Beepner's Top Ten Cartoons
by Beepner

Hi there! Welcome to my list. These are some cartoons that I like. Some are from my childhood, some are from my teenage and young adult years, and some are things I've only completed just recently. Well, let's get started! See, I'm keeping this introduction simple, so even you can keep up! You dummy.

Oh, and I'm sorry, but there won't be any Reboot or Duckman or Venture Bros. on this list. There goes my credibility. Oh no!

10.) SWAT Kats: The Radical Squadron

I'm calling bullshit on the title. While you could make the argument that T-Bone and Razor employ special weapons and tactics, they definitely aren't a SWAT team, and since there are only two of them, they can hardly be called a squadron. Still, they are cats (albeit in extreme 90's mispelled nomenclature), and I must admit that they are pretty radical.

Anthropomorphic crime fighters with 'tude had probably started to seem quaint by the time SWAT Kats debuted, but the genre was still very much thriving at the time. It was still a while before chaff like Captain Simian and the Space Monkeys appeared, at any rate. While the Kats themselves didn't have the most distinctive of personalities, there were couple of things going for the show to help it stand out. One, they piloted a badass fighter plane, the Turbokat, which was as much of a character in its own right as any voiced personality on the show. Two, it was clear that the writers had a blast coming up with all the weapons, gizmos, and crazy shit the plane could do, such as missiles outfitted with drills, buzzsaws, bear-trap teeth, napalm, viscous goop, and even the seldom used yet tongue-in-cheek Plain Old Missile. And three, the SWAT Kats squared off against a memorably bizarre cast of recurring villains, such as the serpentine mad geneticist Dr. Viper, the undead sorceror Pastmaster, or cybernetic gangsters the Metallikats.

SWAT Kats managed to stay entertaining into its second season, despite a change from the excellent opening theme to a more generic one, and the introduction one of the lamer recurring characters, Commander Feral's niece Felina, who I swear must be a fan-made character who was inserted because somebody won a contest. Not all of the villains were slam dunks either, like Turmoil, whose powers include a bad Russian accent and a desire to fuck T-Bone, or that episode with the aliens out to suck the planet's oceans dry. Still, a lot of little moments still stand out in my mind, such as when the usually cowardly mayor of Megakat City mans up and shoots down the enemy ace ghost pilot, or the mirror universe with evil versions of T-Bone and Razor. It's a shame the show got canceled when it did, since there were apparently plans for a third season. Oh well, at least they got a lackluster SNES game out of it in the end.

9.) The Pirates of Dark Water

I assure you, I'm not trying to shove all the Hanna-Barbera properties to the bottom of the list. That's just where the chips landed, man!

A naive (thought well-meaning) prince-in-exile goes on a quest to retrieve some magical gems in order to save the world. On the way, he teams up with a greedy pirate, a saucy magical wench, and an annoying talking animal mascot. It's like an RPG!

Pirates was memorable because it gave us a unique setting, the world of Mer, with some creative biological, mechanical, and character designs. It also featured one of the most badass evil sumbitches ever voiced by Brock Peters (next to SWAT Kats' Dark Kat), the pirate lord Bloth. Though the episodes had pacing issues and the bad habit of starting with "Bloth's gaining on us, let's escape to that cove/island/port where we'll undoubtedly get into some other unforseen danger!", it did have a set goal in mind, and enough continuity callbacks to smooth over the series' episodic nature, something that Western cartoons at the time weren't particularly known for doing. I don't know what was up with the ending, though. It was just a kitten lapping up milk!

8.) Super Dimension Fortress Macross

Had it not been for f.h.e.'s VHS releases of Robotech, and later, Cartoon Network airing the full series, I probably never would have gotten into Macross. Now, having said all that, Harmony Gold owes me for years worth of therapy thanks to bad dubs, legal issues regarding the franchise in North America, that Battlecry game, and the entirety of Robotech II: The Sentinels.

Fighter planes that transform into robots are badass, and Macross gives you no shortage of gratuitous space battles, but the human drama and memorable characters that the show conveys makes it stand out in the glut of 80's military-robot shows. In fact, the episodes that come after the series' planned conclusion before it was extended really shove all the fighting to the background and focus more on the bittersweet moments with the principal love triangle, so much so that it becomes a "soap opera for boys." But that's why I love it.

