[Conrad Zimmerman's note: Death By Cartoon follows my exploits as I attempt to watch and provide analysis on every episode of Captain N. It's a dangerous road, with thoughts of the sweet escape of suicide around every corner. Check back every Wednesday for a new episode or check out the archive to see previous editions.]
Uber-Short Synopsis: With Mother Brain and Dragonlord on the verge of conquering Dragon's Den, the N team must find and protect the lone baby dragon who has not been turned wicked through evil magic. More after the jump.
We begin this travesty by bearing witness to an adorable baby dragon being pursued by the massive Dragonlord and his henchmen. Just as the little, pink and white winged thing is about to be burned to a crisp, its mother comes swooping in. The mother dragon stares down Dragonlord, getting all up in his grill.
Dragonlord has an ace up his sleeve or, rather, on the chain around his neck. Clutching it, a power radiates from a black ... cowbell(?) and the mother dragon's demeanor darkens. Her heart has been turned cold by Dragonlord's magic and she turns to attack her mewling babe.
The baby dragon manages to escape into the woods and the chase is interrupted by a holographic Mother Brain appearing. She inquires as to how the cowbell (apparently a hypnotic crystal) she's given Dragonlord has been working out for him. He's impressed, having turned all dragons save the baby into his slaves. Mother Brain doesn't seem to concerned about the child, but Dragonlord warns her that it will grow up strong and could free its people from Pharoah's tyranny.
At the Palace of Power, Captain N and Simon Belmont are playing tennis. Belmont pulls out a special ball with a vampiric mouth and uses his whip to wield the tennis racket. Of course, that's the most idiotic means of using it, which befits the character. Soon, Belmont becomes wrapped in his own whip and falls to the ground with the ball coming round to bite him on the ass.
Then things go very wrong. It was hard to tell based on how the characters have been largely placed in the distance, but they appear different. Captain N's jacket, for example, appears solid red in many shots while retaining its usual red and white motif in others. In addition, the quality of the whole episode is drastically below the norm from an animation standpoint.
Left: Princess Lana as she appears in episode 104 - Videolympics. Right: A drawing of a blow-up doll resembling Lana from 107 - Three Men and a Dragon
Characters lack most of their usual detail and it seems like they skimped on expenses by using the least frames possible to depict the story. And some of the voice actors sound a bit off, most notably Megaman's. All of this leads me to believe this might have been produced as a pilot or something and never really brought up to the standards (such as they are) of other episodes. Why it was stuck here, seven episodes into the series, is a mystery.
Megaman leaps into the tennis court, yelling for the princess. It seems there's a communication coming in from Dragon's Den! Goddamn, he really sounds awful. I mean, he usually sounds awful, but this takes it to a whole new level. It's like the guy didn't read the script. Honestly, though, would you?
On a display screen are three wizened men, calling themselves the "Keepers of Power" who inform the N Team of what Dragonlord is up to. They warn that if all of the dragons are turned to the dark side, Dragon's Den will fall into darkness for a thousand years. The last good dragon, Puff, must be rescued before Dragonlord can reach her too. Then they clumsily drop the Dragon Warrior title. Oh! So that's the game this is supposed to be about!
Mother Brain comes on to the screen next, telling Captain N that he's too late and the last dragon has already been captured. Lana's not fooled by the evil grey matter's deception and the team prepares to leave for Dragon's Den.
What follows is an idiotic segment where Belmont dons a fox hunting jacket and blows a horn. Foxes, followed by a group of dogs come pouring out of a warp behind him, mowing Simon down. Realizing he had the wrong horn, he pulls out another (how much shit does he carry around at all times?!) and ewes chased by Arabs on camels charge through next. I warned you that it was stupid.
Cut to Dragon's Den, where the N Team emerges from a well in the center of a town. Kevin suggests that they split up. Lana and Megaman will go look for Puff while Captain N, Duke, Kid Icarus and Simon try to cut off Dragonlord. Cut him off from what isn't explained, but Kevin at least sounds like he knows what he's talking about.
I know it seems like I'm dwelling on the low-grade animation in this episode, but it's just startling and this scene is a good example. Rather than waste the art resources on detailed close-ups of the characters while discussing the plan, about halfway through they just cut to everyone climbing out of the well. And even that's half-assed as they just sorta jump from being in the well to being out of it. It looks terrible and it's kinda disorienting and I fucking hate Captian N.
Kevin spots a weapon shop and decides to get some gear. The shopkeeper offers to trade Kevin's Zapper for a golden battleaxe, but the Cap'N declines and asks for some magic herbs instead. Actually, he calls them, "that stuff you use to restore your power during battle", which is as meta as it is annoying. Sure, sure, it's a "game tip", I suppose but it isn't a particularly valuable one.
