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January Bonus Review: X-men/Evolution

I don’t normally do comparison reviews. But, in this case, I’m going to as showcasing the severe flaws with Evolution works so much better when you compare it to a good cartoon. Let’s dive right into it because this is going to be a long one.

X-men1

Stories:

The two cartoons take very different approaches. The good cartoon is a more child friendly version of various X-men stories including Days of The Future Past, The Dark Phoenix Saga, The Phalanx & Proteus. It also throws in some original stories in the same vein as the Claremont run of the books. Which is very blatantly the inspiration behind the cartoon.

Evolution decides to take things in a different direction by having a world where mutants are unknown to the general populace and having a young team of characters just coming into their own. Thereby combining super hero elements with more light-hearted school antics.

Now, to be fair to Evolution, the concept isn’t bad. Most of the X-men characters did join at a young age and showing the team in more of a fun, less action-oriented light could be a strong take.  Unfortunately, it’s completely let down by horrendous execution.

With the good cartoon, there are two types of changes made to established stories. The first are changes to make them child friendly. So, Proteus won’t be leaving shrivelled up corpses in his wake and we won’t see Storm stab Callisto through the heart with a knife. The second changes are designed to simplify things. Because the comic story behind Archangel is very complicated and only works if you have Angel as a major character and nobody wants to see a cartoon that goes super in depth into Cable’s back story with all the Madelyne Pryor stuff.

What we get from it are simplified, family friendly X-men stories where the various seasons give us different big story arcs that are skilfully built up throughout and lead to some truly epic climactic pay offs. The series is also very good at balancing its cast so that every character in the main team gets their own moments of focus and glory.

But let’s stop with the praise and move on to exactly what’s wrong with Evolution’s execution. The first problem is the two season plot point of normal humans not knowing mutants exist. First of all, they do basically nothing with this. So, it’s pretty pointless. Secondly, this plot point doesn’t remotely work the moment they bring in Apocalypse as a character. You’re expecting us as the audience to believe that mutants have been a thing since Ancient Egyptian society, but not a single one has ever done anything to reveal their existence to the general populace. It’s hard enough to swallow when you have mutants running around who look like Nightcrawler and Beast but when you add in that long history, the humans in this world must be unbelievably stupid. Mutants probably have to remind them how to breathe regularly.

Another issue is with Xavier’s school. This series has his students going to classes and field trips at his school and also going to a public high school. How the hell is that supposed to work? Look, I get that private schools like Xavier’s are not really a thing in most places any more, but you could at least camouflage it as a boarding house for a proper private school. It would make a lot more sense.

Evolution also has a lot of problems with staying true to its premise. With the good cartoon, they absolutely nail what they’re going for. In contrast, Evolution can’t stick to its aesthetic. Instead of focusing on its young characters, it spends far too much time on the adults. Instead of keeping things light-hearted, it awkwardly shifts into more serious territory leading to a lot of tonal clash. And for students who aren’t generally supposed to be using their powers to fight menaces, the Evolution team ends up with a lot of encounters far outside of their pay grade. Especially Apocalypse.

There are a lot of more episode-based issues that pop up in Evolution too. I could write a novella with a couple pages for each episode, but I’ll just give three examples of varying degrees of egregious. There’s an episode where the “struggling” students are taken for a field trip and this includes Sunspot, who’s portrayed as a massive over-achiever. So, how is the massive over-achiever struggling? There’s also the way the X-men add Rogue to their roster. Basically, instead of sitting down with her own daughter and talking to her about her powers, Mystique decides to try tricking her into thinking the X-men are mutant hunters for no adequately explored reason. For that matter, why didn’t Mystique and Destiny just explain to Rogue that she’s a mutant?  It’s not like they need to keep the existence of mutants safe from mutants. It’s also not like they didn’t know. It’s clearly shown that they did. Then we have Magneto’s big plan for the finale of the first season. He basically decides that he’s going to have his sanctuary aboard asteroid M but he’s going to decide who gets in, not by taking people who are willing to follow him, but by forcing the brotherhood to fight the X-men to earn their spot. And then he’s going to power them up and basically destroy the world. First off, this is an asinine plan. Secondly, this isn’t a Magneto plan. This is more like Apocalypse with his survival of the fittest shtick. Even then it would be a bad Apocalypse story.

Let’s talk about the way each series ends. So, if you don’t want spoilers for that, skip this paragraph. With the good X-men cartoon, we see Xavier injured, Magneto is persuaded to come help save him. He says his final goodbyes to both Magneto and his X-men. It’s all very touching and really delves into the dynamics you’ve seen throughout the whole series. He survives, but is forced to leave Earth and stay with the Shi’ar. We end with the X-men standing alongside Magneto to see him off and what happens afterwards being open to interpretation. It’s a fantastic way to end the series. With Evolution, we get a long, boring exposition dump from Xavier about how he’s seen the future and he knows Magneto is going to join the X-men, the Dark Phoenix saga is going to happen and blah blah. First off, it’s a rubbish, dull ending. Secondly, don’t bring up the Dark Phoenix saga in a show that’s supposed to be more light-hearted. It does not mesh. Third, this version of Magneto joining the X-men doesn’t work. In the good cartoon, Magneto is highly sympathetic and works with the heroes on multiple occasions. In Evolution, he’s basically a one-note, Silver age villain. He’s Hugo, here he comes with wicked intentions. And you can’t make a villain like that go good without a huge amount of work and character development.

Characters:

The good X-men cartoon does an excellent job of offering character complexity. Every major character has a fairly well fleshed out back story. Even the minor characters tend to come across as fleshed out and very human. I also appreciate that the villains are very dynamically written with motivations that may or may not be evil, depending on the character. If I were to criticise anything, it would be that I don’t particularly care for what they did with Nightcrawler. He’s a complex character but they also really emphasise the religious aspect of his character which causes him to come across as overly preachy and just in general the type of person who’s a bit obnoxious to be around.

Evolution has an entire cast of highly annoying high school stereotypes. I’m not kidding when I say Nightcrawler is far more complex in the other cartoon where he appears twice than he is in this one where he’s part of the main cast and just an obnoxious class clown character. Same with Quicksilver who’s just an arrogant jerk character in Evolution. Evolution can’t even stay fully consistent with its stereotypes when it comes to Shadowcat. They can’t decide whether she’s smart, but a bit ditzy or the full air-headed ditz stereotype. And the villains in this are just evil for the evils. To the extent where both Magneto and Mystique are portrayed as egregiously terrible parents with no adequately explored reasons for them to be dreadful to their kids.

