Well, while in a broad sense it’s undeniably more of the same, and once again there was only a gap of about a month between the last episode of the second season and the first of this one, there is certainly a little more experimentation – and long gaps between the first episodes suggest some development was going on. The girls moving to Citiesville for an episode, a full episode riffing on American cereal advert characters (which I’m sure I didn’t get the first time I saw it, and which again makes me wonder how this cartoon travelled to so many countries so well), an episode where the girls decide to emulate their favourite comic heroes (Blossom opting for DC, Bubbles for cutesy manga and Buttercup for Spawn) and of course, the brilliant ‘Meet the Beat-Alls’, chock full of Beatles references, allow some chances for stylistic experiments, which help the show get more complex.
With the characters and formula firmly established, the writers also take the opportunity to give the girls a dark side, with them learning lessons after stepping deep into moral grey zones plentiful: when they discover the Professor is stealing toys for them in their sleep, they gleefully encourage him; when Princess makes crime legal, they turn criminal to show her how stupid that idea was; when Buttercup discovers that she can get money from the tooth fairy, she starts to purposely knock out others’ gnashers; and when they find out that they can get candy for beating Mojo, the girls strike a deal with him to keep busting him out of jail so that they can once again catch him and get their reward – even if it means great damage to Townsville.
It feels like the traces of Hanna-Barbera are being left behind, and the new identity of Cartoon Network is being firmly established, despite more mini Jetsons and Top Cat cameos, and even some familiar Flinstones faces (and on a tangent, Powerpuff Girls heavily featured Totoro long before everyone declared it oh-so-surprising in Toy Story 3). That said, dem terrible repeating crowds and backgrounds, plus a whole episode making a point of recycling animation from a season 1 episode recall the studio’s lowest points.
For the first time, the name Lauren Faust starts cropping up on storyboarding credits – starting with the stylish ‘Equal Fights’ episode. It becomes very clear the future My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic creator cut her teeth on what is after all very much the future bizarre hit’s spiritual predecessor – the formula of writing an episode by taking one of the characters and exaggerating one of their personality traits to make a silly story was very well-established here. There’s Buttercup’s teeth adventure, Bubbles’ love of animals going so far that she tries to keep a whale in her cupboard, and Blossom’s vanity is explored in an episode where her sisters give her a terrible haircut. Otherwise, most of the episodes take established characters and put them in fish-out-of-water situations – the professor becomes a fellow superhero but, being a dad, embarrasses his girls; the Mayor attempts to fight crime himself rather than relying on the girls; the Gangreen Gang also gain powers; and one of the fearsome monsters turns out to just be looking for his cat. The show is largely done with introducing new villains, with new antagonists really limited to some old people and a lazy cop turned bad, which are basically gimmicky one-off ideas that don’t lend themselves to any reappearances.
A few new steps in interesting directions make this series stand out a little – but really only because I’m watching in a way that specifically lends itself to looking out for developments. Syndicated, these episodes could easily fit in alongside any from the first couple of series. And going into series 4, I largely find myself wondering if we’ve seen the last of the Rowdyruff Boys. Was it just because of their prominence in the intro that I felt like they were in more than one ep?