Generator Rex

As I mentioned in the Sym-Bionic Titan thread, I missed on this new show because I don’t have Cable anymore, and apparently thinks Puerto Rico is a foreign country (rather than a US territory) and won’t let me watch stuff in its website (I don’t have that problem in other sites, humph.) I could have downloaded the series from places like Rapidshare, but I had no motivation to do so- as far as I knew it was just an average American adventure cartoon; the fact it was made by the Man of Action studios (same people who made Ben 10) didn’t help. Now don’t get me wrong, Ben 10 is pretty good, but I grew tired of it over the years, mostly because the show turned a bit too “emo” on later seasons.

So it wasn’t until this weekend that I decided to check “Generator Rex”. I’ve only seen one episode, but I liked it enough to go read more about it online, and I admit I’m impressed.

For those unfamiliar with the show, the premise is this: sometime in the near future, an accident (?) with some experiment involving nanites (you know, microscopic robots) infects every living thing on Earth with the things. In most, they are latent, so there are no effects… but in others, including some humans, it transforms them into superpowered monsters. The hero, Rex, is exceptional because he can absorb nanobots from others, causing them to revert to normal; in turn, he can use the nanites to transform parts of his body into various weapons and machines. An organization called “Providence” recruits the boy (who has amnesia) to be used against the monsters, known as “Evos”.

This is a surprisingly original setting. In effect, the human race is already one step away from being doomed, since all it takes is for something to activate all the nanites for the world to become a monster-infested hell. The part about Rex having amnesia is a bit chiched, except it turns out that his amnesia is NOT caused by his nanites- it’s a condition he already had, possibly due to brain damage.

In the episode I saw, “The Plague” an Evo creates a virus that causes the entire human race to fall asleep (except Rex and White Knight, the leader of Providence who is also the only uninfected person on Earth.) Knight wants to kill the person responsible (since Rex can’t seem to cure him) thinking this will awake people before they die of hunger. Rex however insists in trying to save the guy as well, which leads him to exchange blows with Knight (who is wearing an airtight power armor). Rex succeeds in the end, not that Knight cared much (he’s willing to kill even Rex himself to save humanity.)

This was a very effective episode; we see how dire the situation of the human race can get; and how committed the characters are to their goals. To be honest, if I’d been in White Knight’s position, I’d be sorely pressed not to do the same thing- though I would have had a little more faith in Rex. (Then again, I KNOW he will succeed because he’s the hero in this kind of cartoon.)

Missing from this episode were several other characters, like a Men-In-Black type “handle” from Providence who interacts frequently with Rex, and the show’s regular villains, which include the nanite-eating equivalent of Dracula, and an Emo Evo girl who has a thing for Rex. I look forth to seeing them in action.

Right now, I’m ambivalent; the series sounds fun, with Rex reminding me a lot of the current Blue Beetle (he’s even a teenage Latino!) but the show is more serious than anything else on Cartoon Network right now- could some of the regular characters even die for real? We’ll see; I intend to catch up on all the episodes I’ve missed- something like 20 episodes, I think!- and then post a more definitive opinion.

OK, I’m now all caught-up with the show, so here I am to give a more informed opinion.

I’m happy to report that the show IS good, better written that I had expected it to be in fact.

Of course, by Anime standards it might be considered an average shonen action/adventure, but American cartoons rarely get to be very deep or original. Even Avatar: The Last Airbender had to disguise itself as a typical kid’s show (with teenage stars, cute pets etc.) in order to slip in its remarkable Fantasy Novel-type story. Gen Rex does a similar thing: teen hero, rock theme, monkey sidekick, etc. all things that scream “for kids!” but the story itself is serious, even grim, and can even be disturbing in spots. It’s more “all ages” than “kids-friendly”.

Which is not to say that it doesn’t have a formula. You know that in every episode, some hideous monster is going to show up (and boy are they creepy- though some kids like them that way) and that by the end the situation will be resolved. This is more due however to the series trying to be episodic in nature (rather than having an overarching plot, like A:TLA) but it still has some subplots that get resolved episodes later. From what I understand, only 20 episodes have been approved so far, so the producers might feel that it has to be more “condensed” that shows like ATLA, which was always planned as a three-year long series.

But what makes the show stand out for me is how well they explore the angles of the basic premise. They just keep coming up with new takes on the situation: how the public feels about the EVOS and Providence, whether the intelligent EVOS should have rights, if they should destroy the nanites or try to communicate with them, etc. The show may not have an “arc” but the question of if, and how, the crisis will be solved is addressed constantly.

Even better is the characterization. Actually, the characters aren’t too deep nor do they change much over the course of the show, but they are given plenty of character-defining moments and those are handled well; it’s amazing how the right nuances and pacing can make even a familiar kind of scene feel enjoyable. In particular, I liked the revelation that Agent Six, who looks like (and is) an utterly by-the-rules kinda guy, can and will break them when they defy morality. Six and Doctor Holiday are definitely my favorite characters in the show so far.

On the other hand, there have been some really annoying parts. I can hardly stand Bobo, the talking chimp. Yeah, I get he’s there for the humor, but sometimes he’s just too dumb and annoying (he once almost pressed The Button in the Kremlin??) and despite his loyalty to Rex, he once sold him out for a pizza. What? Also, at least one episode was so “out there” (the one with the accident-prone Prom Date) that it was almost as if it had been transplanted in from a sillier cartoon.

Also, the show IS emo. Rex might joke most of the time but he can really angst on occasion. So does his love-interest-in-the-enemy-side Circe, who doesn’t even seem to have a good reason to not defect to the good guys (yet.) But at least here the angst is more justified than in MoA’s other show, Ben 10; not to mention that the characters started that way here, instead of turning that way over time. They can only improve over time (I hope.)

The action scenes are pretty good too, as is the animation and the music. Overall, this is a very enjoyable show that does make one want to follow it, in particular if you prefer done-in-one stories over plotlines than run for months or years. I hope Generator Rex gets picked for a second season so they can explore the characters and story even further.