August 27, 2011

Visionaries: Knights of the Magical Light, episode 13 - "Dawn of the Sun Imps"

Here we are, friends. The last episode of Visionaries: Knights of the Magical Light. As is true for the entire series, it's not quite what you'd expect.

When a pair of Lords chase a pair of Knights through the desert in yet another of their constant battles, they all come across the exposed seal of a long buried tomb and set aside their conflict to take a closer look. The Lords want to break in and plunder whatever treasure they find. The Knights are more interested in the archaeological importance of the find, and when they discover an inscription warning intruders of a curse, they convince the others to hold off for the moment.

All of the Knights and Lords gather on Iron Mountain and learn from Merklynn that the buried temple imprisons the Sun Imps, mischievous creatures of magic who were long ago locked away from the suns that give them power. He promises to reward both sides greatly if they team up to bury the temple once more. They do, and the two teams mostly set their differences aside as they set about their work, until Lexor, believing this is another of Merklynn's manipulating lies, tricks Cindarr into unleashing his Destruction spell, which of course cracks the tomb open.

What emerges are an eclectic mix of golden action-figure sized beings that quickly unleash their relentless assault of magical trickery on the group, until the sun goes down and they turn into insects and small lizards, scampering into shadows and cracks where they can't be found. Everyone returns home, hoping this is the last they'll ever see of the imps.

The next day, things go to hell.

Abraxas, the Wizard Imp, shows up on Iron Mountain and uses his ability to deflect spells cast against him to imprison Merklynn, relieve him of his orb, and playfully turn him into fruit and creatures, then cause him to breakdance on his nose.

In Darkstorm's city, Shaggy, the Hair Imp, causes long locks to spring from Darkstorm's head, hands, and feet, and dances him about as a puppet. Darkstorm is forced to stand at his window and watch as Knigthmare, the hypnotic Dream Imp, tricks Mortdredd into distributing the castle's treasury to the enslaved populace.

In New Valarak, Gorge, Growl, and Mysto - respectively, the Pig, Cat, and Fish Imps - use their control over their animal types to unleash mayhem, culminating when Growl even manages to take over Leoric in his lion form.

Again, the sun goes down, and the Imps scamper away into darkness as they await the next day's mischief. The Lords and the Knights once again meet at Iron Mountain. They need to work out a way to trap each of the Imps in darkness until they can be sealed away together. What follows is a bit unexpected.
  • Leoric lures Growl to Cindarr, who reveals he's been training the dog-like Destruction spell as he sends it to hunt the Cat Imp down.
  • Knightmare offers an open challenge to duel, and Ectar's fox form causes him to spin around and around until the Imp's own hypnotic axe clonks him on the head.
  • Galadria and Virulina use their aquatic forms to corner Mysto underwater before turning human and taking him out with a sock to the jaw.
  • Various Knights and Lords surround the shaggy Shaggy and set on him with a giant razor, giant scissors, and a giant brush.
  • The remaining Knights and Lords throw a birthday party for Gorge, then easily lock him away after he overstuffs himself on a gigantic birthday cake.
  • Merklynn casts a spell that is yet again deflected by Abraxas, only for it to be revealed as a self-capturing spell as the Imp is literally sacked.
Everyone gathers at the temple where the Imps are once again sealed away, and both the Lords and Knights reject Merklynn's promised rewards as they've had their fill of magic for the time being.

I love this episode. While there have been a few stories that suffered as a result of Flint Dille's tongue-in-cheek style of writing, this is not one of them as the characters stay true to themselves, even as they have to combat absurd foes with acts of equal absurdity. Maybe it went a little overboard with the gigantic scissors and razor, but I can't deny that it had me laughing my ass off. Same goes for the sight of Darkstorm dangled about in his bed clothes, or Leoric waking up from a hypnosis hangover in the middle of a pig pen, or the little "donk" sound you'd hear when Knightmare would tap people with his axe. It's funny. It's really, really funny. And my favorite exchange is this bit, where Dille uses the Knowledge staff to take a few jabs at the convoluted ingredient quests that Tony's complained about:

Arzon: "How do we subdue them?"

