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Rick and Morty and Space Dandy – How These Two Shows Saved Animation in 2014.


 

It Feels Great to be back here, and I want to talk about two shows that really has helped me love animation once more…

If you are not watching these shows, something is missing in your brain right now.

Rick and Morty turns everything on its ear, hasn’t had a bad episode yet,(but some of its fans felt some of the episodes ran slow) and how it talks about existence in the first parts of the second decade of this millennium is not only on point – it’s downright scary.

While in Space Dandy, Watanabe and his guest directors (many of his guest ranges from Otomo and Yuasa) changes the way the plot is handled – and sometimes the animation and the backgrounds are the story.

These two series have revived a fire in this reviewer and historian (and budding producer and writer, let’s not forget those,) who’s also been beyond disappointed with the way certain series have been handled. I will explain that too – because it’s become a joke that these people are still slumming around making money over others that have the talent and the will.

Those jokes have ended, and the ratings (at times), the Critics (from the net to print) and the fans of animation are no longer going to take it lying down.

First, it’s time to celebrate greatness.

Rick and Morty, Dan Harmon’s Golden Achievement.

Dan Harmon has been called difficult. Strange, vinegar to others’ wine… His other major show Community has been a critical success yet rated low (but he states correctly that networks and other TV critics looking for high ratings are “psychopaths”) compared to the insipid one-man show “The Big Bang Theory”.

He is however one of the better producers and writers today – I can even say that he’s the best one in nearly a decade.

The sabbatical did wonders. From that sabbatical came Rick and Morty.

A Parody of Marty McFly and Doc from “Back to the Future” the show started simple enough… but it was the episode “Lawnmower Dog” that set things in motion.

Unlike other shows of its type – Rick and Morty does not leave ANYTHING behind.

So when Snuffles left for his new world, the world that Rick and Morty inhabits is rebuilding – until Love Potion no 9, creates other issues…forcing that Rick and Morty to go into another world, KILLING that world’s Rick and Morty and burying in the yard. And if you thought that was messed up – in Ricky Minutes (a pun on 60 Minutes, which also has many puns dissing CBS on the backend and NBC on the front end) we find out that not only are they still in that world, Summer only exists in three of these worlds (the Croneburg world as well, as one other) as both of their parents via the VR viewer (the episode deals with a cable box that has infinite channels from infinite worlds) aborted Summer and had more “successful” lives because of  that “choice”.

But it turns out that those choices turned out to be for naught – they end up together in the other universe they were viewing, realizing that they had to be together – and Summer was truly important…

What makes Ricky Minutes one of the best animation episodes in recent years, was the moment that Morty told Summer that he and Rick came from another world, and that her real brother is dead out in the yard – with Morty saying to Summer of the pathos of this Post 9/11 America: “Nobody exists on purpose. Nobody belongs anywhere. Everybody’s gonna die. Come watch TV?”

The last time I felt this way about an episode – was episode 4 of the ThunderCats (2011), and episode 21 of 4Kids’s Version of The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (when the Shredder Got his head Cut Straight Clean)

I do not like comedic animation shows that much.

This may be the best one since the Simpsons back in the mid 1990’s and Family Guy in the early 2000’s.

You can do what I call “Stupid Grimdark” like in the episode where Brian and Stewie were trapped in the bank. On the other hand, you can do Greatness like this episode of Rick and Morty.

But I’m not stopping there with my praises – oh no I don’t praise a lot of shows – but this? Oh Man…

The April 8 episode changed the game again and has repercussions that the viewers might not see until the season finale, but it seems that there is a counsel of Ricks (not to dissimilar to Doctor Who’s Galafrian Counsel.) who in turn governs and watches all of the Rick and Morty’s. Well, a bad Rick (just like the Master in Doctor Who) captured a lot of Mortys from the alt-universes. The council thinks that the C-137 Rick (that is the main Rick, who wrecked the C-137 version of earth) has been killing all of the Ricks, but it turns out not to be true.

