The Unicron Trilogy Part Two – Energon

Carrying on from the previous article, for those of you who find yourself interested in this esoteric topic, today’s article will look over the second installment in this trilogy of Transformers cartoons, Transformers Energon (Known as Transformers: Super Link in Japan). Made in Japan but dubbed first in English and then sent back to Japan to be redubbed in Japanese, the series was devised as a direct sequel to Armada before it and to avoid the failings of the crude animation of Armada, it was animated primarily in cel-shaded CGI with hand-drawn animation being reserved for the human characters and backgrounds. However, though efforts were made to make Energon much more dynamic, exciting and altogether ‘better’ than Armada, what resulted was not so and Energon is remembered as a low-point of the franchise and the shitty little sibling of big brothers Armada and Cybertron. So let us now analyse it using the same three-stage formula utilised in my Armada retrospective!

Lore

Ten years on since Armada, Megatron is no more and the Autobots and Decepticons co-exist in an uneasy truce with their kind living on both Earth and Cybertron, making efforts to rebuild from the aftermath of war. However, the peace does not last when rogue Decepticons, dedicated to the revival of their leader Megatron, start harnessing powers beyond their comprehension and soon enough, Megatron is reborn and the war begins anew. Like Armada beforehand, there is a looming threat in the form of Unicron, thought dead but somehow still functional but what is new to this series is the other threat, a mysterious alien called Alpha Quientesson (Hardcore fans of G1 may recognise the name), who leads legions of ravenous beasts called Terrorcons with the goal of harvesting all the Energon in the universe so as to revive Unicron’s hollowed out shell as his own personal weapon of mass destruction.

Whilst Armada started shite and got good, Energon was the opposite, a series that started strongly with hints of serious character development to be had was lost as the series went on and though there were 51 episodes made, the plot came to a standstill by around episode 20, giving us 31 episodes of “Unicron is destroyed… wait no, no it’s not… Ok now it is… damnit nope… Oh look a shiny coin!” Armada added depth as it went on but Energon seemed to lose it, despite starting out with some seriously interesting points:

  • Demolishor, a previously loyal Decepticon, doubts whether or not he actually believes in Megatron’s vision anymore. This made us think perhaps he’ll change sides right? Nope, he’s killed off and brought back by Megatron as a mindless drone.
  • Inferno, an Autobot but with a Decepticon past, struggles to resist the will of Megatron within his own head. Resolved by Inferno killing himself to silence the voice inside his head only to then be brought back from the dead and relegated to the background for the rest of the series.
  • Kicker, a human, hates Transformers despite being assigned as their ally. However, it’s never explained in clear detail WHY he hates them and his hatred for their kind is forgotten about two episodes after his introduction to the series
  • Rodimus, an Autobot leader in his own right, constantly fights with Optimus Prime about differing ideologies. Is this the start of a huge topic for debate? Nope, Rodimus gives up his side of the argument and says “Well Optimus is in charge so I guess he knows best…”
  • Wing Saber is dedicated to capturing his nemesis Shockblast, which he succeeds in doing but only briefly. Shockblast escapes and how does Wing Saber react? He doesn’t, he says nothing and his rivalry with Shockblast is never mentioned again

Individual episodes are then essentially filled with useless footage of thirty second long Transformation sequences and whilst the cast is expanded like Armada, new characters add nothing to the team and are just shameless excuses to promote toys. There is also a lot of time dedicated to having characters Skype each other to repeat plot points the audience is already aware of. There were a myriad of other poor choices too – most action sequences took place in outer space so the characters had no reason to transform most of the time, combiner teams (the central gimmick of the series) were only ever there to be combined into an ultimate robot and had no personalities beyond “We are a team of robots that combine into one big one”. Energon then, fell short of greatness by not so much a gnat’s wing as a dinosaur’s meat shaft…

Behind-The-Scenes

If Armada was a rush, Energon was a blur. We are talking artistic mistakes, typos in episode titles, repeated stock footage to fill gaps in episodes, Energon was about as lovingly crafted as one lovingly crafts their own turds. Energon suffered from consistently poor choices of character colour schemes (that made them hard to differentiate at a glance), gimmicky and wooden performances from their bulky character models and background designs that were poorly considered (i.e Unicron is mostly black in colour, as is the background he is set against in his scenes and when characters are inside his body, it is too dark to see who is doing what at any given moment… for 30 episodes, characters are fumbling in the dark trying to do a thing we stopped caring about them doing ages ago). The CGI, whilst allowing a consistent standard of animation hand-drawn animation could not, was sub-par and character faces were hard to read for any emotion. As a result, the movement of faces was limited to them opening and closing their robotic lips in sync with what they were saying but you could not visibly tell if a character was happy, sad, angry or pensive, they all just constantly looked somewhat perplexed… as did the audience. In defense of the animators, their budget was miniscule.

Editing and script-work wise, we had ourselves a hastily mashed together assortment of fight scenes, banter exchanges and transformation sequences. Nothing flowed naturally and as a result, the episodes were confusing, seeming to be twenty minute chunks of a single long flowing film that didn’t do much in the way of establishing shots so we’re just expected to go “Oh, we’re at this point in the plot, I remember”, meaning you had to watch EVERY episode to make any sense of anything – that or wait for Optimus Prime to recap the plot but even then he only stated the obvious. The scripts were rushed translations of a Japanese writing team’s work and so many lines didn’t make sense in English, may characters were named incorrectly, sometimes multiple times in a single episode and the performance of the actors reflected a lack of understanding of the script. Energon also had some deadpan silences where clearly nothing had been written in and actors improvised… badly, often saying stuff just to fill the gap. Given all of this, Transformers Energon left a sour taste in the mouths of fans who still hadn’t gotten over how much of a dud Armada was.

Reception

Transformers Armada was a mess that defied expectation, it started bad but redeemed itself whereas Transformers Energon had a hopeful start but condemned itself to the slot of “Worst thing to come out of the franchise, shit I’ll watch Michael Bay’s stuff over this” in the eyes of fans. Energon was released in line with the 20th anniversary of Transformers but came as a real smear on the honour of the franchise, a hapless shambles of a poorly strung together plot pushing toys nobody wanted all that badly (The toys themselves did not sell as well as Armada before them and many characters sat on shelves for so long, they were eventually repurposed into discount multipacks given new names and sold off as minor characters from other continuities). Energon has been fixed rather recently, 2014 saw the release of a re-mastered version of all 51 episodes as a DVD box set with the script retweaked and awkward silences filled with something more than just “So…” and typos/colouring errors were fixed but at the time of release and for years afterward, Energon was seen as an abomination and efforts made it to fix it have been too little too late to save it from being a lowpoint in the franchise.

