For as much Japanese animation I watch now, I used to watch as much American animation in the 1980’s and 1990’s. I was a connoisseur of fine Saturday morning fare, on networks like ABC, FOX, and USA Network. The Disney Channel was a thing back then, but it didn’t reach most cable networks until the late 90’s, so a lot of their programming was on the major networks during the day or weekends.
Nickelodeon was sort of Cartoon Network before Cartoon Network came about. Almost all of their programming was cartoons and live-action game shows. So naturally they ran re-runs of shows like Inspector Gadget and Danger Mouse, two of my favorite eighties cartoons. As far as voiced characters go, you can seldom do better than the original voice actor of Gadget, Don Adams. Veterans of Get Smart already know his voice, but he also did a lot of animation voice-overs before his death in 2005, the last being for the cartoon Pepper Ann in 2000. Anyone stepping up to the role of Gadget has some big shoes to fill, and apparently that is Ivan Sherry, whose credits include mostly various voices in video games roles, and some other cartoons and shows. However, when it comes to the voice of Penny, rather than go with her original voice actresses from the 1980’s series, Cree Summer, who continues to voice cartoons and video games still to this day, and Holly Berger who came in the next season, but hasn’t done any VA work since then, they deferred to Cartoon Network and MLP darling Tara Strong to voice the now-teenage Penny, a full agent alongside her uncle Gadget. Don’t get me wrong, I like Tara Strong, lord knows no one else could possibly voice Bubbles from The Powerpuff Girls the same, and even with how bad FFX was, you’ll always remember Rikku. She really is the Western Rie of US animation.
So, how does this stack up to the original 1983 series, which is as old as I am?
I’ve seen the first episode and half of the second, so I can’t just up and say this is total trash tier and FUCKING DROPPED like I’ve done many animes in my time, however, I can sort of project where this is going, and I don’t think I will be terribly amused at it. The premise is pretty simple, Claw is back, ergo Gadget is back, but playing in the same sandbox is a new kid, Claw’s nephew Talon (obvious naming choice) and Penny and Brain, no longer hanging back in the shadows supporting Gadget, but rather working alongside him. To appeal to the obvious teen/tween viewer, or maybe SENPAI-loving NEET, they gave Penny a tsundere attraction for Talon accompanied by short non-CG animated sequences that represent his/her feelings for each other.
Speaking of CGI, that’s the medium of choice for the new series, and I am of mixed opinions. I’ve seen a lot of CGI used in anime series in the past few years, notably Arpeggio, which I probably went over the story more than the visuals, but probably the most awkward use of CGI mixed with traditional animation was Divergence Eve which just tried too hard. In contrast, US animation is pretty much all CGI or Flash animation now, and has been since probably the early 2000s. I used to be a fan of CN programming back when it was still traditional animation, but as soon as they started shifting to computer animation, the quality of plots and characters seemed to spiral down. Adult Swim certainly didn’t help by reducing cartoons to slapstick garbage insisting you be drunk and/or high as fuck to watch. Considering that it’s not going away, especially given how cheaply it is to produce, the measure is instead in the quality of the CGI, the highest being Pixar-level quality. Sadly, Gadget is not up to par there, clocking in at maybe 3.5 or 4 out of 10. It’s what I call Disney Channel CGI, where characters sort of slide around more than they use their X or Y axis, much like how you might take a ragdoll object in Garry’s Mod and slide it along the ground without picking up the legs. When their arms and legs do move, they go from still-motion to rapid-movement quickly. It’s made to instill a sense of high-action without animating or articulating action points in the character. You could omit the voices and it would just seem like a silent puppet show. With traditional animation, you had to animate out the frames and define their actions. Even without sound, you can often still understand what they’re doing, especially if the animator put details in the face or hands/feet to indicate what they are going to do. Pixar-level CGI puts more effort into doing this, but as that involves much more work and computations, it’s a budget thing. Even with the infinite moneyworks of Netflix, they aren’t going to spend serious cash on a one-cour reboot of an iconic cartoon franchise.
I’ll probably try to give the rest of the season a go for shits and giggles, just to see if it gets any better. I am still looking forward to Danger Mouse coming back to TV as well, but I am also afraid the same fate might befell it. I lament a lot about modern Japanese anime being too moe-ified among other complaints compared to the classics from the 80’s, 90’s, and even early 00’s, because like US animation, modern Japanese animation too is much different. But US animation has been intensely plagued by government standards, parental organizations, religious organizations, and this need to reduce them to nothing but flashing colors and shapes just to hold a six-year-old’s attention for longer than ten seconds. Cartoons don’t need to be GRIMDARKEDGELORD for kids to watch, but many cartoons back then were so versatile that they appealed to both young and old audiences alike.
But considering the MLP fanbase, of mostly guys, which Bob’s Burgers parodied quite well, I suppose some examination is needed in cartoon theory.
Edit: Watched a few more episodes, and as far as episode content is concerned, it does at least make a decent attempt at playing like the original, but I still am not with Talon at all. Claw works as a one-boss organization with henchmen, having a male Penny that is not even near the level of Penny, young or old, just sort of makes the whole thing weird. There is also this obvious “old school” versus “new school” thing they hit almost every episode because Claw likes to take over the world as if it were the 1980’s where Talon wants to just Facebook chat the world in 2015. It’s a very Austin Powers sort of thing really, but more like a subtle jab at your parents, except for most kids under 15 watching this, your parents are more considerably hip and with modern technology then their parents. So there is that.
But, I have to say, it at least stays consistent enough to where you can passably watch it, and it does have some decent moments, mainly in Gadget buffoonery. It’s sort of like the falling-pan-on-head joke. It’s old as shit, but it’s still pretty funny.
Western Animation is a new, occasional-post category for talking about western animation, such as Pixar movies, TV shows like Archer or The Simpsons, and interesting things from my quadrant of the world. If you like it, awesome. If you don’t and think I am some kind of filthy-American pig-dog who should focus on ALL GLORIOUS NIPPON, kindly fuck off, but let me know if you don’t like it. I needed filler.