Monday, September 8, 2008

Batman Beyond: Season One (non-Japanese animation, TV series)

My description for this show is very long, but most of the information I give comes from the first and second episodes - there are 13 overall in the first season.

The series begins by showing the original Batman, dressed in a new (as far as fans are concerned) costume, trying to save a girl. When the thugs who've kidnapped her start fighting Batman, he manages to hold his own at first, but he starts have heart problems and it isn't long before they have the upper hand. In desperation, Batman does something he's never done before: he picks up a gun and aims it at his attacker. Although the sight of the gun is enough to scare the thug off and he isn't forced to shoot, Batman knows he's crossed a line. Before the end of the scene, he takes his mask off, allowing viewers to see that he's much older than he's usually been depicted.

Years later (maybe 50 years after the "present" of the original Batman cartoons, meaning that Bruce Wayne is about 80 years old), Batman has retired, and Bruce Wayne lives alone in his mansion with only a dog for companionship. His company is now the Wayne/Powers Corporation, and he doesn't pay as much attention to it as he should. Enter Terry McGinnis, a high school boy who lives with his divorced father and lets his anger get him into fights that often cause him trouble. When he fights back against the members of a Joker gang (gang members dressed as clowns), it's more than he can handle, and his attempts to get away bring him to Bruce Wayne's mansion. Wayne helps him fight off the gang members but then needs his heart meds as a result, so Terry helps him back to the mansion and gets him the meds. In another reminder that Wayne is old, he falls asleep after taking them. Terry is left to find his own way out and accidentally discovers the Bat Cave. Wayne finds him and angrily throws him out of the house.

Terry's father, who works at the Wayne/Powers Corporation, has discovered terrible things about a nerve gas that Derek Powers has had developed. In order to silence him, Powers had someone kill Terry's father while Terry was running from the Joker gang and at Wayne's house. However, the killer wasn't able to find out where Terry's father had stashed the disk of incriminating evidence. While moving in to his mother's house, Terry discovers the disk and realizes things are rotten at the Wayne/Powers Corporation. He tries to get Wayne's help but is refused, so he steals Wayne's most recent Batman costume - it's a nifty thing that enhances strength, has gliding abilities, has camouflage abilities, allows the wearer to listen in on conversations, and more (it also must shrink to fits its user, since Terry has a much more slender build than Bruce). Although Wayne is really displeased that Terry has stolen the costume, he eventually allows Terry to finish what he's started, stopping both his father's killer and the distribution of the nerve gas. Derek Powers, although caught up in a cloud of nerve gas, survives - the radiation that saves him ends up making him radioactive and green-glowing, among other things.

Terry thinks he's finished with the whole Batman thing, until Bruce Wayne shows up at his house and offers him a job. Suddenly, Terry has a legitimate reason to hang out at Bruce Wayne's place (his mom thinks he's Wayne's gofer). On a nightly basis (and sometimes during the day), Terry goes out as Batman, with Wayne watching over things at the Bat Cave and giving him advice and information.

Besides Derek Powers, only one villain, Inque, turns up more than once in the first season. Most of the villains are brand-new and slightly futuristic in some way - one group of villains flies around on hoverboards that look like giant playing cards, another villain uses advanced technology to mess around with sound waves, another uses hypnosis technology to cause hallucinations, etc. Only two villains from the original series show up: Mr. Freeze (he gets a whole episode) and Bane (only for a few seconds - he's now old and decrepit). However, fans of the original animated series will love the occasional references to earlier times - Barbara Gordon, who was once Batgirl, is now commissioner, and Wayne and others occasionally refer to characters and events from the past.

Even though it has its failings, I really love this show. Although the futuristic setting is usually pretty generic-feeling and not very ground-breaking, it's still appealing, and I love the somewhat dark feel of the show. I also love the character designs, which I think are really eye-catching - the smooth and somewhat angular look makes me think of The New Batman Adventures, which I used to watch several years ago. Terry has a slighter build that makes him look less powerful, but more nimble, than the original Batman in his prime - since Terry is only in high school, the look fits, and the suit amplifies his strength.

For the most part, I enjoyed the voice acting (some of the extras were... not very good), and I was thrilled that Kevin Conroy was still doing the voice of Bruce Wayne (this may sound a little weird, but when I was younger and first started watching the animated Batman episodes, I had a crush on Kevin Conroy's voice). I really enjoyed seeing the new villains, watching the action scenes, and, in general, just getting to see what an older Bruce Wayne is like. This is one of the few American animated TV shows that recognizes that animation doesn't always have to be cute and/or funny, which is something I appreciate. Even though the creators of this show hoped to attract a younger audience (10-14 years old, maybe), it can still appeal to older viewers.