The episode has Rick and Morty going through portals to get away from Cop Versions of Ricks and Mortys – ill just let Film Critic Hulk explain this better (Note he uses all caps in his reviews):

“…BUT IT’S ALSO THE KIND OF STORY WHERE AT ONE POINT THEY WALK INTO A UNIVERSE WHERE A PIZZA IS SITTING DOWN ON THE PHONE ORDERING A PERSON… HARDEEE HAR HAR, RIGHT? BUT TWO QUICK UNIVERSE JUMPS LATER AND THE JOKE OS INVERTED TO A PLACE WHERE ANIMATE FURNITURE IS SITTING ON INANIMATE PEOPLE USING PIZZA TO ORDER A PHONE TO EAT. AND RATHER THEN LET THAT JOKE GO AWAY AS A ONE OFF BIT OF INSANITY, WE HANG OUT IN THAT WORLD FOR AWHILE AS ANIMATE FURNITURE IS AMAZED QUIETLY AMAZED IN THE BACKGROUND TO SEE PEOPLE ACTUALLY BEING ALIVE, THEN TYING IT BACK INTO THE PLOT…. DO YOU EVEN REALIZE WHAT THAT IS FROM A WRITER’S PERSPECTIVE? IT’S MAKING FUN A DUMB JOKE, TURNED INTO AN INVERTING THROWAWAY GAG, TURNED INTO PUSHING THE JOKE TO THE FURTHEST POSSIBLE POINT, TURNED INTO A MAKING IT REAL SO WE LIVE IN IT, THEN TURNED ALL OF THAT INTO PART OF THE PLOT ITSELF. NOTHING IS A THROWAWAY IN THIS SHOW. THE COST AND CONSEQUENCE OF EVERY DECISION COMES BACK TEN-FOLD. IT’S REALLY JUST THE BASIC TENET OF SCI-FI BROUGHT TO A PLACE THAT GOES FAR BEYOND A SINGLE CONCEPTUAL INVERSION. THEY’VE TURNED THE TWILIGHT ZONE INTO WORLD BUILDING, CRANKING IT UP TO 2000 MPH, ALL WHILE STILL SOMEHOW KEEPING THE STORY DRIVEN AROUND (OFTEN AWKWARD) CATHARSIS.”

I couldn’t have said it better even if I tried.

But not to be outdone, here comes Watanabe’s Space Dandy – that deals with the same topics but in an episodic manner.

 

A Dandy Guy, In Space, Time Cats, and Robots: Watanabe’s refocuses his Diamond

Many people would think that Space Dandy would be lost in the conversation – but when it ranks at times equal to Rick and Morty- it is something to consider that maybe the Japanese still has some of the best visual artists around today.

Space Dandy’s Narrative at first glance seems off – while Rick and Morty’s is beyond madding – but its interesting to note while one series is using the episodic purview in order to tell a story that is connected and leaves no stone untraced – one is using the same purview to tell different stories connected to the same universe of characters. There is a sort slight in some western media circles that the Japanese have “horrible timing” in writing scripts. Space Dandy proves them wrong, in droves.

Let’s take the two episodes dealing with the secondary characters, Meow and Robot – in the episode “There is Always Tomorrow, Baby” where Meow meets his family and old girlfriends, we get a sense of Meow’s issues and how his life wishes he was different – while his father (unlike Morty’s father in the episode “Raising Gaslorsazorp” ) supports Meow regardless of his past. Of course Meow doesn’t get the girl, unlike this counterpart in the wall-e inspired season finale, “Even Vacuum Cleaners Find Love, Baby”, which the Robot says that while it was nice to fall in love – sometimes you have to let it go.

But unlike Rick and Morty which uses interesting backgrounds and set ups – Space Dandy’s is more forceful in its look and the fact it has different directors in each episode showcases how they handle the story. Rick and Morty has been called Futuriama maxed out, taken to the next level, Space Dandy has been called the Japanese Futurama, – Dandy being Zack Braff and his crew of crazy antics.

But Space Dandy’s animation is heads and shoulders above the rest of its competition on both eastern and western circles. In some episodes, the animation carries the story – which doesn’t always happen in other series. The way they handle Dandy is interesting – for a while he acted like a bro, trying to get the ladies and what not – but you had the sense (based on the way the first season was set up) that there was a tiredness in him – yeah all this is fun, but there has to be something more – and the main plot dealt with his father’s death (which hasn’t really been solved yet.)

But from the episode dealing with the lost dog (“The Lonely Pooch Planet, Baby”) he starts to grow up – even if it’s in another time line…

 

So What’s the WUBWUBWUBDUBDUB problem, Baby?

