Writing a lot of reviews for anime titles means I usually come across stuff that isn’t likely to air on mainstream UK TV. This of course can also hold true outside of anime releases but perhaps even worse is when a show has been picked up but is lesser known.
The Aquabats! Super Show! is a Hub produced spin off project of the Aquabats, a comedy band who style themselves as a team of superheroes. The various incarnations of the band have apparently been trying to convince a network to pick them up for a number of years with Super Show! finally getting lucky. The show airs here on the CITV channel but so lacking is ITVs support of children’s entertainment that it’s no surprise this one slipped under the radar.
The 2-disc set collects the first 13 episode season with each episode following a general formula. The Aquabats (MC Bat Commander, Crash McLarson, Ricky Fitness, EagleBones Falconhawk and Jimmy the Robot) tour America in their TARDIS-like Battletram camper, encountering surreal and rubber costumed threats in every episode. This basic formula in turn usually puts mild spotlight on a specific team member every episode with a loose moral to be found. For instance, episodes focusing on the Commander will highlight his impulsive and selfish nature, while Crash is shown to be sweet-hearted yet dim. Exploring the various cons of the personalities could lead to some heavy handed morals but thankfully they’re usually used simply to create a conflict for a given episode, though facets do appear in episodes where a character isn’t in the central role. The team is dysfunctional enough to be amusing rather than mean-spirited.
I think one of the problems that live action kids shows have in comparison to cartoons is that wacky ideas don’t usually translate well into live action due to poor acting or effects. Clearly the creators of this show felt the same, as both are of a high standard. Our central quintet strike just the right balance as an anchor point, with their figure hugging costumes lampshading that this isn’t something to take too seriously. All of them are capable while willing to poke fun at themselves: a trait that is shared by the various guest stars across the season as well. Making people look silly on camera is easy. Looking silly on camera and retaining a presence and choreography is a talent.
The effects seem to owe a great deal to 1960s-1980s Japanese tokusatsu shows with the various monsters boasting elaborate and effective costumes often juxtaposed in terms of scariness by appearing in benign locations such as highway roadsides or a golf course. In fact the show seems quite willing to edge into scary from time to time to a degree that reminds me of Flapjack creator Thurop Van Orman’s view that sometimes the greatest laughs are preceded by a scare. It’s nothing too heavy but this one is probably best skipped by very young children who aren’t ready to make that divide.
The ‘plots’ of each episode are broken up by fake commercials for outrageous products and two different cartoons: one presenting a continuing 60s anime/Hanna-Barbera inspired serial about the Aquabats in space and the other quick skits starring the mascot in the team’s logo. The serial is a nice diversion and reward for watching the entire show, with a running gag that each installment pops up in an improbable place in each episode. Beyond this, continuity is basically absent; although each villain vows to return this appears to be part of the parody or wishful thinking for more seasons. It’s kind of a shame since some of the villains are clearly a case of the actor having a ball, such as Doug Lawrence’s Plankton-esque Manant and series writer/director Matt Chapman as a con artist voiced and styled after his popular StrongBad creation.
Given the Aquabats musical roots it shouldn’t be a surprise that songs are performed but these are short, rare and most importantly catchy, saving the show from feeling too close to certain pre-school shows with a musical avenue. When songs do appear there’s every impression they’re placed to be funny rather than push the band’s back catalogue.
Despite being a DVD release the show has great audio and video, unlike some DVD releases that seem to falter in the face of Blu-ray. 8 episodes can be found on disc one with the remaining 5 on disc 2. No extras are present though you can select individual episodes and an optional subtitle track.
I wasn’t really sure what to expect from The Aquabats! Super Show!, initially assuming it to be some Adult Swim comedy mash-up. What I got was something multi-tiered, trying to appeal to various age groups without a painfully obvious shifting of gears. This doesn’t feel like something made by focus groups or tick boxes but by talented people with a knack for comedy and a loving inspiration from pop culture. Don’t let this one rot away on digital TV, it really needs to be seen to be believed.
The Aquabats! Super Show! Season One (UK Edition) is available on DVD from Amazon.co.uk