Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Galactik Football - part II

And we return to Magical French Space Soccer, also known as Galactik Football. Good news first: the animation of the second half is a tremendous improvement over the first half, the voice actors have improved a lot (now they're just pretty bad instead of terrible), the writing shifts from enjoyably bad to enjoyably okay, the characters are all acting sympathetic, the magical time travelling soccer fairies no longer appear and we've got a soundtrack so epic that the part they sampled from John Williams (the star wars guy) didn't sound out of place. While my enjoyment of the first half of this show was more out of bemusement at how ludicrous it was, the second half is actually genuinely decent.

Yes, I can genuinely enjoy a kids' show that can be accurately described as Magical Space Soccer. Just because I'm a critical reviewer doesn't mean I don't enjoy silly stuff. If I'm being embarrassingly honest, I don't think my taste has actually changed all that much since I was ten years old. Hell, the very reason I started doing these reviews (which are so far outside my normal genre it's not even funny) was because I found an old notebook in which I made notes about the shows I watched (yes, I was one dorky little kid. Another thing that hasn't changed). A lot of what I said in the last review, and a lot of what I'll say in this review, actually comes from that notebook. Always good to have the target audience chime in on the subject, I suppose.

So what does the target audience have to say about this arc? “Only D'Jok matters to the plot. I like him, but the others need to be in the plot too!” While not very eloquently put, the little dumbass makes a good point here. There's two main plots in this arc. The first is how D'Jok gets his ego over-inflated, and has to overcome that, becoming a true star. The second is about Blaylock's plan to plunge the entire galaxy into a new war, with Professor Ninja-Pirate trying to stop him and D'Jok and Sinedd used as pawns. The rest aren't connected to the greater plot at all, do they do have their own stuff going on. Well, except Ahito and Thran. Not that they had all that much going on for them in the first half either. Thran especially. I don't think we ever even saw his parents react to his playing, something we got for all other parents.

Wait, we have two sons? Why didn't anyone tell me!?”
Okay, time for the actual story. While the preliminaries have taken us all over the galaxy, the final arc of the story takes place in genesis stadium. Basically, think the citadel from mass effect: utterly massive multi-racial space station that acts as the political center of the galaxy. While that's certainly not unique to mass effect, one gets the feeling that it was what the background artists were thinking of, because a lot of the background art really reminds me of the mass effect games. Well, the backgrounds and the hard light blue/orange computer screens. And the breath. And the fact that there's a jungle team, an all-female blue-skinned team, a team where the players have metal skin, a team of short green men with an odd number of eyes, a team that plays in full-body suits, a big brutish team and a black-and-white colored team with glowing eyes created by a human villain with odd eyes who uses a hexagon as the logo of his organization. Plus, the fact that the third season will introduce a mass relay network.

Alright, which one of you guys added a 'make entire universe revolve around space soccer' option to the catalyst? Was it you, Frank? Not cool, dude, not cool.”
Before this, the players had never really been treated as celebrities. Their hometown was a small community, the riker and shadows planets weren't exactly welcoming and the pirates had better things to do than get giddy over a third-rate soccer team. However, now they've made it to the final 16 and are on a space station devoted entirely to soccer. To quote Dame Simbai: “If you'd saved the galaxy, you'd be able to walk the streets in more peace than you do here.”

Dammit, I knew I shouldn't have picked the 'space soccer' ending!”
It's especially hard on D'Jok, since he's regarded as the star player. As in real life soccer, it's the guys making the goals that get almost all the credit (only having to share it with the guys who stand in front of the goal, who get a distant second place), so now he's suddenly regarded as a big-time celebrity. And, as you expect, it goes to his head and he becomes a bit of an arrogant douche. The other players are affected as well, which is not helped by how much the odds are in their favor for their first match against the wambas.

In a slight defiance of cliché, it's not just the arrogance that gets to them though. If it had just been that, they'd probably still have had an easy time. No, it's also the pressure. Y'see, Genesis Stadium is really, really big.

Looking at the real life salt lake stadium, and comparing it with this, I'd have to guess that this monstrosity of a stadium fits about a million people. Couple that with the fact that the soccer field floats in mid-air and has a translucent floor, and you've got the ultimate panic attack combination of heights, performing in public and agoraphobia. I'd probably turn into a sobbing wreck the second I stepped on the field.

