The sky is never the limit.
On the planet Atmos, everyone lives high above the cloud line on mountaintop villages called “terras,” where life is supported by energy-giving crystals. Below the cloud line is the wasteland, filled with black clouds and gurgling volcanoes. Each terra is protected by a squadron of sky knights, heavily armed do-gooders who soar around on flying motorcycles of various shapes and sizes. It’d be a mostly idyllic life if it weren’t for the Cyclonians, an evil empire hungry for world domination. Are you with me so far?
On Terra Atmosia, young Aerrow (Sam Vincent) and his pals hope to someday become sky knights. They’ve got the skills and the tech, but the establishment won’t recognize them because of their youth (stupid adults!). But when a Cyclonian agent steals the terra’s precious Aurora Stone, Aerrow and his friends christen themselves the “Storm Hawks,” flying into action and saving the day. From then on, the Storm Hawks travel from one end of Atmos to another, helping those in need and fighting off Cyclonian evil wherever they can.
Sounds like a lot of plot, doesn’t it? Well, not really, because this is one of those “all they do is fight” TV cartoons. You know, the kind parents always complain about. This disc features the first five episodes of the series, and they quickly fall into a pattern. The episode begins with a huge fight scene, followed by a little bit of story and humor, then another huge fight scene at the midpoint, then some story bits that up the stakes for our heroes, and then a massive, headache-inducing fight scene that takes up the entire latter half of the episode, resolving everything. These characters zip around on their flying motorcycles blasting laser beams at each other in old-fashioned dogfights, but they occasionally fly close enough to each other to engage in a little hand-to-hand action, sometimes jumping onto another pilot’s ride and punching and kicking at enemies while standing on the wings, that sort of thing.
It’s all very high-speed, high-octane, high-adrenaline stuff. Unfortunately, there’s only so much non-stop fighting a viewer can take. It all starts to look the same after a while. When I finished all the episodes on this disc, I felt exhausted and numb. I personally would have preferred a better balance between the story and the action, to get to know these characters better and then to give the airborne violence more relevance to the plot.
The best thing this cartoon has going for it is its look. If I were to sum up the visuals in one word, it’d be “funky.” The show has a unique style, and it’s hard to describe. Everything’s rendered in computer animation, providing a lot of detail and fluid movements, but then the characters and their vehicles are cell-shaded—that is, they have a thin black line outlining them like traditional cartoon characters—giving the impression that they’re 2D characters running around a 3D world. It’s kind of odd and otherworldly. There’s nothing else on TV that looks like Storm Hawks, and I don’t think there ever has been. Imagine the new Appleseed mixed with Castle in the Sky mixed with Reboot mixed with Firefly mixed with Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future mixed with Sly Cooper video games mixed with Mighty Morphin Power Rangers mixed with Teen Titans mixed with Star Wars: Clone Wars mixed with…Oh, forget it. Just look at these screencaps instead:
Other thoughts while watching this disc:
• The characters are all pretty one-note. There’s the stalwart hero, the smart girl, the conceited blonde guy, the dumb strong guy, the comic relief animal sidekick and the cowardly, er, green-skinned alien guy. I know the creators want to keep things simple for younger viewers, but why not at least a little depth?
• How old are the Storm Hawks? They act like teenagers, but everyone keeps calling them “children.” If they are teens or kids, why don’t they have to worry about stuff like school, parents, etc.? And while I’m nitpicking, where’d they get the money to pay for all their high-tech gizmos?
• We’re told the Aurora Stone is the most powerful artifact in all of Atmos. If so, then why is it kept in this rinky-dink little village, in some church-looking building where any villain can just walk in and take it, endangering the entire planet?
• Are sky knights gangs? We see various groups of sky knights fighting over territory, stealing from each other, swearing loyalty to their own squadrons, and so on. I’m just saying…
The picture quality is fine, nicely showing off all the details and bright colors. The 2.0 sound is quite excellent, enhancing the action scenes with a lot of explosion effects and “whoosh” sounds. The two featurettes are hardly that at all, just quick looks at the characters and their gear set to the show’s score. They look like a more-polished version of a YouTube fan video. The fifth episode on the disc is listed as an extra “bonus” episode, but you access it from the episode selection menu, not the extras menu. There’s also an assortment of trailers that run when you first put in the disc.
Finally, the DVD comes with a collectible Storm Hawks comic book, written and drawn by the show’s co-creators/executive producers, Asaph Fipke and Andy Poon. (Are those really their names?) The artwork, which looks like it could be still frames from the show, made it hard for me to tell who was who and what was happening. The dramatic lighting seen on screen doesn’t translate well to the page, making things look a little hazy and muddled, especially during the dark, shadowy scene on the first two pages. These guys should stick to animation and hire folks like Adam Warren, Lea Hernandez, Kia Asamiya, or Simon Rodgers to do any future comics.
In conclusion, I’d say Storm Hawks: Hawks Rise Again might be worth a rental to check out the “Whoa, this is different!” style of animation. Beyond that, there’s not much else here.