Tag Archives: Reviews

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.

 

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!

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.

 

Hidden Gems: Delta State

What if you were able to lucid dream on command? What if you tapped into a realm of the subconscious every time you did so? And what if skilled mind hitmen were attempting to control the human psyche by entering this realm?

Delta State is a Canadian animated series that premiered on Teletoon in 2004. It has one season of 26 episodes that completes an entire story arch, with plans for a second season being denied the chance to see the light of day due to low ratings. The series didn’t attract a huge audience, possibly, because of it’s unorthodox animation style, compelling storyline, and Canadian origin. But the main culprit for its unfortunate cancellation (based on keen detective skills) is over the fact that Delta State was simply too smart, unique and intriguing for its time.

In other words, animation in the early 2000s had the mindset of being a form children’s entertainment. And despite many people still holding this viewpoint regarding the subject, the new decade is known to have challenged this perspective many times over.

Delta State features four main characters, who are also roommates and best friends (though mainly as a result of circumstance above anything else): Luna, Claire, Martin, and Philip. None of them remember any details of their lives prior to half a year ago, so in having being able to enter the Delta Sate at will, they were placed into an apartment together protected by a force field created by their mentor, Brodie, to keep them safe.

Aside from being able to enter an alternate realm, the protagonists each have unique abilities related to the human mind. Claire has the ability of remote viewing, so she is capable of retrieving visible information of a person, location, or object that is physically unattainable in a specific moment of time. Luna is capable of precognition,  thus can see both past and future events through sporadic visions that she has no control over. Martin has the ability of telepathy so is capable of reading people’s mind at will. And finally, Philip has the ability of psychometry, so is able to view the experience of past objects through physical contact.

Although these abilities sound very intriguing, they do not define these characters’ beings. Instead the four protagonists are portrayed as very realistic young adults who have to deal with the unwanted pressure of having to combat said “mind hitmen”, known as rifters. Unlike many series that consists of special abilities along with a literal “hero’s journey”, these roommates do not exactly settle into the powers that had been forced upon them. They do not have an inherent powerful sense of justice that transitions them into selfless beings who fight for the sake of mankind—instead remain as a group of 20-something-year-olds who, above anything, just want the memories of their past lives back. The bad-guy butt-kicking ranks second to their very self-focused goal. Even the people who they save from the rifters’ control usually have some kind of personal connection with the protagonists, which in turn motivates them to put their central objective aside momentarily to save whoever requires their assistance.

As a result, the characters are portrayed as very real people who face a combination of both common and otherworldly roadblocks. Delta State inexplicably answers the question of: What if regular everyday people where given special abilities and forced into a “hero” role? This realistic characterization is hardly seen in Western animation, as is a young adult roster. As a 22-year old, many of their worries and struggles are incredibly relatable, and for those of you who currently (or have) live(d) with roommates, the character dynamic is something I’m sure will give off a sense of familiarity.

Delta State was written primarily as a comic, however its rights were purchased before the comic’s release to create the series. As such, it definitely has a comic-book feel to it, in both premise and storytelling style. One very important fact to note is that  the entire series was rotoscoped into animation; so the entire thing was filmed beforehand, then each frame was traced over. This makes for very accurate proportions and perspectives. Because this animation technique is so unorthodox, Delta State was actually the first television series to accomplish this feat in its entirety. And because it’s so unique, it definitely takes some getting used to.

After a while it’s easy to see that the animation definitely suits the premise of the series and sets its overall tone. It is definitely intriguing, and personally, made me want to keep watching.

Delta State follows a continuous storyline with the occasional self-contained episode. Almost every episode carries some kind of revealing plot and/or character moment that adds to the complexity of the series. Keep in mind, that the show is not something that can just be played in the background. It requires a degree of focus on the audience’s part, as it contains a thought-provoking story.

Overall, the best words to describe Delta State are smart and intriguing. The series naturally pulls its audience into the story, and its very real characters inspires the question of “what if?”. As in, what if I was placed in their situation? What if a realm within the subconscious existed and only a small handful of people could tap into it? What if a portion of this story is inspired by true occurrences/possibilities?

In my (self-proclaimed) professional opinion, Delta State is one of the most well-hidden gems of animation.


A/N: The other week I wrote an article covering the Canadian animation industry. And upon researching some Canadian titles, stumbled upon Delta State. It’s a really tough series to come by. Even when searching “Delta State” on Google, Delta State University returns higher on the search query. It is definitely a hole-in-the-wall within the animation sphere, and as such, I highly recommend it to any animation fanatic who appreciates a different and intriguing plot along with a unique overall style.