Cheaptoons #16: Mortal Kombat: Defenders of the Realm

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TOASTY

E3, “Acid Tongue” (1996)

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!

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Through the Magic Window

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There couldn’t be a better transitional work between Music Has The Right To Children and Geogaddi than In A Beautiful Place Out In The Country; the change in mood from one album to the next makes more sense with that four-song sequence placed between them, containing elements of both while also being something wholly singular. Music took the nineties electronica Boards of Canada had experimented on in their earlier albums and used it as the cytoplasm for their distinct mix of phantasmal samples, whimsy, and strange references; if that album is a representation of the act of remembering, then Beautiful Place seems to be one of actually looking at those old, dusty things you remember, experiencing them as they are (I mean, the closing track is called “Zoetrope”). The warmer synths on the previous album are edged out by a more repetitive, mechanical sounds, especially in the first two songs—the worn, grinding functionality of the beats at the base of something like “Kid For Today” trade the ephemeral for something that feels way more physical, like it is being played from some old sound machine that’s barely holding together. That holds for the title track, which seems a bit more “traditional” BOC if only for the inclusion of laughing children and straight drum machines, but still maintains the starkness of the rest of the album. Importantly, though, it also very quietly segues into another one of the duo’s full-scale obsessions: yes, if naming a song after an important figure in the story of the Branch Davidians didn’t clue you in, quoting that same person a the later song tells us we’re now in full-on religious cult and symbolism territory. It’s the year 2000, and Boards of Canada is thinking about some things.

Thus, we come to Geogaddi.

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Cheaptoons #15: Double Dragon

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Everyone on this show looks like they were sculpted from ham

S2E3, “Virtual Reality Bytes” (1994)

See, when I started this whole project, I kind of assumed that every show I watched would be exactly like this: minimum-effort Saturday morning filler that makes no sense and has only a nominal relationship to the game it is based on (as it turned out, that was only mostly accurate.) You can practically taste the marketing in every action-figure-hocking minute of this show, with teams of wacky characters martial-arting each other in poorly-animated ways; we certainly were not out of the era of animated advertisements disguised as TV series in 1994. And whose name do I see prominently displayed in the credits? Why, it’s Phil Harnage, auteur of “Mama Luigi”—albeit, he wasn’t the one who wrote this particular episode, but that’s not to say he shouldn’t share some of the blame for this. Everyone involved in this production has to own up.

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Ladies and gentlemen, please do not panic! But SCREAM! Scream for your lives!*

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As is Youtube’s manner these days, a few weeks ago I had to sit through a movie trailer before getting to the video I was actually intending to watch—the trailer was for a film called The Meg, a particularly moronic-looking giant shark movie/Jason Statham time-waster. How it is in this day and age giant sharks in movies look less believable than they did forty years ago? It’s also always a good sign when a movie’s release is changed at the last minute to August; surely it is to make sure that everyone will have the opportunity to see such high-minded fare at the ass-end of summer vacation. Regardless, I could feel a twinge of wistfulness seeing the title of The Meg flash across the screen, because this specific giant shark movie is one I’ve been reading about for as long as I have had regular Internet access. A decade and a half later, and we’ve finally reached the point where they can release a dumb giant shark movie in the theatres.

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Cheaptoons #14: Sonic the Hedgehog

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Look, the original designers probably didn’t take into account every single angle Sonic may be shown from

S2E8, “The Void” (1994)

There was only one upstart video game franchise that had the hubris to get two entirely different animated adaptations that aired at the same time, one made in Canada for syndication (which we’ve already looked at) and one made in America for Saturday mornings (thus earning it the title of SATAM among The Internet.) Did we really expect less from Sonic in 1993, probably the peak of his popularity (and oversaturation)? Everyone wanted a piece of it, and who was Sega to deny a licensing agreement when they were raking in all that exposure and green? So, yeah, get Sonic everywhere—we won’t stop until every kid in modern society sees that little blue bastard in their sleep!

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Cheaptoons #13: The Legend of Zelda

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Spinal cord injuries: the height of comedy

S1E5, “Sing For the Unicorn” (1989)

I don’t know how it is that the Zelda cartoon is so much less incompetent than the Mario half of the Super Mario Bros. Super Show—the animation isn’t as bad, it doesn’t feel as slow and uneventful, there’s this mock-orchestral recreation of the game’s score, and the plot isn’t as insultingly lame. It’s a miracle, all things considered. This is not an endorsement of the Legend of Zelda cartoon, it should be said, but while DIC’s Super Mario shows are a terrible chore to sit through, I was able to watch this one without a constant sense that the people behind the show hated the audience almost as much as they hated themselves.

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Next Time, We Get Our Retaliations in FIRST

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The only real serialized anything I partake in (give or take a few webcomics, but the miracle of the RSS feed means that keeping track of them requires no effort on my part) are the regular influx of Judge Dredd: The Complete Case Files comic collections, about two or so a year for the past few years. The experience of following a series with years of material both before and after my current readings (as recommended by Dredd Reckoning, the blog that convinced me to read Dredd in the first place, I started with the fifth volume of the Complete Case Files and drop in some of the older material every once in a while—really, the concept of this series is easy to grasp without having to go back to the beginning)—and because this is a series that started in 1977 and is still running to this day, that’s a lot of material—is an interesting one, like a trail that keeps stretching past the horizon but you want to continue because there’s always going to be something to see over the next hump. I’m sure this is true of many long-running comics, but you can really see the tone of the stories and interests of the writers (which in this case is really only one writer—John Wagner, co-creator of the strip, although for several years he co-wrote it with Alan Grant) take a palpable shift; what starts in volume five as a uniquely sardonic action series still clearly aimed at ten-year-olds, by volume twelve seems to be skewing a bit older and focusing on the more complicated aspects of its world. But Dredd is Dredd throughout: you’ll find always stories about the abuses of an authoritarian police state—sometimes they happen to involve dinosaurs, sometimes they do not.

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