“This is the craziest thing we’ve ever done. And that’s saying a lot.”
Let’s take a moment and consider the concept of awesomeness. Just what does it mean to be awesome? A quick flip through the dictionary reveals “awesome” to mean “large,” “impressive,” or “inspirational.” The root of the word, clearly, is “awe,” in that it inspires awe in others. Those who experience awesomeness are left in a dazed stupor, wide-eyed and stunned into silence by what they’ve seen.
Awesomeness is one of those subjective concepts. Many will argue that no one can truly define awesomeness, with statements like “I know awesome when I see it,” or “What’s awesome for one person isn’t awesome for another.” Until recently, I would have agreed with you, but the rules have changed. The concept of awesomeness now has a definition, an awesomeness standard by which all future media will be measured. When generations to come will ask “Is this awesome or isn’t it?” they will compare their media to what I’ve seen, and they will know what is awesome.
You know where I’m going with this. Ben 10 Alien Force: Volume 6 is awesomeness.
Teenage Ben Tennyson, (Yuri Lowenthal, Naruto) wields the Omnitrix, a device that allows him to transform into any one of ten super-powered aliens. With his energy-manipulating cousin Gwen (Ashley Johnson, Phenom) and his metal-absorbing miscreant pal Kevin (Greg Cipes, Teen Titans), Ben fights against a sinister threat known as the Highbreed. The Highbreed have been lurking about in secret for some time now, with a mysterious plan in the works. That plan has now been revealed, and Ben and company have only one chance to stop it, but they can’t do so by themselves. They’re going to need an entire alien force to fight alongside them.
This episode list has joined the cause:
• “Birds of a Feather”
While in his Spidermonkey persona, Ben encounters an alien from Spidermonkey’s home world, who asks for Ben’s help in dealing with a cosmic crisis. As our heroes travel to the moon, they discover this alien and his worries might not be what they appear.
A childlike but super-strong alien shows up, wreaking havoc around town. While Ben and Kevin believe it’s a monster, Gwen is able to reach its innocent side. The DNAliens, servants of the Highbreed, also have an interest in the creature, and their motives aren’t innocent at all.
• “War of the Worlds” parts one and two
The Highbreed have stepped up their plans, with an armada of battleships about to invade the Earth. It’s too vast of a problem for Ben to handle on his own, so it’s time to assemble the titular alien force and let the final battle commence.
How is awesome is Ben 10 Alien Force: Volume 6? The awesomeness of it explodes out of the screen and into your eyes and ears, filling them immediately with an overload of stimulation, with so much excitement, action, humor, and surprise that at first, your brain can’t absorb it all. That’s right, upon first viewing, the big finale is too awesome for the brain to contain. After seeing this disc, the fragile human psyche has to take a moment to process what just happened and consider if it is, in face, as awesome as it initially seemed. Once the brain realizes that it’s not only awesome, but one of the most awesome things its experienced, the entire human condition, both conscious and subconscious, combusts in a maelstrom of entertainment pleasure. The entire body spasms with joy as all five senses become supernaturally heightened when in the presence of Ben 10 Alien Force: Volume 6, knowing that the peak of enjoyment has finally been reached. Then, just when you think it can’t get any better, the ground falls away from you, and you find yourself weightless, surrounded by pure awesomeness. You discover that it’s not over yet, and that this DVD is about to take you further into awesome than you thought possible. You travel higher and higher into the awesomeness, until you become one with awesomeness itself. That’s the experience waiting for you when you put Ben 10 Alien Force: Volume 6 into your DVD player.
