Tag Archives: cartoon

July Bonus Review: Spider-man Unlimited

The late 90s were a bad time for Marvel cartoons. There were animated versions of the Avengers, Spider-man & Silver Surfer and none of them lasted for longer than a single series. So, where exactly did Marvel and Saban go wrong with these properties? I might look at the other two later and give a really detailed answer, but I’ll start with a look at Spider-man Unlimited and let’s see where it went wrong.

Spidey unlimited.png

Story:

We open with John Jameson preparing to launch to the newly discovered, mysterious, Counter-Earth. Peter Parker is taking pictures when he notices Venom and Carnage sneaking aboard the shuttle. He goes to stop them but fails. The shuttle launches with them aboard and crashes on Counter-Earth, seemingly killing John. Naturally, the public blames Spider-man because no one noticed the symbiotes going aboard or happened to take video of the historic launch. Because why would you? Eventually, a video comes from John Jameson explaining that he’s on Counter-Earth and warning of some kind of danger that could threaten Earth if it’s not stopped. Spidey responds by hijacking a shuttle and going to Counter-Earth. Not to deal with the situation he just wants to bring John back. Does he seem like the type of heroic person who would face that kind of threat? He finds out that this new Earth is a lot like ours, but it’s got beast people and normal people and the beast people are in charge under the High Evolutionary.

There are two massive issues with this cartoon and I’ll list them both before explaining how they come into play since they’re frequently connected. The first is that it never really commits to its Counter-Earth gimmick. The second is that the writers can’t be bothered to think anything through. Let’s look at Spidey’s journey to Counter-Earth. He announces to everyone that he’s going to rescue John and clear his name. Then, in the exact same voice, he tries to explain why he’s going as Peter Parker in a truly pitiful attempt to salvage his secret identity. To make this even more inexplicable, he tries to hide the fact that Peter Parker is there from John because if John knew he’d figure out the truth. Now, think about that for a moment. Literally everyone on regular Earth knows. If them knowing is a give away, your secret identity is over. Period. There’s no need to try and hide it any more. John’ll just find out when he returns and learns that Parker left with Spidey. But the writers want to keep the secret identity because it’s in the comics and everyone knows that element of Spider-man stories.

The symbiotes are another great example. In this cartoon, the symbiotes are part of a great hive mind called “the Synoptic” but they still talk to one another like two separate beings because they wanted them to retain something of their unique identities. They also display new powers, becoming liquefied or opening holes in their chests to let projectile weapons pass through them. However, in spite of that, we’re still expected to believe that they have human hosts. Because Cletus Kasadt really has no torso and Eddie Brock can become mush. It makes perfect sense until you spend a millisecond thinking about it.

Spidey’s motivations  are also impacted by this combination of not wanting to commit and generally not thinking. He keeps whining that it’s not his planet or his fight because the writers don’t want to have a story about Spidey as a resistance fighter. They want him to swing around New Yory city, yes Counter-Earth has its own, and fight bad guys, including Counter-Earth versions of Kraven & Electro, because it’s more similar to what he actually does. Seriously, if you just wanted to have Spidey swinging around and fighting crime you should’ve just skipped the whole Counter-Earth bollocks.

There are some smaller issues too. The final episode ends on a cliffhanger, because they wanted to punish the five invested viewers they had. Spidey’s signature wit is basically absent. I mean, they try, but they’re really bad at it. For example, when he meets the knights of Wundagor Lady Vermin says they shouldn’t fight because he looks fair to her eyes and he responds with “And you look most rat-like to my own.” Somehow, she considers this flattery even though it’s just a description. Does she also think it’s flattery when someone says that she’s pale? There’s a point where Venom says he’s history and his response, in Unlimited fashion, is to say that History was never his best subject. He prefers Phys Ed, before knocking some support pillars over. That’s the best he could come up with in that situation? What about “History’s written by the winners. You’ll never decide what goes in the books.” or maybe “I just hope they remember my ability to bring the house down.” Either of those would have been much better and fit the character better. And there are moments that don’t make sense, like the guy who can become moving bandages being unable to use his powers to escape a cage with openings that he should be able to fit through.

Characters:

Here’s another major failing of the cartoon. These characters are boring. There’s no reason to care about anyone in the resistance because they’re such non-characters. the High Evolutionary was more interesting in the one episode of the 90s X-men cartoon he appeared in than he manages to be in the entirety of this where he’s the big bad. Then again, that show had competent writing. This version of Spider-man comes across as whiny and completely lacking in endearing qualities.

Art:

I can give the artwork some praise. There are some nice visuals and the action sequences look fine. There are some issues. Spidey’s new costume is trying way too hard to be “extreme.” Most of the symbiotes look identical and leave identical growths on their hosts which is boring and causes you to question what makes the ones we’re familiar with different besides the writing being terrible. This series also has the most unimaginative tattoos. John has one that just looks like the pencil outline of a crescent moon. And there’s another dude in the Resistance who has one that’s just the word “Mum.”

Sound:

The acting is mostly passable enough. It’s not good, but it’s functional. Then there’s Rhys Huber. He is truly awful. Michael Donovan is a bit rubbish too, but nowhere near that bad. The music is, likewise, pretty passable but not good.

