August 19, 2012

Robotix, chapters 4-6

Chapter 4: A Spy is Born

Nemesis catches Kanawk in midair. He figures these humans might be of some use after all. They head to the mountain vault where Nemesis burrows a scope into the ground and spies on the Protectons as, hoping to tip the odds further in the favor of good, they use whatever spare parts are left to assemble another Robotix. Compucore imbues it with the essence of Kontor, a famed architect and friend of Argus. While the new Protecton is still coming to his senses, the scope is observes and the others interface with human counterparts and race to the surface. They're ambushed by two of the Terrakors, whose humans augment them to new battle-ready configurations.

Traxis was left behind in Compucore's chamber to watch over Zarru. With the others distracted on the surface, Nemesis - interfaced with Kanawk - and another Terrakor sneak in. Zarru is knocked out and Traxis decides to flip sides. Kontor is still struggling to adjust to his new body, so he's helpless to resist when Nemesis uses Compucore to replace the Protecton's essence with that of Terrakor Venturak. Traxis is ordered to stick around and be a spy within the heroes' ranks, alongside Venturak pretending to still be Kontor.

When the Terrakors on the surface suddenly retreat, the Protecton's realize it was a distraction and race back down to Compucore's chamber, where they find Traxis tending to a recovering Zarru and Venturak claiming to have fought off Nemesis. When a hungry Zarru triggers a comment about the dwindling food supply, the villains plan their next move.

A skeleton crew has been left behind at the human spaceship, which nobody sees as a threat nor a temptation for the Terrakors, so everyone's surprised when it comes under attack. Giant claws rip in through the hull and a young man named Flexor is badly injured as he tries in vain to prevent what little food is left from being stolen away.

Chapter 5: Crash Landing

Our heroes return to their ship and are stunned by the loss. If they don't find food soon, they're dead. So everyone redoubles their efforts to repair the ship just enough so they can reach a nearby planet covered with edible vegetation. The Protectons help, even though the leaving of the humans means they lose the ability to stand toe-to-toe against the now interfaced Terrakors.

The humans allied with the Terrakors celebrate their haul with a feast. When news comes in of the repairs to the ships, Nemesis is glad to let the humans go. The traitorous humans start to have second thoughts, but Kanawk promises them that the Terrastar will do them far better, and without the other humans, the Protectons will be unable to protect Compucore. Besides, he stole the ship's guidance system, meaning the heroes won't be long for this world.

The ship is ready. Exeter and Argus share a bitter farewell just before it takes off. As the ship roars into the sky, the Terrakors instantly set in, pummelling the crap out of the Protectons. Exeter and his crew spot the brutal onslaught and decide they can wait just a little longer before eating. They turn the ship around, but then the missing guidance system comes into play, dropping them into a crash landing as they skid across the landscape before slamming into a mountain.

Chapter 6: Firestorm at the Oasis

The ship is once again a flaming wreck, but Exeter and his crew are okay, and they don't hesitate to race into the midst of the battle and interface with the Protectons. The upper hand tips once again to the heroes as they drive the Terrakor's into a retreat.

While Argus thanks the humans for their choice, Zarru passes out from the lack of food. As Argus is filled in, he tells the humans that only the plantlife in this region had been tested. He takes them to Compucore who sends out probes for a wider sweep, and an oasis with fruit, vegetables, and clean water is discovered. While "Kontor" and Argus stay behind to guard Compucore, the other Protectons escort the humans to their first meal in quite some time. The Terrakors have overhead it all and Nemesis sends his minions in pursuit.

The heroes reach the oasis and start gathering as much fruit and water as they can store. They're suddenly ambushed by the Terrakors, who raze the whole thing to the ground and leave their enemies trapped in the inferno.

In Compucore's chamber, Venturak distracts Argus so Nemesis can sneak in, then both gang up on him at once. He takes a brutal beating and is strapped to a lift. Under Nemesis's control, Compucore hooks up the essence transferring cable and taps into Argus's essence.

Compucore: "Should I save or erase?"

Nemesis: "Erase!"

Argus's eyes go dim.


“Characters make stories.” - Me

Robotix features sharp animation, an intriguing back story, and a basic, primal tale of survival. Unfortunately, these elements continue to be blunted by flat storytelling and dull, interchangeable characters; both human and robot.

