In his volcanic castle, the dreaded and mohawk-plumed lord Myzor destroys a robot underling who failed to uncover the location of the Starfire Ring, and promises the same fate will befall the bullish Dreadlock if he doesn't fare better.
Swooping down from the flying city of Aereon in her sentient airship Windchaser, Princess Skyla is eager to explore the fabled lands below and beams as she approaches an island. Windchaser isn't quite so eager, warning her about "savages" and how this is forbidden by her father, King Altair.
Below, in a quiet village filled with inventive machinery involving bamboo gears and natural hydraulics, a young boy named Baboose swoops to a landing in his canoe/glider, and rushes up to check on his older brother, Vytor, who's soon chided by Chief Eldor for pushing himself too hard for the approaching ceremony. The time arrives, and Vytor takes his place at a starting line alongside another teen, Targil, in a race through woods and obstacles to determine who will be the village's latest champion. They take off, keeping neck-and-neck the whole way, until Vytor suddenly tackles Targil, saving him from being hit by the low-flying Windchaser. She's being pursued by Mutoids under the command of Dreadlock, who thinks she might have info on the Ring.
Windchaser is shot down, but Skyla takes it in stride, examining real flowers for the first time in her life. She spots the curious Targil and Vytor watching her from behind cover, but before either party can say anything, a Mutoid lands and goes after Skyla. Targil swoops in to fight, and is quickly shot down. Before he's finished off, Vytor takes on the Mutoid, but is quickly overwhelmed and ultimately runs for it with Skyla. They reach a ledge over a river, and she whips out her wrist computer to calculate the odds of their fall. Vytor doesn't wait, yanking her along as he jumps.
They survive, washed ashore by a cave. Vytor is afraid of the engraved pillars within, but Skyla is ecstatic. They're suddenly attacked by a demon, but when a ring Vytor's been wearing the whole time on his tunic suddenly lights up with a beam of energy, the demon retreats back into a central dais and the image of a woman appears. At his citadel, Myzor was alerted to the activation of the ring - THE Ring, in fact - when his Saturn Orb starts flaring. He watches through the orb as the woman, Lyria, tells Vytor he's the air of the "Starfire Legacy".
In the recent past, this world was ruled by three kings: Altair, the king of science; Myzor, the warrior king; and Trion, the king of justice. Trion was, of course, the secret father of Vytor. Myzor stole the Saturn Orb, a source of major power, only for it to be crippled when Trion stripped it of a key component, the Starfire Ring. The Ring was placed with the infant Vytor before he was sent down a river to the Terron village where he was adopted, never knowing his father was captured and banished to the Shadow Realm.
Vytor must now guard the Ring while also seeking to reclaim the Saturn Orb, so its power can be renewed, but for the cause the peace. Skyla is destined to help him in this quest, and he's also given his father's old weapon, the Starfire Shield, a magical tool bound to the Ring, which also contains a mind-controlled trimerang within. As Lyria disappears, she warns them of the Creeper of the Cavern. Skyla is quickly attacked by the tentacle monster, but Vytor fends it off with the bladed trimerang.
When they reach the surface, they bicker over Skyla's desire to repair Windchaser and Vytor abandons her to return to his village alone. He finds the populace has been captured by Dreadlock and the Mutoids, but just as Vytor tosses his trimerang at the commander, Dreadlock steps aside, putting the restrained Baboose in its path. Vytor cries out, and the trimerang responds by returning without doing any harm. Seeing the captured villagers, Vytor surrenders, but as he's being led away, Skyla appears, destroying the guards with computer nodes from her gauntlet. She calls in Windchaser, who swoops down, taking out more guards and setting the Terrons free. Targil leads other warriors to their gliders and they join the fight with rocks and Baboose's plucky slingshot.
The fight only goes so far before it's revealed the robotic Mutoids can quickly reassemble their damaged bodies, but Skylar starts using her computer nodes to reprogram them into damaging themselves further during reassembly. Realizing his forces are lost, Dreadlock drops his boasting and beats a retreat. When Vytor pursues, Dreadlock cuts a rope bridge, seemingly dropping the boy to his death, but the Starfire Shield also functions as a glider, swinging the boy right back around for a flying kick to Dreadlock's chest. Dreadlock drops off the same cliff, but Vytor shows mercy, dropping vines to him, and Dreadlock mocks him in return before driving away.
