Rendering Distance is a feature where we look at the influence of video games on other forms of media, whether it’s a straight adaptation like the Prince of Persia movie or general inspiration like the Scott Pilgrim comics.
It’s curious how classic Mega Man, who’s been around for over 30 years and has been consistently more popular in America than in Japan, has never had a good cartoon to his name. The only two non-anime ones he’s had so far have been loudly aimed at kids, which is often an early warning sign of poor quality, similar to how voluptuous women placed front and center tend to indicate that a piece of media is compensating for something.
Kids are a difficult audience to develop for because they’re energetic, hate being talked down to, and are at the phase in life where you do the most learning, so they are always smarter than adults give them credit for. Their short attention spans mean they have far less tolerance for mistakes than adults do and their lack of tact means they will always point out when the emperor is naked, so any imaginary world you build for them has to be watertight, with no egregious plot holes or contradictions in its canon. If that’s too great of a demand, you can skip it by making a variety show that teaches letters and numbers, but kids, and little boys in particular, are rowdy to the point that they will turn ANYTHING into a weapon, so you need to compensate by finding a wide variety of weird and creative ways to teach that keep kids engaged and get their parents, aka adults, to recommend your show to other parents. It’s the adults who are the gatekeepers in children’s lives, so anything trying to target kids has to get past them first. Walt Disney himself even said once, “You’re dead if you aim only for kids. Adults are only kids grown up, anyway.” Besides, why should the adults that make kid’s shows create something they don’t also enjoy? So if you’re creating a kid’s show correctly, it’s going to attract a healthy adult audience too, like Sesame Street, Mister Roger’s Neighborhood, Adventure Time, Animaniacs, Rocky and Bullwinkle, Danger Mouse, Sharon Lois and Bram’s Elephant Show, even Lamb Chop’s Play-Along. When shows like that say they’re for kids, they’re simply stating a basic fact, not making excuses for themselves.
Suffice to say, Mega Man Fully Charged ain’t no Steven Universe or Miraculous Ladybug. It’s at least unique though in how the story it tries to tell comes across as totally fake more than anything else, making it a master class in what not to do when making a cartoon. It was originally pitched as a show for kids 6 to 9, including their parents who grew up with the games, but ended up as a production with no direction. It tries to be everything to everyone and ends up being nothing to no one. It’s like someone took as many kid show tropes as they could find and stuffed them all in a blender, not even using the recipes established by good kids’ shows as inspiration. Brats with attitude, dark rivals, schoolyard antics, useless sidekicks, stupid supervillains, secret identities, cheap animation, punny episode titles, forced aesops; a pound of everything is dumped in here and it all comes out half-baked and tasting awful, simultaneously oversanitized and surreal. The last time the Mega Man series begat something that corporate, we got Rockman X-Over, a game that was never exported from Japan due to popular request. It wanted to be a celebration of the franchise, but came out so rote and joyless that even its official trailers made it look dreadfully boring.
I could probably stop there. I don’t have to go on. Buuuuuuuuuut…
Since the guiding vision behind this show is a shotgun blast, there are also, as if by total accident, a couple high quality, nigh perfect episodes that help explain why there are a good fistful of Mega Man fans who think this show is decent. The people who love this canon seem to be the sort who have filled in all the plot holes themselves though, so what they’re really in love with is their own fan fiction. That’s not supposed to be harsh; imagination and curiosity are two of the most valuable traits a person can possess and cultivate, but there were also a good fistful of fans who insisted we should all donate to Keiji Inafune’s kickstarter for Red Ash: The Indelible Legend, so please pardon me for how life has conditioned me to gradually become more suspicious and analytical. Critical thinking skills keep you from being played for a fool.
It didn’t have to be this way. Mega Man is a franchise with so many sequels that its wide variety of spinoffs can seem like mere excuses to make even more sequels. We have Classic games, X games, Zero games, ZX games, Legends games, Battle Network games, Star Force games, the Hitoshi Ariga manga, the Archie comics, the Ruby Spears cartoon, the Upon A Star OVA, the Battle Network anime, the Star Force anime, the Protomen rock opera, the pachislot machine where Dr. Light is a woman, and that’s just the stuff I can name off the top of my head. There’s definitely room for Mega Man Fully Charged in this expanded multi-cultural family. Heck, I’d still like to see OVER-1 from Rockman X-Over be renamed to “Clef” and get rebooted into the Classic continuity. But that may be the core of why this is such a frustrating cartoon to watch; this show’s setting and characters don’t damn it to mediocrity by default. In fact, it has a number of moments where it comes so close to greatness, but it always falls short, failing to meet its own standards as well as some basic standards of cartoon production. Eventually you can even peek past the curtain and deduce that this is one of the most mismanaged cartoons ever produced.
This show earned scorn from the moment its first trailer appeared online, which basically featured The Great Gazoo saying “It’s mega time!” before classic 8-bit Mega Man fittingly plummeted off the screen and died. It was a harbinger of what was to come and is still hard to watch even after factoring in this show’s unfair place in Mega Man history. It was first announced when the entire branching franchise was presumed dead, so a lot of the backlash was similar to what Bad Box Art Mega Man in Street Fighter X Tekken got. It was understandable, yet simultaneously overblown and undeserved, and a psychology major could probably write a great thesis by drawing parallels between the Thundercats Metroid Mega Man fandom and criminally abused children. By the time this show was released though, Mega Man 11 had been announced and the franchise was undergoing another revival. The days when Capcom treated Mega Man like Konami treats Hideo Kojima were finally over. There was more of a feeling that everything was going to be OK, that it wouldn’t matter so much if the show was sub-par.
