Here’s a good debate: what’s the best Canadian cartoon from the 90s?
Actually, that’s not a debate. Everyone knows the answer is Reboot.
It wasn’t just that it was the first CGI cartoon, or that it was made in Vancouver, though that certainly helped.
But Reboot was the smart superhero/sci-fi show for kids: marketed to children, but with plenty of references geared towards adults. There was parodies galore, meta jokes, and heavy serialization. If you were a tween, Reboot made you feel sophisticated and “with it”. In as much a tween idolizing PJ Phil can be “with it”.
And because we’re a generation that
loves having our memories exploited enjoys things from childhood, there’s been no shortage of people wanting to see Reboot rebooted.
However, because it was made in Canada, that was unlikely to actually happen.
This week, Corus Entertainment officially announced 26 new episodes of Reboot, and lo there was much rejoicing on the internet.
However, virtually everyone who posted the news on Facebook didn’t actually read the article (I’m as shocked as you are), because if they did, they would have found out that the show will be partly live-action, with new, human characters as the focus.
So, not really Reboot. Which is fine! Things from the past shouldn’t be endlessly recycled with no new character development for the sake of an easy buck! Unless it’s Spiderman, of course.
Still, this week’s announcement means the old Reboot is officially no more. Which means, by the laws of the Internet, it needs to be listed and ranked before
we break the collective yoke of being Millennial manchildren, all have children, and realize caring about nostalgic listicles was a terrible waste of everyone’s time it becomes too old to matter.
Joining me on this journey is Trevor Record, local web designer and cohost of the Read Long and Propser podcast, and (occasionally) Nick Zarzycki, editor of The Syrup Trap. We’ve ranked each character out of five, and together we will break down their strengths and weaknesses, reminisce about favourite moments and scenes, and discuss why Bob is dumb.
But now I’m spoiling things. On to the list!
1. Megabyte (15/15 points)
Justin: Megabyte was pretty much the best parts of all superhero villains put together. He had Magneto-like intelligence, Megatron-esque physicality, a Darth Vader-esque imposing voice—and was ever cleanly defeated, which just doesn’t happen on children shows. You feared him…but you also thought he was pretty badass.
Trevor: What is great about the Megabyte character is there is a lot of nuance to the villain he is. He isn’t mindlessly destructive, nor is he irredeemably single-minded about his expansionist goals. And ultimately that makes him more formidable. He thinks strategically, making tactical retreats and alliances of convenience while remaining patient about furthering his goals. He even has a sense of rogue’s honour (to a point). Bob seems barely up for the task of taking down Megabyte — something I think that is apparent from the beginning. It’s an underdog struggle at best, and Megabyte is clearly winning.
Megabyte’s character could perform well as the villainous CEO of a major corporation in real life. Really, he probably embodies the dark side of capitalism fairly well, which makes him an ideal villain for the new era of international corporate dominance and global trade that was emerging in the 90s and continues today. For him “infection” doesn’t mean destruction, it means dominating new subjects.
It’s impossible to imagine ReBoot without Megabyte. I don’t think there is a single other character I could say that for.
Justin: Bonus points for being able to shred hard.
Nick: What would you do if you were dropped into Mainframe? Would you try to become a regular, functioning part of Mainframe society? Of course you wouldn’t. Save for a handful of interesting humanoids, Mainframe is a city filled with thousands of one-dimensional sphere and box shaped citizens, presided over by an incompetent guardian, and ripe for conquest. You would behave exactly as Megabyte does. Megabyte is the only character in the entire Reboot universe with a modicum of charisma. And that voice.
2. Enzo (14 points)
Justin: For the first two seasons, Enzo is a perfectly acceptable Bart Simpson knockoff/avatar for the audience. His spunk isn’t forced, his worship of Bob seems fairly genuine, and Alphanumeric was a legit catchphrase that didn’t seem lame, I swear.
Trevor: Actually, why is it that Enzo is in such awe of Bob? He’s just a doofus who wants to sleep with his older sister.
Justin: Then Bob got sent to the Web, ABC chose not to renew Reboot, and Season 3 started. And the show got dark, going from “Standard 90s Superhero Cartoon Set Inside Computers” to “Incredibly Serialized and Violent Sci-fi Show Marketed Towards Kids”.
