REVIEW: BEETLEBORGS METALLIX

 

CAST

Wesley Baker (Power Rangers Turbo)
Herbie Baez (Power Rangers Lightspeed Rescue)
Brittany Konarzewski (Carry On Only)
Billy Forester (Green)
Vivian Smallwood (The Ladykillers)
Elisabeth Lund (Just Like Dad)

RECURRING /NOTABLE GUEST CAST

Christopher Cho (Power Rangers In Space)
Rigg Kennedy (Deterrence)
Bob Papenbrook (Jeepers Creepers 2)
Marshal Hilton (I Am Alone)
Michael Sorich (VR Troopers)


Big Bad Beetleborgs has quite the reputation for being awful nowadays, but back in 1997 it must have been pretty popular to get a second series. Or more likely it was still riding off the back of Power Rangers and there was another series’ worth of Metal Heroes footage to use, but still. After the first series ended on a pretty big cliffhanger, the show jumped back a few months later for Beetleborgs Metallix using new costumes and villains from Juuko B-Fighters sequel series B-Fighters Kabuto. Metallix also had a much shorter lifespan than its predecessor, lasting for a total of 35 episodes.

With the Magnavores gone Drew, Roland and Jo thought that their lives as superheroes were over. But as usual, once one villain group is defeated another one quickly turns up. After betraying the Maganvores at the end of the first season, the evil Nukus turns his attention towards the Beetleborgs – stripping them of their powers and freeing Art Fortunes’ twisted brother Les (his creator) from prison. He then brings Les’ drawings to life to create his evil band of Crustaceans. Powerless, the three heroes turn to Art once again to design all-new powers, which Flabber can then bring to life as he did before. The end result is the new improved Beetleborgs Metallix, who renew their fight against evil while also having to deal with the crazy antics of the Hillhurst Mansion monsters.

So gone are the old blue, green and red suits, replaced with “Chronium Gold”, “Titanium Silver” and “Platinum Purple” respectively. While I especially miss the glowing eye look of the original suits (now in its place are typical black visors), these three new suits come across nicely as upgrades of their original powers. The switching between American and Japanese footage is handled a lot better this time around (the weapons are actually the right colour for a start), but the age certainly shows and doesn’t make it particularly seamless. Brittany Konarzewski settles into her role as Jo #2 nicely after a poor start in season one, to the point where I honestly forgot that changeover happened for a little while.

Our big new characters for the series are the Crustaceans – Nukus, his henchmen Horribelle and Vilor, and finally Les Fortunes. Nukus is an instantly better leader than Vexor ever was, taking to the field and usually having an active involvement in his plans. Horribelle and Vilor are also far less bumbling than Vexor’s three stooges, so while their rate of success is roughly about the same at least they aren’t as grating on the nerves to watch. And for a series that was blatantly never going to get super serious about anything, Les Fortunes is a great character to provide a comical edge to the villain team (plus the drawing thing is a lot more interesting than season one’s “pull monsters out of the comic” gimmick). But a lot of my praise comes from a surface view of the characters, and when you get to the details it becomes clear that the Crustaceans actually AREN’T that much better than the Magnavores. Despite clearly being able to hold their own against (maybe even best) the Beetleborgs in the early episodes, its just pathetic monster after pathetic monster. Yes that’s the way these shows usually go, but Nukus making an active attempt to be part of the battle is what makes it so glaringly dull.

Then of course there’s the Hillhurst monsters, who on Earth could forget those? Adding a new jawa rip-off character to the bunch in the form of Little Ghoul (who sadly doesn’t once say “utini”), this motley crew are even more obtrusive than they were in the first season. While Big Bad Beetleborgs problem was that the Magnavore story/Hillhurst story leaned too much towards the latter, Beetleborgs Metallix answer to this problem was to COMBINE them. So you have the Crustaceans reacting to things that happen at Hillhurst rather than trying to further their quest for conquest or whatever it is they are trying to do. The show becomes even more about them then it did before, and after 50 odd episodes of that previously it’s sad that things didn’t really change here.

