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Here's the Thing About 'Centaurworld' (part one)

by John Dodge 3 months ago in tv

Confronting trauma as an absurdist musical

Image courtesy of Netflix

I wasn't sure that I would write another review type breakdown of an animated show anytime soon after the one about Hilda, but here we are, and all because of Centaurworld. God damn Centaurworld.

The brainchild of Megan Nicole Dong which premiered only recently on July 30, 2021 is not a series that I was particularly hyped for leading up to its release. In fact the only reason I started watching it at all was because I needed some background noise while working late the day it was released and it automatically came up at some point between Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles films. I probably should have just switched to YouTube at that point, but I didn't, and now I have to write this because what the actual fuck, Centaurworld!?

I don't want to do this series a disservice with this article, so as a disclaimer I want to make it known that this is being written after having watched four of the ten episodes in the first season of Centaurworld. There is simply too much going on with this show to not break this up into multiple articles. Hell, I may even go back and revisit individual episodes at some point. With that being said, let me talk at you about Centaurworld for a little bit.

The image above is from the opening scene of the first episode "Hello Rainbow Road." It is quite clearly nothing like the promotional material for the show would lead anyone to expect. That's not a bad thing, however, as the core theme of the series is ultimately one of duality and dichotomy. There are of course other themes that are touched on such as loss, survivor's guilt, and toxic positivity, but directly opposing conflicts either between two characters or in a cognitively dissonant sense are constant before the first title card hits the screen. This is all emphasized by the overtly purposeful use of styles of animation that clash in ways that are at times uncomfortable. Then again, making the view uncomfortable is something that Centaurworld excels at for the better.

The protagonist of this story is Horse, who herself is an ordinary warhorse from an extraordinary era of semi-realistic fantasy violence. When separated from the aptly named Rider in the heat of a vicious battle against a monstrous army, the artifact which they each clung to let out a blinding light. Instead of falling to a tragic demise, Horse awakens in a brightly lit, cartoonish wonderland populated by even more unnervingly imaginative centaurs. Welcome to Centaurworld, it will be a nauseating experience from the outset.

Horse is quickly introduced to a variety of unsettlingly silly centaurs led by the fluffy, fearful Wammawink. By the end of the first episode viewers have been beaten over the head with the "freedom versus security" trope, with Horse representing the former in a desperate bid to return to her own world to reunite with her Rider. At the same time, Wammawink is steadfast in her suggestion that she, her herd, and Horse stay within the confines of the magical dome that keeps their small corner of paradise safe from any outside forces. It's no surprise that Horse wins this argument, leading the herd beyond the dome and into the wilderness that awaits while establishing the tone for the series. Except not really.

There are very obvious parallels between Centaurworld and shows such as Steven Universe or Adventure Time. All three of these series take place in a cartoonish world that has already survived some form of near total apocalypse and recovered for the most part at least. They also rely heavily on silly, slapstick, sometimes lowbrow humor to cut the tension of the more serious undertones of any given episode. In the case of Adventure Time and Steven Universe, that tension was built slowly over the course of two or three seasons before the overarching plot behind everything came into prominence more so than any episode of the week shenanigans. For Centaurworld, the gut wrenching tragedies and bleak truths at the heart of the story are in your face from the very start, and the whacky centaurs with their magical talking farts don't often do a good job of making you forget about how horrifying things are just under the surface of this particular tale. And that's probably the point.

There are plenty of moments in the first four episodes of Centaurworld that are eerily reminiscent of the absurdist improv of Rick and Morty, or even (dare I say it) the completely unhinged energy of Monkeybone. They tow the line between funny and unnerving in a way that some might describe as "poorly," but I'm willing to give this show a bit more faith than that. Everything about this series is intentional, which goes for the way it can leave the viewer helpless when it comes to wrapping their head around exactly what it is that they are watching. Between the astounding amount of attention paid to every single detail and the frequently successful attempts to create spine tingling horror from throwaway gag jokes, there is little if any aspect of the worlds introduced by this series that wasn't molded without a specific purpose in mind. In the case of the music, that purpose is to try to make me cry as much as possible.

Holy shit, we haven't even talked about the music yet, have we? Did I mention that this show was a musical? I don't think I did, so let me repeat that for you. This is a MUSICAL. And it is BRILLIANT. So far there has been a single song that I wasn't a big fan of. It was the song about the talking farts. But every other piece of music written for Centaurworld is perfect. That goes for the score as well as the soundtrack, but it is the songs that are sung by the all too talented cast which stick with you. They are devastating and honest and full of the kind of soul that hurts to listen to. This whole entire show hurts at some level, really. The music is just the thing that brings all of that pain to the surface in the form of actual tears. There are classic songs from Adventure Time and Steven Universe that have become iconic within their respective fandoms. Some are cute, some are sad, some are about making bacon pancakes. None of them cut as deep as the music from Centaurworld. If you're a Steven Universe fan and you don't believe me, then go watch the opening scene of Centaurworld right now. I'll wait here until you return with that apology for doubting me. I love Steven Universe. I'm a firmly cishet white man in his thirties who sings "Stronger Than You" in the shower because it's a catchy tune and Garnet is goals. I still said what I said about the music, and I'm not wrong.

Centaurworld is weird. It's wacky. It's fucking depressing, and it knows it, and it's going to make up for that with more weird, wacky bullshit than you can handle. Centaurworld wants you to feel bad about yourself at times, but it very clearly also wants you to get better. I don't know that I'll be diving so deep into this series that I start breaking down individual episodes, but this will not be the last review of the first season that you see from me. I'm looking forward to joining Horse and her new herd on their journey down the Rainbow Road. I want to see her find all of the shamans and gather all of the pieces of her magical key. And I want to cry some more. That shit is cathartic, y'know?

John Dodge seriously didn't think Centaurworld would be this good, and he isn't sure that it has any right to be. You can find him writing about comic books almost every single day at CBR.com, or on social media on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. He's also posting his favorite comic book panels over here. If you liked this article, clicking the heart is a great way to let him know. Sending a tip right here on Vocal is a great way to buy him a cup of coffee so he can keep writing until 3 am five nights a week.

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John Dodge

He/Him/Dad. Staff writer for CBR by day, still that but also other stuff by night. On Twitter, and on Facebook, and Instagram. Posting the comic book panels I fall in love with daily over here. Click this link if you're interested in Vocal.

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Read next: Sea of Sorrow #4

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