Archive for June, 2012

14 Animated Prepubescent Girls that Could Kick Your Ass

1-2) Lucy Van Pelt and Peppermint Patty (Peanuts)

The tough, young, tomboyish female trope is a classic animation staple, so it helps to make them stand out in some way that goes beyond being irritable most of the time. Lucy Van Pelt, Linus’ sister, spends most of her time admiring Schroeder and destroying Charlie Brown’s career as a NFL kicker, but her motives in other areas are heartfelt, if blunt; after all, at some point Linus DOES need to be weaned from his blanket. And she welcomes Charlie Brown back (in her own strange way) after failing a spelling bee. Peppermint Patty, on the other hand, is ruining his baseball career, but she’s always supportive of the guy anyway, save for the time Charlie blew Patty’s 50-run lead in a baseball game.

3) Gosalyn Mallard (Darkwing Dark)

The spirited daughter of a deceased brilliant scientist, Gosalyn has no qualms in going toe-to-toe with the most diabolical villains and crazed brain-sucking aliens, between various bouts of Whiffle Boy. Still, it’s pretty endearing that such an energetic girl is the perfect complement to DW’s ego, forcing him to hold it back as he balances being a father and a superhero. Props to the power of that spirit to maintain a good amount of balance as an adopted child in such a crazed household, and still maintain some sort of sanity. She is the Companion to Drake Mallard’s Doctor.

4) Ashley Spinelli (Recess)

I imagine Spinelli is running over to kick my ass right now for mentioning her first name; in no way would she want to be associated with “The Ashleys,” a group of stuck-up, wealthy girls who shout “Scandalous!” in unison. A boot-wearing toughie, Spinelli hosts a wool hat in the heat before hipsters thought it was cool, and loves to rough it up and threaten the physical health of those who betray her and her friends. She isn’t completely against all things girly, she just would prefer not to engage in them. There are rumors she has a crush on Recess’s titular leader TJ; I dare you to say it to her face.

5) Helga Pataki (Hey Arnold!)

Creepily breathing behind this girl’s back WILL net you one punch in the face. Helga’s aggression and attitude is well-known to the children of PS 118, bossing other kids around and even standing up to the goofy bully Harold. Her schtick, however, not only masks a deep longing for a romantic relationship with titular character Arnold, but also, and more dramatically, her depressing home life underneath the rule of an extremely overbearing father, the neglect of an easily distracted mother, and the shadow of a perfect, dotting older sister.

6) Buttercup (The PowerPuff Girls)

Definitely representing the “Spice” in Professor’s Utonimum’s accidental Chemical X creation, Buttercup is the hot-head of this superpowered, preschool trio. She’s the sport-lover, the fighter, the “hit-first-and-ask-questions-later” kind of child. She has her moments of sweetness though – how can a character named Buttercup NOT – but even she was taken back when Bubbles became her own bad-assed self (albeit temporarily) in “Bubblevicious”.

7) Mandy (The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy)

It’s tricky to adequately describe Mandy, the blonde, no-neck, no-nonsense “protagonist” in Cartoon Network’s underrated, chaotically wonderful cartoon. Her purely cold, grim demeanor is already powerful enough to bully most villainous, underworld creatures, but she is also willing to back that attitude up with spine-tingling, calculated action. Billy survives being around her by being purely idioctic; he is the “chaotic good” to her “lawful evil.” The best part is that Maxwell Atoms, the show’s creator, doesn’t hang his hat on her stoicism, which makes her most monstrous moments rare but awesome to behold.

8) Gaz (Invader Zim)

At the risk of alienating the legions of Invader Zim fans, Gaz is pretty much Mandy with a passion for handheld videogames and pizza. Gaz is too capable of horrific action, unloading a barrage of threats onto her alien-obsessed brother Dib, and quite often following through. Unlike Mandy, who more or less manipulates the people around her to their eventual destruction (and, despite everything, does save the world more or less), Gaz is more direct, using her rage to start fires, levitate, and control the weather. If she and Mandy ever paired up, the apocalypse would be nigh.

9-14) Ty Lee, Suki, Mai, Katara, Toph, Azula (Avatar: The Last Airbender)

All the characters in Nickelodeon’s spectacular series are wonderfully awesome, but definite props to the female cast for being a particular batch of awesome, without being resorted to eye-candy or female tokenism. Katara masters waterbending and makes a great teacher and motherly figure; Toph is the premiere master of earthbending and singlehandedly discovers metalbending, just cause; Azula is the dark wielder of firebending and the psychopathic future leader of the Fire Nation, so help them all. But being unable to bend doesn’t mean you’re useless: Ty Lee (chi-blocking, which restrains movement and bending), Mai (stilettos, similar to ninja stars), and Suki (fans and kitanas, leader of the Kyoshi Warriors) all manage to be formidable fighters sans elemental control.

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Welcome to the blog!

In the past few weeks, I’ve received a number of hits and views due to some wonderful connections I’ve made through Twitter and emails. To which I say: welcome! Thanks for the wonderful comments and observations.

