Fall 2010 Impressions – Sym-Bionic Titan

Remember when Cartoon Network made good animated series and not insipid garbage? That far distance time when turning on Cartoon Network in prime time meant always getting an animated show and not an aging, fifth-rate, live action movie. When Cartoon Network executives didn’t mind licensing shows and viewers of all ages were able to watch the best anime coming out of Japan.

I do and I miss it.

Ever hopeful for a phoenix-like return to form by Cartoon Network, when I heard about the new series by Genndy Tartakovsky, Sym-Bionic Titan, I got excited – maybe the long, lean winter is over.

Rating for episode 1 – 9/12  A-
Anticipation Level:
3.5/5 – Medium

The Story

Fleeing to a distant and backwards planet, known to the locals as Earth, is the young princess, Ilana, of a world that’s just fallen to a barbaric race bent on global, if not galactic, domination. Her mission, while on Earth, is to keep a low-profile and stay hidden from enemy forces, if they follow her to Earth. As such, only a single palace guard, Lance, and a robot, Octus (later Newton) of unknown design are sent with her to provide protection.

To fulfill this mission the trio enroll themselves into high school and quickly discover just how alien Earth can be. They stick out immensely, not even the watching of Earthen teenage drama TV series can adequately prepare them, but that is not the reason why the mission so quickly goes FUBAR. The conquerors of Galaluna figure out where the princess has gone and send a huge fire elemental monster to kill her. The logical thing to do is let the American armed forces (or the shadowy Galactic Guardian Group) destroy it but Ilana feels guilty about being the cause and decides she needs to help her new adoptive home planet.

The Fine Print

Over on this side of the Pacific there’s not too many animation directors that I would put in the same breath as their Japanese counterparts but Genndy Tartakovsky is one of them. The creator of Dexter’s Laboratory, Samurai Jack, and the Clone Wars micro-series has earn a lot of respect from a lot of people. This has probably helped open many doors for Genndy but it also increases, for many people, the level his shows or movies need to reach next time to be “successful” and “good”. I fall into this group of expecting greatness from Sym-Bionic Titan which is a tad unfair for it because I normally try really hard not to bring a set of expectations when watching or reading a work for the first time but if anyone can still impress me it’s Genndy.

Our three heroes can create a gigantic mech 🙂

So, I wasn’t completely surprised when Sym-Bionic Titan didn’t knock my socks off. It still disappointed me that I couldn’t proclaim the epic perfect-ness of the opening episode like I could with say Samurai Jack. Nor was I surprised when justifications as to why started entering my mind. They included everything from my unresolved want for a conclusion to Samurai Jack to it being Cartoon Network’s fault to watching it in standard definition after I’ve gotten use to watching animation in HD because of anime. Most of these were obviously just excuses but I did decide to watch it again in HD, if only so I could see if I liked the show more the second time through.

Maybe it was the HD or maybe it was the second watching but I liked Sym-Bionic Titan more the second time. I definitely think this show has a bright future and will be well worth watching. Though, I’d still really like to see Samurai Jack defeat Aku and return home.

Judging from the first episode, Sym-Bionic Titan looks to be the most complex story that Genndy has tackled so far. Which is a good thing in the long run since it will open new avenues in what the show can do and prolong the freshness of it. It’s not just the story of a boy genius and his annoying older sister or the story about a wandering samurai’s quest to defeat evil incarnate and get back home. What happened in Lance’s past that made Ilana question the wisdom of her father by picking him to protect her? Is there any way to reason with the conqueror of Galaluna and is he really who he says he is? Is the Earth going to be able to withstand the attacks by those sent to retrieve/kill the princess? What is the Galactic Guardian Group (or G3) and why can the leader of G3 order around 4 star Army general? I don’t the answer to any of these questions that the first episode but I do know that I want to catch the next episode.

