November 24, 2013

Sectaurs: Warriors of Symbion, episode 5 "Battle of the Hyve"

Our heroes pick themselves up out of the avalanche that hit them, all largely unharmed. They spend the next 3 days wandering through snowy, wind-swept crags. Dargon tracks down some food, but cooking it attracts a pair of giant scorpions. Our heroes fight the creatures off, but lose the food.

Spidrax and his forces are the first to reach the Citadel of Shadows. The Shadow Master (a portly caterpillar-man), attacks with his shadow magic, but it can't touch anyone who doesn't fear it, and Spidrax just casually walks through and takes the Shadow Master captive. When Dargon's troops arrive, Spidrax has the Master turn himself and his men into shadows so they can get the drop on the heroes. They do so, forcing everyone into a deep pit. They throw the Shadow Master in too for good measure.

The Shadow Master apologizes for helping Spidrax by showing Dargon a secret exit, leading to the Forbidden Zone, across which he'll find the Hyve. Dargon and his men press into the wasteland. They reach a patch of woods, but the trees turn out to be Ents Arbolites, and attack our group until Dargon chases them away with fire. Next, our heroes reach the Wall of Thorns, but Pinsor and Battle Beetle are able to cut a quick path through the vines.

They reach the Hyve, but Spidrax is already there, with not only the overwhelming firepower of his forces, but the weapons of the compound now at his disposal. Despite this, our heroes fight through with the sheer power of their heroism. Dargon and Spidrax duel in the command center, during which the wrong button is hit and the entire place begins to quake and crumble. Heroes and villains alike flee, all except Dargon, who was pinned beneath a slab of debris. Our remaining heroes are forced to watch in horror as the Hyve sinks into the ground. Mantor and Pinsor try to offer up some inspiring words, but it's only when the rubble shifts and Dargon emerges that a victorious battle cry is raised.


I would like to take a moment here at the top to apologize to our readers for the unpleasant smell of this week's review. After five weeks and nearly two hours of this increasingly insipid nonsense, I broke down and began spraying my monitor with Raid. Lots and lots of Raid.

I believe it was Geoffrey Chaucer who wrote, "All good things must come to an end." Fortunately for us, so too must all things that suck. In general, there's not much to say about "Battle of the Hyve" that I haven't said about previous episodes, but I feel compelled to point out just how far they ratchet up the stupid here in the final installment.

As before, there are ominous sounding places, like the Citadel of Shadows and the Forbidden Zone, the latter of which we're told has a wall of thorns at its far edge. This comes two minutes after we're told that no one has ever returned from the Forbidden Zone. So how does Mantor know about this wall of thorns exactly? Did someone send him a text message about it before they croaked? "Mantor, just reached the end of the Forbidden Zone. Looks like there's a wall of thorns! I'll post pics on my Facebook when I get home. Ltr." This seems highly unlikely. We all know how bad cell service is in the Forbidden Zone.

There's also the requisite stupid dialog, such as when the Shadow Master says of the Forbidden Zone, "It is ten thousand times more dangerous than your worst nightmare." Exaggerate much, Shadow Master? Ten thousand times. Really? So basically what you're saying is they should face constant resistance. That every inch will be a battle. It's funny, because it looked to me like the Sectaurs didn't encounter anything or anyone more dangerous in the Forbidden Zone than they did back in that bar in their hometown. Just a tip for you ladies who come across the Shadow Master's "Shadow Master seeks Shadow Slave" ad on the Symbion Craigslist page. When he says that he is "huge", he means in comparison to a Tic-Tac.

And of course, there are the increasingly dull clashes, like the one that compromises the final seven minutes of the episode. Having long ago abandoned any hope that Sectaurs would start living up to its initial promise, I was just holding out for a finale that would at least shed some light on this mysterious Hyve and why it was so important to these two factions. Unfortunately only two things are revealed here, and they are Jack and Shit. We came all this way and we don't learn one damn thing about the Hyve. Nothing. I... where did I put that can of Raid...

Noel and I often make it a point to find at least one nice thing to say about each episode, but frankly, I'm at a loss here. "Battle at the Hyve" makes all of the same mistakes as the previous four episodes, but then exacerbates them with an ending that renders the entire enterprise pointless. This episode is awful, but what could be a more fitting end for this dull and senseless dreck?

