Anime Capsules: Or More Like Two Robot Cartoon Capsules With A Side of Anime.

I was seriously planning on watching some more anime this week, but my sleep schedule’s still way off, so it wound up being two flashback robot cartoons and the first of several episodes of Tiger & Bunny I needed to get caught up on. And of the lot, I’d say the past week’s Transformers Prime was the best, even if I’d like one particular member of its human cast to get squished. Thoughts on the remainder of the Voltron Force pilot three-parter, the return of MECH to TF Prime, and a month-plus-old anime half hour below …

Voltron Force episode 2: Defenders of Arus / episode 3: Defenders of the Universe

And with that the series squanders all the goodwill I’d given it. All of the new characters are annoying in their own unique ways: Wade is revealed to be a generic greedy capitalist, whose sole motive for decommissioning Voltron was to sell the Galaxy Garrison his own robotic fighting force. Hilariously, they all have video screens that show his face on them, like J. Jonah Jameson’s Spider Slayers. The second episode introduces Allura’s niece Larmina, who is a generic angry warrior girl character who humiliates the boys and will eventually have to be taken down a few notches. Oh, and she can’t pilot the lions worth a darn, ha ha, girls can’t drive, let’s all have a laugh. Vince encounters something strange in the tomb of King Alfor and is infused with weird Voltron energy and winds up turning into Voltron’s Powermaster Engine; poor guy’s gonna have to go through the rest of the series being a Deus Ex Machina, though at least as a character he doesn’t showcase any annoying tendencies. Daniel provides one of the most annoying moments in the entire three-part pilot when, as Voltron forms for the first time since the flashback, he steals the “and I’ll form the head” right out from under Keith. It is not a charming moment. It makes you want to throw him out of the cockpit and let the spider-Robeast eat him.

On the side of the villains, you get haughty strategist Kala, who looks like some sort of weird Centurion robot with Prowl’s head crest, and gets fused with that spider-Robeast, which then merges with an evil giant robot Lion controlled by Wade. She at least looks like something out of the original series; Drule scientist Maahox has an Inspector Gadget neck and legs, a robot eye, and looks like he escaped from a totally different cartoon. These are the only two major underlings Lotor gets, and they seem kind of cut-rate. The old witch Haggar is mentioned, but somehow she’s turned into a weird quasar or something that the Drule Empire taps into for a kind of magical cosmic energy called Haggarium that’s used to revive Lotor, who I guess had actually died in the final battle on Planet Doom. (Odd that when his body is reconstructed he has a nasty little scar across his face. You’d think a magic-science-whammy resurrection would bring him back whole, but that just wouldn’t be cool-looking enough, I guess.)

The terrible character animation continues from the first installment, including a lot of hilariously bad walking animation. Thankfully, the 3D CG fight sequences are a delight; the second episode even offers up a cyclops Robeast that Voltron battled in the first few episodes of the original TV series, which actually looks really cool in 3D animation. It shows just how much better the 3D CG is than the 2D animation. The storytelling’s also extremely disjointed; sequences early in each episode drag on too long, while the wrap-up feels like a series of short foreshadowing afterthoughts. Still, despite the terrible new cast members, the trite simplicity of the storyline, and the outright bad character animation, I’d hesitate to say this show’s any worse a delivery system for nifty robot fights than the original Voltron TV series. I’ll give it another episode or two, against my better judgment. Mostly, I want to see what kind of new horrors Lotor and Maahox throw at the team. I’m also curious what roles the terrible kids grow into: will any of them wind up becoming the main pilots of the Lions of Voltron? And if so, ye gods, why?

Transformers Prime episode 16: Operation Breakdown

This show’s gotten really good over the past several episodes; the one where Jack and Arcee had to face freak queen Airachnid was a tense little thriller that brought to mind the best of Beast Wars, while the thirteen-fourteen two-parter where Bumblebee was forced to confront Megatron in the depths of his own mind only to get taken over by the malevolent Decepticon leader when he returned to Autobot headquarters was chock full of great moments, climaxing brilliantly with Frank Welker’s Megatron returning from the “grave” and, restored to full power, screaming Starscream’s name at the top of his mecha-lungs and putting his usurper in his place. There was a very classic rightness to it, amplified by Welker playing the role as a regular (well, semi-regular it seems) for the first time in over a quarter-century.