Beetleborgs Metallix does have its prize moment though, just as the previous season did with the Shadowborg Arc. This time its the turn of the “Lost Comic” arc, in which an old project done by Les and Art as children leads to Astral Borgs, new power ups and even two giant robots (because if there’s one thing Beetleborgs was lacking, it was giant robots). Despite a few of these episodes centring around the Hillhurst monsters again, the continuity between them and actual plot development make them an enjoyable experience to watch. Unfortunately the biggest problem is that these episodes come much too late into the game – the Beetleborgs get their new upgrades in episode 30, leaving only five episodes to use them. This is even worse when you consider Metallix doesn’t actually have an ending. Much like Masked Rider, the series just ends with nothing resolved and presumably the fight continuing. Episode 31 sees the arrival of Boron, an evil giant robot to battle the heroes’ ally Roboborg, but what episode do you think he finally comes to their side? 35. What a waste.
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Many fans seem to consider Beetleborgs Metallix a better season than the original, but I actually found it inferior. It has all the makings to be better certainly, but then squanders them by doing everything the original did wrong worse and only realising the story can actually go somewhere when it’s too late. At just over half the length, one would expect Metallix to be more bearable just because it’s shorter. Worth continuing with if you’ve been checking out the original, but otherwise a show that is probably best left in the nostalgia bank.

REVIEW: BIG BAD BEETLEBORGS

CAST

Wesley Baker (Power Rangers Turbo)
Herbie Baez (Power Rangers Lightspeed Rescue)
Shannon Chandler (Casper: A Spirited Beginning)
Billy Forester (Green)
Vivian Smallwood (The Ladykillers)
Kim Delgado (Good Burger)
Todd Hurst (The Wedding Singer)
Elisabeth Lund (PrimeMates)
Brittany Konarzewski (Carry On Only)

RECURRING /NOTABLE GUEST CAST

Traci Belushi (Masked Rider)
Michael Sorich (VR Troopers)
Rajia Baroudi (Mighty Morphin Alien Rangers)
Michi Yamato (Ocean’s Thrteen)
Tom Wyner (Power Rangers)
Bob Papenbrook (Jeepers Creepers 2)
Rigg Kennedy (Redline)
Alex Borstein (Family Guy)
Ken Merckz (Masked Rider)

While Power Rangers and Masked Rider borrowed from Toei’s two most successful tokusatsu franchises, they also had two other shows that borrowed from their third lesser-known-but-still-beloved Metal Heroes franchise. Whilst VR Troopers took the difficult task of merged three wholly unrelated shows into one, Big Bad Beetleborgs took the two B-Fighters series as its inspiration. The first season of Beetleborgs ran for a total of 53 episodes in 1996-7, and would later be followed by sequel series Beetleborgs Metallix.

While the easiest way to get the plot quickly would be listen to the infectiously catchy theme song, I shall relay it here too. Beetleborgs takes place in the town of Chaterville, and follows kids Drew, his sister Jo and Roland. When exploring the haunted Hillhurst Mansion as part of a dare, they are attacked by a number of monsters and inadvertently release a phantasm named Flabber from his pipe organ prison. As gratitude, Flabber offers to grant the kids one wish. The three choose to wish to become their favourite comic book superheroes – the Big Bad Beetleborgs. However in gaining the Beetleborg powers, they also get everything else that comes with it. Flabber’s magic also brings the Beetleborgs enemies the Magnavores to life, led by the evil Vexor. As the Magnavores summon more monsters from the comic books in order to take over the planet, the new real-life Beetleborgs must fight using all their powers to defend the Earth and find a way to send them back to the comic world.

A show where kids are the protagonists you say? Surely a recipe for disaster! Actually it turns out far better that you might expect, possibly because the whole team are kids as opposed to one in say, Power Rangers Turbo. For child actors they all play their characters well (well for a show of this caliber anyway), and are far from the worst thing this show has to offer. Well, that is until episode 39, where Jo’s actor changes over via a rather convoluted story. Things like this can’t be helped due to behind-the-scenes reasons, but Jo #2 is nowhere near as likable or convincing as the original and sticks out like a sore thumb for the remainder of the series. Oh well, maybe she gets better in Metallix. The real draw of Big Bad Beetleborgs is the suits themselves. The metallic, armoured bug look is quite different to most other Saban-adapted Tokusatsu series (save for VR Troopers) and by the looks of it good use was gotten out of them as there’s quite a bit of new footage. Unfortunately the splicing between this and the Juuko B-Fighter footage is rather and obvious, and isn’t helped by the major weapon issue the series has. While in B-Fighter the guns are grey, in Beetleborgs they’re…pink and purple. And it switches between the two each fight sequence A LOT. Glaring issues aside, the Beetleborg suits, their weapons and A.Vs (giant bug shaped assault vehicles) are a pleasure to watch.