No one would ever accuse a series like G.I. Joe of telling great stories, but its universe was filled with colorful characters who each served a specific story function, and it had a certain storytelling panache that lifted the material. The best example of how Robotix fails on both of these fronts is with the interface between man and machine. First, what should be an exciting “suit up for battle” moment is handled with all the excitement of your great aunt Flo getting into her powder blue ’87 Crown Victoria to go grocery shopping. Contrast this to Voltron, where the gung-ho pilots mounted up as heroic music swelled. That’s the kind of stuff that builds anticipation. Without it, it’s like... well, it’s like sex without foreplay. Next is the lost opportunity for bonding between the Robotix and their human counterpart. Because the Robotix are sentient, you have a distinct advantage over shows like Voltron and Robotech, but it’s wasted here. I know it’s still early, but there’s little interaction between the two during battle. Imagine how much more fun it would be if one of the humans were stuck piloting a Robotix with a completely different personality. Instead we again have your great aunt Flo, having now picked up her best friend Helen, riding along in comfortable silence while agreeably listening to Pat Boone. Lastly, the mechanics of the interface are never really explained and we never get a sense of how the two interact on that level during battle. I’m not one to hold shows like this to real world scientific standards, but I do at least expect them to make up some super sciencey bullshit and then stick to it.

There were a few nice surprises in episode six, though. Just when I was ready to call B.S. on the sudden discovery of a problem solving oasis, the Terrakors burn it to the ground in a rather chilling apocalyptic visual that is easily the highlight of the series for me thus far. The other is the deceit of Venturak (posing as Kontor) that allows Nemesis to capture Argus and erase his essence. I believe this would’ve been much more powerful had Kontor been an actual traitor, but seeing the noble Argus fall victim to this scheme was still a strong moment.

Robotix continues to chug along amiably enough, but with a few simple character tweaks and a bit of storytelling flair, there’s no reason it couldn’t have been every bit the equal of Transformers. Perhaps even more.

Random Robotix - Sound f/x are often recycled across various movies and TV shows, and I finally realized where I’ve heard the sound of the laser blasts from Robotix before: the original Battlestar Galactica.


When Tony sent in his half of the post, it came with a note apologizing for the delay because it gave him a serious case of writer's block. Well, you and me both, Tony, as I've spent the better part of a day trying to work out what I want to say about this show. Hence the lateness of the post going up this Sunday.

The blandness of the characters and the designs has truly gotten overwhelming. We get some nice flourishes, like the runt wheel of a Protecton Jerrok being bitter over the humans leaving them to a likely death, or the traitorous human Nommo actually being a decent guy who keeps questioning the brutality of his friends, but he's so spineless and desperate for their plan to work and himself to live that he keeps giving in, or the promise of another heroic Robotix only for his essence to be ripped out and replaced with a bad guy who goes undercover... but it's all still way too thin. Everyone else is just generic what-have-you. The token kid. The token leader. The token villain. The token grunts. The token professor. The token woman. The token pants-pisser of a weenie. It's all so token and bland. There's interesting dynamics at play, absolutely, but without the foundation of strong characters holding up those dynamics, even they lack any kind of weight.

And that's a shame because the plotting itself is still quite strong. The strategies of the villains paint them as far more inventive and capable than the heroes at times, with sheer luck often being what chases them away. I love the plight of the food and the fact that the heroes, who had to up their timeline to leave when all their resources are stolen, actually give up on the chance to save themselves so they can save the Robotix who saved them. I wish I cared about the individuals involved, but it's still a strong moment when everyone is thinking of their bellies while watching their new-found friends be pulverized , and one of them finally says "Y'know, I could stand to be on a diet for a couple of days." And as Tony pointed out, even when they later find food on the surface, it doesn't have much of a chance to be the miraculous savior before it's all ashed by the baddies. This is strong stuff, giving the story itself weight and drive and motivation. So it's all the more unfortunate that the characters do little to nothing to support or enhance it. Even the great traitorous turn falls flat because Tranix was completely underdeveloped as a human, Venturak was only just introduced as he was ordered to play turncoat, so he has no established history to build on, and the disguise gets no exploration because Kontor is supposed to be Argus's oldest friend, yet we get nothing of Argus trying to play off that bond only to get odd reactions from the impostor.

Even the look of the show has taken a hit. I love the landscapes, but the animation has fallen into weaker hands as the imagery is far less crisp and dynamic. There's some great configurations going on in the Chapter 6 battle, but it's clunky and weightless and has devolved to about the level of a typical GoBots episode. It's not uncommon to see a show bring their A-game on the opening installments only to settle things into lesser hands as the series proper kicks in, but it's still disappointing. The main reason I liked the first 3 chapters was they were just so gorgeous to look at. Now I don't even have that.

While I had a lot of enthusiasm for this show going into the opening batch, that's now dwindled to light curiosity. They still pull out enough decent plot twists to keep me interested in how events will play out, but that interest lacks any form of a deeper investment. I just don't care about the show. I'll keep watching, but it isn't making me care.

Tune in next Sunday as we take a look at chapters 7-9 of Robotix.

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