  • As in previous episodes, the announcer threatens says, "To be continued...", suggesting this mini-series wasn't simply an effort to help launch the toy line, but an introduction for a planned weekly series. Thank whatever God you worship that never happened.
  • Is it just me, or does the Shadow Master look like deceased character actor Herb Vigran? Probably just me.


"How do we get in there?"

"Right through that front gate!"


Well, I didn't hate the ending. Entirely.

This is one of those episodes where there's something kinda neat followed by something pretty crappy, and it just keeps bouncing around. First, our heroes need to eat, except some giant scorpions want to eat, too. Not eat them, just eat what they were going to eat. And the scorpions do so, but not until after one of them is rather brutally maimed by having the end of his tail and one claw arm lopped off. Good on the show for showing some realistic violence, yet never once does a character say, "Hey, we now have another chunk of meat we can throw over the fire. Heck, there's probably more meat in that claw than what was on the spit we lost. Problem solved!" Then we get to the Shadow Master, and it seems really interesting with him being coerced into helping out Spidrax, but the whole effect of him turning the bad guys into shadows doesn't ultimately do much, and given how much of a tossup the battles have been in the past, it's not surprising when Spidrax gets the upper hand anyways. And the Shadow Master is yet another character quickly breezed over instead of getting his own episode in which to breathe. I like his design, though. Totally not what I expected, but it works.

And then our heroes set out on the final stretch to the Hyve. They have to cross a desert, get through... wait a second. We're back to the base of Mount Sectaur*, right? That's what they were climbing, presumably that's where the pit they fell into would let out. We already know Mount Sectaur is surrounded by the Acid Desert. But now our heroes are in a new desert wasteland called the Forbidden Zone. Is it the Forbidden Zone of the Acid Desert? Because that's such a string of a name that I refuse to believe this show would pass it up. But I'll go with it, that this is just an especially nasty desert patch of the already nasty desert. So they have to find the Wall of Thorns. Because sure, but okay, a twisting forest of thorny vines is always a neat image and looks nice here. Two problems. One, where do the random Ents come from? They look neat and I like the way they walk on their roots, but with everything going on, is this an action beat we need? Really? Nothing comes of it as they run from fire. Two, several characters go out of their way to say the Forbidden Zone "goes on forever", yet they point out their intended destination, have absolutely no difficulty reaching said destination, and it didn't even take them very long to get there. That said, I am amused by Pinsor and Battle Beetle just mowing right through the Wall of Thorns without a hitch.

[* Worth noting they made a small change in the beginning of the episode, that our heroes are now descending Mount Sectaur to reach the Citadel of Shadows, not climbing a mountain they've already climbed, as I pointed out in last week's review. Glad somebody on the show caught that.]

And then we reach the Hyve, which is probably the single most faithful toyline playset I've ever seen rendered on screen. You've got the command center on top, a hollow beneath where people can pack into, a flat level where they can fight (complete with a random wrecking ball/crane to swing around), and some nooks and crannies for some random giant bugs to spring out of (the centipede in the wall literally shot out as though he were a piece of plastic on a spring). I love it, it's great stuff, but here's the problem... they spent so much time building up the Hyve, that everyone wants it, that it'll tip the scales in the favor of whatever side has it... but they never tell us how or why. We never see any demonstration of what the Hyve can do, what force it wields. And while it's neat seeing an accurate rendition of a playset on screen, it does come off a bit petite and undaunting. It's not like Castle Greyskull, where this two level hunk of plastic is suddenly a massive citadel looming above the landscape. And on top of all this, the Hyve is wiped out. It crumbles and sinks into the ground. Sure, Mantor says "The Hyve will never be destroyed," but he doesn't get to elaborate on it as any further twists are silenced by the unfulfilled promise of "To Be Continued..."

And that's it. We spent five episodes tracking down the Hyve, and once we reach it, it does nothing but make itself go away, and I'm ultimately left wondering what the point of all this was. What were they trying to do here? Well, sell toys, obviously. But like this? With a world that can't even keep basic, immediate geography straight? With heroes who are so bland as to largely be interchangeable, and villains with personalities so similar that I can't even keep their distinctive designs straight? With a battle being waged just because, over something that doesn't matter, so nothing can actually happen?