But Mega Man games and media in general are renowned for having consistent mid-to-high quality, which makes the franchise’s bad parts really stand out. Even the worst classic games that make the default Mega Buster the only weapon worth using are still solid action titles. Only the Mega Man X series has oozed down into a poor quality quagmire for any significant period of time. Heck, if only the New Super Mario Bros. franchise had eight new themed bosses and eight new weapons each game, maybe it wouldn’t be accused of stagnating far more easily than Mega Man ever has. And frankly, in this modern era of microtransactions, live services, and glitch-infested launches, Mega Man 12 is one of the few things left in the world that’s safe to get excited about. It’ll either be great or it won’t come out at all. The franchise has never been a triple A production, but that’s ultimately turned out to be a great strength. Mega Man is practically amphibious in how he’s an important indicator of environmental health; a healthy gaming industry used to have Mega Man games coming out regularly like Bomberman games used to and only needing to sell a minimum of 200,000 copies to justify the next sequel. Mega Man has traditionally been one of the most popular unpopular franchises ever because of that, boasting quite a covetous pedigree for its entire life. So who the heck allowed Mega Man Fully Charged to come out so sloppy?
Also, for the sake of the overarching franchise revival and a unified brand push, wouldn’t it have been better to create a show that sticks much closer to the classic games? Because this show’s planning likely goes back in parallel with Mega Man 11’s, so its existence doesn’t seem to make any business sense either. Man of Action’s deliberate decision to create yet another Mega Man spinoff really bit them in the rear here. Are kids supposed to go from this show to the games and other merchandise that has nothing to do with the show? Where’s the synergy? How does this effectively expand the brand? Even Capcom understood this problem following Mega Man 11’s release when Osaka prefecture’s police force selected classic Mega Man over Megaman.EXE as the Cyber Security Ambassador for Cyber Security Awareness Month in 2019. In the end, it’s like we’ve got a self-quarantining show aimed too narrowly at Mega Man fans, the audience least likely to appreciate it because they’ve already seen what Fully Charged has done before and even seen it done far better. Thus it could not support its toy line and its comic series came across as an easily-dismissed stereotypical angsty teen drama, if not part of a failed multimedia empire like Mighty No. 9.
As bad as Cartoon Network’s reputation is, you can’t blame the network for killing Fully Charged because it seems to go out of its way to be bland. The title sequence is fairly generic, talking about vanilla heroism while robots shoot at each other. It’s surprising it doesn’t end with one of those “Winners Don’t Do Drugs” PSAs from the 90’s. The title then ends with a bit of the title theme from Mega Man 2, which ultimately turns out to be another mistake; it and the many other kinds of lip service to the Mega Man franchise are fairly shallow, only serving to remind you of what you aren’t watching. It’s kinda funny; video games and television shows directly compete for consumers’ limited time, and here we have a show based on a video game that makes you realize that you’re better off playing a video game.
In the episodes proper, the art style is persistently… OK. No one comes from the uncanny valley at least; they all gesture and emote well. Yet the art style has a distinct… plainness to it. Being a CGI cartoon at least ensures that everyone is consistently on-model, yet that also works against episodes with a heavier comedic slant, making everything feel stiff rather than bouncy. The fight choreography is persistently mid-tier at least and all the running and dodging is fun to watch, but the CGI effects are also persistently cheap or outright bad when trying to show damage to characters and environments, which undermines said fights.
To top it all off, no classic Mega Man enemies or minor characters appear whatsoever, even though this cartoon normally loves indulging in fanservice and the franchise boasts a lot of mascot minions begging to be adapted. The background humans, robots, and landscapes are all woefully generic with not so much as a Mettaur helmet to be found among them, which creates some jarring contrast with the show’s much more detailed robot masters. Only rarely is there any noteworthy style or beauty. Overall the visual quality just doesn’t have any hooks to stab into viewers’ eyeballs.
But Mega Man is most famous for being a 2D series, not a 3D one. With that in mind, the cartoon is filled with all of these brief pixel art cutscenes that are just utterly bizarre. They pop up for the most random of reasons; whether they contribute anything to a given episode is up to a dice roll. For the most part though though, they’re superfluous. What’s more, Mega Man is a respected console gaming icon with a famous art style, but the cutscenes look like gameplay from trashy mobile games. They’re distinguished by their high color count and low frame rate, conveying that Man of Action clearly knew they were adapting a video game, but also that their comprehension didn’t go any further than that. Again, it’s like the show is hinting that you should turn it off and play some Mega Man games instead.