That’s another real failure in Evolution. It had the opportunity to explore what would have happened had Magneto raised his children and, instead of doing that in any meaningful way, they decided he would just be a negligent asshole. The good cartoon had two episodes where he interacts with his children and it handled it infinitely better. Providing them with a much more complex, interesting dynamic.

Some of the shit they do doesn’t even make sense. Why is Mystique working with Magneto? No one knows, there’s no reason for it. Why does she collect a bunch of super-powered teenage boys and then spend most of the series ignoring them? No reason. It’s all just aimless “they’re the bad guys, so they do evil things.”

Speaking of things that make no sense, Storm has a nephew, but the series also wants to preserve her back story as an orphan who wandered around Africa before becoming a Goddess figure to a small village. Even if Spyke weren’t a rubbish character, this would just be bad.

Seriously though, Spyke is such a terrible OC he doesn’t even get his own power set. They just gave him Marrow’s. And after they put him in the actual comics, he never had an appearance in anything good. Least, not as far as I know.

The romantic dynamics in Evolution are pretty dreadful as well. Both Cyclops and Jean are given ordinary human love interests just so they can have a long, drawn out “they like each other but what will happen with these other people?” thing. And it’s so goddamn annoying. The whole Shadowcat/Avalanche thing is terrible too. It’s basically every high school thing with the “sweet” girl who falls for a bad boy, but worse than most. And it’s creepy in Evolution when Wolverine starts responding semi-amorously towards Jean. Since she’s still a high school kid and he’s well over a hundred.

Art:

As a rule, the good cartoon does look better than Evolution. It just has higher quality character art, better set up action sequences and I honestly think the art style looks better for the characters and such.

That being said, Evolution doesn’t look bad. And I do actually prefer Wolverine’s orange and brown costume to his yellow and blue. Evolution’s art style is also more consistent. The last season of the good cartoon very noticeably changes studios.

Sound:

This is one element where both cartoons have one problem in common. Namely, the accent work isn’t good in either. Neither Nightcrawler has a proper accent. The Russian accents in the good cartoon do not sound like actual Russian accents. Evolution’s version of Rogue has a horrible attempt at a Southern accent. As a rule, if any character in either of these cartoons is supposed to have an accent, it’s going to be off with only a few exceptions.

That aside, the good cartoon does have very strong voice work. Yeah, the accents aren’t there but the actors still do a fantastic job. Cathal Dodd, Lenore Zann, Chris Potter, Alyson Court, David Hemblen, Jennifer Dale, Alison Sealy-Smith and so many others just do great work.

Most of Evolution’s performances are fine, when you account for no one having even a modicum of personality. There are a few exceptions. Brad Swaile, Maggie Blue O’Hara, Meghan Black & Neil Denis are horrible in this.

Both series also have pretty great theme tunes. Evolution’s isn’t as good, but it’s still a nice, catchy tune.

Lessons:

Instead of the usual “Areas of Improvement” I’m going to list some lessons that Evolution should have learned from the good cartoon.

  1. Commitment to the premise. Evolution could have avoided a lot of tonal problems, major plot inconsistencies and plot lines that just didn’t work if it had just stayed consistent with its premise.
  2. How to handle long plot lines. The good cartoon plans these out very well and has very consistent writing for them. Evolution seems to be making shit up as it goes.
  3. Character complexity. The good cartoon is very good at giving its characters depth. As opposed to Evolution, where they just use high school character stereotypes without any degree of complexity.

Final Thoughts:

Clearly, the early to mid 90s cartoon is just vastly superior. Are there minor problems with it? Certainly. Anything that really impacts the enjoyment? Not really. It’s easily a 9/10 cartoon. Fantastic, can not recommend it enough for comic fans or just people who like super hero media. Evolution, in contrast is a mess with a huge number of serious problems. I have to give it a 1/10. The only thing redeemable about it was the premise. But a premise is only as good as the execution behind it and, in this case, the execution is atrocious. Hence why X-men Evolution is the worst late 90s, early 00s Marvel cartoon. It might’ve run longer than Silver Surfer, Avengers or Spider-man Unlimited but all of them are less shit that it.

December Bonus Review #1: Big Hero Six- The Series 1

It’s no secret that I don’t care for the vast majority of Hollywood’s super hero films. And why should I? They take unique characters with long histories and unique characteristics, when well written, and reduce them to Hollywood’s usual action archetypes. It’s also no secret that one hero film I actually liked a lot was Disney’s Big Hero 6. Someday, I’ll do a full review of it and go in depth as to why. Now, when I heard there was going to be a cartoon based around the film, I was sceptical. Not because the film makes it an odd fit for a children’s cartoon like The Police Academy, Rambo, Mortal Kombat or The Toxic Avenger. But because I’ve learned that adaptations of good media frequently don’t go so well. Obviously, I was still going to watch it. So, let’s have a look at the first series of Big Hero 6, the cartoon.

Big Hero 6.png

Story:

The narrative picks up at the end of the film. Most of our heroes are ready to return to their normal lives, but they’re persuaded to continue as Big Hero 6 since there are plenty of people out there who still need help especially with a mysterious new villain, Obake,  on the loose. A lot of the episodes are of the “connected but stand alone enough that it can be picked up at most points” variety. We see Obake’s machinations progress as things go on. We also see the team face a variety of threats. Some connected to him, others not.

Honestly, the stories we get throughout do suit the film fairly well. They’re well constructed, fun and just solid super hero stories.

The one exception, at least in the first series, is the episode Fan Friction. In this episode, we find out that one of the supporting cast, Karmi, is writing self-insert fan fiction about the team. Hiro correctly points out that it’s creepy and weird to write fiction about real people you don’t even know but the episode paints him as taking it too personally. Yeah, the stories quite literally have him as her love interest but he shouldn’t be creeped out by it because… Yeah, it’s just a lousy episode. The only good bit is seeing Fred get into it and come up with ship names for all of them. Which is pretty funny.

Characters:

The cast is great. We see the characters develop a bit from their states in the film. The series does an excellent job of building their interactions and dynamics. We also get some new characters. Professor Granville is a very strong character. Mini Max is very enjoyable. Felony Carl may be one of my favourite incidental characters in anything. And you can’t leave out Fred’s father, Boss Awesome. He doesn’t appear all that much, but it’s great when he does.

