Tag: Animation

“Cowboy Bebop” and the Cold Open

Generally, I created this blog as a way to share my thoughts on various entertainment-related topics, review films, etc. But once in a while I remember something I just want to gush about, and this is one of those.

I didn’t hop on the Cowboy Bebop hype train back when it was on Toonami during my high school years, though I was aware of the name from pop culture osmosis and ads on TV. My first actual exposure to the franchise came some time after, and it wasn’t of any of the original show. Instead, a close friend and I went out to the local Blockbuster (remember those?) and grabbed a few anime titles (like Appleseed and Ghost in the Shell) to binge on. One of those was the Cowboy Bebop movie, originally known as Cowboy Bebop: Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door in Japan.

bebopposter
Copyright © 2001 by Sony Pictures Entertainment Japan

 

I had zero knowledge of the series, its characters, or the story going in. Yet within five minutes, I had learned everything I needed to know about the main characters and the overall premise, thanks to an often-used but overlooked technique – the cold open.

The cold open, also prominently known as a “teaser,” is commonly defined as a short (usually one to five minutes in length) “mini-act” that usually takes place before the opening credits of a TV series or movie. Saturday Night Live and the James Bond films are both franchises that are famous for their cold opens. While a cold open, especially in television, is often used to set up the overall plot, it can also be only tangentially connected or even entirely unrelated to the main story. These kinds of cold opens can depict a “day in the life” of the series characters, but the purpose remains the same – introducing a new audience to the main players and the antics these characters often engage in.

 

cowboybebopcoldopen
Copyright © 2001 by Sony Pictures Entertainment Japan

 

The cold open for the Cowboy Bebop movie, depicting the two main characters (the series follows four characters, but Spike and Jet are the only two who are present throughout the whole show so we’ll consider them ‘main’ characters for this example) taking care of a routine job. Given that said job is bounty hunting, the cold open depicts an exciting sequence as they interrupt a convenience store robbery that culminates in a tense stand-off. Despite the minimal time available, we answer important questions such as:

  • Who are these characters?
  • What is this series about?
  • What do they do?
  • What are their personalities?

The sequence has no connection to the main plot of the film, but is followed up on in a conversation between Spike and Jet that ties the events of the cold open with the rest of the movie.

It’s been said by no shortage of screenwriting gurus that the first 10 minutes or act of a story are probably the most important, as you need to hook an audience in right away. A cold open is a simple way to do it, and Cowboy Bebop’s remains one of my personal favorites.

 

Naughty Looks Back – TRON: Uprising

TRONUprising
Copyright © 2012 by Disney

Back in early 2013, Cartoon Network finished the respective runs of Young Justice and Green Lantern: The Animated Series without renewing either title and effectively ending the short-lived DC Nation block before it really got rolling.  Around this time, I had heard about another series concluding after facing similar scheduling snafus and failing to gather a large enough audience- Disney’s TRON: Uprising.  Although I had seen the TRON: Legacy film that spurred Disney into trying to capitalize on the franchise before the purchase of Lucasfilm took all their attention, I had never seen or heard much about the show.  The little I did hear about the show was nothing but positive, and when I finally decided to check it out I was completely floored.

A New Frontier

Set in between the original TRON film and the 2010 sequel TRON: LegacyTRON: Uprising takes place in the digital world of the Grid as Kevin Flynn’s twisted doppelganger CLU sends his forces to occupy the outlying Argon City, home to a program named Beck.  Similar to the series Batman Beyond, the story follows Beck falling under the tutelage of the titular hero Tron as they work together to kickstart a revolution against CLU’s forces that, known to everyone who had seen Legacy, will ultimately amount to very little.  But despite the foregone conclusion, the joy is in the journey as Beck sides with and against a rich cast of characters brought to life by an all-star cast, all set against the vibrant backdrop of Alberto Mielgo’s art direction.

TRONTrinity
Copyright © 2012 by Disney

The untapped mythology of the TRON universe is taken full advantage of in this series as creators Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz explore a piece of that world through the lens of Beck and his home of Argon City, a city out on the fringe of the Grid and far from the seat of CLU’s power.  While the programs aren’t human, the writers succeed greatly at making them feel as such with hopes, dreams, desires and flaws.  Even the show’s villains have a surprising amount of depth to them, particularly the conflicted Paige and the deliciously sadistic Pavel (played by the very against type Paul Reubens).  Although the show only went the one season, it proved that the world of TRON remains a huge missed opportunity for Disney.

