien, rather than blindly crushing on one over the other. This presents her romantic feelings as much more genuine, rather than being just a typical school-girl crush.

 

 

Finally, season two presents the promise of an expanding scope. Within the first few season 2 episodes, antagonist Hawkmoth akumatizes both a robot (Robustus) and a baby (Gigantitan), actions that were unheard of in season 1. This alone implies that the process of akumatization is directly linked to controlling emotions, without being limited to age or even humans for that matter. This may seem like a small revelation, given that negative emotions have always been the catalyst for akumatization, but it gives the audience something concrete within the context of the series’ lore, helping to ground the setting in some form of pseudoscience, which is plenty more than Miraculous Ladybug has done previously. By reintroducing the Great Guardian at the start of season 2 and increasing his screen time, the series is given an outlet to explain more of the series’ mythology.

 

Image result for alya volpinaA near reveal in the season 2 episode The Dark Owl carries some lasting stakes as well, in that Tikki is now aware of Adrien’s identity. In season 1, the only significant occurrence that is carried over to more than one episode is the fact that Adrien had taken a book of miraculous holders from his father’s office. Season two has much more plot lines that can be carried over. Alya temporarily given the fox miraculous to fight alongside Ladybug and Cat Noir being another one. Although she is sworn to secrecy and will likely not bring the experience up to Marinette, I highly doubt that it won’t be referred to in an upcoming episode. Although her superheroine experience was only temporary, the implications are long-lasting, and it will most likely come to play in the near future.

 

All in all, the second season of Miraculous Ladybug has proved itself to be much more ambitious than its predecessor, keeping audiences more engaged in its narrative and invested in the growth of the series’ characters. Additionally, although we haven’t been given a linear plot yet, the series has been strongly hinting at further progression and character development—two features that are barely graced in season one. Not only is this a much more appealing route to take, but it also shows that the series writers genuinely care for the direction of the show, rather than taking only three months to write 26 episodes with the mentality of quantity over quality—an approach taken during the conception and production of the first season.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Season 2 has been a huge step up from season one, and I can guarantee that by the end of the second season, its main selling points will dive a lot deeper than love square and pretty animation. Rather, it will be highly praised for its amazing characters, settings, and narrative as a whole—alongside its former points of interest.

 

Mysticons Revisited: Updated Review 2018

Back in August 2017, I published a first-impression review of the Canadian animated series Mysticons. At the time, I had some critiques that still stand to this day; however, I have come to realize that I vastly underestimated the quality and potential of the series.

 

Synopsis:

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 this day and age online cartoon fandoms. The show surrounds a group of four teenagers, Arkayna, Piper, Emerald, and Zarya, who are brought together through a acquisition quest of 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 beings.

 

To this date, 26 episodes of Mysticons have been broadcasted and I can confidently say that it is a hidden gem in the world of modern-day animation, and amidst the top animated series to come out of Canada. Yes, there are some cliché moments sprinkled throughout its narrative, but these are largely forgiven due to the sheer charm that the characters, premise, and story emit. In the overcrowded world of entertainment media, originality is becoming a scarcity; thus, a long-winded and child-targeted series is bound to incorporate a few tropes. What sets Mysticons apart however, is how it approaches cliché characterizations and plot points, in that it does an excellent job to provide a fresh take on tired old ideas.

 

In my previous, admittedly uninformed, review of the series, I praised its unique premise and vast scope. This opinion still stands, possibly even stronger than it did before. It has been a long time since an Americanized animated series has showcased such ambitious prospects for world-building starting from its very first episode. Based on the first minute of watching episode one, the audience is thrown into a world that combines futuristic, fantasy, and modern-day urban elements, in a space occupied by beings ranging from anthropomorphic cats to pint-sized pixies, to regular humans. A quarter into the episode introduces the audience to strong social divides within the central setting of Drake City, featuring an underground community beneath the metropolis full of inner-city occupants.

 

Comparisons are presented between the “Undercity” environment, home of Piper and Zarya, to the introduction of Emerald and Princess Arkayna who reside in a grand palace as they are tied to the royal family. Showcasing diverse living arrangements within child-targeted animation is a rarity at best, so embracing the mere concept of a city with social divide shows its audience that Mysticons is serious about expanding the scope of its world while even drawing parallels to modern-day social alienation. Additionally, a current plot twist will most likely foster conflict rooted in clashed upbringings of the core Mysticons team.

