Good Times, Great Memories: A Childhood Retrospective
By Kellen Scrivens
01 June 2006 Assuming you are reading this column the day it was posted, I am four days away from my 18th birthday. To celebrate (aside from the cake and hitting the casino at midnight), I decided to take a look back at the 18 years that made up my childhood, and, from that, I have put together a list of the top 18 things which truly defined it. The one criterion: everything on the following list had to fall into the realm of geek culture, which wasn't that hard considering how geeky I am. On this list I have everything from sci-fi shows to classic Disney movies, and just about everything in between. So without any further Apu, let's take this trip down memory lane.
#18: The Raccoons
For my money this show is the crown jewel of Canadian animation, and is obviously rooted in our great big, cold, hockey-playing, maple syrup-sucking country. For those of you who are unfamiliar with The Raccoons, the show is about Burt Raccoon and his friends Ralph, Melissa and Cedric who all live in the forest. Most episodes focus on the gang trying to stop Cedric's father, Cyril Sneer, from doing something bad to their collective home the forest. Now before you get the wrong idea, let me say this: this show is what Captain Planet wishes it could have been. Unlike that loathsome piece of tripe, The Raccoons got an environment-friendly message through without ramming it down your throat. At least in this, when Cyril was clear-cutting an area of the forest, he wasn't laughing manically. Being the business tycoon that he is, he was counting his money. It was a business to him, and therefore he always had a reason for what he did; it was not eco-terrorism for the sake of eco-terrorism. To further drive home the point that The Raccoons is above and beyond Captain Planet, Cyril might have been the antagonist, but he was also sometimes shown as a caring father to Cedric. (And if you're not offended by 80s synth-pop, download "Run With Us" the end theme. It's a really catchy tune.)
#17: Sailor Moon
My first ever foray into the wild, wacky world of anime. I was lucky enough to have this show air on a local station at 7:30 in the morning. So my usual morning ritual was to watch Sailor Moon then get on the bus to school right then and there. The show is a classic, known by anime fans and non-fans alike. The story, though clichιd at this point, was fun at the time: an average girl receives extraordinary powers and saves the world multiple times, and along the way she's aided by other average girls who also hold similar powers. It was good action / comedy fun. Sadly, I've only seen the butchered English dub, but it introduced me to the world of anime. So it makes the list.
#16: Shaman King
I will always refer to this show as Saturday morning's "last hurrah." During its run I always made it a point to wake up early enough to catch it (and usually most of the other shows on Fox's Saturday Morning lineup). Within two months of Shaman King ending, I was done with Saturday mornings cartoons. Despite the two shows which appear further down the list, I still gave up that's how much I enjoyed this one and that's how I will always remember it.
#15: Dragonball / Dragonball Z
These two shows, which span over 450 episodes, took me over 10 years to watch. Oddly enough, I actually saw the original Dragon Ball before DBZ was all the rage, but never really got to see it in its entirety until a few years ago. And when DBZ became the fad it did, I watched it naturally. But it changed timeslots and I fell out of it. Then a few years later I picked it up again... then I went on a family trip, missed 25 episodes and fell out again. More time passed and I was reintroduced (or is that rereintroduced?) to it and finally finished it! I personally prefer the first series, but still consider them one big series. And, much like James and others, don't acknowledge GT. Like Sailor Moon, fans and non-fans alike have heard of this one, which is a testament to the franchise and its general appeal. Yeah, it doesn't hold up incredibly well, but it deserves to make the list because it, more than Moon, got me into anime big time.
#14: Justice League / JLU
My word, this was one hell of a show now wasn't it?! Not only is it a bona fide classic, but it was always on especially when nothing else worth watching was on. That's not to say that was the only reason to watch the show. Quite the contrary, especially during the JLU years. Time and time again the show was loaded with "Oh shit!" cliffhangers, forcing you to watch after the inevitable commercial break. Or, worse yet, the next episode! The ever-growing roster of hundreds of superheroes added to the epic feel, and, again, forced you to watch because you never knew who would take the spotlight; the Big Seven weren't always the stars, which allowed the creators to flesh out "lesser" characters like Stargirl and Mister Terrific. While others will state that Batman: The Animated Series was better, I never got into it (though that's probably because I was too young to appreciate it at the time) and honor JLU with the 14th spot.
Who doesn't love this one? To this day, Aladdin remains one of my favorite Disney movies, and for good reason. I recall getting the movie when it came out on VHS, and I absolutely loved it: from the absolute hilarity of Robin Williams and Gilbert Gottfried to the touching love story to the memorable soundtrack. Every child should experience the greatness that is Aladdin, so if you have kids or babysit for one, make sure to sit them down and bestow them this gift. They won't regret it.
