Monday, 3 October 2011

Teen Titans - The Non-Slutty Ones

Awhile back I started working on a post about the Teen Titans cartoon and what made it so special.  It got put to the wayside for reasons I don't remember, but the recent Starfire scandal from DC made we want to get it posted. 

While Justice League and Batman: The Animated Series are often touted as the best of the best when it comes to DC's superhero cartoons, I think that the Teen Titans needs to be given serious consideration to be in that elite group.  I have the entire series on DVD and have re-watched it in its entiriety multiple times, and usually find myself picking up on little details here and there every time that just enhance the overall awesomeness of the show.

I was a little reluctant to get into the show at first, as I've always preferred a more "play it straight" animation style like on Justice League or Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes.  The anime-like stylings of Teen Titans were a turn off at first.  I'm not sure how I got into the show, but once I watched a couple of episodes I was hooked.

I had no idea the range of emotions that can be portrayed using "Murkianime", the name of the animation style on the show, named after Titans architect Glen Murakami.  This show can go from childish tomfoolery to amazing action to intense emotion at the drop of a hat, which simply cannot be done in a more straight-laced cartoon.  To this day I swear the most touching, beautiful vignette showcasing the pure and delightful notion of young love is that of Beast Boy and Terra going out on a date.  I looked on Youtube for a clip but there are so many fan made Beast Boy & Terra videos I had no hope of finding it, though that should lend credence to my assertation that the romance between these two was very well done.

The main Titans characters are all very strongly defined. 

Robin is an over-achiever who pushes himself to, and sometimes beyond, the maximum.  This can lead to a sense of cockiness at times, and can be off-putting to his teammates.  His fanatical drive to capture Slade in the first season shows that when he pushes himself too far he also pushes his friends away.  With that being said, that same drive is what makes Robin the best of the best.  With no Batman to be found in sight (other than a couple of mentions of Gotham, one dramatic use of bats, and one or two notes echoing the Batman: TAS theme, there is never any mention of the caped crusader), Robin is the one who has the unbeatable "bat factor", which really lets him shine.  It drove me nuts sometimes that he could face down opponents that could beat the entire team by himself, but Robin is just that good.  He improvises on the fly; a perfect example being the time he threw himself off a cliff to save Starfire without hesitation and had to figure out later how to save them both.  The team obviously looks up to him, as evidenced by the time he went on a solo quest and returned to find all of his teammates wearing his uniform and pretending to be Robin!

Beast Boy is the class clown using humour to seek attention.  When you really boil the character down he has a lot of insecurities, which learning of his up-bringing in the final season should come as no surprise.  Beast Boy has been a superhero as long or longer than the rest of his teammates, as a member of the Doom Patrol.  His leader and father-figure, Mento, was similar to Robin in that he drove his team too hard at times, with the big difference being Robin would ultimately never put his friends before the mission objective (other than arguably when dealing with Slade).  Beast Boy has a deep yearning to be loved, but his friendly nature means he can pair with any other character very easily.  Beast Boy was the main character behind some of the team's wackiest adventures, but when the chips are down you don't want to mess with him.

Raven is the "goth" of the team, with her pale skin and mastery of magic.  Her powers have been simplified from her comic origins, which makes a lot of sense from a story-telling perspective for a kids cartoon.  Much like Beast Boy she tries to hide her true nature, but her friends, particularly Beast Boy, don't buy it.  She tries to maintain a sense of emotional detachment but fails at times, to the viewers, and her teammate's, delight.  Her stand-offish nature does at times make her the outsider of the group, which many a kid watching can relate to.

Cyborg is the jock, the big man on campus who is out to prove how tough he is.  Next to Raven, however, he is perhaps the most tragic character on the team.  Cyborg is a fun loving guy, but when you dig a little deeper he is very self concious about his appearance and his handicaps.  Yes, his arm can turn into a sonic cannon capable of knocking down a building, but he also can't really feel somebody hold his hand.  The armor, as he put it in one episode, does not come off.  His emotional armour can be breached at times, however, where we learn just how deep of a guy Cyborg is.

And finally, Starfire.  Admittedly some changes to the character had to be made for the cartoon; the original comics version had a tendency to wear as few clothes as possible, for example.  Starfire is the exchange student, the innocent girl next door, who is new to our ways but wants to fit in.  She is fiercely loyal, has a fresh viewpoint on things the other characters may not have, and is a kind and gentle soul.  She does not crave personal gain or power; in fact, she won the crown of her home planet Tamaran and promptly gave it up, as she had no desire to rule.  She is the sweetest girl you will ever meet, and it is no surprise that little girls everywhere loved the character (and is a primary reason so many hate the new and de-valued Starfire in the DC reboot).

This cast of characters let you tell an amazingly wide array of stories, just as their comic book predecessors were designed to.  One of my favourite episodes is one where an alien superhero shows up battling presumably evil aliens, and the team ends up going with him to shut down their evil empire.  At first he seems to be a real hero, and the Titans all take a quick liking to him.  We learn later though that he is extremely racist against Tamaraneans, which is Starfire's race.  She is ashamed to tell her friends, but once they find out they quickly put a stop to it and tell the alien to leave.  In an older cartoon he would have repented his ways and left a better person; in this story he leaves with his mind unchanged, he is still a bigot.  This is something that kids will have to deal with in real life so it's okay to show them that some people have hate in their heart no matter what you do, it's the people who love you that are important.  It's a great "teaching" episode that doesn't preach at the audience.

If you haven't had the chance to see this excellent show I would encourage you to check it out on DVD, you can get it online for a pretty reasonable price.  Enjoy!

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