Once upon a time in the Hidden Kingdom, humans and animals lived together in peace and harmony. All was utterly copacetic…until a game-loving but arrogant tool of a court jester named High Roller made the mistake of insulting the former Emperor of the Hidden Kingdom and was immediately banished from the great East Citadel. For a time, he wandered alone in the forest, his temperament worsening and his hatred for humans increasing by the minute. As fate would have it, he was struck by lightning, thereby gaining the ability to speak the language of animals.High Roller soon discovered the animals’ great weakness for candy (Come on now, who can resist a good Reese’s cup?) and bribed them with sweets, lying to them and convincing the animals that humans were their enemies. In short order, many animals joined his cause and helped kick humans out of their homes and castles. Now animal kings and queens must pay homage to High Roller, who is now the new Emperor of the East Citadel, and do his bidding. Many humans live in fear of his legions of thuggish animal soldiers. But there is hope, as a band of 108 heroes have banded together to form a rebel force. Led by Commander ApeTrully and with such colorful squad members as Lin Chung, a stoic and skilled sharpshooter possessing the legendary Panther Vision and the soul of an artist, Jumpy Ghostface (sounds like the worst rap name ever!), aka the Rabbit King, a rabbit warrior in whose hands a simple jumprope becomes a dangerous weapon, Mystique Sonia, a mystic-flavored warrior and total girly-girl, Mighty Ray, a loud, brash, simplistic and arrogant muscleman with the ability to fire beams of lightning from his eyes, and Mr. No Hands, the seemingly limbless military commander, this team of heroes live in a giant abandoned turtle shell called ‘Big Green’ and fight High Roller and his forces to protect the humans and restore peace to the Hidden Kingdom.
Does that sound like a kick-ass show? Well, prepare to be surprised.
Hero: 108 is a new animated series which airs on Cartoon Network. It arrived on Toon with absolutely zero promotion by the network (as opposed to Adventure Time, which has been receiving on-air promos as far back as January). I thought that this wasn’t fair at first, but after watching Hero: 108 for 2 weeks, I can understand why Toon is being so close-mouthed about the show.
It’s not as though Hero: 108 is an outright terrible show; it’s really not outstandingly bad, the problem is that it’s not outstandingly good, either. There are some decent elements to the series: I love the show’s setting: it’s lush and ripe with Eastern mysticism and mythology, and some of the characters have their own odd little quirks and back stories which could make for interesting material (for example, Mystique Sonia has a spell on her that causes any male who says “I love you” to her 3 times in a row to transform into a yaksha–that’s the little pink cat-thingy on her head, BTW; Mighty Ray’s lightning-like eye beams are fueled by bananas, a food he just happens to hate; Mr. No Hands, in fact, has hands, but he keeps them locked in constraints because he apparently can’t control them–when his hands are free, he can’t stop tickling himself uncontrollably–creepy!; and Big Green’s leader ApeTrully, though he resembles a cardboard box man, is in fact in disguise–he’s actually a monkey, specifically, he’s the 33rd Monkey King–nevermind that monkeys technically aren’t apes, but he opts to keep his true identity a secret since he doesn’t think his followers would willingly follow a simian leader), but unfortunately the show rarely, if ever, takes advantage of these little quirks nor are they mined for any kind of real potential.
The show also suffers from a repetitive “wash, rinse, repeat” story structure: Typically, an episode goes like this: some fill-in-the-blank animal kingdom is persecuting or enslaving humans. ApeTrully arrives on the scene to mend fences (usually bringing gold in tow). ApeTrully’s attempt at diplomacy is rebuffed and he gets captured. First Squad (our heroes) are called in and engage in some mild battles and by-play. Said animal king (or queen) challenges he squad to some sort of contest. Heroes face adversity and triumph. Fill-in-the-blank animal kingdom gains newfound respect for humans and joins the cause of Big Green. Wash, rinse, repeat. Occasionally, a curve ball will be thrown (the heroes fail to reform the Eagles in “Eagle Castle”) but changes to the formula are few and far between.
Hero: 108 also gives people like me who live to categorize placement trouble: it’s not funny enough to be a comedy, it’s not hardcore enough to be an action show. What is it?
Hero: 108 is an ambitious idea, which unfortunately, is the epitome of average. It’s just entertaining enough that one can sit through it for a half-hour and not complain (much), but it has the potential to be so much more. If the writing and execution were just a few notches higher, then this could be something noteworthy. Somewhere, buried amongst all that mediocrity, there’s a brilliant series waiting to bust out.