The animation round-up is still as light as last week! This week, Adventure Time took the week off, leaving us with four shows instead of the usual five. On Ben 10: Omniverse, Ben and the crew stopped a pirate from putting ships in a bottle while on Star Wars: The Clone Wars, D-squad spent a day in a barren wasteland for an experimental episode. Meanwhile, on My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, Rainbow Dash and Scootaloo finally start bonding, and on Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Baxter Stockman returned with his iconic mousers.
On TV.com’s Totally Tubular! podcast, there’s been some question as to why more procedurals aren’t reviewed on the site, with the reason often being that it’s a bit more difficult to dig into them week after week after week. Writers have the challenge of finding ways to keep their reviews fresh interesting and readers may not exactly be in a rush to talk about the episode beyond saying whether they liked it or not, and that they knew it was the guest star who committed the murder, because, well, it’s always the guest star.
It’s not a perfect analogy, but I’m starting to hit a similar wall with Ben 10: Omniverse. The show, even when I may find fault with it, is just too well-executed in its particular formula to be anything but competent, with some parts of each episode being more entertaining than others. “Gone Fishin?” was not an exception to this rule. A scurvy space pirate named Captain Cork was sucking Earth’s boats through whirlpools, shrinking them, and putting them in bottles to then sell them to intergalactic collectors. Along the way, Magister Patelliday was kidnapped by Cork’s robots, but despite his Don Knotts-esque voice (supplied by Rob Paulsen), he was more than capable of handling himself.
Cork’s whole plot gave me a good chuckle—I thought it was clever—and the rest of the episode had nice bits, including using Crasshopper as bait for an unimpressive kraken and Rook’s brilliant use of noodling to catch fish. But the episode didn’t linger in my mind; it was the same sort of normal Ben 10 episode that I’ve generally come to expect from the series.
On the flip side of Ben 10, The Clone Wars' “A Sunny Day in the Void” stuck with me for a bit, for both good and bad reasons. Returning from the successful mission aboard the CIS dreadnought, D-Squad was heading home, only to find themselves in the middle of a storm of comets (which looked great) during their hyperspace jump, which forced them to crash land on Abafar, the most desolate of desolate planets.
Dave Filoni, the supervising director of The Clone Wars, referred to this episode as “abstract” and “really experimental stuff,” and he definitely wasn't wrong. The barrenness of Abafar was incredibly striking, and Filoni acknowledged the THX 1138 vibe in the episode’s aesthetics as feeling very much like that film’s white room. It left Gascon and the droids without much to look at or interact with except themselves, and things went in all sorts of odd directions.
Gascon reverted back to his arrogant, overcompensating, overstuffed self, something I'd hoped we had moved past after the droids did a nice job with the initial mission. It felt like a bit of a stretch so that the episode could get to the core of the arc’s conflict, as vocalized by Gascon: the value of training versus programming. Abafar’s lack of landmarks didn’t help the diminutive map-maker, and he balked at R2 pointing out that the astromechs are made for navigation.
While this debate is an interesting one, and one that I started the ball rolling on last week as I talked about the show’s use of droids, “A Sunny Day in the Void” didn’t leave you with much choice but to side with the droids as Gascon became increasingly unhinged and his arguments became more and more nonsensical. Much like last week, however, the episode provided Gascon with an out and a realization that the droids are more than the sums of their programming and gears, and the mission continued.
Then there was the very odd suicide humor, and I just do not know what to to do with it. WAC joked more than a few times about Gascon putting himself out of his misery, and it just seemed tone-deaf, and not all that funny, from a show perspective. It sort of fit with the experimental feeling of the episode, but I don’t know that it fit with the show. We’ll have plenty of time to mull on it, though, as this seems to be the last new episode of 2012.
A couple of weeks ago with “One Bad Apple,” I commented that episodes centered on the Cutie Mark Crusaders tend to be less enjoyable and more heavy-handed. But here we had an episode that broke up that dynamic a bit by focusing on Scootaloo’s relationship with Rainbow Dash instead of the pursuit of that ever-important Cutie Mark. It was a very successful shift.
While Sweetie Belle and Apple Bloom have always benefited from having blood sisters in Rarity and Applejack, Scootaloo has always been on her own. While the most direct parallel to her is Rainbow Dash, both in type of pony and attitude, the two have never really been thrown together, and thus when Rainbow Dash complimented Scootaloo on some mad scooter moves, Scootaloo became very excited.
And so the three pairs of ponies set off for a camping trip, and Rainbow Dash’s scary stories spooked Scootaloo enough that the poor pony just couldn’t sleep, but was too afraid to tell Rainbow Dash, lest Rainbow Dash not find Scootaloo cool any longer. It was a perfectly and wonderfully relatable story—wanting to impress an older, awesome person—and the conclusion, with Rainbow Dash admitting that her own stories scared her when she was young, provided a nice layer for the character, and showed that being tough isn’t always instantaneous.
Apart from the storytelling, a lot of the episode rested on the strength of its aesthetics, which were top-notch. While it leaned on long shots to show off forests and nightmare-scapes, they were very pleasing to the eye, with the nightmare sequences especially well-shaded and detailed with all the creep-tastic trees.
As was promised by a few commenters a couple of weeks ago, the whole A-team/B-team thing resurfaced this week to generally uninteresting results. “Mousers Attack!” was entertaining enough, but the central character conflict didn’t illuminate anything new about the four brothers, nor did it seem to change things between them. It did, however reaffirm that they work best as a group, rather than divided into pairs.
Following April’s mugging at the hands of some Purple Dragons, the turtles decided to go and retrieve her stolen goods, including a phone. Things became complicated when mousers arrived the Purple Dragons’ hideout shortly after the turtles did, requiring the group to split up, with Leo and Raph (the A-team) going after the mousers and Don and Mike (the B-team) going after the Purple Dragons that escaped with April’s phone.
The episode should've felt overly busy between Leo and Raph fighting a never-ending army of mousers, Dogpound attempting to break into the phone to locate the turtles (how hard can searching the sewers really be?!), Don and Mike attempting to get the phone back from Dogpound, and Baxter Stockman lurking about, but it never really did, which is to the episode’s credit.
But it achieved this by not being too substantial. Don and Mike were unable to act since Don’s plans were too elaborate and both he and Mike lack the necessary decisiveness to act on any of them (Mike’s contribution to planning sessions is, of course, to just name the operations). This isn't a new revelation, as we already knew that both characters are prone to these traits, so it felt more like wheel-spinning and comedy—albeit good comedy—than anything particularly important.
Leo and Raph’s battle with the mousers demonstrated their competency as fighters, but fighting didn’t do them much good when they just couldn’t escape due to a lack of intelligence about the mousers. Sure, they figured out it was the spray, and they did attempt to solve the problem, but in the end, there wasn’t much that could be done beyond providing the mousers with a strong gamma signal to follow.
While "Mousers Attack!" wanted to be about picking your battles, it needed to zero in more on the fact that each turtle brings a certain dynamic to the team, and that ast the leader, Leo more than anyone, needs to understand how to make a balanced team when they pair off.