Character-wise it’s probably too early to say definitively how good the characters in Sym-Bionic Titan will be, but, at first blush, I like what I see. The 3 main characters have good chemistry together (which is the point), even if they don’t always see eye-to-eye. They have distinct personalities and don’t appear to suffer from cookie-cutter, cliché character development. The main villain (for now, he might only be a lieutenant to someone more powerful) is a more nuanced villain then Aku but appears to be up to the task of being the evil villain for our trio of heroes. Which is important, heroes can only be as heroic as the villain is evil. The various third-party groups (the various high school cliques, the US military, the G3 organization, etc.) help make the world feel more real and will help out with story and plot development.

I really want to get to my favorite part of Sym-Bionic Titan, the animation style and animation quality but when I do I’m going to post enough screenshots most people probably won’t finish reading why I liked Sym-Bionic Titan so I’m putting it last. 🙂  I liked the tone of the show, it was as serious as it needed to be without being overly serious and it knew when to weave in a touch of humor. The humor was quality humor and didn’t resort to cheap laughs. (For example, I like a fart joke every now-and-again but I don’t want every American animated show to consider fart jokes to be the pinnacle of comedy.) I also liked the wittiness and intelligence behind the show. One can tell the show wasn’t just thrown together.

All-in-all Sym-Bionic Titan is the most impressive animated series created by Cartoon Network in a long time and one of the best I’ve seen on any network in recent memory. It has the potential to be a very good, if not great, series. My hope is that it gets huge ratings and inspires more quality shows from Cartoon Network to get made.

Teenage dramas are not sufficient societal teaching aides.

Below is a bunch of screenshots showcasing the very high-end animation quality of Sym-Bionic Titan. They don’t really do a good job in capturing the animation in motion but they’ll all I have.

Switching from watching anime to watching Sym-Bionic Titan I was struck by the difference in the use or lack of use of utilizing the eyes to convey emotions. I found myself confounded, at first, as to why the characters of Sym-Bionic Titan where not more emotionally responsive. Not that I’m complaining, they say variety is the spice of life. Though, at two points I was reminded of 2 different Shaft shows and I wonder if it was intentional or just that I watch a lot of anime.

This reminded me of the forest scene from ep.12 of Bakemonogatari

The effect used on the grass reminded me of Arakawa Under the Bridge

I loved the style that the people where drawn in.

General Steel on the left and Solomon, leader of G3, on the right

And how detailed and beautiful the backgrounds where

And the use of lighting

And how the scenes where put together

and the fight scenes where well done

9 thoughts on “Fall 2010 Impressions – Sym-Bionic Titan”

  1. Good to hear. I don’t have a TV right now, but if I see it on when I return home, I’ll watch it.

    Ben 10: Alien Force sucked, but I remember Ben 10 being actually a good piece of work. I thoroughly enjoyed it.


  2. @gaguri: thanks, glad you liked.

    @Janette: You don’t need a TV if you know where to look online 😉 . Yeah, not all of Cartoon Network’s shows have been bad (Chowder wasn’t too bad either) but they’re capable of so much more.


  3. all the anime style flowing into american cartoon.. good and bad i guess.. i like the good ol days of “Big Guy and Rusty”.. they don’t do shows like that anymore..


  4. Been a while since I last trolled the site, but to the point of this series. I have to say that I am somewhat interested in this series because I could see the great background animation but I have to say that my interest is dulling because of two reasons. Cartoon Network has found a way to have rancid and worsening series after series for the past few years and I am not a fan of the character art. I honestly like usually hadn’t a clue who was behind the series but from what you have mentioned of him I find myself having to a least give it 3-5 episodes to wow me. Anyway just thought I should post this.


  5. It’s so true…I miss the days of “Toonami” and the cartoons I grew up with…now I don’t even bother to turn on the TV to channels like CN anymore. U.U;

    But this show does seem interesting. I like that it’s a bit more complex and doesn’t seem so “Monster of the week” – ish with no overriding plot. The animation quality IS unusually high as well, and I thought it was funny how you compared it to Shaft stuff. Sometimes I feel like one can make logical comparisons with anything to Shaft. >.<

    It's also cool you put up an American "anime" review. Thanks! ^-^

    -PS. They never finished Samurai Jack? How dissappointing…


  6. Great write up. I’d love to hear your thoughts on how the show has unfolded over the past 15 episodes. I really enjoy what I’ve seen on this blog!


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