End Of Line, Program

Although I remain a hardcore DC Comics fan and would love to see continuations of Young Justice or Green Lantern, it’s actually TRON: Uprising that in my opinion possessed the most potential in story and characters.  It would have been a treat to see where this particular story would have continued, but this show is arguably the best thing to come out of the franchise and I hope that one day Disney is willing to take a risk again, though I’m sure they’re quite comfortable with the boatloads of dosh coming in from Star Wars as their sci-fi flagship.

 

TRONCast
Copyright © 2012 by Disney

 

TRON LIVES.

Voltron: Legendary Defender

 

Voltron
Copyright © 2016 by DreamWorks Animation

Back in my childhood, when VHS stores were still a thing (before Blockbuster wiped them out), there was a local shop called “CineMagic” that my family would visit regularly and was how I initially go into Transformers.  Though I didn’t really get exposed to Japanese animation fully until the days of Toonami much later, I do remember seeing episodes of the original Voltron series the same way.  My memory of the show and characters of that time are fuzzy and I never really got into the franchise, save for remembering that five piloted lion machines would combine to form one giant human-shaped mecha, which would be familiar territory for my Power Rangers phase.

Last month, Netflix saw the premiere of Voltron: Legendary Defender on its streaming service.   A collaborative effort from DreamWorks Animation and Studio Mir under the supervision of showrunners Laura Montgomery and Joaquim Dos Santos and head writer Tim Hedrick, all veterans of some of the best animated shows of the 2000s, the new Voltron aims to bring the classic series to a new generation.  So how does it stack up?

Action Animation’s Return to Form

Since the ending of Avatar: The Legend of Korra, there’s been a noticeable absence of action cartoons on network and cable television.  With a slew of cancellations in 2013 resulting in the ending of shows like Green LanternYoung Justice and TRON: Uprising, it seemed that it would be a long time before tradition animated action would be making a comeback unless it had “Star Wars” in the title.

While the season is shorter than a traditionally-lengthed season for a half-hour series at about 13 episodes worth of time (a three-episode length pilot and 10 more normal length), it manages to make use of its time in effectively focusing and establishing the core cast and the world around them.  While the plot seems standard at first glance with five youths teaming up to fight a galactic evil, there’s still an air of mystery around the players, the villains and even the titular mech that makes for some excellent revelations in the finale.  Heads up; said finale ends on a heck of a cliffhanger so get ready to feel gut-punched by the credits.

VoltronCrew
Copyright © 2016 by DreamWorks Animation

Paving the Way

As much as the Voltron: Legendary Defender excited me in my time watching it, one of the really exciting things is the possibilities it opens up with its success.  One of the biggest factors that resulted in the death of action animation in the last few years comes from the way the business is structured.  With the options available in making comparatively cheap animated comedies that can bring an audience in droves versus riskier and more expensive prospects, it’s not difficult to see why many studios choose to go the route that’s a guaranteed success.  Unfortunately, this has led to a loss of some great opportunities for storytelling.

With the success of original programming on services like Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime, animation is starting to join the fray and could lead not only to a revival in some of the aforementioned cancelled properties but also a surge in new ideas and IPs.  As a longtime animation fan, I’ve never been more excited for what the future can bring.

Form up!

Justice League vs Teen Titans

JLvsTT
Copyright © 2016 by Warner Brothers Animation

For my first piece, I want to tackle something that’s been out for a while but I’ve had a lot of thoughts about.  Since DC Comics launched its “New 52” initiative with a company-wide relaunch of continuity, WB Animation has done something similar with its animated comic-based properties.  Starting with Justice League: War, they’ve been producing movies inspired by New 52 plotlines and characterization (with occasional breaks with films like Justice League: Gods and Monsters and the upcoming The Killing Joke adaptation.  These movies have been serviceable for the most part, though your mileage is probably going to depend heavily on your opinion of the source material if you’re familiar with them.

