Thursday, October 31, 2013

Let’s Review a TV Series: Mummies Alive

Well last year around this time I looked at the first season of the Legend of Korra.  While the second season of that show certainly has lots to be discussed it’s still airing and will have to wait.  So instead I’m jumping in the way back machine and going all the way back to 1997 to talk about the one and only season of Mummies Alive.  And hey mummies are a scary monster staple and totally appropriate for Halloween.

For anyone who doesn’t remember this show, or has never heard of it before, it’s about a 12 year old boy named Presley Carnovan who holds the spirit of Prince Rapses from Ancient Egypt and his four mummy guardians, Rath, Armon, Nefer-tina, and Ja-Kal, are awakened in modern day San Francisco to protect Presley from the evil villain Scarab, who wants to take the prince’s spirit so that he can achieve immorality and eternal youth.  Now while this show only had one season it was a big season with forty two half hour episodes.  With such a larger amount of work there are definitely some hit and miss episodes and things that don’t quite make sense even within this clearly ridiculous context.  Starting right from the first episode where I still can’t figure out why Scarab is stealing his own truck.  The moving truck with the mummies’ sarcophagus in it clearly says Stone of the side, and Harris Stone is his alter ego, so why he doesn’t just have his shabti take the truck right from the museum and drive it into the bay instead of stealing his own property I have no idea.

Even with things like that though I found the show has actually held up really well for me.  Sure the animation isn’t as great as I remember it being, except the transformation sequences which are still awesome and why they appeared at least once an episode.  You can definitely tell where the budget went there.  Still the character designs are great even with the limited animation.  The colour palette is good.  There’s a lot of range with day and night situations and some nice use of locations.  The voice acting is also quite good.  Everyone is distinct and with the exception of a few crummy lines here and there parts are well acted.  The strongest reason why I think the show still works though is because it has a nice balance of humour and darker elements.

That dark undertone actually starts right up front in the second episode that gives us the full backstory of what happened back in Ancient Egypt, and we learn about how Prince Rapses and the mummies died.  Keeping in mind that Rapses like Presley was 12 years old.  This show has a child death in its second episode, damn.  The dark themes pop up again with Ja-Kal and his brother in later episodes where we learn that Arakh hates Ja-Kal and worked with Scarab to help kill Rapses and probably murdered Ja-Kal during that final confrontation because of his jealousy towards his brother.  It’s also heartbreaking in the idea that Ja-Kal can’t fix that relationship.  When Arakh and his son are brought back to life Ja-Kal tries to keep Kimas from following in his father’s footsteps and he does eventually succeed, but in doing so Kimas makes the ultimate sacrifice in taking both himself and his father back beyond the western gate.  So again Ja-Kal loses his family in his duty to protect the prince.  Nerfer-tina is also showing dealing with the isolation of their duty in the episode ‘True Believer’.  She makes a friend and sort of romantic interest in Bix Bingsley and that relationship threatens expose her and the others to the public.  In the end she realizes she can’t see him ever again because it would put everyone in danger.  She also has a doomed romance with Apep, but I never liked that because I don’t think the relationship is built up well enough for me to really care about her loss.

The four main characters themselves are standard, but also have some depth to them in a way. Ja-Kal is the serious leader type, but is also the one who had a wife and a family, and truly mourns that loss. Armon is the dumb hungry brawn over brains guy.  But even he gets his moments to shine because he is a good fighter and does teach Presley some good moves.  Rath is the logical smart guy but he is also a good fighter has a lot of wit and sarcasm and is my personal favorite.  Rath also flips the trope of the lonely nerd by being the guy who deals with his ex Chontra all through the show.  Also in a nice twist Nefertina is both the tomboy who drives fast and likes to fight and still likes to wear dresses and go out dancing and really immerse herself in the modern world.  One other really good thing to note is that the entire main cast are shown as people of colour something I never realized as a kid, but I'm very happy to see as an adult.  

Scarab is also a good villain.  His design has a creepy quality to it.  His sidekick Heka is a great deadpan snarker, and he actually does try several different ways to obtain the prince’s spirit and even tries to get youth and immortality through other means like draining people’s life energy in the episode ‘Dead Man Walking.’

Looking at the show as a whole I have to say that having so many episodes in one season does lead to problems in continuity.  Like teamwork being important in ‘Sleight of Hand’ and then the very next episode is the mummies learning to work together again.  Also when exactly Presley learns epygt-su  is an open question as it changes throughout the show.  And ‘True Believer’ episode 35 opens with the mummies buying clothes and saying how it’s to blend in with the modern world and yet they have been shown to already know how to do this multiple times in earlier episodes.  Even with all that said there are some good nods to continuity too.  For example Rath mentioning an old student of his in ‘High Nuhn’ and then seeing Chontra, that same student, as a villain two episodes later in ‘Goodbye Mr. Cheops’.  Nuhn and Chontra also make reappearances in later episodes after too.  Also the episodes themselves range from those dark concepts that I talked about before to really light hearted stuff like ‘Honey, I Shrunk the Mummies’ and every encounter the cast has with Bes is great for a laugh.  I think my favourite episode is ‘The Curse of Sekhmet’ because Scarab the black hearted villain spends half the episode sick and dressed in a housecoat and fuzzy bunny slippers.   

So over all I have to say that I still really like this show.  The characters are distinct and get a decent amount of fleshing out.  While the animation is limited the designs are great and the use of colours and locations is good.  The voice acting is good and the content of the episodes is diverse and quite thoughtful at times.  For every bad pun and dated one liner there are moments of serious, heart, and humour that works.  This is a series that I really do recommend people check out for themselves, probably only on the internet though since the only official DVDs have three episodes on them.  Someone on the marketing team needs to be fired for that decision.  There are apparently some full season DVDs around but I can’t confirm whether they are legitimate or bootlegs.  The show is also available on YouTube though with varying degrees of quality, so if you're interested check it out and judge for yourself.

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