The villains are really strong as well. Obake, Momakase, Globby, Baron Von Steamer even Noodle Burger Boy. They’re all great villains in their own ways. And one thing I appreciate is the way they can have villains, like Steamer, who are nods to the silver age of comics while maintaining a writing aesthetic that’s more like the bronze age in the way it can be more serious but also embrace the sillier, more light-hearted aspects of comics when it works.

The only character I actually don’t like is Karmi. At first, I just thought she was mildly annoying with her obsession with Hiro’s hero persona, but after she got an actual episode, and it was by far the worst episode in the series, I kind of got to the point where I found her pretty intolerable.

Art:

Clearly, the cartoon does not have the budget that the film did. And, as such, it uses a much more simplistic style. I don’t mind that and I think the animators did a great job on the artwork and animations. The one criticism I do have is that the style has a very toothy way of making the characters talk and it can be a bit off-putting.

Sound:

Most of the film’s actors reprise their roles in the series and do a stellar job. The exceptions are Damon Wayans Jr as Wasabi and TJ Miller as Fred. The two of them are replaced by Khary Payton & Brooks Wheelan. Maybe Wayans & Miller didn’t want to do the cartoon, maybe they had other obligations at the time, maybe they wanted more money, maybe the controversies Miller got involved in had Disney decide to replace him. I honestly don’t know. But I do have to give both Payton & Wheelen credit, they did an excellent job of sounding enough like the film versions to fit the roles and they deliver their lines really well.

This series also gets some amazing performances in the side roles. The late Stan Lee voiced Boss Awesome. Gordon Ramsay voices a celebrity chef who challenges Aunt Cass in an underground cooking competition. Jennifer Lewis, John Michael Higgins, Andrew Scott, Naoko Mori & Diedrich Bader are all excellent as well. It’s just a very immaculately directed and performed series.

The music is well composed too. Adam Berry did an amazing job of capturing the aesthetic of the series in his compositions.

Areas of Improvement:

  1. Show fewer teeth when the characters talk.
  2. Outright lose the Fan Friction episode. You can find another way to introduce the new techniques from that episode without the cringe. It also makes Karmi a much worse character than she would be otherwise.
  3. A bit more Felony Carl. I would actually watch an entire spin off about this dude in spite of him having rare and short appearances. Because those appearances are so compelling and memorable.

Final Thoughts:

This cartoon is pretty damn excellent. It features strong characterisation, a compelling narrative and solid fundamentals. The only major flaw is the Fan Friction episode. Aside from that, everything comes together very strongly. As such, I’m going with a 9/10 on this one.

July Bonus Review: Avatar The Last Airbender

Avatar.png

Avatar is one of those cartoons that was hugely successful in its time. It’s spawned a sequel, a bunch of merchandise and a Hollywood film that quite literally no one on the planet thought was good. It was also a cartoon I never really got into. I was aware of it. I knew people who liked it. I just never watched all that much of it.

Story:

The opening blur pretty much gives us the gist of it. The four traditional elements are in play. There’s a nation for each one. Everything changed when the fire nation attacked. Only the Avatar, who can use all four elements, could have stopped them but he vanished. A hundred years passed and the water tribe siblings, Sokka & Katara, discover the Avatar, Aang, in a block of ice like he’s Steve Rogers. That’s how their journey to defeat the fire lord and save the world begins.

I have two narrative issues with the series. The first has to deal with the ending. Everything wraps up far too neatly. To a degree, I get it. This is a series for kids and it’s on the light-hearted side aesthetically. It still comes across as more than a little absurd that they just have to beat two people and stop some airships to collapse a nation’s entire government and its military. There are no ambitious ministers or generals to contend with? No loyal soldiers who will fight to free their lord?

The romantic sub-plots are also a bit absurd at times. Our main characters range in age from 12 to 16. With Aang and Toph both being twelve, Zuko 16 and Sokka & Katara being between. We’re basically watching their barely pubescent romantic drama. The type that kids get heated over for a week and then get over after a day. Except we’re supposed to take it more seriously here.

To its credit, I appreciate the pacing as a whole. The series may take some detours but it is good at making steady progress without rushing or going far too slowly. I also do like the general writing aesthetic. I can appreciate a series that’s mostly more light-hearted but can have some slightly more serious moments and handle both competently. And Avatar does have some strong, funny moments.

Characters:

The cast of this is a step above the archetypes. Aang is the reluctant protagonist. Katara is the nurturing big sister type. Sokka is the wisecracking one. They aren’t bad characters and it does help that they all have some aspect that elevates them beyond the archetype. But the point where the cartoon really starts to shine is when Toph joins the group. To an extent, she follows the cocky youngster archetype including making wisecracks. But she’s also capable of acting the role of a proper lady and there are points where it’s clear that she’s putting on a cheerful facade in spite of not feeling it. Plus, her wisecracks give us some of the best scenes in the series.

Zuko’s whole redemption arc is also quite good. It helps that they give us quite a few scenes of him with his uncle ahead of time and demonstrate various positive qualities in him. I also appreciate that his turn isn’t instantaneous. There are a good number of scenes that show him going through confusion on what he should do before the actual change. I also do like Iroh as a supporting character.

Art:

Avatar very clearly draws influence from the more action-oriented shounen anime in its art style. The most unique aspect of it is the bending. There’s a lot of effort into making the bending movements very fluid and matching them to the elemental attacks. Which does make for some very strong action sequences. There are also some nice details in the backgrounds and for the various fauna like Momo or Appa.

I will also credit them for doing some nice story telling through artwork. There’s a particular moment where they have Azula cornered and you can tell what Iroh is thinking just by the way he glances around.

Sound:

The acting is pretty well done. With people like Mako, Jessie Flower, & Dante Basco. The worst I can say about it is that there is some awkward screaming, usually from Jack De Sena. The music is pretty nicely done. Jeremy Zuckerman & Benjamin Wynn did a good job.

Areas of Improvement:

  1. Give us a little montage that shows our heroes mopping up the fire nation army. That would give us a sense that it takes more effort than just taking out the big two.
  2. Either age up the characters or ditch the romance. The level of romantic sub-plots they have could work if their youngest characters were in the neighbourhood of 15, 16 instead of 12. It would still be a weaker element, but it would be a lot more passable.
  3. Give us some closure about Zuko’s mum. We find out she’s alive and, in the end, see Zuko ask his father about her. And that’s the end of that sub-plot. Do they get reunited? I don’t fucking know. It’s probably answered in some expanded universe shit.