The purpose of this blog is to essentially give equal weight and thought to¬† all forms of entertainment and attempt to delve into the pop culture lens across the board. Here, I discuss movies, TV, comics, books, video games, music, and cartoons in equal fashion, exploring how all those forms of entertainment are approach today and how they may or may not relate to each other. Many critics will explore, let’s say, feminism with either one character for a distinct genre, or several characters from one genre. I prefer to look at Ripley, Peggy Olsen, Wonder Woman, Lara Croft, Gladys Knight, and Korra with the same perspective and ponder, what exactly, is feminism today. No format or genre is outside my consideration. Everything is fair game, and I will try to discuss these forms of entertainment in a fun, informal, approachable manner, while indeed putting some thought into it all. Or at least try.

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Aquabats and the Dismantling of Television Repetition

The season finale of The Aquabats SuperShow! completely shattered television conventions, and you didn’t see it. Here’s how The Hub’s strangest show made the Sopranos’ season finale look like a joke.

The Aquabats

To adequately explain how The Aquabats SuperShow! brilliantly yet subtly subverted television convention, it’s important to understand what The Aquabats SuperShow! is: a bizarre combination that parodies both various ’70s “children” shows – with their terrible costumes, D-list actors, and cheap sets, all surrounding around even cheaper animated shorts – and the assortment of ’70s Japanese action shows that built themselves around the same concepts, except replacing the animated shorts with poorly choreographed fight sequences. It’s in effect The Banana Splits mixed in with cheesy tokusatsu action, updated in its sensibilities, so that all the cheesiness and cheapness are now part of the joke instead of being anachronistic embarrassments.

The set up of every episode is similar: the Aquabats get involved in a weird situation and ultimately prevail in a goofy, rick-rollicking manner. All of this is mixed in with various music cues (they are a band, after all), fake commercials from “Gloopy,” and most importantly, animated shorts that star the Aquabats themselves in scenes straight out of a random Hanna-Barbara action cartoon. This is all part of the joke of the show. So what’s the big deal?

During the season finale, specifically the cartoon segment, the Aquabats meet a space-god type figure who forces them into what he calls an infinite time loop. The team is whisked away, appearing in a somewhat familiar scene: performing a song at a party by a pool. Eaglebones (oh, the names!) mentions they may have done this already, and indeed, it seems rather familiar to the audience of the show in a vague sense. Cut back to the live-action part. The team is up against a large maniac with a powerful headdress that shoots lasers. The battle lasts for a while, with the team really working together to defeat who is dubbed Space Monster ‘M’ (and oddly enough, this is a particularly dark battle, with people actually dying and what one might call real stakes). Eventually, Space Monster ‘M’ is stopped, but not without hurling the Aquabats into space. They are stuck floating inside their Battletram as they drift off into the void. And, suddenly, this looks very familiar too… because, in the case of the cartoon and the live segment, this is where viewers entered the series during the premiere. In the very first episode, the live-action portion began with them performing by the pool, and the cartoon began with them floating helplessly into space. The series didn’t just metaphorically come full circle – it LITERALLY did.

I doubt any TV show has even come close to this kind of mind-fuckery so unabashedly clever and surreal, so in-tuned to its internal trappings and mechanisms to pull something like this off so successfully. It helps that The Aquabats itself is already surreal, but it’s nothing that far removed for a number of parodies out there (Wonder Shozen, Black Dynamite, everything Adult Swim) so as to be particularly unique. And there’s nothing particularly unique about a show utilizing meta-comedy to comment on the structures and tropes of television. Animaniacs made a name for itself doing just that. Frank Grimes on The Simpsons lived it. Invader Zim’s pilot episode had a great moment upon returning from its commercial break with a “5000 Years Later” title card. Ren & Stimpy goofed a bit on it in “Space Madness.” And Louie works on those meta-levels in ways that no comedy before has done.

But The Aquabats didn’t just comment on the structures and tropes of TV; they didn’t simply satirize and parody Hanna-Barbara, the Krofft brothers, and the Super Sentai franchise. It was a direct commentary on the nature of repeats and syndication, the “infinite time loop” that has characters essentially redoing they same thing over and over again at another time or on another channel. In this case, The Aquabats internalized the gag in an almost self-defined Moebius strip, of live-action and cartoon being one and the same. The live-action Aquabats, upon finding their cartoon in various, auspicious places, are indeed watching themselves, and not just a goofy version of themselves.

Such a reveal completely changes how to view the first season, which at first comes off as a surface-level goof-fest of fun, camp, and comical excitement. Now, looking back, it all makes sense beyond comic sensibilities. The “Previously On” sequences (which mix together actual events from the previous episode with random and completely absurd shots that has nothing to do with anything) are purposely nonsensical from a practical standpoint, as these previous events rarely have anything to do with the situation the Aquabats find themselves in at the beginning of the episode. And yet, strangely enough, the Aquabats cartoon is continuous; each animated short directly connects the to next one in the next episode. It’s visual gibberish, which seems to reflect the random order of TV scheduling, whether its new episodes, repeats, syndicated shows, or marathons. Think you’ll be lost watching a random Aquabats? You will be… and yet, you won’t be. Like time-travel, thinking about it too much will probably make you go cross-eyed.

Bravo to The Aquabats SuperShow, rewarding its cult-following to arguably the biggest mind-fuck in TV history, bigger than Lost, St. Elsewhere, and The Prisoner. They somehow pulled off the idea behind La Jetee/12 Monkeys in a satirical kids cartoon on a brand new network, and almost got away with it. It will be interesting to see how things are pulled off in season two, but The Aquabats have enough freedom to pull off whatever bullshit it needs to do to escape its original trappings… and it will be awesome.

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