Because they aren't used to the pressure, the first half is a disaster. Aarch giving a speech helps them through the second half, but with D'Jok still off his game and everyone collapsing from exhaustion, it's tight. They only win through epic Tia ninja manuevre, in which she suddenly drops in from the sky before the keeper can grab the ball, flips over him with the ball between her feet, and kicks it into the goal. Glorious.

But it does kinda remind me of something. Tia was the first person to develop the breath after the metaflux went boom. As such, we've seen her using the flux in every single match in the series. And, quite frankly, she's never improved. For that matter, none of the other kids have become any better after first developing their fluxes either.

Let's share a little secret here. At its heart, galactik football is a shonen series. That's a term used for japanese series aimed at pubescent boys. You've probably seen a few of them as a kid: think Dragon Ball Z, Digimon, Pokemon, Shaman King, B-Daman, Medabots, Yu-Gi-Oh or, if you're a young whippersnapper, Bakugan. The story structure of all these shows is pretty much the same:
-Introduce a weird concept, around which your world revolves.
-No matter how silly, make that concept look awesome.
-If it's not mystical in and of itself, add a mystical element.
-Escalate the concept

It's the escalation step that is so central to its appeal. While the awesome concept is what grabs the attention, the constant additions to the concept keep them hooked. Would any kid have kept watching digimon if they'd stop introducing new evolutions? Maybe a handful, but it sure as hell wouldn't be a franchise that's lasted sixteen years.

And the more I watch Galactik Football, the more it's obvious that the writers just don't get this very basic principle of their genre. The first half of the series was already pretty bad regarding this. There was no build-up and almost never any pay-off to characters first developing the flux, making it feel more like narrative accident rather than the central drive of the show. New tricks were seen occasionally, but were used only once and then forgotten about.

The second half is worse. At least the first half, due to its nature as a first half, had to introduce the concept and slowly build on it. Characters needed to develop the flux at some point, and new teams had to be introduced because there were none before. The second half keeps the characters at exactly the same skill and strength they were at the end of the first half, and introduces only a single new team, which is much weaker than those we saw before. Escalation is the entire point of the damn genre. This is like horror movie writers forgetting to put in scary stuff. I'd say this is the biggest case of a writer missing the point of his genre I've ever seen, but I've seen the other two seasons (where the writers respectively forget the magical part of magical space soccer, and somehow manage to screw up the concept of animation).

While we're not talking about story-relevant anyway, let's quickly get out of the way what the other characters are doing this arc. Micro-Ice has a sub-plot with him falling in love with the hotel manager's daughter, probably because she is the only person in the world with a more annoying voice than him. Because he's awkward around girls, he's getting some coaching by Mei. In return, he helps her stand up to her mother, whose pushing her way too hard with getting advertisement deals. Mei also gets in a relation with D'Jok.

Tia finds Rocket's mother and re-unites the two. Rocket is a bit miffed that he had a mother that he didn't know existed. Apparently, people just abandoned Norata left and right after the great disaster on Akillian, with his wife leaving him and her child to pursue an acting career on Genesis, vowing to return (but never doing so). Norata was just the slightest bit miffed that he had to explain to his son that his own mom just dumped him, so instead, he pretended like she had died. However, by the end of the show, Norata and his wife are back together and Rocket makes up with Tia. You may say that this disproves what I said about him and Aarch. Until you realize that he only gets with Tia because Aarch told him to.

It's actually a shame that the character stuff of the others takes such a backstage, because it's actually surprisingly well-written, especially when compared to the first half. In the first half, only Tia and Thran were really enjoyable as main characters. The others were annoying gits, except Rocket, who was just creepy. In this half though, they all actually feel like a bunch of nice kids, with enjoyable and believable interactions. Writers of forced teen drama, take notes; This is how you make me not want to strangle your characters with a garrote. Well, except for Micro-Ice, but even he's gotten a lot better. It's just that I want to end him before season three.

Now, there's been a lot of stuff I've been skipping over in this review, because this series seriously has way too many characters. One of the most notable of the things I skipped over was Warren and the Lightnings. The lightnings are one of the favorites for the cup this year, and the snow kids have been shown as idolizing them since the first episode. The most idolized of the lightnings is star striker Warren, the greatest star in magical space soccer, who's been mentioned throughout the series as someone the snow kids absolutely love and fear one day having to play against. D'Jok's poster of warren in particular is a common sight throughout the series.

