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There are bad cartoons. There are passable ones. There are ones that are pretty good. And then there’s that rare cartoon that satisfies you like a good book. The kind of cartoon that makes you recline in your easy chair, take a deep breath and think, “Wow. That was incredible.”
ReBoot is one of those thingies.
You would hardly guess that, though, from the first few episodes. The plots are weak, the villains are easily defeated and Enzo just doesn’t shut up. It gets better. Then it gets a LOT better, and then it turns into one of the best animated series ever made. But it starts out rough.
The producers themselves admit in the commentaries that when they started out they were much more focused on figuring out just how to create a 23-minute computer-generated TV series on a weekly schedule than coming up with decent stories to tell with the technology. For the first season a handful of scriptwriters with long histories in the animation field wrote neat and tidy, nonthreatening children’s stories, and that’s what they animated. The Canadian creators weren’t satisfied with the output, but they were hogtied by the Standards and Practices Division of ABC, which was overlording the series from America. Guns had to inexplicably shoot inflated rafts, and for reasons too inane to list here, they were forbidden to use the word “hockey.”
But it was still interesting. As a kid I was endlessly entertained just by an image that wasn’t really there, yet looked exactly like it was. You have to realize, CGI wasn’t nearly as onmipresent in 1994 as it is now. Animation was a 2D thing, created only by pencil and paper. Pixar was mostly known for mouthwash commercials and a 2-minute short about a lamp. A solid half-hour of computer effects felt really special. Mainframe Entertainment certainly milked this, packing the show with dizzying, sweeping camera pans and vertigo-inducing shots that weren’t possible in any other show, live-action or otherwise. For the first year, ReBoot was running purely on the wow factor of its animation. For me, this lasted until my cousin yanked me by the ears and forced me to start watching The Tick or else.
Again….if you don’t remember 1994 (I hate you, whoever you are) then you may not understand this, or see the appeal in graphics that can be rendered in real-time on a Playstation 2. Hopefully, you’ll see Season 1 for what it is and what they were able to accomplish back then.
Season 2 is a different story. The showrunners got their growing pains over with and started pushing the concept and the characters into edgier directions. The plots started engrossing me more than the animation did. Megabyte became a serious and deadly threat — I was on edge throughout “Infected” because it really seemed like he could kill everyone. The game cubes started being used for clever parodies like “Bad Bob,” which involved the cast trapped inside a Mad Max-like apocalyptic punk racing game. “Painted Windows,” a wildly imaginative episode where Hexadecimal MS-Paints Mainframe into chaos, is almost worth the price of the whole set. And I’ll never forget watching those final four ABC episodes, where they knew they were about to be screwed by the network and just went for broke. ABC wound up cutting many shots from “World Web Wars,” but an entire airborne war on Saturday Morning with mass casualties still took my breath away, especially the shocker of an ending. (Also….due to delays ABC withheld the incredibly goofy “Talent Night” for Season 2, making me appreciate it more than most people do. It was a welcome change in pace from how serious things were getting.)
For years, I thought the series ended there. Season 3 was made exclusively for Canada, and showed up on Cartoon Network’s Toonami eventually, but I wouldn’t know of its existence until my family first got an Internet connection. I was already a fan based solely on Season 2, but Season 3 topped it in every way. This was one of the most flawless seasons of anything I had ever seen. The ending to “Game Over” is one of the most well-directed gut-punchers I’ve seen in any cartoon, topped by the most perfect “Nooooooo!” ever delivered (if you think it’s impossible for a “Nooooo” to sound believable, you haven’t heard Dot’s yet). And when it all ended, it ended BIG, with every game enemy in the series coming back for seconds and the show’s name taking on a whole new significance. Plus Gilbert and Sullivan!
But wait — there are eight more episodes! Based solely on the strength of Season 3, YTV ordered a fourth season years later in 2001. They aired in Canada as two TV movies, and on Cartoon Network as eight half-hours. Rainmaker (what Mainframe is called now) sent Shout Factory the episodic versions. Some have griped about this, but I’m not among them. The movie versions are already on DVD, and the story plays better with the pauses it was written to have. Add to this, they’re in widescreen. To my knowledge this is the first time the episodic version of Season 4 has ever been seen in 16:9.
Season 4 is….fine, but in my opinion, not up to the standards of Season 3. New villain Daemon is rather boring, as no one can really fight her…she’s so powerful that she just stomps her foot and hypnotizes every single person that challenges her. After she’s dispatched, we get “My Two Bobs,” a soap opera where another Bob shows up and Dot has to decide which of the versions to marry. This nonsense is leading to the return of Megabyte, but right when he appears and really has the gang on the ropes….the entire series ends. Mainframe was gambling that YTV would order the back five episodes to complete the season. They did not. And now that there’s no Tony Jay, this cliffhanger will never be resolved. Instead, they’re starting over. Rainmaker is very slowly working on a ReBoot reboot, apparently handled by this guy.
On the plus side, though…Season 4 gave the show an opportunity to parody Pokemon and Dragon Ball Z, in one of their most priceless game sequences.
Buying the complete series boxset gets you a bonus disc of extras…although not enough to fill an entire disc. The moment Shout Factory announced this set, fans were able to post in a special thread on the Shout website forums and mention every single piece of pre-existing ReBoot footage they knew of…the “making-of” special that never aired, the 1990 pilot, the 1992 pilot, the 1993 test footage, the video game cutscenes, and both amusement park rides. The making-of is on the disc (and in pristine quality, much better than any YouTube version). But the ’92 pilot is not there, and neither is the 1993 footage. Instead, there’s some completely different footage from that period no one had seen before. Which is cool, but still.
Also missing is “The Trias Effect,” some quick bridging footage Mainframe created when they were hit with production delays. ABC temporarily replaced the show with Superhuman Samurai Syber Squad and ran thirty-second serials with Bob before them. This also involved an alternate ending for “The Medusa Bug.” Someone on the Shout forum said they had a videotape of “The Trias Effect” and the DVD producer asked for a copy, so they at least tried to get this.
ReBoot has been mired in legal complications for quite some time — originally, the home video rights to the different seasons were owned by separate companies. It’s been a long wait, and the overall final product could be better, but this is a series every animation fan needs to have in their library. No matter how much better current CGI advances, ReBoot has it where it really counts — the writing — and will never fail to entertain.
ReBoot: The Definitive Mainframe Edition is available at retail June 28, free for $ Ninety-Nine Ninety-Nine Ninety-Nine.