You can also tell that Kawamori and company were huge anime fans who had a passion for what they did, and it's fun to try and spot all the little nods and refernces to things like Gigantor, Astro Boy, or Lupin III, just to name a few. Plus, the entire show wears its Gundam influence on its sleeve, and while it can be as depressing as its genre predecessor at times, it's generally a bit more hopeful than Gundam (and less geared towards selling ridiculous-looking toys). It hasn't aged too terribly well, what with the crappy animation and the painfully obvious filler parts that came as a result of the series being extended beyond its original episode count, but even the arcs that came after Macross' planned conclusion remained true to the heart of the series, and the whole package remains an experience that I look fondly upon. As long as I never have to hear "My Boyfriend is a Pilot" again, else I'm gonna have to strangle somebody.

7.) Dexter's Laboratory

Of every short that graduated to its own series out of the "What a Cartoon!" stable of shorts, Dexter's Lab and The Powerpuff Girls probably had the biggest mass appeal. To be honest, I had a hard time getting into Courage the Cowardly Dog. Johnny Bravo was consistently entertaining, but its premise of a chauvanistic narcissist getting into trouble in the progressive 1990's quickly got shoved into the background in favor of random goofiness (not that that was necessarily a bad thing in this case). And Cow and Chicken... existed. I gave up on Dexter when it changed to boring flash animation, wrong-sounding voices, and unfunny storylines. The Powerpuff Girls came out smelling like roses in the end. It was good too (I skipped the theatrical movie), but I still kind of prefer Dexter.

While the premise itself is just the Tom and Jerry archetype of the straight man who just wants to be left alone dealing with the antics of the troublemaker, and the conceits of Dexter's titular lab are "anything we want, as long as it looks science-y," the show is one of the most off-the-wall and hilarious productions associated with Cartoon Network, standing out from the Hanna Barbera also-rans that made up much of their programming in the mid 90's. Some of my favorite shorts include "Game Over," "Chubby Cheese," "D & DD," "Lab of the Lost," "Ice Cream Scream," "The Muffin King," "Critical Gas," ... shit, I could sit here checking out the Wikipedia list of episodes and picking out my favorites all day, and it's filling me with the urge to rewatch all of them. Dexter also gave us some memorable genre parodies, such as "The Golden Diskette" (Willy Wonka), "Mock 5" (Speed Racer), the Action Hank character ("Breakfast is no longer being served, but you're about to get brunched! In the face!"), and the tokusatsu/kaiju parody "Last But Not Beast." The show also gave us The Justice Friends, as well as the less impressive Dial M for Monkey. And who can forget "Dexter and Computress Get Mandark"?

When I think about my favorite gags from Dexter's Lab, the abrupt, off-kilter endings that the shorts sometimes employed come to mind:

"You wanna go for a ride?" "Yeah, let's go for a ride!"

"Shut up and make me a sandwich."

"Dee Dee, I'm confused." "Good!"

6.) Macross Plus

I applaud Kawamori and Co.'s ability to tell a new story in a familiar universe that feels like it adds to the overall landscape of the Macross franchise, without banking too heavily on nostalgia callbacks or feeling like a lame gaiden with no bearing on anything. Nearly every aspect of Macross Plus is spot-on, with greater subtlety in the storytelling than its predecessor, greater care given to pacing and animation afforded by its OVA format, and the way it weaves the franchise's tradition of music being a major theme into the narrative without making it the usual alien-stopping plot device.

Plus came shortly after the non-Studio Nue-produced Macross II: Lovers Again OVA, which Kawamori quickly declared non-canon. The "true" follow-up to SDF Macross drops us in a few decades after the conclusion of the original, as the human race continues to colonize the galaxy and skirmish with rogue remnants of the Zentradi army. The story follows former friends Isamu Dyson and the half-Zentradi Guld Goa Bowman during their stint as test pilots in a competition to determine the successor of the old generation of Valkyrie transforming fighters. Tensions rise after they chance to encounter their old friend Myung Fang Lone, who currently works as producer for the AI songstress Sharon Apple.

Macross Plus' greatest narrative strengths lie in the subtlety it uses to portray many of its themes, particularly that of how emotions can have a destructive effect on the world around us, even when we try to suppress them. Also, while it doesn't harp on the history of the first series too much or become overly concerned with the universe beyond the events our main characters are a part of, it does present some aspects of the Macross universe that give us a bit of an idea of how things have been going since we last left Hikaru, Misa, and Minmay. Things like the xenophobia that the human race still harbors toward the Zentradi who defected at the conclusion of Space War I, or suggestions that humanity's colonization of the galaxy may not necessarily be as hopeful and benevolent as it was portrayed at the end of the original Macross (though presented in a less heavy-handed fashion than the early-2000's prequel series, Macross Zero).