Shows involve both visuals and writing though. The strength of one can make up for the weakness of the other, and great writing will save boring artwork more often than great visuals will save boring ideas. Video games have a third element, gameplay, that trumps even writing, so a distinct art style and robust gameplay will easily allow a game to get away with having a generic setting like “Monsteropolis”. Fully Charged, however, takes place in a utopia called Silicon City, where humans and robots live in harmonious harmony. Supposedly the shadow of a great human vs robot war hangs over it, but it hasn’t had any effect on the attitudes or culture of the city, so for all intents and purposes, the great war never happened. That’s a humongous problem for characters who have the war as an important part of their backstories because no one, not even the show itself, gives two hoots about whatever trauma they endured unless it can be milked for weak jokes. After all, this is just supposed to be a stereotypical kids’ show with no drama, even though we’re also expected to believe that a huge source of drama was a critically important part of its world history. Whenever the show tries to mine the war for intrigue or emotion or even comedy, it’s mining something that simply does not exist, so what we end up with is a setting that is not only bland, but outright delusional. The city is protected by the similarly bland Good Guild, and from there problems and contradictions in the show’s foundation just spill out. Whenever the show has a chance to do world building and develop a strong, organic narrative, it gleefully skips the opportunity, instead making things up as it goes along, forcing characters ahead with plot fiat, jamming aesops down the audience’s throats, and doing anything for a cheap joke, because screw Walt Disney. He was wrong; children are passive and stupid and will choke down anything you force upon them.
The main characters are decent though, despite their changes. Rock and Roll are now Aki and Suna, Dr. Light is younger and a bit buff with a ponytail, Wily is now a child and Aki’s best friend in school, Rush starts out as a house pet with no transforming abilities, and none of these are bad changes, really. Again, Man of Action deliberately set out to make a new Mega Man, which has happened a dozen times before in this franchise and is bad in Fully Charged only because of how it coincides with the greater franchise’s death and rebirth. Things start to become nonsensical though when you learn early on that Dr. Light built Aki, but not Mega Man, and Aki is trying to hide his identity as Mega Man from Dr. Light. We’re not sure who’s responsible for turning Aki into Mega Man behind Dr. Light’s back, which is a potentially engrossing mystery, but the show does absolutely nothing with it. Actually all it really does is confound things further when we find out Mega Man is missing a memory fragment and Dr. Light knew Aki was Mega Man all along, which doesn’t explain why Suna kept warning him to not reveal his secret identity to Dr. Light. Even worse, Aki’s pet dog Rush soon starts appearing on TV with Mega Man, which would give everything away in any normal, half-decent cartoon. All the drama and intrigue surrounding Aki’s secret identity is easily one of the worst, most hamfisted, and most contradictory parts of this cartoon. It’s not an exaggeration to say that it’s as bad as Spider’s death in Mega Man X: Command Mission.
The show should have just let Aki Light be a hero without that blatherskite. Strangely though, Aki never has a good reason for being a hero because this son of Dr. Light isn’t a kindhearted lab assistant with the broad directive of “help people”, but more of a typical boy, bearing the classic sins of pride, sloth, envy, and wrath. Mind, he isn’t too bad since he at least has a good father figure in Dr. Light, who is the same good doctor he’s always been, but Aki is bad enough that the two personalities of Aki and Mega Man don’t naturally transition into each other at all. Transforming between the two never involves a magical amulet personality wipe, yet they feel like completely separate characters with not a thread of logic connecting them. As Mega Man, Aki becomes a benevolent hero who is in it because “that’s what heroes do”. It’s not like he wants to be a hero; he’s in it for thoroughly generic reasons unrelated to Dr. Light’s morals and ambitions, so not only is there no strong, fundamental connection between Dr. Light and Mega Man in this canon, but being a hero isn’t even something Mega Man gets any personal fulfillment from, not even in his hard-coded directives, making his courtesy and humility even more discordant. If Mega Man really is a morally upstanding hero, then shouldn’t Aki be a lot kinder and more disciplined? If Aki is a jerk hampered by shortsightedness and vainglory, then shouldn’t Mega Man behave more like the egotistical Darkwing Duck? Heck, a Mega Man with those flaws would have been much more interesting and fit the show’s atmosphere better.
To the show’s credit, late in the season it finally decides to have Mega Man be more of a brat than a hero. He starts actively hunting robot masters for their cool weapons and he gets suckered into pulling pranks. There are also a couple of genuinely good episodes that capitalize on him being the most child-like of all Mega Men, but the show’s overall quality still isn’t good enough to take his character far enough in any one direction.
On top of this, one of Mega Man’s most interesting characteristics causes the other characters to accuse him of bad characterization. You see, this Mega Man absorbs not only weapons, but personality traits from the robot masters he copies, which is a brilliant original idea bursting with potential. The problem though is that whenever he starts showcasing something like Fire Man’s anger, Air Man’s pride, Wood Man’s paranoia, or Ice Man’s literalness, all the other characters treat him as if the personality corruptions are his fault rather than a problem that the little cyber elf named Mega Mini who lives in his systems should be fixing.
(Not making that up; stick a pin in that.)
Mega Man is consistently treated as if he’s of low moral fiber, which… well, OK, he kinda is, but the show contradicts the characters by consistently presenting personality corruption as something of a disease that he’s helpless against. It’s like a form of dementia where he becomes fully absorbed by another robot’s personality, yet everyone expects him to somehow overcome it with willpower alone. No one understands him, not even his personal mechanic, so he keeps apologizing for things he didn’t do and learning morals that are irrelevant, plus he never finds ways to exploit the corruption to give him a boost to his confidence, patience, determination, analytical abilities, or any other useful traits. Thus the show takes one of its most interesting concepts and works hard to completely wear it out.