Conclusion

Energon lost me too, it wasn’t on any channels I had access to as a little kid so I never really got into it, having never really had the chance. I owned some Energon figures simply because they were cool looking Transformers. Energon was sold around the gimmick of combining characters together – most of the cast could transform into goliath sized wrecking machines by combining together, be it two robots, three or even five and Optimus Prime himself seemed capable of combining with just about anything he touched. Energon had grand ambitions but failed to deliver and ultimately did more harm than good, in fact Energon’s redeeming grace was that it was so shit, Hasbro asked a different company to make the next series of Transformers and what they delivered was gold-dust, especially by comparison. So next time, let’s draw this to a close with what fans consider the best thing to come out of the Unicron Trilogy, Transformers Cybertron, a series that definitely learned from the past to make big strides in the right direction.

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The Unicron Trilogy Part One – Armada

Yes, I’m doing it, might as well even if it is purely for my own love of writing. For those of you not nerdy enough or not pathetic enough to have read my post about Transformers, you might have noticed a lot of references to something called “The Unicron Trilogy”, a Japanese take on Transformers (Well, three takes out of a dozen but these three are known for being the most widely bought/sold Japanese Transformers toys and amongst the precious few Transformers “animes” to be dubbed in English, though the degree to which you can call them an anime in the typical sense one imagines it is debatable). Basically, three separate continuities designed by a number of animation companies were seen by fans as being linked and indeed, within the continuities themselves, there were arguably some connections (Between Armada and Energon, it’s hard to argue they are not directly related though Cybertron/Galaxy Force’s link to the others is vague at best, that or Optimus Prime and company all have serious processing errors in their hard drives by the third series…). The three continuities are all ones I’m very familiar with and can discuss at length and seeing as I have a blog and whatever the topic, the responses are usually “Oh I’ll have to read that later… MUCH later”, might as well just chill out a bit!

Part one of the trilogy, Armada, generally remembered as both a hobbled together mess of sloppy robot drawings and a bizarre gateway to the world of Transformers for kids growing up in the early 2000s, aka me. Armada was designed to be a reboot, a rebirth for a franchise that had grown stale and weirdly experimenting with concepts that ultimately didn’t take off anywhere other than Japan (Headmasters, Humans inside Transformer suits, blatant Gundam ripoff plots) and whilst this was a sound concept, in execution, ehhh… they stumbled, from a technical standpoint certainly. I’ll go into that later, let’s tackle this topic in three chunks shall we? The lore, the behind-the-scenes and the reception. Awesome, let’s go!

Lore

In an attempt to add a new layer to the Cybertronian Civil War, Mini-Cons were introduced as a neutral faction of tiny robots with extraordinarily helpful powers, be that for construction or destruction relied on their Autobot/Decepticon colleagues. Anyway, sick of the futility of war, the Mini-Cons flee on a refugee ship that gets shot down by a Decepticon battle cruiser and crashes into the moon, causing Mini-Con stasis pods to be jettisoned all over the surface of the Earth. What ensues then is a scavenger hunt for Autobot and Decepticon alike to find the Mini-Cons and use these tiny tin toys to gain the edge on the battlefield. However, this is then overshadowed when everyone involved realises there is a larger power in play than any of them could have realised, a planet-devouring giant called Galactu…UNICRON! Yeah, sorry, wrong giant. Erhem, from here, you can perhaps guess what happens – put their differences aside, save the universe, celebrate, realise they actually make great teams working together, war ends, mourn losses and carry on in a new united world. Yay.

As series arcs go, Armada had a funny run. Initially starting slow with a three-part TV movie followed by several dull episodes of “Let’s find the Mini-Con” and a basically flip-the-coin to see who wins at the end of the episode, Armada received lots of shtick when it first came out but then… it got good. The cast expanded with new Autobots and Decepticons, each new introduction was interesting and executed well but no current characters were pushed to the back and then some characters got added depth and the plot started alluding to something bigger whilst tackling themes such as “What does it mean to be a leader of men?” and “Are we born evil?” in a non-pretentious manner (Though perhaps somewhat childish manner but hey, their target audience was literally written as “4-9 year old boys”) However, the series ultimately failed to win hearts, being pushed to 6AM slots in America and by the time the writers were in their element, nobody cared any more. Armada is redeemed by three saving graces:

1. “Hey, CERTAIN CHARACTER had an awesomely emotional death scene, you really felt for them and I cried”

2. “It introduced a whole generation to Transformers”

3. “Transformers Energon was WAAAAAAAY worse”

So a mixed bag – a plot that started slow but at about the midway point of the series, if you’re still watching by then, it becomes much more interesting, adds an actual sense of serious threat to the characters situations and introduces some fun twists and turns before finishing up with a nice lead in for the sequel

Behind-The-Scenes

Shambles, that’s the first word I think of, shambles. Cartoon Network put a lot of pressure on these guys to deliver on a cartoon to coincide with a line of toys that were coming out and as a result, there was a rush to make this cartoon and it showed in the animation, the voice acting (Actors took like one shot at a line so sometimes they confuse character names, plot points and are even dubbed for the wrong characters at times) and the awfully dull episodes at the start, seeing as the production company were being paid for the work on the condition they had episodes ready to be released alongside new toys so their early work was just “Ehhhhhhh and then Optimus punches Megatron and done, dub it and toss it at the screen like a monkey’s turd”. Armada perhaps came back at a bad time, it’s release coinciding not only with toys but the much better executed return of the TMNT – after all, when your mate drives up in a Mercedes, your little Ford Fiesta looks like a bucket with wheels on next to it. Armada is littered with mistakes and as it was mostly drawn like G1 before it, the characters suffered from wrong colour schemes and hideous disfigurements, sometimes all detail being omitted and instead we got glimpses of colourful talking blocks with faces on that loosely resembled transforming robots. The dialogue is especially atrocious, with the scripts seemingly never having been edited, conversations seemed incoherent and characters would respond either inappropriately (I don’t mean they flopped their cock out, I mean someone would give advice and their response would be “Uh? Hey, what? LEAVE ME ALONE! *pause* So even you would abandon me…”) or, as they often did, just with stock phrases like “What did you say?” and “Huh?”. Seriously, “Huh”, “Wait up!” and “Transform!” are like the holy trinity of Armada dialogue. The series as a whole got polished for the home releases but it was too little too late and Armada sat as well in the hearts of hardcore fans as a dead dog does on your Christmas dinner table…