It's unfortunate that the legal kerfuffle between Tatsunoko/Big West and Harmony Gold has stonewalled the rest of the Macross franchise from being released in North America, but it's lucky that Macross Plus managed to slip through the cracks. It's best appreciated after viewing the original series, but the overall high quality, fresh ideas for the franchise, and love that the creators put into it help it stand on its own merits. Despite a couple of clunkers (Lucy), the English dub still holds up reasonably well, featuring some recognizable talents from several famous 90's dubs such as Ghost in the Shell and Cowboy Bebop. Isamu is voiced by Bryan Cranston, by the way. The dad from Malcolm in the Middle and Walter White from Breaking Bad. Try whipping that one out at a party some time.

5.) Peace on Earth

This may be a bit of an obscure one. I'd only seen it once prior to the formulation of this list, and I had almost entirely forgotten about its existence. Peace on Earth is a one-off cartoon short produced by MGM in 1939. I saw it in syndication, more than likely on Cartoon Network, back when Cartoon Network still showed old classic cartoons and not just shows about Andrew W.K. yelling at kids to build a catapult out of a dishwasher or a blue chipmunk thing making fart noises with its mouth for ten minutes straight.

Thanks to the internet, I finally got the chance to watch it again, and you can see it here. Go ahead, it's just a little under nine minutes.

Peace on Earth is set in a world where human beings no longer exist, and the remains of our civilization is populated by cute furry little forest critters. The short takes place during Christmas time, where a jolly old squirrel with an Irish accent tells his two grandchildren the story of how mankind destroyed itself. The meat of the short is a flashback of a World War I-stylized conflict with rotoscoped animation.

I'm not too keen on Peace on Earth's Christian overtones and happy-dappy Bambi motif for the post-apocalypse scenes (not to mention a couple of dumb jokes and complete disruption of your suspension of disbelief if you think about the scenario too hard, even for a talking animal cartoon), but the images of destruction it presents are striking. Colors in the flashbacks are, for the most part, non-existant, and the oppressive, suffocating atmosphere of the conflict should be ranked up there with some of the best artistic depictions of World War I from art and literature. The rotoscoping gives a surreal quality to the gas masked soldiers' and tanks' movements, almost as if it's simultaneously familiar and alien to see purposely dehumanized figures animated so naturally. I can only imagine that, back then, the effect was tantamount to what we today call the "uncanny valley." Even if you're one of those people who hate rotoscoping, and if you've seen Ralph Bakshi's The Lord of the Rings, I can't blame you, Peace on Earth is a good example of it done right. Suck it, The Wall.

Even though this was produced at a time when the popular attitude in the United States was a hands-off approach to world affairs, you've got to admire the big brass nuts on this short for not only condemning war outright, but killing off the entire human race in the process. The concept of global annihilation must not have been on the forefront of the public consciousness during the Depression in the same way it was after the development of the atom bomb. At the very least, Peace on Earth is an interesting contrast to the racial caricature-filled pro-war bond rally cartoons that would come a few years later.

4.) Last Exile

Oh ho, another airplane show, right?

Last Exile is a show about two childhood friends and partners, Claus and Lavie, who take on work as high-flying couriers (and the occassional air race) in their vanship. Through a series of bizarre coincidences, they get involved with a pirate captain skirting a conflict between two superpowers, overseen by the mysterious Guild. The political intrigue of the show's world is reminiscient of Frank Herbert's Dune novels, but with copious helpings of steampunk, shounen whimsy, and 1930's movie serial derring-do. But enough about why I think it's a sterling example of Japanese animation, here's my good friend and confidant Flavor Flav to share his thoughts on Last Exile.

YEAAAAAAAAAH BOYEEEEEEEEEE! It's Flavor Flav! There's this show Last Exile, it's got ya boy Claus. Yo, Claus is a straight up playa, he's got the tight hook-ups with all the hot bitches! There's this girl Lavie, he's all like, make me a sandwich and fix my plane ma! Then he gets lost in the desert with this other girly girl, they like, can't radio for help or nothing because 9-1-1 is a joke, ya dig? So she starts to nut up and he's all, bitch be cool! Then they get rescued and she's all wearin' his t-shirt and shit, and his other bitch gets jealous! Damn girl, let a playa play! Then his boy Dio comes at him all fruity-like, I think he's on the down-low or somethin'. Dio? Down-low? You get it? But Claus is all, no homo, G. He ain't hearin' none of that! He just goes up to that librarian chick and is all, bitch put your titties in my face! Believe dat!

