The GeeksverseGI Joe: Renegades episode 4 (“The Return of the Arashikage, Part 1″) review

GI Joe: Renegades episode 4 (“The Return of the Arashikage, Part 1″) review
Published on Monday, December 13, 2010 by

Like many long-time GI Joe fans, I looked forward to the GI Joe: Renegades version of Snake-Eyes’ origin with a mix of anticipation and trepidation. Boasting an understated but effective basic design (the most key element, I think, to the character’s overwhelming popularity among old and new GI Joe fans), Snake-Eyes is the definitive exemplar of the 1980s GI Joe in the eyes of many. While most of the first wave of GI Joe characters produced as toys and debuting in the Marvel comic book in 1982 owed a significant measure of their design aesthetic to the original 1964 GI Joe toy, the clad-in-all-black Snake-Eyes represented something new and different.

Pictured: proof that everybody was on cocaine during the 1980s

The character, in both the comics and subsequent toy incarnations, would incorporate some of the biggest popular entertainment crazes of the 1980s. By 1985, he was no longer just a mysterious Uzi-toting commando who never spoke and hid his disfigured visage under a mask, he was also a ninja, and he was accompanied by a wolf that, depending on the source, he either raised himself or allied itself with him after releasing it from a trap. And not only was he a ninja, he was a breakdancing ninja. He would be revealed in the comics to be the estranged adopted brother of the villainous ninja Storm-Shadow (a character feature that would work its way into later cartoons and toy versions). As ridiculous as all that sounds, it served to make him more popular.

Strategically placed foot allows the show to keep its TV-Y7 rating

Subsequent versions of the character have retained those elements (sans the breakdancing, and in some incarnations, the wolf). He remains one of the most popular GI Joe characters to this day among fans who grew up during the 1980s, and if my nine and ten year old cousins’ preferences are to be a trusted barometer, he’s also quite popular with the next generation of GI Joe fans. So how would GIJ:Rs‘ writers handle the task of paring down the character’s tangled, occasionally confusing, sometimes impenetrable history in a form more suitable for a 22-minute weekly show aimed at younger viewers?

Duke takes a break from getting his ass kicked

Well, as it turns out, they’re going to need two episodes to do it. Episode 4 is part one of a story entitled “The Return of the Arashikage.” Arashikage, for the uninitiated, is a portmanteau of the Japanese words for storm (arashi) and shadow (kagé) and is the name of the ninja clan that adopted Snake-Eyes. I won’t focus too much on issues of pacing and storytelling with this episode. As the first part of a two-parter, it goes without saying that it is filled with exposition throughout and ends on the inevitable cliffhanger. The episode introduces the GIJ:Rs version of Jinx (naturally, also a ninja), and it is through her flashbacks that we get most of the exposition out of the way. Here, Jinx is the spunky, outspoken, precocious teen/pre-teen type that must be really popular with viewers out there because writers keep pumping them out. As for me, I can take it or leave it. I did find the hint of a brewing Elektra complex in Jinx’s attachment to Snake-Eyes amusing though, if nothing else.

Just how old are Snake-Eyes, Storm-Shadow, and Jinx supposed to be? It looks like they lived in feudal Japan

As for Snake-Eyes’ backstory itself, it keeps the most salient nuggets of the character’s ninja history for the most part, with an interesting twist. In the 1980s comic book, Snake-Eyes was adopted by the Arashikage clan, rising up in its ranks and becoming the favored candidate to take over the clan’s leadership over senior student Storm-Shadow. The clan’s patriarch is murdered, with all signs pointing to Storm-Shadow as the culprit. Storm-Shadow flees, seemingly confirming his guilt, and the Arashikage clan collapses without a leader. In GIJ:Rs, it is Snake-Eyes who becomes the primary suspect for the death of the Arashikage clan head, and it is he who flees. Instead of falling into disarray, the Arashikage clan is taken over by Storm-Shadow. I don’t mind the changes, and I suspect most long-time fans won’t even notice the role reversal between the characters since the original story revealing Snake-Eyes’ and Storm-Shadow’s shared past came out over a quarter of a century ago.

What’s wrong with this picture? In Japan, the kimono is worn with the left side over the right. It is worn with right side over left only when dressing corpses for burial.

