Sunday, 19 February 2012

Review: Detentionaire

Detentionaire is an intriguing animated TV series from Nelvana and airing on Teletoon in Canada.

Nelvana is the animation house that produced one of the funniest and most outrageous animated school series in recent memory, Clone High. They also produced another not-so-funny, uninspiring school series, 6Teen. So when I learned about Detentionaire, I approached it with caution. It could be a really good series, or a complete disaster.

I just loved Clone High!
Didn't care too much for 6Teen...
Lee Ping spends a year of detention for an elaborate prank that he didn't commit, and must prove his innocence by following a string of clues while hiding from the half-cyborg Principal Barrage. So I didn't really care too much for that premise at the beginning. I was also initially put off by the tiring stereotypes, lame puns (Lee Ping = leaping?) and out-of-place sci-fi robots. Could this weird show really carry on this story over two seasons? And what's with the name... is detentionaire even a real word?

Detentionaire can be somewhat hard to get into at first, because the world that is set up is not too believable. The setting looks reminiscent of Toronto, but the believability is thrown off by alien monster janitors, half-cyborgs and some strange creepy worm mascot crawling around the school. I was not too wild about the old "jocks, nerds and cheerleaders" stereotypes that abound, and those token, secondary ethnic characters that always appear in high school shows such as this.

Also, I initially thought the character design was somewhat mildly interesting, but still looked like a cross between 6Teen and student work. And if any of you like to pay attention to animation quality, it is quite lacking here as well. I think they use Toon Boom, but those walk cycles are just terrible, and their movements still have the so-called "flashy" look about them.

Despite all this, I continued to give this series a chance to prove itself. So far, I have watched the first five episodes. I didn't even think I would watch the show this far, and expected that I would drop off out of disinterest.

Lee Ping
But let me tell you, I am really liking Detentionaire so far! I'm looking forward to watching the next episode, and the one after! Now why do I like this show...

I think it really boils down to the whole mystery format. which keeps me guessing who framed Lee Ping and why. "Well, what happens next? Why did that happen? What is that clue supposed to mean? How does it all fit together?"  The sequential storytelling format, while very common in Japan, is not that common in Western cartoons, and this makes Detentionaire even more interesting to watch.

After getting through episode three, I finally was able to step into this bizarre world and go with whatever is happening. I no longer questioned why Biffy the bully is even helping Lee, or what that worm creature is doing in the school. Probably because there is an expectation that this will be explained later. The story does get even more weird by episode five. I just wonder where we will end up by the 41st episode!

Most surprisingly for me, the characters do become relatable at some point, and not the boring, flat stereotypes they first appeared to be. Lee, despite being a whitewashed Asian with a typical Chinese mom, is generic enough of a character that any viewer could be in his shoes. There is a romantic dynamic between Lee and the school reporter Tina, and the blonde Brandy, who has an interesting fake relationship with Lee. I'm actually really curious how this love triangle plays out. And Holger, the Scandinavian sidekick, is actually hilarious! But I'm still having a hard time warming up to Camillio, the other sidekick, with his blatant Latino cliches. 

Biffy, Lee and Barrage

I have warmed up to the character designs. I don't know how the designer could pull off giving the characters such long giraffe necks! But the style does grow on me, and I think Lee has a very appealing and unique character design.

There is a sort of bizarreness I love to see in any sort of work, and Detentionaire does occasionally go in that direction of off-beat weirdness that I adore... like when Lee duels with the math club captain in a match using a Dance Dance Revolution-style calculator board. WTF! XD

Overall, this show is quite different from other school shows, and it can be hard at first to really step into the setup of this world, but the plot twists and big question marks keep me hooked. While the animation is not the best, the unique character designs are refreshing to watch. And some of the entertaining characters such as Holger make viewing worthwhile! I will continue watching this series as more episodes air.

I recommend you watch Detentionaire as well!

(I was not involved in the production of this show in any way.)

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