Final Thoughts:

So, that was Avatar. At first, I was thinking of giving it around a 5. But after Toph and Zuko’s well handled redemption arc, I’m up to a 7/10 on it. I’m not going to be one of the major fans who considers it to be among the best cartoons ever made, but I quite liked it.

December Bonus Review #5: Silver Surfer

We’ve discussed Marvel cartoons of the late 90s, early 00s twice before with looks at Spider-man Unlimited & Avengers: United They Stand. There are two other cartoons I want to discuss of that era. So, this week, we’ll be looking at the best cartoon of the lot. Not that that’s much of an accomplishment.

Silver Surfer.png

Story:

For those of you unfamiliar with the character, The Surfer, also known as Norrin Radd, has simple beginnings. He lives on an alien world dedicated to peace and philosophy called Zenn-la. In spite of that, he’s always wanted to explore other worlds. One day, his relatively idyllic life is interrupted by the greatest menace to worlds with intelligent life, proselytizers. Actually, it’s Galactus. A being who feeds off of planets. Norrin uses an old ship to meet up with Galactus. He offers the devourer a deal, he’ll find planets for Galactus if Galactus spares his home. Galactus takes the offer, transforming Radd into the Silver Surfer.

There are some pretty significant issues with this cartoon. The first is that, like the other two we’ve discussed, it ends its only series on a cliffhanger. The second is the execution. The Surfer is a character who’s worked best in comics that can largely stand alone so that he can have his science fiction themed adventures, give us some excitement and proceed to the next thing. The cartoon, in contrast, tries to do more the X-men thing and have a bunch of inter-connected stories where the promise of a pay off is always lingering until that amazing moment where all the build up comes to fruition. The consequence of trying to do too much of that when you have all of thirteen episodes is that everything jumbles together in a bit of a mess. It doesn’t help that most of the episodes aren’t all that interesting.

I will give the cartoon some credit. The writers may not be the best, but they do demonstrate some understanding of the character. They try to copy his reflective, inner monologue and they do give him some decent scenarios. The episode with the royal skrull egg is definitely the best in the show. I also appreciate that they do actually address the Surfer’s wicked deeds that he performed as a herald of Galactus.

Characters:

The Surfer himself is a well done character. Thanos is pretty true to his comic roots, although he’s obsessed with Lady Chaos instead of Death since standards and practices of the time didn’t allow the word “death” in a children’s cartoon. Galactus is pretty accurate as well. Nova is drastically different, mainly because they want to make her sympathetic and her murderous tendencies in the comic aren’t good for that.

One issue I do have is with all the one-shot guest characters and the way they give the Surfer a temporary sidekick with the troll Pip. Pip is really pointless. I also don’t like the way they waste Nebula & Mentor as characters. It’s also worth noting they make Mentor Thanos’ brother instead of his father. Probably because Thanos’ actual brother has exceedingly rapey powers and was deemed inappropriate for a kid’s cartoon. They kind of waste Adam Warlock, Drax, Gamora and Beta Ray Bill too. Just because they don’t do anything interesting with them.

Art:

Here’s one area I’ll give the cartoon a lot of credit. It looks really good. The CG doesn’t always blend well, especially with Galactus, but the alien environments, space phenomena and action sequences all look great.

Sound:

As a whole, the acting is really good. And I’m not just saying that because a bunch of actors from X-men make appearances as minor characters. Although that is true, we hear Cyclops, Xavier, Forge, Mystique, Storm, Magneto & Jubilee and those are just the ones I noticed. But I digress. Paul Essiembre, Tara Rosling, & Gary Krawford are all really good. The musical score is quite well done as well.

Areas of Improvement:

  1. Instead of trying to connect most things, let the episodes stand alone. Like I said, these are the types of stories that the Surfer works best in.
  2. The Surfer does not need a useless travelling companion. Pip is just a waste. If you really want the Surfer to be journeying with someone, use a character like Quasar, Captain Marvel, or a well written Beta Ray Bill. In other words, a capable companion who can fight alongside him.
  3. Don’t end on a cliffhanger. I get that they thought they’d get a second series, but it’s just poor form to end a series like that when you don’t have another series definitively lined up. Because this could happen and the audience you did manage to grab will be stuck without closure.

Final Thoughts: 

The Silver Surfer, is not a bad cartoon. I don’t have nearly the same issues with it that I did with either of the others we’ve covered and there are actually some things it does pretty well. But, ultimately, the clumsy execution and the mistakes it does make leads to a mediocre product. I’ll give it a 5/10. A happy new year to all of you. This Wednesday we’ll be getting into January and you all know what that means. I pick some random theme for the reviews. We’re going to be doing super heroes this year.

June Bonus review- Avengers: United They Stand

About a year ago, I did a bonus review over Spider-man: Unlimited. It was not the wall crawler’s best moment, but at least it wasn’t One More Day or that comic where he gave birth to himself or Civil War. Why do terrible writers like to muck about with Spidey? Why can’t they just stick to writing Squirrel Girl & Bendis’ Mary Sue? In any case, I made the point that the late 90s were a bad time for Marvel cartoons in general and this was one of the ones I brought up that flopped hard. So, where exactly did they go wrong with Earth’s mightiest heroes? Let’s take a look, True Believers.

The_Avengers-_United_They_Stand.jpg

Story: 

We open with the Avengers preparing to meet the President, who stands poised to recognise their great achievements, and probably take credit for them. Unfortunately for them, a  ne-er do well named Ultron is afoot and plotting the demises of both the President & Ant Man. In typical Marvel fashion, this results in a public outcry against the team with the President tweeting that “they’re possibly the biggest mess of a team. Gone downhill so much thanks to the last administration letting that immigrant mutant on the team. Sad.” Actually, it’s a totally different President and he blames Hawkeye because… Hawkeye had him duck and then shot arrows at the attacking robots and… he should have picked him up and run thereby leaving them both open to attack from behind? Seriously, you see none of the other Avengers around during this sequence. It’s not like they had Wonder Man paired with Hawkeye to draw the hostile fire or something. This is immediately stupid. And that’s our introduction to the team in action.