When the shopkeeper poo-poos Kevin's American dollars (just like everyone else these days), he instead offers his digital watch. He claims it has two alarms, a stopwatch and can dial a telephone. I'm sure there are some bluetooth enabled watches out there that can do this with a cell phone today, but this is fucking 1992. Captain N is a filthy liar who takes advantage of shopkeepers in ancient civilizations. He'll probably go talk to the constabulary next and tell them the shopkeeper stole the watch since it has his name engraved on the back. Asshole.
Walking through the town, the gang discusses the items they bought in the shop. Kid Icarus snagged a magic helmet that's supposed to protect him from dragon fire but doesn't stop him from being a clumsy, inattentive moron who runs into conveniently placed poles. Belmont bought water skis. I'd have something to say about this, but I'm too enraged and afraid I'll have an aneurysm.
On Metroid, Mother Brain is spying on the N Team and decides to, once again and in the face of all common sense, send King Hippo and Eggplant Wizard to stop them. In another stunning example of the fine craftsmanship which has gone into this episode, the two henchthings respond in unison with a derogatory remark towards Mother Brain, but only King Hippo's voice is heard. Both characters lips move, but only one is actually speaks. And it isn't presented in any way that would imply ventriloquism. Seriously, did they just give up? I can imagine the discussion that was had when the episode was being reviewed by DiC executives:
Executive 1: "Hm. Do you think we should do something about the glaring lack of a voice-over from one of the characters in this scene?"
Executive 2: "Fuck it, nobody's ever going to watch this shit. Kids are dumb. They'll eat it up. Only a person with a keen eye and exceptional skills of critique would ever notice and none of them would waste their time on such drivel."
Eggplant and Hippo arrive on Dragon's Den and find themselves at the feet of two terrifying dragons. The dragons, mirroring my perpetual mystification at how stupid these characters consistently are, point out that all of the dragons are evil and, ergo, on Mother Brain's side. They're intended to be mounts. Of course, we get to enjoy a side-splittingly funny scene while the pair attempt to actually mount their mounts. I long for the sweet embrace of death to free me from a prison of my own creation, but I must soldier on.
As Kevin and the gang get their bearings, a watermelon falls from the sky. Belmont gets hit with some of the sticky juice and assumes he's been shot. The battle is on. Kid Icarus' anti-fire helmet is disappointingly effective when he's struck by a blast from King Hippo's dragon. Captain N isn't so lucky, as the icy breath of Eggplant Wizard's mount freezes him solid. Unable to reach the magic herbs (which he pronounces "Her-b", like my uncle's name instead of "Erb" like anyone with a brain would) on his belt and Duke has to bite them open for him.
A terrified Simon frantically searches through his pack looking for anything which might save his hide. Failing that, he turns to his whip and swings at Hippo's dragon while clumsily stepping into his newly purchased skis. The whip wraps around the dragon's tail and... yeah. This eventually works out, though, as he is eventually wrapped around a tree, slingshotting the tethered dragon backwards. The errant beast crashes into its partner, defeating both dragons at once.
Hiding in a cave to regroup from Hippo and Eggplant's attack, the three heroes hear a noise from behind a boulder. Climbing over to investigate, Kevin discovers the baby dragon who, freaks the fuck out. You know, like you do. Trying to escape, the dragon slides off the edge of a cliff, clinging for life above the raging rapids below. Kevin reaches out to save the little one, but Puff loses the grip it has and tumbles down. Of course, it does have wings and suddenly learns to use them at the last possible instant, flying back up to the top amidst the cheers of our heroes.
The dragon is still frightened by the strange people (who wouldn't be?) but Belmont has the solution. He sprays himself with a dragon-scented cologne, which instantly endears the pint-sized serpent to him. Off they go to find Lana and Megaman to let them know everything is OK. You know, instead of taking the dragon somewhere actually safe. Brilliant.
Speaking of the rest of the team, they've found a castle in the distance and head off to see if perhaps its residents could point them in the right direction. The castle, however, belongs to Dragonlord and he orders a welcoming party to greet them. His speech is really weird here, inserting pauses at odd intervals like he's some kind of draconic William Shatner. But it isn't. This show is so horrible that even William Shatner wouldn't have agreed to appear in it during what was obviously the low point of his career (Star Trek V released the same year).
Upon arriving at a massive door, Lana asks Megaman to "pick the lock". By that, she obviously meant for him to tear it off the hinges, which is always the best way to entice someone to assist you. I know whenever I pop round my neighbor's to borrow a cup of sugar, instead of knocking, I have my robot rip open the door. It's just common courtesy.
Once inside, Lana mistakes what is obviously a massive bed for a fireplace. Far be it for me to criticize Dragonlord's interior design choices, but who uses a foyer for a bedroom? In any case, Dragonlord and his cronies burst in at this moment. Megaman attempts to attack a dragon with his buster, but the shot is reflected and cuts a perfect circle in the floor around him and the princess, causing them to fall into a cell in the dungeon below.
Elsewhere, the trio of male heroes are wandering the wastes when little Puff starts crying. Icarus suggests that the dragon may be hungry. Belmont tries to feed it a dragonfly because, hey, that might be funny to a six year-old. No, it's obvious that they'll require milk. Hey, look at that! A conveniently placed cow!
