I was reading up on the Machete Order of viewing the Star Wars canon films and it jogged my memory on a discussion related to the issue and one of those many, MANY depictions of fiction that took inspiration from it in Western popular culture, Avatar: The Last Airbender.
I was talking to someone who watched Sozin’s Comet for the first time and we were discussing about the show’s similarity with SW. (including the split final battle) He mentioned that a ROTJ that combined Conan the Barbarian cinematography with Aang’s communion with his self-spirits would make for a better Luke-centric show. Basically, in place of the spirits we’ll have the various force ghosts, perhaps arguing for and against Vader and what he originally was. Flashback prequel footage (COMPETENTLY DONE) could be used to highlight his humanity or lack of. I mean, if Ahnuld could make a film out of CtB it could easily be done with a less than stellar Mark Hamill.
There’s also immense irony and a splendid callout factor to have Hamill come back essentially as the anime version of the Emperor. Vader had become a peer of the protagonist in the form of Zuko, so there’s some interesting variations of the theme done here. Someone should put Hamill on a commentary track for those last few episodes.
So I was quite impressed with the first 2 episodes as well, as described in golliz’s post. A lot of people have also been raising the point that Avatar’s success is a watershed moment similar to that of B:TAS and Thundercats is the first western series to start reflecting the impact on design and conceptualization. I can’t say for certain how much of an effect (if any) that has and how long this halo effect will linger over the American animation industry. I see some styling in the art that could possibly be attributed to it, but the writing and character designs don’t strike me as particularly Avatar-ish. Heck, to be brutally honest I think the only really clear Avatarism was the blessed decision to leave Snarf as a Momo-esque gremlin clone instead, to the relief of everyone sane over the age of 10. As much as I would I like to say B:TAS completely changed animation in the West, the truth is that for a good long while after it arrived it was still the Timmverse carrying the banner of a more sophiscated palette all by its lonesome, if you discount the odd unusual offering such as Gargoyles. In fact, I don’t think there was much of an effect until Avatar arrived. So colour me a skeptic until I see more concrete evidence (or more episodes!) that there will be knockon improvement in quality for art and writing for the next 5, 10 years. Or none.
As for the opening pair of of eps, there were some truly weird oddities, like the Naruto-style clerics, and there was some less-than-impressive CG for an important scene, but in a general sense, the animation, staging and set pieces were pleasant surprises. The first THUNDERCATS HO! moment with Lion-O and the Sword of Omens was truly a mark-out moment for me. So let’s roll onto episode three, running commentary style and see how things go.
Last we left our power trio they were escaping from Mumm-Ra’s clutches after GandalfJaga bought them some time. With Lion-O getting his Bambi Moment, the plot markers are set for a HOT BLOOD HERO’S JOURNEY. So, without further ado, let’s start….
0:05 HO! It’s still the old theme….just very short and remixed
2:15 Anakin? That you?
2:35 Team 7 exiting Minas Tirith
3:35 “I’m not anti-children, I’m anti-brat”
3:40 SERIOUSLY? They’re doing a nyaaaaan~? Is this simulcasting in Japan?
4:10 AHHHHHH New Zealand
5:00 “Pffft…we don’t need no stinkin’ food when I’m 15min from getting my plot epiphany”
5:15 HOW THE HELL DID THEY MISS THAT ARCH? They’re effin’ cats!
5:40 Someone tell the production crew about the viscosity of sand/silt
6:15 Where the hell’s that accent from? Scotland? India?
6:30 NO PARROT. I AM DISAPPOINT
6:50 This is so Dark Sun….the show is really wearing its influences in a bloody obvious fashion
7:20 CORNELIUS TUNA. And damn, the wiki redirects too
7:25 You know it’s not going to happen, but why did they have to dangle that in front of us! Sheesh
7:40 Ah right the perennial favorite of Japanese animation
7:45 MOBY DICK (TENTACLES). Make your best Khan the Catfish joke.
7:50 OK, the Nebuchadnezzar now? What next, a map leading to water tattooed on someone’s back?
8:35 Someone is probably writing a Cheetara/sea kaiju fanfic as we speak
9:05 “Yes, Ishmael, grab a spare harpoon and let’s go fishin’!”
9:15 They’re bitin…….I need two palms to cover my face right now
10:05 Area cleaning comes AFTER the puke
10:50 Heavy-handed male bonding. At least, I hope Tunaface is male
11:45 This cook knows the value of foie gras
13:20 I suspect we’ll be getting a lot of sibling rivalry moments. Just wait till they start hitting on that piece of tail
14:10 What’s all that talk about mystical tech? No one is surprised by the Millennium Falcon turrets?!
16:45 CREW OVERBOARD
17:00 Half expecting a Jaws ripoff here, considering how many “influences” (ahem) there are throughout this ep
17:25 KHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAN TEH CATFISH
17:50 AHAB OVERBOARD
18:15 They can’t shut their gobs either for feasting or talking it seems
18:35 SQUISHIE SHAI HULUD IS BREAKING FAST
18:55 Who didn’t see THAT coming
19:00 THE LISAN AL GAIB HAS MADE IT RAIN, PWAISE BE!
21:10 Finally, now that we’re done with the capsule cliche character development nicely tied up in 1 ep, plot development!
Man, considering the grimdark evident in the season opener, this was not the kind of episode I would choose to do as a followup, whether in tone or plot. Not only was it a very silly parody of everyone’s favorite whale hunt, the extremely heavy handed treatment of Lion-O’s cliche descent into the “Dark Side” was followed by an all too cliche resolution. That in itself may or not be a big issue, but having handed Lion-O his epiphany on a platter with almost zero contribution from his party members certainly is one. It didn’t help that the two brats’s antics completely destroyed what little gravitas the plot treatment delivered. The whole thing just felt like characterization by numbers, and having ticked the checkbox, the episode then concluded sheepishly with a giant plot marker, as if to tell the audience, “Hey! Here’s what really important that will have bearing on the main plot thread!”
If we go back to that contentious topic of Avatar comparison again, this is a vastly different third episode compared to the Southern Air Temple. There’s a more steady and subtle buildup of the downer elements of Aang’s mindset in Avatar, cumulating in The Storm, 12 episodes in the show where the protagonist finally achieves his clarity of mind after exorcizing his inner demons. In contrast, the first three episodes of the new Thundercats just seems to highlight the fact that the great season opener seems more like a Lodoss-style hook to get the audience interested in the show first. I hope I’m being too cynical, but it’s not like anime in Japan isn’t notorious for starting with a bang first, followed by a disappointing mid-season crawl. Or perhaps I’m just overthinking all this, and THIS SHOW JUST NEEDS ITS PANTHRO. Just sayin’.
All in all, moderately groansworthy and quite a climbdown from the first pair of episodes. I’m still generally hopeful for the show, but I might have to scale down my expectations a tad. The art also seemed to take a minor hit, which doesn’t bode too well for the rest of the show. Hopefully it’s just an aberrant blip.
The teaser trailer for the Legend of Korra is now available and it looks great. Even more impressively, they are doing what the Japanese animation industry can’t seem to do, create a strong, smart female lead character. For that, I salute Messrs DiMartino and Konietzko.