Cartoon Reviews: Young Justice

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The Story
After being spurned by the Justice League, young sidekicks Robin, Aqualad, and Kid Flash form their own team. After discovering a clone of Superman in a secret genetics lab, they are formed into a Justice League sanctioned team. From there they are sent on covert missions by the league.

Over the course of the story they discover the existence of a league of villains only known as The Light. They deal with the aftermath of the many layered plots of this society, only to find themselves struggling to keep up before The Light can enter their endgame.

The majority of the episodes are standalone episodic, with an intertwining story connecting them. The format of each individual episode is the traditional format where each episode wraps up the important plot elements for that particular episode. This allows the viewer to be engaged in the series while also getting a complete experience every episode.

The Review

The one thing I hate about great TV shows is that when they are just that right kind of great, I can’t stop watching, to the detriment of every other aspect of my life. Young Justice was one of those shows. If asked why exactly I liked it so much, I’d have to answer in the form of a lengthy review.

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The Art
With all cartoons the most important aspect is the art. That is not to say that good art excuses other flaws, but bad art can hide some true gems. For an example of this, take a look at Phineas and Ferb and decide if on first glance that is a show you want to watch. If your answer is “No” then watch an episode anyway, and realize that a very bizarre art style almost kept you from watching a phenomenal show.

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Young Justice has the advantage of a crisp art style that blends Eastern and Western aesthetic. Most wouldn’t look at this show and thing, “Anime!!” but those that bother taking a closer look would become somewhat specific about some of the details. For example, the eyes. While they aren’t what you think of when you think of anime eyes, they are several steps removed from the typical Western design. Young Justice manages to blend the two styles in a way that doesn’t stick out, and it comes out all the more appealing for it.

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I have to confess, I’m a little boring when it comes to art style. I don’t want something excessively stylized, I just want something somewhat generic, but unique enough to keep my interest. For franchise that rarely moves outside of american comics or animation, I have to say that this art style is the most ideal for the show they are trying to make.

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There were a few cases where I wasn’t a huge fan of the art style. Mostly this pertained to Poison Ivy and the Joker. Granted they were only in two episodes, but the Joker looks a bit more modernized than I am used to, so I couldn’t really get behind his look. Poison Ivy on the other hand just looked off. She’s got the green skinned femme fatale going on, but for some reason she has strange markings all over her face and body. I don’t know what they are, and why they are there, but I wasn’t a fan of that design choice.

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The Animation
It is, so, so pretty. As much as I like anime, and I like it a lot, I have to say that when american animation studios decide to actually put the effort into animating something, they get it right. A big problem in a lot of anime I like is when the art styles change depending on the director of a specific episode, or, worse, the characters go off model. Granted these are the victims of a very productive market, but there’s something to be said to consistent quality.

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The animation is fluid, making the action scenes absolutely gorgeous. Not only that, but to my best ability to notice, the art didn’t suffer during the animation heavy action scenes. It can be done, you don’t have to use simpler character designs in order to have more fluid animation (I’m looking at you, Gonzo).

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Granted, there are some elements that I’ve found other animations styles do better. A minor problem is that while the characters movements are fluid, their bodies do tend to look a bit stiff most of the time. And while I don’t want them to go to the opposite extreme, the teritory of cartoonish physics and gainaxing, it would be nice to see some evidence of the characters being more than just outlines that move around. But this is a minor complaint, and not one I would realistically see addressed considering how much more work it would take.

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The Characters
One of my favorite things about shows based on established characters from the two big comics companies is that they give me the opportunity to get to know characters I am not familiar with. Of the characters in Young Justice I was initially only intimately familiar with Batmand and Robin, and passingly familiar with the rest of the members of the Justice League. Of the main characters I knew Kid Flash once existed, and that Superboy was a thing that existed in the DC universe. As far as Miss Martian and Artemis were concerned, I had no idea who they were.

