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.

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