Reception

Of the Unicron Trilogy, Armada had the rough job of trailblazing and whilst for fans of the original Transformers it failed to resonate with them in so far as offending them by being a sloppily made pile of hasty crap, with the kids it struck a chord. I can admit, as a child I never noticed the poor quality and if I ever did, it didn’t stop me loving what was to me, the best thing Saturday had to offer alongside no school, video games and Yu-Gi-Oh cards. The toys, the whole reason Armada existed, sold at such a rate they had to supply the demand by recolouring and renaming old Transformers and claiming they were characters from the extended universe of the Armada series. The demand even prompted Hasbro to think “Maybe Armada wasn’t all bad, as a glorified advert for plastic cars, it did the trick” and thus, Energon and Cybertron were commissioned and further toy lines announced to meet with the ever growing market of new kids getting into Transformers. Energon then, they decided, had to be bigger and better – more effort, more toys, more characters and soon they’d be rolling in the birthday wonga of every kiddy in America.

Conclusion

Armada, to me, tried hard and whilst it started poorly, it recovered in the final lap of the race and in my heart it holds a special place. As I mentioned, it served a dual purpose, introducing my generation to Transformers and selling toys, which it achieved so well they ran out of toys to sell and had to repaint whatever old shit they had lying around and call it something cool like Stormbreaker, Dirtbrawler, Buttscratcher, you get the gist. Of the trilogy, Armada is not the worst, that’s it’s defence in the eyes of the Transformers community, it’s the Fantastic Four of comic based films – Ehhh, it’s not really the best you could’ve done for these characters but hey, it’s not Batman Forever level bad. So that’s that, Armada, part one done! Next time, Energon… oh boy Energon… you thought this was bad? Armada is commonly rescued by the phrase “But Energon was worse” so… prepare for that…

Old Man Wolfe RAVES – The Lasting Appeal of Transformers

I realise my blog can sometimes be seen as a den of negativity, in this past week I emptied my bowels of discontent onto the heads of Marvel and Minions alike and beyond that this site usually serves as a highlighter pen picking out the worst of the worst in the news of the world and complaining about it. So, here’s a rave, a feature I might try to work into the blog as inspiration takes me in which I explain why I like something and why, I feel, people might be inclined to agree with me. Franchises mainly, as a film and game critic it’s a strongpoint of mine to be able to pick apart media for positives and negatives so with that in mind, here’s one of my favourite nostalgia properties, Transformers, analysed by me with a burning question to answer – How has a blatant toy commercial lasted so long and why is it a story we can retell to no end?

You’re likely to know all about Transformers, be it from G1 cartoons, the Unicron Trilogy that originated in Japan, the more recent Animated and Prime series or, heaven forbid, the Bay movies. Robots fighting a civil war on a distant planet come to Earth to harvest the natural resources here in order to gain the edge in battle, disguising themselves as vehicles to do so (Mistaking cars for the dominant life form on Earth). The story of two factions, the paragon Autobots and renegade Decepticons, is a clear cut moral conflict that appealed to the American market post-Vietnam war when people weren’t sure if heroes were heroes considering the horrors they had witnessed their own soldiers commit for shits and giggles on innocent civilians. Transformers, much like He-Man and Thundercats, had a clear definition of good and evil established and character motivations were unambiguous with Megatron being a means-justify-the-end conqueror content to squash humanity underfoot and Optimus Prime being a bot dedicated to freedom. Straight off the bat, if you never picked up on it, Optimus Prime is an avatar for the American dream, being decorated red, white and blue and preaching about the right to freedom for all sentient beings.

Now without a doubt Transformers started as a way to shlock otherwise uninteresting generic robot toys to a large market by giving them all cool names and an established lore for children to take part in but it did so in a way that was perhaps more interesting than the likes of He-Man, using a tactic of variety. By this I mean the number of Autobots and Decepticons on each side is so immense, you can draw up a list of ten of each without breaking a sweat and still probably have another few names in your back pocket. The large cast did mean only a few characters had established personalities that could essentially be summed up in sentences (Ironhide is a war veteran, Wheeljack is Frankenstein, Soundwave is rational and Starscream is a dick) but this allowed imagination to run wild. I have fond memories of getting Transformer figures of characters I knew shit all about but it didn’t matter, you could make them whoever, aside from the likes of Optimus Prime, the rest of them were interchangeable plastic moulds for you to assign a character to in your own head, all that mattered was what side they were on. For children then, this offered a combination of familiar faces to emulate and lesser characters to improve on and the simplistic personalities the characters started with served as gateways for imaginative play. You pick up an Optimus Prime figure, the FIRST THING you do is Peter Cullen’s voice (Which is beautiful. Did you know he was originally going to give Optimus a more gung-ho brash tone but decided against it when he realised real war heroes aren’t such loud boasters, they’re more quiet and reserved resilient types so that’s what he went for and it stuck – at last an 80’s protagonist with a voice not suited to singing Wham! lyrics). Point is, familiar characters are easy to play and easy to work around as kids but you get more toys, you’re then encouraged to give them whatever personality you want. Nobody much remembers the likes of Red Alert or Sunstreaker, you’ve got to come up with something for those guys OR buy more comics and find out, both paths open to you and nobody can judge you either way.

The original cartoons, rewatching them, are awful in terms of writing but it allowed it to stay simple and episodes were based around singular plot points that reset the balance of power at the end. Usually it was:

MEGATRON: “I want the thing!”

STARSCREAM: “I have the thing! I am the leader of the Decepticons!”

OPTIMUS: “You can’t have the thing! I must capture/destroy the thing!”

STARSCREAM: “I no longer have the thing!”

