May 14, 2011

Visionaries: Knights of the Magical Light, episode 1 "The Age of Magic Begins"

"Release us!"
"Oh, dear most uncomfortable knights, what nasty traps."
"Get us down from here!"
"I could, but to do so would require considerable effort on my part, which I could only do for my loyal subjects. Therefore, if you desire me to carry out this deed, you must swear loyalty to me."
"I-it would be an honor to serve with the infamous Darkstorm."
"You got good food in your castle?"
"The best."
"Then I'm in."
"Uh, you leave me little choice... so rule me well, or suffer the consequences."
"Blast you, Darkstorm! Help me down!"
"Excellent! Worthy subjects! I shall extract you!"

Right up front, we get a surprisingly apocalyptic prelude to our tale as the highly advanced world of Prysmos goes dark when a conjunction of its three suns causes all electrical energy to be negated. Strikingly well designed and animated imagery is on display as machines grind to a halt, televisions blink to silence, and planes drop out of the sky. The new dark age begins.

As our story kicks in, the world has become a new medieval realm. Skyscrapers are reshaped into castles as their crumbling walls of glass and steel are supported by additions of stone. With long-distance travel once again a hardship, the people have fallen back to the old models of kingdoms and lordships, some of which are noble in nature, some not so much. And a new era of knights has arisen as men and women, either strong in heart or in treachery, spread their deeds throughout the lands through larger-than-life actions and clumsy standards on the ends of their staffs.

It's to this new age of heroes and villains that the ambiguously aligned wizard Merklynn appears, offering the power of magic to any and all who make it through the traps of his shrine at Iron Mountain. Let the games begin.

I was really surprised by this episode. After the cataclysmic opening, what I expected to be dour and stiff was instead surprisingly funny and rich. This is a world where the villain roars with laughter every time he drops someone through a trap door, or the heroes have an almost comical "Never retreat!" air that often pushes them through situations with skill laced with a heaping of luck, or giant monsters run away from a charging hero because no one's ever attacked them directly before. There's great images like the dozens of knights that call it quits in the shrine or a man on a hang glider screaming to "Open the window!" before he crashes through it. And, yet, it's not silly. There's a humor there, but it's very tongue-in-cheek as it colors our characters as real people, with personalities as distinct as the animal avatars bequeathed on them by Merklynn. I'll have to consult Wikipedia just to make sure I get the names right, but here's our cast so far...

The side of good is led by Leoric, the prince of New Valarak. Noble and pure, he's represented by a lion, and is also the mighty bearer of a Tom Selleck moustache. Ectar, the fox, is essentially Leoric's right hand man. Leoric's protege is Feryl, the wolf, who's big contribution, other than being the rambunctious youth, is to argue with Leoric about whether funds should be used to build a jousting arena or a botanical garden. Cryotek, from the frozen northlands, is a bear, because he's big and strong and likes to charge at things. Witterquick is oddly yet aptly named because his speed has gifted him with the totem of a cheetah. From a people of cliff-dwellers comes Arzon, who gains the avatar of the Eagle because he's able to build a ridiculous hang glider out of a few random tree branches. And the token female of the group is Galadria. She becomes a dolphin because.... well.... one time, while she was under water, she randomly grabbed a drain plug and that totally makes her dolphiny.

On the side of evil, we have the menacingly named Darkling Lords. Their leader of sorts (we'll see how often that lasts) is Darkstorm, the insidiously aforementioned wielder of trap doors, who's sliminess makes him a mollusk. The lizardy Reekon, master of stealth and treachery, is, of course, made a lizard. Mortdredd, "for bootlicking, above and beyond the call of duty, I give you the scampering beetle!" 'Nuff said. Cindarr, the oldest of both groups, bears the symbol of the gorilla for his brute strength. Cravex is made the phylot, a winged scavenger of Prysmos, because of his short temper of fearsome violence. Lexor has the invulnerable shell of an armadillo, to protect him as he runs away in cowardice. And Virulina, the token evil female, is a shark for her coldblooded cunning.

That's quite a large cast to keep straight up front, so it'll be interesting to see if the creators try to cram them all into every story or rotate a select few from episode to episode. I have to say, I'm impressed I was able to mostly keep them straight thus far. There isn't much depth to the group yet, but they've done a good job of giving each a small distinction to make them stick in the mind, even if I still have to check back to get the names right. I'm more worried about keeping straight who has what magic, as not only do all the knights have mystical totems they're able to take the form of, but half have had their standard staffs blessed with yet more magic, in the form of Wisdom, Strength, Lightspeed, Knowledge, Decay, Destruction, Invulnerability, and Fear.

