By: Andrew Lister
The other day I was wandering through Twitch and stumbled across something that took my attention away from grading and school work for far too many hours. Shout Factory, a company with the rights to shows like Digimon and MST2K, was presenting a marathon of one of my favorite television shows of all time: Reboot.
For those of you unfamiliar with the show, allow me to provide a bit of background. Reboot is the first ever CGI cartoon created by Canadian company Mainframe Entertainment. The show aired from 1994 to 2001, and most American audiences probably watched the first two seasons as part of their Saturday morning television lineup. The later two seasons, which are really movies broken up episodically, debuted on Cartoon Network's Toonami block of shows.
Fittingly for an all CGI television show, the story took place in Mainframe, which was essentially the inside of a computer. The populace made up mostly of simple-minded binomes and sprites find themselves under attack from user-created game cubes (not to be mistaken for Nintendo's boxy console) and viruses bent on nullifying the entire system. Thankfully, the citizens of Mainframe are protected by Bob, a guardian with the goal of saving sectors from the games and thwarting the evil plans of the viruses Megabyte and Hexadecimal.
Aside from the cutting edge animation, the story drew in its audience with a mix of adventurous plots and pop culture humor. Seriously, as I was rewatching episodes from the first two seasons, I had forgotten about all of the crazy references. At one point, they even end up in a video game based around Austin Powers.
Even though I was thoroughly enjoying my nostalgia trip back through my childhood, I began to wonder why they chose to run this marathon out of nowhere. A little digging brought me to their ulterior motive--to help promote the brand new rebooted (sorry, I had to) series, Reboot: The Guardian Code.
Don't know about The Guardian Code? Trust me, I plan to tell you all about it.
Before I get into my impressions of the first episode, "Activation," I have to note the generally negative reaction that arose after the initial announcement and subsequent preview trailer. A modern Reboot sounds pretty exciting on the surface. Given how advanced CGI has become since 1994, seeing Bob and Megabyte fight it out with updated graphics sounds like a dream come true.
Unfortunately, what we got in the trailer is an odd mix of CGI with live action. It felt more like Power Rangers and less like Reboot. Add to that the lack of any real aesthetic from the original show, and you had a lot of angry, worried fans.
The wait is over, however! Now we can watch and find out just what Reboot: The Guardian Code is all about. The show just released today on Netflix, so let's get to some impressions!
A show is only as good as it's characters, and unfortunately we have a pretty standard group of main characters. The show doesn't take a lot of time in establishing who each of these teenagers are, but instead it leans on character types common in these sorts of superhero shows.
Our main character is Austin, who we first see watching a snowboarding video while attempting to emulate the moves on an actual snowboard perched on his bed. Did I mention that he's also checking text messages and balancing a tiny white mouse on the back of his other hand? He's apparently a representation of the modern teen multitasker.
The girl of the team is Tamra, a newcomer looking to become internet famous with her Tamra Seyz video series. She's immediately accosted by another student, who gushes over meeting her hero in person. Tamra isn't amused, though, because she's obviously a tough, goes against the grain sort of girl.
Keeping with the diversity, we're next introduced to Trey. The only defining characteristics we're given about Trey are that he's African American, loves basketball, and apparently is prone to stomach issues. Yeah, that's about it.
And finally there's the needed geek of the group, Parker. He's smart and obviously a nerd because he plays cell phone video games. He also takes it upon himself to call out his best friend Austin for not being as smart as he is.
What about an antagonist? Well, you're in luck! Instead of Megabyte, we get a real world hacker, who we don't get a name for in this first episode. Well, if you watch the episode with subtitles on, Netflix actually tells us that this guy's name is...wait for it...Sourcerer. Like, a writer of source code...get it? I can't make this stuff up. The Sourcerer is a dark voiced, scruffy old man obscured by a hoodie. Apparently he's out to break into systems and infect the world.
We'll go more into his evil plans in just a bit. Before that, we have to mention the final character, Vera. Vera is actually some sort of AI and stands for Virtual Evolutionary Recombinant Avatar. I'm not sure what all of those things really mean, but they really missed an opportunity to use an actual Reboot character here. Would Phong have been too offensive to use here?
