May 21, 2011

Visionaries: Knights of the Magical Light, episode 2 "The Dark Hand of Treachery"


If you guessed that the Darkling Lords weren't going to stick to their peace treaty, congratulations. You’re not an idiot. Or named Leoric.

Episode Two gives us two major revelations:

1) The magical staffs and personal totems of each knight has a single use, with each spell having a time limit to boot. I really like this. It adds a bit of strategy to their usage and keeps the show from being nothing more than an orgasm of magical pyrotechnics.

2) Remember how Mortdredd and Reekon weren't given power staffs of their own (just pretend you do)? It seems they weren't totally shut out as they discover they have the ability to magically power vehicles. This seems like a lame power on the surface, but it's actually quite clever because there's a real tactical advantage to having vehicles, and this makes them both more valuable to Darkstorm.

As for the episode itself, I enjoyed it.

Even though its open-endedness makes it feel a bit incomplete, we get to see glimpses of the sort of epic action and humor that typified Sunbow/Marvel cartoons. My favorite bit was when the Darkling Lords catapulted Mortdredd into the Spectral Knights' fortress to demand their surrender, only to have the knights refuse and send him back to his master via the same method.

Minor complaints would be that the bad guys are infinitely more interesting than the good guys, and that, while the animation is very good, the design of Prysmos is a little too bleak and repetitive. Filmation's take on Eternia in He-Man: Masters of the Universe was colorful, diverse, and interesting. With Prysmos, you can't tell the hero's fortress from the villain's, and there's no sense of geography. I know this is supposed to be a post-apocalyptic planet, but shows like Thundercats and Thundarr, the Barbarian managed to make that type of landscape come alive.

Some random thoughts and observations:
  • Someone apparently forgot to tell Chris Latta that he's not playing Cobra Commander in this series.
  • Each side has exactly one female knight. Think they'll square off, like, every episode?
  • The key to summoning magic? Really bad rhymes.


In an interesting twist, the villains found an easy upper hand at the end of the last episode when they united themselves as the Darkling Lords while the unthreatened heroes parted and went their own ways. Darkstorm and his new band of cronies fully take advantage of this as, en masse, they set upon each individual good knight when they're alone and unsuspecting, draining them of their magic abilities, binding them in chains, and adding each Power Staff to their growing collection. It's really well crafted in the way they not only make the baddies a genuine threat, but give us the opportunity to clearly see everyone's new magical powers in use, demonstrating both their strengths and limitations, and even setting a few rules in place about how two pieces of magic can negate one another.

And they take it one step farther by taking the opportunity to introduce the first few vehicles. The sleek Sky Claw jet and menacing moving fortress Dagger Assault are well designed and stand out as old technology reintroduced in a dark age that's learned to live without. Again, it makes the villains a genuine menace, and I love how it's the magic of only specific knights that can activate specific vehicles, rules that are, again, visibly demonstrated instead of dryly explained. It's really a masterpiece of writing on Flint Dille's part as he skillfully balances a mountain of elements. The characters themselves are still a little thin, but the important stuff is now out of the way, clearing the table for that development.

Which we do get a little taste of through some early hints at a romance. Being the token woman of the group, I guess it's no surprise the creators would try to pair Galadria up with somebody, but instead of the charismatic Leoric or any of the younger, more dashing knights, a bond is forming between Galadria and Arzon, the gruff and giant bear of a brawler. It's a really refreshing and unexpected development, and they do show some nice chemistry in their one scene together, where they meet on a frozen road for a playful wrestle before the Darkling Lords set down on them.

But this episode is all action. The ambushes of the heroes, with weapons clashing and magic flashing. An undersea battle between the dolphin Galadria and shark Virulina. Air battles. Chases. Melee combat. It's all here. And then there's the climactic siege on New Valarak where the remaining heroes fail to hold off the fearsome power of the now strengthened Darkling Lords. There's some funny bits, like the sniveling Mortdredd being tossed back and fourth by catapults as a courier, or the monstrous ape of destruction Cindarr pausing to rescue a stray cat, but it's mostly played straight as the Darkling Lords conjure a massive beast that slices down the cities walls like tissue paper, and there's nothing our heroes can do but put up a weak struggle before being captured.

And then we get the rousing moment where our heroes, captured over the course of the show but now imprisoned together, decide to unite their powers as the Spectral Knights. That's a great beat to leave us on before cutting away, and I can't wait to see how this three-parter comes to a close next week. This is an unexpectedly intelligent show where dangers are real, the world has rules, the villains can mess you the hell up, and magical powers make a surprising amount of sense as they tip the balance in surprising ways. I'm really loving this series.

And now here's this week's "Now That's Being a Visionary" moment:

Scottie: "Here goes... Yes! Hole-in-One."

Billy: "Nice shot!"

Annabelle: "Hey, can I play?"

Scottie: "Hahaha! Girls can't play putt-putt."

Woman’s voice: (off-screen) “Four stroke penalty for Sexism.”

Group: (simultaneously) “Galadria!”

Scottie: “I just meant she should be home vacuuming or something."

Galadria: “Billy, hand me your club.”

Scottie: “Wait, what are you... Ow!... Wh-- ow!”

Billy: “Come on, Annabelle. You can play with me.”

Scottie: “Ow! Ooh! Eee!”

Annabelle: “Maybe we should call an ambulance first.”

Galadria: “Now that’s being a Visionary!”

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

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