MEGATRON: “STAAAAAAAAARRRRRSCREEEEEEEEAAAMM!”

And they all lived forever locked in an eternal struggle for political conquest. Some episodes went out there but they didn’t shake it up too much. Well, the first movie did, first animated movie, that killed off every major character and gave some of them shiny new forms and some shiny new characters altogether, which received mixed responses but was overwhelmingly met with cries of “OPTIMUS!” (No joke, the fan response was so strong, they had to include an end narration in the home release that assured children Optimus Prime would be reborn because the kids who saw the film in theatrical releases cried for days, it’d be like ending every Doctor’s regeneration with the previous body getting up and saying “I had a fun time but I’m going home to eat cake and play XBOX”) Erhem, this is long-winded, you can see I know my shit here. Anyway, Transformers offered a simple lore but with a rich tapestry of characters and with almost every character getting merchandise based on them, it was an easy thing to get into, it’d be like knowing every single Pokemon ever designed is available as a plushy, you’d eventually figure to buy one you like. That’s what Transformers was, more so than GI Joe which had interchangeable white dudes in camo gear plus some minorities just because, Transformers was more “THIS ONE IS A SPORTS CAR! THIS ONE IS RED! THIS ONE IS A T-REX! YOU THINK OF IT, IT’S A TRANSFORMER! SHIT MAN, EVEN BOOMBOXES AND TRAFFIC LIGHTS” (Not a joke, there is a traffic light Transformer)

Now you might think that explains the original appeal but why hasn’t it died off or only existed as a property some company foolishly tried to reboot into another animated series below the radar? Well, owing partially to the confusing ownership of rights between American and Japanese toy companies (The Japanese invented the toys but the Americans figured out how to make them sale-worthy and thus began a longstanding but oddly rickety partnership) nobody involved ever let Transformers die off and when G1 ran its course to a point of dwindling interest, it was reborn in various forms. Beast Wars, The Unicron Trilogy (Japan’s take which is a blog post in itself about how that worked), RID, Rescue Bots, Animated – since the 80s, there hasn’t been a generation of children that hasn’t had immediate access to an Optimus Prime they’ll always remember. For me, I started with an old video tape of two singular episodes of G1 and a single figure of Mirage, the Formula One car that could turn invisible. As I grew older, my Saturday morning cartoons were the Unicron Trilogy and my first Optimus Prime figure was Armada Optimus, the small one though so no trailer (violin plays) but then for one Christmas I went big with Cyberton Optimus, holy shit that was awesome, especially as I had Wing Saber and they could COMBINE and man that was fun. Each iteration of Transformers as a cartoon offered the same characters, with some slight differences owing to either writer’s choice, marketing decisions or legal disputes meaning certain character names belonged to certain people yadda yadda yadda, no two series are all that alike (Well, the Unicron Trilogy within itself seems all too happy to repeat some trends but I digress)

As the audience for Transformers matured, the franchise itself did too, hitting at more sophisticated audiences with Beast Wars and Prime, seen as the “best” iterations of Transformers cartoons, but also with various comic book series that delved into deeper realms the TV shows left alone – politics, post-war diplomacy, interpersonal relationships, even a sense of racism (Autobot/Decepticon peace treaties leading to the use of old war faction names as slurs against people who used to be aligned with said side). However, far be Transformers from just getting bigger and bigger and leaving people on the outside looking in like Game of Thrones or Agents of SHIELD where, if you’re not desperately trying to keep the pace by now, you’ve missed the boat and will have to endure many conversations you can’t follow, Transformers split its universe into numerous respective lores that you could opt into or out of and there was always an easy to digest option available in the form of a TV series. You liked the Bay films and want more but not G1? Oh okay, well Animated came out just in time for you, the artistic style is kinda weird but the characters are memorable and the plot doesn’t twist itself into a bagel like every other fucking thing on television seems to do at some point. You want your kids to watch Transformers? Rescue Bots is super kiddy friendly, think Aquanauts with robots. The team at Hasbro sort of accept two core universes now, Prime and Bay Film Universe, and seriously, if you’re even remotely interested in Transformers at this point then watch Transformers Prime, it is so well done, easily the best-written TV show based on these characters. With a lore that boils down to good versus evil, robots versus robots and only perhaps three characters you must never fuck up (Optimus, Starscream and Megatron), any writer can run with them and utilise the imagination of their childhood to give you new looks and new attitudes for these ten ton super robots to love and discuss and perhaps even inspire your works (Heck, I wrote my own Transformers lore as a kid using what figures I had to hand as core characters and sometimes even adult me is like, if fan fiction were my thing, I’d write a lot of Transformers stuff)

So, let’s summarise and answer those starting questions:

How has it lasted so long? – A huge expanse of characters all diverging from one core concept allows any team of writers to run wild, each iteration doing something the one before it did not and reimagining these characters in new and exciting ways that appeal to each new generation, ensuring every generation of children has at least ONE Transformers continuity they remember fondly

Why can we retell it to no end? – Because it is a classic story of good versus evil, freedom versus tyranny and the timelessly appealing combination of Sci-Fi, giant robots and fun gimmicks. Unlike say Spiderman, characters in Transformers are much more flexible to play with and can be remembered in a variety of ways. Optimus the Truck, Optimus the Fire Engine, Optimus the Gorilla – all that matters is that core concept, beyond that the only limit is the creativity of the writers and of the audience, who in time become the writers

So there you go! Let me know if you enjoy things like this, I know it certainly went on for quite a while and if anyone’s ever interested, I’ll go over the Unicron Trilogy in a follow up to this. Beyond that, let me know if there’s ever something you’ve thought of as timeless, maybe I’ll agree with you and I’ll gush my undying love for something you suggested to me for about 2000 words, who knows? If you’ve read this far, you’re either hankering for the Matrix of Readership (BADUMTISH) or just really want me to like you. Either way, thank you for enduring a seemingly endless ream of fanboy burbling!

Death Scene

Can I make a blog post about Doctor Who? Are people cool with me doing that? If you haven’t seen the series up to the finale, this post probably isn’t for you, unless you have no intention of catching up or don’t mind a spoiler but still want to read about Doctor Who, although this will also tie in with Marvel Cinematic Universe. Why? Death scenes, that’s why, tragic ends to character arcs and why that’s not a thing anymore, if Whedon and Moffat are anything to by at least – though regarded as harbingers of death in their work, actually killing characters stone dead forever is not something they’re all that good at and that pisses me off more than it should. Without further ado, let’s begin!