Knowledge: "Follow these instruction carefully. First, you collect a rare snorkleberry."

Cindarr: "A snorkleberry."

Knowledge: "Then, the hair of an orange cat and the tail of a stupid lizard."

Reekon: "There is no such thing as a stupid lizard!"

Knowledge: "Your totem animal will suffice for now."


Darkstorm: "Reekon! Impale him later. First, we must hear what he has to say."

Knowledge: "Thank you. All right. Once you've acquired said items, bake them into a garlic meringue pie."

(everyone yammers in disbelief)

Leoric: "Garlic meringue pie! Then what do we do?"

Knowledge: (from chuckles to laughter) "Look at me... smile... smile... SMILE... WHILE I PIE YOU!!!"

(hurls a pie in Leoric's face)
Knowledge is, of course, being controlled by the Imps. Great twist. Great bit. Yet another winner for Dille. And the animation was really damn good as the characters were far more facially and physically expressive than usual, capturing the silliness without falling into full on cartoonery.

Sadly, this is the last televised outing for our Knight and Lords. At least we get the comfort of going out on the sight of Merklynn aiming a wink and a smile straight to the viewer as he buries away a plot threat that will now never have the need to linger on beyond this point.

Orson Welles once said, "Bring me some more goddamned doughnuts. With sprinkles!" He also said, “If you want a happy ending, that depends, of course, on where you stop your story.” For Visionaries, the story stopped at Episode 13. Is it a happy one? Sort of. I mean, the good guys win and all that, but it's bittersweet to see a series this unique end after such a short run.

On its surface, Visionaries was your standard boys-toys cartoon with its blend of sword and sorcery and science-fiction, good vs. evil, and toy ready characters. But unlike other shows of the era, it held convention up to a funhouse mirror. The good guys weren't always right, the bad guys weren't always evil, and sometimes they had to work together for mutual advantage. There were shades of gray in its spectrum, which may account for why it's lacking the standard moral lesson at the end of each episode (until Noel and I provided it for them, that is).

Another way the show is different from its contemporaries: it's just plain funny. Sure, other cartoons of the era took stabs at humor, but they were often painfully unfunny. The risk here is that Visionaries isn't a comedy. There are still beasts to fell and quests to... questify... and there's a danger that all of the humor could undermine the drama - and it did in a few episodes - but that's not really a problem with this week's episode, because the Sun Imps are mischievous by nature. They're not dragons or trolls, they're more like gremlins. Their presence invites a certain amount of slapstick, which the episode is all too happy to provide.

"Dawn of the Sun Imps" does skate that edge, though. The bit where the Knights chase Shaggy around with a pair of scissors and a razor would almost be too camp for 70s-era Hanna-Barbera, let alone an 80s action-oriented series. But I can't deny that it's funny, and doing something well, even if it's out of character, is better than doing something mediocre in character.

As characters and a plot device, I really liked the Sun Imps. Like gremlins, goblins, brownies, and pucks, they were merry (and not so merry) pranksters straight out of mythology. And in spite of the silly shenanigans, you really do feel the menace of the Imps by the mounting chaos that their actions wrought. I also liked the look of the Imps, each being unique and fitting their personalities while still evoking the sun that gave them their power.

As a finale that's not a finale but is never the less a finale, "Dawn of the Sun Imps" captures many of the elements that made Visionaries so unique. And almost as if he knew something no one else did, Merklynn ends the episode by giving us a wink. True, this may have been Merklynn's way of saying that he finds us sexually attractive, and who could blame him, but I prefer to think it was more than mere irony or the sexual advances of a cartoon wizard. I believe it was a thank you and a goodbye. And, yes, quite possibly a sign that Merklynn wants to play "Hide the wand" with us.