On the technical side of things, I did find the animation to be choppier and stiffer than for the previous three episodes. A troubling sign, since my experience with many episodic cartoons is that once the technical quality of the animation dips, it rarely goes back up to previous levels, indicative of budgets getting smaller and animation teams tiring as the season progresses. This could have just been an artifact of the re-mastering process, though (I caught this episode on YouTube), but I won’t know for sure until they start airing the show here in Canada (early next year, I hear). YouTube video or not however, I do think that there was a subtle but noticeable decline in various technical elements of the show that have nothing to do with tweening and frame rates. Figures’ internal proportions were inconsistent from that of the prior episodes (and from scene to scene within the same episode). The overall direction could have been better, I think. If there’s one 1980s directorial stand-by that I’m not eager to see return, it’s the training montage and the montage used in this episode didn’t change my mind.

I’m on the fence about the designs for the new characters. The GIJ:Rs version of Jinx seems to be based more on the Sigma 6 version of the character than the 1987 toy in terms of visuals. I’ve always considered the former to be one of the weaker designs in the character’s history, more pan-Asian fetish model than kunoichi. And not trying to be nitpicky (at least not too much), but the GIJ:Rs take on Jinx seems to be wearing an immodestly cut version of the Chinese qípáo under her cloak (see the picture to the right), and not a Japanese kimono. I probably am just nit-picking, but I guess I’ve been spoiled by Avatar: The Last Airbender‘s commitment to researching traditional Asian costumes and not simply conflating everything into a visually generic chop suey that is neither authentic nor very interesting to look at.

I’m not sure what to make of the design for Storm-Shadow, either. It, along with the design for Jinx, seems at odds with the rest of the show’s sleek and streamlined look. The loose-fitting cowl chosen by the character designers for Storm-Shadow probably seemed like a good idea on paper (and by itself, I thought it looked good in certain scenes, all things considered), but didn’t really work for me when paired with the tight-fitting undershirt, with its long sleeves and whose collar extends all the way up, disappearing into the cowl. From the waist up, he looks like a mummy whose wrappings have begun unraveling at the head and the biceps. Remember when I wrote in the review of the premiere that the silhouettes and the clutter-free designs for the core cast lent themselves well to animation? Jinx’s and Storm-Shadow’s designs are just about the polar opposite of that.

I suppose it seems like I’m dwelling on the negatives of the show’s technical aspects with this review, but with not much story this week (this being the first of a two-parter), well, I couldn’t really focus on much of anything else.

The Verdict: No verdict this week, boys and girls, I’ll wait for the two-parter’s conclusion next week before putting down my final thoughts on this extended episode. It’s not looking too promising right now, but a return to form may not be out of the question just yet (although that probably doesn’t apply to the questionable character design choices that were made for Jinx and Storm-Shadow).

Stray Notes and Comments:

  • It’s hilarious to me that all of this trouble with Storm-Shadow could have been avoided if Snake-Eyes didn’t have the super-secret Arashikage trigram emblazoned on his shoulders. The only reason Storm-Shadow even found out that he was alive and that Jinx lied about his demise was because he saw Snake-Eyes’ (masked) picture on the internet, with those distinctive red I Ching symbols for all to see. I’ve always thought that Snake-Eyes publicly displaying the Arashikage tattoo on his person made no sense (and neither does Snake-Eyes’ creator Larry Hama, as he says in this hilarious Handsome Genius Club audio interview).
  • In one scene, Jinx suddenly switches from speaking perfect English to gairaigo, pronouncing “princess” as “pu-rin-se-su” (in a very atypical sing-song fashion that didn’t sound even remotely Japanese) and then clarifying the word by pronouncing it again in non-accented English. I found it artificial-sounding and distracting, in that I don’t know why a person who speaks perfectly enunciated English, talking to English speakers, would suddenly use a foreign language transphoneticization of an English word in mid-conversation.
  • I still like the motivation for Storm-Shadow here better than the one they used in the recent GI Joe: Resolute, though. Storm-Shadow’s origin in this show holds the potential for a more nuanced portrayal down the line, whereas Resolute‘s version of the character was one-dimensional and grating.
  • Much like the previous episode, Tunnel Rat gets the lion’s share of the best/funniest lines. He’s quickly growing to be my favorite character on the show.
  • Duke has been playing the wet blanket the past three episodes, but he actually got to display a sense of humor this week. I thought it worked well, and I hope to see more of these kinds of interactions in future episodes, although I think he still works best primarily as the straight man that other characters (like Tunnel Rat) play off of.
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