November 14, 2005
Rejected Column Titles: "Kirk Wouldn't Stoop That Low", "Tea, Earl Grey, Hot," "Resistance is Futile," and "some sort of Locutus pun?" This one goes out to all the nerds in the hizz-ouse.Holographic wow
Transformation on Saturday Mornings
How sci-fi figures into the kiddie fare
|As it turns out, Saturday morning is not all that different from what I remember, just with more anime influence. But in looking into the programming, I latched on to one idea and now you are going to read what amounts to a freshman at college's term paper.|
For this column I decided to check out what Saturday morning is like now for the kiddies and look into how sci-fi and fantasy play in this form. As it turns out, Saturday morning is not all that different from what I remember, just with more anime influence. But in looking into the programming, I latched on to one idea and now you are going to read what amounts to a freshman at college's term paper.
What has so entranced me? Transformation. So many cartoons (as well as live action children's programming) are based on the concept of transformation — seemingly because of its metaphorical similarity to the life of a puberty-ridden pre-teen. But children in this country grow up with dreams of transformation — for girls it's Cinderella (who goes from being put upon to being free) and for boys it's Superman (who goes from awkward to manly).
While transformation has always been a part of media for young adults, it's really come back to the forefront through the influence of Japanese entertainment. After the hit shows Sailor Moon and Power Rangers, transformation seemingly got popular again and the effects are still visible on Saturday mornings today.
The biggest difference between the most mainstream American transformation cartoons and anime is actually how often they transform. A lot of the American cartoons come from comic books and often a character is transformed just once and then subsequently deals with it for as many seasons as they can sustain. This is true of Spider-man. While he changes costumes to become Spider-Man, he doesn't have to transform every time. He can still be Spider-Man in plain clothes.
But with the anime-inspired shows, the characters actually transform each time. This is seen in Sailor Moon, of course, and also the number of Sailor Moon inspired cartoons on TV now — W.I.T.C.H., Winx and Mew Mew Power.
The Power Rangers are actually still on TV by the way, now in the form of 'Space Patrol Delta', but called Power Rangers: S.P.D to mimic their grown-up anagramed counterparts such as CSI and Law & Order:SVU. But also, on the cartoon front, you have shows such as Viewtiful Joe who is clearly the love child of Megaman and the red Power Ranger, and transforms in a very similar way.
But there are certainly transformations that do not comply directly with the Sailor Moon/Power Rangers mold. For instance, Danny Phantom changes into a ghost and it's debatable if his changes are like putting on a costume or a real transformation each time. Given the fact that his hair changes color, I would consider it a real transformation. In Dragon Booster, our hero is 'chosen', so he seemingly transforms into a dragon booster (or whatever they call him) just once — which is unusual for an anime-inspired show.
|But I suppose the fact that this is one of those most literal puberty metaphors may have something to do with why TMNT never dies and currently airs on FOX and the Cartoon Network.|
Nickelodeon has embraced something similar to these puberty-esque transformation cartoons with 'the outsider's view of teenagedom'. This is a similar metaphor that pops up occasionally on TV and in movies. First, they have the popular archetype of teenagers as aliens in their show Invader ZIM (the teenage alien viewpoint was most recently attempted in the TV Show Roswell). They peddle the same idea with a robot in My Life As A Teenage Robot. Because many pre-teens and teens feel like outsiders in their own world, these kinds of shows always have niche.
Another sub-genre of transformation is transportation. By being thrown into a new situation the hero is both an outsider and faced with premature adulthood. Currently representing this viewpoint is the Time Warp Trio. This show is essentially similar to Sliders, except these kids jump to different historical periods to teach the kiddies about history — which I appreciate. (Sci-fi is often used as a vehicle to explore history in movies and television).
I would be remiss discussing transformation in cartoons without talking about Transformers (I can see myself heading off the crazed 'how could you not talk about Transformers' e-mails now). According to the internet, various forms of the show are still being aired, just none of them did during my brief stint watching cartoons. Nonetheless, this pinnacle of my childhood does remind us of another reason why transformation shows are so popular on Saturday mornings — merchandising. When your character turns into something else — that's two separate things you can sell. Or, when something transforms all in one toy, that's double the amount you can sell it for. Transformers will always be cool cause you can turn a car into a dinosaur. I'd buy that before just about anything else.
In my cartoon watching I was met with about one million commercials for toys. These were only superseded by the one million commercials I saw for the movie Zathura. Merchandising is as important to cartoons as anything else and through the show itself and the commercials that surround it, companies are selling to kids non-stop. But the sci-fi and fantasy shows do have a better chance of creating toys worth buying — Toys that do interesting things and that spark the imagination.
But just as ancient myth was used to explain things that people couldn't explain themselves (why does the sun go up and down — cause Apollo drags it across the sky with his chariot). Sci-fi and fantasy helps the pre-teens understand the 'supernatural' changes in their life and how to deal with them. And how to buy the toys that will make them the coolest kid in school. But whether in kids stories or not, Sci-fi and fantasy have a long history, and probably a long future, being used as the sugar coating to the pill of morally righteous stories. It's a great genre to use to teach, preach and explain and puberty stories are only one aspect of that.
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