It's time for our final "Now that's being a Visionary!" moment:

Rex: "Timmy, are you done with my homework, yet?"

Timmy: "Just finishing up the final essay, sir."

Rex: "Good. When you're done, I need you to pick up this week's issues from the comic shop, apply my foot fungal cream, and donate one of your kidney's to my uncle Ivan so he'll include me in his will."

Timmy: "I-- I guess I can do that. I-- "

Man's Voice: (off screen) "It time to muster up the mastery, my boy!"

Boys: (simultaneously) "Mortdredd!"

Mortdredd: "Timmy, you shouldn't let another boy have such a deep control over your life. Did Rex offer to split the inheritance with you in return for the kidney? I think not!"

Rex: "Why would I do that?"

Mortdredd: "Because Timmy is a human being! He's equally deserving of treatment and respect! Who do you think you are, child, Darkstorm? No man reaches his greatness. Why, if everyone would follow my example and dedicate themselves to the genius of his leadership, just imagine how prosperous and guided our world would be!"

Timmy: "But you don't understand, Mortdredd. Rex has given me access to his accounts, so once the inheritance is in place, I can run off with everything he owns."

Mortdredd: "Now that's being a Visionary!"

Rex: "Wait, what?"

Tune in next Saturday Morning when Tony takes us into the world of the Visionaries action figures.

August 20, 2011

Visionaries: Knights of the Magical Light, episode 12 - "Sorcery Squared"

The Super Saturday Short-Lived Showcase returns after a three week absence while I mourned the loss of my mother to Cancer. Mom spent most of her life working as a waitress, but she was a writer at heart and I can't think of a better way to honor her than to get back to doing that which she loved so much.

Sorry about the grammar, Mom. God knows, you tried your best.

Pop quiz time. Cryotek is...

A.) The name of a fictional corporation in the Terminator series.

B.) A Transformer voiced by actor Jon Cryer.

C.) One of the Spectral Knights from Visionaries.

If you answered C, you're correct. And if you answered either A or B, I really wouldn't blame you. If the Darkling Lords are a wardrobe of colorful pants and outrageous coats, the Spectral Knights are a closet-full of gray suits virtually indistinguishable from one another. This week's episode, "Sorcery Squared", looks to change that a bit by putting the focus on one of the Knights.

Cryotek, eldest of the Spectral Knights, is frustrated by his inability to be more outgoing and interesting. After his two left feet and lack of social confidence create havoc at a party, fellow Knight Arzon tries to cheer him up by having him tag along on what appears to be a simple mission. They soon discover that things aren't so simple when they encounter the Darkling Lords up to no good. The two forces clash and things appear to go the Spectral Knights' way, until Cryotek is captured and taken prisoner by the Lords.

The Lords throw Cryotek into the Dagger Assault's Magic Extractor to strip him of his totem, but things don't go as planned when Cryotek manages to pull the ill-tempered Cravex in with him. The result is that Cryotek gains the power of Cravex's animal totem as well as his own, and Cravex is left without any magic. Grabbing Cindarr's Destruction Staff, Cryotek escapes and heads for home.

Back in New Valarak, Cryotek begins to exhibit some disturbing new behavior. Just as his friends' suspicions are aroused, Cryotek steals Witterquick's Lightspeed Staff and flees. Once again, the Spectral Knights and Darkling Lords are forced to work together to set things "right" as they follow Cryotek to his old home town of Northalia, where he now suffers from a rapidly fracturing personality. After nearly destroying the city, he makes a desperate run for Merklynn's lair to plead for the wizard's help.

Cryotek reaches Merklynn to find that the wizard is more interested in asking questions than offering immediate help. Now fully possessed by the competing personalities within him, Cryotek manages to recharge his Staffs and then makes for Darkstorm's castle. Cornered there by the tentatively allied Knights and Lords, a great battle ensues. But just as things appear to be at their darkest, Cryotek's love for Galadria shines through when he saves her from being smashed by a falling pillar. The Knights take this moment to capture Cryotek and put him back into the Magic Extractor. They're able to reverse the effects and return him to normal before escaping Darkstorm's castle and returning home, where Cryotek vows to remain his normal, "boring" self, much to the delight of his friends.

