Cartoon Network has been celebrating its 30th anniversary this year with that celebration continuing at New York Comic Con with a double dose of panels. One panel was a general reflection of Cartoon Network’s history, while the other panel had a look back at Adult Swim’s history and new content. Of the two, one of the panels had Genndy Tartakovsky reflect on his career at the studio and premiered the first episode of his latest show, Unicorn: Warriors Eternal. So it was pretty clear which panel interested me more.
What made the Adult Swim panel interesting was that it was just Tartakovsky onstage alongside the moderator Michael Ouweleen, the current president of Cartoon Network, Adult Swim, and Boomerang. Ouweleen got his start at Cartoon Network in the 90s and worked alongside Tartakovsky when the company began its original programming, so the panel felt like two friends reflecting on the good ol’ days. The duo reflected on the first slate of programming that the channel released, such as Tartakovsky’s Dexter’s Laboratory, Johnny Bravo, and The Powerpuff Girls and the scorn that they originally received from the older animators at Hannah Barbara for being the young guys at the studio. Ouweleen looked back positively at that earlier slate though since kids would call the network saying how much they liked the first batch of shows and asking for them to continue, which was something that he said doesn’t really happen anymore.
Tartakovsky then talked about some of the shows he did after Dexter, with a particular focus on Samurai Jack. He said that he didn’t like the fact that action shows around the time weren’t actually action shows, but dramas with a few random fight scenes thrown about. He wanted to make a show that was completely centered on action, hence Samurai Jack and its minimalistic plot and heavy emphasis on action. Eventually, he shifted to talking about Unicorn: Warriors Eternal and how it was developed alongside Primal. Both shows shows had two very different styles and tones for them, which Tartakovsky wanted to show off by showing off the first episode. Tartakovsky warned the audience that there were going to be a lot of questions about what was happening based on the premiere, and he was true to his word.
Unicorn: Warriors Eternal seems to follow a group of three magical warriors that are continuously revived in different eras to fight a magical monster. Their souls were imprinted onto a robot that has endured for millennia and whenever the monster awakens, he activates and finds viable hosts for the warrior’s three spirits to fight against the reawakened beast. The premiere is set in a steampunk Victorian England, with the robot, Copernicus, finding a young woman, Emma, on her wedding day and imprinting one of the warrior’s souls into her. While it’s unclear if Emma’s soul was completely erased by the warrior or if they are forced the share the same body, she now has the ability to manipulate shadows as she and Copernicus go off to find the other two vessels for the warriors. Granted, Emma is still pissed about the whole ordeal because, you know, she was taken on her wedding day. Then there’s the mysterious woman who sent automatons to destroy Copernicus before he was reactivated who has the same color scheme as the magical monster, so there’s plenty of ground for the 10-episode season to cover.
I’ll admit, there definitely a lot of unanswered questions here, and I’m not perfectly sold on leaving many of this universe’s mechanics and principles unexplained, but I’m still willing to give it a shot. Tartakovsky described the show as being a mix between Miyazaki-style animation and general steampunk aesthetics, but I would argue that a lot of the character designs are more in line with the style of Osamu Tezuka and classic cartoons. I mean, Emma looks like a Betty Boop, especially when she gets black hair after her possession. Certain shots look wonderful and the colors and character designs are great to look at, I just wish the premiere wasn’t as much of a slow burn as it was. But Tartakovsky almost always delivers with his productions, so I have faith that the final product is going to be memorable at the very least.
Unicorn: Warriors Eternal will premiere on HBO Max/Cartoon Network sometime in the near future and will run for 10 episodes.