Moments of sheer stupidity like that aren’t even the biggest narrative problem in this series. They divide their main focus between Ultron & the Zodiac, thereby not giving them time to resolve anything with either big bad and ending on a cliff hanger because no one was watching this. They also love to introduce the idea of back story for them without actually showing anything substantial. Like Ultron being a creation of Pym’s who was destroyed, but they’ll never show what the deal with that is or the Zodiac having been foiled by the Avengers in scenes we’ll never see. And there’s a big focus on Wonder Man being kidnapped… after he’s been missing for, like, six episodes. Yeah, they pretty much bring it up in passing like it’s not that big of a deal and then they start acting like it’s the most important thing ever for no apparent reason. There’s also the bloody stupid love triangle. Frankly, all the romances in this are really bad. You just start out with characters in a relationship and they never give you any reason to care. Remember when the mid 90s X-men cartoon had Scott & Jean in a relationship at the start and then they had the Captive Hearts episode to give you, the viewer, cause to be invested in that? This one can’t be bothered. Let’s also bring up “holy fucking shit he’s a ‘perfect’ machine”  Ultron. We’re supposed to buy this dude as a credible threat for our team but he’s a freaking moron, even for a cartoon villain. Take one of his early plans. He sends his robots to draw out the Avengers, except Ant Man, so that he can mount a full assault against Pym because Ultron is actually very anti- domestic violence and he wants to see Pym stopped. But then the robots immediately shut down when the Avengers arrive instead of putting up any kind of fight that could  have, I don’t know, delayed them without rousing their suspicions. Why not just have them beat the bots aster than anticipated? You could still have them arrive in time and it would be a lot less stupid.

Characters:

This is a big issue with this cartoon. The cast they chose. Let’s pretend, just for a second, that Pym being a bride battering brute doesn’t matter because they don’t want any of the kids who watch this to ever read the comics. And I know that’s a stretch, but for the sake of argument, let’s pretend the comics don’t matter. He’s still a  terrible choice to lead the team. Why? Because there are a lot of options with better costumes, more interesting powers and who are just better liked. The show itself brings it up talking about Thor, Iron Man & Captain America but it argues that he helped found the Avengers and, therefore, he’s just as qualified. But this is a show for kids and you know kids are going to want to see the “cool” characters. No kid cares about freaking Ant Man. Wonder Man is a pretty bad choice too, since he’s basically just a Mary Sue in this. Hell, why not take out the Falcon too and bring in the Black Panther? Even before the films, the Panther was a better known character and his costume is definitely superior. And it doesn’t help that they do nothing with this cast to make them interesting. They’re just a bland group.

Art:

There are three big problems with the artwork. The first is the costumes. A lot of the films screw up the costumes by trying to tone them down and making them just boring. This series goes the opposite route & tries to make things more “extreme” by giving most of the Avengers special armour that they put on through transformation sequences and it just ends up looking terrible. Especially with Hawkeye, the Wasp & the Falcon who take the brunt of it. It’s just ostentatious is what it is. The second issue is the transformation sequences themselves. It feels like they’re trying to capture a sentai or magical girl vibe with them but without any finesse and with an end result that looks awful. The third is that the animation is frequently slow and choppy.

Sound: 

The acting isn’t the worst ever, but it’s pretty bad. You get some performances that are all right like Stavroula Logothetttis or Tony Daniels but the majority of them seem like the actors can’t be bothered to put in any effort. Not that I would either if I was handed this script. The theme tune is similar to the one from the COPS cartoon, in that it has a good beat but is weakened by the repetition of the title.

Final Thoughts:

There are, certainly, worse comic adaptations than this. There are also worse things that the Avengers have been in. This is still a bad cartoon. With a team that has some of the best characters in the Marvel universe as potential members, they chose their core cast poorly. Why would you ever have Hank Pym as the leader in a work for children? With the story, they couldn’t just focus on one villain arc and ended up making a right mess of things. They couldn’t even get a lot of the basics right. In the end, I have to give this the same score as Spider-man Unlimited. United They Stand earns a disappointing 3/10.

Oh, and let’s take a quick peek at our big hero we’re all supposed to love.

pym

April Bonus Review: C.O.P.S

Last month I said that I was going to look at a cartoon based off of one of Hasbro’s properties. Naturally, I had to pick their most famous toon, C.O.P.S. For the very few of you who haven’t heard of it, COPS was a late 80s cartoons based off of Hasbro’s toy figure line of COPS & Crooks. So, let’s delve into it and see how it holds up, before Michael Bay directs a shit film based off of it. 

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Story:

The show is set in the futuristic Empire city where the Big Boss and his gang of crooks are always up to some untoward activities. Fortunately, the city has COPS (the Central Organisation of Police Specialists) to fight against these nefarious schemes. Each episode basically deals to the Big Boss or one of his cronies coming up with some scheme to steal loot and the COPS having to foil them. 

The biggest issue with the series is just that it’s satisfied with being a generic children’s show. It never tries to do anything unique or interesting and it easily could have. And this was a premise that could easily have gone above and beyond.  Cops and Robbers with a sci-fi twist could make for an amazing kid’s show. All they needed were some ongoing story lines with character development. You know, like those 90s super hero cartoons that were coming out three years later. Instead, what we get is a bog-standard show where they foil the plot of the week and move on to the next one. I think the only time we even get a multi-part episode is the Case of COPS File One.

And you can tell the writers don’t care that much because there are pretty consistently things they don’t bother thinking through because they either can’t be asked or they want to just get the next episode out and they figure children won’t notice. So, you’ll have an episode where Bullseye has his helicopter stolen because he just leaves the cockpit open. Goofus leaves his expensive work helicopter out in the open while he buys doughnuts. Gallant locks it up and keeps the keys safely with him. In the aforementioned COPS File One there are characters who are called by their code names before they actually have Code Names. Because it’s hard to remember that Bulletproof’s real name is Baldwin Peabody Vess or that Mainframe’s is Tina Cassidy. There’s also one where they have invisible crooks and no one thinks to let the cyborg puppy loose to nibble on their bums. And I fucking know kids spotted that one because kids aren’t that stupid. They know dogs have great senses of smell. 

That being said, I can’t say anything about the show’s writing is truly bad. Yes, it would have worked a lot better if they’d taken more time to develop their scenarios and thought through them properly,  but  they’re kind of entertaining as they are. Honestly, if I was watching this as a kid I’d probably find it diverting enough. And it does have some awesome ideas like the cyborg pup or the crook with a sub-machine gun in his chest. Yes, this cartoon from the late 80s has actual guns. I wasn’t just talking shit when I said that 4kids is made up of overly sensitive cock munchers. 