The show does have plenty of good characterization though in Dr. Light, Bert Wily, Ice Man, Hypno Woman, Cut Man, Drill Man, and Chemistry Man. They’re all pretty consistently well-written. Dr. Light is the most unscathed after surviving the translation from video game to cartoon. Bert Wily is my personal favorite because he often seems like the only character who ever has any brains, on top of having consistently organic struggles and victories. He probably could have been even better if he had only been the son of the actual Dr. Wily instead of Dr. Wily reincarnated as a heroic child. Hypno Woman ultimately proves devious and tragic enough that she could have been a good Batman villain, but she leaves halfway through the season, never to return, and Bert Wily is similarly ushered off the stage too early. Ice Man is consistently interesting not only in how he acts, but how he forces the other characters to react. Drill Man and Chemistry Man are both competent foils, bouncing well off of Mega Man. And Cut Man… he’s actually, honestly a delight, full stop. There are still more stipulations though: most of these are side characters. They don’t appear often enough to save this show, and some of them, like Hypno Woman and Drill Man, have rather plain designs, particularly stupid backstories, or other details constantly weighing them down.
Meanwhile the bad characterization club has members like Namagem, whose only personality trait is anger, Man Man, who is awesome in his first appearance but flat in his second because his character revolves around a single joke, Peter Punkowski, who the show mercifully gives up on trying to do anything with early on because he just seems deliberately designed to be annoying, and eventually Suna Freaking Light once she begins pulling powerful combat upgrades out of her rear sphincter. She can also be far more dense than Aki in the face of evidence and logic and is the sole person responsible for giving Aki the bad idea of trying to hide his secret identity in the first place.
There’s also Chaotique, who may be the most pronounced symptom of the show’s underlying illness. She shows up late in the season to inject life into the show when it desperately needs it, but she does so by being a Mary Sue who knows too much, is arguably overpowered, and may even be in love with Mega Man himself. She’s basically what happens when you produce a show without any consistent rules; you get a hostile takeover from an original fan fiction character. She could have been balanced out though by, say, Proto Man, the original cool character. He could have shut her up with a single sucker punch blast. What she does isn’t as bad as what happened to the Brazilian Mega Man comic either, she appears in only three episodes, and she’s helped out by her getting some redemption in the show’s penultimate episode, so she ends up being one of the show’s lesser sins.
Actually, Proto Man alone probably could have done a lot to salvage Fully Charged, but instead we got a guy whose name is “Megaman” spelled backwards. Meanwhile, all the other characters are just kinda… lukewarm. Save for two particularly horrible ones. They’re far worse than Chaotique; they’re the show’s two cardinal sins.
There are a few distinct reasons why Mega Man Fully Charged is worse than the Mega Man cartoon produced by Ruby Spears, and probably the biggest of those is that it has worse characterization among its leads. Now the Ruby Spears cartoon had some ridiculously, infamously bad plots, but in writing, bad characters are even worse. A good plot with bad characters easily feels like a dull lecture while a bad plot with good characters at least feels like a party with friends, so good characters will save a bad plot more often than an elaborate plot will save boring characters. It’s a law of the world that probably stems from humans being social creatures. In fact, good characters go a long way in making weird or bad plots believable, as shows like “Red Dwarf” and “The Red Green Show” will testify. Furthermore, a bad plot tends to last only a single episode, while a bad character you’re often stuck with for an entire season, if not the entire show’s run. That’s the fatal flaw of Fully Charged. In particular, Mega Mini and Sergeant Breaker Night pale in comparison to Ruby Spears’ Roll and Dr. Wily.
What’s especially amazing about this is that Roll and Dr. Wily have to do very little to be better as a sidekick and main villain, respectively. In this show, Mega Mini is a tiny robot who lives inside Mega Man and starts out as a mildly competent sidekick who does repair work on Mega Man in early episodes, but quickly evaporates into doing absolutely nothing, even when his mechanic skills would be useful. That might be because the show can’t keep track of what he’s actually capable of, saying he can and can’t repair Mega Man’s armor and internal systems depending on the whims of the episode. He’s a character who can quickly tune up a villainous robot without a single tool but can’t do a single thing whenever Mega Man needs any assistance whatsoever in the heat of the moment. Even when Mega Man is dying, Mega Mini can’t even reroute power or do quick repairs with bubble gum and duct tape. Instead he spends the show wisecracking while helplessly along for the ride. He’s such a redundant and self-contradictory mess of a character that his special episode about what a great mechanic he is just makes him seem like he isn’t a mechanic at all. The show… no, actually the entire canon isn’t even consistent on whether Mini is needed when Aki wants to transform into Mega Man, even though many episodes show off Mini activating said transformation sequence. It’s so bad that there are even a few episodes where the only genuinely bad thing about them is Mini’s mere presence. He’s as useless as Dr. Cain is in the Mega Man X games. In fact, Dr. Cain was so useless that when Mega Man X was rebooted on the Sony PSP, they immediately killed him off.
If Mega Mini had just been seen repairing Mega Man consistently throughout the cartoon like he did in the first few episodes, he still would have been a weak character, but not intolerably so. Coincidentally, the original Mega Man is a lab assistant and skilled mechanic who also rarely ever uses those skills, so it’s a breath of fresh air in any medium when he does, and that perhaps, ironically, makes Mini more like Mega Man than Mega Man himself in this show. But Mega Man at least has the excuse of being too busy doing other useful things, like jumping and shooting. Still, maybe it’s high time his games started playing up other aspects of his character to allow for more puzzle solving and better storytelling?
Meanwhile, Roll from the Ruby Spears cartoon is an Americanized babe in a campy action show with not a whole lot of thought put into it. Heck, she’s armed with an earthquake-detecting baking sensor, and the funny thing about that is the baking sensor part, not the earthquake-detecting part. Yet even if she wasn’t still a legitimately good character in her own right, like Bert Wily is in Fully Charged, she’d run circles around Mega Mini anyway simply because he just sits there and invites her to do so.
