Animation Block: It’s a Good Time to be an Animation Fan

The spectre of nostalgia often rears its head when people talk about their passions. We often develop our tastes when we’re young, and we consequently tend to hold fond memories of those things which we enjoyed in our youth. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. We tend to be more open-minded when we’re young and more open to new ideas and experiences than when we’re older, and as such, we’re more willing to give things a chance, take risks, etc. The problem arises when people, usually after moving away from a hobby or the like for some time, decide that the last part of it they liked was the last good part. This leads people to shut themselves off from new things which they might enjoy. While it is easy to say that this is a personal problem and not really something to concern ourselves with, the problem is that, as someone who believes in supporting individuals who create quality work, I don’t think it’s good to limit oneself to the past. Those great works of the past should not be forgotten, as many of my posts and David’s can attest, but there is great work being done in the here and now that can still benefit from the support of fans.

In particular, animation is going through, if not a renaissance, at least a high period. There are several great series on the air right now, all of which are worth a look.

The Legend of Korra:

Anyone who has watched a cartoon in the last decade knows Avatar: The Last Airbender was one of the greatest animated series ever made (I would even put it close to Gargoyles). It was filled with great characters, a fully realized world and mythology, heart, humor, action, and a plot seen through to completion. The Legend of Korra is its sequel series, about the new Avatar, a Water Tribe girl named Korra. She’s a very different character from Aang, more physically adept but less in tune with her spiritual side. She is also embroiled in a very different sort of struggle. For one thing, the world has modernized to a much greater degree, and as someone from the South Pole, Korra has a lot to learn about it. There is also a rising movement of Equalists, people who despise benders for lording over them. The series is only two episodes in right now, but it shows a great deal of promise, and I look forward to more. I’m also rooting for the return of Koh the Face Stealer.

Young Justice:

I will admit I never really followed Young Justice in the comics, but when I heard one of the series creators was my personal hero Greg Weisman, I had to give it a shot. The series follows the sidekicks and younger versions of Justice League characters, portraying the kids as a black ops team who attends to covert missions while the League handles the large, flashy situations. Young Justice juggles a huge cast of characters, both in terms of heroes and villains, and does a good job of allowing the heroes their victories and character moments while also moving forward the dark and mysterious agenda of the villains. I’ve heard criticisms that there is too much romance, but I haven’t generally found it to be too overwhelming. The show is very heavy as far as DC continuity goes, so if you aren’t up on who some of these characters are, you might be lost. Sometimes it also feels like everything is extremely Serious Business and could stand a bit more levity. Still, with good characters and a good premise (not to mention a real excuse for the kids to step out of the Justice League’s shadow), I recommend it.

Thundercats 2011:

I was nervous about this one at first. After all, reviving 80’s nostalgia seems to be the path to ruin. The He-Man revival a few years back had a moderately promising start, but given its somewhat shaky premise, it ultimately didn’t last. There’s also a sense of pandering inherent in reviving shows that people my age fondly remember from their childhoods which sets me ill at ease. And yet, so far it’s turned out to be a decent series. The last of the Thundercats traverse their world, harried and pursued by Mumm-Ra’s forces while searching for power to defeat him. Lion-O is much more brash and inexperienced this time around, while Snarf is actually adorable instead of annoying. I enjoy the cinematic quest feel of the show and the way we learn more of the world and its history as we go. Every one of the cats, and even the villains, are given the spotlight at one time or another. The flashback episode to explain the origin of the world is downright awesome. It’s clear the series is building to some major showdowns, and I am looking forward to seeing them. That said, it’s not perfect. Lion-O’s competence varies from episode to episode. Sometimes he is borderline infallible, while others he comes across as naive and reckless. Tigra’s beliefs seem to be exactly the opposite of whatever stance Lion-O takes. The villains are also a little too weak, on the whole. The Thundercats always seem able to hold their own and win, even against Mumm-Ra, so the danger against them doesn’t quite feel real enough. I’m hoping as the show goes on, this will improve. There are rumors that Thundercats may be at risk of cancellation, and I think that would be a shame. The characterization is top notch, and I would hate to see it die before its time.

The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes

Let me get this out of the way: I love the Avengers. They are probably my favorite superhero team, which is why I am so constantly beleaguered by how badly they’re treated in their own books these days. Rarely in the comics do the Avengers actually fight evil in world-shattering battles. Instead, they drink coffee, chat, and act like jerks even when they’re not fighting each other. Hence, this series was an absolute breath of fresh air. It manages to stay fairly true to the actual origins of the Avengers while updating them for modern times. Every member of the team has a unique voice and is fairly likeable. In the first season, the Avengers faced a nearly endless wave of threats, each more massive than the last, and the show juggled and foreshadowed these threats extremely well, breaking out all the classic Avenger villains, from Kang, to Loki, to Ultron, to the Masters of Evil. The second season, which is just getting underway, is only upping the ante, foreshadowing the Kree-Skrull War, Secret Invasion, and the coming of Surtur from Walt Simonson’s epic Thor run. I truly love TA: EMH, but there are a few areas where I feel it could be improved. For one thing, Wasp, while likeable, is the only female and probably the most useless character on the team. I would like to see them give her something to do, or some way to contribute more. On the other hand, The Hulk, with his game-breaking power, has become too reliable a teammate, and decides contests on his own a little too easily. Still, these are minor quibbles, and I will follow these Avengers to the end of the universe and back.

Green Lantern: The Animated Series

This was another series I wasn’t expecting too much from, just because I am 1. not a Hal Jordan fan, and 2. not a fan of the rainbow rings. I was surprised, however, at how decently it’s all handled. Hal Jordan and Kilowog are adrift in a distant and hostile part of the universe, separated from the rest of the Green Lanterns and trying to stop the threat of the Red Lanterns themselves. As I said, I’m not generally a fan of Hal Jordan, but he’s handled well enough here. Rather than the pinnacle of manliness or some bumbling doofus, as he alternates between in the comics, he’s portrayed as a pulp hero, who actually backs up that fearless claim by having nerves of steel and taking actions that would make most daredevils wince. It’s only a few episodes in so far, and of this lot, it’s not my favorite, but it is nevertheless a pretty entertaining show. Lots of fun space action.

And these are just the ones I’m watching. I’m fairly sure there are other series out there worth checking out too. No doubt many will mention My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, which I find decent but not worthy of the religious reverence it receives, and Adventure Time, which I do enjoy but have only seen a little of. There is also Archer, which is much more adult and dark, but still quite enjoyable. However, what makes me most excited is that in a scant two weeks, we will see the return of one of my favorite shows…


I don’t really feel the need to review Metalocalypse here, but it’s just one more example of how if you think animation wasn’t as good as it was when you were a kid, or that there’s just a dearth of creativity out there, you are misinformed, and should give at least some of these shows a look.