Why is it awesome? The first reason would have to be because of payoff. A lot of big, epic stories build up to something huge, only to have the climax not be as elaborate or earth-shaking as fans anticipated. (Remember the Heroes season one finale?) After seeing how the Highbreed arc wraps up, you can look back on the previous two seasons and see how carefully the Ben 10 Alien Force writers gradually moved all the pieces into place. They must have had this finale in mind from the very beginning, as almost every episode prior to it has had some element that foreshadowed the ending. The creators of shows like Lost and Battlestar Galactica like to say in interviews that they had the whole story planned in advance, but in the cast of Ben 10 Alien Force, I actually believe it. Why is the show called Alien Force? Now we know. A lot of previous stand-alone episodes are now revealed not be so stand-aloney, because characters from them show up during the battle at the end. There are even some familiar faces from the original four-season Ben 10 as well. Seeing so many past characters show up at once makes for one “holy ****!” moment after another after another. For the most part, they’re not just random cameos, either. Each returning character has his or her own story to tell, and has a moment in the spotlight.
The second reason the finale is awesome is because of the action. The stakes are higher than they’ve ever been, so the animators have pushed themselves to make the action bigger than it’s ever been. Here you have a dozen or so super-powered characters all battling an army of ruthless aliens with an entire town as their battlefield. During each action beat, the sky is filled with lasers and the backgrounds feature explosions and additional fighting. It’s clear that the alien force is outnumbered and overwhelmed by hundreds (thousands?) of DNAliens and Highbreed all around them, but they fight on nonetheless. The show has had big action before, but it’s never been on this scale. Imagine those gigantic, sprawling battle sequences from The Lord of the Rings, but with superheroes versus space aliens instead of men versus orcs, and you might get the idea.
Of course, huge epic scenes lose their value without an emotional core to keep things moving forward. It’s all on Ben as he moves past the battle and on to the concluding confrontation with the Highbreed. The final moments get to the heart of Ben’s character, going all the way back to when he was first introduced in the original Ben 10. When facing off with sinister creatures determined to end life on Earth, Ben is tasked with having to destroy them first. Instead, he finds an alternative solution, one that dwells on the positive instead of on death and destruction. The fact that Ben makes this choice on his own, almost without thinking, says a lot about his character, and it does so without having to stop the action so that he can deliver some speech with a message or a moral or whatnot. There is a moral, but it comes through naturally in the course of the story, so that the audience isn’t preached to. Similarly, Gwen and Kevin’s subplots aren’t lost among all the craziness, and their emotional connection with one another takes another step forward during the ending.
The other two episodes on the disc make for a nice appetizer before the main course that is the two-part season finale. “Birds of a Feather” is all about trust issues, and how easy it can be to trust the wrong person, and how it feels when trust is broken. It also has the fun of our heroes running around on the surface of the moon. “Unearthed” is a comedy-heavy episode, but it offers Gwen some great character beats, and it too has some small reveals that foreshadow the finale.
Not everyone returns for the finale. I thought for sure that this would be the return of Alien X, but the big guy hasn’t been seen since his one appearance in the first season episode “X = Ben + 2.” When he was introduced, I assumed they were setting him up as the one who will turn the tide in the Ben versus Highbreed final battle. But, no. I get that the character would be difficult to write for—he’s really three characters in one—but I wonder why the creators would introduce him as a major player in the Ben 10 universe and then never use him again.
Also, for all the surprise appearances by past characters, I’ll admit that some of them seem to show up out of nowhere. Afterward, I wondered how certain people just appeared inside a well-guarded, high tech Highbreed command center.
This probably doesn’t need to be said, but if you’ve never seen Ben 10 Alien Force before, you’re better off starting with volume 1 of this series, or with the original series, and then building up to this one.
The picture and sound on these DVDs continue to be solid, with bright, vivid colors and booming sound. There’s only one extra, a few interactive text pieces that offer trivia bits about five of the Omnitrix aliens. More substantial bonus features would have been appreciated, but oh well.
In order to own the entire Highbreed arc, you’ll need all six volumes of Ben 10 Alien Force. With only four or five episodes per disc, that’ll create more of a vacuum in the wallet than usual. The good news is that when you take them all as a whole, it really is the great superhero crossover epic of our times. It’s an ambitious blockbuster of a tale, one with action, humor and drama, all wrapped up with an explosive, mind-blowing finale that can only be described as—wait for it—awesome.