Enzo struggles with the responsibility of caring for Mainframe, faces down a propaganda campaign to discredit him, loses a game and becomes stranded, ages, changes his name, becomes cynical, moody and violent, struggles to reconcile his past and current identities, returns to a damaged Mainframe, and defeats Megabyte without giving in to the dark side.
(Obi-Wan vs. Anakin has nothing on this)
This all happened in about 14 episodes of television, and it was pretty much the most mindblowing, eye-opening arc possible if you were a tween. As you matured, so did Reboot.
Enzo is the secret protagonist of Reboot, and clearly the best “good guy” on the show.
Trevor: Initially he serves as a pretty good sidekick. But he also sees the majority of “character development” throughout the series. I consider Enzo the “self insertion” character for the children watching the show as well, sort of a Wesley Crusher that’s slightly less insufferable.
Then things go nuts and Enzo transforms into a super-ripped badass. I think Justin expressed this well enough that I don’t need to go into any more details than that.
Nick: Enzo grew up and changed as a person during Reboot, just like me! At the end of Season 2 he is made a guardian, just like I wanted to be. Holy shit did Season 3 rock my world.
3. Hexadecimal (13.5 points)
Justin: She was crazy, but knew how to wield it. She had a thing for Bob, but also enjoyed toying with him. She was generally on Megabyte’s side, but her loyalties were negotiable, especially if Megabyte put a shock collar on her to enslave OH MY GOD SEASON 3 WAS DARK. Hexadecimal had shades and nuance and an evil laugh and was clearly awesome.
Trevor: Hexadecimal was GREAT. The episode where she hacks into the Mainframe system utilities and begins using the paint program is my favorite, hands down.
Trevor: I feel like the only thing holding her back is the fact that she’s not really the same caliber of villain as Megabyte — she is unpredictable and dangerous, but didn’t really have the cunning on her own to become a sustained threat across multiple episodes. She was fantastic at causing short-term havoc, though, and could be brought into a variety of other situations as a wildcard.
She also has the best character design of any of the show’s characters by a wide margin.
Nick: Fuck yeah the paint episode! Absolutely my favourite ‘standard’ Reboot episode (the season 3 arc blew my mind but that’s a different kind of season).
4. Mouse (12 points)
Justin: Hey, it’s character that says “Sugar” every second sentence and has a southern accent for some reason!
Trevor: To my mind, Mouse is probably the best female character in the series. I think of her as being a female Han Solo type. She’s definitely able to operate within shades of grey better than any of the other “heroic” characters introduced up until her point, and kicks some ass too. She pilots her own ship, has a checkered past, and seems to have a complicated set of motivations.
Justin: For someone who is, at best, the 6th most important person on the show, Mouse is pretty developed. It’s refreshing that she’s not uniformly good, and while implied that she has a healthy sex drive, she only gets an inevitable romantic subplot later in the show. She does lose some points for being the catalyst for many “Mysterious Sci-Fi Happenings That Resolve the Plot” moments.
Trevor: It would be fun if the new series followed the adventures of Mouse.
5. Dot (11.5 points)
Justin: Dot is fine. Not consistently written, not funny, not particularly memorable, but fine. It’s tough to be a great character when you have to be Top Sidekick, Romantic Interest, and Buzzkill all at once.
Dot’s main problem is her motivations fluctuate depending on the needs of the plot. She’s competent…unless Bob needs someone to save. She’s a cool, understanding older sister….unless they need someone to shout at Enzo.
Once Bob goes away and we start the awesome Season 3, Dot also improves, becoming the real heart of Mainframe. But when Bob and Enzo return, she partly reverts back to “Woman who has Feelings when the Men Folk Do Things”.
And let us not even speak of the time she sang an incredibly inappropriate song to Enzo, her younger brother, in order to flirt with Bob.
Trevor: She was obviously introduced as Bob’s “love interest” in the beginning, which blows. This crappy mechanism may be the only reason that Enzo gets to hang out with Bob in the first season, come to think of it. But on the good side, she seems to me at least to be Bob’s equal when it comes to heroism, and probably more formidable mentally–tactically, a lot of their solutions seem to come from her, especially as the show progressed.
