The fourth and final 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.
Here we are. After a week of posts, we've reached what I consider THE closest thing to a Star Fox anime as we currently have. Swat Kats is an American cartoon that came out the same year as the original Star Fox, 1993. It's basically what might happen if you combined Star Fox and Batman.
The story goes like this: two hotshot pilots, T-Bone and Razor, get dishonorably discharged from the local military-police force, the Enforcers, after they disobeyed orders and accidentally caused millions in property damage to government property trying to stop a bad guy. They were stuck with a huge bill and basically told they'd never work in the industry again. But you see, dear reader, these two guys are the best of the best. They couldn't just sit around while citizens lost their lives and their city was destroyed. So, using their new position as junkyard owners, they cobbled together a next generation fighter jet from military grade hardware that had been thrown away. With this jet, other vehicles, and hand-made weapons gear, they became the Swat Kats: vigilantes who go above the law to fight crime that the Enforcers can't or won't.
As in Batman, the bad guy was not a single enemy or army, but rather many different rogues made up the antagonists of the series, each with their own motivations. Additionally, the authority figure, the Enforcers, represent a mild antagonist as well, since the Swat Kats are operating outside the law. Personally, I think having more bad guys is another thing Star Fox could use. We certainly need more and more interesting villains than Andross alone.
The main team characters are very different from each other. Though there are only two of them, they manage to have an interesting dynamic. T-Bone is the risk-taker strongman. His piloting skills are unmatched anywhere. While he puts on a tough exterior, he cares deeply about his aircraft and his partner. Razor, on the other hand, is the more technical, logical partner. He created the advanced aircraft and weapons they use. He lacks self-confidence as much as T-Bone seems to exude it, and he's a martial arts expert. At this point I should mention that there is only one aircraft. Razor is the weapons and radar officer, not the main pilot. T-Bone is the main pilot most of the time. But they can both pilot very effectively, and share time on the ground in various capacities. Their hero work requires them to leave their aircraft, the Turbokat, frequently to engage in hand to hand combat, among other things.
All of the city's residents, including our heroes, are anthro cats. It feels very Star Fox in that way. The only thing that really detracts from its similarity to Star Fox is that they don't pilot separate ships.
The timing of Swat Kats release couldn't have been worse. It was launched during the 90s moral panic over violence in cartoons. The creators knew this, and released the show quietly, never promoting it directly. As a result, though it had a slow start, the series managed to get two complete seasons broadcast before the meddlers noticed this new "hyper violent" show for kids. The complaints about violence in cartoons was ultimately the reason why the show was cancelled.
I happened upon a few episodes of the show back when I was a kid in middle school by chance. Their quiet launch of the show was so quiet, I didn't even know it was on until it was already in re-runs and soon to be cancelled. It's one of the great cartoons from the 90s that I most regret missing...
BUT NOT FOR LONG! The Swat Kats Complete Series on DVD is available from Amazon, and mine will be arriving in a couple days. Even knowing how dated it will look, I will be enthusiastically watching this show for the first time very soon. Should you watch this show? Yes! Absolutely!
In another interesting development, the original creators managed to retain the rights to the property. Thanks to a successful Kickstarter, the show is getting a reboot! (Maybe!) They were able to get enough funding to create a series bible, new scripts, character designs, concept art, and test animations. These materials should be more than enough to convince an animation studio to take up the project for production and broadcast. That is, if they approve of the idea. It really comes down to whether or not any studio thinks the property is worth it. Personally, I think they have a very good chance. You can follow their progress on their YouTube channel.
Did you guys watch Swat Kats? What did you think? Is it the most similar show to Star Fox, or did I miss one that you think was closer? Now that we're finished with my suggestions, feel free to add your own. I saw recommendations for Cowboy Bebop, Defensor 5, and one of Star Fox's original motivations, Thunderbirds. What else is out there? I imagine there are probably a couple of Japanese animes that have a Star Fox-like premise, though I don't know which they might be.