Pilot Review - 'Villainous,' "The Dreadful Dawn"
"A refreshing and hilarious addition to Cartoon Network's lineup, one that I should hope lasts a long while."
Well, this certainly caught me by surprise.
For the uninitiated, Villainous (or Villanos in the Spanish version) is a Mexican web series created by Alan Ituriel, that Cartoon Network picked up after it won their "Pitch Me Anything" contest at the Mexican creative arts festival known as Pixelatl. The first ten mini-sodes were released back in May of 2017, with another eight coming in hard in December of the same year.
I personally got introduced to the series thanks to the enormous fanbase it already had back then—which still surprises me even now, since it didn't even have an English dub yet, but English-speakers were absolutely eating it up like candy. Naturally, I got curious enough to watch a few of the early shorts. I remember enjoying them so much that I—much like many others, I'm sure—hoped that one day that CN could introduce such an interesting series to even more audiences by giving it a television broadcast (but also to make sure that the channel had at least ONE good show in their lukewarm lineup...).
And, well, it's pretty obvious what happened next in the story, right?
Sure enough, creator Alan Ituriel and Cartoon Network made many fans' dreams come true on September 8 of last year when they released the teaser trailer for the series's television debut.
Needless to say, I and countless other animation nerds were over the moon about this news.
The pilot for this new series, titled "The Dreadful Dawn," was released online about a month ago at the time of writing this, on June 8th, 2019. Was it worth waiting for? I can safely say: absolutely.
The plot of the episode introduces right away what makes Villainous such an interesting concept for a show: the insidious and malicious Black Hat (voiced by the show's creator Alan Ituriel) runs a self-titled organization meant to help villains and evil-doers in their schemes, while also striving to take down as many hero-types as possible. The episode starts with the sickly villainess Penumbra (voiced by Amanda Rose in English) going to Black Hat and his mooks for some well-deserved payback against Sunblast (Herschel "IV" Hatcher), the "hero" of the town she lives in, who apparently would find any excuse in the book just to keep punching the (no pun intended) daylights out of her. Naturally, Black Hat sends his top three cohorts to take care of the job: the meek scientist and ex-pilot Dr. Flug Slys (Eco Vox), the lovable yet hypersensitive failure of an evil experiment called 5.0.5 (voiced by Mark Fischbach, known otherwise as the YouTube sensation called Markiplier), and the boss's own violently passionate #1 fangirl Demencia (Melaney Sems).
Just from that description you can tell that this episode gets really creative really fast. All the characters are highly entertaining, from either their animations, dialogue, mannerisms, or interactions with each other. I especially loved the implied dynamic between the villains and the heroes, who are portrayed as unpopular nerdy kids, who are constantly picked on by the jockish bullies, respectively; it's an interesting concept that at first might seem unoriginal but is surprisingly refreshing to see in cartoons today—especially when its executed with such a memorable ensemble of misfit characters.
Those misfits ended up being one of my favorite parts of the episode; Dr. Flug is both admirable for his scientific prowess and really sympathetic for his introverted nature and his desire to please his boss with his work (not to mention he's the perfect straight man to counteract his partners' antics). 5.0.5 is as pure as you can get, with his unconditional love for all of his teammates and his Bewear-like hugging abilities (although I still think his voice casting choice makes about as much sense as casting Academy Award-winner Sean Penn as the "Man-of-Few-Words" character in the Angry Birds film...). Demencia is both exactly what you would and wouldn't expect from the Psycho Fangirl archetype, and she's easily one of the more interesting cast members because of her mysterious origins (in fact I'm not even sure she's totally human at all); and then there's the head-honcho, Black Hat himself, who's the most unique out of the cast since he's the only one who is genuinely one-hundred-percent evil, and seems to take sadistic glee in watching heroes or even his own mooks suffer. I'm always a sucker for these sorts of misfit casts, and it's absolutely no different here; when the episode finished, all I kept thinking about was how much I wanted to see more of the characters.
(Plus with me personally, the quickest way to get me hooked on a story is with the characters.)
The animation was absolutely my other favorite part of the episode, for a lot of the same reasons why I loved the characters so much; it's so refreshing to see thick-lined, sharp and pointed character and background designs after seeing the over-saturation of the thin-lined and chunky "CalArts"-style in cartoons for years now. Obviously, that style isn't bad by any stretch, but I've definitely started to get tired of seeing the exact same character builds across so many shows; I'm always looking for media that takes risks and breaks boundaries in some way, and although the art style of Villainous isn't the most revolutionary, it's still such a breath of fresh air to watch animation that doesn't look like it was copied from everyone else. To add to that point, all the character designs are unique and appropriately cool for quote-unquote "bad guys"—my personal favorite is Demencia's snakelike hoodie, which becomes even more appropriate for her when it covers her face and makes her look more like a reptile than a human being.
Overall, this pilot episode really was a treat to watch. It introduces the series' core set pieces organically and gives the audience just enough to get them interested in the rest of the series. Overall, this was a great pilot and makes the rest of the TV series look very promising. If you're looking for a new and interesting cartoon, I highly recommend this—as well as the original web series too, which may have shorter episode runtimes but are still just as entertaining.