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
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.
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.
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.
I loved the style that the people where drawn in.
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