What’s so exasperating is that Mega Mini is clearly one of the characters the show was built around from the start, but the show does nothing to justify his existence. What on earth makes putting a tiny robot into a larger robot a good idea? And why is Mega Man the only robot who requires a smaller robot inside of him? Why doesn’t Mega Man directly control his own systems like every other robot in his world? Why does Mega Mini only seem to make it harder for Mega Man to do things other robots do? And why is Mini the only robot that arbitrarily isn’t fully sentient? Proto Man alone could have salvaged this too if we could have just seen him and his own Proto Mini bickering with each other. It still would have been a weird concept, but something to make putting tiny robots into larger robots more mundane would have at least turned that rule of the world into something you can easily shrug at and go along with. Mega Man has previously featured utterly insane ideas like robot souls, robot ghosts, baby robot spirits, and evil energy, but they’ve worked out OK because they’ve been ubiquitous when introduced.
It’s really hard to think of how to improve the show without completely removing Mega Mini, but he might have worked better if he was, say, a separate, self-aware AI responsible for monitoring Mega Man’s systems and managing his combat functions, but completely unable to exit Mega Man’s body. What if he was a conscience as a program, initially forcing Aki to turn into Mega Man against his will until gradually, throughout the season, Aki learns to value and enjoy helping other people? Or what if their dynamic was more like Classic Mega Man having Megaman.EXE jacked into him? Heck, isn’t that a stronger premise by default?
As for Sgt. Breaker Night… well, there’s no gentle way to put this: he ruins EVERYTHING. At least Mega Mini is a benign problem, but Sgt. Night is actively destructive to the show’s quality. He puts his worst foot forward in the first episode and only gets worse throughout the season. He never stops the heroes, but is under the delusion that he’s given them many public defeats, while the only thing he actually manages to defeat is the cartoon itself, single-handedly. He has a wooden personality with voice acting to match and he’s outright terrible at the mind games he so highly prizes, so he’s a hypocrite and a fraud on top of everything, and not in the way a well-written villain is.
Plenty of events happen throughout the cartoon that he could take advantage of to push his narrative that human and robot coexistence is impossible, but he almost always ignores them. He reacts to robot attacks and machinery accidents once or twice early on, but does so in a brain dead fashion, then never capitalizes on any further opportunities to help drive a wedge between the humans and robots of Silicon City, instead regurgitating his platitudes in a vacuum. Instead of being a chessmaster, his schemes rely on plot fiat and moon logic, and he’s the main villain, so he shows up ALL THE TIME, constantly tormenting not the show’s heroes, but its viewers. The show wants you to think he’s dangerous and cunning, but almost always presents him as lame and stupid instead, so he breaks willing suspension of disbelief almost every single time he appears. His sole purpose in this cartoon is to remind you that you’re watching hokey corporate children’s schlock. Whoever thought they could successfully create a manipulative mastermind for this show on par with David Xanatos was punching well above their weight.
To be fair though, it’s not entirely his fault. He’s trying to attain a foothold in a perfect utopia with no evidence that it was ever ravaged by war, so there’s nothing for a manipulator like him to take advantage of in the first place. Lip service is paid to some “hard times” in the city’s past, but it’s never relevant to anyone or anything. There’s this one robot, Wood Man, who’s a soldier from the hard times, but his backstory has no weight. It’s only ever used for cheap jokes about him being generally paranoid. The funny thing though is that Wood Man is kinda like Sgt. Night done… well, not right, since Wood Man is a middling character himself, but he’s still a far better take on the same concept. He’s also an old war hero, but he doesn’t quite know what’s going on in the utopia of Silicon City and it’s [not always successfully] played for laughs. He’s a likable enough character because he’s so out of place and it’s kinda tragic the way he struggles in modern life. Sgt. Night would have been much better if he had at least been similarly treated as an old soldier who’d lost his marbles.
If you want something better than Wood Man, if you want a nice example of a Sgt. Night done correctly, look at Xander Payne from Archie’s Mega Man comics. He’s an ex-military extremist with a cyborg eye instead of an arm who wants to save humanity by eliminating advanced robotics in their entirety.
Sgt. Night also has an alter ego, called “Lord Obsidian” or something, that he takes up whenever he dons a suit of powered armor. No one ever makes the connection between Sgt. Night and Lord Obsidian even though they have near-identical right arms and the same mustache, so that’s TWO secret identity gimmicks that this show fails at. It looks like the idea is supposed to be that Sgt. Night sometimes masquerades as a robot to try to drive humans and robots apart, but it never works because Lord Obsidian is practically the only robot that thinks humans and robots should be segregated. After all, it’s not like there was ever any war to speak of in the past that left fears and scars in the world’s citizens. Despite that, Sgt. Night actually becomes a tolerable villain in this form, aggressively going after Mega Man while calling him a traitor to robot-kind. And that’s so deliciously ironic; Sgt. Night is a good character only when he’s as loud and brash as Dr. Wily from the Ruby Spears cartoon. And Dr. Wily was pretty much just a stereotypical kid’s show villain when you get right down to it.