To be fair, this isn't a horrible episode for the most part. There is a good flow to the narrative, the random twists and turns actually have a bit more going on so they don't feel like complete nonsense. The fight scenes are shorter and tighter, with less focus put on constant shots of battle trills and clashing weapons, and more on actual cause-and-effect scene blocking as story beats continue to happen instead of being paused.

So yes, it's one of the stronger episode, probably the best of the series, and a good note for them to go out on. But it's not enough. It's still littered with the same problems that continue to reveal this entire series is an under-developed and half-hearted affair, where they put so little thought into these characters and the world they inhabit, that when it came time to actually tell a story, they had no foundation to build on, and just started heaping in random shit in the hopes we wouldn't notice. It's lazy, it's sloppy, and there's no real effort or sincerity here. Yes, it managed to find some moments of footing, and it would have been interesting to see them start to build on it, but to do so in the fifth episode of a five episode series, you can't exactly blame the audience for having drifted off and found something else to watch several episodes ago.

Ultimately, I can't recommend this series on any level. I think the toyline was a neat idea, but it needed a hell of a lot more work put into it than what we got here in order to become a lasting multi-media franchise. As a show, this just doesn't cut it. As a comic, we'll see next week if that's a whole 'nuther story, or just more of the same.

  • Where the hell did Dargon's men suddenly pull those shields out of?!
  • Someone, either at Ruby-Spears or the network, I don't know who to kick, though the visuals weren't exciting enough, so they handed the finished episode to someone with a pan&scan machine, and they went to town, constantly zooming the picture in and out, sliding left and right and up and down, and even throwing in little shakes in the action scenes. It's horrible. Not only are they slicing out chunks of animation on the edges, but the constant movement is nauseating at times, especially during the actions scenes. I was completely lost during the Ent fight because the focus was sliding all over the place so fast I couldn't keep it straight. And instead of this being done to specific shots, no, they did the whole episode in a single, unedited pass. Meaning if they decided to push the focus in close in one shot, as soon as it would cut, you see them having to reel it back. Or they slide an image to the left, there's a cut, and it takes them a second to start sliding to the right. It has the effect of watching a bootleg someone shot with a camcorder in a movie theater, but with the added effect of them trying to spice it up a bit with intentional movement.

Next weekend, we shift over to the Sectaurs comic series with a look at "Upheaval".


Tony Williams said...

You know, come to think it, the quest for The Hyve was not unlike the search for the Lost Ark in Raiders. Two parties on opposite sides struggle to attain a mystical prize with vague power that they ultimately cannot wield or posses.

The only difference is one is the greatest action adventure tale of my life time and the other is Sectaurs.

I was thumbing through the first issue today and I must say that despite my disappointment with the cartoon, I'm really looking forward to the comics.

NoelCT said...

Yeah, I'm surprised my curiosity is piqued for the comics as much as it is. I think it's because there are some interesting ideas in here, and I know the people coming up have the talent to maybe pull them off.

Strannik said...

The entire mini-series really drives home just how important it is to put some thought or care into your product. the original He-Man cartoon wasn't exactly an epitome of good writing, but it gets right so many things Sectaurs get wrong.

But that also makes the series a great candidate for revival. If I ran a mid-tier comic book publisher, I'd license it and do a mini-series that tries to develop the setting, give characters actual personalities and generally try to capture the potential that was clearly there. Sure, there isn't a whole lot of brand recognition or nostalgia, but it's recognizable enough as the Archetypical 80s Toy Tie-in Cartoon that it might get people interested.

It's a tantalizing possibility.

Tony Williams said...

Noel, I figure that even if the comic sucks at least we'll have those nifty old school ads to read. They were a veritable self help guide. Wanna make money? Sell Grit! Want a body like Charles Atlas? You can have it in as little as 30 days! Want to learn the secrets of the Ninja? Send $2.00 and a SASE!

Igor, I think you're spot on. Sectaurs doesn't have the nostalgic currency of Masters of the Universe, but there have been more obscure toylines re-launched of late (aimed at adult collectors). And few if any of them had as much potential as Sectaurs.