September 20, 2015

Vytor: The Starfire Champion, episode 2 "Aerion"

In Terron, Skyla delights as she watches Vytor boast during a practice duel only to be repeatedly knocked down by the elder Eldor. As they all talk of the Starfire Ring, Skyla proposes taking Vytor to her homeland of Aerion so her father, King Artair, can be informed of new developments and that the son of King Trion has been found alive. Vytor isn't keen on flying off to a sky-bound city, but Eldor orders him into it.

They suddenly realize they're being spied on by a Crawler Mauler, a spider probe of Mysor. Worried about their plans being overheard, they chase the robot down until Vytor finishes it off with his trimerang. As they climb into Windchaser, it begins to protest about how outsiders are forbidden in Aerion, and Skyla's reputation for breaking the rules is such that even her royal pull might not be enough. She deactivates Windchaser's AI and takes off manually, never noticing another Crawler sneaking up behind to slip a tracking chip on the hull. In his citadel, Mysor is pleased as he's spent years trying to get a lock on the constantly moving Aerion.

Vytor is a bit wobbly on Aerion, running into the scoffs and stares of those who see him as a lowly savage from the ground. He and Skyla are quickly led off to a hearing of councilors who are in command as both of Skyla's parents are away. They're distrustful of Vytor and doubt the claim of him being a lost prince, but decide to grand him temporary immunity until the monarchs' return. They invite him to a meal which doesn't go well, as he'd rather munch on their decorative plants than their processed food cubes.

Mutoids suddenly swoop in for an attack. They're just a scouting party, easily fended off by Skyla and Vytor, but the council is now branding Vytor a spy who led the Mutoids here. He's now angrily fighting the city guard in an attempt to get away, but there's nothing beyond the city walls but open sky, and Skyla is there, promising he'll be treated fairly if he just surrenders. He does so and is instantly declared guilty by the council, locked away in maximum security as his warnings about an impending attack are ignored.

Sure enough, an attack comes as Dreadlock and a full squadron of Mutoids sweep down into the city and gradually overwhelm the guard. Skyla can't pick Vytor's lock, so she grabs a cutting laser, climbs down to the room below his cell, and slices open the floor around him. They head to recover the Starfire Shield, but Dreadlock cuts them off, forcing them to beat a retreat to Windchaser - groggily waking up from being reactivated - and shaking their pursuers in a cloud forest.

Vytor is uncertain about walking on a dense cloud, but does so to comfort Skyla when she breaks down about how everything's gone wrong. They brace for a fight when Windchaser picks up an approaching form, but from out of the mists comes Skyla's dashing father, King Artair. He comforts his daughter and is quick to befriend the boy, discovering the tracking chip on Windchaser which was used to follow them. Skyla apologizes as it was her turning off Windchaser which prevented it from being detected.

They're all quick to move on and sneak back into Aerion. Vytor uses the Starfire Ring to summon back the Shield, and Skyla plants lightning rods around the city so Artair can sneak into the control chamber for the town's weather manipulating station, quickly rocking out a massive thunderstorm to take out the Mutoids. Dreadlock puts up quite the fight against Vytor, but even he's overwhelmed by the lightning and steals a sky car to take off. He doesn't catch Vytor slipping the tracking chip onto the car, and when he orders the Mutoids to all fire on the chip, he howls as he's chased off by his own squad.

All of Aerion gathers to thank Vytor and apologize for their accusations. When Artair offers to send him off with a feast, everyone suddenly grows sheepish, and Vytor says he's good as he pockets some decorative fauna for the flight back.


It's pretty typical for the animation quality of a show to take a significant dip after a pilot, but I wasn't expecting such a drop when we're technically in what's supposed to be a pilot mini-series. Or are we? I'm not certain. The last one was definitely a full first episode in its own right, with this being very much its own story as opposed to Part 2 of a broader opening saga. That's what I thought we were in for when we started this project. I'm not complaining about this, as I'm fine just going ahead and moving on with the series instead of belaboring that opening. Anyway, back to the animation, what we had last week was absolutely comparable to the US produced works we were seeing in theaters in the 80s, with much of the crew having come from Starfire: The Legend of Orin, Fire & Ice, and the Jetsons movie. Here, things are much more typically 80s toons in the staging and boarding of sequences, and the animation is much choppier and more basic. Not bad, mind you, just nothing you wouldn't typically see in your average Ruby-Spears show. The Bill Kroyer-esque optical effects with shimmering lights and CGI planetscapes have also noticeably been minimized.

Where this episode isn't a step down is in everything else. In fact, while I found the series debut a bland mouthful of forgettable maudlin, I thought this episode was a sharp improvement as it kept me hooked from beginning to end. Yes, it's the cliche route for the land-lubber Vytor to be on wobbly air legs in Aerion as he clashes with posh high society types and prefers to eat their sweet stalks of decorative plants instead of their brown blocks of processed meals, but it's all very well executed, with the high council looking down their noses at him, refusing to acknowledge even the mere possibility of his noble birthright, and are quick to make him a scapegoat when things go to pot. They're a very complacent society, eager to keep their heads in the sand and stay hidden from conflict, even as they flaunt their self-professed superiority over all outsiders.

I really enjoyed Skyla in the last episode, and love her even more here, because even among her people, she herself is an outsider. She's the rebel who finds no satisfaction in this complacency. Why hide when she can go out and have an adventure? Why dismiss the entire outside world without actually going and seeing what's there? She's already lived experiences none of these society snobs could even dream of, and forged a great friendship with someone they barely consider human. I love that, instead of the episode being about her shock and embarrassment at how Vytor acts among her people, we instead focus on how let down she is by how they act toward Vytor. She delights in how different he is, and how honest and sincere he is in ways that are just as admirable and civilized as her own, merely different. Vytor is still a Studly McBlandhero, but the relationship with Skyla is what's really making it all work for me. And I love that she continues to hold her own in the action, freeing him from his cell, reprogramming a Mutoid sky cycle (did I really hear them called Fright Fraggles!?), and has a nice reveal that the sash around the top of her tunic can open into a parachute.