We get only a single scene showcasing this dynamic this week, but it’s a real corker; Decepticon heavy-hitter Breakdown is captured by the terrorist organization MECH with the intent of reverse-engineering weapons from his chasis, and when Starscream suggests rescue, Megatron insists on letting him rot. If he could be captured by those insignificant flesh-creatures, he deserves his fate. The Megatron-Starscream dynamic in this show is a delight, largely because between this episode and the five-parter, usually Starscream seems to be in the right, but Megatron is so arrogant and powerful, and commands such loyalty from his troops, that Starscream is stuck skulking in the shadows to try and get his way.

Optimus Prime is well served by the episode, leading the Autobots in their attempt to rescue Breakdown for the greater good — not because “freedom is the right of all sentient beings,” but because no good would come from MECH getting their hands on Cybertronian bio-technology. He’s not well served in the action department, but rather as the wise leader of the Autobots; when Bulkhead, Breakdown’s arch-rival, decides to stay behind because he couldn’t deal with rescuing that psychopath, Optimus wisely agrees with the decision. Unfortunately, Miko, whose capacity to never learn from her experiences is rivaled only by Transformers Animated‘s Bumblebee, gets it into Bulkhead’s mind that if he doesn’t rescue Breakdown there’ll be no chance for a rematch. This does lead to an awesome scene of the two rivals battling MECH forces back-to-back, but it does further my disgust for that thrill-seeking little brat. I’m honestly astonished that she didn’t tag along. Consider: her logic here is the exact same logic that Bumblebee used on Megatron to try and get the formula to save Optimus Prime from the Cybonic Plague in episode 13, the “if you don’t save him from this, you can’t kill him later yourself” argument. This is the argument that a teenage girl presented to a Heroic Autobot to send him into action. I really hate that girl.

Thankfully, that didn’t ruin the episode for me; the action throughout is exciting and well-staged, the threat to Breakdown — all manner of pointy dissecty things looming over him — is handled ominously, and you’ve got Clancy Brown as MECH’s frontman Silas; his smooth, evil tones are always welcome. And the running subplot of Starscream moving pieces into place for his next bid for leadership keeps things interesting; he’s really got Breakdown over a barrel here. I really liked how it took some angry prodding from Starscream to get Breakdown to turn on Bulkhead; that was a standout moment, given the way Bulkhead’s talked about Breakdown in the past. Optimus Prime may have been right; it may yet be possible for a Decepticon to change his stripes. An overall great episode only marred by the presence of the teenage thrill junkie. Given who’s coming back next week, I’m hoping that won’t be a problem next time.

Tiger & Bunny episode 7: The Wolf Knows What The Ill Beast Thinks

Well, I picked a great time to stop watching this show; the previous episode ended with a flame-wielding NEXT — this show’s fancy term for super-powered folk — frying Barnaby’s one lead in his search for the organization he believes responsible for the death of his parents, Ouroboros. It’s the show’s first A-level supervillain, a bog-standard overpowered “I operate by my own sense of justice” anime creepy dude calling himself Lunatic. He reminds me of a message board troll Libertarian, or the guys who think that all media should be free because it’s intangible or whatnot. He’s wrong, and he has to be stopped, but in their current state, Our Heroes can’t stop him. Wild Tiger’s actually the only one of the lot who even lays a hand on him, which is kind of impressive given his track record.

I truly enjoy the way this show maintains the rhythms of a classic Sunrise anime series, always remembering to make with the action scenes even when it’s spinning its wheels trying to draw out plot points so it can drip out the next one in the following episode. There’s a great bit in the middle where Wild Tiger’s forced to play second-fiddle to Blue Rose and comes out of it looking utterly useless. It’s good for a chuckle, but mind you, I hope the show starts to slow down in presenting Wild TIger as an utterly useless fool; it’s one thing if he’s being sort of a sitcom idiot, as in the episode about Barnaby’s birthday, but play him as too useless in a fight, and his competent moments like being the only one of the Hero TV heroes to even touch Lunatic come off as total gimmies by the show writers. This is the same guy who let some total cannon fodder thugs kick him around earlier that day, after all. I think the show’s sense of humor is a bit problematic across the board, actually; Fire Emblem is a sharp guy and a good ally to have in a fight, but god, is he ever played as an uncomfortably broad gay stereotype. Early in the episode, he’s providing important exposition to Wild Tiger, and also getting uncomfortably close to him at the same time as a too-broad visual gag. C’mon, Japan. Shape up.

As nice as it is to see the show getting more focused, I have a bad feeling that Lunatic’s going to be the show’s main focus for several episodes going forward. It’s gonna be Mospeada all over again — things are going to be getting interesting with whatever one-off story’s going on, and then BAM, here comes Lunatic to set some folks on fire. Please, tell me I’m wrong.