She’s introduced as a sort of hyper-organized entrepreneur, which does make her an obvious choice for leadership in Mainframe. So it’s no surprise that later on in the series, it starts to feel like she’s the real core of “team good guy” and would probably make a better choice for the show’s hero than, at least, Bob. Even from the beginning she has a lot more on the line than Bob–Megabyte’s killed her father and is infecting her city. Her major downfall/the only reason she loses points in my books is getting weak in the knees for Bob, which points to a fatal character flaw.
Nick: Dot is a boring logical mother/sister character and the only fully responsible competent good person in Mainframe. She is a buzzkill. It seems like Dot—who is all about planning, being responsible, etc. — was introduced to contrast Bob’s wise-ass, haphazard, improvisational approach to guardianship. Instead she ends up contrasting Bob’s flavourless incompetence with flavourless competence.
6. Hack and Slash (11.5 points)
Justin: In an era where virtually every show for kids had “bumbling villainous duo” that never win, Hack and Slash were the best because they knew they were awful.
Trevor: I admit to having a giant soft spot for these two. They were always consistent, in the sense that they were always bound to fail. Their ineptitude and doltish back and forth was always a source of some of the show’s best comedy. Frankly, with a boss villain as competent as Megabyte, you really needed to surround him with useless dolts. They were destroyed and rebuilt perpetually. As the show progressed it became clear they were idiot good guys that just happened to be working for the bad guy.
Nick: This would be a boring humourless show without these two.
7. Phong (9.5 points)
Justin: Can you say “problematic”? Childhood Justin remembers Phong as both smart AND funny, a tough combination to pull off. Adult Justin cringes.
Trevor: “What if Mr. Miyagi was mayor of a town?” That’s how I imagine the pitch for Phong went down when the series was being imagined.
It goes without saying that he’s an offensive stereotype, although possibly a less venomous one with simply because there isn’t anything exactly BAD about it — he’s just the infinitely wise, mysterious, stern but patient elderly Asian sensei. This is an archetype I don’t see much these days, but back when ReBoot was on the air you could find this character everywhere from Ninja Turtles to the aforementioned Karate Kid.
Justin: In another 20 years, “Wise Old Chinese Man” will probably be seen as offensive as “Magic Negro”.
Trevor: He gets bonus points despite his origins as a stock character/offensive trope, because the writers end up getting a lot of good mileage out of him. He had tricks up his sleeve, a few fun story lines, and more than anything he was sort of a great thermometer for how “bad” the situation in Mainframe was — if Phong’s freaking out you know things aren’t good.
Nick: Fong is a wise nice man with an accent. He has a sweet pad.
8. Captain Gavin Capacitor/Saucy Mare crew (9.5 points)
Justin: They were good comic relief in a season that was getting incredibly dark. Plus, the captain was voiced by Long John Baldry, a delightful part of Vancouver’s music scene, and also the best Dr. Robotnik voice ever.
Trevor: Secondary characters done right. It’s always fun when there’s a low-stakes villain that stays on as a reformed ally to the goodies.
9. Bob (9 points)
Justin: For such a beloved show, Bob is a pretty shitty hero.
Trevor: The reason that Bob takes such a brutal beating from us, considering his top billing in the show, is he’s just so generic. His motivations are two-dimensional at best — he’s the hero because that’s his format; “Guardian, to Mend and Defend.” Give me a break. As opposed to the denizens of Mainframe, or the other nuanced and even amoral “hero” characters that come along later in seasons 2-3, he really doesn’t have much of a reason to be the hero, other than that was the role that was given to him by the show’s creators.
Digging even deeper, my main problem with Bob is that he seemed so lame. Emotionally, I file Bob alongside Cyclops from the X-Men cartoon: Children’s TV heroes that are only technically suited to the weekly struggles that the show would throw at them. They win the day not because of any sort of grit, bravery, or derring-do, but because they were equipped with the right tools (Glitch, in Bob’s case).
