This is it, kids. The final piece of what is widely considered (okay, I made that up) Mainframe’s classic trilogy. This was the last of their shows I remember fondly from my childhood. This is SPARTA Shadow Raiders.
Or War Planets if you lived in the good ol’ US of A. This time, though, I’m fully behind the Canadian title because…War Planets just sounds stupid. It’s like something a fourth grader would come up with.
Warning: Here be spoilers
Shadow Raiders was another cartoon made to pimp a toy line, although unlike Transformers, nobody I knew ever owned or cared about the toys. It was also Mainframe’s shortest-lived series at the time, running only two seasons for a grand total of 26 episodes before being canceled.
So then I started watching this other show called Firefly…
Shadow Raiders is set in a solar system called The Cluster, with four habitable planets and a fifth uninhabitable one. The four planets war continuously amongst themselves for resources. These imaginatively named planets are Planet Ice, Planet Bone, Planet Fire, and Planet Rock.
Our hero is Graveheart, a exiled Rock-ian miner working on Planet Ice.
THERE WAS SUPPOSED TO BE
A BRAVEHEART PICTURE HERE LIKE A JOKE
BUT WORDPRESS SUCKS
He finds a crashed ship containing a woman named Tekla from another system, and her Guilty Spark-ish robot pal Voxx. She tells him that her homeworld, Planet Tech, was destroyed by the Beast, a race of wandering conquerors whose rogue planet literally fucking eats other worlds.
As luck would have it, the Beast are now heading straight for the Cluster, and Tekla convinces Graveheart to try to unite the four planets to defend the system before time runs out, but pride and old grudges aren’t easy to overcome.
It’s very difficult to find a picture with the main characters all in one shot, so we’ll have to do it in chunks.
Left to right: Tekla, (in the back) King Cryo of Planet Ice, and Graveheart.
Graveheart’s pal Jade, and that’s Prince Pyrus of Planet Fire in the back.
Cryos’ daughter Zera..
Blokk, commander of the Beast forces. There is a female Beast officer as well, Lamprey, and she’s a lot smarter than him.
So, of course, uniting the planets is no easy task, and most everyone laughs off the threat until they see the Beast’s advance forces for themselves. Even then, many of the characters are still out for their own gain and looking to turn the situation into a way for their planet to seize power.
Even after the Beast launch an attack on Planet Rock, Lord Mantel still doesn’t want to join the alliance since he successfully defended the planet using its Battle Moons, a series of artificial defense satellites.
Overall, Shadow Raiders is the darkest and most mature of Mainframe’s first three shows (again, Beast Machines would be even darker, but fuck that series) and relied entirely on serialized storytelling. Beast Wars had been arc-heavy, but not to this extent. Every single episode furthered the plot, another example of Mainframe’s talent for turning toy-pimping into gold.
Despite its bleak atmosphere and large cast, Shadow Raiders has a much lower body count than Beast Wars did. That’s not to say they shy away from loss, it’s just that there aren’t body parts flying off every few episodes. When something does go horribly wrong, it’s a pretty big deal.
So at the end of the first season, the Beast army is tracked to the dead fifth world, Remora. A joint attack from all the Alliance members causes the planet to explode.
The Beast don’t appreciate that, so the Beast Planet teleports out of the fucking sun and launches a full-scale attack on The Cluster. Despite Rock’s earlier victory, the forces of the shaky Alliance don’t stand a chance against the full might of the Beast.
Luckily, this is a Mainframe show, and so there must be at least one spectacular deus ex machina, and Shadow Raiders doesn’t disappoint. You see, it’s discovered that each of the planets in the Cluster has a planetary drive system buried deep under the surface. Yes, kids, a MASSIVE ENGINE at the heart of the planet. Even John Locke would find that a bit silly.
So the Alliance ships are getting their asses handed to them by the Beast, and most of Rock’s Battle Moons have been destroyed. The planetary drive systems are activated, and all the planets make for a jump gate to escape the system and leave the Beast behind. Unfortunately, one of the drive systems is damaged, and so Planet Fire is destroyed.
The second season made the situation even more grim. The Sisterhood of the Traveling Planets is wandering through space, warning the other planets about the Beast, and trying to get them to join the Alliance. Where the planetary drives came from and why they are found outside of the Cluster is never explained. Thanks, YTV. You cancellous bastards. The Beast, of course, don’t take defeat well, and are relentlessly pursuing the refugees.
While there are some successes along the way, with Planet Sand joining the coalition, other episodes show just how desperate things have gotten, with the Alliance destroying Planet Jungle themselves, just so the Beast can’t have it.
OKAY NO MORE SPOILORZ
Despite its cancellation, the final episodes do tie up a lot of the plot threads reasonably well, though the series ends on an OR IS IT?! moment. I won’t spoil how things end up for those of you who want to watch the series for yourselves.
The biggest tragedy of Shadow Raiders’ cancellation is that while the immediate threat is resolved, nearly all the larger mythology questions go unanswered. Where did the Beast Planet come from? Why are they such assholes? Who built the planetary drive systems? Why do all the planets have one? We’ll never know. Since it was never as popular as ReBoot or Beast Wars, it’s never even warranted so much as a comic book to wrap things up. And that’s a damn shame.
This series has a cool setting, interesting characters, and a great story as far as Western animated television goes. It was under-appreciated in its time, and it’s under-appreciated now, if it’s even remembered at all. If you’re a sci-fi geek and don’t mind being left wondering at the end, please please please give Shadow Raiders a try.
Next week: In Part 4, we chart Mainframe’s descent into madness and awfulness!