Kevin pawns the responsibility for milking off to Belmont and a slapstick routine where the udder only produces when it can spray him in the face ensues. Long after it ceases to be funny (Fun Fact: the point at which this schtick got old was in the 1930's), Duke runs in front of the cow and barks, scaring the milk out. Take notes, kids. Next time you're in a field with a cow, this is what you should do. Torment never tasted so sweet.
Back in Dragonlord's castle, Megaman shoots in vain at the walls of the cell. Luckily for them, one cell over are the Keepers of Power and they've got the ticket out. One of the Keepers tosses Lana some "magic warp water", claiming that a warp zone to where they keep their power items will appear wherever it is spilled. A transvestite in Vegas once used a similar line on me and, well, perhaps I've said too much.
After pouring the contents of the vial on the floor, the puddle mystically expands and drops Megaman and Lana through it. They emerge in the air above a massive stone dragon's mouth and slide down an unimaginable distance into a huge cavern.
Going back to the half of the group with the dragon, the tyke is fed but keeps crying regardless. Simon burps it, which causes a gout of flame to burst forth and singe his jacket. This continues to be insufficient for the dragon's needs. It can only mean one thing: MONTAGE!
The baby is rocked in a crib on a tree branch (falling out and hitting Simon), entertained with a rattle (which it eats), bathed by Kevin and diapered by Simon who somehow winds up wearing the diaper himself. At the end, the heroes are all tuckered out while the baby laughs and does sit-ups. Hilarious. Where do those wacky writers come up with this stuff? If you said, "the ninth circle of Hell, reserved for those who betray," you get a gold star.
It's also during this montage where I realized exactly what's wrong with the animation. While the series has, by and large, always resembled an American animation style, this episode exhibits conventions typically found in the Japanese form. This isn't a bad thing on its own, since I'm quite fond of anime, except that this borders on Speed Racer territory. While in that show it's considered part of its kitschy charm, it utterly fails here.
Lana and Megaman locate the power items they were seeking, a gold suit of armor and a lightning bolt-shaped thing. Our robotic friend wonders how they are going to escape and Lana says they'll climb out. Yeah, and guess who's going to have to drag along the solid-gold suit of armor. I know Megaman is "mega-strong" and all, but the thing is more than thrice his size and has to be awkward as hell to carry. What a bitch.
Kevin et al are walking through a forest. Simon has the map, which is always a good sign. When it's discovered he's been holding it the wrong way, he announces that they're on their way towards Dragonlord's castle. Brilliant. Then, leaping out of a gap in a nearby rock face, comes Lana and Megaman.
Just then, Dragonlord arrives, his hypnotized slaves in tow. Seeing its mother, Puff runs to her only to be greeted by billowing flame. That kid is gonna need some serious therapy in about twenty years. Our heroes run for cover, seemingly content to let the baby fend for itself. Real brave, guys.
Icarus shoots an arrow into Dragonlord's mouth and stops the torrent of black flame rushing out of him. Lana remembers the power items and Kevin grabs the totally rad lightning bolt, leaving Simon to don the awkward armor. Barely able to walk and unable to see through the helmet, Simon is a whole lot of good, but Puff flies between his legs and takes to the sky. The logistics of that are probably one of those things man was not meant to understand.
Kevin, completely clueless as to what the lightning bolt's function is, throws it at Dragonlord and hopes for the best. Nimble for a guy his size, the dragon leans to one side and allows the bolt to fly past and embed itself into the airborne Belmont's back.
As Dragonlord moves in for the kill on Kevin and Lana, Belmont pulls the lightning bolt from his back and flings it away. It flies into the dark clouds above and they shatter, revealing blue skies and sunlight. As the light warms the earth, it warms the dragons' hearts as well and they are freed from the evil spell. Seeing that the tables have turned, Dragonlord flees and another world in Videoland is saved.
This episode is what you might call a perfect storm of shit. Say what you will about the general plot structure, characterizations, dialogue, and lame jokes in a standard episode of Captain N. Lord knows, I've said plenty. At least they've had rather decent art and animation, even if it often falls way off the mark. Three Men and a Dragon lacks even that one small amount of solace in an animated series gone horribly wrong. Even the voice acting, typically poor, is excruciatingly sub-par here.
I've watched a lot of this series in the last few years, not just while working on this episode guide but also out of morbid curiosity. I like to think that it's given me a pretty thick skin. I shit you not, I spent the vast majority of this nightmarish twenty minutes slack-jawed. It only goes to show that even if you think you've hit rock bottom, there's always some asshole willing to toss you a jackhammer to keep digging with.
I know we're only seven episodes in but I'm going to make a bold statement: Three Men and a Dragon is the Plan 9 from Outer Space of this show. It can't possibly get worse than this.
Please, God, if you exist in all your majestic glory, let me be right about that.
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