Justin: Bob is just A Guy. He’s in Mainframe for vague reasons, he does virtuous stuff for vague reasons, he wants to mentor Enzo and sleep with Dot for vague reasons. His wisecracks are lame, and his main tool, Glitch, is cooler than him. His main catchphrase is “This is bad. Very bad!” which may be in competition with “Well! Excuuuuuuse me, Princess!” for worst quip for a cartoon protagonist. Reboot is damn lucky that the show’s universe and villains were so interesting, because there is nothing interesting about Bob.
Nick: I like Bob more than you two for nostalgia reasons, and because I assume that we’re counting Glitch as part of Bob, and Glitch is one of the coolest parts of the Reboot universe. Who didn’t want their own Glitch when they were growing up? Also yes, Bob is a boring computer cop, but it’s hard to be interesting when you have so many responsibilities. I think of him less as a protagonist than a necessary part of Mainframe’s social order. At least my 7-year-old self does.
Justin: Yeah, but here’s Bob getting owned by Megabyte. Bob sucked.
10. Mike the TV (8.5 points)
Justin: Looking back, Mike the TV is obviously a knockoff of any cartoon that Robin Williams voiced—grating, chock full of dated impressions, and only occasionally humorous. Though he played a big part in a great episode that was basically a 20-minute long Dragon Quest game.
Trevor: Mike the TV was pretty obnoxious, but I give him bonus points because A) He was meant to be obnoxious and B) his shtick was at least a bit entertaining to me as a child, and this WAS a show for children.
Justin: I enjoy that as the show became darker, he became basically a Jar Jar Binks character—infrequently seen and generally loathed. Also, did anyone else shout “Ninety-Nine, Ninety-Nine, Ninety-Nine!” as a kid, or was I just that weird?
Nick: I loved Robin Williams as a kid and this explains why Mike the TV made me laugh. He could have said anything in that affected TV announcer voice and I would have laughed at it.
11. AndrAia (8 points)
Justin: She’s brought in as a love interest/cute kid. Then she turns into an exposition machine. Then the animators make her “generic hot/underdressed lady” from every fighting game from 90s. Basically, AnrdAia’s sole redeeming characteristic is to give someone for Enzo to play off of, and telling him to calm down when he gets too PTSD in Season 3 episodes. Which aren’t really characteristic for her at all.
Trevor: Any character that gets introduced only as a “love interest” is going to go down a few notches from the start. She also loses a lot of points for me because the child version had one of the worst voice actors on the show. Even though she started out pretty annoying, she ends up being a partner on equal footing with badass future-Enzo, which pulls her back a bit. Unlike Justin, I don’t really read her role in the pairing as being there just to give Ezno “someone to play off of.”
12. Fax Modem and Data Nully (7.5 points)
Justin: A truism of being in Vancouver in the 90s? The X-Files being filmed here was very important; a sign that Vancouver was a hip city on its way to
rampant unaffordability world-class status! So the fact there was an X-Files parody on Reboot, AND Gillian Anderson voiced Data Nully, AND it was written by acclaimed Vancouver author Mark Leiren-Young was, and is, incredibly awesome.
Trevor: Do we really need to include extended, direct parodies of other shows that were contemporary with ReBoot as “characters”? I did enjoy that Fax Modem had a conspiracy theory that The User was “made up” by guardians.
Justin: That reminds me, remember when the standard episode opening finished with Bob saying he would find out who the user was, and why they “input games for pleasure”? Whatever came of that, Bob?
13. Frisket (6 points)
Justin: What’s sort of surprising is that even in this computer world, Frisket is just a dog. He doesn’t talk, or have extra abilities. I’m not sure if that’s admirable restraint or a missed opportunity, though. Frisket is just there.
Trevor: There’s nothing wrong about Frisket. There were a couple of funny things about Frisket (he was super strong, and rightfully disliked Bob). Mostly, he just showed up for the ride.
Nick: Frisket is a strong robot dog with a car engine in his face.
14. Herr Doktor and Bunnyfoot (6 points)
Trevor: Is there anything more disappointing than when a show like this leans on a tired old trope like “mad scientist and his assistant/creature” but fails to do anything fun with it. The wrongly-placed body parts on Bunnyfoot were sort of funny, at least.
