Teenagerobotlove: Serving the MLaaTR Fans

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While many current and upcoming shows have devoted fans, just because a show has ended does not mean the end for the fan community. Far from it. Fans have been instrumental in keeping shows such as Star Trek alive for decades after the show wrapped up and it far from alone in that respect.

Fans currently have a remarkable set of tools at their disposal to help keep memories and interests alive. In years gone past, there were fanzines, clubs and conventions. Today many of these tools continue to connect fans and have been joined by new tools, such as message boards, blogs and social networks like Facebook.

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Maintaining the interest is imperative if fan communities are to continue to exist, and that relies upon continued upkeep of any sites and also moving beyond just the show itself; hence the reason many message boards have off-topic threads or ones in areas of similar interest to members.

Today we’re focusing on one fan blog for My Life as a Teenage Robot. Long ago, there was a traditional, official blog that was created and run during the series’ production. (If memory serves, it was one of, if not the first ever production blogs for an animated show). While it continued to run after the show ended, it has been dormant for a number of years.

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The rise of Tumblr as a fan-friendly platform has not gone unnoticed thanks to its emphasis on particular post types and easy sharing amongst the site’s many members. The proliferation of fan creations on Tumblr have been nailed down to the ease with which people can create, post and share content in addition to the ease with which Tumblelogs can be maintained. Combined with a submission feature, it becomes easy to see why so many fans and fandoms use Tumblr as a tool to serve their interests. (In a coincidental twist, Tumblr emerged from the same office as Frederator; the creative studio responsible for My Life as a Teenage Robot.)

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Hence blogs like Teenagerobotlove that serve to perpetuate fans love for the show as well as providing a focal point for things like fanart. I’m glad that such blogs exist and that people are willing to create and maintain them. They provide enjoyment for those of us who simply do not have the time to undertake one themselves and serve as a reminder that fans still exist for the show.

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The Importance of Colour in My Life as a Teenage Robot

It’s no secret that My Life as a Teenage Robot is one of my favourite animated TV shows. It’s an underrated gem that is enjoyable even if it isn’t quite as clever as other shows. Besides it’s awesome sense of Art Deco style, the great voice cast, the deeply embedded in-jokes and a central female protagonist, the show also makes superb use of colour. (And no post about colour should go without a link to Oswald Iten’s excellent blog, Colorful Animated Expressions)

I’m not talking about the use of colour in the sense of The Simpsons either; strong colours existed exist in that show, but rather to make them stand out against other TV shows. My Life as a Teenage Robot instead uses colour as a tool to accentuate atmosphere, moods and important plot points.

Don’t believe me? Then check out the series of screenshots below, from the season three episode, Stage Fright.

We start off with Jenny (XJ-9) in her normal colours, that is, white and turquose.

Now we’re entering the theatre, where the darker setting changes Jenny’s colour to an off-white and straight blue.

Still in the theater, but it’s darker now and Jenny’s colours follow along.

Now that she’s on stage and in the light, Jenny’s colours change back to the lighter shades but include even more shades to account for the costume.

First big change. After the aliens invade, we get an orange Jenny nicely contrasted against a green background.

Same colours but with a regular background. (Also, awesome pose.)

Action mode is now off so we revert back to the darker theater colour in the sitting pose above.

The aura lightens Jenny to the point that she is brighter than in the second screencap but doesn’t revert to her normal colours.

Aaaaaaand, ACTION! Big changes here as Jenny becomes pink and purple, contrasting nicely with the orange and brown background. For the most part, Jenny is always some combination of white and blue/green except when engaged in some kind of action. In these instances, she can be just about any colour.

Not a great shot, but it shows what Jenny looks like in the shadows; practically violet.

Bad guys defeated, Jenny reverts to the white and blue that’s been the theme for this theater setting.

Last but not least, here’s Jenny on stage in full wardrobe retaining the blue and including some lighter shades to fit the costume.

And that’s it! If you know your stuff, you’ll realise that in just about 11 minutes, Jenny’s colour changed a total of 5 times (not including costume and shades). In the grand scheme of things, she changed appearance a total of 12 times, that’s about once a minute!

This wouldn’t normally be too much but Stage Fright is a fairly average episode. Some of the more action oriented ones get even more colour changes and things get really interesting once Jenny goes into space!

So there you go, a quick look at how the crew of My Life as a Teenage Robot managed to use colour as a a great tool throughout the series.

7 Reasons That My Life as a Teenage Robot is Undervalued

It’s no secret that My Life as a Teenage Robot is one of my very favourite animated TV shows, but it would seem that it’s in the company of many other shows that are also my favourite in that never seemed to catch on with the mainstream crowd (like Futurama, Dilbert, etc.). So why is this so? Here’s a couple of reasons why My Life as a Teenage Robot is currently undervalued.

1. The Plots Are More Complex Than They First Appear

One of the things levelled at the show is that the stories aren’t overly complex; that they’re too simple and pale in comparison to some other shows out there. Well, that is certainly the case, but it is on purpose. The show just happens to be one that doesn’t rely on overly complex stories and is none the worse for it. It’s a fun show, not an epic one like say, Avatar. There is some continuity with the likes of Vexus and the Space Biker Gang that plays out over the seasons, but the stories themselves are complex in how they are resolved. Jenny doesn’t rely on her abilities near as much as you might think.

2. A Kick-Ass Heroine Is Still Quite Rare In TV Shows

We’re starting to see more of these (Korra being the latest) but a lead female protagonist is still a rarity in TV shows, especially animated ones. My Life As A Teenage Robot helped break the mold, and with a robot at that! Jenny is a very strong character that shows how it is possible to avoid the most egregious of stereotypes and still maintain her identity (and a few laughs along the way).