If you've read my First Impressions article on InuYasha, you know the effect it had on me. Looking back, I realize I may have overstated some things I said, but one thing that still holds true and will never change is that it was the first "not for little kids" anime dub I had ever seen. I still watch the show to this day and am less than 30 episodes from the conclusion. While it can go overboard at times, it's entertaining nonetheless: the comedy, action, romance and fairly engaging story add up to one overall great show.
#11: Star Trek: The Next Generation
Who doesn't love Patrick Stewart, honestly? This show was part of my father's (and by extension, my) weeknight TV regiment. The crazy sci-fi stuff Geordi's VISOR, Worf (in general), the villains like Q and the Borg made the TNG come alive in some weird way. And the fact that the show didn't have many long-running arcs made it easy for my young brain to soak up. In more recent years, with its syndication on Spike TV, I have been able to appreciate it on a whole new level. Generally I'm not a very big sci-fi fan, but I still love this show to death. Every single character from the stars to the recurring guests to the one-off characters added something to the show, something that helps it endure to this very day.
It speaks a lot to just how good a show aimed at preschoolers is when you can still enjoy it at age 17. It's a simple story, really: as the king of the Elephants, Babar recounts his childhood for his children teaching them (and by proxy, the audience) lessons. The charming cast of characters including Rhino King Rataxθs and his advisors, Madam (the only human, by the way) and both sets of princes and princesses helped turn this learning experience into a fun experience that should be passed onto the next generation of children. (Fun fact: this was Tara Strong's first ever major voice acting role.)
While the original Tamagotchi-style game came first, it was the TV show that really drew kids into the franchise. And despite being pegged as nothing more than a Pokemon clone, I, along with countless others, ended up enjoying the Digimon cartoon much more than Pokemon. Waking up to watch those early episodes are a childhood ritual that I will never forget. For those first three seasons, the show had great characters (both heroes and villains) which provided some truly memorable moments especially Myotismon: I cheered his death, rejoiced for his rebirth and loved it even more when he died again. It was the pinnacle of Saturday mornings for me.
#8: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
What a fad to be born into! From as far back as I can remember, TMNT was there, on TV and in NES video games (my friend Aaron and I wasted too many summers trying to beat TMNT 2). Despite its dark comic book origins, the mostly happy-go-lucky cartoon that graced us in the late 80s / early 90s is one that nearly everybody over 17 recalls fondly. For me, it was about the fun characters, cool villains and just the fun of watching the good guys always kick the bad guys' butts. It was simple, easy to understand fun. And it made being a kid fun. Heck, I even find myself enjoying the recent revival; it's a touch darker and isn't as cool as the original 'toon, but the occasional throwbacks are nice and make the new show worth a look or two.
#7: The Simpsons
Though The Simpsons paved the way for other adult-themed primetime cartoons such as King of the Hill, Family Guy and Futurama, the producers never forgot that, because it's a cartoon, children across the world would be staring wide-eyed at the yellow-skinned characters. So they added layers of depth to each story: children might not understand the sexual tension between Homer and Mindy, but seeing his ass crack and Smithers' disgusted expression surely made them chuckle. And while the show may have declined in quality over the years, there is no denying the quirky greatness it once had: classic stuff like the fat white Michael Jackson, the BBBQ ("The extra B is for BYOBB"), Mr. Burns' evil schemes all add up to make The Simpsons a staple of pop culture.
#6: The Lion King
Couple the voice talent and characters with the soundtrack (which I find myself singing way too often) and story, and you have what is without question my favorite Disney animated feature ever created. (I find it hilarious that Disney at first opted to push Pocahontas instead of this. Thankfully they gave the right one it's due.) Like I said with Aladdin, if you have a young relative or family friend or child you babysit for, show them this movie! It is the best of a spectacular group of Disney movies.
If you were asked to name the biggest fad of the late 90s, no doubt you'd say "Pokemon." Everyone knew it. Those initial 150 creatures may have been little, but they and their powers were everywhere: they crawled all over your Game Boy, chirped their names on the TV and smashed the box office. Despite their presence on TV, most everybody knew them through the Nintendo games. They were a must have. ("Gotta catch 'em all," after all.) In fact, I bought a Game Boy Color just for the games. During the summer of 1999 my friends would come over and we'd play it on the TV thanks to my Super Game Boy. We rehearsed the Team Rocket anthem in stereo with the cartoon. And the collectable card game became so popular, my school "had no choice" but to ban it from the playground. The series has obviously lost a good amount of steam and a large amount of its original fanbase, but the machine still chugs on and makes Nintendo big money. Those early years were pure greatness. I may just pull out Blue and start playing tomorrow. (As a testament to its staying power and grip over people, myself and Skyre were reminiscing about the franchise a few weeks ago and the next day he showed up with a Game Boy and, you guessed it, a Pokemon cartridge.)
