Genndy Tartakovsky and crew have done it again, with yet another smash success television show on Cartoon Network. Tartakovsky’s success first started on Cartoon Network, when the Turner broadcasting channel decided to showcase original programming. They aired a show called The Cartoon Cartoon Show which became a spring board for animated shorts such as Family Guy, Johnny Bravo, and Cow and Chicken, to be voted in by the fans and turned into an original series. By 1996, Genndy Tartakovsky already had experience working on Two Stupid Dogs, which was one of the last shows produced under the name Hanna-Barbera studios. Tartakovsky created the short of Dexter’s Laboratory, which was picked as the first original cartoon series on Cartoon Network. Shortly afterwards, the future three time Emmy winning director proved he could make a show entertaining for the younger children with the comedic sibling rivalry between Dee Dee and Dexter, but with action scenes and a lot of references to Star Wars, Anime and giant mecha robots for the older fans.
Due to the success of Dexter’s Laboratory, Cartoon Network continued the annual tradition of picking up series that premiered on The Cartoon Cartoon Show. Tartakovsky helped with another of these Cartoon Network series, The Powerpuff Girls as a director for several episodes. Before long, Turner broadcasting transferred it’s library of three thousand half-hour shows of Hanna-Barbera series and Warner Brothers shorts to its Boomerang channel, and in just a few short years, Cartoon Network flourished with several other shows from Genndy Tartakovsky’s involvement.
Right at his side through these new series, was Paul Rudish. Paul and Genndy had worked together back in the final days of Hanna-Barbera studios, and over the years on working on several shows together, Paul would take on a variety of duties, including writer and storyboard artist. Both men would work on the next series for Cartoon Network that would push the limits of storytelling, capture a high stylized character design, animation that was smooth and fast as anime and set in a world that was beyond most of our wildest imaginations. No wonder Samurai Jack is now being considered by JJ Abrams as a feature film. It was engaging with the amount of action for prime time animation, with very interesting characters, but it was when George Lucas hired the group, it became known as Tartakovsky’s final Cartoon Network series.
In 2003, Star Wars: The Clone Wars (first series) premiered as five minute “web-isodes” that were beautiful pieces of storytelling, with high paced action just as Tartakovsky had used with Samurai Jack. He also shows his Anime inspiration but with a character design that was so simple and effective to make the Star Wars characters easy to notice. Not to mention that Tartakovsky was a huge Star Wars fan, and along with writer Bryan Andrews had the ultimate pleasure of helping to create stories for the Clone Wars mythos, which had never really been explored by previous Star Wars creators. The now trio of animation geeks created three seasons with some memorable moments in the Star Wars universe, introduced new characters and their final episode was a nice back story prior to seeing Episode III: Revenge of the Sith.
It has been five years since Tartakovsky has really had a show that touched the Cartoon Network plane like his previous involvements. But now with the assistance of Bryan Andrews, Paul Rudish and the folks at Orphanage Animation Studios have created Sym-Bionic Titan (Sundays and Tuesdays on Cartoon Network at 9pm or check your local listings). To try and describe this show in just a few simple words wouldn’t do it justice, but you need to see it to believe it. It is a space opera fantasy told through the dramatic lives of teenagers who are symbiotically connected to mecha suits, which can combined into a gigantic robot called Titan, who fights monsters that were sent from the teen’s home planet.
If you grew up with the show, Voltron: Defender of the Universe, then you are familiar with the giant combining robot premise that features recycled animation every time the robot combines and each episode ends up with the monster being destroyed. If you are also a fan of the Mecha genre of Anime, such as Robotech or The Gundam series, or perhaps you grew up with the Americanized Exo-Squad, then you will appreciate the unique symbiotic connection between humans and machine. Thankfully, these Sym-Bionic machines are animated through three-dimensional computer modeling, but with cell shading over it, so characters do indeed keep proportions and movements down right, and design-wise, they seamlessly blend into the two-dimensional animated world around them.
The series also has that teen drama feel to it. Ilana seems to want to be accepted into Earth’s culture, but her overly protective “brother,” Lance tends to ruin her social opportunities. Ilana already has a hard time meshing in with the different clicks at high school, and is already labeled a dweeb by her peers. Lance faces similar issues when he is bullied by the football team for sitting at their favorite table in lunch. The third member of this group is their bio-cybernetic robot, Octus, who analyzes high school life and finds it fascinating. In public view, he portrays himself with a holographic suit to become the nerdy Newton, or into Lance and Ilana’s father called “Dad,” at the group’s home in Sherman, Illinois.
Finally, there is this whole space opera fantasy feel to the series about the world of Galaluna that is being overthrown by a powerful tyrant named General Modula and his hideous beasts, the Mutraddi. General Modula’s desire for revenge is almost like Khan’s in Star Trek II. The General was a highly decorated soldier for Ilana’s father, the Galalunian King. On a mission for the King, the General was left for dead. There he learned how to train the Mutraddi, and now he uses them to enact his revenge on the remainder of the royal family.
In order to escape the war torn planet of Galaluna, Corporal Lance of the royal guard and Octus escape with the princess to Earth. Whenever the team gets in trouble, they activate their inner protective armor, such as Lance activates Manus, who is a soldier class mecha with a variety of weapons. Ilana can also activate Corus, who is much smaller than Manus and has a golden cybernetic suit with an array of energy weapons. But Octus holds the actual sym-bionic defense program that allows all three of the mecha suits to form Titan. The defense program is based around a Galalunian relic for working in cohesion between Mind, Body and Heart. The characters in the show are also visual metaphors of these concepts and it further enforces the mystical concept of working in unison will conquer all evil. And if team is not fighting off Mutraddi, they also have their teen lives where they are being hunted by the military with General Steel, and the Galactic Guardian Group, which primarily deals with aliens.
So to sum it all up, you have a teenage drama about alien kids trying to get used to the struggles of every day teen life. While they are trying to go through the existence of the terrors of high school, they must also conceal their identities from two different branches of the government. AND if the teens are lucky, then maybe they won’t have to actually deal with activating their cybernetic armor and forming into the gigantic Sym-Bionic “Titan,” and have to slice up General Modula’s recently deployed Mutraddi beast while simultaneously protecting the people of Sherman, Illinois. If you like gigantic fighting robots, mecha styled anime, fighting scenes, Star Wars or teen dramas, then THIS is the show for you.