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Catching up with the Storm Hawks

Oct 8, 2009

I don't know why I like this show; for all its faults, I just do.

At a very basic level, Storm Hawks is about a group of kids who strap on some flashy "not-for-children-under-three" weaponry and take off on some "oh-so-marketable" flying motorcycles to do battle with evil. And honestly, when viewed with a critical eye, no rational adult would deny the series was created to sell toys first, and entertain kids second.

The producer of the series, Nerd Corps Entertainment (NCE), had a previous go at the instantly-merchandisable genre with Dragon Booster. Dragon Booster was a similar show about kids with weapons fighting evil, only riding dragons instead of flying motorcycles. Even the animation style, cel-shaded CGI, was the same. When it comes to cartoons, I like to try new things, so I gave each series a chance to catch my interest.

Dragon Booster? I'm a pretty big fan of dragons, as you might have guessed from the name of this website. My favourite fantasy book series' are about dragons, and I even have a little stuffed dragon sitting on top of my monitor. Despite this, Dragon Booster fell flat with me. Sure it was exciting, but something was missing that would have given that world a sense of the real. At the time I couldn't put my finger on it, but even three or four episodes wasn't enough to get me interested in watching the whole series.

Despite my feelings, the series did well with kids and lasted for three seasons which, for a kids cartoon is practically an eternity. Kids that started watching the series at age seven would have been ten when it ended, and I know from my own childhood that between those ages, my preferences for visual enjoyment must have changed about three times per day.

With the cancellation of Dragon Booster, NCE needed a fresh idea to keep their animation studio alive. That fresh idea came from Asaph Fipke, co-founder of NCE, who decided to keep doing the same thing they'd always been doing, but swap the dragons for flying motorcycles. Genius, I tell you.

So they prepped the show with a new world and a new cast of characters, and put Storm Hawks into production. Then something happened, almost by accident... Whether through hiring new writers or storyboarders, the characters actually became engaging. Now don't get me wrong: it's still just a kids show, and compared to something as grand as Avatar: The Last Airbender, Storm Hawks is pretty much juvenile slapstick interspersed with occasional calamity, and a handful of deus ex machina resolutions thrown in for good measure.

Nevertheless, Storm Hawks managed to capture a small part of that magic which eluded Dragon Booster for three seasons. I wanted to know more about these characters from the very first episodes. They didn't always agree and a lot of times they messed up or encountered a situation which they had no clue how to handle. Their only goal was to measure up to the reputation of their heroic predecessors from whom they adopted the Storm Hawks name.

It's hard to explain exactly what makes Storm Hawks more compelling than Dragon Booster; it's more to do with a collection of small things, I would imagine. For example, beginning in season two, NCE began taking lessons from Airbender, and larger story arcs began emerging. In addition to that, an episode or two didn't contain the Storm Hawks characters at all, instead focusing on the foibles of their enemies.

Most importantly, I would say, is that the characters learn things about themselves over the course of the show. By the time we arrive at the season two finale, these aren't the same characters we knew two years ago; a necessity which is so often mishandled by studios who value single episode viewability over series-long engagement. Piper learns that her "binding" ability is killing her, but she decides to fear losing the war to Cyclonia more. Junko learns that his true strength comes from himself, not his magical equipment, and later on learns that kinship with his own kind is not enough to convince him that what they are doing is right.

In any case, what brought me to writing this entry was the two episode finale of season two. I won't give anything away, but it was such a delightful culmination of everything that had come before, I really found myself hoping they renew for at least another season. The only issue is, so much will be different in season three (you'll understand if you watch the finale) that it might be difficult to pitch a follow-up to executives who value a stable, reusable story which they can bank on. Definitely they would at least need to rewrite the opening credits narration, a lot of which no longer applies - yes, that much has changed.

That's why I've been thinking, because so much has changed, this might be the end of the Storm Hawks. I really hope I'm wrong though. I don't feel this way too often about a television series. Give it a watch if you get the chance.

And if you're into kid stuff like that ;)

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