#4: Power Rangers
The superfad that preceded Pokemon finds its way into my Top Five. This show was just so utterly cool back in the day! It's amazing to look back at the cheesy acting, because it makes you wonder how it ever got over with the kids. Regardless, the best part is that, as its audience grew it grew and paid homage to the older shows namely, "Forever Red" which brought back the ass-kicking Tommy into one of the more recent seasons. But enough talk about the current (or sort of current episodes), this is all about the original six-person team to up about the end of In Space. Oh, how much I loved it when Tommy joined the team after the amazing five-part arc, and then when he rejoined as the White Ranger. And then again, I found myself all giddy, when Jason returned as the Gold Ranger in Zeo. For a kid just starting elementary, this was just about the coolest thing ever: the fighting was fun to watch... and then emulate on each other. Sure, sometimes someone got hurt, but it was all worth it. (Fun fact: my very first trip to a movie theatre was to see Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie.)
#3: Sonic the Hedgehog
What can I say about this that I have not said before? If you've read pretty much anything I've written for this site, you know just how much I love this franchise. (Which I'm sure is making some people wonder why it didn't claim the top spot.) Having been introduced to the first game in the house of former Stanley Cup winning coach Jimmy Skinner, Jr., I was absolutely taken by this game. It was not six months later, at Christmastime, when I finally had my own copy of the game. Another year later I had the sequel, and it kept snowballing from there. Along the way I became a huge fan of the three DiC-produced cartoons, and even read the comic book series with semi-regularity (that is, until the shop discontinued it). In recent years the series has not faired so well though I must admit that the Sonic X anime is quite good. Regardless, the sheer greatness the series experienced in the 1990s is something not to be forgotten. And should I compile another list like this when I'm 80 years old, I still expect Sonic to be right near the top.
#2: Final Fantasy VII
From the second I saw the ad for this game, I knew there was something different about it; it just felt so epic. Soon after my friends bought the game and I finally had the chance to play it. In that single moment I realized how great video games could be it was amazing. That opening cutscene, the graphics (which for the time were very good) and that soundtrack all added to the epic feel. Over time, as I watched them play and saw the story unfold, I became so immersed in it despite the fact that they were the ones playing it, not me. When Areis died, I was in stunned shock alongside my friends. When they got to the end of the game, we held a party and all took delight in seeing Sephiroth nailed time after time with the Omnislash. Eventually I got my own PlayStation and copy of the game, and played through it on my own and loved it even more. A few years later I heard of the impending sequel movie Advent Children. For many years I waited and waited and waited, and then last fall, at an anime convention, I learned they were showing it there later that night. Finally I watched it sure, with a convention-sized room filled with other likeminded geeks and was blown away by the experience. As the credits rolled, the 100 of us gave a standing ovation. In the coming months several other direct sequels and spinoffs will be released, and I cannot wait! There's a reason it came in at number two: it's simply that damn good!
So we're down to the final spot. I've exhausted Sonic, FF VII and nearly every major fad of the last 20 years. What could the pinnacle of my childhood nerdism be?
#1: Gundam SEED
There is so very, very much I could say about this absolute masterpiece of an anime series, and I will as I have a multipart series review coming out soon. This series, in a nutshell, is about a bunch of kids who get thrown into the middle of a war zone, and one of them has a friend on the opposing side. These two friends each pilot a Gundam and constantly face each other in battle. I know that doesn't seem like much, but there's more to it. Trust me. Gundam SEED really struck a chord with me for whatever reason; maybe it goes back to the fact that (as in most anime) the main characters are between 15 and 17 years old. And since I fall (well, now it's "fell") in that range myself, there's a connection there. In addition, the writing and character interactions (as well as some of the awesome battle scenes) just throw this over the top for me. Some of its messages such as antiwar protests, stem cell research and gene altering really made me think. The summer of 2005 for me will be remembered for two things: discovering and falling in love with SEED and CM Punk's goodbye run in ROH. I effectively end that summer by watching the final seven episodes in a row, and that night also began the nine days which changed my whole outlook on anime those episodes on Friday, staying over at Skyre's to go to the aforementioned anime convention the next day and discovering the Winnipeg Anime Club (which we joined one week later). So yeah, this show will stick with me for awhile. What an absolutely amazing way to cap off my childhood. Go check it out. Not the Cartoon Network hack-jobs, mind the real imports. Yeah, they'll run you $200 to 250, but they're well worth the money!
So that's it. That's my attempt to condense my entire life (up to this point, naturally) into 3200 words. I hope this piece not only helped you recall your childhood (maybe we shared some favorites), but also made you consider seeking some of these shows out. It's been a fun childhood and I can't wait to see what the next chapter of my life will bring. Until then, I'll happily keep these 18 things that gave me nothing but good times and great memories
P.S. If for some ungodly reason Colt Cabana is reading this... sorry for stealing the title!
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