My problem is not on these two shows. It’s not even on the network they air on.

My issue is these are two shows, is in the myriad of trash. And that maybe fine for some – but yeah I’m always looking at the big picture.

The big picture is that Dan Harmon has been getting a bad rap for years. And it’s undeserved now. Dan Harmon is one of the best producers today, better than the now Disney secured duo of Joss Wheldon and J.J. Abrams (who is now doing Star Wars Episode 7). He outclasses his compatriots and rivals (the erstwhile Wendy Cummings who produces Two Broke Girls, and Chuck Lorre, the Les Moonves puppet who runs point for several shows such as The Big Bang Theory, Mom and the rest). Dan Harmon’s team of writers that have written better episodes of sci-fi than the disappointing Agents of SHIELD (which even the Tomorrow People, which CBS is about to cancel – outclasses the Agents of Shield from production to charatization and action scenes. This proves that Warners needs to have more control over the CW’s resurgence because CBS is too old, too wasteful, and too full of themselves to continue to run the CW Network at this time.)

TV has changed, and the networks realize this – but there will be growing pains in these changes. However, many of the executives and many of the show runners (cant truly call them super-producers like Jerry Bruckheimer was) think that the old ways will still work, (and in some cases – HBO Go in particular they are correct) but these days the writers (or better yet interpreters since many of  the dramas on TV come from books, not unlike what’s happening in anime in Japan with the Light Novels). These writers are holdovers from the post 1988 strike, and a lot of the stories JJ and Joss’s teams and charatizations have lost a step compared to Mad Men, Breaking Bad, The Wire and even say a much weaker Walking Dead, 100 or even Tomorrow People, in comparison to SHIELD.

One of the pet peeves of mine, is the cycle of bad writers that these men (and Chuck Lorre and others) continue to hire knowing that they are nowhere as good as somebody working under Brian Fuller or David Fury etc. Josh Loeb and Dan Norton (who was creative director of Thundercats 2011), are two examples.

Josh Loeb, has worked in animation before – and now the “unofficial” head of the Marvel animated universe – is working on Agents of Shield. Now you know as I do that he isn’t anywhere to be considered a competent writer of comic books, let alone animation, let even alone live action. So why Joss brings Loeb in, when they had Ennis who did some work in Shield (comic wise)?

Not to be outdone, he brings his penchant of deux et machina in everything he does, even his second and third stories has stupid resolutions.

However, the real offender is Dan Norton.

We have to go back to the MTV Geek interview where he stated some things that made me wonder why he was made the designer of the new franchise.

One, he made a comment that there were not going to be any humans, and that the Thunderian race was a result of genetic tampering… he continued:

 “Villain Slythe would also get some time in the spotlight–and a graceful exit from the series–once fans learned the very personal reason for his hatred of the ThunderCats. “What you know about Slythe,” Norton promised, “we were going to break your expectations.” Fans may remember that at the beginning of the series, we see the other races on the planet treated as second-class citizens, or worse. Ultimately, they rally to Mumm-Ra’s cause with the promise of the ability to rise and control their own destinies–but for Slythe, it was clear they’re being manipulated.

In a solo episode for Slythe, we would learn that he holds a special grudge against soldier Lynx-o, one of Claudius’ generals responsible for expanding ThunderCat territory and pushing the lizardmen further back into the marshland. One of the lizardmen festivals would be based around the hatching of the next generation, with the males going off to hunt for food and the females tending to the eggs. However, to quickly clear out the marsh, Lynx-o burns a large swath of land, killing the hatchlings of Slythe’s tribe.

After he’s lost all of his friends, after he’s lost everything, he vows at his wife’s gravestone that he would give his soul to get revenge. Cue Mumm-Ra, who offers him just that exchange, putting Slythe on a collision course with Lynx-O, who he would decapitate, finally taking his revenge. But as the Lizard-men become enslaved to Mumm-ra, he sees that Lion-O’s quest for the Soul stone would unite the races. He would betray Mumm-Ra and give Lion-O the stone, leading the villain to kill him.”

Before this interview, he did a podcast interview that many of the ideas for the Thundercats 2011 series came from both of the comic books that Wildstorm did around 2004/2005.