That’s the underlying irony of Mega Man Fully Charged: it claims to be a kid’s show, but is terrible because it’s not enough of a kid’s show according to the stereotypes it aspires to. That’s the heart of why it seems oversanitized, so as not to confuse kids or offend their parents, yet also surreal, because it thinks kids don’t care about consistent rules and will accept anything you throw at them. It should have focused hardcore on being a stereotypical kid’s show because it is always at its worst whenever it tries to do anything dramatic. A story without consistent rules is just a dumb lie, so because this show never does any world building, it never has any foundations on which to establish intrigue or drama for the sake of a myth arc. Heck, at this point, the classic Mega Man games provide better drama than any of their cartoons ever have.
Internal consistency is what makes or breaks willing suspension of disbelief. Your fiction can be as weird and fantastical as you want, but when the only consistent thing about it is how often it breaks the rules it makes up, your audience will rightfully disengage and cry foul. It can even be as brainless as the story of two brothers named Bob and George and how they like ice cream, but it will still be seen as competent or even brilliant as long as it keeps track of the laws it establishes and obeys them. Think about how wacky and desperate witnesses in the Phoenix Wright games become as they keep changing their testimonies; that’s a perfect illustration for why you can’t take this show seriously at all. In fact, Fully Charged is so bad about breaking its own rules that it can’t even define what a robot is. We’re told that they’re fully sentient, except for Mega Mini who’s only half-sentient, even though he always acts fully sentient. We’re told Mega Man lacks standard robot features like uploading to his brain, but he also has a standard built-in phone, while all other robots carry smartphones. Every robot in the show can control its own transformation and weapons systems, except for Mega Man, who needs a smaller robot inside him that never does anything useful. Robots like Ice Man can be reprogrammed to be good, but robots like Hypno Woman can’t be reprogrammed in any way. Robots need sleep and can experience narcolepsy, but can’t recharge with a wall socket or an E-Tank. Robots don’t know what it’s like to feel hot in the summer, but can have allergies, may even need to breathe, and can taste and eat human food, even though Dr. Light says they can’t. Robots are manufactured as sets with similar-looking brothers and sisters but can also grow from babies into adults and have robot parents that can force a family business upon them. It’s all ridiculously slap-dash.
Heck, the Dreamwave comics were lame and bland in their own way, including the introduction of robot masters as generic as the average robot in Fully Charged and the implication that Roll turned out to be a far more advanced robot than Rock by total accident, but at least they explained why a robot boy might need to go to school AND why Mega Man was fully sentient. Fully Charged can’t even be bothered to do that.
Here are some great examples of the kind of drama your story can produce when it takes the time to define words like “robot”:
Why does this work so well? Because one of the best things about being a child (or just a plain human being, really) is being able to poke and prod at the boundaries of things to discover their limits and how their properties can be exploited. Actually it’s even more fundamental than that; law is an essential part of human functionality. It all comes down to how the human brain is designed to seek out patterns to help understand, process, and recall information, and it gets quite intricate when you study how humans have learned to use epithets, rhythm, rhyme, repetition, and alliteration to simply and expedite that process. Classic examples like Asimov’s Laws of Robotics are important not because they fundamentally make sense and no one should ever disagree with them, but because they are a skeleton for a story’s muscles and organs to integrate with. Furthermore, mystery and drama rely entirely on establishing rules so they can be subverted later, and there’s nothing like a good mystery or cliffhanger to keep your audience wanting more. With Fully Charged though, everything that happens in its world is arbitrary and meaningless, to the point that the show stops just short of saying robots can give live birth. The Ruby Spears cartoon would have gone that extra step and at least have been even more memorable for it.
No, really. As bad as Fully Charged is, somehow it isn’t quite bad enough, like how one of Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric’s major failings is that it technically isn’t as bad as Sonic ‘06. Fully Charged never manages to break as badly as the Ruby Spears cartoon did at times; it has nothing as unwatchable as “Curse of the Lion Men” or “Robosaur Park”. But that’s also the final nail in the show’s coffin because it means Fully Charged doesn’t have much spectacle either, so it’s not even something you can love to hate. At least the Ruby Spears cartoon secured its immortality through genies, werewolves, and other spectacular errors, which caused it to spawn memes like “Super Fighting Robot” and “Guts Man’s Ass”, while Fully Charged is ultimately a sort of bland bad that’s not even much fun to make fun of. Decades from now, people will still be watching the Ruby Spears cartoon, but not this cartoon. In fact, Fully Charged was nigh impossible to find outside of piracy sites until it was dumped onto Amazon Video in the dead of night some two years after its cancellation, while the Ruby Spears cartoon exists in its entirety on multiple YouTube channels and can be bought on DVD.
I want to say that someone horribly mismanaged this show’s production or was forced to mismanage it by someone in a business suit. You can see it not only in certain individual episodes, but also in the changes between the episode batches as they were released. First there were episodes 1-10, where Mega Mini and Sgt. Night at least showed potential that could be salvaged, then episodes 11-20, where the show pretty much forgot their purpose, and finally episodes 21-52, where the production team seemingly struggled to learn from their mistakes but hadn’t the skill nor the foundation necessary to develop the show. Isn’t that interesting, how the two worst characters in this show have the same problems of being all talk and no action, with no reason to even be in it? Perhaps Sgt. Night himself was the biggest casualty in all this. Perhaps all his half-hearted schemes are the dangling entrails of a compelling myth arc that was dissected and rearranged too much. We know some amount of cutting room antics were going on since the show was originally supposed to be 2D instead of CGI. That might also explain all the plot threads that go nowhere.