Now, it's finally time to play against the lightnings. With the snow kids already having beaten the shadows, the other favorites, before, this match is regarded by most in-universe as the most important in this cup, 'the finale before the finale'. Unfortunately for the Snow Kids, D'Jok is at the absolute height of ego here, and it's rather apparent that it's going to muck up the match. The Snow Kids are going to need a miracle to pull through this.

Enter Warren. It's never exactly made clear how, but Warren has heard of D'Jok's ego problems and his here to talk to him about it. While D'Jok has always admired Warren, and wanted to be like him, it seems he got a bit of a wrong impression of the guy over the television. Warren is not a glory-hound. He's calm and dignified, not caring for his image, and does what he does out of a genuine love for the sport. We'd actually seen some hints of this in Warren's television appearances, where he seems to care little for the theatrics of the television production, and more for actual genuine analysis.

I actually really like Warren as a character. He's got the dignity and calmness of a seasoned veteran, without letting the perception of him go to his head. While he rarely smiles, he never seems unhappy because of it, and he knows that it's good to poke a bit of fun as yourself from time to time. He even draws a funny little moustache on D'Jok's poster of him, explaining that while he has lost his ego, he kept his pride, and D'Jok should do the same. Despite being an opponent, Warren loves the sport and wants to be able to play on equal terms, so he has come to D'Jok to prevent him from making the same mistakes Warren did when he was D'jock's age.

It's a very rare event in the series that a soccer match is just a match, both teams playing equally. Usually, there's some personality problem or missing person holding back the snow kids, or the opponents are playing nastily or stuff like that. That's not the case here though, with two teams that genuinely respect each other playing at full capabilities. I think the only time that happened before was in the second match against the pirates, which was skipped over for all but the last few minutes. Likewise, this match will not be focused upon by the story, though at least more of it gets shown (which is good, because it's pretty awesome).

Instead, we're focusing on professor Ninja-Pirate and his motley crew of terrorists. Remember back in the first half that Clamp was kidnapped and replaced with a double? Ninja-Pirate is now breaking into the headquarters of Blaylock, using the match as a distraction to get the original Clamp back. Like in real life, important sport matches take priority over everything with most men, meaning a lot of the guards are actually watching the match rather than doing their job.

While the pirates manage to get out Clamp, the match is almost over, and it turns out that they need to go back to get Clamp an antidote. Luckily for Clamp, the Snow Kids have been using a defensive strategy, and both teams have been unable to score, meaning they get some extra time with penalty shoots (for those not acquainted with soccer, that means that players from both teams take turns taking shots at the opponents goal from a set distance, with none but the keeper in the way. The person with the most points at the end of this wins). For some odd reason, no one but Warren uses the flux during the penalties. Despite that, he misses, meaning the snow kids won the match. There's a really nice scene between D'Jok and Warren after the match, cap-stoning the former's character growth and the latter's cool old guy status.

This is also the point where the pirates storyline and the snow kids storyline start running together. All of the Snow Kids are known to have been born shortly after the disaster that drove Akillian into an ice age. As a resulted, they have all been infected with the metaflux, which caused that disaster. The Breath never actually came back. Instead, the Snow Kids have all been tapping into the metaflux. However, the metaflux is actually very, very unhealthy for humans, and their health has been degrading ever since they started using it. To save their lives, real Clamp is going to have to extract the metaflux from them. However, that means they lose their magical soccer powers.

Of course, this entire explanation does raise two questions. First; if the characters were using the metaflux rather than the breath all along, how come the flux society was able to detect their usage of the flux back in the first few episodes? The metaflux is undetectable, which is what set the entire plot of the series in motion. Second; What about Tia? She's been using the flux years upon years longer than the other kids, who are starting to develop serious health problems after only a few weeks. How come she isn't long-dead?

Also, now that you know that a portion of the children on your home planet are infected with a deadly chemical, are you going to warn...

They chose not to play soccer, therefore their lives are forfeit!”
Of course.

Because this series is slightly saner than most other examples of its genre, the characters actually all uniformly choose their lives are more important than the magical space soccer, so they get the metaflux extracted. Naturally, this results in their next match being hilariously one-sided, with the techno-droids, technoid's team, absolutely rolling over them. The lack of the flux is actually really well-handled, with the players instinctively trying to use the stuff they usually do with the flux, but utterly failing at it. It's surprisingly satisfying to see our heroes ground into the dirt by soulless machinery.