 

The series centers 4 female leads. This in combination with being set in magical world might lead some to believe that Mysticons merely promotes a feign sense of “girl-power”, that actually feeds into long-lived stereotypes of young female behaviour centering topics of fashion and boys (e.g. Winx Club); however, this is far from the case. The series is heavily action and plot oriented, features that are especially absent in female-led and targeted series—and a combination of elements that are absent in the slice-of-life, comedic, and episodic wave of animated content we have been receiving within the past couple of years (e.g. Ben 10 2017 , Powerpuff Girls 2016, Teen Titans GO!, Unikitty, etc.). It carries an unbiased an indiscriminate outlook towards gender roles and corresponding behaviours, in that the main characters can be easily replaced by male versions of themselves, and the writing could remain mostly unaltered without the characters and story feeling out of place.

 

Not only are the female characters of Mysticons treated exceptionally well by the series’ writers, but they are also well respected within the context of the series itself. The male characters that are featured do not feel the need to exert bravado over our protagonists, nor do they feel intimidated or emasculated by the Mysticons’ deep-seated power. Instead, male and female characters work alongside each other as equal partners striving to reach the shared goal of keeping Drake City safe from evil perpetrators—an element that should be inherent in children’s media, but is unfortunately uncommon within the vast scope of animated works currently available. In more recent years, there have been quite a few well-known series that embrace males and females working in unison without falling into gendered stereotypes (e.g. Star Vs. the Forces of Evil, Steven Universe, Miraculous Ladybug), but in the animated arena as a whole, the dynamic between these characters are often unbalanced and comply with problematic tropes. So on top of production companies straying away from the action genre, the fact that Mysticons falls under this category and presents forward-thinking female portrayals, fills a huge gap in the current animation environment.

 

The four protagonists are very likable, each with identifiable traits that result in a playful dynamic. Although Arkayna is promoted as the leader of the Mysticons, each member has their fair share of screen time and are given three-dimensional personalities to a similar degree. Although characters like Piper and Zarya can be categorized by personality type (e.g. the bubbly and peppy character vs. the tough street character) they definitely have much more going for them than their labels imply. For example, contrast to Piper’s lively personality, she deals with anxiety that roots from her fear of being abandoned as a child before meeting Zarya. Carrying this burden makes her much more complex and has the viewer questioning whether her upbeat demeanor partially disguises the anxiety she’s experiencing, both from her teammates and from herself. Em and Arkayna are also quite complex in that you cannot describe using only a few adjectives—they simply do not fit into a single box.

 

In addition to thoughtful characterization, diversity is a major theme presented in Mysticons. Not only in terms of social standing, but as mentioned previously, the series also utilizes a variety of human and inhuman races that coexist harmoniously. The series even showcases the early budding of a same-sex relationship—and not between background or one-off characters, but involving one of the main protagonists and presented in a way that isn’t glorified. This is groundbreaking in the arena of animation that so vigorously attempts to shelter children from progressively-liberal thoughts. Steven Universe openly promotes sexuality that diverts from the norm, however the characters involved are hidden under the gauze of being alien gems that are personified as humans. Star Vs. the Forces of Evil showcases same-sex couples in the background of an episode, which does wonders to normalize living in a world of diversity; however it does not have a same impact as presenting a human protagonist exploring an early romantic relationship with someone of the same gender.

 

Mysticons‘ level of storytelling and characterization is incredibly ambitious, making it easily one of the most plot-driven cartoon series that is currently being broadcasted. Although it has a few filler episodes near its start, as the plot progresses they become relatively scarce. As a very well-written series with plenty of charm, it’s sad to see that many animation reviewers, especially on YouTube, are brushing the series aside as something that they do not plan to watch anytime soon; however, on the other end of the spectrum, Mysticons’ YouTube channel and social media platforms are slowly but surely gaining momentum and fostering a space for discussion for young and older viewers alike. Although Mysticons has only managed to gain a cult following so far, individuals who consider themselves fans of the series seem to be incredibly invested in its narrative. On top of this, it has only began airing half a year ago, so it has plenty of time to gain further momentum.

 

Overall, I highly recommend Mysticons as it is a very unique series with ambitious storytelling and world-building prospects making it an entertaining watch. Mysticons has showcased to desire to expand in having ambitious social media, merchandising, and production plans; my only hope is that it is capable of staying on the air long enough to see it’s efforts come into fruition.

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.