Yes, well. Thank you, Flav.

3.) Moblile Suit Gundam 0080: War in the Pocket

In this anime, David Hayter voices a soldier on a mission to infiltrate enemy territory and destroy a top secret mech, and his love interest is a hot redhead. This is a really good formula, I wonder why it never made a comeback.

War in the Pocket has the distinction of being not only the first One Year War sidestory OVA in the Universal Century timeline, but the first Gundam OVA period. If you were confused by that last sentence, just stare at this shot of Chris' bum for a couple of seconds.

Still with me? Rather than focusing on psychics zipping around in space and exploding in overly melodramatic death scenes, War in the Pocket is about Al, an elementary school kid on a neutral space colony with no real concept of the war other than thinking mobile suits are cool. He accidentally befriends Bernie, a Zeon pilot whose team is trying to destroy the experimental RX-78 NT-1 Gundam "Alex." At first, Al treats the scenario like a game, playing hooky just to get a glimpse of the evil nasty Zeon spies in action and even helping them locate the Earth Federation's secret lab. It's a pretty realistic portrayal of a kid who's smart for his age, bored with peaceful school life, and has few scruples against exploiting adults' trust to get what he wants. A big step up from how kids were used mainly as comic relief or convenient targets for getting into danger in the early Gundam series. But even though Al and Bernie form something of a brotherly relationship, the young boy soon gets a rude awakening to the realities of warfare.

One of the reasons I like this series so much, and admire Bernie's character, is because it's about failure. Bernie isn't the most skilled or courageous soldier, in fact he's quite the opposite. When facing impossible odds, he does what most human beings do and folds under the pressure. Yet he somehow manages to get back up and continue a losing battle, rather than sit back and allow certain death to come to some people he barely knows, people who wouldn't even realize what he's sacrificing for them. He puts his failures and fears aside, despite going up against a more skilled opponent in a superior machine, and formulates a plan that almost makes it look like he has a fighting chance. War in the Pocket is the closest thing to an anime version of The Red Badge of Courage that I can think of, albeit in space, with giant robots and schoolboys in short shorts.

2.) Trigun

I came because I was 17 and I liked big guns and outlandish costumes (I really ought to think of a better way to word that). I stayed because it's a really freaking good anime series. Out of the exactly five people who are reading this list, exactly zero probably haven't seen Trigun. Maybe. Don't quote me on that. It's cliche to list this as your favorite anime ever at this point, right up there with Evangelion and maybe FLCL, but what the hell, I just have too many fond memories attached to this one. Along with Evangelion, this was the first series I collected front to back in individual volumes on DVD. I had a T-shirt, the Todd MacFarlane figure, a Japanese import figure, and some capsule toys that my brother brought back from when he went to Japan. Had I been in closer physical proximity to a con and hadn't randomly decided to cut my hair short toward the end of high school, I probably would have tried to cosplay as Vash at some point.

Just a simple story of futuristic outlaws on a desert planet. A lone gunman who, rather than being a killing machine whose morals get the best of him at some point in the story (usually to his downfall), is a pacifist who must deal with the collateral damage of not only his unwillingness to kill, but his own latent destructive nature. And while there isn't really a succint answer to this type of moral quandary, it's a damn sight better than the answer to "Why doesn't Batman just kill the Joker?"

Here's a hint. It's because money.

Well, I've shown you the animated media that has shaped the person I am today. It's been a diverse range of styles, formats, genres, cultural influences, and time periods. But one cartoon shines as the pinnacle of animation by which all others are judged. One that is timeless in its endearing characters, social satire, heartfelt tragedy, and enduring vision of the human spirit. A cartoon about one man's inferiority complex in personal relationships, his friend's struggle with his own excesses, a pastoral analogue for communism, and a sad clown who tragically made no one laugh. I am, of course, talking about...

1.) Garfield and Friends

You! You're not Beepner! You're one of the Kung Fu Creatures on the Rampage! Two!

Bye everybody.

SMPS Discord | Twitter | Submissions and Contact | GB | Store | i | c | v3
Contributor Central
© 2005-2023 smps/*-|):D