The real problem with Beetleborgs is that it isn’t quite the show it would like you to think it is. The main premise of the show is these children gaining the powers of comic book superheroes to battle the villains who have been brought to life, and for a Power Rangers-esque show that’s a pretty cool concept on paper. It’s one that the series tries to stick to, whether it be for better (the “lifted from the comics” transformation sequences) or for worse (the over abundance of Adam West Batman style sound effects appearing on screen). The trouble lies in this main plot is actually very rarely the central plot, with most episodes revolving around hi-jinks with the Hillhurst monsters. The general consensus on these characters is rather negative, but I don’t particularly think any of them are bad characters. Flabber is basically Saban ripping off the Genie from Disney’s Aladdin, and the other four monsters (Count Fangula, Mums, Frankenbeans and Wolfie) all have their comedy moments. But NONE of these characters need to be in the show, and that’s the flaw. If this was a show primarily about kids having adventures in a haunted house it would be excellent at what it does.

What also isn’t helping Beetleborgs’ case is just how pathetically incompetent the villains are. Vexor stands around doing mostly nothing for all 53 episodes, and his three “generals” (Noxic, Typhus and Jara) are bumbling idiots. There’s nothing wrong with comic relief characters, but at least show how they are actually a problem for the heroes once in a while. The monsters of the week are also usually dispatched pretty easily, it only taking one or two laser blasts to send them flying back to the comics. However despite these rather glaring flaws, when the show is at its best it is golden. The very peak of Beetleborgs is the six-part Shadowborg arc, which sees the heroes face off against an evil Beetleborg. It’s a very straightforward plot, but works so well for the series. The Shadowborg is an absolute badass, besting the Beetleborgs at every turn and stealing their powers, forcing the creation of a fourth white Beetleborg. Ultimately this Beetleborg doesn’t fit at all with the rest, only lasts for a few episodes and is a throwaway character who is never seen again after the arc ends, but at least the show makes an effort to raise the stakes. The arc ends with the Blue Beetleborg getting a beautiful new upgrade form, which is seen all but 3 or 4 times afterward. If you watch this show enjoy the hell out of the Shadowborg arc, but once it’s done the show moves back to its usual mundane affairs. That is until the last two episodes when we’re introduced to the equally badass Nukus, but that’s more of a set up to the next season than anything else.

Beetleborgs is a disappointing series, but I personally wouldn’t go as far to completely write it off as so many people have. It’s not the same sort of animal as Power Rangers, no matter how much it would like to pretend it is. If you can go into the show expecting a semi enjoyable kids show that’s balls-to-the-wall crazy and NOT a full-blown superhero show, there are things to be enjoyed about it. And if all else fails, the Juuko B-Fighter suits and vehicles are gorgeous and this could be the only chance you’ll have to appreciate them in English (be it dubbed or subbed) any time soon.

12 DAYS OF REVIEW: BIG BAD BEETLEBORGS – CHRISTMAS BELLS AND PHASM’S SPELLS

The bad guys don’t like this new Christmas stuff they are seeing so the main bad guy tells them to steal everything. That’s exactly what they do. I should point out that one of the bad guys sounds exactly like Demidevimon from Digimon. Good old Saban reusing voice actors. Beetleborgs differs from Power Rangers because there are three kids as the heroes instead of teenagers or adults playing teenagers. I should mention the mansion place that Flabber lives out also features the Universal movie monsters. There’s Frankenstein’s Monster, Dracula, the Wolfman, and the Mummy. The kids find out the bad guys are stealing stuff and they actually morph into action.  They take care of the bad guys pretty quickly and even give them Christmas presents. The town is saved and even the rich kids are being nice. Flabber does a bad Santa impersonation and there’s plenty of bad singing during the episode. The episode also has a running gag of Flabber not saying Christmas right.

It’s a fun episode for the holiday season, and is a nice companion to the other Saban Christmas episodes.