Vixen Review: Arrow’s animated adventure

vixen cw arrow dc comics cartoon megalyn echuniwoke maisie richardson sellers arrow's animated adventure the flash legends of tomorrow

In case you’re unaware (which you may well be), Vixen is an animated spinoff of Arrow and The Flash, which has been airing online on the CW Seed. It’s a series of six 5 minute episodes, which form one half hour program when taken together.

With the recent appearance of Megalyn Echikunwoke on Arrow, and the news that she may appear again on Legends of Tomorrow, or even receive her own show, I thought now would be a good time to look back on the first series of her animated program.

Episode One

So, I’ve just watched the first episode of Vixen, on the CW Seed. ‘Tis an animated spinoff of Arrow and The Flash. It’s also only about five minutes long. I’d sort of missed the memo on that – I was expecting about 20 minutes, because I figured it’d be in the same vein as other DC cartoons. But, no, 5 minutes. And it’s hampered by that, I think, because it has to include a certain number of things – exposition, character moments, a cliffhanger, etc – without really being able to give any of them room to breathe. There’s a good use of in media res, and it is interestingly a little more ‘adult’ than it’s parent shows, but I am a little reticent about how this might work.

Episode Two

Vixen episode two, then. Again I’m rather aware of the fact that this format is hampering the story a considerable amount. The length is still, as you’d expect, a bit of a problem, but I think they did better with the pacing in this episode, comparative to the last one.

The animation, though, is a little bit of a problem. Animation is a lot more difficult and a lot more expensive than people necessarily realise – presumably hence the length of these episodes – which often means you end up with fairly stylised character designs, which are easier to animate. They are not, however, particularly expressive – where an actor might be breathing heavily, looking around the room, etc to convey shock, all they can do on Vixen is a still image of the main character with her mouth open.

A lot of the emotional beats fall flat, in the end – like, for example, the flashback to Mari as a child, crying about her “junkie” mother. The series can barely manage the emotional themes of Arrow or The Flash, and it’s very odd that they’re trying to go more adult and ‘darker’ in a format so ill-suited to the transition.

vixen review cw arrow dc africa zebra megalyn echikunwoke legends of tomorrow animated cartoon

Episode Three

I think, when you string these all together into a single half hour episode, it could actually be pretty good. I was rather getting into it, just as it then… ended. Yeah. Length is still a problem, to be honest. I mean, if you remove the credits, and the opening idents, each episode is closer to four minutes than the five they’re suggesting. (Ten seconds of opening idents, thirty seconds of credits.) It’s a shame, and I’d say it’s a mistake, too. Vixen, by nature of its position on CW Seed, is always going to be slightly weird and apocryphal, and only appeal to the more hardcore fans. Had they done something to put together a single episode that’s a little more full… well, they might have been able to get a larger number of people to care about it.

But, still, that’s unfair. I actually quite enjoyed this episode, truncated and rushed though it was. There were a lot of nice moments to it; Moira exploring her powers worked quite well, her adoptive father is consistently quite funny, and it was lovely to see to Cisco and Barry turning up.

Episode Four

This has probably been the best “episode” of the “series” so far. It goes a long way towards making the length of it work too, admittedly, which is quite nice. It’s a pretty good demonstration of how Mari’s powers work; by contrasting her against the two characters we already know, Arrow and Flash, we’re really able to see what Moira is capable of. They skirt around the potential for a Worf effect, admittedly, but I think they did a pretty good job of managing to keep away from entering that territory completely.

Best moment of this “episode” – and I’d go as far as to say the best of them all so far – was when Moira began to fly. That was a genuinely very triumphant moment; I’d been expecting, and the show had lead us to expect, that Barry would catch her, and that was how they’d gain her trust. But that wasn’t the case – Moira saved herself. She doesn’t need the established heroes – she’s just as good as them, and she can cope entirely well on her own.

Minor complaint: not so impressed by the animation on Oliver. When he opens his mouth to gawk at things, it looks absolutely ridiculous. Still, it’s nice to have had him on the show. (Also, something I didn’t mention last week: Cisco was rather unfortunately whitewashed, which is a bit uncomfortable.)

Very good episode on the whole though. Quite impressed by it. Two more left?

Episode Five

This is the one that best used the animation, I think – the plains of Africa looked genuinely very impressive, and I think they’re probably far and away beyond the usual budget of the CW, so it was nice to see a little more scope and grandeur to the proceedings.

The same niggles apply: I’m not entirely certain about the more ‘adult’ stuff, yet, but I think that’s forever going to remain a matter of my personal taste, rather than an issue specific to this. I do also wonder if the vague “local warlord” aspect is in some way dodgy – it felt a little off to me, but I’m hardly an expert in these things.

I’m not entirely certain if the stakes of this episode worked dramatically. I get the impression that the villain (who’s name I don’t even know, again showing I’m rather bad with names) could be quite a layered, complex one – love of her sister vs the weight of her responsibilities – but there’s been no time for her development, meaning she’s lacking, somewhat.

Which is a shame, really. Ah well.

vixen cw arrow dc africa zebra megalyn echikunwoke legends of tomorrow

Episode Six

This one was a clear letdown, I’m afraid. More than any of the rest of them, it was rushed, and it contributed to a conclusion that felt rather sub-par. It was basically just a quick fight scene, then a not-so-well-written conversation with Barry and Oliver.

It had, at one point, looked like we were going to see a montage of her working as a superhero, set to her own “My name is Mari McCabe” monologue (now she has a monologue, she’s a real hero!) which I think would have been a really effective end to the series, but alas, ‘twas not the case.

In Conclusion

Vixen is a lot of fun! Certainly, I think that’s fair to say; if you’re looking for something entertaining to watch that’s connected to the CW-DCverse, you could certainly do far worse than this competently made cartoon. Sure, it’s not brilliant, but there are plenty of nice moments throughout.

I’m really glad, too, that we’re not only being introduced to new heroes, but diverse heroes too; it’s great that we’ve got a woman of colour in this role. Yes, it’s a limited one, but we’re already seeing how this can evolve into more; a second animated series of Vixen has been confirmed (albeit hopefully a longer one), we’ve seen her transition to live action, and there’s the potential for further appearances to come.

That is, I think, an interesting possibility for the future of the CW-DCverse – if these half-hour animated programs can be used to trial different heroes before bringing them into the main, live-action program, there’s some great potential to really develop and expand the shared universe.

This article was previously published on the Yahoo TV website.

Related:

Was Arrow Season 3 really that bad?

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