But the thing is, this canon also got a comic, a 6-issue miniseries, and it may be worse than the cartoon.
Like the cartoon, it introduces a bunch of legitimately neat ideas, but quickly fumbles every last one of them. It tries to tell a dramatic story of lies, secrets, and betrayal, but Fully Charged is consistently at its worst whenever it tries to do something dramatic. The lies told by the characters get lost among all the lies and contradictions that form the canon’s foundation, it only further confuses mysteries left behind by the cartoon instead of clearing them up, and the specter of Sgt. Night haunts the canon to its very end. It’s like the comics are the point where the canon starts to dig past rock bottom, so the bad writing ends up penetrating all the way to the canon’s core, making it impossible to tell what is and isn’t supposed to be real in its world. The art style is actually nice in how it lacks the distinct plainness of the cartoon, but it’s also, alas, consistent with this canon’s bull-headed determination to fail at intricate and emotional plots, and not helped by it looking like the bad box art the video games are memetic for. This spinoff has been so badly thought out that it needs a reboot if it’s going to realize its potential, but instead the comic is a continuation, and in fact seems designed to remove what little was good about the cartoon, so the canon squanders its opportunity to start fresh, instead repeating the same mistakes right out of the gate. Assuming the comic was under different management, seeing as it’s from a different studio and in a different medium, that makes it seem like all the bad parts of the cartoon were deliberate.
One of the worst examples of that is in the episode “Tripping the Light Fantastic”, which is overall quite good, but also has a painfully bad part where Suna refuses to listen to Aki because the cartoon is trying to force the audience to see Aki and Mega Mini as brash and impulsive, even though they don’t behave that way at all and have logic and evidence backing them up. Fully Charged is full of similar moments where it doesn’t even understand how basic storytelling works, how dictating to an audience how they should feel is one of the most effective ways to alienate them, but if they don’t exist because the production team was abused… does that mean that everyone on it was just completely inept?
Well, the credits point toward two people rather than everyone. A. J. Marchisello and Marcus Rinehart get the most writing credit and authored the comic miniseries together, so they clearly bear most of the responsibility for this mess in its entirety. Besides them, there are twenty-two other credited writers across fifty-two episodes. New writers continue to show up as late as episode forty-seven, usually doing only one episode, then seemingly returning to the streets from which they were kidnapped, but they tend to produce the show’s best content. One-shot writers Jeff Trappel and Patricia Villetto are behind the cartoon’s best episodes, with honorable mentions to fellow one-shots Michael Oliver, Kevin Somers, Ricky Mammone, and M. J. Offen. Hopefully they all went on to better things after their relatively outstanding contributions to this show. Notably, the single time Fully Charged handles drama well is when A. J. has his brother Tanner riding shotgun, though they then return to the status quo by producing bad episodes together. Meanwhile, two of the three two-part episodes change writers smack dab in the middle, making it seem like the cartoon was a football that the staff enjoyed punting around for their amusement. That seems to go a long way in explaining why the cartoon tries to shear your neck off with whiplash by airing its best episode right after its worst one.
Perhaps Man of Action as a corporate machine has also suffered similar to Capcom itself. It seems like after they found success with Ben 10, they’ve focused exclusively on making sequels and reboots to Ben 10, much like the sequel stagnation Capcom is infamous for, and this has continued to such an extreme that they’ve tried to turn other franchises like Mega Man into Ben 10. Irony, thy name is Fully Charged.
This has all left behind a cartoon that is oddly tame, yet repeatedly doubles down on its worst decisions, so the good parts of this show don’t appear often enough and have too many stipulations attached, while the bad parts show up all the time, sucking the life out of everything around them. It’s an overall forgettable show, with just enough high points to make that a shame.
It seems like a miracle that this show even completed a whole season. Cartoon Network didn’t kill this cartoon; you can’t kill what’s already deader than a Munchkin player that’s been caught by Squidzilla. Despite the channel’s hard-earned bad reputation, it’s more likely that the show’s creators killed Cartoon Network’s faith in the show right out of the gate. Sonic Boom may have been a similarly strange spinoff that produced one of the worst video games ever published, but at least it had a cartoon that I respect and salute, even though I didn’t care for it all that much myself. I can’t scrounge up any respect for Fully Charged after how it exhausted me, though like with all junk piles, there are interesting components to be salvaged from it. This honestly isn’t something you enjoy for its awfulness though. Instead it’s something you enjoy only after you write a long review of it and then flay your friends alive with it.
OH, and speaking of Sonic, Man of Action is producing a cartoon about him next and it’ll be called Sonic Prime. It’ll probably turn out OK, if only because the standards for Sonic are far lower than Mega Man’s. Getting an all new voice cast for it is probably a bad idea though and a sign of things to come, considering voice actors are one of the only things the franchise has going for it, besides comics.
…come to think of it, Sonic is now a television and comic book star who gets stereotypically awful licensed games made about him… but that’s a subject for another review.
Anyway, goodbye Fully Charged. Overall, you just were not exciting or engaging. In fact, your name is ironic because you were a total drain to sit through. I saw so much inanity and squandered potential in you; it’s like you tried to be Bomberman Jetters with your dual focus on being a brainless kid’s show and a nail-biting drama, but you failed completely and totally. That’s why I hate you and am glad to give you the sendoff you deserve.