My history with the teams, like many mainstream fans, goes back to the  Teen Titans cartoon that aired on Cartoon Network in the mid-2000s.  Through following the show’s online community, I became aware of Geoff Johns’ then-current run of the team in the comics, and I’ve been following the franchise ever since (through its ups and many, many downs).

I will be discussing some plot details, so if you want to go in clean I suggest avoid reading until after you’ve seen it.

 

Daddy Issues Abound!

Don’t let the title fool you- the Titans and the Justice League have exactly one fight in the film that lasts a few minutes.  The conflict of the teenagers protecting their friend Raven while the adults want to take her in for security reasons is pretty much thrown out when Trigon possesses the League and they start punching each other thereon.  The next fight has a freed Superman then go on to free Wonder Woman and Flash (Shazam and Green Lantern are absent from this film) and it turns into everyone against the villain like just about every “X versus Y” property ever made.

Is this a bad thing?  Not really, but if you were going in expecting a drawn-out ideological or physical battle between the Titans and the League, you’re not getting it in this movie.  What we do get is an animated film adaptation of “Terror of Trigon”, one of two storylines comic fans remember from the Wolfman/Perez New Teen Titans run (the second being “The Judas Contract” and, spoiler alert, that’s going be the sequel).  An adaptation of this storyline was done back in the fourth season of the 2000s Teen Titans cartoon.

What’s different this time?  Well, it’s also a Damian Wayne story that carries on from the previous Batman animated films Batman and SonBatman vs Robin and Batman: Bad Blood.  If you don’t know who Damian Wayne is, here’s the TL;DR version-

  • Bruce Wayne has a 10-year-old son via Talia Al Ghul
  • He’s the current Robin in both the movies and comics
  • He’s an insufferable, arrogant brat (whose character arc often involves him… well, being the same, but in a more likable way)

We good?  Alright, moving on.

Coming off a botched operation with the League, Damian is sent to hang out with the Teen Titans to learn teamwork and friendship and all that good stuff.  The team hasn’t been mentioned or shown in the movies prior except for Starfire, who has cameoed in the last two Batman films as Nightwing’s girlfriend/possible booty call/”It’s complicated.”  While Damian slowly befriends the team after Blue Beetle semi-accidentally melts off half his face, it’s actually Raven he becomes closest with.  The two share issues of legacy concerning evil patriarchs who want to conquer the world; real “boy meets girl” stuff.

Synergy in Motion

Many of the fans who followed this movie’s development are well aware of the story being yet another iteration of the Titans dealing with Raven’s evil demon father Trigon, something that’s been done multiple times in the comics and was done in the aforementioned 2000s cartoon.  Something less well-known, contrary to the early claims made by the production crew, is that this isn’t actually the first time Damian has been depicted with the Titans in media.

TTv3i89
Copyright © 2011 by DC Comics

Back in the tail-end of the 2003-2011 run of the Teen Titans, Dick Grayson (Batman at the time, long story) leaves Damian with the team exactly the same way as in the movie, and he gets along with them just as well (read: not very).  Interestingly, the one he ends up seeing eye to eye with is Rose Wilson AKA Ravager (she’s the one on the far right in the above picture), the daughter of Deathstroke and similarly long-time Titans villain/awful father figure.  Unlike the film, which has Damian stay with the team, he leaves at the end of the arc and has Tim Drake take his spot.

This film wouldn’t be the last time Damian featured with the team in media, as it turns out.  Either as a result of cross-media synergy or just really bizarre timing, Damian will be returning to the team in the fall as part of DC Comics’ Rebirth initiative.

TTRebirth
Copyright © 2016 by DC Comics

Set to debut in September from the team of Benjamin Percy and Jonboy Meyers, the issue features attempting to make himself the leader of the band of young adults… by kidnapping them one by one.

Not gonna lie, kind of intrigued.

One last note- while the other films in the new DC Animated continuity borrow heavily from storylines in the New 52 (e.g. Grant Morrison’s Batman, Geoff Johns’ Justice League origin story, Scott Snyder’s Court of Owls stuff), Justice League vs Teen Titans more closely adheres to the 2000s cartoon and Wolfman/Perez run and throws out the New 52 run of the team.  Probably because the New 52 run of the team is horrible.

Just how bad is it?  That’s a story for another time.