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Saturday, 17 of April of 2021

Sym-Bionic Titan – “Escape to Sherman High”

They’re still out there, you know!”

Sym-Bionic Titan trio

Our heroes: "Keith", "Allura",

Sym-Bionic Titan is the best new show of fall. If you’re a fan of giant robots, and who isn’t a fan of giant robots?

I don’t often have the chance to write about animation here (The Venture Bros. being the first I’ve gotten to do so far), so you’ll have to pardon the indulgence, but also let me grab your ear for a moment, make the recommendation that you should be giving Titan a shot. Indeed, between The Venture Bros. and Titan, I have a nostalgic block of programming, one that lampoons its inspirations (Venture) and one that embraces them (Titan).

Titan obviously draws pretty heavily from anime, especially Voltron. I mean, just look at the character designs. Lance looks an awful lot like Keith (despite being named Lance…) and Illana bears a good resemblance to a more stylized Allura. And Solomon, the Galactic Guardian Group’s leader, might as well be Alucard from Hellsing but with white hair. None of this is a bad thing at all. If you do know, it isn’t distracting and you’ll appreciate the nods (at least for me, I’m not one of those folks who will chide the show wearing its influences on its sleeve). If you don’t know, it doesn’t make a difference at all, and you get to groove on the character designs.

All else fails, if you don’t watch anime, then Titan is going to feel an awful lot like a smart version of the first incarnation of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: the heroes pose high schoolers until a giant monster shows up to wreak havoc. And the comparison is going to be pretty apt as the show continues, I think. Titan will have to balance the high school tribulations genre while still making the Monster of the Week battle creative. Indeed, if there’s any show thatTitan should try and emulate, it should be Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Sure, every show that balances high school with fighting monsters should aim to ape Buffy, but that’s becauseBuffy knew how to make it work. The monsters tied into anxieties, and to keep the week-to-week battles fresh,Titan should try and do the same. If it’s just random giant mook after random giant mook, the show won’t have the necessary emotional heft it should have.

And expecting a show like Titan to have emotional heft may be silly, but I have that expectation. And why wouldn’t I? Gennedy Tartaovsky is a master at creating emotional heft in his stories. Samurai Jack was completely episodic, but knew how to make genuine emotional moments within episodes. Yes, Jack didn’t do that every episode, but it wasn’t necessary to do it every episode. I don’t expect Titan, at least right now, to become a show that makes me cheer and cry, but I’ll settle for solid reasons for caring about these three characters and their plight.

Narrative and influences aside, the animation is gorgeous. It has all the right balance of skilled hand drawn work with not-too-obtrusive CGI. The Titan’s see-through appearance is a nice touch (nothing says cool tech like see-through), and I appreciate how the Titan’s formation dies into their culture’s ideas of heart, mind, and body. Sound design, also, isn’t skimped on. One of the pleasures of Tartaovsky’s work is its attention to how things sound and letting you hear it (Jack of course did this, but so do Star Wars: Clone Wars). It’s not a trait you find in a lot of shows, regardless of medium, and I always appreciate when a show lets you appreciate the use of sound.

So, watch Sym-Bionic Titan. Don’t let the influences or medium scare you off. And if you like, let me know. I’ve got some recommendations for you.

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