Accessibility: It’s probably best if you go into this completely ignorant about Mega Man, because then all the anemic and backwards attempts at fanservice won’t grate on you. But that may also taint your view of the greater franchise when you finish it.
Fidelity: Doesn’t have the charm of classic Mega Man, doesn’t handle free-willed robots anywhere near as well as Mega Man X, doesn’t handle human-like robots anywhere near as well as Mega Man ZX, doesn’t borrow from the classic continuity anywhere near as well as Megaman Battle Network, doesn’t handle war and drama anywhere near as well as Mega Man Zero, doesn’t have a world anywhere near as breathtaking or imaginative as Mega Man Legends, doesn’t showcase a kid hero’s growth and maturity anywhere near as well as Mega Man Star Force.
Quality: Technically better than the infamous Mega Man cartoon produced by Ruby Spears, but that’s actually a bad thing. It’s dull and a slog more than anything else. You can’t even laugh at this show at its expense. The comics at least have that Rifftrax value, but this canon just seems to get worse the more you study it. If more people had seen it and talked about it, it might have killed off the franchise again like Joel Schumacher’s Batman & Robin. Just imagine that: in an alternate universe, Fully Charged gets stuck doing most of the work in reviving the wide-reaching, multimedia franchise from the dead. Lots of people see it, and because of its poor quality, they go, “Huh, so that’s why no one cares about Mega Man anymore.” That has a knock-on effect on Mega Man 11, so it never reaches a million units sold and after some floundering about, Capcom decides that reviving one of their original mascots was a bad idea, so Mega Man is resigned to the scrap heap for the second time.
|Ruby Spears cartoon: 27 episodes|
Scores from the Mega Man Home Page:
Good: 2 (7%)
Decent: 6 (23%)
Okay: 11 (40%)
Poor: 5 (19%)
Bad: 3 (11%)
Result: 30% worth seeing, 30% worth avoiding
|Man of Action cartoon: 49 episodes|
(Technically 52 with 3 two-parters)
My own scores:
Great: 2 (4%)
Good: 10 (20%)
Alright: 25 (52%)
Awful: 9 (18%)
Painful: 3 (6%)
Result: 24% worth seeing, 24% worth avoiding.
Best Episodes: A Cut Above, It’s Chemistry, Man
Worst Episodes: Please Rush Home, Minus Mini, Enemy of my Enemy
Episode I Had the Least to Say About: Bored to be Wild
Episode I Had the Most to Say About: Enemy of my Enemy
Episode I Had No Negative Criticism For: Drill of the Hunt
Episode I Had No Positive Criticism For: Minus Mini
Episodes That Had The Most Wasted Potential: Enter the Wood Man, Big Bad Dreams, Change the Charge
+++ Great: Broke my rating scale by being sincerely excellent. Why couldn’t the rest of the show have been like this?
+ Good: These particularly stood out for their cleverness and execution. They’re graded on a curve though because the show has so many problems in its foundation.
– Alright: Inoffensive. Have a lot of small problems or a couple big ones, but those aren’t too hard to ignore if you turn your brain off and enjoy the show for what it is. Maybe their good and bad parts even cancel each other out.
X Awful: These badly fumble the show’s internal logic, if not logic in general. They appear most often when the show tries to do something dramatic.
XXX Painful: Broke my rating scale in the other direction with their sheer stupidity. Do not watch these.
Episode Reviews [With Scores]:
|E1&2: Throwing Shade [X]|
E4: Videodrone [-]
E6: Blaze of Glory [X]
E8: Hard Times in Silicon City [-]
E10: Running Wild [-]
E11: Unfriendly Competition [+]
E13: I.C.E. In Case of Emergency [+]
E15: Drill of the Hunt [+]
E17: Bored to be Wild [-]
E19&20: Lightfall [-]
E21: Rush to Greatness [-]
E23: Minus Mini [XXXXXXX]
E25: A Bot and his Dog [+]
E27: A Guilded Cage [+]
E29: Watt’s Happening [-]
E31: Big Bad Dreams [-]
E33: All Good in the Wood [+]
E35: A Split End [-]
E37: More More More [X]
E39: Too Much is Never Enough [+]
E41: It’s Chemistry, Man [++]
E43: Enemy of my Enemy [XXX]
E45: This is Not a Drill [-]
E47: Change the Charge [X]
E49: Make the Cut [+]
E51&52: The Gauntlet [X]
Fully Charged Issue #1 [+]
Fully Charged Issue #3 [X]
Fully Charged Issue #5 [-]
|E3: Drilling Deep [-]|
E5: Please Rush Home [XXXX]
E7: Nice on Ice [-]
E9: Tripping the Light Fantastic [+]
E12: Opposites Attract [X]
E14: Trust Your Guts, Man [X]
E16: Power Cycle [-]
E18: Enter the Wood Man [-]
E22: SWISH (aka Enter Namagem) [X]
E24: A Cut Above [+++]
E26: This Man, This Man Man [-]
E28: To Air is Robot [-]
E30: Chill Out Bruh [+]
E32: License to Drill [-]
E34: Fire Man in the Hole [-]
E36: All Play and No Work [-]
E38: Blast Resort [-]
E40: The Bluster Bunch [-]
E42: Flower Power [-]
E44: Old School [-]
E46: A Man Man for All Seasons [-]
E48: Hide and Secrets [X]
E50: Panic in the Lighthouse [-]
Fully Charged Issue #2 [-]
Fully Charged Issue #4 [-]
Fully Charged Issue #6 [-]