There were a few things I didn't like about this show. For one thing, the emotional continuity sometimes felt a little off. In one episode, Terry and his girlfriend break up, because she's upset that he always has to stand her up (she knows he's working for Wayne, but she doesn't know that he's Batman). It's not long before Terry's with another girl, who unfortunately turns out to be a villain and gets arrested. In the next episode, Terry and his girlfriend are back together and as cuddly as if nothing bad ever happened between them. It was a little jarring. For another, Terry adjusts amazing well and quickly to his new role as Batman. There are no scenes showing him receiving training in the use of the suit or in combat techniques - he just does it all, with barely any fumbling. Also, I think all the anime I watch has spoiled me a little - I'd like some kind of overarching storyline, or at least some kind of evidence that the characters and their relationships with each other are changing from one episode to the next. I wanted this series to be about more than just the villain of the week, but that's not really the case.

Overall, though, it's this series, and season one in particular, is enjoyable. There are several special features, including creators' commentary for two episodes (the first episode and one called "Shriek"), a short interview with the series creators, and score-only versions of a few different scenes. I watched the score-only versions of a few scenes (very interesting, I can't believe how much of the score I tuned out when I was just watching these episodes) and the short interview (the creators talk about being told to create a new animated Batman series with a teenage Batman that will appeal more to a younger audience). I also listened to the commentary for the first episode - that was really fascinating. I especially enjoyed hearing about how the WB tried to encourage them to make the show "more like Buffy" so that it would appeal to kids (despite the fact that kids weren't even Buffy's primary audience) and turn Terry's little brother into Batman's sidekick. I think it's a great example of how networks don't always get what makes a good show, and I'm really glad that the creators of this show just kept on doing what they felt was right for the show and for Batman.

Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
  • The New Batman Adventures (non-Japanese animation, TV series); Batman: The Animated Series (non-Japanese animation, TV series) - If you'd like to watch the original Batman bring strange and often crazy criminals to justice, or if you'd just like to find out about all the past events and people that Batman Beyond hints mentions or hints at, then you might try either of these animated series. Of the two Batman: The Animated Series aired first, but the episodes of both shows are often self-contained, so you can start with whichever show you prefer. I tended to prefer The New Batman Adventures because of its character designs.
  • Batman: Gotham Knight (anime, anthology) - This is actually an anime-inspired anthology, but I'm calling it anime because it's less complicated than figuring out what else to call it - I haven't seen it yet, so I can't comment on how much it looks and feels like anime. This DVD is composed of six short stories that show Bruce Wayne as he goes from tormented vigilante to Gotham's Dark Knight. Those who'd like more animated Batman, with Kevin Conroy again providing his voice, might enjoy this DVD. Although I mentioned that Batman Beyond is a little bit dark, I believe this DVD is even darker in tone.
  • Batman Begins (live action movie) - This live-action Batman movie's title says it all - the movie is about Bruce Wayne becoming Batman. It begins with the death of Bruce Wayne's parents, shows Bruce's training, and shows him setting up his other life as Batman, dealing with Gotham's crime however he can. Of course, besides this movie there's also the sequel, The Dark Knight. Those who'd like a darker, non-cheesy live-action version of Batman may enjoy this movie. It might also be helpful for those who enjoyed Batman Beyond but don't know the original Batman's backstory.
  • Alias (live action TV series) - Sydney Bristow believes she is working for the CIA. She finds out she's actually working for SD-6, the bad guys, when they kill her fiance after she tells him that she's an agent with the CIA. Sydney becomes a double agent, working for both the CIA and SD-6, in an attempt to take SD-6 down. Those who'd like another action-packed show in which the main character is living a double life might like this TV series.
  • Ghost in the Shell (anime movie) - This movie takes place in a future where just about everyone has some sort of cybernetic implant, if not entirely cyberized bodies. Unfortunately, this leaves people vulnerable to brain-hacking. Section 9, a group of cybernetically enhance cops, is called in to investigate a brain-hacker called The Puppetmaster. The sound effects and look of this movie are a little dated, in my opinion, but it's still an excellent movie (although it may require more than one viewing in order to figure out what's going on), and it's a great place to begin before trying any of the newer incarnations of this franchise. It should also be noted that this movie is based on the Ghost in the Shell manga. Anyway, those who'd like to see something else set in a gritty, futuristic world with some interesting technology and lots of high speed action might like this movie.
  • Bleach (anime TV series); Bleach (manga) by Tite Kubo - Ichigo Kurosaki has been able to see ghosts for as long as he can remember, but it's not until he meets Rukia, a Soul Reaper, that his life really gets strange (not to mention dangerous). When a battle with a Hollow goes badly, Rukia tries to lend Ichigo some of her Soul Reaper powers but ends up accidentally giving him everything. Now a full-fledged Soul Reaper, Ichigo battles Hollows with Rukia's help and guidance and gradually becomes even more powerful. Those who'd like another series in which a basically good high school-aged kid with delinquent tendencies has to become someone who can secretly save everyone in his town from frequent menaces might want to try this. The anime and manga are fairly similar, aside from a few filler episodes in the anime, so take your pick.

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