Saturday Animation Round-up: Young Justice, TMNT, Green Lantern, and The Clone Wars

Welcome to Week 2 of our new Saturday animation round-up! You read last week's inaugural edition here.

Star Wars: The Clone Wars S05E02: "A War On Two Fronts”

One of the reasons why I like The Clone Wars is that it oftens offers more than just a sci-fi action extravaganza and new toys to buy. In the case of “A War On Two Fronts,” the show offered a debate on large governmental forces (the Jedi and the Grand Republic Army) training rebel forces (Onderonians) that had similar aims (weakening the Separatist presence in the galaxy).

The real-world parallels—U.S. forces training and arming nascent al-Qaeda factions to battle Soviets and their allies in Afghanistan in the 1980s—weren’t made explicit (and aren’t likely to be known to the show’s intended demographic). Instead we got a debate, argued between Obi-Wan and Anakin, about the values of the action, and whether or not the Jedi were encouraging terrorism or arming an insurgency against a dangerous and mutual threat.

It wasn't a terribly nuanced debate (and it was recognizable only in our real-world hindsight), but the fact that it happened at all demonstrates why The Clone Wars is a valuable show in the long run, putting these concerns in front of an audience early, and giving parents a chance to perhaps discuss them with their kids.

Of course, the episode fell fairly firmly on the side of “Yes, helping rebels/insurgents is perfectly okay.” Certainly there could still be fallout (Saw does seem a bit aggressive), but the presence of Lux (last seen smooching on Ahsoka in Season 4) helped mediate any audience concerns that might have been present. It was an easy out for the show to take, but expecting a more fleshed-out argument about the issue is probably a bit much.

However, since it was a war on two fronts in the title, the interpersonal battles between Saw, Steela, Lux, and Ahsoka gave the episode some stronger character bits. Lux being in the episode immediately upped the story beyond the training of generic rebels to something more meaningful. It was a smart move in a smart episode.

Green Lantern: The Animated Series S01E15: “Reboot”

It didn’t take long for Green Lantern to get us back into space, but I’m not going to complain too much. Where the first half of this season was stuck in generic sci-fi stories with our characters working through those conventions (never super-inventively), this half seems happy to kick off with lots of action and narrative momentum, two things I’m always happy to see.

Another thing I’m happy to see: Lots of other members of the Green Lantern Corp. Tomar-Re! Ch’p (the squirrel who hysterically beat up Hal)! Larvox! Chaselon! When the Red Lanterns were invading and the Guardians decided to mobilize the Corp, I figured we’d see some familiar faces, but we didn’t. Their appearances erased that (admittedly fanboy-based) disappointment.

“Reboot” served the rather necessary plot beat of getting (most of) the original band back together. Both recruitment moments, getting Kilowog and then saving Aya, were well-staged and boasted a surprising amount of humor (something the show has improved on since the hiatus). I’ll be curious to see how they bring Razer back into the fold since he, like Aya, has had stronger character arcs than Hal and Kilowog (Razer and Aya can have those arcs since they’re original creations).

The re-activation of the Manhunters by the Anti-Monitor (the big blue-and-yellow bruiser) helped build on the established narratives about the less-than-stellar history of the Guardians and threw it back in their faces. This further complicates their goals in maintaining order in the galaxy, and whether or not they’re all that qualified to do it.

DC Nation Short: A New Teen Titans short explored how Robin and Raven deal with being in love. It wasn't a terribly exciting short, or all that funny. I did like that both premises were based on character traits, Raven’s stoicism and Robin’s over-achieving, but there wasn't much in the way of laughter.

Young Justice S02E09: “Darkest”

After last week’s likeable mixed bag, “Darkest” was a much tighter and stronger episode. It benefitted, unsurprisingly, by focusing on Kaldur’s subterfuge of Black Manta and the demands it's placing on him. None of this can be easy, even if he is playing triple agent, as Wally suggested near the end of the episode. The fact that the show itself is willing to broach this idea suggests that it’s an unlikely outcome, and that Kaldur is very dedicated to stopping the invasion, as Dick maintained.

The destruction of Mount Justice was one of those big moments that work. While it helped set up the destructive future of Bart’s, it was also a far more effective stake-raising moment than the reveal about Bart’s time. The nuclear winter-esque world that Bart is from is more of a narrative puzzle to be worked out—how did the world end up like that?—as opposed to an emotional punch made by the eradication of Mount Justice. Truly, this is the first time I feel like Young Justice has demonstrated the risks in these conspiracies and counter-conspiracies. (I don't understand how Happy Harbor wasn’t wiped off the map as well.)

Since I made mention of the show's little narrative detours last week, it seems only fair to return to the Malcolm-and-Karen-in-Ivy-Town bit. The plot needed Malcolm out of Mount Justice so he could call it in when it was destroyed, but it at least served a narrative purpose compared to the detours last week. And while I can appreciate Malcolm’s attempts to reconnect with Karen (he’s sort of stuck in his life, and she’s very much moving on), the emotional connection for the audience wasn’t there. It was sad but lacked of the heavier character moments that the rest of the episode was able to achieve. Frigging time skip.

DC Nation Short: It was a DC’s World’s Funnest short, which tend to be really hit or miss for me. Here we had Robin, tied up by a giggling Joker. Catwoman had problems saying identity; Batman ran by, arrived to find Robin tied up, and began giggling as well. I liked the Catwoman portions, particularly her discussion of the fashion sense of heroes, but it was kind of flat.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles S01E03: “Turtle Temper”

If “Turtle Temper” will be the model for the episodes to come, I can get behind this series a bit more than I thought I would after last week's premiere, even if I do think there’s still a good bit of work to be done in firming up the show.

Exploring Raph’s temper is one of the hallmarks of the TMNT franchise, and how his actions put both him and his brothers in danger. The episode didn’t tread much new ground in that regard (I wonder when that’ll start happening...), but the episode mobilized Raph’s personality to help deliver a moral about how kids can deal with insults and bullies. In a way, should the series continue in this sort of model, it could become a male-targeted version of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. (Feel free to flame me in the comments for even daring to suggest such a thing, but I think I’m right.)

What I did like about this episode, and how it handled Raph’s inability to deal with insults, was the multiple ways it mobilized Vic, the cranky New Yorker, to get at these ideas. First, there was the casting of caustic and foul-mouthed comedian Lewis Black, a nice nod for older audiences who recognize him and can appreciate the cleverness in his casting for this particular role. But it was the transformation into Spider Bytez (eugh) that sold me on the concept. His acidic venom spit was a complement to his acidic verbal commentary, providing a consistent character trope through the transformation (one that was missing with Snake last week).

I appreciate small touches like these in a kid-targeted show. While I still have some problems with this new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (particularly how the Kraangs speak; they’re worse than the B1 battle droids in The Clone Wars!), this episode was a positive step.

What'd you think of this week's episodes?

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