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Young Justice allowed me to get to know the characters in a natural way. Instead of assuming I knew who they all were just because I must be a fan of the comics if I was watching this show, they characterized the characters well enough that I was able to feel fulfilled while watching the show. I may only have been a fan of Batman and Robin, but their addition to the cast was enough of an entry point for me that I was able to fall in love with the rest of the characters.

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The Writing
The best thing about traditional episodic shows is that you get the full experience of a story with minimal investment time required. Granted a long running serialized story can be engaging in its own rights, but there’s something to be said for short term stories. And that winning formula is accentuated by introducing a long running plot alongside the episodic stories. Ultimately the writing meets that sweet spot of instant gratification and long term investment that some shows don’t seem to be able to hit. Though, this does seem to be a rising trend in many animated shows. A trend I fully endorse.

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On a character level the writing is a bit hit and miss. While the characters have motivations and quirks that educate their character behavior in realistic ways, there are some moments where the characterization doesn’t hit as hard as it should.

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For example, Superboy and Red Arrow both play the part of the angry man, and while both mellow out, Superboy’s constant struggle with not being an angry jerk does wear at times. However, that is legitimate characterization, and by the end of the first season he has matured in a satisfying way.

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What doesn’t work for me is the more transparently “character quirk” aspects. Such as Robin constantly breaking down words that seem like they should have an opposite but don’t. As a former student of linguistics I can relate to that trait, however as a fan of the character it does stick out as a trait that wasn’t in the original material. So between those two I can say that trait wasn’t exactly annoying, it just stuck out.

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Megan, or Miss Martian’s, quirk on the other hand bugged me to no end. I don’t know if it’s the delivery, or the line itself, but the catchphrase, “Hello Megan” just never sat right with me. I did appreciate that there was a backstory behind that catchphrase, but an annoying line is still an annoying line.

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Where the show really shines is in the character relationship department. Fitting, seeing as how it is categorized as a teen drama, and it’s a testament to the writing that I don’t mind this one bit. Romance is quite heavily focused on in this series, an aftermath of the shipping wars of Harry Potter and Avatar the Last Airbender I imagine. Shows like The Legend of Korra try to stir up a fan frenzy the way its predecessors did, only to fail in making it look natural. Young Justice on the other hand is jumping on that bandwagon, but doing it in a way that feels natural. Mostly.

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I am mostly ambivalent to Megan and Connor’s (Superboy) relationship, but it was done in a way to make it sweet and enjoyable. Artemis and Kid Flash on the other hand were a lot of fun, mostly because I enjoy bickering couples in my fiction. Robin and Zatanna…was a thing in the last episode? I dunno, that never worked for me just because in the pre-New 52 comics Zatanna had a thing for Batman. There’s just some weird implications there I’m not going to touch, and apparently neither did the show really.

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The ongoing story was well put together, with the villains’ identities being hidden for long enough to give the show that extra bit of intrigue. Also, a french brain. One of the villains is a brain in a robot body (kind of reminds me of the Daleks to be honest) who is french. I know it’s not my award to give out, but I’m handing out the “Best Character For All Eternity” award.

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The Voice Acting
Solid voice acting all around. I can’t really comment about it as much just because there isn’t a bad performance to be seen. Nor is there a particularly stellar performance. They’re all just really good, and every voice fits the character. There’s no bad acting to be found. So your ears will be enjoying it just as much as your eyes will.

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Greg Weisman!
Ah, Greg Weisman, the Joss Whedon of animation. I say this because he makes shows I love, but those shows rarely last beyond two seasons. Gargoyles, Spectacular Spiderman, W.I.T.C.H. Season 2 wait…one of these three is not like the others methinks.

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Still, Weisman’s attachment to the project was one of the reasons I even got into this show in the first place. Sure it looked great, and I like the DC universe. But the final push was realizing that one of my favorite producers was involved. No way I figured this could go wrong. Too bad as of now my prediction is correct, season two will be the last season of Young Justice. Fortunately the season will be allowed to run its course, but after season two there will be no more Young Justice.

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The Grade

4/5

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