So Doctor Who, my starting point, just closed another series and the big thing we’d been leading up to this whole time was the death of Clara and the Hybrid story arc, which turned out to be a red herring (There was no ‘hybrid’ in the sense of a single warrior being, it was the hybrid of the Doctor and Clara, a duo so damned dangerous they had to be separated or time itself would splinter around them) and we’d known that for a while with Jenna Louise Coleman already landing work elsewhere and Moffat promising a devastating death scene. Personally, long overdue, Clara outstayed her welcome for me and as a character, offered nothing that Moffat female characters don’t already – plucky attitudes, implied fluid sexualities and a fascination with the protagonist that overrides their sense of individuality. Clara died, having failed to cheat death and meeting her end in a big tragic scene with that raven thing and that was that… except it wasn’t. No, because you see Clara died with valuable information in her head so the Time Lords stole her at the precise moment just before she died and she lived on as a preserved memory of herself and the Doctor tries to run away with her so he can wipe her memory of him and dump her on Earth in a normal life, ala Donna Noble. The plan backfires, the Doctor wipes his own memory of Clara and Clara lives on, a fugitive fleeing the wrath of the Time Lords and gallivanting about time and space with the red herring hybrid we’d all thought was going to be a bigger deal than she was, Me (Me is the character name, I’m not referring to myself)

I’m annoyed. I already watched Clara have a big moment of sacrifice when she jumped into the Doctor’s time stream to save him and thus she broke apart into a million other Clara-like characters littered across the life of the Doctor and that, for me, should have been it. The Impossible Girl explained, terrific, a lack lustre character but hey, the arc ties up nicely at the end. Only it doesn’t, the Doctor still has a Clara at his side through thick and thin. Jeez, selfish cow, a big touching sacrifice scene wasn’t enough, you want more? What’s that? You want two tragic death scenes? Well Moffat seems happy to oblige apparently. This is dumb writing, this undermines the emotional investment, I didn’t even blink at Clara’s second death because any heartbreak I had, I’d already spent and then, not only does she die twice, she’s alive again and free to roam time and space in her own TARDIS just so as not to write the character off in case Coleman ever turns up back at Moffat’s door looking for work.

Here’s where I connect to Marvel, who do the exact same thing. Coulson, Stark, Groot, Pepper – all of those characters made big sacrifices and final plays that would have killed them but they survived through asinine loophole nonsense so as not to cut chunks out of their marketable merchandise and so you never have to part with a character you want to save for later. Heaven forbid Coulson die, even though his death was the catalyst that united the Avengers, god no, if he’s dead we can’t make a TV show about him. Groot dies but he survives, Pepper falls to her death but surprise, she has powers and Iron Man goes to sacrifice himself but he’s fine after. Heck, look at Loki (As if I need to tell the internet to look at Tom Hiddleston), he’s died twice too, when he dies for real nobody will believe it, it’s just a sham, he’ll be back, it’s like someone looked at Doctor Who and Dragonball Z and thought the key to timeless cult classics is to have main characters that just don’t die ever.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not here to tell Whedon and Moffat to go ahead and kill off their cast willy-nilly, death scenes aren’t just shock film filler, that’s what fake out death scenes are. If you have a death scene that doesn’t result in the end of a character, that’s a cop out, that’s an excuse to get that emotional response from your audience without committing to finding a way to advance the stories without those characters. One revival, sure, I’ll forgive it, but two deaths and then suddenly you’re a time traveller/disguised as your dad? That’s just exploitation and a lack of willingness to evolve a story beyond the same five or so faces you know earn you some money. Doctor Who, kill off companions or have them left behind, don’t combine the two – Amy and Rory didn’t die, Clara didn’t die, Moffat seems incapable of killing anything other than my interest in Doctor Who of late. Marvel, have someone important die and stay dead, at least for a little bit – you killed and revived Loki IN THE SAME FILM, there’s no big reveal to that, it’s more just “Haha you thought he was dead but he’s not, aren’t you a silly?”. No, I’m not, I thought you’d actually closed his character development but it seems you have come up with an excuse to keep using Loki as a villain rather than a tragic hero that died to avenge his mother and seek the forgiveness of his brother.

Death scenes are beautifully potent endings to character stories, they allow us to see the last of that character and reflect on who they were and what they meant to us and to the world in which they lived. We saw Loki die, we saw a shitty entitled brat become a self-sacrificing hero with his last breath but then it seemed that was not so, he had always been just a piece of self-serving shit. We saw Clara die, we thought she had been prepared to sacrifice everything for those she loved yet she sacrificed nothing, she never lost, if anything, she gained – a TARDIS all her own and her own little companion. As a writer and as a fan of fiction, I can’t stand to see the powerful emotions brought by death used as just an excuse to shake the snowglobe a little bit and watch people react to the snow inside.

Captain America and the Conservatives

How’s about that for a title eh? Not one I ever thought I’d be writing, that’s for sure. So what’s this about? Well, in a recent issue of Captain America, the titular character fights against a super villain called the Supreme Serpent, a white supremacist trying to keep illegal immigrants out of the country by terrorising the southern border of the USA. Captain America, who I should remind you is black in his current incarnation, doesn’t much like this idea and comes to the rescue of the terrorised immigrants, defending them and facing off against the white guy. So how’d this go down? FOX News lost their shit basically, calling this a bunch of liberal brainwashing bullshit made to vilify the white conservative as being just as bad as Hitler or ISIS and asked that Marvel make the villains less white guy and more… Muslim… No shit, they genuinely suggested a Muslim extremist villain, saying that such a character is more typically seen as an enemy of America than a white guy ever would be… Let that sink in. Done? Okay, rage with me here…