3. The Strong Emphasis On A Cohesive Show Design

One of the things that initially attracted me to the show was it’s sheer focus on design. The creator-driven shows of the 90s are well known for their focus on a strong sense of design; harkening back to the cartoon modern shows of the 50s and 60s, where style was the be all and end all of a show. MLaaTR continues the trend but does so with a heavy emphasis on Art Deco. While it isn’t as strong or forward-looking as Carlos Ramos’ The X’s, it does complement the show nicely and it is great to see one of the revolutionary 20th century styles used to effectively; giving the show a modern, contemporary look but retaining the appearance of class. It’s no coincidence (or hinderence) that the use of Art Deco also echos back to the vintage cartoons of the 1930s like Felix the Cat and even more so the Fleischer Bros.

4. The Use of Colour

This is a topic that will necessitate a full post in the foreseeable future, but needless to say, the show made excellent and effective use of colour that puts it on an entirely different level compared to other shows. It’s something we haven’t really seen since.

5. The Subtle Jokes

Yes, they are in there, and they’re even more subtle than you can imagine. While this may not do much for some, it’s the fact that they are just as knowing as the more blatant examples that makes them funny.

6. The Not-So-Subtle References

The Return of Raggedy Android - note the Hubley reference

Like just about every show that came along after The Simpsons, MLaaTR has its fair share of pop-culture references. These are much more blatant that the jokes but are nonetheless entertaining. Chief among them is Wizzly World and Uncle Wizzly, and all-too noticeable nod to Disney World and Walt Disney. Besides that, there are also plenty of nods to super heroes (how could there not), other TV shows (Samurai Vac anyone?) and Japan and Japanese culture.

7. The Cast

Not to go unnoticed are the voice cast. There are your usual suspects but two stand out in Candi Milo doing a great turn as Mrs. Wakeman and the late Earth Kitt who brings a surprising performance as Queen Vexus with a perfect menacing undertone.

My Life as a Teenage Robot Now on DVD!

All three seasons of one of the most underrated cartoons of the last decade are now on DVD through Amazon. At $19.99, they aren’t the cheapest, but seeing as this show is well overdue for a release and that DVD is in the twilight years of its existence, you should consider it a worthwhile investment.

Season 1

Season 2

Season 3

Lead Female Protagonists in Mainstream US Animation


Animated TV programmes with female lead characters. Are they a rare occurrence? Certainly when compared to the numbers with male lead characters. Now, I’m not saying that females are underrepresented in animation, there are plenty of female characters, however, more often than not, they are not the main protagonist or are part of a group. How come this is so?

There is a general notion that girls like cartoons at a young age but lose that interest once they get older. That’s not to say that there are no programmes out there that specifically cater to girls (Horseland springs to mind). but it would seem that girls (more so than boys) try to imitate their older peers at an earlier age. One fact that is known about animated shows is that they are seen as ‘childish’ or beyond the intellectual capabilities of a certain age bracket. Thus girls are seemingly pressured to drop animation from their TV viewing at a younger age than boys.

Take Japan for example (an obvious choice, but a good one to study), animation is accepted in society as a suitable medium for programming to both males and females. There are a vast array of shows that are designed to appeal to girls and women in general because they don’t see animation as something that should be confined to younger age groups. They are also interested in many of the same genres as males, albeit with more female-centric plots. This implies that age is not the only type of peer pressure at work in discouraging girls and females from watching animation.

The types of shows that interest boys tend to be of adventure, fantasy and science-fiction, as well as comedy. Girls tend to show less interest in these genres, preferring instead to concentrate on character-driven shows (Chowder is perhaps a good, current example). The interests of boys (and males in general) are better served by animation as it is a cost effective method for delivering the product. Girls interests can often be catered for with live-action (Hanna Montana, etc.) which is cost effective, whereas the same show would be prohibitively expensive if animated with no real additional benefits to be gained (side note: Lizzy Maguire used live-action with animated sequences acting as a plot device). There have been some animated shows that could have been live action, such as Pepper Ann and As Told By Ginger, but I guess these are the exception to the rule.

The interesting thing is that it is possible to have cartoons with strong animated leads that can appeals to girls and be so successful that it attracts boys too. Examples include Kim Possible and the PowerPuff Girls; both shows with strong female leads yet are equally enjoyed by both sexes. They have a great mix of action (for the boys) and also have a decent dose of character development to satisfy the girls. However, they are not always successful. Take My Life as a Teenage Robot. This show about a teenage robot girl who routinely saves the earth is rather underrated but failed to attract much of either a girl or boy audience, despite having a female lead and the requisite types of plots for both audiences. It would appear that the line between a successful show and an unsuccessful show is a fine one.

Overall, I believe that the reason we see relatively few shows with female leads is a wider cultural belief that extends back to when television became widespread. In Japan, shows were designed to appeal to everyone, and the populous became comfortable with animation as a medium. In the US, animation was pushed more and more into the children’s corner, and although animation was still produced for slightly older audiences (it took thirty years for The Simpsons to arrive as save the rest of us), we have to remember that the world was a different place and that the opinion of females was a very different as well. Today we have many talented women within the animation industry, but I want to say they are trapped by a culture that neither allows nor encourages girls to seek role models or even entertainment in animation because of certain outdated expectations. Changing these expectations is very much an uphill task if we are to see more female-orientated programming on TV.