Of course, because of the kind of show this is, this only lasts until half-time, with all the snow-kids discovering the flux during the second half. Even as a kid, that struck me as ridiculously convenient. Both me and young me would have preferred if the powers had been recovered over time. Half the team is largely irrelevant anyway, so you could do the rest of the kids developing the breath over the course of training after this match, just to have it feel slightly less forced.

Since the players got their asses kicked during the first half, that means a counter ass-kicking of even greater proportions is necessary in the second half to get the snow kids back in the lead again. By the end of the match, you start to wonder how these mechanical buffoons made it to the semi-finals to begin with. Though, given what the next seasons show us, the reason is probably that there is only four non-incompetent teams (shadows, rikers, lightnings, snow kids) in this entire league, and the techno-droids didn't have to play any of them.

Now, the series starts grinding its final gears. Blaylock knows that D'Jok is Ninja-Pirate's son and uses that to his advantage, first threatening D'Jok to capture Ninja-Pirate, and then threatening Ninja-Pirate to get D'Jok to do what he wants. Specifically, he wants D'Jok to try and get his team to lose in the cup finales. Why does the arch-villain care for the outcome of a silly soccer tournament? Well, that has to do with Sinedd.

Remember how I mentioned all the way in the beginning that flux used to be wielded as a weapon? Well, that era of intergalactic warfare was actually quite recent. It's never exactly dated down, but it likely only ended somewhere between 25 and 29 years ago, within Sinedd's lifetime. His parents were among the untold billions of victims. Sinedd may play the game now, but he is all too aware that the existence of flux still poses a danger. Blaylock has approached Sinedd, claiming that a new war was brewing beneath the surface of galactic politics. And Sinedd is the only one who can stop it, but only if his team wins the galactik football cup.

The galactik football cup is not just some measly trophy you put in a closet. It's a large, technological miracle, designed to absorb a bit of flux from a member of the winning team, and travel across the stars, shining the flux of the winning team across a multitude of planets. Blaylock has designed a small device which would push the cup into overdrive, absorbing every single drop of flux present in Genesis Stadium. Since space soccer is so popular, nearly every single flux user in the galaxy would be present in the stadium for the finale, thus losing his powers and making a new war impossible.

Of course, Sinedd doesn't have the entire picture. Using samples the fake Clamp took from the Snowkids, Blaylock has created a new stable metaflux, allowing him to create new flux users as he pleases. When Sinedd depowers all the natural flux users, Blaylock's artificial flux users would be completely unopposed.

When this plan was revealed, it really took me by surprise. This really is a great plan, which works perfectly in the rules of the setting. Having the flux wars taking place relatively recently was a very good idea, since it gives a bit of a sense of darkness to the setting, and it makes you re-evaluate a lot of things from earlier in the series. Was the pollution of the riker and shadows planets the result of damage sustained during the wars? When Warren said he didn't want D'Jok to make the same mistakes he did in his youth, was it mistakes he made during the war, rather than during his soccer career? Is Aarch obsessing over soccer a way of dealing with the war, seeing the sport as the alternative to the wars that must have lasted most of his life? It's all certainly possible, though we never really do get a good idea of what happened in the war.

Sinedd has gotten a lot more rounded as a character in the final leg of the series, giving him motivation, tragedy and even a bit of a sense of honor. Sure, he's still a jerkass that will use dirty tricks, but he's doing it to prove he is the best. Back on Akillian, D'Jok was the one player that was better than Sinedd. Sinedd can't really let that stand. However, he knows that D'Jok is being blackmailed into playing poorly in the finale, and after that, neither of them will have flux anymore. He won't ever be able to prove to D'Jok that he is the better player in an actual match. So, instead, Sinedd challenges D'Jok to a one on one duel in Genesis Stadium, which takes place in the episode appropriately titled 'the duel'.

Now, I have mentioned before that the animation on this show is pretty damn low-budget. The 2d animation used outside matches looks at least ten years out of date, and the 3d animation is just as bad, though the editing and cinematography do a really nice job of hiding that. 'The Duel' is different though. For starters, every single other match consists of recycled animations for like, 90% of screentime. The Duel? Tons of new animation. For once, having characters improve on their usage of the flux isn't limited by needing to recycle animations. Despite the duel only lasting a few minutes of screentime, D'Jok displays countless new tricks. The music can't have been cheap either, with a full orchestral score that is in-sync with the animation, and includes a sample of John Williams' 'duel of the fates' and another sample I recognize, but can't place exactly. The entire duel sequence is such a massive, massive shift in production values that the most likely explanation is that someone made a typo on the budget.