And props also to King Altair, who has the brash charisma and level head of a leader you'd be happy to live under. I like that they keep him tucked away for most of the episode as the council is probably so used to his strong guidance that they're a bit scrambled and useless when he's gone. When he enters the picture, it's with a powerful flourish, and I absolutely love when he gets to the weather controls of his city and starts dramatically conducting his revenge against the robotic invaders. Even with the looser animation, that's one hell of a striking image.

Overall, this is a solid episode. I also like Eldor lovingly kicking Vytor's ass in the opening. I love how Aerions use freezing staves as their main weapons, which don't last long before the Mutoids spring flame throwers to thaw themselves out. I love how Vytor uses the tracking chip to give Dreadlock a taste of his own medicine. I love the spongy setting of the cumulus cloud forest.

I'm not saying this is one of the best episodes we've covered here, but it's a damn good one, and does a great job of hooking my interest after our first foray into this world failed to click with me at all.

Some extra thoughts:
  • This episode and the last one were written by Doug Lefler. Alongside being a noted storyboard artist on numerous 80s cartoons and modern blockbusters (most recently, X-Men: Days of Future Past), writer of some episodes of Denver and Widget, and director of Dragonheart: A New Beginning, Lefler also wrote the Patrick Swayze post-apocalyptic action flick Steel Dawn. I really need to watch Steel Dawn.
  • I love how, as we make our approach to Aerion, an instrumental version of the opening theme kicks in. As much as I think the lyrics suck, I do love the music on this show, and this moment very much echoes the rolling beat mixed with soaring melody of when we first approached the Childlike Empress's tower in The Never Ending Story. I don't so much love how Vytor then kicks in some of those lyrics for no reason. No, we don't need "Fantasy... becomes reality... in a galaxy far away" to actually play during the episode itself. Shame on you.
  • Mysor's full name is really Mysor Sarcophagus? REALLY?
  • Vytor needs a better catchphrase than "It's time to get serious!"
  • Sure, it's from Star Wars V, but I love the shot of Vytor falling down the chute and catching himself at the end just before hitting open air.

(additional stills)


If you'll indulge me, I'd like to try a little experiment this week. Last week's opening episode of (the mercifully brief series) Vytor: The Starfire Champion was... not... great. Okay, it sucked. So much so that I spent the bulk of this week dreading the second episode. Not so much for the twenty three minutes or so of suckage I'd have to endure, but the having to sit down afterward and find a new way to tell you that it sucked. Then, I had an epiphany of sorts: would my ten-year-old self have liked Vytor?

Ten was the age when such shows really had their strongest hold on me. I would race home from school and eat dinner right in front of the TV, fighting for freedom alongside G.I. Joe, rolling out with the Autobots and slaying Robeasts with Voltron as I gobbled down my chicken strips. But would I have been swept up in the adventures of Vytor and Skyla? That's the question I'm attempting to answer here. Of course, there's no way for me to really become ten again, or I'd have done it a long time ago (work and responsibility suck eggs, as I'm sure you know), but I did try to watch this episode through those eyes. Let's see how it went.

Dude, this theme song totally kicks butt. I grabbed my boombox and held it up to the TV so I could record it. I've listened to it, like, thirty times since. The episode starts off a little boring. That old dude goes all Yoda on Vytor, "Blah, blah, blah", but thankfully he doesn't stick around long. Probably had some old dude stuff to do. It was neat when the spider-robots showed up, but they went out kinda weak.

I really like Aerion. It reminds me of Cloud City. Of course, it's not as cool as Cloud City. Nothing is as cool as Cloud City. The people here are pretty much dicks, though. Not like Lando, who has that cool cape and smiles all the time. Vytor tries to help them, but they just throw him in jail! If I were him, I'd be like, "See ya!", but he still ends up saving them again. Guess that's why he's the hero. He's okay, I guess. He dresses funny. Like the lead singer from one of those rock bands on MTV. He's got some cool weapons. There's this neat shield and a thing that looks like that thing from Krull. I wanted to see him throw it and stick some dude right between the eyes. That would rock.

Skyla is HOT! If I were Vytor, I'd be taking her to McDonalds and holding her hand and stuff, but he acts all annoyed by her. I'm like "Dude! Ask her out!". If he doesn't want her, I'll take her. I don't care if she's a cartoon! I bet she smells good. Like fabric softener, but all over.

The bad guy is lame. He doesn't do ANYTHING. He just sits there in his chair and yaps. If he had his hand shoved down his pants, he'd be my Dad. He does sorta sound like Optimus Prime, which freaks me out a bit. I was like "Whoa! Optimus is the bad guy!", but he wasn't him. His henchman, Dreadlock, is pretty cool. He looks like something out of Masters of the Universe. I don't get the name, though. He doesn't even have dreadlocks. He should, because that would be awesome. I'd buy a Dreadlock action figure. And a Skyla one. I'd keep her in my bed.

Overall, it was okay, I guess. There could've been more action, and some of the characters are lame, but it's better than crap like Monchhichis. I'd probably spend next Saturday playing Atari, but my friend Noel says I gotta watch the next episode of Vytor. Lame.


NoelCT said...

If you'll indulge me, I'd like to try a little experiment this week.

*applause* I LOVE how this turned out!

Tony Williams said...

Thanks :). I was worried about going too far with it, but I just felt I had to do something a bit different here.