Characters:

The big issue with the characters is just that they’re bland. the series could have really benefited from taking more time to give the characters real senses of personality and from having some crooks who could put on the façade of being respectable at times when they weren’t just trying to look good in front of their mothers. 

Art:

Honestly, this is not a good looking cartoon. There are things that definitely could have worked. The character designs, overall could’ve worked. The futuristic technology could have been great as well. Unfortunately, the animation itself seems to have had a very limited budget resulting in awkward movements and expressions. As well as stuff that’s just heavily recycled. Then we have the villainous bloke with dwarfism, Small Guy. He and his gang appear in two episodes and their designs change pretty noticeably from one to the other. It’s like they couldn’t even be bothered to go back and look at what they’d done before so they could keep it consistent. And the combination of crap animation and inconsistent art just doesn’t look good. That’s another thing this show needed, a budget that wasn’t being heavily embezzled for cocaine. 

Sound:

Honestly, the voice acting isn’t bad. It’s pretty “meh” but it’s far from the worst I’ve ever heard in a kid’s cartoon. It’s definitely better than Defenders of the Realm or Spectacular Spider-man. One issue with it is the budget. There are episodes where characters will appear and be featured quite prominently in scenes, but won’t say a bloody thing. Presumably because they didn’t want to pay for more voice actors. The music is pretty good, actually. The theme tune has a good beat and would’ve been pretty amazing without the lyrics, which consist of saying the word “Cops” periodically. In case you aren’t sure what you’re watching and need reminded twenty seconds before they show the logo. 

Final Thoughts:

COPS was a show that could have been amazing. I’d honestly like to see Hasbro get a studio that gives a shit with competent writers and revive it. Just to see the concept done justice. In fact, I’ll do it. I’ll even promise to not heavily imply that every single character isn’t straight. Which would be unusual for my writing. Still, the sixty five episodes are passable enough. If you’ve got a wee one at home, they’ll probably be entertained by it. My final rating is a 5/10. It’s mediocre. 

March Bonus Review: Pryde of the X-men

The X-men are, without any doubt, one of my favourite super hero teams. At least, they were back when Chris Claremont was doing his nearly two decade long run on the team. When he was still a couple years away from the end of his run, there was an attempt at making a television series based on the mutant team. It was 1989 and Marvel wanted to follow in Hasbro’s footsteps of making successful cartoons based off of their licenses to sell toys. So, why did Pryde of the X-men ultimately fail, thereby forcing us to wait for three years before the team would actually get their cartoon? Let’s take a look.

Pryde of the X-men.png

Story:

We open with Magneto being transferred, presumably to some prison, by a military convoy. Fortunately for him, the White Queen comes to his rescue. Weren’t his ties to the Hellfire club something he had for pragmatic purposes while he was the headmaster over the New Mutants and a member of the X-men? I guess the cartoon universe is just different. Cut to young Kitty Pryde driving to the X-mansion clutching a letter. Turns out, Xavier found out about her powers and, instead of wasting his time visiting with her parents to get her enrolled in his school (like what he did in the comics) he just decided to send her an ominous letter about how he knows her secret. The X-men run off to answer an alarm while Magneto leads the Juggernaut, who doesn’t even like mutants save for Black Tom, on an attack to steal a Cerebro circuit while Xavier is home with just the young Kitty Pryde. Now, it’s up to the X-men to foil his machinations and save the world.

The first issue with this as a pilot is just that they introduce far too many characters at once. Not only do we have the X-men, with Xavier, Kitty, Nightcrawler, Colossus, Storm, Cyclops, Dazzler and Wolverine but we also have a huge number of villains with Magneto, the White Queen, Juggernaut, the Blob, Pyro, Toad and little Lockheed hanging around their base for some reason. The next issue is with the action. We don’t actually see our heroes fight as a team or accomplish that much. Rather, the villains come at them one at a time and the X-men have one member bugger off to face the villain who shows up one on one. Save Storm who gets left behind to mind the atmosphere. And that doesn’t make for particularly compelling action. Seriously, compare it to the two part Night of the Sentinels from the good cartoon where we see the X-men fight as a team. We see every member contribute and we see robots getting torn to pieces in the final action sequence, which is about the same length as the big action scene here. Trying to connect all your major villains also really doesn’t work when you’re using a team like the X-men.

About the only bit of praise I can give this one is that the very basic premise could have worked. Having a seasoned team with a young mutant being added in who has to prove herself and learn to cope with her own abilities could have been used in a much better cartoon. You know, like the early 90s one where a team of seasoned mutants is joined by you Jubilee who has to learn to cope with her own abilities and prove herself. In all fairness, though, it could have also worked with the X-men team they used in this.

Characters:

So, fifteen characters was clearly too ambitious for a pilot introducing the whole premise and the natural consequence is that the cast is really under-developed. There are some more specific issues, though. The first is that Colossus awkwardly refers to himself in the third person. Then there’s Nightcrawler. Poor Nightcrawler. Every time he appears in a cartoon they seem to really screw him up. Even the good cartoon. In this one, he comes across as kind of pervy and as someone you really don’t want near children. Remember when his appearance made Kitty uncomfortable in the comics so he was nice to her but generally kept a respectful distance until she was able to get comfortable with him? In this he gets kind of aggressive about forcing the issue and Neil Ross’s unintentionally creepy voice acting just makes it so much worse.

Speaking of characters who seem to be written perpetually badly in adaptations, let’s talk about Shadowcat. In the comics, she’s a young genius who comes across as a very bright youngster but is still believable as a youngster. This suffers the same problem as certain other adaptations where they decide to make her far less intelligent and more of a generic good girl. Magneto also suffers from losing his complexity and being made a more generic villain, like he was in the silver age. I guess Larry Parr just didn’t want complex Jewish characters. Or he just isn’t good with complexity period. That’s also a distinct possibility.

Art:

This is one area where I can, as a whole, give the cartoon credit. Toei did a lot of the animation work on this and it does look pretty good. I also do like the costumes it uses. Even if they did forget Magneto’s gloves and just left his hands bare and they made Wolverine too tall.