Straight away, let’s address Captain America and what he represents shall we? To the unobservant eye, Captain America is just patriotism given a face and a large metal shield to wail on Nazis with and you could be forgiven for thinking that but it’s untrue. You see, Captain America was originally designed to resemble the Aryan male, a handsome blond muscular youth with blue eyes, lantern jaw and that good work ethic that made him gosh darn perfect. You might guess this is because he is meant to be the American ideal of a wholesome robust farm-boy looking character fighting for justice but it goes beyond that, it was essentially a cruel cold kick to the balls for the Nazis. The Nazi ideal was also that of a super heroic blond boy, the fact that their fantasy was the one punching Hitler in the face served as a message, that a truly ideal man does not hold to absurd visions of supremacy. Hitler was wrong, his own male fantasy was the one kicking him down and telling him not to demand perfection of others because a core part of freedom is diversity, in being diverse we are free to be different people, having a set ‘this is what you should aspire to be’ rule limits diversity and tries to push people into a pigeonhole. However, Captain America is also the representation of the values the American people are supposed to hold in high regard – honesty, defense of the innocent, righteousness – fast forward to the modern era and we have a black Captain America because, well, why not? A black man can represent those core values of righteousness, look at Martin Luther King, Jr. for example! There was no liberal brainwashing behind making Cap a black guy, it was just Marvel acknowledging that the USA isn’t the land of the white, it’s the land of freedom and justice and justice doesn’t have a particular skin colour.

So, with that in mind, this isn’t a battle of left versus right through Captain America versus Supreme Serpent because Captain America isn’t the living embodiment of the left-wing, he’s just what patriotism should be – a love of one’s country but not a blindness to its flaws, a citizen of their homeland but a citizen of the world too, always striving to encourage their nation as a whole to be better. However, FOX identified with the villains here, calling WHITE SUPREMACISTS the right-wing conservatives in their audience. You know what that means? FOX News just openly admitted, through their own stupidity, they’re white supremacists, they see these white-skinned terrorists in snake costumes with assault rifles and think “Hey! That’s me! I’m not a bad guy!”. Conservatism and white supremacy aren’t, and shouldn’t ever be, one and the same, one is a mindset based in traditional values, the other a penchant for racially motivated violence. I mean, at least FOX News are self-aware, I’ve been calling them a bunch of bigots since I first stumbled across the mindless hate-mongering of Bill O’Reilly and here they are, feeling sorry for terrorists in snake costumes and demanding Captain America make it fair by beating up some Muslims or Nazis.

Captain America, incidentally, shouldn’t go on to fighting ISIS or Muslim Extremists, there is clearly enough racial prejudice in the world without printing comic books showing gratuitous violence towards Muslims as a heroic thing to do. If Captain America exists to be a role model, racism isn’t part of that aspirational standard he should set, that’s one good reason he’s a minority – it’s not about being white, it’s about being right! Kids need to see a socially responsible hero, that’s what Captain America is for – Iron Man shows what technology and ingenuity can achieve, Hawkeye is a hero who doesn’t need powers to keep in league with the best, you don’t have to be special, you just have to try and Captain America is saying that it doesn’t matter what your background is, what matters most is that you are a good person at heart (Thus why he was a weedy kid originally and then beefed up, it was the good in him that mattered, he was never meant to be just some typical action-figure hero). As for the argument that he needs to go back to fighting Nazis, well, White Supremacists are the new Nazis, look at Trump. Build a giant wall to keep Mexicans out? Hunt down all illegally bought guns but let licensed people keep theirs, a clever sounding move until you realise illegal weapons are prevalent in poor neighbourhoods and legal ones in affluent areas, essentially meaning self defence will become a matter of how much of it you can afford to buy. ISIS are awful yes, but their tactics are made to instill fear, to turn people against each other and encourage the hatred of the white majority. Why? Because scared people are irrational and easily broken. White Supremacy, that’s a fear and loathing of difference that turns to violence – lynching, organised marches, cross burning – amassing huge swathes of people into the most intimidating displays possible to inflict as much damage as possible. If an ISIS attack is a small tactical guerilla affair to make you paranoid, a Neo-Nazi march by the extreme right wing is a bunch of angry thugs starting a riot because they don’t like being so paranoid.

In short, this comic isn’t a criticism of patriotism and conservative values, it’s a criticism of racism and extremist mindsets and there should be a differentiation between the two. If you see these white guys getting attacked by a black hero because they harassed Hispanic children and your response is “This is political brainwashing, thanks Obama!”, then think again, think hard. Captain America was taking down a bunch of armed madmen attacking unarmed civilians, that’s what a superhero does, race and nationality don’t come into it. If you want Captain America to fight with Nazis, over zealous insane crackpots who love their country and believe it the best country in the world, well then I have news for you – he just did.

Passionate Contempt

First things first, not to let fame go to my head but I was recognised on the street today as Old Man Wolfe, or rather:
“Hey, isn’t that Old Man Wolfe?”
“Who?”
“You know, that wanker who writes about feminism and shit”
Genuine dialogue there ladies and gentlemen, I am a wanker that writes about feminism and shit. I’m a little hurt, feminism and shit? I write about feminism and David Cameron, Sonic the Hedgehog, Russell Brand… ok yeah, feminism and shit making more sense now… That aside, in sticking with my pages of wank upon this blog of shit, I’ve got more for you, a requested article even (not commissioned, I’m not THAT popular, just a “Hey can you do one about…?”). So, I won’t deny my fans, what few I have, here comes the famed Wolfe wanker to deliver his opinions on the subject of being passionate about our interests, whether or not that makes us ‘hipsters’ and why we feel the way we do about such matters.

At this point, the word ‘irony’ crops up nine times out of ten, more particularly in how it is misused and abused by the population, excusing their behaviour as acts of irony, completely missing the point of the word, we get it. Truth is, on that front, you either know better or you don’t, no amount of intellectual snobbery will fix the internet – people will keep doing dumb shit and call it ironic, we all know what the word means as it is defined in the dictionary, it’s a losing battle to try and fight when you come across some idiot being ‘ironic’ when they’re actually just being stupid or ignorant. I’m actually here about the other abuse of irony, claiming to love something perceived as tacky or awful out of ironic pleasure and how that branches off from a culture of disenfranchisement and distinguishing “I love He-Man because it is so bad it’s good” and “I love this obscure franchise because I genuinely love it, not because I’m trying to set a trend or be outside the box”

See, you use the word ‘hipster’ here and you think of two different types – the one with a profound love for the unpopular and unheard of, seen as a pretentious dickwad looking for new ways to buck the trend, and the one who is also seen as a dick because they hold everything in contempt, calling everything they see commercial crap or unoriginal or not as good as this or that or the other. A weird culture indeed, where does it come from? Well, it’s a flaw of my generation, the media plays us as generally disinterested layabouts – we aren’t the stoic heroes of yesteryear, we missed the hippie revolution and we’re weirded out by what comes after us as being the sort of cack we bought into as kids but now that we’re “grown up”, we’re not supposed to like any more. Growing up, it’s easy to be disinterested in the world around you, you’re full of angst and bitterness and raging hormones but once you hit your twenties, nostalgia kicks in, you pine for a more innocent time and suddenly all that plastic crap becomes wondrous through rose-tinted shades. Think Thundercats, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, iCarly, hardly works of fine art but I bet one of them or something like them has a place in your heart for all its flaws. A generation raised on the devil-may-care too cool to give a damn mindset forked into two very different paths – passionate about discovery and passionate about not being passionate.