Final Thoughts:

Ultimately, I think this series failed because of unlimited poor decisions. It can’t decide whether it wants to do the same old types of stories or have its Counter-Earth gimmick and the result is a mess. There are constant dumb writing choices that are, frankly, insulting to the audience. Because kids aren’t stupid. They can tell that there’s something off when it’s that blatant about it. In general, it’s just bad. My final rating on this one is going to stand at a 3/10. If you guys are interested, maybe I’ll look at the other two at another time and explore why they failed to grab audiences.

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December Bonus Reviews: Transformers

For those of you who have just arrived on Earth from the distant planet, Vulcan, Transformers is a toy line that became a franchise about two factions of giant transforming robots battling against each  other. And this is a franchise with a tonne of stuff in it. There are the toy lines, multiple comic book lines from different companies, around a dozen different television series, video games, novels, animated films terrible live action films. They’ve had it all. So, let’s take a look at the first television series. It ran from ’84 to ’87 and was brought top us by the combined efforts  of Marvel, Toei, AKOM & Sunbow.

Transformers2.png

Story:

A long time ago, a fire fight above Earth resulted in two crashed ships. One containing the heroic Autobots. The other containing the evil Decepticons. In the modern day, for when this was written, circumstances caused the robots within to come out of their long sleep. They resume their war on Earth.

I’m not going to criticise the series for being about a war but never showing anyone seriously injured or destroyed, remember I’m not reviewing the animated film  where there was a lot of that. There’s only so much they were allowed to show in a children’s cartoon. But I will say that the set up is odd. Why not have  the robots just crash in the 80s? There’s really no narrative reason for them to be asleep for a million years. If anything it detracts since the impetus behind them leaving their home-world  of Cybertron is  that they’re running out of energy and yet they contact Cybertron later on and the robots left behind are somehow still going. I mean, they’ve only been waiting for energy for a million years.

But the biggest issue is with the episodes that spend a lot of time with the human characters. What’s entertaining about the series is watching the robots scheme and battle one another. The humans are borderline useless sidekicks. No one wants to see more of them. We also  get several episodes  that introduce love interests of all things. Some of them are female robots. Which is odd since we see that these characters replenish their ranks by building more. You wouldn’t think they’d have multiple genders or even gender as a concept. We also get a human who falls for one of the Autobots and a humanoid alien who falls for another. Even assuming these robots have vestigial genitals of some kind, you wouldn’t think they’d look at our soft fleshy bodies and be interested. But maybe I’m just over-thinking the biology of giant robots.

That being said, those are the vast minority of episodes. Most of the series involves the Decepticons trying some scheme to gain a tactical advantage. Possibly gaining something from it, possibly not and battle ensuing between them and the Autobots. It’s simple and a bit repetitive, but it’s a children’s show. It’s allowed to be, legally. And I can’t deny that it is fun to watch.

Characters:

The characters in this are pretty much tropes. A part of that is just that they’re constantly introducing new characters and having them play big roles in an episode or two before they get relegated to the background. Another part of it is just that it’s a children’s cartoon and children don’t exactly need deep complex characters to get attached to them. Instead, the series goes for making the characters endearing in their execution. Which does work in some cases. I honestly found Soundwave to be a really charming character.

Why Soundwave in particular? Well, way back when I talked about Steel Angel Kurumi 2 I  briefly touched on the idea of something being stupid, but simultaneously awesome. Soundwave as a character really highlights that idea. He’s a giant robot who turns into a tiny cassette player and he keeps a whole slew of cassette robots, Laserbeak, Buzzsaw, Rumble, Frenzy, Ravage & Ratbat, in his chest compartment to be deployed when he needs them. That’s such a ridiculous concept that it would take a lot of failure in execution for it to not be charming.

Transformers.png

Art:

The artwork and animation are pretty undeniably dated. That being said, they still hold up pretty well. You can tell that a lot of time and effort went into hand drawing everything and into making the action sequences look good. The character designs are actually really impressive. There are a few characters who look similar, but most of them are distinct.

Sound:

The acting in this series is really mixed. You have some characters like Optimus Prime, Soundwave, Stormer… I  mean Arcee, who have strong performances behind them. In contrast you have characters like Blurr, Seaspray, Wheelie and Tracks who sound really annoying. But most of the voice acting is fine. The music, on the other hand, is great and the series uses sound effects really effectively.

Final Thoughts:

So, how well does the first Transformers hold up? Honestly, it’s quite  good and I’m not just saying that because I don’t want to be harsh on a series made for children. Even speaking as a cranky codger, it’s a fun series that manages to have plenty of endearing characters. It’s easy to see why it became such a big franchise. My final rating is going to be a 7.7/10.

On the month ahead:

On another note, I will definitely have December bonus reviews again next year. I may even start doing one bonus review every month throughout the year. I can’t do them every single Sunday in perpetuity since I’m doing this as a hobby, but I think once a month, except in December when it is every week, is completely possible.

As for January and girls with guns month, I’m going to review Gunsmith Cats on Wednesday. I also plan on reviewing Noir, El Cazador de la Bruja and I haven’t decided on the final thing. Maybe one  of the Dirty Pair OVAs or the second series of Black Lagoon or Upotte. Whatever the case, I’ll review it between Noir and El Cazador because I don’t want to do two Bee Train works in a row.