Megas XLR arrived on Cartoon Network during a special selection of new cartoons, one of which was named Lowbrow. It featured a video-game addicted grease monkey named Coop and his sarcastic sidekick Jamie as they discover a powerful mech in a local junkyard, only to discover that the robot, code-named Megas, was sent back through time by a space soldier named Kiva in order to keep in out of the hands of an enemy fleet known as the Glorft. Sadly, the true Lowbrow incarnation, Megas XLR, didn’t get the full series it deserved until 2004. Debuting on Cartoon Network’s Saturday night action block, Toonami, Megas XLR found its niche amongst the Dragon Ball Z’s and Yu Yu Hakusho’s, adding a tongue-in-cheek approach to action. While the ones who will get the most out of Megas XLR are those who will get its parodic nature, anyone looking for an action series with style and a sense of humor will find it to be one of the best of its kind.
As stated before, Megas XLR follows Coop, an overweight video game addict and mechanic who discovers a giant mech called Megas in his local junkyard. Along with his friend Jamie, Coop starts making a mess of things in his hometown of Jersey City, smashing buildings and such (seriously, what else would you do if you had a giant robot?). Coop and Jamie are then confronted by Kiva, a woman from the future who also happens to be the leader of the Earth’s space forces. The Earth is in a deep struggle with the Glorft, squid-faced robot people who aim to take control of the universe using the Megas robot. Kiva aims to take back Megas only to find that Coop has overhauled the interface with game controllers, making her unable to pilot the craft. Not only that, but Coop destroyed the time drive, causing Kiva to be stuck in Coop and Jamie’s time. The Glorft head back in time to find Megas and Coop is the only one who can stop them.
Do you dig giant robots? Of course you do!
The story sets up the series incredibly well, and the character designs, both aesthetically and emotionally, are spot-on. Coop looks like who he is: a mechanic. He actually reminds me of that weird plumber stereotype, with the plaid jacket and hefty build. You could easily see him repairing a leaky pipe with his butt cleavage in full view (and if you didn’t, you will now see it all the time). Jamie is the shorter, wise-cracking sidekick voiced by none other than Steve Blum, who takes a unique turn from Spike Spiegel’s wise-guy attitude, especially when Jamie belts out a crazy scream when Coop does something nuts. He’s out for his own good, but proves loyal to Coop’s routine of smashing up Jersey City. Kiva, in stark contrast, is the archetypal straight-girl. Her main goal is to go back to her own time, but she’s also willing to adapt to Coop and Jamie’s time’s customs, like going to the mall or eating beef jerky. Voice actress Wendee Lee’s performance of Kiva isn’t as different as Steve Blum’s is to Jamie, but considering that Kiva’s job involves keeping Coop and Jamie out of trouble, that’s not much of an issue at all.
What makes Megas XLR so damn funny is twofold. First, it parodies anything it can get its grubby hands on. If you grew up watching anime or playing video games, you’ll find the constant references to old-school gaming consoles or giant-robot anime to be a joyous treat. One of my favorite episodes, “Breakout,” shows Coop purchasing a suspiciously familiar game cartridge (oh, screw it, it looks like an Atari 2600 game) only to find that it’s an imprisonment container for giant alien monsters. Another episode, “Ultra Chicks,” blatantly parodies the magical-girl Sailor Moon anime subgenre. One of the best parts about Megas XLR is that it’s constantly makes these references, and simply watching the show to see how many times the PopTV logo is destroyed (a slap in the face to MTV, who refused the pitch to Schaeffer and Krstic’s show) is nothing short of hilarious.
Secondly, Megas XLR is chock full of deus ex machina; it literally makes an art out of Coop miraculously defeating the enemy by luck alone. Coop is infamous for doing stupid things throughout the series, and much of the time, it actually ends up working out for him. One episode in particular involves Megas staring down a stupidly-huge enemy robot (though not as huge as, say, Gurren Lagaan) and Coop accidently transporting his drink to the enemy ship’s control room, causing it to spill on the control board and the entire robot malfunctions. If that isn’t luck, I don’t know what is. Still, while this may seem like easy plot resolution on the writers’ part, it actually is very funny. Coop’s lazy attitude is reflected in scenes like this; the creators have obviously taken advantage of the characters’ personalities skillfully. If I had to be nitpicky, I’d say that the recurring enemies like the Glorft feel a bit flat and don’t bring the huge amount of creativity seen in the newer enemies, but that’s a minor complaint for a fantastic cartoon series.
The overall look of Megas XLR is closely reminiscent of Cartoon Network cartoons close up, but the fight choreography and battle animations are creatively anime-esque, especially once Coop starts using special moves like energy blasts, rampant machine guns, and simply hammering the giant robotic fists on his enemies. The writing is stellar, with Coop always announcing a list of things the enemy did wrong before releasing a powerful finishing move, whether intentionally or not. The opening theme shows how great giant robots are, and is designed by Titmouse Inc., best known for their work on the Adult Swim hit Metalocalypse. Overall, Megas XLR takes the best parts out of Western animation and anime, making a great brew for fans of either.
+ Massive parody count makes it especially funny
+ Unique plot resolutions
+ Excellent voice work and writing
+ Well animated and action-packed
- Some recurring enemies lack creativity
Megas XLR is masterfully knowledgeable of its anime and Western animation trappings and uses those trappings to its advantage. It feels as if made for anime fans and gamers, but even if you don’t know any of the in-jokes, there’s enough over-the-top robot battles and laugh-out-loud humor to be worth a serious look. It’s by far one of the most creative shows that Cartoon Network has ever aired, anime or otherwise.