As I mentioned, I really love the tone of this series, as alliances are forged and broken from minute to minute for reasons both sound and comical. Especially in the end, when it's Darkstorm who raises the (false) cry that their newfound powers should only be used to protect the innocent, leaving everyone giving him funny looks before agreeing to the pledge.

I am so sold on this show. It's funny, it's exciting, I love that the wizard who gives everyone power doesn't pick a particular side, the designs, animation, and voice acting are all top notch. And Flint Dille, I knew you'd never let me down in the writing department. Here's hoping for twelve more episodes that bring the same cleverness and quality.


“That’s my theme music. Every good hero should have some.” - John Slade

If people remember nothing else about their favorite childhood cartoons, they remember the theme songs, and their importance cannot be over-stated. A good theme song keeps the kid glued to the TV for the next thirty minutes, thus allowing you to sell them more toys teach them a valuable lesson. A bad theme song, and the same kid shuts off the TV, locks himself in the bathroom, and wanks it to his step-sister's fashion magazines. Maybe that's just me this kid I knew.

A good intro theme serves two purposes. 1.) To hype you up like a Mountain Dew chugging orangutan 2.) To explain the general premise of the cartoon. The best example of this was from Sunbow’s own G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero. After a few bars of patriotic kick-assery, announcer Jackson Beck gave us the skinny. G.I. Joe’s purpose was to defend human freedom against Cobra, a ruthless terrorist organization determined to rule the world.

You see, now you're ready to watch. And to kill terrorists. Assuming you can actually hit them.

So, what about the opening of Visionaries? Frankly it sounds like it’s performed by a group of amateur Gregorian monks who are making it up as they go along. “Visionaries! Knights of the Magical Light! Visionaries!... Hmm-hmm-hmm-hmm-hmm-hmm fight!”

Verdict: I just got back from the bathroom. Page 77, you have been dog-eared.

Now for the show.

That sound you hear is Don Herbert turning over in his grave because there is some really bad science going on in this show. Somehow, the aligning of three suns (Three suns? Eat that, George Lucas!) causes all energy on the planet Prysmos to cease, rendering modern technology useless and causing the planet to collapse into a medieval-like state where magic replaces science.

If any of that even remotely makes any sense to you, congratulations! You can create toy lines for Hasbro.

But logic is for Vulcans. All that matters is: is the episode any good? Sort of.

I like the mystery surrounding Merklynn. We don't really know about him. Why does he bestow powers just as freely on the evil knights as he does the good ones? He strikes me as a manipulator with his own agenda. It's not the kind of character you typically see on an 80s animated show. I like him.

The good guys are pretty generic. Granted, one episode isn't enough time to really flesh the characters out, but I had a hard time keeping them straight. One of the things both G.I. Joe and Transformers did so well was create broad and memorable archetypes for its two sides. And speaking of which, what about our villains?

The Darkling Lords - gee, hard to believe they're the bad guys with a name like that - are lead by Darkstorm. What I like about him (so far) is that he isn't your standard mustache-twirling, fist-shaking buffoon. He's smooth, cold, and calculating. Like their Spectral Knight counterparts, the rest of the Darkling Lords are pretty interchangeable. Save for one, the sniveling Mortdredd (voiced by Jonathan Harris!), a sycophantic boot-licker.

The episode ends on a "To be continued" cliffhanger, which makes me wonder if the show is going to be serialized or if this is the standard part one of a five-parter that opens so many animated series of the era.

All in all, this first episode was a bit flat, but it showed some promise. I think now that the story is set up, things will start to roll.

I struggled to find a capper for these reviews the way I did with my "White Guys Conspiring Around a Pool" count during the Automan run. But it occurred to me that, unlike so many 80s cartoons, Visionaries lacked a moral lesson bumper for the end of the episode. So, without further ado, here's this weeks "Now That's Being a Visonary" moment:

Bobby: "Hey, look. A hobo! Lets throw a rock at him."

Jimmy: "Gee, I don't know."

Bobby: "Aw, come on. What are you, a chicken?"

Jimmy: "Well, okay. I guess one rock won't hurt."

Man's Voice: (off-screen) "I wouldn't do that if I were you."

Bobby and Jimmy: (simultaneously) "Leoric!"

Bobby: "We were just going to have a little fun."

Leoric: "Throwing things at vagrants can be fun, but it can also be dangerous. He may have a disease, or even a rusty shiv. And that would end your fun real quick, wouldn't it?"

Jimmy: "We never thought of it that way."

Bobby: "Hey, let's go give him a dollar."

Jimmy: "Better buy him a doughnut instead. He might use the money to buy drugs."

Leoric: "Now that's being a Visionary."

Additional articles in our Visionaries: Knights of the Magical Light series:

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