That, or the writers cared more about D'Jok than any other aspect of the story, but that'd just be ridiculous, right? Okay, no, that is actually the likely explanation. While I really like this episode a lot, I do feel like making it might have been a mistake in the long run. Particularly, splurging their low animation budget on tricks for D'jock. Had they instead spread it around a little bit, they could have given each of the snow kids a new trick with the flux in the second half of the series, giving an actual sense of growth to the characters.

The duel is very, very close. Sinedd takes the lead initially, mostly because D'Jok really isn't into this. He only came to try and get information on the capture of his father out of Sinedd. It's only when Sinedd's arrogance starts pushing on his nerves that D'Jok gives it his all. Actually, technically, he gives it more than his all, since he's doing things that seem to be impossible. Most notably, he's using the flux to fly. Normally, the breath only enhances your jumps to awesome degrees, but that's very clearly not the case here, as D'jok hangs in mid-air before swooping upwards again.

Sadly, the duel is cut short pretty early into the match, as Sinedd becomes overwhelmed by the smog addiction, like what happened with Aarch back in the day. Sinedd seems to be handling it slightly better than Aarch did, but it still looks to be pretty damn painful. Ouch. You got my sympathies, sympathetic-villain-man.

With the duel over, the time for the final match approaches. Like with the lightnings match, there are two plots going on simultaneously. The first, obviously, is the finale itself. The second is the quest to rescue professor ninja-pirate. Maia, D'Jok's space gipsy hippie adoptive mother now knows that ninja-pirate is D'Jok's father and has a vision of where he is being held; in a slowly shrinking bubble inside the giant water tanks of Genesis Stadium. While D'jok doesn't want Maia to tell anyone about this, fearing it may endanger his father's life, Maia apparently doesn't give a damn about that, and tells Clamp, who in turn tells Aarch and the Pirates.

What a coincidence! I went for the plan that might result in my adoptive son's biological father being killed, meaning I will not have any competition as a parental figure.”
Another part of the series that I haven't really touched on is that Blaylock is also betraying his superiors at technoid. Duke Maddox, the supreme boss of the organization, does actually favor soccer over war. His funding of the metaflux research was actually meant simply to give his soccer robots a bit of a sorely-needed edge. Dame Simbai has managed to negotiate an alliance with him, meaning that The Pirates and Technoid are now teaming up to save Ninja-Pirate and defeat Blaylock.

While the idea of a joint robot/terrorist army may sound quite awesome, the problem is that the series is animated on a budget of three cents and a shoe-string. And most of that went into making the 3d action scenes. As a result, the 2d animation is extremely low-grade, and any 'action' scene becomes pretty damn dull. Not that the animation is the only problem in that regard. The directing for the action is pretty damn bad as well, sucking out any tension. Also, for some reason, Maddox is only bringing two robots. Probably because the budget couldn't support any more moving people on-screen, but it's still very silly. Even more because they actually complain they lack the man-power to search all the reservoirs.

The soccer action is a lot better, though, for the finale, it's still a bit underwhelming. Guys, we've seen this match. In fact, we've seen it twice. There has been no indication that either the Snow Kids or the Shadows have improved in any way since they last played. As a result, this entire thing is just a rehash.

By the time of the second half, Aarch has had a talk with D'jok, and knows about the entire ordeal. He still wants D'jok to play to win (because Aarch is a goddamn maniac), but he knows he can't really force D'jok, instead having the rest of the team play without him. Like when they lacked Micro-Ice, it's going surprisingly well, and had the Shadows not made a goal before this strategy was adopted, the match would have become a draw. However, in the last few minutes in the second half, one of the Shadows does a slide-kick against Rocket, giving the Snow Kids a free kick.

Hey, remember what happened last time Akillian got a free kick against the Shadows in an important match? That's right; the apocalypse. Every Akillian in the audience is now having traumatic flashbacks. Not helping is the fact that the announcer is using the exact same lines that the announcer used during the free kick in that match. You might argue dramatic irony, until you remember that the announcer is actually from Akillian, and is thus deliberately trolling her people. Not that the Snow Kids, who are apparently deliberately copying the movements of their predecessors, are any better. Hell, apparently the station itself and the laws of physics are in on the joke, as it suddenly begins snowing, with the field freezing.