Sound:

Any good will I might have from that is quickly cancelled by the sound. The acting in this is horrendously bad. Patrick Pinney gives Wolverine an Australian accent which is just stupid. He’s Canadian. What’s next, an X-men adaptation that has him voiced by an Australian doing a really poor fake American accent? No, I’m sure no production studio could possibly be that idiotic. The accents in this are just awful in general. Neil Ross’s Deutsch accent is bad. Dan Gilvezan’s Russian accent is terrible. The voice acting just comes across as low effort, no skill and they did get some people who can voice act. They got Frank Welker, for instance. The music is okay. Not anything good but decent enough.

Final Thoughts:

Ultimately, it’s not surprising that Pryde of the X-men failed to transition into a full series. It’s not the worst X-men adaptation I’ve ever seen but it is pretty bad. The writing’s a mess, the characters are completely uninteresting and some of them are handled in off-putting ways, the acting is atrocious and it just fails to do the team any justice. Which is a pity because, like I said, this team composition could have worked if they’d put some effort in. My final rating is going to be a 3/10. Still better than what Madhouse did with the group. I guess Marvel tried too hard to copy Hasbro without understanding why they were a success. In fact, next month I’ll look at one of Hasbro’s toy-based cartoons and let’s see why it worked for them.

January Bonus Review: Mortal Kombat- Defenders of the Realm

MK Defenders.png

So, I’ve been critical of a bunch of anime based off of video games this month. As such, it seems fair to talk about something American as well. The eternally miss-spelled Mortal Kombat franchise has had a lot of adaptations. Films, card games, & several television series. This was the first television adaptation.

Now, you might think it’s a patently bad idea to make a children’s cartoon out of a series that’s notorious for its extreme violence and was instrumental in making rating systems happen. Of course, you only think that because you’re objectively smarter than anyone who was instrumental in making this project a reality. So, give yourself a quick golf clap on that one.

Story:

The basic story behind this is that our world is being invaded and the “heroes” of Mortal Kombat, Sonya Blade, Liu Kang, Jax, Subzero, Kitana, Nightwolf & that former cop no one likes band together under Raiden’s guidance to seal the portals that open up into our world and repel the invaders by ripping out their spinal columns or just by punching them a lot. That’s the experience people think of when they think of Mortal Kombat.

So, beyond the premise and this being a very poor fit for a children’s cartoon, what’s wrong with the writing in this series? well, the first thing is the pacing. This cartoon basically has long, boring conversations of exposition while quickly glossing over things like “should we trust this guy who seems suspicious?”  Seriously, any time something comes up that could lead to anything remotely interesting the writers quickly lose interest and jump to a shit action sequence. Then we have the series’ efforts to be “cool.” They’re just really cringe-worthy. They try to make “combat time” sorry, I mean “kombat time” into a major catch phrase for fuck’s sake. And if you thought wearing the other peoples’ outfits and just relying on them having no security was a stupid strategy, this cartoon gives us such gems as “run directly at the killer robots and punch them.” And let us not forget the “nice, wholesome” lessons that Mortal Kombat has to teach us. Like how much leverage and force you need to tear someone’s jaw off of their skull or there’s the lazy, tepid stuff you can get from this cartoon. Like that teamwork is good or that being evil and stubborn can make you immortal. Thanks, Defenders, that’s a great lesson for the little kiddies.

Characters:

Take the most generic heroes and villains you can think of, cover them in faecal matter and leave them to rot for a couple decades and you’ve got a  reasonable facsimile of the characterisation in this cartoon. It doesn’t even have the decency to be basically consistent. You get Raiden flip-flopping over whether or not he’ll actually fight or  Nightwolf deciding that he needs to rely on his instincts more and his machines less only to go back to the way things were and never mention it again.

Art:

I don’t know if there’s time to actually cover everything wrong with the artwork without writing a fecking novella. I’ll try to cover the big issues. First off, the facial expressions in this barely change. Everyone has their default look that just stays largely stagnant and it results in a lot of situations where their expressions don’t match what’s happening. Secondly, the action sequences are shit. They’re very slow and deliberate. So, you get scenes where someone will take a hit and very slowly fall back like they’re the world’s worst wrestler and they almost forgot they were supposed to get knocked over. The backgrounds are really lazy too.

Then we have the character designs. Most of the characters in this have their navels exposed, but none of them have navels. Did the studio think showing a belly button would be considered lewd? For that matter, a bunch of the guys have their chests showing but none of them have nipples. It’s like looking at really badly made dolls. Then we have Kitana’s boob situation. Instead of just using her MK II design, they decided to give her a toned down version of the MK III boob window. But, they decided to do it without showing any actual breasts through it. Are Kitana’s boobs supposed to be triangular and pointing off to each side?

Sound: 

In all fairness, they did get some people who can act. I mean, Cree Summer is in this. Voice of Penny Gadget, Elmyra Duff, Hyena  & She Hulk, to name just a few. Unfortunately, the director seems to have given them all explicit instructions to not show emotions or act. So, it sounds really terrible. Even the music is bad, and the film this is supposed to be a follow up to had some stellar music. So, you’d think that would be the one thing they could manage to get right.

Final Thoughts:

Defenders of the Realm is outright terrible. It’s a cartoon that took an idea that was already bad and did everything wrong when executing it. It’s a surprise it managed to even last thirteen episodes. My final rating is going to be a 1/10. If you’re going to watch it, get some snarky friends together and get your enjoyment out of incessantly mocking it.

December Bonus Review #4: Frosty the Snowman

Frosty is a short Rankin/Bass production from the tail end of the 60s. It was written by Romeo Muller, a man who was best known for churning out holiday specials like origami cranes. So, does it hold up decently enough? Let’s have a look.

Frosty.png

Story:

A bunch of kids get out of school after being treated to the world’s worst magician. That might be unfair. He may be a better magician than those blokes who try to convince you that vaccines are dangerous. Their routine doesn’t even make sense. They just spew bollocks and act like they’re trying to be serious. In any case, the magician, Professor Hinkle, discards his hat because he can’t do tricks with it properly. The children decide to put it on their snowman, which they’ve named Frosty, and it brings him to life. We then follow Frosty’s quest to get to the North Pole before he melts & Hinkle’s quest to get his hat back because now he knows it has some real magic.