Everyone sings Vytor's praises, lifting him atop shoulders as his shield shoots fireworks into the sky. Watching from afar, Myzor pledges that their paths will cross again.
As Noel and I were wrapping up Cybersix, we decided, before moving on to our next full Showcase, to throw in an additional mini-Showcase to supplement our already agreed upon one-shot of Bubsy. He shot me an email with a few suggestions, and the one that really stood out for me was Vytor: The Starfire Champion. This was based solely on its catchy opening theme, which you think I'd have learned by now is a bad litmus test for quality. The 80s was the era of "sell the sizzle, not the steak", and thus every cartoon had an awesome theme song, or so it seemed. What I didn't know at that fateful moment of choice was that Vytor was done by the same team who did Bubsy, and that Bubsy would turn out to be so soul crushingly awful. Could Vytor be just as bad? Is that even scientifically possible?
If Vytor has absolutely nothing else going for it, and it may not have, it's beautifully animated. The environments are rich and immersive, and the character movements are smooth and dynamic. Had this turned into a daily or even weekly series, you have to wonder if they would've been able to maintain this level of quality, but what we get here is truly exceptional. Alas, it opened its mouth.
The basic set-up for Vytor is as generic and cliched as you would expect. Naive young hero, secret destiny, magical item, plucky heroine, black-hearted villain. Every box is checked, save for the talking animal sidekick, and here that's simply replaced with a talking airship sidekick. This isn't necessarily a bad thing. As I've said here before (in one way or another), cliches become cliches for a reason: they work. It really comes down to execution, and it's here that Vytor soars like a wingless bird.
I suppose I'll start with our characters. Vytor is generic hero el supremo. Seriously, this dude is about as deep as a thimble. Again, that's not out of the ordinary with such characters, but he takes bland to another level. They should've named him Oatmeal. His nemesis, Myzor (I'm calling it now, he's Vytor's Father) is voiced by Optimus Prime, who also goes by the name Peter Cullen. Nothing Peter Cullen does can disguise the Optimus in his voice, and thus I was often left rooting for Myzor out of habit. Myzor pretty much sits this opening episode out, but there's little to indicate that he's far removed from your Mumm-Ra and Skeltor type of fist-shaking baddie. And then there's Skyla (three guesses where she lives, first two don't count). She's so annoying that she had me pining for Bubsy. Looking like a lost member of Jem and the Holograms, she has a naive pluck which could actually make her the most interesting character in the series if she didn't deliver every line like Betty Boop meets a Valley Girl. Needless to say, she and Vytor have the chemistry of some of history's classic pairings. Oil and Water. Night and day. Milli and Vanilli.
I mentioned that Skyla (folks, even typing the name makes my brain hurt) is potentially the most interesting character in the series. She's an Aerion (more on that in a sec), and has been sheltered away from the land dwelling Terrons (which includes Vytor), whom she casually refers to as savages. I hold out hope that, as the next few episodes move along, we'll get a little more background on the how and why of this world and its geopolitics. I'm sure we won't, but a man can hope, can't he? I mentioned that the sky dwelling people are called Aerions (say it aloud), and they seemingly represent a technologically advanced society. Naturally, Skyla (their Princess, I believe) is whiter than Pat Boone. Meanwhile, the Terrons are "native" and vaguely ethnic, though Vytor is a few shades lighter than the others and sounds like he's from Orange County, which made me laugh a bit. I'm sure the whole Aerion thing was just an exceptionally awkward coincidence, but I do feel it was an interesting choice to make the hero not obviously Caucasian, and that it's Skyla who is presented as being ignorant, though not maliciously so.