Now, the explanation for this? During the fire-fight between the two technoid robots and the four Blaylock robots, one of the water reservoirs was hit, with the station dumping all the water outside. On contact with space, the water freezes, becoming an expanding block of ice that begins covering more and more of genesis stadium. Now, two obvious comments. First, physics says this shouldn't be happening. Water exposed to space boils first due to the lack of pressure. It's only when the water is all turned into a gaseous state that it freezes (or, technically, desubliminates, which is like freezing, but with gasses), meaning you get an expanding cloud of tiny ice particles. Large amounts of water simply don't freeze all that fast in outer space, due to space having a very, very, very, extremely, ridiculously, hilariously, very low particle density.

But that's weird obscure stellar physics only a complete geek would know. Young me didn't know that, but he did bring up something else: If the ice is on the outside of the station, why is it snowing inside? As a general rule, space ships tend to be built to not suck in things from the outside, since, y'know, there are no things outside to be sucked in (and the few things there are, you really don't want to).

The weirdest thing is that this entire sequence doesn't even affect anything. The only thing the freezing does is break communications between the coaches and the field, meaning Rocket can't hear Aarch tell him to not let D'jok take the shot.

Rocket! You must take this shot! You must eliminate what is holding your fellow player back! You must purge him of all connections outside soccer. I order you, KILL HIS FATHER!”
However, it seems like Aarch's beliefs have rubbed off on his players, as D'jok makes the goal anyway. Luckily for Pirate-Ninja, he has already been saved by his compatriots. I can only imagine the awkward conversation that's gonna follow when he heard that his son was willing to have him killed for the sake of a soccer match though.

With the score tied by the end of the second half, it means it's time for the golden goal rule to go in effect. Because having the finale be determined by penalty shots would be really anti-climactic, the teams will instead play normally until a single goal is made, which will determine the winner. Sounds like it could be really tense, right?

Well, no. Instead, this is the most hilariously one-sided match seen in the entire series. It's like the shadows players aren't even on the field. The only reason this match lasts more than a few seconds is that the laws of probability apparently thought physics had a good idea with its trolling and started to get in on the fun. Every single member of the snow kids gets to make a shot at the goal, and somehow almost all of them hit the goalframe. Even Ahito gets in on it, leaving his goal far behind as he jumps across the field. This would be the act of an insane madman in any other scenario, but, like I said, it's like the Shadows aren't even there.

Though I'll admit, that looks like it's really fun.
The only ones who don't hit the frame on their shot are Tia and Mei, who hit the keeper instead. Remember how I said the concept of the series doesn't really work because the characters don't develop their powers? Well, they actually pull out a few new tricks in these last few minutes. So, they do develop their powers, but only when it's not necessary.

However, Mei is a clever girl, for she has realized it's impossible to make the shot without hitting either the keeper or the goalpost. Weighing her options, she aims for the keeper, shooting so ridiculously hard that the keeper is forced back into the goal along with the ball. Victory!

The remaining plots quickly get resolved. Pirate-Ninja and Blaylock, who is trying to escape with the metaflux, fight in a high place. To the shock of everyone who has never seen a high-altitude fight in fiction, Blaylock is thrown off the edge, plummeting to his doom (only to reveal he survived in the stinger). Blaylock's second hand man talks down Sinedd before he can try to make a run for the cup and attach the device anyway, in return getting himself a reduced sentence. Happy endings for everyone!

Conclusions and afterthoughts
As a show about soccer that involves both magic and aliens, there is no way this show would have failed to find an audience, at least among European kids. Success of this show is more indicative of it finding an appealing, mostly unspoiled niche, not of actual quality. This doesn't have to mean the show had to be bad of course. Even if you're the first wide-spread entry in your niche, you can put thought and deliberation into it. This show... I'll be fair and say it tried before I say it failed. Let's pull out a few good points.

First, the universe seen here is actually quite vibrant. Members of a single alien race are not simply cookie-cutter copies of one another, but are a very varied bunch. They actually put a surprising amount of work into making sure the races have a wide variety of body-types and aren't stuck in a single personality. Compared to its peers, even the ones I really like, the variety and vibrancy in the setting make it feel much more natural.

