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Shadow Raiders series two

voice cast: Paul Dobson, Donna Yamamoto, Enuka Okuma, Tegan Moss, and Mark Oliver

directors: Dwayne Beaver and others

267 minutes (PG) 1998
Metrodome DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 7/10
reviewed by Alasdair Stuart
Produced by the team responsible for the excellent Beast Wars and Reboot, Shadow Raiders (aka: War Planets) remains something of a curiosity. A short-lived tie-in to an extremely short-lived toy line, its writing staff is filled with some of the best comic writers of the last 20 years (Len Wein and Marv Wolfman both feature prominently) and in an extremely brave move, almost every episode is tied into the overall plot.

Picking up where the first series left off, it opens with the Alliance desperately struggling to defeat the Beast Planet. Taking a clear visual cue from Transformers: The Movie, the Beast Planet is a vast metal creature moving through the Solar system and consuming every world in its path. It's heavily armed and armoured and as the series opens, despite the best efforts of the various worlds, seems unstoppable.

It would be easy to use the fight against the Beast Planet as a narrative crutch to hold up the series but that's not what takes place here. Instead, we get a complex, almost Shakespearean political thriller as the various planets and their rulers struggle for dominance in the fragile alliance. None of the worlds particularly like any of the others and instead of uniting they spend as much time fighting amongst themselves as they do fighting the Beast Planet.

This is an unusually complex moral approach for the series to take and it pays dividends. It's also developed still further with each character forced to confront their beliefs and exactly what the consequences of those beliefs are. In this way the series uses the Beast Planet as an idea as much as a plot, with every world and character forced to justify their viewpoint as they stare down the apocalypse. It makes for surprisingly grim viewing at times but it also makes the series stand out from the crowd.

Unfortunately, this moral complexity isn't quite matched by the animation. Oddly, Shadow Raiders hasn't aged as well as its two compatriots, a lot of the character work especially appearing blocky and unsophisticated at times. However, this is balanced by some spectacular effects work, especially in the sequences involving the Battle Moons, moon-sized warships used to fight the Beast Planet.

Shadow Raiders is a pleasant surprise, combining an unusually intelligent approach to the politics of its world with some great high concept ideas and some impressive action sequences. If you're a fan of Reboot or Beast Wars, you could do a lot worse than give it a try.
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