The latter culture, passionate about a lack of passion, breeds a psyche of “Effort is uncool, enthusiasm is stupid”, bred in the hearts of the grunge music of our cooler older siblings when we were young and a life revolving around hardening one’s shell, especially in the form of typical masculinity. After all, imagine being a fifteen year old and telling our friends at rugby practice that you’re thinking of having a That’s So Raven marathon and then imagine the state of your testicles later, considerably more swollen and sore one should imagine. A harsh disconnect with the world, born of a survival instinct and then later transformed into some warped sense of intellectual superiority or being too ‘cool’ for bursts of excitement, led to this grumpier sort of person of my generation, myself included to some extent. To this day, I rarely get excited, for me that “get hard or die” psyche was intensified by being the eldest in my family, the supposed smartest in my classes and the social outcast in a school full of violent thugs, I couldn’t afford tears or anything that could be exploited, occasions when word let slip I had feelings for someone in my class, myself and the person I cared for were bullied and heckled to no end, it turned me into a vengeful stone cold walking behemoth of irritability, something I’m still receiving counselling for to this day.

You should also consider we were born into a world that raced through technological advancements and yet dwindled in opportunities, the internet didn’t show us the world was better, it showed us the world was better than us, at that point it became why bother? Helicopter parenting only really got called out as a bad thing within the last twenty years, too late for someone like me who has already been moulded by such, it led to this generation of hearts encased in stone because it seems easier that way – never try so never fail, never care so never grieve. As more and more franchises get rebooted, retooled or live to the point of stagnation and lack of originality, perhaps for some it is easier to say sod it to having favourites and holding all things in equal contempt, only holding a soft spot for things that cannot be revamped or remade. Oasis, Nirvana, Arctic Monkeys, music and emotion that cannot be portrayed by anyone else, bands that won’t “sell out” or catch on with their shitty little brothers and sisters, relics of the time when stuff was ‘cool’

The other more optimistic road journeyed down was that of discovery, of branching out, taking passions and interests from youth and watering the seeds of joy into full grown forests. You start at Pokemon, you go onto Cardcaptors, you find Naruto and then so on and so on until you go so far through the looking glass, the Cheshire Cat puts his paws up like “Hell naw man, that’s some weird shit”. Such individuals were persecuted as nerds but responded to the bullying of their youth by just enduring it, not so much becoming as hard as a mountain but bowing like grass in the wind – a mountain doesn’t move in a storm but then grass doesn’t move much either, the land beneath it gets torn up but grass isn’t so much destroyed as strewn about. Of course, this passion for discovery led to creativity, to ‘nerdiness’, to an internet culture of memes and fan-fiction where people could unashamedly share their fantasies of making out with Sasuke Uchiha whilst exchanging information and recommendations, giving each other maps for the weird roads they had walked down. Chances are if you’re thinking of someone this reminds you of, they may well have a tumblr, not just a tumblr, I mean like one of THOSE tumblrs. Superwholock and so on. Personally, whilst sometimes cringing because of my underlying cool-guy bravado pressured upon me, such people can be held in admiration, they werent’ scared to be in love and let it grow, they became much more creative and inventive and broadened their palette, not bad considering they mostly started in the same place – commercial cartoon slop pushing toys down their throats.

Here’s where we go full circle then, back to the point of irony, a word that became a safe way of saying “I don’t want to admit I enjoy this inherently terrible thing”. Genuine ironic pleasure, liking something you know you rationally think is atrocious, is a good thing, it allows one to communicate with their true self, asking themselves why they might enjoy something so bad. I’ll put myself on the line here, my ‘guilty pleasure’ is Sabrina the Teenage Witch. Yes, a show meant for teen girls when I was only old enough to be interested in Digimon and Scooby-Doo but I watched it anyway, I loved it, mainly for Salem. On reflection as an adult, I found I probably liked it because I saw myself in the characters; Sabrina, the super-talented youth who must try to fit in even though she’s clearly leagues ahead, very true of my young self; Salem, the mind of a tiger-like man in a pussycat body who finds comfort in food, very true of my adult self; Aunt Zelda, the voice of reason and seen as boring or callous but in fact really enjoys intellectual stimulation and worthy peers, very true of myself as a rule through life. I acknowledge the shoe is bad, it’s a campy comedy for hormonal schoolgirls, the romance is strained, the plots are inane nonsense, the Salem puppet looks like a mitten with a face and Harvey’s actor is a generic “cool boy I want to like me” template, as is his character. Knowing that though, I still watch it with a smile, if only to hear Salem wail (Seriously, every episode, at least once, Salem will either burst into tears or shout “NOOOOOOOOOOO!”)

Guilty pleasures and ironic enjoyment are the way of the passionate about a lack of passion expressing themselves without breaking down and admitting to themselves they actually care, in this way, perhaps it is a really damaging thing to deal with, it’s essentially self-hatred. Guilty pleasure shouldn’t be a thing, if you aren’t hurting anyone at least. We let this festering feeling of apathy overwhelm us all as teenagers, we wanted to fit in and be cool and denied ourselves what we cared about, or at least some of us did. With that in mind, it’s easy to see why we hold such contempt for someone who declares love for something obscure and unheard of, we envy them for being so unafraid to have fun that they dedicated themselves to finding new ways to do it. Fun isn’t for us, fun is for kids, except it shouldn’t be, it should be for everyone.