And yeah, I used the word natural to describe a story that revolves entirely around magical space soccer. Again, compare this to the shonen shows this is trying to emulate. In shows like Beyblade, B-daman, Yu-gi-oh! or Medabots, the entire world in which the setting of the show takes place revolves around the show's game. In Digimon and Dragon Ball Z, there is some acknowledgment of an outside world that doesn't give a damn about the central concept of the show, but we never really get to see it unless it's being blow up. Galactik Football, at the very least, acknowledges that space soccer is just a game. Even among the important characters, there's plenty who don't really care all that much about the sport. I've poked fun at Aarch's over-obsession, but his over-obsession really wouldn't be anything out of the ordinary in any of these other shows. There's no ancient legends about magical space soccer, there's no universal power behind magical space soccer, there's no fundamental good and evil involved in magical space soccer. It's just a game and it's mostly treated as such.

This naturalness also applies to the characters. Despite them actually being professional space soccer players, they have lives outside of that. Not everything they do and want is related to space soccer. Even Rocket and D'jock, who are easily the most soccer-obsessed people on the team, are relatively mild if you compare them to the protagonists from other franchises. It's especially notable when you look at the villainous plan. Blaylock is only a very casual fan of space soccer, and it had absolutely nothing to do with his villainous plan unless it was absolutely necessary. He wasn't going to inject the metaflux into himself so he could play in the soccer finale. He's leaving that to someone who actually plays soccer for a living, and is instead sticking to what he knows.

Also helping the setting is that it has well-established locations. Especially in the first half, there's a lot of good establishing shots that show us cool locations throughout the galaxy. The home village of the Snowkids on Akillian is actually built on a massive snowy slope that has built up against the ruins of two massive ruined skyscrapers. The home planet of the wambas is a cool tree-planet (as in, a planet that's literally a giant tree) with the various branches of that tree forming vast jungles. The home planet of the shadows is actually a beautiful, inhospitable asteroid belt with massive crystals everywhere. The pirates' base is also in an asteroid belt, but much differently, with the pirates having large hidden bases within the various asteroids which are built so they can quickly be evacuated. I'd honestly love it if we ever got a galactik football game that just left out the soccer and let us explore these various worlds. An RPG set during the flux wars, maybe?

And with that, I'm switching to the failure part. You see, while I do actually genuinely like the setting, probably a lot more than the in-show presentation warrants, that's all background stuff. It's only by the end of the series that there is a little integration of story and backstory with Sinedd's connection to the flux wars. Beyond that, the vast majority of the screentime is devoted to either the snowkids, with either teen drama or soccer taking the focus, the pirates, whose entire plot revolves around a conflict that never quite gets explained to us, and, oddly enough, the parents of the snowkids, who get a surprising amount of screentime.

Which brings us to another thing; Holy hells, is this series bloated beyond hell. Having a series focus on no less than seven characters is already a bit of a stretch, but it can still be done well. I remind myself of the original Digimon series, which also started with seven main characters, and, even as I take another look now that I'm older, managed to handle them quite well. However, I'm not quite sure you can really call the seven snow-kids the main characters. With the exception of D'jock and Rocket, the snow-kids all have less impact on the plot, even on an episode-by-episode basis, than Aarch, Clamp, Norata or Ninja-Pirate. Hell, they have less impact than many of the minor characters.

And there's a lot, and I do mean a lot of these minor characters. It gets to the point where the minor characters form small cliques of their own. You've got Sonny Blackbones' clique, with his three assistants Corso, Benett and Artie. You've got the flux society clique, with Dame Simbai, Brim Simbra and Brim Balarius. You've got the 'hanging out in a bar, watching soccer on tv' clique, which consists of Micro-Ice's mom (whom the wiki informs me is named Mana-Ice, but I'm pretty sure the wiki is inaccurate as hell), Ahito and Thran's parents, Maia, the crime-lord from the first episode and his two henchmen. You've got the newscaster clique, consisting of Callie Mystic and Barry Land. Any and all of these cliques can and do get appearances in any given episode. There's the coach clique, which in addition to Aarch, has Artegor and Adium. Now, there is nothing wrong with any of these guys in a vacuum, except maybe the crime-lord. It's just that there are so goddamn many of them, and they pop up all throughout the entire series and, with the exception of Sonny's group, end up having no relevance to the actual stories. Guys, we're here for the magical space soccer and to see Professor Pirate-Ninja playing James Bond. Try to actually focus on that.

