The third in a set of posts comparing other franchises to the Star Fox universe in hopes of finding something that would satisfy us Star Fox fans in absence of an actual Star Fox anime.
In this computer-animated show from the late 2000s, the planet is full of mountaintop kingdoms, where the valleys below are all but uninhabitable. The characters instead fly around with skimmers, motorcycle-airplane hybrids that can transform back and forth. Ship to ship combat is done with energy weapons, energy swords, and hand-to-hand combat by LITERALLY JUMPING ONTO THE OPPONENT'S SHIP IN MIDAIR to fight them. There are numerous races beyond humans, each with different affinities and cultures. The show is about half action/mission, and half slice-of-life.
When you think about the structural elements of a show like Storm Hawks, it's hard to imagine that it WASN'T inspired by Star Fox. Let's break down the similarities:
- There was an elite team of heroes who tried to stop a threat, but were betrayed by one of their own resulting in the loss of the team (just as Pigma betrayed James)
- A descendant of that elite team forms a new squad, and, though lacking experience, manage to become saviors in their own right (just as Fox descended from James, and made a new Star Fox team)
- The squad consists of a four-man team of pilots with individual aircraft (like the Arwing pilots of Star Fox)
- The squad's aircraft are housed and supplemented with a larger command ship that acts as their home base, and is flown by an eccentric character (like the Great Fox and ROB)
- Each squad-mate brings unique skills, like leadership and technical skill, which also influence their piloting skills (Fox is a leader, Slippy is the tech guy)
- They have a mandate to stop the evil bad guys, but as such a small, unknown squad, they are only called upon as a last resort ("It's about time you showed up, Fox! You're the only hope for our world." - General Pepper)
- They travel to many different locations with wildly different environments and local wildlife (like the planets of Lylat)
- Their primary energy source and technology systems are based on energy crystals (It's a stretch, but, you know the gems in Star Fox Adventures?)
- Even their name is similar: Storm Hawks, Star Fox
The similarities extend to some of the characters, too. There's Aerrow, the leader, who is more or less exactly like Fox McCloud. Always trying to do the right thing and keep his team moving towards the goal. Piper is a technical genius, but struggles a bit as a pilot. She also happens to be the wise character most of the time, being the voice of reason within the team, as Peppy is for Star Fox. Dark Ace, the betrayer, is very similar to Wolf. He follows orders from the big bad, but he is much more personally interested in defeating his rival, Aerrow. Master Cyclonis, the main antagonist, is shown to be very technically skilled and spends most of her time manipulating her armies from behind the scenes. Yet, she's not above taking care of situations personally if she deems it necessary. She's very much like Andross in that way.
But not all the characters match up very well. Finn is a cocky marksman, although the running gag is that he almost never hits anything, which kind of defeats the point of his character. It just leaves a cocky self-important guy who isn't actually living up to his own claims. While Falco is cocky, he's at least competent. Finn is clearly the main gag character. Junko, the final member of the squad's main pilots, is referred to as the strongman. He's the muscle and has a heart of gold, but is easily tricked or distracted. Now Stork, the helmsman of the the Great Fox-like Carrier, is probably the most interesting character in the entire series. While he isn't similar to any Star Fox characters, he steals most of the scenes he is in, because of his amusing levels of paranoia and pessimism. In a world of overly optimistic and bright-eyed people, he's the lone person who says "We're doomed!" the second things look like they might end badly (and usually before that too).
On top of all of that, the main characters, including most of the bad guys, are in their late teens and early twenties. They are portrayed more often than not as being short-sighted and overly emotional for what should be a very serious war-time situation. And that's when they're doing legitimate military missions. The other episodes are more slice-of-life, and are the same sort of rehashed morality plays you've seen everywhere else where one character makes an obvious mistake, and the audience learns a lesson about why that choice was a Bad Idea™. Even the height of Falco's pettiness, when he left the team prior to Star Fox Adventures, was not up to scale with the sort of ill-advised, inter-teammate interactions that happen almost every episode.
It's a real shame. Storm Hawks was overly silly as a whole. And this is coming from a guy who plays video games about foxes in spaceships shooting giant monkey heads. You see, Storm Hawks has a fantastic lore and setting. The characters have a lot of potential, as does the show. Unfortunately, the series creator barely scratched the surface. At first, in seems like this is going to be a serious show, where battles are won and lost within a larger war that our heroes are barely able to withstand. And there are some episodes in this series that are really good! Overall, however, the incompetence of the villains, the choices that defy common sense, and the lack of maturity often displayed by the main characters make for a show that is only really entertaining for much younger audiences.
Nothing great is accomplished, and the characters don't really progress. It seems this show, like most other American cartoons until recently, was trying to make each episode stand on its own. This was a common practice for all TV until recently, actually. Statistically, most people will watch an episode during reruns, not during the initial release. For a long time, it was thought by producers that audiences would become overly confused when seeing the episodes out of order. To prevent this, most TV shows simply made sure that each episode never really changed the status quo, so the audience would never feel lost. As a bonus, episodes could be swapped around and few would be the wiser. Thankfully, in more recent times, it's been discovered that audiences would much rather be a little confused than to have a show with no consequences or character development. If Storm Hawks had been made today, we might have gotten a better show.
Long story short, I personally recommend that Star Fox fans watch a few episodes of Storm Hawks, in spite of its flaws. Preferably watch the better episodes. I complain so much about the show because I care about it. It really is SO CLOSE to being really good!
Where can you watch the show? Well, there are DVDs, but they are mostly out of print (low popularity?) and are very expensive. I also know that the show has been posted to a ton of different streaming websites of... questionable legality.
I've seen most of the episodes, but I haven't seen the end of the final season (the second season). I don't know how it turns out. Did it end on a cliffhanger as so many cancelled shows do? Or did they give it a real climax? I guess I'll find out, because in spite of it's flaws, I'm still going to finish watching this show. What about you? Did you ever see Storm Hawks on TV? I managed to catch a few episodes back when it was originally airing, and it was interesting enough to me for a second look. Do you like the show? What would you change? Do you think Star Fox could learn from this show, and what could Storm Hawks learn from Star Fox?