Justin: I was amazed how Herr Doktor pretty much progressed (or devolved, if you prefer) into a Nazi doctor, complete with calling Megabyte “Führer”. But they were pretty much the most stereotypical bad guys on a show that eschewed stereotypes for the baddies.
15. Al’s Diner (5.5 points)
Trevor: The guy that responds to everything by saying “What?” It was an so-so joke even for a children’s program… I don’t think Al or his staff really qualify for the full-fledged “character” status but if I have to rate them… yeah, they were there.
16. Old Man Pearson (5 points)
Trevor: He started out as a one-note joke (“cranky old man”), but eventually it turns out he’s a super-powerful codemaster. I guess that makes him slightly more interesting, for whatever it’s worth.
Justin: Part of the problem with Reboot’s minor characters is they were never really fleshed out unless the plot specifically called for it.
17. Cyrus (5 points)
Justin: Cyrus is a dweeb with a stupid white man afro who poses no redeeming qualities. Which I guess was mostly the point of his character, but membership in the Cyrus Fan Club is low, I feel.
Trevor: Maybe we shouldn’t have to include EVERY character from the Wikipedia page. The fact that he was a cowardly little turncoat was the point, I think.
18. Cecil (4.5 points)
Justin:“It’s CEH-CIL!” he says. Yeah, we get it. One-note stuffy French waiter that appeared less and less as the show went on.
Trevor: A less-lovable C3-PO.
19. Nibbles/Scuzzy (4 points)
Justin: Scuzzy was slightly better than Nibbles, but really, the bad guy pets served solely as plot devices.
Trevor: Nibbles was Enzo and Dot’s DAD though, Justin.
Nick: My dad worked in IT when I was watching this show and we would always have computer parts lying around the house and I remember the first piece of computer terminology I ever learned was SCSI (pronounced “scuzzy”) because me and my dad were watching this show and he pointed it out to me.
20. Turbo (4 points)
Justin: Turbo showed up to remind us that all Guardians are joyless automatons.
Trevor thoughts: Somehow, Bob’s boss turns out to be even more boring than Bob. The guardians, as an organization, are really poorly developed as a beacon of good and order.
Justin: For some reason, somebody chose to make a wrestling version of Turbo, and then upload his entrance to YouTube. I admire their strange dedication.
21. Gigabyte (3.5 points)
Justin: One of the few times Reboot did the hackneyed “There’s an even bigger monster! How can our heroes defeat it?!?” and it was just as dull as every other variation on lesser TV shows.
Trevor: Now it’s GIGAbyte instead of MEGAbyte, get it? By combining two interesting, cool villains we get a much more straightforward, more boring monster.
22. The Surfer (3 points)
Justin: The surfer’s name is Ray Tracer. You don’t remember that, because Ray Tracer was boring as hell. I challenge Nick or Trevor to name a great Ray Tracer moment.
Why Mouse fell for him, I’ll never know.
Trevor: Why was Season 3 so obsessed with blonde dudes with flat tops? More importantly, why is it that writers so often feel they need to introduce increasingly more magical and powerful characters to ongoing series like this? Just focus on making the characters good. I forgot this guy even existed until you brought him up.
23. Season 4 (-1,000 points)
Justin: You know when a book comes to a perfect ending, and then there’s like 50 pages of tacked-on bullshit?
That was Season 4 of Reboot. There was no reason for it to exist. Every loose end had been tied up. If it was to succeed, it would have needed a, ahem, full-on reboot to succeed.
Instead, we got two movies jammed together for a god-awful eight episode season. It featured young and old Enzo, Bob and Clone Bob, a shitty messiah character named Dameon, a god-awful love triangle between Dot and the two Bobs, a needless return of Megabyte, and a cliffhanger ending that never got resolved.
Smart people watched Season 4 and quickly purged it from their minds. Dumb people insist Season 4 stands on its own, mostly because of Dameon. But they are wrong.
Screw Season 4. This how Reboot actually ended, and no one can tell me different.
Trevor: I’ve edited this down to one simple response: No thanks.