And then there is the matter of animation and voice acting. I'll admit it's a bit shallow on my part, but these do affect my opinion of the writing to a large degree. However, with Galactik Football, the quality of the animation didn't affect my opinion as much as I expected it to. In the 2d stuff, the animation is dreadful, sure, but the good art-work on the backgrounds and interesting character designs make it at least tolerable to sit through. It's only in scenes that are supposed to be all about action that the animation really becomes deficient to the story.

The 3d animation ends up actually being surprisingly good. Don't get me wrong, on a technical level, it is pretty damn bad. But that's why we don't equate technical level with actual level. The cinematography on the 3d scenes is brilliant, among the best I have ever seen. No, really. Through the usage of unconventional angles, montages and good integration of the music, it manages to turn sub-par animation about a silly game in something that's actually really tense most of the time. One really clever touch in the series is that the opponents very rarely talk. They are not to be seen as just an enemy team of sports-players. They are to be seen as ominous and powerful, monsters rather than equals. When they do produce sounds, it sounds wrong and out of place. The red tigers have these weird, almost psychedelic sound effects. The rikers have maniacal mechanical laughter coming from thin air. The cyclops (a team I didn't mention before because the snow kids didn't play against them) produce animal-like guttural sounds. The shadows have dark bestial roars. And the technoid robots don't say anything at all. Only the wambas, the pirates, the lightnings and Sinedd get the humanization that speech brings with it.

Though, in the case of Sinedd, I'm not sure that was a good thing. Seriously, what were they thinking with the voice? What were they thinking with any of the voices? Of all the major and minor characters in the series, only Tia and Benett have acceptable voice acting. Why only them? Because they're the only ones who speak in their own, natural accents. Their voice actors are british, and their characters thus speak with a british accent. All other voice actors are irish, and yet none of their characters have an irish accent. It's especially hilarious with Artie, whose voice actor tries so, so hard at a brooklyn accent. It's adorable. Despite my loathing of Micro-Ice's voice, I'd actually argue that Sinedd's is the most problematic though. Making him sound like a squirrel entering puberty was not the best choice for a villain, especially if he's supposed to be older than the main characters.

Actually, that reminds me of something that moves us into the 'complaining about specific plot points' territory. Specifically, I think it might have been a better idea to turn Sinedd into two characters. The Sinedd that joined the snow kids was a teenage bully, whose playing skills were honestly not that impressive. The idea that the Shadows, the favorites for the cup with a full team already at their disposal, took on a second-rate nobody who hadn't even played a full match is silly. The idea that they made that second-rate nobody, who had never even scored a single goal in a formal game, their star striker even more so. Hell, it doesn't work just because of age. The sinedd we see on Akillian seems to still be a teenager. Indeed, the reason they're called the snowkids is that they're kids from a snowy planet. That means Sinedd is seventeen at most. However, his parents died during the flux wars. Galactik Football only started after the flux wars, the cup is held once every four years, and there were at least two cups before the disaster on Akillian sixteen years ago. That means that Sinedd is at least twenty-four years old. These timelines are not compatible.

Though it's not like he's the only one with problems in his storyline. Tia, Micro-Ice, Thran and Ahito all felt like the series could have seriously benefited from their stories getting an extension. Tia is the obvious first one, and I mentioned the disappointment that was her story in my review. Thran was established early on as being close friends with Clamp, even working on some of the technology he created. It would have been good to see him have more of a connection with the plot of the replaced Clamp. Micro-Ice has this big connection to the pirates as well, so it would be nice to see that developed a bit more, maybe have him actually take a bigger role in their story. And Ahito? Well, I'll be frank, it would be nice to see him actually have a story. Semi-sleeping goalie may be awesome, but he doesn't exactly have a lot to do.

So, final thoughts on the story. I certainly like the idea behind it, and it had a lot of potential. However, the series never really managed to have an overall arc. The flux development gets too little focus for it to be about that. The pirates story only gets occasional focus until the last three matches, so it's not about that. The character arcs are all too short and relatively disconnected for it to be about that. In the end, the series pretty much ended up just being a vehicle for cool-looking space soccer matches. There is nothing wrong with that, but the show definitely could have been more. Still, it's my favourite ending to mass effect.

Next season: How the hell do these writers miss the point of their franchise?