Roll the List: It’s a Cartooooooon!
Heyo! Guest writer and long-time friend of the Aeither personalities Joe here. I’m stepping in for a minute to take the Roll the List segment by request from the Kyle concept, so here I am. This week’s subject: Top 3 Underrated Cartoons TV Shows! I am dredging the darkest pits of my 10-12 year old memories, pulling out my personal list of awesome cartoons that only I seem to remember in casual/awkward conversation! These are the cartoons I believe are the most underrated from the Golden Age of Cartoons. Let’s get the Nostalgia Train rolling!
3. SWAT Kats: The Radical Squadron
This show was epic in its own right, and one of the first times I remember being heartbroken when it was canceled. The main characters were disgraced fighter pilots, Jake Clawson and Chance Furlong, disgraced pilots because of the pride (read: incompetence) of their Commanding Officer, Commander Feral. The two had a chance to take down their arch-enemy, Dark Kat, but Commander Feral ordered the pilots to fall back so he could take all the glory for himself. Dark Kat drove his ship into theirs, forcing them to bail out as their ship plummeted, crashing into their newly built HQ. Dark Kat escaped in the confusion, HQ was in flames, and all the blame fell squarely on the shoulders of Chance and Jake. Unable to hold his temper, Chance argued that it was because of their CO’s incompetence that Dark Kat escaped. That ended about the same as it would in real military service: Chance and Jake were dishonorably discharged and sent packing. The boys found work in a Salvage Yard under two absolute asshole bosses Burke and Murray, who give them no shortage of crap about their discharge status. With the amount of scrapped tech in the junkyard, combined with Chance’s temperament and their combined skill, they decide to create their own fighter jets in secret, because who would notice a couple of fully operational fighter jets in a salvage yard, right? ‘90s cartoon logic! So, with the construction of their fighter planes and new weaponry, Chance and Jake take on new personas as vigilantes, T-Bone and Razor, the SWAT Kats!
SWAT Kats was one of the darker cartoons I’d seen at the time, and was powered by legendary voices such as Barry Gorden, Charles Adler, Jim Cummings, Mark Hamill, the list goes on and on! Aside from amazing voice talent, the episodes were pretty amazing. With solid animation, and only the most bizarre characters and enemies the ‘90s era could fathom, the show lived up to its radical claim. Seriously, episode 1 involves the release of an immortal wizard from the dark ages who immediately pulls up some straight necromancy, brings a stuffed sabertooth cat to life and summons a bunch of fucking dinosaurs. Why, you ask? Because fuck the future, that’s why.
Spanning only two series, the show was canceled in 1995 unceremoniously. I honestly feel that if the show had been released within the last two years, it would have been much more successful. The current level of cat puns and pure internet insanity could have skyrocketed the Kats into the mainstream where it belonged.
2. Bucky O’Hare and the Toad Wars
Another short-lived cartoon series, based off of the Bucky O’Hare comic by Continuity Comics. Young Willy DuWitt, a self-taught pre-teen engineering whiz, accidentally transports himself into the Aniverse, a parallel universe where all the inhabitants are animals. He finds himself on board The Righteous Indignation, Captain Bucky O’Hares battleship (and single-handedly the coolest name ever for any ship ever). As Bucky had sadly lost his own engineer (a Baboon named Bruce, who “became one with the Aniverse”), he was quick to let the young boy take his place due to his engineering skill, because it was the ‘90s and no one cared about qualifications in wartime scenarios.
To be fair, Willy was brilliant. The kid built an exact replica of a Photon Accelerator from another Universe. Willy fixes their Accelerator and joins the crew of The Righteous Indignation, alongside the Psionic-powered cat/Pilot Jenny (noticing a trend in cat-pilots), a four-armed Pirate Deadeye Duck, and the cyclopean android Blinky. Together, they fought against the tyranny of the vicious Toad Army, led by the savage and calculating KOMPLEX, a sentient A.I. with a Fascist mindset and a near-limitless supply of brainwashed Toads. KOMPLEX relayed the majority of his evil schemes via Bucky’s arch-nemesis, the Toad Air Marshal who, like most villains of his era, was a bumbling, disgusting imbecil.
Like many similar cartoons-based-on-comics of its time, Bucky O’Hare was toned down from its more violent medium. Though spaceship dog-fights and shootouts were constant throughout the series, not a single character ever really “died.” Toad ships fragged by Disintegrator Beams left the pilots in safety bubbles shaking their fists instead of choking on the vacuum of space. Terrible animal puns run rampant through almost every piece of dialogue to the point of irritation, but the storyline felt solid. With each episode came an underlying lesson of trust, friendship, self-reliance and courage. The series spawned a number of merchandising collectables, including one of my personal favorite NES games of all time. Sadly, the series’ popularity dwindled into obscurity. You can still catch the entire series on YouTube, but be warned. Bucky O’Hare and the Toad Wars certainly hasn’t aged well, but it still has a very special place in my heart.
1. Skeleton Warriors
These are the Tales of the Skeleton Warriors! By far, the top of my list, and one of the darkest cartoon series I remember. Set in the future/past(?) of the distant planet Luminair, Young Prince Joshua is manipulated by the evil Baron Dark into accessing the powersource of their city: the Lightstar. Josh’s brother Prince Justin and sister Princess Jennifer arrive just in time to stop him, but at a cost. The Lightstar splits, gifting everyone in the room with powers matching their alignments/souls. Baron Dark turns into an immortal Skeleton Warrior, gifted with Dark Powers which he bestows upon his loyal followers. The royal family’s homeland is immediately devastated by the power-hungry Baron and his mad henchmen. They escape to their Uncle Ursak’s home, where they gain access to weapons and training from the eccentric veteran. Adapting to the powers their half of the Lightstar gifted them, the family fights back against the Skeleton Warriors in an effort to stop the Baron from gaining the full power of the Lightstar, and with it… the world.
Again, this is one of the darkest cartoon series I can remember from that time. Shit gets wrecked within the first few minutes, the city burns, people die screaming… it was intense. It was also the first series I was able to watch all the way through. The one season it ran was only 13 episodes long, but holy crap, were they amazing! The setting of their planet Luminair was always awesome, a great blend of futuristic technology mixed with medieval style.
Some of the character’s undertones may have been less than subtle, but powerful nonetheless. While Justin and Jennifer get cool powers and stay handsome, Young Joshua is punished for his unintentional betrayal by becoming a decrepit half-skeleton who can teleport through shadows. But he endures this pain, owns it, and kicks ass anyway. Justin struggles with confidence, as he was the new rightful ruler of Luminair before Before Dark laid waste to it. But with Ursak’s guidance, he proves himself a natural leader. Jennifer is strong-willed and determined, her gift of flight and long-range sight making her an ideal scout. Her loyalty to her brothers is unquestionable, especially when their loyalty to each other is tested. Her compassion is the binding agent for the Legion of Light.
Skeleton Warriors did more for family values than the actual show Family Values. It dealt with a real sense of danger, as mortality was a constant reminder against Baron Dark’s power. Extras and bit characters could, and did, die. Trust, friendship, courage, family… these tropes, common lessons in ‘90s cartoons, mattered more in this series because they could really and truly be lost. And it was one of the few cartoons that felt complete when it was done. It left the possibility open for a second season, but even without one the story felt finished.
These three series were amazing, most of them are available on YouTube, and I would happily throw buckets of money if someone even hinted at bringing a legitimate reboot that could do them justice. You hear that, bored amatuer film-animators? BUCKETS. GET TO WORK.