I hate to tell you folks this, but sometimes, bad source material leads into bad episodes. The biggest disappointment for me is how Dan Norton and Michael Jelentic (which I know the latter has talent, he worked in the Brave and the Bold) dropped the ball on the series. It broke my heart and made me question why I should even care about animation anymore. How can something I grew up loving, almost destroy it?

It’s because Mr. Norton, just like Mr. Loeb is a brownnoser. He kowtows to power, realizing getting along to get along is the way to go – when you have no discernable talent. In addition, for a person that pretty much has a deviant art account instead of a website to highlight his work (just like every damn artist I know worth his or her damn salt has), shows how far his talent really goes. Tell me Mr. Puppet, how dare you make the fans feel stupid – you and Jelentic. The series needed humans point blank. Getting rid of Mandora the Space cop was stupid. Getting rid of the Space Opera that the series was, was a bad choice. Making the series smaller, when the franchise needed a grand retelling on the same scale of an A Song of Fire and Ice (Game of Thrones) speaks of intellectual weakness. Mr Norton is no better than a younger version of Chuck Lorre – a guy with the weakest amount of talent and the biggest connections – and willing to destroy fans, fanbases, his own friends and even his biggest star to just get into the executives good graces. That is not the way to go anymore, not when Netflix (despite its myriad of issues), is forcing everyone to reevaluate what TV is in the 21st century.

How can you be successful with a franchise with history when people don’t have any idea about the origins on how the business works, and what changes took place that effected broadcast and cable?

You can’t with the way Dan and Michael sleep-walked throughout the majority of the series. There hasn’t been any sort of deal to bring the series to Blu-Ray – and that should tell you how bad things have gotten.

Straight to the point, Dan Norton should be packing bags at a Costco instead of working in animation, let alone Hollywood. Moreover, the fact that he still got a job is a bit sad. The difference between the way Dan Norton and Jelentric handled the Thundercats concerning the way they worked with the Japanese studio Studio 4c isn’t the way to go anymore, now that Space Dandy aired with two animators born in the west (Bahi JD, and Thomas Romain) working freelance in Japan and doing a much better job.

Does that mean that the writers to write and the designers design and maybe the rest of the production for action series should be outsourced to Japan first before airing in the States? Should Warners just allowed Studio 4C handle the whole production of the Thundercats, because Mr Norton’s skeleton crew was not going to cut it in 2011, and you can bet your bottom dollar you don’t send 15 men for a 60 man job (and yes, that includes an orchestra).

Even the long dead 4Kids did Thundercats 2011 better than Dan and Michael’s group did, with the last two seasons of the Chaotic series!

Even lower end video games got better treatment than Thundercats 2011 and that is a god damn SHAME that Warner Brothers, should never, ever in their existence live down!

The fact that Norton and Loeb and Lorre and other weak writers, show runners still running the game in Hollywood, still brownnosing folks like Jerry Bruckheimer, JJ Abrams and Joss Wheldon, who because of the brownnosing from these weak writers, keep great producers like Dan Harmon, Justin Roliend and his folks down.

That isn’t happening anymore and I for one, approve of this development. The people in adult swim from creative to the janitors should be thanked, not treated as “Stoners” that make “Stoner” TV, which is a damn lie and to show how entrenched the liars and brownnosers are in the industry right now.

Beyond Time and Space, a future unlike any other:

Rick and Morty and Space Dandy are two different series living in an age where animation is being aimed to the lowest of the low. With a minstrel song being sung by a man in a funny hat and weak vocals, to letting go of a billion dollar franchise that doesn’t even deserve to beat some of the greatest animated movies of all time.

Its madness I tell you, but in that madness comes rays of hope – from out of the ashes of the lost opportunities of the past, comes new interpretations of science fiction, from a man who created one of the greatest of his genre, to two men who figured out American ennui where others only dare to reach.

I think the point is about both shows- it’s fun without belittling the viewer, and that point was proven in “Raising Gaslorsazorp”, Summer and Rick at the end got bulked up and beat up the bullies while “X Gonna Give it To Ya” was playing. That was the whole series concisely for me. Meanwhile, Space Dandy’s race was fun and full of life – and the end was so glorious.

Two shows, two series in a world of weakness, fear, and lies. Now that’s truly great – These shows got the fans back, dawg.

Don’t let those weak willed “BLANKS”, on those other networks tell you otherwise.

 

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