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Thursday, 25 of February of 2021

Sym-Bionic Titan – “A New Beginning”

If I had real eyes, I would cry right now.

So that’s that, the final episode of Sym-Bionic Titan. While the episode description that circulated was about Lance and Illana (somehow) returning to Galaluna and facing off against Modula, the episode served to tie up the plot threads from the past two episodes as the show finished what would’ve been its first season, not its only season. I ended up not reviewing the previous two episodes due to time and health issues, but it’s probably best to address them both here in relation to the finale, since all three are really a set of episodes that should, ideally, be watched together.

Seen in that way, as one chain of episodes as opposed to three individual episodes, the final run of Titan is actually fairly strong, even if “A New Beginning” isn’t too much of a finale and isn’t very aptly named as the episode returned the series to its status quo.

I was pretty excited by Octus’s death given that it significantly changed the dynamics of the show: Without Octus, there is no Titan. It forced Lance and Illana to figure out how to function without Octus (a concern that had been running through the course of the second half of the season: “What would we do without you?”), but also raised the stakes on the show’s general format since the next time a Mutraddi beast appeared, nothing would be able to stop it.

And I appreciated the follow up to this in “The Steel Foe” as things looked pretty bleak between not being able to revive Octus and Steel launching the H.A.M.E.R (and a barrage of M.C. Hammer and “You Can’t Touch This” references that I’m sure the show’s target demographic TOTALLY got). And, indeed, a Mutraddi beast appeared ,and only Steel and his men could kill it (and fairly handily as well). But the desolation and desperation of moving from crummy motel to crummy motel while unable to save Sherman (why wasn’t the city evacuated?!) really worked for me, and I was eager for the payoff.

Which brings us to “A New Beginning.” Episodes like this are decidedly frustrating to watch since they tend to undo the dramatic impacts of previous episodes, which is what’s done here. By reviving Octus (the shadowy G3 leader does it with a few quick taps on the core, only reaffirming my position that it is Lance’s father, but we’ll never know now!), the show allows itself to reset to where it was before Octus’s death. Even Steel’s robot is demolished, leaving him without recourse to fight the alien menace that is Titan (and public opinion is no longer behind him either).

As a conclusion to this 3 episode-arc, however, “A New Beginning” is satisfying. The action sequences are well-executed with one moment of particularly funny humor as Lance, in his Manus armor, taps on the cockpit of a fighter jet, encouraging the pilot to just eject as opposed to fighting back. Likewise, Titan’s return is marked by an awesomely gruesome (for this show) death of a Mutraddi beast by way of a spear down the mouth.

After my critiques of “I Am Octus”, I’m happy the series allowed brief glimpses into the effects that the disappearance of the trio was having on Kimmy and Meat, and even moreso in “A New Beginning” (though I’m sad we won’t get to see Kimmy and Octus’s tearful reunion followed by Kimmy demanding to know what the hell was going on). I appreciated that the show remembered the scope it had created since the first few episodes.

With only one season to its name, and with a glut of sci-fi action animated series on television at the moment, Titan’s impact is difficult to discern. The show was never particularly revolutionary, despite its still excellent use of A Flock of Seagulls, and it seemed content to shy away from pushing narrative or genre envelopes (while still pushing the envelope of sexual objectification). I enjoyed the series, but as the second of half of the season wore on, I found myself less and less engaged with it.

I suppose the most revolutionary aspect of Sym-Bionic Titan is its apparent refusal to be more commercially friendly. The economics of television programming being what it is (and especially in the case of children’s television programming) relies on ancillary products to survive. I have no idea of the producers and writers received notes from Cartoon Network saying, “Can Titan transform into other things? Can you make the Mutraddi a little more interesting looking, and recurring? Would it be possible for you do an episode where Titan glows in the dark? Kids love things that glow in the dark. Also: can we somehow make this into a trading card game? How about some more Titan-like robots who help and can be allies?” and I kind of don’t want to know if they received such notes (though I have to imagine they did at some point).

Admittedly, not all action-oriented animated shows operate like this (Samurai Jack has a couple of toys, but also generated a video game that I never played), but budgets aren’t what they used to be and to survive, some income has to be produced outside of advertising (especially since animated programming doesn’t typically see national syndication, which is where the money is in TV).

So, farewell, Sym-Bionic Titan. Hopefully, now, Tartakovsky can get that Samurai Jack movie made.

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