The first episode opens with The Sourcerer talking about humanity's reliance on technology, and during his evil diatribe, we catch glimpses of our teenage main characters looking worriedly at their cell phones. The show focuses on "relatable" teenagers at Alan Turing High, a school known for its technological progression. At its core, the show is attempting to connect the original series' computer lingo into today's tech-saturated world, which is a nice touch. The extent to which they actually succeed, however, is up for debate.
While the first episodes establishes the relationships of the teenage characters, it also gives us a look at how The Sourcerer infiltrates cyber systems, such as the UK Electrical Power Grid Hub. Like its predecessor, we see scenes inside the computer systems in full CGI. Here computerized beings are attacked by "hungry cyber locusts" that emerge through the hacker's tear, a nice callback to the tears that plagued Mainframe from time to time.
The show doesn't take long to thrust our teen protagonists right into action, calling them forth (quite literally on their cell phones) as new Guardians. Why they are chosen? Apparently because they're all really good at some video game Cyber Guardians, which they just so happen to all be on the same team and not know it! What a twist!
Each of our characters are given full-on CGI powersuits, and they refer to one another by their usernames from the video game. Austin is now their leader, Vector, decked out in a red suit with arm blasters. Tamra takes on the role of Enigma, who dons a yellow and black sleek outfit with weird ski-like foot blades and kitanas. Trey becomes D-Frag, which offers him a much larger blue suit of powerful armor that powers up his massive punches. Finally, Parker is known as...Googz? I tried to look this up, and all I could find was a Kenyan musician and the name for a Mexican garden gnome. Unless it's a reference to Google. That's probably more what it is. Anyway, he's wearing a green and black suit and can create firewalls.
The team has access to a ship, known as the Codec, that allows them to travel between systems, and they are expected to save these areas of cyberspace, such as the power grid currently under attack by the cyber locusts. Can the heroes stop this creepy old man's plot to plunge the world into a darkened stone age? I guess you'll have to watch and see for yourselves.
Graphics & Visuals
Overall, the show does look pretty good. It's no Pixar flick, but the general look and feel of the show does somewhat call back to the original. The first panning shot of the UK Power Grid almost feels like an updated version of Mainframe, especially with its spires and glowing electrical orb.
The blending of real world and CGI isn't as jarring as I thought it might be. During the CGI battle scenes, we see glimpses of the characters behind the helmets of their Guardian suits, and this adds a little bit of realism and immersion, reminding the audience that these are real people that are existing in a digital space.
The combat definitely feels more Power Rangers than Reboot. Instead of Bob utilizing Glitch, a Guardian keytool with a number of useful functions, each character utilizes a number of special attacks that make them feel like video game characters. That said, the combat itself wasn't necessarily bad, but it did feel a little bit generic throughout the first episode. Perhaps as the story continues, the special powers and combat will feel a little more exciting.
Overall, I went in not expecting much from this updated version of a classic cartoon. After watching the first episode, I've found that I have some fundamental issues with the show. That said, it wasn't as terrible of an experience as I was expecting, especially given the backlash from the general public going in.
The show doesn't take a whole lot of time to really develop the premise or the characters, which is mostly to its detriment. I would have liked to have seen a little more about each of these characters before both they and the viewers are thrown into a secret underground facility at around seven minutes into the episode. I would have hoped that we could have moved beyond the stereotypes of the 90s and focused on true character development. Perhaps we see more of that going forward, but from the start it isn't the show's priority.
On top of the bland characterizations, the acting isn't exactly top notch either. You get a lot of concerned one-liners, a lack of deep background information, and a somewhat hokey feel.
As a spiritual and direct successor to Reboot, it does get a few things right. As mentioned earlier, the CGI does fit nicely, and there are some subtle visual and story touches that make us feel right at home in the Reboot universe. The show doesn't take itself too seriously, especially in the last four minutes of the first episode, which certainly fits the feel of the original.
Looking forward, I hope that the rest of the series takes time to delve more into who each of these characters are as well as provide more Easter eggs for its viewers. Will we see Megabyte appear? Would his upgraded form be Terabyte? Will they find Bob or some of the other characters from the original?
No one knows for sure, but I intend to find out!
What are your thoughts on the show? Leave them in the comments below or start a conversation over on our Discord!
TV & Movies
Henry Huge Pecs
Ray Williams III
Contribute your own writing today!