Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Recent American Cartoons That I Have Seen

And by recent, I mean in the past year or so. My laziness is the only thing that's kept me from blogging about these as they ran, but I'd like to deal with all of it in a chunk.

Adventure Time with Finn and Jake:

The show is certainly the pick of the litter. I love weird cartoons, and Adventure Time delivers, being one of those settings that is packed with all sorts of bizarre creatures from multiple genres, but everything seems to fit together, up to and including the background detail that it's actually a post-apocalyptic environment, and most creatures are the result of radiation.

I also enjoy its sense of earnest sweetness, made better by the adult irony and the surreal moments. This variety of tones is the reason the series is successful with kids and adults alike. It makes a series richer to be capable of being more than one thing.

The characters are great, too: Finn and Jake aren't my favourites in the show, but they have personality. Even Finn's desire to be a hero comes off as distinct because of his childlike attitude. He could have easily been written as a blank slate for little boys to project themselves onto, but now he's a defined character that could appeal to them while seeming like someone put effort into creating him.

The characters I like the best are Lumpy Space Princess, Marceline the Vampire Queen, and Princess Bubblegum, in that order. I got used to LSP's Dr. Girlfriend type of voice pretty quick, and it's just hilarious that the mannerisms of a bratty teen are coming out of a deep-voiced living cloud-blob (made of irradiated stardust, apparently). Her abrasive side would be funny at any age, and a female character who isn't a typical slender humanoid is also cool. For this reason, seeing human-form LSP being the fanart default is very sad.

Marceline I like because, though she normally looks like a typical modern vampire, her crazy faces and bestial transformations give her a welcome grotesque air. She's also a musician, which is neat, and I like her laid-back, cheerful attitude.

The only downsides are Marceline's few displays of earnest angst. Nothing else in the series is quite so sad and dark, and these moments are therefore jarring. They seem more like "emotional fanservice" than anything organic to her character, one of the moments when a character's sadness is designed only to maximize an audience's infatuation with her. Guys, Marceline certainly doesn't need the help.

Princess Bubblegum I never expected to like, thinking as I did that she would be the typical vacant, generic princess. But then I find out she's also a mad scientist with a short temper, as well as a laser-swan, and the occasional monstrous transformation. How could I not love that, I tell you?

The Amazing World of Gumball:

This is one of the shows I was looking forward to because of the promise of some bizarre shit, but it was a let-down. The big problem with the show is that it creates this strange setting and then never takes advantage of it.

Here you've got a series where characters from different mediums and species mix freely, with talking clouds, paper cutouts, humanoid animals, colourful blobs, and whatever, and it looks great, but the plots are generic child-sitcom stuff, ones that don't take advantage of the strange environment. When the show does take advantage of the weird setting, then it's fun to watch, but that's not often, based on the episodes that I've watched.

What makes it even worse is the way the main character's family are so by-the-numbers, so you can't even enjoy watching them: they're basically a Simpsons-type family, without the self-awareness of such. I can't help but compare this series to Chowder, another medium-mixing series starring a little boy felinoid. Chowder was much better about taking advantage of its setting, and in creating defined characters to play with. Yes, Chowder got really obnoxious later on, but it still holds a special place in my heart.

Regular Show:

This show takes much more advantage of its weird setting than Gumball does, with weird plots to match the weird mix of characters. Like everybody, I'm still surprised this wasn't an Adult Swim show, but it's enjoyable anyway. A weird cartoon about slackers is almost a retro cliché at this point, but you can't argue with it being fun.

The Legend of Korra:

I was carefully neutral before this show aired, and today I'm waiting until the entire promised run finishes before making a final judgement. As it stands now, the series isn't everything it could have been, but I'm looking forward to more.

I liked Avatar the Last Airbender as much as everyone else did, but I'm drawn to Korra on a more personal level. I prefer its modernized setting and the use of a smaller-scale political conflict, as opposed to the more traditional fantasy conflict of the first series.

Korra herself intrigues me. I love that the new Avatar is so different from Aang, but Korra is interesting independent of that. She's a hothead, but has a well-rounded personality and isn't as bratty as such characters tend to be. Korra can show a wide range of emotions, which is important for any character, not just for a female character.

There were other little things I liked: the way the series doesn't lean too heavily on its past characters or past situations (it would have been ridiculous if Amon had been Ko or some other enemy from the old series), making its world feel more realistic. The way that Tenzin has a family and it's not treated as something that makes the character a non-entity is also refreshing.

As for the alleged love triangle and the final pairing of Mako and Korra, it all felt superfluous the whole time, adding nothing to the story or characters. There just wasn't any chemistry between the two leads, and you just didn't care whether they got together. I also felt sorry for Asami, who actually did have some chemistry with Mako, and then was royally screwed over in the process of jumping to the official pairing, and nobody involved seemed to be aware of it.

And no, I don't believe anyone involved with the show was basing Mako x Korra on Zuko x Katara, in order to give shippers of the second pairing a consolation prize or even poke at them some more. No writer with any sense writes for shippers, and especially not after making fun of them all these years.

In the same vein, no, pairing up Bolin with Korra would not be less traditional, and I don't know why anyone who's been watching TV would think that. Bolin is not just a "schlub", anymore than Mako was just "the bad boy", but the goofy guy getting with the serious girl is old hat. In fact, somedays I think it's more common than the girl getting with the serious guy. Oh, and Bolin does not "deserve" Korra just because he was attracted to her.

Korra getting her powers back after having them removed wasn't the cop-out it would have been for any other character. I thought something along those lines would happen, given that she's the Avatar and might want special dispensation. Her moment of despair, then gaining the ability to see her past lives, and to open up to Airbending, provided adequate gravitas to separate getting her powers following losing them.

What I felt was a cop-out was Korra being able to restore bending to others. Maybe it's too fine a distinction to make, but there should be some consequences remaining after Amon's defeat, and it would be more credible for ordinary Benders to be unable to recover.

On the other, other hand, Korra's getting back her bending, and giving back bending, are likely both meant to be tied to Aang's ability to energy-bend, so it would be inconsistent if Korra could not also return energy to others.

Korra being able to restore bending means that the next seasons will likely start out with a completely new story, since every major plot point has wrapped up. That is unfortunate: I would have liked to see the main story go on for longer, to create the same novel-like structure that Avatar did.

My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic: Season 2

I just consider MLF:FiM to be "okay". Such a laid-back stance might seem impossible these days, but while I like the show, I don't like it to the level the rabid fans do, or hate the series for inspiring its fervour. I've found other cartoons that are personally cuter, funnier, and more engaging, and FiM just doesn't turn my crank in comparison.

There are only a few Friendship is Magic episodes I'd consider watching again, and even then not often. In the second season, "Lesson Zero", in which Twilight Sparkle goes insane, and "Luna Eclipsed", the Halloween episode, were two of my favourites. In short, I "get" liking the show, but I don't "get" the excitement it inspires.

While the second season was airing, I also found out more about Brony creepiness than I ever should have known. It's put me off expressing any enthusiasm for the show, even though I know that's the unfair thing to do. Parts of the fandom are seriously disturbing, and it's not the show's fault, but my shock doesn't go away easily.

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