The first issue with this little special is that the characters might be too dumb. So, these kids decide they need to get Frosty a train ticket to the North Pole and then when they’re told how expensive it’ll be they just say “we don’t have any money.” I’m sorry, but kids know what money is. They might not know the value of it but they know what it is and they know you have to pay for things. It would be one thing if they didn’t have enough because they under-estimated the price. That would be fine. But they went to a counter to buy a ticket without having any money. One of the children even decides to join Frosty on his trip to the North Pole because it’ll be fine as long as she’s home for supper. Okay, these kids obviously have some understanding that this is a long trip or they’d just walk. Why would she think it was a good idea to ride with him in a freezer car if she needs to be back in a couple hours or so?

Speaking of odd things, she’s the only one he asks to go with him. With an entire group of children following him around town and such, he picks out one to include on his adventure. It’s a good thing the children are such non-characters or that might hurt their feelings.

I will give the little piece some credit. For the short time it has, it manages to  show the stuff it really needs to. We see Frosty and the kids play. We get a sense of danger, but not too much because that might scare the wee ones. And then we get our obvious happy ending.

Characters:

So, the children are one-note non-characters. Our villain is a generic “evil for the evils” type. That leaves us with our titular Snowman. The issue with Frosty is that his writing is kind of uneven. There are some things that he hears and just understands while there are others he needs an explanation for. Because “traffic light” is just so complex while the idea of “trains” is just self-explanatory. Either have the magic snowman be imbued with knowledge by virtue of being magical or have him as a naive innocent who doesn’t understand the world. Don’t try and do both.

Art:

I’m probably going to make some people upset with this one but Rankin/Bass productions don’t have good art. They’re very lazily drawn and have very slow movements. I don’t want to be too critical since this is rather old but there were a lot of better animated works out at the time. Various Looney Tunes programs, any of Disney’s longer films from the time like The Jungle Book or The Sword in the Stone. For that matter, Wacky Races was from the same period and looks much better.

Sound:

The acting in this is kind of stilted. I’m sure Jackie Vernon was a fine comedian, but his delivery is very artificial. June Foray doesn’t have that problem as much, probably because she’d been voice acting for over two decades at that point. But she still doesn’t sound good. Jimmy Durante’s narration is definitely the best part in terms of audio. Then we have the music. A lot of the special has various characters singing the song that this short was based off of. Singing it once would be fine in a half hour, but it gets done so bloody many times that you will want to bludgeon a toddler to death.

Final Thoughts:

I don’t want to be too critical of this little special since it was obviously made for small children and it’s also really old and, therefore, suffers from a lot of the clichés of the time. Besides, it’s pretty harmless and I can’t fairly call it bad. That being said, I certainly can’t call it good. It’s a really vapid, uninspired, and rather cynical attempt to cash in on the holiday season. Ultimately, Frosty is a snowman with some yellow snow at his core. It’s a special that hasn’t aged well. I have to give it a 4/10. So, have some happy holidays, Everyone. Be good to each other and to your dogs. Especially to your dogs.

December Bonus Review #3 Tiny Toons: Night Ghoulery

Night Ghoulery.png

I know what you’re all thinking. “Ktulu, you madman, isn’t this the complete wrong time of the year to review a Halloween special? Shouldn’t you be doing something winter holiday related instead?” Well, I felt like having a look at this one and maybe I’ll do one of those later. I wouldn’t want to be too predictable in what I review. 

Night Ghoulery was a slightly over forty five minute special back in ’95. The idea was basically to spoof a bunch of spoopy ideas and have a bit of a macabre even with the Tiny Toons cast. 

Story:

The special is organised into a bunch of different shorts. We’ve got a Tell Tale Heart parody with Plucky and Hampton. A Frankenstein parody with Elmyra & Dizzy. The between sequences poke fun at the Twilight Zone, as does one of the actual shorts. Buster & Plucky take on an old Abbot and Costello film. My favourite is probably the Night of the Living Dead parody with the Wacky land gang. It’s really bloody funny. 

The biggest downside to this whole thing may very well be that they try to do too much. There are little sketches here that really would have benefited from having some more time while there are some weaker ones like The Devil and Daniel Webfoot or Fuel that could have been cut out without losing much. Now, I’m not saying those particular bits are bad. They’re decent enough. I’m just saying there are much stronger premises for shorts in the special that could’ve benefited from a bit more time that the shorts that are merely all right could’ve been sacrificed for and it would’ve benefited the whole thing. I  would suggest that it might be because they wanted to include as many characters as possible, but Plucky is featured in a good four of the shorts while other characters only appear in the intro and outro. So, I don’t think they really factored in trying to include everyone. 

That being said, the parodies they have work pretty well. The worst you get are ones that are decent. The best you get are really funny. The writers of this were really good at making things a bit macabre without making them frightening or veering into territory that might be considered questionably child friendly. They do also make their parodies, even ones of older material that most children won’t have seen, enjoyable & zany even to those who aren’t familiar with the source material. So, good on them. 

Characters:

If you’ve seen Tiny Toons, you know what to expect from the cast. If you haven’t, the cast is a bunch of zany animal characters in the same vein as Looney Tunes. The character used the most for the special is Plucky Duck. Probably because he tends to get used for a lot of comedic pratfalls and suffering. Which makes him valuable for slightly macabre horror parodies.

One thing I will give both this special and Tiny Toons in general, they’re very good at taking these kind of simple, zany characters and putting them in situations where they can really work off of each other well. 

Art:

The artwork for the special isn’t quite as colourful as the series proper usually is. It uses a lot of darker shades in a lot of the shorts in keeping with the horror aesthetic. There are some good sight gags throughout. The animation team manages to pretty successfully meld the visual aesthetic of the old horror works with the brighter, more fun aesthetic of Tiny Toons. It looks pretty nice. 

Sound:

All the familiar voices are present. The ones you’ll hear the most of are Joe Alaskey & Tress MacNeille as Plucky & Babs respectively. Joe pretty much puts a different spin on the Plucky voice for every short he’s in. Including a very nice Shatner impression. Which leads to a bit where Hampton asks Plucky if he’s ever going to talk normally in the special. Just like in the show proper, Tress is pretty spot on with her Babs’ vocal parodies. The music is nicely done. They retooled the theme tune from the main series in a way that makes it different while also similar to the ordinary one. 

Final Thoughts:

Night Ghoulery is a pretty enjoyable little special. The parodies work well whether you’re familiar with the original works or not. There are plenty of funny moments. The voice acting is quite good. If you’re someone who enjoyed the Tiny Toons cartoon, you’ll definitely like this. For myself, I’ll give it a solid 7/10.