Hey! What are you doing just sitting there!?! Don't you know there is a space war on?!? Epic battles are raging in distant galaxies! Generations of both sides have been at the others' throats! There have been mass casualties AND the enemy has contaminated countless natives on alien planets in their conquest of the universe! “Wait...why would they do such a thing”, you say? Well, I don't know, but there are 13 episodes of awesome because of it. Those ruthless Kilrathi are gunning for the flying ace Wing Commander Academy cadets in this month's Best Cartoon Ever (of the Month).
The show is somewhat of a prequel to the Wing Commander game series. Airing September 1996 – December 1996, it had a short run, wherein little background is given. We get a tidbit here and there with our cadets but nothing is in-depth. Thirteen episodes don't really grant the opportunity to delve into character history. It was released on DVD in 2012 or so, but is available online obviously. I think it’s prudent to let you know I never played the Wing Commander games, I'm not a flight simulator kinda gal, so if at any point you find yourself thinking “duh, that's in the game”, deal with it, I have no point of reference between the two, but the cartoon is awesome so here we are.
One of the choicest aspects of this show by far is the voice actor cast. As I was watching for the first few times, I kept thinking “man, those voices sound pretty familiar” and my brain tossed about a few folks who might have been behind them. I try not to do any reading on the shows I watch to test myself, but this time I had to do a little reading because I had to prove myself right/wrong. Wing Commander Academy got an amazing all-star voice cast - I was pretty stunned. Prepare yourself, friend, because you're about to have your mind blown by all the awesome. For our main hero, Christopher “Maverick” Blair, we get the ear candy of Mark Hamill, and because of that I always giggle when this character makes video recordings for his dad. Tom Wilson brings Todd “Maniac” Marshall to life, Commodore Geoffrey Tolwyn is the face and voice of Malcom McDowell, Dana Delany is Gwen “Archer” Bowman, Lauri Hendler provides Linday “Payback” Price and mechanic Maya McEaddens, Pat Fraley shows up for most of the series as various voices. In “The Last One Left” rebel pilot Daimon Karnes reappears and just happens to be voiced by Ron Perlman. The first time I watched “Recreation” I walked into the kitchen to get some more coffee and from the other room I heard a VERY familiar voice and ran back into the room and turned my TV up to be sure, AND IT WAS! Michael Dorn was uncredited in the series, but you just always know that voice.
The protagonists this time are humans/humanoid aliens referred to as Terran by their enemy and they are part of the Confederation. They're a headstrong squadron of academy cadets that have been granted “on-the-job-training” aboard the Tiger's Claw and for young’uns they're seemingly on the front lines of combat. These kids, along with the rest of the Terran Confederation are at war with a not-so-snuggly race of humanoid cats, the Kilrathi.
The Kilrathi are ruthless warriors with a code of honor comparable to that of Klingons (they also have a lot in common with Romulans) – death before dishonor, die with a weapon in my hand and a war cry in my throat, and so on. They do not, however, value their “word of honor” when given to a Terran, but I mean, they're the bad guys, so that's just pretty much par for the course of bad guy-man-ship. The clans within the Kilrathi ranks are at odds with one another as well it seems, but they have a common deep-seated hatred of all the good guys.
There are some interesting concepts addressed by the series, all relatively familiar with science fiction based in space. For me, the show draws really heavily from Star Trek (the original series and Next Generation). In “The Most Delicate Instrument” four of the cadets are afflicted with a sort of neuro-electrical space madness of Takei-magnitude. They attack other cadets and we actually lose a character in this episode – Blizzard is blown to bits by the love of his life before he can cause further damage. Strangely, for a kids show, there's quite a bit of explode-y death and in “Price of Victory” the Emperor's daughter tells a group of her subordinates they should “commit Sukarath” (I'm spelling phonetically here, because I wasn't able to find the correct spelling on the internet) which is pretty obviously a suggestion of suicide. There are portals which allow access between star systems called “jump nodes” and some of them have a tendency to be unstable. In “Lords of the Sky”, Maverick and Maniac are stranded on a planet where the natives have been turned into Kilrathi worshipers, complete with giant cat statues and human sacrifices. They also trick another planet's inhabitants, the Telosians, to construct a giant monument to the Kilrathi god Sivar, with the intention of sacrificing the entire race upon its completion. These cats are pretty despicable creatures.
Probably one of my favorite episodes, and one I've mentioned already, is “Recreation”. In this episode, the Tiger's Claw crew discover a space ship pod drifting in space and this dude called the Warrior King (Dorn) in suspended animation is inside. They are instructed to take the pod and the Warrior King to Oasis. The cadets are given some shore leave on this tropical paradise planet, considered by both the Confederation and the Kilrathi to be “off-limits” for combat, when who should show up but some Kilrathi. Warrior King is after an all-powerful orb weapon, and so are the Kilrathi. This episode was apparently part of a 4-series crossover on USA's Action Extreme Team block with Mortal Kombat, Savage Dragon, and Street Fighter. I haven't gotten to two of those, but I have the Street Fighter series. It is almost unbearable. I haven't been able to get through it yet, it's on my “I Hate The Fact That I Have To Watch This To Gain Cartoon Nerd Supremacy” list. I'll get to it eventually.
The animation for this show is way above par for the time period. The late 90s were on the cusp of computer generated animation taking over and this show avoided the “PlayStation” graphics that I really just absolutely abhor. It's not as hand-animated-looking as, say the Filmation gems, and has some anime-ish moments but it's still got that 80s feel to it, so I love it. The colors are consistent, bold and crisp and there is a lot of attention to detail on the ships and the planets. The show's intro song is pretty rad, no lame lyrics or anything, just some jammin' guitar and some space ships and lasers and stuff.
While you can get through the whole series several times over in one day, Wing Commander Academy is a very worthy watch. Not so involved that if you miss one episode you have no idea what is going on for the other 12 (haha), but detailed enough to maintain the interest of my rather ADHD-riddled brain (which is probably mostly due to excessive cartoon viewing in the first place). It isn't one that I would necessarily force other people to watch like some of the other shows in my library, but it is perfect for a cold winter day's viewing.