Have you been watching Sym-Bionic Titan? The Cartoon Network show, which ends its first season Friday night, follows the adventures Lance, Ilana and Octus– a soldier, princess and robot, respectively– who flee from their home planet of Galaluna and must now adjust to ordinary high school life while battling villains on Earth.
Sym-Bionic Titan is an amalgamation of famed animator Genndy Tartakovsky's many influences– he mentioned Johnny Sokko and His Flying Robot, Battle of the Planets, Speed Racer and John Hughes' 1980s teen movies during our interview– wrapped into one unconventional cartoon.
“For us, we never really make it for a demographic,” said Tartakovsky. “As soon as I say, 'I think teenagers like this,' that makes it not sincere, so everything we do comes from what we want to see.”
There's a scene in the episode “Lessons in Love,” which first aired on November 19, that sums up exactly why you should be watching the show. Kimmy, a popular cheerleader, walks home after kissing Octus. She turns up her iPod and “Space Age Love Song,” an electronic, romantic number from '80s band A Flock of Seagulls, plays as she swoons down the street. In the background, Titan, the giant robot, fights a monster. Kimmy is oblivious to this and instead spins around a street lamp as big, neon bolts appear in the sky like fireworks. It's like the unforgettable final scenes from 16 Candles and The Breakfast Club collided with the best action anime.
“We're still kids in a way so we try to tap into the John Hughes type of feeling as well as the robot fights and action,” said Tartakovsky.
For the man behind such beloved series as Dexter's Laboratory, Samurai Jack and Star Wars: Clone Wars, Sym-Bionic Titan is a particularly “ambitious” project.
“Every new show that we do, we try to push ourselves to the limit,” he said.
“This one has lighting, the characters are much more volumetrically drawn, we're using part CG elements of course, so the combination of that is quite complicated and just the scale of the show is quite monstrous,” Tartakovsky continued. “For Dexter, Dee Dee learns a new dance and wants to show it to Dexter and he doesn't want her to bug him and there's the fifteen jokes from that storyline. Here we have three or four storylines. We have multiple characters. Because we're dealing with high school there are always crowd shots. The action is always in cities, so the scale is epic and that's what makes it fun to watch, it's like, I can't believe we did that. “
The fact that the characters are high school students gives the show a different spin from Tartakovsky's previous series. In many ways, it ties to the show's anime influence (for those who haven't watch much anime, lead characters are frequently teenagers and the action is often offset with high school social situations).
“We can do romance and love and jealousy and break up, stuff that's more dramatic because it's harder on the emotions,” he said. “At the same time, we can do comedy that's a little more adult. Kids get it, but it's definitely pushed farther than we had done before.”
And there's the whole idea of teenage heroism that plays into the show as well. “When you're younger you play hero, when you're older, you can actually be a hero, so it has that opportunity and much more realistic in a way that you can go out and save the world here and there.”
The idea of “fitting in” is crucial to the show, a theme that Tartakovsky says probably runs throughout his work on the whole.
“I don't know if that's because I'm an immigrant and coming to this country, it was all about fitting in, trying to be American,” he added.
Of the trio from Sym-Bionic Titan, Ilana has, perhaps, the hardest time adjusting to her new surroundings. With her short, blonde hair and Harajuku-inspired outfits, she looks different than her classmates. She's also a well-meaning and quite regal character, always wanting to take a stand, to right what she sees is wrong, and be a leader.
“She's like a young Lady Di type of character, where on her home world, she's accepted and loved, she's the best princess ever,” Tartakovsky explained. “Here, she's a dork because she's outgoing and she wants to be unique in her dress and have style and personality.”
Ilana has quickly become a favorite character of ours as there's a spark in her, like she's on the way to becoming the great heroine of the series.
Said Tartakovsky, “She's got a long journey ahead of her, but hopefully she'll get there.”