S1, “Spaced Out Frogs/Gorilla My Dreams/Crazy Camp Creature/The Teddy Bear Scare” (1983)
Ruby-Spears was founded by two former employees of Hanna-Barbera (specifically, the two who had a hand in the creation of Scooby-Doo) in the mid-seventies, and in a time when H-B dominated the airwaves on Saturday mornings, they contributed a number of cartoons that were, in terms of content and quality, just a slightly worse version of what was already being shown. Why the world needed a second, somehow cheaper Hanna-Barbera, I have no idea (it certainly gives the lie to the idea that competition will necessarily improve the product)—their only notable accomplishments were giving Jack Kirby money to design Thundarr the Barbarian and creating the Mr. T cartoon that was later parodied on TV Funhouse. Eventually, they were bought out by the same parent company that already owned H-B (pre-Turner), meaning that one corporation owned two animation studios making functionally identical television programs that aired concurrently. What a time to be a kid—no wonder they decided to play video games instead.
The theme song told me I’d be “hooked on the brothers”, but watching this made me wish I was hooked on barbiturates instead.
Episode: S1E6, “Rolling Down The River/The Mario Monster Mash” (1989)
The writers of this had only two games to pull from at that point in the franchise’s history, so you could forgive them for having to invent some stuff from whole cloth to fill in the gaps; what actually ends up being aggravating is how they awkwardly shoehorn in whatever elements of the games happen to be on hand. In this episode, examples include Mario and Luigi changing to their Fire Flower colours (when given special amulets that are quickly used and then disposed of as if nothing happened) and cannons firing vegetables, the use of the sound effects and music to punctuate every (stiff, lifeless) movement, and trying to vaguely connect the plot’s specific setting to the games by just calling it “River World” (not that one). While many of these ideas could have been gleamed from the manuals or style guides for the games, the music at least gives me the impression that someone on staff probably played a bit of them—not enough to understand them on anything other than purely surface level (and still make that surface level so much worse), but enough to know that there was something there worth preserving.
I was a kid in the generation where video games were the norm, one of the binding cultural phenomenon; I was introduced to them at a young age and was hooked almost immediately, and the ideas and icons of the game world became so firmly rooted into my life that I probably couldn’t exorcise them even if I wanted to (and there have been moments when I did.) It’s to a degree where I’m actually surprised just how much of my brainspace they have taken up, how the rhythms and styles and the characters of the games I played (whether they be on my own Super NES or my friends’ Genesis—there was no console war in my neighbourhood, only console peace) shaped my imagination; I’m forever tainted by their influence, probably.
This is a fairly long-winded way of saying that truly I loved my games so much, that the very idea that they’d be adapted into cartoons, one of my other favourite things as a kid, made my giddy all by itself. So, every time I saw that a game series I knew had some cartoon spin-off, I’d do anything to try and watch it—a surprisingly daunting task, considering that several of them either aired very early in the morning for whatever reason, or aired on channels that weren’t part of my family’s cable package (I remember tuning into one of those channels, which showed nothing but static but had traces of the sound still faintly listenable, in order to experience the Mega Man cartoon in some way.) Of course, I was also part of the generation where I was, by pure happenstance, raised by the TV, and would watch pretty much anything without judgment, without really having to feel one way or the other about what I was watching in order to keep watching it. I was a kid, what else did I have to do with my time?
This was good for those shows, because it meant that I remained excited by the prospect of video game-based animation in the face of its near-universal awfulness.
“…Will you tell us about the other worlds out among the stars—the other kinds of men, the other lives?”
One realization I’ve had, which I think will motivate me to keep writing as long as I live, is that I will never be one-tenth, or one-hundredth (or more), of the writer Ursula K. Le Guin was—I will never be that intelligent, that humane, that poetic, that creative, that natural at utilizing the written word. She will remain that wonderful reminder of the endless potential of writing, whether it be science fiction writing or fantasy writing or critical writing or any sort of writing at all, and to always have that there to aspire to, even though I know I will never reach that pinnacle of the form, will keep me going, forever reminding me why I love all these things. I don’t think I would be as inspired and devoted to this art form if I hadn’t experienced her prose.
I used to have a blog where I wrote thousand-word book reviews (you might have known that had you ever looked just to the right of these posts, but I bet you never have), but I hung up that hat after four-and-a-half years once it became a slog to keep finding a thousand words or more to say about absolutely everything I read, especially since after the first year or so I stopped coming up with any unique ways to write about them. You know what becomes more fun when you know you won’t have to write about it later? Reading. I thought graduation was supposed to free my brain from endlessly thinking about how I’ll respond to that stuff.
But you know, sometimes it’s fun to write about things you read. So here I am, back again, but in order to make it interesting, I decided to limit myself to one hundred words per book, so it won’t take you all day to read. If you find some that are not exactly one hundred words, please spare my reputation and do not reveal it to me or to the world. Also, if some of these sound vaguer than others, it’s because I read the book months ago and didn’t have it on hand to refresh my own thoughts. Now that no one can possibly criticize my criticism…
What’s this? The seventh generation was inevitably going to get a second game (they skipped out on it last generation for Ruby/Sapphire remakes), but while Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon generally seem to stick to the structure of the previous games, they added some new monsters along with it, a first in the series. They’ve added new forms and new Mega Evolutions, but never have they added all-new Pokémon outside the “core” games of each cycle, thus forcing me out of my commentary vacation to write them up again. Thankfully, there aren’t that many, and they’re all Ultra Beasts, which means they intentionally flaunt the traditional design elements of Pokémon, so it makes it slightly more interesting. The freak flags are flying high tonight!
I don’t know if I should be surprised how many times you see an interview subject in Starlog spout about how their latest sci-fi project is “about characters”, not just technology/alien monsters/special effects/etc.—it ends up the common method in which people working in genre can convince their potential audience that they aren’t just doing another brainless thrill-a-second, even if that’s exactly what they are doing. I mean, it gets said so many times about so many different things that it’s just basic mathematics to assume a percentage of it is just hype with nothing to back it up. The part that would be surprising is that these directors, writers, actors, or producers would feel the need to address that point at all, why they need to make it seem like their project is more than what it is—who are they trying to impress, exactly? And why do the reporters at Starlog just let it sort of lie there, unquestioned?