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– by Brendan Hughes

Cartoon Network has been bashed for their original programming with a popular example being the bastardized Teen Titans reboot Teen Titans Go!. However, there have been shows that are well received such as Adventure Time and Steven Universe, though with these shows in their final seasons, the network will need to find another golden child. Speaking of child, Cartoon Network’s OK K.O. Let’s Be Heroes, featuring an adolescent hero-in-training looks to be the network’s next breakout series. Though OK K.O. has had its fair shares of flaws, from having pointless episodes to being too reference-heavy, the overarching plot shows that the series has the best long-term foresight in modern cartoons. In one of this past week’s episodes, all the pieces began to click, which provided not only plot progression but physical and emotional growth as well. 

Before diving into the details of recent episodes and their importance on the series, it might be necessary to briefly describe the show. At its core, OK K.O. is a simple story revolving around a young hero, K.O., on his mission to become the world’s greatest hero. Typical first job antics are present with K.O.’s coworkers and fellow heroes Enid and Rad along with time travel and robot fighting. Where the show starts to get interesting is the origin of K.O. and his built-up anger resulting in T.K.O., an evil persona, which revolves around the villain Shadowy Figure. This show is often misleading as the childish plot is lifted by stronger subplots that are gradually revealing more information about the series.

The past few episodes of the show showed the emotional progression of the characters, mirroring shows like Steven Universe. In “TKO’s House,” K.O. was able to find common ground with T.K.O. as he listened to what the issues were regarding his anger. Coming from the uncertainties behind the character, they are able to work together in order to figure out his past. Side characters like Enid also were shown to have progressed in the episode “Red Action to the Future” where her best friend Red is called off to fight in the future against giant robots. Enid was forced to wait through time wondering if she would ever see Red again which built maturity and the sense that somethings can’t be pushed off and need to be said at the moment. 

The characters have also progressed physically as shown in the episode “Dendy’s Power” where the trio finish the standard villains improving their standings in the hero community. Enid improves to level 4, which is understandable due to her actions of taking down a colossal blob that threatened the town in the previous episode. Rad’s power is only level 3, as he is just an alien who likes to work out and has no unique abilities that his race can’t already accomplish. The source of K.O.’s power has long been a mystery given that his Pow Card, the source of tracking power level, has been glitching out being stuck anywhere between .1 to 1 despite his new-found power combing both personas. While the theory that K. O.’s power was 100 in either direction with his forms canceling each other out giving a young hero so much power seemed farfetched. However, it was obvious that there was more than met the eye with K.O.’s power jumping to level 3 after the card error was fixed.

Where these episodes reveal that the show is rounding a corner is the story progression. As K.O. is training to be the best hero around having a massive level jump two levels expediates the process and shows K.O.’s potential. The relationship between T.K.O. and K.O. is possibly the biggest change in the latest episodes as they never were able to work in synchronization with each other. This new form, unlocked by a Pacific Rim-style syncing, has yet to be named but the popular name “S.K.O.” introduced by Reddit’s PantaroP has become a crowd favorite. “S.K.O.’s” battle with Shadowy Figure was a turning point in the series as T.K.O. saw through the villains lies about his origin and cut straight to the truth. With this show creator Ian Jones-Quartey affirms that though the show may take detours the main destination is detailing K.O.’s origin.

Even if OK K.O. becomes the next smash hit on Cartoon Network it isn’t likely to impact the network’s standing much due to both internal and external problems. Cartoon Network has been dropping steadily in the last 10 years, which can be traced back to cable’s steady decline, but programming has long been an issue as well. In the latest Nielsen ratings indicate that Adult Swim is grabbing higher younger viewers than their sister network who is specifically designed for that audience. Adult Swim’s ratings are likely attributed to the Saturday night block Toonami which airs anime marking the most diverse lineup on either channel. Cartoon Network constantly playing shows like Teen Titans Go! does little to improve viewership though Christina Miller Cartoon Network’s general manager seems to have realized this diversifying the network is the recent months. 

Though season 2 of OK K.O. Let’s Be Heroes started off with high-quality episodes that have been giving the show a more serious tone last week’s episodes really turned a corner. The progression has been seen on all aspects of the show and even into the production side providing the series its best animation to date. K.O.’s new form “S.K.O” will likely drive the show towards its goal of making the character the strongest hero in the series as seen by the large power boost he received in the following episode. It is nice to see that Jones-Quartey still holds on to its humor providing the show an innocent nature despite it progressively growing more mature. It will be interesting to see how the show handles the remaining episodes of the season as it has been driving along at a high velocity through progression. It would not be surprising if the progression gets shifted towards the villain to allow an increased danger for the vastly improved young hero. 

Let us know your thoughts. Will O.K.’s improvements be enough to overcome poor management of Cartoon Network?

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