To conclude then, enjoy what you honestly find yourself enjoying, embrace it without fear and when someone comes up to you and says they actually prefer some weird TV show or band from some place you’ve never heard of written by people with names you can’t pronounce, don’t hold it against them, try shit out. If it’s not for you, it’s not for you but do so honestly and with an open mind, don’t deny it because it’s weird or tacky or obscure, deny it on its own merits and your personal tastes. Guilty pleasures are a thing of the past, passion is back in fashion and you don’t have to hate yourself if you sincerely like watching My Parents Are Aliens.

White Yagami

I doubt anyone here will be surprised to learn I was massively into the anime culture as a kid and as a teenager, to a lesser degree I still am a fan. A love of Japanese animation planted in my heart by Pokemon and Digimon flowered over the years with exposure to more and more examples of the medium – Full Metal Alchemist, Psycho-Pass, Attack on Titan – point is, I can translate your ‘otaku’ friend for you into English again with some modicum of success. A good manga/anime I had come across in my travels through his sub-culture was Death Note, perhaps one of the most-well known mangas of its generation, it certainly passes the lips of every manga lover I’ve ever met at least once in their list of past reads. If you don’t know about Death Note already, chances are you either vehemently hate all things anime or you’re about to learn of its existence, either through me, or the impending movie release…

Death Note is the story of a teenage boy, Light Yagami, who finds a magical notebook with the power to kill whoever he wishes, just by writing their name on its pages. He can decide the time of death, cause of death and basically any set of foreseeable circumstances surrounding his target’s demise and rather than use this power for petty personal reasons like striking down bullies or grudges, he thinks big, real big. How big? He makes himself judge, jury and executioner to every criminal he sees in the news, striking them down and declaring himself an anonymous angel of justice. Of course, this doesn’t go unnoticed and in comes Detective L, a bizarre little man that looks like Gollum wearing a wig and eating more sweets than even the greediest of children, set on working with the genius Light Yagami to track down this mass murdering ‘angel’. What ensues is a manga that revolves around a contest of wits, enough plot twists to make the plot thread a double helix of confusion and gratuitous amounts of cold-blooded supernatural murder. Death Note is a very popular anime, manga, collection of films and source of fan-fiction and now Warner Brothers wants their name on it, specifically in the form of a Westernised Death Note, complete with a white cast and more American based story. Is this what we want? Well here’s the thing about that…

Warner Brothers have let slip precious little at this stage of their plans but so far we know this – it’s not Japan, it’s America and the lead role will be played by Nat Wolff. Nat Wolff isn’t a dreadful choice, in fact to give credit to him, he doesn’t look dissimilar to Light’s appearance. However, whitewashing is never a good idea, it just doesn’t work, you offend the people whose culture you’re essentially saying “You won’t be as good a hook for this film as said white guy/girl” and fans get irked, fans appreciate the culture of their beloved franchises as much as they do the franchise itself. Whilst the Death Note story is nothing that could not be white-washed, though the shinigami element (multiple death gods, something our culture sort of lacks) will be hard to get around, just a bunch of Grim Reapers everywhere? Or ghosts? Or haphazardly sticking with Shinigami but not the name Light Yagami? I’ve yet to see a film get whitewashed and come out better – Avatar: Last Airbender, Tonto in The Lone Ranger, Dragonball Evolution (the absolute worst thing to ever claim it was based on an anime) – it doesn’t work, it just doesn’t, you make those responsible into laughing stocks and whoever was interested in it before loses it because you’ve flipped a bird at their heritage.

In an age where Captain America is black, Thor is a woman and Spiderman isn’t always a story of a nerd given extraordinary power, maybe you’re of the camp that if white characters can be made black, why not vice versa? Firstly, white characters are not given a different ethnicity if being white is key to their character history, which is why black or Asian or Hispanic characters don’t get turned white very well, something about their heritage is key to their character. Tonto is a Native American, make him a white guy in make up and that’s what we see, a white guy in make-up, playing a parody of the character through ‘spirit magic’ and ‘war cries’, stuff the original Tonto did not do, he was actually an equal to the Ranger, not his goofy sidekick wearing a silly hat. Why can Captain America be black? Captain America represents the symbol of patriotism, at the time that was the Aryan build of Blond White Straight Male but since then there have been Black American idols – Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Barack Obama – the black culture got the recognition it deserved as being just as much a part of American history as white culture so with that in mind, Cap can be black. Thor can be a woman because it is whoever is worthy, plus Norse mythology specifically mentions female warriors in Freya and the Valkyries, no upset there, except to the Mjolnir/Penis comparison. Light Yagami might not fall in these same categories but Death Note established itself in Japan, it found a Western audience who knew it as Japanese, the entire franchise is rooted in such an origin, doing it differently alienates the old fans.

I have to say this movie premise stinks of desperation and a failure to consider who they are making this film for. Asian audiences? Offended. Anime fans? There’s already a collection of comics and films, what good is this cut-rate reboot to them? The mainstream audience? Maybe, but that either means compromising on plot and character to make commercial slop that won’t stand out at the box office or making an intelligent film that people will look right past for being boring and convoluted. You can’t claim this will be good for the source material, none of the original writing staff are involved. The director looks to be Adam Wingard, known for such films as ‘VHS’ and ‘You’re Next’ so is this going to be a horror story? Will the message of the original carry across, laden with contempt for the failures of the justice system whilst making insightful commentary on the idea of what if God’s hand did interfere and the inability of man to play that role, how power corrupts and how frail genius truly is? Or are we to expect a film about a crazed psychopath with supernatural powers played up for kicks? So many questions, how many were asked and answered at the board meeting?

I can’t predict things with certainty but I don’t see this film working out, anime to live action is a hard thing to pull off and whitewashing the entire thing only serves as a shot in the foot before the race has begun. I hope, I pray even that this falls in the gutter with the likes of Dragonball Evolution and Mortal Kombat (Granted, an American creation but Raiden, a Japanese thunder god was played by a white guy… badly… really badly) because last thing I want to see is a new wave of Westernised animes. Rachel Mayers over Ryuko Matoi, Joey’s Bizarre Adventure, another botched up attempt to make Dragonball a Hollywood franchise, there are just some things that should never happen, some things even the film industry should leave alone.