Sunday, April 10, 2011

Sym-Bionic Titan

This last year Cartoon Network aired a fantastic original cartoon series called Sym-Bionic Titan. The series was created by Genndy Tartakovsky, who previous created and worked on shows like Samurai Jack and the Star Wars Clone Wars mini-series -- so immediately the series had clout to take a lot of risks. The show decidedly seemed to aim for different takes on the giant robot and high school genre, to some spectacular results.

The series starred three protagonists: Lance, Ilana, and Octus. Lance and Ilana are on the run from their conquered home planet of Galaluna. Lance has been charged with keeping Princess Ilana safe and out of enemy hands. They arrive on Earth to hide, but they are continually followed by monsters sent through a Rift Gate to destroy them. Luckily they have a robotic companion, Octus (noticeably voiced by Brian Posehn, from Mr. Show and Just Shoot Me). Along with Octus Lance and Iluna are able to merge together to form a powerful giant robot called Sym-Bionic Titan. The series heavily drew inspiration from 80s Anime series like Voltron and Speed Racer.

The giant robot action was noticeably different than what you might typically expect. From the very beginning of the series it's shown that these monster battles do have repercussions. The second detailed this by showing the characters traveling through the ruined crater still in the center of the city from their first battle. The show never got too much into the detail of the damage - or lives lost - but this small slice of realism showed a great new perspective on the series. Watching the giant battles you even ended up hoping they would able to have the fight out in the country side, just because you knew there would otherwise be city wide damage - and repercussions for our heroes. It's not inaccurately noted by a General, who wants to stop Titan, that it's because of Titan's presence on Earth that the monsters are coming at all.

Yet what really sold the series was the high-school drama of the characters. Lance and Ilana pose as brother and sister at the school, while Octus is able to take on a holographic appearance of an oversized nerd named Newton. (He also doubled as their father in certain instances as well.) There are various inspirations from high school movies, like Ilana trying to sign up for the cheerleading team, Lance getting involved in local drag racing, and Octus even winning the heart of the most popular (and stuck up) girl in the school. There where several instances delving into the traits of all the characters, and there where two episodes pointedly going back in time to show the history of the cast. Lance's story, in particular, seemed especially sad - showing how he lost his father at an early age, and was subsequently being raised in the Royal Military. All of these tales may have been inspired by movies and TV - and often followed the same themes -- but the hand drawn animation and superb directing of the series simply made the most mundane events shine.

What I'm most disappointed with, though, is that the series has apparently been canceled. Genndy Tartakovsky has apparently already moved on, and weak toy tie-ins ultimately sealed the show's fate, even though it was receiving respectable ratings. I really take issue with a weak toy-line being a factor, as there was pretty much no attempt at having a toy line. I know the series, with it's stylized art and primary focus on human characters couldn't have helped - but there was no reason some kind of figure like could have been developed based on the giant robots of the series. Simply put, if there where plans for toys - they never materialized. You simply can't complain about a weak toy line when you don't release a single piece of merchandise.

The series seemed to end on a happy note, at least. The final episodes showed Lance and Ilana trying to revive Octus, who was severely damaged and effectively dead. The dangling plot threads of the enigmatic Solomon and his alien intervention organization G3 where dealt with, but not brought to a conclusion or explanation. We're probably never going to find out who the shadowy figure was who reinitialized Octus - and the plot-line to reclaiming the conquered Galaluna would obviously have been dealt with in season 2. It's hard to say, if the series did continue, wether I'd want it to without Genndy Tartakovsky at the helm. His style of directing and animation has simply astounded critics and fans, and simply raised the level on what the art form can do. So if he really has moved on from the company, then perhaps the end of Sym-Bionic Titan is for the best. Still, for what it showed us in one season - this was a fantastic show.

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