Dec 03

Cartoon Review – G.I.Joe Renegades

Renegades was a cartoon series made in 2010 by Henry Gilroy, Marty Isenberg, and Jeff Kline, for Hasbro’s then new network The Hub along with a new Transformers series, Transformers Prime. The series is a complete reimagining of the franchise with Cobra now being a corporate giant with hidden agendas instead of an inept terrorist organisation and the Joes are now the A-Team.

While performing an investigation of a Cobra Industries facility Military Intelligence officer Scarlett with her army escorts Duke, Roadblock, Tunnel Rat, and Ripcord are attacked by Cobra security forces. As they go deeper into the facility they find Cobra isn’t a wholesome family company but an organisation producing, among other nasty things, deadly bio-weapons and bent on world domination. With the aid of Scarlett’s ninja friend Snake Eyes they get into the bio-weapon facility but Ripcord is killed as they blow it up. Cobra frames them for the attack and the death of Ripcord so they go on the run trying to clear their names and get proof about the insidious nature of Cobra.

Yeah I wasn’t joking about them being the A-Team. The show has a lot of homage’s and references to both the G.I.Joe franchise and the A-Team but for the most part it’s not too in your face about it, the story comes first. There are episodes that do shove in some G.I.Joe characters, but for the most part it’s fine. One of the biggest problems with it tied to the franchise is the nicknames/codenames, especially at the beginning. In the show each of them starts out with their real names and then almost all of them are given nicknames by Ripcord in the first episode. It’s very forced and rushed since they decided against them being military codenames. Cobra actually gets away with it fairly well and names like Baroness, Cobra Commander, or Destro don’t feel as forcibly used. Maybe it’s the fact that they’re bad guys and they introduced them more slowly. The main cast also gets the name “The Joes” which somehow becomes their official name in media and to Cobra as the series goes on. It was on offhand comment of them just being “ordinary Joes” when they saved some people, but how that turn into an actual name isn’t really delved into.

The main plot of the show is the Joes trying to prove Cobra is evil and keep ahead of the military hunting them, lead by Flint and Lady Jay. They also help out people in need and/or stop a Cobra plot that they stumble across. The beginning’s a little slow with some not so great episodes after the pilot, but it does soon pick up. I have to credit the writers for creating a largely episodic series that is all tied together with continuity. There are a lot of story points and character beats that are seeded and mentioned all throughout the show. Watching this series for a second time made me appreciate the level of thought and care that went into the writing of this series as a whole. Which is a lot better than some other current series that seem to disregard things like consistent continuity and characters in favour of lazy writing.

The ongoing story, while well structured, can be a bit of a mess at times. There’s a very rushed ending to the show and while it does wrap up all the important plot points it’s still haphazard in its execution. But I’ll take tying up the plot over leaving things on a big cliffhanger with no resolution. The other big main plotline that focuses on Snake-Eyes and his back-story is better, but has a huge lingering plot hole. Snake-Eyes is mute so there’s some communication problems but his main conflict could be resolved if he picked up a pen and paper and wrote down, “you misunderstood.” plus going into some detail about the hows and whys of it all. I’m not sure if it was intentional or not but one of the ongoing themes with him is that he’s a really bad communicator. However his plotline was well handled with some mature storytelling and a lot of family tragedy.

The individual episode stories on the other hand are a bit different quality wise. Some of them are really good that are great character pieces, but others aren’t so much. There’s some predictable plotting and ridiculous moments throughout the show. Like the Cobra truck they steal and use throughout the series, named the Coyote, which has all sorts of hidden utilities, weapons, missiles, and even a gun turret. It gets a bit much when the inside can fit all of that plus a dozen people at the most. Might as well have called it a Tardis. Then there’s the running theme of Snake-Eyes constantly appearing out of nowhere to save them when the writers get a bit lazy. They hang a lampshade on it a few times by calling him the “magic ninja” and they do this with a few other things. Though lampshade hanging a constantly occurring plot convenience still doesn’t alter the fact that it’s a constantly occurring plot convenience.

The characters are where the show really shines. All of the main characters are developed over the course of the series and we get to see them as flawed three dimensional human beings. The show never forgets this is a ragtag group and there’s a lot of conflict between them. These are people stuck having to live in a truck on the run for their lives and all deeply wanting to go home. There’s strife between them and they get on each others nerves, especially at the beginning. We find out little things about them over the course of the series that pays off later on when we see them dealing with their home lives.

Cobra isn’t left out of the mix either. We see this organisation as competent, ruthless, and as something that could possibly take over the world. The number of antagonists starts out small but does grow larger as we’re introduced to more Cobra operatives and associates. The first two episodes had a lot to introduce so they wisely kept the villains introductions to a minimum and saved most for later. Cobra Commander is especially used sparingly in the early episodes so he keeps an air of mystery and menace all throughout the show. There’s also conflict between the major players in Cobra but it’s one that develops over time and isn’t the reason why they’re defeated. Unlike the 80s cartoon which had Cobra be so inept that they defeated themselves through all the infighting that the Joes might as well not exist.

The voice acting is very good with notable veterans such as Charlie Adler, Clancy Brown, David Kaye, Jason Marsden, Kevin Michael Richardson, and Khary Payton. As well as some good guest stars like Phil LaMarr, Peter MacNicol, Daniel Dae Kim, Nolan North, and Michael Bell. I can’t think of a bad actor in this show or a bad performance. Hearing Peter MacNicol playing the pyromaniac Firefly was definitely a highlight.

The animation quality of the show was good, though it looks much better in HD from online streaming than on a standard TV broadcast. The artstyle is in the oddly stylised vein but it looks fine. The character designs are pretty good with some nice military touches on the main characters and some references to previous series as well. The series wasn’t afraid to break away from the classic look for the franchise and try to modernise everything. The one beef I have with the designs is the guns. All the main guns are “plasma guns” (because real guns aren’t allowed on kids TV anymore) and I’m fine with the laser weapons, they even justify them by having them be state of the art Cobra weapons the Joes stole. However they all look really big and bulky, none of them are visually appealing. Scarlet even uses a Plasma Crossbow, which has no practical reason for existing. The variety in the weapons was good to see though the power levels worked on the, “because the plot says so” mechanics. There are times when a plasma cannon does as much damage as one of their regular pistols, so it’s very inconsistent with how much damage these things can do. Like with all laser weapons in cartoons.

Overall the show is very good and the best G.I.Joe cartoon there’s ever been. While it has its problems I’d definitely recommend giving it a try for the first couple of episodes. Also originally the first half of the show was aired out of order, which caused some narrative problems, but the episode list on Wikipedia has the correct order. The series was sadly cancelled before a single episode had aired because Hasbro wanted a show more inline with the movie franchise. The plot of the second live action movie is “a ragtag band of Joes is framed by Cobra and they must fight to clear their names as the insidious organisation has wormed its way into the US Government.” Not sure if that’s irony or another example of executives at the top not knowing what they’re doing.