It’s post number 150, so there’s no better time to take stock of what’s been happening on the site during the first half of this year called two-thousand and eighteen. I’d say that so far this year has been one of experimentation, but I called this site “Scrapbook” specifically because I wanted to be able to write about anything I felt like so…every year since I started this endeavour has been a year of experimentation. Regardless, I’ve had a few new pursuits for the last little while, giving me the opportunity to write about a myriad of subjects I’ve never tackled before (like music) or haven’t done in some time (like in-depth book analyses.) Rather than putting all my attention into a single writing project, I’ve found time to veer off periodically, which has actually been a whole lot of fun, so I hope to continue doing that into the future.
Here’s another new type of writing I’d like to try: writing about my own writing. I guess you could call this an addendum to the first six months worth of posts, some additional thoughts on things I’ve already spilled too many words about:
Boards of Canada probably couldn’t make another album like Geogaddi even if they wanted to—it had come from an infectiously dark mindset, and if it could be captured again, would only be wading ever deeper into the abyss. It should come as no surprise that they would change things up when the next release dropped, and it turned out to be almost a complete 180—The Campfire Headphase really is something different from their previous albums, even if it still thoroughly feels like one of theirs. Excised are the cacophonous walls of sound, pared down to a more efficient selection of electronic and analog sources including, for the first time, acoustic guitar (distorted in the traditional Boards way or not); the shadowy meditations and prankishness found on the whole Music Has The Right To Childrenthrough Geogaddi sequence has been replaced with something more serene and meditative; more importantly, I think, is the choice of making the album far more holistic, an extended and sustained pursuit of a single atmosphere and theme. This is not to say that the previous albums were not thematically coherent—I don’t know how I would have written two blog posts about them if they weren’t—but each song still tended to be its own little world; Headphase prefers to have its individual tracks flow more naturally from one to another, which seamlessly drives the listener to each place, even if that sometimes makes some tracks feel like they blur together and lack the individuality of many of the songs on something like Music. There are valid reasons why someone may see all this as a comedown from the eclectic experimentation of their previous music—and, you know, hearing some acoustic guitar sometimes brings up images of the lone douchebag strumming along at a party—which is probably why this never received the critical praise the other albums did. Even so, there’s something affecting about the quiet sparseness of it, and the way it gently guides you to different places within its theme—as the name implies, it is a bit of a trip.
Before we turn the power off on the whole Cheaptoons project, let’s go a little deeper into the well to make this feel as complete as possible. You wouldn’t think so judging by the general quality of the shows, but there were some video game adaptations that didn’t even make it past the pilot episode—they got their one chance, but even in the bottom-of-the-barrel world of game-based cartoons in the nineties, they weren’t considered good enough to get even a single season. Now, there’s many reasons why a television show doesn’t get picked up, and in the case of a licensed property-based show like these, there are even more potential roadblocks before getting a full season order—even so, you have to wonder if there was something about the shows themselves, the final product, that forced all the networks to turn away after giving them one shot. We are here to determine if these certified failures among the failures somehow managed to do anything worse than what ended up being aired.
You have to give it Sonic: even as his heyday was winding down, he was still enough of a household name to be used as the main character in a cartoon that otherwise has nothing to do with what he is about—he can join the pantheon of characters like Zorro or Sherlock Holmes who also had bad European-made cartoons where they find themselves in a the future or whatever. Someone at the production company desperately wanted to make a new Sonic the Hedgehog animated series, and if they had to awkwardly shoehorn Sonic and Robotnik into some generic Sci-Fi/fantasy nonsense, then that is what shall be done! What this means is while the “freedom fighter” aspect seen to varying degrees in the previous two cartoons is still there, now there is a prophecy! And a royal family! And magical music instruments! And Sonic has two siblings!
For one thing, that is an extremely ungainly title, the inevitable result of mixing marketing and an utter lack of imagination. Secondly, the narrator in the intro tells us that this is “a legend no one will forget” underpinned with a decidedly mock-epic score (the intro is also book-ended by scenes of Mario and Luigi reading an actual book, which could be a vague nod to the meta-presentation of the game as a stage play, but that’s probably giving the producers of this too much credit, which is to say any credit)—this seems to be selling us the idea that this incarnation of Super Mario Bros animation is the real deal, not like that lightweight Super Mario Bros. Super Showpiffle. This being the bridge between Super Show and Super Mario World, it axed the live action segments, had shorter cartoons, and changed some of the voice actors; I’ve already talked about those changes in the World post, but I thought maybe you needed to be reminded of the brave new paradigm we’ve entered.
There is some grand irony in a game used as a vehicle for high-quality animation being adapted into a eighties Saturday morning cartoon show—I can only assume that Don Bluth never saw this, because he kept making things rather than dying of an aneurysm in 1984. We are once again looking at a product of the Ruby-Spears cartoon factory, who felt that Dragon’s Lair was good enough for its own half-hour show rather than joining its companion Space Ace on the previously-analyzed Saturday Supercade; I mean, there’s obviously so much more to the story and characters of Dragon’s Lair that needs double the run-time. It’s not like the game was just a sequence of random scenes played one after another with little connecting them, there’s a lot of fully-explained backstory there. Obviously.
As an aside, you can definitely tell that someone respects the quality of the show because of how poorly-cropped the Youtube version of it is.
You already start off with a major handicap when you decide to translate Mortal Kombat into a Saturday morning cartoon—when 75% of the appeal of the game is its over-the-top violence, having to tone it down to basically nothing in order to fit television standards is guaranteed to turn away most of the series’ fans (the movie had a similar problem, albeit to a lesser extent.) So, when MK has to go completely bloodless, where does it turn to? Why, dumbed-down psychodrama, of course!