With Sunswords, Power Swords, and Golden Lances already taken by his cartoon brethren, Vytor is instead given a nifty shield and what looks like the Glaive from Krull - the latter not being needed since the movie tanked and there wasn't a sequel. The Glaive, or whatever it's called here, actually plays a part in the best moment from the show. Vytor is battling Myzor's henchman and flings his deadly weapon at one of them, only to have the thug grab one of the young villagers and use him as a shield. Vytor, horrified, screams "Noooo!" and the weapon stops in mid-air, centimeters from the boy's chest. It's a nice little ah-ha moment that I really enjoyed.
Aside from a few moments of well rendered action, this first episode is pretty bland, and at times even bad. Not Bubsy bad, but most certainly Pole Position bad. The writing has a new millennium George Lucas quality to it, and aside from Optimus Cullen, the voice acting is awful in ways that will leave you feeling constipated for several hours afterward. There's not much here in this opener to give me hope that we've stumbled on a hidden gem, but hey, at least it's only four episodes.
I'm really not sure where to start with this one, because I spent a long time digging through all the creator credits (the IMDb page was a little thin, so expect some updates to that soon - you're welcome) and then I watched the actual episode and... it was just kinda there. I don't dislike this, but it's nothing we've never seen before and I don't know that anything surprising or exciting is going to happen down the road. Most of the animation and art staff also worked on Bakshi's Fire and Ice and Starchaser: The Legend of Orin, and the final product looks almost identical, down to the bland young leads and shimmery optical effects. The main creators came out of Filmation before starting their own company, so you have a very similar blend between animation and rotoscoped action shots.
I hadn't planned on revisiting director/producer Tom Burton again so soon after Bubsy. As we mentioned in that post, his Calico Entertainment - often teamed with producer/creator Peter Keefe's World Events Productions (Voltron, Saber Rider and the Star Sheriffs) - put out a decade's worth of cartoon heroes wearing shades as they tried to be all "hip" and "radical" for children, in shows such as Denver the Last Dinosaur, Widget the World Watcher, Bubsy, Mr. Bogus, and another I've stumbled across, Twinkle the Dream Being. Vytor is a bit of an odd-man-out among those, going for much more of a straight, post-post-apocalypse feel, with its cities in the clouds, "savage" civilizations on the ground below, and a glowing-weaponed hero fighting off an evil overlord who wants to conquer all.
I don't have much to say about Vytor yet, because he's just a typical Hero McStud, introduced doing inverted situps, then going off on a rite of passage before stumbling into action and randomly coming across a mystic cave that tells him the ring he's always worn around his chest is really an ancient power totem and he's really descended from a king. It's a lot of gibberish and backstory, and I've never been a fan of saying "You've secretly been a prince all this time!" as though some average Joe can't just rise up through skill and perseverance, like the similar, better leads in Starchaser and Xyber 9. I'd much rather see him having to make choices and find his own way than just being handed his destiny. The designs are nice, though, especially for his folding shield and... do I really need to call it a trimerang? Can I just pretend it's The Glaive? Because it's pretty much The Glaive.
The villains are so generic they don't register with me at all. They want the weapon so they can conquer all and now want to conquer all so they can recover the weapon and thus continue conquering all. Nothing new, not even his robot underlings, though I do like how quickly they can reassemble themselves. Other stuff I like are the almost clockwork-style designs of the village, using gears and pullies of water and bamboo. For being branded "savages", they're resourceful and ingenious, even having the power of flight with boats that can fold open into gliders.
The most interesting thing for me is the character of Skyla. She's brash, she's confident, she holds her own in the battles as her gauntlet taser takes out just as many droids as Vytor does, and they play the culture clash between them just the right way. She recognizes he's not an idiot, he recognizes she has tools and resources he doesn't have access to, and they quickly build a nice camaraderie and mutual respect.
That's really all I've got. It's nicely produced, almost matching the theatrical quality of Starchaser. The opening theme song is awful and way too long, and sounds like it should accompany a high school interpretive dance troupe. The music is good. Everything has a nice, adventurous flow to it.
Overall, not a bad first episode, but painfully unmemorable. Hardly "What Could Possibly Go Wrong!" bad, but we'll see how much actually sticks with me by the time we get to next week.