Spots on! Or should that be spot on?
This cartoon is kind of a marvel; heck the fact that it was even made is a marvel. Apparently conceived when French animator Thomas Astruc met a ‘certain lady’ in a ladybug shirt (which in no way sounds like the beginning of a superhero origin in and of itself). The series started as a bunch of drawings, but were transformed into a cartoon by Zagtoons and several animation studios across several countries. It’s a testament to co-operation and creativity and it helps that it’s a really fun show too. Oh also, I finally get my magical girl fix! What? So it’s not an anime, Japan doesn’t have the copyright on the genre and lets run down the checklist. A female heroine who gains magic powers and uses them to fight evil and get up to various hijinks? Check. A talking animal sidekick? Check. Transformation sequences? Double Check. It’s Sailor Moon as a French superhero, well once we get to all the other heroes who are due to pop up in season two.
The show follows the adventures of Marinette, you’re typical French/Chinese high school student living a content life in Paris. She dreams of being a fashion designer and one day being able to speak to the cute guy in her class (who also happens to be a model by the way). Then one day she met Tikki (though how they actually met isn’t told to us until towards the end of the first season, which is either really gutsy or really stupid and I can’t decide which. I mean I like to know the origin of my heroes, but on the other hand it does let us just get straight into the action and grab people’s attention. Maybe if the origin just happened earlier, even if not the first episode). Anyway, Tikki is a strange little creature that gives Marinette the ability to transform into the Miraculous Ladybug, a superhero with extreme agility, a deadly yoyo (what? I’ve seen weirder weapons) and the power to summon whatever tool she needs to save the day, though this does drain her energy somewhat.
Her adversary is the villainous Hawk Moth, a man who likes his solitude apparently, standing around in his little watchtower waiting for someone to get angry. Seriously, that’s how his powers work, when someone is angry or upset he can take control of their minds, giving them powers and transforming them into super villains! (Though, does only one person get mad at a time in Paris? And why is it almost always someone connected to Marinette’s school friends and their family? It must be Chloe. That girl would infuriate Gandhi). Now Hawk Moth’s plan is a simple one, so simple it’s used by every villain in every cartoon ever. He summons a monster of the week to go after the heroes, hoping against hope that he’ll win by attrition.
Oh right, I said heroes, that brings me to our second lead, Cat Noir. Cat Noir is the superhero form of Adrien, Marinette’s crush. His powers are more destructive, able to tear down anything he touches when activated, though again this drains his energy. He’s also a terrible flirt and even worse with the puns and jokes, which is interesting, but I’ll come back to that.
While I really love this show, I can’t exactly say it’s flawless. As I mentioned with the Hawk Moth discussion, this show is incredibly formulaic. Marinette will come across some trouble in her civilian guise, this will lead to someone getting angry and Hawk Moth will turn them into a villain. Cue Ladybug and Cat Noir to come to the rescue, beat the bad guy, Ladybug hits the magic reset switch and maybe they’ll be a lesson forced on someone. Hawk Moon swears to get them next time, rinse and repeat. However I’ve said it before, it’s not what you do, it’s how you do it. Where the series lacks in an original formula it makes up for it with gorgeous animation, fun and creative adventures and charming and interesting characters. Of course the formula could get a shake up in season 2 when new heroes are added and the mythology is expanded upon. Season 1 is very much a set up phase, putting the building blocks in place and letting use get to know the characters before we move on to other things. I’m really looking forward to season 2.
Now if I haven’t sold it to you yet, let me bring out the big guns. First off our characters, now while a lot of them don’t exactly get a great deal of depth or exploration they still feel fleshed out enough for me to like them and we get to know all of their quirks as the series goes on. Where the series shines though is when it comes to our main characters and the interesting ideas it puts on display. What I find most fascinating is the differences in personalities between our leads and their costumed selves. First there’s Marinette who out of costume is nervous and awkward, especially when it comes to Adrien, she can’t utter a word to him without going to pieces. Yet once she’s got the mask on she’s confident, able to flirt with Cat Noir and uses her wits to overcome any obstacle. Adrien on the other hand is smart, kind and polite, yet once he becomes Cat Noir he gets to cut loose, make bad jokes, flirt with the love of his life and generally have a bit of fun. In his civilian life Adrien feels restrained, by his father and the expectations of him, but no one has those expectation of Cat Noir. They’re costumed selves are their real selves, unrestricted by social anxiety or standing, what makes things really interesting is that while Marinette loves Adrien, she’s not exactly falling for Cat Noir, (so she thinks he’s pretty but isn’t turned on by the goofball he actually is, that’s gonna be interesting when the two find out one another’s real identities). Meanwhile Adrien barely notices Marinette, but the super confidant Ladybug catches his eye. It’s actually a interesting romance, which was a nice surprise.
Now on to this show’s biggest selling point. The animation. It is astounding, there is no other word it, I mean 3D animation for TV has clearly come a long way. The animation is bright and bouncy, with a whole heap of energy to it. It’s really expressive and fluid, the action is some of the best I’ve seen on TV. I could watch Ladybug and Cat Noir leaping and running around Paris all day.
As a last attempt to sway you, let me list five of my favourite episodes.
Stormy Weather – Speaking of great action, this episode has some of my favourite action sequences from Ladybug and Cat Noir dodging cars falling out of the sky to a rooftop battle in the middle of a blizzard.
Timebreaker – Showing the series’ creative side. What happens when you get a villain that has time travelling roller blades? Why twice the villain and twice the Ladybug! Also on a side note, who was that girl’s ancestor who could make a holographic stopwatch? A wizard or a time traveller?
Copycat – Jealousy can be an ugly emotion, though I’m sure Marinette wouldn’t say that about Adrien. When a jealous artist frames Cat Noir, Ladybug has to figure out which is the real cat’s meow! (my god, the puns are contagious!) Also I love Marinette’s reaction to leaving an embarrassing message on Adrien’s phone.
The Puppeteer – What happens when you give a little kid superpowers, especially the power to control others! Also the return of several villains from previous episodes, which was a nice surprise considering the one-and-done nature of the villains.
Volpina – Is that a new superhero come to join the cast, or is this all an elaborate trick? Also, what’s this? A character’s emotional problems aren’t magically cured by the end of the episode? They’re still angry, what fresh madness is this?
Also there’s Antibug and the Mime and… oh there’s too many, just go watch the show. You’re bound to find something you’ll like. Bye-bye little butterflies!
Chris Joynson, aka the Infallible Fish, is a writer, blogger and lover of animation living in Sheffield. The blog updates every Friday.