I think it’s safe to say at this point that if you have a kid or like cartoons or television in anyway, you’ve heard of Adventure Time. And that show is great and a full-blown cultural phenomenon for a reason. It’s incredible. Never has a cartoon taken such a simple premise–boy and dog wander through a post-apocalyptic wasteland–and turned it into a fully fleshed out world so expansive and real.
But besides Adventure Time , Pendleton Ward has another show to his name. This one is a little more obscure, but just as rewarding. I speak of Bravest Warriors.
Bravest Warriors is by Frederator Studios–makers of Adventure Time, Fairly Oddparents and a bunch of other great shows–and is the flagship show of their original YouTube channel, Cartoon Hangover. The channel’s official description calls it the home of cartoons that are “too out there for TV [sic]” and that’s pretty true. None of their projects fit into easy categories to slot on cable, and Warriors is a good example.
With its teen-aged characters, the series is easily aimed at teens, but college-aged kids and adults can get a lot out of it too. The show’s more mature tone, as well as the fact that it doesn’t have any censorship other than what Cartoon Hangover dictates, make it a wild card.
But I get ahead of myself. What’s the story of the show?
Well, it’s the far future and in the city of Neo-Mars, there was a band of heroes called the Courageous Battlers. Two years ago, they all got sucked into another dimension, the See-Through Zone. In their absence, their children have taken up their parents’ stead as adventurers and defenders of peace.
As the Bravest Warriors, leader Chris Kirkman (Alex Walsh), inventor Danny Vasquez (John Omohundro), scientist Wallow (Ian-Jones Quartey) and Lone Girl/warrior Beth Tezuka (Liliana Mumy) travel through space “helping peeps” and righting wrongs. Along the way, they deal with the wacky antics of all sorts of aliens like unofficial team members Catbug (Sam Lavagnino), a childlike extra-dimensional being and the rude, jerkish Impossibear (Michael Leon Woodley) and Beth’s friend Plum (Tara Strong), a merewif–she turns into a mermaid once she hits the water.
Across 2 seasons of YouTube shorts, they deal with every menace from the apocalyptic Aeon Worm to the Hardcore Hill Midgets, while also dealing with the mysterious, wacky Emotion Lord (Breehn Burns), who has a mysterious connection to Chris.
While the concept and characters were created by Ward, due to his involvement with Adventure Time, he left the running of the series to Breehn Burns, famed independent filmmaker and creator of the surrealist webseries Dr. Tran . If you think Adventure Time is trippy, this show will give you a run for your money. I mean, the third episode introduces a holo-john: a bathroom that is also a holodeck.
Burns, who has written and directed every single episode (although he has since stepped down), is an inspired choice for this series. His constant presence–he also voices basically every character that’s not the main four or Catbug or Impossibear–helps ground the series in a consistent viewpoint. It’s a demented, nutsy viewpoint. Yet, it’s also a really authentic, believably teenage viewpoint.
Chris is attracted to Beth and that forms the emotional crux of the series. Underneath the goofy slang and wacky situations, there’s a real heart at the bottom of this show. Being that each episode runs from 5-10 minutes, everything has to be expressed directly and quickly. Burns’ experience with webseries formats helps that work.
Key of course is the wonderful animation. Frederator doesn’t pull any punches; this is as detailed and rich as an episode of Adventure Time. There’s some truly awesome, cool images in there. The fact that the series is willing to turn the reins over to famed animation and comics folk like Ryan North, Noelle Stevenson, Niki Yang and Jhonen Vasquez only solidifies its uniqueness and expressivity.
The core cast ties it all together. Walsh, a virtual unknown, is fantastic as the naive, tentative Chris. Omohundro sells the macho cockiness of Danny. Mumy brings layers and layers to Beth beyond “just the girl.” As the goofy, upbeat Wallow, Quartey, a non-professionnal actor, is a delight. Strong, voice acting goddess, makes Plum an intriguing ingenue.
Impossibear doesn’t show up that much, but Wooley is fun in the role. As the breakout catchphrase machine, Catbug, Lavagnino–a little kid–is silly and fun and the episode “Catbug’s Away Team” is one of my favorites.
The show can easily be binged in an hour or two and is very much worth your time. If you want a great cartoon that doesn’t speak to any one audience and can do whatever it wants because the Internet, then check it out.
If you like it, I strongly suggest checking out the tie-in comic from Kaboom, which tells an alternate, but equally fascinating, story of the characters–for example, Plum has a second brain and personality belonging to an ancient woman and switches beneath the two seemingly at random.
Basically, if Adventure Time is a fantasy-loving kid, Bravest Warriors is that kid’s SF-loving older brother. Check it out. You’ll love the moop out of it.