"Sorcery squared" covers some familiar ground with its "We like you just the way you are" (see "Feryl Steps Out") and reluctant team-up (see "Horn of Unicorn, Claw of Dragon") themes, but I found the slow deterioration of the rock solid Cryotek to be thoroughly compelling. Voice actor Bernard Erhard really sinks his teeth into the role as Cryotek gets to unleash quite a wave of destruction.

Overall, this episode deftly balances humor, action, and character development, and delivers one of the better outings of the series.

Doug Booth returns from the fumble that was "The Power of the Wise" for a damn good character piece that cleverly mixes pathos with rousing action.

While the Power Staffs are completely interchangeable and can be used by anyone, the animal Totems each Visionary possessed is deeply tied to who they are as an individual, so the idea of a mixup between two of them causing a shift in personality makes a lot of sense. And instead of simply having a good guy and a bad guy swap, which would be a perfectly acceptable if predictable Freaky Friday situation, they take it another step and put two in the body of one man, leading to some surprisingly freaky moments as Cryotek goes all schizo on people as he bounces from compassionate to psychotic.

And look at the power he wields, not only with both animal forms, but the collection of Power Staffs he pulls together before going off on his own. They cleverly sneak a recharge in the plot so he can cause maximum damage by unleashing the force of Destruction twice, first on his hometown, secondly on Darkstorm's castle. And, man, there's that amazing scene where he's shot in mid air and is plummeting to the ground. Is he screaming or flailing? No, he's laughing. He's confident and doesn't make an effort to save himself until after he gets a little payback for the shot that took him down. Chilling stuff from what's been a rather bland character to this point.

And it's great to see them bringing back Cryotek's romance with Galadria, which we haven't explored since way back in "The Dark Hand of Treachery". I love that, instead of pairing her with one of the younger, more dashing Knights, she's fallen for the clumsy but dependable gentle giant of the group. Their few scenes together are filled with so much warmth and sincerity, especially their final embrace at the end. Her painful line about wanting a "bear hug" aside.

There's a few problems with the episode. If you want to play up Cryotek's power hunger, why not have him gradually collect all the Staffs instead of just reusing the same three. Given the effect Cravex's totem is having on Cryotek, it's surprising that Cravex himself plays such a small roll in events. There's a bit where Cryotek flies one of the gliders, but he shouldn't be able to since he's a Staff wielder, meaning his magic won't power the machines. And I didn't know you could make an avalanche less dangerous by shooting it and turning it into a wall of water. Correct me if I'm wrong, but that'll still have the same weight and force behind it.

But these are small nitpicks. It's a great episode. I love the way the Knights are having to work together while at each other's throats, Witterquick throwing salt on a wound by smashing the Lords' Dagger Assault through Darkstorm's castle and sinking it into the moat is hilarious, it's very believable that even Merklynn has limits to his knowledge and he's unable to find a solution in time, and it's great to see Cryotek join the ranks of the few Knights to finally gain depth and distinction.

I'm really sad that we only have one episode left.

It's time for this week's "Now that's being a Visionary!" moment:

Vince: "So, Tommy, I hear your mom bought you some new toys."

Seymour: "Hand 'em over."

Tommy: "No. Every time you guys take my toys, you break them."

Vince: "Would you rather I break your nose?"


Boys: (simultaneously) "Cravex!"


Tommy: "But I'm not a warrior."


(Cravex starts smashing Tommy's toys)

Seymour: "Now that's being a Visionary!"

Tune in next Saturday morning for the final episode of Visionaries: Knights of the Magical Light, "Dawn of the Sun Imps".